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6 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language

6 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

Have you ever tried to learn a language but given up out of frustration? Maybe you felt like you were the problem and that you just weren’t meant to master a foreign language. Well, you’re in the majority—most people find learning a language as an adult extremely difficult. But the good news is you aren’t the problem. It’s that you’re not not using the language learning method that works best for you.

More good news: you have lots of options to choose from. Just as we all learn differently in the classroom, we also need to try out new language learning methods until we find the one that best fits. Here are some examples of different methods you can try.

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1. Apps

Perhaps the most popular language app available, Duolingo is playable both on your phone and computer to learn a variety of languages. It turns the learning process into a game, letting you earn points and nudging you when you haven’t played in a while. The app teaches vocabulary and grammar, but an interesting aspect is it also has the learner speak into the microphone to practice speaking the language. Oh, we forgot the best part: it’s free!

2. In-Person Classes

If you need structure and a classroom setting to learn, there are a multitude of classes to choose from. There are local college classes available, but it’s advised to search out your city and see what all is available. Don’t forget to also look at reviews of the schools or businesses on sites such as Yelp to see what previous students have to say.

3. Podcasts

Our favorite? Radio Lingua. This company provides free podcasts for learning languages when you have a little free time (say, on your coffee break), and then there is further materials available if you buy a premium membership. It’s a great tool for beginners who are in need of a slower pace and to learn the history behind the language you’re learning.

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BaBaDum in German.

4. Online Games

Not that we ever slack off at work, but sometimes in the office you might catch one of us on BaBaDum. This site is great to use in conjunction with other learning tools, as it helps with vocabulary and pronunciation. The best part, however, might be the terrific illustrations!

5. Rosetta Stone

This may be our most controversial inclusion because some people hate Rosetta Stone and some people love it. It’s an expensive option, but it’s useful for many. The software really focuses on repetition to teach a language, which may suit certain learners. Our suggestion is to use the free trial to see if it fits your needs.

6. Government Resources

The U.S. Department of Defense maintains the Defense Language Institute to teach languages to service members, but they’ve also made a large amount of learning materials available online. There’s really a wealth of information on there, so make sure to take a look.

Another great resource is this site which has captured all of the Foreign Service Institute’s public domain language lessons. The BBC and other institutions also have free online resources available.

Learning a language doesn’t have to be scary. If one method isn’t working for you, move on to another until you find you perfect fit. Don’t give up!

Dialects of Sign Language: Black ASL

Dialects of Sign Language: Black ASL 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

We’re all aware of the large number of dialects that make up our spoken languages around the world. But with many ignorant of the fact that separate forms of sign language exist in different countries, there’s even less education on the different dialects that populate specific sign language families.

Black ASL Origins

Take American Sign Language, for example. The Washington Post tells the story of Carolyn McCaskill, who in 1968 enrolled with nine other Deaf black students in a newly integrated school for the Deaf. From the Post:

“When the teacher got up to address the class, McCaskill was lost.

“I was dumbfounded,” McCaskill recalls through an interpreter. “I was like, ‘What in the world is going on?’ ”

The teacher’s quicksilver hand movements looked little like the sign language McCaskill had grown up using at home with her two deaf siblings and had practiced at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind, just a few miles away. It wasn’t a simple matter of people at the new school using unfamiliar vocabulary; they made hand movements for everyday words that looked foreign to McCaskill and her fellow black students.”

Today we know that McCaskill grew up using what is now called Black American Sign Language. This form is known for using more two-handed signs than American Sign Language, with Black ASL featuring a higher location of signs (at the forehead level) and a larger space used compared to ASL.

Education Needed

Joseph Hill, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, explains and demonstrates the differences in ASL and Black ASL here:

Sign language is not universal. The different dialects need to be studied independently, just as one would study spoken languages. We can help spread this message by supporting education on the subject, such as the Black ASL Project. Another great resource is this interview conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education with Joseph Hill, who hopes awareness will make sign language a bigger part of the linguistics community.

