China isn’t well known for its free speech policies, but occasionally there are big enough issues that the people have to say something. The most recent uproar in southern China was over language. Over a thousand outraged protesters came together to oppose a local politician’s push to ban the Cantonese language on a major television network in favour of broadcasting solely in the national language Mandarin.
Cantonese is widely spoken as a first language in Hong Kong, Guangdong province, and in many expat Chinese communities around the world. Hong Kong’s considerable film and pop music industries are also predominantly in Cantonese.
There have been more than a few controversial incidents where governing bodies have tried to suppress regional dialects within China and surrounding areas, and this is no exception. News of the protest rally was suppressed on Chinese news networks. Hopefully this anti-Cantonese proposal will remain just a proposal.
Full article: New York Times.
For the most part, the kind of foreign language you learn is practical or theoretical. The kind of things you’ll need to know to get around a foreign city, write a meeting agenda, or buy fruit at the market. Getting into complex literature usually takes a pretty high language level, but what about kids’ books? Surely they’d be much simpler?
High school student Charlie Anderson has written a great piece about reading her first piece of children’s literature entirely in French. She discusses the very valid point that even when written for kids, literature has a totally different style and language from conversation and formal language. Even if you know all of the individual words, sometimes the phrasing is confusing, or you may not have any idea what’s going on.
If you are finding yourself stagnating in your learning, or want an extra challenge, pick up a storybook in your target language and see how well you do. It’s not as easy as it may seem!
Full article: Reading in a foreign language no ‘petit’ task.
One thing I’ve always found a bit awkward with friends who are learning English is the part where they ask me to correct their English whenever they make a mistake. I always feel a bit weird about this, not least because I notice pretty much every mistake anybody makes (especially me). I have no problem at all answering direct questions, or checking particular pieces of work, but if someone asks me to correct them while they’re speaking, I feel quite uncomfortable.
I’ve come up against this problem from the other side as well, where I both want and don’t want people to directly correct my speaking. I want to improve, of course, but I also think it interferes with the flow of communication and can change the dynamic in a friendship or working relationship (and if we’re going to be totally honest, I don’t really like being corrected).
For these reasons, I’ve been loathe to ask friends and co-workers to help me with my language studies, either as tutors or language exchange partners. I prefer to keep my teacher as a separate role from my friends. I don’t know if it’s just me not wanting to look like an idiot in front of people I know (and am not paying for the privilege), or if I have a valid point. I think a good way to do it is to wait for a while to notice the regular (and larger) errors, and then mention them, but I wonder how receptive I would be if someone did that to me. Then again, I wonder how annoyed I would be to independently find out that people hadn’t been correcting huge mistakes in my speaking.
Do you have any particularly positive or negative experiences of getting people besides a teacher to correct your spoken (or written) language?
(Or, Angelina Jolie does it too.)
I don’t usually keep up with tabloids, but I noticed a story about Angelina Jolie’s love for the Russian language, and had to see what was going on. She’s had to learn the language for upcoming film Salt, and says that while she struggled with getting the difficult pronunciation right, she loves the sound of the language, as well as loving to speak it. ”I find it a very interesting sound because it can be so hard and strong and also very sensual and very beautiful,” she said.
While some commenters bring up the sort-of-justified point that she’s only learning lines, not how to actually converse, she did have to do some work to get her pronunciation right. She mentioned constant practice and work with a vocal coach who would record the lines for her to listen to at home (a method I am a big fan of). Even if you don’t completely understand what you’re saying, listening and pronunciation drills will help your fluency immensely. So, while she may not actually speak Russian, she is able to speak in Russian. Good for her. I haven’t even tried to decipher the alphabet yet!
Source: Us Magazine.
As I’ve said many times before, one of the best ways to get exposure to a foreign language is by listening to it, a lot. An even better way is to make sure that the material is relevant to you, something you’re interested in, or something you’ve written yourself. Not everybody is lucky enough to have a native speaking friend or teacher to record audio for them, though, and that’s where RhinoSpike comes in.
The website provides a free platform for users to both request audio in the language they’re learning, and provide recordings for other language learners. It’s as simple as pasting in the text that you want read aloud, choosing the language you want it in, and waiting for someone to respond. You can customise your profile to include the language/s you’re learning and your native language, as well as add images and make friends. Their interface makes it easy to see both your audio requests and the recordings you’ve done for others, and provides RSS feeds for both audio requests and recordings in whatever languages you choose. Once your recording requests have been answered, you can download the mp3s, add your text to the lyrics or transcript, and listen to them whenever you want to.
The website strongly encourages people to only record requests for their native language, and even lets you define your accent so other people know what to expect from your recording. There don’t seem to be a lot of users on the site yet, but they do cover a lot of languages, and it seems like most requests get responded to pretty quickly. I’ve even done a few myself, but maybe I just like the sound of my own voice.
Give it a try and see what you think. You can request anything from diary entries to articles, poems to songs. Someone even requested a recording of the prime numbers from 0 to 2100. Random.
Link via Language Museum.
There are many words in other languages that don’t translate directly into English, or succinctly describe a thing or situation which would take far more words to say if I tried to do it. A new website is collecting these ‘untranslatable’ words and presenting them to the world daily. Better Than English is taking user submissions (and I guess a few submissions by the admin/s) and discussing words from all over the world. Here are some of my favourites:
Zechpreller - a German word to describe someone who leaves a restaurant or a bar without paying the bill.
Utepils – a Norwegian word to describe sitting outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer.
Tocayo - a Spanish word meaning a person who has the same name as you (I met someone who has the same first and last names as me, so she is now my tocayo instead of just being ‘the other Wendy Wong’).
If you have any favourites of your own, feel free to submit them in the comments, or directly to Better Than English.
Link via Dave at Language Trainers.
I was just listening to a 60 Minutes podcast and there was a really interesting story about a woman who has been studying the same group of African elephants for almost two decades. American scientist Andrea Turkalo has been studying their behaviour, and focusing particularly on the way they communicate. She can now identify not only what different sounds mean (including greetings, sadness, anger, and all clear), but can even tell the animals apart by their voices. Turkalo’s long years of research are leading towards a greater understanding of elephant behaviour and social interactions, and even towards a dictionary of sorts, so other people can also understand the communication between the animals.
One of the big steps that lead to a lot more understanding was realising that a lot of the noises that elephants make are actually subsonic – so low that humans can’t hear them. These low frequencies are used to communicate and locate other elephants to a range of over 2km. When researchers realised that these sounds existed, they began speeding up their recordings so the sounds became audible, and also examined wave forms on screen.
The range of different ‘expressions’ that elephants use is huge, and the research is fascinating.
For more information, read the transcript, or listen to the podcast (episode released 04 July, ‘The Secret Language of Elephants’ starts around 14:00).
I just read a great story about a deaf couple who are raising their hearing son to communicate in both English and American Sign Language (ASL). Both parents have very limited hearing, but their 1-year-old son is just starting to speak English. They can’t hear when he talks to them, and they communicate mostly with hand signals and touch, although as he gets older they will spend more time speaking and signing at the same time.
Usually a child will grow up speaking the same language as its parents, so it’s interesting to see what happens when there is another element introduced, where the child is raised to speak a language that his or her parents do not speak as fluently or easily. The parents have admitted that it will be a challenge, but they will have lots of outside help.
Full story: York Daily Record.