Archive for March, 2011

The third official language of the London Olympics… Cockney Rhyming Slang!

Posted on March 28th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English, Events, French | 3 Comments »

NewsBiscuit seems to be coming up with some great language-related satirical news at the moment. Last month there was Nicolas Sarkozy admitting that French is a hoax, and now an article announces that Cockney Rhyming Slang is to be the third official language of the 2012 London Olympics.

The origins of Cockney Rhyming Slang are in the East End of London, the site for many Olympic venues. Organisers of the Games often talk about the ‘local legacy’ of the Olympics.

‘The inclusion of rhyming slang forms a key part of the celebration of the local culture. It will add a real sense of fun to proceedings with local marshals offering directions and answering queries in their finest cockney,’ explained Lord Coe. ‘OK, the more fluent guides may hinder more than help at times, but you never know its origins as a means for residents to communicate freely without interlopers understanding might come in handy if Olympic officials and other VIPs need to be on their toes to Steve Cram [scram] down the Sally [Gunnell -- Blackwall Tunnel] in the event of a suspected Roger [Black -- terrorist attack].’ (Source: NewsBiscuit)

English and French are the two official languages of the Games, and there was a small outcry last year when it was announced that French would take precedence over English during Olympic fortnight. Perhaps Cockney is the solution??

Language teaching in Czech schools

Posted on March 27th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, English, German, Russian | Leave a Comment »

In a country where studying a language at GCSE level is currently non-compulsory, it’s interesting to see that business managers in the Czech Republic believe students should study more than one language.

The survey by Czech Position found that the majority of business managers think that more than one language should be compulsory in schools, with Russian, German, Hindi and Mandarin the preferred options. The survey was in response to the proposal by the National Economic Council (NERV) that students should only study English as a second language as they could “get by in life” if they were fluent in English. It also said that students should study subjects such as law, finance and IT instead of a second compulsory language.

Managers disagree, with many pointing to their business links with Russia and Germany as evidence for the need for students to study a second compulsory language. According to one, “some 85 percent of the Czech Republic’s business cooperation takes place with European Union member states, and more than half with German-speaking countries, above all Germany. Forgetting this fact would be a fatal error”.

Not all of the managers were in agreement however, with some pointing to the quality of language teaching in schools as an area that needs to be addressed before more languages are compulsory. Another said that schools and students should be allowed to focus on a discipline they are good at – “teaching several compulsory languages would reduce the capacity of the school and the students for specific subjects. Then it could easily happen that a student — a talented technician, for instance — would not pass his school leaving exam in a foreign language and, as a result, could not find an appropriate job because of something that is not directly connected with his professional qualities”.

What do you think?

Language the key to military success?

Posted on March 26th, 2011by Michelle
In Research, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Interesting new research from The University of Reading shows that poorly organised language provision can “have a major effect on the success of military intervention”.

Languages at War examined two conflicts, Western Europe in 1944-1947 and Bosnia 1995-1998, and found that language was essential to how effective ground troops are. The researchers discovered that being able to understand local people and get accurate translations was vital and depended on properly trained and professionally respected interpreters. Often interpreters are used in other capacities and not seen as professionals with an essential skill.

Professor Hilary Footitt from the University of Reading’s Department of Modern Languages and European Studies led the project. She said: “From the First World War, on to the liberation of Europe in 1944, in Korea, in Afghanistan, soldiers have needed to talk to foreign allies and foreign civilians. Indeed General David Petraeus, Commander of US/NATO forces in Afghanistan has said the ‘human terrain is decisive’.

“Our research project has highlighted the need for the military to see languages as a vital part of their operations, and to plan for them accordingly. They need to respect locally recruited translators/interpreters, and make sure that these men and women have the professional structures to do their jobs properly. Languages are not an optional ‘add on’. They’re essential to winning hearts and minds.” (Source: University of Reading)

Language learners have long known that being able to communicate in another language is a great way of connecting with people – hopefully this research will help the military realise it also.

Evolving English exhibition

Posted on March 18th, 2011by Michelle
In English, Events | 1 Comment »

I posted previously on this blog about the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library, and this week I got the chance to actually visit it.

Unfortunately I didn’t have much time, and only got a brief overview of the whole exhibit. I chatted to one elderly lady who had visited for three hours the previous day and was back for more! There was plenty to see – from the slightly singed 1,000 year old copy of Beowulf to 19th Century pamphlets on how to improve your English.

