Master Pronunciation by Learning the International Phonetic Alphabet

Many of us know what the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is – sort of. You’ve probably seen it in a dictionary before – characters slightly resembling the English alphabet written to the right of a word, e.g. \fə-ˈne-tik\. Many know that it explains how to pronounce the word. Very few of us actually know how to read these characters, however, as the IPA is largely ignored by the average citizen. It’s a shame, because knowing the IPA has great benefits! 

Aside from avoiding the embarrassing faux pas of incorrectly pronouncing your fancy new vocabulary word at a party, it can actually help you improve in a foreign language! While it won’t teach you grammar structure or new vocabulary, it can improve an area people often overlook: pronunciation.

The IPA details how to represent sound without relying on one single language spelling. It established a set of alphabetical characters that can explain how to make almost any human sound, by explaining both where sounds are made in the mouth, and how humans perceive those sounds. This is extremely important to know, because most humans are not conscious of how to make sounds. When born, we have the ability to make any and every sound, but when we learn our first language, we lose the ability to pick up any sounds which we aren’t exposed to.

Thankfully, we can still make those sounds! We just have to learn how, and that’s where the IPA comes into play. Take a look at this chart below:

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IPA Chart, http://www.langsci.ucl.ac.uk/ipa/ipachart.html, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License. Copyright © 2005 International Phonetic Association.

The horizontal row depicts the place of articulation. In basic terms, this is where sounds are made, such as when two lips meet (bilabial) or when the tip of the tongue touches the back of the top teeth (dental). The vertical row depicts manner of articulation. While a bit more difficult to explain, essentially this how the sound is made, or the interaction between the speech organs (tongue, lips, air, palate, etc.) when making sounds. For example, a plosive is sound is made when we briefly stop the air stream, then letting it go. In English, this would be a “p” or “b” sound.

Learning the IPA can be quite the challenge; as evidenced above, there are many, many ways sounds are made. However, once you have it down pat, learning pronunciation of any language is much easier.

Here’s an example: in French, you aren’t sure how to pronounce the “n” sound in the word “agneau” (“lamb”) but you know the IPA spelling is [aˈɲo]. The [ɲ] character is a palatal nasal. A palatal occurs when the tongue presses against the hard palate (or roof of the mouth), and a nasal occurs when air escapes through the nose. By copying these two movements, you should be able to make this sound! 

This example is a bit on the easier side, because we have a similar sound in English. Some languages have sounds you may have never heard – and certainly not made – before. That’s okay! While it may be a struggle at first, by knowing the place and manner of articulation, you should be able to recreate the sound.

Learning the IPA is quite complex, and we only provided a brief introduction. For those struggling with pronunciation however, we highly recommend a closer look! If you’ve used the IPA to learn a new language, let us know in the comments.

Interpreting vs. Translation: What’s the Difference?

When ordering language services, clients often ask for “a translator,” not knowing that what they really need is an interpreter. It is a common misconception that these two services are interchangeable. Rather, they are completely separate skill sets. 
 
At its core, the difference between interpreting and translation is the medium it uses. Interpretation refers to spoken-word encounters. The Interpreter will explain the foreign message to the Listener in the language they understand. There is no communication through written word – instead, that’s translation. Translation is the transformation of written word from one language into another. 
 
In even easier terms, just remember:
 
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Although many linguists can be both an interpreter and a translator, not all are equally effective in both fields. If an interpreter offers to translate a project for you, be sure they have experience with translation, and vice versa. To understand the different skills needed, consider the following situations: 
 
- If asked to elaborate about something, would you rather write out an explanation, or discuss the topic in person? 
- Likewise, do you learn best from written instructions, or one-on-one training?  
 
Everyone has a unique preference; we either feel comfortable in writing or in interactions. Here lies the difference between the skills of an interpreter or a translator. Although both involve the transformation of language, linguists embrace their strongest style. 
 
Congratulations on raising your standards and knowing the difference between interpretation and translation!

Chris Lonsdale Ted Talk: How to Learn Any Language in 6 Months

The above video features Chris Lonsdale, creator of Kungfu English and author of The Third Ear, explaining how anyone can learn and become fluent in a second language within six months.

Unfortunately, Lonsdale doesn’t detail what he means by “fluency,” as the definition often differs to each language learner. Based on the 14-minute mark of the video, it’s likely he’s referring to the ability to comfortably engage in every-day conversation, as he states: “In English, 1,000 words covers 85% of anything you’re ever going to say in daily communication. Three thousand words gives you 98%… You’ve got 3,000 words, you’re speaking the language…”

We highly recommend you watch the full video; whether you believe it’s possible to learn a new language in six months or not, Lonsdale offers sound studying advice. Here are a few of our favorite tips:

  • Practice mixing the language around. Lonsdale says, “If you’ve got 10 verbs, 10 nouns, and 10 adjectives, you can say 1,000 different things.” Just like how babies learn their first language, it’s important to experiment and create new phrases.
    Get a “language parent.” Lonsdale defines a great language parent as someone who will work hard to understand what you’re saying (even when you’re wrong), uses words you already know, confirms understanding with correct language, and does not correct your mistakes. (The latter idea is surprising for many, but current linguistic theory states that, for children, making errors is a vital part of learning, and correcting these issues is pretty much pointless. This concept doesn’t really differ for adults.)
  • Study the face – specifically the mouth – of a native speaker. Languages differ greatly in pronunciation, and many use sound formations that aren’t found in your first language. Lonsdale argues that you may need to teach your body how to make certain vocal movements, and the best way to do this is learning from an expert!

Dynamic wants to know: how quickly have you become fluent in a language? What learning trick helped you the most?

Putting Quality First

In the language service industry, three variables usually dictate how a project will proceed: cost, speed, or quality. When prioritizing one factor, it is invariably at the expense of the remaining factors. A translation requiring a quick turn-around time will cost more and can jeopardize quality; a high-quality translation will cost more and have a longer turn-around time; etc.

Often, clients prioritize cost over speed or quality. This can be a dangerous gamble. Traditionally, the less expensive the product or service, the lower the quality level, and translation is no different. Quality Language Service Providers (LSPs) will charge accordingly, and you pay more for the assurance that the product is true to the source, linguistically solid, and semantically correct.

For it to have value, written content – in any language – must be correct. A company who publishes text riddled with errors invariably damages its credibility and reputation, and those are not easy to recover. If you are expanding into the global market, your new prospective clients expect high-quality written content if you hope to impress them.

If you aren’t convinced, check out the many horror stories about poorly translated materials that were widely published. While mistakes happen to even the best linguists, most issues stem from sub-standard translation standards. Do you want your business know for a comical – or worse – offensive translation? Let your product do the talking, with a strong, quality translation.

For many, however, choosing cost over quality is a necessity. Money is tight, and your budget may not allow you to pay for the linguist you prefer. If you’re in that position, here are a few tips to maintain quality on a tighter budget:

  • Start with a high-quality, experienced LSP and get a quote. Don’t assume your dream company will be out of your budget: many completely affordable LSPs give exceptional work and can often provide better value than “cheaper” companies by creating efficiencies in the process, and not overcharging after each project is complete.
  • Ask about your LSP’s vetting process for linguists. How much experience do they deem necessary to be a linguist? Do they require any certifications or references? Once you know the LSP’s expectations for their translators, you can make an educated decision whether or not to trust their quality.
  • Don’t rush the project unless you have to. Plan ahead and allow plenty of time for your LSP to properly adhere to their translation process. A long turn-around time gives linguists the ability to research terms and edit their material properly.

Vote Dynamic for February Supplier Spotlight Contest

Dynamic Language is participating in Supplier Connection’s February Supplier Spotlight contest, and we’d love your support!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Supplier Connection asked, “What is the sweetest way you show your employees that you support them? What do you do to build and maintain morale?”

You can read our full essay submission here, but here are a few of our favorite ways to support our employees:

  • CASINO NIGHT: We recently began a tradition of hosting a yearly casino night, where employees can relax with some great food and fun games!
  • CULTURE DOLLARS: In order to encourage a harmonious work environment, we give each employee a stipend called “culture dollars” to use within their department or to join forces with another department to celebrate working together. Employees then plan an event outside of work, such as dinner and a movie, or dining at a Japanese steakhouse, where they get to know one another without the pressure of work.
  • VALUES VIP: Every two weeks we choose one of our six core values –responsiveness, courtesy, professionalism, congeniality, effort, or humility – and both management and employees nominate colleagues for demonstrating the chosen value. All nominees are identified in a company-wide email, and the winner receives a gift certificate and a reserved parking spot.

