There was much more to the star of Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s than her movie career. Audrey Hepburn was well known for her charity work with UNICEF, and after spending her childhood in Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, she was also fluent in English, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and German.
Rita Ora was born in Kosovo (then called Yugoslavia) to Kosovar-Albanian parents, moving to London when she was a year old. The pop star, model and X Factor judge speaks Albanian fluently and is proud of her heritage; last year she was named an honorary ambassador for the Republic of Kosovo.
Former yachtswoman Dame Ellen Macarthur learnt to speak French when she was 21 and living in a French boatyard while she prepared for a solo transatlantic race. She’s now fluent and says she would never have been so successful in her career without knowing the language, which helped her build relationships with other sailors and gain sponsorship.
Comedian (and record-breaking marathon runner) Eddie Izzard is currently touring with his stand-up show Force Majeure, which he performs three times a night, in three languages: French, German and English. In 2014, he was named the Guardian’s public language champion, and told the newspaper: “There’s a political basis for me to learning other languages, because if we don’t come together in the world then the world’s not going to make it.”
JK Rowling studied French and Classics at university, and when she came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series in 1990, she was working as a bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. She later moved to Portugal and split her time between teaching English as a foreign language and writing the best-selling books.
The Facebook founder surprised everyone in 2014 when, during a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing, he started speaking Mandarin – and continued for half an hour. Though his efforts got a mixed reception from the press, the audience seemed delighted – and we were pretty impressed, too.
The star of Napoleon Dynamite is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served a two-year religious mission to Japan after high school, where he became fluent in the language. And though he now describes himself as “a little rusty”, he still sounds pretty good to us.
Tim Peake is the first British astronaut to go to the International Space Station – but before leaving Earth he had to learn Russian (the language of the controls in the Soyuz capsule used to get to the ISS), and has described this as the hardest part of his 14 months’ training.
Okay so we already mentioned Tom Hiddleston in our last post, but frankly, we never get bored of listening to him speaking loads of languages – among them French, Spanish, Greek and Italian, plus some Mandarin, Russian and Korean. And he studied Latin at university…
The Lord of the Rings star was born in New York, but spent his childhood in Venezuela, Denmark and Argentina, leaving him fluent in English, Spanish and Danish. He also speaks some French and Italian, and understands Norwegian and Swedish.
Does your favourite celebrity make the list?
The Scottish Government has committed to every child learning a second language at the age of 5. Alongside this, they’ll learn an additional language in P5, which means children will know 3 languages by the time they leave school. It’s called the 1+2 policy and we think it’s a great pledge, as there are so many reasons why children should learn another language.
Increase their skills
Earlier this week an article came out stating that ‘bilingual babies are smarter’. Growing up learning or hearing a second language helps to increase their learning capabilities including problem solving and memory. This means not only do children benefit from knowing a second language; it also helps them improve across all other subjects that they’re learning.
This may seem like extreme forward planning, but as the world continues to internationalise, employers are looking to their potential employees for language skills. Business is conducted worldwide and the need to understand and communicate with other cultures is massive. Having the ability to learn a language at a young age is an excellent skill to have.
Secondary schools in the UK teach a foreign language in years 7 to 9, with it being optional for students to take a language at GCSE. Starting languages in primary schools could create the enthusiasm needed to help with the uptake of GCSE and A-level languages. It can help to show students that languages aren’t necessarily a risky option at GCSE/A-level, instead they are fun and there are ways that you can learn a language and do well with it!
Primary schools that have been a part of the Junior Language Challenge have found children love to learn languages. Those that get to the final of the challenge have had the chance to learn three new languages; many of them have chosen to enter again the year after too!
There are such a large variety of cultures in the UK, in one primary school there are 20 different languages spoken. Not one of these speak English as a first language, so equipping children with the skills to learn a language will make it easier for them to pick up English and communicate with each other.
In 2012 the European Commission report found only 9% of English students were reaching ‘independent learner’ level when it came to languages. This is tiny compared to Sweden’s 82% level; the UK is actually joint bottom when it comes to learning foreign languages. In Luxembourg children are offered the chance to learn 3 languages during their time at school. Clearly learning a language is an area the UK needs to invest in more – and Scotland are leading the way!
The Junior Language Challenge is a national competition for children aged 10 and under across the UK. One of the goals of the competition is to give young learners the chance to discover exciting new languages, and this year we’ve chosen Romanian as the first language.
But how much do you know about this European language? Here’s Ioana’s introduction to her mother tongue…
Some other fun facts about Romanian
- The Romanian language is 1,700 years old and is the only Romance language spoken in Eastern Europe. That’s why you’ll be surprised how many similarities it has with French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. However, it also retains a number of features of old Latin and also contains many words taken from the surrounding Slavic languages, as well as from German, Greek and Turkish.
- The name “Romania” comes from the Latin word “Romanus” which means “citizen of the Roman Empire.”
- Something that might come in handy is that Romanian is a phonetic language, so words are pronounced as they are spelled. Yay!