A really nice touch was the projection on the walls of words that had joined the English language from other cultures. Booths were provided so visitors could contribute to the exhibition by talking about an aspect of their vocabulary. There were also listening stations to hear different types of English in different forms throughout the years – including a recording of Florence Nightingale.

The exhibition runs until the third of April, I definitely recommend a visit if you’re in London before then. Just leave plenty of time for it!

Jargon from the future!

Posted on March 13th, 2011by Michelle
In English, Words | Leave a Comment »

In my RSS reader I came across an article from intriguingly titled ‘Jargon Watch – April 2011’. It took me a moment to realise (slow morning) but it’s still only March, isn’t it*?

So here’s the new jargon you can start using (from next month):


pp. Driving a snow-covered vehicle with only a small hole cleared on the windscreen. Also called peephole driving. Many people don’t have time or are just too lazy to clear the whole screen, so they scrape a space on the driver’s side and then aim in the general direction of work.

Entomological terrorism
n. The use of insects as a weapon. According to the US Army Medical Department Journal, the practice can be organised into three categories: attacking people directly (killer bees), destroying crops (locusts), and spreading sickness (disease vectors).

n. The people who maintain a smug belief in the primacy of print, particularly books, over digital works as a cultural driver, and the supremacy of professional writers, editors and publishers over amateurs. Coined by Paul Ford, writer and contributing editor at Harper’s.

n. The sudden death of a large number of birds. This year there has been a spate of mass bird deaths: 5,000 blackbirds in Arkansas; 300 turtle doves in Italy; up to 100 jackdaws in Sweden. Experts are unflapped: in North America, 50 million birds die every year.

*OK, there’s a simple explanation – the article’s from the April 2011 print issue of Wired, but that’s no fun, is it?

What languages are the hardest to learn?

Posted on March 10th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

It’s often said that some languages are harder to learn than others. Tonal languages such as Mandarin for example are supposed to be more difficult for native English speakers who have no experience of listening and speaking in this way.

This reasoning is supported by the US State Department, who “compile learning expectations for a number of languages based on the amount of time it takes a native English speaker to achieve speaking and reading proficiency”. The good people over at the Voxy blog have compiled an infographic from this information to show which languages are rated ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ and the length of time it should take to achieve proficiency.

What do you think of the infographic? Do you agree that it will take less time to learn Spanish than Japanese?

Via: Voxy Blog

Two languages can co-exist in the same society

Posted on March 6th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Spanish, Welsh | Leave a Comment »

New research has shown than two languages can co-exist in the same society. Previously it had been thought that the ‘stronger’ language would overtake the lesser spoken one, until it died out.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, mathematical models were created to show that levels of bilingualism can lead to the steady co-existence of two languages. The research analysed patterns among populations speaking Castilian, the main language of Spain, and Galician, a language spoken in Galicia (north-west Spain). The results could be used to inform other bilingual countries such as Wales.

Joseph Winters from Londons Institute of Physics said: Older models only took the number of each languages speakers and the relative status of each language into consideration, concluding that eventually the most dominant language would kill off the weaker; the decline of Welsh is often cited as an example of this.

The researchers used historical data to show how you can predict the continued existence of a language when you also incorporate a mathematical representation of the languages similarity to one another and the number of bilingual speakers, into the calculation.
If a significant fraction of the population is bilingual in two relatively similar languages, there appears to be no reason to believe that the more dominant language will inevitably kill off the weaker, Mr Winters added.

Researcher Jorge Mira Pmrez said: If the statuses of both languages were well balanced, a similarity of around 40% might be enough for the two languages to coexist.

If they were not balanced, a higher degree of similarity above 75%, depending on the values of status would be necessary for the weaker tongue to persist. (Source: Wales Online)

2011 Census to determine how many speak Scots

Posted on March 2nd, 2011by Michelle
In Events, Scots | Leave a Comment »

As the start of the UK 2011 census draws closer, more details have been revealed about what kinds of data will be collected.

Language supporters will be glad to know that in Scotland, residents will be asked if they speak Scots, according to an article on One of three languages spoken in Scotland (along with English and Gaelic), Scots is not thought of as a language by a percentage of Scottish people, according to a survey conducted last year.

To help people decide whether or not they speak the language, the government has created a website, Aye Can, where you can listen to and read examples of Scots. For more information, you can view Scotland’s census information advert on YouTube.