Archive for the ‘French’ Category

It’s amour

Posted on February 14th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Events, French, Italian, Japanese, Research, Spanish, Words | Leave a Comment »

love heartsIt’s that time of year again, when you can’t go near a shop, magazine, or website without seeing some combination of pink, red, and the word ‘Valentine’.

This year we have a little something extra: a survey of language experts has revealed that amour is the most romantic word in the world.

The French word for love beat amore, the Italian word for love, in a poll by London-based Today Translations. The survey also found that Italian was the most romantic language, followed by French, with Spanish and English tied in third place.

And the least romantic way to profess your love? In Japanese: watakushi-wa anata-wo ai shimasu. I suppose it does look a bit wordy!

What are your favourite romantic words?

The French and their language – an update

Posted on January 10th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, French | 1 Comment »

Last October, I wrote about French and the layers of bureaucracy a new word has to face before being officially introduced into the language.

It seems that the status of the French language has become an even bigger issue in France since then, with a debate raging about national identity and language at the forefront.

Groups including Avenir de la langue française (Future of the French language) have called on the government to stop the infiltration of English influenced words, citing a recent poll that apparently showed 80% of French people think their language is crucial to national cohesion.

The debate is so heated that some workers unions have denounced dropping accents on letters (é) at France Telecom as ‘demoralising’ to workers, and the cause of suicides at the company.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose English is rudimentary, pledged to push the use of French during his presidency of Europe in last year. But Marc Favre d’Echallens, Paris head of the group Défense de la Langue Française, said the president was obsessed with making France a bi-lingual country and had not stemmed the falling use of French in the EU.

In 1997, 40 per cent of documents at the European Commission were first written in French, compared to 45 per cent in English. In 2008, the ratio had fallen to 14 per cent French versus 72 per cent English. Last year French was down to 11 per cent.

The groups are demanding a “great national debate” on defending the French language, so that its “planned assassination cannot continue in silence”. (Source: The Telegraph)

If the French could inspire people around the world to protect their own languages, we may not see so many on the endangered and extinct lists.

Happy Christmas!

Posted on December 24th, 2009by Michelle
In Arabic, English, French, German, Hints and Tips, Italian, Japanese, Language acquisition, Mandarin, Portugese, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Santa and childYesterday I posted about Christmas songs in different languages, and now it’s time to wish you a very happy Christmas, again in a few different languages! So….

Miilaad Majiid (Arabic), Joyeux Noël (French), Frohe Weinachten (German), Buon Natale (Italian), Meri Kurisumasu (Japanese), Shèng dàn kuài lè (Mandarin), Feliz Natal (Portugese), Feliz Navidad (Spanish), and finally Merry Christmas (UK)!

Try this Omniglot page for more translations in more languages, including some audio recordings.

From all of us at Language Museum, we wish you a safe and happy Christmas. See you in the New Year!

Trying out languages – 37 of them!

Posted on December 11th, 2009by Michelle
In French, Language acquisition, Spanish | 2 Comments »

For many people, choosing which language to learn is a simple decision. It comes from necessity (business or moving to a country that speaks the language), or a particular interest.

But what if you’re interested in a lot of languages?

Well, you could emulate one man who has decided to try out 37 different languages to find the one that is “perfect” for him. Keith Brooks began his project in December 2008, and has so far covered 29 languages and is on to his 30th, Turkish.

The languages he is testing are pretty diverse – Romanian, Azeri and Xhosa along with more popular ones such as Spanish and French. His blog follows his learning progress and is a worthwhile read if you’re interested in any of the languages – he provides a lot of information about their history and usage along with personal impressions of what the language is like for him.

Watch this video and hear what Brooks has to say about the project, in his own words.

Forgotten languages

Posted on October 24th, 2009by Michelle
In English, French, Language acquisition, Research, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

ForgetfulMany of us have learned a language at one time or another. For most, uninteresting compulsory classes at school meant the language was easily forgotten once exams were over.

It may be that the language has not completely disappeared though. A new study has found that participants who had learned a language as a child could remember phonemes – the smallest sounds in a language, and could quickly relearn vocabulary.

