A new era for Indigenous languages in Australia?

Every year, on the 26th of January, we celebrate Australia Day. We enjoy a day off work and we gather at friends´ places to share the symbolic BBQ with family and friends, we honour notable Australians and we invite new citizens into our family.

Australia Day this year marks the day when the First Fleet landed in these shores some 225 years ago. That part of history, though, and how the conquest developed, most of you already know and I don´t intent to get into right now. But as a result of that particular historical event, the (lives), languages and traditions of many native Australian were lost. And from a very humble and respectful point of view, that´s what I´d like to discuss today.

Aboriginal culture

The worldwide ¨death¨ of minority languages 

As far back as 2011, the United Nations warned that up to 90% of the world’s languages could die out over the next century. Of the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 spoken languages in the world, between 4,000 to 5,000 of these are classed as indigenous. Over 2,500 indigenous languages worldwide are in danger of being extinct immediately. This is a threat to the environment and a loss of much valuable knowledge about nature and the community´s culture and tradition.

Before British colonialisation began in 1788, around 250 aboriginal languages were spoken in Australia by an estimated one million people. Now, 470,000 aboriginal people speak only 145 languages in a nation of 22 million –  what´s worse: 110 of these are severely or critically endangered. In fact, National Geographic has identified northern Australia as a “global hotspot”, where endangered languages face a “severe threat” of extinction.

Today, Aboriginal Australians are an impoverished minority, with a lifespan 17 years shorter than the national average and disproportionately high rates of imprisonment, heart disease and infant mortality. Education programs for Indigenous Australians are decades behind those in neighbouring New Zealand where western and traditional Maori languages are combined in education programs from preschool right through university.

But my intention today, though, is not to reiterate the damage that decades of linguistic and cultural oppresion have inflicted on Indigenous Australians. Instead, I think we need to infuse some positive hope into this issue.

Baby steps towards Reconciliaton

A Reconciliation process began in 1991 with the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission recommended that ¨all political leaders and their parties recognise that reconciliation between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians must be achieved if community division, discord and injustice to Indigenous Australians were to be avoided¨ (from reconciliation.org.au).


A Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was soon set up to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community and achieve a formal reconciliation by the year 2001—the centenary of Federation.

On the 13th of February 2008, former Primer Minister Kevin Rudd offered a broad apology to all Aborigines and the Stolen Generations for their “profound grief, suffering and loss” in a carefully worded statement that was greeted by a standing ovation. But Mr Rudd was criticised by indigenous leaders for emphasising symbolism over substance and not doing more in the fields of health and education.

On the 3rd of April 2009, Australia formally adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration stresses the right of indigenous people to their own cultures, institutions and traditions and it establishes standards to combat discrimination and marginalisation and eliminate human rights violations against them.

Although the declaration was not legally binding, it was a step beyond the stance adopted by earlier conservative governments who insisted that the declaration could override existing laws and give unfair advantage to Aborigines.

¨ Our Land Our Languages¨ report

September last year saw the publication of the findings of an inquiry by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs into language learning on Aboriginal communities. Entitled Our Land Our Languages, the report clearly estates that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who speak an Indigenous language enjoy “markedly” better health and are more likely to be employed, attend school and receive a post-school qualification than those who do not. They are also less likely to abuse alcohol, be charged by police or be a victim of violence.

The recommendations in Our Land Our Language were welcomed by bilingual education advocates who have long campaigned for more support and funding for the urgent work of teaching children to speak, read and write their own language, particularly in the Northern Territory, where bilingual education was dramatically scaled back four years ago by the same Labor government who issued the infamous apology.

In the NT, about 40% of children speak a language other than English at home so a bilingual education is crucial. The report recommended “resourcing bilingual school education programs for Indigenous communities where the child’s first language is an Indigenous language”, as well as  ¨compulsory cultural awareness training¨ for all teachers working in Aboriginal communities.

Very importantly too, the report recommended that Indigenous languages be recognised in the Australian constitution.

Minister for School Education Peter Garrett had promised to “talk to state governments about adopting bilingual education for Indigenous children”. He acknowledged that school attendance would improve if children were taught in their own languages for the early years. However, recent past, Labor and Coalition governments´emphasis on the importance of English as the predominant language in education make his assertion a little hard to believe.

The fact that the report was released less than a month after the Northern Territory elections, which saw the Country Liberal Party (CLP) swept to power on a strong bush vote, also makes its agenda a little dubious. The CLP has talked up the importance of first-language learning but it has not released any detailed policy or funding commitments.

Whatever the motives, what matters now is for governments start putting funding and resource commitments on the table and don´t revert back to easier, more symbolic programs that let the actual hard work fall by the wayside.

