The Top 8 Challenges for a Japanese Translation

Japanese has been labelled as one of the world’s most difficult languages. This makes it difficult to translate anything accurately by a Japanese translator.  It has 3 character groups and is not related in any way to other languages. Because of its complexity, Japanese requires full attention to be put into detail in order to ensure an accurately translated text.

The top 8 challenges in a Japanese translation that translators endure when handling translations in the language are as follows:

Kanji is considered to be a complex writing style.

As the main Japanese writing style, it includes characters complex in nature that represent concepts.  Therefore, instead of depending on just phrases and words to bring out the meaning, Kanji relies on a number of different strokes which indicate meaning from the way they are placed within sets of characters. Kanji uses 2,000 characters all the time but there are a few thousand more characters that occasionally are used as well. Because of the high number of characters, it is important that a native Kanji speaker plays the role of a translator when a translation into another language is required.

Cultural nuances create a challenge for a Japanese translation

When undertaking any translation challenge translators need to concentrate on cultural nuances of the language so that accuracy is ensured in the translation and it is in the right context.  Japanese is no exception as the language requires that the translators break up sentences into small pieces so that any cultural nuances are put across so that they sound natural. For example, in Japanese grammar tends to express an air of politeness and formality, which is absolutely essential for any translator to be able to capture in the right way.

Literal translating is not possible in Japanese

Many phrases and words that are utilised in Japanese writing don’t have equivalent words in English, so this makes it hard to translate between Japanese and English with ease. The main challenge is being able to translate something that has some real sense in English but also keeps the best Japanese meaning. Translating any abstract concepts are a particular challenge for even a Japanese translator.

Taco Bell fell foul when it was creating a Japanese website as ‘cheesy chips’ were somehow translated into ‘poor quality chips.’ Also “Crunch wrap Supreme with Beef” was translated as “Supreme Court Beef.” Additionally, the slogan, “We don’t have anything to hide,” ended up being badly translated and read, “What did we bring here in order to hide it.” Taco Bell certainly will not have gone down well with Japanese consumers.

The placing of verbs and subjects are not the same

In Japanese, numerous grammar rules exist that may seem to be not so intuitive as can be found in other languages. This is certainly the case when using verbs and subjects in Japanese when compared with English. In the English language, the subject and verb are typically positioned near the start of a sentence, while in Japanese the verbs are found as part of the ending of a sentence. Also in Japanese, the subjects are commonly understood and are not stated, which basically means that readers need to orientate their understanding of a subject based on the sentences’ context.

Plural nouns cannot be distinguished

Japanese nouns don’t differentiate between the plural and singular forms so translators have to depend on the words’ contexts. So often though there isn’t any way of knowing if a word is supposed to be plural or singular, which means the translation is far harder to achieve accurately.  Also as there are not any obvious plural nouns so the method of counting often changes, even if adjectives and pronouns are used.

The choice of pronouns is not always clear

Choosing a pronoun in English is relatively easy when compared to Japanese. Some expressions fail to offer contextual clues concerning a person’s gender so it is hard to know in a translation which gendered pronoun should be used. For example, if someone appearing in a short story doesn’t seem to have a gender preference, the person could be either a male or a female and it is hard to determine which gender the person is.

Tenses create their own difficulties

In Japanese two tenses exist which are called the non-past and past. When describing either the future or present the non-past would be utilized. This at times can present confusion when translating into English, which possesses 3 quite clear tenses, which are the present, past and future.

A translator must have great subject matter knowledge

Due to the different challenges associated with many Japanese translations, it is important that the translator has expertise in the subject matter to be translated. If the translator does not have exactly the same amount of clear knowledge as the person who is expected to read the translation they won’t know if the document has met the targeted goal. Also, the readers of the translated content will know exactly whether the words used are an accurate representation of the information that is being translated.

2020 will soon be here and that is when the Olympics come to Japan. This is the time when businesses want to be able to make their presence known in Japan. To reach this target it will be essential to get the best translators to do the best job at translating marketing material.  Any slip-ups in a translation could lose the business its credibility in overseas markets.

A Tourism Translation is Essential in This Globalized Age

A tourism translation for tourist resources means businesses associated with tourism such as tour operators, travel agencies, hotels and hostels can reach out more easily to potential customers throughout the world. This could include any of the following tourist material:

  • websites;
  • brochures;
  • advertisements in the magazine both paper and online.

