Saturday, 26 March 2011
When visiting one of the many parts of the world where they speak a language of which I have no knowledge, I always try to master a few phrases before I go. To help me with this I used to use Babel Fish but now I find Google Translate is better, and will pronounce the phrase for you as well as translate it. It is important to practise: get an intonation only slightly wrong and, with Asian languages in particular, you might ask your neighbour at dinner to pass the salt and find that you have insulted the fellow's grandmother in a most unmentionable manner.
It is useless to learn how to ask for directions, or indeed any kind of question other than rhetorical ones, for you will not understand the answer: cheery greetings and courtesies are what you need. Here, for example, are translations into Vietnamese of some phrases which might be useful when you are strolling in the vibrant market streets of Saigon:
Get out of here
Có được ra khỏi đây
Why don't you get out of here?
Tại sao bạn không nhận được ra khỏi đây?
If you don't get out of here, I will knock your block off / kick you in the mouth
Nếu bạn không nhận được ra khỏi đây, tôi sẽ rời khỏi khối / đá bạn trong miệng
[For the technically minded: Google Translate uses statistical machine translation, which has made substantial advances in recent years, while Babel Fish uses SYSTRAN rule-based technology.]