A Hidden International Language

25 11 2014

Into the universal realm of the Unicode, the symbols for a weightlifter, a spiderweb and the Mona Lisa have now been accepted. These are three of the more than 250 emoji considered significant enough that their computer encoding is being officially standardized for use by Apple, Google, Microsoft and others.

new_emojisThese three join hundreds of emoji facial expressions, hand gestures, food items, weather and plant elements, on and on, used to replace or augment words.The non-profit Unicode Consortium regulates embedded computer code for every character in every living language, and is “the foundation for all modern software” according to their official website (Unicode.org). Begun by Xerox and Apple leaders in 1987 as an “international/multilingual text character encoding system,” today Unicode sets officially recognized computer code standards in coordination with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Changing the standardized code for any symbol – even if that code accidentally includes a misspelling – is not possible once it is in use, because stability of past programming with present and future programming is Unicode’s fundamental reason for existence. However, adding symbols is an ongoing process: ancient scripts for example, or new currency symbols, and the ever-increasing number of popular emoji.

The formal petitioning process for the acceptance of new symbols is lengthy and complex. The first criterion is that new characters must be in widespread use as textual elements (for a glimpse of the most-used emoji, check out a real time tally of their Twitter use at emojitracker.com). When that is established, petitioners are asked to engage in discussion via Unicode forums and email exchanges to refine (or eliminate) their proposals.

Such discussions may well include cultural, political, and social concerns (see for example, “What about diversity?” at Unicode.org under FAQ), involving issues like the color of your symbol or its origins. One Unicode emoji petition argued: “Of the more than 800 emojis, the only two resembling people of color are a guy who looks vaguely Asian and another in a turban. There’s a white boy, girl, man, woman, elderly man, elderly woman, blond boy, blonde girl, and, we’re pretty sure, Princess Peach. But when it comes to faces outside of yellow smileys, there’s a staggering lack of minority representation.”

Juxtaposition of computer code standardization with a conversation including yellow smiley faces in a tally of racially diverse symbols seems impossibly odd. But this is, after all, the formative stage of a sort of international language, and human beings are incurably attached to the significance of their symbols.

The Unicode 7.0.0 symbols added this year and 8.0.0 symbols in the process of adaptation are described and listed at Unicode.org.
What do they mean to Americans? What do they mean to Swedes or Peruvians? How is the use of such symbols changing our conversations?


 J. McShulskis



Transcreation or Simple Translation?

21 11 2014

As you expand globally, the question you face is how to establish a customer base that truly understands your message and desires and identifies with your product. The simple translation of your original texts could save time and money in the short-run, but lead to greater expense and even damage control in the long-run, if the direct translation fails.

Skrivanek_globeConsidering all of the nuances that define individual languages, cultures, and product readiness, transcreation is often the only profitable option. What is the difference? Transcreation is a recreation of the original materials in a form that affects the customer in the same way that the source texts affect the original audience. This can result in creative, entirely new messaging that involves changes in the tenor and appearance of everything from your slogans and advertising copy to your product name. Translation more simply adapts your text for the basic verbal understanding of a foreign audience.

But why not utilize copywriters in the target country to read the originals and reproduce the text from scratch in their native tongue? This is an option, but it should be remembered that a nuanced comprehension of your original message must also be employed in order for the new copy to be accurate in all ways. The process of transcreation includes providing a creative brief to specialists, delineating all concepts, as well as feelings, that you hope to convey.

High quality transcreation basically creates a “familiar” passageway into the world of your products, using layouts, colors, colloquialisms, video, music and even purchasing methods that your potential clients in different nations will trust. While the populations of many countries may have some exposure to English and understand it to be the current lingua franca, nevertheless the art of persuading someone to buy your product is complex, orchestrating deeply personal preferences and comfort elements. You can begin to imagine the gap by going online to buy shoes from a Chinese website, for instance, or lamps from an Indian manufacturer – what elements (or missing elements) send you rushing back to Amazon and Shopzilla?

With a booming growth in global advertising, the question of transcreation versus translation can’t reasonably be ignored. A quarter of companies translate into 15 or more languages, and some companies translate into as many as 60 languages. Facebook has adapted its service to the languages of a stunning 90% of the world’s population and 95 percent of people with access to the internet.* The global race for customers is in high gear, and the more sophisticated your tools, the greater likelihood you will win.

