Friday, June 28, 2013

Language Learning Methods: Language Camps

In the past we've covered a few specific methods for learning languages, such as immersion, choral drilling, and flashcards. Today we'll be covering camps, in which learners, usually children, go to a country where the target language is spoken.

Spending time in a foreign country allows learners to experience everyday life, see the foreign language objects in the flesh, and put names to faces, so to speak. There are many advantages to language camps, particularly for those who are tied down and can't just leave their home to go abroad permanently to learn another language.

S'mores and campfire stories while
learning a foreign language, anyone?
Language camps can be great for older children, especially those in secondary education as younger children in primary school would be more likely to have problems spending extended periods of time away from their parents.

When tied in with entertaining activities, the rate at which people learn is greatly increased. There's nothing better than enjoying yourself, and it's even better when you don't even realise you're learning a language at the same time. When organised as part of a school visit, teachers can also benefit from the experience. They can brush up on the languages that they may not get to speak so often with native speakers, as well as showing their pupils everything they've been teaching them with real people.

The only downside to language camps is the expense. Travelling to another country and paying for the service and accommodation can cost a fair amount, and there probably aren't many schools that would be willing to pay for the service.

However, if the school is willing to pay or you have the disposable income to afford such a trip for yourself, your children, or are part of a school, then a week or two in a language camp or foreign language activity centre could be just the right thing to improve your language skills and have a great time doing it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Statehood Day: The Languages of Slovenia

Yesterday was a holiday in Quebec, but today we're heading from North America across the Atlantic and into Eastern Europe. We have another holiday for you in the form of Slovenia's Statehood Day, the day that the country became independent from Yugoslavia. If you haven't been, modern Slovenia is a beautiful place that definitely deserves its own post.

It goes without saying that the native and official language of Slovenia is Slovene, which is spoken by nearly 90% of the population. With Italy and Hungary just next door, Slovenia also has a decent number of speakers of Italian and Hungarian.

An artist's rendition of the island on Lake Bled, Slovenia.
Serbo-Croatian languages such as Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin can also be found in Slovenia. The Romani language, despite being spoken by only 0.2% of Slovenia's population, is protected under Slovenian legislature.

Historically, Slovenia's linguistic landscape was significantly different. Unfortunately, World War II and the events that followed were hugely detrimental to the ethnic, racial, and linguistic diversity of then Yugoslavia.

German used to be spoken in Slovenia, but an expulsion of German people following the Second World War led to a hefty decline in speakers, leaving German to be natively spoken by fewer than 2,000 people in the whole of Slovenia.

The Bavarian dialect of German, Gottscheerish, was also historically prominent in Slovenia. Again, this language also suffered due to expulsion of its speakers following WWII. The Czech language also suffered a similar fate to German and Gottscheerish and is now seldom spoken in Slovenia.

That's it for this week's special days and holidays. Tomorrow we'll be back to our regular schedule with our weekly language profile.

Monday, June 24, 2013

La Fête nationale du Québec: The Languages of Quebec

Today is the National Holiday of Quebec, or La Fête nationale du Québec as it is called in French, Quebec's only official language. It is also the Catholic holiday of St. John the Baptist Day, and it's no secret that there's a good historical and cultural significance of Catholicism when it comes to the Québécois, French Canadians, and French Americans.

Despite the legal status of the French language, Quebec has had its fair share of controversy when it comes to the influence of EnglishAround 80% of the population speaks French as their first language, and over 97% of those in the province can speak the language.

The Parliament Building in Quebec City
Even though English is clearly the minority language with less than 8% of those in Quebec speaking it as a first language, many concerns have arisen as it is believed by some that the French language is at risk from the ever-encroaching English language that represents a tiny minority. The "pastagate" scandal has raised some eyebrows, but that's not what Quebec is about.

After the battling between Canada's two most prominent languages is over, Quebec is left with a respectable number of Arabic, Spanish, and Italian, speakers. After that, there's Chinese, Berber, Portuguese, Romanian, Vietnamese, and Russian, though none of these languages have huge numbers of speakers in Quebec.

