In the spirit of ‘Linguists Anonymous’, I am Felicity Jones, 45, and I am mildly addicted to learning other languages. I speak French, German, Spanish, Italian and some Mandarin. I have used uTalk to learn some Danish, and my January challenge is Greek.
Even as a child I would listen under the bed cover to a transistor radio beaming in words I could not understand from across Europe when I was meant to be asleep, and tried to make sense of the country names on foreign stamps. I then had the deeply unusual benefit of inspirational language teachers at school. Now, I travel a lot for my work and for fun, and as I always need to know how to say I am vegetarian – in Korean gogi bego is the most effective way to be clear about that – I have an excuse to learn at least a few words. Being able to say ‘thank you’ or ‘good morning’ makes travelling much more human.
What would I say to someone thinking about learning another language? Stop thinking about it and get going! The longer you think about it, the bigger the mountain seems. And don’t be afraid to communicate right from the off, even if you can only say hello or thank you – that’s why I love uTalk as it’s not just flat lists of words; you have to think, hear, speak even with your first words. And the Recall is an evil but effective section, the most like real life you can get to by yourself.
The most inspiring approach I have ever seen is Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis. He uses ‘language hacks’ to accelerate confidence to SPEAK, an approach which transformed him from someone who thought they could not learn languages after school to fluency in seven languages and dabbling in more. Think like a child, open your ears, let yourself sound silly when you shape your mouth to make an unfamiliar sounds, ask someone how you say something in their language. Listen to the radio, read a children’s book, look at the signs in the airport and in shops, skype with native speakers and exchange your skills, go to a bar. Above all, speaking another language is only ever about connecting with someone else, with a different culture, a different way of being, however fleetingly and enjoying it. And if you have any doubt, apparently language learning stimulates the same part of the brain as other pleasurable activity!
Lucy was our first ever winner of the Junior Language Challenge and at age 23 has now chosen to take part in the uTalk Challenge learning Russian. Lucy already speaks Spanish, French, Italian, German and Latin and has been learning languages since she was 10 years old.
Why? Why not?
I was talking to some friends at work at the beginning of January, and it came up in conversation that I was learning Russian. ‘Why Russian!?’ one said. ‘Why not?’ was my reply. People are often surprised when I say that I love learning languages. I think to them, it seems a little removed from what I normally do (I work in science). And while I may have decided to work in science instead of languages, that doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t useful to me.
When I was about 10, a teacher from the local secondary school came to teach us Spanish once a week, and I thought it was brilliant! My teacher entered some of our class into the first ever EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge; being able to learn three different languages was even more exciting. Spanish, Greek (my first experience of a language with a different alphabet), and Saami – Santa’s language (northern Finland, to be exact). Taking part showed me that language learning was fun, and set me on a course of lifelong linguistics.
I’d describe myself as a patchwork of languages; I can speak each to a different level, ranging from Italian, my speaking is poor but my translation is decent, to Spanish, where I can happily hold a conversation. My latest is Russian, which I’ve always wanted to learn; I’ve just about got to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s fun to learn so many languages, it stretches my brain, and I love the feeling of being able to speak to someone in their native tongue, a mixture of pride and respect for their culture. However, that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t have problems! The use of the subjunctive in Spanish will forever escape me (in English we only use it in one specific way, when we say ‘If I were you…’), and those odd little verbs in every language that don’t follow the rules always hide away in the recesses of my mind when I want to use them.
How do I overcome problems? Practice! Practice speaking with others out loud, using odd verbs and new tenses and reading with literature from your chosen language starting with children’s stories and building it up (good for new vocabulary and surprisingly complex!) If you are learning more than one, try to compartmentalise them in your head; have a Spanish head and a French head. My Latin is extremely handy for any new scientific terms, I usually have a guess at what they mean before looking them up. My other languages are great for holidays, trips with work and just keeping my brain active. I certainly don’t intend to stop (I think I may try Basque next): you never know when you might need them!
Just before Christmas I helped our language producer record Latin, which will be coming to uTalk later in the year. Whilst listening to the Latin speakers I found I recognised some of the words (although I have never learnt Latin before). And then I realised this was due to my love for/slight obsession with Harry Potter.
