One language per day

Last week I decided to try a slightly different language learning strategy. Rather than trying to immerse myself and learning bits of various languages every day, I am focusing on one language each day. This mainly involves listening to online radio and doing online lessons, and also having conversations with people when I can. At the moment I’m continuing to learn Dutch, learning more Portuguese, Italian, and brushing up my Spanish and Japanese, while trying to keep my other languages ticking over.

So yesterday was Portuguese day, today is Spanish day and I’ll probably focus on Italian tomorrow. So far it’s working quite well.

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Dutch, English, Italian, Japanese, Language, Language learning, Portuguese, Spanish 3 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 5 Comments

Smoking Funky Radio

Radio / Rundfunk

The word radio is based on the verb to radiate, which comes from the Latin radius, which means stick rod; beam, ray (of light); shuttle (of loom); rod for drawing figures (in mathematics), radius of circle; long olive (plant); spoke (of wheel).

Radio or radiotelegraphy, the wireless transmission of signals through space by electromagnetic radiation of a frequency below that of visible light, was originally called wireless telegraphy, which was abbreviated to wireless in the UK. The word radio was first used in the sense of wireless transmission in 1897 by Édouard Branly, a French physicist, as part of radioconductor. The first commercial broadcasts in the USA started in the 1920s and radio was the word used for them.

The word radio, or something similar is used in many of the world’s languages, however there are some exceptions: in German, for example, radio is Rundfunk [ˈʀʊntfʊŋk], although in Swiss German Radio is used. Rund means around or round, and Funk means radio or wireless, and funken means to cable; to radio; to send; to transmit (via radio). A related word is Hörfunk [ˈhøːɐ̯fuŋk], which means broadcasting: Hör comes from hören (to hear/listen),

In Mandarin Chinese radio is 收音机 [收音機 - shōuyīnjī] (‘recive sound machine’), in Hmong it’s xov tooj cua, in Icelandic it’s útvarp (‘out throw’ ?) and a radio is viðtæki (‘wide machine/apparatus’ ?).

Are there other languages in which the word for radio is not a variant on radio?

The English word funk, as in the style of music, or the unpleasant smell, comes from the Norman French funquer/funquier (“to smoke, reek”), from the Old Northern French fungier (“to smoke”), from the Vulgar Latin fūmicāre, an alteration of the Latin fūmigāre (“to smoke, fumigate”).

Sources: Wikipedia, Collins Latin Dictionary, Wiktionary, bab.la Dictionary, Icelandic Online Dictionary

English, Etymology, German, Language, Words and phrases Leave a comment

Gender-neutral German

According to an interesting article I found today in The Guardian, moves are afoot in Germany to try to introduce gender-neutral language. The German Justice Ministry has apparently issued an edict which requires state institutions to use gender-neutral language, which is quite challenging, especially when it comes to job titles and words referring to groups of people.

Usually the masculine forms of nouns and articles are used to refer to mixed male and female groups, as is the case in other European languages with noun genders, however the feminine form is now used in some cases even when referring to men. For example, der Professorin is used for male and female lecturers, rather than der Professor (m) or die Professorin (f).

Are similar moves being made in other languages?

English, German, Language 7 Comments

Peelie-wersh & Fankle

Peelie-wersh & Fankle – they could be a crime fighting duo, the name of a shop of some kind, or even the name of a band, but are in fact a couple of Scots expressions I came across recently in one of Alexander McCall-Smith’s books. He sprinkles such words in his novels based in Scotland and often doesn’t explain their meaning, saying that it’s obvious. Maybe to someone more familar with Scots, but not always to me. If you didn’t know, what would you think these words meant?

Peelie-wersh ['pilɪwɛrʃ] means ‘sickly, delicate in constitution, colourless, insipid, nondescript. An example of use: “A peely-wersh young man in braw clothes a wee thing the waur for wear.” from Free Fishers by J. Buchan.

Peelie means ‘thin, emaciated, stunted’, and also appears in the expression, peelie-wally, which means ‘sickly, feeble, pallid, wan, thin and ill-looking; dull, insipid, colourless; a tall, thin, ill-looking person.

Wersh, which is also written wars(c)h(e), wairsche, warish or werch, means sickly, feeble (person); tasteless, insipid (food & drink); dull, uninteresting; lacking vigour, character or passion.

Fankle [faŋkl/faŋl] means to catch in a snare, to trap; to captivate; to tangle, ravel, mix up; to become ravelled or tangled, to catch (on); to move the feet (or hands) uncertainly; to stumble, to fumble. An example of use: “They fankle me try hoo I will, These twa wee bonnie flooers.”

Related words include:

- fankled, fanglet = confused, tangled, uncertain
- fanklin = stumbling, faltering

Sources: Dictionary of the Scots Language and Online Scots Dictionary

English, Language, Scots, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 8 Comments

Mountains and molehills

Making a mountain out of a molehill

I discovered yesterday that the French word for mole is taupe /top/, and I wondered if this might be related to the English word taupe, which, according to the OED, means ‘A brownish shade of grey resembling the colour of moleskin’ or in others words, mole-coloured.

The English word taupe comes from the French, which comes from the Latin talpa (mole), which is of unknown origin, according to Wiktionnary.

Mole-related words and expressions in French include:

- taupinière = molehill
- taupier = mole catcher
- être myope comme une taupe = to be blind as a bat
- noir comme une taupe = pitch-black

The French equivalent of to make a mountain out of a molehill is se faire une montagne d’un rien or faire une montagne d’une taupinière. What is the equivalent of this phrase in other languages?

English, Etymology, French, Language, Words and phrases 6 Comments

‘Academic’ style language teaching

I’ve noticed that when some people write about language learning, particularly those who encourage you to learn languages on your own, they often make disparaging remarks about the ‘academic’ style of teaching found in language classes. Apparently this style of teaching is boring, dry, focused on grammar and learning vocabulary, and/or has too few opportunities to speak the language you’re learning. I suspect these ideas are based on personal experiences which are generalised to include all languages classes.

My own experiences of language classes are quite different, especially the ones I’ve done in Wales and Ireland for Welsh and Irish, where speaking and listening are the main focus. The classes I took in Chinese and Japanese at university were more focused on reading and writing than speaking and listening, however there were some conversation ppportunities. At secondary school my French and German classes included some speaking practise, especially when I was studying for my A Levels.

What are your own experiences? Are you involved in teaching languages, or studying them? What methods and approaches are used?

Education, Language, Language learning 2 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 9 Comments

Breadcrumbs & Scotch Eggs

Scotch Egg / œuf dur enrobé de chair à saucisse et pané

Yesterday I discovered an interesting French word: paner, which means to coat with breadcrumbs or to bread.

So a Scotch Egg, which is a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and deep fried, can be described as a œuf dur enrobé de chair à saucisse et pané in French – it sounds better in French, although it’s not something you’d find in France or other French-speaking regions, as far as I know.

Restaurants in the UK often use French names and descriptions for dishes as they sound better and more sophisticated than their English equivalents. Do restaurants in other countries do this?

Would you rather have toad-in-the-hole or saucisses cuites au four dans de la pâte à crêpes?

Or how about pudding aux raisins instead of spotted dick?

English, French, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments