Language quiz

Language quiz image

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

Sorry, we’re out of smiles

A french comic about smiles

– A baguette please.
– With this?
– ?
– With a plant please
– With this?
– With a surfboard please
– With this?
– With a smile please
– Sorry. I don’t have any more of them.

The phrase avec ceci ? literally means “with this?”, but I suspect in this context it might mean something like “(would you like) anything else?”. Is that right?

This comic / cartoon was brought to you by Frantastique, who are offering French lessons with an exclusive 20% reduction to all Omniglots readers.

Click here to access the exclusive offer on Omniglot!

English, French, Language 1 Comment

That’s enough!

The Russian word всё (vsjo) [fsʲo] is a useful one that can mean various things depending on the context: everything, still, always, all the time, nevertheless.

Here are some examples:

– Вот и всё; Это всё = that’s all
– Мне всё равно = it’s all the same to me
– Я всё равно пойду туда = I’ll go there all the same
– Всё? Да, это всё = Have you got everything? Yes, that’s everything
– Всё хорошо = Everything’s fine
– всё же = all the same
– всё ещё = still
– Мне всё мало = I just can’t get enough
– а всё-таки = all the same, nevertheless

One handy tip I got from the Russian Made Easy podcasts is that when learning a new word that has a variety of meanings, like всё, it’s hard to grasp all it’s nuances straight away. Instead your understanding of what a word means and how it’s used builds up over time the more you hear it, see it and use it.

Sources: Reverso, Russian Made Easy, The Oxford Russian Dictionary

English, Language, Russian, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Ditties, dictation and digits

A ditty is a short, simple song, like the ones I write. It comes from the Old French dite (composition), from the Latin dictatum (something dictated), from dictare (to dictate), a frequentative of dicere (to say, speak), which is related to dicare (to proclaim, dedicate), from the Proto-Indo-European root *deik- (to point out).

Some English words that come from the same root include dictate, diction, and digit, which came to be related to numbers as a result of counting on fingers. Other words that developed from this root include the Latin digitus (finger), the German zeigen, the Greek δίκη [díkê] (custom, right, judgement), and quite a few more.

The word teach also comes from the *deik-, via the Old English tæcan (to show, point out, declare, demonstrate; to give instruction, train, assign, direct; warn; persuade), from the Proto-Germanic *taikijan (to show).

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries and the Indo-European Lexicon.

English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Words and phrases 2 Comments

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

Language, Quiz questions 3 Comments

Large vocabulary? Do you know how to use it?

A lot of language learning approaches I’ve read and heard about focus on learning as much vocabulary as possible, and not worrying too much about grammar, at least at first. For example you might focus on learning the most commonly-used phrases and words, and on using them at every opportunity. Later on you might learn a bit of grammar.

In the Russian lesson I listened to today, the tip of the day is to focus on learning a relatively small amount of vocabulary and learning how to use it in a variety of contexts, rather than learning a lot of vocabulary, and then not being able to use it very well. Once you can use the words you know grammatically, it’s not so difficult to add more vocabulary.

In another lesson in this course the presenter suggests that learning grammar from books and tables isn’t very effective, and that it’s best to learn it from lots of examples and exercises which focus on real colloquial language.

I’m finding the course very useful and like this approach. It introduces various aspects of Russian grammar gradually and gives you plenty of opportunities to practise using them.

What are your thoughts on this?

English, Language, Language learning, Russian, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Stuckies, pleeps and doos

I came across some interesting Scots words in a TED talk today which I hadn’t heard before – stuckies, pleeps and doos.

What do you think they mean?

Clue: they’re types of bird.

In the talk the presenter, a native speaker of Scots, explains how he was told from his first day at school that many of the words he was using were wrong, and that it was the same story for many other children. They have to learn ‘proper’ English words. He talks about how Scots has been marginalised and replaced by a version of English spoken with a Scottish accent known as Attic or Scottish English. He explains how words in Scots have much richer associations in his brain than their English equivalents.

Here’s the talk:

How much can you understand?

A stuckie is a starling, a pleep is an oyster catcher, and a doo is a dove.