Once the material has been accurately translated into many different key languages tourism businesses are able to communicate directly with interested customers wherever they are throughout the world.

Four tips for ensuring world-class tourism translations:

Use of accessible language in a tourism translation

Tourism translation isn’t quite like formal translations as to be attractive it needs to be accessible to those who want to enjoy a holiday.  The translation has to put across a friendly message in informal language and should use appropriate idioms that suit the tourism concept. This is an acquired skill because the tourism translator has to possess a good understanding of idiomatic usage in both the targeted and source languages.

Add the right marketing tactic

Of course, the translated message about the tour or tourist facility needs to be both accurate and appealing to have any useful effect. If a museum, cultural display or beach is an important feature of a tourist destination the translated language has to be appropriate for this. A general tourism translation wouldn’t have quite the desired effect.

You can’t forget the targeted audience

If a tourist translation is to have any effect it also needs to be localized to fit the targeted audience. The style and tone of a text aimed at an English-speaking audience are likely to be quite different from that aimed at, for example, a Japanese traveller or even a French or German traveller. One key example is the difference between using the word ‘Sie’ in German which is formal and the more informal ‘Du.’ The wrong usage could markedly affect the context of the translation as there isn’t any English counterpart. Because of these obvious differences, the tourism translator needs to have a good understanding of the cultural norms found embedded in their pair of languages.

Details are important in a tourism translation

When targeting a global market the finer details of a tourism product should not be omitted. Everyone wants to know the price of their favourite tourist attractions in their chosen destinations. Failure to add this material on a promotional tourist website might send the tourist somewhere else. A translator who specializes in tourism translations will know how important it is to include minor details. Added to this is the translation of colloquial terminology. This demands considerable marketing flair, and the translator needs to be able to localize this to fit the target audience.

Some examples of top tourist attractions which may need a tourism translation are:

  • forests, reserves and national parks;
  • communities of people from different ethnic groupings;
  • different types of modern and ancient structures such as old penal settlements, castles, pyramids, bridges and tall structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty;
  • global sporting and cultural events;
  • museums and art galleries;
  • zoos and botanical gardens;
  • monuments, ancient and new;
  • theme parks like Seaworld, Dreamworld and Movieworld;
  • maritime museums;
  • vintage car museums;
  • key stunning viewpoints.

In translations of promotional tourist literature, each type of attraction has its own uniqueness and when the material is translated it should reflect those sorts of people who are interested in those types of tourist attractions. If it is young people, the translation should reflect that with the use of appropriate language. Older people will be most attracted to a tourist feature if it is marketed in their language.

Numbers are Interpreted Differently in Different Cultures

But what are numbers?

In the later part of the 14th century, the Arabic-Hindu numeral system was the commonest system used throughout the globe to represent numbers in different cultures. It starts with”0” and it can be written in numerals like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or in words such as five, six, seven and eight etc.

Numbers in different cultures

Business owners globally need to understand what numbers in different cultures mean so they are able to create the best marketing strategies. Sometimes, there are number associations which date back to past beliefs and traditions. Translating and localizing a website is one marketing strategy but understanding how numbers in different cultures are viewed needs to be considered as well. Numbers are used for everyday things like time, dates, phone numbers and addresses. However in some cultures certain numbers are steeped in religion, superstitions and religion.

Some unlucky and lucky numbers in different cultures

Number 4 is unlucky in Chinese cultures because when it is pronounced it sounds like death. Often the number 4 is not used for the 4th floor of a building but the letter F is used instead. This is much the same in South Korea and Japan. In Germany, however, the number 4 is a lucky number and is linked to the 4 leaf clover which is a symbol representing good luck.

The number 9, when spoken in Japanese, sounds like the word for torture, so its use is avoided in hospitals and airlines. In China, it is considered to be one of the lucky numbers in different cultures and in Norway it is sacred due to many stories in ancient folklore which use the number.

Number 13 is unlucky in most developed countries, including Britain, Norway and Sweden.  Tall buildings often use a different number when 13 is the next. People believe something bad will happen on Friday 13th, so they worry when the day becomes closer.

