February 24, 2016

Travelling Corner: Scottish Tartan in Winter

We decided to visit Scotland for the very first time this winter. Yes, we wanted to experience as much rain, snow and wind as possible! Joking aside, it only rained for one whole day and two afternoons/evenings, that‘s all! (Obviously it rained at night, but we were sleeping like angles.)

Scotland 4

Throughout our stay in Scotland, we felt a constant impression of mystery. It was very strange at first, but we got used to it. Maybe it was the wintry, foggy weather, lonely landscapes and large monumental buildings or perhaps this is the real charm of Scotland.

Scotland 1

We first stayed by Loch Lomond and walked the east side of the lake. We walked every day and if some parts were flooded, we used the main road or we went up to one of the many forests that surround the lake. We were able to observe the lake and the way it changes depending on the weather: from clear blue to dark grey or beautiful white. The views were very absorbing so we stopped now and then to have a rest and admire the beautiful landscape. This was our time to slow down and be at one with nature: we had no set intention for each day; we simply followed our desires and feelings.

Scotland 3

After this period of time being close to nature, we went for a trip to Glasgow. What a contrast! We could not find our way in this commercial city. We felt as if we were in a big supermarket and did not know how to escape. Fortunately, the Cathedral was a ‘wee’ bit away from all the sales and offers, so we went there. The Cathedral impressed us, but what struck our attention the most was the Necropolis, situated high up on a green hill, giving extensive views of the city. We spent some time there before going for lunch at the famous Willow Tea Room, recreated as designed and decorated by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1904. We wanted to visit a few more places, but the amount of people (many!) was somehow discouraging, so we headed back to our ‘Loch’.

Scotland 6

Our loch became even more flooded due to heavy rainfall, so we decided to visit Edinburgh for a few days. We stayed in Morningsdale, a truly charming part of Edinburgh, full of small cafés (“bistros”), bakeries (“boulangeries”) and cheese-mongers (“fromageries”). Yes, many shops and cafés were French-named: C’est si bon!, Brasserie, Montpellier, name but a few. Every day we went to a different café on our way to the Old Town. What a wide range of places to eat, relax and meet friends! We then crossed the park and within minutes we were exploring the old part of town. We particularly enjoyed our visit to the Museum of Scotland which was an interesting design from outside as well as inside. They had a special entertaining programme for their visitors over the Christmas period and we really enjoyed listening to Scottish bagpipes and dancing some folk dances (yes, the main hall was full of dancing visitors!).

Scotland 5

For a linguist, it was a great pleasure to hear the Scottish rolled ‘r’ on a daily basis. Unfortunately we did not experience the other two Scottish languages: Scottish Gaelic and Lowland Scots. Gaston Dorren, the author of Lingo. A Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe says that the Scottish Gaelic is endangered and argues that it might be due to its spelling which is “wasteful, arcane and outdated.” This may be true, but we will have to re-visit this land to ask its own native speakers what they think.
References: G. Dorren, Lingo. A Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe, Profile Books, London, 2014.

Written by Kinga Macalla
Photos courtesy of Kinga Macalla

February 17, 2016

Learning Languages – My Story

My name is Suzannah I am a PhD student in Translation Studies.  I speak five languages (English, French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish) and am learning a sixth (Polish).  You may ask how or why I have learnt/am learning them and what I use them for.  What I will say is that I use them all regularly and they are all a big part of my life.  Actually, I don’t know what I would do without them.  It may surprise you to know, though, that it wasn’t always like this.  There was a time when I thought I wasn’t going to carry on learning any languages at all.  In the end, my circumstances changed and I did carry on – and I’m very glad I did because it changed my life!  This is my story.