The native peoples in Quebec account for around 71,000 people, of which nearly half speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. The languages spoken by this group are mostly from the Algonquian language family, a group of languages that originally covered a large portion of North America, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains through what is now Canada and the northern states of the US.

A smaller number of natives speak Iroquoian languages, which originally were found in areas around southern Quebec, Ontario, and in the US, from what is now Upstate New York to further afield, including modern-day Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Of course, this was all before European contact and the colonisation of North America, so the distribution of these languages has changed quite considerably since then.

On the Northern side of the province one can find, unsurprisingly, Eskimo-Aleut languages. Currently there are relatively few speakers, while the pre-colonial distribution of these languages reads like a map of places you wouldn't want to go if you prefer to spend your holidays on the beach sipping a margarita.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In South America

Yesterday we looked at some of the best multilingual cities in Mexico and the Caribbean. Today we're looking at South America, a region typically known for the prominence of Spanish, excluding Brazil, where Portuguese is usually the language of choice.

Cochabamba, Bolivia - The first stop in our search is the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. It is home to around 700,000 people and aside from Spanish, the native language of Quechua is also spoken. Thanks to the businesses in Cochabamba, English is also becoming more commonly heard in the city.
Iguaçu Falls, on the border between
 Brazil and Argentina

Pomerode, Brazil - The city of Pomerode is known as the most German city in Brazil, which unsurprisingly doesn't take much. However, Portuguese and German are popular languages there. In fact, German is so popular due to the heritage of the population that the local area is home to Oktoberfest celebrations every year.

Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil - Nestled on the border of Brazil and Argentina, the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu has high numbers of both Portuguese and Spanish speakers, as one would expect. Due to immigration, Korean, Chinese and Arabic can also be heard, as well as any of the languages spoken by tourists visiting one of Brazil's most popular destinations.

Buenos Aires, Argentina - The capital of Argentina is home to people from all walks of life. Spanish is the main language of the Porteños but Italian, German, French and Arabic are the other main languages to be heard around the streets.

If we've missed any noteworthy multilingual cities in South America, tell us about them in the comments below!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Mexico And The Caribbean

After exploring the best multilingual cities in Europe, we headed to Canada and then onto the US in search of the best places to go for those who love languages.

Today we're heading south of the border into Mexico and then onward to the Caribbean. First stop, Tijuana...

Tijuana, Mexico - The city of Tijuana is basically San Diego's Mexican cousin. Excluding the US-Mexico border, the two cities are joined. When joined with San Diego, the conurbation is the third largest bi-national metropolitan area in the world, and is home to many Spanish and English speakers.

Whilst Tijuana may not offer the best entertainment for everyone, it certainly attracts a certain type of crowd and if that's your thing, enjoy it!

Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City
Mexico City, Mexico - The capital of Mexico, known in Spanish as Ciudad de México, was originally an Aztec city known as Tenochtitlan until Spanish settlers came along and effectively flattened the place. It is now home to nearly 9 million people and houses people from many walks of life.

Aside from the obvious presence of Spanish, there are speakers of other languages from Spain, such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician. More popular languages spoken in Mexico City include English, French, and German from Europe, Asian languages such as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, and due to religious ethnicities, Hebrew and Arabic are also prominent.

Oranjestad, Aruba - Although Aruba is technically in South America, we've decided to include a couple of Caribbean islands in our list for today since they're not a part of the mainland and make a good place to stop off before we dive straight into the best of South America.

With Dutch and Papiamento as the official languages of Aruba, Oranjestad also has prominent numbers of English, French, and Spanish speakers. Plus it's on a Caribbean island, what more could you ask for?

Willemstad, Curaçao - The capital city of Willemstad is another multilingual city which features Dutch and Papiamento as its official languages. Willemstad also features a good number of Spanish speakers.

Tomorrow we'll be continuing our journey into South America!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Get It Right: Loan And Borrow

Some of you may think that the title of today's post may seem a bit insane. We can assure you that this is a mistake that people actually make. Due to the semantically similar definitions of loan and borrow, those who aren't too smart sometimes confuse the two despite them effectively being opposites.

The Bank of England is all too familiar with the differencce
between loan and borrow.

Will you be granting somebody else use of one of your possessions? Then you are loaning or lending something. If you still struggle to remember whether it's "loan" or "borrow", then you should note that you can attain a loan from a bank and it's certainly not your money. Though the word loan in this instance is the noun form, it should help to know that you can't get a borrow from the bank, though you definitely can borrow money from the bank.


Borrow is effectively the opposite of loan. This is when you make use of or have possession of something that does not belong to you, usually with prior permission. You can "borrow" things without the owner's permission, though you really shouldn't because in the eyes of the law this usually will constitute theft.

If you still cannot work out the difference between these two simple words, you should ask a friend if you may borrow a book on English grammar. We're sure they will loan you a copy if they're not using it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In The USA

Since we finished yesterday's post on the best multilingual cities in Canada in Montréal, we thought we'd start today's post by heading a few hours south into the state of New York, where we find ourselves in the Big Apple ready to experience best multiculturalism and multilingualism that the US has to offer.

The Statue of Liberty welcoming
immigrants to the United States.
New York City, New York - America's most famous city has a rich heritage of immigration and is the epitome of the US as a cultural melting pot. Aside from the obvious presence of English and America's second language, Spanish, New York City (NYC) boasts a huge Chinatown area complete with a large number of Mandarin speakers and, of course, amazing food!

There are up to 150 languages spoken in NYC, so we won't list them all. There are large numbers of Italian, Russian, Yiddish and Arabic speakers to name a few. What we can say is that if there's a language you would like to hear, then you should be able to find it here.

Miami, Florida - If Will Smith's song Miami hasn't given it away, Miami boasts a huge Hispanic community. The Spanish language is so prominent in Miami that it is accepted as an official language of the government. You can also find a good number of speakers of French Creole.

San Diego, California - If you know any Spanish, you can guess where we'll be going with San Diego. The city was historically Spanish, and aside from taking a Spanish name it also took a huge number of Spanish settlers and colonists. San Diego is also very close to the Mexican border and the popular city of Tijuana.

The entrance to the Chinese Theatre in LA.
Sadly, it has nothing to do with the language.
Los Angeles, California - Los Angeles (LA) has a huge proportion of Spanish-speaking residents. Nearly 40% are estimated to speak Spanish, and the city boasts several ethnic neighbourhoods where other languages are spoken such as Mandarin Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Thai, and Arabic.

Seattle, Washington - This city isn't just the home of Starbucks and the band Nirvana. Seattle boasts a multinational community and ranks as one of the most livable cities in the US. You can find English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian and Japanese within its sometimes rainy streets. It's only a stone's throw away from Vancouver as well, so we're almost back where we started yesterday with Canada's best multilingual cities.

Are there any other multilingual cities in the US we may have missed? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Canada

Since we covered the best multilingual cities in Europe last week, we felt it was only right to look at some North American cities this weekend. Today we're covering Canada, and tomorrow we'll head south into the US. Let's start our visit with Vancouver.

English Bay, Vancouver
Vancouver, British Columbia - If you leave Vancouver heading west you'll end up in "the East". Vancouver's proximity (it is only a few thousand miles, after all!) to Asia has helped cultivate some of the immigration that has left one of the World's Most Livable Cities with a huge Asian population and, as a result, Chinese and Cantonese as very popular languages within the city.

Aside from Mandarin and Cantonese, Punjabi, Persian, Tagalog, Korean, Italian, German, and French can also be heard in Vancouver. Despite French also being an official language of Canada, Mandarin and Cantonese are more popular in this area.

Toronto, Ontario - Given that Ontario borders Québec, Canada's principally French-speaking province, you can expect Toronto to have a fairly mixed bag when it comes to languages. Often confused as being the capital by ignorant foreigners (and a few poorly-educated Canadians), Toronto has very multicultural surroundings which can be found leaking into the city and government.

Ottawa, Ontario - Sitting right next to Québec, Canada's actual capital city has its own motto in both English and French. Advance-Ottawa-En Avant represents the country's two official languages, and the University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in the world.

Olympic Stadium in Montréal, which features
the tallest inclined tower in the world.
Montréal, Québec - As you could guess by the accent on the letter e, Montréal, or Montreal when Anglicised, is the largest city in the province of Québec. Recently the city has been in the headlines as a centre of controversy following multilingual political upheaval and the language debate within Québec. The famed Pastagate scandal following the over-Francofication of the city and tensions between French-speaking and English-speaking communities has been tarnishing Montréal's reputation.

That said, Montréal is a wonderful melting pot of French and English cultures, not to mention that Spanish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, and Arabic can also be heard around the streets of the world's second largest French-speaking city.

That concludes our quick trip across Canada. Are than any multilingual cities you feel we may have missed? Tell us about them in the comments below! Tomorrow we're heading south into the US.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How Key Is Localisation For The Next-Gen Consoles?

The internet, social media, and seemingly the world appear to be ablaze with talk of the newest consoles. The Wii U has been on the market since last Christmas, and though February brought the PS4 announcement, fans weren't shown any noteworthy glimpses of the console until Sony's presentation at the start of E3 in Los Angeles this week.

Microsoft had already shown off the hardware for the new Xbox One, which is scheduled for release in November. The issue of digital rights management (DRM) and second-hand games had already been the main talking point between the PS4 and Xbox One, with Sony poking fun at their rivals with a "how-to" video on trading games.

Ignoring a typical fanboy argument, we'd like to look at how important localisation and translation will be as these two consoles square up against each other towards the end of the year. Be warned, if you have a fear of statistics the next few paragraphs have a lot of them!

We've seen this battle before...
Sony's current offering, the PS3, has sold over 13.5 million units in the US, 3 million in the UK and around 1.5 million in Canada. Japan accounts for over 6 million units, which, given that Sony is a Japanese company and has a good fanbase in Japan, is hardly surprising.

In total, the PS3 has sold around 77 million units as of January 2013, and at least 40 million of these surely must have gone to locations that are not English-speaking. This would make a majority of the unit sales neither English nor, more importantly, Japanese.

As for the Xbox 360, 25.4 million units were shifted in the US, beating the PS3, same goes for the UK with 8 million units, and 1 million were sold in Australia and New Zealand. The American company Microsoft certainly has it better when it comes to English-speaking territories.

With only around 1.5 million units sold in Japan and only 13.7 million sold across the whole of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, could it be said that Microsoft is relying too much on English-speaking markets? With 77.2 million units sold in total according to latest accounts, which is slightly better than the PS3, Xbox is in the lead. However, it should be noted that the Xbox 360 was released almost a year before the PS3.

With such a high number of units supposedly requiring localised content, it would be silly to assume that consoles can sell themselves solely on the hardware, the games and software are crucial to their success.

This is particularly relevant in Sony's case.
It's fair to say that the success hinges on more than just translation. Few gamers would be happy with subtitles when a story could be dubbed. This is perhaps the only time when we advocate the use of dubbing over good ol' subtitling.

We're by no means saying that either of these companies has forgotten about the importance of localisation. Rather, we're suggesting that given the weight of international markets, whoever gets their international marketing strategies and software localisation correct will probably be crowning themselves the King of Consoles by this time next year.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Languages of Russia, Part 2

Yesterday, we covered the half of Russia's co-official languages that come from the Turkic and Mongolic language families. Today we are finishing the list off with the remaining languages from the Caucasian, Uralic, and Iranian language families. Let's get to it!

The Northeast Caucasian Languages

Following the Boston bombings this year, Chechen was the word on the tip of everybody's tongue. Chechen (which is unrelated to the Czech Republic or the Czech language) is spoken in Chechnya by around 1.36 million people.

Chechnya's Lake Kezenoy-am, near the Dagestan border.
Avar is spoken in the Republic of Dagestan. Although it is also spoken in Azerbaijan,  Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, the majority of its speakers are found in Russia.

The Ingush language of Ingushetia was originally written using an Arabic abjad before being replaced by a Latin alphabet during the October Revolution, but nowadays is written using Cyrillic. The language has around 400,000 native speakers and can be found in Kazakhstan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia, of course.

Lezgi, which can also be known as Lezgian, is another of Dagestan's co-official languages with Russian. The language has around 800,000 speakers and is considered "vulnerable" according to UNESCO.

The Northwest Caucasian Languages

The languages known as Kabardian and Adyghe are closely related. Kabardian has around 1.5 million speakers and holds its co-official status in both the Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia regions of Russia. It's also spoken in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

Mount Elbrus in Karachay-Cherkessia is a dormant volcano
and the highest mountain in all of Europe.
The Adyghe language is the co-official language of Adygea, has around 500,000 speakers and can also be heard in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Macedonia. It is disputed whether Kabardian is a dialect of Adyghe or not.

Our third Northwest Caucasian language is Abaza, another co-official language of Karachay-Cherkessia and a language spoken natively by a meagre 48,000 people, 35,000 of whom live in Russia. Interestingly, in Russia the language is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, whereas in Turkey where it is also spoken, it is written using the Latin alphabet.

The Uralic Languages

Our first Uralic language is Mari. It is spoken by nearly 500,000 people across several regions of Russia, prominently so in the Mari El Republic, where it is the co-official language with Russian.

The Udmurt language is also estimated to have around 500,000 speakers. It is principally spoken in Udmurtia and frequently borrows words from both the Russian and Tatar vocabularies.

Pushkin Park in Saransk, capital of Mordovia. It is named after
Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, depicted here in plants.
Our next two Uralic languages, Moksha and Erzya, have around 432,000 speakers combined and are considered to be Mordvinic languages. Independently, both languages hold co-official status with Russian in Mordovia.

Komi-Zyrian, which is also known as either Komi or Zyrian, is another Uralic language with just under 300,000 native speakers. It's the co-official language of the Komi region in Russia.  

Mansi is spoken only by about 7,500 people in the region of Khanty-Mansi. The four main dialect groups of Mansi are so distinct that there is little to no mutual intelligibility between them.

And One Iranian Language...

The only Iranian language to have co-official language status in Russia is Ossetic. It is spoken in the region of North Ossetia in Russia and the disputed region of South Ossetia, which many nations consider to be part of Georgia. There are between 500,000 and 640,000 speakers of this language, though estimates vary.

There you have it! That is the last of the 26 co-official languages of Russia! We hope your vodka-induced hangover from yesterday's celebrations has finally subsided!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Russia Day: The Languages of Russia, Part 1

On this day in 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, as a member of the Soviet Union, undertook a huge constitutional change which would lay the foundations for Russia to become the country it is today. It wasn't until Christmas Day in 1991 that they would make the change, and every year since then the country has celebrated Russia Day.

Since it's fairly topical, we thought we'd take a look at some of languages spoken across the world's largest country, Russia. Russian is its most spoken language, but we've already covered that in its very own language profile. Today it's the lesser-known languages spoken in Russia that have our undying attention.

Russian is the official language, though there are 26 other languages with co-official status in various regions of the country. Today we'll be quickly covering all the co-official Turkic and Mongolic languages.

The Turkic Languages

Tatar is the co-official language of Tatarstan, is spoken by around 6.5 million people and can be written using the Cyrillic or Latin alphabets or an Arabic abjad. The language spoken in Chuvashia, Chuvash, has around 1.6 million speakers and is considered a Turkic language. However, unlike Tatar, it is only written using the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Temple of All Religions in Kazan,
the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia.
The third of our Turkic languages native to Russia is Bashkir, a language spoken by around 1.4 million people in the Russian region of Bashkortostan where it holds co-official status. Azerbaijani has 23 million speakers across the world but fewer than 700,000 of them are native to Russia. Unsurprisingly, the majority of its speakers are found in Azerbaijan.

The remaining languages known as Yakut, Tuvan, Nogai, Altay and Khakas all have very small numbers of speakers but nonetheless hold their co-official status in each of their respective regions, the Sakha, Tuva, Karachay-Cherkess, and Altai Republics, and the Republic of Khakassia. Karachay-Balkar is co-official in both the Kabardino-Balkar and Karachay-Cherkess Republics.

The Mongolic Languages

The Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum in Ulan-Ude,
the capital of the Buryat Republic, Russia.
Buryat, the first of our two Mongolic languages, is another language that is dubiously classified. Is it a language in its own right or merely a dialect? Some consider Buryat to be nothing more than a dialect of Mongolian, but since it has its own co-official status in the Buryat Republic in Russia, we'll go with it being a language. Buryat has around 500,000 native speakers with almost 370,000 of those inhabiting the Buryat Republic in Russia.

Our other Mongolic language, Kalmyk, has only around 153,000 speakers, the large majority of which live in the Russian region of Kalmykia.

Tomorrow we'll be back with the next 14 of Russia's co-official languages!

Read part 2.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Portugal Day: The Languages Of Portugal

This guy has a whole national day in his honour.
Since today is Portugal Day, or Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades Portuguesas in Portuguese, the day is technically in honour of Luís Vaz de Camões, who is considered to be the greatest poet of the Portugese language.

We felt it was only fitting to pay homage to the languages spoken in Portugal today. Since we've already covered Portuguese, we thought we should recap and then delve into some of the lesser-known languages that are spoken in Europe's westernmost nation.

Though Portuguese originated in what is now Galicia, Spain, it is certainly more prominent in Portugal where it is spoken almost universally, though not by every single person. Like many other languages, it has several dialects that are prominently used in various regions of Portugal. None is more interesting than the Barranquenho dialect found in the town of Barrancos, which is located on the border between Portugal and the Spanish regions of Andalusia and Extremadura. As a result of its placement, the dialect is heavily influenced by the variety of Spanish that is spoken there.

Another language found in Portugal is Mirandese, a language descended from the Astur-Leonese language group, which is of course found in the Spanish region of Asturias and the province of León. It is certainly more of a language in its own right rather than a dialect, especially given its co-official status for local matters in the areas where it is spoken.

Despite Portugal's proximity to Spain, only 9% of the population speaks Spanish as a foreign language, whereas 24% speak French and a huge 32% speak English.

Do you celebrate Portugal Day? If so, we'd love to know what you do to celebrate the day, so please let us know in the comments below!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Finding Posh Words In English

English owes a lot to French. Thanks to William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest, French became the language of the aristocrats, whilst the serfs spoke English when they weren't toiling in the fields.

As a result of this blatant class division and accompanying linguistic division, the English language has a tendency to use words of Latin and French origin in a higher register than those with Anglo-Saxon and Germanic origins.

This cow hopes to never become beef.
This is very obvious when it comes to food. A lot of languages use the same word for the animal as they do the meat, just like the English word "chicken". However, in English another animal is referred to as a "cow", which has its roots in Anglo-Saxon, while its meat is referred to as "beef", which can be seen to share similarities with the French word boeuf. Coincidence? Hardly.

"Pig" follows the same pattern. The serfs referred to the animal thus and those who were lucky enough to enjoy it called it "pork", or porc in French.

Whilst the farmers all spoke the Germanic languages, the rich remained with French. This can be seen in many words that are considered to be of a formal register. Why "start" something when you could just as easily "commence"? Why not hang out with your "entourage"?

Do you know any posh words that came into English from French? Leave them in the comments below!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Europe: Part 2

Yesterday, we started our search for some of the best multilingual cities in Europe. Today we are heading from France into Belgium as our first point of call.


Brussels - It's only natural that the capital of Belgium and the administrative home of the EU would be multilingual. Aside from Brussels being the capital of a country that has both French and Flemish speakers, the EU's main working languages of English and German are also prominent in the city.


Berlin - Though the German capital has only one official language, Berlin is another one of Europe's most ethnically diverse cities with a large percentage of the population speaking Turkish.

Some Barbary macaques atop the rock of Gibraltar.
United Kingdom

Gibraltar - Despite its location, Gibraltar is part of the UK and has been responsible for heightening tension between Britain and Spain for many years now. Thanks to being slap-bang on the bottom of Spain, Gibraltar has some elements that make it feel like any other British city, except for beautiful weather and a large number of free-roaming monkeys. You can also hear English, Spanish and a mix of the two known as Llanito, which is like Andalusian Spanish peppered with an English lexicon.

Cardiff - Within Wales' capital you can find street signs in both English and Welsh. The Welsh name for the city is Caerdydd, and though the Welsh language has declined since its peak in the 13th century, over 1 in 10 inhabitants of Cardiff still speak it.

London - Despite an embarrassing number of monolingual speakers in the UK, London can thank its immigrant population for making the capital one of the most multilingual cities in the world. There's barely a language that can't be heard somewhere in London.


Dublin - Though the capital of Ireland is mainly English-speaking, there still remain a good number of Irish speakers. The capital also boasts a higher number of Irish language schools than anywhere else in Ireland. It is the capital, after all!

If there are any multilingual European cities you feel we've missed, let us know in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Europe: Part 1

For language lovers there's nothing better than travelling, and whilst it can be nice to visit a place to hear one foreign language, there's something we love even more about multilingual communities. There are certainly some fantastic places to visit around the world if one language just isn't enough for you.

Today we'll be sharing a list of some of the best multilingual cities on the European continent. It was tough just picking these few, so if you feel we have missed any or disagree with our choices, let us know in the comments below.


The larger of the two countries found on the Iberian peninsula is home to many languages. Thanks to its system of autonomous communities, several regions in Spain have two or more native languages all with official language status.

A view of Barcelona from atop the Sagrada Familia
A Coruña - This town in Galicia not only boasts the languages of both Spanish and Galician, but an interesting history and varied culture. The climate may not be exactly what you expect from Spain, but it's certainly not as cold as Siberia and by no means as rainy as Scotland.

Barcelona - Spain's second city is not only part of Catalonia, where the native language, Catalan, can be found, but also a huge hub of other languages such as Spanish, English, German and French. As a popular tourist destination, the city is rife with multilingual communication and cultural exchange. Thanks to low-cost airlines, it is also a very popular destination for Brits going on weekend city breaks, but don't let that put you off.

Bilbao -The biggest city in the Basque Country is not only beautiful but home a multilingual culture of Spanish and Basque speakers. Bilbao is also home to the Euskaltzaindia, the regulatory body for the Basque language, so if you are interested in Europe's largest language isolate, Bilbao is the place to go.

Pamplona - Another city famous for its Basque-speaking population, Pamplona (known in Basque as Iruña) is well-known for the "Running of the Bulls", an event in which bulls are released into the streets and both inhabitants and tourists alike must flee. Aside from Spanish and Basque, expect to hear excited screams as well.

This enormous falla in Valencia was later
set alight in a flurry of pyrotechnic glory.
Valencia - The capital of the Valencian Community, which is the name of the region, is the largest city and home to Valencian, the language known as Catalan in neighbouring Catalonia to the north. Famous for its Falles (or Fallas in Spanish) festival, the Valencian city can boast a slightly nicer climate than Barcelona and, thanks to the large number of fireworks thrown during the festival, a louder one as well.


Andorra La Vella - Nicely nestled between the Catalan and Spanish-speaking region of Catalonia and France, the tiny principality of Andorra and its capital is privy to four official languages: Catalan, Spanish, French and Provençal.

If you're not visiting the ski resorts, then why not wander round the city drinking in this multilingual principality in the Pyrenees.


Despite France's love of the French language and a fairly poor track record when it comes to minority languages, there are still a few places that you can hear more than just the language of love. France sits almost centrally between Romance languages and Germanic languages, and the country borders no less than eight other nations, including Spain, Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco.