The number is treated the opposite by Hamilton’s Colgate University, New York, where the university was founded with just $13 and 13 men. The university has 13 prayers and articles. In the U.S., the country was originally made up of 13 British colonies on the mainland. The U.S. flag contains 13 stripes, 7 red and 6 white. The United States’ Great Seal has 13 stars. The chest shield placed at the eagle’s front contains 13 stripes. The left talon of the eagle contains 13 arrows. The right talon has 13 olive leaves and 13 olives. The scroll showing the national motto, which is “E Pluribus Unum,” held in the eagle’s beak, contains 13 letters.

Indians don’t like number 26 and view it as an unlucky number. The date, the 26th, is connected with tsunamis, terrorist attacks and earthquakes.

In Afghanistan, the number 39 is unlucky because the sound is like ”morda-gow,” which when translated means ”dead cow.”

Lucky numbers in different cultures

Number 3 is lucky in some cultures because they believe good things happen in threes. This applies to Sweden and Korea. Italians believe number 3 means strength and balance which is shown by use of a triangle.

In Korea, number 7 is considered lucky and is used in gambling terminology. Also it is lucky in Britain, Netherlands, United States and France. But in Thailand and Vietnam number 7 is unlucky.

The Chinese like number 8 because when it is translated to bā, this sounds similar to  the Chinese word fā. The meaning of this is to generate wealth. An example of this can be found in Beijing where the August 2008 Summer Olympics were held. It officially began at 08:08:08 in local time.

These are only some of the many meanings for numbers in different cultures, which any marketer should know about. Superstitions and beliefs play a large part in the way a global consumer may react.

The Differences Between Eastern and Western Cultures

Eastern culture includes Asia and the Middle East, while the western world includes South and North America, European countries, New Zealand and Australia. The East and West have many differences based on their culture which is reflected in people’s attitude and behaviour.

When a comparison between eastern and western culture is made, one of the key differences between western and eastern culture is that countries in the West are more liberal than countries in the East. Western culture allows people to be more open and critical. They discuss subjects that are considered taboo in eastern cultures and they are allowed to show their emotions and vent anger if they think they should. This sort of behaviour wouldn’t take place in eastern cultures. People prefer to approach difficult situations by using good manners and tact, not aggression.

A second eastern and western culture comparison is a person from the West is more free and flexible to reach decisions on his/her own, unlike what happens in the East where families make more decisions collectively. Thirdly, arranged marriages are not a key feature of western cultures, as love is considered to be the way that people tie the marital knot.

Can there ever be similarities between eastern and western culture?

Many schools of thought believe that there is not enough common ground between eastern and western cultures for them to ever share similar characteristics. There are some features that are so different, like the types of religions in eastern cultures, such as Islam, Hinduism, Shenism, Buddhism, Jainism and Taoism. Clothing and rituals are so different in eastern cultures, like Indians paying respect to parents or elders by touching his/her feet. East Asians bow down as a gesture used when welcoming guests, saying thank you and apologizing. When it comes to ideologies and beliefs, eastern cultures find it difficult to question them despite what they might really feel. In contrast, most people can forsake religion and no one will think anything of it.

Elders are the decision-makers in eastern cultures

The difference between western and eastern culture can be seen by looking at the role of elders. In eastern cultures, elders are the leaders in the home, so children do what the elders say without questioning them. Any important decisions to do with a child are generally made by an elder. When parents grow old, children are often the ones who take on the responsibility for caring for them. Often in western cultures, an elderly person’s welfare becomes the responsibility of the state in collaboration with children or other close relatives.

Arranged marriages commonly take place in eastern cultures. They are usually arranged by a couple’s parents or another elder. They believe that love follows marriage, not the other way round.

Education has few similarities between eastern and western cultures

The comparison between eastern and western culture shows that western education focuses on creativity and allows individuals to develop as much as they can. In Eastern education, achievement is linked to struggle and hard work. This means you can achieve anything if you work hard enough. Students from eastern cultures often excel academically when in a western educational environment because they work harder than western children.

Students in western culture are encouraged to actively participate in debates and ask questions. This is not so much the case in eastern cultures where what the teacher says is always right. Added to this is the extra effort in western cultures to integrate children who are classified as special needs. They sit in classrooms alongside other students. This doesn’t often happen in eastern cultures where special needs children are taught separately.

Overall, when a comparison between eastern and western culture is made at this point in time, there is not a lot that the two cultures have in common but each should be respected for what they stand for and achieve.

