Sarah Barrett from Lingotastic runs language classes for children and families, using music, crafts, puppets and bubbles – it sounds so much fun we might have to go and check it out ourselves! Here’s Sarah’s language story…
On my first visit to Germany to visit my husband Maik’s parents, I had a few language misunderstandings.
One day we were in Große Straße in Osnabrück and I had to ask Maik what a travelling Bratwurst (“Riesenbratwurst”) was… it actually said “Reisenbratwurst”, which means giant Bratwurst. So I still don’t know what a travelling Bratwurst is.
A few years later I was at church in Germany listening to the preacher. I could not understand why he was talking so much about toast… he was actually talking about trost (an old German word for “comfort”)!
Maik and I got married in Germany, but they didn’t believe I understood what was going on, so we had to have a translator!
When my youngest daughter started school (two years ago), I set up some language classes for families as Lingotastic. As a busy mum, language learning hadn’t been a priority for a long time, but we had passed on German and French to our children, and I wanted to encourage other families to do this too. At Lingotastic we have six weeks of French, German or Spanish. We use simple songs, crafts, a story, puppets and bubbles to help little ones to tune into that language. It was tricky for me at first to separate the languages, but it came with practice.
I then wanted a challenge, so as a family we learned a bit of Mandarin and some Mandarin songs. We then delivered a class in the local library and also in my daughter’s school reception class.
We heard about the EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge at Easter and my daughters thought they might like to join in. They learned a lot of Portuguese through playing the simple games. Then in the summer we heard EuroTalk were doing an Esperanto challenge, using the uTalk app. We really enjoyed it and had a few simple conversations in Esperanto around the dinner table. A few months ago my daughter asked why gato and gâteau are not the same thing, and said maybe we should have a gato gateau!
I love to greet people in their native language and people are often really happy to teach you how. I can often say good morning in up to five languages whilst walking my children to school!
Language learning only works for me if I can see a purpose. I love to get to know others and language learning is a great way to do this. I love to learn languages by playing apps like uTalk, playing with FlashSticks and singing along to songs in other languages.
If you want to follow our language learning journey check out www.Lingotastic.co.uk/blog
‘It’s all Greek to me’. This is what an English speaker might say when they don’t understand something at all. In this context the Greek language is used as a metaphor for ‘something incomprehensible’.
So that got us thinking here at EuroTalk… if an English speaker uses Greek, what does a Greek speaking person use? And in fact how does this expression translate in other languages?
Well as it turns out there is a (somewhat complicated sounding) term for this – ‘language of stereotypical incomprehensibility’. So Greek is the language of stereotypical incomprehensibility in English.
Other languages have similar expressions and they usually pick as a metaphor for ‘impossible to understand’ a foreign language with an unfamiliar alphabet or writing system.
To answer our original question: in Greek the language used as a metaphor for incomprehensibility is Chinese.
Chinese actually turns out to be the most popular choice as a synonym for ‘I do not understand’ and is used in many languages, including Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Dutch, Estonian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Ukrainian.
Greek itself follows closely, and is used as a language of stereotypical incomprehensibility in: English, Afrikaans, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, Polish, Persian.
(Bonus fact: the origin of the phrase in some European languages can be traced to the Medieval Latin proverb, ‘Graecum est; non potest legi’, which translates to ‘It is Greek; it cannot be read.’)
Sometimes the language of incomprehensibility is not a specific human language at all. For example a Chinese (Mandarin) speaker would use something that translates roughly to ‘Ghost’s script’, ‘Heavenly Script’ or ‘Sounds of the Birds’. And a Cantonese speaker might say, ‘These are chicken intestines.’
And how about a constructed international language, such as Esperanto? As a tongue-in-cheek reference, an Esperanto speaker would say ‘That’s a Volapük thing’, Volapük being another constructed language (with about 20 speakers).
How about you? What language do you use to mean ‘incomprehensible’? And is your language used by any other languages as a synonym for ‘impossible to understand’?
Bonus points question:
What does a person whose mother tongue is Greek, but who also speaks English, say in English when they want to say ‘It’s all Greek to me’?
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Esperanto week! If we’ve convinced you to give the language a try, you might find this handy beginner’s guide a good place to start… Please feel free to share it with anyone you think might be interested.
Following a request, this guide is now also available in Spanish.
Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):
You might not believe it, but I regularly arbitrate fairly ferocious arguments about cake. And it’s not because my colleagues can’t share cake (although this has been known to be a problem in the past).
The reason is that this little word, which you would think would be a simple thing to translate, actually gets people quite upset. Throughout the world, different sorts of cake prevail, and some people (understandably) get quite grumpy when you present them with the wrong type of cake. It’s important stuff.
One of our most recent additions to the uTalk app is Esperanto, where we had to make a very difficult decision about whether to translate the phrase ‘piece of cake’ (available in uTalk Essentials because, let’s face it, it’s essential vocab), as ‘peco da torto‘ or as ‘peco da kuko‘. For English speakers, ‘kuko’ was favoured because it is close to ‘cake’, and therefore brings to mind a big, squashy Victoria sponge. ‘Torto’, on the other hand, inevitably conjures something which is not a cake at all, but a tart – or even a flan: something flimsy and possibly, horror of horrors, covered with fruit.
