Friday, January 29, 2016

The Ridiculousness of Censorship

As someone who is fascinated by language and communication, I've never been a huge fan of censorship. There are many reasons that people oppose or support censorship, depending on the situation, but my main problem with it is that it can cause communication to be less effective.

In this post, I'm not referring to the censorship of official documents for security reasons, or the censorship of journalistic pieces in order to protect the identities of sources. Instead, I'm focusing on the censorship of media like television, film, and music.

For example, why is it necessary to censor "swear words" on U.S. television? The most common explanation is that it's done to "protect the ears of innocent children" who may be watching. The thing is, we're not trying to eradicate these supposedly sinister words from the English language, so kids just end up learning them elsewhere.

The most ridiculous example of censorship I've seen in recent weeks was this clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a late-night talk show. (You can stop watching at :45 if you're only interested in the censorship-related aspects of the clip, though I recommend watching the entire clip to learn some silly phrases in French too.)

I would love to know the reasoning behind the censorship of this clip. There are just so many levels of ridiculousness to it! First of all, the conversation is about language, specifically how the idiom "break a leg", which is used to wish a performer good luck in English, is expressed in French. By bleeping French actress Marion Cotillard when she uses the French word merde and its English counterpart, shit, the censors have rendered the entire conversation unintelligible. I can only imagine that The Late Show's editors chose to include the clip in order to demonstrate the ridiculousness of television censorship. Otherwise, how do you explain this exchange?

Colbert: "In French, you say, instead of break a leg, you say..."
Cotillard: "We say *****, which means ****."

This also raises tons of other questions. Why are French words being censored? For that matter, why is shit being censored, given the fact that the show is on late at night when the young children who we're supposedly trying to protect from swear words should already be asleep?

In addition, the censors clearly didn't consider the context of the situation, since Marion Cotillard was not using shit as an obscenity - she was using it to make a linguistic explanation. As they continue talking, she explains that the use of merde dates back to times when having a lot of horse shit in front of your theater meant that your show was popular, yet the word shit is once again bleeped, despite being used to refer to excrement from a horse.

Does it drive you crazy when you watch television or listen to music and suddenly have no idea what's going on because of censorship, or do you think it's good that things are censored? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Countable and Uncountable Nouns in the English Language

When it comes to nouns in the English language, they can be divided into two groups: those that we call countable, and those that we call uncountable. There are a number of ways to distinguish between the two. To start, let's look at what I believe is the simpler of the two to understand, countable nouns.

Countable Nouns

Most nouns are countable, which means that as the name suggests, they can be counted. This means that we can say there are one, two, or however many of them. For example, we can say "one cat" or "two cats".

Since these nouns can be counted, they can have both a singular and a plural form. Usually in English, the plural form is made by adding -s to the end of the noun. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule. Since countable nouns can have both singular and plural forms, they can also be used with verbs that are conjugated in both the singular and plural forms.

This is one orange cat.
For example, we can say both "there is one cat in the house" and "there are two cats in the house". In addition to using numbers, we can say "there is a cat in the house" or "there are some cats in the house," with some being used exclusively with the plural of countable nouns.

When there are a lot of a countable noun, you have to use many and never use much. For example, "there are many cats in this house" instead of "there are much cats in this house". You can also say "there are a lot of cats in this house".

The main points of countable nouns:
  • Can be singular or plural.
  • Can be used with both singular and plural verb conjugations.
  • Can use a/an in singular.
  • Can use some in plural.
  • Many not much.
Uncountable Nouns

When you talk about uncountable nouns, things get a little bit more difficult. Uncountable nouns cannot be counted. Uncountable nouns usually include things like liquids, gases, and powders. For example, water, air, and sugar.

Since they can't be counted, you cannot have two, three, etc., of uncountable nouns. They also don't have plural forms, which means that you cannot use plural verb conjugations with them. For example, we can say "there is air in the room" but never "there are air in the room".

Here is some sugar or four types of sugar.
You also can't use a or an as an article with uncountable nouns. This means you can't say "I would like a sugar". Instead, you have to say "I would like some sugar".

You can never use many with uncountable nouns. However, you can use much, but only when using the negative. For example, "there isn't much sugar in this tea". When using the positive, you have to say "there is a lot of sugar in this tea."

Uncountable nouns:
  • Always paired with singular verb conjugations.
  • Always use some rather than a/an.
  • Use much in the negative.
  • Use a lot of or lots of in the positive.
Uncountable nouns can always be made countable by adding a countable noun. For example, water is uncountable but a bottle of water is countable, since bottle is countable.

Have any lingering questions about countable or uncountable nouns? We'll be happy to answer them in the comments below!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Denmark

So far in 2016, we've looked at the linguistic diversity of Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, and Kyrgyzstan. Since we've already focused on countries in Africa, Central America, and Asia, today we're going to check out a European country: Denmark.

The Official Languages

The de facto official language of the southernmost country in Scandinavia is Danish, a Germanic language. Over 5.3 million Danes, which encompasses the vast majority of the country's population, speak Danish as a native language.

Faroese stamps from 1983.
However, Denmark's government also officially recognizes three other languages: Faroese, Greenlandic, and German. Faroese is a Germanic language that is primarily spoken in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago between Norway and Iceland that is a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. There are about 66,000 native speakers of Faroese worldwide, almost exclusively within the Kingdom of Denmark.

Greenlandic, on the other hand, is an Inuit language that is primarily spoken in Greenland, the other autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland is the world's largest island, yet is the least densely populated country in the world due to its tiny population of about 55,000 people. The majority of Greenland's population speaks Greenlandic, but many also speak Danish, which plays an important role in government and education. However, in recent years there have been efforts to promote greater use of the Greenlandic language instead of Danish, which is a colonial language.

Then there's German, which is recognized as a minority language in the southernmost region of Denmark. This area, which was part of Germany until the end of World War I, is home to approximately 25,000 native German speakers. However, German is also the second most popular foreign language in Denmark, with nearly half of the population speaking it as a second language.

Foreign Languages

While these four languages are the primary native languages used in Denmark and its constituent countries, two foreign languages deserve a mention: English and Swedish. English is spoken as a second language by over 85% of the country's population, while Swedish is spoken as a second language by over 10% of Danes.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Film Club: Oscars 2016

One of the biggest news stories in the United States lately has been the controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in this year's Oscar nominations for acting. That said, other Oscar categories have honored diverse productions from all over the world with nominations this year, including several nominees in the two documentary categories which you can learn more about here.

In any case, there's one category that is always diverse by definition: the award for "Best Foreign Language Film". Today we're going to take a look at the five nominees, which hail from Europe, South America, and the Middle East.

Son of Saul - Hungary

If you read our recent post on the Golden Globe nominees for "Best Foreign Language Film", then you might recall that Son of Saul was the first Hungarian film ever to win a Golden Globe. Saul fia, as it's known in Hungarian, tells the sad tale of a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner working in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

A few mustangs, free-roaming horses in the Americas.
Mustang - France

Another nominee you might recognize is Mustang, a Turkish-language film that was also nominated for a Golden Globe. It focuses on the story of five orphaned sisters in a Turkish village trying to find whatever freedom they can in their conservative society.

Embrace of the Serpent - Colombia

The final three films weren't nominated for Golden Globes, but that doesn't make them any less wonderful. Embrace of the Serpent, which goes by the title El abrazo de la serpiente in Spanish, tells two stories set in 1909 and 1940 that revolve around Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman who helps Western scientists in search of a sacred plant. Interestingly, the film was inspired by the field diaries of two scientists who worked in the Amazon.

Theeb - Jordan

Jordan's first-ever Oscar nominee is Theeb, an Arabic-language film. It tells the story of a Bedouin boy named Theeb who is asked to lead a British officer on a dangerous journey through the desert in order to reach to a location of strategic importance during World War I. One of the most amazing aspects of the film is the fact that almost all of the actors in it are non-professional actors who had never been involved in a film before.

A War - Denmark

The final nominee for this year's foreign language film Oscar is A War, also known as Krigen in Danish. Unsurprisingly, it too is a war story, though it focuses on a more timely tale of a Danish military company in Afghanistan. It also features non-professional actors, since all of the soldiers in the film that are not main characters are played by actual Danish soldiers who served in Afghanistan.