A true aboriginal revival – the Kaurna language

Once spoken by the original inhabitants of Adelaide, the Kaurna language began to disappear from daily use in South Australia as early as the 1860s. Ivaritji, an elder who was thought to be the last fluent speaker of Kaurna, died in the late 1920s. More than 80 years later, researchers digging through historical archives produced by religious groups and colonial officials, are bringing the Kaurna language back to life.

It has been a painstakingly painful process that involved putting the pieces together of a puzzle left by two Germans missionaries, Christian Teichelmann and Clamor Schurmann. Within 18 months of their arrival in South Australia in 1838, the missionaries had produced a vocabulary of about 2,000 Kaurna words, around 200 translated sentences and key elements of grammar. They also opened a school that used the Kaurna language as a medium of instruction for almost six years before colonial authorities, who only tolerated the use of English in schools, shut it down.

University of Adelaide linguist Dr Robert Emery, explains that ¨the Kaurna language belongs to this place, to the Adelaide Plains, so it has the kind of vocabulary, the words to talk about the places here, to talk about the environment, to talk about the species that inhabit this environment.” The language is now growing and adapting to the demands of modern life, new words  for phone, computer and conference being created based on  original grammar and structures – panpapanpalya means conference, warraityi is a phone (literally the voice-sending thing), while computer is mukarntu (lightening brain).

There are several hotspots of linguistic activity across much of northern Australia and in the central desert region around Alice Springs. Aboriginal languages are living history – a reflection of thousands of years of ecological, spiritual and social knowledge and should be encouraged and supported.

Want to join Russia´s (virtual) space project? – Now could be the right time

Last year was quite an eventful time for our happy little office. Amongst many light-hearted events and team-building exercises involving fancy-dressed bowling, trivia quizzes and soccer competitions, every now and then, we sat down and did some serious work (I hope my boss is not reading this :)). A major project in particular, one that involved the revision, translation and localisation of 38 different countries, kept us focused for great part of the year.

Many lessons were learnt – and documented –  on a variety of topics relating to languages and website readability and localisation. But if I was asked to highlight something from that year-long project it would be the amount of research, detail and ¨digital empathy¨required to achieve a website that accommodates to the expectations of audiences in countries like China, Japan. Korea and Russia.

I have previously written about some of the areas that need particular attention when creating a website for JapaneseChinese and Korean audiences. Russia, though, stood out for me because my lack of previous contact with the country and its language. So,here are some of our findings:

cyrillic typewriter at work

To start with, a caveat. Although Russia tends to conjure thoughts of vast territories and a large population in most people´s minds, this does not immediately translate into widespread Internet usage. Out of nearly 140 million people, approximately 60 million were  using the Internet in 2010, a percentage unlike Korea´s, for instance, where the number of web users is more than 81%.


What´s most remarkable about Russia though, is that in 2007 the number of persons using the Internet was less than 30 million. In a very short span, and  even though most Internet users still concentrate in major cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, this growth rate could well place this nation within the next three to five years in the top five worldwide Internet markets  side by side Germany, Brazil, India, Japan, the US and China.

Even in the area of e-commerce and despite having quite a lot of catching up to do in terms of consumer credit – an expected consequence of decades of government-controlled availability of goods and disposable income – development has been fast and steady. According to com-Score Russia showed the highest growth in online retail penetration in Europe in 2011, a rate nearly twice as fast as that of Europe as a whole.

Search engines  

Yet ANother inDEX, or Yandex, is the dominant search media in Russia, with 61% market share traffic in 2011 shared with Google 25%, Mail.ru 7.1%, Rambler and Bing both with 1%. A full-service portal providing a variety of additional services to users (real-time search, email, mapping, comparison shopping, etc), Yandex generated nearly 11 billion page views per month already in 2010 for Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus.

But Yandex is crossing borders fast and it opened a US office in Boston, creating Yandex.com to allow searchers to query for sites in other Latin characters, mainly English.

And yet, when you approach Yandex for the first time, as is the case with many other local search engines, you need to take your Google hat off and begin taking into account the local specifics and the structural elements of the Russian language. So, I´m going to reiterate what I´ve already insisted on before:


Do NOT merely translate from English using an automatic translator. It does not work. Whether you simply want to put an ad in Yandex or whether your intentions are to establish a more in-depth presence, you need to get a native Russian speaker, preferably one with copywriting and SEO local knowledge.

And another thing. As silly as this reminder may sound to you: do NOT attempt to make your way into Russia by writing  your copy in English. As you can imagine, that does not work either as only about 5% of Russians speak English.

A good place to start is by recognising Moscow and St Petersburg as major civic, cultural and financial centres and realise the preferential treatment they receive from Russian search engines because of their prominence. So, you are more likely to get it right by geotargetting those two cities because the Internet service providers have more accurate data for them than for other parts of Russia.

Remember that Yandex rates sites using a system similar to Google´s page rank called a ¨citation index¨, which ranges information found from 0 to 150,000. The higher a website´s citation index, the more authority it has. Organic ranking in Yandex favours good-quality, rich content. So, if your aim is to reach Russian audiences, you need to remember that despite its expansion into other languages, Yandex needs to satisfy its native speaker searchers first and foremost. Have your content written in Russian and use a Russian country code top-level domain (.ru) in cyrillic characters and Yandex will recognise your site as relevant to its customers.

Unlike China, getting a Russian domain is simple. If you produce some form of  ID, almost any registrar will allow you to register .ru domains (both in latin and/or cyrillic characters). Getting your site indexed is not complex either. The Yandex webmaster tools can help you with that process as well as connect you to Yandex´s API and assist you with keyword search to gain more visibility in their index.

Russian language and cyrillic script

Regional linguistic and cultural differences compound to the already inherent difficulty of the Russian language for outsiders (for instance, the perplexing use of six grammatical cases). This means that search queries will likely be phrased differently in different regions. So, in order to get your keywords right, you need to have someone who understands regional vernacular, idiom and even spelling variations in different parts of Russia.

Because of the language barrier, getting visibility online is not easy. A good way is to associate yourself with online press release  services that include translations and distribution to major consumer, business and trade presses: Sovanet and Ivan-pr.com specialise in online copywriting, translating and public relations for the Russian market and they are worth your initial investment.

For those interested in crossing virtual borders, the Russian online market presents loads of opportunities. As crucial as it is to have a firm understanding of the role that cultural, linguistic and regional differences will play when establishing an online presence in Russia, don´t let the grammatical impossibility of the language and its alphabet discourage you. It might be a race well worth joining.

How Important are Words? (Post 29)

 Reblogged from Sweet Mother:

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Writers are in love with words and so are comedians.  However, I would say there’s a BIG difference between the spoken word and the written word.  For example, I have no problem cursing like a sailor when I’m on a stand up stage.  I think that’s because there’s a smoke-like quality to speaking.  You say something – it may stun or shock or cause a laugh or a tear, but then it’s gone.

Translation industry forecast for 2013 – The AAA (Africa, Arab, Asia) and AT (Automated translation) moment

The translation and localisation industry has been defying economic trends for quite some time now. While the world´s economy insists on slowing down, the language industry continues its steep ascent with a 12% growth expected in 2013.

If you are a freelance translator, though, trying to make a decent living, these figures might contradict the struggle you face to get a job booked, late payments from demanding clients or the ever decreasing rates you get awarded for a job well done.

So, what are the trends we need to watch out for to ensure we get a fair share of the approximately US$35 billion the language industry turns around per year?

A triple A moment

Menit tribe man - Tum Omo Ethiopia

Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), indicates that the rapid spread of the Internet in what he calls the Triple A markets ( African, Asian and Arabic) compounded to the economic growth expected in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East is accelerating the demand for more translation and localisation services for languages in these regions.


While markets everywhere are suffering the effects of a severe economic crisis, Africa is  experiencing its longest income boom for over 30 years, with gross domestic product growth rates averaging about 5 per cent annually over the past decade. The IMF forecasts the continent’s income to increase by around 4.5 per cent and seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies to be African. Nations like Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria are expected to expand by more than 6 per cent a year until 2015.

The mobile phone industry is reaping the rewards of the economic progress now felt in these countries. Africa is the fastest growing region for mobiles in the world, and the biggest after Asia, according to the GSM Association. There are now an estimated 700m sim cards in Africa.”What happened in the UK and US at the turn of the century is now happening in Africa on the mobile platform¨, explains Gareth Knight, a 35-year-old South African based in London, founder of the series of Tech4africa conferences. ¨The market is much bigger than the original one in the UK and US. More and more people are going to get online in the next couple of years and they’ll want all the same things.”

This unparalleled economic growth has created an enormous demand for translation into African languages. Companies wanting to establish their presence in some of the wealthier nations like Angola and Mozambique are in need of Portuguese translations, for instance. In Nigeria, whilst the official language is English, telecommunication or pharmaceutical companies will consider having their marketing material translated into at least one additional local language or possibly even two or three of the most widely spoken tongues dependin on the nature of the product and the demographics of the target market and the speakers´disposable income.

Finance and insurance, mining, tourism, legal, government departments and life sciences are also fields that will require translations into African languages and vice versa.

