Duolingo opens Mandarin

Quick interview from Duolingo VP Gina Gotthilf about their new Mandarin course—- as someone who has put in the time with Chinese, I can only say “It’s SO WORTH IT”. Coming from English, there’s a bit of a learning curve for sure, but it’s definitely doable.

Advertisements

Super Bowl LI: Winning play, called in 8 languages!

sbtd

Check out this great video that is up on the NFL.com website–the game-winning touchdown from Super Bowl LI, called in 8 different languages: Chinese, French (Canadian), German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Japanese, Korean and Danish.

Each one is epic in a fresh and fun way, even if you don’t understand what they’re saying!

Papi酱 English class–Dubbed from Mandarin into Japanese

 

Papi酱’s comedic take of an over the top English teacher (actually a collection of very plausible classroom moments) is pretty funny– the first video below is the original Mandarin.

I only posted it here because I wanted to share an extremely clever Japanese dub of the same video (second video below).  Kudos to whoever put it together–well done!!  Clearly, the struggle of English learners is universal.

For folks that understand neither Mandarin nor Japanese, if you’ve ever seen an English class taught by a frustrated teacher, I suspect you’ll still get the humour.

Mandarin:

Japanese:

Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT)

A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Star Trek VI: will computers ever emulate the charm of human language learners?“— I was essentially conjuring the vision of the Star Trek “Universal Translator”, and wondered how language learning will look when our future gadgets are smoothly interpreting for us.

I only bring it up this week because I saw the news about the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT) , and it seemed like another reminder of just how quickly things are moving. Gradually, those ‘future gadgets’ are getting closer and closer to the here and now.

Google Translate launched ten years ago using phrase-based machine translation, and it just keeps getting better— to see that they’re moving to GNMT and starting with a challenging pair of languages (Mandarin to English) shows that they’re really not fooling around.

In addition to releasing this research paper today, we are announcing the launch of GNMT in production on a notoriously difficult language pair: Chinese to English. The Google Translate mobile and web apps are now using GNMT for 100% of machine translations from Chinese to English—about 18 million translations per day.

I wonder what will happen when machine translation starts to surpass human translation for most situations?  Sound far-fetched?  The image below (from Google Research Blog) shows the results after “human raters compare the quality of translations for a given source sentence. Scores range from 0 to 6, with 0 meaning “completely nonsense translation”, and 6 meaning ‘perfect translation.'”. Look at the gains that GNMT made on the old phrase-based technology and how close it is to human translation!

I bet some cool language learning tools will eventually come out of this technology.

 

 

Language learning, like a marriage, takes work: Chinglish within bilingual Couples

I just read an interesting article/interview about someone who is doing a study about semantic language use within couples coming from mixed-language (Mandarin/other) backgrounds. Does this sound like you? If so, Susanna Wickes is hoping that you’ll take a minute to complete her online survey (in either English or Chinese).  [The article ran in the Beijinger as: Scholarly Chinglish: Scottish Masters Student Studies the Semantics of Interracial Couples]

From what I’ve seen, most couples gradually shift into one language; the unfortunate reality (at least in my thinking) is that language is usually English. Chinese people as a whole have studied more of the fundamentals of English at school so, even though many don’t feel fully satisfied with their language abilities, the language barometer will more often end up shifting the equilibrium toward English.  I don’t want to speak in absolutes— I’m sure this trend is definitely better for couples living in China, but I think it’s a fair observation to say that fewer bilingual households end up primarily speaking Chinese at home.

chinese_restaurant_wedding_reception

Reading the article actually brought up some fun memories for me; when my wife and I got together, we very quickly settled into a comfortable pidgin-mix of both languages that made us feel like I was speaking amazing Mandarin and she was speaking amazing English. The only trouble was that my expat friends (we were living in China at the time) couldn’t always understand her English; similarly, I was still feeling the daily sting of having Chinese friends and coworkers around me not understand me once the conversation moved beyond superficial pleasantries, and my pronunciation wasn’t really that clear.

Continue reading

Clay Calligraphy: Li Bai’s Jìng Yè Sī 静夜思

I’ve been wanting to try this idea for the longest time– In the end, it was good fun that was quite relaxing!

If you imagine “claymation meets calligraphy”, then you’ll understand exactly what’s going on in this video: I used plasticine (borrowed from son’s art table) to ‘write’ each stroke.

Studying poetry may seem snobbish to many North Americans; however, it’s quite common in many parts of the world and China is no exception.  I can almost guarantee that you could say the first two syllables of this poem to any Mandarin speaker and they could finish the poem for you.  Studying poetry is a great chance to practice pronunciation— ‘writing fancy’, whatever that means in the language you’re working on (i.e. brush calligraphy/interesting fonts) is also a great way to practice writing skills.  Playing with pencil crayons and finger paint is OK too!