Learn a New Word in 15 Minutes

How long does it take for a word from a foreign language to permanently etch itself into your brain? About 15 minutes, according to researchers at Cambridge University. That’s all the time your brain needs to build a network of brain cells that will help you recall the word in question. The only catch is that you need to hear it repeated at least 160 times in that 15-minute window.

To perform the experiment, the scientists hooked people up to a monitor to measure their brain activity. They were presented first with a word they were familiar with. To simulate the experience of hearing a foreign word for the first time, they then listened to a word that was made up. Then, they listened to it again, and again, and again…Wow, that must have been annoying!

Fortunately, the volunteers were patient, and the data that was gleaned from the monitors attached to their skulls proved to be quite informative.  Researchers watched the volunteers’ brain waves as they  listened to first the familiar word and then to the the unfamiliar one, and found that the brain’s reaction to the two words was almost identical after hearing the unfamiliar one repeated 160 times in a 15 minute period. Read more

Imitating Someone’s Accent Makes It Easier to Understand Them

I have a friend from the southern United States, and I can always tell when she’s on the phone with someone from home with a southern accent. Her drawl gives it away, becoming more and more pronounced the longer she talks. If the person has a strong accent, by the end of the call she’ll sound just like Scarlett O-Hara in Gone With the Wind. I often make of fun of her for it, but as it turns out, a new study demonstrates that imitating the accent of the person you are speaking to actually makes it easier to understand them.

The University of Manchester’s Patti Adank, co-author of the study, explained to Science Daily that my friend’s unconscious reaction to hearing a strong southern US accent is actually perfectly natural:

“If people are talking to each other, they tend to sort of move their speech toward each other. People have a tendency to imitate each other in body posture, for instance in the way they cross their arms.”

Read more

New Apps Help Keep Canadian Native Languages Alive

In an attempt to keep some of Canada’s most endangered native languages alive, advocates are turning to Apple, according to Canada.com. Working in conjunction with First Nation tribes and the First Peoples Cultural Foundation, a group of developers called FirstVoices has just released apps for the Sencoten and Halq’emeylem languages on the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

Sencoten is spoken by the Saanich people of Vancouver Island. The language is in dire straits; at this time, only about 10 people can speak it fluently.  Halq’emeylem, which is spoken by a group of related tribes in Vancouver’s Fraser Valley, has about 225 speakers according to Ethnologue. However, according to Wikipedia in 2000 it was estimated that less than a dozen were actually fluent. Read more

5 Unusual Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Christmas is celebrated in many different countries around the world, but the way it’s celebrated varies from place to place. Here are 5 of the most unusual ways to celebrate the holiday:

Catalonia – Tió de Nadal

In Catalonia, one important part of the Christmas celebration is the “Tio de Nadal,” or the “Christmas Log.” That’s the polite name, at least. The Tio de Nadal is more commonly called “Caga Tió,” or “pooping log.” During the month of December, the hollow log is “fed” each night with sweets, nuts and candies. Then, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the log is beaten with sticks and made to “poop” out its presents. The last thing to come out of the log is something less tasty, like an onion, garlic or salt herring.

There are a bunch of different traditional songs that people sing while beating their Caga Tió. Here’s one, from Wikipedia:

caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

This translates to:

poop log,
poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop log! Read more

Dear Santa…

This is yet another email I am sending to you. I somehow cannot give up on hope, nearly thirty years on.

How have you been?

Did you read the “Prevent Diabetes Today!” leaflet I sent to you last month? Don’t take it personally, I just saw your picture on a tin of candies. You obviously put on a little weight, didn’t you? Here is an idea for a New Year resolution 🙂

On the other hand, some diet and exercise may work miracles, especially now when you’ve found your second half. Huh! How do I know about it?

The other week some lady aged around 60 said she liked my scarf very much. It was the one you got me for last Christmas, remember? When I said I got it from you, her eyes sparkled and she smiled kindly. I am not easy to fool, so I caught the drift.

Please tell me, is it very difficult to maintain such a long distance relationship?

Anyway, as usual, please find attached a signed list of all my good deeds for 2010 (plus the last week of 2009). Last year’s lot was sent to you via email, I am afraid ‘good deeds09.xls’ bounced back to me. I realised that only this month.

I assume the recession must have hit your pocket too. Therefore I kept my wish list is as short as possible. BTW, are you cutting heads and employ fewer helpers now?