Voting is open until February 26th at 8 p.m. ET. Thank you for your support!

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Purrfect Your Spanish with CatAcademy

photo 3The creators of Memrise – a free, online language learning program – have recently released a wonderful app called CatAcademy. The app, which teaches Spanish through entertaining pictures of cats, is quite ingenious and definitely worth downloading for anyone wanting to learn the basics of the language.

CatAcademy’s key function is to associate an image with a word or phrase. This philosophy stems from Memrise, whose program was designed from studies that show that vivid, sensory memories will create a stronger connection in the brain. By this logic, linking language to relatable and unique phrases or images, called “mems,” should make memorizing a new language easier.

CatAcademy takes this idea and adds a little more fun. Cats are widely beloved, and have recently been a staple of Internet memes, and CatAcademy uses this to its advantage. There are plenty of amusing images of cats, paired with appropriate Spanish phrases, for users to learn. According to CatAcademy, “Cuteness has been shown by Japanese researchers to enhance cognitive function. It helps you relax, attend more closely, and it promotes theta waves – which aid concentration.”

It would be easy for this app to rely on cute pictures and call it good, but it actually implements solid language learning techniques as well. Throughout their studies, CatAcademy gives quick grammar lessons, delving further into the study of the language. In addition, users study in five unique learning styles: practicing the initial phrase, answering multiple choice questions, typing or spelling the phrase, listening to the phrase, and choosing the best response for conversation.Each of these styles is very helpful in learning the language, and the multitude of studying options ensures that a student really has the knowledge down pat. The ability to “converse” is the most appealing feature; while it isn’t a substitution for live, natural conversation, practicing the various ways one can use a phrase in specific situations is still very beneficial.

The app does have its limits: you’re aren’t going to become a fluent Spanish speaker with your cat companions. CatAcademy is best utilized by those brand new to the language, hoping to establish some basic skills. Considering CatAcademy is completely free, it’s a fantastic deal! (Accelerated Spanish courses will cost an additional fee, however.)

For all the cat lovers out there, we have another exciting treat! Dynamic was given a few fantastic CatAcademy Ambassador t-shirts to give away to our readers. To be eligible to win a shirt, please leave your name, e-mail address, and a small comment on why you’re excited to try the app by December 31st, 2013. Once the New Year hits, we will randomly choose winners from the comments!

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To be eligible to win a free t-shirt, submit a comment with your name, e-mail address, and why you are excited to try CatAcademy by 12/31/13.

TACOMA COMMUNITY HOUSE SELLS SOCIAL ENTERPRISE TO DYNAMIC LANGUAGE

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TACOMA, WA (Dec. 11, 2013) – Tacoma Community House (TCH), a 103-year-old nonprofit serving the Puget Sound region, and Dynamic Language, a Seattle-based language industry leader for over 28 years, announced today a definitive agreement to transfer the operations of the nonprofit’s interpretation and translation business – a social enterprise known as The Language Bank – to the privately owned company through a contract of sale agreement effective January 1, 2014.

Through the terms of the sale – which includes an undisclosed pricing structure that will help support the operations of the nonprofit for two years – former, current and future Language Bank customers are guaranteed current pricing through December 31, 2015.  Language Bank customers will also receive enhanced offerings from Dynamic Language, including 24/7 access to certified interpreters and translators that support more than 150 languages throughout the U.S., hearing and visually impaired services, transcription services, localization services and machine translation services for high-volume content.

“This is a decisive move that accelerates our strategy to advance our mission and positions us to win by offering even greater value to our customers, program participants and our other partners,” said Liz Dunbar, TCH’s executive director.  “Through this strengthened partnership developed with Dynamic Language, customers of The Language Bank will receive the same high-quality services as before, only now they will have access to an abundance of new service offerings using the latest technologies with access to over 100 new languages while still supporting the programming we provide to nearly 3,000 immigrants, refugees and low-wage earners throughout the Puget Sound region.”