 J. McShulskis

*statistics from Nataly Kelly’s, As the Internet Becomes More Global, Language Matters More than Ever, Huffington Post, June 2014


Apple’s ‘Swift Language’ and the Global Marketplace

12 09 2014

In the dynamic currents of globalization, new products influence the market’s demands, and market demand influences product development. A case in point at the most fundamental level, is Apple’s newly introduced programming language, Swift, and companion Xcode6 mobile app building toolkit.

swift-heroSwift’s introduction in June of this year has been met with appreciation by iOS app developers, because Objective-C, the language it will replace, is said to be difficult to learn and to work with. More iOS apps, improved apps, and apps for new markets seem an almost certain result of Swift, with stimulus to related localization and translation.

The following internationalization improvements are a few of the Swift/Xcode6 features prompted by feedback from the global marketplace:

~ New localizations: Hindi, Indian English, Canadian French, and Hong Kong Chinese
~ New keyboards: Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Indian English, Filipino, and Slovenian
~ Lunar calendar support, in addition to Gregorian
~ More complex time interval formatters

Inevitably, such elements affect your access to foreign customers using iOS, as well as your localization and translation choices in those markets.

Hundreds of thousands of apps have been developed for both iOS and Android mobile devices. However in 2012, Apple iOS lost its market advantage globally to Google’s Android, in part because Android is not bound to a single device, and Apple devices are usually more expensive, explaining iOS popularity in 38 countries that are more developed. Swift and Xcode6 seem in part a bid to secure and expand Apple’s market share.

For a world map of operating system preferences, country by country, go to International Business Times:

J. McShulskis

Localization: Targeting Africa

22 08 2014

Consumer goods markets in African countries are rapidly expanding due to numerous factors: population growth and urbanization, emergence of a middle class and shrinking poverty levels, youthful demography, vast natural resources and inward investment, improved business and trade environment, and expanded use of technology. For exporters to Africa, the good news is strong, but challenges remain from such issues as segmented markets, cheap local competition, flawed distribution channels, and untrained workers.*

African Languages

Projected 2020 consumer spending** predicts the highest growth in South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Angola and Senegal. But when looking for your next target market, the viability of your efforts is a complex issue. In the World Bank’s 2014 “ease of doing business” index, for instance, the only countries included in that top ten from the top nine projected consumer markets listed above are Ghana and Zambia (see below).

Localization for Africa may be tricky, but pay off in the long-run. While English and French are common throughout the continent, the range of consumer languages is vast, as you can see in the AllAfrica’s “ease of doing business” list below.*** This list, drawn from World Bank analyses, is based on the overall effect of each country’s government regulations on doing business there.

1. Mauritius  (19th of 189 globally)
No official language. French and English spoken, Creole as mother tongue.

2. Rwanda  (32nd)
Official languages: French, English, Kinyardwanda (which is the most widely spoken and is the language of government). English used in schools. Swahili spoken by many.

3. South Africa  (41st)
Eleven official languages. Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa most widely spoken, with English used in commerce and science.

4. Tunisia  (51st)
Official language: Arabic. Used in daily life: Tunisian Arabic of Derja. French often used in press, business and education.

5. Botswana  (56th)
Official language: English. Many speak Setswana. Afrikaans and three other languages also spoken there.

6. Ghana  (67th)
English is official language, spoken by 90%. Also Akan and Twi by 75%, with Niger-Congo languages also spoken.

7. Seychelles  (80th)
Official: English, French and Seychellois Creole (based on French).

8. Zambia  (83rd)
Official language: English. Seventy-three different languages in the country, but Nyanja is the main one.

9. Morocco  (87th)
Official languages: Berber and Arabic (with dialects called Darija). French often used for governmental and international matters.

10. Namibia  (98th)
Official language: English. Half of population speaks Oshiwambo as first language, but the most understood language is Afrikaans, with other minority languages.

J. McShulskis

*African Development Bank Group, afdb.org
**Euromonitor Africa Consumer Spending, euromonitor.com
***Allafrica.com from World Bank data: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IC.BUS.EASE.XQ

Going Global in London!

