Over the course of Daily Edventures, we’ve talked to a number of education innovators who have stressed the importance of language and translation in our increasingly multi-cultural world (author Michael Erard, whom we highlighted in August, comes to mind). As Chief Research Officer of Common Sense Advisory, a company that assists clients with translation, localization, interpreting, globalization, and internationalization, Nataly Kelly has a very practical perspective on the issue. “Demand for translation continues to grow because content is being created at such a rapid pace,” Kelly says. “With user-generated content, everybody is a content creator.” Kelly, who recently co-authored the book, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes our Lives and Transforms the World, recently talked to me about the nuanced role translation plays in society. We covered topics ranging from language policy, rights and legislation, to the challenges of being a translator in this fast-changing world where technology and terminology evolve constantly. “Translators are mired in culture and context and the latest trends and news in order to understand the best way to render a word, phrase or concept in another language,” Kelly told me. In today’s Daily Edventure video conversation, through thoughtful insights and real-world examples, Nataly Kelly will convince you that language and translation are indeed some of the most basic building blocks in 21st century learning. Can you describe how your research relates to the field of education? Along with my colleagues at Common Sense Advisory, I work on many research studies on the field of translation and related services and technologies. We have built up a database of ten years’ worth of specialized research in these areas, and the studies we produce make a significant contribution to many fields. The Internet has helped to open up educational opportunities to more people, and that is a very important initial step in the right direction. However, to make that information accessible to more people, translation is truly the next critical step that must be taken. Until education becomes available to people in their native languages, it is not truly and universally accessible. Many people underestimate the power of translation and how important it is for purposes such as these. What has changed as a result of your efforts? Through most of my writing, I’ve been trying to shine a light on translation and its importance in society at large. My new book, Found in Translation, serves this purpose, too. I hope to share the message that translation plays a far more important role in the world than most people realize. I hope that through this work, more people will begin to value translation and invest more in it. There are tremendous needs to fund foreign language and multilingual education programs, translation and interpreting education programs, and translation technology research. The field of education as a whole stands to benefit from increased attention on the topic of translation. My goal is to help generate more interest in translation for precisely those purposes. How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work? No matter how brilliant your idea might be, no one is going to appreciate it if you don’t talk about it. I would encourage every person with an important innovation to share in the field of education to read a few books on marketing, publicity, and networking. The honest truth is that people cannot help your cause or learn from your experience unless you get the word out. If you lack natural skills in these areas, either team up with someone who has them or educate yourself to develop them, because they are critical for your success, no matter what ideas you intend to share with others. How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work? I am a firm believer in the power of digital technologies and the Internet to help us collaborate with others and to help communicate information broadly. I’m also extremely excited by the possibilities we have now to communicate information via video. I recently created a video of translators and interpreters around the world, and this was only possible thanks to the Internet and the ability for participants to send me digital videos from an array of different countries. The languages represented in the video include everything from Galician to Lebanese Sign Language. It’s amazing how easy it can be to collaborate on a project with people living very far away, thanks to technology. What is the biggest obstacle that you believe schools must overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education? In the US, there is far too little emphasis on multilingual education, especially for such a wealthy country. When I lived in Ecuador, I soon learned that there were plenty of trilingual schools where children could grow up and become fluent in Spanish and English, plus a third language, such as French, German, or Japanese. Any parent that could afford to would send their children to these schools in order to give them the incredibly valuable and useful gift of multilingualism. In the US, multilingualism is not valued nearly enough. Meanwhile, Sweden’s education minister announced last year that over the next 10 years, the government will make sure that all Swedish schoolchildren receive Chinese classes. We can and must do better with language education in the US if we want to have a globally competitive workforce. What is your country doing well currently to support education? I am extremely encouraged to see more and more native language schools and communities in North America that are reclaiming their languages and using education as a tool to empower future generations. One of the most fascinating examples is the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. This language was spoken by the tribe of the same name at the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, and this group is credited with saving them. We celebrate this group every year at Thanksgiving, but hardly anyone remembers their name or realizes that they are still here, living in Massachusetts today. Their language is a critical part of American history and cultural heritage. It had not been spoken by anyone for 150 years. However, thanks to efforts to revive it, it is now spoken by Wampanoag children who attend school in this language. This example just goes to show how powerful education can be to uplift people – including an entire culture, language, and community. What conditions must change in your country to better support education? There needs to be far more funding for language learning. However, what is needed even more desperately is a societal wake-up call to help people understand the value of language. Only then will people begin to support language learning more fully and put their money behind it. What is the best opportunity for innovation in education? I would like to see educators re-think their approaches to language learning, focusing on techniques that are fun and engaging, making better use