TCH has operated The Language Bank since 1989, with its largest customer being the state’s Medicaid program for much of that time.  In July 2012, after the Medicaid program’s decision to use a single statewide provider for future interpretation services, business revenue declined for the social enterprise by half.  Contracting with a business consultant to study The Language Bank’s competitiveness, TCH’s board determined from the study findings that it was not possible for the social enterprise to remain competitive without significant investments in technology and staffing beyond those already being developed for the organization as a whole.

“We are 100% committed to helping our customers succeed, and are excited to partner with Tacoma Community House in bringing new services and technologies to customers of The Language Bank,” said Sandy Dupleich, a Partner with Dynamic Language.  For more than 28 years, Dynamic Language has provided language translation, interpretation and localization services to customers around the world.  The company is certified as a woman- and minority-owned business, with a reputation for delivering exceptional quality services.  Starting as a small language service company in 1985, Dynamic Language has since grown to become one of the largest translation companies in the Pacific Northwest.  The company earned its ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System certification in 2012.

More information about Tacoma Community House, including The Language Bank, can be found by visiting www.tacomacommunityhouse.org.

For more information about Dynamic Language, please visit:  www.dynamiclanguage.com

Mango Languages vs. Duolingo vs. LiveMocha – What Language Tool is Best?

Language learners are blessed with a plethora of wonderful, online resources for studying. Today we are taking a brief look at three of the most popular sites: Mango Languages, Duolingo, and LiveMocha. Each program was tested by spending about ten minutes on an introductory Spanish lesson.

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OKAY, SO WHAT MAKES IT GREAT? Mango Languages offers over 50 languages to choose from, many of which are available in ESL format as well. The system is beautifully designed and easy to navigate. Students are introduced to both grammar and cultural notes as they study. Mango also uses colors to distinguish words in sentences, which proved to be helpful when learning terms for the first time.

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AND THE DOWNSIDE? MangoLanguages is not technically a free service, although many can access the program for free through their local library. (You can check here!) In addition, although users can record their pronunciation, you are speaking to a computer. Many language programs provide communities for users to speak with native speakers, which Mango cannot offer.

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OKAY, SO WHAT MAKES IT GREAT? Duolingo is a crowdsourced text translation platform designed so that, by learning a new language, users inadvertently provide translations for documents. Because of this, Duolingo is completely free! It helps with the translation process as well: along with practicing your reading and speaking comprehension, by re-typing translations, it forces you to use proper spelling. Like Mango Languages, grammar is also subtly integrated into the learning process.

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AND THE DOWNSIDE? Unfortunately, Duolingo only offers five languages to study at the moment: Spanish, Italian, French, Brazilian Portuguese, and German. Users are also unable to be judged on their speaking skills, and although you can create a profile for yourself, there seems to be little to no community to practice with.

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OKAY, SO WHAT MAKES IT GREAT? LiveMocha is the most-used of the three programs, and it shows through its extended abilities and large community. Users can choose from over 35 languages and a variety of styles to study: vocab, reading and writing, reading and speaking, listening and writing, listening and speaking, etc. What really sets LiveMocha apart is its huge community – users are encouraged to help one another practice, which rewards them with points.

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AND THE DOWNSIDE? Since we’re on the topic of points… it’s LiveMocha’s biggest issue. While users can do many activities for free, unlocking new lessons costs “points.” You can purchase points if you need, but by correctly answering questions or helping others, LiveMocha rewards you with free points to use. It’s a bit confusing, and rather unnecessary, considering how easy it is to achieve points. As for the learning style, it felt a little quick, which was a struggle at times.

CUT TO THE CHASE: WHICH SHOULD I CHOOSE?

All three are excellent programs, but if money isn’t an object, we have to recommend LiveMocha first. Being able to talk with native speakers is a huge benefit when learning a language, and LiveMocha’s large community is something to take advantage of. However, if you’re casually studying, consider DuoLingo if your language is one of the few they offer. Otherwise, if used through a local library, MangoLanguages is a great, free resource as well.

Do you agree with our ranking? Know of a better language program we should review? Let us know in the comments!

Study Language with TuneIn Radio

Conventional wisdom tells us that immersion is the best way to learn a language, however not everyone has the opportunity to live or study abroad. Thankfully, technology has welcomed a few spectacular solutions to those stuck at home, and TuneIn Radio is a prime example.

