September 30 - International Translation Day

Posted on September 30, 2018


Translators and interpreters do an incredibly important service in an increasingly shrinking global society! 

Translators work with written words and text, translating from one language into another. Interpreters do basically the same thing, but with spoken words.

Translators also edit machine-made translations (computerized translation), which as you can imagine is sometimes plain old wrong! I mean, how easy is it to translate the following sentences:

Hattie would've given anything to live in a melting pot like the United States.
Mike is a total couch potato.
Truman had a sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here."

Translating sentences with slang, idioms, and metaphors can be very tricky. It's not just a matter of looking up each word individually and then writing down the French or German or ____ [fill in the blank] word from the dictionary. Instead, translators have to understand the meaning of the entire sentence, and make sure that their translation captures the overall meaning. Also, really good translators strive to capture the feeling of the text, the voice of the author, the flavor of the words. 

Even in poems. Maybe even especially in poems!

Many translators are fluent in just two languages. Remember, fluency requires knowing slang and idioms, and that often requires knowing a fair bit of history and culture as well as the language.

However, some people recommend that professional translators know more than two languages. Obviously, with the requirement of learning slang and culture and some history for context, translators probably cannot gain translator-level fluency in 12 or 20 languages, but knowing at least two languages in addition to your own native language can be helpful in keeping the right amount of work coming your way. Many translators know several related languages, such as Spanish and Italian and Portuguese.


Also, translators can specialize in particular industries or fields. For example, I know a Spanish-English translator who has extensive knowledge of several versions of the Christian religion, of the Church's history, of the Bible, etc.; she could bring all of that expertise to bear when translating an article about Christian values or Biblical interpretations. Other translators might have expertise in the law, medicine, health insurance, or computer technology and related industries.

That said, some translators know a lot of languages. Apparently Ioannis Ikonomou, the Greek-born man who began serving in the European Commission as a translator, knows 32 different languages! He is considered fluent in the 23 official languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarians, Irish, Italian, Latvians, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish. He is also fluent in Arabic, Russian, Turkish, and Chinese. He is the only one in the European Commission who is trusted to translate into Chinese.

If you are interested in learning more about this hyper-polyglot, here is an article about Ikonomou, who learned English at age 5, German at 7, Italian at 10, Russian at 13, East African Swahili at 14, Turkish at 16. His reasons for learning all these languages? Mostly curiosity. He says he wanted to talk to other people, he wanted to know the languages of his favorite authors, he wanted to learn a new language just for "fun"!

Here is an article about how to become a professional translator.

One thing that is really interesting to me is how many movies and TV shows are available in multiple languages. For example, in Netflix you can search for shows available in a particular language, you can get dubbed shows by searching "Audio in...," you can get subtitles by searching "Subtitles in...," and you can even get custom subtitles by using a Google Chrome extension called Super Netflix! These things can help you learn new languages - but someone has to be doing these translations or checking machine-created translations! Wouldn't that be a fun job?




September 29 – Boquerón Battle Day in Paraguay

Posted on September 29, 2018


This holiday is also called Victory at Boquerón, so you know why Paraguay celebrates the day rather than some other nation.

Okay, so if Paraguay was the victor in some long-ago Battle of Boquerón, who was the loser? It turned out that the guys who lost this battle, which lasted most of the month of September in 1932, was Bolivia. The battle was over a chunk of land called Chaco Boreal - and it seems that one reason that that land was so important was that it was thought to have rich oil deposits.

Turns out that no oil has ever been found!

The reasons for the Chaco War were more complicated than just oil, of course. Paraguay had been the owner of the land since its independence, but Bolivians had been pushing the native people out and settling it...Which sounds horrible, but Bolivia needed access to the Paraguay River, because the nation had become landlocked (with no access to any ocean) after it lost its Pacific Coast to Chile in another war! 

The Chaco War ended with a compromise - Paraguay got most of the disputed land, but Bolivia got a corridor to the Paraguay River and the rights to build a port there.

So...the land has no oil. How is Paraguay using the land that people fought and died for?

The truth is, much of the land remains undeveloped. There is a problem in that there isn't much drinkable water in some parts. Also, much of the area lacks roads and other infrastructure (electricity, perhaps?) to start modern crop farms or ranches.


Both Bolivia and Paraguay are landlocked. They are the #1 and 3 poorest nations in South America, and although Bolivia has a much higher percentage of indios or full-blooded Native Americans than Paraguay does, Paraguary has the highest percentage of mestizo or mixed-Native-American-and-European-American folks in all of Latin America! These neighboring nations have a lot in common and I hope will continue to concentrate on working together more than battling one another!

Here are some nice photos of pretty Paraguayan landscapes:



Also on this date:

September 28 – Teacher's Day in Taiwan

Posted on September 28, 2018

Many years ago, I wrote about the birthday of Confucius. Because today is his birthday, and Confucius is considered a great teacher, today is Teacher's Day in Taiwan.

This holiday starts early, with ceremonies at temples of Confucius all around the island. At 6 a.m., drum beats begin the ceremony. 

Musicians and dancers perform. Colors and numbers are important - there are always 54 musicians dressed in purplish robes with blue belts, and there are either 36 or 64 dancers dressed in yellow with green belts.


The holiday continues at schools and includes students entertaining their teachers with humor, song, and dance. Some schools schedule field trips to enjoy natural beauty or sporting activities. Students usually give their teachers personalized cards.

Here are some lovely spots that teachers and students may want to visit today:

Taroko National Park


The Golden Waterfall


Shimen Cave


Nantou County




Also on this date:

September 27 – Crush a Can Day

Posted on September 27, 2018


You already recycle, right?

Whether you recycle using curbside recycling bins or you take them to a special recycling center, where you get money, you probably already recycle glass, aluminum, yard waste, and hopefully plastic and paper.

But today is a holiday to encourage EVERYONE in your community to recycle, as well by having some fun activities that focus on recyclable containers.

Hold crush-a-can contests, and see who is the fastest to crush 10 cans. (This guy is amazing!)

Have a party. Use recyclables to decorate in innovative ways - and be sure to do some crushing with your guests! At the end of the party, of course, you can recycle everything for $$$.


Check out how to make party lights from plastic bottles.

Do some upcycling with aluminum cans. Remember, if you use, say, aluminum pull tabs to make something like a mesh-looking light, you will probably end up answering a lot of interested questions - and you can promote recycling to lots of people. When you no longer want the light, you can then recycle the pull tabs! 

Here are some more upcycling ideas.




Also on this date: