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 email@example.com for more details.
As is EuroTalk tradition, we celebrated the spookiest day of the year (a day early) with fancy dress, pumpkin carving and other Halloween-themed fun.
We also took the opportunity to put together this little video of Halloween-themed English idioms, starring members of the (endlessly talented, we’re sure you’ll agree) EuroTalk team.
We’re expecting our Oscar nomination any day now.
We really hope you love this video as much as we enjoyed making it. If so, please share it with friends, and let’s keep the madness going 😉
And we’re always open to suggestions, so if you have idioms – English or other languages – that you’d like to see immortalised in video, we’d love to hear them!
I recently came back from a week long vacation in my home country, Romania. While there, I noticed something very interesting that I’m sure you’ll find as fascinating as I did.
I’ve been living in London for more than two years now and on a daily basis I only speak English. Well, I am currently learning my boyfriend’s language, Spanish, but that’s not really relevant for now. I do text and chat to my Romanian friends and my parents, and we sometimes speak on the phone, but 90% of the time I speak and think in English. Except when I have to count something in my head, that’s still Romanian – happens to you too?
So anyway, when I went back I obviously sat and talked and went out with friends and family, and so I noticed that in longer conversation I was having trouble using complex words and expressions and that I was often translating my thoughts from English to Romanian. In that way, I found myself asking in a café if I can have some brown sugar – but in Romanian the expression is actually ‘can you give me some brown sugar’, so I got some weird looks and then realised how silly it sounded.
The way I see it is that the brain seems to keep the information and skills that you use on a daily basis ‘at the surface’ and puts the rest in a back drawer. So the longer the time is that you do not think about something, the further back it goes. And so we forget the surnames of the people we went to school with and whose names we were able to say alphabetically by heart at the time, we forget about that awful blind date we went on a few years ago, we forget what a certain place that we used to see every day looks like.
Now I understand a bit better why daily practice makes such a difference when learning something new, be it a language, a software program or playing a new instrument. Keeping the knowledge fresh in your brain allows easier access to it and so you’ll find it extremely handy when faced with the opportunity of using it.
If you are determined to learn a new language, even just 15-20 minutes a day can make a huge difference, especially if you’ve found a fun way to learn. Our uTalk app helps you practise your new language, it’s fun and it trains your memory to remember what it learned. And it has 128 languages to choose from!
Do you find you’re forgetting your native language? I hope I’m not the only one!
So apparently a quarter of Brits are nervous about speaking another language when they’re abroad, and 40% of us are embarrassed by our language skills.
These conclusions come from a study by the British Council, which surveyed 2,000 British adults. While 67% of respondents believed it’s important to learn a few words of the local language before a trip, it seems not many of us are putting that into practice when we actually get there.
There are a number of very legitimate reasons for this fear:
‘What if I get it wrong and everyone laughs at me?’
‘What if I say my bit perfectly, but then don’t understand the response?’
‘What if they just don’t understand what I’m trying to say?’
‘What if I open my mouth and my mind goes blank?’
We all hate the idea of making a fool of ourselves, and it doesn’t help that the Internet is full of stories about people who said ’embarazada’ (pregnant) when they meant to say ’embarrassed’. (Probably more embarrassing than the thing you were embarrassed about in the first place, ironically.) But how many of those people would make the same mistake again? I’m guessing zero.
It sounds like a cliché, but sometimes making a mistake really is the best way to learn. And in my experience, even if you do get things wrong, and even if people laugh, it won’t be mean laughter – and they’ll probably go out of their way to explain where you went wrong, so you know for next time.
Most likely, whoever you’re speaking to will probably be pleasantly surprised that you gave it a try in the first place; in most countries, not much is expected of British or American visitors, so any time we make the effort, it’s appreciated. (Just look at the response to Mark Zuckerberg speaking Mandarin – even though he was very hesitant, and made lots of mistakes, the audience loved it.)
What’s the point?
But at least feeling anxiety over speaking another language shows an interest in trying, and a desire to get it right; the fear of making mistakes is what’s holding us back. The far bigger problem is the number of people who believe there’s no point at all in learning another language, because ‘everyone speaks English’, ‘every time I try, people reply to me in English’ and ‘just knowing a few words won’t help’.
It’s true – last year, when I visited Italy, everyone could tell instantly that I was British, and even if I started a conversation in Italian, they would generally reply to me in English. But here’s the thing: though it’s very easy to seize that lifeline and lapse back into English, you don’t have to. I had very little Italian, but I was determined not to give up, even though the opportunity was there – and the waiters and shop staff I was trying to speak to soon caught on and reverted to Italian. Our conversations mostly consisted of one-word sentences, but at least they were Italian words, and we were able to understand each other. And I was pretty proud of myself afterwards – much more than I would have been if I’d had the same conversation in my native language.
As for everyone speaking English, that’s clearly not true – and it shouldn’t matter anyway. The comments on the BBC article about the British Council study show that we expect those who visit the UK to speak English – so why should it be any different when we travel to another country? Even if you don’t need to learn a language, does that mean you shouldn’t?
