Archive for November, 2010

The return of the language GCSE

Posted on November 24th, 2010by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

As reported in the Telegraph today, foreign language GCSEs are making a return to the syllabus.

The current government is ‘overhauling’ the education system and this means that many more pupils will be taking a GCSE in languages including Spanish, French and German. Languages are counted as one of five ‘core’ subjects which also include English, maths, science and a humanities subject. Interestingly, the language requirement also includes ancient languages, allowing for students to study Latin as well as more contemporary options such as Mandarin.

I am, of course, in favour of people learning new languages. But although this policy seems like a good idea, as someone who has a GCSE in French and can barely speak a sentence in it, I have to wonder if it’s going to be effective. Post-16, are students going to continue with their language studies or, like me, forget what they have learned only to regret it later?

Gaelic pupils keep up in English

Posted on November 22nd, 2010by Michelle
In Education, Gaelic | Leave a Comment »

Pupils who study in Gaelic also keep up with their peers in English language skills, according to a new study.

A group of children from similar backgrounds took part in the study, which found that pupils taught for their first two years in Gaelic had broadly the same English abilities as their English-taught counterparts.

Professor Lindsay Paterson, a member of the team who carried out the study, Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland, said: “This indicates there is absolutely no risk, no harm, no diminishment of attainment at all in putting your children into Gaelic medium education.

“The attainment is exactly the same as in English education.

“In fact, there may even be some positive benefits as far as English reading is concerned.

“And in addition, children acquire the capacity to speak and understand Gaelic.”

Asked why many children are ending up ahead in English, he said: “There is good international research in other linguistic contexts to show that learning bilingually stimulates children’s brains, seems to stimulate their general development, their capacity to learn right across the curriculum.

“It may be that this is what we are seeing in Scotland.” (Source: BBC News)

Currently less than 1% of young Scots are in bilingual primary education, and it is hoped that these positive results will increase their numbers.

Save the Words – adopt one!

Posted on November 18th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Save the Words is my absolute favourite new website.

Run by Oxford Dictionaries, the aim is to get people to ‘adopt’ a word to ensure that it stays in usage. The website states:

Every year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language.

Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.

Today, 90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words.

You can change all that. Help save the words!

Click on a word on the site and it will tell you the definition. If you like it, you can adopt it! By adopting, you promise to “use [the] word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of [your] ability”. The site offers suggestions to help you use the word in everyday life, and you can also sign up to receive a word a day. It’s the vanmost thing on my mind right now.

(Sidenote: Whilst the word vanmost (foremost) appears on the Save the Words homepage, a search of the online Oxford Dictionary comes up with no exact matches…)

Penelope Keith bemoans… pretty much everything

Posted on November 15th, 2010by Michelle
In English, UK vs US English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Hot on the heels of Emma Thompson’s attack on ‘sloppy’ language, another actress has been bemoaning the state of English.

Penelope Keith, star of The Good Life, has given an interview to The Sunday Telegraph in which she states:

“Language is my bugbear. Everyone says things now like ‘I was sat’ instead of ‘I was sitting’, which just sounds so ugly.

“I know language has to evolve and progress, but what we’re doing is diminishing ours by getting rid of present participles like ‘sitting’. It’s so much more descriptive than ‘I was sat’, which really offends me.

“And, of course, American pronunciation, too: if I hear anyone else say ‘irrevocable’ on the Today programme, I shall break every wireless in the world. I recently did a Noel Coward play, and someone on the team told me they’d ‘researched’ it,” she recalls, with a shudder.

Keith puts some of the blame for the demise on social networking and is also concerned that the ‘misuse’ of language is leading to the death of manners. To round off the interview she also criticises the current state of British television and “the demise of general family viewing” (whatever that may be). Whew.

I may be getting old, but I do think Keith has a point when she says:

“In this great age of communication, there are a lot of people you can’t actually understand. I know everyone tweets, and twits and texts, and all that, but actually we’ve all got voices, and it is awfully nice to hear them and, if you can, understand what people are saying.

“We have this wonderful language and we don’t appreciate it.”

I often have difficulty reading texts and emails from my 20 year old sister. Perhaps she’s showing me the future and I have to adapt rather than vice versa?

International Pun Contest

Posted on November 13th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Words | Leave a Comment »

I’m generally amused by puns, although a terrible failure at writing my own. I was sent a list of the winners of the International Pun Contest so I thought I’d share (although I can’t seem to find if the contest actually exists). My favourite is number 9.

“The ability to make and understand puns is considered to be the highest level of language development. Here are the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest:”

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, “Dam!”

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, “I’ve lost my electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first replies “Yes, I’m positive.”

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why?”, they asked, as they moved off. “Because,” he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named “Ahmal.” The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him “Juan.” Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, “They’re twins! If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal.”

8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to “persuade” them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he’d be back if they didn’t close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (Oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis. And finally,

10. There was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Anyone got a better pun?

Evolving English at the British Library

Posted on November 12th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English, Events | 2 Comments »

A new exhibition at the British Library raises the question of how we ought to use the English language, according to this review in the Telegraph.

Opening today, the exhibition is titled Evolving English, and runs until 3rd April 2011. Among the 130 exhibition pieces are “everday texts” alongside ‘star items’ such as a BBC Broadcast English publication from 1929. The 1,000 year old sole manuscript of Beowulf is also included.

Associated events include a performance of Beowulf by Benjamin Bagby and a discussion of the future of English. The website includes a fun quiz to test knowledge of the “origins, evolution and oddities of the English language”.

You can read the Evolving English Curator’s Blog here. The exhibition is free, and well worth a visit.

A high price for a dictionary?

Posted on November 4th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Words | Leave a Comment »

We’re big fans of the humble dictionary here at the Language Museum blog, but would we pay £130,000 for one? Probably not.

Someone did though, as a copy of Johnson’s Dictionary with an original unrestored binding was sold for that amount in October, according to the Antiques Trade Gazette. A record price, it is estimated that fewer than half of the original 2000 copies printed are still in existence, and much fewer in unrestored condition.

The full title of the dictionary is A dictionary of the English language : in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, A history of the language, and An English grammar. It was first published in 1755, with Dr Johnson taking just 9 years to compile it. The dictionary contained definitions of 40,000 words and was printed in two large volumes. Further editions followed, with it becoming the standard English dictionary until the advent of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Tests are good for your brain!

Posted on November 2nd, 2010by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Most people dread the moment when they have to do a test to assess what they’ve learned so far. For many the fear of tests and quizzes comes from school, where our abilities are tested from a young age.

Tests are not just a good way of measuring our current ability though; they may help improve learning. A new study by researchers at Kent State University shows that taking practice tests improves memory – particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something.
Testing also supports encoding information in a memorable way – particularly useful for foreign language learning, as researcher Dr. Rawson notes:

“Suppose you were trying to learn foreign language vocabulary,” she said. “In our research, we typically use Swahili-English word pairs, such as ‘wingu — cloud.’ To learn this item, you could just repeat it over and over to yourself each time you studied it, but it turns out that’s not a particularly effective strategy for committing something to memory.

“A more effective strategy is to develop a keyword that connects the foreign language word with the English word. ‘Wingu’ sounds like ‘wing,’ birds have wings and fly in the ‘clouds.’ Of course, this works only as well as the keyword you come up with. For a keyword to be any good, you have to be able to remember your keyword when you’re given the foreign word later. Also, for a keyword to be good, you have to be able to remember the English word once you remember the keyword.” (Source: Science Daily)

So next time there’s a quiz in your class, don’t dread it – use it as a way to remember more!