The findings, published in Psychological Science, suggest being exposed as young children to foreign languages, even if they do not continue to speak them, can have a lasting impact on speech perception.

“Even if the language is forgotten — or feels this way — after many years of disuse, leftover traces of the early exposure can manifest themselves as an improved ability to relearn the language,” the study authors said in a statement. (Source: Times of the Internet)

Anecdotally, I can say that having studied French for four years at school, I can still recall some vocabulary and full sentences, despite not having really used it for over a decade (this is a hindrance in my current attempt to learn Spanish!).

It’s bad news for lazy learners though – there’s no excuse now for not taking up that language you ‘forgot’!

The French and their language

Posted on October 16th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, French, Translation | 2 Comments »

Why French?The French are well known for being protective of their language.

At school one teacher used to tell us that the French hated English and would deliberately make new words as dissimilar to the English as possible, just to make things difficult. I’m not sure how true this is, but they definitely have a lengthy process for introducing new words to the language.

Keeping the French language relevant isn’t easy in the Internet age. For years, French bureaucrats have worked hard to keep French up to date by diligently coming up with equivalents for English terms. Though most French people say “le week-end” and “un surfer,” the correct translations of the terms are “fin de semaine” (“end of the week”) and “aquaplanchiste” (“water boarder”). A “start-up” company is referred to as “jeune pousse,” or “young shoot” (the term pousse is used for vegetable sprouts), while the World Wide Web is translated as “toile d’araignée mondiale” (literally, global spider web).

But technological advancements mean new Anglicisms are spreading over the Internet at warp speed, leaving the French scratching their heads.

Before a word such as “cloud computing” or “podcasting” (“diffusion pour baladeur”) receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister’s seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state’s General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can be a linguistic odyssey taking years.

“Rigor cannot be compromised,” said Xavier North, the 57-year-old civil servant who heads the General Delegation. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Yep, that’s right. For a new word to get the official seal of approval, it has to go through three organisations and be passed by a government minister, a process that can take years.

The right to French words is enshrined in the Constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic shall be French”. This is further upheld by laws passed in 1994, which stated that work contracts, adverts and all government documentation had to be in French. Government institutions such as la délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France (DGLFLF) and the Académie française aim to enrich and promote the language.

I can’t think of any other country or language that does anything similar to the French. With English I think it’s generally accepted that the language is ever evolving and new words are being added constantly, so there’s not enough time to keep track of them all. Even the famous Oxford English Dictionary is often behind the times – their list of new words added each year sometimes reads like a list of words that have been and gone from popular culture.

So, whilst I salute the French for attempting to preserve their language (and there are many near-extinct languages that would benefit from the same treatment), perhaps the length of time the bureaucracy takes to approve a new word may become a hindrance.

Native languages of Canada

Posted on October 11th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, French, Indigenous languages | 2 Comments »

Assembly of First NationsAfter graduating from university, I had the opportunity to live in Canada for a year.

My knowledge of the country was pretty limited, to the extent that I didn’t know it is officially bilingual (French and English). I found an article discussing efforts to preserve indigenous Canadian languages interesting. The two official languages are supplemented by a range of indigenous languages, which do not get as much attention as French. (Note: “First Nations” refers only to the Indian aboriginal people of Canada. For more information, see here.)

By official count, there are more than 50 First Nations languages across Canada.

Some are thriving.

The Cree, for example, have as many as 80,000 everyday speakers. Dozens others, though, are in danger of disappearing. In 1998, the Assembly of First Nations declared a state of language emergency.

First Nations people aren’t the only ones concerned about the vanishing words. Linguists frantic to preserve the historical tongues are furiously collecting and recording data before all those speak them pass away.

“There’s a sense of desperation, of our data disappearing before our eyes, ” laments aboriginal language expert Darin Flynn from the University of Calgary.

Southern Alberta provides an example of the dangers facing First Nation languages across the country.

The Treaty 7 languages – Tsuu T’ina, Stoney Nakoda and Blackfoot – are each at different stages of decline. (Source:

Let’s hope that all the effort put in to bilingualism in Canada will also recognise these indigenous languages. Read the full article here.