TuneIn Radio is a free, online source for audio content from across the globe. If you would like to expand your cultural knowledge, or are simply craving some new beats, consider browsing through the many foreign music stations. For those who have been studying a language and are looking for more organic practice, pay special attention to the Talk and News sections. These sections allow users to immerse themselves in the language’s natural surroundings, without even needing to be in the country at all!

The Talk section features individuals discussing various topics of your choice, such as Arts & Culture, Business, Entertainment, Food, Public Radio, Religion, or Travel. Once you have chosen your topic, you need only choose a station, sit back, and hone your language skills! You are sure to see improvements in your fluency when given access to these interesting topics, as opposed to the stiff, unnatural dialogue often found in text books.

The News section is self-explanatory, however the benefits of listening may outrank the Talk section. Reading the newspaper is a long-suggested studying technique, but it gives language learners a small crutch. You can read as fast or slow as you like, pausing to look up words or re-read phrases – unrealistic if you’re aiming to be fluent. Listening to the news offers the same benefits as reading, but forces the listener to decipher at a naturally spoken rate.

You can listen to radio stations around the world!

Unfortunately, the user interface is not ideal for the News section. If you’re in the Music or Talk section, you can sort radio stations to what country – and sometimes even city – you’re interested in. For News, however, this option is not available. Your first choice is to sift through a long list of stations around the world – frustrating, especially when it allows you to only see seven stations at a time. Otherwise, you can hit the “By Location” option from the start, choose your location, and sift through all genres. Thankfully, once you’ve found a show you like, you can save it to your Favorites, or type the name into the Search bar to pull it up.

Despite this setback, TuneIn Radio presents a very sturdy product. Now anyone can learn about another culture – language, music, sports, and more – without leaving the house. (Although we hope that, sometime soon, you get to practice your new language skills in that native country as well!)

Localizing Content for International SEO Campaigns

Researching with your team is crucial!

Forward: For those looking to start an international SEO campaign, this post details tips on the localization aspect. If you have yet to start a local SEO campaign, it is important to being this journey with an established and successful local campaign first.

You’ve established a successful SEO process and are looking to start an international campaign. Fantastic! We must warn you: this may require more work than you did for your original campaign. To be successful, you must research and create content for every country you target.

Ready for the challenge?

We assume you have already analyzed and chosen the areas you’d like to target. It is extremely important to thoroughly research each of these unique populations in great detail. Focus on the technical side first: know your target area’s most popular web hosting locations, domains and sub-domains, country codes, URL structures, search engines, and social media websites. The last two are of particular importance.

Odds are that your current SEO plan is tailored toward Google. Luckily, Google is the top search engine in most countries, but not all. Check the most visited websites of your country, just in case. Social media, however, is its own beast. We’ve touched a bit on the varying social media platforms before, but each country has its own favored sites. True, many use Facebook and Twitter, but do you recognize Naver? What about VK? Seznam? If you want to reach the largest audience possible, you need to use the sites with the greatest hits. Be safe, and do the research.

Once you’ve established where you plan to target your audience, next comes creating your content. In your local campaign, you likely chose your search keywords from your company’s blog posts, news articles, info graphics, etc. You should follow this process for your international campaign as well, with one huge exception: don’t use the same content and keywords.

While it may be tempting to simply translate the content you’ve already created, we advise against it. What one audience responds to can be vastly different to another; cultures differ, and inevitably part of your established content will be ineffective for the audience you’d now like to capture. Before creating your content, yes, research first. Know what your audience responds to and incorporate these factors into new content, and pull keywords from it.

If you have a native speaker able to create this content in house, know you are the envy of most. For everyone else, enlist the help of a translation expert. Some SEO programs – such as Google’s Global Market Finder – will offer to translate your keywords for you, likely using their own MT program. This is not the time to rely on a machine translation program. Even the most subtle of differences between two words can have a big impact once translated, and your efforts are in vain if you pull the wrong audience.

We stress the importance of using a trusted translation service for your heavier content, as well. Great SEO campaigns run best with thoughtful, informative blog posts or articles. Although you may pull in visitors with properly translated keywords, they may not stay if the rest of your content is indecipherable.

Although it may seem daunting, creating an international SEO campaign is highly beneficial to any business expanding into the global market. We encourage you to take up the challenge – the rewards are worth the work!

 

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