Keep Focused When Learning a New Language

Communication has become faster, easier and at a lower cost than it has ever been. This doesn’t mean all communication overseas takes place in your own language. You have to think carefully if you want to travel and be part of the global economy and consider learning a second language. To be able to master a foreign language it requires effort, dedication, patience, time and self-belief. You need to have the correct mindset if you wish to achieve your goal and this is the best way to learn a new language.

13 hints on the best way to learn a language

  • You must be clear to yourself why you want to learn a new language. You should answer certain questions such as will learning a new language help you with your job or will it help to ensure you will get more enjoyment when visiting a new country. You may have friends who speak a second language so learning it yourself may help to improve your relationships.
  • Commit yourself once you have made the decision to learn a new language. Once you begin to learn the new language, have the confidence to persevere so that you can achieve your goal. If you are older but wish to begin travelling you still have a high chance of mastering a new language.
  • Time is an important factor in learning a new language. Don’t expect to become fluent over night but some hardworking language learners can reach a reasonable level of fluency within 12 weeks.
  • As you proceed through the language learning process make sure you set attainable goals as this will help to keep you focused and on task.
    • Immerse yourself in the new language. That means eating with and sleeping with the language meaning you should engage yourself as often as possible with speakers of the language.
    • If necessary, enrol in a language school that has a 5 star reputation for success which is based on excellence in language learning.
    • The internet is a proven language learning tool and is one of the best ways to learn a language. You can link up with speakers of your second language through social media which will keep you talking 24/7.
    • Watch foreign language movies and television shows (preferably where subtitles are used) and tune in to podcasts and radio stations that broadcast in your chosen second language.
    • Seek out all available language learning resources such as foreign language books, newspapers and magazines
    • The key to learning a new language is keeping yourself absorbed in the new language by making use of as many resources as possible to help you in the language processing.
    • Try to understand and appreciate the people who speak your chosen second language. This includes their culture and history.
    • Don’t be too serious when studying a second language. If you make a mistake laugh at it and correct it but don’t feel ashamed of it as it happens to everyone.

    Be bold when engaged in language learning you will achieve your goal faster and gain confidence in speaking the language far faster that being intimidated by the task.

    One important thought to remember is if you make any mistakes don’t let it get you down otherwise you may fall down completely and lose track of your goal of learning a new language. Getting back on track is the best way to rebuild your confidence in learning a new language. You will get there in the end and it will open a completely new perspective on the world.

    What’s Cooking? Food and Cookbook Translation

    Translating cookbooks and food preparation techniques is almost as much fun as preparing the dishes and eating them is! However, like all translation fields, it comes with its own unique challenges. Some of these are explored below.

    Ounces or Grams? How to Measure Ingredients

    Most of the world may have adopted the metric system, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everywhere and the world of the kitchen can be remarkably different when it comes to measuring things. Most recipes and cookbooks will use grams and kilograms and litres, but then there are spoonfuls (what size of a spoon) cups, ‘smidgeons,’ ‘thimblefuls’ and many other non-conventional ways of dishing out the stuff that goes into making the food we eat. What does the food translator do when he/she knows that the book they are translating will be marketed somewhere where the measurements are different?

    If you stick to the same measurements and units that the original cook or recipe used, then you risk the book being sidelined by buyers because the conversions are put in the too hard basket. Some translators use a glossary or conversion table so that American users of a translated food recipe book can refer to the units they are used to when confronted by grams and decilitres. That might not work either, because it can be a struggle keep turning the pages to the back to use a conversion table and you might need a calculator to do the conversion. Better to do the conversions within the translated text as long as it is known who the translation is intended for. This might be a good idea for unusual measurements like ‘spoonfuls’ and ‘half a cup’ too, as long as the conversion can be done accurately so the recipe is not changed substantially.

    Ingredient Substitution

    One problem that more exotic cookbooks and food recipe books encounter is that some or many of the ingredients in the original recipe may not be found in the country for which the translation is intended. The situation is changing, especially because many affluent countries these days have significant ethnic minorities, whose food cultures are a lot more diverse than the mainstream population. They often open specialised supermarkets selling all sorts of food items which feature in the very recipes that translators are scratching their heads to know what to do with. The main disadvantage is that these sources of more unusual food are usually only found in major urban centres and can be a lot more expensive than possible alternatives.

