Archive for August, 2012

Expressive dictionary

Posted on August 28th, 2012by Michelle
In Pronunciation, Words, Writing | Leave a Comment »

One of the things I love about the English language is that it’s so expressive. By changing your tone you can make words sound very different.

But how can you do this when you’re writing the words rather than speaking them? The Sound-Word Index is here to help!

Two Royal College of Art graduates came up with the idea, and the site is now a handy reference for those trying to interpret digital meaning. An example:

/!!!!!/ It can mean: Shock or really enthusiastic. For example: ‘I have a new boyfriend!!!!!’

You can submit your own words through the website.

German – the best language to study?

Posted on August 24th, 2012by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Following last week’s news of a decline in the number of students studying some languages at A-Level, the Telegraph have put together a list of their top 10 “best languages to study” for graduate jobs.

The full list:
1. German
2. French
3. Spanish
4. Mandarin
5. Polish
6. Arabic
7. Cantonese
8. Russian
9. Japanese
10. Portuguese

The list is somewhat surprising, given that students are choosing not to study German, French and Spanish in favour of Japanese and Mandarin.

The survey asked UK firm managers what languages are useful for their business. Given that Germany’s the only country defying the depression in the eurozone, I’m not surprised it tops the list.

What do you think is the “best” language to study?

Decrease in A-Level language take-up

Posted on August 19th, 2012by Michelle
In Arabic, Education, French, German, Japanese, Polish | Leave a Comment »

This week was A-Level results week, where thousands of young people found out what their immediate future holds.

It appears that fewer young people are choosing languages to be part of their future, with reports saying that the number of British teenagers choosing a European language A-Level has fallen.

The number of students taking German has fallen below 5,000, with entries in French down to around 12,500. Interesting, languages such as Polish, Arabic and Japanese have seen a slight rise in the number of candidates. It seems that languages traditionally studied in British schools are proving less popular with young people.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, said the drop in the number of people taking A-levels in traditional modern foreign languages was a real worry. “We have the euro economy in crisis – I think modern foreign languages are in the same place,” he said.

There was no magic bullet to fix the problem, Hall said, but he welcomed the government’s move this year to introduce modern languages in primary schools.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said universities had made it clear they wanted students with qualifications in science and maths. “I’m not sure the message has been as strong around languages, so they could assist in this approach,” he said. (Source: The Guardian)

Scrabble cheat

Posted on August 16th, 2012by Michelle
In Events, Words | Leave a Comment »

We all cheat at Scrabble, right? Even if it’s just when playing Scrabble-like apps.

Not so many of us do it at a high level though – like when competing in a tournament. One of America’s top young players has been caught doing just that. In a tournament in Florida, the player, who has not been identified because of his age, was spotted by another player hiding blank Scrabble tiles.

The player was in round 24 of 28 at the time, and dropped the tiles on the floor in order to conceal them. The winner of the tournament stood to gain US$10,000.

[John] Williams, who has served as executive director for 25 years and co-authored a book on the popular board game in 1993, said this was the first incident of cheating at a national tournament.

“It does happen no matter what. People will try to do this,” he said. “It’s the first time it’s happened in a venue this big though. It’s unfortunate. The Scrabble world is abuzz. The internet is abuzz.” (Source: Guardian)

Words of the Mars mission

Posted on August 12th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Jargon, Technology | Leave a Comment »

We’ve all been caught up in the highs and lows of the Olympics for the past couple of weeks, but it turns out there are other things going on in the world!

Notably, NASA’s latest mission to Mars –which even sends out tweets! If you’re confused by the many acronyms surrounding the mission, the Minneapolis-St Paul Star Tribune has provided a handy guide. Here’s an extract:

For example: the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed in 2004 were known as MER-A and MER-B for the longest time (MER is shorthand for Mars Exploration Rover.)

MSL [Mars Science Laboratory] did not become Curiosity until 2009 when a sixth-grader from Kansas proposed the nickname. Still, there are some who continue to use the scientific moniker.

Curiosity is loaded with the most sophisticated instruments to study Mars’ environment — with convoluted names to match. “Mastcam” refers to the pair of 2-megapixel color cameras on the rover’s “head.” “SAM” — short for Sample Analysis at Mars — is the mobile chemistry lab designed to sniff for carbon compounds. “ChemCam” stands for Chemistry and Camera, otherwise known as the rock-zapping laser. And “RAD”? That’s the radiation detector. (Source: Star Tribune)

French – the official Olympic language

Posted on August 11th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, French, Hints and Tips | Leave a Comment »

The London 2012 Olympic Games draw to a close tomorrow, with Team GB having won a record medal haul.

The Olympics have been a great success for their host country, with one minor exception: people have been baffled as to why announcements are made in French first, followed by English. In an English-speaking country, why is this?

Well, it’s because French and English are the official Olympic languages, with French being the official language of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is a French-speaking city. French is also used in honour of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman who is considered the “father” of the modern Games.

So, if you’re watching the Closing Ceremony tomorrow night, listen out for those French announcements.

Brain gaps

Posted on August 5th, 2012by Michelle
In Research, Words | Leave a Comment »

New research has found that our brains often miss key words – including ones that can change the meaning of a sentence.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that our brains don’t process every word – so a sentence like “After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?” will leave people wondering what an appropriate burial place would be. (If you’re confused, read the sentence again – I had to try it three times!).

“What makes researchers particularly interested in people’s failure to notice words that actually don’t make sense, so called semantic illusions, is that these illusions challenge traditional models of language processing which assume that we build understanding of a sentence by deeply analysing the meaning of each word in turn.

Instead semantic illusions provide a strong line of evidence that the way we process language is often shallow and incomplete.” (Science Daily)

The researchers recommend that important information is put at the start of a sentence, and also to avoid multi-tasking when listening to an important message.

Pinterest for language learning

Posted on August 4th, 2012by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology | Leave a Comment »

An interesting post and discussion over at the Guardian’s Teacher Network blog is on using social media for language learning.

The blog post is aimed at school teachers, but language learners can pick up some tips too. Their “five ways you can start to engage with your pupils on social media” are useful, particularly number 4, on Pinterest.

4. Create a Pinterest account. Take some pictures of prompt cards, post-it notes or even objects with their description in another language and ‘pin’ them on your boards. You could even look for photos of the country, or infographics about languages in general, to help your pupils understand more about why they should learn it. (Source: Guardian)

Pinterest is still relatively new – you can ‘pin’ web content to boards. Language learners could use it to create their own boards with visual hints and prompt cards. Have you tried this?