And finally, it’s true that knowing a few words wouldn’t help you if you had to go and close a business deal in French, or teach maths in China. But if you’re just going on holiday for a week, the chances are that as long as you’re able to check in to your hotel, order a meal and buy a bus ticket, you’re probably covered – though of course it will depend where you’re travelling to.
This, of course, is the whole idea that uTalk is built on. Because sometimes, just being able to say hello in another language is enough to make someone smile. And why wouldn’t we want to do that?
So let’s be bold, and show off our language skills. And let’s see if we can bring those percentages down in time for the next study.
Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is known for being a global business hub and home to some of the world’s most incredible buildings. Amy visited the city over the Easter holiday and loved it; here are her top ten reasons to visit…
1. Burj Khalifa
The tallest building in the world – at least for another few months, anyway – is a sight you definitely won’t be able to miss. Designed to look like the Hymenocallis flower, it is beautiful from the outside and surprisingly not out of place or invasive to its surroundings. If you’re able to go up to the viewing platforms, I would recommend going at sunset because the view is spectacular, and to be able to view Dubai from such a height is really special. However, if you aren’t able to go up the Khalifa, you have to go to the fountains at the bottom, where you can see them dancing to different types of music.
2. The Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping, leisure and entertainment destination. Anything and everything you can think of is there; it’s where the locals go to shop and even people from Abu Dhabi come at the weekend. They have a waterfall with bronze statues diving from the waterfall – this is where I found it rather peaceful and zoned out of the crowds behind me. It is definitely somewhere to go and have a look around, especially as it is attached to the Khalifa, but be prepared for the crowds.
3. The architecture
Dubai has grown considerably in the last 25 years. You can find pictures of Dubai in 1991, when there were only a handful of tall buildings, compared to now where it has become an architectural paradise. My personal favourite was the Cayan Tower, as it seemed to constantly glisten in the sun from every angle. I have also never seen a twisted building before.
This hotel on the man-made island Palm Jumeirah is simply incredible; it’s huge, and there are so many things that you can do. There is the aquarium, water park, swimming with dolphins and now swimming with sea lions. We had a lovely day here; firstly swimming with dolphins, and the look on my little brothers’ and sister’s face when they got to stroke the dolphins was magical. Then we went to the water park where they have awesome rides. It is definitely worth spending a day here.
5. The beaches
The beaches on the Palm felt a little too fake to me. However, the beaches off the Palm were beautiful. The sea was crystal clear, so you could see where you were walking, and rock-free so you didn’t have to worry about stubbing your toe. We got to see the sea when it was perfectly still, which was lovely for swimming in. Then we got to see it when the waves were huge; this was great fun to jump the waves. You felt safe the whole time, as there were lifeguards in kayaks out at sea as well as several on the beach.
6. The weather
We were in Dubai for eight days and the weather was glorious the whole time; if anything it became too hot on one day, when it reached 42°C. There aren’t many places where you can escape to at Easter for a week and be guaranteed good weather the whole time you are there, but Dubai is definitely a safe bet.
7. Sky Dive Dubai
I think it is on quite a lot of people’s bucket list to do a sky dive, and I finally gained the courage to sign up to do one. The experience is one that is tricky to put into words, as you going through several different stages. In the plane there are nerves, but they’re very good at keeping you talking so you don’t notice how high you are. Next, walking up to the door I felt complete terror and it finally sunk in that I was about to jump out of a plane!!! Then just pure adrenaline throughout the free fall; this was definitely my favourite stage. Once the parachute releases, there’s relief at first and then you get to enjoy Dubai from the sky, admiring the view from different angles. Once the landing is over, there is the ‘thank goodness I made it down safely’ feeling, followed by ‘I want to do it all over again’!
8. Hotel Al Qasr
We had a little disaster with our first hotel; however when we moved to our second hotel the Al Qasr, I have never seen anything like it. It’s an oasis in paradise. You have to get boats to different parts of the hotel, which is a great experience and a good way to see different parts of the hotel. There’s even a traditional souk, where you can go and practise your haggling skills.
9. The unexpected
Wherever you go in Dubai you never really know what you are going to get, which makes it all the more exciting. You never know if you are going to find something modern or something more traditional; around each corner lies something different. That is one of the things I love about Dubai, the architecture and landscape varies so dramatically. I can’t wait to go back and explore even more.
10. Desert Adventures
This is a great excursion to do; I admit it’s a little cheesy but it’s great fun, and definitely an experience you won’t forget. You get picked up in a big 4×4 and before long you have left the concrete jungle and are into the desert. You skid down sand dunes and attempt to get back up them; I have full respect for the drivers as I have no idea how we didn’t end up rolling down the dunes. Next you get to watch the sunset over the desert, which is stunning, followed by dinner in the desert at a makeshift fort. You are serenaded by belly dancers and can enjoy a camel ride.
Have you ever been to Dubai? What are you favourites bits about this diverse city?