Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

6 Famous Sights to See in the City of Paris!

Posted on February 12th, 2014by Melanie
In Culture, French, Speech | Leave a Comment »

What better way to put your French lessons to use than by visiting the beautiful city of Paris? There’s so much to see and do that you will be spoilt for choice, and we have put together a list of the top 6 attractions to help you make the most out of your trip.

file2531287236318 1. Eiffel Tower

As the most iconic feature in Paris, climbing the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower should be top of your list of things to do! Towering 300 metres over the city, the spectacular view will reward you for your efforts. You can take some amazing photos to show your friends back home, and point out the places you’re going to visit during the rest of your trip.

paris_28447232. Champs-Élysées

This famous street in Paris is the perfect place to ‘people watch’ while you enjoy a drink in a café. You can see the historical buildings and architectural styles which line the street on either side, and it’s a paradise for shoppers. Buy a baguette (French bread) from a boulangerie (baker) and a cake from a pâtisserie (cake shop), wander around un grand magasin (a department store) and get some souvenirs in un magasin de souvenirs (a souvenir shop).

arc-de-triomphe-4_28836763. Arc de Triomphe

Standing at the end of the Champs-Élysées the Arc de Triomphe is a commemorative monument for fallen soldiers. Take the 234 steps to the top and enjoy the sights of the city, adding more photos to your holiday collection.

file0007220034954. Louvre Pyramid

For the more refined tourist, you don’t get much better than the art collection in the Louvre. This famous museum is home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, and is situated in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace. The Louvre Pyramid itself is a fantastic sight to see, let alone the artwork displayed beneath it.

sacre-coeur_211936715. Montmartre

If seeing modern artists at work is more your style then a trip to Montmartre won’t disappoint! The Place du Tertre is filled with artists and you can pick up some great souvenirs while you’re there. Talk to the locals and soak up the atmosphere of this lively neighbourhood. The Sacré-Coeur sits at the top of Montmartre and the gravestones of many artists can be seen in Montmartre Cemetery.

bone-texture-5_211489986. Catacombs

For a burial place with a difference, step underneath the city and walk along the network of tunnels, known as the Catacombs, to see the macabre displays of skeletal remains from about 6 million people. This famous burial site is both morbid and fascinating, and is sure to be a highlight of your trip!

Make the most of your French holiday by really immersing yourself into your surroundings and using your French lessons to their full potential. You’ll get much more out of your trip by speaking in French whenever you can, whether you’re ordering food, asking for information or chatting to a local about what it’s like to live in the exciting city of Paris.

What other attractions can you recommend while visiting Paris? Any particular restaurants, famous shows, landmarks or museums? What would you consider to be an unmissable part of a sightseeing trip in the French capital?

The 3 Most Popular Events in Spain

Posted on January 27th, 2014by Melanie
In Culture, Events, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

The Spanish are known for their love of partying with fiestas, festivals and celebrations for pretty much every occasion. You can’t miss out on these spectacles when you’re travelling through Spain if you really want to get a feel of how the Spanish live. Whether you go to local events or the big national ones, you can fully immerse yourself into the atmosphere. While you’re there, learn the names for the events and phrases associated with them.

1. Semana Santa

Photo by Mataparda

Photo by Mataparda

Semana Santa is Holy Week celebrated at Easter and transforms each area with huge processions. Whilst somewhat intimidating when seen for the first time, this is a spectacle you won’t want to miss! The processions are led by the religious brotherhoods, also known as penitentes (penitent ones) dressed in robes, capes and cone shaped head gear. They may look sinister but their outfits have religious meaning as does every aspect of the ritual including massive floats carried by the participants. Join the crowds of onlookers for this spectacular scene!

2. La Tomatina

Photo by A.

Photo by A.

Be prepared to get messy in this bizarre festival! A massive food fight takes place in the town of Bunol, Valencia, every year. Thousands of people flock to the town in order to take part in the event. A week of festivities includes a paella cooking contest, fireworks, music, dancing and parades. A greased wooden pole of two storeys high is topped with a ham and contestants try to reach the prize before the tomato fight begins. Invariably, the prized ham is never reached so the water cannons herald the start of the ensuing chaos! Large over ripe tomatoes are hurled everywhere and at everyone for an hour until the whole town is drenched in tomato pulp!


