Showing posts with label language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label language. Show all posts

Wednesday 23 September 2020

Language mythologies: variation is the norm

Wouldn't it be easier if we all spoke the same language?

No need for expensive translators or interpreters. No need to waste money and time on crossing linguistic barriers. After all, with a single, unique language, we would understand each other better. 

Maybe there was a time in history when everyone spoke the same language.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
— Genesis 11:1
Who knows, maybe our efforts to learn languages aim to reconstruct precisely this blissed state of the past. A time period when everyone was understood by everyone without the need of an intermediary. 


Variation is part of the human condition. In fact, being human means to be variant, self-contradictory and complex to understand. It easier for scientists to idealise and speak about an universal grammar, ideal native speakers, pure linguistic communities and native speaker intuition. 

We need to focus on the fact that such idealisation is practical for theoretical linguists in order to break up the linguistic system and study it more effectively. However, bear in mind that this has nothing to do with the individual linguistic performances of specific individuals that belong to a certain linguistic community.

After all, even if there was a single language from which all other languages stemmed from, each speaker used it in their own, individual way. This is the complex linguistic reality of being human.


The moment we accept the complex linguistic realities of everyday life, it's easier to make decisions. We can see that there is no ideal native speaker. No ideal grammar book. 

Besides, we see clearly that no native person can be an ideal language teacher or translator. 

Indeed, there has to be a formal education to become either a language teacher or a translator. Sometimes, even a native person can use grammar in an incorrect way while it's possible for a trained non-native individual to speak and write in a grammatically coherent way.


Again, we must accept that variation is the norm. 

Even in the same person, there can be times when their linguistic performance is low or high, according to certain circumstances. 

Besides, there is always room for improvement, when one has a growth mindset. Even a native speaker can improve their linguistic skills, even their accent. There is no clear-cut line that separates native speakers from non-native speakers.

So, if you work with language, make sure that:

  • You maintain a high level of knowledge regarding language
  • You check everything, even if it sounds okay to you as a native speaker
  • You are aware of the variations within the same linguistic system

Variety is part of human nature. Once we embrace this notion, everything starts to make sense.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Translation vs. localisation: how to boost your brand in another language

When it comes to online content, I always notice cross-cultural differences, especially when there is a marked difference with Greece. I am a translator, after all.

The good news is that these local differences can be explored to boost a brand.

How can this be done?

With localisation.


What is localisation? Well, localisation is just like translation, but at the same time, it is much more than that. When it is done right, it looks as if the brand was specifically created for a certain market. 

In localisation, every word is important as it determines whether the brand fits the local narrative or not. And this is crucial for success.

A localised website can help a brand find its place in the local narrative.

Some cultures prefer more detail-oriented product descriptions. Even in a website that sells toys for children, they want to see facts and figures. For them, an informed decision is what matters most.

However, I cannot imagine a Greek commercial website that sells toys mentioning facts and figures. Traditional countries like Greece prefer to see the social and cultural values behind a product or service.

For the example above, I would expect that the Greek website would mention that the toy can be given as a gift. In our culture, it is customary to exchange gifts on many occasions. Greek children receive gifts all the time: on their name days, on their birthdays, on Easter, on New Year’s Day. We do shower children with gifts.

Another example is the content that refers to recipes and food. Many Greek recipes underline the fact that this is something that children will like and thus eat voluntarily (as child nutrition is very important in our culture). Numerous milk ads feature children hopping up and down, impatient to drink up their glasses of milk, filled up to the brim.


We cannot say that some strategies are more authentic than others. Each is authentic for its respected audience. That is why websites and online content should be localised, not just translated. Not written from scratch, but not just translated either.

Localisation begins in the target text but it is not chained to it. If something is not working in the target culture, localisation simply throws that out of the window and tries to find an alternative way to make it work in the target culture.

For example, Befana can become St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great.

Beware: this works only in the context of website commercial translations. If you are translating a novel, Befana will have to stay Befana.

Local culture, local images and local problems make more sense to local people. So, they are more likely to buy from you when your content is adapted to their preferences.

A good place to start is to watch out for:

  • Idioms and fixed expressions
  • Graphic design and images
  • Currency, geography, religion and cultural-specific concepts

Are these adapted for your local audiences?


Global brands are popular. People all over the world want to be part of them. People are thrilled to be able to try out new products or services.

Very often, though, the product or service needs to fit the narrative of the local market. You cannot expect loyalty from customers and clients when the product or service plainly ignores them.

Rather, it is better to present yourself as aware of the local narrative; this way, your brand becomes relevant. It becomes part of the solution.

If not, people will not be able to relate to it. It will not be relevant to them or their needs. They have to be able to visualise themselves using the product or service. They have to be able to see clearly how the product or service is going to satisfy their own particular needs.

Each of us experiences life differently. Our culture is part of who we are, whether we like it or not. And it almost always informs our decisions when it comes to buying a product or hiring a specialist. A good brand strategist needs to think locally to effectively enter a new market. A local specialist will make a difference. And localisation is key.

If you want to know more about Greek, check out this post: 5 good reasons to learn Greek.

Thanks for reading!

Friday 5 August 2016

3 simple language learning tips for shy people

Most researchers advocate that language involves the communication of meaning. It was this idea that brought forward the communicative approach in language learning. This approach gives special emphasis to communication and speaking in the foreign language, ideally from day one. Some of us, though, are shy. Some of us are not comfortable talking with people we don’t know, let alone talking with people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and using another language for that matter.

So what do we do? Here are a few tips for shy language lovers:


First of all, we should bear in mind that being shy is not something intrinsically bad. This is who we are and we are not obliged to change if we don’t want to in order to conform to a cultural ideal. Besides, while some language learners are extroverts and talkative, and are learning new languages with the aim of communicating with people, others, more scholarly types, learn a language in order to focus more on literature or translation. Each motive is legitimate in its own right.


I don’t think it’s a good idea to push ourselves to speak in a new language if we don’t feel comfortable. After all, I believe that our shyness is not connected to our language learning. We can learn a language and still be shy, right? Besides, some people just need more time in order to develop oral communication skills. If you are in a language class, try to explain to your professor that you need your own pace. Your professor should respect your learning style and needs.


Language learning cannot transform shy people into extrovert language learners. However, shy language learners who nevertheless enjoy social media can opt for alternative communicative settings in order to practise the language they are learning. For example, they can join online conversations, e.g. a forum discussion. This way they will be able to use their new language in a safer setting. Besides, shy language lovers can always use their new language in a great number of situations, from reading and translating novels to enjoying films, exchanging emails or exploring a new academic interest. There is no rule saying that shy people should avoid learning new languages.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your language learning!

Monday 11 May 2015

5 good reasons to learn Greek

So  you are looking for a new language to learn. Have you ever considered Modern Greek?

I truly believe Greek is worth it, and not just because it's my language. Okay, maybe precisely because it's my language, I may be a little prejudiced in favour of it. But why not trust my inside knowledge on this? Let's find out the 5 reasons why Greek should be your next language.


Consider that Modern Greek is not that hard as Ancient Greek. Still, there are four cases to master (including the most interesting and rare vocative case), but all in all, grammar rules are pretty straightforward. As with most Indo-European languages, Greek has become more analytic, making things easier for the language learner.


You will use a beautiful new script that is used in mathematics, science, and engineering. Greek letters are also used in the International Phonetic Alphabet and in the names of stars and constellations. In case you want to appear sophisticated, you could also learn how to write in the quaint polytonic system. So cool!


Some languages are great for prose and some other languages for poetry. Modern Greek is absolutely a language for poetry. We are a small country but already with two Nobel laureates, both in poetry. If you love poems, that's the language to learn!


