Celebrating the “Father of Pinyin”

I was saddened to read that “the father of Pinyin” died this weekend in Beijing (though he did live to be 111 years old). While until now I never knew very much about the man himself — who daringly criticized the Chinese government, wrote dozens of books, and was exiled during the Cultural Revolution — I was very familiar with (and grateful for) Pinyin when I began learning Chinese.

Pinyin, a romanized version of the Chinese language — which allows non-native speakers a much, much easier way to learn the language — was adopted by China in 1958, replacing the former Wade-Giles system. (Wade-Giles had been conceived by two British diplomats, and its pronunciation guide was very different and far less accurate — for example, the Wade-Giles word for Beijing is the far-less-accurate Peking.) And, as Zhou’s New York Times obituary notes:

Since then, Pinyin (the name can be translated as “spelled sounds”) has vastly increased literacy throughout the country; eased the classroom agonies of foreigners studying Chinese; afforded the blind a way to read the language in Braille; and, in a development Mr. Zhou could scarcely have foreseen, facilitated the rapid entry of Chinese on computer keyboards and cellphones.

I began to learn Chinese in the early 1990s, before moving to Asia to teach English as a second language. I began in the States with an introductory university class in which we were required to memorize characters, which was insanely difficult. In addition to that, our Chinese teacher was Taiwanese, which meant he used traditional characters as opposed to simplified characters (adopted in mainland China to increase literacy). Here is the word for beautiful in simplified Chinese:

美丽

 

And here is the same word in traditional Chinese:

美麗

 

Notice how many more strokes are required in the traditional version. Also note: There is no way for a native English speaker to tell, just by looking at either character, how to pronounce the word. This is where Pinyin comes in. If it weren’t for Pinyin — that is, if I’d had to go by Wade-Giles’ pronunciations — no one I spoke with in Taipei would’ve been able to understand a word of what I said (and it was hard enough as it was; Mandarin Chinese also has four tones for every character, and getting those wrong is all too easy for a foreigner).

Once in Taiwan, I realized I had to focus on spoken Mandarin rather than the written language — most important to survival was learning how to talk. I did have to learn a great many traditional characters, however — this was necessary for everything from eating (in places with written menus, though I ate mostly from food carts) to banking (all transactions on ATMs were in Chinese characters) to finding my way around the country (all of the road signs and bus signs were also in traditional characters).

The language was so different that I learned to “forget English,” as my Chinese tutor taught me; the only way I could grasp the language was to approach it not by translating things in my head but by thinking in Chinese. And this was fascinating…the Chinese language is beautiful, complex, and vast, and when you start to think in Chinese, it’s easier to learn the language, as each character is built from a combination of ideas. To use a simple example, here is the simplified character for the word America:

美国

 

And here is the traditional character:

美國

It is pronounced Mĕi guó, which is translated as “beautiful country” — as you can see, the first part of the character (美, mei) is from the character above, for beauty.

When I returned from Asia after two years, I was so used to thinking in another, very different, language that I found it hard to put English sentences together; I often spoke in simple sentences, as if I were translating my thoughts from Chinese back into English. It took a long time to sound like a normal native English speaker again.

I reflect on all this as my first book, Forgetting English, is released in its third edition. The title story, while fictional, has many moments — including the one with my Chinese tutor — inspired by my time in Asia.

It’s been especially enlightening to reflect on the extraordinary life of Zhou Youguang; as you’ll read in his obituary, he was so much more than the father of Pinyin. Sent to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution, he remained an open critic of Chinese communism. His many accomplishments include overseeing the translation of the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese, and he wrote more than 40 books (some of them banned in China), at least 10 of them published after he turned 100 — truly inspiring.

 

Language Connects People

I’ve just printed a new batch of our popular Language Connects People posters and have a few that are not quite perfect that I’m offering at a discounted price.

As you can see here, there is a small black line around the edges — nothing you’d see after framing, but not quite perfect.

If you’re interested, these prints are just $15 plus shipping. To purchase yours use this link.

The internet connects computers; language connects people. Click to Tweet

WordPress reaches 50 languages as it expands into India

This blog began more than a decade ago when WordPress was available in English only.

WordPress is now available, fully translated, in 50 languages, in impressive achievement.

