Archive for the ‘French’ Category

The third official language of the London Olympics… Cockney Rhyming Slang!

Posted on March 28th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English, Events, French | 3 Comments »

NewsBiscuit seems to be coming up with some great language-related satirical news at the moment. Last month there was Nicolas Sarkozy admitting that French is a hoax, and now an article announces that Cockney Rhyming Slang is to be the third official language of the 2012 London Olympics.

The origins of Cockney Rhyming Slang are in the East End of London, the site for many Olympic venues. Organisers of the Games often talk about the ‘local legacy’ of the Olympics.

‘The inclusion of rhyming slang forms a key part of the celebration of the local culture. It will add a real sense of fun to proceedings with local marshals offering directions and answering queries in their finest cockney,’ explained Lord Coe. ‘OK, the more fluent guides may hinder more than help at times, but you never know its origins as a means for residents to communicate freely without interlopers understanding might come in handy if Olympic officials and other VIPs need to be on their toes to Steve Cram [scram] down the Sally [Gunnell -- Blackwall Tunnel] in the event of a suspected Roger [Black -- terrorist attack].’ (Source: NewsBiscuit)

English and French are the two official languages of the Games, and there was a small outcry last year when it was announced that French would take precedence over English during Olympic fortnight. Perhaps Cockney is the solution??

French language “a hoax”

Posted on February 25th, 2011by Michelle
In French | 1 Comment »

An amusing article from NewsBiscuit (“the news before it happens”) has French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitting that the French language is “a one thousand year old hoax”.

Apparently French is complete gibberish and all French people really speak English, except in front of British people of course. From the article:

During a speech given in received pronunciation, the French President came clean, stating that it all started off as a joke during William the Conquerer’s invasion to make the aggressors seem a bit more exotic. “What was initially a prank snowballed and after a few years we realised we’d look silly revealing the truth, so we had to keep up the façade,” said the Premier. “In the company of any Brits we would try to make convincingly “French” sounds, a mixture of guttural grunts and rapid-fire syllables.

But as soon as we were on our own we’d all heave a huge sigh of relief and revert to English. We developed a heavy reliance on hand gestures to cover up when we ran out of likely noises, and the shrug was a particular boon if inspiration dried up. In the end we became quite the raconteurs, with an impressive array of supposed vocabulary. So what began as a game for the élites, became a hobby across all levels of society, and it shocked us that the Brits were so naïve as to not see through the charade.”

It’s certainly nice to poke some fun at languages for a change!

The benefits of a second language

Posted on February 6th, 2011by Michelle
In French, Language acquisition, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

There’s an interesting opinion piece in The Observer today about the demise of the study of French in universities in the UK, and why this should not be allowed to happen.

A lot of the writer’s arguments could also be applied to other languages. French isn’t just spoken in France, it’s spoken in countries as far apart as Canada and Senegal – Spanish is an example of another language whose speakers are spread all over the world. So just as the French of Senegal won’t be the same of the French of Quebec, so the Spanish spoken in Spain isn’t the same as spoken in Peru – different cultures and different meanings.

I also like what Hussey has to say about the benefits of studying another language:

What studying French has really done for me is to provide me with a new mental landscape. French writing, from Voltaire to Sartre to Houellebecq, has a hard, confrontational edge to it, driven by big ideas, which does not exist in the same way in the English-speaking world. This is why French literature has appealed to English writers of a certain “outsider” stripe, from George Orwell to Will Self. This is a political phenomenon as much as anything else. For a working-class intellectual (which was how I rather cockily fancied myself as a student) to speak and understand French is to short-circuit many of the stupidities of class prejudice in the UK.

Studying another language not only enables you to connect with speakers of that language, it allows you to “access the world beyond the Anglosphere”. You may learn something new – you may start to see the world in a different way. So what are you waiting for?

Talk to the Snail

Posted on September 20th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, French, Hints and Tips | Leave a Comment »

Continuing my occasional series of reviewing language books, here’s a slightly less serious one than before – Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke.

Clarke’s witty book doesn’t deal with subjects as weighty as dying languages; instead he tackles (as the book’s subtitle says) Ten Commandments for Understanding the French. Through themed chapters such as ‘Thou Shalt Be Wrong’ and ‘Thou Shalt Not Be Served’, readers are guided through how to get what they want from the French.

Helpfully each chapter ends with a list of phrases (including phonetic spellings) for visitors to France to use to get their way. Clarke clearly adores the French, for all their idiosyncratic ways, and gently mocks the national character throughout the book whilst providing handy tips on say, how to get served in a restaurant.

Definitely aimed at the British – a number of stereotypes are used) – the book is a good read, and perhaps a good accompaniment, to any trip across the Channel.

Live translation event

Posted on June 9th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English, Events, French, Translation, Words | Leave a Comment »

Over at the LanguageHat blog I saw a post about a live translation event taking place as part of the London Review Bookshop’s World Literature Weekend.