    One way around dealing with hard to find ingredients is to use substitutes in translated recipes, but this is probably not a good idea. Better to give the original list of ingredients with suggested equivalent alternatives as well. This is where a glossary and substitution list at the back of the translated book can really be of help without being a total chore to read like a conversion table as has been already mentioned.

    This might not be strictly a translator’s job, but it can actually be a lot of fun trying out substitutes to include in more exotic recipes where there might be difficulty in finding the real deal!

    Billies and Boil ups, Pots Works and Lovos

    One of the fun elements of cooking is learning about new ways of cooking. From barbecuing to steaming, frying in a wok, to roasting on a spit and slow cooking in an earth oven there are plenty of methods that might make the typical suburban cook in a western country scratch their head. Should the translator take time off to explain how these methods work or just do a simple translation and let the readers do some experimentation of their own? It’s a bit like the challenge of finding the right ingredients. Using substitutes may alter the original flavour and appearance of the recipes that have been translated, so giving the original list and mentioning possible substitutes is perhaps the best way to go about it. Using a wok to cook stir fry noodles is not a lot different from using a large frying pan, so using a frying pan can be mentioned as a substitute as well as providing an explanation of the advantages of using a wok. For anyone who is into East Asian food recipes, the purchase of a wok might not be a bad idea anyway.

    It’s a little different for other cooking techniques to find an easy alternative. Roasting a pig on a spit might be an interesting exercise for a club BBQ get together, but most people would prefer to have the cooking technique converted to barbecued strips of pork instead!

    Then there are techniques like earth ovens. Traditionally, right across the Pacific from one island group to another, a cheap and easy way of cooking a lot of food for a social gathering was to dig a large pit, light a fire in it, cover it with large stones from the beach or a river bed and place the food carefully wrapped in coconut or taro leaves, then cover the whole lot up and let it cook slowly in the ground. It’s called a ‘lovo’ in Fiji and an ‘umu’ in Tahiti. Try that in the typical suburban kitchen!

    Colour Interpretation Around The World

    Colour has become an important focus of researchers because colours affect an individual’s feelings and expressions. Colour choice and preference depends on the culture and the country too. Knowing how colour affects people has a dramatic effect on marketing content used by businesses to attract new customers. Colours are used in contexts that do not have any relevance to the use of a particular colour. For example, the expression in English “tickled pink” means you are happy about the way you have been treated, or even the fact that you have been chosen for an award.

    When someone says they “saw red” it means they were angry about something. “Green with envy” indicates that someone shows jealousy towards something favourable that has happened. “Having the blues” is an expression of sadness. Most languages have 2 to 11 basic colour words. English includes 11 basic colour words, which are white, black, green, red, blue, yellow, pink, grey, orange, brown and purple. This contrasts with the Bassa of Liberia which only uses 2 colour words. The word hui encompasses blue, green and purple while Aziza is the word given to cover orange, red and yellow.

    Colour Symbolism Differs Between Cultures

    The Meaning of the Colour Blue

    A colour could represent warmth and happiness in just a single culture, but in another culture, it may be linked to jealousy and betrayal. In North America and Europe, blue is the symbol of authority, trust and security. This seems to be the main reasons why United States banks use blue in their company logo. However, in other cultures, it often alludes to loneliness, sadness and depression. In other cultures, blue is the symbol for healing and it repels evil.

    In Albania, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and Greece, it is a commonly held belief that when using blue amulets that take on the shape of eyes that the wearer will be protected from the scary, evil, eye. In eastern countries, blue represents spirituality, immortality and heaven, while in Ukraine it is a symbol used to show good health. To Hindus, blue is the colour for the Krishna. In some cultures, blue is associated with males, but in China, it is females while in other cultures, there is a link between blue and wealth, hope and good health.

    Yellow: The Sunshine Colour

    In some cultures, yellow cheers people up, while in others it is dark. In contrast, the Chinese have a term ‘yellow book’ or ‘yellow picture’ which relates to pornography. In Germany, yellow symbolises jealousy and if you look back to the tenth century the French painted the colour yellow onto criminals and traitors’ doors. This contrasts with Africa where yellow is allocated to people of high ranking. In Egypt, yellow is painted onto mummies and tombs. In a few Latin American countries, it is linked to sorrow, mourning and death. In Thailand, yellow is the colour of luck and it is the preferred colour of the present Thai king.