3. Carnival

2670107The Carnival in Spain is a raucous event of partying which includes drinking, dancing, beauty pageants, contests and masquerading from dusk until dawn. The wild event is held all over Spain but the most extravagant one takes place each year in Tenerife which runs a close second to the one in Rio de Janeiro. It is the biggest of the Carnival festivals in Europe and the main event is the crowning of the Queen of the Carnival chosen from girls parading in their flamboyant costumes. Make you make time during your travels to take part in the masquerades and dancing!

Have fun with the locals during your Spanish trip and practise your language skills while you’re partying! Take a refresher course before you leave to get the most out of your holiday. What festivals, fiestas and celebrations have you seen in Spain and which ones can you recommend to other travellers?

Festivities for Foreign Languages

Posted on December 15th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Events, Speech | Leave a Comment »

We’re always hearing about how Britain’s falling behind in the language stakes compared with our European neighbours; that we’re a nation lacking in motivation and conviction when it comes to learning new languages. The news keeps reminding us about how the younger generation are failing to step up in their language studies at school, and other media outlets remind us about how we´re missing out in the global job market due to our lack of lingual knowledge.

With so much pessimism around, what a good job there are events like the British Academy’s Language Festival to bolster the Brits back up! This month-long event is hosted as a celebration of language learning and as a way to encourage Brits to take up the language learning challenge in order to reduce our monolinguistic mentality.

All across the UK, schools, universities and policy makers have been getting together to highlight the benefits that foreign languages have, not just for us as individuals but for our nation as a whole. Novel ways have been used to promote languages to try and get people interested in what is otherwise often just considered to be too much hard work.

Innovative Events to Encourage Language Learning

One group commandeered the kitchen of a Pizza Express restaurant and held a fun workshop where pizza making lessons were given by an Italian.  A sixth form group held a tortilla making contest and described how they cooked them in Spanish. The staff from a rental company, which recently started to operate internationally, held a social event where they all took along an international dish, and it was a chance for the different nationalities working there to not only show off their cooking skills (for those who didn’t cheat and pop out to the local supermarket!) but to show off their cultures. In keeping with the food theme, a Bake Off-style competition of foreign foods was held where participants learned recipes in Spanish and French and their efforts were then judged by a panel. Another initiative collected short stories from across the age groups of people’s experiences with the languages they had learned and how they’d affected their lives. People who only spoke English stopped to listen to these stories and realised why learning another language mattered. A language project called Lift (Language: Inspiring Futures Together) has been launched by a sixth form college where students are hosting language road shows, visiting local schools to talk about the benefits of learning languages and supporting students who are currently studying them.

Place Blame or Boost Confidence?

It’s not just for the employment sector that the importance of learning foreign languages keeps being impressed upon us. There’s no doubt that Brits are missing out on linguistic employment opportunities across the UK as well as globally, but languages also open us up to new experiences and cultures, and speaking other languages boosts our self-confidence and makes us more adaptable.

Instead of blame being apportioned towards the educational sector or Brits being blamed for their lack of motivation, the aim of the British Academy’s Language Festival is to stimulate people’s interest in language learning and to encourage organizations to promote languages and cultures in engaging ways by launching social initiatives and supporting new partnerships. Businesses need to take more responsibility towards their staff and support them with language learning initiatives, and more support needs to be given to local communities.

Did you take part in the British Academy’s Language Festival? What events did you come across or get involved with? Now that you’ve been bitten by the language bug, it’s time for you to be proactive and put that enthusiasm to good use!

Good Times in Germany: Three Popular Activities to Take Part In

Posted on December 11th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Events, German | Leave a Comment »

Shopping, eating, drinking and sightseeing…these activities are enjoyed by most of us, but none do it in quite the same style as the Germans! Here are three recommend activities for you to try during your trip to Germany. You’ll see from some of the references that, whilst German and English both belong to the West Germanic family of languages, the words couldn’t be more different in the way they sound and how they are written. So, if you’re planning a trip to Germany, polish up on your pronunciation before you go!