We Are Still Here: The Yuchi Language Project

We Are Still Here: The Yuchi Language Project 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

Yuchi (Euchee) is a unique language spoken by the Yuchi people, who were forcibly relocated from Tennessee, Georgia and other neighboring states to Oklahoma in the 1800s. As of 2014, the number of first-language Yuchi speakers has dwindled to just four, and all of those speakers are above the age of 80.

A Unique Language

Yuchi is a fascinating language. It is not known to be related to any other language on the planet, and there was no written alphabet until the 1970s. There are 49 phonetic sounds (38 consonant sounds and 11 vowel sounds), which is twice the number of most Indigenous languages from the Southeast.

It also has different speeches for males and females, and today the number of first-language male speakers is down to only one. From Yuchi.org:

“The language more than has gender – in fact it is very nearly two different languages – a men’s speech and a women’s speech. The way something is said in these two variations is often quite different. Further, Yuchean not only has tenses, but it varies its structure according to whether a Yuchi is talking or a non-Yuchi is talking, preserving contexts of time and circumstance. All these variations can add a number of complicating layers to the grammar and the effort needed to master it.”

Efforts to Save Yuchi

The short documentary above is a beautiful look at how the community is attempting to keep the language alive by fully immersing young people in the language at the Euchee Language Project in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Also of interest is their site dedicated to the non-profit, where you can donate, listen to audio and learn more about the Yuchi language.

“What we want, what we need in our communities, what our goal is, is to keep alive our languages so our young people will have breath-to breath knowledge of their traditions, of their ceremonies, of their medicines, of the stars.” – Dr. Richard Grounds
As they say, ÔnzO yUdjEha gO’wAdAnA-A n@wadOnô – “Our Yuchi language will not die.”

4 Major Problems With the Translation Industry

4 Major Problems With the Translation Industry 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

The translation industry is booming. There are large companies bringing in millions of dollars in profit each year. Some of those companies claim to have over 10,000 translators available to help clients. Most importantly, there are more ways than ever for a potential client to get what they need, and they have many translation agencies, apps and freelancers to choose from. But are those in need of translation really getting the best service?

Let’s look at some problems that are currently plaguing the industry as a whole, and then at how some are doing things right.

1. Translators Aren’t Being Properly Vetted

On Glassdoor, a site where employees can post reviews of their employer, someone wrote on one of the biggest companies in the industry:

“They lie to clients that their documents will be handled internally, while all are sent to unverified translators in other countries. Anyone can work for [redacted] if they have a computer and pass an easy 300 word test.”

I’ve copied that word for word because it holds such truth for how a lot of agencies in this industry are run. It’s a good business model: get cheap labor from another country (or even within their own country), charge the client 200% more than what you paid the translator, and then pray the poorly-paid translator did a good enough job that the client won’t complain.

Almost all agencies use independent contractors and not employees. That means many agencies only speak to the translator through email, where it’s much easier to disguise fluency in languages, credentials and even if you’re the person you’re claiming to be. It’s a slippery slope, which is why a thorough vetting process needs to be in place.

2. Translators Are Barely Being Paid

There is a great group on LinkedIn with over 7,000 members where translators share ridiculous offers they receive as a warning to others. Unfortunately, offers seem to be getting lower and lower with each passing day.

It’s true that you get what you pay for, but most clients don’t realize how little some translators are being paid because they only work with the agency, who charge a high price to the client and keep most of the fee for themselves. But if the translator isn’t being paid a fair wage, then what incentive do they have to turn in a high-quality translation? If the agency breaks their contract due to poor quality (if they even catch it), they can simply go get paid peanuts elsewhere.

3. There Are Few Quality Standards

An agency likely doesn’t have someone on staff that can proofread a translation from English to Burmese or what have you. Because agencies use independent contractors, they have to put a huge amount of faith and trust in the translators they work with.  And if their translator is being poorly paid, again, what incentive does that translator or proofreader have to spend hours slaving away to make a translation perfect?