Learning a Language -- My story 2

I started learning French when I was little, thanks to my parents having got me to watch a bilingual video about an alien who comes to Earth and learns about human life…  This video was the same story in French and English.  It was easy to follow in French if you had watched the English version (and even if you hadn’t) and the storyline and learning material was very clearly presented.  The best thing about it was that it was fun – it didn’t feel like a chore and I enjoyed watching it again and again.  I was learning without even realising it!
Another early memory is that whenever we went on holiday, my parents always tried to learn a few words of the local language and encouraged my sister and me to try the food and appreciate the places we visited.  I am very grateful to them for having done this because I believe they gave me a positive attitude to new languages and cultures and made learning about new people and places a fun thing to do.  Of course, being on holiday helped make it fun!  This attitude has definitely stuck with me.

School Time
We had French lessons at school from when I was 11 but I feel we only learnt a few set phrases and weren’t really given a love for the language.  Nevertheless, I found I understood things quite quickly and did receive some encouragement from the teacher.  The problem was, learning a language was not seen as ‘cool’ at my school and I actually hid my talent from my peers and pretended I found it as difficult and boring as they did!
I got a good mark for GCSE French and luckily decided to carry on to AS Level.  I thought I was only going to do a year but, thankfully I had a very dedicated and enthusiastic teacher who encouraged us to nurture our talent and used interesting learning material like films and newspaper articles – real life material that real French people used.  That made it more relevant to us and made us see that it was a living language.  I carried on to A-Level and did well in it.
As A-Level students, we had the opportunity to go and stay with a family in France.  My host mother was a wonderful lady, she was very supportive and was really interested in everything we did.  She introduced me to literature and a theatre group she was involved in.  We are still in touch today (almost 15 years later) and I have visited her numerous times.
I still didn’t think I was going to carry on with French and thought I was going to do English Literature at university.  In the end I didn’t get the grades I needed to do English and decided to defer my university entry for a year and reapply.  That meant I needed something to do for a year. A friend of my sister’s had just done a placement in France and suggested I do the same.  She gave me the details of a language school and I contacted them.  They signed me up for a three-month language course and a work experience placement.  I enjoyed the life at my host family’s house less than the time before but I made some really good friends at the language school.  A lot of them were Chinese and it was fun to learn about their country as well as learning French together.  They even taught me a few words of Mandarin!  At the time it was funny for me to think that we were able to communicate with each other through a language that was neither of our first languages.

University Life
Thanks to this placement, which improved my French a lot, I applied to do French and English Literature at a different University.  I was accepted and spent three years there.  The language learning experience depended on how committed you were to learning – there were resources available but you had to use them on your own initiative – but we did learn a lot about French culture and society, which helped us to understand the background to the language we were learning.
I spent my Erasmus year in Paris, France.  Initially, I started a work placement but didn’t enjoy it so enrolled in a university.  That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  If I had stayed on the work placement, I may have got disheartened but as I went to university I met a lot of people my age and made life-long friends.  I was lucky enough to meet a group of friends who I spent every day with – you can say I was really immersed in French culture!  It was a bit difficult following lectures in French at first but I had a trusty electronic dictionary which gave me the definitions of words I didn’t know and I soon got up to speed.  My friends and I started a Spanish class together as well, which was a fun experience – learning a language through a language that was not my mother tongue!  In the summer after my Erasmus year, I went to stay with a friend in Madrid and did a language course – for fun.  That was great too because of the amazing people I met from all over the world.  We had to use Spanish to communicate with each other so it really helped us learn.

