Today is a big day here in the UK, as we’re voting in a referendum to decide our future in the European Union. A lot’s been said on both sides of the debate, so we won’t repeat any of the arguments for or against Brexit.
Instead, lets focus on the rich and fascinating cultures of both the UK and Europe. And who better to ask about their favourite things about them than our lovely staff?
Our colleagues from overseas have come up with some interesting things they love about the UK:
Nikolay (Bulgaria) – I ♥ British humour and specifically panel shows! Can’t get enough of “Mock the Week”, “QI”, “Would I Lie to You?”, “Have I Got News for You” etc.
Pablo (Spain) – People’s politeness and patience. In crowded places like in the centre, underground or the streets full of cars, is where you can notice it the most. The only way you can survive from bursting into a full crisis is with both qualities. I really really love that.
Sandra (Poland) – For me it is the Sunday roast, and fish and chips. Living with a lovely bunch of friends who love to cook means that I get to discover some great British dishes, and also that I love to have gravy with almost every meal!
Aditya (India) – I enjoy the British weather, in particular that I love the rain and cloudy weather! Originating from Delhi and having also lived in Dubai, I am rather fed up of the heat/sun.
Ioana (Romania) – Before I came to Britain I thought the idea of tea and milk is disgusting. Now I’ll have a cuppa if I’m sad, happy, with friends, by myself, in the morning or in the evening, there is just something incredibly comforting in a hot cup of tea. Especially on rainy days.
And here are some thoughts from our British colleagues…
Brett – I think the obvious one here is pizza!
Phil – European beaches are the best 🙂
Simon – I visited the Sagrada Familia on my recent trip to Barcelona, and it is an absolutely incredible building, with exceptional architecture.
Safia – I love Italian hot chocolate, you can eat it with a spoon!
Liz – The pain au chocolat… it’s a miraculous culinary invention that brightens up the dullest morning…!
Over to you! Brits – what do you love about Europe? And non-Brits, what’s your favourite thing about the UK? 🙂
Quit smoking. Learn Welsh. Finally finish writing that book – and actually let someone read it. Learn Thai. Spend more time sailing. Learn Mandarin. Walk the street map of London. Learn Turkish. Achieve a freestanding handstand and a scorpion/needle stretch (whatever that is). Learn Argentinian Spanish.
These are just a few of the New Year’s resolutions we’ve been setting ourselves in the EuroTalk office, having just realised 2016 has crept up on us and is suddenly, terrifyingly close. And you may have noticed a bit of a language theme…
Introducing the uTalk challenge 2016 – learn a language for free this New Year
That’s because this January, we’ll be taking on the uTalk challenge 2016, using our uTalk app to learn as much as we can of our chosen language before 31st January. Last year Nat stormed to victory in our first uTalk challenge, completing the app in Icelandic before most of us had even mastered ‘hello’… but we’re hoping for a closer contest this time around. And failing that, our back-up plan is to steal her iPad.
How to join the uTalk challenge
But we don’t want to do it alone! So if you’re an iOS user*, and you’d like to finally start learning that language you’ve been talking about for ages, now’s your chance. And even better, the uTalk challenge is completely FREE. All you need to do is sign up at eurotalk.com/utalkchallenge, and on January 1st we’ll send you over a code to unlock the Essentials upgrade (worth £7.99) for your chosen language. Then it’s over to you…
We’ll check in with you each week by email to see how you’re doing and update the online leaderboard, so you can see how your score compares to everyone else’s. AND if you complete the Essentials by the end of January, we’ll give you another language to learn in February, and so on. So if you’re really determined, you could learn 12 new languages in 2016. Now that’s a pretty cool New Year’s resolution.
*Unfortunately the uTalk app is only available on iOS, we’re really sorry! But we don’t want anyone to miss out, so if you’re not an iOS-er and you’d like to take part, drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can work out an alternative for you.
Spread the word
Challenges are a lot more fun if you’ve got company, so please help us spread the word to friends and family using the link eurotalk.com/utalkchallenge and on social media, using #uTalkChallenge. And for regular video updates from the EuroTalk team, in which we’ll attempt to demonstrate how much we’ve learnt, come and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Some of last year’s uTalk Challengers (who we hope will join us again this year!)…
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.
Patricia, learning Icelandic
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!
Jacqui, learning Croatian
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!
And here’s how the EuroTalkers got on…
So… who’s up for the challenge?
My countdown to this Christmas started on 26th December 2014; it’s my favourite time of year! I keep an app on my phone all year that counts down the number of sleeps until Christmas is back once again.
When it gets to the 1st of December, it’s traditional in the UK to use an advent calendar to count down the days up to and including Christmas Eve on the 24th. As a child, I was lucky enough to have a calendar with little pockets that my mum would place a chocolate and a little present in; these varied from pencils to hair bands.
We’ll be using my calendar at EuroTalk this year, to reveal a different Christmas word, in a different language, each day. You can countdown with us by following us on Twitter or liking us on Facebook – head on over now to find out what today’s word is, and see if you can pronounce it better than Ioana 😉
The idea of advent calendars originated from Germany, but soon spread across Europe and North America. Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas each year. People used to light a candle and allow it to burn down slightly more each day, representing how long there was until Christmas. Advent then moved onto boards with dates, and each day a different picture would be pinned onto the board. The first printed advent calendar dates back to the early 20th century, but during World War 2 production was stopped, in order to save cardboard and paper.