They don’t, and who can blame them? So with no way to correctly assess quality and little knowledge about who the translator even is, that means their knowledge of whether a translation is acceptable or not could be just guesswork. But a lot of clients don’t have a way to question the translation because they’re not fluent in the language pair, and it would be too costly to ask an independent assessor to look over the completed translation. So they put faith in their agency, because what else can they do?

4. A New World: Machine Translation

We’ve said it multiple times: sometimes Google Translate is truly all you need. It is absolutely nowhere near perfect, but it can work if you need a quick, low-quality translation. But lately a new trend in the industry is an agency using machine translation on a piece and then asking a translator to proofread it for a very low fee.

This is probably the future of the industry. As machines become more adept at language services, we’re going to have to change how we translate. But, at the moment, machines aren’t capable of 100% accuracy on anything that’s beyond simple and short, which only makes up a minority of projects currently. We still need capable translators that can edit machine translation, and they need to be compensated fairly. Together machines and humans can help the industry… but don’t forget the human part of that equation.

Maybe some of you will read this and say, “So what?” Maybe for some translations it really is okay if the quality is mediocre at best. But it’s not okay what many of the translators in this industry are being paid. And it’s not okay that non-vetted translators are working on legal documents, doctors’ reports, government files, and more with limited knowledge. It’s not okay that the quality of translations is going unchecked.

Here’s some good news: a lot of agencies actually do great work. They know their translators personally and have thoroughly tested them, checked their credentials, and have proper proofreaders checking their work. So don’t despair! Just do some research on who you’re working with and follow these tips:

1. Shop Around

Don’t just go for the lowest price. Thoroughly research the company you’re looking at. Look at how their workers rate them on places like Glassdoor or translator forums. Look at their job postings and see what they require from translators. A bigger company doesn’t always mean a bigger commitment to quality.

Also, there are a lot of freelance translators available who don’t work with agencies, which might be better for your project if it’s small or if you work better directly with a translator. It takes more time to find a good match, but it could be a great option for some.

2. Don’t Expect Great Work for Free

Just like in every other industry, you get what you pay for. It’s normal to want things for free, but translators work extremely hard. They’re providing a specialized service that most people can’t do or don’t have the time to do. They need to be paid a fair wage and deserve most of the pay from the client. If you’re paying an agency a few pennies per word, just imagine how little the translator is actually getting paid.

3. It’s Okay If an Agency Tells You No

The other day we had someone email us who wanted to translate a book into Russian from English. While it sounded like an amazing project, we referred them to a small translation agency that specializes in literary translations and where the owners themselves do great Russian translations personally.

The truth is we could have done it. We have Russian translators. But that’s not their area of expertise, and literary translation needs to be done by specialized translators. It requires nuance, passion, knowledge, and a whole other host of things to make the cost of translating worth it. So it’s okay if you and agency aren’t a good fit. Just make sure you find this out before you pay them!

This industry isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it when done correctly. Don’t forget that.

5 Ways Focus Group Moderators Can Improve Transcripts

5 Ways Focus Group Moderators Can Improve Transcripts 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

A focus group moderator’s job is not easy, but neither is a transcriptionist’s. It can be very difficult to capture everything that is said in a long discussion with as many as a dozen people speaking. But, working together, here are some tips for moderators on how to help make their focus group transcripts as high quality as they can be.

Identify Group Participants. Many focus groups are built around a theme. For example, a company could want a focus group on breastfeeding, which means the participants would likely be women within a certain age range. Unfortunately that also means that it’s possible many of the group participants will have similar-sounding voices, and that can make speaker identification problematic.

A focus group moderator can help the transcriptionist be more accurate in their identification by simply using participants’ first names frequently. A “Thank you, [Participant],” or “[Participant], what do you think?” is all that’s necessary. And even if a moderator doesn’t identify a participant after every response, doing so frequently at least gives the transcriptionist lengths of audio they can use to compare non-identified portions with, which is incredibly helpful.

