Hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, thank you – and ‘can I have a glass of wine, please?’
You may well wonder what connects the words and phrase above. It’s quite simple: for me, these are the bare essentials of foreign language knowledge when visiting another country. You may of course prefer beer or water, but you get the point!
How learning a language earned me a free jar of ‘seaweed’
Earlier this year, my husband and I had booked ourselves a short break to Dubrovnik in the summer, while our teenage children were both camping with Scouts.
My first attempt at speaking Croatian was a little too successful: having asked for a table for two (stol za dvoje, molim vas) in a restaurant in town, I was treated to a torrent of Croatian, but at least it was clear that we were merely being offered a choice of tables! Phew. Simply having a go, showing an interest in the people and their culture is so rewarding, as the assorted conversations we had during our short week demonstrated – albeit in English, after I’d attempted what I could in Croatian. A Brit attempting Croatian was a novelty and people were keen to chat as a result.
I was even complimented on my pronunciation – quite an achievement in such a short space of time, I felt!
Beyond the conversations and a few complimentary drinks, tangible evidence of the value of having a go came in the form of this jar of a pickled local seaside plant called motar (it isn’t seaweed, it just looks a bit like it when served up), courtesy of a restaurant kitchen during a lovely meal. Such a thoughtful and novel gift.
With a background in languages, and the amazing experience both my children have had on the EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge in the past, there was no way I could resist the opportunity to add to my linguistic arsenal at the beginning of the year, when EuroTalk decided to offer adults the chance to have a go at learning a language of their choice using the uTalk app.
So I chose Croatian. Why? I have never tried learning a Slavic language before, so thought it would be more of a challenge – and had long fancied visiting the country, in which case, it would prove handy.
Too many consonants!
Challenges work for me, but I did wonder whether I’d overestimated my ability on opening the app for the first time! It was immediately apparent that I was going to have to learn each word from scratch, no chance of using my favourite Romance languages to help me out this time! My tongue struggled to get round the string of consonants or seemingly odd letter combinations, such as ‘puno vam hvala’ (thank you very much), and I found the only way I could commit the words for ‘airport’ to memory (‘zračna luka’) was to declaim them in the style of John Cleese in the film A Fish Called Wanda…
Determination and encouraging messages from EuroTalk kept me going until the end of the month, when I was very pleased with my final score. Mind you, as I struggled to remember the order of the pictures on the memory games, I had plenty of extra practice at earning those last few points!
Which foreign language should an English speaker learn?
As a native English speaker, I can empathise with the difficulties we face when travelling abroad if we want to make an effort to speak another language. Many other countries teach English at school, it’s one of the obvious choices (leaving aside the multi-lingual communities of several of the world’s countries), but which should we learn? There are so many. Once we are abroad, those we meet may be keen to practise their English or are so used to using it with all foreigners, that it can often require some dedication to try out the language of the country you find yourself in.
However, persistence and the willingness to have a go does pay off. I have never forgotten a business trip to Warsaw when my extremely limited Polish was quite possibly a factor in my colleague unexpectedly booking me on to an open-top bus tour of his ‘beautiful city’ – a fabulous extra to my short visit.
So if you’re debating whether to stand out from the crowds on your next holiday to a country where the native language is not your own, my advice is have a go. Now where shall I go next year?
The uTalk language challenge for January comes to an end on Saturday, and we’ve loved hearing about everyone’s progress! Check back here next week to see how we all got on here in the office (trust me, you won’t want to miss that), but in the meantime, we asked a few of our most enthusiastic competitors to tell us how they got on.
Has anyone else taken part in the uTalk challenge? Did you enjoy it, and most importantly will you be continuing with your new language? We’d love to hear from you, so please share in the comments 🙂 And if you missed it this month, it’s never too late to start – uTalk is available from the App Store, and you can start learning your first essential words completely free.
Don’t miss our February photo challenge, which kicks off on Sunday!
Now over to our uTalkers 🙂
Ingrid, learning Serbian
I’ve really enjoyed doing the challenge. Serbian is a language I’ve wanted to get to grips with for a long time for quite a bizarre reason (it involves a love of the Eurovision Song Contest!) but I haven’t really known where to start.
The app’s been great, although I’d recommend using it on an iPad rather than an iPhone if you can. Oh, and the range of languages available is amazing!
It’s been slow-going – well it’s a tricky language! – I tried to do some in my lunch-break and on my commute but it was generally too noisy to concentrate. I have a trip to Belgrade planned for early April and it would be so nice to communicate on even the most basic level in their own language, so I’ll definitely be keeping it up.
Patricia, learning Icelandic
My name’s Patricia and I’m from Montreal, Canada. I’m the happy owner of a wonderful Icelandic horse, Léttfeti. I’ve been riding Icelandic horses for four years and I’ve been to Iceland. And I absolutely love Björk 🙂 I took up the uTalk challenge so I could begin to learn more about the Icelandic Horse breed, about Icelandic riding and about Iceland in general. I hope to go back there soon.
The uTalk app is a whole lot of fun, filled with useful words and phrases. I particularly enjoyed repeating the words and phrases after the native speakers and then hearing my own voice. What a great tool to gain confidence and improve pronunciation! I also really liked the Iceland module, which contained many words and phrases pertaining to things that are specific to Iceland.
The app is very visually pleasing. It works offline, which is great for learning on planes, subways and other areas without internet. This app can also be used as an offline dictionary, which I find particularly useful. Thank you for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to the next Challenge!