After Graduation
When I graduated, I wanted to get a job using my languages so I applied for internships in Brussels, Belgium.  I started an internship at a European NGO, where I would be speaking French and English.  It turned out that they needed my Spanish too.  Initially, I thought I was going to stay there for six months (you can see that this is a recurring theme!) but then I was offered a full-time job and ended up staying for six years!
Belgium has three official languages, Dutch, French and German (and an unofficial one, which is English!)  I was curious to know what the signs I could see in Brussels said, so I enrolled on a Dutch course.  I complemented my learning by listening to the radio and reading newspapers that were readily available.
After a few years in Brussels, I met a person who ran a theatre group in Antwerp.  I started going to the theatre group every week, and it was there that I met my partner, who is Italian.  I moved to Antwerp to live with him, which meant that I could practice Dutch all the time.  I also learnt Italian through my partner and with his family.  I had to speak Italian if I wanted to speak to them, and I did want to speak to them, so that was useful!  I found I learnt Italian fairly quickly because it is similar to French and Spanish so I could already understand quite a lot.  We have a lot of Italian friends and I speak to them all in Italian.
While still in Brussels, I met a few Polish people through work.  We became friends and I realised I was interested in learning their language.  When I moved to Antwerp, I decided to enrol on a Polish course, not least because I wanted to meet people in my new town.  I also wanted to see whether I was capable of learning a Slavic language.  I had learnt three Romance languages and a Germanic language so learning Polish was (and still is) a new challenge for me.

Back in the UK
I recently moved back to the UK and have carried on learning Polish.  I am finding it a bit more difficult to learn than it was to learn the other languages I speak.  This may be because I don’t have many people to practice with.  Learning my other languages went quite quickly because I was able to practice with people around me and, in some cases, I had to speak because there was no other option!  I think it is important not to be afraid of making mistakes and just speaking – but I am finding it a bit hard to follow my own advice in Polish at the moment!!

The Last Word
As you can see, my reasons for learning languages have been enthusiastic teachers and a positive attitude to language learning on the one hand and friendships and a desire to have new experiences on the other.  Being in an environment that has allowed me to be exposed to the languages on a regular basis has definitely been beneficial to my learning.  Speaking other languages has allowed me to meet lots of wonderful people but it has also been useful professionally.  For example, I do translation work sent to me through people I have met abroad.  The most important part of language learning for me, though, is by far the friends I have made.
I hope you can have a similarly positive experience with learning languages!

Written by Suzannah Young

February 9, 2016

Learning a Language: Online and Mobile Language-Learning Tools

With the advent of widespread access to technology, it has never been easier to find resources to help you learn a new language.  If you use the internet, you can find a wealth of tools to support your learning that are fun and interactive and don’t break the bank.  It is also easy to take these study aids with you.  You can use online tools to supplement your learning when you have a bit of free time, on your commute, when you’re having lunch or waiting for the bus, or when you are at home in the evening.
Here are some examples of what the web can offer you.

On Multilingualism and Bilingualism Magazines 1

Online Language Exchange Platforms

Traditionally, it has been hard to find ways to practice speaking the language you are learning outside the classroom.  Luckily, video conference tools like Skype have now made it easier to talk to people all over the world.  The online platforms below give you the chance to practice your speaking skills by either putting you in touch with a teacher you can have lessons with online or letting you meet native speakers in a more informal setting.  You can also teach the language you speak via the online platforms.  You might even make friends!
Here are a few examples:

The most popular language exchange platform
Price: Mostly free, $17 to unlock all features
Good for: Interactive learning, meeting people
Learning style: Read, write, interact, Speak on Skype, Peer-to-peer corrections
Pros: Community, Practice with native speakers and be a tutor yourself, also a language-learning app (see below)
Languages: Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish

My Language Exchange
Practice your second language with a native speaker who is learning your language
Price: Free
Learning style: Meet people from the online community, practise with a native speaker, membership required
Pros: MLE hosts your online practice with lesson plans, text chat rooms
Languages: 115+

Choose a teacher online and schedule a lesson
Price: Pay by lesson
Good for: Interactive learning
Learning style: Live online lessons with professional teachers
Pros: You can define search variables
Languages: 70+

Easy Language Exchange
You can save your learning material with this platform
Price: Free
Good for: Interactive learning, meeting people
Learning style: Speaking to people online
Pros: You can save conversations and refer back to them
Languages: Several