Test Background Noise. Before a group arrives, record a minute of audio in the room the group will take place in (and speaking while sitting in the seat farthest from the recorder is also advised). When you play it back, notice if there are any background noises that could be hindering the audio. There are sounds that may be quiet in person but loud on the recording, such as a running air conditioner or hallway chatter. A quick test run will help you figure out where best to position the recorder, or give you time to figure out if there is a way to lessen any background noise.

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Cut Out Crosstalk. The whole point of a focus group is to get a discussion going, and moderators never want to discourage participants from speaking their honest thoughts. That said, sometimes a moderator has to take charge and stop side conversations or multiple people speaking at once in order to keep the audio intelligible.

But moderators can fall victim to crosstalk as well. It’s natural during a conversation to use filler words (“Okay,” “Mm-hmm,” “Yeah”) when a participant is speaking to let them know you’re listening. Instead, it’s best to nod if it’s possible so that nothing blocks out the respondent’s speech.

Bring a Back-up Recorder. There is not much worse than moderating a great focus group and then checking the recorder only to find it didn’t record or that the audio is damaged. That’s why we always recommend using at least two recorders in every group. Even if your facility offers to record your group, also use a second device (such as a free recording app on your phone) as well to ensure you have a back-up. Better safe than sorry!

Summarize Quiet Answers. Unfortunately some moderators learn the hard way that no matter what you do, some participants are just quiet or difficult to understand when the recording is played back. It’s a big help to a transcriptionist if the moderator quickly sums up what the hard-to-hear participant has just said. The moderator can do this by framing what has just been said as a question to the group. Example: “So, [Participant] thinks [Summarize Participant’s Answer]. What do you think?” It also gives participants something directly to respond to.

Be A Partner

We’re all here to help the end client get everything from a focus group that they can, which means we’re partners in this. So talk to your project manager. Give them a template, if you have one that you prefer. Don’t be shy about asking for changes. Just as a moderator needs honest feedback from group participants, so too does a transcription partner need to know any changes that need to be made to ensure the highest quality possible.

When Is It Time to Find a Translation Partner?

When Is It Time to Find a Translation Partner? 4000 2667 Atomic Scribe

For English speakers, sometimes we forget that the whole world doesn’t speak our language. Or if they do, that doesn’t mean that they can understand all of it. Heck, even a lot of native English speakers find the language confusing, and who can blame them?

It can be a daunting task, but in today’s world you need to be able to reach the most people you can, and that means translation is key. Here are some reasons why it might be time for you to find a translation partner to help.

Getting Into New Markets. Thanks to the Internet, the world is getting smaller… or, at least, our ability to connect with others in far away places is becoming easier. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean getting our message across in one language is becoming easier, too.

The population in non-English speaking countries is growing. But more than that, studies show that 75% of consumers in those countries prefer purchasing from sites in their native language. An even more impressive statistic is that 60% of those surveyed claimed they rarely or never bought from English-only sites. That is a huge amount of the world’s population one misses out on if they only provide information in English.

You’re Spending Too Much Time Lost in Translation. A common comment we hear in the midst of working with a new client is, “I wish I had done this sooner!” Frankly, many don’t realize just how much time they’re wasting by trying to translate materials themselves or trying to find ways to engage non-English speakers without using translation.

We know your time is valuable. So is ours. That’s why it’s important to partner with a capable translation agency to take on some of your load. Check out the agency’s credentials. Speak to those they’ve worked with in the past. Ask for samples. Do what you need to do to feel confident that this agency is dependable and will provide an accurate translation by native speakers to put your own mind at ease.

Google Translate Isn’t Cutting It. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: sometimes Google Translate is sufficient for your needs. If you just need the gist of something translated, your language pairs are popular, and accuracy is not paramount, then using machine translation might be all you need.

But if accuracy and context are important to your project, then machine translation could end up causing you major issues. Bad translations can be extremely damaging to a brand or business, and it can destroy your credibility. If this is a worry for you, then it’s best to find a partner to allay these fears.

