As a quick follow-up to the post I wrote the other day about Twitter: TweetTranslate.com is a web-based tool that allows you to type tweets in your own language, and have them automatically posted or saved in another language. Though I suppose you really should be trying to translate them yourselves, this is a handy tool for quickly communicating with people who speak another language, or setting up profiles for businesses aimed at international markets.
Archive for June, 2009
Women in the Czech Republic belong to the significant males in their lives, not in terms of being objects, but because their names say so. The feminine surname suffix -ova is added to a woman’s husband’s surname (or her father’s when she is unmarried), and signifies possession by the male.
It is a core principle of the Czech language (and other Slavic languages), and it becomes difficult to talk about a woman if she does not have the -ova at the end of her name. So when Lucie Kundra took her husband’s surname as it was written (that is, she didn’t change it to Kundrova), she caused more than a few ripples in a society where refusing to follow this norm can even get you fired. She is dedicated to fighting for equal opportunities and is trying to promote changes through language, as it is such a core part of society and culture.
It is even common practice to “Czech-ify” the surnames of foreigners, especially in the Czech media. For example, the US Secretary of State is called Hillary Clintonova, signifying that she belongs to her husband.
In the aftermath of the recent Iranian election, the protests that followed, and the ensuing violence, the availability of accurate information is becoming rarer, and more crucial. Hotels in Tehran have been locked down to prevent foreign journalists from reporting anything to the outside world. Live video footage posted to YouTube and messages sent through Twitter by protesters and people amidst the violence have become important sources of news for people within the country, and around the world. Unfortunately, the people in power in Iran have realised this, and done their best to shut down mobile and internet networks, and it has escalated to the point where anyone seen openly carrying a laptop, mobile phone, or camera runs the risk of being attacked by paramilitary groups.
Internet giant Google has pushed forward their release of Google Translate in Persian, or Farsi, which is the major language of Iran. This will hopefully make more international information and news available to people within Iran, and Persian speakers around the world, as well as allowing outsiders to get an idea of what is happening inside the country.
The Twitter service is playing an arguably more important role on the ground, as protesters are using it to organise demonstrations as well as spread news to the outside world. It has even been recognised as crucial by the US State Department, who urged the company to delay a planned upgrade in order for service to continue uninterrupted in Iran.
If you’re interested in knowing more about what’s happening, I found quite a good summary on Reddit, there’s a lot of information in the news, and there are plenty of Twitter, news, and blog feeds being updated all the time. As well as wanting to keep up-to-date with the actual situation, I’m fascinated by the changing roles of media, technology, and communication. Is the blocking of a single website or internet service tantamount to a human rights issue these days?
Although it’s familiar to generations of English speakers, the National Strategies document Support for Spelling says there are too many exceptions to the rule, and the mnemonic could be more confusing than useful. Though they say that it is useful only for ee sounds (as in receive), the rule still has exceptions – seize, seizure, and the ee versions of either and neither.
Campaigners for plain English and simple spelling reforms have taken this as support for their cause, but Judy Parkinson, author of I Before E (Except After C): Old-School Ways to Remember Stuff, suggests that teachers should be able to make up their own minds about using the phrase in their classes.
For instance, one predominantly American variation of the rhyme includes the lines “…or when it sounds like an A; as in neighbour and weigh“. This happily deals with the exceptions veil, beige, eight, and sleigh.
I think it would be more trouble than it’s worth to try to include all of these other exceptions: counterfeit, leisure, caffeine, science, ancient, foreign…
Full article from Times Online.
Unless you’ve been living under a virtual rock recently, you’ll know about the so-called microblogging service Twitter. It allows businesses, news media, celebrities, and individuals to broadcast their thoughts in 140 character tweets, as well as keep up with all manner of other people and organisations. Best of all, you don’t have to be connected to a PC, or even the internet. Most functions can be accessed by mobile phone (depending on what country you’re in), and communicating is as easy as sending a text message (SMS).
