Monday, March 30, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Malaysia

For the first time this year, we're going to explore the linguistic landscape of a country in Asia. Back in December we looked at the languages of Burma, and today we're returning once again to Southeast Asia to learn a bit more about the languages of Malaysia.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia, a standardized form of the Malay language. Malay is a macrolanguage, which means that it is a group of closely related language varieties. In fact, over a dozen Malay languages are spoken throughout Malaysia!

The Working Languages

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur,
the tallest twin towers in the world.
Malaysia also has two prominent working languages that are used primarily in business: English and Chinese. The English language was originally introduced to the area when it was part of the British Empire, and was used for many decades as a key administrative language. However, it has gradually been replaced by Malay since Malaysia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957.

The variety of English used in Malaysia is known as Malaysian English, which is closely related to British English. It differs from other varieties of English due to its inclusion of loanwords from other regional languages such as Malay and Chinese, and also has several distinct phonological features.

Chinese is also spoken by a significant proportion of the Malaysian population since there are many people of Chinese descent who live in the country. Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly used variety of Chinese in Malaysia, but several other varieties are also used.

Other Languages

Over 130 other languages are spoken in Malaysia, many of them belonging to the Malay and Chinese macrolanguages. A few of the other notable languages used in Malaysia are Tamil, Iban, and Manglish. The Tamil language is spoken by nearly 4 million people in Malaysia, primarily those belonging to the Tamil ethnic group, while Iban, an Austronesian language related to Malay, is spoken by approximately 750,000 people.

Finally, there's Manglish, sometimes known as "Mangled English", which is an English-based creole that contains an eclectic mix of vocabulary from Malay, English, Tamil, and several varieties of Chinese, including Mandarin and Cantonese. It is a colloquial language that is generally spoken by users of Malaysian English.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Honouring André Lefevere and his Work in Translation Studies

It was on this day in 1996 when André Alphons Lefevere, an acclaimed translation theorist, lost his battle with leukaemia and passed away. We thought we'd take this opportunity to honour his life and his contributions to the academic fields of comparative literature and Translation Studies. Lefevere was born in Belgium in 1945 and studied German Philology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, from 1964 to 1968. He then completed his PhD in 1972 at the University of Essex in the UK.

Translation Studies is often considered to split nicely into three different "turns": the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and the sociological turn. When Lefevere started his career, the discipline was firmly rooted in the linguistic turn, and the work of many academics reflected this, even Lefevere's. However, taking Even-Zohar's Polysystem Theory and the Manipulation School as a starting point, Lefevere viewed the validity of translations by taking cultural factors and the roles played by the various actors in a system into account, making him one of the pioneering scholars of the cultural turn. In fact, it was through collaborations with Susan Bassnett that André Lefevere suggested that Translation Studies required a "cultural turn".

A beautiful metaphor for translation.
Lefevere considered the art (or is it a science?) of translation as "rewriting", a practice that he likened to the refraction of light. In this metaphor the source text is a beam of light, and the translator acts as a prism, bending and manipulating the source text so that different colours, or interpretations, can be seen.

He was influential in establishing Translation Studies as an independent discipline, spending his life as an academic who sought to bring theory and practice together. At the time of his death, he was working as a professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas.

While nearly two decades have passed since his death, his work and input will live on as a testament to his brilliance. To find out more about his work on Translation Studies, we recommend picking up one of the many books he wrote, especially his collaborations with Susan Bassnett.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Linguistic Controversy and an Arabic Pledge of Allegiance

This past week, one of the biggest news stories circulating in the United States has been the revelation that a school district in New York was forced to make a public apology after a student recited the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic as part of the school's celebration of "National Foreign Language Week". For the full story, you can read these articles by the BBC and CNN.

If you're unfamiliar with the Pledge of Allegiance, it's basically a short statement of loyalty to the United States of America, as represented by the country's flag. Just like most other American children, I put my hand over my heart, faced the flag, and recited the pledge at the beginning of each school day between the ages of 5 and 12. I don't remember being taught it, but it's so ingrained in my memory that I'm pretty sure I'll be able to recite it until the day I die! I cannot tell you why we did this, because nobody ever told me, but it seems to be simply because it is considered an important American tradition. 

In the case of this particular school district, children apparently still recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day in high school as well. The foreign language department had the really clever idea to honor "National Foreign Language Week" by turning what is normally a boring routine into a learning experience by having a student read the pledge over the intercom system during the morning announcements in a different foreign language each day: Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and French

Sadly, they never got past day one because students and parents complained, reportedly because they were offended because they had lost family members in Afghanistan or were Jewish. Which makes no sense at all, but does provide an impressive display of ignorance. 

Arabic is often considered a group of languages, or macrolanguage, because it is spoken across a huge number of countries and features a diverse range of dialects. Why should the use of a particular language ever offend anyone? The student wasn't reciting hateful speech, they were using one of the world's most spoken languages to recite a pledge to the United States of America, a melting pot of cultures. 

It is horrible that these families had lost family members due to the war in Afghanistan, but it doesn't make any sense that the Arabic language would offend them. Arabic is one of the least spoken languages in Afghanistan, with such a small number of speakers that it is considered "threatened" by the Ethnologue. But even if it had been the official language of Afghanistan, Arabic would not have killed their family members - the brutality of war did.

I have not found any article that explains the reasoning behind the Jewish families that complained. The only guess I can make is that they are equating Arabic with Islam and if so, are generalizing and stereotyping an entire religion and around a quarter of the world's population instead of considering that only a small minority of Muslims has ever harmed Jews, or anyone else for that matter.

If that is their argument, then we might as well get rid of all the Romance languages too, since they evolved from Latin, which was used by Christians who persecuted Jewish people long ago. A good portion of the English language is composed of words of French origin as well, so I guess we all better zip our lips, and quickly.

Sadlly, this is not even the first time this has happened! Other schools have gotten in trouble in the past when students recited the pledge in Spanish because it was "un-American", despite the fact that the United States has no official language.

In any case, the saddest thing of all is not the ignorance of those families who chose to complain about an opportunity for their children to learn about foreign languages and cultures. Instead, it is the fact that the school district apologized for trying to teach the children about the world. Schools should never have to apologize for introducing children to new concepts, new cultures, and new ways of thinking. A sound understanding of foreign languages and cultures will never spread hatred as quickly as sweeping generalizations and ignorance.

Do you agree or disagree - should the school have apologized? Tell us what you think in the comments below remembering to keep it respectful!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Uzbekistan

Last Monday, we looked at the fascinating linguistic makeup of Peru. This week we're traveling to the other side of the world to learn about the languages of Uzbekistan, a large country in Central Asia.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek, a member of the Turkic language family. Uzbek is the native language of approximately 85% of the country's population. While it was formerly written using a Cyrillic script, it has been written using a Latin-based alphabet since 1992, soon after Uzbekistan gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

An illustration of a bazaar in Samarkand from the
1893 novel Claudius Bombarnac by Jules Verne.
The Recognized Language

Uzbekistan also officially recognizes Karakalpak, another Turkic language, in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. It has approximately 407,000 native speakers, who primarily reside in this northwestern region of the country.

Other Languages

There are six other languages in Uzbekistan that have significant numbers of speakers: Russian, Tajik, Kazakh, Turkish, Crimean Tatar, and Bukharic.

According to the Ethnologue, the Russian language can be considered the "de facto national working language" of Uzbekistan. This is undoubtedly due to the importance of Russian which lingers from the country's recent past as part of the Soviet Union. Russian is the primary language of over 4 million speakers, which is approximately 14% of the country. It is used in government, business, and industries such as science and technology.

