Lize Spies aka Lady Vernacular joins Folio

Lize Spies

Nowadays, young adults are pressured to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives. But the reality is they rarely do. I’m the exception. Remember those origami friendship notes you used to pass on in class? When I started correcting my friends’ grammar in these notes, in Grade 5, with a red pen, I knew that languages had chosen me.

Swartland High School

At school, my enthusiasm for languages – especially Afrikaans, my mother tongue – really blossomed. Both in my mother’s Afrikaans class and outside the classroom on many eisteddfod and public-speaking stages.

Stellenbosch University

After school, I couldn’t wait to follow in the footsteps of my aunt, also a language practitioner. I was fortunate to study at Stellenbosch University with its excellent lecturers and vast resources in the field of translation and editing, and obtained a BA in Humanities and a Postgraduate Diploma in Translation. It was during the course of my studies that I learned the finer nuances of language, translation and editing. I prefer the Afrikaans word “taalversorging” because it describes exactly what we do – we “look after”, “care for” and “nurture” language in a world full of devil-may-care language users. After graduating, I started my career in the language department of a stakeholder communications company specialising in financial and integrated reports for public and listed companies. It is an interesting, dynamic and complex industry; however, something was missing. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until I realised: It lacked a human element; knowing that my work had an actual impact on others. 

And that is one of the main reasons why I’m so excited to be part of the Folio team and to be managing Folio InterTel. Our instant telephonic interpreting service breaks through the language barrier so that patients can communicate effectively with medical professionals. At the touch of a button, non-English speakers have access to skilled medical interpreters in 39 languages – a service that not only streamlines cross-cultural communication, but also saves lives.

And that’s my story! For the first time I’m feeling fulfilled as a language practitioner. It’s wonderful coming to work every day and knowing that the work we do and the services we offer have tangible, positive effects on people’s lives. botha   Sep 13, 2019   News, What's New   0 Comment Read More

Sign Language: The Silent System

I recently had the opportunity to meet Nombulelo Cekwana, Folio’s experienced South African Sign Language interpreter who shared details of her fascinating job. I was quite surprised when I learned that a country with eleven official languages had only one sign language. This fact made me think about the status of sign language in South Africa.

Let’s begin by clarifying that sign language is not universal. We may think that creating a new communication system with different varieties is not very practical. But, like spoken languages, sign languages are unfixed entities that rely on culture and evolve according to users’ needs.

Signs can be based on visual images, and speakers from different cultures may associate words with different concepts. The sign for ‘December’ in Spanish Sign Language is a good example, as it is represented by a traditional instrument played during Christmas in Spain called a ‘zambomba’.

‘December’ – Spanish Sign Language
Child playing the zambomba

Signs can also rely on the fingerspelling, like ‘December’ in American Sign Language, which consists of an abbreviated spelling of the word, using its first letters ‘DEC’.

‘December’ – American Sign Language

Due to the lexicon differences, spelling patterns will not fit every language, as the difference between ‘January’ and the Spanish equivalent ‘enero’ shows clearly.

The result of language variation is a non-universal signing system, but also sign languages being independent of spoken languages, i.e. in countries like South Africa, the UK and the US, English is the lingua franca, but each country has a different sign language.

The sign for ‘Monday’ is an example of initialism in British and American Sign Language, as both use signs for the letter ‘M’, with the contrast that each of them uses their own fingerspelling system.

Signs for ‘Monday’ (left) – British Sign Language; and ‘M’ (right) – American Sign Language

South African Sign Language uses a different system: The sign for ‘Monday’ is based on the order of the days in the week, as we can notice by comparing ‘Monday’ and ‘Tuesday’.

Signs for ‘Monday’ (left) and ‘Tuesday’ (right) – South African Sign Language


The absence of a direct link between signed and spoken languages can be ascribed to the evolution of sign languages. Their evolution was determined by education. As the majority of deaf children are born to hearing families, they learn their mother tongue at school. An example of the crucial role of education in the evolution of sign languages is the teaching of sign language in Ireland. Boys and girls were educated in separate schools applying different systems, which resulted in a deaf community with gender dialects. However, the gap diminished as women tended to acquire the male variety after school.

The first evidence for the use of signs to educate deaf children dates back to 15th century Spain, when a Spanish monk began using a manual alphabet to teach his deaf pupils. But it was in France where a real deaf education system was implemented for the first time in the mid-18th century by the Abbe Charles Michel de l’Épée. The French teaching method was adopted in the US when the American School for the Deaf was established in 1817 with the assistance of a French educator. In Ireland, sign language was also influenced by the French method, which was taught in the Catholic deaf institutions. In Britain, the sign language that emerged in the first school for the deaf set the basis for British Sign Language, and from there it was exported to Australia and New Zealand. The signing methods of these three countries are considered dialects of the same sign language called BANZSL (British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language).

As a consequence of this evolution, American and Irish sign languages are closer to French Sign Language than to British sign language, whereas sign language in the UK, Australia and New Zealand is quite similar.


South African Sign Language is considered a descendant of BANZSL and according to Ethnologue, the correspondence between British Sign Language and SASL is 60%. The history of South Africa is reflected in the evolution of the language, which was influenced by different signing methods. The first school for deaf white children was run by Irish nuns, who introduced Irish Sign Language. There were other schools that began using British Sign Language, the first one was established by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1881. And because of the presence of American text books, American fingerspelling was introduced.

De la Bat

The National Institute for the Deaf (NID) also utilises the British Sign Language System. Established by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1881, the NID would go on to become an invaluable asset to the South African deaf community: It gave rise to De la Bat, the independent school for the deaf in Worcester. Training and skills development initiatives by the NID continue to make the labour market more accessible to the deaf community, and residential care facilities provide homes to many members.

Sign language was, however, mainly used by the deaf pupils outside the classroom as it was considered an inferior mode of communication until the end of the 20th century, to the point of being forbidden in schools as a teaching method. There were also other reasons for an increasing contrast between the sign languages of different schools. Under the apartheid policies, children were separated by race, and black children were also separated by mother tongue. Nevertheless, despite the division-generated varieties, it did not result in different sign languages. Even if the system used differed from one school to the next, deaf students moved around the country and interacted with one other. Consequently, the varieties tended to converge.

Presently SASL is slowly gaining recognition. As from 2014 Sign Language is taught as a first language in South African schools for the deaf. The reference language used nowadays in deaf education throughout the country is English, and signers are more connected through the extensive use of technology. These aspects are causing standardisation of South African Sign Language, even if certain regional dialectal differences are maintained as in any natural language.

Nombulelo Cekwana

Sharing impressions with Folio’s interpreter made me think about the role of sign language in deaf people’s lives. It is of the same importance as mother-tongue language for everyone else. She amazed me with her experience of the most challenging jobs she had to perform in hospitals, like interpreting for a woman in labour or giving news about a patient’s disease. Considering the possibility of experiencing one of these situations whilst being deprived of language makes us understand the importance of sign language and the people who do valuable work so that communication is available for everybody.

Raquel Sánchez Herero 05/09/2019 botha   Sep 05, 2019   History, Linguistics   0 Comment Read More

Meet Miriam Reuther from Germany

Seeing as much of the world as possible has always been my wish. After graduating high school early, I had plenty of time before university. It turned out to be valuable time since I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do later in life. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to leave Germany for a while, so I packed my bags and headed to Canada for a full year.

Canada’s natural beauty is only matched by the beauty of its people. Everyone is very welcoming to strangers since they are confronted with so many different cultures and nationalities in their own country. It was there that my interest in other languages and cultures really blossomed.

With that year abroad in mind, the idea of language as a vocation started to form in my head. The only problem I saw was that jobs involving languages often turn out to be teaching of some sort, a field in which I could not see myself. After some research, I found out about the Institut für Übersetzen und Dolmetschen in Heidelberg, and applied right away to start my translation and interpreting studies focusing on French and English in October 2016.

It wasn’t long before my feet started itching to leave Germany again, so I applied for a semester abroad at the Dublin City University in Ireland. The land of leprechauns was a fantastic experience that brought me closer to several cultures and gave me the opportunity to form a network of friends all across the world.

When I returned from Ireland, I felt it was high time for practical experience, so I used my semester break to work at opsira, a company specialising in light measurements. Now it may sound far removed from my field of study, but I ended up working as a translator in the technical department. It was the first time I actually translated texts and brochures from start to finish in the real world. I was quite proud that the company put so much trust in my skills, and my time there confirmed the fact that I made the correct career choice. My course at the university was fairly theoretical, which is necessary for learning the relevant skills, but it was nowhere near the reality of being a translator.

This opened my eyes to the fact that internships are crucial to finding out what area of work suits you. I am now finished with my bachelor’s degree and before I start my masters in October 2020, I intend to use the time to secure several internships. My internship here at Folio takes me one step closer to finding my way into the working world! botha   Aug 19, 2019   News   0 Comment Read More

Meet our new intern: Anneke Luijk

Like lots of teenagers, my future seemed unclear when I was in high school. Yet, since grade three I have developed a passion for writing. It all started with my grade three teacher complementing me on my creative writing. Since then I have always enjoyed working with languages. I enjoy the playfulness and unpredictability of language. In high school I wrote a lot of short stories. I participated in a few writing competitions and even won one of them. As a journalist for my high school newspaper I gained more experience in writing and editing. Because of my love for languages I knew I would do a BA in language and culture, but apart from that I was still uncertain about a lot of things. I wondered about what career I would follow, how I would be able to incorporate languages in a job, and whether I would be able to earn enough money. Still, I went to Stellenbosch and started my journey in languages, waiting on the Lord to lead me in the right direction.