Since all of these films are so recent, it might be difficult to find them at your local cinema. While you wait for them to be available in your area, on DVD, or online, we recommend checking out last year's nominees, including Ida, the winning entry from Poland. We'll have to wait until February 28th to find out who wins this year's Oscar!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

English Superlatives Are the Best

At the end of last week we took a look at English comparatives, words that are used to compare two things and say which is bigger, better, or more beautiful, for example. Today we're going to continue focusing on the English language as we look at things that are beyond comparison, also known as superlatives.

Superlatives are used to explain something that is in some way beyond comparison. In English, these words are created in a similar way to comparatives, but rather than adding the -er suffix, we add the suffix -est.

Last week we used big, hot, fat, and thin as our example adjectives because their final consonants double. As comparatives, they become bigger, hotter, fatter, and thinner. When used as superlatives, they become biggest, hottest, fattest, and thinnest.

Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world.
In terms of syllables, the same rules apply to both comparatives and superlatives. When adjectives are too long to add the -est suffix, we add "most" to create a superlative. Therefore the word beautiful becomes the most beautiful.

As with comparatives and the English language in general, there are always exceptions. For example, the superlative of good is the best and the superlative of bad is the worst.

Hopefully these simple rules will help you have the best English grammar around!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Kyrgyzstan

In the past two weeks, we've looked at the linguistic diversity of Nicaragua and Sierra Leone, two fascinating countries located on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This week we're shifting our focus to Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked, mountainous country in the heart of Central Asia.

The Official Languages

A couple of camels on the beach by Issyk-Kul,
one of the largest lakes in the world.
Kyrgyzstan has two official languages: Kyrgyz and Russian. The country's most spoken language is Kyrgyz, which is the native language of over 3.8 million Kyrgyz. It is a member of the Turkic language family, and is generally written using the Cyrillic alphabet. However, Kyrgyz speakers in China generally write the language using an older Arabic-based alphabet.

The second most spoken language in Kyrgyzstan is Russian, which was first introduced to the region when it became part of the Russian Empire in the late 1800s. There are only about 480,000 native Russian speakers in Kyrgyzstan, but the language is widely used in business and government, which explains why there are over 2.5 million people in the country who speak Russian as a second language.

Other Languages

While Kyrgyzstan's mountainous terrain has helped it to preserve its native culture over the centuries, it has also undoubtedly kept the country from becoming very linguistically diverse, which is why we only have three other languages to look at today: Uzbek, Tajik, and Dungan.

In terms of native speakers, the second most spoken language in Kyrgyzstan is Uzbek, the Turkic language that is the official language of neighboring Uzbekistan. There are over 700,000 native speakers of Uzbek in Kyrgyzstan, which far surpasses the number of native Russian speakers.

The next most important language in Kyrgyzstan is Tajik, a variety of the Persian language and a member of the Indo-Iranian language family. There are over 40,000 native speakers of Tajik in Kyrgyzstan, though most of the language's speakers live in neighboring Tajikistan.

The final language we have for today is Dungan, a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family that includes Mandarin Chinese. It is natively spoken by over 55,000 members of the Dungan ethnic group in Kyrgyzstan. Dungan is especially interesting because it is the only variety of Chinese that is not generally written using Chinese characters. While it was originally written with an Arabic-based alphabet, it has been written using a Cyrillic-based alphabet since the 1940s due to the influence of the Soviet government.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Grass Is Always Greener: Comparatives in English

In almost every language, there is the notion of comparative adjectives. As human beings, we are very interested in whether something is bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, hotter, colder, fatter, or thinner than something else.

All of the words in the list above were comparatives, which are used when you consider two things and compare them. Pretty obvious, right? In English, comparatives generally consist of an adjective with the -er suffix at the end. Of course, much like English gerunds, certain spelling rules apply.

One of these rules involves doubling the final consonant. Consider the adjectives big, hot, fat, and thin from the examples above. In these cases, since the adjective is short and uses a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant, the final consonant is doubled. Therefore big becomes bigger, hot becomes hotter, and fat becomes fatter. See what happened there?

Of course, not all comparatives are alike. For instance, when adjectives get to be too long (two or more syllables, to be precise), English decides that the -er suffix will not suffice. In these instances, the word "more" is used. Consider beautiful, one of the nicest words in English. In this situation, you have to say that something is more beautiful than something else.

