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Raising a Bilingual Child



The number of U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home has more than doubled in the past three decades. If you have ever thought about raising your kids to be multilingual, now is the perfect time to start. The earlier they are introduced to a second language, the easier it will be for them to pick it up. Knowing a second (or third) language could one day give your child an edge in an increasingly global workforce. And when these children get to school age, they tend to have superior reading and writing skills in both languages, as well as better analytical and academic skills.

However, many uninformed people believe that being a bilingual is a negative experience for a child. Most of these people are referring to five common myths about raising a child with more than one language:

1. Growing up with more than one language confuses children. Some parents think that if a child is exposed to two languages at the same time, he might become confused and not be able to differentiate between them. But specialists say that from just days after birth all infants can tell the difference between many languages, and this is especially true when the languages are quite different from each other.

2. Raising a child to be bilingual leads to speech delays. Some children raised bilingual do take a little longer to start talking than those raised in monolingual households. The delay is temporary, and according to experts, it has nothing to do with any language development problems.

3. Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages. Mixing languages is both inevitable and harmless. It’s very common for children growing up with two languages to select words and phrases that work better for them in each language. It’s a phase they will outgrow and it’s actually a sign of a powerful bilingual brain that can easily code-switch between the two languages it knows well. It eventually goes away as a child’s vocabulary develops in both languages and he has more exposure to each one.

4. My child is too old to become bilingual. It is never too late to introduce your child to a second language. Yes, learning a second language is easier for children under ten, and even easier for children under five, and the optimal time seems to be from birth to three years… but even after puberty, studies show, new languages can be learned successfully; the only difference is that the children have to translate or go through their native language as a path to the new language.

5. Children will become bilingual without effort and in no time. Becoming bilingual does not happen by itself. Introducing a second language to your children does require some kind of structure and, most important, consistency, whether it is through day-to-day conversation or formal instruction. The idea is to expose them to language learning in meaningful and interesting ways that are connected to real life.

Here are some ideas of how you can make being raised bilingual fun and relevant for your child:

  • Be proactive in creating a bilingual family plan and committing to being consistent in the quality and quantity of language exposure that will be given to your child.
  • Surround your child with people and moments that will create to him a perceived need to speak the language (e.g. hire a babysitter who speaks another language)
  • Make sure the language exposure that different people provide, is consistent and they do not switch from one language to another.
  • Sign your child up for a bilingual daycare.
  • Use playgroups with other bilingual families.
  • Read stories in both languages.
  • Learn songs and rhymes in both languages.
  • Play games, games, and more games (e.g. Puppet shows, puzzles, etc).

Dive in! For many families in-home immersion translates to one parent always speaking in the second language and the other parent speaking English.

What you can expect: A bilingual child…in time. Do not worry if he does not speak either language as adeptly as his monolingual peers do at first. If your child is exposed to both languages the same amount, he will be able to speak both equally well by the time he goes to school. Don’t underestimate how capable he is of using the language when he needs to, even if with you he is just been refusing to speak it. He is still absorbing the sounds of the language and developing retention. He might just surprise you one day! Just like this little girl speaking Spanish, English and French fluently:


Sounds, Animals Make in Different Languages

Of course, animals sound the same everywhere in the world but different human societies have different ways of describing similar sounds. Part of it is explained by the speech sounds used in a particular language. Another part by random choice – how a sound was first heard, interpreted and then evolved over thousands of years.

Compare these sounds in different languages:

Slide10 Slide9 Slide8 Slide7 Slide6 Slide5 Slide4 Slide3 Slide2 Slide1

And how do they sound in your language?

Why Localization Matters: what Coca-Cola, KFC, Ford, and others forgot to do

Localization entails far more than simply translation. It requires, above all else, a cultural understanding of the practices and norms of the country into which you are localizing.

A famous historical example would be Colgate sending one of its top brands, Cue, over to the French market. Problem was, unbeknownst to Colgate, “Cue” was also the name of one of France’s most notorious porno magazines. Cue is also a slang term in French for “butt,” prompting Colgate to yank the brand, which is no longer made today.

If you’re still unsure about the importance of localization, take a look at some real-world localization blunders below.


