A voice mapping project by the British Library has collected thousands of voice samples from around the world. Speakers have recorded either six specific words, or Roger Hargreaves’s classic Mr Tickle*. Recordings are tagged with the place that the speaker grew up in, their age, and their gender. The map is based on the location the recording was made in (not the place the speaker comes from).
There are a lot of ways to look at this information, besides general interest and keeping a record of the way English is spoken todya. I read an interesting article about the fact that British accents aren’t being ‘Americanised’ (to be honest, I hadn’t heard that people were worried about the Americanisation of British accents or pronunciation, but apparently some people are). Based on the six words, controversy, garage, neither, scone, schedule, and attitude, investigations have shown that British people are definitely still pronouncing words differently from Americans. It’s interesting to note, though, that there is a tendency for British pronunciations to change, while American pronunciation remains the same.
The project also includes a lot of recordings from non-native speakers of English, which may help linguists to predict the direction of English pronunciation in the future.
The Voice Map project is on for a couple more days if you want to participate (you will need to have or register for an Audioboo account). If you’re interested in my recording, click here. If you want to explore the voice map, click here.
*Click here to learn more about why this book was chosen.
Chinese is one of those languages where just getting a tone wrong can result in something completely different from what you’d intended, although every language has certain words that are very easy to mix up. The worst is when you are absolutely convinced that you are using the correct word, but it turns out that you just asked for something ridiculous.
The other day, I was telling my teacher that it was OK to eat steak rare, as long as it’s fresh (鲜, xian with a high tone). Unfortunately, it sounded like I was saying 咸 (xian with a rising tone, meaning ‘salty’). Obviously, it’s easy to be misunderstood in these situations (and I need to be more careful with my pronunciation).
My teacher then told me a story (I think to make me feel better about my slip up) about a mistake that one of her other students had made. Apparently he was convinced that the word for aubergine (茄子 qié zi) was 孩子 (hái zi, meaning child). So, when he went in to a restaurant and asked for fried child with his rice, the proprietors were so freaked out about a big foreigner asking for something barbaric that they told him they were closed and pushed him out the door. It wasn’t until he wondered why my teacher had been playing with an aubergine (when it was really a child) that he realised his error.
What was your most hilarious (or embarrassing) mix up?
I’ve been talking to a friend lately about his progress with his language lessons. He seems to be doing well, and moving very quickly through textbook after textbook (three in 6 months!). Sometimes he worries about it moving too quickly, but from what I can see, he is making steady progress, and is his language teacher’s best student.
On the other hand, my own lessons have been all over the place in comparison. I had a textbook at one point, but it was hardly ever opened. I began my language lessons at an ability slightly higher than the beginning of the book, but I never really found the right place to start it (and I was studying with a small group who were ahead of me anyway). Since then, I have been studying from a variety of books, DVDs, and other realia, with no real path set out for me. Some of the methods seemed too difficult (e.g. having a discussion on different types of romantic relationships about a month into lessons), and some seem like they aren’t pushing me very hard (e.g. learning from topic-based word lists). I don’t feel like I have any milestones set out in front of me, and maybe the knowledge that I am finishing pre-set ‘lessons’ will help me feel like I am achieving something.
Have you found success with learning from real content rather than textbooks? Is one better than the other at different stages of your learning path? I have my own thoughts about this, but I’d love to hear yours.
In the continuing wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster, many people are turning to Japanese channels as different and possibly more current news sources. For those of us who don’t understand Japanese, this can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily, there are a couple of ways that you can get around the language barrier if you are not conversant in Japanese.
NHK, the public broadcasting channel in Japan, offers NHK World, with TV broadcasts in English and radio broadcasts in 17 languages. NHK News offers bilingual, English-only and English subtitled shows.
Yokoso News offers the brilliant service of live translation of live Japanese NHK News broadcasts. You can watch them as a stand alone stream, or if you have access to NHK, you can listen along with watching the live broadcasts.
However you are getting your news, I hope that your thoughts, like mine, are with the people of Japan.
