Archive for October, 2010

British holidaymakers’ foreign language gaffes

Posted on October 30th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

A new study has revealed the most common mistakes made by British holidaymakers when they attempt to speak a foreign language.

The Greek word for “good morning” – “kalimera” – bears a resemblance to “calimari”, while “Je suis plein” means “I am full” in French, but when mispronounced as “pleine”, translates as “I am pregnant”.

… Other mistakes include one holidaymaker who asked for her “head baked Al Forno” when trying to obtain a hairdryer. (Source: Telegraph)

The study was carried out by a self-catering operator and also included the interesting information that 95% of Britons would attempt to speak the local language whilst abroad. I wonder how they got this statistic though – most holidaymakers would probably say they try and speak the language, but I can’t imagine that many really do. And what constitutes an ‘attempt’ – saying hola to the hotel receptionist every day? Or something more complex like asking for directions? More information please!

The rise of Twitter-related words

Posted on October 28th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Twitter-related words are in the news again, with new additions to the Collins English Dictionary.

New ones for this year are “tweetheart” (“someone who uses Twitter a lot and is admired by the community”), “retweet” and “tweet-out”.
Popular culture also makes its mark in the form of “simples!”, the catchphrase of a meerkat from TV ads for a price comparison website and iPad, the new Apple gadget.

In politics, Con-Lib, Con-Dem and Lib-Con made the cut, along with the prime minister’s contribution “broken society”.

Elaine Higgleton, editorial director of Collins English Dictionaries, said: ‘The popularity of television, advertising, and the phenomena of celebrity continues to be a predominant preoccupation with the British public.

‘Never far from the headlines, it is unsurprising that a barrage of media has infiltrated the minds of the UK – to the point where coined words BGT, simples! and fauxmance have been warranted inclusion within the Collins English Dictionary.’ (Source: Metro)

Other new words include “funemployment” (where someone is enjoying being unemployed) and “fauxmance” – a fictitious romance between two celebrities.

Hard to read fonts make for better learning

Posted on October 23rd, 2010by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Research | Leave a Comment »

New research appears to show that difficult-to-read fonts make for better learning.

The study at Princeton University employed volunteers to learn made-up information and then try to recall it. The results showed that the volunteers whose information was in harder-to-read fonts were more likely to recall the information when tested 15 minutes later. From BBC News:

Researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.

They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards.

It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.

“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology Prof Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study.

“So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.

“When we found that in the lab, we were very excited, because it has obvious implications for the classroom.”

The study was repeated on high school students, and the results showed they scored higher in classroom assessments when given learning materials in harder-to-read fonts.

If you find it difficult to concentrate on written language learning materials, perhaps changing the font could help. Has anyone tried this? It sounds quite distracting to me.

TV to teach English in Bangladesh

Posted on October 20th, 2010by Michelle
In Bangla, Education, English | Leave a Comment »

A project run by the BBC aims to teach people English – through the medium of television.

BBC World Service Trust’s English in Action project is an initiative in Bangladesh to raise the English language skills of 25 million people by 2017. The project has created TV shows that children and adults can watch and learn from together.

One of the shows is called Bishaash, and is described as a “supernatural detective series”. It will be accompanied by a linked English-language learning show BBC Janala: Mojay Mojay Shekha (Learning is Fun). The characters in Bishaash mainly speak in Bangla, but useful English lines are woven into the script, with Janala building on the language used.

It seems the project has language benefits for the television production crew as well, with the producer commenting:

The local crew runs the studio floor in Bangla, English or both and their confidence is palpable.

This is most evident with the integration of language and humour, where the local crew has embraced irony. Much to the amusement of the crew, I’ve been taught how to say ‘marvellous’ in Bangla in three very different ways – along with ‘It’s not possible’. (Source: BBC World Service)

The programmes are supported by lessons and quizzes that can be accessed online and by phone, as well as in a national newspaper. I wonder how successful this project will be?

Language a barrier to success for England’s football team?

Posted on October 14th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Learning a new language can be tough – and it must be even more difficult if it’s your job to communicate effectively with a group of native speakers.

Apparently this is what the manager of England’s football team is finding out. Fabio Capello, a native Italian speaker, mastered Spanish whilst working at Real Madrid but his English is not yet fluent. With a nation desperate for football success, this is becoming an issue:

England’s players have privately expressed their frustration at struggling to understand the Italian. His difficulty in expressing himself and, when the situation demands it, explaining himself to the media is actually damaging.

Even when he does know what he’s doing, he sounds like he doesn’t. (Source: Daily Mail)

And what does the journalist recommend?

…he needs to work harder with his teacher and with those he does encounter – be it when he is in the office at Wembley or on his travels around the country.

We can all probably take that advice – learning a language is hard work and learners need to put in the effort to get results. But maybe it’s unfair to blame Mr Capello’s language skills – as the commenters on the article point out, perhaps our lack of success is just down to England’s players being rubbish…

Location nicknames

Posted on October 12th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

An American friend was amused when I was showing him around London and introduced him to the Gherkin. No, not the cucumber-like fruit, but the building also known as the Swiss Re Building, or 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London.

A new project is to document the nicknames Brits give to where we live and local landmarks. Location Lingo aims to capture these names and the stories behind them. It’s not all about fun though – the research will serve a serious purpose:

“With the huge variety of place nicknames that exist we could never hope to capture them all ourselves” says Glen Hart, our Head of Research. “Technically this research goes by the name of Vernacular Geography which is looking into which names should be recorded and how best to discover them.

“Projects like Location Lingo can provide us with useful research data to help answer these questions. Organisations like the emergency services rely on our information when responding to 999 calls, so by having the most complete set of ‘unofficial’ names we could help the emergency services quickly locate the right place, and maybe even save lives.” (Source: Ordnance Survey Blog)

You can contribute your own Location Lingo through the English Project’s website.

Online vocabulary learning

Posted on October 8th, 2010by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Words | Leave a Comment »

Playing games is a fun way to improve in your target language. Someone recommended to me the language game website Digital Dialects, and I thought I’d share the tip!

The site features interactive games in 60 languages, from Afrikaans to Zazaki (spoken by Zazas in eastern Turkey). As well as the languages you’d expect (French, German, Spanish), it has some other more unusual ones – Tibetan and Cebuano, to mention a couple.

The games are suitable for learners at beginner to intermediate levels, and are fairly simple, focusing on word categories such as colours, food and clothing. In the Spanish section, which I’ve been using, there are also a couple of activities for more advanced learners and some verb conjugation games.

Give it a try, and I’ll be on the lookout for some more online game sites.

English in 24 accents

Posted on October 6th, 2010by Michelle
In dialects, English, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

Language learners often aspire to native-like fluency in their target language. Some even hope to achieve an accent that makes them sound like a local.

Perhaps learners can take some tips from this British kid – who can speak English in 24 different accents, ranging from Cockney to German to Nigerian. Whilst he doesn’t quite hit the mark with all of them, it’s definitely an impressive achievement.