Monday, January 16, 2017

5 Unusual Ways to Learn a Language

Most people know the traditional ways to learn a language like studying grammar and practising speaking either with natives or in a classroom environment. However, there are plenty of other ways to learn languages that you might be overlooking. Here are a few of my favourites.

1: Change The Language on Your Devices

Nowadays it's very common to have mobile phones and computers. If you have one of these devices, you should definitely make sure that your phone or computer are in the language that you're learning.

Wine bottles always have some
text on the label. Now you have
an excuse!
2: Always Read the Label

If you've moved to the target country and are going for full immersion, don't forget that almost everything you buy is an opportunity for exposure to the language.

3: Eavesdrop

While it's not very polite, if you hear anybody speaking the language you're trying to learn, you should probably try to listen to them. If you're confident, it might be your opportunity to even strike up a conversation.

4: Subtitles

You should already be watching as much TV as possible in your target language. However, if you can't find programming in the target language, you should at least get the subtitles in your target language.

5: Play Games

Either video games or board games are great for learning foreign languages. Focus on role-playing games which tend to have either a lot of text or dialogue and rely on you understanding information in order to progress. You can also try playing social board games, such as werewolf, which involve a lot of speaking.

Do you know of any unusual ways to learn a language? Tell us your ideas in the comments below.

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Tips for Learning a Language in 2017

When it comes to bucket lists and new year's resolutions, learning a language is one of the most common. We're already over a week into 2017 and perhaps you're starting to struggle with your resolution of learning a new language. Whether this is your first attempt at learning a foreign language or you just feel like learning another, these tips should help make 2017 a success!

1: Want to learn the language

If you can, pick a language that you find interesting. Think long and hard about why you want to learn the language. If you have no interest in the language you're learning, you'll end up fighting an uphill battle. Learn about where the language is spoken, its culture, and the people who speak it, this should help you become interested in learning the language.

Libraries have internet access... and books.
2: Practise reading

There are plenty of online resources, webpages, and retailers where you can get reading material in almost any language in the world. Find articles and literature in your target language and get reading! Remember that there are also tonnes of online dictionaries and forums of other language learners for when you get stuck.

3: Train your ears

Fully immerse yourself in your target language by listening to it as often as possible. Living in a country where the language is spoken is a great way to do this. However, it's not often feasible for people to move to learn a new language. Instead, try listening to the radio, podcasts, music, or audio books in your target language either while at home or on the go.

4: Find people who speak the language and talk to them

This is probably the most beneficial of our resolutions. However, it's also probably the difficult to achieve. If you live in a fairly large city, you might be able to find speakers of the language, teachers, or classes. Otherwise, use the internet to reach out to speakers or teachers of the language you want to learn.

5: Set achievable goals

If this is your first time learning another language, don't expect to be speaking like a native any time soon. Everyone learns a language differently and progresses at different rates. Get to know how quickly you learn and work to your strengths. Try something simple that you can do when you begin and when you get into your rhythm you can begin to challenge yourself.

I hope learning a language in 2017 is going well! If you have any other suggestions, feel free to add them to the comments below!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Best of 2016

With the new year in already under way, here are our favourite language news pieces and our favourite posts from the blog!
Best of the Web

(Jan Thijs/Paramount Pictures)

(Jan Thijs/Paramount Pictures)

Best of the Blog

If there were any news stories you think we missed, tell us about them in the comments below!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Collateral Adjectives in the English Language

English is an interesting language. About a third of its lexicon comes from Latin, a third from French, and a quarter from Germanic languages. It's these diverse origins that have helped cause a lot of collateral adjectives. But what are they?

A collateral adjective is an adjective whose origins are not derived from the noun it describes. For example, when we take about things related to our mouths, we talk about things being oral. This is because the word for "mouth" has Germanic roots while "oral" comes from Latin and etymologically are unrelated but semantically related.

An avian image.
When we talk about animals and food in English, animals are usually named using their Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots and food is referred to using terms of Latin and French origins. A similar thing has occurred with animals and their adjectives. For example, the adjective for birds is avian and for cats we use feline. Dogs are canine and horses are equine. There are plenty of animal examples of collateral adjectives.

The same is also true for the body. In daily life, we prefer to refer to body parts with their Anglo-Saxon or Germanic names. However, medicine has often preferred using Latin or Greek terms. This means the adjective for brain is cerebral and for eyes we use optic. Ear is aural and heart is cardiac.

Science also preferred using Latin and Greek terms which means collateral adjectives are often used to describe phenomena found in science. For example, heat comes from Germanic, but its adjective thermal is Greek through and through.

Thanks to the English language's interesting history, there are tons of collateral adjectives. What are your favourite collateral adjectives? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Manners Cost Nothing: Being Polite in the English Language

English is a tricky language to master. In addition to irregular pronunciation and thousands of exceptions to every grammatical rule, you also have to navigate some of our weird customs, such as being polite.

So how can you be polite in English? Let's have a look at a couple of tricks you can use.

Would, Could, Should

We could go to the opera, instead.
In English it's better to avoid directly saying what you want. Rather than giving direct orders, you should make suggestions. There are some great ways to do this just by using different words in your sentences.

The words would, could, should are great for being polite. Instead of saying that you want something, say that you would like something. Rather than "I want to go to the cinema this Saturday", you could say "I would like to go to the cinema this Saturday".

You can also make suggestions using could. For example: "We could go to the cinema this Saturday".

Finally, you can use should to suggest things. In English, we use the word to imply a weak obligation and to give polite suggestions. For example: "We should go to the cinema this Saturday".

Avoid Negative Wording and Directly Disagreeing

You should avoid using negative words when you can. Instead, use a negative structure with positive words. Rather than "that's a bad idea", you could say "that's not a good idea". Directly disagreeing should also be avoided. "I don't really agree" should be used instead of "I disagree".

Of course, you don't always need to be this polite. Amongst trusted friends and colleagues, this level of politeness may be excessive. Being overly polite to close friends may be construed as fake and scheming.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Languages in the News: November 2016

It's that time again when we bring you the best language news stories from last month. Let's get straight to it with a story from Slate about the US presidential election. Thanks to Americans going to the polls, American English has some new vocabulary including the verb early vote. You can read about how this election changed language here.

There was a lot of love within the language community for Arrival, a sci-fi film about linguists who have to find a way to communicate with aliens who show up on Earth. NPR was full of praise for the film and its focus on language. Read what they had to say here.

Earth looks like a fine place to visit.
The Washington Post (WP) looked at Arrival from the effect it had on the profile of linguists. While we've always believed linguists were cool, WP reckoned that the film helped to raise the profile of linguists and make them "almost cool". Read all about these almost-cool linguists here.

Business Insider focused on the film's accuracy and portrayal of linguists at work. In an interview with Jessica Coon, the linguist who consulted on the film, they discuss how the work and practices of linguists were very accurately represented. Of course, there were still a few falsehoods that Hollywood let slip in the name of entertainment. Read about them here.

With the end of the year rolling in, you can expect plenty "of the year" articles and stories to start popping up. Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year was already decided in November and the BBC ran the story. Learn more about the word of the year here.

With the Word of the Year decided, it's hardly surprising that Oxford Dictionaries provided their own articles on it. There was one article we found particularly interesting about the other words considered for the word of the year. You can check them out here.

The New York Times gave us a fascinating article on Catalan in Italy. The language is under threat in Alghero, on the island of Sicily, where it is still spoken, despite very few efforts from the Italy to protect it. Read about these unsual struggles here

Our last great language news stories both come from NPR. In one story, they explained how California decided after nearly two decades to reintroduce bilingual education which you can read about here. In another related story, you can also read about the benefits of bilingual education on the brain here.

If there were any interesting stories we missed, feel free to tell us about them in the comments below.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Misnomers: Words We Know Are Wrong

Misnomers are the reason we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. While native speakers know what they mean, misnomers can be pretty misleading for non-native speakers. So how did we end up with misnomers if we know they're wrong?

Time makes fools of us all.

Over time, misnomers will be created thanks to words changing meaning or keeping an old name that should no longer apply. Language can be pretty stubborn at times and people even more so!

Take tin foil for example. It used to be made out of tin but they've been making it out of aluminium since the second world war. Similarly, a tin can does use tin but calling it a tin-plated steel can would be more accurate.

If you chew your pencil, you needn't worry about lead poisoning. The inside of a pencil obviously isn't made of lead the metal. It's made from graphite, which we used to think was lead ore, and the name stuck.

Be kind, rewind!
Modern technology is creating plenty of misnomers. You still dial phone numbers even though most phones don't even have a dial on them. While you can't physically pick up or hang up modern phones, we still say we do it anyway!

We can still rewind DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs, and songs despite not having any reels or tape to wind!

A part is greater than the sum of its whole.

Misnomers also arise due to something called pars pro toto (a part for the whole. This is when a smaller or constituent part of something is used to name the whole thing. This happens a lot with the names of places.

The best example is probably Holland. The term is used to describe The Netherlands when it is actually just a region within the country.

The same happens with England or Great Britain being used to talk about the United Kingdom, which is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, if you were wondering.

Speaking of England, if you've ever visited Big Ben in London, you probably visited the Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben refers to the bell within the tower and isn't even the bell's official name! It's called The Great Bell.

Good enough for me!

Some misnomers seem downright mad. Put a guinea pig next to a pig and it won't take a genius to tell that they aren't pigs. It's pretty clear that starfish and jellyfish aren't fish. At least they do look like stars and jelly, though.

Neither peanuts nor coconuts are nuts. They're legumes and fruits! Are you going to stop eating them because of that? I doubt it!