Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Listening to Languages - Tuesday's Tip

Most languages are foreign to me.  I can speak a few words of Spanish and I'm aware that the Spanish ñ and the Italian gn (as in lasagna) both sound the same in English and that the Italian zz have a t-z sound in English.  But I don't know any languages well enough to know how the speakers pronounce most words.

This interests me because I think some given and surname spelling variations are a result of pronunciation.  The German immigrant arrived in America and pronounced his name as he normally said it.  The American who was listening (the official at Ellis Island or the census taker, for example) had to choose a way to write it down in English on his form.  What the census taker wrote may have been the best he could do with what he heard.

Because of this interest I'm on the alert for ways to understand the name variations I see among my own ancestors' surnames.  Enter Google Translate.  We all know it can translate the written word (though not always perfectly), but I've found something that may be equally helpful.  After I type a word or words in the translate box and choose the original language, in the lower right corner of that box a little icon appears indicating that I can listen to the words in the original language.  Ah!  So that's how Gerner, Heinrich, and Frederick sound in German.

Google will translate from 71 languages into 72 languages.  It also offers to auto detect the language of words to be translated when you don't know the original language.  Unfortunately, it won't tell you how words spoken with British accents sound.

Google Translate may occasionally help solve a translation problem if you're not fluent in the language of your ancestors.  It may also help you decide if that spelling variation is a result of an accent.  Of course, it may be of no help at all, but it's one more resource to try.



  1. Cool tip! I'm going to have to try that. I have many ancestors who came over from Germany. I'm going to include this in my Friday Fab Finds. :)

  2. Oh fun. This sounds like a nifty little toy I need to try.

  3. That's amazing! I have used Google Translate extensively and never noticed that feature! Thank you for pointing it out. Perhaps now I will know how to pronounce my ancestors' names.

    1. It may not help in every circumstance but there may be a time when it could be helpful. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Amber.


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