    Green has Many different Meanings

    In western cultures, green is the colour of luck, greed, jealousy, freshness, wealth, inexperience, environmental awareness and nature. It is also a military colour. Green is Mexico’s national colour, while in Spain it is the symbol of independence. Although the colour is banned in Indonesia, in the Middle East green is the traditional colour for Islam. It symbolizes luck, wealth and fertility. In some Asian cultures, it is a symbol of fertility, new life and youth. In China, it is linked to infidelity, so men in China are never seen wearing green hats because this shows their wives have committed adultery. In Israel, green symbolizes bad news and in North Africa, it is a symbol of corruption,

    Red has Many Associations

    In many Western cultures, it is linked to love, danger, action, energy, passion and excitement. In Russia, it was the symbol of communism and revolution. Asian brides are often seen wearing red dresses as the colour is the key to a long life, full of happiness, prosperity, good luck and joy. At special events as well as holidays, some Asians give gifts of cash in red envelopes. Many people in Asian countries wear red at New Year’s celebrations.

    Orange is an Autumn Colour

    In western countries, orange is associated with warmth, visibility, autumn and harvest. Also, it is seen as a fun colour, symbolizing creativity and curiosity. For Hindus, saffron or soft orange is sacred. Orange symbolizes good health, love, happiness and humility in some eastern cultures. Buddhist monks like orange robes as the colour is tied to positive virtues. In India, orange is a fire symbol, but in Ukraine it signifies bravery.

    Purple is an Expensive Colour

    Nobility, faith, spirituality, piety, royalty and wealth are often symbolised by purple. This is because in early days purple dyes were rare and hard to find. Producing cloth in purple wasn’t easy because the source of the colour came from a sea snail species called the banded dye murex.


    Because different cultures relate to colours in different ways it is important that businesses marketing products overseas use colours for logos and websites that are treated favourably in the targeted market. This applies to translation services too. They need to be colour aware when providing translations for different cultures.

    Some Facts About The English and German Languages

    Both English and German are languages of West Germanic origin. Both languages are also from the broader language family referred to as Indo-European. This doesn’t make them completely the same, but German does have 60 percent similarities lexically with English.

    How many speakers of German and English are there?

    Recent statistics indicate that English is ranked 3rd in the world’s spoken languages. Almost 380 million individuals speak English as their first language spread across 137 countries. But about the German language, it isn’t as widespread as English and has a ranking of 17 amongst the world’s spoken languages. Approximately 76 million individuals spread throughout 28 countries that speak German as a 1st language. If both bilingual and native speakers of the two languages are compared, around 1,132,366,700 can speak English while 132,176,500 can speak German.

    The countries where the German language is spoken

    One key thing about the German language is it is Germany’s official language but it is spoken also in other countries. It is particularly important as a spoken language in parts of Belgium, Austria, Liechtenstein Switzerland and the South Tyrol of Italy. It is also one of Luxembourg’s 3 official languages and is a joint official language in Opole Voivodeship in Poland. English isn’t forgotten in German-speaking countries as it is often heard in the German media and pop culture in German-speaking countries. German language and its people even influenced the culture of many countries like Australia. Overall because there are some notable similarities between German and English it isn’t too difficult for many English speakers to grasp German conversation and vice versa.

    Differences do exist between English and German

    Despite the fact that the two languages may originate from the same origin, Germans do have some difficulties learning English. The most important reason is the organisation of the alphabet. The German alphabet has the same number of letters as the English alphabet but it does have what is called umlauted characters, like ü, ö and ä. It also possesses the scharfes S or double S which is ß. Germans who try to learn English to begin with often make mistakes with R or E as they tend to write them as A and I.

    Phonology in English and German

    English and German sounds are nearly the same but in the German language the sounding of the isn’t present, so it is hard for Germans learning English to speak words that begin with that particular sound. Those who speak English pronounce the letters v and w. Germans pronounce words beginning within the sound of v so the word “wine” comes out as “vine” and the word ”we” comes out as ”ve.”

    English and German verb tenses

    In the case of verb tense use, in German, there is no continuous verb tense. It elects to make use of the present simple while the future tense is used in English. Also the present perfect may be used instead of past tense. German tenses tend to be simpler such as with the verb to go in German there are just two tenses which are the past and present. In English there are a number of tenses for ”to go’, such as the following:

    • simple present
    • simple past
    • simple future
    • present perfect continuous
    • present perfect
    • present continuous
    • past perfect continuous
    • past perfect
    • past continuous
    • future perfect continuous
    • future perfect
    • future continuous
    • conditional present progressive
    • conditional perfect
    • conditional

    English is typically uninflected, while German is considered to be inflected, so some sections of German speech can alter depending on function.

