The Politics, Psychology and Art of Scripts

5 01 2018

The history of how scripts and alphabets emerge, evolve and disappear through history, is built on the changing tides of commerce, cultural dominance and religion. Two generations of a people who do not write their language in its original script will render that script endangered, and very nearly dead.


Inspired by (an online encyclopedia of languages and alphabets), Tim Brookes founded the Endangered Alphabets Project in order to support “endangered, minority and indigenous cultures by using their writing systems to create art.” He speaks of writing systems as having three parts, reflecting different aspects of the human mind:

1. the phonetic element of sound

2. the semantic aspect which gives it meaning within a language

3. the graphic ingredient of its curves and lines.

Histories and cultural aesthetics are contained in scripts, and likewise lost when they are. Wars that lead to the conquering of one people by another have led to banishment of entire cultures, including their languages and scripts. Governments impose one language over another for such reasons as control, unity, and the puncturing of a minority’s vitality. Phoenician leadership in global trade 1000 years BC spread their writing system all over the region, extinguishing others over time as they were not used. The dying off of small populations with their own scripts and languages has led Tim Brookes on quests to far corners of the Earth to find the remaining individuals who still carry the irreplaceable knowledge.

In the case of American Latin alphabet cursive, the extinction of knowledge currently taking place is led by public schools that have ceased to teach the subject. The decision seems to be occurring without thought or planning, a default option ‘chosen’ because the subject is declared irrelevant and a waste of education funds in an era when keyboard communication dominates most activities.

But close-up, firsthand, here in the 21st century, we can see that the real losses incurred when knowledge of a script dies (and thus eventually the script itself), are numerous, and varied in nature. Here’s a big one: there are countless American documents written in script that look as foreign as hieroglyphics to contemporary sixth graders who have not learned that native script. As adults, these young Americans will not be able to decipher even the personal missives of their grandparents – they are being cut off from connection as they are cut off from the knowledge of their civilization’s script. Is this really healthy for a free and literate society?

Beyond that incomprehensibility of existing documents, there are other losses when the learning and use of a script is withdrawn from its people. According to Psychology Today, training children to write their alphabet with their hands is a commitment to developing their capacity for acquiring knowledge. A “reading circuit” of linked sections of the brain activated by reading is not activated by keyboarding. After receiving letter instruction, a group of pre-literate 5-year-olds in an Indiana University study received brain scans that showed enhanced neural activity that was more “adult-like” than those of children who merely looked at letters. Cursive writing teaches the brain to integrate visual and tactile information, paving the neural pathways that facilitate fine motor dexterity.

The passion for languages runs deep at Skrivanek, for so many reasons. You’ll find our language service team members to be interested in every aspect of your translation needs.

Contact us.



Your Message in Pictures

8 12 2017

We are all aware that the attention span of the average 21st century human being using 21st century media has observably diminished. By choice and culture we have learned to navigate abundant, often chaotic content, including mere flashes of imagery that our visually-oriented brains handle quickly.


We have been honing our media-consumption skills for decades now, and we’re good at it. A compelling statistic from Springer research says that people who follow driving instructions with text and images do 323% better than those who receive only text as guidance.*  Clearly non-verbal imagery streamlines certain types of thinking.

So how to take advantage of this hard wiring now that visual image options are numerous and easy to share? Where to begin? Four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it, according to Animoto* – you probably don’t want to ignore that opportunity.

The goal of marketing is to quickly capture the attention – and heart – of your potential customer, so clearly you must carefully consider both those elements that attract and those that are off-putting. You would do well to research everything from the effect of colors in various cultures, to the most popular social media outlets in your target countries**, to whether your audience prefers dubbing to subtitles, and what kind of imagery is most likely to resonate with them.

Partnering with transcreation and media experts can elevate your creative ideas into forms you may not have even thought of before. Live video has grown more popular than traditional video, for instance – is there a place for this in your messaging? Almost 30% more people viewed a 360-degree video than the same content in a conventional format, research by Magnifyre* revealed, and there might be an aspect of your business that is suited to this medium. Have you explored adding visual content such as graphs, memes, and photos to your text every 75-100 words or so? This is the ratio of articles that receive the highest social media shares, according to BuzzSumo’s* analysis of over 1 million articles.

Decades ago translation of your marketing materials required little more than native knowledge of the target language. But today the depth of communication and range of marketing possibilities is expanded by knowledge like this observation from Hubspot, referring to a Norman Nielsen Group study: “Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.”

