Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Language of Medicine: National Doctors' Day

In the US, today is National Doctors' Day and though we know very little about medicine, we like to think we know quite a bit about language.

A few weeks ago we had a look at binomial nomenclature and how convention dictated that when it came to naming life, Greek and Latin were the languages of choice. The same can be said for medicine as frankly every science has a bit of a love affair with the classical languages.

E. coli magnified 10,000 times.
When it comes to bacteria, Greek is the preferred language. One of the most commonly known bacteria, Escherichia coli, or simply E. coli, takes its name from Greek. Genes, however, are a lot more complicated when it comes to naming.

The Terminologia Anatomica (TA) is the naming convention used when it comes to the human body. It has a good number of rules, as well as 16 subsections ranging from general anatomy to bones, joints, muscles, and various systems of the human body.

Prior to the Terminologia Anatomica there was the Nomina Anatomica (NA), another set of international standards used until the TA usurped it. Prior to the NA pretty much everything was named following vernacular translations from Greek and Latin leaving around 50,000 terms, which was clearly far too many.

The NA addressed this issue by setting up standards for nomenclature. After the NA was applied, the number of terms was reduced to 5,528, which is obviously much easier to work with on an international level.

Once the TA was set up in 1998, it was adopted as the international standard. Since the TA is only available in three languages many places still use the NA since the TA is not available in their mother tongue.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Worst Use of Foreign Languages in Songs

Though the charts across the world tend to be dominated by songs in English, every so often an English-speaking artist decides that their mother tongue is not good enough for a hit. We've got a list of a few of the most horrendous abominations to foreign languages we can think of...

ABBA - Voulez-Vous

We find it difficult to fault ABBA when it comes to music. The '70s are long gone and, thankfully, so is the attire. Though Swedish, ABBA's mastery of the English language is well-documented throughout their discography. Their mastery of French, however, is not. Don't get us started on Chiquitita...

Probably a stone's throw from the real Lady Marmalade's home.
The French Quarter, New Orleans.
Labelle - Lady Marmalade

"Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?" is the "only" French expression most English speakers seem to know when they're trying to be funny. Not only is the phrase horrendously pronounced throughout the song, but it has also led to many others thinking it's an accurate representation of the French language.

The Beatles - Michelle

The world's most famous band are under fire for their French ability. They certainly did some other horrendous things, linguistically speaking. We're not going to mention the stuff they did entirely in German... 

Manic Street Preachers - La Tristesse Durera

"That's not how it's pronounced!"
No strangers to being pretentious, the Manics have made a career from political controversy and making sure everyone knows that they're smarter than them when it comes to politics. When it comes to screaming Vincent van Gogh's last words, lead singer James Dean Bradfield gets a 0 out of 10.

U2 - Vertigo

The UK and Ireland have the lowest levels of bilingualism in Europe, with the UK having a worse record when it comes to foreign languages, except in this case. If Bono's flying the flag for a multilingual Ireland he's failing miserably. "Uno, dos, tres, catorce" is a horrendous error that U2 fans will defend as being intentional. Nice try! Bono should have studied harder in Spanish class.

This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have any more to add or disagree with us, tell us in the comments below.

We've added a few more examples of the worst use of foreign languages in songs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: Spanish

In the last of our series on debunking the language stereotypes of EFIGS languages, we're covering Spanish.

A while ago we explained why Spaniards lisp, but there's more to Spanish than just that. Just like the stereotypes behind Italian and French, the Spanish language does not feature the phoneme for the letter "i" as in English. This means native Spanish speakers often struggle with the pronunciation of words such as bit, fit, hit and the rude one that rhymes with those words.

The Spanish countryside near Medellín, Extremadura.
Spanish, much like French and Italian, features a silent "h". The language does, however, feature an approximate sound which is used for the letter "j", /x/. It sounds a lot more like clearing your throat, which will often come across when native Spanish speakers attempt to say English words beginning with "h".

In certain dialects of Spanish, the sound for the letter "y" can also pose problems. There is no perfect approximation since the phoneme for the letter "y" as in the English word "yes" is /j/. Spanish has both /ʝ/, which sounds more like a blend between a "y" and a "j" sound, as well as /ʎ/, which sounds more more like an English letter "y".