After skimming over Online Colleges’ extensive collection of 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the College Classroom, I started thinking about practical uses for tweeting in the language classroom (or, more specifically, outside the language classroom).
From the Communication section:
- Direct Tweet. [Teachers] and students can contact each other through direct Tweets without having to share cell phone numbers.
- Get to know your classmates. A class Twitter group will help facilitate [teachers] and students getting to know each other, especially if the class is part of a more intimate setting such as a seminar.
- Collaborate on projects. When working together on projects, set up a group using an app like Tweetworks to facilitate communication between everyone working together.
- Make announcements. [Teachers] can send out reminders about upcoming tests, project due dates, or any news that needs to be shared via Twitter.
- Share interesting websites. Both [teachers] and students can post interesting websites that are relevant to their class.
- Daily learning. Twitter feeds happen much more frequently than the two or three times a day a student is in class, therefore using Twitter in the classroom means there is a daily opportunity for learning.
More specific to language learning:
- Practice a foreign language. Language classes can take advantage of the opportunity to communicate in the target language of the class by finding native speakers on Twitter.
- Follow mentors. If [teachers] or other key figures in your field of study are on Twitter, follow them to keep up with their research and activities.
- Follow an idea, word, or event. Send “track ___” with whatever word, event, or idea you want to follow in the blank, and you will receive Tweets that contain that keyword.
Teachers can set students short assignments that they have to complete in 140 characters or less. Students can post interesting new words or points they learn, and can learn from peers around the world. Post interesting news stories or websites about your chosen language.
The length restriction is a bit of a double-edged sword in that what you will see from native speakers will often be informal abbreviations, or internet slang, but at the same time, because communication is key, learners won’t have to worry too much about spelling and grammar.
It could be worth finding out if your language teacher or fellow students uses the service, or look up a few interesting people who tweet in your target language. There are a lot of possibilities out there for this kind of thing, and I’d be interested to hear about your experiences.
I recently started a salsa dance class, out of interest in dance, as well as a need for exercise. I had assumed that because the website and the woman I dealt with were bilingual, that at least some of the instruction would be in English. I was almost right.
I was the only person in the class who didn’t speak Chinese, so I mostly watched and followed along. The names of the steps were in English, so that helped a bit. In fact, I got to learn a few new terms because of the repetitive nature of the class, it helped with my listening skills, and I got to do something I enjoyed at the same time.
Taking an interest course in a different language is a great way to practice your language skills, but it may be difficult if your language level isn’t very high yet. Practical courses are easier, because there is a lot of watching, demonstration, and practice involved, with the instruction not being the main part.
Even if you don’t want to take a course entirely in another language (or if this option isn’t available to you), you can still pick up or develop a hobby that involves other languages or culture. Dance or music from other countries, foreign films, cuisine, crafts. Learn more about terms you already know, for example, the background of Italian food names, or learn how to read knitting patterns in another language. It will add interest to your existing hobbies, and won’t put too much pressure on your language learning.
Taking it to the extreme, American Jim O’Neill’s lifelong love of baseball language (not the sport itself, but the language used) has led him to create a dictionary of baseball terms. Not just an English dictionary, but an English-Spanish one.
“I was just a little kid when I first heard ‘Can of corn,’ ” O’Neill said. “And I thought that was the coolest expression I had ever heard in my life.”
Hearing that baseball phrase, which means an easy-to-catch fly ball, started O’Neill on a decades-long quest to translate English baseball phrases into Spanish dialects.
O’Neill, faculty emeritus in the St. Cloud State University Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, turned his love of the language into a book he self-published, “The Bilingual Baseball Dictionary English-Spanish/Spanish-English.”
His dictionary contains about 8,000 definitions in its 344 pages, with nearly 3½ pages alone dedicated to various ways of saying “hit a home run” in Spanish.
I thought that most hobbies would only have a few pages’ worth of useful terms, but who knew baseball could have so many?
Full article from the St. Cloud Times.
Spotted by Michael James and posted in the Telegraph Sign Language series.
I seem to be giving out suggestions from personal experience at the moment, so I’ll continue along that vein.