1.      German Christmas Markets

If you’re lucky enough to visit Germany at the end of November to December, you’ll be able to get into the Christmas spirit by visiting a German Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt). Soak up the magical atmosphere of these traditional markets while you shop for genuine handcrafted items, drink mulled wine (glühwein), taste the baked apples and smell the hot chestnuts. Kids will enjoy the gingerbread biscuits, known as Lebkuchen, and marzipan sweets. Christmas markets are dotted around all over the country, from spectacular city markets to smaller, more romantic village markets.

Six Christmas markets are held in Cologne each year, including a floating Christmas market on the Rhine, and a vast market where hundreds of stalls line the brightly lit streets and Rhineland’s largest Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) is proudly displayed. The one held at Rudolfplatz, next to the medieval gate houses, holds a special Brothers Grimm street parade each year with giant costumed characters. Heinzelmannchen Gnomes are said to keep watch over the markets to make sure that everything offered there is genuine. So for traditional German handicrafts, good food and an amazing atmosphere, the German Christmas markets will take some beating!

2.      Beer Festivals 219

Now that you’ve done all that hard work of Christmas shopping you must be exhausted, so some light refreshment is just what you need! An ice-cold glass (and a very large one at that) of German beer (bier) will be waiting for you to gulp down in one of the many cosy taverns. With their popular beers being sold worldwide, Germans certainly knows how to drink it in style.

For a lively night out, visit the world’s most famous beer hall, Hofbräuhaus, in Munich where you’ll soak up the atmosphere as well as copious beers served in one litre glasses while listening to live music with about 4,500 other people! If one beer hall is just not enough to satisfy you, then the 14 halls at Oktoberfest surely will! Wash sausage and sauerkraut down with your Oktoberfest beer as you take part in the world’s largest fair.

3.      The Black Forest 22 June 2006</p>
<p>A village on the edge of the Black Forest

If something a little quieter is on your agenda, then the rolling hills of the Black Forest are for you. Schwarzwald is full of lush forests, tiny villages and valleys. Take in the scenery as you drive through or maybe hire a bike to blow the cobwebs away. One of the most popular tours is German Clock Road where you can delve into the history of the cuckoo clock (Kuckucksuhr). Or sample some German grapes along the Wine Route (weinstraße). Whatever you do though, don’t leave the area without trying some of its namesake, some delicious Black Forest gâteau! Bite into a gorgeous slice of chocolate, kirsch, cherries and cream to make your trip complete.

Are you ready to make all these activities a part of your life? Then get ready to make these German words part of your vocabulary! Have a good time with the locals by practising your German before you go.

What other must-see attractions can you recommend in Germany?


10 Things You Must See When You Travel to Spain

Posted on December 2nd, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Historic, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

You think of Spain and immediately the phrase ‘Sun, sand and sangria’ pops into your head; but that’s not all that Spain has to offer. Here are the top ten places for you to visit in this fascinating country:

1. Alhambra

You can’t visit Spain without going to the stunning Alhambra. You can tick both ‘culture’ and ‘history’ off of your checklist once you’ve seen the exquisite ‘Red Castle’ in all its splendour, and you’ll soon realize why it’s Spain’s top tourist destination.

2. Mezquita de Cordoba

You’ll get a crick in your neck from staring up at the shining columns of jasper, marble, onyx and granite as you wander through them; the Mezquita de Cordoba won’t fail to dazzle you.

El Escorial3. El Escorial

You’ve done the historical bit, the cultural bit, the scenic bit…how about something a bit morbid and gross? In the mausoleum of El Escorial, near the capital of Madrid, you visit the crypt and see all of the marble coffins that hold the bones of the kings and queens of Spain. If that’s not creepy enough for you, knowing that you’re only a few steps away from the ‘rotting room’ might be!

4. Sagrada Família

It’s hard to miss this sight! You’ll love the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona but you’ll be awestruck at the Sagrada Família. The bizarre and dramatic neo-Gothic style Roman Catholic church is like no other building you will have ever seen…no, really! It’s not actually finished, so take some pics now and then come back to Spain again later to see how they’re getting along.

