Archive for May, 2011

A new language for holiday

Posted on May 27th, 2011by Michelle
In German, Language acquisition, Vietnamese | Leave a Comment »

As you read this blog post, I will hopefully be enjoying the sun in beautiful Croatia. I’ve never been to the country before and have not encountered the language either.

This had me wondering – how much of a language should you try and learn before a holiday?

In the past I’ve learned bits of Vietnamese, German, Greek and Malay whilst on holiday. Whilst on the plane to Vietnam, I listed to a beginners guide to the language in the form of a podcast. When trying to speak and listen to the language, however, I found I had forgotten most of what I had heard.

With other languages I have picked up phrases whilst in country. These were enough to get by, along with liberal doses of sign language. As a native English speaker, I try and avoid the assumption that others will speak my language, but find that a lot of the time, they do!
Before going to Croatia I will pick up a phrasebook and try and learn some basic phrases and greetings. These websites seem to be a good start for travellers to the country. Obviously it’s not possible for me to become fluent in Croatian in a couple of weeks, but I will make some effort.

How much of the language do you learn before going on holiday?

Learning by rote

Posted on May 23rd, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Learning by rote seems an old-fashioned idea, something that was done in the Victorian era, when canes were used liberally.

But it is still used in schools today, if in a different way. Part of the education process is learning how to remember chunks of information, whether for an after-school play or an exam. Some argue that in our information age, there is no need to remember anything as the answer is just a few short clicks away.

This misses the point though. Whilst information is more easily accessible today, nothing quite beats having the answer to hand, an automatic response from the depths of your brain. When you’re in a conversation in your second language, there is no time to stop and look up a word you don’t have. It would break the flow and you may lose more words.

So how do you keep those words in your brain? London black-cab drivers are a good example – they need to learn ‘The Knowledge’:

London black-cab drivers need a detailed knowledge of a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station. They learn 320 routes, and all the landmarks and places of interest along the way. The process can take three to five years, and dropout rates are said to be around 80%.

Nick O’Connor, from Essex, is making good progress after 22 months of study. He says: “It doesn’t need a specific person or a specific brain. It’s just about being structured and having the motivation to get up every single day and go out on the bike [to research the routes]. I’d say anyone could do it.” (Source: BBC News)

Structure and motivation. Learn a little bit of your target language every day. Make sure you put some time aside to do it. Soon you will have ‘The Knowledge’!

What languages do you use online?

Posted on May 18th, 2011by Michelle
In English, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Over half of EU internet users occasionally use a language online that is not their native tongue, according to research by Eurobarometer. However, the study also found the majority of users prefer to use the internet in their native language.

The survey, conducted by the public opinion research wing of the European Commission, polled a total of 13,500 people – 500 for each of the EU member states. It showed that many users thought they might be missing out on something because they could not understand the language used on a website.

English is the dominant language used online, with 48% of those interviewed saying they use it “occasionally”. Usage varied across the continent though, with countries such as Greece, Malta and Sweden (with either strong English education or ties to the language) having a much higher usage rate than Italy.

Enabling user to understand content is an issue the EU is addressing:

“If we are serious about making every European digital, we need to make sure that they can understand the web content they want,” wrote Neelie Kroes, the EU’s comissioner for the digital agenda, in a statement. “We are developing new technologies that can help people that cannot understand a foreign language.”

The European Commission is currently investing 67 million euros ($96 million) across 30 research projects that investigate improved techniques for translation of digital content, including 2 million euros to the iTranslate4 website, a relatively new site that provides machine translations of many European languages. (Source: Deutsche Welle)

What languages do you use online?

Songs in the classroom

Posted on May 16th, 2011by Michelle
In Education, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Having written previously of the benefit of songs when learning a language, I was interested to come across this blog post about why songs should be used more in the classroom for young learners.

