Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Best Of The Blog

2015 has been an interesting year, so we thought we'd end it by taking a look at our ten most popular posts from 2015, as well as the ten most popular posts we shared from around the web. Today we'll just be focusing on our own blog. Without further ado, here we go:

Top 10 Blog Posts

10: Breakfast, Brunch, and Brinner: A Guide to English Meals (July 3rd)

It seems that English-speaking nations love their food and have a multitude of interesting words for the meals throughout the day. We had a look at them back in July and it proved popular. You can read the full post here.

9: Localizing The Aisle: The Power of "Foreign Branding" (March 11th)

Making products sound foreign can make them more appealing. In March we discussed how languages were employed in marketing to sell products. You can read the full post here.

8: Why Translation is a Fascinating Career (August 28th)

In August we sang the praises of our chosen careers, and it looked like many of our readers agreed with us. You can read the full post here.

7: A Destruction of Cats: Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom (May 15th)

The intriguing collective nouns for animals from the English language proved very popular back in May and throughout the year. You can read the full post here.

6: Why There's No Such Thing as "Untranslatable" (April 22nd)

The internet is full of articles of the best "untranslatable" words from languages around the world. As professional translators, we think people need to rethink their use of this term. We explained why in April. You can read the full post here.

5: Romance Languages: From Aragonese to Zarphatic (May 1st)

It seems our readers love a bit of Romance languages. Our post from May covering one of the world's most important language families was one of the most popular of the year. You can read the full post here.

4: How French Gave English its Sophisticated Words (February 4th)

Towards the start of the year we covered the reasons behind many of English's most prestigious words being ultimately from the French language. You can read the full post here.

3: Why It's Hard to be a Translator and a Language Lover (May 29th)

In May we discussed the difficulties we were encountering as promoters of languages, learning languages, and translators, and wondered whether or not it was sustainable to encourage everyone to learn foreign languages even if it could result in us losing out on work. You can read the full post here.

2: Language Learning: Cognates and False Friends (July 24th)

Our second most popular post of the year came back in July when we discussed "false friends", words in a foreign language that look similar to those in your own, but can carry very different meanings. You can read the full post here.

1: Speech Tempo: What is the World's Fastest Language? (April 8)

Everybody's had that one complaint about people speaking too quickly when they're learning a foreign language. Back in April, we looked at a study that sought to work out if some languages are spoken more quickly than others. You can read the full post here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Life's A Beach: Minimal Pairs in the English Language

When two words are written differently, have different meanings, but are pronounced the same, we call them homophones. When words have different meanings, but are pronounced almost the same with the exception of one phoneme, we call them minimal pairs.
Differentiating ship from sheep can be as
difficult as telling sheep apart.
Some of the most complicated minimal pairs for non-native speakers are those with similar-sounding (but not identical) vowels. While it is quite easy to differentiate between bat and cat, hearing the difference between feet and fit is much more difficult.

It's not just vowels that can be problematic. When consonants sound quite similar, like the letters b and p in English, you can often mishear or mispronounce them, like in the words tap and tab. The letters t and d can also be difficult to distinguish when speaking and listening to English, as in the words bat and bad, for example.

Making mistakes with minimal pairs is to be expected and it often doesn't get in the way of communication, which I believe to be the most important thing when learning a language. However, I can also imagine how it might be embarrassing if one of the words in the minimal pair is a curse word. The difference between beach and bitch and sheet and shit is a nightmare. Of course, there's also can't, which can unfortunately sound like a word I wouldn't dare to type.

Minimal pairs can also be very problematic if the differentiating phoneme doesn't exist in your language. This usually means that you will find it difficult to either hear the difference or to pronounce the difference when you're speaking.

Sadly, I don't think there's a quick fix to getting minimal pairs right other than practice. However, there are a number of useful resources and websites to help you along the way, such as, which is one of my personal favourites.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Pseudo-Anglicisms: Loanwords English Doesn't Need Back

A great bit of footing.
In the past, we've looked at loanwords that have made their way into English from many different languages, including Russian, Hawaiian, and Malay. Of course, plenty of languages have also borrowed English words with varying degrees of success. These words sometimes remain unchanged from the original English version and keep the same spelling and meaning. However, there are also loanwords that have nothing to do with their English incarnations, which are known as pseudo-anglicisms.

Today we're going to show you a few of our favourite words that went from English into another language and got a bit lost along the way.

If you speak German, you might be familiar with the world Air-Condition. While it's clear that this word means "air-conditioning", it still sounds very peculiar if you speak English as your first language. The same goes for shampooing in French, which is not a verb, but rather the noun for "shampoo".

French, just like Romanian, likes to use baskets to refer to trainers or sneakers, whereas Spanish and Portuguese borrowed the English word "tennis" and changed it to tenis and tĂȘnis respectively.

While basketball is quite popular, borrowing the word in its entirety is not. Several languages, including French, have taken "basket" to refer to the sport. Footing is also a popular pursuit in French, Italian and Spanish... Never heard of it? In English, we call it "jogging".

Some tents in a camping.
When you go camping, you stay in a campsite. If you go camping in a country that speaks Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, or Spanish, you stay in a camping. Do you want to park your car in a "car park" or a "parking lot"? In Arabic, Flemish, French, Swiss German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish, it can sometimes simply be called a parking.

The trend of adding the -ing suffix to English words doesn't end there. Lifting actually refers to a "facelift" in a number of different languages. Arabic, German, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish also sometimes use marketing to refer to "advertising", which is of course related to marketing, but doesn't cover all types of marketing.

A number of a languages like to call a tuxedo or suit jacket a smoking. This comes from the English term "smoking jacket", but does away with the most important part for English speakers, with "smoking" developing its own meaning in its new language.

My last pseudo-anglicism is zapping, I absolutely love this word. It means channel-hopping or channel-surfing in Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, and Swedish and has given rise to a number of TV shows that replicate that very idea without you ever having to touch the remote!

What are your favourite pseudo-anglicisms? Are there any words from your language that English has borrowed in a nonsensical way? Tell us about them all in the comments below!