If you’re anything like me, the big achievements in language learning aren’t when you get good scores on your classroom tests. Sure, getting questions right is encouraging, especially in your most difficult areas (for me, listening), but for me, those aren’t the highlights.
Knowing the correct answer in the classroom is a huge distance away from knowing the correct responses in real life situations. I remember the feeling of satisfaction when I managed a whole conversation solely in a foreign language (yes, you can be extremely proud of yourself for that!). Or when I was half-listening to a PA announcement or TV news piece, and realised that I actually understood what was going on. Being able to help a friend learn new words and phrases, successfully showing people around a foreign city, and getting through bureaucratic red tape have also been very proud moments for me.
What have been your most memorable language-learning milestones?
Ah, you have to love a bit of language-related humour. [sic] humor is a tumblog that allows the author to vent frustration arising from the clearly terrible fiction she has to read at work.
Sure, writers may technically be using language correctly, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t put together some cringe-worthy word combinations. In many cases, though, they aren’t even close to getting the language right.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Awesome use of a colon:
“Hunter was wearing a track suit that featured: pants that could turn into shorts by unzipping the lining of the leg. A half an hour into the trip, he had done just that. He was wearing a cream colored golf shirt, and he wore Deck shoes without any socks.”
Sounds more like a snack:
“James hair was braided corn roll style.”
She understands entertainers:
“One of the sailors made a comment in German she didn’t understand and while his body was shielding her from the rest of the group, he squeezed one of her breast affectingly. A jester she did understand.”
Nobody talks back to him:
“Move out my way, bitch, you are the one who gave birth to this retorted boy.”
Aims for NSFW, but just ends up…puzzling:
“We started to put the pieces of our lovemaking puzzle together. Slowly and carefully placing the final part of our puzzle in place, my body arched as it accepted his part of the puzzle.”
Keep up the good fight, [sic] humor!
It seems that we are having some problems with the blog site, although things should be working normally with the RSS feed. There’s somebody working on the problem right now, and hopefully we’ll be back to you as normal very soon.
In the meantime, there are lots of technical words that have been adopted from their original language, and either used in their original form or in a transliteration (approximation in the second language). Sometimes I listen to whole conversations peppered with English words, and sometimes they are enough for me to actually understand the conversation. I find it interesting to see not only which words are better described in their original language, but which ones the speaker chooses to use rather than words from their own language. I had a coworker who seemed to use English words at random, even though there were perfectly good substitutions in his own language.
What are your favourite borrowed technical words?
We all know that feeling when you are involved in a conversation and the other people start referring to you in the third person. Before you know it, they’re telling each other what they think ‘(s)he’ should be doing with ‘his (her)’ life, or relaying a story about you complete with analysis. I’ve definitely said “I’m standing right here!” more than once in my life.
Last night I was at a restaurant and needed to order a couple of things that I didn’t know the local names for. I incorrectly assumed that the waitress didn’t speak English. She politely stood there and listened while I fumbled my way through the order with my companions, and then she patiently said ‘yes, one Diet Coke’. Embarrassment. Hopefully I made it up to her by telling her I didn’t know how to say it and asking her what the correct words were. She took it all very calmly.
Later on, I was in a taxi having a discussion with my friends. There were a few slightly-scary moments and we naturally discussed how fast we were going (and whether we might be seriously injured on the way to our destination). There was an unspoken assumption that the driver didn’t speak English, and I started to think about that (as I have done before). It was unlikely that the driver knew much, if any, English. He likely didn’t know complex English. He most likely understood when we made exclamations after he did particularly tight turns at speed, or braked really hard (although we kind of wanted him to understand these things).
So, here’s the question: is it rude to talk about and/or around someone with the assumption that they don’t understand you? Does it make it worse if they do understand? Or does it help the situation? I suppose it depends on what the conversation is about.
I have heard some embarrassing stories where people have assumed people around them don’t understand (e.g. a couple of Russian girls having a very private conversation in Montreal, only to realise an old man nearby could understand Russian). Do you have any?