When we started a module in translation and editing in my second year, I thought it would be a few boring months. Little did I know that translation and editing are anything but boring! We learned about the different approaches to translation, the different roles a translator must play and what to look out for when translating. This was unexpectedly exciting to me and I wanted to know more. When I learned that our university offers an honours degree in translation, I knew what I wanted to do.

Now that my first semester of honours in translation is done, I am well on my way to becoming a professional translator. Yet, the last few months were tough. A translator’s job is filled with obstacles and we have learnt many different approaches we can use to overcome them. Although I am already half-way through my studies I know that I still have a lot to learn. To me one of the most important skills a translator must have is learning from experts’ criticism. Trying to stay positive while a lecturer or another student criticises your translation is difficult but very rewarding, since this helps you to grow and develop.

I am very honoured to study at Stellenbosch University, because our lecturers are experts in the field of translation and editing. They also provide us with some of the best resources for translators and editors. I am really looking forward to the EST Congress 2019 which will be held in September at my very own university. The fact that our lecturers made this possible shows me how privileged I am to study here.

Even though my studies may be finished at the end of this year, I know that I will continue to grow as a translator and editor. I hope to work with texts that include lots of graphics, like advertisements, posters or pamphlets. The reason for this is that I enjoy incorporating my love for art and design in my job as a translator or an editor. Aside from this I would also need to learn what the working environment of a translator is like. This is why I decided to do an internship at Folio. I hope that this experience will help me to grow as a translator and teach me about the other responsibilities in a corporate environment. botha   Jun 11, 2019   News, What's New   0 Comment Read More

Of bots, bräuhauses and AI: GALA conference 2019

GALA conferences are intense. And the GALA Conference in Munich held from 24 to 27 March 2019 was no different. Whether it be the chock-a-block conference programme, filled with hugely enlightening sessions, networking with like-minded people during breaks, making new friends and laughing with old ones, or staying up until the wee hours contemplating the industry over Reinheitsgebot beer, you always leave with the realisation that you were part of an educational experience like no other. GALA conferences always have one objective in mind ─ creating a space to share ideas, advice and lessons from experts in the field. All to the benefit of the industry as a whole and the attending individuals and companies in particular.

This year’s theme, “The Changing Role of the Human Being in an AI-driven Language Service Industry”, addressed the biggest question in our working lives, namely how can we prepare for the impending onslaught of the machines? To put it bluntly, “How can I make sure that I’ll still have a job tomorrow?”. Although this question has certainly been asked at previous GALA conferences, delegates at this year’s conference had a much greater sense of urgency to have this question answered. And answered in a way that cuts through much of the haziness that we sometimes feel when speaking about AI.

So what are the main things I took away from the Munich conference besides the keynote speaker’s fascinating talk about the hundreds of daily online contracts we enter into without a second thought (all of those lightning Yes-clicks to cookies, terms and conditions, etc.).

  • I quickly realised there is a huge need to better understand what we are talking about when we discuss artificial intelligence, machine translation, machine learning, neural networks and natural language processing. Using these terms interchangeably (as attendees and sometimes even different speakers did) only adds to the confusion and seriously hampers the creation of a strategy for implementation and future-proofing your business.


  • It is no longer enough to just talk about implementation in the future, you’ll have to start swimming with the AI, machine and automation current sweeping across the industry. Either that or be swept away along with everyone who still clings to the idea that machines cannot influence the way they do their jobs. As one speaker put it, “How many of those LSPs who didn’t believe in CAT tools, terminology software or electronic quality assurance checkers are really still relevant today?”.


  • Video remote interpreting as a service is exploding and will only get bigger as people realise the tremendous impact it can have, both in giving access to interpreters around the world and as aid tools for hard-to-reach communities. AI is also having an impact here, as things like vendor selection and technology to enhance quality in the booth are beginning to play a role.


  • AI and automation are revolutionising sales: customer or potential client research, sifting through an overwhelming amount of data and saving time by automation of certain tasks. Having said this, sales departments will have to find a way to use AI and data processing machines to their advantage, without ever losing sight of the end client’s needs. As technology become smarter, preserving the human element becomes harder. But being customer-conscious is often the driving force behind growth so it is non-negotiable.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is here and these are exciting times. With the human aspect featuring equally in discussions on AI, machine learning and neural networks at GALA Munich, there shouldn’t really be any doubt that humans will remain crucial in the shake-ups we are facing in our industry. But, as with any technological change, people have to realise that adaptation is key. Yes, a lot of the current roles, job descriptions and responsibilities will fall away completely as they are replaced with machines. Yet just as many new ones can be created if people and companies are willing to shed their old skins and embrace the endless possibilities of AI, automation and machine translation in the language service industry. botha   Apr 05, 2019   News, Technology, What's New   0 Comment Read More
Page 1 of 3123