Archive for the Category: English

Polyglot Pathways

If you’re a polyglot who learns languages for fun, you might choose languages from a particular family or region, or languages that have contributed to your mother tongue. Or you might choose ones that are completely unrelated to one another in order to challenge yourself. These are possible pathways a polyglot might pursue. Another possible […]

Also posted in Language, Language learning 3 Comments

French and potatoes

I came across an interesting phrase in Scottish Gaelic today: Ith do bhuntàta beag mus dig na Frangaich!, which means “eat your small potatoes before the French come!” and it is apparently said to children picking at their food to encourage them to eat up [source]. Are there similar phrases in other languages, perhaps used […]

Also posted in Idioms, Language, Scottish Gaelic, Words and phrases 8 Comments

Word of the Year

According to the Oxford Dictionaries the word of the year for 2015 is not a word at all but an emoji, specifically the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’: Do you use emoji(s)? Is the plural emoji or emojis? Do you think of them as words? What’s your word of the year?

Also posted in Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

La vie de baguette

The best-known type of French bread is the baguette, which was possibly introduced to France in the early 19th century by August Zang from Austria, though that’s another story. Baguettes only stay fresh for a day, so what do you do with them once they start to go hard? Here are a few possibilities: Here’s […]

Also posted in French, Language 9 Comments

Free Language Podcast

Yesterday I did an interview over Skype with Chapman Woodriff, who runs, which provides a variety of language-learning material and advice. Chapman made the interview into a podcast in which I explain how I got into languages, how I started Omniglot and how people can use Omniglot to learn languages.

Also posted in Language, Language learning 1 Comment

Mandarin or Putonghua?

Today I received an email in which the writer tells me that Chinese should be called Putonghua and not Mandarin. Apparently, “People don’t know, and school teachers don’t care! obviously; leaving me to inform: The name ‘Mandarin’ has been obsolete 105 years now.” The name Mandarin was used for a ‘Manchurian high official’ who spoke […]

Also posted in Chinese, Language 10 Comments

Multilingual musicians

A Sardinian friend of mine, Elena Piras, knows six languages (Sardinian, Italian, English, Scottish Gaelic, French and Spanish) and sings in most of them, plus a few others, including Scots, Bulgarian and Georgian. Here’s a recording of a performance from earlier this year in which she sings in Sardinian, Scots, English, Scottish Gaelic and Bulgarian. […]

Also posted in Bulgarian, French, Georgian, Italian, Language, Music, Pronunciation, Sardinian, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Songs, Spanish 2 Comments

Squibs and squabs

When an event is not very successful, you could say that it went off like a damp squib, or even a damp squid, as a friend mistakenly said last night. A squib is obviously something that does not work properly when it’s wet, and I had an idea that it was some kind of explosive. […]

Also posted in Etymology, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

eesti keel

Last night I had an interesting chat with an Estonian student who is studying in Bangor about Estonia and the Estonian language. I knew a little about the language already, but realised that I didn’t know any words or phrases in Estonian, apart from its native name – eesti keel – and I wasn’t even […]

Also posted in Estonian, Language 1 Comment


The other day I listened to a programme on BBC Radio 4 with an unusual title – Wysinnwyg. When I first saw the title of immediately thought it was a Welsh word, although not one I’d come across before, and I tried to work out what it might mean. I couldn’t find it in any […]

Also posted in Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 4 Comments
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