That's not all of the rules though, as there are always exceptions. One of the most commonly used comparatives in English is better, the comparative form of good. Bad also follows an irregular pattern by becoming worse when comparative. Adverbs follow the same rules too, with well becoming better and badly becoming worse when used as comparatives.

If you're curious to learn more about the rules involved in the creation of English superlatives like tallest and shortest, be sure to check back next week!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Film Club: Golden Globes 2016

If you don't keep up with the annual awards shows, then you might not know that the 73rd Golden Globe Awards took place on Sunday night. The Golden Globes, which are awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are somewhat unique because they honor both film and television. It's also generally considered to be one of the most entertaining U.S. awards shows to watch since the nominees are seated at small tables (instead of traditional theater seating) where they keep the champagne flowing all evening, which often leads to unexpected situations.

However, today we're only interested in discussing this year's nominees (and winner) for the "Best Foreign Language Film" award. Even though only one received the Golden Globe, we think they'll all make great additions to our "films to watch" list!

The Brand New Testament - Belgium/France/Luxembourg

If you enjoy satire and aren't easily offended, then you might want to watch Le Tout Nouveau Testament, as it's known in French. This unique film is set in Brussels, Belgium, where God (in human form) lives with his wife and daughter. Suffice it to say that he's not exactly the nicest guy around, so his daughter decides to take matters into her own hands and improve the world, which leads to all kinds of crazy unintended consequences.

The Club - Chile

For a completely different look at religious issues, there's El Club, a Chilean film about four disgraced Catholic priests who live in a secluded beach town because they are suspected of crimes such as child abuse. When their household gains a new member, all of their lives are affected.

The Fencer - Finland/Germany/Estonia

A fencing competition in Sicily.
Known as Miekkailija in Finnish, The Fencer is a fictional drama based on the life of Estonian fencer Endel Nelis. After leaving Russia to escape the secret police in the 1950s, he went on to found a famous fencing school.

Mustang - France

Set in a village in Turkey, Mustang tells the story of five orphaned sisters growing up in a conservative society where arranged marriages are common, and focuses on how they try to find freedom in whatever small ways they can.

Son of Saul - Hungary

Last, but most certainly not least, there's Son of Saul, which was the first ever Hungarian film to win a Golden Globe. This past May it also won the Grand Prix, the second most prestigious award of the Cannes Film Festival.

Known by the title Saul fia in Hungarian, Son of Saul is the story of a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. While doing his forced work in the crematorium, he finds the body of a boy that he believes to be his son and attempts to arrange for a proper burial.

Have you seen any of these foreign language films? If so, what did you think of them? Let us know in the comments below!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Nicaragua

After exploring the linguistic landscape of Sierra Leone last week, our second country profile of the year is going to focus on the languages of Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America. Let's get started!

The Official Language

It probably won't come as a surprise that the official language of Nicaragua is Spanish, which was first introduced to the region when it was colonized by Spain in the 1500s. Today, over 5.3 million Nicaraguans, which equals about 90% of the country's population, speak Spanish as their native language. Most of these speakers use Nicaraguan Spanish, a dialect that is also known by the name Nicañol. 

Other Languages

While Spanish may be Nicaragua's most important language, the country is also home to several indigenous languages, including the thriving Miskito language. Miskito is the language of the Miskito ethnic group, which primarily resides in northeastern Nicaragua. It is the most spoken indigenous language in Nicaragua with approximately 150,000 native speakers, as well as nearly 30,000 more in neighboring Honduras.

Cathedral of León, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
When it comes to the number of native speakers, Miskito is followed by Nicaragua Coastal Creole, which is natively spoken by about 30,000 Nicaraguans. Also known as Miskito Coast Creole, the English-based creole developed due to the British presence in the country's coastal areas throughout the 1700s and 1800s. 

Two other indigenous languages of Nicaragua belong to a group known as the Sumo languages. The most used of these languages is Mayangna, which is spoken by about 8,000 Nicaraguans. Ulwa, on the other hand, only has around 350 remaining speakers. Both of these languages, along with Miskito, belong to the Misumalpan language family.