Tajik, the official language of neighboring Tajikistan, is spoken by over 1.2 million Uzbeks, which is around 5% of the population. It is primarily used in large cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand. It is followed in number of speakers by Kazakh, Turkish, and Crimean Tatar, which are all Turkic languages.

Over 800,000 people in Uzbekistan speak Kazakh, while nearly 200,000 speak the Turkish language. Crimean Tatar, which is also spoken in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, has nearly 150,000 speakers. Finally, there is Bukharic, an Indo-European language related to Persian and Tajik, which has nearly 10,000 speakers in the country. It is the language of Bukharan Jews, and contains a large number of loanwords from Hebrew.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Conversations on the Plurality of Words

On Wednesday, we looked at some of the confusing irregular plurals in English that don't follow the normal rules that tell us how to make a noun plural. Today we're having a look at certain nouns that struggle with the concept of being plural altogether.

While it can be tricky when the plural form of a word doesn't play by the rules, don't underestimate how tricky words can be when they have no singular, no plural, or look like one and are actually the other!

Nouns That Are Often Singular

Sand is uncountable.
In order to make something plural, you usually have to be able to count it, since the plural in English consists of two or more of any given thing. This means that uncountable nouns are often singular in English. Liquids and gases usually fall into this category, because it's not easy to cut air or water into two airs and two waters. Of course, the exception to this rule is when you're ordering things in a restaurant, since you can order two waters, two milks, etc.

Intangible things are often uncountable, too. Love, passion, and happiness, for example, are often considered singular entities. However, when used in reference to a person or an object, you can easily have a number of loves or passions.

While you can't have certain quantities of uncountable nouns, there are sometimes plural forms of uncountable nouns; just don't expect to see them often!

Nouns That Are Always Plurals

Certain things always are considered plurals. These are often things that have two major elements. Take trousers, for example. In English, trousers are always plural, supposedly because they have two legs. The same goes for shorts, pants, knickers, boxers, tights, stockings, suspenders, braces, and almost any item of clothing that requires you to have two legs. This rule also counts when it comes to eyewear as glasses and spectacles do not have a singular form.

Tools like scissors, which require two blades in order to work, are also plural. This rule also applies to shears and clippers.

Singular Nouns That Look Like Plurals

Athletics takes place on a track like this.
A number of academic disciplines end with an "s" but are still referred to as singular nouns. For example, mathematics is the abstract science of number, quantity, and space. Of course, when shortened in American English, the term math doesn't look much like a plural. However, the British English term maths still looks like a plural.

Other examples include economics, physics, and sporting disciplines such as gymnastics and athletics. News is another example.

Singular Nouns That Are Sometimes Plural

In my experience, some nouns are only treated as plurals in British English (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) and are definitely singular nouns when it comes to American English. They're all terms that refer to groups of people.

This really comes to my attention while watching sports. I have no issue with saying "the team are playing well" and would never replace the term "team" with the personal pronoun "it" as I refer to the members of a team as "they". This also comes into effect when referring to teams by their given names.

The same goes for other groups of people. The staff at the restaurant are friendly and the government are useless. The police were there to help and the audience have enjoyed the show. I'll stop giving examples now since I can sense the uncomfortable wincing from across the pond.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Beginner's Guide to Irregular English Plurals

Whether you're a native speaker or are just beginning to learn the English language, you've probably had at least one moment when you've wondered what the plural form of a particular word is. A prime example is "roof": when speaking, you know to pronounce a word that sounds like rooves, but in fact, the word you should write is "roofs", since "rooves" is considered to be archaic. Today we're going to introduce you to some of the many irregular English plurals. You might be surprised to find out that you've been getting a few of them wrong!

There are quite a few animals which require the use of the same term for both singular and plural. The most commonly cited examples are deer, sheep, fish, and moose. You can actually use fishes in certain contexts, such as when you're talking about multiple species of fish, but someone will probably correct you anyway. Speaking of fishes, most species, such as salmon and trout, follow the same rule. Other tricky animals include bison, buffalo, and squid.

There are a couple more odd animal plurals we can name: oxen and children. Long ago, someone decided it would be a good idea to have a few random words which became plural with the addition of the suffix -en. Another example is brethren, an archaic plural form of brother, which is still occasionally used by groups like religious fraternities.

There's an especially annoying group of plurals known as "apophonic plurals" or "mutated plurals", which originated when certain Germanic vowels in Old English changed long ago. A few of the resulting plurals that confuse children throughout their early years are:

mouse - mice     |     goose - geese     |     louse - lice     |     foot - feet     |     tooth - teeth

The yellow mongoose, which lives in Africa.
That said, mongoose becomes mongooses instead of "mongeese" because it's not related to the word goose - a mongoose is actually a small carnivore. Additionally, the plural of moose is not meese, as is often said jokingly, though it would make sense.

In terms of plurals, you probably can't find a more confusing term than person. Its plural is people, right? Kind of... except that you can use persons in certain formal contexts, plus there's the fact that occasionally people is used as a singular term, in which case you can then use its plural, peoples. I rest my case.

Finally, words of Latin and Greek origin can cause a lot of headaches when it comes to plurals. Here are some prime examples:

crisis - crises |     radius - radii      |     millennium - millennia     |     matrix - matrices     
octopus - octopuses     |     phenomenon - phenomena     |     platypus - platypuses

You might be surprised by octopuses and platypuses, because many native English speakers learned that the correct plurals were "octupi" and "platypi" when they grew up. Sadly, this is not true. You could use the technically correct and even more exciting sounding terms octopodes and platypodes as well, but only if you enjoy getting strange looks.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Peru

This week we're back in South America, having looked at the languages of Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil in recent months. Today our focus is on Peru, a linguistically diverse country which has an incredibly inclusive language policy.

The Official Languages

Peru has a very interesting official language policy - its constitution recognizes Spanish as an official language, as well as Quechua, Aymara, and other indigenous languages in areas where they are predominant. Peru is home to over 90 languages, which means that it has way more official languages than we could cover in one post. Instead, we'll focus on the country's most prestigious and most spoken languages.

If Peru could only have one official language, it would likely be Spanish, which is spoken by over 80% of the country's population. It's used by the government, as well as in education, commerce, and the media.

Alpamayo, one of the most beautiful peaks in Peru.
Since Quechua and Aymara are the only other languages named in the constitution, it's pretty clear that they are both very important. Both are generally spoken in the Andean highlands and share some vocabulary, but linguists still haven't conclusively determined if they're related or not.

Quechua, spoken by about 13% of the population, is technically a family of languages, and in fact many of Peru's 90 other spoken languages belong to this family. In recent years there have been increased efforts to teach Quechua in public schools in some parts of the country. Aymara, on the other hand, has various dialects, though they are all mutually intelligible. It only has around 400,000 speakers in Peru, which is around 1% of the population.

Other Languages

As we said before, Peru has dozens of officially recognized indigenous languages which remain unnamed in the country's constitution. This is because the country is home to many indigenous groups, which primarily reside in the areas near the Andes and in the Amazon basin. With the exception of several Quechua languages, most of these languages have fewer than 50,000 speakers and very few monolingual speakers, which threatens their survival. Some of the most spoken languages that fall into this category include Aguaruna, Asháninka, and Shipibo-Conibo.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Brief Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett's Death

Yesterday I was incredibly saddened to be notified (via Twitter) of the death of one of my favourite authors, Sir Terry Pratchett. Pratchett was a fantasy writer most famous for his Discworld series. In honour of his great work, rather than present an obituary I thought I'd have a fond look back at both a character and a concept that he covered extensively: death.

Death in Discworld is based on this
Western depiction. He also rides
a horse which is named "Binky".
Throughout the series, death (or Death when referring to the character) is regularly mentioned. When personified, Death appears as a scythe-wielding skeleton in a robe. Aside from his love of cats and curries, his "voice" is one of the fascinating elements in the series.

Despite the wonderful descriptions of Death, he is rarely perceived by humans as they unsurprisingly don't want to see him. While I've used the masculine pronoun to refer to Death, in the books his gender is somewhat ambiguous. While English doesn't have gendered nouns, certain languages, such as French, require it, meaning that international versions of the Discworld books featuring the character have come up with some inventive ways to deal with his/her/its gender.

There is also a cultural issue when it comes to the representation of Death in Discworld. His appearance is based on a Western representation of death, which can make matters very confusing for cultures that have a different idea of Death's appearance.

One of my favourite elements of Death's representation in the Discworld books is his voice, if you could call it that. Anything uttered by Death always appears outside of any quotation marks and, like the tweet, is always represented in capital letters. However, rather than traditional capital letters, Death's voice uses what is known as "small caps", which (in my head at least) seem firm, authoritative, and delightfully dry, all without shouting. Take the following witty example:

That’s mortals for you, Death continued. They’ve only got a few years in this world and they spend them all in making things complicated for themselves.

If you haven't already, you should read the fantastic Reaper Man, a wonderfully funny story about Death working on a farm. When you do, you'll be rewarded with one of Pratchett's most relevant and pertinent sentiments, summing up life and death perfectly:

"no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away"

Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Localizing the Aisle: The Power of "Foreign Branding"

Whenever I go to a massive 24-hour supermarket, I'm confronted by tonnes and tonnes of different choices across plenty of different products from all over the world. I'm not here to get into a debate about giant supermarket chains killing local family-owned stores or price wars, but rather how language plays a part in everything we do.

Despite being a huge fan of pizza (of all shapes and sizes), I still find it difficult when I purchase Dr Oetker brand pizzas due to the fact that the German name doesn't sound as authentic in my head as any Italian-sounding brands.

Mmm... pizza.
My conviction isn't strong enough to stop me buying the brand since I enjoy their pizzas, after all. However, some people would not buy the late August Oetker's pizzas, regardless of whether or not he had a PhD. Marketers are fully aware of this process, so you'll find that products with names that don't match their origin or perceived origin appear to be in the minority in your supermarket.


The outdoor clothing company was founded in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the '60s and chose the name from a very liberal German translation of "LD Mountain Centre", where they were first based, for the name of their company. I speak from experience when I say that the brand name was rarely pronounced correctly in Newcastle by locals wearing the full-length draa-string borg-hoos jackets, as they were called locally.


If you've ever seen the "when'sa your Dolmio day?" adverts, you'll get that this brand really wants you to believe that their range of pasta sauces are far more Italian that Dr. Oetker's pizzas. However, the Dolmio brand is actually Australian and owned by the American company Mars, Inc.

We're sorry if these photos made you hungry.

Häagen-Dazs is probably one of the oldest examples of this kind of thing. Originally, the name was a tribute to Denmark by founders Reuben and Rose Mattus to a country they felt had treated the Jews fantastically during World War II. However, the name itself is little more than nonsense made up by Reuben to sound Danish. Danish speakers will be fully aware of this as there are no umlauts in Danish nor "z" and "s" appearing together as they do here.

The company actually fought another ice cream brand in the '80s for trying a similar marketing strategy. Frusen Glädjé was an American company that used an alteration of the Swedish for "frozen delight" as their name (the "é" should be without the diacritic).


The name may sound Japanese, but when UK electrical retailer Currys launched the brand with the slogan "Japanese Technology Made Perfect" and a logo reminiscent of a traditional Japanese "rising sun", they ended up in trouble for misleading customers. They were forced to get rid of the tagline.

Despite a fine, they were allowed to keep the name, which upset a number of British veterans of World War II who remembered the Japanese general Iwane Matsui, the man responsible for the Nanking Massacre in 1937, which resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 300,000 people (depending on who you ask).

