Patricia is one of our most hard working uTalk challenge participants, learning Basque, Czech, Farsi and Kazakh since January (and let’s not forget Icelandic, Esperanto and Latvian last year)! We can’t wait to hear which language she’ll choose next…
There are many reasons why I love learning languages, including popular ones such as improving my résumé or getting by on a trip (and yes, I’ve got another trip to Iceland lined up, það er spennandi!). However, today I’d like to share with you one reason that is perhaps a little less obvious.
Due to an unexpected flight delay on my way from Pittsburgh, I recently overnighted in Toronto. The airline provided us (wonderful) accommodation in downtown Toronto and I shared a cab ride with two other stranded passengers. The cab driver had a talk radio station on, but it was not in a language I immediately recognized. Curious, I asked the driver which language that was. He told me it was Amharic, one of the languages of Ethiopia. I excitedly told him it was a language that was on my uTalk Challenge list and that I would learn it soon. Promise. He laughed and told me a little about Ethiopia and the Ethiopian community in Toronto. He taught me how to say “Hello” in Amharic and said I was brave to take on a new language every month. He then asked which language I was learning at the moment. I told him I was learning Persian (Farsi) and loving it.
The other two passengers in the cab then turned to me and said “well maybe we can help you then”. I lit up and proudly said “shabetun bekheyr”, “parvaz”, and “ba t’akhir” – “good evening”, “flight”, and “delayed”. They smiled and asked me what else I knew and if I had any questions about the language. And from there on, we talked about the old Persian script, Noruz, the influence of French, various historical events, Persian poets, and many other things. When I had left my house that day, I hadn’t expected to learn so much from people who, up to that taxi ride, were perfect strangers.
And that’s exactly the point: learning languages, even at a rudimentary level, opens you up to the world because it fuels curiosity. I didn’t converse in fluent Persian with my fellow passengers – I just let them know that I was interested in it and the culture and history that surround it (but it was very nice to hear that my pronunciation’s lovely!).
On that night, immersed in the vast multiculturalism of Toronto, I suddenly felt extremely connected to the world. And that’s the feeling I keep seeking over and over again in my language-learning journey. Perhaps it’s one of those “chicken or egg?” things, where it’s unclear whether learning languages opens up your mind or if it’s the curiosity that encourages you to learn languages… but whichever one came first for me, I’m certainly happy they keep feeding off each other.
So go ahead, tackle a new language, just start with a few words – you never know where it’ll take you.
Shane came in 3rd in The Junior Language Challenge in 2014 and is now in year 7 studying German and Latin. Below he talks about the wonderful JLC experience and why any teacher/parent should register their kids.
If you’re a parent or teacher of children aged 10 and under in the UK, visit juniorlanguagechallenge.com to find out more about our annual competition, which is now open! Entry costs just £5, which is all donated to our fantastic charity, onebillion.
In 2014 I entered the JLC for the second time, having got to the final the previous year. This time I knew what to expect and was really keen to get going. The first language was Italian, which was probably the language I found the easiest (of the 6 over 2 years). Two pupils from my school, Denmead, got through to the semi-final and we were told that we would be learning Japanese. I knew one word of Japanese already, but this wasn’t going to give me any advantage! It proved to be a very interesting language to learn, but when it came to the quick fire round this was the most challenging.
At the semi-final it all seemed much quicker than the previous year. During the final round, I managed to resist the temptation to look up at the leaderboard before I had finished. My dad compared the leaderboard to the football league tables when a goal is scored, a couple of wrong answers can move you up or down several places very quickly. I think it is much more nerve racking for the teachers and parents than the children as they watch this. I was lucky and saw my name stay in the top three so knew I had qualified for the final.
The language for the final was Somali and although it was completely new to me I knew that the app and website were the only tools I needed to get me through. The combination of games, the increasing level of difficulty and the chance to hear the words pronounced correctly meant it worked for me. I actually enjoyed practising, learning and the idea of preparing for a competition.
When it came to the final, I probably had my best round to date and as I was answering the last couple of questions my eyes were drawn towards the big screen displaying the leaderboard. I saw I was in third place with a few points to spare so knew I had done it. I felt speechless for a few minutes after we stopped, I had hoped to improve on the year before but didn’t think I would manage to get the bronze medal! My top tip for anyone getting through to the final is to stay calm and distract yourself with some great music and a good book. Calm parents and teachers (like mine) help you relax, just enjoy the experience and do the best you can.
To be part of a national competition is great and to gain third place is something I will always be very proud of. During the competition Franco (part of the JLC team) was always really kind and understanding with the children who needed help with their equipment and his good humour made sure everyone attending felt relaxed. We were always made to feel proud of what we’d achieved.
If your school isn’t yet involved in the JLC then I suggest you ask your headteacher to sign you up. It raises money for a great cause, introduces a fun and easy way to start learning different languages (some you might never have heard of before) and gives you a chance to compete against school mates and then possibly children from other schools if you are lucky enough to get through to the next round.
Yes, believe it or not, it’s National Toast Day today. Which got us all thinking, how important can toast possibly be?
Turns out, if you look at the English language, it’s pretty important, as are all baked goods to the British mind. We pepper our conversation with references to bread, toast, cake and biscuits on a daily basis:
In this cold weather, you may have turned on the heating, so now you’re as warm as toast. Central heating really is the best thing since sliced bread. Going out in the cold again without a coat would be a really half-baked idea.
If you’re the breadwinner in the family, you’re the one bringing in the money. Your job’s your bread and butter. Maybe you’ve got several projects on the go at the same time, in which case you’ve got your fingers in many pies. Or maybe you’re from the Upper Crust, in which case you may not need to work at all, and will hopefully know which side your bread is buttered.
If someone’s brown bread (a bit of Cockney rhyming slang, by the way), then they’re dead – or, if used as a threat, about to be dead. You can also say they’re toast.
A simple task is as easy as pie or a piece of cake. If something sells fast it sells like hot cakes. The icing on the cake is a lovely, unexpected bonus to a project; the sarcastic alternative is taking the biscuit. When fortune spins the wheel of fate, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And if it goes badly for you, you might feel deflated, or as flat as a pancake.
It’s not just English speakers who love to talk about bread. The Polish equivalent of a ‘piece of cake’ is a bułka z masłem (bread roll with butter). In Spanish, someone living a life of luxury nació con el pan bajo el brazo (was born with bread under their arm). If you suspect someone of being up to no good, in Swedish you can suggest that inte ha rent mjöl i påsen (they don’t have clean flour in their bag) – and if you then need to seek revenge, you can demand in Italian that the person who’s wronged you rendere pan per focaccia (to give back bread for focaccia).
Well, that’s probably enough: we don’t want to over-egg the pudding, so time now for us to shut our cake holes. Let’s conclude by raising a toast (which – as all good Big Bang Theory fans know – is so called because of a historic tradition of putting spiced toast in drinks) to all our favourite baked goods… we hope this post has given you food for thought 🙂
Nat and Liz
So you think you can’t speak French? You may not realise it but if you’re an English speaker, you probably know more French than you think. Just take a look…
Whether you go to the ‘deli’ aisle in the supermarket, or an independent delicatessen for some dips, sauces or meats, we’ve all used this word. In French the word for this is ‘delicatessen’, which literally means ‘delicious things’.
A common snack or treat in the UK and the US, there are so many options to choose from. But did you know that this originates from French, meaning ‘twice cooked’. The original biscuits were baked first, and then put into another oven to dry out so that they kept longer.
Often seen in magazines or newspaper as a favourite way to describe a celebrity fashion ‘faux pas’. It originally means ‘false step’ in French related to a social mistake, which leads to embarrassment.
The original meaning of picnic was to describe people who bring their own wine to a restaurant. The connotation of bringing something has stayed today with the idea that people contribute different things to a picnic. Today we also know it as a meal we eat outside or ‘al fresco’ (which is from Italian, if you were wondering).
Interestingly this word was first related to a work dispute and the idea that workers threw shoes into the machinery (originally clogs) to stop it from working, so they could strike. Today we associate this word with the idea of doing something which will prevent the desired outcome.
We do have a couple of words for the person we’re going to marry in English, but for some reason the French is used much more regularly than ‘intended’ or ‘betrothed’. Perhaps it’s just that the French sounds more romantic?
A term used in cooking such as to sauté an onion, it means frying in a small amount of fat. It originates from ‘sauter’ which means to jump in French.
Can you think of any other examples of French words or expressions that are regularly used by English speakers?
Today’s guest post is by Ed, who’s taking part in our uTalk Challenge. After successfully completing uTalk Japanese in January, Ed’s turned his attention to Welsh for February. Here he explains why learning a language is important for everyone, regardless of age.
I am a retired IT Manager aged 66 years. I am married with two grown up sons, one married with two children. My wife still works so I am one of these modern ‘house husbands’, which is fine with me. Other than gardening, ironing, shopping, cooking and cleaning (I don’t do much of the latter), I play golf, help with a local amateur dramatic society (treasurer and occasional performer), sing in our church choir, and keep fit.
Since grammar school I have always been interested in languages and linguistics. I put this down to having had a very good French teacher and an inclination towards role play, hence the amateur dramatics. I also did German at Grammar School, and did Latin ‘O’ level in one year, which I really enjoyed.
In 1970 I travelled overland to India and learn some Turkish and Farsi to help me along the way. Many years later I worked in Dubai for a while and learnt some Arabic. Over the years I have picked up some Italian and Spanish in relation to holidays.
When the opportunity to join the uTalk Challenge came along it seemed the perfect way to indulge my linguistic interests and to “stimulate the little grey cells” and slow down the aging process.
Four years ago my wife and I visited Japan for the Cherry Blossom Festival and I learnt some Japanese. That came in very handy as English wasn’t as widely spoken as I had thought it would be. We loved the country and the people and I found the language interesting, hence my choice of Japanese for my first month.
I think the uTalk Challenge offers a unique opportunity to try out a number of languages that are completely different from English and Indo-European languages in general. It’s a great mental exercise for any one, not just for someone my age. It also means that you can learn something of the language of a country when going on holiday, something I believe shows respect for the people and their culture, and enhances your experience. Better than just buying a phrase book, it allows you to hear the pronunciation by native speakers. You can, as I have done, download the extra topics and choose which one you want to study. You have nothing to lose and a great deal to gain.