There are many different ways to get over your fear of speaking a new language, but one of the most immediate, motivating, and gratifying ways is to be forced to speak it on behalf of someone else. If you are responsible for speaking for someone who has little or no knowledge of the language you’re speaking (or the place you’re navigating), you will have no choice but to use all those words you’ve been studying but may not have had a chance to use yet.
When I first moved to China, I mostly went out with people who had a much better grasp of the language than I did. I didn’t motivate myself to speak Chinese when they could much more easily speak it for me. When I started to host visitors, the tables turned on me and I was the one who would have to stumble (and eventually make my way) through Chinese conversations. Because guests often have different needs or want to do different activities from locals, I was taken out of my usual range of conversation and had to really put my knowledge to use. Sure, it was a bit difficult and embarrassing at times, but I’ve found that a hundred percent of the time, my guest is impressed with my skills, and I also realised I knew a lot more than I thought I did.
I have recently had to deal with some new situations on behalf of other people (ordering a taxi, cancelling a delivery), but almost completely failed at ordering myself dinner when the delivery menu had been changed unexpectedly. Oh well, something to work on next time.
Have you found that being forced to use your knowledge for someone else has given you more confidence while speaking?
In the wake of Tuesday’s earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, I’ve been thinking about the use of strong and emotional words to describe events. Recently there have been a lot of awful things happening around the world (floods, cyclones, protests, unnecessary bloodshed), and they can all claim valid use of words like destruction, devastation, and disaster. The problem is, I feel like these descriptions don’t have the same effect on me as they should. Of course, sitting at my computer at work, I don’t want to really empathise with survivors of disasters, for fear of crying in public, but I think that we have a lack of really extreme words these days.
Think about how often you hear words like terrifying, starving, incredible, unbelievable. Are they usually used in appropriate contexts? Can you really not believe how well your favourite band played their last concert? Is your friend literally starving because he hasn’t eaten all day? The word awesome has been so overused that it barely has any association with awe at all (I do use this word quite a lot, don’t get me wrong). We also have euphemisms like friendly fire which purposefully remove the connection to real (and sad) meanings.
A lot of people will say that that’s just how language is. Meanings and connotations change over time, and it’s not uncommon. I understand this, but as extreme words become more mainstream, how can we accurately describe something that is truly out of the ordinary? Do we need new words? Are there some that we can dredge up out of historical language to give them new purpose? I don’t want to sound like a robot, but I would like to be able to better feel the real impact of words.
If you would like to help out the people of Christchurch, there is a good summary of ways to donate money and time on the NZ Herald site.
One of the recent trends in China is for people to watch video lecture series from high profile universities in the USA. Students and regular workers alike have started learning through these free open courses, and are benefiting greatly from them. The first series I looked at, The Psychology, Biology, and Politics of Food, from Yale University, has already been viewed over 50,000 times on Sohu.
Video learners are using the opportunity to receive free instruction from overseas, and are getting support through online study groups based in China. Many people are getting up earlier or using their lunch breaks and commutes to watch videos online or in downloaded formats.
The videos are being translated and subtitled by groups of volunteers, and are available in English with both English and Chinese subtitles. The huge task of translating, proofing, and adding the subtitles for just one lecture will typically take a group of over 10 people around 70 hours to complete. The benefits to thousands of Chinese learners are huge, though.
One of the things I like best is that Chinese students are getting genuine English to learn from, as well as the contents of the lectures. Sure, people don’t speak like lecturers in real life, but having exposure to this content will help with learning English and learning in English. The fact that the subtitles are bilingual means that people can pause and go over sentences in detail.
Now I just need to find some foreign language lectures that are subtitled in English. Any recommendations?
Full article: Shanghai Daily
Sometimes (or most times) it’s daunting to speak a new language to its native speakers. You might be worried that they won’t understand you or you’ll be laughed at. I hate to tell you that these things will probably happen, but if you get laughter, it probably won’t be malicious.
In cultures where there is a definite idea of foreigners (e.g. some places in Asia or the middle east), your potential audience may be just as freaked out as you are. From the moment you start approaching, they need to think about possibly having to speak a language they don’t know at all, and that situation is worse than yours. Obviously this is not the only reaction, but I’ve come across it often enough. I’ve seen Chinese people say no or that they don’t understand before the foreigner can even say anything.
You could always run away and find someone else to talk to in these instances, but the best idea is to at least try. Worst scenario is that you will have to resort to miming and drawing pictures, but in the best cases, you will succeed and the other person will realise that maybe you’re not so scary after all.
I generally speak pretty good English. (As far as I know,) I make few mistakes, and those that I do make, I am aware of. It doesn’t really excuse me, but I know when I say The Ukraine, it should just be Ukraine (although they used to use the article, so…partial credit?). Then there’s the none is versus none are argument, but I stand firm that none are is OK.
So imagine my delight when I came across a comprehensive list of common errors in English Usage by Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University. It has an easily navigable list, with each link leading to a simple explanation of what is correct and what should be steered clear of (no in depth grammar lectures here). Of course, it is not an exhaustive list, but I guess that depends on your definition of common. The list covers some of my pet peeves (e.g. could of, would of, should of; accept/except; affect/effect), as well as some that I didn’t even know were issues, like pre-Madonna instead of prima donna. Did you know that the original phrase is “you’ve got another think coming”, not “you’ve got another thing coming”?
So, if you want to have a bit of a laugh at the people who make some ridiculous mistakes, or just check you’re not about to make one yourself, check out the list. Did anything surprise you?
Edit: After checking, it appears there is no entry for the often misspelled Valentimes Day. Happy St Valentine’s Day! Have some good Valen-Times!
This isn’t foreign language related, but might be of interest to people who like typography. Wordmark will show you your chosen text in every font installed on your computer, in one webpage. You can then change the size, choose white on black or the opposite, and select your favourites and filter them out to compare them next to each other.
For those people, like me, who have changed a font over and over again in a word processor before deciding which one is best, this is brilliant. You can put in a long or short string of text, but the shorter the text is, the more fonts you will be able to compare on one screen.
If you are a designer of any kind, or just want a fancy heading for a document, this tool will save you time and make sure you get the look you want.
In the ongoing debate between language prescriptionists and descriptionists, I generally sit somewhere in the middle (but a little to the side of the people who believe there is a right and a wrong way to say something). With English as fluid as it is, there’s no real point in telling people that they’re doing something wrong, and besides, the fact that the language grows and changes so fast is one of the best things about it.
However, I recently read a blog post on Wordnik that made me stop and think. In updates of dictionaries, definitions of words are sometimes edited for length, modified, or added to (reflecting the changing use of language, of course). However, what happens when an integral part of the definition is removed altogether?
In the latest update of the OED, the definition for orthoepy was changed slightly, from “correct, accepted, or customary pronunciation” to “accepted or customary pronunciation” (draft edition September 2010). It may not seem a big change, but I feel that the missing word ‘correct’ is crucial. How are we supposed to have a standard if we only know what is commonly used? I know that in many cases the popularly-believed concept becomes somewhat acceptable, but where do we draw the line? How will I prove I’m right when I’m having an argument with someone who pronounces ‘pronunciation’ ‘pronounciation’?