Monday, April 24, 2017

How Learning a Language Is Like Driving a Car

Are you a master of the roads but not a master of the rolled rs? Then today's post is for you. I've noticed in the past that getting behind the wheel of a car is a lot like learning a language. Here's a few reasons how...

You won't pick it up straight away

Driving and learning languages aren't easy. Your brain is doing a lot of things and learning to do a lot of things differently. Don't expect to be a master from day one. Just be patient and go at your own speed.

Take your time and soon you'll be flying!
You'll stall

Making mistakes and getting stuck are all parts of any learning process. Just like you stall a car, sometimes you'll be half way into a sentence and forget a word or not know how to finish your sentence. Relax! Just take a breath, pump the brakes, and start over. Everybody knows you're just learning, they're not going to kill you for it!

Adults are better at it

That's why the older you are, the cheaper your insurance is! You'll often hear that children have the mind of a sponge and can pick up languages in the blink of an eye. However, that's not necessarily true.

It's been shown that in some ways, adults are even better than children. Adults already know a language and they can use this to help them learn. They don't tend to master pronunciation as well as children but there's nothing wrong with a bit of an accent.

If you never get behind the wheel, you'll never understand how to do it

If you're always a passenger, you probably think you know what everything in a car does. But have you ever driven? Try and remember the first time you got behind the wheel. Were you an immediate expert thanks to a decade and a half of being a passenger? I doubt it! Did you get better by actually driving? Of course you did.

Language is exactly the same. You can study for years and never really use your language. You won't see much benefit in your language learning until you actually start creating language, both by writing and by speaking.

It'll take you places

Learning a language opens doors. Just like owning a car gives you the freedom to go where you want, speaking another language will take you plenty of places. You'll have better career prospects and another skill to put on your CV. You'll be able to meet and speak to people that you wouldn't necessarily know before. The world is your oyster!

Monday, April 17, 2017

How to Motivate Yourself to Learn a Language by Francesco D'Alessio

Motivating yourself to learn something new can be daunting.

Learning a new language can be very scary when you are just getting started, let alone going further into the language. Everything from meeting native speakers to travelling might frighten and demotivate you. Motivation is something you need whenever you start something new. Whether it's a new job or a new project, or even a hobby, motivation is key to persistence and achieving your goals. 

We’ve put together a few recommendations for how to maintain your language learning when things get tough.

Picking a language to learn

One of our recommendations is to pick a language that you are interested in. It can be rough when you start learning a language but being passionate about the language can help to drive you through harsh times. 

Try and pick a language whose culture you enjoy, or a language that's spoken somewhere you'd like to travel to and you like the sound of. All of these will help to form a better drive to conquer the language. 

Take the language-learning plunge.
How to get motivated

Motivation is very individual. Something that motivates one person, won’t motivate another. 

Despite there not being a recipe for everyone, here are some of the best ways to learn a language. These recommendations come from top language learners and teachers who have mastered multiple language and continue to pick up even more languages.

Small chunks — Learning in small segments might be a better method of acquiring a language. The short bursts of learning across your day can provide you with more actionable learning notes to keep refreshed as you go about your day. Whether it’s 10-minutes of French verbs before bed or listening to a podcast before bed, all of these small chunks can make up the bigger picture of your language learning journey.

Exposure — Being exposed to a new language can keep you interested in the language. Watching a movie, or a podcast can really inspire you and increase you chances of adopting the language in your day-to-day routine. Exposure is a great way to learn and can become a very effective learning tool. Another trick is to find a celebrity you like that speaks the language and watch videos of them speaking, it’ll inspire you for sure. 

Persistence —  With the majority of things in life, persistence pays off. Maintaining a daily language-learning routine will help improve the chances of you continuing and practising it in real-life situations. When it’s getting tough, avoid ditching the efforts and write down as many reasons to why you should learn the language, this’ll help motivate you. Be persistent when you focus on a new language! 

Your sole focus — Many people try learning two or three languages at once. You might find someone who can do this but chances are that one sole language at a time is more than enough. Make sure that the language your main focus to help improve the chances of you conquering it. 

Alongside motivation there are many other variables, like your day to day situations. Remember that if you are willing to keep everything going, you’ll be able to fine tune your efforts towards acquiring a new languages. Don’t stress too much!

Avoiding Procrastinating

A classic example of studying involves some form of procrastination, whether it’s visiting Facebook for 10-minutes or making yourself the 5th tea of the hour. Procrastinating is something many language learners will probably relate to. 

Procrastinating can sometimes be valuable when it comes to learning, as it gives your brain a break from all of the intense studying going on. Planned procrastination is always a good tactic to implement when you are learning a language. 

But there is such thing as “productive procrastination” which when used in the right way can increase your exposure to a language whilst retaining the steady pace of learning a language. It might sound impossible but can be done. 

Try using YouTube or Netflix to improve your language skills. Flick on a few minutes of a Narcos episode on Netflix or even a YouTube tutorial for your Spanish. These multimedia approaches feel like avoiding the work, but they all contribute to your study of language. This will give you a break from the intensity of pen and paper and keep you exposure to the language strong. 

All of these methods have been used by learners and have proven results. Remember that all your studying and routine is individual to you, so making sure 

Let us know if you struggle with motivation when it comes to learning a language, we’d love to hear your stories and whether you found anything helpful when it came to moving forward and making progress.

Francesco D’Alessio works as a Community Manager at FlashSticks, the creators of new language learning application, FlashAcademy. He loves to learn new things, runs his own YouTube channel on technology and apps and works with a few other tech startups too.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Revisiting Why "Mama" and "Papa" by Evan Defrancesco

Have you ever wondered why all languages seemingly have more or less the same terms for ‘mother’ and ‘father’?  In 1959, American anthropologist G.P. Murdock looked at the language data from his study of over 500 world cultures and wondered the same question.  Since he didn't have much training in linguistics, he opened the question up to the wider community.

The linguist Roman Jakobson took up the question and published his answer in the groundbreaking paper ‘Why “Mama” and “Papa”.’ Kinship terms like ‘mama’ and ‘papa’, Jakobson argued, weren’t passed down through the ages from some proto-human language; rather, they were reinvented by each child, as they began to explore their phonetic capabilities.

Nearly 60 years later, is Jakobson’s conclusion still as robust as it once was? Andrew Nevins, a professor of linguistics at University College London, is attempting to answer that question and more in ‘Revisiting Mama and Papa.’  Are there patterns that Jakobson missed? What kinds of combinations of sounds are allowed in a kinship term? What patterns of sounds exist for relations beyond just the mother and father?

For this project to work, though, we need your help! We’re trying to collect data to match Murdock’s original samples from over 500 languages, and we can’t do it all on our own.  We need native speakers and language enthusiasts to help us find out what the kinship terms in all these languages are.  We’ve created a survey – The Great Language Muster – to help collect the data, and we’re hoping that you’ll contribute to it! Your participation is vital, and we intend to acknowledge that by making all the data open source at the end of the collection period.  Good science happens when good data are shared!  

The scope of this project is huge, and it has the potential to begin to answer some exciting questions in linguistics, linguistic anthropology and cognitive science.  We hope you’ll choose to be a part of it!


Evan DeFrancesco is a postgraduate student in linguistics at University College London, serving as Andrew Nevin’s research assistant.  He’s never met a word that he didn’t like, but he couldn’t care less about the Oxfotrd comma. When not thinking about syllable structure, Evan enjoys whitewater kayaking and writing about himself in the third-person.  He tweets about linguistics and trivialities:

Monday, April 3, 2017

Languages Online: The Best of March 2017

Today we're looking back at some of the best online content from last month. Here are our top 10 language articles from March 2017:


There are plenty of excuses we give ourselves in order to hamper our language-learning journey. In this article, Benny Lewis tells us the common excuses made by language learners and why we should ignore them!


In another article from Fluent in 3 Months, James Granahan tells us how to create a cheat sheet, what it's good for, questions to include, and some of the "get out of jail free cards" you can use. A definite read for anyone just starting on their language-learning journey.

Photograph: David Elsworth / Alamy/Alamy

Words come and go. The words from this article are definitely those that are going. Those of a certain age, myself included, will be a little saddened at the loss of some of these words. However, I'm not going to lose any sleep over "golly", "gosh", and "blimey" and "gadzooks" falling out of favour.


Another one of the excuses we use in order to avoid learning a language. Are you ever too old to learn a language? We don't think so, and neither did Ronald Williams, who started learning Welsh when he was 70 (he's 85 now!).


When you learn a language, do you also learn to better understand the feelings of others? This article by Eric M. Ruiz is an interesting read.


By looking at the habits of Duolingo users, Burr Settle and Masato Hagiwara ascertained three ways to become a successful language learner. If you're learning a language, you should take note of these habits and try to replicate them.


When we're not making excuses, we may be making huge mistakes. This article by Agnieszka Murdoch includes 6 of the mistakes that we need to avoid if we're to have any chance of becoming fluent in the languages we're learning.


This radio segment from Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations has a look at how a programme in a high school in Indiana is helping Burmese students to learn English as well as more about the country they're living in.


This article by Tessa Wong tells the fascinating story of language revival. The Kristang language, which is a creole of Portuguese and Malay, has been in decline since it became economically irrelevant for its speakers.


Fun in French? Sexy in Spanish? Do you feel like your personality changes depending on the languages you're speaking? If so, you should definitely read this article by Nicola Prentis!

Were there any interesting language articles from March that we should have included? Tell us about them in the comments below! We'd love to read them!

Monday, March 27, 2017

British or American English: 8 Common Spelling Mistakes by Lucy Benton

If your job involves a lot of writing, you've probably heard about the differences in UK and US spelling. There are plenty of reasons why Word has different versions of English and recommends you install proofreading tools to help you to avoid mistakes.

Every time you write in a non-default spelling, it reverts the text to the default one, which can create some problems for those who typed it.

To avoid making mistakes in US and UK spelling, you should get up to speed with these most common mistakes.

The centre of London
#1: endings “re” – “er”

Examples:
centre/center
theatre/theater

For some, writing these words exactly how they sound makes more sense. However, British English has different spelling.

#2: endings “yse” – “yze”

Examples:
analyse/analyze
paralyse/paralyze

“yze” is the preferred option for North America while “yse” is common in the UK and Australia. The use of the American spelling is more popular in the literature, as shown in this Google Books ngram.

#3: Double “l”

Examples:
travelling/traveling
modelling/modeling
cancelled/canceled

Many people make mistakes with the doubled consonant. British English uses doubles the “l” while American typically uses one in a number of words. 

#4: “ence” and “ense” 

Examples:
defence/defense
licence/license

To avoid this common mistake, put “ense” in American English and “ence” in British English.

#5: “ogue” or “og”

Examples:
dialogue/dialog
analogue/analog

Although the ending “logue” is also sometimes occurs in the U.S., the “log” spelling is more common. If you're visiting the UK, you should only use “ogue”. 

#6: “ise” or “ize”

Examples:
organise/organize
realise/realize

Much like “yse” and “yze”, “ise” is preferred in the UK while the rest of the world prefers “ize,”.  While confusing, you should go with “ise” if you’re writing for UK readers.

#7: spelling words in form without “e”

Examples:
loveable/lovable
moveable/movable
likeable/likable

Some people commonly confuse the spelling of words that have forms without “e” like in American English. The Brits, however, stay true to using it.

#8: irregular verbs

Examples:
wet/wetted
dived/dove
smelt/smelled
burnt/burned

Some verbs, including wet, fit, and dive, are regular in British version and irregular in American. As a result, many people make mistakes while using them in sentences. For example, “she dived into the lake” would sound weird for Americans because they are used to say “she dove into the lake.” 
If you avoid using these common mistakes between American and British English, your writing will be far more appropriate for local audiences. Good luck!

Lucy Benton is high skilled editor, proofreader at BestEssayTips, who enjoys sharing tips and stories. She studied Creative and Professional Writing at the Maharishi University of Management. If you’re interested in working with Lucy , you can find her on Facebook.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Great Vowel Shift: One Reason Why English Spelling is Weird

Whether you're an English native speaker or just learning the language, you must've noticed that English spelling is absolutely mad at times. Why doesn't meat rhyme with great, for example?

One reason for this is something known as the Great Vowel Shift, which took place between the mid-14th century until the end of the 15th century.


If you spoke English in the 1300s, bite sounded like beat does today. The word meet sounded like martboot like boat, and boat sounded a bit like bought. In fact, during the Great Vowel Shift, every long vowel in Middle English changed its pronunciation.


Pronunciation tends to change over time in  most languages without causing too many problems. However, around the time of the Great Vowel Shift, the printing press had made its way to England and was in the process of standardising English spelling.

Some English spelling follows how words were pronounced in Old and Middle English and wasn't really changed to keep up with Modern English. Though some, such as room, no longer uses its Middle English spelling, roum.

At a time when people finally decided how words should be spelled, the language underwent a significant pronunciation change.

Think of it as getting your passport photo taken and then immediately shaving off all your hair (or growing it, if you're bald)!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mezzofanti: A Master of Languages

Wednesday marks the date when Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti died. He was famous for being one of the world's most prolific polyglots, supposedly mastering dozens of languages during his lifetime.

Mezzofanti was born in Bologna on 19 September 1774. As a child he learnt Greek and Latin words he overheard from a priest's lessons. When the priest found out, he put Mezzofanti into a religious school and later exposure to Spanish-speaking priests helped him learn Spanish. During that time he managed to master his Greek and Latin as well as pick up Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, and a few other languages.

Upon completing his studies, he became the professor of Arabic at Bologna University and was ordained as a priest. When he lost his job for not swearing his allegiance to the Cisalpine Republic, he started tutoring rich families.

When the Austrians arrived in Bologna to drive out Napoleon, Mezzofanti learnt Hungarian, Polish, Czech, and Russian from the soldiers at the hospital where he worked.

Supposedly he taught himself a language overnight when he found out that two criminals needed confession. He continued to learn different languages and eventually spoke nearly 40 languages fluently. He was also familiar with many other languages.

While the rumour mill and hearsay may have exaggerated stories of Mezzofanti, any language learner should appreciate that he managed to learn a lot about foreign languages without ever leaving his country!