5. Ibiza

If you like to party, Ibiza is the place to be! As the clubbing capital of the world, it has an unmatched party scene and you’ll want to be a part of it. Loud music, thronging crowds and the top clubs; kick back and party!

6. Cuenca

Visit the medieval city of Cuenca to see the bizarre ‘hanging houses’. Situated between Madrid and Valencia, the houses have been precariously built right on the edges of the steep cliffs, appearing to hang on to them. If you’re brave enough, you can even stand on the balcony of one!

7. Aqueduct of Segovia

It’s hard to imagine how this was built in the first place, let alone how it’s still standing, but the ancient Aqueduct of Segovia was made from 24,000 massive granite blocks without using any mortar! You can take some great photos of this awesome ‘balancing’ monument to show your friends when you get back home…but maybe don’t stand underneath it, just in case.

8. La Concha

For beach-lovers, La Concha in San Sebastian is the place to go! If you’re planning on sunbathing in Spain then the best city beach in Europe has to be top of your list. So get your sun cream, shades and sunbed ready for a day of chilled out tanning.

9. Palacio Real de Madrid

For some family snaps of the royals, try the Palacio Real of Madrid. You´ll be gobsmacked at the luxury in the palace. Although it’s their official residence, the Spanish Royal Family only really use it for state ceremonies, so you might have to make do with a postcard of them instead.

10. Guggenheim Museum

For a spectacular sight in Bilbao, make sure you see the Guggenheim Museum. This bizarre looking building has an extraordinary style that you won’t want to miss.


Spain has customs steeped in tradition yet it caters for a tourist market, allowing you to explore the culture and history of Spain while having fun in the sun. Spaniards are very hospitable people and you’ll be made to feel very welcome in this country of contrasts; but if you want to experience the country like a true local, give the language a go – brush up on your Spanish skills, pack your suitcase, hop on a plane and head straight for Spain!

Have you ever visited any of these Spanish must-sees? Would you add anything to our list?

Universally Speaking

Posted on November 9th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Language acquisition, Speech | Leave a Comment »

Universally SpeakingThere have been many discussions and lots of speculation about the possibility of a universal language. Globalization has broadened our horizons while at the same time making the world seem a lot smaller. With the need for improved and increased communication between countries, the trend for learning languages has grown considerably. So much so, that the subject of creating a universal language has become a hot topic. But what exactly would this mean?

The Pros and Cons

Well for a start, it would simplify communications between countries. There would be no more language barriers and therefore nothing to stop progress being made in any situation. A universal language would eliminate any translation errors, saving a lot of time, money and embarrassment. But with each of these languages comes a unique culture, and discontinuing the use of these in favour of a new uniform language will destroy those cultures and what makes each country special and diverse in its own right. We´ll no longer have such a sense of national pride, and a feeling of conformity for more than just our language may arise.

It’s still too early to see which side of the debate will win with this question, but the pros and cons for each are considerable ones. In the meantime, we are free to study and speak the languages we love for our own reasons and, in the immediate future at least, the boom in language learning will continue to increase. What are your views on speaking a universal language, and what pros and cons can you think of for having one?


Be Fluent in Less Than a Day!

Posted on October 6th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

LingalaFrom a trip to the Congo to study chimpanzees for the National Geographic to a conversation with a pygmy, Joshua Foer is now able to converse in Lingala, the lingua franca of the Congo basin, which he learned in just 22 hours. So how did that happen?

During his trip, Joshua stayed with a local tribe, the Mbendjele pygmies, and got to know them with the help of a translator. On his return home, he decided to take a new direction with his career and vowed to visit the tribe again but this time to stay with them and immerse himself completely in their lifestyle and culture. This meant learning the language universally spoken across northern Congo – Lingala – albeit not the first language of the pygmies.

With only a 1963 edition of the US Foreign Service Institute handbook and a scanned copy of the Lingala-English dictionary which consisted on 1,109 words, Joshua used a learning technique to get to grips with the language. Using a combination of mnemonics and an app resembling the fun of online gaming, Joshua was able to learn the 1,000 most common words of Lingala. Over the course of 10 weeks, the total time spent on learning added up to just 22 hours and 15 minutes, with 20 minutes being the longest period he’d spent studying the language at any one time and 4 minutes being the average time.

