Posted by: travelrat | November 9, 2007

The Language Show

Wadworth’s Dray, Devizes I didn’t take any pictures while I was in London, but we can’t have two successive entries without photos. So, step forward Barry, Adrian, Waggoner and Harry!

Like I said earlier, I was up in London on Sunday to attend a presentation at Olympia called ‘Germany Unveiled’. This presentation was just one event in an exhibition called ‘The Language Show’ and, since I arrived early, I was able to take a good look around.

As regular readers of my words will know, I often take part in the Vaughan Systems ‘Vaughantown’ programmes in Spain, to give Spanish people experience in speaking English. I also contribute regularly to ‘English Zone’, a Japanese magazine for English learners. So, I do have an interest in the subject.

Now, if you’re teaching English, or any foreign language, how do you display what you’re offering? The visit revealed countless ways. I stopped at the stand of one school, where they offered to teach me Spanish … and asked, are you interested in Castilian, Catalan or Basque? Spanish was quite well represented by a number of stands from various language schools, and quite rightly so; it’s the second … or is it the third? … most widely spoken language in the world.

Not that it means anything … Mandarin Chinese had only one stand, a little bigger than the seat space allocated to tourist class airline passengers, in a little-frequented corner. And, that’s the third … or is it the second? … most widely spoken language in the world.

I spent some time at the Iko Eco stand. They have a phrase book with a difference. You pick the card with the phrase you want on it, hold it up, and the person you’re addressing reads the translation on the other side. They’re offering a computer that works on the same principle, too … although as an occasional user of ‘Babelfish’, I have my doubts on this one. But, if you’re interested, check them out at Babelfish!

Ah, yes! Try feeding a few lines of poetry into it. For instance:

But, who are ye, in rags and rotten shoes?/ You, dirty-bearded, blocking up the way?/We are the pilgrims, Master, we shall go/Always a little further, whether ‘tis beyond the blue mountain, or across the silver-barred sea./We take the golden road to Samarkand.

becomes, in Dutch:

Maar wie ye in vodden en rotte schoenen zijn? Vuil-gebaard u, blokkerend de manier? Wij zijn de pelgrims, Meester, zullen wij altijd, hetzij ‘ tis voorbij de blauwe berg, of over het zilveren-versperde overzees een weinig verder gaan. Wij nemen de gouden weg aan Samarkand.

Translate that back into English, and you get:

But who ye in rags and rot did shoes are? Vuil-gebaard you, the blocking manner? We are the pilgrims, master, we always, or tis beyond the blue mount, or zilveren-versperde concern overseas little further. We remove gouden to samarkand.

I can’t close without mentioning the gent I met at Heathrow a few years back. I shouldn’t really laugh, because his English is much better than my Serbo-Croat, or whatever. But, when he said: ‘Where shall I discover the convenience? I am full of shit!’ Well, at least I managed to keep a straight face till after he’d gone.


  1. The translation system sounds like a game of Chinese Whispers. LOL! Are you sure the Serbo-Croatian man wasn’t related to Borat? Sounds like something he would say. Talk about lost in translation!

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