I recently read a great article from the Boston Globe about the demise of the simple you’re welcome. Granted, the author possibly has even higher expectations of people than I do, but she brings up a good point. When did it become the norm for people to reply to a genuine thank you with a flippant no problem, or an equally dismissive no worries (or the Scottish nae bother)?
Etiquette is changing faster than I’d like these days, but I suppose I will admit that you’re welcome seems a bit formal for things passing someone a coffee cup. In business dealings and customer service sectors, though, I think it’s getting bad. I don’t want to be served by a waiter who says ‘no prob‘ when I thank him for his service. Nor do I want to do business with someone who behaves as if we are close friends.
I think the worst for me though is that I communicate with people a lot over IM (instant messaging) channels, and instead of you’re welcome, or even no problem, I get the short form np. Oh, that was np, but it’s clearly a big p for me to write out full words. But anyway, that’s an entirely different rant.
Do you feel the same way about the decline of good manners? Or is it a natural progression towards general casualness in human interactions?
My humblest apologies for choosing such a whiny topic for my last post of the year! My genuine thanks for reading; I hope it wasn’t too much of a problem!
Full article: Boston Globe.
Image: Marlie Kanoi.
Germany is not generally associated with comedy, but the BBC has teamed up with a German stand-up comedian to produce a series of short language videos called What’s so funny about German?. Henning Wehn, “the German comedy ambassador to the United Kingdom”, takes learners of German through some basic points about his native language, with more than a few comedic examples and observations. I learned that a Bodybag is not for cadavers, but is a backpack with one strap. Check out the videos for more interesting German language points!
I stumbled across a learning resource for deaf students and learners of sign language, and an interesting section is the NZSL (New Zealand Sign Language) Signed Songs. The page lists some traditional Maori and older pop songs, as well as a couple of Christmas ones. Each song is presented in a Flash format and has audio as well as video of a signer.
Just in time for Christmas, here’s James Townshend signing Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Enjoy!
Once again, President Obama and his wife (sometimes dubbed Mobama) have led the way in terms of most-used words of this year. They were only eclipsed by Twitter, and nearly by King of Pop Michael Jackson. I guess it’s unsurprising that other top words of 2009 were H1N1 (or swine flu), and stimulus, but I am a bit sad that vampire came in at number 5. I can only assume that it was related to the popularity of recent films from the Twilight franchise.
Click for the top words of 2009, and, if you’re interested, the top words of the decade (including Global Warming, 9/11, Obama).
I was sent a link to a typing test recently, and because of my competitive nature, decided to try it out. I was pleasantly surprised by the simple test provided by 10-fast-fingers.com, not only because it was easy to use, but it uses simple, common words, and provides tests in 33 different languages, including such disparate languages as Malaysian, Serbian, and Korean, and even dialects like Galician. The results tell you how many words you got correct, and incorrect, in 60 seconds, and you can easily post these to your website or favourite social networking site.
Even if you’re terrible at it the first few times, using this test in the language you’re learning can help with word recognition, as well as give you practice using an unfamiliar keyboard layout (e.g. for Turkish), or entirely different character input systems and scripts (e.g. Mandarin or Arabic).
I can type about 6 characters per minute (correctly) in Chinese. Can you do better?
Learning doesn’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) limited to the classroom, or dedicated ‘learning time’. If you are learning a language, it can be helpful to try to integrate that language into your daily life, whether or not you are speaking it outside the classroom.
If you are learning a non-roman script, try switching your mobile or computer default language to it. Even if you don’t use it that much, having to switch out of it each time might make you ask yourself if you could write what you need to in another language.
Try to write your correspondence with your teacher and language exchange partners in your target language. Even if you can’t think of the word (and don’t have time to look it up), putting a few words in English here and there will be fine. Even writing text messages in your target language will help you, and will probably get you some brownie points (or at least helpful feedback) from your teacher.
