If, like me, you used to expectantly write a long list of improbable demands to Santa each year as a child, you’ll be curious to know what happened to those letters. Oddly enough, it never ever occurred to tiny Nat to question where the (probably unaddressed, definitely unstamped) letter went once it dropped into the post box: after all, if Santa was so magical then he’d surely have solved the small problem of how to access my very important letter.
But when I was recording Greenlandic recently for uTalk and doing some research on the country, I was intrigued to find that my letters actually may have reached Santa, and that he lived in Greenland. Until 2002, letters to Santa from all over the world would collect in a giant red post box in Nuuk and – here’s the exciting part – if they had a return address they’d be replied to by Santa himself (or an elf).
Sadly, Santa went bust in Greenland, and although letters may still end up there, they won’t be processed or answered. But, being super Santa, he obviously had a back-up plan and didn’t just run things from Greenland: Santa has operations going in Iceland, Sweden and Finland too. In fact, all of Scandinavia claims to be Santa’s home, raising the interesting question of which language Santa speaks.
Of course, we all know that Santa travels around the whole world on Christmas Eve and must therefore be fairly proficient in various world languages (he’s probably been dabbling in uTalk‘s Directions topic, available in 128 languages, to help him find his way), but just to prove it, his operation in Finland, still going strong, will reply to letters in up to 12 different languages from around the world. So Santa’s clearly at least a dodecalinguist!
Why not try to be a bit more like Santa this year and learn a new language? You could start off for free with the January uTalk Challengeand, if you really want to emulate Santa, go for the 12 month language challenge. Complete a language by the end of the month, and we’ll give you another free uTalk Essentials for a new language the following month.
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…
When I first started planning my trip to Stockholm, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I’d heard from everyone that went there that it’s a beautiful place, but had no specifics so I thought I’d do a bit of research – I’m an avid planner so I enjoyed the planning of the trip every bit as much as the trip itself. Below are 10 reasons why you should consider this great Scandinavian city as your next holiday destination.
1. Gamla Stan
This is the first thing you’ll find online about Stockholm. It’s the old centre of the city and is located on a small island. Actually, Stockholm is formed from more islands split by canals but they are very well interconnected. This district is a really special part of the city with colourful architecture, narrow streets paved with cubic rock, tall churches and last but not least, great cafés and restaurants. Just put down the map and get lost on the lovely streets, looking everywhere around you. When you get tired, have a break at Fabrique – amazing coffee and pastry.
Oh, Swedish pastry. I intoxicated my Facebook friends for the whole length of my trip with photos of the delicious pastries that this country makes. If you have to try something from the Swedish cuisine, ditch the IKEA meatballs and go for the great, cinnamon or nutty tasting pastry. Have it at breakfast, with a creamy coffee (what the Swedes call ‘fika’) – guarantees a great start of the day. What am I talking about, have it any time you want and try ALL the varieties.
For a nice view over the city, go to Observatorielunden – it’s a park on a hill next to the Old Stockholm Observatory. From there, take a nice walk through Norrmalm’s streets, it’s a lovely area with shops both local and international. For a coffee break, go to Espresso House on Drottninggatan, one of the best decorated places I’ve ever been – great coffee and tea too!
4. Hammarby Sjöstad
Roughly translating as Hammarby Sea City or Hammarby Lake City, this is a very modern and new area of Stockholm and is part of the Södermalm district. Go there in the morning or even afternoon, perhaps to see the sunset as the area is surrounded by water and canals. You can then take the boat to return to the centre.
Skansen is the world’s first open-air museum, founded in 1891. Here you can stroll through five centuries of Swedish history, from north to south, with a real sense of the past all around in the historical buildings and dwellings, populated by characters in period dress – according to their website. It was a really great place to see, especially as it started snowing while we were there – a very good reason to refugee in an old style café and have home-made pastry and sweets.
6. Swedish people
They have a lot of style, that is for sure. That reflects in their clothes, shoes, bags, decoration and anything that involves design, really. They are discreet, not very outgoing but friendly. If you are the kind of person that likes to get to know the locals you will have to put some active effort into it – try renting a room in a flat hosted by locals.
7. The Stockholm City Hall
The City Hall has an interesting building (with an interior garden) and location, next to Stadhusparken, which is a park surrounded by water. As long as you are there, check out the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel; it looks very cool.
8. Rosendals Trägård
Next to Skansen is Rosendals Trägård (Rosendal’s Garden) – an open garden, which wishes to present biodynamic (organic) garden cultivation. We didn’t get to go there, but apparently they have a café, plant shop and bakery, so what’s not to like?
One of the hipster districts of Stockholm, with a creative and relaxed vibe, offering a variety of Swedish fashion shops, vintage stores, galleries and design stores as well as well decorated cafés and bars. Here are also two of the best viewpoints in the city: Fjällgatan and Monteliusvägen.
All around the city, I never laid my eyes on an ugly building. The Swedes have a great sense of what looks good and that reflects in everything. Interesting colourful buildings, wonderfully refurbished old ones. We particularly found the roofs worth a look at so if you are into that, be careful not to trip while looking up all the time.
Blend in with the locals – learn Swedish with uTalk so you can order pastry and coffee or even just to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. Everyone in Stockholm speaks very good English, but nothing compares with the feeling of seeing that smile on their faces when you use the local language in a casual conversation.
One of our top tips for learning a language is to take a holiday – it not only gives you a chance to practise your new language with the locals but you also get to visit somewhere nice. And why not take the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most amazing (if sometimes slightly bizarre) places while you’re at it?
1. San Alfonso del Mar
Like the world’s largest swimming pool, for instance, which is at San Alfonso del Mar in Chile. If you’re thinking of swimming lengths, you might want to stock up on energy drinks before diving in to this one. It’s more than 1,013 metres long, so paddlers should beware! It also has a 35-metre deep end – not for the unwary swimmer. The Guinness Book of Records named this pool as the biggest in the world, needing 66 million gallons of water to fill it up.
2. Mt HuaShan
Or maybe you’d like to visit a traditional Chinese tea house. What about this one, at the top of Mt. HuaShan? It’s 2,160 metres high and the path to get there is nothing short of terrifying. It’s thought that there may be as many as 100 fatal falls a year, and yet the trail is popular with tourists, keen to visit the teahouse, on the southern summit of the mountain, which used to be a Taoist temple, or the chess pavilion on the east peak.
3. Stewart Island
If bird-watching is your thing, you could visit Stewart Island in New Zealand. It’s one of the most remote destinations in the world, with only one town, Halfmoon Bay (also known as Oban) and an estimated population of just 450 people. The island is the only place to see the Kiwi bird in its natural habitat and is also home to five species of penguin.
4. Pink Lake
Next door in Australia, Pink Lake, just west of Esperance, is worth a visit. As its name would suggest, in certain weather conditions the water in the lake is pink, thanks to a particular kind of algae in the water. And this isn’t the only pink lake in the area. Lake Hillier, on Middle Island, is another example and an even brighter colour.
5. Joffre Lakes
However, if you prefer your lakes blue, the Canadian park of Joffre Lakes in British Columbia comes highly recommended. The lakes are a more traditional, but stunningly beautiful, turquoise blue and surrounded by peaks and glaciers. A trip to Joffre Lakes isn’t complete without an overnight stay, where you can camp under the stars and listen to the ice calving from the glacier.
The Russian island of Kizhi is found almost exactly at the centre of Lake Onega and boasts a spectacular wooden church, the Church of the Transfiguration, which was built in the 18th century without a single nail. Legend says that the lead builder used just one axe for the whole building, and then threw it in the lake when the church was completed, saying, ‘There was not and will not be another one to match it.’
Just a few miles from the popular resort of Fethiye in southwestern Turkey, on the side of a mountain, is the village of Kayaköy. Greek-speaking Christians lived there until the 1920s but the village was abandoned follow a population exchange agreement between Turkey and Greece in 1923. Now a museum and historical monument, Kayaköy is a beautiful but rather eerie ghost town.
8. Capuchin monastery
Speaking of eerie, the Capuchin monastery in Sicily is home to 8,000 mummified corpses in the monastery catacombs. The bodies are all dressed in their best clothes and arranged in different rooms according to the type of person. The oldest in the collection dates from 1599, while the most recent addition is the body of Rosalia Lomabardo, who was embalmed in 1920 and is known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit different to stay, you could try the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. Made with ice from the Torne River, the hotel offers ice and snow rooms, and runs a survival course every night for new guests on what to wear and how to cope when sleeping in temperatures below zero. But don’t worry – warm rooms are also available if you’re not a fan of the cold.
One extreme to the other – the island of Malapascua in the Phillippines boasts beautiful beaches and is most popular with divers, as it’s the only place in the world to see the pelagic thresher shark. There’s no transport on the island because it’s small enough to walk everywhere, and the only way to arrive on the island is by banca (a local boat ferry).
We hope that’s given you a few ideas for your next holiday. Don’t forget to learn a few words in the local language before you leave! And if we missed your favourite place, let us know in the comments…