June 28, 2017

Travelling Corner: 4 Ideas for a Weekend in Edinburgh


If you would like to visit a historic place with amazing museums, galleries, cafes, restaurants, green spaces and super kind people, you need to go to Edinburgh! I went there for a weekend and here are my highlights:


Royal Botanic Garden

Wow. It’s such a beautiful garden and the greenhouse is just breath-taking (look at the photo below). I don’t think I even walked through the whole garden, but I definitely recommend the terrace café where you’ll find a beautiful view of the city. The out-door space is free of charge, but you need to purchase a ticket to go to the greenhouse (totally worth the price!).


Walk on The Royal Mile

If you’re lucky to have nice weather (yes, blue sky can exist in Scotland!), I recommend a walk from The Royal Mile towards the Scottish Parliament building. You can either stop there or visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse. You could even visit Dynamic Earth just around the corner or continue towards Holyrood Park, then even further on to Portobello Beach.


Dynamic Earth

I was amazed by this science centre: the staff members were fabulous in making every step of the visit so easy and entertaining. Really great learning hub. I must mention that some expositions are quite loud, so it might be a bit too much for younger audience.


Portobello Beach

The perfect place if you want to have a long walk on a beach or simply sit down on the sand to watch waves and seagulls. At weekends, there are many joggers, walkers and children, but it’s never too crowded. There is a café-van selling delicious coffee, teas & cake. You can walk to Portobello Beach or take a bus.


Don’t forget to read my impressions of Edinburgh when I first visited the city. Have you been to Edinburgh? What were your favourite spots? Please share in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

June 21, 2017

Learning a Language: Learn Vocabulary Faster with 6 Fun Games

We published an article on how to learn vocabulary around a month ago, but I wanted to explore the topic even further and give you some more motivation and ideas on how to learn vocabulary.

There are many techniques you can use to learn vocabulary through reading, listening, moving around and being serious, crazy or creative. You can choose your favourite technique or you can mix & match them. Below, you’ll find 6 games which will help you learn vocabulary faster and have fun at the same time. Let’s get started!


Cards—to learn and revise vocabulary, sentences or grammar

Write a new word, sentence or fragment of grammar on one side of a piece of card with a picture or the translation into your first language on the other. Create a pile of cards and start memorising new words. When you think you have learnt them all, test yourself. Start again each time you make a mistake.


Match the halves—to revise the spelling of a list of words

First, write out a list of words you want to learn. Next, make a second list showing the beginning of each word and a third list with the end of each word. The endings in the third list must be in a different order from the beginnings. Cover up your list of complete words. Look at the other two lists and try to write all the words in full. Say the words to yourself as you write them. Compare your new list with the original list to make sure that your words are correct.


Different groups of words—to revise different topics

Organise the words into different categories and then write your groups of words. If you write the words on cards, it makes it easier to move them around into different groups. Can you explain the logic of your groups?


Mind map—to revise sets of words or phrases relating to a topic

In mind maps your ideas spread all over the page. You can connect ideas and group them. You can colour them and make the lines thick or thin and the bubbles big or small depending on how important the ideas are to you and how you feel about them.


Write a crazy story—to help you revise and remember words

Put all the words you want to remember into a story. Make it a crazy story and then you will remember the story and the words.


Be dramatic—to remember words or phrases

Try saying ordinary words and phrases in a dramatic way.


All the above examples come from a great handbook called Games for Language Learning by Andrew Wright, David Betteridge & Michael Buckby. If you would like to explore the topic of language learning techniques further, I highly recommend reading the book. By the way, what is your favourite language learning game? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

June 14, 2017

700 Reasons to Learn a Language: Do Businesses Need Languages?

Today, I would like to share with you some reasons businesses should consider investing in language learning education. I wouldn’t narrow it to those businesses who export or trade internationally; moreover, the below examples are mainly related to the international and tourist fields.

It’s obvious that languages play an important role in international business, but I think that their role is crucial on every level of business: from selling and negotiations to writing a website or proposal.

Below, you’ll find 7 quotations which were first published in articles and books, such as Language Learning Journal, Business Communication Across Borders and English as a Global Language. The complete list of extracts and their original sources can be found on the LLAS website. (Sadly, the LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies has now ended its activities, but you can still access their content.)

“One in every five British exporters (Statistics from Metra Martech) knows it is losing overseas business through its inability to overcome language and cultural differences”


 “You are far more likely to gain your customer’s respect and to be able to play a controlling part in business negotiations if you are able to communicate directly in his/her language.”


“With the numbers of foreign visitors coming to the UK, it is obvious that those who work in tourist-related industries really ought to have some knowledge of languages. A good service can only really be delivered to foreign visitors if there are people on hand who can understand what they have to say and are happy to converse with them in their language, and not just in English”


“In line with ‘softer’ approaches of modern business theory, the importance of human communication is increasingly stressed. Language, including foreign language – is seen as key to such communication and real interchange”


“Failure to ‘culturally adapt’ sales and marketing material is a major cause of cross-cultural miscommunication. Moreover, companies which have successfully mastered adaptation have usually done so by adopting a ‘language’ or communication strategy in the first place”


“15% of the firms involved in a Language Advantage survey in 2001 recognise that they have lost business because of the language skill factor or cultural barriers. One individual even claimed to have lost half a million pounds of business per year because of it”


“Buy in your native language, sell in the customer’s language”


Quite powerful, don’t you think? Do you use languages in your business when trading internationally? Do you have international staff members? Please share your comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

June 7, 2017

On Translation: Friend or Foe, Important or Useless? What Should We Make of Machine Translation?

Machine translation (MT) is the use of computer software to translate text or speech from one language to another.  It automates the process of translation.  At its most basic level, MT substitutes words in one language for words in another.  By itself, that cannot produce a good translation as texts need to be seen as a whole.  MT technology is being developed to overcome this barrier.

On translation--machine translation (2)

Advantages of Machine Translation

Machine translation, although not always perfectly accurate (see below), is faster and cheaper than human translation.  This can meet the needs of businesses working in global markets.

Machine translation has also been hailed as a peace-keeping technological development.  Its supporters think it can forge links between peoples and break down barriers.  People who believe this accept that translation engines may never produce translations as good as human translations, but believe that they will be good enough to help people all over the world converse “as if language barriers never existed”.

Despite the un-idiomatic quality of some machine translation MT is sometimes acceptable to some audiences (and sometimes isn’t).  It appears to depend on the attitude of the reader to language and whether it is a means of accessing information or expressing one’s identity as to whether they accept a machine-translated text (see for example the work of scholar Lynne Bowker on this subject).

Disadvantages of Machine Translation

There are still debates as to whether MT can or even should ever be a substitute for human translation.  A machine-translated text may not be as idiomatic as a human translation and may not even be accurate, as a computer does not have a human brain.  Translation is a creative process rather than just word-for-word substitution.  Translators must look at a text as a whole, and know how words and phrases used may influence one another and what they mean in context.  As well as having expertise in the language’s grammar and vocabulary, translators need to know about the culture and location the language originated in.  This is not something that is easily replicated by computer algorithms.

There are also concerns that the translator profession may die out if MT is allowed to take over, or that MT will force translators to charge less for their work if they are to keep up with the market.  The job of a translator could change radically and become unrecognisable – in the future there may only be post-editors who proofread machine translation outputs rather than full translators.  Others argue that MT will boost the translation industry, as it will be called upon to improve the technology and fill the gaps left by imperfect automated translation with high quality non-automated translation.

How Machine Translation Works

There are different types of machine translation.  Some software can be bought by companies who plan to use it regularly, and other software, available online and intended for one-off use by members of the general public, is free.  There are generally two types of bought machine translation software: “customized” machine translation and “enterprise” machine translation.  “Customized” machine translation involves “training” or adaptation of the translation software to recognize language belonging to a specific domain, industry or organization.  It can be broken down into rule-based machine translation technology and statistical machine translation.

Rule-based machine translation technology uses vast databases of dictionaries and lists of language rules in both languages.  The translation software uses the rules it “knows” to work out a translation that is likely to be correct based on the rules related to each word.  Users of the software can improve the translation quality by adding their terminology into the translation memory.  This means it can be customised by domain or profession, but it does not need to be as it works on language rules.  This kind of software needs updating frequently but updates cost less than the initial purchase of the software.  The quality of rule-based MT is consistent and predictable.  It is not very fluent, though, meaning that it is not idiomatic.  It also struggles with exceptions to grammatical rules.

Statistical machine translation, on the other hand, uses analysis of texts in the source language and target language to build translation models.  This of course depends on what kinds of texts already exist.  It still cannot achieve the creativity that a human brain can as it is only based on what the computer has “seen” before.  A minimum of 2 million words for a specific domain and even more for general language are needed.  Most companies, who would be using and “training” the translation software to write according to its house style, do not have enough existing texts in the required languages to build translation models.  Statistical MT provides good quality when large numbers of usable texts are available.  The translation is fluent, meaning it reads well and therefore meets user expectations. However, statistical models do not know about grammar.  They can handle exceptions to rules, though, unlike rule-based translation technology.

These two models show that “customised” solutions that “train” their software are only as good as the data provided.  Nevertheless, improved output quality can be achieved by human intervention: for example, some systems are able to translate more accurately if the source text (the text being translated) is made easier for a computer to translate (removal of idioms, culture-specific names/references).  Otherwise, “post-editing” (improving the machine translation by having a human proofreader check through it) can be used.

“Enterprise” Machine Translation is the stuff of “next generation” of “augmented” machine translation engines.  These employ sophisticated technology and localisation techniques to reproduce personalised, customised terminology, styling and formatting across languages.  It is fast and can produce high volume content and real-time multilingual communication, which is what global businesses want.

“Generic” machine translation is instead a ‘one size-fits-all’ solution used by search engines that translate text. Used by individual internet users for ad hoc translations of short texts, “Generic MT” is less accurate than “customized” machine translation.  This model of machine translation “throws  […] data at its engines in hope for them to become better with time”.  An example of this is Skype translator, which is already up and running but is not perfect as it still needs to “learn” how people speak.  Skype would argue that this is more than just “throwing data at its engine” as it learns from structured communication such as conversations.

Have Your Say

This is definitely a domain that sparks a lot of interest and debate. What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page!

Written by Suzannah Young