In the end, the only person who can decide if it’s time to find a partner is you. But remember that human translators are better at accuracy, context, localizing to different markets and cultures, and adapting to your needs than machine translation, and remember that you need to be able to trust your partner to provide these needs.

Your App Must Be Multilingual

Your App Must Be Multilingual 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

You might notice the headline this week is a statement and not a request or suggestion. While usually here at Atomic Scribe we’re (kind of) gentle about our perception of the language services industry, this is a topic that we can 100 percent say without hesitation: you need to localize your app content to reach more people worldwide.

Because, simply, the app industry is worldwide, and it’s only going to grow in the coming years. While apps were previously most associated with gaming (which still commands a large part in the industry), with every passing day it seems to become so much more than that. Now apps provide a way to bank, shop, exercise, connect to coworkers and employees, talk to your doctor, video chat, get directions, find a place to eat, and on and on.

Given that 46 percent of app users report having paid for their apps, that’s big money, too. By 2017, it’s expected that over 268 billion downloads will generate $77 billion worth of revenue. —Entrepreneur, August 26, 2014

Users Prefer Native-Language Content

There are an estimated 400 million native English speakers worldwide, mostly in the United States and United Kingdom. Adding in secondary speakers, that number grows to a whopping 1.2 billion… but that still leaves out 6 billion people, or over 80 percent of the world’s population. That percentage could grow as the populations of India and French-speaking Africa increase more than any other region, as is predicted.

Those 800 million secondary speakers are also more likely to use an app or browse content in their first language if it’s available. According to a study conducted by Common Sense Advisory, 75 percent of participating consumers stated they prefer to buy products in their native language, and 60 percent claimed they rarely or never bought from English-only web sites. That is a huge amount of people one is missing out on by not translating content.

But here is the great news: it is incredibly easy to translate and localize your apps for new markets. Better yet, you don’t have to keep paying or pay per customer. You just pay for a translation once, and that’s it. As the revenue your app will generate by reaching millions of new people should make the initial investment worth it in no time, it’s a simple decision to make.

Build Your Audience By Transcribing Audio and Video

Build Your Audience By Transcribing Audio and Video 1920 1280 Atomic Scribe

So many different industries and individuals take advantage of audio and video content today, and that number will grow at extraordinary rates in the next few years. But the work doesn’t end when you have the audio or video in your hands. You need to go one step further and create transcripts for your material. Reasons for this include:

It’s Useful. The amount of time it takes to read text is usually less than watching a video. Also, many people absorb information better through reading rather than audio or visual learning.

Use Text. The text from the transcripts can be copied into anything you want – reports, blogs, e-mails, web sites, study guides, newsletters, etc.

Deaf Accessible. There are almost 40 million Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals just in the United States. That’s a huge number of people who don’t have access to your material without added text.

Storage. A transcript is much less data to store on your computer, site, or database than audio or video files.

SEO and Keywords. Your text can be used in searches to help bring more visitors to your site. You can also use keywords to help search throughout the text, which can’t be done with just audio and video.

Translate. Transcripts can be more easily and accurately translated into other languages.

So, now you’ve decided that transcription really will help you. Which company do you pick to help you? Here is where an old business adage comes into play: you can have good, fast, and cheap services… but you can only pick two of these qualities and not all three.

That’s very true in the transcription industry. The cheaper the prices, the lower the quality. For some projects, that might be okay, but it’s not for most. That’s why at Atomic Scribe we think the most important element is quality and that paying for a service is useless without it. We promise 98% accuracy or more, and we do so with fair rates and turnaround time.

Interested in transcription services? Get a quote!

Sports and Translation: Bringing the World’s Biggest Sport to All

Sports and Translation: Bringing the World’s Biggest Sport to All 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

The United States has long had an intense fascination with athletics, but until recently that largely excluded the world’s most beloved sport. While soccer (or football, for most everyone else) has captivated hearts worldwide for decades, it’s only just now taking root in the U.S. and becoming a big part of the sports landscape. A lot of this is due to the Internet and Americans having much more access to matches than ever before. Gone are the days you’d have to scan a newspaper in the hope of finding the Premier League scores; now NBC shows over 300 matches a season live through Internet and television.

