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!
Today marks the 70th anniversary of La Tomatina, the famous tomato-throwing festival in Buñol, Spain. La Tomatina began in 1945 but didn’t become an official event until twelve years later. Today, about 30,000 people attend the festival, which begins at around 11am on the last Wednesday of August. Traditionally, the tomato fight can only begin when someone has successfully climbed a greasy pole to retrieve the ham that’s been placed at the top.
We love the idea of La Tomatina, because its only goal is for everyone to have a good time. So we had a look at some of the other unusual events that take place around the world each year; here are a few of our favourites. Please feel free to add your own in the comments!
Moose Dropping Festival, Alaska
This festival ended in 2009, sadly, because it got too big for the town of Talkeetna. But it sounds amazing – essentially it involved numbered moose droppings being dropped from a crane onto targets in the town car park; those that landed closest to the centre of a target won prizes for anyone holding a matching ticket.
Wife Carrying Championships, Finland
Nobody seems quite sure how this bizarre festival originated, although it’s believed to have roots in the 19th century practice of wife-stealing. Competitors carry their wife (or sometimes someone else’s wife) across an obstacle course of over 250 metres, with penalties if they drop her, which seems only fair. The races are run by two teams at once, and the winner is the competitor who completes the course in the quickest time – they get to celebrate with their wife’s weight in beer.
The Songkran festival is a celebration of the Thai New Year in April, and it’s basically a big water fight. People carry water guns and throw buckets of water over each other, along with white talcum powder. The throwing of water is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. But watch out if you’re a tourist, as apparently visitors are a particular target for over-excited locals…
Gulal Throwing Festival, India
The Gulal Throwing Festival takes place each March as part of Holi, which is also known as the festival of colours. And it’s easy to see why – the event involves throwing coloured powder (gulal) and water over each other, so everyone ends up covered in a rainbow of colours. As with Songkran, it’s perfectly acceptable to throw gulal at strangers – the event is all very good-humoured and looks like a lot of fun, if incredibly messy.
World Custard Pie Championships, UK
We didn’t even know this existed, but apparently the World Custard Pie Championships take place every June in Coxheath, Kent. Competing in teams of four, participants try to hit their opponents with custard pies, which they’re only allowed to throw with their left hand. They score one point if they hit an arm, three for the chest and six for a pie in the face. The competition, which began in 1967 as a way to raise funds for the village hall, now attracts teams from across the globe, and was won in 2015 by a team from Japan.
Golden Shears, New Zealand
Every March, competitors come together for the world’s biggest sheep shearing event. Founded in Masterton, New Zealand, in the 1960s, the Golden Shears takes place over three days and includes competitions for all levels in shearing and woolhandling. Sheep shearing requires skill, precision and strength, which makes it an unlikely but no less impressive sporting event.
Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea
This July festival is essentially a celebration of mud, and in particular its cosmetic benefits. Between events like mud wrestling and mud sliding, you can also enjoy mud massages and the World Mud Skincare Exhibition. According to the website, if you don’t have any mud on your body, you get put in ‘prison’ until you do. In addition, visitors can enjoy the beautiful beach setting of Daechon, and there are games and fireworks as part of the festival too.
Each January, residents of Port Lincoln, Australia, celebrate the town’s biggest industry – tuna. The free festival includes tuna-themed parades and activities for the whole family. Since 1979, though, the highlight has been the World Championship Tuna Toss, which – as you might expect – involves throwing a tuna as far as you can. This year, the winners were husband and wife Matt and Shanell Staunton from Port Lincoln, who won the men’s and women’s individual events with throws of 24m and 11m respectively.
Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival), Japan
One just for the men, which features thousands of nearly-naked participants in a crazy night-time dash across Okayama in Japan. The idea is to catch a pair of sacred sticks (shingi) that have been thrown into the crowd by a priest. It can get a little frantic as the men fight to be first to get hold of the shingi, and competitors are asked to include a slip of paper tucked into their loincloth bearing their name, blood type and emergency contact number, just in case.
Harbin Ice Festival, China
The Harbin Ice Festival takes place in Heilongjiang, in the north-east of China every January, and looks really quite stunning. Participants build life-size buildings and sculptures out of snow and ice, which are then lit up in different colours to create a beautiful ice city. In previous years, the art work has included everything from a fully functional slide to a model of the Sphinx. The festival lasts for a month, but the sculptures can stay up longer, if weather permits.
Have you been to any of these festivals? We’d love to hear about your experience!