Archive for July, 2009

Malaysia and English

Posted on July 31st, 2009by Michelle
In Education, English | 1 Comment »

I’ve previously posted about Rwanda’s education language switch from French to English, and now interestingly it appears that Malaysia is phasing out teaching of English in certain classes.

Despite the headline of this article, reading the full text reveals that Malaysian authorities are not fully getting rid of English language teaching, only in maths and science classes. There is a school of thought that says that foreign languages can be learned in conjunction with another subject, but this experiment seems to suggest otherwise, as this professor argues.

Education minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced last Wednesday that the English-medium education policy introduced across the country in 2003, known as PPSMI, would be phased out from 2012. He said that evidence gathered during a year-long assessment and public consultation had convinced the government that PPSMI wasn’t working, and that the dominance of English in the curriculum risked undermining students’ grasp of their first language.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a complete failure but it has not achieved the desired objectives that it was supposed to achieve,” Muhyiddin told a press conference.

“The government is convinced that science and maths need to be taught in a language that will be easily understood by students, which is Bahasa Malay in national schools, Mandarin in Chinese schools and Tamil in Tamil schools.”

Interestingly, this change has become a political issue, which highlights the importance of languages to all.

Esperanto anniversary

Posted on July 28th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Esperanto, Events, Invented languages | Leave a Comment »

Dr Ludwig Lazar ZamenhofThe 150th anniversary of Dr Ludwig Lazar Zamenhof’s – the author of Esperanto – birth is just around the corner, to be marked by an Esperanto congress held in his birthplace of Bialystok, Poland.

I’ve briefly mentioned this conlag in previous posts, and I found an interesting BBC article about Esperanto being spoken in Israel.

Esperanto was designed to “foster harmony and coexistence” and is currently spoken by around one million people worldwide. The language appears to attract people who are both enthusiastic about the language and willing to meet and befriend others who speak it, fostering a community not unlike Zamenhof envisioned, if on a somewhat smaller scale – something that cannot be said for all languages. As an interviewee says:

“Let’s say you go to a little village in the south of France,” says Israeli Yehuda Miklaf. “You ask: Does anyone here speak English? And they say: Henri does. So you go and say to Henri: Hi, I speak English. And Henri says: That’s nice. “Then you ask: Who here speaks Esperanto? They say: Pierre does. So you come up to Pierre and say: Hi, I speak Esperanto. Pierre says: Have you had lunch? It really is like this.”

Read the full article here.

Maori Language Week

Posted on July 27th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Events, te reo Maori | Leave a Comment »

Te Reo MaoriKia ora! If you happen to be in New Zealand this week (or even just know some Kiwis), why not take part in Māori Language Week?

Running from the 27th July – 2nd August, this years theme is “Te Reo i te Hapori – Māori Language in the Community.”

Te reo Māori is one of two official languages of New Zealand, along New Zealand Sign Language (English is a de facto official language). The language of New Zealand’s indigenous population, it’s experiencing something of a resurgence, with Māori language schools and it being taught at primary school. The national newspaper, the New Zealand Herald is getting involved, with some classic Kiwi phrases translated into Māori. If you’re already a fluent speaker, here’s an editorial celebrating the week in Te Reo (there’s an English translation too!).

I took a few classes in Te Reo when I lived in New Zealand, and it was a great way to connect with Māori culture. Here are some ideas for participating in the week, why not get involved?

Another 5000 words to learn

Posted on July 24th, 2009by Michelle
In German, Language acquisition, Words | Leave a Comment »

duden-dictionaryInteresting news for German language learners this week – apparently 5,000 words have been added to the language.

How exactly can you add five thousand words to a language though? Well, apparently a lot of them are from English, including such gems as das It Girl and eine No Go Area.

The additions have been made by staff at Duden, a respected German dictionary now in its 25th edition. Containing 135,000 words, the current edition is around six times the size of the original, produced in 1880.

And my favourite of the new additions? Hüftgold, or as we say in English, “love handles”.

Read more about the additions here and here.

Lexpionage and other new words

Posted on July 20th, 2009by Michelle
In Etymology, Words | Leave a Comment »

WordspyOne of my favourite sites on the web is Word Spy, “the word lover’s guide to new words”.

The site’s been running since at least the mid-90’s, as far as I can tell, and provides an interesting historical glance of buzzwords through the times. If you click on the link ‘Top 100 posts’ for example, it gives you a rundown of the top hundred most-visited words from the past seven days. When I checked, such diverse notions as “Wikipedia kid” (added June 30 2009), “tankini” (March 23 2000) and “nanny-cam” (March 5 1996) appeared on the list.

Clicking on the word will give you a definition, example citation and earliest citation, as well as a list of related words and categories. Whilst I would say that a lot of the words on the site appear to be more trendy than useful and will most likely disappear from usage as quickly as they have appeared, it’s definitely amusing to see what writers will come up with.

Perhaps one of my favourite words from the site is from its founder, whose bio on his Twitter page states: “Word Spy is devoted to “lexpionage,” the sleuthing of new words and phrases”. “Lexpionage”. Brilliant.

A very large book

Posted on July 17th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Etymology, Words | Leave a Comment »

The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English DictionaryHaving posted previously about dictionaries, now it’s the turn of the dictionary companion – the thesaurus.

Oxford University Press has announced that the world’s largest thesaurus is due to be published in the autumn. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, to give it the full name, contains 800,000 meanings in over 230,000 categories, with the project taking over forty years to complete. Started in 1965, the Press originally used classifications from Roget’s, but the authors had to start a new system when it became obvious this was not detailed enough.