Finally, there are the Raman and Garifuna languages. Rama is a Chibchan language that is spoken by around 900 members of the Rama ethnic group. Sadly, it is thought to be approaching extinction. While Garifuna, an Arawakan language, has even fewer native speakers in Nicaragua, it has a more promising future since it is widely spoken in Honduras, where it is the largest minority language.

Friday, January 8, 2016

5 New Year's Resolutions for Freelance Translators

Since the start of a new year is the perfect time to start afresh with new goals for the future, I've spent the last several days thinking about what my New Year's resolutions should be for 2016. In addition to the typical personal goals that no one ever keeps for long (such as "drink less" or "eat more vegetables"), I've also come up with a list of five goals related to my freelance translation career. I think they're fairly reasonable goals, so I thought I'd share them today in case any other freelance translators out there want to try them out too!

#1: Make better use of CAT tools

If only CAT tools included
the help of adorable cats...
For those unfamiliar with the translation industry, CAT stands for computer-assisted translation. Basically any tool or program that helps in the translation process can be considered a CAT tool, but the most popular choice is to use CAT software that features translation memory (TM) and termbase (TB) tools. With TMs, segments of text that you've already translated are saved and can then be automatically displayed by the software when a similar segment appears in a new text, while TBs essentially allow you to create your own bilingual dictionary for each project or text type.

If you invest a bit of time in setting up useful TMs and TBs, they can end up saving you a lot of time. However, if you're anything like me, you might find that you often keep moving full speed ahead with your translations without ever stopping to update your termbase. With the CAT software I use, it only takes two clicks to add a new word to my termbase, and yet I am often too lazy to do it. This year, I'm hoping to keep in mind that taking a moment to add a new term could save me from having to do countless dictionary searches in the months to come.

#2: Connect more with other translators

When you work as a freelancer, it's really easy to just stay in your own world and never communicate with others in your industry. However, one of the best ways to improve your skills, expand your resources, and even find new clients, is to have an extensive network of contacts in the industry. While I already have a great core group of fellow freelance translators who I often collaborate and share ideas with, I'm hoping to further expand my contacts this year, be it through LinkedIn, ProZ, or social media.

#3: Stick to a regular work schedule

One of the great things about working freelance is that you can have as much flexibility as you want. However, it is also important to keep a good balance between your work life and your social life. Last year, I tried to focus on maintaining a relatively "normal" daily work schedule. While I made sure to keep my evenings free so that I had a few hours to relax each day, I wasn't as great about keeping the weekends work-free. Sometimes it's necessary to work on the weekend in order to finish an urgent project, but I definitely don't think it should become a habit. It's important to take a day or two off every once in a while!

Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain
#4: Never accept jobs below minimum rates

As I've mentioned in the past, you should never ask a translator to work for free, or for an unreasonably low wage. When I was first starting out as a freelancer last year and desperate to get new clients, I occasionally let prospective clients negotiate translation rates that were lower than I was truly happy with. In the past several months I've become much better about respecting the value of my skills, so this year one of my resolutions is to never accept any jobs below my minimum rates. It's certainly important to be able to negotiate costs with clients based on the characteristics of a specific project, but a minimum rate should be the bare minimum you would ever accept, and therefore be non-negotiable.

#5: Spend more free time absorbing foreign language/culture

I've saved the best for last, since this goal is certainly the most enjoyable one. If I had all the money in the world, I would simply spend as much free time as possible visiting Spanish-speaking countries in order to fully immerse myself in my favorite foreign language. Since that's in no way realistic, I've instead decided that I should spend more time absorbing Spanish language and culture from home, be it by reading Spanish literature or websites, listening to Spanish music, or watching Spanish films!

Do you have any New Year's resolutions that you think would benefit freelance translators? Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

10 Tips for Learning a Language in 2016

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, people often choose to learn a new language. Whether it's for work, fun, or whatever other reason, learning a language isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. It's a long process, which leads people to give up far too often. That's why today I thought I'd give you a few of my personal tips for learning a language, in hopes that this won't happen to you.

1: Choose Wisely

You shouldn't buy the first car you see on the lot. I'd say the same is true for languages. You're much more likely to give up on your language-learning mission if you don't really like the language you're learning or you don't have a good reason to learn it. If you only learn a language because you feel you have to, you're not going to enjoy it as much!