Languages at the UN

Posted on September 25th, 2009by Michelle
In Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, Translation | Leave a Comment »

I posted recently about the European Union and the difficulties faced with translating their work in to the languages of its member countries.

So how does this work on a bigger scale, with more countries involved? Somewhere like the United Nations for example. This issue was recently highlighted by Colonel Gaddafi of Libya addressing the UN General Assembly in a regional dialect.

With 192 member states and a budget of around US$4 billion, the UN is made up of five main bodies, four of which are based on international territory at the UN headquarters in New York City, USA. The UN has six official languages – English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. When delivering a speech at the UN, speakers are supposed to talk in one of these languages.

…U.N. interpreters then translate the lecture into the other five languages. If the speaker doesn’t use an official language—either as a political statement or because he doesn’t know one—the speaker has to bring along his own interpreter. That interpreter then translates into one of the official languages—usually English or French—and the other interpreters translate from that interpretation. (Qaddafi brought his own interpreter.) Alternatively, the speaker can provide a written translation of his speech in one of the official languages, as long as he doesn’t deviate from the text in his remarks.

The United Nations uses simultaneous interpretation, which means translating on the fly without breaks (as opposed to consecutive interpretation, in which the speaker and translator alternate). At any given moment, the U.N. Interpretation Service has a dozen interpreters working six booths—one for every official language. The pair of interpreters in the English booth translates into English, the French booth translates into French, and so on. Attendees can then listen to the interpretations on headphones, clicking across channels for different languages. The job is exhausting, so interpreters will usually switch off every 20 minutes or so. They can also take breaks when the speech is in their language, since no translation is necessary. (Source: Slate Magazine)

To read more about interpreting at the UN, read the rest of the article at Slate Magazine here.

A pirate’s life for ye?

Posted on September 19th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Events, French, German, Mandarin, Pirate, Swedish | Leave a Comment »

Talk_Like_a_Pirate_DayAhoy, me hearties! Shiver me timbers, it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Created in 1995, Talk Like A Pirate Day (TLAPD) started between two friends, and went nationwide in America (and then international) after being promoted by syndicated humour columnist Dave Barry, in 2002. From an idea between friends, the day has grown into a huge ‘holiday’, celebrated by pirate (and fun) loving people all over the world.

So why celebrate? Well, first and foremost, it’s very amusing to try and talk in pirate all day! Not only will you be learning a new language (albeit of limited use), you can raise money for charity by doing so. Check out some of the events here and here. As a truly international day, you can also learn how to talk like a pirate in Swedish, German, French, and Mandarin Chinese.

Aarrr! Want to celebrate but got a problem with your pirate-speak? Check out the video below of the founders of TLAPD to learn some of the basics of pirate lingo. And if you need a bit of a hand translating more difficult phrases, set your Google to Pirate and search away! You can also try out the Facebook English (Pirate) option, but sadly you can’t do the same on Twitter yet.

A-pirating we go!

Plane translation

Posted on September 13th, 2009by Michelle
In English, French, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Wrong translationWhen a translation goes wrong, it normally results in laughter rather than anything more serious (see this list of humorous ads for example). But sometimes the incorrect words have consequences, as an airline found out recently.

French passengers on an Aer Lingus Dublin-Paris flight were thrown into panic when a faulty announcement told them the plane was about to make an emergency landing, the airline said Friday.

An English-language announcement 20 minutes after leaving Dublin said the plane was heading into turbulence, asking passengers to return to their seats — but the pre-recorded French version said they were about to ditch.

One passenger told the Irish Examiner newspaper that a French man who was dozing next to him suddenly woke up and looked very startled.

“He translated what had been said to me. The message, he said, was that we should prepare for an emergency landing, note where the emergency exits were and await instructions from the captain.

“As there was turbulence as well I got quite alarmed. The woman behind me was crying.

“All the French freaked out,” he said.(Source: Google News)

Not being a huge fan of flying myself, I can imagine the horror the French passengers felt when they heard this announcement. Let’s hope they saw the funny side of the error in the end!