3 07 2014

In the month that Skrivanek prepared to open a new office in Sao Paolo (Brazil) giving it a presence on four continents it was perhaps fitting that the company was represented at Going Global, part of The Business Show 2014 “Europe’s Biggest Business Event” which took place 15th and 16th May at the prestigious ExCel, London.

Over 350 exhibitors and thousands of visitors gathered at the spectacular Thames side venue for 250 seminars, 170 workshops and two days of intensive networking. A major reason for Skrivanek’s participation was the chance to meet the widest range of potential clients possible and that certainly was the case with a wide variety of companies represented from small start-ups to major multinational corporations.

Key Account Manager Joe Atkinson of Skrivanek GroupHighlights included speed networking sessions and a giant information exchange wall as well as a full programme of seminars and workshops to suit all tastes. Thursday drinks reception held in beautiful late afternoon sunshine on the Excel’s riverside terrace was also an excellent opportunity for informal networking with the famous skyline of the City of London reminding everyone of the main reason for being there… business!

On Friday An Stuyven, Skrivanek’s Global Marketing and Sales Manager gave a presentation as part of GALA’s contribution to the event. An spoke on the very pertinent theme of “Translation Tips for Going Global” and her insight into the translation process combined with practical advice designed to save would be exporters’ time, money and stress was much appreciated by the audience.

An Stuyven_Global Marketing & Sales Manager SkrivanekBy the end of the event on Friday afternoon the Skrivanek team had spoken to a large number of fellow attendees representing private medical clinics, patent and IP lawyers, relocation experts, website designers, a host of IT companies with specialised products, Business Development specialists and many others. As the name of the event suggests a lot of these companies will be Going Global in the near future and with the contacts made in London Skrivanek will be there to assist them.

Joe Atkinson

How To Negotiate With People Around The World

22 04 2014

… a very interesting article on:

How To Negotiate With People Around The World.

Many of you may have encountered this in praxis –  business people from different countries tend to do business in a different way.

This Article by Gus Lubin is a very nice description and overview and a lot of truth in it, I find!

You can’t expect negotiations with French to be like negotations with Americans, and the same holds true for cultures around the world.

British linguist Richard D. Lewis charted communication patterns as well as leadership styles and cultural identities in his book, “When Cultures Collide,” now in a 2005 third edition. His organization offers classes in cross-cultural communication for big clients ranging from Unilever to BMW.

In support of cultural studies, he writes: “By focusing on the cultural roots of national behavior, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them, and we can make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us. A working knowledge of the basic traits of other cultures (as well as our own) will minimize unpleasant surprises (culture shock), give us insights in advance, and enable us to interact successfully with nationalities with whom we previously had difficulty.”

Although cultural generalizations can be overly reductive, Lewis, who speaks ten languages, insists it can be done fairly, writing: “Determining national characteristics is treading a minefield of inaccurate assessment and surprising exception. There is, however, such a thing as a national norm.”

When meeting with French, be prepared for a vigorous logical debate.

When meeting with Americans, expect them to lay all their cards on the table, get upset when there’s a disagreement, and resolve as fast as possible with one or both sides making concessions.

We’ll go over the rest in brief after a selection of communication charts taken with permission from “When Cultures Collide.” Below, conversational range is shown with increasing width, obstacles are marked in gray, and cultural traits are noted as well.



As you may surmise, “When Cultures Collide” spends relatively little time on today’s emerging markets, which is unfortunate but not surprising since it was originally published in 1996. The book does offer some commentary on Africa, South America, and other places not mentioned here, however, as well as much further commentary on these 25 countries — and we advise anyone interested in international communication to check it out.

Let’s go over the other diagrams in brief,  paraphrasing and quoting from Lewis:

Canadians, compared to Americans, tend to be more low-key and inclined to seek harmony, though they are similarly direct.

English tend to avoid confrontation in an understated, mannered, and humorous style that can be powerful or inefficient.

Germans rely on logic but “tend to amass more evidence and labor their points more than either the British or the French.”

Spanish and Italians “regard their languages as instruments of eloquence and they will go up and down the scale at will, pulling out every stop if need be to achieve greater expressiveness.”