  • The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, ko-kou-ko-le, which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth”.
  • Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means “big breasts”. In this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales  


  • When translated into Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off”
  •  Japan’s second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.
  •  In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.
  • logo_ford-pinto_usWhen releasing their car the Pinto in Brazil, Ford apparently presumed that they didn’t need to localize the name. After all, it has a vaguely “Spanish-sounding” ring to it, and Brazilians speak Spanish, right? Wrong. While pinto can have a number of different meanings in Spanish (the verb “to paint,” for example), in Portuguese – the language spoken in Brazil – pinto is a slang word for “tiny male genitalia.” After sales for the Pinto flopped, Ford changed the car’s name to Corcel (horse). In the west, the meaning of pinto has become more associated with men who drive big cars in general.
  • When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go”. After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
  • perdue (1)Chicken-man Frank Perdue’s slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”, got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused”.
  • When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. However, the company’s mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass. Instead the ads said that “It wont leak in your pocket and make you pregnant”.






Common Misconceptions of Certified Translations

Let me tell you a common question I get from many potential customers. The trend lately, seems to ask if I am a “certified translator”. Well, I’ll say perhaps on any given day I’m certifiable (pun intended) but I quickly explain there is no reason for me or my team  to be “certified” when our credentials surpass the current “certifications” you see in the industry. Let me take a few moments to explain and clear up some common misconceptions.

  1. There is no federal or state certification of translators in the US (except for federal and state court certification for interpreters). The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics states: “There is currently no universal form of certification required of interpreters and translators in the United States.” (Wikipedia)
  2. The US Citizenship and Immigration website states that:
    “Any foreign language document offered by a party in a proceeding shall be accompanied by an English language translation and a certification signed by the translator that must be printed legibly or typed. Such certification must include a statement that the translator is competent to translate the document, and that the translation is true and accurate to the best of the translator’s abilities.” There is no mention of the words “certified translator” in the US Citizenship and Immigration information whatsoever. They require a “certification signed by the translator” as opposed to a translation rendered by a certified translator (aka accredited translator).

So what does the phrase “Certified Translation” mean then?

In the U.S., a certified translation consists of the translation itself accompanied by a signed statement by the translator or translation company affirming that the translated text is an accurate and complete rendering of the original document. This certification does not prove that the translation is accurate, nor does it mean that the translator who prepared it is “certified.”

How is the SoCal Translations team qualified?

All our translators are native-speakers with Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Languages, Linguistics and Translation. This allows us to provide the highest level of accuracy and completeness to every translation we do.

Machine Translations: Good or Bad?

Machine Translation DesignNowadays, machine translation has become more and more ‘popular’ and more and more software programmers are trying to find new ways of improving it.

Machine translations are cheap, fast and useful for getting a general idea about what text written in a foreign language means. However, “general idea” isn’t always exactly accurate; the machine translator literally translates (word for word) the text which often results in grammatically incorrect, if not completely incoherent, text.

So, are they really that bad? See it for yourself.

Below are a couple examples of texts translated back and forth using Babelfish, Bing,, Google, and TransPerfect, with the final English translation:

1.       Original text (pulled from Yahoo news):

“H. was born with vein of Galen malformation, a rare brain condition in which the brain is missing the blood vessels — capillaries — that would normally slow blood flow from high-pressure arteries to low-pressure veins. Without capillaries, blood rushes to those veins, causing them to expand and allowing blood to pool where it’s not needed.”

          …8 translations later, Bing gives us:

“In a vein of Galen malformation, H. – usually slows down blood flow to the brain, high blood pressure of the capillary venous pressure, was born with a rare exception. Spread of pools of blood and capillary blood is not necessary to get a vein.Capillary blood vessels to expand and make the blood Rush was required, which is caused by them.”

