Posts Tagged ‘translation’

The China Syndrome

May 1, 2013

The taxi driver doesn’t speak much English; the receptionist asks you to sign papers that could for all intents and purposes be yearly subscriptions to the local newspaper; the doctor doesn’t have a clue what you are talking about and prescribes medicine with a name you cannot even read, never mind understand; many of the few translations into English you can find could be straight from one of those websites trying to keep you entertained with examples of ‘lost in translation’; there are 5 million cars on the road and they all seem to be large Audis, Passats, Buicks, BMWs or Mercedes, and they all seem to have decided to drive down the same street you’re just on; at 7am the outdoor sports facilities are packed with people stretching, exercising, and practicing Tai-Chi – not the young energetic types in their twenties, but the slower more concentrated and focused types in their 50s and above; there are 100 universities in town, many quite sizeable settlements in their own right; squares are the size of your home town; the list of overwhelming impressions could go on and on and on: this is no ordinary place.

Welcome to Beijing, China.

Of course, I knew China is big in more than one way, but I had no idea how big because I had never had the opportunity to visit the country. Even the knowledge that with just over 42% penetration there are now almost twice as many internet users in China than there are people in the USA was kind of abstract. It was impressive, but what was missing was the feeling in my stomach that could bring home to me what this figure really meant. So, I was delighted when my friend and colleague Qun Liu (DCU) invited me to Beijing to attend and speak at the 2013 IET International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (IETICT2013) held on 27-29 April 2013 in conjunction with the China-Ireland International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (CIICT2013). I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to learn first hand about this awakening giant, its people, and, of course, its localisation community. On my way to China, I was thinking about my first ever visits to other ‘eastern’ countries that had not been on my ‘western’ radar until I eventually went to visit them, among them India and Russia. How would China compare? I also thought about the Chinese students I had taught at our postgraduate Localisation Programme at the University of Limerick; they had been a mixed group of students, some very open, some a bit more cautious and shy when connecting with the other students and our western culture.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my stay in China was another lesson in humility. The amount of knowledge, experience, and expertise shared by the people I met was really breathtaking. And in that sense, the experience was similar to that of my first contacts with the localisation communities in Russia and India. On all of these occasions, I knew that the person who benefitted most from the visits was myself. The little bit of knowledge I could share during the meetings, conversations, and presentations must have been almost negligible in comparison. However, I also realized that our work both in the Localisation Research Centre (LRC) at the University of Limerick, and at The Rosetta Foundation is being followed closely around the world, and particularly in China and beyond. I was genuinely delighted to meet colleagues who have been following Localisation Focus for years, as well as volunteers of The Rosetta Foundation.

The presentations by our Chinese colleagues at the Ireland-China Localisation Forum organized by Localisation Service Committee of Translators 2013 China-Ireland Localisation ForumAssociation of China (TACLSC) were far too short, while the organizers, being polite, had allocated much time to the western contributors, including Vincent Wade (TCD), Josef van Genabith (DCU), and myself. Of course, this allowed us to share reports on our work, ideas on future trends and research, and to issue invitations for potential collaboration with our Chinese colleagues; but I, at least, could hardly keep up with the amount and depth of material presented by Gavin Cui (LSCTAC) in his introduction to the session. Gavin Cui introduced the speakers: Francois Zhang (Huawei) on Practices and Evolution: Huawei Translation Quality Management; Henry Huang (Pactera) on New Requirements of China Localization Markets; Yongpeng Wei (Lingosail) on Machine Translation in China; Shi Li (LanguAge) on Building the Partnership between Clients and LSPs; and Zhijun Gao (Peking University) on CAT and Localization Education at Peking University.

Of course, we went to see the great Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, all examples of why everything outside of China feels so small. I learned how to eat using chopsticks, how to roll up thin slices of Peking Duck in paper-thin pancakes, and how to eat soup without a ‘proper’ spoon. Many years ago, I had learned not to eat spaghetti when wearing a white shirt – well, I can now tell you that unless you are a ‘pro’, wearing a white shirt is not a good idea when eating Chinese foot with chopsticks either!

Another notable China experience: the internet went all ‘funny’ on me: Skype worked for 20 seconds and cut out; Google searches went to a site in Hong The Great Wall of ChinaKong and got stuck there; Facebook did not work at all; and the Chinese sites that came up instead, presumably to allow me to search and social network, were, well, in Chinese. I got a feeling that China is so big, that it doesn’t even have to look outside, at least not yet. There are Chinese social networking sites, short messaging services, search engines, and other services used by hundreds of millions of people every day that I had never heard of, among them: Sina Weibo, Renren, and Alibaba. There are companies employing tens of thousands of people. The names of cities that are home to the massive manufacturing plants of western consumer goods only vaguely ring a bell. The obvious question that came to my mind was: what will happen if this giant one day decides to extend its active reach to the West?

I know that this was certainly not my last visit to China. I met strangers and left leaving friends and colleagues behind. There is a lot we can learn from each other, and there are really good indicators that we will deepen our initial contacts and start to develop our mutual understanding, working together in areas of mutual interest.


Osborne, Charlie (15 January 2013). China’s Internet population surges to 564 million, 75 percent on mobile. (last accessed 01 May 2013).

2013 China-Ireland Localisation International Forum. 29 April 2013. (last accessed 01 May 2013).

2013 IET International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (IETICT2013) held on 27-29 April 2013 in conjunction with the China-Ireland International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (CIICT2013). (last accessed 01 May 2013).

