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No matter how tense or moody, we tackle all the verbs at bab.la!

The bab.la conjugation tool has been growing quite nicely in the last few months. We started with Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) along with German, English, Dutch and Polish a few years back. Those proved to be popular products as conjugation is usually one of the trickiest parts when it comes to learning a language.

English speakers may think that this is a joke; just add an ‘s’ at the third person singular in the present tense, some -ed for the past except for a few exceptions, all in all nothing undoable.

Fools! Not all languages are as minimalistic as English! Romance languages have different forms at all tenses and all persons. German can add endless syllables. (Have you met entgegengegangen?) Polish has even a different form whether the referred person is male or female. Conjugation is a nightmare.

Fortunately, bab.la is here and willing to wrestle in the darkness of conjugation to make it easy for you 🙂 Yes, that’s how hardcore we, language lovers, are!

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(Picture: sxc.hu)

So we have added some more languages to our range of skills.

We now have Swedish conjugation. Did you know that Swedish conjugation is almost as easy as English conjugation? You should look into learning Swedish.

We then added Russian conjugation. Much harder than Swedish. You should ALWAYS have a look at it before writing anything.

Finally, our latest addition is the Finnish conjugation. If you think Finnish and Swedish are kindred language, think again! Finnish is completely different and looks like an alphabet soup.

Verbs

(Picture: Arno Hollosi)

That’s it for now, but we keep on working and we will be adding more languages very soon!

~John

Language professionals: are you getting your money’s worth?

Many will tell you that speaking a foreign language increases your income and opens the doors to better opportunities; but how do languages influence the size of your paycheck when your entire career relies on them?

The language industry is made of a group of professionals that aid in multilingual communication, may it be written or spoken. This definition often brings to mind just a handful of professions, being foreign language teacher and translator some of the best known. However, the spectrum is much broader. Here is a list of the most relevant language-related fields:

Language fields:

  • Translation. Including localization (translation that is region-specific).
  • Interpretation: Including conference and educational (in-classroom) interpretation.
  • Bilingual Sign Language Interpretation.
  • Foreign Language Education.
  • Subtitling and Dubbing.
  • Linguistics: Including language revitalization (the efforts made to reverse the decline of a language or to revive an extinct one).

Other language-related fields:

  • Lexicography: Designing, compiling and evaluating dictionaries.
  • Terminology: Studying of terms and their use.
  • Dialect/Accent/Language Coaching: Reducing or teaching regional pronunciations.
  • Speech/Language Pathology: Working with communication and swallowing disorders.
  • Forensic Linguistics: Analyzing linguistic patterns in both written and oral evidence to identify or discard their author.
  • Language Engineer: Creating software that can be easily adapted to another language, thus simplifying the localization process.
  • Language Professional: Supporting non-native authors to find appropriate scope and quality, usually in the research setting.

Given the list above, it is clear that translation and foreign language education are just the tip of the iceberg. How much do the professionals in these fields actually make, you ask?  The answer to these questions is as complex as the industry itself. Factors such as education, experience, credentials and language pairs, as well as the characteristics of each project and the conditions of each particular market, all contribute to the bottom line. In addition to this, the amount of freelancers in the language industry, and the unwillingness to share information about real rates, make income references scarce and unreliable.

Nonetheless, and in order to shed some light on this topic, we selected 10 global cities around the world and compiled data on the average incomes of the most common language professions from several sites such as payscale.com and indeed.com, in which current job offers are measured by profession, location and income. You can see our full reference list at the bottom of this article. Here is what we found.

The table and graph below show the average annual income of 11 professions in the language industry, in two of the most important global cities in the world. Incomes here range from a modest 28,000 per year to a whopping amount close to 200,000 per year. However, common professions such as translator, interpreter or foreign language teacher show a somewhat consistent tendency towards the lower side of the spectrum.

Table 1. Average Annual Income

Table 1. Average Annual Income (New York vs. Paris)

Graph 1. Average Annual Income

Graph 1. Average Annual Income (New York vs. Paris)

As with every industry, incomes of the same professions vary greatly from one city to another. But let’s take this information further. The following table shows the average annual incomes of three common language professions in several cities around the globe. In this scenario, interpreters in Dubai make up to over $150,000 a year, overshadowing the income of a dubber or voice actor in New York. The lowest income also changes considerably: translators and localizers in Shanghai can make as little as just $12,000 a year, and interpreters in Mexico City may earn less than half the amount their peers in Paris and New York are making.

Table.2  Average Annual Income (around the world)

Table.2  Average Annual Income (around the world)

Graph.2  Average Annual Income (around the world)

Graph.2  Average Annual Income (around the world)

Yet, a question remains: are language professionals earning more money than the average Joe? Not everything that glitters is gold and having a dollar in Shanghai is not the same as having a dollar in Dubai. So let’s put these numbers into perspective.

 In the next table we compare the overall average income of language professionals by city with the corresponding average income by country. Here we can see a clear tendency to outweigh the medium national incomes.

Table.3 Average Annual Income (Language Industry Around the World vs Overall Income)

Table.3 Average Annual Income (Language Industry Around the World vs Overall Income)

Graph.3 Average Annual Income (Language Industry Around the World vs Overall Income)

Graph.3 Average Annual Income (Language Industry Around the World vs Overall Income)

Now let’s have a closer look. The following table compares average incomes of the corresponding countries with the average incomes of each of the above mentioned professions by city. The information is presented in percentages, may they be above or below the average incomes of each country.

table 4

Table.4 Average Annual Income (% Compared to Average Income by Country)

graph 4

Graph.4 Average Annual Income (% Compared to Average Income by Country)

Although the earnings of the language industry in cities like Mexico City and Johannesburg are more modest than those of their coequals in London and Paris, language professionals living in the latter two cities are more likely to get less value for their money. And so, despite earning similar wages in both Shanghai and Brussels, foreign language teachers living in these cities are in no way in similar conditions. According to our findings, teachers working in Shanghai can earn up to 314% more than the national average, whereas those who work in Brussels are likely to earn around 37% less than other professionals in the same country. Translators working in New York and Johannesburg are presented with a similar situation, in which New Yorkers earn about 12% less than the average, while their peers in Johannesburg can aspire to earn over 400% more than the national average. In Dubai, interpreters are expected to earn up to almost 300% more than the average pay.

Many speculate on the reasons for these peculiar numbers. Some suggest, for example, that recent economic growth in China has lead to a larger demand for foreign language teachers, giving them an upper hand in salary bargaining. Similar proposals have been made about interpreters working in the United Arab Emirates. In Mexico, above-average salaries for foreign language teachers are often explained by the country’s strong economic relationship with the United States and by an increasing amount of private institutions willing to pay better wages for native-speaker teachers. In New York, where the average income is among the highest in the United States, many translators are employed by the law system and, as a result, earn a somewhat modest paycheck, especially when compared with the income of, for example, a New York lawyer or broker. And in South Africa, the large difference between incomes is often attributed to the high unemployment rate (around 20% in 2009) as well as to the growing need for multilingual communication.

So, do language professionals actually earn more than the next guy sitting next to you? Well, as you can see, the answer depends largely on where they are living and in which field they are working.

What about you? Are you getting your money’s worth?

Alexandra Freeman

Sources:

http://money.usnews.com
http://www.wowjobs.ca
http://jobs.usnews.com
http://www.livingin-canada.com
http://www.chs.ca
http://www.misalario.org
http://www.payscale.com
http://www.expat-blog.com
http://www.glassdoor.com
https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk
http://www.proz.com/

Professional translations are becoming increasingly important

For a long time, many companies have no longer just been focusing their range of services and desired collaborations on domestic customers and partners. Increasingly other European and overseas countries are playing a key role in domestic companies’ business development activities. And the companies that are recognising the opportunities for selling their products abroad are not so much large companies, but SMEs in particular. And the reason for this is often obvious – a good product will frequently sell just as well abroad. Broadening distribution beyond the domestic market can increase revenues and, therefore, frequently profits, provided good plans have been put in place.

But what are the hurdles to internationalisation? The largest and most important hurdle is often the language itself. Many companies find it very difficult to become active in a foreign market because, firstly, for some time now English is no longer the language you need to use to achieve success worldwide and, secondly, not all employees speak the required language and, therefore, are only able to translate texts using a dictionary. When you are dealing with complex texts, this usually leads to glaring errors in the translated text.

The team from the Typetime Translations agency in Hamburg explain why professional translations are becoming increasingly important…

TypeTime

Multilingualism in companies

Companies do not just rely on collaborating with foreign partners and distributing their products and services abroad; they are increasingly employing people from different countries with a wide range of native languages. Using English within a company is often a way to provide a language that everyone can speak. Companies usually find a workable solution to deal with any language barriers, but you need a whole range of different languages when, for example, collaborating with foreign customers, suppliers and business partners. This is the issue that many companies shy away from, maybe because not every employee involved in the process has sufficient mastery of the required language to enable them to also produce technically accurate translations or, for example, negotiate on equal terms with a business partner.

