This year in November I went for my first trip in the USA. I was lucky enough to spend my birthday in sunny Florida and it was wonderful! But the story I want to share with you starts earlier than that, on our way. After a 10 hour long flight spiced with excitement, plans and anticipation we landed at Miami Airport. We went through a few security checks and at the last one, there was a nice man who greeted me in good Romanian after checking my passport. When I asked how it is that he knows Romanian, he said he visited our country not too long ago and he made great friends and saw beautiful places.
The stress of the airport was immediately relieved when I heard the Romanian words, and even more because they came from a native English speaker, who learned a few expressions in a language that he probably won’t have much use for except delighting Romanian citizens with “Bună ziua” and “Ce mai faci?”
Once we settled into our flat, we went for a walk to discover the city. My boyfriend is a native Spanish speaker and we always comment when we hear someone speaking Spanish on the street here in London, so when the situation occurred we did the same. Then another time. And another time. It’s pretty accurate to say that we heard more Spanish than English in Miami.
I was surprised when I was addressed questions in Spanish from a shop keeper when I wanted to pay for the shopping – I understood from some of the words and gestures that she was asking me if I needed a bag so I proudly replied, “No, gracias!” I immediately got an adrenaline rush from this first time speaking Spanish with a stranger – amazing! It was probably an ordinary conversation for her, but for me it felt like a very important step in my language learning.
We drove further north to Orlando where we noticed that Spanish wasn’t as popular, but you’d still hear it here and there. If you are passionate about languages, I strongly recommend Walt Disney World’s Epcot park – around a big beautiful lake there are many different “countries” with specific food and people that speak local languages, as well as buildings and shops decorated by the specific styles. We went for a Mexican lunch in a Maya pyramid and we got nachos on the house, which was pretty great.
One of the reasons travelling is so amazing is that you find yourself in many different situations and you just have to play it by ear and that’s really fun and exciting. Next time you travel, give our uTalk app a try and you’ll be able to chat with locals as well. Maybe even get free nachos, who knows?
As is EuroTalk tradition, we celebrated the spookiest day of the year (a day early) with fancy dress, pumpkin carving and other Halloween-themed fun.
We also took the opportunity to put together this little video of Halloween-themed English idioms, starring members of the (endlessly talented, we’re sure you’ll agree) EuroTalk team.
We’re expecting our Oscar nomination any day now.
We really hope you love this video as much as we enjoyed making it. If so, please share it with friends, and let’s keep the madness going 😉
And we’re always open to suggestions, so if you have idioms – English or other languages – that you’d like to see immortalised in video, we’d love to hear them!
One of the hardest things to grasp when learning the English language is emphasis. Emphasising a different word in the same sentence, each time can completely change the meaning of it. Some people make the emphasis on a certain word very clear. This can give you the general feeling of the sentence.
Other times it can be harder to pick up the meaning of a sentence and this can lead to you misinterpreting what the speaker means. Emphasis is normally used when someone wants to convey how he or she feels about something; this could be something they feel emotional about.
For example my mum could say to me ‘you’re not doing that tomorrow’.
This could be her checking with me ‘you’re not doing that tomorrow?’ implying that I am, or might be doing it on a different day. However, it is more likely that she is saying to me ‘you are not doing that tomorrow!’ – using this emphasis would make it clear to me that there is no chance I will be doing whatever I wanted to do tomorrow.
Emphasis is used by:
- Stretching out the vowel sound.
- Pausing after the word that is being emphasised is spoken.
- Speaking slower when saying the word they want to emphasise.
- The first syllable is pronounced louder than the other syllables.
Try emphasising a different word in this sentence each time you say it.
‘She isn’t flying to Hawaii tomorrow’
- By emphasising the ‘she’ it implies that it is someone else that is flying to Hawaii tomorrow.
- The ‘isn’t’ shows that she’s not doing this anymore.
- Emphasising the ‘flying’ means that she’s not flying, she may be getting there another way instead.
- ‘To’ this could mean she is flying from or by Hawaii not to.
- Emphasis on Hawaii shows that it could be a different location, not Hawaii.
- Finally, ‘tomorrow’ could mean that it’s actually a different day, not tomorrow.
Isn’t it strange how one sentence can be used in so many different ways?
