Here at EuroTalk, we love languages (obviously). And we particularly enjoy discovering fun facts about languages; they’re all so different and each has its own unique character. So we’ve decided to share some of them with you, in our new Language of the Week series. Each week, we’ll choose a new language, and we’re always open to suggestions!
Please do get involved – we love to hear from you, so send us your own favourite facts and have a go at our weekly challenge for a chance to win some fun EuroTalk prizes 🙂 You can join the conversation here on the blog, or on Facebook or Twitter, where we’ll be sharing more of our discoveries over the coming few days.
So this week, we’re starting with Finnish, in celebration of the annual Air Guitar World Championships, which start in Oulu on Wednesday, and may be our new favourite event of all time.
Here are a few of the best things we’ve discovered about Finnish this week:
– Finnish is thought to be one of the hardest languages for a native English speaker to learn, because of its complicated grammar, which is nothing like English or any of the other languages we’re used to learning. Finnish words can also look pretty daunting to a new learner, as they’re very long and seem to contain a lot of vowels!
– There is no word for ‘please’ in Finnish – not because Finns are rude, but because they just assume politeness. There is a word which means ‘thank you’, kiitos, which is sometimes used in place of ‘please’, and the other way to indicate politeness is to use the conditional – ‘Would you…’
– Also interesting is that a grandson can be either pojanpoika if it’s the son of a son, or tyttärenpoika if it’s the son of a daughter. The same with granddaughter – pojantytär is the daughter of a son and tyttärentytär is the daughter of a daughter. But don’t panic; you can use just lapsenlapsi, which means ‘child of a child’, for a generic term.
– The word sauna is the most widely used Finnish word in English. There are 3.3 million saunas in Finland, which means there is 1 for every 1.63 people. Visiting the sauna is as normal for Finns as going to the pub is to Brits. It’s also a tradition to jump into the lake outside after a hot sauna. This sounds a little crazy and very cold!
– The Finnish language holds the world’s longest palindrome, and just in case you don’t know what that means, it is a word that can be read the same both ways. And here it is: saippuakivikauppias, which is a dealer in lye (caustic soda). Probably not something you’d say every day, but always useful to know.
– The longest Finnish word is 61 letters long (which is outrageous compared to English’s mere 45-letter longest word) and it is:
Which means: ‘airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic non-commissioned officer student’.
– A Finnish tongue twister is:
Appilan pappilan apupapin papupata pankolla kiehuu ja kuohuu. Pappilan paksuposki piski pisti paksun papukeiton poskeensa.
There is no absolute translation but it’s about a vicarage’s assistant priest and his hot pot of beans, which are boiling on the stove and the vicarage’s fat mongrel who ate up the thick bean soup.
Language Challenge of the Week
So now it’s your turn. Have a go at pronouncing one of the words above, or, for ultimate respect, the tongue twister… Send us your videos on Twitter to @EuroTalk with hashtag #loveFinnish or post a link to your video in the comments below. If we’re really impressed, we’ll send you a code for uTalk Finnish 😉
Oh, and in case you wondered what’s so great about the Air Guitar World Championships…
Adam, 15, recently spent two weeks at EuroTalk for work experience. He’s passionate about languages and is currently learning Japanese. Here are his top tips for other beginners.
In November 2012, I decided to start taking Japanese lessons once per fortnight. As a younger learner, I thought it might be interesting for you to see some challenges that I have already faced while learning. If this post was about a language like French, quite a lot of the tips would be generic and applicable to other European languages, such as Spanish or German. Therefore, I hope that most of my tips will remain unique, just like the Japanese language.
Here are 5 tips for starting Japanese, from the viewpoint of a beginner!
1) Consolidate your kana before tackling Kanji
When I started to learn, I was pretty frightened at the prospect of learning kanji. In fact, I only started to learn kanji about nine months after starting, because my teacher advised me to gain a basic knowledge of the sound system, grammar, vocabulary and kana alphabets before learning. She was absolutely right – I couldn’t have imagined being able to pick up any of the theory behind kanji without the basic grounding first. Often, the On’Yomi reading is written in katakana. Considering I had been learning for 9 months at the time, my katakana knowledge was pretty poor, which inhibited some of my kanji learning. Getting a basic knowledge of Japanese is definitely a must before learning kanji!