Polyglots Team Experiences Record Annual Growth, Expands WordPress’ Reach to Millions with New Translations

One of the latest languages to be added is Gujarati, an Indian languages spoken by more than 60 million people.

I mention this language because I’ve long maintained that companies are going to need to localized in some (if not all) of India’s 20+ official languages. They just don’t know it yet.

Google does. So does Facebook. And now, so does WordPress.

For more about the language leaders of the Internet, check out the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card.

The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies, now in Persian

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Make no mistake. The proposed deal between Boeing and Iran Air for 88 jets is a huge deal, not so much in dollars but in symbolism. Because there are many more Western companies lined up eager to strike similar deals in Iran.

While these deals are not without a fair share of risk, there was a time not very long ago when similar statements were made about Russia and China. And, of course, everything could fall apart in an instant (or an election).

Or we could look back a decade from now and wonder what the big deal was. I prefer the latter, which is why I’m pleased to announce that The Savvy Client’s Guide to Translation Agencies is now available in Persian and is for sale in Iran.

Iranian translator Mary Poorglavi translated the book and I recently asked her a few questions about the process and Iran. Here’s what she had to say…

About how long did it take you to translate the book?

You know translating and editing are two separate, but interdependent processes. Therefore, I first translated the book and then edited for three months. Since this was my first publishing experience after 15 years of working as a freelance translator, I did my best to produce a fluent but accurate translation of the book.

What were the most challenging aspects?

The book avoids complicated syntax; therefore, I had no problem in understanding the meaning. However, the most challenging part of the book was related to the cloud model! It was new for me, because in Iran, the traditional TEF (Translating-Editing-Proofreading) model is still used by the translation agencies. To the best of my knowledge, none of translation companies uses this system for localization services and most of them are not familiar with it. Moreover, many freelance translators in Iran do not use even translation memories and are not familiar with them. I think this part of the book should be expanded with more details for those who don’t know what the cloud-based translation system is or how they can use it.

savvy_guide_persian

What is the current state of the translation industry in Iran?

Generally, in Iran as a developing country, it is a slow-growing industry. Unfortunately, Iranian LSPs rarely use technology. Nearly all of LSPs in Iran focus on specialized translation and few companies provide localization services by emails! Some other companies use an automated system of registering the project, pricing, translating, and delivery with no use of term banks or translation memory integrated in their websites (or no use of cloud-based translation system management) and depend only on the knowledge of freelancers. However, recently, some associations and institutes have been established to organize  translation agencies.

Have you seen signs of translation industry growth over the past year as Iran has worked to open up its markets to Western companies?

After terminating sanctions, a very limited number of LSPs are slowly preparing themselves to offer services to global customers and get their shares of global market opportunities. In my idea, publishing books on introducing translation industry, academic papers focusing on translation industry in Iran, using the newest technologies, holding the conferences on translation industry and the importance of the presence in global markets, revising the related policies may help the industry to grow faster.

For those of us who would like to visit Iran, what sights do you most recommend visiting?

Iran is known as a four-season country with many attractions. In Tehran, Golestan Palace and Niavaran Palace are among many beautiful and charming attractions; in Isfahan, there is Naqsh-e Jahan Square known as Imam Square, and in Shiraz, Eram Garden and Persepolis are worth visiting.

Web Globalization Leaders in Life Sciences

webglobalization_lifesciences

As life sciences companies broaden their global sights to include new and emerging markets, their global (and mobile) websites have not always kept pace.

SDL recently commissioned a report in which I benchmarked a select group of 25 life sciences websites:

  • Abbott
  • Abbvie
  • Amgen
  • Astra Zeneca
  • Baxter
  • Bayer
  • Beckman
  • Coulter
  • Becton Dickinson
  • Boston Scientific
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • Edwards Life Sciences
  • Eli Lilly resenius
  • Gilead Sciences
  • Hill-Rom
  • Johnson & Johnson/Janssen
  • Medtronic
  • Merck
  • Perkin Elmer
  • Pfizer
  • Sanofi
  • Sciex
  • Smith & Nephew
  • St. Jude Medical
  • Stryker

From languages to localized content to usability, this report highlights those companies that have done the very best at taking their websites global. In addition, this report provides valuable best practices from which companies across all industries can benefit.

You can request a free copy of the report here.

And I will be presenting from the report on May 25th via webinar, also free. You can register here.

I hope you can join!