Slow and steady wins the race.
2: Slow and Steady

Remember that learning a language will take time, a lot of time. Don't start your journey thinking that you'll be fluent after a couple of months or even a year. Just go at your own pace. Those learning their first foreign language are often overly ambitious, and eventually become disenchanted with the whole process.

3: Make Mistakes

Nobody's perfect. I have said this before and I'll say it again. Making mistakes is one of the most important things that will happen to you as you learn a foreign language. When you make a mistake and are corrected in a foreign language, it gives you an opportunity to improve and learn. It's very rare that your mistake will cause offence, and most people around the world are very aware that those learning a language will make mistakes.

4: Speak as Much as You Can and Try Out the Accent

I believe that speaking is the most important part of learning a language, yet this wasn't reflected in my foreign language classes in school. Speaking is always the first thing you learn to do with a language. Nobody learns to write before they can speak in their mother tongue, so why should it be any different for your new foreign language? If you have the opportunity to talk to someone in your new language, give it a go!

A personal bugbear of mine is when people make no attempt to emulate the accent of the foreign language they're learning. Every language has a unique sound, so if you just speak with your own accent, it will be more difficult for native speakers to understand you. Don't be shy; if you make the effort, people will notice.

5: Listen to the Radio and Music

How many hours do you spend idle each week? Even if it's just background noise, you can fill your environment with the sounds of the language you're learning. If you listen to commercial radio, you'll quickly find that you've become familiar with the various phrases that are repeated throughout the day.

There are also plenty of places to find music in other languages. If you don't mind adverts, you can always look for foreign language music on Spotify (or enjoy it advert-free for a small fee).

6: Watch Movies

It may seem like a stretch if you're just starting to learn a new language, but there's never been a better time to get foreign language films and media. I always like to check film sites and lists online for possible viewing materials before heading to online retailers like Amazon to buy a DVD.

When you're first starting out, it's nice to just hear the language you're learning and follow the subtitles in your own language. Once you start to progress, you can watch with subtitles before finally removing them and just using your ears.

7: Play Games

Some people love learning languages, others don't. That's fine. I never really enjoyed learning languages in school because it focused on grammar drills and conjugating verbs, which I didn't find very fun or entertaining. While these things are important, you need to be engaged in order to learn a language.

If you like to play games, particularly on the go, there are many language learning games to choose from. Personally, I would avoid these and instead play games you already own in the language you're learning (when possible).

You can also check out our post on gift ideas for language lovers if you'd like to get somebody something fun to help them with their language learning.

8: Get an App

If you're like me, you take your phone everywhere with you. Why not use of some of the time you spend idly messing about with your phone to improve your language learning? We've mentioned in the past that you shouldn't use a translation app when learning a new language. However, there are plenty of different language learning apps out there to help you on your way.

I enjoy using Duolingo, and would recommend it to anyone starting to learn any of the languages they have available. You can read our early review of it here.

The world is a marvelous place. Go out and enjoy it!
9: Travel

If you have the chance and can afford it, I highly recommend living and breathing the language you are learning. If you can go where the language is spoken, you will have many more opportunities to practise, as well as enjoy and experience the culture, cuisine, music, and lifestyle that accompanies your chosen language. Get out there!

10: Don't Learn Alone

Nowadays everyone and everything is connected. Whether remotely or in person, you can easily connect with other language learners, language experts, or native speakers of whatever language you're learning. You're much less likely to give up if you have the support of others.

Do you have any tips for learning a language? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Sierra Leone

In the last couple weeks of December, we looked at the languages of Eritrea and Libya, two countries located in Africa. Our first country profile for 2016 is dedicated to yet another African country, Sierra Leone, which is located in West Africa.

The Official Language

The official language of Sierra Leone is English, which was first introduced during the colonial era. Despite the fact that Sierra Leone gained its independence in 1961, English has remained a key language in the country, especially in government and education. However, there are only around 500,000 native speakers of English in Sierra Leone. In fact, most Sierra Leoneans speak an indigenous language as their native language, and instead use English as a second language.