Trader Joe's

The American chain of grocery stores sells a number of its own brands. Rather than slapping a label that says "Trader Joe's" on all of their products, they sell products under various names.

Mexican food is labelled as "Trader Jose's", Chinese food goes by "Trader Ming's", the Italian range is "Trader Giotto's", and then "Trader Jacques'" is the name of the French stuff. While it may seem overly simple and incapable of fooling anyone, they wouldn't do it if it didn't work!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Morocco

Last Friday we looked at the languages of Uganda, and now we're shifting across the continent to Morocco. This beautiful country with coastlines on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea has a fascinating linguistic landscape, despite being home to only 14 languages.

The Official Languages

Morocco has two official languages: Arabic and Berber. While Modern Standard Arabic, the standardized literary form of Arabic used in most Arabic-speaking countries, is the country's official variety of Arabic, the vast majority of Moroccans speak Moroccan Arabic. Also known as Darija, Moroccan Arabic is the language most commonly used in everyday life in Morocco. It can be distinguished from other varieties of Arabic due to its inclusion of Berber, Spanish, and French loanwords.

Toubkal, the highest mountain peak in Morocco and North Africa.
The country's other official language, Berber, is a group of language varieties belonging to the Afro-Asiatic language family. The exact number of Berber speakers in Morocco is unknown, but estimates generally fall between 25 and 50% of the country's population. Just like Darija, Berber languages are vernacular languages generally used when speaking with family and friends. They are generally not used as a written language.

While we did say that Morocco only has two official languages, the country is home to one other language that has all the hallmarks of an official language without the recognition. That language is French, which is used nearly 70% of the population as either a native or second language.

Along with Modern Standard Arabic, French is a prestige language in Morocco, which is used in government, business, education, industry, science, banking, and other important areas. As is true in many other African countries, French retains a high level of prestige in the country due to its importance during the colonial era, when Morocco was a protectorate of France. It is also an obligatory subject in all Moroccan schools, hence its prominence in society as a second language, and is considered a lingua franca that helps to connect Morocco to Europe.

Other Languages

In comparison with other African countries, Morocco is not very linguistically diverse. However, most of its citizens are multilingual, speaking some combination of the various forms of Arabic and Berber as well as French. Two other prominent languages in the country are English and Spanish, which are both popular choices when learning a foreign language.

English is primarily chosen due to its global importance, while Spanish is often chosen in northern Morocco. This is due to its use in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish cities that are located on the African continent and surrounded by Morocco. Unsurprisingly, Morocco's government disputes Spain's claim on the cities, but that's a political matter we won't be getting into today.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Uganda

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the languages of Sudan, and today we're back in Africa to look at the linguistic diversity of the nearby country of Uganda. Uganda is the second most populous landlocked country in the world, and is home to approximately 40 languages that we're going to explore a bit today.

The Official Languages

For most of Uganda's history since its independence in 1962, it had one official language. It should come as no surprise that the language was English, since it had been under British rule for nearly 100 years. 

However, in 2005, Swahili was added as the second official language of Uganda. While in many cases the addition of another official language is seen as a positive, inclusive idea, in this case it has been rather divisive. Swahili was selected since it is an important lingua franca in northern Uganda, but this was not always well-received by speakers of Bantu languages who live in the southern regions of the country. There are many complex political and historical reasons for this, but we're not going to get into them here.

In any case, Uganda is home to nearly 40 other fascinating languages, so we're going to look at as many as we can today.

Mount Kadam, Uganda
The Major Language

The Luganda language, also known as Ganda, is the most spoken language in Uganda. This Bantu language is the most spoken language in the country, and is used by the Baganda ethnic group. It is also widely used throughout the southern part of the country as a lingua franca, and is used in some primary schools throughout Buganda, a subnational kingdom within Uganda.

