All I want for Christmas

It’s the 25th of November today and in exactly 1 month, it will be Christmas! I can’t believe that this year went so quick… You get caught up in your daily routine and often birthdays, weddings or celebrations come quicker than you first thought. I realise that I have 30 days to buy the presents for my family, to be honest with you guys, I’m stressing out!! Because we live in a society of consumption, people already have what they want and it’s become harder each year to find original and unique gifts to offer. I regret these times when putting an orange underneath the Christmas tree used to make kids happy! Now they are all about PlayStation, Apple devices, designer clothes or fancy bags. (Same with adults really)

So today, I took my mission very seriously and surfed the web for a couple of hours looking for some unusual ideas. Because if you are an avid reader of this blog, you must be interested in travels and languages, I found the top 10 Christmas gifts especially for you guys.

1. A Language course

Very useful if you plan of moving to another country next year.

2. Lonely Planet ‘s “Best in Travel 2011”

Best guide ever, I remember I bought one when I went to Australia.

3. Lessons in foreign cooking

Be the next Chinese/French or Italian Chef 🙂

4. A Trailfinders gift card

Helping you out with the cost of your flight or hotel.

5. A pocket translator

Always handy to translate some easy sentences like a menu, directions or features.

6. Downloadable language learning tools for your iPod

For all of you guys sleeping, eating and breathing Apple!

7. A Travel journal

Record your amazing adventures and experiences.

8. A Charity donation in your name

It’s good to do something for others.

9. A Dictionary/book of verb tables

Not very exciting but indispensable to your survival abroad.

10. A TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

Become a teacher and hopefully get a visa downunder.

Which one are you going to ask to Santa Claus? And why?

Keyboard in Maori Language

Maori is the original language of New Zealand, and one of the country’s three official languages. However, despite its official status and efforts at reviving it that date back to the 1980’s, the number of fluent speakers is estimated to be between 10,000 (Maori Language Commission, cited in Wikipedia) and 60,000 (Ethnologue). Approximately 100,000 people can understand Maori but have limited or no speaking capability.

Maori’s future does have a brighter outlook than that of many other indigenous languages, thanks to special immersion schools where children are educated in Maori. However, as technology becomes ever more central to daily life, people need to be able to use Maori on the computer if the language is to stay relevant. Fortunately, this week saw a couple of developments that should make that much easier.

First, a couple of businessmen from Rotorua just announced the release of the first Maori keyboard. The keyboard makes it a great deal simpler to type in Maori, as it includes keys for phonemes like “wh” and “ng” as well for the macrons used to differentiate long vowels from short vowels. Read more

Language Classes For Immigrants

Everybody wants immigrants in the UK to learn English, but budget cuts are about to make it much more difficult for them to do so. According to the Independent, almost 80,000 people in the UK will soon lose access to free English classes. To help trim the budget, free English classes are to be reserved for active job seekers. Everyone else will have to pitch in at least half the cost of the classes, which can cost up to £1,000 per year, money that in many cases simply isn’t there.

The requirement that immigrants be on “active benefits” to access free classes means that women will bear the brunt of the cuts. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told the Independent:

“Women are the most likely not to be on active benefits and are therefore the most likely to be affected by this policy. The Government says everybody has the right to integrate, but it is impossible to integrate if one can’t speak English. To ignore the needs of the most vulnerable people in society makes a mockery of the Big Society rhetoric.”

Having a population of women who are isolated and completely dependent on their husbands and children to interact with outside world creates its own problems, as well. Plus, many of these women would prefer to work outside the home, but of course they need to learn English to do so. Sure, some people can teach themselves a new language on their own, from books and TV shows, but many others need the structure and guidance found in a classroom setting. Read more

Learn a Foreign Language, Get Rich Slowly

Students struggling with foreign language classes often ask themselves, what’s the point? What’s the point in learning a foreign language, when so many people and companies are willing to cater to you in English?

How does an extra $67,000 sound as an incentive? That’s the amount The Economist determined an average American college graduate fluent in a foreign language could expect to earn over their working life. This was calculated based on research carried out by MIT economist Albert Saiz.