As a global leader in the language service industry, Skrivanek has kept up with every aspect of international communication, at every level. For your projects, both new and those you wish to re-invent, we will assemble the experts who can optimize the visual content of your marketing materials for every culture you wish to reach.

* As referenced by Hubspot, “42 Stats You Should Know About Visual Content Marketing in 2017”

** See Moravia, Nov 13, 2017, “Four Tips for Choosing and Optimizing Visuals in Your Global Content,” by Lee Densmer for more information

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Culturalization: the Heart of Communication

13 11 2017

There are experts employed by global companies like Microsoft, whose job descriptions might read something like: examination of everything going on at every level in every country where we sell products.


Beyond adaption to such elements as foreign currencies, time zones, and programming requirements, and beyond translation of languages, culturalization is the process of deep-level product adaptation to the huge variety of people globally who will use it. Sensitive and subtle issues unique to a country’s current political and social climate can figure prominently in the reception of marketing in a country. Historical circumstances that still prompt emotional responses and geopolitical boundary disagreements that were never satisfactorily resolved – such issues can lurk potently just below the surface of a people’s consciousness.

Imagine a start-up in Eastern Europe deciding to play on the vast geography of the US by using both Union and Confederate flags in marketing graphics. Not every entrepreneur in every country knows American Civil war history and how its symbols can still sizzle and divide neighbors. And, likewise, American knowledge of almost all foreign cultural, political and historical issues is most often limited to a handful of fairly superficial ideas. Experts are required to safely and successfully navigate touchy details at the heart of a culture or country. And such details can be brought to mind for a country’s natives by background music, color schemes, hand gestures… the list of potentially volatile elements is long.

Current developments within a specific people’s behavior are also important to study. As an example, for the Chinese version of Draw a Stickman, the game developers observed and incorporated the fact that Chinese players generally prefer more detailed and explicit instructions. This company also modified the game’s online social integration tools to link to the preferred social media platforms in China. There is no globally uniform strategy for any aspect of communication.

The world of ideas that your product presents may be a fiction conjured from what appears to you to be ‘nothing’. But if it hints at the sovereignty of one people over another, it will be deemed unacceptable in the offended nation. Games that do not show Taiwan as part of China, for instance, are banned there. What is known as the Sea of Japan in Japan is called the East Sea in Korea – clearly that’s a detail one would want to get right or avoid altogether.

Digging into cultural knowledge from the start is the best policy your company can adopt. The geo-cultural experts say they are most often called in when a problem has already arisen. But if you build content from the start with awareness of, and advice about, every market you hope to reach, your core communication can be clean of misguided mistakes. Skrivanek’s approach to serving our global clients has prioritized this practice from the start. We employ the expertise of our native linguists and subject experts in the countries where you need culturalization assistance, and welcome the opportunity to optimize your connections there.

Skrivanek will be at tcworld 2017 – Tekom Annual Conference, Stuttgart October 24th-26th 2017

11 10 2017

Skrivanek’s Project Management Team Leader Jan Hirš will be representing the company at the tcworld conference in Stuttgart at the end of October. Jan has been working for various LSPs for almost 10 years and  has extensive experience in all aspects of the translation business. Most recently he has been appointed head of Skrivanek’s  International Project Management Center and Localization department providing language services to major companies and organizations worldwide.


If you would like to contact Jan prior to the event:

Phone: +420 739 391 791


Skrivanek will attend the prestigious International Engineering Fair (MSV) in Brno, October 9-13, 2017

4 10 2017


Skrivanek is gearing up to attend Central Europe’s International Engineering Fair (MSV) at the Brno Exhibition Center October 9-13, 2017. In order to make the most of this gathering of 75,000 attendees from all major fields of engineering specialization, Skrivanek is prepared to speak with all corporate visitors who are interested in expanding and improving their international sales. Whether their companies focus on hydraulics, mining, surface technology, power engineering, or any other of the many dynamic commercial engineering fields, Skrivanek has subject matter experts capable of translating and localizing with perfect accuracy.

The International Engineering Fair offers five full days of programming that ranges from tours of the state-of-the art fair booths, to discussions of robotics and automation, to detailed advice about business opportunities in specific countries, such as India, Vietnam, and Laos. Because language services are integral to the success of every global engineering endeavor, Skrivanek expects this conference to bring new connections that will expand our expertise in the field for the benefit of all of our clients. Moving into the 21st century assisting engineering pioneers who wish to expand their global influence is a long-term Skrivanek goal.

