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English Across the Pond

English: Across the Pond.

When you consider the differences between the United States and Britain, it’s not hard to conclude that they are, ultimately, much the same. While there is 3,000 or so miles separating these tiny Isles in Northern Europe from the vast continent of the North Americas physically, it’s merely a drop in the ocean in most ways. Read more

To Learn a Foreign Language, Listen

If you’re struggling with learning a new language, try listening to native speakers. That’s the conclusion of a new study from Victoria University in New Zealand.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers have discovered that listening to people talk or sing in a foreign language makes learning that language easier, even if you haven’t the foggiest idea what they are saying.

How is this possible? When babies start learning language, their brains develop neural structures that allow them to understand and process the different combinations of sounds in their native language. However, when you learn a new language, you are often confronted with combinations of sounds that you’ve never encountered before. It can be difficult to learn and remember words in a foreign language because your brain doesn’t have the appropriate neural structures to do so.

The good news is that over time, simply hearing a new language spoken will cause your brain to grow new neural tissue to process the new combinations of sound, just as a baby does when learning its first language. As your brain becomes more attuned to the sounds of the new language, it will become easier for you to speak and understand it.

Dr. Paul Sulzberger, the author of the study, summed the results up nicely when he told the Daily Mail, “To learn a language you have to grow the appropriate brain tissue, and you do this by lots of listening – songs and movies are great.”

Often, foreign language students wait until they can actually understand the spoken language to start watching television or listening to music in that language. This study suggests that is the wrong approach to take.

If you’re learning a new language, try to find music, movies and television that feature people speaking in that language. Listen to the music on your MP3 player or watch a TV show while you eat dinner. If you keep listening to native speakers and try to learn the language, it won’t be long before what you’re hearing starts to make sense!

Danish Language Protection Laws Deemed Unnecessary

The Danish Culture Ministry has announced that there is no need to pass language protection laws in Denmark at this time, but that other steps should be taken to protect the Danish language.

According to the Copenhagen Post Online, the announcement marks the conclusion of a special government committee investigation into whether or not the use of English is threatening the future viability of Danish.

Although the report released by the committee did not recommend that any new laws be passed to protect Danish, it did recommend steps that the Danish people should take to help preserve their native tongue. For example, the report stressed the “duty” of Danes to preserve the language in their homes and in their schools.

The country’s university system was listed in the report as the one area of Danish life in which additional regulations might be beneficial. Some members of the committee, including its chairman, believe that additional regulation could be used to encourage the development of Danish professional terminology, reducing the reliance on English and other foreign languages.

Interestingly, the report also encouraged Danes to spend more time studying other Nordic languages, like Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese. Since all of these languages are descended from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, they are all closely related and it is fairly easy for a native speaker of one language to pick up one of the others.

According to the report, “Danes can achieve a deeper understanding of our neighbour languages in just a few weeks than they can by studying foreign languages for years.”

The Danish language has come under increasing pressure from foreign language entertainment in recent years, and the committee recommended encouraging TV and films in other Nordic languages to help counteract this effect.

If It's All Greek to Us, What's It To Them?

Almost everyone is familiar with the saying “it’s all Greek to me”. We use it to mean that something is utterly incomprehensible, whether it is a foreign language film without subtitles, the incoherent speech of a lunatic, or calculus.

According to World Wide Words, the phrase probably comes from the Latin phrase “Graecum est; non potest legi,” which means “it is Greek; it cannot be read.”

It was commonly used by monks translating books in medieval times. Most of them knew Latin, but not Greek. Hence, whenever they encountered Greek text, they copied it as best they could with the notation “It is Greek; it cannot be read.”

The phrase was also famously used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, and he is often believed to have originated it. However, the World Wide Words article points out that it also shows up in the work of Thomas Dekker, in a play written the year before Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar.  So, either Shakespeare borrowed it from Dekker or they were both drawing on a common saying of the time.

Have you ever wondered how “It’s all Greek to me” translates in other languages and cultures? Many languages have similar expressions.

According to Omniglot, Greeks themselves say “It’s all Chinese to me” or “It’s all Arabic to me”.

In Europe, Chinese is commonly used as the archetypical incomprehensible language, and the phrase “It’s all Chinese to me” shows up in Dutch, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Hungarian, French and Catalan, among others.

In many Eastern European languages, including Croatian, Czech, and Serbian, the equivalent phrase is “It’s a Spanish village to me.” In Finland, it’s “Hebrew,” and in Hebrew it’s “Chinese.”  France has three different equivalent phrases: “It’s Chinese to me”, “It’s Javanese to me” or “It’s Hebrew”.

Then there are some truly odd-sounding translations. For example, if a German-speaking person has no earthly idea what you’re talking about, he may say “I only speak railway station.”

In Chinese, something incomprehensible may be described as “heavenly script,” “ghost script” or “chicken intestines.”  Well, I suppose chicken intestines are pretty incomprehensible, now that I think about it.