There are also only five vowel sounds in Spanish. English, depending on how you count vowels and whether you speak American English or British English, can feature nearly twenty vowel phonemes. Imagine how difficult it would be to have to learn almost 15 new vowel sounds in order to speak a new language!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Swearing: How Words Become Offensive

We all know of them. Some of us say them more than others and some of us are more offended than others. How do certain words, which are nothing more than a combination of letters and phonemes, get to a point where people find them repulsive, loathsome and downright unmentionable?

Initially, most curse words had religious origins. The concept of blasphemy exists in almost every religion and when it comes to disrespecting things, deities would top the list. It was such a big deal that in the UK it was punishable by death, at least until 1697.

A sign prohibiting swearing along
the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 
After blasphemy comes the issue of offence. Words that are considered offensive are usually those that debase someone or something. Although curse words account for less than 1% of the English vocabulary, their use and existence is of particular interest to researchers.

The reaction to curses is largely based on the individual. Some believe that they should never be uttered, while others think they are acceptable under certain circumstances. There are also those that believe that they're nothing more than phonemes and that selecting some combinations as offensive and others as inoffensive is completely ridiculous.

We believe that context plays a huge part in how offensive words are. We rarely take offense to casual swearing in cinema, music or television and as a representation of particular cultures and natural speech. We appreciate that some may take offence to words and where possible, we attempt to avoid them, unless we feel their use is appropriate or improves the sentence.

Frequently cursing can make a speaker appear to have a lower intellect and can reflect badly on them. A large vocabulary is often associated with intelligence, so if you don't want to look a fool, try using words other than the F-word, the S-word and the ever-dreaded C-word. There are even books full of alternatives if you're short on ideas.

There are a vast number of words in the English language, so why you'd need to insert profanity every other word is beyond us. Certain circumstances, such as standing on a plug with no shoes on, definitely warrant the use of whichever word you feel is appropriate. Just try not to say it in front of children since they repeat everything!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: German

Having covered the language stereotypes of English, French and Italian, today we are turning our attention to German.

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.
Much like French and Italian, German does not feature our beloved /θ/ (as in think and thing). As a result, English words that feature this phoneme are usually approximated by less-experienced native German speakers when they attempt to speak English. The sounds of the letters "z" and "s" are often used as their approximates.

Another stumbling block for speakers of the language is the letter "w". In German, this is pronounced much like the letter "v" in English, much to the ridicule of German speakers the world over.

It's also incredibly natural for Germans to needlessly capitalise words when writing in English. However, most English speakers seem to have a blatant disregard for correct capitalisation, at least on the internet, so this can often go relatively unnoticed. This seemingly random capitalisation is actually due to the fact that every noun in the German language is capitalised. Obviously it's a very hard habit to break when learning another language!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top Language Universities: Asia

We've covered the top language universities in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Europe and now it's Asia's turn. If you're looking to head east (or stay where you are if you're from Asia), these universities offer something a little different from all the western (culturally, not as in cowboys) institutions.

Needless to say, there are a lot of people in Beijing.
Beijing Foreign Studies University, China

Unsurprisingly based in Beijing, the Beijing Foreign Studies University does exactly what it says on the tin. It's the first foreign language university in China and is operated by the state, which is hardly a shock if you have the faintest idea how communism works...

It boasts a range of 54 taught languages so odds are that you'll find the language (or languages) that you want to study.

Fudan University, China

As one of China's most prestigious universities, you'd expect Fudan University to make this list. There's a good focus on exchange programmes with a network of over 200 institutions offering students the chance to spend some time there.

Tokyo University of Science, Japan

Despite its obvious focus on science, the Tokyo University of Science offers an expansive liberal arts programme including English as well as other foreign languages. Of course, the focus is on English as the vehicular language in the sciences.

Kyoto University, Japan

Japan's second oldest university is highly rated in Japan, Asia and the world, so there's no doubt that it makes our list. English, German and French are the languages with the most focus though courses such as Linguistic Science and Foreign Language Acquisition and Education can give students a broader experience with languages.