Visit us at Stand 16, Exhibition Hall C!

To arrange a meeting, please contact us at


Watch, Listen: embracing audio visual communication

19 09 2017

No form of communication is more natural than watching and listening to another human being explain something. These days, millions of people seek videos online to display products they are might purchase or to offer support for those they own. These videos will most likely include your company’s products whether or not your company created them.


The international commerce conversation is shifting from a focus on text generated by company marketing specialists, to one with more interactive elements at its core: direct customer feedback about what is and is not desirable, unadorned facts shared on social media and customer-generated videos about what your product is, and your own professional multimedia pieces.

Translation industry analysts expect audiovisual translation (AVT) to grow at four times the rate of other industry segments in the coming years. AVT includes subtitling, dubbing, voiceover, closed captioning, apps and video games. Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube daily, and 80% of those are outside the U.S. The market trend is clear. In addition to customer desires for audiovisual communication, some governments have increased regulatory requirements for closed captioning and subtitling.

The challenge to company leadership is to think of the core message for their marketing as the pure idea – not the verbal texts. Translating that core idea directly into multimedia forms (including but not limited to text) speeds up and streamlines the process of reaching your global customers. In the words of Jim Compton: “text and language are just characteristics, or dimensions of content’s form.”*

This paradigm shift involves thinking about your product and the marketing and sale of it in global terms from the very beginning. Traditionally, companies have thought of their own nation’s population as their ‘first’ market, with ‘foreign’ markets as potential customers down the line. But today so many networks of commerce aren’t limited by the same, old geopolitical or even linguistic boundaries. The question becomes how to describe your product to anyone in the world in a form more pure and immediate than written words.

Improved audio visual technology continues to make this easier and more cost-effective. There are obvious obstacles in localizing an online video tutorial for use of your product, for instance. As an example, it takes 30 minutes to engineer one minute of audiovisual from one language to another. Voice actors are also expensive. But already software exists that can use twenty minutes of a recorded voice, break it down into the smallest units of sound, and reconstruct new sentences from those – sentences that include words the original voice never spoke.*

The exciting options available in the realm of audiovisual localization are ever increasing. For the expertise you need in order to localize using AV concepts and technology, look to Skrivanek. Our linguistic experts will help you translate your core messages into every language, format, platform, and medium you require.

*Multilingual, Sound and Vision, Jim Compton, September 2017

**Project VoCo – Multilingual, AudioVisual Localization, Kamil Juljanski, September 2017.



Neural Machine Translation: a Little More Like Human Thought

24 08 2017

Machine Translation (MT) has been with us for several decades. The first effective form developed was Rule-Based MT (RBMT), initiated in the 1950’s. RBMT became obsolete when Statistical MT (SMT) was refined in the 1990s, and one form of SMT – Phrase-Based MT – still defines major online translation services.


Since 2014, Neural Machine Translation (NMT) has moved into the language services arena, opening the door for a potential paradigm shift. This is because the way NMT operates is fundamentally different, so the form it will take as it is used and evolves is not easy to predict. It’s described as “mysterious” in a Systran blog that attempts to breakdown in detail how it works,* and part of the reason it is so complex and difficult to explain is because the NMT seeks patterns on its own without being told exactly what to look for, and in the layers of processing its hard to detect how it makes its decisions.

SMT basically works by comparing source text ‘n-grams’ – 6-word groupings of words – to target language match possibilities. NMT, on the other hand, builds its data and methods through ‘deep learning’ processes which, as NMT’s name indicates, somewhat resemble the biological neural networks of animal brains. Rather than following task-specific programming, NMT systems approach problems by seeking connections from examples.

NMT systems run on Graphical Processing Units (GPUs), which are powerful and require a fraction of the memory that the Central Processing Units (CPUs) that SMT need. However, the training that the systems require is “computationally expensive,” Google says.**

Other drawbacks are that NMT doesn’t handle rare words well and this has hindered its efficiency. But with isolated, simple sentences, Google’s NMT “reduces translation errors by an average of 60% compared to Google’s phrase-based production system,” according to a Google abstract.**

Four NMT systems are currently available: Google translate, Microsoft Translator, Systran Pure Neural Machine Translation, and an open source NMT called OpenNMT from the Harvard NLP group. As the more sophisticated MT systems that Language Service Providers utilize incorporate NMT, you can be sure that Skrivanek will keep you informed of any new capabilities the technology might make available to you.

* How does Neural Machine Translation work? October 17, 2016

**2016 Google abstract