The challenge has been set by the francophone novelist Alain Mabanckou – two translators will offer up their translation of his short text, and then discuss and debate the differences with the author and each other. The idea is to bring out aspects of the text that aren’t normally paid attention to as well as paying attention to the process of translation itself.

Audience members will receive a copy of the French text as well as the two English translations to help them follow along.

The event is being held at the British Museum in London on Saturday 19th June. Definitely looks well worth attending!

Google Goggles helps you translate

Posted on May 20th, 2010by Michelle
In English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

goggles_translationA cool new application from Google will soon be able to help you translate from written words.

Google Goggles users can point their phone at a word or phrase they wish to have translated, and then fine-tune their onscreen selection to a smaller area. Using the phone’s camera, the application will recognise the language and give you an option to translate it. This makes the application perfect for globetrotters – whether you need a menu or sign translated, you can do so without the hassle of searching through a guide book or dictionary.

The application can only translate languages based on the Latin alphabet such as English, French, Italian, German and Spanish at the moment, but once the text is captured it can be quickly translated to other languages. Google are apparently confident that other languages, including Chinese, Arabic and Hindi will soon be added to the app.

Whilst the app is free, you’ll need a mobile device running Android 1.6 or higher. I’ll definitely be giving this a try on my trip to Italy next month!

Top 10 internet languages

Posted on March 28th, 2010by Michelle
In Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portugese, Research, Russian, Spanish, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Graph of Top 10 languagesThe internet is a great resource for language learning, but only if you can find the information you need.

Good news for English speakers and language learners as English is the language most used by internet users. According to research by Internet World Stats, English is the language used by almost 30% of users. This is quite closely followed by Chinese and then Spanish. Japanese, French, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Russian and Korean round out the top 10.

Keeping this in mind, try out this game to see if you can guess the world’s top 20 most spoken languages. I think the number one will surprise you!

French Language Day

Posted on March 19th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Events, French, UN Language Days | Leave a Comment »

FrenchOn February 21st I posted about International Mother Language Day, and mentioned that the UN was also launching a new initiative called UN Language Days.

Well, today is the first of those days, with the French language being celebrated.

“French, as a working language of the UN and one that is spoken on all continents, plays an important role in spreading the message of the United Nations in the world,” said Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Public Information (DPI) and Coordinator for Multilingualism at the UN. (Source: UN)

Here are a few facts about French to help get you started with your celebration:

    Around 75 million people speak French as their mother tongue
    Apart from the UN, French is used as an official working language in many organisations – including Amnesty International, the International Olympic Committee, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Criminal Court
    There are 16 vowels in French

International Mother Language Day 2010

Posted on February 21st, 2010by Michelle
In Arabic, Chinese, English, Events, French, Russian, Spanish | 1 Comment »

Today is International Mother Language Day, designated as such by UNESCO in 1999 and first celebrated in 2000. Observed yearly by UNESCO member states, the day aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The day has its origins in Language Movement Day, which was first commemorated in Bangladesh in 1952. Each year has a theme, with this year being the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. Previous themes have included International Year of Languages (2008) and Linguistic Diversity (2002).

This year, in conjunction with International Mother Language Day, the UN will launch a new initiative called UN Language Days. These seek to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, two of the aims of Mother Language Day. It also aims to promote equal use of all six of the UN’s official working languages – Chinese, English, Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic – through six new observance days.

UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova noted in her message for the Day:

“Languages are the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without exclusion, of societies and all of their members,” she said. (Source: UN)

Olympic-size language issues

Posted on February 16th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Events, French, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Winter OlympicsI’ve been having a lot of fun staying up late and watching the Winter Olympics coverage, especially as I used to live in beautiful Vancouver.

Away from curious events such as skeleton, however, controversy is brewing over the bilingual nature of the Games. Canada is officially bilingual, with one in four of the population identifying French as their mother tongue. In British Columbia though, where the Games are being held, there is a much lower rate of French spoken and scepticism about the country’s policy of two official languages.

Olympic organisers have made a huge effort to ensure the bilingualism of the Games, with bilingual signs in the Olympic zone, translation of official events including news conferences, and recruitment of French-speaking volunteers.

Yet all those efforts failed to avert controversy, as many residents of French-speaking Quebec – and the federal Cabinet minister with the language portfolio – complained that the opening ceremony had too little French content for a country where it’s the mother tongue of about 23 percent of the population.

“I was disappointed there wasn’t as much French as we were expecting, as we were told that there was going to be,” Heritage Minister James Moore told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday.

Harsher criticism came from the president of the Montreal-based Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, which advocates for Francophone rights.

“It was really pitiful,” Mario Beaulieu said. “It shows that official bilingualism in Canada is a farce. It’s only stated in theory to calm linguistic tides in Quebec, but the reality is it doesn’t work.” (Source: Washington Post)

The Olympics is a huge event, attracting people from all over the globe. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) retains French as one of its operating languages (the movement was founded by a Frenchman) despite the language becoming less globally dominant. It’s a shame that the focus is on a negative aspect of the Games, rather than what’s really important – the crazy sports!