As a child I would read every Harry Potter book that came out (this could take some time, as my mum would read it first, followed by my sister, then my dad and then finally me; by which point my mum would have already disclosed a summary of the book including 100 different spoilers!). The extremely clever use of Latin has helped to allow the Harry Potter stories to become even more accessible worldwide, as Latin runs through many modern romance languages, such as French and English. It is also a language that isn’t as widely used or known in modern society anymore.
A few examples of J.K.Rowling’s use of Latin:
- ‘Protego’, which is a shield charm that creates a magical barrier, literally means ‘protect’ in Latin.
- ‘Lumos’, which produces a burst of light, is related to the Latin word lumen – which directly translates into light.
- ‘Crucio’ one of the ‘forbidden curses’ which causes a lot of pain, means ‘I torture’ in Latin.
- ‘Expecto Patronum’ which is used to produce a spirit animal to shield you from dementors, translates into ‘I wait for a patron’ in Latin.
- ‘Levicorpus‘, which is a spell that suspends someone from their ankles in mid-air, is a combination of two Latin words: levare, which means ‘lift’, and corpus translates as ‘body’.
These spells are pretty self-explanatory when you know Latin!
Again, the Latin theme can be found across names used in Harry Potter, often describing their personality or role in the books.
- Remus Lupin – his surname means wolf (which Hermione worked out early on in the third book).
- Draco – means dragon although the character’s surname, Malfoy, is actually French for ‘bad faith’.
- Severus (Snape) – means ‘stern’ in Latin, which is an appropriate word for Hogwarts’ meanest teacher!
- Sirius Black – it’s no coincidence that this character’s named after the Dog Star.
- Ludo Bagman – he’s the head of the Division for Magical Games and Sports, so it makes sense that his first name, Ludo, means ‘I play’ in Latin.
Can you think of any more examples of Latin in Harry Potter?
Nancy Reynolds is a freelance writer from the USA, who’s currently working on a novel. In her spare time she studies Persian and has vocabulary contests with her teenaged daughter who has studied Latin, German, Mandarin and Ancient Greek. Here’s her language story…
For some people, learning a foreign language is good for business, a school requirement or a necessity because of a move. For me, it started in eighth grade with French, but more recently, it was to understand some Iranian friends I made on the Internet. Although my friends all know English, when they wrote posts in Persian, I felt left out. Although the different alphabet seemed daunting, I had studied Cyrillic for Russian and had done well, so I figured I could learn another alphabet. One reason I keep at it is to be able to read more and understand more of the Persian in movies.
A rewarding aspect of learning any foreign language is to understand another person. Values and concepts can be a direct result of the kind of language a person uses. Persian past tenses can distinguish between whether the life of a person in the past is still relevant today or not. We don’t have that in English. The term for a double bed in Italian is “letto matrimoniale,” implying that a person shouldn’t be sleeping in such a bed if not married. Which verb for “to be” you use in Spanish to tell someone she looks good will reveal whether you mean all the time or just today.
One of my greatest challenges in learning Persian is having to do it outside of a classroom. My friends are very busy or want me to help them with English, so I get little practice with spoken Persian. EuroTalk has made a difference because it is fun and I can use it whenever I want. The promotional assertion that it is good for five minutes or for hours of learning is quite true.
Ioana at EuroTalk asked me what my favorite word in my favorite language is, but I don’t think she was expecting the answer I have. It is “love” in English. To choose my favorite word in Persian is a challenge! I guess it would have to be “salam”, which means “hello”. Why? I have learned hello in many languages.
It is a thrill to greet someone in his or her language, get a stunned expression and then a broad smile. Such a simple word says I care about communication enough to step outside of my comfort zone.
Sometimes a funny, weird or awkward situation has occurred when I used a foreign language with a native or another speaker. In French I unintentionally propositioned a friend! Fortunately, he knew what I meant. Two delightful moments speaking Persian with natives were when I asked “Khoobi?” It is the casual way to say “How are you?” They were quite impressed.
A fun triumph, though, was reading the Persian on a soda can in a friend’s photo. Even though some of the letters were obscured, I still could read the well-known brand name: Fanta. I’ll drink to that.
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