Believe it or not, you already know a lot of Greek. I know, because I have the (bad) habit of saying Greek stuff to friends from other countries and I have seen they understand me. How they do it: using the Ancient Greek they had been taught at school as well as the various Greek elements that appear in certain English words. So with Greek, you are not starting from scratch. Αnd now a quiz for you: can you guess the meaning of the following Greek words? paidiatros (παιδίατρος), pateras (πατέρας) katharizo (καθαρίζω), theatro (θέατρο), panepistimio (πανεπιστήμιο) gymnastirio (γυμναστήριο). You can find the answers at the end of the post.  


According to some linguists, Modern Greek is still evolving, trying to sober up after years of struggle between the two varieties known as Demotic and Katharevousa. The two varieties differ in the matter of register, with Katharevousa being more formal due to its connection with Ancient Greek. As a result, there are many sets of words that express the same idea or concept, something that is explored by writers in various ways. Learning Greek will enable you to witness this most interesting phenomenon.

As you see, Greek is a messy language, with tons of exceptions and irregularities. But this is due to its numerous adventures over the centuries. Studying this kind of language can make you grow as a language learner, and this is what matters most.

Still all Greek to you? Read more:


Quiz answers:
paidiatros: paediatrician, pateras: father, katharizo: to clean (related to catharsis!), theatro: theatre, panepistimio: university (related to epistemology!) gymnastirio: gym (from gymnasium). 

Saturday 29 March 2014

10 things language learning has taught me


Achieving fluency in a new language can take so much time. So, one of the first things language learning taught me was how to set long term goals, and how to stick to them. Language learning has taught me as well how to manage these goals, and especially how to deal with boredom the days these goals seem far and unreachable.


With languages, a little goes a long way. With speakers of other languages, even in the cases when you simply know one greeting or two, it can make much difference. It shows that you respect and acknowledge these people.


Having said that, I believe it is equally important to enjoy taking care of the small details while moving towards your goal. And this goal should be none other than fluency. Personally, I enjoy being fluent; when I use another language, I thrive on the quick game my mind is playing while searching for the correct word or expression.


With learning new languages, many methods work, from the most ancient to the most state-of-the-art ones. In other words, there is not a best method for every student and for every purpose.


With language learning, a little goes a long way, as I said. If you study for a while every day, you will be able to see the first results very soon. This has taught me that if you give time to something, it will grow. In other words, if you take care of something, it will take care of you.


Since languages reflect reality in many different ways, using another language can bring out another side of you. Personally when I use a different language, I become quite a different person. The medium affects the message, as they say.


Have you ever felt you lack the words to describe a situation? That words are not enough? This happens because language evades us. Reality is far more complex than language, and what's more, people tend to use words in their own way. The fact we are able to translate between languages with meaning staying roughly the same shows that there is a level which exists below the surface of language. And while we can reach this level through language, it will always evade us. And it is better to try to think in other ways, for example through images and feelings, and don’t take language too seriously. This is closely connected to what I am going to say next:


Since language is only surface deep, and speakers of different languages usually describe the same state of affairs using different means of expression, learning new languages can shed new light to our experience of the world. For example: in the English language, we 'jump' to conclusions, emphasising this action as premature or thoughtless. In Greek we say we 'bring out' conclusions. So, for me, conclusions are both 'brought out' and 'jumped to', and despite my being a native Greek speaker, when I think about conclusions it is impossible not to think about 'jumping'!


Not knowing anything about a group of people can lead to stereotyping and xenophobia. But interestingly, when you start learning their language, these people begin to have a voice. And it always comes out that this voice is very close to yours. In a world that emphasises differences, learning each other’s languages will bring us closer.


They say that a new language is truly yours when you dream in it. Do you think it is required to have achieved fluency in order to be able to dream in a new language? No, not at all! I have dreamt in languages I had just started to learn. Have you ever experienced looking at something and at the same time name the thing in your mind in another tongue? Or, have you ever started to use words, expressions, even whole chunks of language in a new language without realising it? This is native-language-style processing, and it certainly can happen with languages other than your own; especially when the situation calls for it!

Thanks for reading!