Advent calendars have become part of our annual Christmas celebrations. Today you can buy a standard calendar, which allows you to open little numbered doors and behind each one find either a picture or a chocolate. Alternatively you can buy ones with a gift behind each window; last year Harrods sold one shaped like a house that contained a different porcelain ornament for each day (we’re not sure how many they sold, though, as it cost £9,600…).
Do you have an advent calendar at home? What did you get for day 1?
So, you’ve decided to learn a language. Great! Now what?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have gone straight to the Internet in a fit of great enthusiasm, and bought yourself a language course – whether that’s in an app, on a CD or online. You might even have gone a step further and enrolled in a class.
But then the sun comes out, or the World Cup kicks off, or you decide to start reading the Game of Thrones books (only recommended if you have nothing else to do with your time for at least six months), and that passion for your new language starts to fade a little bit. Suddenly there are other things to do with your time, and although you definitely still want to be able to speak the language, you just don’t seem to have the time or enthusiasm to actually learn it.
And so that language course you bought, which promised so much, is forgotten and unused, and your dream of going travelling and fitting in like a local remains just that – a dream.
Can anyone else hear violins…?
It might sound obvious, but the thing about language courses, whether it’s EuroTalk, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo or any of the other multitude of programs out there, is that they’re only as useful as you allow them to be. I wish I could tell you that simply by downloading uTalk to your iPhone, the vocabulary will magically find its way into your brain while you’re sleeping, but it’s just not true (although if you want to try it, it’s available from the App Store).
Let’s look at this another way. You want to lose weight, so you join a gym. Logical. Maybe you even go along a few times after work. But then six months later you’re still not skinny, and on top of that you’re out of money and you probably feel pretty bad about yourself too. According to research by online accountants Crunch.co.uk, here in Britain we were wasting £37m a year on unused gym memberships in 2011. Just think what we could have been doing with that money. Or how fit we could all have got if we’d kept going to the gym.
The fact is, gyms don’t magically make you fit, or thin. (If it were as easy as that, I’d have joined one a long time ago.) They just provide the conditions you need to get yourself there. Even a personal trainer, whose job it is to help you, will only get so far if you’re not willing to meet them in the middle. And it’s the same with language software – if you don’t use it, it can’t help you. We’d all love a big red button that will get us instantly to where we want to be, but life isn’t like that.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Learning a language isn’t just about being able to speak that language. It’s also about the things you’ll discover along the way. You’ll learn to appreciate your own native tongue, understand the culture of the language you’re learning; you might even make a whole new group of friends. And personally, I think the satisfaction you feel the very first time you manage to speak to someone in another language, even if it’s just to say hello or thank you, is much greater than the pleasure you gain from becoming fluent. In the same way, reaching your target weight will feel amazing – but nothing will beat that first pound you lose.
So my advice is this – don’t buy language software, unless you’re going to use it. Because as the late Maya Angelou once said, ‘Nothing will work unless you do.’ And we don’t want your language app gathering virtual dust on your iPhone, until one day you realise you don’t need it any more and quietly delete it.
But if you do decide to invest in a course (hopefully EuroTalk!), and you follow through on that crazy plan you had one day to learn Russian, or Korean, or even Klingon, that’s great. I guarantee you won’t regret it – and it’ll definitely be less painful than going to the gym.
Our intern, Lorena, leaves us today to go home to Germany, and she’s been thinking back over her experiences in London and how she’s made the most of her time here to practise her English.
The time is running too fast. But I can’t say goodbye, because I think it means something sad is happening. But I am not dead, I am alive and I can come back to London. It takes me only one and a half hours on the airplane. So, I want to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’. This means: see you again.
I want to say thank you to EuroTalk. This brilliant team work very well together and gave me a good feeling to work here. They showed me a good insight into the working life.
Now, I have been for six months in London. I enjoyed the time in this very big and exciting city, and I’ll go back to Germany with a smile. For everyone, who is thinking about going to another country: Do it! Don’t think too much about it. Nobody can take this experience from you. And you will see, you will leave the country with new impressions and you will be happy.
I came to London to improve my English skills. I did it, because I started sometimes to dream in English. If you are doing this, than it is a good sign. At first, if I listen to people in a shop, it takes some time to understand, what they are talking about. But you listen every day, than you understand more and more. Also I started to read a book: Eat Pray Love. I watched the movie in Germany, so I knew a little bit what the story is about. By reading the book, I expanded my vocabulary. Three weeks ago, I went to a cinema to watch the Disney movie Frozen. After I left the cinema, I was astonished how much I understood. And I really enjoyed this movie.
Moreover, if I am in the train, I read the newspaper. As time has gone on, I have understood more articles. It gave me a good feeling, because then I know what’s going on in London (news, politics…) And what I did also always, when I listen to music, I try to translate, what the singer wants to say. With fast songs, I found it sometimes hard to understand. But now I understand more. The important thing is to speak with the English people. Around the corner, there is a lovely pub. I love this pub. And I went there during the week to talk with the publican. It was always funny to talk with him and so I improved my English too.
I worked in a charity shop too, and before I went there each day, I drank a hot chocolate in a café. And I tell you, every time I sat there, I came to talk with people. I don’t know why. Someone told me I have a friendly face. Anyway, in the end I talk with the people and they asked me why I was in London. Talking is the best way to learn a language.