2) Choose your learning materials wisely
There are a variety of Japanese learning materials out there, ranging from internet courses to books. It is important to choose learning resources that can cover every aspect of the language, without leaving any gaps in your required knowledge. This is why I would recommend the ‘Japanese for Busy People vol. 1’ book. It covers grammar, various verb forms, vocabulary, information on the culture, particles, conjuctions, sentence structure and counters. Another important feature is that it features no kanji, allowing you to consolidate your knowledge of kana and general understanding of the language. One negative aspect could be the fact that the book is quite business-orientated. In terms of grammar, this is fine, and means that politeness is emphasised throughout. However, some of the vocabulary might not be useful to some learners. For me, it’s quite funny to be able to tell a taxi driver how to get to the main branch office! Otherwise, you could use online vocabulary resources and of course don’t forget the uTalk app!
3) Don’t overload yourself with kanji readings!
When I learn languages, I want to know everything when I first come across it, even if it is really complex. For example, when I started to learn German, I was really eager to learn the perfect tense within the first few lessons. It was exactly the same as in French – just use ‘haben’ and add the past participle, right? Of course I failed, because I put the past participle straight after the auxiliary verb, rather than at the end of the sentence. In Japanese, I wanted to learn all the readings of a kanji as soon as I had learnt it. Eventually, I would have probably ended up using it incorrectly because I had just memorised the words associated with that kanji, without ever encountering them in a sentence!
Instead, you might want to try and learn a new kanji of a word that you have encountered frequently, rather than learning multiple new words from a kanji. In my Japanese book, I have a section for all the vocabulary that I need to learn for homework. I started to look up the kanji for each of those words. If I came across a kanji that I already knew, I would right the corresponding word down, with its kanji written next to it. Furthermore, if an unknown kanji came up a lot, I would write it down with the familiar readings next to it. This method ensures that I learn the readings of words that I am already familiar with.
4) Be organised
When learning Japanese in particular, I like to keep a routine to ensure that I learn kanji, vocabulary and do homework well. Some learners might not like repetition, but I think it’s one of the best ways to learn. By revising for 10 minutes every evening and recalling the information in a mini-test the next day, I can make sure that I remember vocabulary, grammar and kanji well. I like to take advantage of the brain’s ability to work better after waking up. This means that I only learn new words in the morning, during weekends, and revise words in the evening. Furthermore, I think it’s also important to test yourself after a longer period of time following the learning of a word, to ensure that you have maintained the word in your mind! However, it’s also important to state that our brain works even better passively, so doing some occasional Japanese writing, reading and listening is good when learning. You might pick up some new vocabulary without even trying! Try and be organised by placing short revision sessions, mini-tests and activities consistently over an allotted period of time.
5) Make your own learning resources
Lots of people have different methods when learning. I am quite old-fashioned, and approach language with the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach, using repetition and regular tests. This means that I need to locate places to find materials, suitable for my way of learning. Owing to the surprisingly low amount of Japanese kanji resources online, I recently made my own kanji grid on MS Word with 19 rows, and 15 columns. I could then put the kanji and their Japanese readings on the top row, with room for 15 kanji on one grid. I then had the perfect number of rows to have 10 boxes to practise each kanji, 7 boxes to test myself on one kanji everyday, each day of the week, and then had one box left over to test myself 7 days later. This is an example of using a self-made material, suited to my way of learning. I find that everyone has their own way of learning kanji, whether it be using flashcards, writing it repetitively or doing online exercises. Find the best way for you to learn Japanese!
I really enjoyed writing this post, so I hope you enjoyed reading about this. Even though I’m very passionate about language, I still make mistakes, so please forgive any potential inaccuracies in this post!
