Archive for September, 2009

Moldovan or Romanian?

Posted on September 30th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Historic, Moldovan, Romanian | Leave a Comment »

MoldovaA report today states that Moldova‘s government is planning to declare Romanian the national language.

The Moldovan Prime Minister states that “Moldovan people speak in Romanian like Americans speak in English. The national language can be renamed in the future from Moldovan to Romanian”.

In Bucharest, however, they disagree, saying that Moldovan is not identical to Romanian and is one of the dialects of Romanian language. The argument over this difference has been raging at least since the tiny country became independent in 1991. At this point the official language was declared as Moldovan, and there has been dispute ever since.

This is an important issue as language is a big part of identity, and indeed there is some discussion over what constitutes a Moldovan identity, with a large proportion of the population holding one or more citizenship.

What would the effect be if Moldovans no longer had a language named after themselves? Would they feel less ‘Moldovan’? A census in 2004 found that 60% of Moldovans thought of their language as Moldovan, whilst only 16% considered it Romanian. There is a similar issue in Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia, where some people speak and consider themselves Serbian.

What would you think if your national language was to be renamed? Would it affect your sense of identity?


Posted on September 28th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Etymology, Language acquisition, Words | Leave a Comment »

Phantom maskI came across an interesting article in the New York Times about words that look as though they mean one thing but mean another – the author suggested they be named phantonyms.

These words crop up so often in the English language that their ‘new’ meanings are becoming more and more accepted. Here are some examples from the article:

Disinterested is occasionally used as if it means uninterested — indifferent or bored. For example, a Times article in February 2008 described Senator Joseph Lieberman as “so disinterested in the Democratic presidential candidates” that he didn’t vote in the primary. Nine out of 10 American Heritage Dictionary authorities would reject that usage. The favored definition is unbiased or impartial, as in Adam Liptak’s article in The Times in March 2008 about foreign judges: “Punishments, they say, should be meted out only by the criminal justice system . . . and disinterested prosecutors.”

Enervated. Appearances can be deceiving, as when an NPR commentator described the men fighting a fire in Nevada as tired but enervated by their progress. The word, a phantonym of energized, in fact means weakened.

Fortuitous looks like lucky, as it did to an official at N.Y.U. when Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accepted an appointment as a professor: “It was so fortuitous,” she said. But the word means “happening by chance,” says The Times’s Manual of Style and Usage. “It does not mean fortunate.”

Can you think of any other phantonyms?

European Day of Languages 2009

Posted on September 26th, 2009by Michelle
In Arabic, Culture, English, Events, Hindi, Language acquisition, Mandarin | 1 Comment »

European Day of LanguagesFirst celebrated in 2001, the European Day of Languages has grown to encompass a whole week of events!

The first EDL was organised jointly by the Council of Europe and the European Union, who chose 26th September as the designated day. The aims of the day are:

To alert the general public to the importance of language learning
To promote linguistic and cultural diversity and increase intercultural understanding
To encourage lifelong learning

Watch Pedro Chavez from the European Commission talking about the day.

I recently posted about the proposed idea to adopt Latin as the official language of the European Union, but as I concluded then, the EU is committed to multilingualism, so it’s unlikely to happen. Europe is incredibly diverse, with around 225 indigenous languages as well as non-European languages such as Arabic, Hindi and Chinese.

So, get involved and become one of the many Europeans who are multilingual! Try here to find out what activities are happening near you – there are events all over Europe. And if you can’t make it to any of them, try some of these online activities.

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!

Mangling the language

Posted on September 15th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

A new poll has exposed those who mangle the English language.

Inspired by the British based Plain English Campaign, the online poll voted former US president George Bush number one for this contribution:
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Bush also takes the number nine spot with “I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe – I believe what I believe is right”.

OK then. The poll highlights one of the most important things in language acquisition – making yourself understood. The quotes above show that even people whose job it is to make themselves understood can make mistakes. So keep on trying and remember: make yourself clear!

See the full top ten here.

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!

Kids turn teacher

Posted on September 12th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, English, Language acquisition, Swahili, Tamil | Leave a Comment »

I came across a great article on BBC News today about a school in London that encourages children with a second language to teach their fellow students.

When a new student joins the school, they are encouraged to use the language they speak at home and teach it to others through the school’s “language of the month” scheme. Students of all ages are taught basics of the language such as good morning, thank you, and numbers up to ten. Through the project, the school has “collected” around 50 languages, from Tamil to Swahili.

Founder of the scheme and ethnic minority achievement teacher Joe Debono said: “It started simply as a common courtesy, but as we went on we found that children who have their language valued are more open then to learning English than if we just let them hide their language away.
“The children doing the language of the month are treated like little movie stars
and that’s the way they get to see themselves.”

The scheme seems like a fantastic way to celebrate diversity and recognise the importance of speaking a second language, something that is becoming especially important as there are less children taking languages at secondary school level in the UK. It was deemed no longer compulsory after the age of 14 in 2004, and since then, the number of students taking a second language has dropped.

This appears to have had a knock-on effect at university level, with reports that language departments will close and language courses dropped because of declining numbers of student applications. Campaigners are now saying the shortage of language graduates will “hold Britain back as it tries to emerge from recession”.

Kathryn Board, the chief executive of Cilt [National Centre of Languages], said: “English is one of the great global languages but it will only take us so far. Our engagement with the non-English speaking world will remain superficial and one-sided unless we develop our capacity in other languages.”

(Source: Times Online)

Let’s hope the government initiative to make language teaching compulsory in primary schools will help future generations to keep learning languages and continue to be treated like “little movie stars”.

Financial lexicon

Posted on September 9th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, English, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Words | Leave a Comment »

Financial lexiconIf like me you get a confused look on your face whenever you hear financial terms like sub-prime, recession and inflation adjusted, help is finally at hand.

You’ve probably heard of the Financial Times and (again, like me) thought “too complicated!”, but the international business newspaper is helping out those of us without an MBA with its newly launched financial lexicon.

The Lexicon allows visitors to search for specific terms and definitions, or simply navigate through the always growing list. Terms used across all Financial Times websites offer highlighted keywords and terms which will link directly to the glossary, allowing users to learn about words instantly that are used in their articles. Alternatively, when a user searches for a term in the Lexicon, it will display a list of articles where that term has been recently used. (Source: World Business News)

Just one problem: now when someone asks your opinion on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, you have no excuse for not having one!

Idioms by kids

Posted on September 6th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, English, Hints and Tips, Idioms | 1 Comment »

Cloud 9 idiomA friend sent me the link to this website, which has quickly become a favourite. is a project run by a schoolteacher in Nanaimo, Canada. He explains:

These pictures illustrate what an idiom actually says and not what the idiom actually means. We used a loose definition of idioms to basically define idioms to be idiotic. In other words they are expressions that generally need explanations to be understood. They often have very interesting origins but sometimes their origins are not even known. What each student did was draw pictures of exactly what the idiom said, not what the idiom meant.

(For the full definition of an idiom, along with a list of English idioms, click here.)

Idioms can be hard for language learners to understand, so perhaps drawing pictures could be helpful. You could even add your pictures to the website – and see if you can be funnier than the kids! My current favourites include dead meat, a bit at sea, and doggy bag.