Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Translating Dates and Times Around the World

If you're familiar with the internet or live in the United States, you may have heard that Monday was Pi Day. If you're not familiar with Pi Day, it takes place each 14th March in celebration of the mathematical constant pi (π). This date was chosen since it corresponds to the first three digits of pi as written using the US date format (3/14).

However, if you're from a country that doesn't write dates as they do in the US, Pi Day doesn't make much sense. When it comes to translation and learning languages, knowing how numbers are represented can be very important. Since we've just been talking about Pi Day, let's look at dates first.

Standardised times and dates are imperative in aviation.
Date Formats

When you write the date, the format may change depending on the language or region. The US uses a Month/Day/Year format, which means today's date would be written 3/16/2016 in full.

As a UK native, I am much more familiar with a Day/Month/Year format, which shows today as 16/3/2016.

In certain regions and languages, it is also acceptable to write the date starting with the year, then the month, then the day. That would make today's date look like 2016/3/16.

In addition to the order of the numbers, there are also the separators to consider. Thus far I have only used slashes (/), but depending on the region, dots (.), hyphens (-), and spaces can also be used.

Time Formats

When it comes to time, the two most common formats are the 12-hour clock and the 24-hour clock. As the name suggests, the 12-hour clock only includes the numbers from 1 to 12, with the numbers repeating after midday and midnight. The 24-hour clock goes from midnight to midnight without the numbers for the hours repeating.

There are very few languages that use the 24-hour clock when speaking. In English, you don't say "fifteen o'clock". When it is spoken, it's usually what is called "military time", whereby the entire time is said without separators like "fifteen hundred hours", meaning "1500", or "3 o'clock in the afternoon".

However, in French, for example, the 24-hour clock is referred to when speaking, alleviating the need to ever really refer to the time of the day.

In Translation

With all these different formats, it is very important when translating to be familiar with the conventions of the language and even the region you're translating for. Making a mistake with the dates and times in a text could make you look unprofessional and make the text ambiguous, confusing, or in a worst-case scenario, useless.

These practices can be hugely important when it comes to things such as contracts or medical records. In fact, a mistake on a medical record could result in patients being given treatment at the wrong time of day or even on the wrong date!