- A foreigner trying to learn or speak Romanian can expect positive reactions from native speakers. Most Romanian will certainly appreciate the fact that you are making an effort to speak their language.
- Romanians tend to be very good at foreign languages, they start learning as early as 6 years old in school either English, French or German and they add a second language at the age of 11. The majority of young people speak very good English and some of them even another one or 2 languages.
- Romanians love meeting new people and making friends; they are also renowned for their hospitality, so if you speak Romanian you have a pretty good chance of having a blast if you’re visiting this country.
- And speaking of travelling, Romania has amazing landscapes. In fact, Romania’s Carpathian Mountains are home to the largest undisturbed forests in Europe.
- Don’t deny yourself the ease of ordering delicious Romanian food that comes in generous portions, and you’re guaranteed to remember a trip to Romania as one of the best you’ve ever had.
La revedere și mult succes (goodbye and good luck)
If you’re a parent or teacher of children aged 10 and under in the UK, visit juniorlanguagechallenge.com to find out more about our annual competition, which is now open! Entry costs just £5, which is all donated to our fantastic charity, onebillion.
It’s not often you hear the Cornish language spoken in the streets of London. To be honest, it’s not often you hear it in the streets of Cornwall, although I promise it does happen, if you know where to look.
But this weekend was an exception, because Saturday was St Piran’s Day, the national day of Cornwall, and London was celebrating in style with its annual Shoreditch celebration, Kernow In The City.
So what’s it all about?
No, I’m joking, of course – in fact, I find St Piran’s Day is one of the more sober Cornish celebrations, as it’s really more about celebrating the culture of Cornwall. Back home, different towns have different traditions, but usually there’ll be music and singing, a parade of some sort, perhaps some dancing and dressing up, occasionally a pasty competition. In Westminster, the Cornish MPs hold a cultural reception which aims to teach more about Cornwall’s identity and culture.
The Shoreditch evening event, which I’ve been going to for a good 4 or 5 years, is also primarily a cultural celebration, with different Cornish talent every year and a heavy focus on music (this year featured the amazing Flats and Sharps as the grand finale, last year saw The Oggymen taking centre stage), as well as a variety of comedians (The Kernow King has been guest of honour in the past, and still usually makes a remote appearance via video).
But get a lot of pining ex-pat Cornish together and a few kegs of Betty Stogs beer and it will inevitably turn into a somewhat tipsy affair, with plenty of drunken dancing by the end of the evening. And that’s part of the reason I love Kernow In The City: every year I take along a few non-Cornish people, who tentatively agree to attend in the full expectation of being hounded out of the venue for being English, and although some of the in-jokes about miniature Cornish villages do go over their heads, and the bilingual compering leaves plenty to be understood, by the end of the evening they’re usually bellowing out the words to Trelawney (our national anthem) with great passion, and dancing with total strangers.
Nothing could do more to dispel the myth of the Cornish cold shoulder than the St Piran’s Day event: take a small interest in Cornish culture and you really will be welcomed with open arms. Learn a couple of words of Cornish and you’ll be the talk of the town. And if you’re going to learn anything, learn these three words: Kernow Bys Vyken (Cornwall For Ever), a toast to make you Cornish friends for life.
Today is the day we celebrate ‘Mother’s day’ or ‘Mothering Sunday’ here in the UK.
Mum is one of those words we start to use from a young age; perhaps you used ‘mumma’, ‘mother’, ‘mam’ or ‘mummy’ instead; there are many ways to say it! Some languages offer a similar word to English, like ‘la madre’ in Spanish and in Italian. Typically the word for mother does start with an ‘m’ or a ‘b’ as these are soft and easy sounds when you’re a child, creating the ‘m’ noise is one of the easiest ones to make. In Afrikaans the word for mother is just ‘ma’ and in Swahili it’s ‘mama’.
However, that’s not always the case: in Fijian the word for mother is ‘tina’, in Kurdish (Sorani) it is ‘daik’ and in Swiss it is ‘d’Mueter’. In other languages the m or b is replaced with a ‘h’ sound – in Japanese mother is ‘haha’ and in Somalia it is ‘hooyo’. Would you expect ‘Whaea’ to translate into the English word ‘Mother’? This is perhaps one of the more unusual ways of saying mother in another language (Maori). Interestingly in Georgian, it is completely different to English, with ‘mama’ meaning father and ‘deda’ for mother.
When it comes to the Romance and Germanic languages, there are a lot of similarities between both ‘mother’ and ‘father’ translations. Father tends to start with a ‘p’ or a ‘b’ sound, which are also easy noises for children to make.
Here are some other words for ‘mother’ in different languages:
Slovak – matka
Scots Gaelic – a’ mhàthair
Hungarian – anya
Albanian – nënë
Tagalog – nanay
How do you say ‘mother’ in the language you’re learning?
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums, tinas, madres and nanays – we hope you have a lovely day!