Tokyo, Japan
Waseda University, Japan

Waseda University, though spread across several campuses, is based in Japan's capital city, Tokyo. Many of its courses have their curriculum available in English as well as Japanese, so if your skills in Japan's mother tongue are lacking you still shouldn't rule out Waseda.

When it comes to languages, a good range is on offer. English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Korean are all available to study.

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea

As if the name didn't give it away, the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is one of the places to go if you want to study languages. A massive range of 45 languages are taught. It includes every language you'd expect, and some of the less commonly taught ones, too!

National Chengchi University, Taiwan

Our only entry from Taiwan happens to sit quite highly on our list of Asian universities. The university offers over 500 courses in English if you only speak the one language, not that we encourage monolingualism!

The exchange programme is also quite extensive, so whether you want to get your whole degree from the university or just spend a semester there, the National Chengchi University could be the right choice for you.

Korea University, South Korea

As one of the oldest universities in South Korea, Korea University comes highly recommended for its language courses. The College of Liberal Arts offers English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. There are also courses available in linguistics and classical Chinese.

Seoul, South Korea
Seoul National University, South Korea

Seoul National University offers all the language combinations you'd expect from a top-rated institution. Available languages include English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and obviously Korean. If you prefer a broader view of languages, then linguistics is also available for study.

Peking University, China

Peking University in China's capital tops our list of language universities in Asia but also ranks very highly on the global level. Becoming the best language university in Asia doesn't just happen by magic, and the large range of languages available is a testament to the high level of language focus offered by the institution.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish and Saint Patrick's Day

Dia duit! Although we have a language profile once each week, we decided that the best way to select languages would be by starting with the language with the most native speakers and working our way down the list. This means that we may never get to some minority languages and that's just wrong!

Since today is St. Patrick's Day, one of the most popular, if not the most popular saint's day in the world, we're going to take a brief look at the holiday itself as well as the Irish language. Thanks to Guinness and the popularity of being Irish, the day is celebrated worldwide and, in particular, in the US.

In Chicago they go so far as to dye the Chicago River green!
It's clear Americans are very fond of their heritage and those who have the tiniest bit of "Irish blood" in them love to use this fact as an excuse for alcoholism on the 17th of March each year, though celebrations are often moved to another day when it falls on Sunday, such as this year.

Though St. Patrick's Day is technically a religious holiday, it has long since been observed thus and most consider it an excuse to pretend to be Irish and get drunk on Guinness or anything they than colour green, the Chicago River included.

Something that isn't too often observed, much to our disappointment, is the promotion of the Irish language! Many Irish descendants are happy to drink their Guinness, wear green and generally make a mess of things. They are not, however, very interested in celebrating a huge part of Irish culture, the language.

Irish is one of the oldest languages in Europe and has around 133,000 native speakers, most of which, unsurprisingly, live in Ireland. It's the official language of Ireland and is recognised as a minority language in the UK, mainly thanks to Northern Ireland's inclusion as part of the union.

Despite its small number of native speakers, Irish is also recognised as an official language of the EU. The translation of EU documentation into Irish has an estimated cost of €3.5 million which we would imagine is probably the most expensive per capita.

So today or tomorrow when you don your green attire and raise your glass to celebrate Irish culture and heritage, don't forget the language! Sláinte!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: Italian

On our mission to clear up some misconceptions when it comes to languages, we've already debunked the myths behind English and French. We're progressing nicely through all the languages which are considered the "important" European languages, EFIGS, and have now reached Italian.

Italians are probably sick to death of "it's a me, Mario!", and who can blame them? In English, the letter "i" is often /ɪ / (as in sit) whereas in Italian, the letter is pronounced /i/, (as in seat). This issue is not exclusive to Italian as the / sound is not often found in Romance languages.

Pizza al taglio, a Roman specialty meaning "pizza by the slice".
Italian does not feature the same sound for the letter "r" either. In Italian the letter is often trilled or rolled, and thus does not resemble English pronunciation. This problem with the English letter "r" also occurred when debunking French language stereotypes.

Another shared problem with French is the "th" sound, as in think. This can cause problems for native speakers of Italian due to an absence of the phoneme in their mother tongue.