For any notes you write to yourself, including to-do lists and calendar entries, try to use your second language. Business or technical notes might be a bit difficult, but ‘go to the bank’ and ‘get a haircut’ are useful phrases to learn. A side benefit is that it will be harder for people to read your reminders! If you find an indecipherable note in the future, it will be a good prompt to revise some vocabulary you’ve forgotten.
Do you have any tips for everyday use of new language?
It may be a last resort to some people, but hand gestures and miming go a long way towards getting your point across. Looking like a bit of a fool for a few seconds may save you a lot of time spent searching for vocabulary. And you may not even look so silly; many people are ‘hand talkers’ and use gestures to go along with everyday speech.
Especially when you’re a beginner, and in a foreign country, gesturing and pointing can be a great help when you don’t know specific vocabulary. I did have a friend who had to mime some unfortunate bodily functions at a hospital once, but hopefully your experience won’t be as traumatic. If you’re lucky, the person you’re trying to communicate with will provide you with the vocabulary you need (“ah…tomato!”) once they finally understand your meaning.
If you need any other impetus to start moving your hands, this study has shown that gestures, languages and symbols are all processed in the same regions of the brain, and it may be a carry-over from before humans had speech. So, waving your arms around could be considered more valid than speaking. Just remember that some gestures aren’t always polite!
One of my favourite things about the English language is the abundance of odd collective nouns, especially for animals. For those who can’t remember back to their school days, collective nouns are those given to a group of things, such as a pride for lions, or a flock for birds. Some of my favourites have always been a murder of crows and a parliament of owls.
I stumbled across a website called All Sorts today, which is collecting user-generated collective nouns via Twitter. It keeps track of all the tweets containing the hashtag #collectivenouns and puts them in handy list form.
Some of the ones that have tickled my fancy have been a sulk of emos, a seemingly empty room of ninjas, and a slack of couch potatoes. There are far too many to look through right now!
I like sites like this because they prove that language is the property of the users. Everything is changeable!
Tweet your own collective nouns, or find a list of the more traditional ones on Wikipedia.
Image: Ivan Walsh from Flickr Creative Commons
I was having a full body massage the other day (yes, lucky me!), and, as it tends to do, my mind started wandering. I thought about things I wanted to blog about, and then I started thinking of the translations for body parts that were being worked on. I couldn’t remember the word for ‘ankle’, but I realised that this was a good way to pass the time in a way that’s still not very stressful on your mind.
So, for any time that you would otherwise be letting your mind wander (at the hairdresser, on the bus, waiting in any kind of queue), try to focus on some learning revision. Some examples of things to do:
- Name as many items, colours, occupations, locations around you as possible.
- Make up sentences about people or situations around you (e.g. ‘That woman is wearing a yellow skirt’).
- Count the seconds as they go by.
- Narrate your actions in your head (e.g. ‘Now I’m walking towards the ATM. Now I’m getting my wallet out of my bag.’).
- Note down any vocabulary you don’t remember or know. Look them up the next chance you can.
Can you think of any other ways you can keep your mind occupied with language practice?
If you’re studying Chinese, are interested in the culture, or just want a new name in a new language, check out the Chinese Name Generator. It takes your name and interests and generates a name based on the sounds of your name.
I put in my details and got 王文寜 (wáng wén níng), with wáng meaning ‘king’, wén to do with language and culture, and níng meaning ‘serenity’. Not bad, and kind of appropriate, especially for this blog! If I hadn’t been given a Chinese name at birth, though, I think I would have called myself 问题 (wèn tí), which sounds kind of like my English name, and is also the noun ‘question’ (but also ‘problem’ and ‘trouble’!).
Of course, it’s always a good idea to check your proposed name with a native speaker. As the site says:
This page is mostly created for entertainment. Real Chinese names should be chosen by someone who knows the nuances of Chinese language and culture. Ask a native speaker if you want a Chinese name you will actually use.
I’m pretty sure that Chinese people would find 问题 a ridiculous name, but I still enjoy the idea! What’s your Chinese name?