We’re now into the third week of our uTalk Challenge! Over 350 people are taking part and over 40 languages have been chosen to learn! The most popular languages are some of the most spoken ones in the world like Polish, Spanish and Japanese.
Interestingly, we also have some endangered languages chosen. UNESCO publishes a list of the languages that are classed as endangered; there are five different levels, from Vulnerable (most children speak the language but only in restricted places) to Extinct (no one speaks the language anymore). Some of these surprised as me as Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish are all on the UNESCO list. Hawaiian is on the list as ‘critically endangered’, which is one level away from being extinct, due to the speakers of the language being the oldest generation of the family.
When it comes to our uTalk Challenge here are the four of the endangered languages that have been chosen:
There are around 660,000 speakers left of this language and although spoken in Europe it’s not classed as the Indo-European family of languages, potentially due to it being totally unique, with no similarities to any other languages. There are many theories on where the Basque language comes from, but none of these have conclusive evidence. One of our uTalk Challengers, Patricia, is learning Basque and quickly selected ‘garagardoa’ as her favourite word for beer in any language! Find out why in her video.
It is quite clear that Scottish Gaelic is spoken in some parts of Scotland, mainly in the Western Isles. It is one of the three languages in Scotland, with English and Scots also being spoken. Scots is also classed as an Endangered language, but on a lower level than Scottish Gaelic. There are around 60,000 people who speak Scottish Gaelic still. However, across many Scottish schools the introduction of Scottish Gaelic began in the 1980s, with it now being taught across primary and middle schools.
Welsh is Britain’s oldest language, dating back to around 4,000 years ago. Today there are 750,000 speakers; this is around 20% of the Welsh population. Welsh is most popular in the west of the country; however, there is evidence that more schools in Wales are now teaching the language. Within Wales there are two main dialects, North and South Walian. It is hard to establish where these two dialects cross over, as they both have different accents, vocabulary and grammar points. Liz and Nat from the EuroTalk office are learning Welsh for the challenge (in fact Nat’s already completed the app because she’s much better at languages than the rest of us!).
This is one of the six main languages in Senegal. Originally written with an Arabic alphabet, it was then standardised using the Latin alphabet. A lot of Wolof speakers use French loan words when speaking the language, which could be one of the reasons Wolof has become an endangered language. In certain urban areas of Senegal people use a mix of Arabic, French and Wolof but in Gambia they use English words as loan words instead.
Do you speak any endangered languages? Please let us know on Twitter or our Facebook page. Or if you’d like to learn an endangered language, you can find all of the above and more in our uTalk app.
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.
Interview with Alexandra Turner – translator, writer, editor
Alex left her London life a few months ago to go and travel around the world. She is passionate about culture and languages and has traveled to 26 countries up to now. At the moment she lives in Stockholm, Sweden (and we deeply envy her for that).
EuroTalk: What made you start learning languages?
I started learning German and French when I started secondary school because it was compulsory. Straight away I loved both of them and they became my favourite lessons. Outside of school I was interested in watching movies or looking at books in those languages and continuing to learn (I know, so geeky!). Then two years later I started to study Spanish too as an optional subject for GCSE (the exams we do aged 16) and I loved that too – my lessons made me think about sunny Spain instead of depressing London 😛 I was starting to get pretty interested in languages so I also took Japanese lessons after school (again, yes, I was a geek…) So I kept on with those language for a few years. I started learning Italian just two years ago because I met my boyfriend who’s Italian, so I learned just by listening to him talking, by watching Italian TV with him and later on by going to Italy. Finally my other language is Ukrainian, which I started learning because I was living in L’viv, Ukraine, and I really needed the language to get around day to day.
ET: What gives you motivation to continue learning?
To be honest I mostly learn for fun. I am really fascinated by languages, how they are different and yet sometimes similar. If I have spare time I am as likely to grab one of my language apps or watch a foreign movie as I am to surf Facebook or watch TV. And in fact if I DO surf Facebook, Twitter etc, half my feed is in other languages anyway.
I also learn for work because I’m a translator and I feel like I need to keep improving. And travelling of course is a motivation because I need languages for practical things.
ET: What do you find to be most rewarding about language learning?
Earning money is one thing! But the best feeling ever is navigating a practical situation using one of your languages, or having a real conversation for the first (or second, third…) time. I get so psyched when I talk to an Italian person and they actually understand what I’m saying. Or just doing something simple like buying some tomatoes at the market in Ukraine, I feel pretty cool!
ET: What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Loads! When I was at school I found grammar boring and I just wanted to learn loads of words (I was pretty naïve!!) So later on my grammar was a total mess and I had to go back and try to put it into place. So I still have a pretty terrible knowledge of some fundamental things like genders in German, which can only be fixed by hard, hard study later on. So if you want to reach a decent level in a language, I recommend to get the grammar in place ASAP, which I’ve done with Ukrainian (older and wiser) and it’s helped soooo much. Also I now find grammar amazing, like doing a Sudoku puzzle 😀
Another challenge is that I am shy and afraid of speaking to new people in new languages. This is incredibly hard to overcome, but the only solution is, like Nike says, Just Do it! Start with easier situations like buying a beer or a stamp and progress to harder ones. Or stick yourself in an environment where you are forced to use the language. For me that’s spending time with my boyfriend’s family who speak NO English, or by living in Ukraine where many people know no English at all. Another helpful thing is to organise a language exchange or find a conversation teacher/partner who will give you one on one help. You gain confidence just by doing it over and over and over…
ET: Tell us your favourite word/expression in your favourite language.
Wow there are so many! There are loads of amazing expressions in Italian although most of them are too rude to write here now… The best things are the gestures, there’s a funny one you can do to show that you’re being left alone or ditched, where you make the shape of an artichoke (for some reason…) with your hand. In German I like the expression ‘das geht mir auf den Keks’ – ‘it gets on my biscuit’, which means something annoys you. I also really like using the word ‘pobrecito’ (poor thing) in Spanish whenever I’m being sarcastically sympathetic to someone.
ET: Any funny/weird/awkward situation that happened with a native or another speaker?
Too many awkward situations to count. At the moment I keep accidentally using Spanish words when I speak Italian, which is quite awkward when people stare at me and say ‘what does that mean?’ In Ukraine I had silly situations every day, such as trying to order food and having to make animal noises when I didn’t know the name of the type of meat, for example. Luckily people found it fun rather than being annoyed. Also I’d get really annoyed when I went into a продукти to buy milk or bread – I’d so proud that I’d remembered the right words, then they would ask me some silly question like ‘which type of bread?’ which I clearly had no chance of answering. Last time it happened, I replied to the woman ‘Я не знаю’ (I don’t know) in exasperation, and she laughed at me for about five minutes…
👋👇👌 – Hi, are you okay?
👍☺️ – I’m good thanks!
👏 – yay!
Or something like that.
Welcome to the wonderful language that is emojis 😁
And before you express concern that we are confused about what is a language and what is not, hey. Your entire screen staring back up at you currently is composed of a series of ones and zeros, manipulated into the glorious thing you see before you and that, the ones and zeros, is a language all in itself. Binary code. If you’re interested.
Emojis are much, much prettier to look at than a bunch of ones and zeros though, aren’t they?
Yes, we know. Emojis can be confounding to us too. But a language is a language, and language learning is good for our cognitive reasoning 😇
So let us give you a little introduction into the wonderful world of emojis, see if we can entice you in or relieve you of your confusion. Here are some reasons why we vote emojis as our new favourite international language.
✒️📚🕐 study time!
- So firstly, you may have heard of emoticons. Emoticons are not emojis, repeat, they are not emojis ‼️ Emoticons are ‘pictures’ composed of the keyboard symbols we already have, such as :), :(, and :D. Even our mothers know how to use them.
- Emojis originate from Japan and are, like Japanese characters themselves, pictographs. The word itself means ‘picture’ – e and ‘character’ – moji. Another argument in favour of emojis being a language, don’t you think?
- Emojis actually have specific, individual meanings but in the way that colloquial language changes and adapts, they can mean different things to different people. For example, 😋 ’officially’ means face savouring delicious food, but whenever we use this in our Whatsapp messages, it generally means we are being exceptionally cheeky. Tongue sort-of in cheek, see?
- Emojis are a beautiful, universal thing, allowing people to communicate when normal language barriers would apply. And there’s no grammar! Truly, this is a joyous thing.
- Emojis are also doing their bit for diversity. The latest versions of iOS offer emoji with different skin tones:
- and the generic ‘one size fits all’ ones…
- …and those for people of the LBGT community, 👭👬🌈❤️. But none for redheads apparently. There’s a campaign on Change for that at the moment.
- Emojis are multi-platform. You can use them, in various versions on all devices, and everyone is in on the act. Even National Rail Enquiries, who, on World Emoji Day last Friday, invited Twitter followers to guess station names using a series of emojis.
— National Rail (@nationalrailenq) July 17, 2015
- Emojis can shorten your messages and bring a smile to a recipient’s face: even if it’s just because they’re trying to understand what you mean:
Please come Christmas shopping with me?
Enjoy your holiday in Cyprus!
Join me for a cheeky drink after work?
- Some businesses will even let you order dinner via Twitter: 🍕
We could go on. But we’d probably get silly.
So the next time someone shows disdain for your messages full of emojis, you are well within your rights to reply with a 😝 that says hey, I’m learning a new language here!
Are you for or against emoji? Tell us what you think!
You may have seen on the uTalk app that you can now search for words in any of our languages by using emoji. With emoji becoming the fastest growing language in Britain, we have decided to make it our language of the week!
If you’re anything like me, the most frequent way you choose to stay in touch with friends and family is by text messaging. If I think about it, I don’t even know what my ringtone sounds like, and I only answer my phone if I’m expecting an important call, otherwise, everyone that knows me just sends a text.
Furthermore, I overheard this conversation the other day:
‘So he called me in the middle of the day and I thought, omg, what a freak, why can’t he just text me?‘
Okay, I was part of the conversation, but anyway you get the idea.
Nevertheless, sometimes it can be quite challenging to express your exact feelings or tone in a text, and so you risk being misunderstood by the recipient or worse – come off as too serious when you’re actually joking. So at some point in the past, the techies have come up with this brilliant way to make our text conversations more fun and emotive: emojis!
Now, some of you may not know what they are and that’s okay – my boss didn’t know either, until a couple of days ago when our app was updated with this brilliant way of searching for words by using emoji. I admit – I love emoji! They’re cute and funny and a great way to interact with your friends without using actual words.
Did you know?
- The word emoji comes from Japan, with the ‘e’ meaning picture and ‘moji’ meaning character or letter.
- There are more than 6 billion emoji sent worldwide everyday, with more than half of these being smiley faces.
- Some emoji are confusing…
- Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby Dick has been translated into emoji; the book was released with the title Emoji Dick.
- Many celebrities love emoji, with Roger Federer recently tweeting his whole day in emoji during Wimbledon. And in April, Andy Murray tweeted his wedding day in emoji:
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) April 11, 2015
- Even Australia’s Foreign Affairs minster, Julie Bishop gave the first ever political emoji interview on Buzzfeed.
So go ahead and see which ones have been matched with which uTalk words by our brilliant developers! Which is your favourite emoji? We love to hear from you, so please do join in the conversation here on the blog, or on Facebook or Twitter.
Ioana and Alex