While English is the official language of Sierra Leone, Krio is undoubtedly the country's most important language, since it is spoken by about 90% of the population and is used throughout the country as a lingua franca by members of all ethnic groups. Also known as Sierra Leone Creole, Krio is an English-based creole that evolved from the various pidgins used by liberated African slaves who settled in the country in the early 1800s. Nearly 500,000 Sierra Leoneans speak Krio natively, while an additional 4 million use it as as second language.

Other Languages

Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, at night.
Sierra Leone is also home to over 20 other indigenous languages, almost all of which belong to the Niger-Congo language family. The five most spoken of these languages are Mende, Temne, Limba, Kuranko, and Kono.

Mende, the language of the Mende people, is the native language of almost 1.5 million Sierra Leoneans. It is primarily spoken in the southeastern areas of Sierra Leone, while Temne, which is natively spoken by about 1.2 million Sierra Leoneans, is most often used in the north. These two languages are followed in number of speakers by Limba, Kuranko, and Kono, which all boast between 200,000 and 300,000 native speakers.

There are four additional languages used in Sierra Leone with over 100,000 native speakers: Maninka, Loko, Pular, and Susu, which all belong to the Niger-Congo language family. There are also quite a few other languages such as Gola and Kissi that have several thousand speakers, though there is not much information on them.

Finally, Sierra Leone is home to two endangered languages that are nearly extinct: Bom and Krim. The use of Bom is thought to have declined since most speakers also speak the Mende language. Today there are only approximately 200 native speakers of Bom, while only a dozen or so speakers of the Krim language remain.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: The Best of Languages on the Web

On Wednesday, we looked back at our most popular posts from 2015. Today we're going to give you our picks of the best language content we saw throughout the year.


Our first pick comes from James Chapman of Soundimals, a series of amazing multilingual illustrations. His "How to Sound Happy in Eight Languages" brought a smile to our faces for the start of the year. You can see the image here and see other brilliant illustrations on the Tumblr here.

We also enjoyed a snippet from the "Beeb" (or the BBC if you're not from the UK) which discusses the work of American linguist Noam Chomsky on language acquisition and human language. You can listen to it here.


Our favourites from February include an amusing comic from Itchy Feet. This strip, called "Expressive Vowels", gave us a giggle and made us appreciate the diaresis (or trema or umlaut). You can read the comic here and read the other amazing comics here.


In March we enjoyed The Guardian article entitled "A Quick Guide to Speak Franglais". It discusses the Académie française and the French government's efforts to protect the French language, as well as the increasing influence of English on the language. You can read the article here or more on language from The Guardian here.


As we love April Fool's Day, we also loved the article on "Grungespeak" from the Oxford Dictionaries' blog. The post discussed fictionalised words that gained some credibility as journalists tried to ride the wave of grunge music in the early '90s. You can read the article here and check out the OxfordWords blog here.


In May, NPR looked at the relationship between language and memory and how accents foreign to us make it more difficult to remember words. You can read the article here and more from NPR on languages here.


The pick from June mixes pop-punk and linguistics, two of my favourite things. The article "I Made a Linguistics Professor Listen to a Blink-182 Song and Analyze the Accent" revealed some valuable insights into why accent is so important to music. You can read the article here.


The Atlantic had a fascinating article on Toki Pona, a language with a hundred words. You can read the article, "How to Say (Almost) Everything in a Hundred-Word Language" here.


In August we read a great article from, "7 Common Language Learning Strategies That Don’t Work (And How to Fix Them)". You can read some of Benny Lewis' best tips and tricks here.


We're back with NPR for September. We loved their piece on pleonasms, which you can learn about by reading or listening to "Please Don't Have A Temper Tantrum About The Pleonasm In This Headline" here.


In October we enjoyed an article from on the Indus script and how it was deciphered. You can read the fascinating piece here.

Trees, like languages, also have roots.

Another article from The Guardian grabbed our attention in November. We love stuff on language acquisition and the beginnings of language, so this article was great for us. You can read the discussion on "The roots of language: what makes us different from other animals?" here.


To finish the year, we liked this piece about non-binary pronouns on the BBC. As the discussion on gender identity becomes more and more important, we can see how language adapts and how we can adapt language to better suit our world. You can read the article here.

Were there any language articles you enjoyed from 2015 that should have made our list? Tell us about them in the comments below and we'll be sure to share the best suggestions with our followers.