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Posts tagged ‘words’


Learning languages helps me help other people

Darren took part in our uTalk Challenge in January this year, choosing Polish, and he’s continued in February with Czech. Here’s his language learning story…

My name is Darren, I’m from Bath, England, and my language journey really began about 10 years ago.

I had studied French and German at school but I didn’t really enjoy them. I didn’t realise how useful languages could be until a friend asked me to help her learn some Latin for her nursing exam. She gave me the list of things she needed to learn with a look of sheer terror on her face and I told her ways to easily remember each word. You could see the panic in her eyes fade as she realised she could remember everything after just a couple of hours.

Darren, Language Learner of the Week

Soon after, I started working with a lot of Polish girls. It was quite difficult because only one or two of them could speak English, so I decided to try to learn enough Polish to be able to say “Good morning”, “You need to do this…”, “Would you like a coffee?” and other essential phrases. My first few attempts at communication were hilarious! My pronunciation was terrible and led to smiles and giggles, but they were all really impressed that I even tried and my blushes soon turned to grins of pride. I started doing the same when other new people arrived and was soon spouting phrases in Polish, Hungarian, Latvian, Romanian, and Greek. The look of happy surprise as a nervous new employee is greeted in his or her own tongue is itself worth the effort of learning.

I try to study a different language every day of the week for about two hours. Now I have friends from all over the world and teach English as a Second Language so I am lucky enough to be able to practise different languages every day. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been able to help someone in the street when they have asked someone in broken English if they know where some place is, or in a shop when they don’t understand what is being said to them by a cashier. One time I was even asked to help translate for a friend who had been attacked and needed to talk to the police. Languages are now very important in my life and are my biggest passion.

One last thing: my original attempts at speaking Polish eventually led to me marrying the girl of my dreams. Just another reason to start your own language adventure!



Quote of the week: 10 Jan 2015

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Robin Williams

"No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world." Robin Williams

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Say what? 10 English expressions you might not have heard before

Here at EuroTalk, we love learning languages, and between us we speak quite a range, including Spanish, Hungarian, Russian, Japanese, German, Portuguese, Latvian, Slovak and more. But one language that the Brits in the office tend to forget about is our own – English.Learn English

Recently, we’ve had several conversations about the English language, usually inspired by one of our colleagues from overseas asking us what we mean when we use a particular word or phrase. Then Ioana found this article about British slang phrases and wanted to know how many of the listed expressions we use on a regular basis (quite a few, actually).

We thought this might make quite a fun blog post, so here are just a few of the English words our colleagues have discovered since arriving in the UK, along with others that we Brits feel everyone should know…


Discovered by Richard and Pablo

A pantomime (or ‘panto’ for short) is a very British tradition; it’s a musical comedy play performed each year over the Christmas and New Year period. Each town has its own panto, which is usually based on a children’s story and features certain conventions, including the pantomime dame and audience participation (‘he’s behind you!’ etc). It’s something that anyone who’s grown up in Britain tends to take for granted, and is surprisingly hard to describe, as we discovered earlier this week when the guys said, ‘What’s a pantomime…?’

Read more about pantomimes.

Toad in the hole

Contributed by Gloria

A traditional British dish, consisting of sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter. Tastier than it sounds – and there are no toads in it, so we’re not quite sure how it got its name.

Food baby

Discovered by Ioana

We think this might actually originate from the USA, but put simply, a food baby is when you’ve eaten so much that you look a bit like you might be expecting. It’s also Ioana’s new favourite expression.


Contributed by Amy

This is basically an affectionate way of calling someone an idiot. If you hear someone say, ‘No, you numpty!’ it means you’ve got something wrong, but don’t be too offended – there are far worse things they could call you. (Another version of this is calling someone a muppet.)

In the doghouse

Discovered by Symeon

If someone’s in the doghouse, it means they’re in trouble, just like a dog that’s been kicked out of the house and made to sleep outside.

Pardon my French

Contributed by Safia

Confusingly, this has nothing to do with speaking other languages. In fact, it’s a way of apologising for swearing, in an attempt to pretend the rude words are a foreign language, even though everyone knows they aren’t. It’s thought the expression originates from the 19th century, when people actually did apologise for using French words, assuming that whoever they were talking to didn’t understand.

Pigs in blankets

Discovered by Franco

Enjoyed particularly as part of Christmas dinner, pigs in blankets are small sausages wrapped in bacon. And they’re delicious. Fun fact: pigs in blankets are known as ‘kilted sausages’ in Scotland.

In a pickle

Contributed by Nat

This one derives from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and means to be in a tricky situation or ‘a spot of bother’ (another English phrase for you, there).


Discovered by Ioana (again)

Sniggering is laughing – but not in a nice way. A snigger is a quiet laugh, often under your breath or behind a hand, at the expense of someone else. We don’t recommend it; it’s mean.


Contributed by Luke

Not to be confused with ‘botch’, which means to do something very badly, to ‘bodge’ something is to fix or build something temporarily, using whatever materials you happen to have lying around. The result may not look great, but it isn’t necessarily bad – in fact a bodge job is usually a sign of resourcefulness.

Does anyone else have any great English words you think everyone should know? Or have you learnt a fun English expression you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments 🙂



The challenges of translation

Over the last six months we’ve had our new free app uTalk translated into over 30 languages, and dealt with over 120 native language speakers who’ve either translated or performed the scripts. Along the way we’ve confronted many challenges which really emphasise how one language can be ambiguous whilst another is precise, and vice versa.

In English, for example, we can go to the shop and ask for a pepper without having to specify the colour, or order a boiled egg without stating whether it should be hard or soft; we refer to brothers and sisters without having to qualify their age; we talk about grandparentsuncles and aunts without saying which side of the family they are on and, perhaps most infuriatingly for non-native speakers (those inclined towards a bit of juicy gossip), we can refer to friends and partners without having to say whether they are male or female. We can be elusive and a little bit mysterious through the vagueness of the English tongue. This is not always the case in every language, and here are a few examples of what we’ve learnt so far:

Brother and sister– In Vietnamese, you don’t just have a brother or sister: there is no general word. Instead, you specifically have an older or younger brother or sister. In Basque, too, there is no generic word, but the difference depends on the gender of the speaker rather than age: my Mum’s word for her brother (neba) will be different to my Dad’s word for his brother (anaia).

Danish has two words for a wall, depending on whether it is an outdoor, brick-built wall or an interior wall.

– In Polish, we debated the straightforward English phrase He scores (a goal), which can be translated with a variety of terms depending primarily on whether he scores visibly, in the eyes of the spectators, or definitely, after verification from the referee.

Mandarin has two separate words for a beach, one for a seaside beach and one for a lakeside beach. It also has two words for jellyfish, depending on whether it is the living animal or the edible delicacy.

– The Romanians use two words for snow – one to describe the falling droplets, one to refer to the layer already on the ground.

As well as these difficulties in trying to get different languages to correspond to each other, we’ve come across some interesting stylistic issues which don’t exist in English:

– In languages such as Czech and Slovak, our translators worried over the best way to tell the time, since it is common to express twenty-five past two as five to half past two, a construction which may initially confuse learners who have never encountered it. (English speakers may also be surprised when they first learn the time in many Slavic languages, where quarter past four is, literally, quarter of the fifth, the implication being that we are in the fifth hour).

– In Chichewa, our translators opted for entirely different and equally valid counting systems: one went for the traditional Chichewa way of counting based on the numbers 1 to 5, followed by increasingly complex and lengthy sums which require quick thinking and an aptitude for arithmetic in everyday transactions; the other opted for the commonly used English loan words- twente eiti (28), faifi (5) etc. Both systems are equally used, understood and widespread in Malawi.

– Our Honduran consultant objected slightly to the inclusion of the word ketchup in the Latin American Spanish script, saying that la salsa de tomate would be more appropriate in his country. But this clashed with our Peruvian consultant’s advice, since ketchup is a widespread word in Peru and the salsa de tomate could refer to any other tomato-based sauce. Our Mexican translator chipped in that in Mexico ketchup is indeed commonly used, though catsup would be equally widespread… In the end, we settled on ketchup as the most generally acceptable in the largest number of places.

– In Polish, there is no good way to translate the phrases at the top of the stairs and at the bottom of the stairs: they would just say on the stairs in both cases. Part of the reason for this is the strange repetition you get if you specify at and on – na górze na schodach. The same odd-sounding repetition caused problems in the Spanish translation of I’m leaving tomorrow at eight in the morning, since the words for tomorrow and morning are identical, thus Me marcho mañana a las ocho de la mañana. It sounds so strange that people would prefer to leave out the first mañana.

These are just a few of the little points of interest we encounter on a regular basis in our translation project, and we’re looking forward to finding more and sharing them with you!


uTalk is now available from the App Store – it’s free to download and includes basic words in 25 languages, with options to upgrade for more vocabulary.


Something Borrowed: when one language just isn’t enough

After reading Konstantia’s post a few months ago about how many of our everyday words come from Greek, I started to think about where some of our other words came from. You might think that we are the ones influencing everyone else (words such as wifi in French, surfear for surfing the net in Spanish, and a lot of business jargon in German –  downloaden, ein Workshop, ein Meeting and so on…), and of course that’s true. Most new inventions (the Internet, computers and related tech such as wifi) are named by Americans, and therefore the English word is often passed along to other cultures and absorbed into their languages. You’ll also find many non-English speakers throwing in English phrases amidst their native tongue. Any other Borgen fans will probably have noticed the way that characters casually use phrases such as ‘on a need to know basis’ whilst otherwise conversing in Danish. Clearly our language, especially in the business, IT and entertainment domains, has a huge global influence.

DictionaryHowever, if you look a little further back, you’ll find us doing exactly the same thing. It might seem incredibly cool to Europeans now to use English or merely ‘English-sounding’ words day to day, but we’re just as guilty of language-envy or just pure laziness with French, especially. How to describe that annoying feeling of being sure you’ve already seen or done something? Déjà vu, of course. Not to mention dozens of other words and phrases we all use on a daily or regular basis: laissez faire, enfant terrible, a la carte, a la mode, arte nouveau, en route, faux pas… I could go on for pages. You’d probably struggle to go through a day without using at least one or two obviously French words. It’s almost as if we simply couldn’t be bothered to think of our own words for some of these things, although I also suspect it has a lot to do with our associations with French as chic (another one!) and sexy. This is especially true in the beauty industry, which explains the proliferation of products labelled visage or with names like touche eclat remaining in their original alluring French guise.

French is the best example, as they are our nearest geographical neighbours, and historically one of our closest political connections, which explains the huge interconnection of our languages. However, as soon as you think about it, there are hundreds of other words that have crept into our parlance from other languages. Words like Zeitgeist and one of my favourites Schadenfreude have come over from German, whilst our food vocabulary owes a lot to Spanish (salsa, jalapeno, tortilla, nacho, paella…)  We’re also becoming ever more familiar with words and especially foods from China and Japan. Sushi, sake, kimono, karate, karaoke and so on are everyday words to us, whilst we happily order bok choy, chop suey and chow mein without even thinking about it, not to mention concepts like yen, zen and feng shui. Taekwondo has made its way over from Korea, whilst we’ve taken words like bamboo and paddy from Malay.

This is just a quick look at some of the more obvious ways that our language has spread globally, and how many words we have absorbed from nearby European countries, but also from more distant Asian cultures. We’re such a global country, and it’s strongly reflected in our language. We’d love to hear more examples of English words creeping into other languages or other foreign words you’ve noticed in English, so feel free to leave a comment below!