    Word order in English and German

    German and English word order isn’t the same, which makes learning German conversation more difficult. English possesses what is referred to as an S-O-V order for words while German, has a 3-word order. In an independent clause, the most important verb should come second, so the subject and verb need to be in reverse. In the independent clause, last is the past participle. With a dependent clause, the key verb should be positioned last in the sentence. German and English do have in common some cognates, like the drink is trinken, the house is haus and winter is winter. Some cognates, however, do not share the same meaning.


    It is not as easy to learn German conversation as one might think and this also is the case with translating. Because some of the grammar rules are not the same, this presents some translating challenges. For example, in English, I’m reading a newspaper it may seem as though it should be translated word to word but in actual fact, the right translation should be ”Ich lese eine Zeitung” because the progressive tense doesn’t exist in German.

    Unusual Facts About Languages

    The Origin of Human Language

    No-one knows for sure just how old human language is, i.e. the capacity of evolving humans to use a spoken language to communicate. It is presumed that it developed in stages, and not just all at once. Humans are basically a social, co-operative species of primate and language serves to increase the success of co-operation. As humans spread out of Africa (according to the most up to date theories about human evolution), the number of languages would have gradually changed and increased in overall number.

    Linguistic Diversity comes from Geographic Isolation

    Geographic isolation is the main factor in language creation. The island with the most diverse languages is the island of New Guinea, which is divided into modern-day Papua New Guinea to the east and Irian Jaya, a contested part of Indonesia to the west. There are over 800 separate languages recorded in Papua New Guinea alone and probably a similar number in Irian Jaya. That’s nearly a quarter of the world total of 7,000 languages! The major reasons for this incredible number of languages are that historically, the human communities in New Guinea have been separated from each other by huge geographical barriers: jagged mountain ranges, impenetrable forests, volcanic islands surrounded by treacherous seas and vast, fast-flowing rivers.

    The Most Spoken Languages

    Most of the 7,000 languages currently spoken are spoken by only relatively small numbers of people, but on the other hand, some languages are spoken by huge numbers of people. , The most spoken language is Chinese, which has around a billion people who speak it as a native language. This is followed by Spanish, most of whose speakers live in Central and South America and the Caribbean. The third most commonly spoken language is English. Other languages with large numbers of speakers include Arabic, Hindi, Indonesian, French, Portuguese and Russian.

    Artificial Languages

    Some languages aren’t real languages at all, or at least they have been created by people at one time or another for a particular reason. Esperanto was created in the nineteenth century, hopefully, to be used as an international language that wasn’t tied too much to any individual country’s national language. In fact, it is much more like a Latin language and despite the fact that there are still people who speak it, it never caught on.

    Other rather more esoteric ‘languages’ are imaginary languages like Elvish, spoken by the fictional Elves of J.R.R. Tolkien in the lord of the Rings trilogy. Amazingly, there are over 200 of these imaginary languages that have been created.

    Perhaps much more useful are official sign languages. These are used by most countries to communicate with the deaf. In fact, in some countries, sign language might be the only other ‘official’ language apart from the main national language spoken by most.

    Words that Sound Like the Sounds Of Nature – Onomatopoeia

    Many words have been taken from sounds in nature. These may be totally inanimate like the sound of the wind or waves or trains chugging over the tracks. They may be sounds made by animals and birds. Strangely enough, onomatopoeia, which is the name for this origin of human language, is not entirely uniform. For example, the sound of the crow is ‘go-geh-go-go’ in Chinese, but ‘co-co-ro-co’ in Catalan, ‘kikeriki’ in German and ‘cockle-doodle-doo’ in English! In Bengal, India, where cows are sacred to Hindus at least, they make a noise which in Bengali is rendered ‘hamba, hamba.’ In English, the very same cows go ‘mooooo!’

    Letters and Characters

    The spoken language was converted into a script when human societies first developed irrigation and organised agriculture. Hebrew, Sanskrit, Basque and Sumerian were some of the first languages to be written down. There are many ways to write down all those 7,000 languages. Some like Chinese, Korean and Japanese use characters. Others use the Latinised alphabet like English, German and Indonesian. There is the Cyrillic alphabet used by Russian and Bulgarian. Then there is a myriad of other languages that are mutually unintelligible and use their own scripts like Hindi, Thai and Arabic.

