Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year lands between the 21st of January and the 20th of February; This year it began on the 16th of February and for the next two weeks the Chinese community will be celebrating their New Year. The ‘Spring Celebrations’ are centuries old, steeped in tradition and have many customs due to the legend and myths that have accumulated around it over the ages.
The Nian Legend
Part of the culture that surrounds the Chinese New Year is the tale of Nian. Nian is a mythical beast that was said to terrorize a village at this time of year due to scarcity of food; it would come and eat the villagers, particularly the children, and the village took to hiding in the nearby forest. Eventually an old monk stood up to the beast and painted the town red, as well as setting off firecrackers. His plan worked, and these traditions can be seen today in the New Year celebrations.
The Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese Zodiac is an ancient classification scheme that assigns animals to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. Originating from a 2000-year old myth – of which there are several versions – it’s said that the Jade Emperor wished to see what the animals of Earth looked like and held a race to Heaven. The drama unfolded at the river crossing, where the animals would display their stereotypical qualities – the snake hitched a ride on the horse and surprised it just before the finish line, the ox gave the rat a lift, the pig was lazy and came in last. The traits are reflected in various ways depending on the version, but in every adaption the rat betrays the cat, either by drowning it or keeping the race a secret; this is claimed to be why cats chase and kill rats.
Traditions and Customs
Though specific traditions vary depending on region and culture, the annual reunion dinner is a staple throughout and is thought to be the largest annual human migration in the world. Red is considered a lucky colour in China, and is commonly seen at this time of year due to the Nian legend; red lanterns are lit and sent up in to the sky, and money-filled red envelopes or hóngbao (Mandarin) / lai sze (Cantonese). The money in these envelopes are always even numbers, as uneven numbers are associated with funerals. Another staple is thoroughly cleaning the house; this is meant to signify cleaning away bad spirits and making space for the good ones.Read more
Valentines day around the world
Though apparently originating from a questionable Roman festival (though no one can pinpoint the exact origin), Valentine’s Day was popularised by the Catholic Church, and then later romanticised by Geoffrey Chaucer and other writers. Fast forward to the 14th February in 21st Century and the notions of religion and strange festivals have faded away, but the idea of love and devotion are stronger than ever… let’s have a look at how the special day is celebrated around the world.
Similarly to our Western version of Valentine’s Day, the Philippines enjoy gifts, nice food and spending time with one another; but interestingly, it’s common for people to take it that step further, and actually get married on the day! This tradition has led to mass weddings in shopping malls, parks and other public spaces, where people get married one after the other as well as renew their vows. Thousands of Filipinos now share this wedding date, which has only heightened the fervour for this day of the year.
Wales celebrate their version of Valentine’s day on the 25th of January, and the day is actually dedicated to the Welsh saint Dwynwen. One of the more interesting traditions of this Welsh holiday is the love spoon (no that’s not a euphemism); these spoons are carved out of wood and have symbols etched into them, which can signify different meanings such as horseshoes, which stand for good luck; wheels, which symbolize support; and keys, which symbolize the keys to a man’s heart.
China’s equivalent of Valentines day has a classic love story behind it. The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is a myth that is believed to be 2600 years old and revolves around the title characters. The weaver girl is bored of Heaven and travels down to Earth where she falls in love with a lowly cowherd; subsequently the gods find out about this love and the pair are separated, save for one day a year when a flock of magpies make a bridge between the two realms and our lovers are reunited. Chinese tradition dictates that paper offerings are burnt at temples, and newlyweds might worship the celestial couple one last time as they begin their own relationships.
Here at home
One of the most important things about Valentine’s day here in England is the Valentine’s card. The Earliest known version of this is a poem called ‘Farewell to Love’, written by a medieval French Duke named Charles, of Orleans. A classic Valentines evening might consist of going somewhere for dinner, perhaps a movie, maybe a walk and an exchange of gifts.
Its easy to take speaking a language for granted – throughout history, throughout the animal kingdom, there is no better method of conveying thoughts, ideas, humour or our deepest emotions. But how do we speak to others who don’t communicate in our language? In this blog we’ll look at the ways we communicate without actually speaking (or writing) to one another.
Body language is perhaps the most universal language on the planet, as we share this means of communication with the animal kingdom; when frightened humans and animals tend to retreat and make themselves small, and the opposite is true when confident or attempting to threaten. And while different cultures vary, generally body language stays the same throughout humanity. The things to look out for when reading body language are eye and body contact, proximity and facial expressions.
We’ve dedicated an entire blog post to body language before, which you can read here: https://www.vlslanguages.com/blog/body-language
If there are aspects of body language that are up for debate, very little can be said for body contact. A person knows what is being said when receiving a hug or a reassuring touch, or conversely, when being pushed or punched. There are two forms of body contact; one being private contact, which takes place in a place away from other people, an example of this would be sexual activity. The other is public contact, such as a handshake – speaking of which, handshakes are surprisingly layered in terms of communication; it can be used to greet, but rejection of a handshake can be a serious affront, and between restrained men it can be an expression of affection and love. Furthermore, a handshake can mean a sign of trust, or forgiveness if there has been tension between two people.
