Contributing writer for the Livemocha Blog and Diary of a Language Learner participant Siôn Owen is a Brazilian Portuguese language learner on a mission to help people bridge the gap between everyday English and his target language. Here’s his story about how he got his idea to help people off the ground.
in his words, Siôn Owen
Have you ever found yourself daydreaming, when suddenly you’re hit with a flash of inspiration that brings you a fresh idea for what could be a fun new project? Have you then spent the next few days working excitedly to get the idea off the ground? Well, I recently had a similar experience, except those few days quickly turned into a few months since my project involved appealing to people thousands of miles away…and who speak another language.
My project, Smash English, is all about providing English learners with a few small blurbs of English each day, but presented in a humorous way. As part of the initiative, I created a video series to help learners get accustomed to English as it’s really spoken – not scripted, not slowed down. I was excited about what I was doing, but realized that I had a significant challenge ahead of me – getting people who don’t speak great English to understand exactly what I was trying to do. Not surprisingly, the process of localization for my target market, Brazil, has been the most difficult part of the project, especially considering my Portuguese is still at an intermediate level. Here are some of the challenges I faced and how they ultimately helped me improve my language skills.
Translating the conversations
After filming my video series, I typed out all of the conversations I had with people around Chicago. Considering the length of the text and its colloquial nature, I knew I had to hire a translator for this one. But, my conversations were unique in that they hadn’t been scrubbed or edited for optimal word choice. They were real, and real speech is imperfect. Therefore, there was quite a lot of slang in there that would be useful for an English learner to know. Even though I had it professionally translated, the translator had to clarify a number of things with me, and mentioned that translating such casual speech was almost as tricky as translating a scientific document. Many expressions don’t translate directly, so having the judgment of a native speaker was essential for this part of my project. After the work was complete, I was able to go through the translated text and pick up some Portuguese expressions that I probably never would have otherwise heard without living in Brazil.
Tackling the website
I had already paid a hefty fee for a professional translation of my dialogues, so for the website I figured I’d try it myself. I created the site as I’d want it to be in English, then piece by piece went through and translated it all into Portuguese. Some of it I knew, some I had to look up, and some I made a best guess on and sent to Livemocha friends to verify for me. It was a lengthy process, but looking back it really helped me a great deal by testing what I already knew and forcing me to learn what I didn’t. And hey, it saved me some money, too!
Communicating with users
Since my project revolves around comedy and is, therefore, very playful in nature, I’ve had to get somewhat acclimated to the Brazilian sense of humor. I want to make sure I’m posting content that will appeal to my audience and encourage them to interact with my brand. Even though the majority of my content is posted in English, many comments are left in Portuguese. Trying to understand and respond to those has been really helpful, especially since most comments on social media sites use a very casual form of the language that one might not get exposure to in a class environment. Also, it’s been interesting, and eye-opening, to see which comedic expressions from the United States are already quite popular in Brazil. For example, talking about doing something “like a boss” (in a dominant fashion), popularized by a colorful video aired on Saturday Night Live, seems to really tickle the Brazilian sense of humor these days. It fascinates me how foreign cultures pick up on certain sayings that are even very casual and obscure to us native English speakers. I suppose this is a testament to the power of social media today.
To conclude, here’s a challenge for you. The next time you have a great idea for something you’d love to work on, consider whether or not the project could also have value for an international audience. Or, perhaps you have an existing project or business that could be taken to a fresh new market overseas? Obviously you’ll first want to ensure such a move makes sound business sense, but, assuming all the boxes are checked, the ensuing localization for a foreign audience could be both lucrative and a great way to expand your language proficiency.
Siôn Owen is a Livemocha contributing author and earth’s biggest fan of curry and Caribbean food. He’s learning Portuguese, and also loves helping people learn English on his Facebook page, Smash English. Siôn lives in Chicago, Illinois USA.