    Some languages have never been written down before very recently and their alphabet has almost been invented by others who have learned their language, often to promote the Bible. Of the languages that use the Latin alphabet, English gets along just fine with 26 letters, while Rotokas, a Papua New Guinean language only uses 11. Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, uses an incredible 74.

    Just to show that these scripts are limited in comparison, consider Chinese, which can boast 50,000 different characters. This might seem far too many if you are only learning Chinese for the first time, but apparently, only 2,000 characters are ever used most of the time, which cuts down your learning time considerably!

    How Much Time Does it Take To Learn a New Language?

    Three months is sometimes the time frame put on learning a new language. Some people say that new learners put this time limit as that is the standard length of a visitor visa to many countries. This is often when many people choose to study a new language. Also, the restricted time given on a visa sets a deadline for learning the new language which may keep some people motivated to learn the language as quickly as possible.

    Factors Determining the Time for Learning a New Language

    Learning a language depends on two key factors which are

    • the learner’s attitude; and
    • the time set to learn the language available.

    Discipline is one of the main factors as learning any new language requires disciplining oneself to study. It is not only your dedication but also the time set aside for the work that needs to be done to become fluent in the language. There is no hard and fast timeframe that dictates how to learn a new language fast. However, there are some guidelines that have been set by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI) which conveniently divides languages into groups showing the difficulty to learn for those who speak English:

    Group 1:

    Italian, German, French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian and Swahili

    Group 2:

    Burmese, Bulgarian, Hindi, Greek, Urdu and Persian

    Group 3:

    Lao, Cambodian, Amharic, Czech, Thai, Hebrew, Finnish, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Turkish

    Group 4:

    Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Japanese

    The FSI Describes 5 Proficiency Levels as Follows:

    1. Elementary proficiency is when a speaker is able to speak enough of the language to communicate when travelling in relation to courtesy requirements.
    2. Restricted working proficiency is when the speaker can satisfy the language requirements for day to day interactions but not for work requirements.
    3. Minimal professional proficiency is when the speaker can communicate in the language with enough structural accuracy and sufficient vocabulary in order to be to take part effectively in the majority of informal and formal conversations related to social, practical as well as professional topics.
    4. Complete professional proficiency means the speaker can accurately match the language requirements required for use in professional situations.
    5. Bilingual or native proficiency is when the speaker is able to speak the language as if s/he were a native speaker.

    FSI research found that learning a new language takes 480 hours to achieve basic fluency in the first group of languages and 720 hours for the second to the fourth group of languages. This simplified means if a learner puts in ten hours per day learning a language maybe by using resources to learn a language online by choosing one of the many online language courses it will take 48 days to reach basic fluency.

    For the harder to learn languages it would take 72 days. One would assume that the average learner would not be able to work 10 hours a day without a break for 48 and 72 days so allowing for time off it would take around two months for the easier languages and three months for the more difficult languages. Of course, if you put in just five hours per day the time would be doubled to reach a basic level of fluency.

    Sample Day for How to Learn a New Language Fast

    Hours Activity
    8-12 Listening recordings, reading and learning new vocabulary
    12-2 Break but still engaged in listening to the new language
    2-3 Learning new grammar
    3-4 Practise writing the new language
    4-5 Speaking practice either using Skype or talking with locals if possible
    5-7 Relaxation time
    7-10 Relaxing but engaged in the language by watching or going to the movies, listening to songs, or engaging with friends who speak the new language


    Immersing in a language is easier than it has ever been as you don’t necessarily have to go to the country where the language is spoken you can engage with online courses, chat rooms and social media in order to get the exposure you need to gain fluency in a new language. If you want to go from level 2 onto level 4 it is going to take a lot longer and a lot more dedication than the level 2 so you have to keep up your 10 hourly daily routines wherever you are.

    One of the key failings of language learning is not getting sufficient oral practice to back up the theory you have learned. Fortunately, there are so many online resources you can download to help you learn the language online such as videos and podcasts which you can use in any way you choose but it is a useful way of learning a new language as well as paying for online language courses. You will see the benefits of learning a new language unfold as you become more proficient.