I also hope you didn’t switch to airways. The airports are not very reliable at the moment to be honest, even though the tickets are sometimes dirt-cheap. Read more

A Klingon Christmas Carol

Growing up, the cartoon version of “A Christmas Carol” was always a seasonal favorite of mine. But now I’ve found something better. As they’ve done with many other classics, including the Bible, Shakespeare and Gilgamesh, Trekkies have improved Dickens’ Christmas morality tale by translating it into Klingon.

This is actually the fourth year that “A Klingon Christmas Carol” has been performed in the US. The play is performed by the Commedia Beauregard, a theater group based in St. Paul, Minnesota. This year the performance expanded to Chicago, as well. It is the first and only full-length play ever performed in Klingon, which makes me wonder when someone will get around to performing the Klingon version of Hamlet. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Klingon version of Hamlet.)

Although there are only about 40 fluent Klingon speakers in the world, Christopher O. Kidder, the director and co-writer, explained to the Wall Street Journal that you don’t have to know the language to enjoy the play: “It’s like an opera. You know what’s happening because you already know the story.” Read more

The Legend behind the Candy Canes

Which images pop up in your mind when you hear the word “Christmas”? My guess would be red and white, Santa Claus, Christmas tree, snow, presents, fireplace, great food, family….and candy canes! These delicious candies with their weird shape and unique taste are a must during Christmas time and bring some colours in your tree or on your table. For some reason, i always thought that they came from America as they are not very popular in France as far as i know, same in England it seems. After few searches on the Internet, i realise that candy canes were first born in Germany and then mass- produced in the States years later.

Not sure if it’s a legend or the actual true story but apparently everything started about 230 years ago at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany where children who used to go there with their parents used to be very loud and noisy, never listening to the choirmaster. In order to keep them quiet, the choirmaster decided to give them some long, white, sugar candy stick. (we all know that kids would do anything for candy!) To make it funnier, he bent the candy sticks to make them look like a shepherd’s cane, such as the shepherds present at Jesus’ birth. According to the legend, that’s where come from the shape of the candy , also representing the “J” for Jesus…

In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio put candy canes on his Christmas tree and soon others were doing the same. Sometime around 1900 candy canes came to look more like what we know them as today with the red stripes and peppermint flavoring.

Finally, around 1920, a guy in Georgia named Bob McCormack, who wanted to make candy canes for his family and friends, started mass-producing candy canes for his own business which he named Bob’s Candies. This is where many of our candy canes come from today!


Today Feels Like Alaska

Around 8 inches of snow, minus 9 degrees and we are all wrapped up like we are going to spend a week in an igloo. So yeah, without a doubt, I can say that today feels like Alaska (even if I never went, I can only imagine!) except that we don’t have the beautiful mountains, the wildlife and the breath-taking lakes…other than that, I’m pretty sure that in few years, England will be the new Alaska of Europe. Suddenly I realise that I don’t know much about it except that it’s far away from where I’m at the moment and that it’s really cold. Time to change that and learn few things about this amazing US state…

  1. Alaska is one of the wealthiest nations in North America.
  2. The official language of Alaska is English. While most of the people speak in English, the other recognized languages are Native North American, Spanish, Yupik, Tagalog and Inupiaq.
  3. Alaska’s name is based on the Inuit word Alakshak, meaning great lands or peninsula.
  4. Alaska is larger than the combined area of Texas, California and Montana. It is even larger than 23 smallest U.S. states and districts, combined together.
  5. The capital of Alaska is Juneau, the only capital city in the United States that is accessible by boat or plane only.
  6. Read more

Christmas Lunch Pictures Revealed

Because i know you were really excited and impatient to discover the pictures of the Christmas lunch we had here at K yesterday, here are some. If you want to see more, don’t hesitate to take a look at our facebook page 🙂 (they are all hidden over there). Enjoy and have a great week end!

Meet our Santa!

Paul and his little helpers

Plenty of delicious food

Read more

Bon Apetit!

Today is not like the others at K, today is the day where we will be sharing many laughs around some fabulous food, exchanging our well wrapped presents, dressing up as the Santa’s little helpers and just enjoy a good time all together. Since this morning 9 am, you can feel the electric atmosphere in the office as each one of us is very excited about this special occasion, everybody placed their Santa secret present in the big box, brought their homemade meal to the kitchen and most important didn’t forget to put a smile on their face. Because Christmas is coming so close now, we decided it was time to organise a lunch to celebrate it all together. In our society, people tend to think that to be part of a family, you need to have the same blood, compatible DNA or identical colour hair…and I won’t say it’s false, but you can also feel part of a family even if you are not actually related to the people. Read more

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