Of course, the actual amount you could expect to gain from your foreign language proficiency depends on factors like what language you learn and what career field you are in.

Per the Economist:

“Albert Saiz, the MIT economist who calculated the 2% premium, found quite different premiums for different languages: just 1.5% for Spanish, 2.3% for French and 3.8% for German. This translates into big differences in the language account: your Spanish is worth $51,000, but French, $77,000, and German, $128,000.”

That’s all well and good if you’re American, but what about in the UK? Here, the difference is even more significant. In 2004, the Michel Thomas Language Centre found that foreign language fluency could increase your income by  £3,000 a year, or £145,000 in a lifetime.  That’s not surprising, considering the UK’s proximity to other, non-English speaking countries.

As an additional bonus, the Michel Thomas Language Centre study also found that learning a second language can increase your popularity with potential romantic partners.

Is this extra earning power likely to decline in the era of Google Translate? Probably not anytime soon. Machine translation is still an imperfect beast. Meanwhile, globalization increases the need for businesses to be able to communicate in other languages. The Economist sums it up well:

One optimistic estimate is that half the world’s people might speak English by 2050. That leaves billions who will not, and billions of others who remain happier (and more willing to spend money) in their own language.

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Desperately Seeking Glaswegian Interpreters

An advert has appeared in the Herald newspaper recruiting Glaswegian interpreters and translators. The successful candidates needed to understand general vocabulary, accent and nuances.

The firm told the BBC that so far 30 people had applied for the positions – some of them applied in Glaswegian.

The translation company who placed the advert recently had a number of requests for Glaswegian translators and interpreters and decided to recruit to meet demand.

Glaswegian English can be difficult for tourists and business professionals visiting the area to understand.

Here are a few examples of Glaswegian patter
Baltic (very cold)
Boost (head off)
Buckie (tonic wine favoured by youngsters)
Cludgie (toilet)
Eejit (idiot)
Hampden roar (score)
Hee haw (nothing)
Hen (term used to address a woman or girl)
Laldy (enthusiastic participation)
Maw (mother)
Midden (rubbish tip)
Pure (very)
Moroculous (drunk)
Messages (shopping)
Scooby (clue, rhyming slang – Scooby Doo)
Shoot the craw (leave in a hurry)
Stooky (plaster cast)
Swatch (look)
Toaty (small)
Ya dancer (fantastic)
Yersel (yourself)

Understanding Metaphors

People in every culture use metaphors and other figurative language to express themselves.  For example, in English we say “he is a pig” to indicate someone who is gluttonous or slovenly. What does it mean that we say “pig” instead of, say, “dog?” What does our use of that particular metaphor say about us as a culture?  Does it say anything at all?

The US government believes that it does. According to The Atlantic, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is giving out grants as part of a program to “understand how speakers of Farsi, Russian, English, and Spanish see the world by building software that automatically evaluates their use of metaphors.”

The grants could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The idea behind the investment is that if you can understand the metaphors people use and how those metaphors affect the way they perceive the world, you can alter the way you present your ideas and proposals so that they are more likely to be accepted. Building a database of metaphors and their meanings also makes it easier to use computers to accurately parse written texts, which is important since the US has a perennial shortage of human translators in certain languages. Read more

Archive of English Accents

English is the third most commonly spoken native language in the world, and if you count people who speak it as a second language, it’s probably the language with the most speakers overall. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone speaks it in the same way – far from it! Even among native English speakers, there are too many local dialects and accents to name. When you throw in people who speak English as a second language, the variation becomes even more extreme.

To help document and catalogue the many different ways in which English is spoken, Steven Weinberger, a linguistics professor George Mason University in the United States, has created the Speech Accent Archive.

According to Voice of America, the archive consists of recordings of people reading the following paragraph, written to include most of the sounds in the English language: Read more

A Bounty on Engrish

Visitors to South Korea, take note. The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has set a bounty on the awkward, low-quality translations known as “Engrish.” These malapropisms are a prime source of amusement for tourists abroad in Asian countries (see The Top 10 Asian English Translation Failures for examples), but locals are generally somewhat embarrassed by their existence. Plus, when you’re a tourist trying to navigate a foreign country, mistranslations don’t help.