NYC French Language Bookstore Set to Close

Librarie de France bookstore in New York City which specialises in French Language books looks set to close after being in business for 74 years. Librarie de France has said it is being forced to close because of the high rental costs that threatened to triple to $1 million a year. According to store owner Emanuel Molho the shop lease ends on the 30th September 2009.

Molho is quoted as saying: “New York is becoming impossible for retail”.

Librarie de France is world famous and is the only bookstore of its kind in the United States. Each member of staff who works in the bookstore can speak at least two languages. The business was started by Molho’s father, Isaac in 1928. In 1935, the shop moved to its current location, the La Maison Francaise building near the Rockefeller Centre skating rink.

It’s a shame that such a specialist language bookstore will go out of business due to the extortionate rents being imposed on New York’s retail businesses.

Baby talk

When Do Babies Start Learning Language?

By now, almost everyone knows that infants begin to learn language long before they utter their first words. But did you know that babies start learning language before they are even born? At least, that’s the conclusion that German researchers from the University of Wurzburg came to in a new study, published in the journal “Current Biology.”

For the study, the researchers recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 different newborn babies. Some of the babies were born to French-speaking parents; others were born to German-speaking parents. You might think that that wouldn’t matter, that all babies sound the same when they cry. However, the babies were only 3 to 5 days old, and they were already crying in “accents” that mimicked the intonations of the adult’s language. So, the French babies’ cries had a rising inflection, and the German babies’ cries had a falling inflection.

According to the researchers, the babies were most likely imitating the speech they had heard while in the womb.  In this article from the BBC, researcher Kathleen Wermke said that  “The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their foetal life. Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”

Wermke also theorized that the babies were trying to bond more closely with their mothers by mimicking them in the only way possible-through the intonation of their cries.

the-spanish-language

The Origins and Importance of the Spanish Language

The Spanish language or Castilian, as native speakers sometimes refer to it, has become one of the most popular languages used in the world today. Its history is vast and it has spread and developed steadily throughout the centuries.

The name Castilian originates from the Castile region in the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain where Latin mixed with indigenous dialects was spoken after the decline of the Roman Empire. As the kingdom of Castile spread, so did the so-called Vulgar Latin commonly spoken in this region. With the conquest of the southern regions, this northern dialect, by then known as Castilian, spread south, replacing other provincial dialects.

As Castilian became more widespread it adopted vocabulary from Moorish Arabic and was influenced by medieval Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) and Mozarabes (the Romance speech of Christians living in Moorish territory). Sadly, these languages died out in the late 16th century as Spanish took over the peninsula. Read more

language-of-twitter

Twitter is Changing Language

One of the most intimidating parts of learning to use Twitter is the lingo. Confronted by words like “retweet,” “hashtag” and the “Twittersphere,” new users often find themselves wondering:

“What language are these people speaking?”

English, as it turns out – Twitter is just changing the way we speak it, adding new vocabulary words and even influencing the way people talk and write when they aren’t using the service. No less an authority than the Oxford Dictionary just added the words “Twittersphere” and “ZOMG” to the lexicon, according to Time Magazine.

Meanwhile, digital anthropologist Brian Solis observes that the popular social networking service  is also changing the way people communicate outside of Twitter, even offline:

“At some point, a chasm emerges between those who use Twitter and those who do not. In other channels where Twitter users and other non-users are connected, for example email or text messaging,  the culture of conversation becomes noticeably divergent. To begin with, Twitter users, like texters, are groomed to speak with brevity.”

Read more

Urinal Drink translation

Translation Higher Priority‎

You’re familiar with the phrase “The customer is always right,” right? Unfortunately, when it comes to translation,newresearchfromTransPerfect shows that businesses aren’t taking that advice to heart.

The survey examined attitudes towards translation among consumers and executives from across the globe. Clear, quality translation was a priority among the respondents who completed TransPerfect’s survey, with 63 percent of the respondents stating that they would be more likely to buy products from websites that have been properly translated into their native languages. When presented with a website with no translation options, consumers were forced to either “make do” with automatic tools like Google translate or to simply give up on the purchase.

The sample size of 200 respondents may seem small, but the results dovetail quite nicely with a survey published by Eurobarometer earlier this summer, which found that 42% of consumers wouldn’t buy a product online if the website was in another language. Really, can you blame them? Not being able to understand the terms and conditions of the website you are buying from is a recipe for poor customer experiences and dissatisfaction. Read more

Brand Name In China

Thinking of moving your business to China? A word to the wise: hire a skilled translator! As a recent article in the New York Times points out, translating a business name into Chinese requires

much more than Google Translate; you also need a deep understanding of the nuances of Chinese culture to avoid utterly humiliating yourself.

As the Times explains:

“More than many nations, China is a place where names are imbued with deep significance…Given that China’s market for consumer goods is growing by better than 13 percent annually — and luxury-goods sales by 25 percent — an off-key name could have serious financial consequences.” Read more