Today’s snippet of advice is: don’t get ahead of yourself.
You’d think it was always beneficial to have good pronunciation, but sometimes it’s actually better to make sure that native speakers know that your level isn’t quite the same as theirs (if this happens to be true). If their first impression of you is that you’re fluent when you’re not*, you will just be overloaded with lightning-speed responses that you possibly won’t understand.
If the person you’re speaking to is made aware that perhaps you aren’t quite as proficient as they are, they will be more likely to grade their language and slow their speech a little. It’s much better to be able to understand all or most of the conversation and be able to respond than to miss everything because of speed or local dialect.
So, if you know how to ask a question in a contracted or colloquial way, make sure that you will also be able to predict and understand the answer!
Similarly, maintain a comfortable and steady pace. If you can say some sentences very quickly, but stumble on others, it will make the conversation much more difficult for the listener. A steady rhythm will ensure you say your words correctly, and will give the listener an idea of how quickly to provide their responses.
*I’ve had endless experiences with this kind of thing in Asia. I always try to learn a few pleasantries in the local language, but because I sometimes look like I could be a local myself, I get torrents of Thai, Vietnamese, and Mandarin in response. I’m glad most people are accepting of my blank looks and stilted apologies.
Further to what I said the other day about attitudes towards communication, I find that it makes a big difference to be around people whose foreign language skills are equal to, or lower than yours. Not exclusively, of course. Let me explain:
If you are communicating with someone who speaks very little of your native language, you will be further encouraged to speak with them in theirs. I find that the language of communication tends to be that which both parties can speak the best, kind of like water always sinking to the lowest level possible. So, if you are an English speaker learning Spanish, and you meet a Spanish speaker who doesn’t speak English, naturally you will try to communicate in Spanish. If the Spanish speaker’s English is better than your Spanish, then you will probably speak mostly in English.
On the other hand, if you are in a foreign country and your companions speak less of the local language than you do, often times you will be relied on to be the primary communicator. I found this when my relatives came to visit me recently. They can speak Cantonese, but not Mandarin, so I had to rely on my paltry Mandarin to get us around. It’s always encouraging to find out exactly how much you know, and you may surprise yourself! It doesn’t hurt that your companions are often impressed with your skills.
I find that the best speaker in a group will inevitably end up being the spokesperson. It makes interactions smoother, but it doesn’t help the other members of the group with their confidence.
Be bold, and be proactive in your speaking. Every opportunity to practice is a chance to get better. Don’t miss one just because you feel that someone else can say it better than you.
I’ve heard a lot of taglines to promote language learning, but “Fight Terrorism: Learn Chinese” is up there with the best of them.
Teaching Mandarin to students in the remote Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was helping the fight against terrorism, chairman of the autonomous region Nur Bekri said.
“Terrorists from neighboring countries mainly target Uygurs that are relatively isolated from mainstream society as they cannot speak Mandarin. They are then tricked into terrorist activities,” Bekri said.
The remote Chinese region has a population of just over 20 million, with the majority being minority groups including Uygur and Khazak, who do not speak Mandarin natively. Bilingual education has been encouraged since 2002, and Mandarin is taught in pre-schools and kindergartens so children will be more able to cope with being schooled in a second language later on.
But foreign media have criticized the policy, in which Mandarin is used as the language of instruction and minority languages are taught as a subject.
Bekri said there had been demand for Mandarin language lessons from ethnic minority students who wanted to be able to communicate with other Chinese.
He made it clear that these students had not been compelled to learn the language, but that they saw it as a desirable skill.
“The students have benefited from mastering Mandarin. We are making our best effort to create opportunities and an environment for them to learn the language,” Bekri said.
“We don’t need to force them.”
Students and parents of students interviewed for the article recognise the importance of learning such an influential language, and don’t see it diminishing their own cultures. In one case, a man thought that it would help his people promote their culture.
I think as long as this is a case of promoting bilingualism for its merits, and not a major language and culture stamping out smaller ones, it’s all for the good.
Full article from China Daily.