The Arab world

Arab is widely used in countries that present sound business opportunities for foreign investors like the UAE, Dubai and Qatar. Trade and import/export liberalisation have made some of the countries in the Middle East very attractive investment havens and this has resulted in an ever increasing demand of Arabic translators capable of translating mainly into English but also into other languages like French and German.

Interestingly, a report compiled by translation supplier The Word Point also noted a dramatic increase in English to Arabic and Arabic to English translations during and after the outbreak of popular uprisings in Egypt and Libya. Demand for Arabic – English translations (in both directions) increased in 2011 by 31%. , with media and communications and financial and business related translations seeing the areas where the increase was most felt. Demand for French-Arabic services increased 20%.


Members of the Translation Association of China participating in its annual conference in May 2011 agreed that the current Chinese translation industry is short of professional training and emphasised that only a small portion of the one million people who are providing translation service in China hold professional qualifications.

Lost in translation #2

Before the extensive demand for qualified Chinese translators and localisation experts the government of China approved in 2009 forty training programs for professional translators and interpreters in leading universities throughout the country. However, no matter how many native Chinese translators are produced in China, the fact is that globally speaking, there are fewer than 10 qualified interpreters whose mother tongue is English (or any other language for that matter) and who can translate between English (or any other language) and Chinese.

William White, an experienced freelance interpreter who used to work for the Delegation of the European Union to China, attests to this. White is now based in Beijing, and his daily fee has been increasing at an annual rate of about 10 percent in recent years thanks to the tight market. “In peak seasons like April and September, it’s really hard to find professional interpreters, as there are many international conferences and qualified interpreters are all occupied.”

So, if you have the time and patience to get involved in the apprenticeship of the Chinese language, the demand for professionals capable of translating into English and other European languages is definitely out there. The same can be said for other Asian languages, Japanese to some extent, but also languages from countries that are slowly taking the manufacturing relay from China, like Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Automated translation

To quote the words from GALA CEO Hans Fenstermacher, “despite the advent of the most advanced automated translations in a generation, businesses increasingly need professional translation services to maintain their brands. To sell worldwide, businesses must look and sound as if they’re right next door”. The economic downturn experienced by the developed economies means that it is that much more important to communicate to customers regardless of their geographical location. Transcreation and localisation become crucial, as I have already discussed elsewhere.

Automated translation might have replaced some of the very basic communication needs that result from a number of intercultural and interlinguistic exchanges (the likes of the very handy Google translate or Bing translations). And yet, it is the same automation, technology itself and the ever increasing content that keeps on being uploaded onto the net that create new opportunities for translators and for the language translation industry.

Robot Joe

The rapid increase of language combinations and the faster delivery deadlines, professional project and quality management have already become and will continue to be more significant in future. Technology will allow translations to be performed directly in the client’s CMS system. Translation agencies will adopt further project management tasks, which currently are performed by the companies themselves. I have also discussed in earlier articles how this change is affecting the nature of the tasks performed by translators.

Effective Data Management System (DMS) and Content Management System (CMS) will be basic prerequisites to enable cost-saving and terminologically consistent translations in a translation industry where the quantity of documents to be translated becomes a concern. The application of CAT tools is imperative to create terminology databases, glossaries, etc.

To ensure terminological consistency and to simplify terminology work companies are now making their translation databases accessible to other companies. Skrivanek, together with 42 other leading companies, recently founded the
so-called TAUS Data Association (TDA), which enables its members to share translation files. All members load their language combinations onto a server in the form of Translation Memories or multilingual glossaries and can in return download the language pairs of other members. This creates an immense volume of linguistic data. (Source: http://www.tekom.de/upload/alg/tcworld_608.pdf)

Educational institutions churning the translators of the future have to make a concerted effort in order to adequately prepare them for this continuously changing industry. Poetry translation classes are indeed vary valuable but technology and localisation needs to become core subjects in the curriculi of tertiary institutions. So are business and project management subjects that prepare the younger generations for a profession that every time more will require them to deal with clients and agencies all over the world.

As Einstein once said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  Technology is making the translation industry change at a very fast pace. So, we either change the way we understand the profession or we´d better look for a new one!

Professionalism: Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice, Commitment to Privacy and Confidentiality

 Reblogged from 21st Century Global Village:

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On December 21, 2012, at 9am EST, I will be presenting a session to the members of the Certified PRO Network in ProZ.com, on yet another topic for professional translators and interpreters working in the Global Village of the 21st Century: professionalism, from the standpoint of codes of ethics and standards of practice.  This time I will place the stress on behavior, rather than technical knowledge or abilities.

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