Nonetheless, in the final stages of the battle, ‘peco da torto’ won, and went through to the final translation. Here’s why: our app is used all around the world by people who can learn from their own native language: we currently have 128 languages in uTalk, and people can learn any one of these from any other. For Esperanto, this is particularly important, because Esperanto is a language that nearly all Esperantists (barring a maximum of a few thousand native speakers) speak as a second language, making the Esperantist community very multinational.
So we want to make our Esperanto translation as internationally relevant as possible. And for most Europeans, at least, ‘torto’ will bring to mind a fairly generic type of cake, whereas ‘kuko’ might be slightly less familiar. Taking just a few European languages, we’ll see that in Russian we have торт, Italian torta, Dutch taart, Spanish tarta, Croatian torta, Hungarian torta. Both options would have worked, but ‘torto’ won the more international vote, and when it comes to Esperanto that’s a pretty important factor to consider.
What do you call a cake in your language? Let us know!
Saluton! Mia nomo estas Nat, kaj mi lernas Esperanton.
Whilst others jet-set away to sunny beaches and tropical climes this summer, my plans are slightly more academic. I will be learning Esperanto. OK, I’ll take a break too, but I’m really excited about my summer goal, and I’m hoping to achieve it within two months.
What, Why, How?
All good questions. Let’s start with ‘What’.
What is Esperanto?
Esperanto is a language invented by Ludwig Zamenhof, whose idea was to create an international, apolitical language which is very, very (very) easy to learn. Since its creation in the 1880s, it’s seen surges and declines in popularity, and is currently spoken by up to two million speakers, and – quite amazingly – up to 2,000 native speakers. Esperantists place a heavy emphasis on how speaking and engaging with Esperanto makes people operate on an equal footing, and can open up communication opportunities all over the world.
Why learn Esperanto?
So why learn it? Unlike with other languages, you don’t have the goal of going to the target country to finally try out some of your new Esperanto phrases. There is no Esperanto country, of course. But Esperantists tend to be incredibly friendly and welcoming to those who learn the language, making it easy to find conversation partners or groups, especially in the age of the internet. Esperantists even have their own ‘Passport Service’, by which travelling Esperantists can find locals who are willing to open their houses up to fellow speakers, making it easy to travel abroad and widen your Esperantist community.
Personally, I’m mostly in it out of fascination. I’ve heard how easy it is to learn and I want to see for myself how much I can achieve in two months. During our uTalk Esperanto recording, I picked up a couple of the basics and they’ve stuck with me, which has encouraged me to think that I might be able to pick up a lot more fairly quickly.
I’m also interested in the application of Esperanto, beyond just learning it for personal enjoyment. Because the language is so simple (just 16 grammar rules!) and completely regular (yes, completely!), it can be effectively used as a bridge language between communities who otherwise might struggle to communicate. It’s also been trialled extensively in primary schools, where the logic goes that teaching Esperanto enables children to get to a very high language standard very quickly, so that they can start being creative in a foreign language early on. They can then transfer the skills over to other languages they study later: effectively, they have not just learnt Esperanto, but learnt how to learn a language. And done it without the chronic frustration of trying to remember how the irregular past participle should be formed, which taints most people’s memories of school-day French and makes them feel, even as adults, that they ‘cannot’ learn a language. Instead, children can chatter away with relative fluency, experiencing the liberation of communicating in another tongue at a really young age. To learn more, watch this video:
I also like the sound of it. To me, Esperanto has a slightly Eastern European tinge, with a mish-mash of vocabulary which I can sometimes recognise from other languages. Already, as an English speaker, I am familiar with the following basic words:
Mi lernas (I learn)
And from other languages, I recognise:
Where am I starting from?
I’m a total beginner: I haven’t ever picked up an Esperanto book, and I don’t own one. However, from my interaction with our Esperanto voiceover artists and translators, I have picked up a few things which in other languages would take me weeks of effort. So I feel like I’m starting from an advantage. What I know is this:
Always end in an -a. To form the opposite of the adjective, you just add ‘mal-‘ in front of it. So:
Granda – big
Malgranda – small
Fermita – closed
Malfermita – open
Vera – true
Malvera – false
Always end in -o. Always! To form the feminine, you just add ‘-in-‘ before the final ‘o‘:
turisto – turistino
aktoro – aktorino
kantisto – kantistino
‘mi‘ is ‘I’, ‘ŝi‘ is ‘she’, ‘li‘ is he’, ‘vi‘ is ‘you’, and present tense verbs always end in ‘-as‘. So:
Mi lernas – I learn
Li lernas – he learns
Vi lernas – you learn.
How will I learn?
By any means possible. Not coincidentally, uTalk Esperanto has just been released, and that’s going to help me hugely with pronunciation and vocabulary. I’ve also got Katalin Kováts’ Poŝamiko (‘Pocket friend’), a book to guide me on the basics, and then all of the resources listed at http://en.lernu.net/ – more than enough to keep me going for the next few months. After that, who knows – perhaps some conversation classes?
Wish me luck!
If you’d like to join Nat in learning Esperanto, download uTalk from the App Store to get started!