What’s your inspiration for learning a language? Today we’re hearing from Jack, a student and blogger at LangLearningBlog, on how he got addicted…
What inspired you to start learning French?
I never really was fond of languages, and I only studied French at school for a GCSE in a language – but bear with me! Soon I became almost addicted to language learning and I actually started enjoying learning completely alien and new vocabulary. Some thrive from obsessing over football fixtures and their league tables, others however (us!), are addicted to language learning. Let them obsess over futile fixtures. Meanwhile, we can be learning all the words a language holds!
What gives you motivation to continue learning?
Getting yourself motivated to learn new vocab or review flashcards is so difficult (especially when they’ve been stored at the back of a drawer for a few months!!).
My main motivation hack is that I keep my learning sessions short but regular. Not five minutes, but never over one hour, I find vocab literally pours into my brain doing regular learning sessions. Obviously there’s been days where I’ve done little or no vocab learning or reviewing, a.k.a ‘forgetting days’. Short bursts or an adrenaline-kicking 30 minutes are definitely my way forward to keeping motivated.
YouTube definitely helps, personally I think the short TED Talks speeches are great. They cover a huge range of topics, including language learning, and are never too lengthy. Beware though, or before you know it you’ll be watching pandas falling down slides and dogs dancing – one could say I have some experience getting distracted by YouTube.
What’s your biggest language learning challenge?
My learning routine has always been split into two halves: school and home independent study. School would give me the content, and my vocab learning at home would help me consolidate this and go further. Harder in practice though. One of the biggest challenges I had was the content that GCSE French covered. There was no ‘off the cuff’ speaking, nor conventional speaking topics (except food). The course seemed to shy away from practical topics that I’d actually need in France, like ordering bus tickets. So doing online reviewing programmes and not being able to translate some really simple stuff, it felt like learning the language was a waste.
What’s your favourite French expression?
On my visit to St-Etienne, France, I did work experience in a primary school. One night, some of the students on the work experience and teachers at the school went to a restaurant, and were all sat around this square table. Conversation slowed and we divided into two groups: English natives and French natives. It then turned to ;it’s raining cats and dogs’, then soon after all the students attempting to explain other idioms too. Trying to decode the French idioms to English was hard. I did manage to glean from the French idiom conversation ‘manger les pissenlits par la racine’. It translates literally as ‘eating the dandelions by the roots’, roughly meaning ‘pushing up daisies’. Obviously my favourite French expression to date – not because it’s unusual, but because it still reminds me of some of the French native’s facial expressions it got in return.
What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Having the chance to visit the country is definitely the most rewarding thing about the entire years-long learning process. Before I knew it I was conversing with a bookshop assistant asking them to recommend books, and where I’d find them. I was explaining tasks to groups of primary school children and earwigging into conversations on the plane (apparently some French people really like TK Maxx).
After years of learning what felt like an artificial language, as I’d never heard it in action, all this learning had finally paid off, allowing me to not only have some great conversations, but also food – French crêpes and cheese cannot be described in words.
If you, like us, are now dreaming of crêpes (and cheese), and you’ve been inspired to learn some French, visit our website to see how we can help. Or download uTalk for iOS and start learning for free!
Today we have a guest post from language company, thebigword, on famous translation mistakes, some of which had serious consequences. Mistakes are common, and to be expected, when you’re learning a language – but when it really matters, it’s important to get it right!
Over the years there have been many translation ‘slip ups’ and faux pas, and whilst the mistakes may seem funny some can have a far more serious impact. Reputable language solution agencies such as thebigword, specialise in international translation and you can bet your bottom dollar that they wouldn’t be caught making slip ups like the following.
There have been many incidences over the years where mis-translation can go from highly amusing to potentially life damaging. For example, Mead Johnson Nutritionals in 2003 had a case raised against them when 4.6 million cans of baby food had to be recalled. The translation error, which was caused by effectively being lazy, meant that the prescribed recipe translated into Spanish could have caused massive health issues, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Businesses and the world financial markets have also paid the price at the hands of poor translation, most notably when the price of the U.S. dollar was sent spiralling after an incorrect translation of an article by Guan Xiangdong for the China News Service. Guan’s original piece was meant to be a speculative overview of a series of financial reports, but instead it was translated in a more aggressive tone, which ultimately made readers in the U.S. think it was an authoritative warning and they should move their money and sell shares.
The Chicago Tribune published a highly shareable article not that long ago when it collated a series of images captured by tourists on their worldly travels. Examples from China included, ‘man toilet’ and ‘The government decides to cracking down fakes intensively for another three years’. However, our favourite has to be, ‘Because there is the situation when a step is bad, please be careful’. We’re pretty positive that was meant to say ‘mind your step’.
Of course, no faux pas goes unnoticed in the world of marketing, where language on billboards or even newspaper advertising isn’t missed by the most ardent observer.
The popular Dairy Association campaign, ‘Got Milk?’, raised an eyebrow or two when in Mexico it was translated to ‘Are you lactating?’ And in France, Colgate produced a new range of toothpaste called Cue; little did anyone realise that it had the same name as a well-known adult magazine. Now that is what we call a faux pas!
Do you have any favourite translation errors? Please share them in the comments below.
I recently visited a friend in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Not really knowing what to expect, I loved it from the moment I got on the Blue Islands flight from Southampton and was offered a free glass of champagne (can’t think why). Here are my top ten reasons to visit this small but lovely island.
1. It’s English, but not England
The Channel Islands don’t belong to the UK, but they are part of the British Isles. (Technically they’re British Crown Dependencies.) When you come out of the airport, everyone speaks English, cars drive on the left, and the whole island has a very quaint English village feel to it. So if you want to experience England without actually going to England, Guernsey is the perfect place.
2. It’s French, but not France
Having said all that, geographically Guernsey is much closer to France than it is to England, and you don’t have to go far to stumble upon a French café or boulangerie. There are also, unsurprisingly, a lot of French residents and visitors. Many of the place names look very French too, although confusingly most of them are said with an English accent. Castle Cornet is pronounced like the musical instrument, for example, rather than ‘cornay’, as you might expect.
3. The sunset
I’m a bit of a sunset addict, so my friend made sure to include a trip to Cobo Bay, on the west coast of the island, where we bought some fish and chips and settled down to watch the sun set in the sea. Although we had to move several times to avoid getting washed away by the tide, the view was absolutely stunning, and it was well worth the epic walk from the bus stop to Cobo, which turned out to be a bit further away than we thought…
4. The history
If you’re a history buff, there’s plenty to keep you occupied on Guernsey. Evidence of the German occupation during World War 2 is everywhere, from the concrete fortifications all around the coast, to the huge monument marking the island’s liberation in St Peter Port. There’s also La Vallette, the underground military museum, the 13th century Castle Cornet and the Victoria Tower, which was constructed in honour of a visit from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846.
5. Le Petit Café and Bistro
My friend told me shortly after my arrival that I couldn’t come to Guernsey and not visit Le Petit Café, her favourite restaurant on the island. In fact during my three-day stay, we ended up going twice, once for dinner and then, not too many hours later, for brunch. It’s really cosy, with friendly staff and great French food. It’s also really easy to find, right at the bottom of the main shopping street in St Peter Port. Try the coq au vin!
6. The views
Guernsey is far more than just sunsets. I’m not much of a photographer, but even I came away with some spectacular pictures, which could easily have been taken somewhere far more exotic. Both the island itself and the views across the sea, to the other Channel Islands, are amazing; you can even see across to France on a clear day. We were lucky because we had great weather, so were able to spend the whole weekend outside exploring and enjoying the sights.
7. The people
Within minutes of my arrival, we’d made friends with the taxi driver, who insisted on giving me a selection of maps and brochures to allow me to make the most of my stay, even though I was visiting someone who lives there and knows her way around. The following morning, as I walked into town along the seafront, I was greeted repeatedly by people passing me. As someone who’s used to the stony silence of the London Underground, this was a pleasant, if slightly disconcerting, change.
8. Victor Hugo
Best known as the author of Les Misérables (the book, not the musical) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo spent several years in exile on Guernsey, and his house is now a museum. Don’t be put off by the slightly tense atmosphere in the waiting area before your tour; it’s well worth a visit, if only for the spectacular view from the top floor. And if you’re lucky you’ll get the tour guide who likes to tell colourful stories about Hugo’s mistress.
On my last day, we took a ferry across to the small neighbouring island of Herm (20 minutes away), which is just beautiful. No cars are allowed and the island only has about three shops, so it’s not the place to go if you want action, but if you’re looking for a lovely beach to relax on, I recommend Herm. We couldn’t stay long because I had to catch my flight home, but we spent an enjoyable couple of hours on Shell Beach, musing about what it must be like to live on a private island (like Jethou, very close by and shown in the photo below) and which kind of boat we’d buy if we could afford it (which we can’t, sadly).
10. The weather
Typically, Guernsey enjoys more sunshine hours and has a milder climate than the UK, so it’s a great place to go if you enjoy a bit of summer sun. When I visited, although the weather forecast predicted 14 degrees and cloudy, it was more like 22, with not a cloud in the sky. Not ideal when you’ve packed for cooler conditions, but I wasn’t complaining.
Overall, Guernsey was a lovely surprise, and just goes to show you don’t always have to travel far to find somewhere amazing to visit. If you’re over in this part of the world (whether on holiday or because you live here), I definitely recommend checking Guernsey out.
Here in the UK, this weekend is Easter weekend. Many people will be marking the occasion by attending church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, while a more commercial tradition is to exchange chocolate eggs as gifts. Easter is a religious holiday, marking for many people around the world the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it also represents new life, falling as it does in spring time, and is often symbolised by young animals, like lambs and chicks.