We all know learning a language is a great idea, but sometimes it can be hard to get motivated or to find the right way to learn. Here are our top 10 tips to help you get started.
1. Tell everyone you know that you’re learning a language.
This way, when you’re tempted to give up or chicken out, you might think twice knowing they’re all expecting great things from you. I call this ‘the biscuit tin method’; if you tell everyone you’re giving up biscuits, you’re a lot less likely to cave, just in case you get caught with your hand in the tin. It worked for me – I haven’t had a biscuit in years. Well, not out of the tin, anyway.
2. Start with the basics.
We know you might be learning French for an important business meeting, but you may not get a chance to show off the fact that you know how to say ‘Sales in the retail sector are growing steadily’, if you’ve not yet learnt how to say ‘hello’.
3. Don’t be scared to talk to people.
You might get it wrong sometimes, but if you don’t try, you’ll never get it right, either. In the immortal words of Richard Branson, ‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and falling over.’ Learning on paper is all well and good, but talking to people and making mistakes is the best way to pick new things up. And you’re more likely to get it right next time, because you’ll remember the situation you were in as well as just the word or phrase.
(This works both ways, actually – if you know someone who’s learning your language and they say something incorrectly, let them know about it. Not in a mean way, but in a helpful, constructive way so they understand where they went wrong and can get it right next time. And you’ll probably find it helps you understand your own language better, too.)
4. Don’t worry too much about grammar to begin with.
Yes, it’s important, but if you’re making the effort to talk to someone in their own language, as long as you can make yourself understood, they probably won’t mind if you get your verb ending wrong. So get your basic vocab and some stock phrases down first, then you can start learning some basic grammar to help you create your own sentences and take your study of the language further.
5. Make yourself some flashcards.
Or use a computer program or mobile app. (We hear uTalk‘s quite good…) Introducing an element of competition can be a good motivator, so see if you can team up with someone else who’s learning the same language and test each other, or compare your online scores. If you don’t have time to sit down and make flashcards, you could try labelling things around your house or workspace, so you see them all the time and the vocabulary will start to sink in without you even realising.
6. Find someone to talk to.
If you’re learning for a trip, then this is easy; there’ll be loads of people to chat to when you get there. But if you’re just learning for fun, try and find someone to practise with. A lot of the world is so multicultural now that it’s possible to find a native speaker of just about any language living just down the road. But even if you can’t, there are loads of websites where you can find someone to Skype with, even if they live on the other side of the world. For instance, italki is free and lets you connect with language teachers and native speakers around the world. The best part is, you might make a new friend, which can only mean one thing – cheap holidays…
7. Read, watch and listen to anything you can find.
If you’re at home, this could be newspapers, books, movies, music or websites. Or if you’re travelling, look at signs, menus or product packaging. If there are words you don’t understand, make a note of them and look them up later, or ask someone. You’ll probably be surprised how much you can piece together on your own, and that’s a great confidence boost.
8. Go to the country.
Even if you’re just learning for fun, there’s no better way to learn a language than to immerse yourself in it. Plan a holiday – if nothing else it’ll give you something to look forward to and will motivate you to keep learning. Visiting a country also means that you’ll learn the ‘real’ way of saying things – you might have learnt the correct way but when you arrive, you’ll find nobody actually talks that way.
9. Don’t give up.
It’s not easy to learn a language, but we all have the ability. There really is no such thing as someone who’s bad at languages. So if you’re finding it difficult, hang in there; it’ll be worth it in the end. And keep practising, because you may find all that vocab you spent ages learning will drift away if you don’t. Which seems like a shame.
10. Enjoy it.
We all remember our school days, studying French verbs and monotonously repeating meaningless sentences about your cats on tables. But learning a language can open up a world full of opportunities, new friends and different ways of seeing the world around us. So why make it a chore? Be creative – everyone’s different so do whatever works for you. You could try singing, for example. Or blogging about your learning journey. Try different things and see what works. And then tell us about it – we’d love to hear from you 🙂
Liz (with contributions from Alex and Nat)
You can now read and share this post in a handy infographic!