English, Language, Scots, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Language quiz

Language quiz image

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

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

Language, Quiz questions 4 Comments

Teaching school

In novels and articles written by Americans I’ve come across the construction to teach school, as in “I teach school” or “He teaches school”, which sounds strange and wrong to my British ears. In the UK we would say something like “I teach in a school” or just “I’m a teacher” or “I work as a teacher”. We might also say “I teach chemistry/French/quantum ironing”, but not “I teach school”.

Is this expression used only in the USA?

Is it used with other educational establishments, e.g. “I teach college” or “I teach university”?

When used in this context what do you understand by the word school?

In the UK school usually refers to a primary or secondary school, though universities do have schools within them, e.g. a School of Modern Languages, and some institutes of higher education are called schools, e.g. the London School of Economics.

English, Language 10 Comments

A Guide to Paisa Spanish

This is guest post written by Connor Grooms, who learned Spanish to a B1 conversational level in a month and made the film, “Spanish in a Month: A Documentary About Language Learning” about it.

A few months ago, I learned Spanish to a B1 conversational level in a month while living in Medellín, Colombia. If you want to see the whole story and see how to learn Spanish fast, like I did, watch the documentary here.

But all Spanish is not the same, and I learned a specific breed – “paisa” Spanish. Paisa refers to people from Antioquia, the region where Medellín is.

So, below I will explain how some things are said differently here. These are trends I’ve noticed, and by no means is the definite “how things are” – which doesn’t really exist.

The Basics
You will almost never hear “de nada” or “adios” – instead, your welcome is “con gusto” or “con mucho gusto“, or literally, with pleasure. This is also how you say nice to meet you. “Adios” is only really used for long periods of time – at least a few weeks. Instead, people use “ciao“, mostly, or “hasta luego“.

The phrase “es que” is used a lot – literally meaning “it’s that…”, it starts most explanations.

It’s common to exchange several greetings before ever saying anything of real meaning. “Como estas” is still extremely common, but the “paisa” way is “bien o no”, or, “bien o que”, which literally means “good or not?”, “good or what?”.

Between friends, another common greeting is “¿que mas?“, which means “what more” – and outside of a greeting, it still means that – but as a greeting, it means “what’s up?”. “¿Que tal?“, which is used elsewhere as well, is also used.

If you bump into someone, need to excuse yourself in a crowd, make an error, or otherwise do something that would render an “sorry, excuse me” or a “oh! sorry”, use “que pena“, which literally means “what shame”. If something makes you embarrased, you’d use “me da pena“.

If you come to Medellín and want to sound local, drop the “si“, and use one of three main affirmatives:

Claro = of course. This is used a LOT.
Cierto = right/yes
Eso = literally means “that”, but it’s used as a general affirmative, in a wide variety of situations.

Common filler words
Anyone who has done some research on Paisa Spanish has probably heard of the heavy use of the word “pues“.

Pues” literally means, “well”, and it’s still used as such, but it’s also used as a filler. You could add it to almost any part of any sentence and it would make sense – it’s almost meaningless. It’s like an “uhhhm”.

O que” is another common one – it’s added to the end of lots of sentences to form a question. This is almost as common as pues.

Paisas are also fond of throwing a “que” in front of adjectives to express a feeling. So instead of “chevere” (cool), they will say “que chevere” (how cool/ a stronger “cool”). This is part of the culture of everything being great, and the common exaggeration of everything, good or bad. Speaking in a bland “it was kinda cool”, has the potential to leave Paisas bored.

Local slang
Something (generally) uneducated young women will do is transform many words to end in “is“. For example, instead of “hola“, they will say, “holis“, and instead of “raro“, they will say “raris“. It’s very improper and actually quite annoying to hear, but if you hear it, that’s whats going on.

Amigo” is rarely used between friends. Instead, people use “parce / parcero“, which basically means “dude/mate/bro” (use this and you’re instantly better friends with any guy, trust me). If you’re good friends, you’ll even use “guevon“, which is offensive if you don’t know someone. Worse than guevon, there is “marica“, which basically means fag, which is definitely offensive if you don’t know someone, but is sort of teasing if you’re good friends.

There are few ways to say “awesome” – the most common would be “bacano“. If something is REALLY awesome, you use “brutal“, which is the equivalent of “sick” in American English.

This should get you sounding paisa when you come to the amazing city of Medellín. Click here to see the documentary I made while learning Spanish in a month here.

English, Language, Language learning, Spanish 1 Comment
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