It’s understandable, then, that the KTO would make it a priority to improve the quality of translations available to tourists. What’s interesting is the way in which they are going about it. As CNNGo reports, from now until December 14th, you can go to the Visit Korea website and submit pictures of translation mistakes from any tourist site in South Korea. When you do, you’ll be entered to win the Korean equivalent of a $45 gift card, accepted anywhere credit cards are taken. Read more

difference between a language and a dialect

What’s the Difference Between a Language and a Dialect?

What’s the difference between a language and a dialect?

The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think.  Let’s look at the different ways to determine the difference between a dialect and a language, and how they stack up in the real world.

Mutual Intelligibility

The most obvious way to distinguish a language from a dialect is by looking at mutual intelligibility. Sure, Americans and Brits have their linguistic differences, but we can usually understand each other. We speak the same language, after all.

Seems like it should be cut and dry, right? Dialects are regional variations of a single language that are still close enough that speakers can understand each other.

But not so fast!

Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich was known to say “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” And in fact, there are plenty of examples of “languages” that are mutually intelligible being classified as separate languages for political reasons  (and vice versa).  Read more

820 languages in one country

Which country has the highest number of different languages within its borders? Surprisingly, the answer is not China, India or any other large country.

Tiny Papua New Guinea is all of 462,840 square kilometres in size, about as big as the state of California. Despite its small size, it is the most linguistically diverse country on the planet. According to the Ethnologue website, there are approximately 6,912 known living languages in the world today.

The exact number is subject to change as new languages are discovered and other languages become extinct. Of those 6,912 languages, 820 of them are spoken in Papua New Guinea. Can you imagine 820 languages being spoken in one country?

Why so Many?

There are a couple of reasons that New Guinea has so many different languages. For one thing, the island has been occupied by human beings for a long time-at least 40,000 years!

This means that there has been plenty of time for the language or languages spoken by the original settlers to change and mutate. In fact, even though the same group of people populated New Guinea and Australia, after 40,000 years there are very few similarities between native Australian languages and native New Guinea languages. Over the millennia, they have grown so far apart that they are not even considered part of the same language family.

The territory of New Guinea is also extremely fragmented. New Guinea villages are cut off from their neighbours by a variety of obstacles, including steep mountains, dense forests, rivers and treacherous swamps. Because of this fragmentation, New Guinea has many small indigenous groups with vastly different lifestyles, all having lived in relative isolation from each other for thousands and thousands of years.

Small tribes of people live by fishing on the coasts, by farming at higher elevations, and by gathering sago palms for food in the lowland swamps. Over many centuries, each of these tiny groups has developed its own culture and in many cases its own language.

In New Guinea, most languages have a relatively small number of native speakers. The native New Guinea language with the highest number of speakers is Enga, spoken by approximately 165,000 members of a nomadic tribe called the Maramuni. In so many cases, countries are only held together by a common language. In New Guinea, shared land and a shared history as an Australian colony create a tenuous bond between the citizens.

Still, how do they communicate?

New Guinea has 3 official languages: Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu, and English.

Tok Pisin is an English-based Creole, a language that started out as a combination of two different languages and evolved into a distinct language of its own. In New Guinea, around 121,000 people grew up speaking Tok Pisin as a first language, but 4 million of the country’s residents are fluent in it.

If you need to be able to communicate in New Guinea, Tok Pisin is probably the best language to learn. Hiri Motu is a pidgin, a combination of the Motu language with English, Tok Pisin and various other regional languages. Very few people grow up speaking Hiri Motu, but approximately 120,000 New Guineans understand it as a second language. Because it is not spoken as a first language, it cannot be considered a Creole language at this time.

According to the New York Times, one of the world’s languages is lost forever every two weeks. New Guinea’s linguistic diversity has so far been protected by the inaccessibility of much of the country, as well as the fact that many people in New Guinea think of themselves as members of their tribe first and their nation second.

Hopefully, as New Guinea becomes more and more modern in the years to come, its rich linguistic heritage will remain intact.