The writer, Devon Thargard, opens with an anecdote about his first day teaching kindergarten and how he engaged the children through a simple song. He then goes on to explain some other benefits of songs as teaching tools. One benefit that particularly interested me is:

Songs create a positive atmosphere.
Just as we take great care in decorating our classrooms to make them warm and conducive to learning, we should think about how we are decorating our classrooms with audio. Learning a foreign language can be stressful for anyone, especially young learners. Fun, simple English songs playing as students enter the classroom help create a welcoming environment. (Source: OUP ELT Global Blog)

My class takes place on a Monday evening. Most people come to class straight from work so, depending on how their day went, they are pretty tired and ready to sleep. We often go straight into learning new vocabulary – perhaps if we had a song to walk into class to, we would start in a more positive mindset, which would also help us learn more.

Does your teacher use music to set the tone for your class?

Love Scrabble? Here are some new words for you

Posted on May 12th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

The latest edition of Collins Official Scrabble Words has been released. Nearly 3,000 new words have been added – which will you use to perplex your opponent?

A small selection:

BREDREN: brother
GOBI: cauliflower
INBOX: email folder for incoming mail
INNIT: isn’t it
NANG: cool
QIN: a Chinese zither
TWIGLET: wheat snack
VLOG: video blogging
WAGYU: a breed of cattle

(Source: The Guardian)

What words would you like added to the book to help you win a game?


Posted on May 10th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Everyone knows the famous “you’re fired” catchphrase from popular TV show The Apprentice. Popularised by The Donald in America, it’s used in the UK by Lord Alan Sugar.

The show is also known for the cringeworthy things that contestants say. Who can forget Stuart Baggs from the last series, with the classic “I’m not a one-trick pony, I’m not a 10-trick pony – I’ve got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this job.” Love it.

This BBC article has complied some other classics, here’s a few of my favourites:

“The spoken word is my tool,” said silky-tongued Raef Bjayon in series four.

“Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there’s footsteps on the moon.” Yes, we’ve sneaked in a line from one of this year’s candidates.

“I think outside the box, if I was an apple pie the apples inside me would be oranges” (said by Alex in series six).

Do you have any more to add?

Neanderthals were right-handed

Posted on May 8th, 2011by Michelle
In Historic, Research | Leave a Comment »

In news to confirm the superiority of us right-handers (joke!), a new study says that our Neanderthal ancestors were “mostly right-handed”.

According to an article on MSNBC:

The trait of right-handedness is commonly believed to be a sign of the development of another uniquely human trait — language.

“We are right-handed because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and the left side of brain is where language is processed,” study researcher David Frayer, of the University of Kansas, told LiveScience. “This is important because it tells us that they were brain lateralized just like we are, and they probably had a language capacity.”

The conclusion was reached after looking at an odd place – front teeth. Apparently ancient homo sapiens used their front teeth to help process animal hides, with their hands stretching out the hides and using tools to work it. The tool would accidentally scratch the front tooth, and the marks this made can show which hand was used to hold the tool (thus showing which hand was preferred).

According to some researchers, the discovery shows that language probably existed more than 500,000 years ago.

Yes you can!

Posted on May 7th, 2011by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Are you struggling to learn a second language? Does “I can’t” feature in your excuses for not learning something new?

Well, your excuses are no longer valid, because according to a new study, you can learn a new language! Cambridge neuroscientists have found it takes just 15 minutes to learn a new word -all you need to do is listen to the word 160 times in that period. The brain will form new networks for that word which are tasked with remembering it.

The research was conducted not to help people learn a language, but to assist stroke patients in recovering their language skills. The study has been completed with healthy volunteers but the researchers hope to move on to test the theory in stroke patients also.

Dr Yury Shtyrov and his team made the discovery after placing electrodes on the heads of 16 healthy volunteers to monitor their brain activity.

First they recorded the pulses generated when they listened to a familiar word. Then the volunteers were made to listen to a made-up word, over and over again.

Initially the brain had to work hard to recognise the new word. But after 160 repetitions over 14 minutes, the new memory traces were “virtually indistinguishable” from those of the already familiar word, said Dr Shtyrov.

He said: “What this suggests is that practising language is important. Every little helps.

“Just perception – listening – is helpful. Our volunteers didn’t repeat the words.”

Getting them to repeat the words would “probably extend the new neural networks” to the part of the brain tasked with speech, he said. (Source: The Telegraph)