— Patricia Ochman (@speedbird_o) January 20, 2015
Alex, learning Romanian
I found it really fun learning some basic Romanian, especially because I’ve been able to greet Ioana each day saying ‘Buna Ziua’, and trying out a few random words on her. I found the speaking and recall games the most useful as you can check you actually know the words, rather than passively recognising them. The memory game, on the other hand, is the bane of my life as I always manage to forget where one thing is and miss the full score. Overall, I’ve found uTalk really fun and easy to use at the gym while I’m on the bikes or during my lunchbreak.
Jacqui, learning Croatian
I first discovered EuroTalk when my children were involved in the Junior Language Challenge in 2010, and, as a language graduate, was very impressed with how easy it was to master the basics. Since then, I have never quite prioritised the time to learn a new language myself, so when I heard about this month’s challenge for adults, it was just a matter of picking which one to try.
Why Croatian? It’s a country I quite fancy visiting, and as I’ve never attempted a Slavic language before, it seemed like a worthy contender for the challenge. Come 1st January, it soon became clear to me that Slavic languages do not have much immediately in common with either Romance or Germanic ones, and it often felt more like a string of tongue-twisters with some different accented letters to add into the mix for good measure. Daunting, yes, but I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I discovered that standing in the middle of the room and declaiming the words in theatrical fashion was quite effective!
After a month, I’ve made great progress. I haven’t earned maximum points (I’m on just over 4000), but I have managed to learn a lot more than I thought I would, even waking up some mornings with various phrases springing to mind! This achievement wouldn’t have been possible without something like the uTalk app. The approach of listening and repeating with a few simple games just works at this level of language acquisition.
The good news for me is that I’ve now booked a short break to Croatia in the summer – make mine a ‘čaša šampanjca, molim vas’.
Katherine, learning Czech
I chose to learn Czech as it was a completely new language to me, and I will be visiting there later in the year, so it will be fun to try out a few phrases!
I have found the app quite addictive – as soon as I’ve got a good score in one topic I want to get started on another one! The games really help you to learn quickly, and although I can’t pretend to remember every word, it will be easy to brush it up again later. So, a great challenge, and good fun!
Sometimes one word is all you need… With the World Cup getting underway today, here’s how each national team says that all-important word, ‘goal’.
You can find this and lots more in our language learning app, uTalk – available to download and start learning right now from the App Store. So whether you’re watching the football at home or away, you’ll always be prepared.
(There are lots of non-football related words in there too, for those of us with other interests!)
Please do share the infographic with friends and tell us how you’ll be shouting ‘Goal!’ this World Cup 🙂
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It can often feel like life is all about sport, whether we like it or not. But have you ever wondered how good sports stars are at languages?
It turns out, pretty good. Like anyone who has to travel a lot for their work, athletes often find knowing only their native language isn’t enough. Here are 10 great examples of sports stars who speak more than one language.
Besides English, the former footballer learnt Spanish while he was playing for Barcelona, and picked up some Japanese when he later moved to Nagoya Grampus Eight. He’s now a passionate ambassador for languages in schools, saying in an interview with TES last year, ‘the learning of languages, for me, will always be helpful for the vast majority at some stage in their life’.
Not content with winning a frankly quite ridiculous 17 Grand Slam titles, the Swiss tennis player also speaks four languages fluently – his native Swiss German along with French, English and German. He’s known for his ability to switch effortlessly between languages in interviews and press conferences and can quite comfortably answer journalists’ questions in their own language, a feat some of his fellow tennis players can’t keep up with. Wouldn’t be the first time.
The British diver recently got an A in his Spanish A-level (congrats, Tom!), and makes good use of his language skills when in Mexico, where he spends a lot of his time. Here’s a video of him showing off his Spanish.
Here in England, Jonny Wilkinson is known (at least by me) as that guy who’s pretty good at drop goals. But he’s also a bit of a superstar in France, where he’s been playing for Toulon since 2009. He’s now fluent in French and was awarded honorary citizenship of Toulon earlier this week – giving his acceptance speech in the local language, of course.
The Arsenal manager is well known for his interest in languages, speaking French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. Like Gary Lineker, Wenger’s also known as an ambassador for languages, and last year he was voted Britain’s first Public Language Champion by readers of The Guardian. In this video he explains why languages are so important.
Never one to let Roger take all the glory, fellow tennis champion Novak Djokovic speaks five languages – Serbian, English, German, Italian and French. He studied English and German at primary school, and learned Italian when he worked with coach Riccardo Piati. In an interview with Tennis Talk in 2013, he said, ‘We have a saying in our country: The more languages you know, the more is your worth as a person. I like to understand what people are saying wherever I am, at least to pick up a few phrases of those languages.’
Long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe has a first-class degree from Loughborough University in European Studies, and speaks French and German fluently. She now lives in Monaco with her husband and two children, who are both bilingual, attending a French school but also fluent in English.
Another Barcelona footballer, Fabregas speaks four languages – Spanish, Catalan, English and French, and his Twitter feed is multilingual. When asked about his language skills in 2005, he replied, ‘These days you have to keep studying, not least because my mum tells me so.’ Words to live by.
And finally, another tennis player, because tennis is my favourite. Daniela Hantuchova, from Slovakia, is by all accounts a very talented lady. Besides her tennis career, she’s also a trained classical pianist, and speaks – wait for it – six languages: Slovak, Czech, English and German fluently, and some Croatian and Italian.
Does anyone else feel like a bit of an underachiever now, or is it just me?
If you know any other examples of sports stars who speak other languages, please tell us about them in the comments.