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
Meet Will. He’s the writer and adventurer behind travel blog The Broke Backpacker, and he just embarked on an epic two-year journey from home in the UK to Papua New Guinea.
The twist? He’s not taking any flights. Oh, and he’s travelling on a daily budget of $30.
Will’s been on the road already for two weeks, and is currently making his way through Europe. Over the next two years he’ll be visiting 30 countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, Myanmar, Tibet, and Indonesia, and sharing his adventures along the way.
Why are we telling you this?
Well. When we heard what he was planning, we figured Will might find himself in need of an app that includes over 120 languages from all across the world, which would enable him to talk to people wherever he goes.
Fortunately, it just so happens we have an app like that. So we’re very excited to announce that uTalk is the official language sponsor of Will’s adventure, and he’ll be using the app on the road to learn and speak everything from German to Tajiki, Albanian to Khmer. He’ll even be able to greet people in Tok Pisin on his arrival in PNG.
Will’s been travelling for seven years, and knows how important it is to speak a bit of the local language: “Learning a new language is hands down the best way to make new friends and peek behind the curtain. uTalk helps me to break down barriers, learn the local lingo and make friends in the most unexpected of places.”
We can’t wait to follow Will as he makes his way across the world, visiting some fascinating countries and meeting loads of interesting people. And we’re looking forward to hearing him speak all the languages 😉
Blogger Erika Holt is a big fan of languages and learning. In today’s blog post, she tells us why, and explains how knowing a little Greek helped her out in a sticky situation…
What made you start learning languages?
I have always found myself interested in languages. I have a huge passion for reading and writing, I think that it stems from that, coupled with my hunger for learning new things. I am slightly obsessed with learning, I always have my nose in a book or am completing an online course in one thing or another. I just feel like there is so much to know.
What gives you motivation to continue learning?
I just find it really enjoyable. Years ago I would learn a language (as much as was possible), before visiting a country for a holiday, now it is more to give me the chance to explore more of the internet and books. I also thoroughly enjoy the way various languages are connected, how one has influenced another and so on.
What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
It is definitely the moment when you absent mindedly come across the language and read/speak it without thinking, then realise what you have done. It gives you access to so much more of the world and enables you to meet new people.
What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
My challenges stem from how my illnesses can affect my concentration, understanding and memory. I find that having a mobile app really helps, it enables me to learn whenever I want to, rather than having to sit at a computer. Apps also allow for a repetitive learning process, this lets me really cram that knowledge into my brain, over and over, this helps me to retain it better.
The apps are also good for days when I am bedridden; it can get so boring being stuck in bed, but having the chance to feel like I am still being productive makes a huge difference to me.
What is your favourite word/expression in your favourite language?
It is ‘Douitashimashite’ and it simply means ‘you’re welcome’ in Japanese. I love the word, it is beautiful and rolls off of the tongue once you have learnt it. The Japanese people are very polite, something I love, having been brought up in such a way that manners are extremely important.
I have to admit I also, for some reason, have a bizarre one lodged in my brain – ‘Was ist loss? Meine kaninchen ist weggalaufen.’ This translates to ‘What is wrong? I have lost my rabbit.’ Yep, this is one sentence I can not forget and I love saying it, I just need to talk to more German people!
Any funny situations when you used Greek with a native speaker?
There was this one time when I visited Greece, the island of Kefalonia, which is a beautiful place. I had learnt as much Greek as I humanly could before going on holiday, I was able to have a basic conversation and order food, drinks and so on. It was a lovely experience and the Greeks really appreciated the effort I had made.
One morning I was walking along the stunning beach, which was practically deserted. All of a sudden, as the sun was warming and the sea lapping at the shore, I could hear this woman’s voice. At first I thought she was calling my name, as I moved closer I didn’t recognise her or the gentleman with her. I realised she was shouting ‘Ella, ella’ which I believe means ‘come here’. I went over and neither of the elderly people spoke a word of English – why would they, being Greeks, living in Greece? So I had to use the minimal vocabulary and some questionable sign language to establish what was wrong.
Now I should set the scene a little: the gentleman was as thin as a bean stalk, wearing trousers and a shirt with braces, he even had a hat on. The lady was his polar opposite, rather large and wearing just a swimming costume, she had this wild black curly hair that made her seem very odd to me and was obviously shouting at me in Greek. It was a strange situation, what was worse was that both her and the old man were standing in the sea up to their knees.
The lady was getting more and more agitated that I didn’t understand her, it was early morning so I couldn’t go for help either. Eventually, I worked out that both her and her husband were stuck, their feet had sunk into the sand and they couldn’t move. I gathered that it was in fact the lady who had found herself in this situation and her lovely husband, who had been watching her swim from the beach, had ventured in to help and ended up being stuck himself, bless him.
So there I am, 5’3″, a little thing at the time, and I am trying to pull out this couple from the sea. Of course I ended up in the drink myself, but managed to free the lovely pair after some rather awkward pushing and pulling. I was proud of my good deed, but to my surprise the old couple turned and waddled off down the beach without a word, the old man being berated by his wife, leaving me drenched.
Do you have a language story to share? We’d love to hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.