We decided to have a look at some Easter traditions around the world, to see how other countries mark this holiday. Here are just a few:
Mardi Gras (which means ‘Fat Tuesday’) takes place in Rio de Janeiro on Shrove Tuesday and marks the start of Lent. The streets are filled with large processions of people in brightly coloured, exotic costumes, marching, singing and dancing.
Another Brazilian tradition is to create straw dolls to represent Judas Iscariot, then destroy them in the street.
Church bells are silent as a sign of mourning from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday. Sometimes children are told the bells (known as ‘cloches volants’ or ‘flying bells’) have gone to see the Pope and will return with Easter eggs.
In parts of southwest France, a giant omelette is made on Easter Monday. The dish can feed 1,000 people.
During Lent in Ethiopia, Christians don’t eat or buy any animal products like meat, eggs, butter, milk, yogurt, cream and cheese.
The first Easter day service starts at 8 p.m. on Easter Saturday and lasts until 3 a.m. on Easter Sunday.
After the service, people will return to their homes and have a breakfast of ‘dabo’ sourdough bread to celebrate the end of Lent. Traditionally, the bread is cut by a priest or the head man in the family.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
As part of an Easter tradition, women and girls are beaten with decorated hand made whips on Easter Sunday. But despite what you might think, this is actually a good thing; the whipping is thought to make women more healthy and beautiful, and girls who don’t get whipped are often quite offended!
Chios (Greek Island)
In the village of Vrondados, the annual ‘war of rockets’ is staged between two churches, Agios Marcos and Erithiani. Residents spend all year preparing thousands of firework rockets and on the evening of Easter Saturday, the rockets are fired between the two churches for hours.
The custom goes back many years, and although there are plenty of stories, no one is quite sure how the tradition began.
Many towns and cities in Spain celebrate Semana Santa (Holy Week) with processions through the streets at night. Floats called ‘tronos’ are carried through the streets. Each float bears huge decorated figures representing part of the Easter story. It takes 40-50 people to carry each trono on their shoulders and processions can last between 4-5 hours.
In Murcia, a trono telling the story of the Last Supper has real food on the table. On Easter Sunday, the 26 men who have carried the table in the procession sit down and eat the food.
Please share your own Easter traditions in the comments. And whether you celebrate Easter or not, we hope you have a great weekend.
Before you go on holiday, or on a business trip abroad, it’s a great idea to learn a little of the local language. But getting along with people is about much more than just the words you say. There are other rules too, so here are our top tips to avoid misunderstandings abroad.
1. Be very careful when exchanging business cards in Japan: they aren’t just cards, but representations of the giver and should be handled with some ceremony. NEVER write on a business card or put it in your back pocket, as this is considered disrespectful.
2. Don’t talk about work over dinner in New Zealand, even if you’re having a meal with your colleagues. It’s fine to talk business over lunch, though.
3. In Muslim countries it’s considered an insult if you show the soles of your feet, so watch how you sit.
4. If you’re in Hungary and you’ve been told your meeting is at ‘fél négy’ (‘half four’), don’t turn up at 4:30 – ‘fél négy’ actually means half an hour TO four, so you’ll need to be there at half past three.
5. On the other hand, if you’ve been invited to a gathering in France, always aim to arrive 15-30 minutes late, to allow the host time to get ready.
6. Making a circle with your forefinger and thumb as another way of saying ‘OK’ is seen as an extremely offensive gesture in Brazil. As is the ‘thumbs up’ gesture in Iran, and showing your palm in Greece. It might be better to just avoid hand gestures altogether…
7. In Germany, not making eye contact when you clink glasses is considered very rude. It also, apparently, means you’ll have seven years’ bad luck in the bedroom. So even if you’re not worried about being thought bad-mannered, it might be worth making the effort. Just in case.
8. In Bulgaria, nodding your head means no, and shaking your head means yes, which is the opposite of what most of us are used to. This is worth remembering or you could get yourself into all kinds of trouble.
9. It’s been illegal to bring chewing gum into Singapore since 2004, because of the damage being caused to public buildings and facilities by people leaving their gum behind. You can also be fined for not flushing a public toilet.
10. In Russia, if you’re giving someone flowers, make sure you give them an odd number. Even numbers are for funerals.
11. It’s important to show respect to your elders in Asia, so don’t call them by their name; instead use ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’, even if you don’t know them.
12. When eating a meal in Spain, you’ll be expected to clear your plate, and leaving some food is seen as rude. In Russia, on the other hand, you’re expected to leave a little as a sign that your host has provided enough to fill you up. And in China, a polite belch when you finish eating is considered a compliment to the chef, although it’s frowned upon in many other countries.
13. Never say anything disrespectful about the king in Thailand, as this could land you in prison for several years.
14. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed before going to church in Italy. This means your shoulders, knees and midriff should all be covered, or you won’t be allowed in.
15. In Malawi, it’s common for people of the same sex to hold hands; this is a sign of close friendship, so don’t worry if someone tries to take your hand. It’s a compliment. Men and women holding hands is rare, though, and may be frowned upon.
As always, if anyone has any others, we’d love to hear from you!