of entertainment and technology to truly draw kids into an immersive experience. Why shouldn’t language learning be fun and entertaining? There is a lot of room for improvement in this regard, and I think technology will play a vital role in helping us make strides in this area. What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)? I would encourage teachers to embrace other languages and cultures and to make a difference by teaching children to appreciate our differences while celebrating what we have in common. Learning to appreciate people from different backgrounds, religions, languages, and even personality types is so much easier later on in life if children have those experiences as part of their routine educational environments when they are still young. What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning? The trend toward digital information is, I think, both a hindrance and a help. Many educators have not yet figured out the best ways to integrate technology directly into the classroom. When I was in school, some teachers refused to use the VHS player because they were afraid to use the machine, or had to have the kids do it for them. Now, I see the same thing happening, but the VHS player is a mobile device, and a new one comes out every couple of months, so it’s even more complicated. I think the rapid advancement of digital technologies is a wonderful thing, but we have to help educators harness this power more intelligently – and more quickly – than ever before. If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why? A woman I sat next to on a plane once gave me some words of advice that I will never forget. She said, “Every language you learn is like getting another college degree.” So, I would give every child the gift of multilingualism, because I believe this catapults them into areas of opportunity that are otherwise unreachable. I would also give children – especially children from minority groups all over the world — a deep appreciation for their mother tongue, so that they can view it not with shame or regret, but with pride and passion. So much of a child’s ability to learn is linked to their belief in themselves. If we do not value these native languages, we are implying that the children who speak them are somehow less than others. Conversely, if we support efforts to enable children to learn in their mother tongues, we send a message that they, their parents, and their communities really do matter. Language is so much more than words and grammar – it’s ultimately about appreciating and respecting our fellow human beings. For more on translation from Nataly Kelly, check out http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nataly-kelly/clearing-up-the-top-10-y_b_1590360.html About Nataly Kelly @natalykelly Nataly Kelly is an advisor in the areas of language services and international business. She is the Chief Research Officer at Common Sense Advisory, an independent market research firm dedicated to language services and technology, located in the Boston area. A former Fulbright scholar in Ecuador, she is a certified Spanish court interpreter. Kelly first began working in the language services industry as a telephone interpreter in 1996. As a blogger for the Huffington Post, she writes about all things multilingual. A native of Mason City, Illinois, she has formally studied seven languages, has traveled to 36 countries, and has obtained higher education on three continents. She currently resides in New Hampshire. With a background in sociolinguistics, she writes and speaks about the impact of language on society at large, linking translation and interpreting to broader social, political, and economic issues.
- Birthplace: Illinois, USA
- Current residence: New Hampshire, USA
- Education: Attended undergraduate school in the USA, Mexico, and Ecuador; attended graduate school in Ecuador with a Fulbright fellowship in sociolinguistics.
- Website I check every day: I rarely check the same sites each day since there are so many out there and I like diverse sources of information. However, two that I always come back to are www.brainpickings.com – the curator of this site is constantly uncovering threads of research and information that I don’t discover through other sources, and www.culturalsurvival.org.
- Person who inspires me most: María Clara Sharupi Jua, an indigenous poet from the Ecuadorian Amazon. She is fighting for the survival of her language and culture, using poetry as a technique to educate and inspire. I am her translator in English, and her spirit and determination amaze me.
- Favorite childhood memory: I always loved reading, and I especially loved summer vacations, when I could read books in a hammock in the pine trees in the woods of Wisconsin. There’s something very special about combining reading with nature. I can’t wait to see the world’s first outdoor digital library, where people can sit outdoors and read, checking out books and other materials instantly and digitally.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Donegal, Ireland, where my husband’s family lives. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is home to a region where people still speak one of my favorite languages, Irish Gaelic, as their mother tongue.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I was on a flight from DC to Boston yesterday, and as we were landing and the flight attendant instructed people to fasten their seatbelts and put away their tray tables, a young child in the seat behind me started loudly and confidently instructing his fellow passengers to please “close their windows.” There is nothing more inspiring than seeing how children take information, adapt it, and transform it. That creativity is often so surprising that it makes us smile.
- Favorite book: I cannot pick just one – but I can pick a favorite author. I love Not Every Day an Aurora Borealis for Your Birthday, which is a children’s book by Carl Sandburg. I also love his Complete Poems, his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, and his book about the Chicago race riots. His versatility, simplicity, and clarity as a writer inspire me.
- Favorite music: I enjoy Icelandic music, particularly Sigur Rós. Another of my favorite groups is an indie band called Black Heart Procession – in addition to being a great songwriter, the lead singer has a unique and beautiful voice. He often plays a saw, and the sound is really incredible.
- Your favorite quote or motto: I love the quote from Robert Benchley, “Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.” There is usually much more to be gained from listening than speaking. I also often frequently remind myself of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Microsoft Local Language Program (LLP)provides people access to technology in a familiar language while respecting linguistic and cultural distinctions. The program aims to empower individuals in local communities to create economic opportunities, build technology skills, enhance education outcomes, and sustain their local language and culture.