Archive for the ‘Hints and Tips’ Category

A parliamentary grammar debate

Posted on February 7th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Hints and Tips, Latin, Words | 1 Comment »

It’s good to see that important issues are being debated in the British Parliament. The war in Afghanistan, MPs’ expenses … and grammar?

A recent debate, an extract of which was published in Hansard’s 19th January issue, shows two MP’s having a tiff over the correct plural of ‘referendum’.

Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): [. . . ] There is no country keener on referendums than Switzerland.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Referenda.

Mr MacShane: Referendums. It is a gerund.

Mr Fabricant: It is a gerundive.

Mr MacShane: It is a gerund. Keep your hair on. [. . . ]

Michael Fabricant: [later in the debate, after checking in the dictionary] The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr.MacShane) may have inadvertently misled the House earlier, and I am sure that he would wish to retract that. As the word “referendum” means “things to be referred”, according to the “Oxford English Dictionary”, it is indeed a gerundive and therefore the plural should be “referenda”. “Referendums” is acceptable in modern usage, though wrong.

Hon. Members: Withdraw!

A tad confused? The Independent explains:

But, should you need to ask, Mr Mount confirms that a gerund has no plural form in Latin, therefore if “referendum” were a gerund, you could not say “referenda”, but since it is in fact a gerundive, “referenda” is correct. Correct, if a little pretentious. But I expect you already knew that.

That’s all sorted then.

Repeat, repeat, repeat!

Posted on January 23rd, 2010by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Repetition is a great way to improve your language skills and familiarise yourself with your chosen language. In class, a teacher will often go over the same words in different ways – so you are hearing and repeating the words often and hopefully fixing them in your brain (creating neural pathways, if you want to be scientific about it!).

Outside of class, it’s also helpful to use this technique. You could repeat vocabulary lists to yourself, or write them down, but this may soon become boring. When you are bored, you stop noticing things, and stop learning.

Try listening to audio books, radio, music and television in the language you are learning. Some content may be more appealing than others. Find some things you like a repeat them over and over. You will soon find yourself recognising more words and sentences. Once you are bored or think you have learned all you can, switch to something different.

The key here though, is to not switch too much. You need to find a balance between what you find interesting and acquiring the knowledge or creating the pathways in your brain.

Happy New Year: Goals and Targets!

Posted on January 8th, 2010by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Spanish | 1 Comment »

Goal settingI hope everyone had very happy holidays, and welcome to 2010 at Language Museum!

Normally I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I think this year it’s time to make one that will benefit me not just this year but in years to come. Last year I started to learn Spanish, and this year I think it’s time to accelerate that learning.

So, I’m rededicating myself to the cause, and plan to improve both my language learning skills, and my knowledge of the language itself.
To this end, I’ve set myself some goals.

1) To attend Spanish classes at a beginner level.
2) Aim to move to beginner-intermediate level classes by the end of the year.
3) Outside of class, complete homework to the best of my ability.
4) Practice speaking the language at every opportunity.
5) Seek out opportunities to use Spanish – listening, speaking, reading and writing.
6) Learn to read basic texts – children’s books, short stories, newspaper articles.

Hopefully it will help to write down my goals, review and revise them throughout the year. Goal setting is a great way to measure your progress in learning a language, whether you do this individually or in conjunction with a teacher.

It’s also a good idea to have both short-term and long-term goals – for instance, one of my long-term goals is to read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind in the original. To achieve this goal though, I have set myself the short and medium-term goals listed above. They are the steps I will take to get to the bigger goal.

What are your language learning goals? What is your long-term ambition?

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!

Christmassy language learning

Posted on December 23rd, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, Events, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Spanish, te reo Maori | Leave a Comment »

Christmas is pretty ubiquitous in the Western world, with Christmas songs being especially difficult to avoid.

Having spent the last few Christmases overseas, I’ve been interested to hear songs in different languages. For example, in New Zealand there are Maori versions of many traditional carols, such as Märie te pö (Silent Night). Another popular favourite is A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree (sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas).

In Spain, carols are called villancicos. As well as many songs that have been translated from English, traditional Spanish villancicos include Campana Sobre Campana. Another more modern popular song is Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano.

Songs are a great way to pick up new vocabulary, and this is a great way to get into the festive spirit as well as learning more about cultural aspects of your chosen language.

My favourite Christmas song is I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizzard. What’s yours?

Subtitles aid language learning

Posted on December 10th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, German, Hints and Tips, Japanese, Language acquisition, Research, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I posted about a language, Na’vi, that was created for a movie.

Invented languages aren’t the only ones you can learn from films though – they’re a great way to improve your skills in your chosen language, be it Spanish, German or Japanese.

There’s a huge range of movies out there in every genre, so there’s something to interest everyone – from big budget Hollywood blockbusters to Japanese anime flicks. Sometimes the accents are a problem though, or perhaps the words are too unfamiliar to completely follow the plot.

That’s where subtitles become useful. A new study has shown that second-language listening ability can be improved by watching movies with subtitles in the second language. The research, published in the online science journal PLoS One, shows that foreign subtitles can help with speech perception, whilst native language subtitles may hinder this. The written word appears to help the learner perceive the speech more accurately as they can draw on previous knowledge of similar words.

So, next time you’re watching a foreign language movie, why not try switching the subtitles?


Posted on December 4th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I posted the news that ‘Twitter’ was made Word of the Year.

So I thought it may be interesting to show how far its reach extends now: there’s a Twittonary, or a Twitter Dictionary, providing “explanations of Twitter related words”.

The content of the dictionary is user-generated, and users can also vote on the entries and definitions submitted. A lot of the words seem to include some variety on the words twitter and tweet, such as beetweet and neweeter. The president of the Global Language Monitor claimed language would evolve based on words from Twitter – let’s hope we don’t develop a language based purely on those two words!

You probably know that a ‘tweet’ can be only 140 characters long, so the dictionary may be helpful to you in keeping your message short and sweet.

It could also help you develop language skills – try tweeting short sentences like “I’m going to the shop” to get you used to writing the language you’re learning.

Listening and learning – Part 2

Posted on November 29th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Spanish, Technology | Leave a Comment »

I was thinking further about yesterday’s post, where I advised trying to understand the gist of a sentence, rather than every word.

Another tip is to listen to a lot of the language you’re studying, even if you don’t understand any of what is said. This can get you used to the rhythm of the language, and how words sound. I like to have Spanish TV or radio on in the background of whatever I’m doing, occasionally tuning in to actively try and listen and understand. It’s helped make the fast Spanish I hear in everyday life a little less scary!

This is backed up by research which shows the best way to learn a language is through frequent exposure to it.

“Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words. If you want to learn Spanish, for example, frequently listening to a Spanish language radio station on the internet will dramatically boost your ability to pick up the language and learn new words.” (Source: Victoria University)

If you’re wondering where you can find an internet radio station in your chosen language, is a great find which has numerous popular languages broadcast in news and podcasts as well as internet radio and television.

Listening and learning

Posted on November 28th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Spanish | 1 Comment »

ListenListening is an integral part of language learning, but when you’re just starting out, it can be difficult.

To me, Spanish sounds impossibly fast, which scares me. I start to wonder if I will ever be able to understand, and this inhibits my ability to understand.

So, my tip for the day is: don’t try and listen to every word that is said.

Even at my basic level, I try and catch a word or two and pick up the gist of the sentence. This can go wrong – if I miss a negative for example – but works reasonably as long as I am aware of the context of the situation. When I’m ordering in a restaurant and the server asks an unexpected question, I know it is likely to be something about the food, so I try and concentrate on picking out any food-related words. It also helps to ask the speaker to repeat what they are saying slightly more slowly.

I also try and look at the speaker as much as possible, so I can gain clues to what they’re saying from body language. There are many gestures that are universal so you may be able to pick up what is said from there.

My final piece of advice? Try not to be scared! The more you listen, the more familiar the language will be. And soon, you’ll find that no one is speaking impossibly fast.

Just be careful what you order….

Posted on November 22nd, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Spanish, Words | Leave a Comment »

ChurrosOne of my favourite things to do in a new country is try out the new and exotic foods on offer, and it’s also a great way into the local language. Here in Spain I’ve been eating a lot of delicious tortilla, paella and churros, for example.

Most of the Spanish I’ve picked up has been from reading menus and ordering in restaurants. Hunger is a great motivator!

A language school in Montreal, Canada is taking this one step further, holding classes in local restaurants so students can experience both culture and cuisine along with their chosen language. In such a relaxed setting, it’s easy to pick up new words and you may feel more free to make mistakes.

You don’t even need to be in a different country to try out this idea; just pick up your phone book and find some local ethnic restaurants. The staff may be a little surprised at first, but explain your enthusiasm for learning and they may become a great teacher!

Just be careful what you order – I recently asked for jibia in a restaurant (the innocuous sounding cuttlefish), and got quite a shock when I saw the tentacles!

(Side note: if you’re interested in Spanish dining and cuisine, click on the picture.)