The thesaurus has an interesting history, having survived fire and funding problems, along with the above mentioned new classification system. Not to mention all the new words that have been added to the English language since 1965… One of the co-authors, Professor Christian Kay, has been with the project almost since the beginning – starting work when she was 27, she is now 69 and has survived several of the project’s founders.

Apparently the aim is to link the thesaurus to the online Oxford English Dictionary, but no date has yet been set for this – let’s hope it doesn’t take another 40 years! In the meantime, if you’d like to buy your own copy of the thesaurus, it’s a snip at just £250.

See the full article from the BBC here.


Posted on July 15th, 2009by Michelle
In Esperanto, Invented languages | Leave a Comment »

The conlag flagAfter writing about Klingon for a recent post, I was intruiged by the concept of invented languages – that is, languages that have been created by people from scratch.

Also known as constructed languages, or conlags, there seem to be a number of reasons for people creating their own languages – chief among them being “cool idea!” Others have more utopian views, such as the creator of Esperanto (probably the most famous of conlags) who envisioned his language being spoken as a second language by those all over the world as a means to promote understanding.

I’ve stumbled across a number of interesting conlags whilst searching the internet, including Toki Pona, “a minimal language that focuses on the good things in life” and Interlingua, “an international auxiliary language developed by the International Auxiliary Language Association with financing from the Rockfeller Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation, the Research Corporation and principally the family of the heiress Alice Vanderbilt Morris and her husband and children”, making it probably the most well-funded of the conlags.

Despite the dreams of their creators, however, conlags remain in the minority, as evidenced by another of their names – auxiliary languages. Whilst it’s unlikely that you will meet a fellow Toki Pona speaker on your summer holiday in Ibiza, wouldn’t it be great if you did? After all, the point of language is to enable communication.

So, you’re interested in creating your own language, check out this toolkit.

A million words?

Posted on July 12th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Technology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Word countThat is, according to the Global Language Monitor, the amount we have now surpassed for the English language.

The one millionth word was Web 2.0. , which isn’t actually a word, but a phrase containing a noun. Look a little further and you’ll find that this million includes both words and phrases. Which makes financial tsunami more acceptable as their 1,000,001st ‘word’ I suppose.

The former editor-in-chief of the Britannica encyclopaedia is unimpressed with this count, as are the linguists over at Language Log. And as the OED points out, there is no accurate way to count how many words there are in a language.

So, what’s the point of the count? Well, I think the fact it draws attention to the complexity and ever-changing face of the English language is fantastic. It’s prompted many journalists to write articles about the language, and perhaps exposes people to new words. I, for one, would never have known of the existence of the word quendy-trendy (apparently British youth slang) if it weren’t for the Monitor. Thanks guys.

Something like a phenomenon

Posted on July 9th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

I was searching for some information on Spinvox (the company that converts voicemail to text), and it appears they’ve been keeping researchers, and the Great British Public, busy.

In addition to a poll they’ve conducted about grammar, which showed that almost half of Britons have trouble identifying the correct use of apostrophes, another survey revealed that the word “phenomenon” is the biggest tongue twister for a lot of Brits. (It’s pronounced ‘fen-om-e-non’).

Other words in the list include “anaesthetist” which comes in at number 2; “prejudice” (at number 17), and “February” (number 12).

You can see the full list here, along with the phonetic pronunciations of each word.

I have a slight problem with these pronunciations, the first being those for “anaesthetist” and “anonymous”. They show both words being pronounced with the sound “uh” at the beginning, whereas I have always pronounced them with the “an” sound, as this is how they are spelt.

Further, with “hereditary”, the sound I make at the end of the word is something more akin to “tree” than the “ter-ee” that is shown. And “prah-awr-i-tahyz-ing” sounds downright American if you sound it out, rather than the British “pry-orr-it-hyzing”.

So, I turned to the trusty Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for validation. It shows the pronunciations thus:

Anaesthetist – /neessthtist/ – (the funny upside down ‘e’ is an ‘a’ sound such as in ‘apart’)
Anonymous – /əˈnɒn.ɪ.məs/
Hereditary – /hiredditri/
Prioritise – /praɪ’ɒr.ɪ.taɪz/

How to learn: choosing a language school

Posted on July 7th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

With seemingly endless choices out there, it can often be confusing trying to choose a language school that is right for you. Of course, first you need to consider your reasons for learning as they will impact on what school you choose. For example, are you hoping to progress your career or do you simply need some phrases for a holiday?

Once you’ve done that, here are some further questions to consider, which I have grouped into general categories to make reading easier:

Location and environment

  • Is the school close to where I am living and working?
  • Are the teachers suitably qualified?
  • What setting will I be learning in?
  • Classes

  • Do the class times and length suit me?
  • Do they offer my current language level (e.g. beginner, intermediate)?
  • How much homework will there be? Can I keep up with the homework?
  • How many people are in the class?
  • What is the teacher to student ratio?
  • How much individual attention will I get?
  • What is the teaching methodology and does it match me? (For example, are there a range of activities? Or is it lecture based?)
  • General

  • Can I afford the cost of the course?
  • Does the school offer the chance to progress to the next level?
  • Can I attend a ‘taster’ session to see if I like the class and the language?
  • What happens if I cannot attend a class?
  • Does the class lead to a qualification?
  • Can I chat with former students or see testimonials from them?
  • If you are planning to study abroad, it is worth checking if the school is accredited, especially when learning English. In the UK, English schools are accredited by the British Council, and overseas you should look at IALC and EAQUALS.

    Finally, this is an interesting article from a writer who has personal experience of choosing a language school overseas.