What’s evident is that while soccer is itself a kind of language, there are still a lot of areas where the existence of multiple languages is causing issues. As you’d expect with the number one sport in the world, leagues and teams are made up of players from different countries with different native languages and cultures. In fact, many teams in the Premier League in the United Kingdom have more non-native English speakers than English speakers. Chelsea Football Club, for example, has first team players from Brazil, Nigeria, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, and more.

And it’s not just English-speaking leagues that are popular worldwide. Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga are also watched by millions and growing at extraordinary rates. In the United States, MLS is becoming known for talented foreign players, such as Thierry Henry and Kaka. The sport is growing everywhere, and so are barriers that different languages can create.

World Cup 2014: Record U.S. TV ratings sure sign of soccer’s rapid growth here

Bayern Munich Takes on English

A good example of teams reaching new markets is Germany’s biggest club, Bayern Munich. The Bavarian club has recently opened an office in New York, and they provide much of their online content in English, including their official site and a separate Twitter account for English speakers. Their site can be translated into Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish as well.

Bayern Munich is the second most commercially profitable club in the world, having made almost €250 million in 2013, ahead of immensely profitable clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid. Their commercial revenue helps them provide low ticket prices, which is considered a commodity that makes the Bundesliga so appealing to match-going fans and viewers alike.

Soccer clubs operate as worldwide businesses nowadays, and Bayern knows this. While the United States is seen as the next big moneymaker in the sport, there is also lots of potential in China, India, and in the countries of Africa for expanding the game. But to do this you need to be able to communicate.

How Translation Helps the Sport

The opportunities for using translation to reach current fans and new markets is endless. You can translate interviews, press releases, match reports, press conferences, news articles, players’ or clubs’ web sites, and so much more. Best of all, you pay for a translation once and then it’s yours forever, which means recouping the cost is much easier than with time-sensitive commodities.

Atomic Scribe can help. As passionate as fans are about soccer, that’s how we feel about translation. Both are arts, and both are best at the highest quality. The world’s biggest game also delivers the biggest audience, and we can reach them together.

The Dangers of Outsourcing Transcription

The Dangers of Outsourcing Transcription 2500 1667 Atomic Scribe

With today’s economy and the ease of finding companies outside of the U.S. thanks to the Internet, it seems like outsourcing transcription is more popular than ever. The rates are usually much, much lower than industry standard, mostly due to the companies paying their workers — you guessed it — much, more lower than industry standard. But with the growth of the industry, cautionary tales are growing as well.

Take, for instance, news in late 2012 that involved $140 million dollars, a hospital, and outsourcing. A jury awarded that amount to the family of a woman who died due to what her lawyers say was inaccurate transcription work that her hospital relied on to treat her. The transcription services were outsourced to a company in India, and errors in the transcript led to the victim receiving a lethal dose of insulin that she eventually died from.

$140 Million Verdict in Baldwin County, WKRG News

Ellen Cushing wrote an article last year on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an outsourcing system that allows you to post a job to the site and then have workers complete the task. Sounds great, right? The problem is the workers get paid extremely little (even before Amazon takes their cut) and none have had to pass any test to do the work. You could be receiving work from someone who knows very little English, someone with no knowledge of your business, interests or what you do, or a magnitude of other problems.

From Cushing on Mechanical Turk’s wages:

Ipeirotis has estimated the average hourly wage to be roughly $2, while Joel Ross of UC Irvine’s Department of Informatics places it closer to $1.25—and whatever it is, it’s certainly lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Why is this important? Why isn’t the cheapest option the best option? It’s the hospital settlement all over again. If workers aren’t making a fair wage, they have no incentive to submit a correct transcript. And without an accurate transcript, what’s the point of even having audio or video transcribed?

Amazon Mechanical Turk: The Digital Sweatshop, Utne Reader

Have you had good or bad experiences with transcription outsourcing? Let us know in the comments!