Archive for June, 2011

Does German handwriting need simplifying?

Posted on June 30th, 2011by Michelle
In German, Words, Writing | 1 Comment »

German schoolteachers have started a campaign to abolish the teaching of joined-up handwriting, according to a report in the Guardian.

“Die Schreibschrift” is the German name for the handwriting style pupils have to learn before they leave primary school, at around 10 years old. It is based on Latin script, and the current form used is called “Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift” (easier model script). The teachers’ union argues that it is an outdated way of writing and a waste of time for pupils, who first have to learn printed letters, then how to join them up.

There is opposition to the idea, however, with the regional head of the Society for German Language in Hamburg, Dr Hans Kaufman, arguing:

“Writing is a cultural technique used to quickly put down thoughts. Joined-up handwriting trains fine motor skills, develops [a sense for] aesthetics. An apparently easier script also simplifies thoughts. I would mourn the loss of a piece of our writing culture.”

Apart from the argument about loss of culture, others argue that letting children print script will slow down writing speed (think about the time it takes to write individual letters rather than a joined-up word) and decrease legibility.

What do you think? Would you prefer not to have learned joined-up handwriting in school?

The history of English in 10 minutes!

Posted on June 29th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

Interested in the history of English but not got much time?

Then take a look at this set of short videos from The Open University! The videos take you from Anglo-Saxon English through English and the Empire up to modern-day Global English via some amusing illustrations and a great voice over.

(Via LanguageHat)

Losing your native English

Posted on June 26th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

There’s a great piece in The Globe and Mail (a Canadian newspaper) about how different the English language can be in the various countries that speak it.

The Canadian writer moved to Britain and has found she is forgetting many of the Canadian-English words and pronunciations she grew up with. In order to be easily understood she uses British English words and phrases rather than their Canadian equivalents.

I’ve referred to hockey as “ice hockey” – even to Canadian friends – a sure sign that my cultural boundaries have shifted. In Britain, field hockey is the more popular sport and retains the generic “hockey” title.

I now live “in” a road, not “on” it, and when I’m under pressure I’m “under the cosh.” I ask “y’all right?” instead of “how’re you?” I say “cheers” instead of “thank you.” And I ask for a tomato and basil panini without any hard As. (Source: The Globe and Mail)

I was born and grew up in England but I’ve lived in a number of different English-speaking countries, from Canada to New Zealand. I’ve always enjoyed picking up local terms and using them, from kia ora in New Zealand to toque in Canada. Like the writer, this has had some impact on my life – people in my native country often ask if I’m Australian!

Communication across the world has never been easier – I wonder what impact this will have on the English language worldwide?

Quiz on commonly confused words

Posted on June 25th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

The weather’s been miserable this week, there’s no hint of summer, and we all need a little something to cheer us up. So how about a quiz on commonly confused words?

The quiz is on words from Hollywood Comedies, and you can view it here. Answers are near the bottom of the page (no cheating!). There are also links to other quizzes if Wimbledon isn’t holding your attention this afternoon.

Do you have any examples of words that you confuse? Perhaps in songs?

Celebrate the Spanish language!

Posted on June 18th, 2011by Michelle
In Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Today is Día E, a day celebrating the Spanish language. Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world (after Mandarin), and the third most spoken on the internet.

The Cervantes Institute is hosting 78 free parties in 44 countries to celebrate the day. Events will be held in London, Leeds and Manchester in England. If you can’t make it to any of these cities, take a look at the Día E website to see videos of Spanish speakers saying their favourite words – Shakira’s is meliflua.

As regular readers will know, I have been attempting to learn Spanish, and I’m going to use Día E to re-motivate myself. I don’t have a favourite word yet, but will update you when I do.

Croatian language update!

Posted on June 16th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Now that I have (begrudgingly) returned from Croatia, time for an update on my language efforts.