The trip back to the village showed his linguistic studies to be a success as he was able to converse with the tribe without the aid of a translator. So it just goes to show that you really can learn a language in under 24 hours!

What techniques have you used to help you learn a language? Would you, like Joshua, be up for the challenge of learning a foreign language in such a short space of time?

Is Anybody Out There?

Posted on July 17th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Historic, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Golden RecordAre we alone in the universe? Who knows; but it would be naive of us to think so. And what would happen if we discovered we´re not alone? If we ever did encounter an alien species, the first stumbling block to overcome would be communication. We´d have to find a way to understand each other’s languages.

Two unmanned probes were launched by NASA over 30 years ago: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were sent to investigate the larger planets of Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn, beaming back images and data for us to analyse. They continued travelling further and Voyager 1 is now 10.5 billion miles away from Earth and Voyager 2 is 8.6 billion miles away. The mission has been successful so far…with one odd occurrence a few years ago.

Despite no previous disruptions, on 22nd April 2010, Voyage 2 suddenly started transmitting odd messages. The usual data streams which had been consistent for three decades were suddenly being transmitted in an unknown data format. The scientists at NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) were unable to fathom out their meaning or the reason for this unexplained change as all of the other systems on the probe seemed to be functioning correctly. Hartwig Hausdorf, a German academic, concluded that alien life forms had taken over the probe in an attempt to make contact with us. Seem too far-fetched? Maybe not…

The space probes were never just intended for exploration. Both of them were fitted with a Golden Record, a phonograph record containing sounds and images of life on Earth in 55 languages, intended as greetings for extraterrestrial life forms or for humans in the future. So maybe the possibility of making contact with alien life isn´t such a stretch of the imagination after all. Whether you´re hoping for a future exchange of dialogue with an extraterrestrial, planning on striking up a conversation with a resident alien of the human kind, or simply interested in the challenge of learning a new language that´s alien to you, get out of your comfort zone and take a leap into the unknown!

It´s All About Italia!

Posted on June 30th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Italian, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

ItaliaWhat springs to mind when you think of Italy? Their delicious handmade pizzas of funghi, quattro stagioni and capricciosa. The fresh pasta dishes such as cannelloni, spaghetti carbonara, gnocchi and ravioli. Or perhaps it´s their famous ice cream, gelato.

Their beautiful artwork by inspired artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo is breathtaking. The magnificent ancient architectural sites such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Baths of Diocletian, the Trevi Fountain and the Leaning Tower of Pisa can´t fail to impress.

The warm climate certainly appeals as does the warmth and passion of the Italians themselves. Then there´s the romance as told in tales of old such as Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you´re struck with their flare for fashion from famous fashion designers and labels such as Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Fendi and Versace, or crave a luxury Italian sports car such as a Ferrari, a Maserati or a Bugatti.

With so many positive attributes, it´s hard not to fall in love with Italy and everything about it. Why not take it a step further and start having Italian lessons in London or a city near you. While you´re dreaming about all of the places you´re going to see and about everything you´re going to do when you get the chance to go to Italy, you can hone your Italian language skills and get ready to impress the locals with your linguistic capabilities! Buona fortuna!

Accidental Insensitivity

Posted on December 19th, 2012by jake
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

The Oxford English Dictionary has come under fire for choosing ‘bloodbath’ as its word of the day. The word has been deemed insensitive and ill timed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings which claimed the lives of 27 people. The OED released a statement explaining that:

“The timing of today’s word is a coincidence of the worst kind, and we apologize for any distress or upset caused by what might seem to be a highly insensitive choice,” [...] “What we hope to show with our words of the day is that even seemingly commonplace words can have interesting etymologies; however we have taken today’s word down from the OED Online homepage and are now taking immediate steps to review our scheduling and selection policy.”

This has not been the first case of accidental insensitivity with many news reports condemning gun advertisements being placed next to reports of the shootings.

via: Global Post