As a small child, I was practically a real-life Harry Potter. Without the magic. Or the mean Aunt and Uncle. Okay, well really, the only similarity is that I spent a lot of my days in the cupboard under the stairs. Now, before you call the authorities, don’t worry. It was my favourite place! I had a comfy chair and my own TV and all the VHS tapes of awful 90s cartoons that a toddler could ever ask for!
Why is this relevant to EuroTalk I hear you ask?! Well, it was here, sat watching Tots TV, that I accidentally taught myself French! My parents had no idea, until one day I casually said to my Mum ‘Bonjour, Je m’appelle Codie! That means “Hello, my name is Codie”, Mummy!’. She was in shock. After all, what would you think if your three year old daughter started spouting French? Once I’d explained that I got it from Tilly (sorry to anyone born too early/late to understand the references here, YouTube it!), I was inundated with French books, tapes and excited relatives. Even the nurse at our local GP practice heard about my weird knowledge and insisted on making me count to ten in French whilst she gave me my injections. I was essentially a performing monkey – but I loved it!
Fast-forward a few years later and I’m in the second half of Primary School. We have a super cool substitute teacher who plays guitar and teaches us German. It takes him less than half an hour to teach an entire class of children to count to ten in German and 15 or so years later I still know it.
Fast-forward a few years even later and my adorable four year old nephew is counting to ten in Japanese! Something they learn at pre-school through the use of cute mnemonic devices (with even cuter actions!). Languages are being taught younger and younger and suddenly, my toddler French seems a whole lot less impressive.
So that leads me to wonder, am I too old to learn a language? I’m led to believe that the older you are, the harder it is to learn an instrument (well, at least I can sort of play the recorder, right?), so does this apply for other skills? I can’t do a cartwheel, so I figure that boat has sailed, but I did recently learn how to knit… badly. Do different things have different cut off points? As knitting is usually for old ladies, was I only able to learn it because I’m cracking on a bit now? (Maybe a slight exaggeration, I am only 23 after all.) Most importantly am I the right age to finally start learning a language? As I’m currently childless, I know it’s my biological clock I should be worried about, but I genuinely think it is being drowned out by the voice in my head that is yelling ‘What happened to the girl who was learning French before she could tie her shoes? What are you doing with your life?!’.
And that, my friends, is the existential crisis that has inspired me to try and learn Japanese, with the help of EuroTalk. Maybe I’ll shut myself in the cupboard under the stairs for old times’ sake!
Codiekinz is a twenty-something blogger from the South, currently masquerading as a Northerner. She makes YouTube videos and posts about life, books, travel and her bearded dragon, over at www.codiekinz.co.uk. She’ll also be using uTalk to learn Japanese, so keep an eye on her blog for updates!
You can also follow her on Twitter @CodieKinz
Photo credit: codiekinz.co.uk
No matter what language you’re learning, at some point you’ll probably come across idioms. These phrases, on the surface, seem to mean very little and yet, to native speakers, they roll easily off the tongue without a moment’s thought. In a recent post, we covered Chinese chengyu, idiomatic expressions that each have their own fascinating story. And English is full of strange idioms – ‘to have a chip on your shoulder’, for instance, or ‘to pull someone’s leg’. Very confusing if you’re not very familiar with the language.
Idioms are a tricky part of the language learning process, but well worth it if you can get a few under your belt… 😉 Being able to drop a few colloquial expressions into your speech in the right context will not only boost your confidence, but it’ll also impress whoever you’re talking to!
So here are just a few of our favourite idioms from around the world:
Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen (German)
Literally: To make a mosquito out of an elephant
Meaning: To make a fuss out of nothing
Literally: The turtle is shrouded
Meaning: It’s foggy
猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru) (Japanese)
Literally: Even monkeys fall from trees
Meaning: Even experts get it wrong
Ar gefn ei geffyl gwyn (Welsh)
Literally: On the back of his white horse
Meaning: Full of mischief
Hak mir nisht kin chaynik (Yiddish)
Literally: Don’t chop my teakettle
Meaning: Stop annoying me
Literally: Dogs don’t breed cats
Meaning: Like father, like son
Literally: To put up a beer tent
Meaning: To get married
Aquí hay gato encerrado (Spanish)
Literally: there’s a trapped cat here
Meaning: there’s something odd going on
бурхан оршоо бутын чинээ сахал урга (Burkhan orshoo butin chinee sakhal urga) (Mongolian)
Literally: God bless you and may your moustache grow like brushwood
Meaning: Bless you (when someone sneezes)
Avere gli occhi foderati di prociutto (Italian)
Literally: To have one’s eyes lined with ham
Meaning: To be unable to see something that’s plainly obvious
Have you discovered any fun idioms in the language you’re learning? Let us know in the comments!
Last month, the EuroTalk team took on a new year challenge – to learn a language using the uTalk app. Some of us did better than others, and Nat was our clear winner, completing the app in just over two weeks.
But the ultimate test was still to come…
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To finish up our Japanese week, Safia’s written today’s blog post on her top ten reasons to visit Tokyo.
Do you live in Tokyo, or have you visited? Please share your own top tips in the comments!
1. The old and the new
Before I even start talking about specific points of interest, all you need to do is to walk down the street to see how traditional and modern Japanese culture both collide and sit beautifully side by side. Temples of all shapes and sizes pop up everywhere in between buildings and houses (many of which are open to the public), kimonos and yukatas are still worn as everyday wear and not just for special occasions, and I will never stop being excited about literally being able to buy anything under the sun from a vending machine.
2. Harajuku/Meiji Temple
For the weird, the wonderful and the fandom, Harajuku is the place to be to find the centre of Japanese youth and fashion culture. If you like to people-watch, there are usually a handful of cosplayers or colourfully dressed youths hanging around the station area and the backstreets are packed with little independent boutiques. In stark contrast, Meiji Jingu is also located here with the entrance round the corner from the station, and is an Imperial Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. If you’re lucky enough you may even get to see a wedding, as it is a popular venue for forthcoming nuptials.
3. Tsukiji Market
There are very few places in the world where I would consider waking up at 5am just to get some fish, but Tsukiji Market is definitely one of them. If the idea of raw fish (sashimi) sends you heaving, I urge you to give it another go for the love of tuna that just melts on your tongue. I promise when it’s this fresh and prepared this delicately there is nothing else like it, and there will be plenty of other sushi options as well. Personally as a foodie, I skipped straight to the food, but if you want to see the tuna auction you really have to get there early as there are limited spaces for viewers. Some of the queues for the restaurants can get quite long as well, but surely that’s just testament to how good it’s going to be inside?
4. Boat ride on the Sumida River
Take a journey down the river and under its many bridges to see Tokyo from a different point of view. Jump on at Asakusa where most of the water buses start from and you’re guaranteed to see at least twelve different bridges along this route. If architecture and design spark your interest then this is definitely a trip for you. And if sipping a cool beer on a boat on a sunny day sparks your interest then I’d say this is a trip for you too! There are various routes including a round trip, but I can recommend getting off at the Hama-rikyu gardens for an added sightseeing bonus.
When it comes to food, where do I even start? I wouldn’t blame you if the first thing that came to mind was sushi followed swiftly by ramen, but there is so much more to Japanese cuisine. This section deserves its own blog post, but before I get too tempted let me recommend three things that I think you should definitely try on your trip (that doesn’t include sushi or ramen!):
Takoyaki (Octopus balls)
Bearing in mind that’s a literal translation, takoyaki is a batter cooked in a special pan filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger and various other ingredients, all brought together in a handy bite-sized ball.
Okonomoyaki (Grilled savoury pancake)
Quite often this pancake-like dish is cooked on a hot grill right in front of you with the main ingredient being cabbage. Be sure to check if it’s a grill-it-yourself establishment so you’re not sitting there twiddling your thumbs while everyone else is already tucking in!
Yakitori (Skewered food)
Basically, meat on a stick (and sometimes vegetables) but with some amazing local flavouring. If you can find it, there’s a brilliant little alleyway in Shinjuku where local eateries are crammed in next to and top of one another.
I can only describe an Izakaya as a cross between a pub and a tapas restaurant in a laid back and cosy setting. Although they can at first seem intimidating to a foreigner, they’re great for unwinding after a long day of sightseeing (or work) and getting acquainted with the locals. If you’re having a tough time looking for one, many still sport a traditional red lantern outside the premises. Food comes as and when ordered and ready rather than in courses and is usually shared between the group if you’re with other people.
Surely it’s not possible to go to the motherland of karaoke without actually going to a karaoke bar at least once? Even if you don’t like karaoke, you’re in another country and no one will ever know, unless you accidently post a picture on Facebook. So lose your inhibitions, grab that mic and belt out some tunes in a foreign language! Japanese karaoke is an altogether individual experience and there are such a variety of bars and boxes to choose from, whether you’d like to be surrounded by Hello Kitty memorabilia or even sing from a hot tub. Check out the Shibuya and Roppongi areas as a starting point.
8. Tokyo Tower
At a whopping 634m tall, Tokyo Tower is hands down one of the best ways to survey the city. If you need a break from the bustling streets below, I highly recommend popping up and having a little gander. The night time view is spectacular with Tokyo’s array of high rise buildings and bright lights. During the day if you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky, then you may even get to see some distant points of interest which are very handily marked around the tower for you, such as ‘Mt. Fuji, 97km, that way’.
9. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season
Around April something magical happens in Japan and it’s called Sakura or Cherry Blossom season. As it’s seasonal the exact time of the year can vary, but if you manage to catch it the flurry of pink and white blossoms can be breathtaking. Sakura hot spots in Tokyo include Shinjuku Gyoen and Ueno Park, both boasting over 1,000 Sakura trees. Be prepared for crowds during peak season as popular areas can get amazingly crowded with Sakura enthusiasts.
10. Asakusa/Sensou-ji Temple
Asakusa definitely has a bit more of an older feel to it compared to some of Tokyo’s other more shiny districts like Ginza. Many of the buildings were built around the 1950s/60s since prior to this most were lost to bombs in war. This included one of Tokyo’s most popular temples Sensou-ji, which was originally built in the 7th century. It was rebuilt after WWII to symbolise peace and rebirth to the Japanese people. To get to the temple you’ll need to navigate your way through the Nakamise shopping street, which is lined with various street food stalls and tourist shops.
One final piece of advice – don’t assume that everyone in Tokyo will speak English, because they don’t! You’ll need to learn at least a few basic phrases before you get there.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that 😉
All photos property of Safia Griffin