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?
Interview with Alexandra Turner – translator, writer, editor
Alex left her London life a few months ago to go and travel around the world. She is passionate about culture and languages and has traveled to 26 countries up to now. At the moment she lives in Stockholm, Sweden (and we deeply envy her for that).
EuroTalk: What made you start learning languages?
I started learning German and French when I started secondary school because it was compulsory. Straight away I loved both of them and they became my favourite lessons. Outside of school I was interested in watching movies or looking at books in those languages and continuing to learn (I know, so geeky!). Then two years later I started to study Spanish too as an optional subject for GCSE (the exams we do aged 16) and I loved that too – my lessons made me think about sunny Spain instead of depressing London 😛 I was starting to get pretty interested in languages so I also took Japanese lessons after school (again, yes, I was a geek…) So I kept on with those language for a few years. I started learning Italian just two years ago because I met my boyfriend who’s Italian, so I learned just by listening to him talking, by watching Italian TV with him and later on by going to Italy. Finally my other language is Ukrainian, which I started learning because I was living in L’viv, Ukraine, and I really needed the language to get around day to day.
ET: What gives you motivation to continue learning?
To be honest I mostly learn for fun. I am really fascinated by languages, how they are different and yet sometimes similar. If I have spare time I am as likely to grab one of my language apps or watch a foreign movie as I am to surf Facebook or watch TV. And in fact if I DO surf Facebook, Twitter etc, half my feed is in other languages anyway.
I also learn for work because I’m a translator and I feel like I need to keep improving. And travelling of course is a motivation because I need languages for practical things.
ET: What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Earning money is one thing! But the best feeling ever is navigating a practical situation using one of your languages, or having a real conversation for the first (or second, third…) time. I get so psyched when I talk to an Italian person and they actually understand what I’m saying. Or just doing something simple like buying some tomatoes at the market in Ukraine, I feel pretty cool!
ET: What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Loads! When I was at school I found grammar boring and I just wanted to learn loads of words (I was pretty naïve!!) So later on my grammar was a total mess and I had to go back and try to put it into place. So I still have a pretty terrible knowledge of some fundamental things like genders in German, which can only be fixed by hard, hard study later on. So if you want to reach a decent level in a language, I recommend to get the grammar in place ASAP, which I’ve done with Ukrainian (older and wiser) and it’s helped soooo much. Also I now find grammar amazing, like doing a Sudoku puzzle 😀
Another challenge is that I am shy and afraid of speaking to new people in new languages. This is incredibly hard to overcome, but the only solution is, like Nike says, Just Do it! Start with easier situations like buying a beer or a stamp and progress to harder ones. Or stick yourself in an environment where you are forced to use the language. For me that’s spending time with my boyfriend’s family who speak NO English, or by living in Ukraine where many people know no English at all. Another helpful thing is to organise a language exchange or find a conversation teacher/partner who will give you one on one help. You gain confidence just by doing it over and over and over…
ET: Tell us your favourite word/expression in your favourite language.
Wow there are so many! There are loads of amazing expressions in Italian although most of them are too rude to write here now… The best things are the gestures, there’s a funny one you can do to show that you’re being left alone or ditched, where you make the shape of an artichoke (for some reason…) with your hand. In German I like the expression ‘das geht mir auf den Keks’ – ‘it gets on my biscuit’, which means something annoys you. I also really like using the word ‘pobrecito’ (poor thing) in Spanish whenever I’m being sarcastically sympathetic to someone.
ET: Any funny/weird/awkward situation that happened with a native or another speaker?
Too many awkward situations to count. At the moment I keep accidentally using Spanish words when I speak Italian, which is quite awkward when people stare at me and say ‘what does that mean?’ In Ukraine I had silly situations every day, such as trying to order food and having to make animal noises when I didn’t know the name of the type of meat, for example. Luckily people found it fun rather than being annoyed. Also I’d get really annoyed when I went into a продукти to buy milk or bread – I’d so proud that I’d remembered the right words, then they would ask me some silly question like ‘which type of bread?’ which I clearly had no chance of answering. Last time it happened, I replied to the woman ‘Я не знаю’ (I don’t know) in exasperation, and she laughed at me for about five minutes…