After Uganda gained its independence, Luganda was considered as a candidate to become an indigenous official language of the country due to its use throughout the country. However, some native speakers were opposed to the idea since they felt that the use of the language outside of the Buganda kingdom could lead to grammatical errors and mispronunciations that could ruin the language, and therefore preferred the use of English. 

Other Languages

The other languages spoken in Uganda generally belong to the Bantu and Nilotic language families. Two prominent Bantu languages are Chiga and Nyankore. Chiga, also known as Kiga, is spoken by over 1.5 million Ugandans, while the closely related Nyankore language is spoken by over 2.3 million people in southwestern Uganda.

A few other languages with over 1 million native speakers in Uganda include varieties known as Acholi and Lango that are dialects of the Southern Luo language, and Teso, which are all members of the Nilotic language family. There are also over 1 million speakers of the Bantu languages known as Masaaba and Soga.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Using Digital Media to Learn a Language

Over the last few days we've been looking at the various ways you can use media to help you learn a language. As we've already covered print media and broadcast media, today we thought we'd finish off with the most modern media, digital media.

Video Games

The huge advantage of using video games to learn foreign languages is that when you play them, you are often far more engaged in them than when watching TV or a film. A TV show or a film will continue whether or not you understand what's happening. In video games, especially RPGs and story-driven games, if you don't understand what's being asked of you or what's happening, you won't be able to advance to the next part of the game.

The Internet

Everyone knows how fantastic the internet is! You can find whatever you want on the internet (as well as plenty of things you don't!), making it a great way to read material that you're interested in. The internet has evolved significantly since the old days when it was just text and a few low-resolution images. Today you can read articles, watch videos, TV shows, and movies, and even play games.

Social Media

The word "social" is key here. We can't stress enough that actually conversing and communicating in the language that you're trying to learn is arguably the best way to learn a language. You can use social media sites to find groups of people to learn with you, as well as language exchanges where you can learn a foreign language in return for helping a speaker of that language learn your language. Not only do you learn a language, but you can make new friends as well!

How do you like to learn a language? Do you have any clever tips or tricks on how to use media? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Using Broadcast Media to Learn a Language

Last Friday, we began a series of posts on how to use various forms of media to learn a language, starting with a look at print media. Today we're back with a look at how broadcast media can help you achieve your linguistic aims, specifically radio, music, television, and film.

Radio towers in Nishapur, Iran

Thanks to the internet, you don't need to be in-country or living in a border region in order to listen to the radio in the foreign language you want to learn. The obvious advantage of the radio over printed media is that you can actually hear how the language sounds, which always helps with aural comprehension. It also helps improve your own speaking skills.


The great thing about music is that you can always have it on in the background. Hearing songs and learning the lyrics are a fun way to learn a foreign language. In fact, the first thing I ever learnt in Spanish was the lyrics to David Bisbal's "Ave Maria" in order to beat some Spanish friends at the "SingStar" video game. Admittedly, lyrics can often be obscure, but it can still help with your vocabulary and pronunciation.


Watching TV is great for your listening skills. Like radio, it allows you to hear how the language sounds. If you have a cable or satellite TV package, you may even get a few channels in the language you're trying to learn. Whether you watch the news, a series, or even a show you've watched in your own language dubbed or subtitled in the language you're trying to learn, you'll undoubtedly learn something new.

The Colonial Theatre in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, actually
features on the U.S. Register of Historic Places!

If you live in a big enough city, you should be lucky enough to have an alternative cinema or somewhere you can watch foreign-language films. Of course, don't go see a version of a foreign-language film dubbed into your own language or you won't learn anything! Subtitled films are great because you can always follow the story in your own language or, if you're advanced enough, ignore them and focus on the foreign-language audio.

If you don't have an alternative cinema or just prefer watching films from the comfort of your own home, consider buying foreign-language films to watch at home. That way you can always just turn the subtitles on and off as you see fit!

We'll be back on Wednesday with a look at how digital media can help you learn a language.