Problems will quickly arise if such items as instruction manuals, medical reports, legally compliant texts or scientific descriptions are required in another language. The individual words can certainly be found in a good dictionary, but there is always the risk with a word-for-word translation that the wrong expressions have been used, giving a completely different meaning in the target language. There will be problems if an erroneous translation leads to operating errors which result in damage to property or even physical injury to the operator. In this case the manufacturer can be made liable for this damage or injury.

Calling for professional translators

Professional translators help to give a high level of linguistic accuracy to texts of all kinds and with a wide variety of content. They ensure that the specialist terminology used matches the words that are actually required and that a text is correct in terms of content. The translator should be a native speaker who is also well versed in the finer points of the relevant language. Sometimes it can make sense to commission a specialist translator. These are often people who have changed careers to become translators. They have themselves studied subjects such as medicine, law, physics or engineering and are very familiar with the required terminology.

What is important is that if there are errors in the translation, the translator is now liable rather than the company. When selecting a translation agency, it is therefore absolutely critical to ensure that you are dealing with a professional service provider who has professional liability insurance. Of course, company employees who have the capability can undertake simple translations themselves. And in future it can be assumed that there will be a real assortment of languages in the company which will provide a very useful supplement to technical and linguistic knowledge. However, there will continue to be requirements that can only be met by professional translators. In a global market, professional translation agencies offering a wide range of languages and qualified translators will become increasingly important, particularly in the corporate market.

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PROMT, SYSTRAN, GOOGLE, BING – Has the age of machine translation finally arrived?

Checking what online machine translation service is best for you

Some claim that learning foreign languages is a waste of time, that translators are soon to disappear from the professional market and that technology can get you from language A to language B in no time, for free and without any trouble. Myth or reality? The debate is open; however it is true that technology can be a helpful tool and a myriad of online translation software – also known as machine translation system or “MT” – can be found on the web. So many that it may be challenging to find the right MT for the right text. This is why we have a run a cross-comparative analysis between four MT – Systran’s Babel Fish, Google Translate, PROMT and Microsoft’s Bing Translator and using five languages.

The set-up: Turn on the machines!
Machine translation technology is a complex science. There are many types of MT, among others statistical, hybrid, rule-based or sentence-based. We decided to focus on the user’s perspective and test the four MT efficiency, leaving the technical part aside. If you wish to learn more about the different types of MT and how they work, please check Hutchins and Somers.
In order to carry out this experiment, we gathered a corpus of 500 sentences, submitted to the aforementioned four MT. Ten language combinations were put on trial – 50 sentences per combination. These are English-French, English-German, English-Spanish, English-Italian, English-Portuguese and reversed. Each sample of 50 sentences was translated via each of the four MT and their respective results evaluated on a scale from 0 to 3. 0 for untranslated or not understandable results, 1 when the meaning had to be guessed, 2 when the gist was correct with grammatical mistakes and 3 for translation that would almost compete with the work of a professional translator. Each MT could gather up to 120 points per language combination evaluated.
Because we wanted the corpus of sentences to be as well-balanced as possible, we selected 5 sentences of 10 different areas in each batch. These are advertisement, business, financial, gastronomic, legal, literature, medical, religious, slang and Tweet. Each of those features their own difficulties when it comes to translation. This is why we designed a breakdown of their respective scores for each language combination in order to find out which domains are well-handled by MT and which ones are not.

Overall results: Who wins the battle?
Here are the results that we obtained:


Chart 1. Comparison between 4 MT across 10 language combinations
Unit: points (out of a maximum attainable of 120)

The results show interesting trends. Overall, Google Translate seems to be providing a better translation than the other MT, followed by Bing Translator and Systran and PROMT at the end. The only instance where Bing scored highest is for Spanish-English. Some language combinations such as French-English, Italian-English or Portuguese-English managed to spawn relatively good results; Google Translate gathered over 80 points out of 120 in these combinations – close to 75% of perfect translation. However, Spanish MT results were across all four of them very weak. Likewise, German turns out to be more challenging to translate, as source text and as target text alike. Winner: Human translation. Runner-up: Google Translate.

The chart below shows how well each MT performed across all languages and how many point they gathered out of a total of 1,200. Because some language combinations, as well as some areas of translation, are so challenging the overall results are very average: only a third of the text produced is correct for PROMT and Sytran, about half of it for Bing and Google. There is still significant progress to be done before MT can be used with perfect reliability and accuracy.


Chart 2. Total of points gathered across all languages
Unit: points (out of a maximum attainable of 1,200)

Digging deeper: Results across subjects areas
From the graphs below, we can identify some trends. On the “winning” side, medical translation (probably due to the straight-forward descriptive texts) is what can be best handled by MTs, being in the top 3 in 7 out of 10 language combinations. Advertisements are generally well translated as well – 6 times in the top 3, once in the bottom 3. This is generally because ads use simple sentences easy to remember. Finally, recipes (gastronomic) appear 5 times in the top 3 twice in the bottom 3. This area did especially well when English is the source language as recipes are written in the imperative mode in English, an easy mode for MT to handle.
Looking at the bad players of the experiment, literary translation is, without much surprise, the worst case scenario for MT: elaborated syntax, rare words and unusual figures of speech, among others. As a result, literature made to the bottom 3 in 9 of the combinations. 7 times in the bottom free – both slang and Tweets. Slang uses metaphorical speech, which is usually translated literally by the MT, resulting in a nonsensical segment. Tweets contain exclusive elements the other sentences do not have, such as colloquial abbreviations, URL or symbols (#, @). These sometimes induced MT to make mistakes, in addition to the often bad quality of language used on Twitter: abbreviations, slang words, etc. See the detailed results on the graphs below.
Regardless of what you need to translate, do not expect perfection from MT. They can and do produce intelligible results in most cases, given that the source text is basic, well-written and not too ambiguous, if at all. Out of the four MT tested, Google Translate turned out to be the best one to use in most occurrences. Texts that are generally speaking factual (medical, gastronomical) are MT-friendlier than creative writing (literature, Tweets). Plain texts and simple sentences are consequently easier for MT as they avoid multiple possible translations – this is known as controlled language. Finally, we would like to advise you against relying solely on MT for important subjects or published texts – that could bring you serious embarrassments!


Chart 3. Percentage of successful translation for English-French


Chart 4. Percentage of successful translation for French-English


Chart 5. Percentage of successful translation for English-German


Chart 6. Percentage of successful translation for German-English


Chart 7. Percentage of successful translation for English-Spanish


Chart 8. Percentage of successful translation for Spanish-English


Chart 9. Percentage of successful translation for English-Italian


Chart 10. Percentage of successful translation for Italian-English


Chart 11. Percentage of successful translation for English-Portuguese


Chart 12. Percentage of successful translation for Portuguese-English

John Barré

To unfriend – break up the easy way

The Oxford University Press recently announced the Word of the Year 2009: to unfriend. It is the process of removing someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook. So finally we found a way of breaking up the easy way: Just unfriend the person on Facebook, usually the person won’t even notice it unless he/she looks into his contacts. I guess it is similar to not answering phone calls any more. So, if you want to keep up the good old way of “announcing” the break up do the following:

1. Set your relationship status to single.

2. Unfriend the person.

3. Send a direct message “It’s over”, or if you want to make it more public just post a status update “Let’s just be (unfriended) friends.”

4. Join all single groups on Facebook like “I am single and I am hot”, “Single and sexy”, “Men are plain stupid” or “Women: STOP talking”, “Who needs a boy/girlfriend when I have me?”, “Me, myself and I” to show your true committment.

5. Don’t forget to go all the way: Unfollow on Twitter (is there a unfollow Monday or so on Twitter?), delete the person from your Skype list etc.

If this doesn’t work, we recommend some of the expressions in the “When all else fails” section of our complaints survival guide.

Now, that’s it. Over and out.

Andreas

Foreign Languages and Trade

A recent study by Jan Fidrmuc (Senior lecturer in economics, Brunel University, London) and Jarko Fidrmuc (Professor of political economy, University of Munich) found that bilateral trade between European countries depends positively on the probability that two randomly chosen individuals, one from each country, would be able to communicate with each other in English.

OK, you might think, that sounds like a no-brainer, what’s the point?

The point is: The ability to communicate in one common language, say English, has a positive impact on trade. The two professors indicate that by bringing all European countries up to the level of English proficiency enjoyed by the Dutch could increase European trade by 70%.

70% !!! Hello? That is AMAZING !!!

A 70% increase in European trade – by improving English? That sounds like the best economic stimulus package I have seen so far.

No need for billions and billions of Euros, simply use for bab.la and start learning English by using the vocabulary lessons, the languages quizzes, the games, the dictionary… 😉

I should start writing a letter  to our German chancellor with the header “bab.la instead of billions” right away…

Have a good day,

Thomas