A language exchange app you can use like a messaging service
Price: Free to download, charges for extra features
Good for: Interactive learning, conversations on the go
Learning style: Chat by text or through short audio clips (like Whatsapp)
Pros: Conversation time divided equally, conversations are stored on your phone, translation and correction feature
Cons: Finding active partners can take time (depending on time of day and target language)
Languages: Over 100

Language Learning Apps

Language Learning Apps give you language exercises in an entertaining, bite-size format.  They help you learn by using games and memory exercises, and you can set yourself targets and test yourself.  They use a variety of learning styles, which can help you remember your newly-acquired knowledge.
Here are some examples of language learning apps, with a rundown of each one’s vital statistics.

MindSnacks makes mobile learning games for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Price: Free
Good for: Learning vocab
Learning style: Games, puzzles
Languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, German, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese

Flash card-based learning with a free version or the option to pay
Price: Free to download, all lessons for $19.99
Learning style: Flash cards, writing tips
Languages: Spanish, Mandarin Chinese

The Memrise community uses images and science to support your learning
Price: Free
Good for: Learning vocab
Learning style: Mnemonics, pronunciation guide, images
Languages: French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Russian

Playing games will help you learn vocabulary with this free app
Price: Free to download, then $11 monthly
Good for: Learning vocab
Learning style: Games, puzzles
Pros: Wide selection of languages, saves your learning on your online account
Languages: Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish

A flash card app for iPhone
Price: $24.99
Good for: Learning vocab
Learning style: Flash cards, memory activities, beat the clock challenges
Pros: Create your own flashcards
Languages: Several

Flash Sticks
Create your own flash cards
Price: The app is free to download; ‘flashsticks’ can be bought from £4.99
Good for: Learning vocab and pronunciation
Learning style: Either buy ‘post-it note’ style flashcards or make your own with your phone camera
Pros: Fun and playful style, language newsletter sent to you if you sign up
Cons: Just vocabulary
Languages: British Sign Language, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish

The most popular gamification-based language learning app
Price: Free
Good for: Learning vocab
Learning style: Games, earn points for correct answers, beat the clock
Pros: Bite-size lessons, progressive learning
Cons: No explanations, no grammar content, not natural conversation
Languages: French, Spanish

An app that also links you to a community of speakers
Price: Free version with 5 lessons and 20 word lists or full version from $10/month
Good for: Learning vocab, practicing with speakers
Learning style: Games, intuitive learning, community of speakers
Pros: A lot of languages offered, interactive
Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and other languages in Beta

YouTube Videos

You can find a lot of video tutorials on YouTube just by searching ‘learn’ plus the name of the language you are learning.  There are also educational channels dedicated to specific languages.  Video tutorials can help you go over a grammar point, practice speaking and listening, get used to pronunciation and learn new words and phrases.  The good thing about videos is that you can pause or go back if you need more time or want to hear something again.  Most channels host several videos.  It can be tempting to watch them all at once but try to limit yourself to learning one video a day, to make sure it is all going in!
Here is a taster of some videos to learn different languages:

Mandarin Chinese

Try Them Out

Now you have a few tools to keep you busy and which will hopefully make your learning more effective.  Expanding the number of different ways you practice your new language will help you remember more and will make the process more stimulating.  Good luck!

Written by Suzannah Young

February 1, 2016

Learning a Language – A Few Tips

Learning a new language is an enriching experience – it introduces you to new ways of doing things, thinking about things and talking about things.  It widens your horizons: it can make you attractive to a potential employer at home – or help you get that dream job abroad! Learning a language is useful if you want to travel, it can help keep your brain active and it improves your social life by letting you meet new, interesting people.  If you learn a language, you will have access to new places, new sights and new sounds. And it doesn’t have to be difficult to do, if you make it into an enjoyable and intuitive experience.  There are strategies you can use to help you remember what you have learned more easily.  Here are a few tips to help your learning stick!

Language in diff languages

Realise how much you already know
Unless you are an ostrich, it is likely that you will hear and process lots of information every day, without even realising you are doing it.  This includes words in other languages that are used all around you – just think of your local French restaurant, “Bon Appétit”, or the beauty parlour down the road called “Bella Donna”.  You will be surprised how many words you already know in the language you wish to learn.  Make a list of all of them – and you will see that you are not starting from scratch!
If you speak English and are learning a European language, and even if you are not, the chances are that there will be words that look like words in English – after all, the languages we speak evolved together from shared roots.  An example of this is words ending in –ion(s) in English that have their equivalents in many European languages: congratulazione, imaginación, démonstration, Konversation.  If you look for words you recognise, you will see that you already understand part of the text you are reading.

Relate it to things you like
Language learning is meant to be fun!  So try finding out vocabulary that can help you talk about your hobbies or interests.  You will remember these because they are relevant to you.
For example, if you like cycling, find out all the words for the parts of your bike and the words you will need if you want to talk about a race.  If you like cooking, look up the words for the most common ingredients and cooking methods. If you like music, find artists who sing in the language you are learning and look up the lyrics online so you can sing along.  If you like cinema, find your favourite film in your new language.  Put the subtitles on if you need them – but in the language, not in English.  That way you will know what they are actually saying and will pick up phrases.  Read your favourite novel in another language.  If you like keeping informed by reading the news, find the article you have just read in another language (European news websites like euronews are a good place to do this).  You will understand as you already know the story – and you will learn new vocabulary.

Context is important
It is easier to learn and remember new words and grammatical constructions when you know why you are using them. Use the new words you have learned in context if you can.  Making sentences about yourself with what you have learned will help the new grammar stick in your head.
A news article about a certain subject is a good way to pick up vocabulary about that subject.  You will find you don’t even need to look up some of the words because you will recognise the ones that are similar to ones you have already learned.
You know that when you are watching a news item about farming or reading a novel, a particular style and vocabulary will be used, so you can work out some of what is being said.

Focus on what you know rather than on your mistakes
When you are reading or listening to a text, even if you don’t understand everything, you will be able to pick out words you do know.  Focus on those and you will have the gist of what the text is about.  In time you will build up your knowledge and the ratio of words you understand to those you don’t understand will increase.
If you are reading a novel, you will enjoy it less if you stop to look up every unknown word.  Try to avoid this temptation and just keep reading and let the words sink in.  You will still understand a lot of what is happening and you will find the experience more pleasant and less frustrating, which will make you want to learn more.  Again, your understanding will improve with time.
When you are speaking, the most important thing is to communicate.  You don’t need to worry about your mistakes as long as the message is there.  The way to fluency is not being afraid to make mistakes.  We all do it, even in our mother tongue, so it is nothing to be embarrassed about!

Look for patterns
Most languages are logical and have fairly regular grammatical rules.  The language is not trying to catch you unawares!  You will start to recognise the way words behave in specific situations and be able to predict what a conjugation will be, which case you need to use or what kind prefix you will need to use with which verb.  Learning to spot patterns will help you feel at home in the language.

Immerse yourself in the language
You often hear that the best way to learn a language is by being in the country where it is spoken.  But you don’t necessarily have to travel to be able to come into contact with your chosen language – sometimes you can even do it from the comfort of your own home!  These days it is very easy to find radio, newspapers and even television in different languages online.  Listen to the radio and watch videos to get used to hearing the language you are learning and read the news to get quicker at deciphering it.  Find a conversation group in your town and go along – it is a way to meet people as well as perfect your speaking skills.  Change the language on your phone and on your Facebook account – then you will feel like the language is really part of your life (and it is an easy way to learn without really trying).  Use every chance you get to practise your new language!

Go with the flow
Learning a new language is fun.  Do your homework but practise in unconventional ways too – ways that are adapted to your learning style.  Use your newly-acquired skills anywhere you can!

Written by Suzannah Young