Running for your Life or Going the Extra Mile?

October 18, 2012

Tap tap tap … the sound of someone’s feet hitting the ground, running. A young girl, Marie, is cheered on by her schoolmates as well as by her young, enthusiastic teacher, Joe Connor. She is running around a dusty school ground and setting a ‘new world record’, which is enthusiastically announced by Joe who is providing an adrenaline-charged live commentary to the run, using a short stick as a pretend microphone.

Change of location.

Tap tap tap … the feet of runners hitting the ground at 5 a.m. at Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. On the vast fields at Jan Meda (‘the king’s field’), they’re running. They’re also running on Bole Road and on steep Menelik II Avenue, which leads down from the palace. And they are running up 3,200-meter Mount Entoto.

Two scenes with a very different background, leading to different outcomes, but with just one message.

The first scene is taken from a film, Killing Dogs, about Rwanda in 1994. It is based on real events, filmed on location with people who had been part of the terrible events that took place there. Marie, the runner, is a student of the École Technique Officielle in Kigali and doesn’t realize that she would soon be running for her life. The genocide starts just a few days after Marie’s ‘world record’, and Father Christopher, the school’s principal, tries to get Marie out of the killing zone. His car is stopped at a roadblock by one of his former students. While Marie hides under the car, his former student kills Father Christopher in cold blood. Marie starts running for her life, for days.

Fast-forward five years. Marie, who managed to escape the genocide that had taken the lives of some 800,000 Rwandans, walks into the church of an exclusive private school where Joe, who had also escaped the killings, directs a boys’ choir. The film finishes with a scene on the manicured lawns of the school with well-dressed hockey players running around, and Joe and Marie sitting under a beautiful tree. ‘When I was running for my life your voice commenting on my run around the schoolyard was in my head, all the time.’ Mary says. ‘Why did you leave us?’ After some hesitation, Joe answers, ‘I was afraid to die.’ Mary concludes, ‘We are fortunate, all this time that we have been given. We must use it well.’

The second story is about the heirs to a tradition that started when the barefoot Abebe Bikila won the marathon in 1960 Olympics in Rome. Since then, international distance running has been dominated by Ethiopia, a developing nation with almost no formal athletic training facilities. Haile Gebrselassie has been the face of Ethiopian running for over two decades, setting a total of twenty-seven world records. Now thirty-nine years old, Haile concentrates his efforts on mentoring the next generation of Ethiopian runners. The first Ethiopian woman to win an Olympic gold medal was Derartu Tulu, who took first place in 10,000 metres during the 1992 Olympics Games in Barcelona. Abebe and Haile consider themselves to be proof that poverty does not have to be a barrier to success and that running can make dreams come true. Haile turned one of his dreams into reality with his success as a runner. He grew up just outside Assela, a small community 54 km north of Bekoji and south of the capital. He built a bridge across a river that ran through his village and that had taken the lives of a father and a son trying to cross it in the rainy season. He also built several hotels around the country and is involved in a development called Yaya Village, a new high-altitude training facility outside of Addis Ababa. Joseph Kibur, another runner who is following his dreams, developed this facility originally. ‘When one of the athletes become successful, the whole family—and sometimes the whole neighbourhood—is lifted out of poverty’, says Joseph. Yaya Village (Yaya means ‘happiness’) opened in 2011 about 15 km outside of Addis Ababa. At an altitude of 2,500 metres it is surrounded by trails that provide an ideal environment for the coaching of young athletes by Olympic superstars such as Haile Gebrselassie and Gezahegn Abera. The village provides all the facilities elite athletes require and, in addition, offers comfortable conference rooms and restaurants for the less athletic visitors. The preparations for the 2016 Olympics are already in full swing at Yaya Village, and Joseph Kibur and his friends are hopeful that Ethiopia will again be victorious in Brazil.

The two stories taught me several lessons, not just about the different aspects of life and people in Africa, but mostly about my own life and my own priorities. When I checked the origin of the phrase ‘going the extra mile’ which is a well-(ab-)used phrase in business conversations, it turned out that it’s actually taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41): ‘If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles’, i.e. the ‘extra mile’. We are, in the words of genocide survivor Marie, ‘fortunate with all this time we have been given. We must use it well’. The Ethiopian runners teach us how to use this time well with dedication, focus and hard work, and with a clear goal in our minds, so that we can make a difference not just to our own lives, but to those of our family, our neighbourhood and our whole country, even if the odds seem to be against us.

The exchange of knowledge and information across languages cannot be left to commercial interests alone. We are the ones to prove it. Language matters.

For the first time in my life I’ll be running a marathon, at the Dublin Marathon on 29 October. I know that my friends from Ethiopia will cross the finish line a good two hours before me, but hopefully I won’t just go, but run the last mile.

If you want to support my run for The Rosetta Foundation, please go to

Shooting Dogs (released in the USA as Beyond the Gates) is a 2005 film, directed by Michael Caton-Jones and is based on the experiences of BBC news producer David Belton.
Steve Winston (2012). ‘Ethiopia’s Distance Running Legacy. In Search of the Secret’. Selamta Magazine, Vol 29, No 3, July/August 2012, pp. 22-33. This was the primary source for the story about the Ethiopian Runners.
More information on Yaya Village Training Centre:

Note: This blog will also be published in my blog for The Rosetta Foundation, October 2012