Dunkirk - The French city of Dunkirk is famous for the Dunkirk evacuation, or Operation Dynamo as it was known in the military. The city was historically a part of Flanders, which can still be seen to some extent given the languages spoken here. Though the French language has mostly replaced the Flemish that was spoken here, there are still some who speak it. If you don't get to hear the language, you can certainly sample some of the food which is still heavily influenced by the Flemish people.

We'll leave it there for today and continue our search for the best multilingual cities tomorrow across more of Northern Europe and onwards!

Read part 2.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Get It Right: Can And May

Perhaps you've heard in the past that you shouldn't say "Can I go to the toilet?" as can refers to being able to do something, and you're not asking whether you're physically capable of using a restroom, but rather asking if you have permission to do so.

So what are the differences between these two words and when should you use them?

Can you do the can-can?

The word "can" refers to the ability to do something. It's also a type of metal container, but in this context we're not talking about that.

In fact, "can" may be used when asking permission. The only difference between can and may is register. It is more formal to use "may", but over the years it has become socially acceptable to use "can". However, if you ask someone from an older generation, they will be much more likely to tell you that "can" should never be used for permission.


The word "may" is indeed used to ask for permission, but as we showed you before, it is not uniquely used to ask for permission, just when you need to be polite.

Do you have any other grammatical pet peeves? Tell us about them in the comments below. We'll be sure to write about them if we haven't already!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Languages In The News: May 2013

Today we've decided to take a look at some of the biggest language stories featured in the news from the past month. We try to share all language news on our Facebook page, but we'll look back at the top stories at the end of each month just in cased you missed them. Here's what has been going on in the world of languages throughout the month of May.

The Guardian and The Economist both featured the conlang Dothraki from Game of Thrones in posts at the end of the month. These were published on April 30th, but since this is our first "Languages In The News" post, we'll include them. 

The New York Times featured an overly-favourable article on translation apps. Despite calling the piece "The Utility and Drawbacks of Translation Apps", we found there were far too few drawbacks.

Arco della Pace in Milan, the city where writer Dan Brown
had 11 translators working underground for 2 months.
Dan Brown's new novel was covered by a few sources after it was revealed that the translators working on the piece were subjected to fairly "hellish" conditions whilst translating in order to not reveal any secrets and spoil from the book. One such article was found in The Telegraph.

The Los Angeles Times informed us that search engine Bing's translation services will now include the Star Trek conlang Klingon as part of a marketing campaign for the franchise's latest film, Star Trek Into Darkness. Trekkies can rejoice at the ability to translate text written in over 40 languages into Klingon, as well as convert it back into a "traditional" language.

In the mid-May, we found out from CNET that Google Translate now produces a billion translations per day while helping about 200 million users. The translation service works in 71 languages, but we're still skeptical of the quality of the machine-based translations it provides.

In Franglais, these are called talkie-walkies!
The relationship between French and English was heavily featured in the news this month. The Guardian informed us that the French government has decided to relax a long-time ban on the use of foreign languages in its universities. Since 1994, a French law has banned all teaching in a foreign language except, of course, in the case of language courses. The news inspired the BBC to produce some fun articles on Franglais, including a piece on their readers' favourite Franglais terms and phrases, as well as an amusing post called "How to speak Franglais" that is completely written in Franglais.

Finally, we have the results of two language-related research studies. The first study, done by researchers in Sweden and the US, discovered that foetuses actually listen to and remember their mothers' speech in the finals weeks of pregnancy. They can also distinguish foreign languages soon after birth, as discussed in this BBC article. A second study in Britain revealed that the long-debated idea of a Eurasiatic superfamily of languages may actually be a reality. The group of linguists was able to narrow down a list of 23 words found in at least four of the languages thought to belong to the superfamily, including "man", "mother", "worm" and "to spit"!

Was there another language article we missed that really piqued your interest this past month? Let us know below in the comments.