Is there a better way to express yourself than through art? A recent study suggests that there are recognisable moods in songs throughout the music world – songs you would dance to, or lullabies and soothing songs. Furthermore, the language of music called notation, is fairly standardised around the planet, particularly in professionals. Beyond this, the artwork that hangs in famous museums attracts people from all corners of the globe – and though the finer details of the meaning and message may be debateable, the general mood can be read regardless of where you’re from. The same goes for dance and any other artform; the human nature is present and reflected within these methods of communication, and emotion is something we all experience, and therefore can all relate to.Read more
Our Oldest Languages
The debate on when human language developed is one that may never be resolved – there’s no recorded evidence of its beginnings, and so therefore we can only make estimated guesses on the topic. Having said that, some of our ancient languages are very old indeed – and that’s only the ones that can be confirmed due to the existence of written texts!
Egyptian - 4700 years old
With proto-hieroglyphics being dated back to 2000 BCE, Egyptian is the grandfather of written language. The most advanced civilization of their time, they developed many technological advances during the Bronze Age, including quarrying, construction techniques that led to the pyramids and a mathematics system, to name but a few. After centuries of use, the language eventually died out due to the rise of Islam (and subsequently the Arabic language) in the area and the persecution of other religions.
Sanskrit – 4000 years old
Often called “the language of the Gods”, Sanskrit the liturgical language of Hinduism, and the philosophical language for all the religions in the India/Nepal area. Amazingly, 15,000 people use it as their first language today! Sanskrit is the oldest Indo-European language that has a substantial amount of written text, and therefore is the subject of serious academic study. Though the language fell out of favour a long time ago, it is still often used at religious events.
Ancient Greek – Around 3500 years old
Ancient Greece was immensely influential on western language, arts, culture, philosophy and science, and is considered to be the base culture that the Romans built themselves on. Interestingly, as the empire was split into different city-states, only Alexander the Great of Macedonia was able to unite the empire. Through the centuries, Ancient Greek morphed into modern day Greek, and if you were to have a speaker from each language, they wouldn’t be able to understand each other.
Chinese – over 3000 years old
The only known proof of written Chinese are 3000-year-old markings in turtle shells, its thought that the language could be much older than that, perhaps even older than Egyptian. The written language has distinct symbols and characters to represent each word in the vocabulary, and therefore if you wanted to read a newspaper, you’d have to have a knowledge of around 3,000 different symbols. Similarly to Ancient Greek, a modern day reader would have a very difficult time understanding ancient Chinese.Read more
Why professional translation is so important
For many, language is considered the cornerstone of civilization. In today’s commercial world, when foreign markets are so easy to access, its hugely important to be able to communicate with your audience in an authentic and coherent way; but this is not the only reason why professional translation is becoming so vital in the modern age.
Language’s importance to national identity
According to Pew Global Research, around 72% of Europeans believe knowing their country’s language is the most important aspect to national identity; this fact needs to be reflected in how you present your product and your company as a whole; customers are more inclined to part with their money and trust the provider if the product’s information is given in their native language.
Communication is more important than ever
Brexit, globalisation, nationalism… you may be tiring of today’s buzzwords, but they could seriously affect your business and further illustrate the importance of good translation. As the world gets smaller but our dividing lines seem to grow larger, your company and your product needs to feel familiar and approachable to a wide and varied audience – meaning the lines of communication must be in their native tongue.
Automatic and free translation providers aren’t good enough
While platforms like google translate are great for short sentences or one-word translations, the end results are often very literal; automatic translation devices are incapable of translating native colloquialisms or other cultural themes from language to language – only translation professionals can provide this.
Getting it wrong is costly
There are many horror stories about bad translations, from the light-hearted to the more severe. One memorable example is when KFC’s tagline “finger-lickin” good’ was translated into “we’ll eat your fingers off”, or the time HSBC had its strapline “Assume Nothing” mistranslated to “Do Nothing” in several countries, resulting in a costly $10 million rebrand!
However, there are more sombre stories too. At a hospital in the US, the Spanish word ‘intoxicado’ was misinterpreted as ‘intoxicated’, when it actually means ‘poisoned’ or ‘having an allergic reaction’… this easily avoidable mistake resulted in the patient being given the wrong medication and losing the use of all four limbs, and a $71 million-dollar lawsuit for the hospital. Although this is slightly different in that was a face to face interpretation, you can see how easily translation can go wrong and how costly it can be.
Vandu Language Services has been providing professional translation and interpreting for nearly 20 years in over 120 languages with friendly and helpful staff who can work with you throughout the process. Please contact us on 01273 473986 or email for further information:Read more