The London Olympics, as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has had the bad manners to inform his hosts, have not gotten off to the smoothest of starts, from traffic snafus to hanging up the wrong flag for one country. The Olympics’ “official shopping center,” Westfield Stratford City complex, has replaced “Welcome to London” banners in Arabic that were spelled backwards.
The shopping center is located at the main entrance to the Olympic Park in London. Arabic speakers were greeted with banners on which “Welcome to London” was not only written backwards (left to right instead of right to left), but with spaces between the letters. Some people reportedly thought they were written in Farsi.
N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W
Not much of a welcome!
The shopping center has replaced the banners, which are actually the second instance of jumbled Arabic on signs. Multi-language signs at train stations informing people “not to leave any items unattended” also contained misprinted Arabic.
Doyle says that the misprintings are not the fault of a translator but most likely from software programs that “reverse and disconnect the letters.” A spokesperson for the shopping center also noted that something had gone “awry” in the process of printing the banners.
Translating Software Is Great, But…
There’s no question that we live in a global community, in which, thanks to the internet, it is easier than ever to see images and writing in languages other than one’s own; in writing that goes right to left, uses a different alphabet and (in the case of Chinese and Japanese) characters. Since one of the purposes of the Olympics is to foster international understanding, the incorrect Arabic on the official Olympic shopping center’s banners is a good object lesson about why students need to — must — study foreign languages.
It is easier said than done. I teach ancient Greek and Latin and the former language is simply harder to learn. Ancient Greek has a far more complicated grammar and the different alphabet can be daunting, especially for students with learning disabilities — though, some students who have dyslexia who I’ve taught have had some advantages in learning a new alphabet, as they can draw on techniques they had previously learned to master the English letters.
The struggle to memorize the 24 letters has always been worth it. I think often of a student who had severe dyslexia whom I taught almost a decade and a half ago. He insisted he wanted to take Greek because he wanted the challenge whereas he could “just sit in the back of Spanish class and get a B.” (Yes, I’d say he needed teachers who didn’t just give him a passing grade.)
A human reader with a basic knowledge of the Arabic alphabet could have quickly noticed the error in the Olympics center sign. The backwards Arabic gaffe shows the shortcomings of computer-based translation. Languages have grammar and rules but these are often (as any student learning any foreign language know) frequently broken. Google Translate, or any other translating programs, are no substitute for careful study.
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