An advert for Dolmio in the UK featured a stereotypical Italian accent, complete with puppets and the tag line "When'sa your Dolmio day". This "sa" that is often put on the end of words when impersonating Italian is due to the stress patterns of the language. In English, stress often occurs towards the beginning of words, either the first or second syllable. In Italian, stress tends to occur on the penultimate syllable, giving Italian its melodic and almost musical delivery.

Next time you're thinking of impersonating the Italian accent, remember why it's the way it is!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Meat Our Favourite Horse Idioms

Thanks to terrible manufacturing practices and excessive media coverage, the horse meat scandal seems to be all the rage. Across the Channel, the French are surely laughing their chausettes off at the ensuing panic as the British fear eating the meat of an animal that, in their eyes, is better suited for racing and making glue.

Given the importance of horses throughout history for trade and transport as well as racing, they feature in many idioms and expressions of the English language and today, our dear readers, we will be explaining a few of our favourites.

To Beat/Flog A Dead Horse

To be utterly pointless. The horse is already dead, after all.

E.g. Worrying about the contents of Findus' lasagnas is like flogging a dead horse.

This horse has probably taken to the snowy fields to
avoid becoming some unsuspecting Brit's next meal.
...From The Horse's Mouth

To hear a piece of information from the horse's mouth is to get your information from someone  directly involved or highly knowledgeable.

E.g. "How do you know what's in Ikea's meatballs?"
"I know because I heard it from the horse's mouth!"

Hold Your Horses

To slow down, wait, or hold on for a moment. 

E.g. "Hold your horses! Don't eat that meat before you check where it came from!"

A Horse Of A Different Color

When something is a horse of a different color, it's something that causes a break from preconceived notions. The saying was made famous in the film The Wizard of Oz, in which a horse that pulled Dorothy around in a carriage periodically changed colors. It was actually several horses whose hair was dyed with colored gelatin powder, but we digress.

E.g. "These delicious hamburgers are made from horse meat instead of beef? Why that's a horse of a different color!"

This is obviously not the real Trojan horse.
It's actually the model used in the Brad Pitt film Troy.
Trojan Horse

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, unless you're at a Greek wedding, of course. The story of Greeks hiding in a giant wooden horse masquerading as a giant gift has come to be the epitome of something appearing to have the best intentions but then turning out to be a trap.

E.g. The various horse meat products involved in this scandal are Trojan horses hiding behind the "beef" label.

...Could Eat A Horse

To be very hungry. In some cultures eating an entire horse is considered quite the feat and as a result having the appetite to devour one indicates you're serious when saying you're more than a bit peckish.

E.g. All that talk of lasagne and meatballs has made me so hungry I could eat a horse.

Did we leave out your favourite horse pun or idiom? Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are Military Translators Capitalising On Conflict?

Recently we read an article stating that the translation industry has grown significantly since the Second World War due to conflict and inflated military budgets, we forget where so if you find it, tell us below in the comments. Like most people, we find war quite abhorrent and as linguists, find linking the success of the translation industry to global conflict quite disturbing.

We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational people so we decided we'd look into how true this statement is. So let's delve deeper into this topic.

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!
We covered the morality and neutrality of interpreters a long time ago and know that translators follow the same code of ethics. The transferral between languages is the task that translators undertake and they cannot be blamed for translating documents that are eventually used for war.

Translators, like most people, earn their living by their trade and their duty is to ensure that their source material is accurately translated into the target language. The content of the source material is fairly arbitrary as, after all, the translator did not write it. They certainly are responsible for the content in the translation, but only as a faithful reproduction of the original in the target language.

Of course, we support translators who follow their moral code by refusing to translate racist, bigoted or downright horrible propaganda, but in the military this is rarely the case as speculation cannot win a battle. Only cold, hard facts can do that and if they want to earn some money translating them, we wish them all the best.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mum's The Word: The Etymology of Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day, or Mothering Sunday in the UK. The holiday falls on 12th May in the US. As we celebrate those who gave us life and went through the agony of birthing us followed by the agony of raising us, we look at the terminology surrounding one half of our parenting team, or our whole parenting team in some cases, our mothers.

Many countries across Europe celebrate the holiday in May, but we write in English and have grown up in English-speaking countries so our coverage of the holiday is going to be very Anglocentric.

The least you could do for your mother today
is give her some flowers or a card!
Of course the expression Mother's Day requires no explanation, what interests us more is the etymology of mother and all the other words we use to address her.

The word mother came from the Old English word modor which, of course, means female parent. It has its origins in Proto-Germanic languages as well as other related languages such as Anglo-Saxon and Frisian.

Many Indo-European languages feature a ma root when it comes to thinking up pet names for their mothers. Latin used mamma, just like Russian. French has maman and German prefers Muhme.

In English, pet names can vary from mum and mam in British English to the more commonly heard mom in American English. All have their roots in mamma, although mum is occasionally used as a variant of madam or ma'am as well.

The word maternal comes from the Old French maternel which came from the Vulgar Latin maternalis. The Latin for mother is mater, which was supposedly based on babies babbling the sound ma added with the suffix -ter which is used for kinship in Latin.

Semantically speaking, mother holds the connotation of life-giving with expressions such as mother nature and perhaps even mother tongue.

Don't forget that, at least for today, mum's the word.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: French

Having unravelled the nonsense behind stereotypes in the English language, we now direct our attention to other languages across Europe. Having so many cultures and languages in such close proximity always leads to stereotypes, and occasionally even tension. Europe does have a rich history in conflict, after all.

We've done "E" (referring to English, not the drug) in EFIGS, so we thought it would make sense to continue with the next letter in the series, "F".

We thought we'd be understated for once
and just show some French baguettes
instead of a mustachioed man in a beret and
striped shirt holding them whilst smoking.
We all know the stereotypes when it comes to the French people. What interests us are the stereotypes connected to the French language. In our experience, the most noticeable and the most frequently impersonated is "ze" as a replacement for "the". This is a common stereotype and, unfortunately for native French speakers, bears true. French does not have the phonemes /θ/ or /ð/, which represent the sound of the letters "th" in words such as mathematics and weather respectively. As a result, French speakers tend to approximate the sound with the phoneme /z/, which in English is used for the letter "z" in words such as zoo.

The French language also does not feature the phoneme /r/ which in is used for the letter "r" in American English. Due to the non-rhotic nature of many accents in British English, it isn't always used for "r" in the UK. The French use the phoneme /ʁ/ for the letter "r" and as a result are unfamiliar with the letter's English pronunciation.

It should also be noted that the use of the definite article (le, la, les) in French is far more common than use of the is in English. As a result, French speakers may occasionally unnecessarily add the to sentences, in the same way that native English speakers will tend to omit the definite article when they speak French. Nobody's perfect, after all.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day: Women In Languages

As it's International Women's Day, we felt it only appropriate to pay homage to women in languages. Women make up the majority of language students and they're clearly smarter in that respect, as studies seem to show that their brains are just plain better at languages. We could go on and on about the whole hunting versus chatting in caves argument but we'll not bother.

Despite their apparent dominance when it comes to languages, the lexicon and grammar of many languages do not reflect this. In English for example, there are many gender-specific words, especially when referring to jobs and vocations that utilise the male equivalent for mixed plural. When male you can use actor, when female one would use actress (though this is starting to change), and when plural of mixed gender it is still actors. Only when there are only females would the term actresses be used.

The yellow mimosa is often given to women as
a gift throughout Eastern Europe on March 8.
The same goes for languages with grammatical genders. We were often told in French classes that you use the masculine third-person plural ils to refer to groups of males and mixed groups, regardless of the gender ratio. Even when referring to a group of 99 women and 1 man you should still use ils, apparently. The feminine third-person plural elles is only used when a group consists entirely of women.

Though, at least in Britain, the inherent sexism in the language is being addressed by changing words such as chairman and chairwoman to gender-neutral chairperson. Despite these measures, the lexical prescriptivism exhibited can feel odd and unnatural.

We're not particularly fond of linguistic prescriptivism and feel that languages can be left to their own devices. They have managed to survive for ages without governing bodies and the proverbial grammar nazis. Referring to the human race as man and mankind doesn't bother us too much solely because person and personkind sound stupid.

So, for today, don't man up, woman up.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

March 7: World Book Day (UK)

Thanks to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization if you had to know), World Book Day (WBD) takes place today. Ironically, this World Book Day only takes place in the UK on the first Thursday of March. It's celebrated everywhere else on April 23, which in the UK, or England at least, is St. George's Day.

Vouchers can also be used to receive a £1 discount from
the price of any other book they may want instead.
WBD in the UK has been running since 1998. Children in the UK receive a £1 WBD voucher which can be used for purchasing any book in any bookshop. Initially an anthology was released, but now every year a series of books are released at the price of £1 especially for the occasion.

This year's £1 books include The Diamond Brothers in... Two of Diamonds, which is a murder mystery involving strawberry yoghurt, as well as Horrid Henry's Guide to Perfect Parents, which gives children tips on how to convince their parents to give them everything they desire. If we were still in school, we'd probably use our voucher to get Tony Robinson's Weird World of Wonders: Funny Inventions, since it's a lighthearted look at the history of everything from the wheel to alarm-clock beds! 

The World Book Day site is full of ideas for activities for booksellers, teachers, librarians and pupils alike. We've even seen teachers in the UK dressing up as characters from books to mark this day, so if you're getting involved tell us below in the comments.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: English

If you've ever heard an impression of a "foreign" language, you must be aware that some of these are stereotyping. We're not easily offended and enjoy the occasional homage to the way we speak (as a native Geordie I'm often subject to this), but if you're going to make a joke then you should really make sure you have the facts straight.

We'll be going through a few "typical" accents and evaluating how much truth is in them, starting with accents in the English language.

They don't all dress like this either! Dandyism in
the Romantic period a ballroom in 1834.

There are far too many accents across Britain to debunk them on a regional level, so we'll start with the British accent as seen from abroad. Most accents in the UK are non-rhotic, meaning that the letter r when preceded by a vowel is not pronounced as a consonant. We touched upon the subject of rhotic and non-rhotic accents ages ago when it was International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Unfortunately, the BBC accent isn't spoken by that many people and the differences between it and regional accents are too distinct to really have this as a go-to accent. If you want to mock the Brits and their accents, we'd advise going for a regional accent as most people will take exception to a generic "British" accent. Also, given how expensive living in the UK can be, don't be surprised that most of them aren't posh! Avoid "charmed", "toodle-pip" and "tally-ho" when possible.


Sure, the accents across the states aren't as varied as those in the UK, but they still have some distinct accents. To Brits they sound like they're talking out their noses, but make sure you don't overemphasise this. Just because the accent sounds fairly nasal and like they're chewing gum doesn't mean you should overdo it.

If you feel compelled to impersonate an American, make it understated rather than overstated.


We like Canada's accent, though the whole aboot thing really annoys us. We've heard Canadians talk and they rarely pronounce it thus. If we had to try it we'd say it's more akin to "a boat" than "a boot". If you do believe South Park got it right, then you should probably look up a list of Canadian actors and see how many of them you've always mistaken for Americans.

We'd like to add that while "eh?" is used more frequently amongst Canadians than some other groups, it's usually only used with asserting statements when seeking the approval of the listener. Other English speakers prefer to use words such as "right" and "you know", the latter often being pronounced like "y'know".

Shrimp... barbie... geddit?

Though Australia certainly has the weather for it, not every Australian spends all day drinking lager and having barbecues. We're not certain about their shrimp consumption either, but we believe this to be wildly exaggerated too.

Even if Australians did host as many barbecues and consume as much shrimp as stereotypes would have us believe, would they really need to ask someone to put another shrimp on the barbie? We think their expertise would mean that they'd know fine well whether more shrimp was required or not.

For those outside of Australia, it should be noted that the lager Fosters isn't that popular Down Under, and Australia consumes less alcohol per capita than France, Spain and the United Kingdom.

South Africa

You should know that the South African accent does not sound like an Australian accent and should definitely not be based on Leonardo DiCaprio's rendition of it in Blood Diamond, or "Blid Dahmunt", as he liked to call it. Also, Nelson Mandela's accent is not typical of South Africa either, so don't think all South Africans sound like him.

Are you sick of your accent being impersonated or do you find it endearing? Tell us below in the comments.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Dr. Seuss in 1957 with The Cat in the Hat.
Today marks the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Seuss was an interesting man who is probably hated by most translators due to his obscure style and word usage. Though most famous for his literary works on felines with head attire and off-colour foodstuffs, Dr. Seuss' work was much more than that.