Unfortunately this will be a short post, as it seems that the English language has invaded Croatia. Almost everyone that we talked to had a grasp of English, even if only some simple words or sentences. This is unsurprising as tourism is their primary industry, but a little disappointing as I was hoping to pick up more Croatian than I did. Another surprise was the number of people who speak German as a second or third language – although apparently the Germans have known about Croatia as a tourist destination for a lot longer than English-speakers.

What I did pick up was useful – dobar dan (good day) was particularly helpful as people would often greet us in the street. Hvala (pronounced ‘hwala’, thanks) was another good one, although often people would say ‘thank you’ to me anyway! Molim (please) was the other most frequently used word. I did pick up some pronunciation tips as well – hv seems to be said as “hw” and Brac (with an accent on the c) as ‘Bratch’. In this sense I didn’t find phrasebooks helpful as it is difficult to get a sense of how something is said just by reading it. It was only after listening to native speakers say words numerous times that I managed to imitate words.

Anyway, I can highly recommend a visit to Croatia – it’s incredibly beautiful and very easy to travel around!

Is Danish too difficult?

Posted on June 12th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Danish, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

According to a new study, Danish is more difficult for children to learn than languages such as Croatian, American English and Galician.

Dorthe Bleses, a linguist at the Center for Child Language at the University of Southern Denmark, found that because of the high number of vowels in spoken Danish, it is more difficult for children to pick up. Danish babies at 15 months old have on average a vocabulary of 84 words, compared to 150 for a Croatian child of the same age.

“The number of vowels has big significance for how difficult it is to learn a language. Many vowels makes a difficult language,” Bleses told Weekendavisen newspaper recently.

The official number of vowels in Danish is nine: a, e, i, o, u, æ, ø, å and y.

“‘Y’ isn’t a vowel,” you say? Well, in Danish it is. In Danish, even consonants are vowels.

But written Danish is not the issue. The problems start when Danes speak. In spoken speech, Danish actually has some 40 vowel sounds, says Bleses, depending upon where the vowels are placed in words and sentence strings.

To make matters worse, modern Danes ‘swallow’ lots of the remaining consonants that would create more audible definition, or annunciation, between words. Linguists call it ‘reduction’ or ‘ellision’. It is how ‘probably’ becomes ‘probly’ in American English. In Danish, it is how ‘spændende’ becomes ‘spen-nă’, and how a simple, little sentence like ‘Det er det’ becomes ‘dā-ă-dā’. (Source: Copenhagen Post)

But there is good news for Danish parents – the difference doesn’t persist and children ‘crack the code’ of the Danish language by the time they are nine or ten.

A language in 2 days

Posted on June 8th, 2011by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Mandarin | Leave a Comment »

Often I see websites proclaiming that you can “learn a language in a year” or “learn a language in three months”. But this has got to be a first – a language teacher in London is claiming to be able to teach a language in just two days.

Mandarin is reputed to be one of the toughest languages to learn, mainly because it is tonal. It’s a challenge for non-speakers who live in China to learn the language, as a friend of mine has discovered. So what can a beginner pick up in two days?

As a writer from The Guardian discovered, quite a lot:

Day one begins in the present tense, progresses to questions and then on to the past and future. By day two I am playing fast and loose with pronouns, possessives and conditionals, albeit with a very limited vocabulary.
(Source: The Guardian)

The process is apparently meant to “emphasise relaxation and experimentation, [but] there are rules. Writing anything down is banned, as is all technical jargon”. This is in line with the language trainer’s belief that languages are a practical subject that you need to be trained in.

The writer tested his language skills at a Mandarin restaurant. The verdict?

There are obvious deficiencies in what I have learned. Chief among them the fact that I know so few nouns; not even, for example, numbers, or months, or farmyard animals, which school language classes had conditioned me to think of as essential. I can, however, convert a verb into the past and future tenses, and say that I, you, we, they, he or she did it, and add an if, a but or a because, and offer, when the situation demands, to buy a stranger’s mother or sell them a photographer. Which is more than I ever managed in five years of French at school. Have I really learned Mandarin in just two days? Well, yes and no. Mostly no, but sort of. Hao.