Scandinavians often have entrenched opinions that they have formulated “in the long dark nights,” though they are reasonable conversationalists. Swedes often have the most wide-ranging discussions, Finns tend to value concision, and most Norwegians fall somewhere in between.

Swiss tend to be straightforward and unaggressive negotiators, who obtain concessions by expressing confidence in the quality and value of their goods and services.

Hungarians value eloquence over logic and are unafraid to talk over each other.

Bulgarians may take a circuitous approach to negotiations before seeking a mutually beneficial resolution, which will often be screwed up by bureaucracy.

Poles often have a communication style that is “enigmatic, ranging from a matter-of-fact pragmatic style to a wordy, sentimental, romantic approach to any given subject.”

The Dutch are focused on facts and figures but “are also great talkers and rarely make final decisions without a long ‘Dutch’ debate, sometimes approaching the danger zone of overanalysis.”

Chinese tend to be more direct than the Japanese and some other East Asians; however, meetings are principally for information gathering, with the real decisions made elsewhere. Hong Kongers negotiate much more briskly to achieve quick results.

Indian English “excels in ambiguity, and such things as truth and appearances are often subject to negotiation.”

Australians tend to have a loose and frank conversational style.

Singaporeans generally take time to build a relationship, after which they can be shrewd negotiators.

Koreans tend to be energetic conversationalists who seek to close deals quickly, occasionally stretching the truth.

Indonesians tend to be very deferential conversationalists, sometimes to the point of ambiguity.

Israelis tend to proceed logically on most issues but emotionally on some.

And that’s how one respected, well-traveled, and highly multilingual linguist sees the world.


You find the original article here:


Or check out Skrivanek’s Cultural Consulting Service


Machine Translation is not Google Translate

5 03 2014

Google Translate is one of the most popular instant translation systems available online, and while it is certainly a type of “machine translation,” it’s quite a different tool than those used in certain situations by professional language service providers (LSPs)such as Skrivanek.

google-translateTo generate translations, Google Translate (GT) searches millions of sentences for comparable patterns in origin- and target-language documents that have already been translated by human translators and entered into its database. Then, basically, it makes an “educated” guess as to what an appropriate translation would be. This process of seeking patterns in large amounts of text is called “statistical machine translation” (SMT).

You’ve probably seen how GT works: type in words and you will receive a quick translation (in any of 80 languages) that will range in quality from excellent to questionable, depending on how much text for your language pairing has been fed into the GT database. Google Translate director, German computer scientist Franz Josef Och, describes the GT process as the computation of “probabilities of translation” through comparison of the submitted text with billions of words of “learned” text in GT. The more text is available in the database, the “smarter” GT becomes. Tellingly, the GT creative team is made up of mathematicians and programmers and does not include any linguists.*

On the other hand, software systems such as PROMT, Asia Online, SYSTRAN and Moses, referred to as Machine Translation (MT), are complex, customizable translation engines that are specifically trained for certain projects or content in order to maximize efficiency and accuracy. Often used for technical and repetitive texts without subtleties, MT can assist large corporations in the translation of materials they simply would not have the capacity or budget for otherwise.

In the past MT systems were often entirely “rules based” (RBMT), meaning that information about language structures – not mathematical formulas – formed the foundation of their programming. Now MT engines like those mentioned above are often hybrid systems that combine RBMT and SMT. Basically, MT engineers “train” the sophisticated MT programs with glossaries from relevant fields, along with text from specific documents and corrections from previous mistakes, resulting in a tool that becomes more refined the more it is used for each client. This kind of multi-faceted MT requires extremely high levels of capital investment for both hardware and software, and for the process of customization.

Instant online translation tools like Google Translate are a gift in an era of communication expansion so extensive that a large American corporation might want immediate access to comments tweeted by an Icelandic teenager about its latest product. There are numerous instances of such social and commercial interaction online when communication speed is more important than language precision.

But for linguistically and culturally accurate translations of text that contains any ambiguities, nuances or critical information, hands-on human intelligence is still essential. Even complex MT systems are most appropriate for only some types of texts and then merely as producers of raw output that is checked, smoothed and corrected by human post-editors.

For further information:

*”Google Translate Has Ambitious Goals for Machine Translation,” by Thomas Schulz, Spiegel Online, Spiegel.de, September 2013

J. McShulskis