He was born as Theodor Seuss Geisel and graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he wrote and eventually edited the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern humour magazine. He first used the name Seuss after he was caught drinking gin and subsequently banned from all extracurricular activities. Despite the ban, he continued working for the Jack-O-Lantern using this new pseudonym.

He continued writing after leaving Dartmouth College and had already been published as Dr. Seuss by the time he attended Lincoln College, Oxford. At Lincoln College, Geisel was undertaking a PhD in English Literature but never finished his course. Technically, he should have published as Seuss his entire life.

His early work was principally political satire, though he also earned a living during the Great Depression by creating advertisements for big companies. It wasn't really until the 1950s that began to focus on children's literature and created the stories and characters that he is most famous for.

The Geisel Library, named after Theodor and his wife,
on the University of California, San Diego campus.
Following a challenge from the director of education at the Houghton Mifflin publishing house, The Cat in the Hat was initially written only using words from a list of 250 words considered important for first-graders to recognise. In the end, the book was written using only 236 of these words.

Geisel's innovative and entertaining writing style has helped to promote reading amongst young children and for that, we'd like to honour the man on what would have been his 109th birthday. Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Top Language Universities: Europe

Since we've already looked at the best language universities in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, we're now turning our eye to Europe as a whole. You don't need to study languages from within an English-speaking country... in fact, you may be better off elsewhere! We've got the best options from Europe, and if you're an EU citizen, consider these options without a visa requirement.

A graduation at Leiden University, circa 1650.
Leiden University, Netherlands

Obviously, the courses at Leiden University are in Dutch, so make sure you brush up. Leiden University is the only Dutch institution that makes our list so if you're in the Netherlands, make sure this is the place you're going.

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany

The first German entrant on our list offers a vast range of languages and linguistics courses for all you linguaphiles out there. Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Latin are some of the many languages offered.

École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France

The first of two French universities to feature, the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris has an outstanding reputation and is in Paris, after all. If you need a reason to move to one the world's greatest cities (though some Parisians like to say otherwise), the ENS may be the right choice.

Aarhus University, Denmark

Throughout the years, Denmark has been no stranger to intellectual superiority. It is the birthplace of Lego after all. Though not in Billund, Lego's hometown, Aarhus University, unsurprisingly in Aarhus, would be a fantastic place to study languages. It should be noted that the cost of living in Denmark is rather high but most universities on this list are in cities where the cost of living can hardly be considered cheap.

University of Vienna, Austria

It's very difficult to say anything bad about Vienna, and it's even more difficult to say anything bad about the quality of the language education provided by the University of Vienna. It's also the oldest university in the German-speaking world.

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
University of Bologna, Italy

The only Italian university on our list. If Denmark, Germany, Austria and France are too cold for you, perhaps a better climate and a highly-rated Italian university may be the one for you. It's the oldest continuous university in the world, so you can expect the quality that comes from nearly 1,000 years of educating. You can study languages including Finnish, Japanese, Dutch, and Polish.

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

The courses at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) are taught in German, so make sure you have a good grasp of the language. The language faculty is the biggest of any of the faculties at LMU and a good range of linguistic courses are on offer.

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Aside from being a great place to be, Berlin boasts two of Europe's best language-learning institutions. The first, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, is just over 200 years old. That's fairly young given the heritage of some of the others universities in this list. That said, these whipper-snappers sure can teach languages!

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Berlin's other great university offers programmes for English, French, German, Greek, Latin, Italian and Spanish. It's also the largest research university in Berlin and even younger than the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, but don't let that put you off. It ranks higher than its older brother in this list.

The buildings at Paris IV are pretty nice, too.
Université Paris Sorbonne, Paris IV, France

Though heavily populated by German institutions, it's the French who have the last laugh when it comes to having the best university for languages. As one of the oldest universities in the world, dating back to the 13th century, Paris IV has had plenty of years to hone their trade, especially when it comes to language education.

If you're looking to study languages in Europe but you think you'd get sick of Oxbridge students, Paris IV is the place to be.

Have you attended any of the universities on our list? Are there any that you think should have been included? Tell us in the comments below.