                    …2 translations later, TransPerfect gives us:

” H. Be born with the vein of Galls malformation, an uncommon brain condition in which the brain are missing the blood barques – – capillaries – – that wanted to flow ordinary slow blood from hogedruk arteries to low-insistence veins. Without the capillaries, blood insistences to that veins, provocation them to extend and whereas blood to pool where it will not needed. “

2.       Original text (pulled from “Twilight” book):

“I stared at the deep-voiced boy, taken aback, but he was looking away toward the dark forest behind us. He’d said that the Cullens didn’t come here, but his tone had implied something more—that they weren’t allowed; they were prohibited. His manner left a strange impression on me, and I tried to ignore it without success.”

          …6 translations later, SDL gives us:

“I considered I put the I express deep of boy, blocked, but itself devious the eyes after the dark forest behind those. It had said that the Cullens does did not come here, but its tone had not been permitted that something implied more he qu ‘; was prohibited. His way left a strange impression in me and in experienced negligenciá-he without the success. “

                    …8 translations later, Bing gives us:

“I am surprised that the kids deep voice, but he looked at the dark forest behind us. It is not here, but her voice, says Karen more, does it mean that it is not allowed. They are disabled. Let me, I tried a strange impression, style and ignore it. “

Not so good, right?

We believe that bad translations create a number of problems, such as damaging your brand and resulting in unhappy users. Moreover, there are many translation jobs where accuracy is absolutely critical, such as legal documents.  And translations of literature, poetry, and the like will remain difficult for machine translation software for years since there is much more to this sort of translation than accuracy, such as style and other artistic considerations.

On top of that, machine translation will never become as professional as a human translator can be. It will be always necessary to rely on human translators who offer specialized and professional if we want the output quality to be high.


British English vs American English

Having a Degree in English and being a translator for many years made me think that I knew the  English Language well enough…and then I came to America…

…did you also have situations when you ask for tomato (pronounced as “tamAhtoh”) juice, or shower gel, or try to get a taxi, and people look funny at you?

BritAmerTomatoesOf course, I knew about some differences between British and American English, but I had no idea that they (differences) went that far. I felt like I was learning a new language. New pronunciation, new vocabulary, new grammar…

While some words may mean something in British English, the same word might be something else in American English and vice versa. For example, Athlete in British English is one who participates in track and field events whereas Athlete in American English is one who participates in sport in general


Rubber in British English: tool to erase pencil markings. Rubber in American English: condom.

british-vs-american-figures1So, which is better?

An important point to make is that different doesn’t mean wrong. The truth is that no language or regional variety of language is inherently better or worse than another. They are just different. The most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage whatever language you prefer to use.

Here are just a few out of many differences in vocabulary between British and American English.

British English American English
autumn fall
biscuit cookie
boot trunk
caravan trailer
car park parking lot
chemist’s shop drugstore, pharmacy
chips fries, French fries
the cinema the movies
film movie
flat apartment, condo
ground floor first floor
handbag purse
holiday vacation
postcode zip code
postman mailman, mail carrier, letter carrier
pub bar
public toilet restroom
rubbish garbage, trash
solicitor lawyer, attorney
sweets candy
taxi cab
torch flashlight
trousers pants

Do you know more words that are absolutely different in British and American English? Let us know!

False Friends of a Translator

It is just like in real life …

False friends…you think you know and understand them but then they mean something completely different.

False friends (or false cognates) are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. An example is the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazado, which does not in fact mean ’embarrassed’ but rather ‘pregnant’.

False friends always lead to mistakes; they can really ruin your translation and even make you feel embarrassed, just like in this true story about false friends in the German province:

By Eric Hansson: “This topic about the false friend reminds me of a fellow who once visited my English course at an evening school some years ago. He was an owner of a fitness studio in the small city where the course was held – and the name of the fitness studio was something I had never heard before: Big Ass.

This is by no means something below the belt, and has to be understood as a mix between English and German, with the first word in English and the second one in German, as German “Ass” is for English “ace”. The intention with this name was to make some kind of a positive association with something really good and persuade any prospective visitors to come visit his studio.

He had put up these big signs for his studio along the major roads to this city so every week when I went to school I saw this funny word construction which really made me freak out In my role as an English teacher, I did explain the whole story to this student and all of a sudden all signs had been taken down.”

Did you have any funny (or not so funny) situations with these ‘friends”? Let us know!

Learn more about False friends:

in Spanish:

in German:

in French:

in Russian: