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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?

 

Fast Exchanges with Foreign Strangers

Posted on December 8th, 2013by Melanie
In Events, Language acquisition, Speech | Leave a Comment »

You’ve heard of speed dating, but what about speed speaking? ‘Language exchanges’ as they’re known, are the plutonic equivalent of speed dating when you get to hone your language skills. You find an event, you sit at a table, you talk to a complete stranger in their language for a few minutes then they talk to you in your language for the remaining few minutes, then…move sideways for your next quick conversation.

Everyone always says that the best way to really learn a language is to speak it but, outside of a classroom where you feel comfortable, confident and know what the subject matter is about, it’s not so easy. Not unless you are lucky enough to be able to jet off randomly to practise your skills abroad. Many of us are really shy when it comes to speaking foreign languages, for fear of getting it wrong and being ridiculed. And if you don’t have foreign friends or colleagues who you can ask for help, how are you supposed to practise?

Language ‘Blind Dates’

Language exchanges have become very popular in the UK. With so many people now visiting and staying in the UK, there is no shortage of foreigners wishing to hone their English languages skills. So in the same way, they will be happy to help you hone your language skills. Just like the classified ‘partner’ ads, you´ll find many advertising for conversation exchanges, usually arranging to meet in bars or cafés. Like a blind date of sorts, except that the only awkwardness is about how well you are, or are not, speaking their language. It may seem strange at first and you may only meet some people once, but an hour of conversation with a native speaker of the language you’re learning will boost your skills as well as your confidence more than you can imagine. If you’re lucky enough, you might meet a language partner who wants to meet up for regular conversation exchanges. An hour a week speaking with the same person means you’ll be able to progress much faster as you can cover new ground each time, and shyness won’t be an issue.

Conversation Exchange Events

Does an hour of speaking with a complete stranger in a foreign language seem too daunting? Check the newspapers and Internet websites for information about conversation language events. These events will specify the languages to be spoken, where and when the event is being held, the cost for attending and the time frame for each language exchange. Far from the conversation exchanges just mentioned, these events place an emphasis on being fast and being fun. With the drinks flowing, you get just a few minutes to speak to your partner in their language to practise your skills, and then it’s time for them to practise their English for a few minutes while they speak to you. With no time for shyness or awkward silences, it’s time to move on and you’re suddenly sitting opposite a new partner where your few minutes start again. Lively and fun, these events are a great way to get talking in your favourite foreign language!

Have you tried a conversation exchange? Was it a private meeting or an arranged event, and did you find it beneficial for practising your language skills? How did the conversation exchange help you to progress in your language lessons?

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?

Fluency or Functionality?

Posted on November 22nd, 2013by Melanie
In French, German, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

DictionariesA new report was recently issued regarding the languages spoken in the UK…or rather, the lack of them. The British Council’s report states that not enough people in the UK have sufficient abilities and skills in foreign languages, and that this “alarming shortage” will result in the UK missing out on cultural and economic benefits, gradually diminishing our global standing.

This type of report is not really news to most people though. In schools, the rate of foreign languages being studied had drastically declined, although this trend is already starting to turn with the introduction of the EBacc. As well as that, it will be compulsory from children aged 7 to14 to be taught a foreign language from next year.

A YouGov poll showed that 75% of the UK adults questioned were unable to hold a conversation in any of the ‘top ten’ languages deemed necessary for the UK’s future prosperity. Of these ten languages, 15% could speak French, 6% German, 4% Spanish and 2% Italian, while the remaining languages (Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish and Japanese) were spoken by 1% of people, if that. Many say that Brits are too lazy to learn languages but it’s more the case that English is considered to be the ‘universal language’ with little need to learn any other languages. Even so, a challenge was recently released to encourage everyone to learn 1,000 words of a foreign language.

Often, too much stress is put on the need to become fluent in another language, and this can sometimes deter people from learning a new language. John Worne, from the British Council, has argued against this, commenting that it’s better to be functional in a language rather than being fluent in it. He stated that, “‘Fluent’ is an inhibitor, ‘functional’ is a liberator”, believing that people can get further, faster by making a start with new opportunities using just a few words and phrases.

The authors of the report believe that businesses should invest in language training where it will directly benefit them, and that the number of minority languages in the UK should be utilized in education.

Which of the ‘top ten’ languages can you speak, and would you consider yourself to be fluent or functional in that language?

Train Your Brain to Talk

Posted on November 17th, 2013by Melanie
In Language acquisition, Speech, Words | Leave a Comment »

HeadphonesYou want to learn a new language but the thought of sitting in a classroom with your nose buried in a textbook or having to do embarrassing role plays is not really inviting you to book your first lesson. What about all of the adverts that promise you can learn a language in a matter of weeks, that anyone can learn and not just the linguistically gifted? Do those statements ever actually come true?

Whilst it used to be considered you either had a knack for languages or you didn’t, that you innately inherited your linguistic skills, and that it was a disability not to be able to learn foreign languages, we now know otherwise. Thanks to a multitude of researchers over the years, it has been proven that, yes, anyone can learn a new language; really. Far from being the stupidity of struggling students, the inability to learn a language is actually due to the learning strategies used. So, now you know you can definitely learn a language, that’s a start. But how long will it take? Those timeframe guarantees look very appealing.  Those ever helpful researchers can put your mind at ease again because, yes, you really can learn a new language in that short space of time.  Just pick the right language and right learning technique.

Choose the right language: by choosing a language similar in construction to your own, it has been found to speed up the learning process due to its familiarity. For example, English speakers will find it easier to learn Spanish than Mandarin.

Immerse yourself in the language: put the textbooks to one side and just start speaking the language from day one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything, just become used to the way the language sounds and you’ll soon pick up words and phrases.

Use the ‘shadowing technique’: while you’re listening to the language, simultaneously speak it out loud and read it too. The reason behind this is to slow down your thought process and pay more attention to the details.

You’ve got the know-how, now just kick-start your brain into gear and train it to follow these easy rules. All of those researchers can’t be wrong, so stop doubting yourself and start speaking a new language in no time at all.

Switching Languages and Personalities

Posted on November 16th, 2013by Melanie
In French, Spanish, Speech | Leave a Comment »

Split personality 1Do you put on a special ‘telephone voice’, suddenly becoming more polite, more confident and well-spoken? Most of us have, at some time or another, suddenly taken on a new persona when speaking on the telephone. So it’s possibly no surprise that, in the same way, people take on a new persona when speaking in a different language.

Bilingual and Bicultural

There can be a number of explanations for this, including a natural confidence in the more familiar language or because the thinking process changes when speaking different languages. People who are bilingual as well as bicultural might associate different memories with each language, therefore affecting how they converse within each language.

Language Composition

One explanation is that the way the language is spoken is due to how the sentences are constructed. For example, Greeks are thought to speak loudly and constantly interrupt each other. The syntax and grammar of the Greek language means that each sentence is started with a verb containing a lot of information, so the other speaker will be able to ascertain what the sentence is about at any early stage, therefore being able to interrupt more easily. This is contradicted, however, when you look at other languages, such as Welsh. Sentences in Welsh are constructed in a similar manner but Welsh people are not known for making constant interruptions and being pushy when others are speaking.

Perceived Personalities

Another explanation is that people often tend to behave in the perceived behavioural personality of people from that country. For instance, Spanish people tend to speak very quickly and energetically, using a lot of hand gestures; the French have a soft lilt and are thought of as being demure. By speaking a foreign language, you can often unconsciously take on the perceived personality of someone from that country.

Do you take on a different personality when you speak in a foreign language?

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?

 

Go-Go-Gadget Glasses!

Posted on November 7th, 2013by Melanie
In English, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Gadget GlassesHave you ever sat in a restaurant while you’re on holiday abroad and looked hopefully around for a copy of the menu in English? Slight panic sets in when you realize there isn’t one and you haven’t the faintest idea what any of the dishes are on the menu. Well panic no more, as some new technology is on its way to help!

The Japanese, known for their love of gadgets, have invented some spy-like translation glasses. Working in real time, the muddled letters of the foreign menu in front of you will suddenly be translated clearly into your own language.

Tantalizing Technology

Using an interactive ring that transmits hand movements back to the glasses, you can also manipulate virtual images projected on a flat surface by way of a simulated touchscreen and ‘touch’ tags that only you can see.

If that’s not enough to convince you to sign up at MI6, they even include a facial recognition feature. Yes, really. So if you want to know someone’s name, what they do for a living and a few other personal details, just don a pair of these spy-like specs to get your insider information.

Intelligent Translations

Let’s get back to that menu though, before you get dizzy from hunger. These Intelligent Glasses will translate the text on the page right before your very eyes, as you read it. With the prototype being able to translate Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English languages, the researchers are looking to launch this translation technology in 2020. After completing their list of modifications, that should leave them with plenty of time to make the glasses look as cool as they sound!

Do you think this type of translation technology will take off and what other scenarios would these glasses be useful for other than being able to help you with ordering your next meal?

Can Essays Help Save Endangered Languages?

Posted on November 2nd, 2013by Melanie
In English, French, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Many languages, one worldAs globalization has changed the way we conduct business and interact socially, the need to understand other languages and cultures has increased. Why then, of the 6,000 existing languages in the world, are nearly half of them endangered?

To be precise, 43% of our world’s languages are currently at risk and about 200 of these are spoken by fewer than ten people. Languages are ‘safe’ when they are spoken by all generations but become vulnerable when, despite most children being able to speak a language, they are restricted with their use of it, such as in their homes. A language becomes classified as endangered when it is not taught to children as their mother tongue, when older generations speak it and parents understand it but do not talk to their children in it, and when grandparents are the youngest speakers of the language and they themselves barely use it. When no-one alive speaks a language, it becomes extinct, and approximately 230 languages have become extinct since 1950. It’s not just a loss of the language, but a loss of the culture that the language related to.

Launching a Linguistic Initiative

The UN is hoping to turn this declining trend around by launching an initiative called ‘Many Languages, One World’. University and college students have been set the challenge of writing an essay in a language other than their own – in one of the six official languages of the United Nations: Spanish, English, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic. Based on the benefits and uses that multilingualism has in our globalized world, the aim of these essays is to highlight how important linguistics and communication are and to encourage the study of languages in the future, particularly the six official languages of the UN.

Would you learn an endangered language to ensure its survival and revival?

Does Low Income Affect Language Learning Abilities?

Posted on October 30th, 2013by Melanie
In Education, English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Low income learningStudies have been conducted which prove the correlation between wealth and the ability for word comprehension in very young children, but how does that translate into adulthood? Do those who have been brought up in low income households find it harder to learn foreign languages than those who have grown up with wealthier families?

It’s certainly true that by school age, those who have been raised in low income families have a lower reading ability than their peers and can struggle from the outset. Their social background has not allowed them to reach their full potential for their age group leading to an increased risk of lack of cognitive and educational development.

Nowadays, however, educational institutions recognize these social situations and are able to ensure that pupils are taught accordingly. Teaching techniques and resources are such that pupils from any background are able to learn effectively and will quickly progress to reach their full potential.

A high percentage of low income families in the UK actually speak English as their second language, whilst speaking their native language at home and in their community. In this respect, many children are already familiar with the concept of learning foreign languages and, whilst they may need to apply themselves more than their peers to other academic subjects, they already have the capabilities of being able to grasp foreign languages. Bearing this in mind, for those particular pupils, learning foreign languages as an adult should not pose any issues.

Globalization, interactive social media and innovative teaching techniques with a focus on learning foreign languages means that adults, regardless of their background, educational level, or linguistic capability are more than able to learn foreign languages easily. What languages have you learned and do you think your background positively or negatively affected your ability to learn them?