Jacob’s join

Yesterday I discovered a term for a potluck meal (one at which each guest contributes some food or drink) which I hadn’t heard before – Jacob’s join. My mum used it, and told me that it’s commonly used in Lancashire, where she lives. I don’t remember hearing this when I was growing up there, but then we didn’t go to many such meals.

According to World Wide Words, this term is used in and around Lancashire (in the north west of England), however nobody knows where it comes from. It might have some connection to Jacob in the bible.

Other ways to refer to a Jacob’s join apparently include potluck dinner, spread, Jacob’s supper, faith supper, covered dish supper, dish party, bring and share, dutch, pitch-in, bring-a-plate, dish-to-pass, fuddle [source]. I haven’t heard of many of these before. Have you?

Does this tradition exist in your country/area?

If so, what do you call it?

English, Language, Words and phrases 6 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 6 Comments

Social aspects of language learning

In a paper I read recently – The Contemporary Esperanto Speech Community by Adelina Solis – the idea that female language learners tend to prefer going to language classes, as this gives their studies a social aspect, and that male language learners are more likely to learn on their own, is discussed. This was based on a survey of 13 Esperanto learners – not a large sample, and not necessarily representative of language learners as a whole, but it is an interesting observation.

In my own experience I’ve found that language classes often have more female students than male students, and friends I’ve mentioned this to have said the same.

Do you think there is any substance in this?

Do you know of any studies or surveys on this?

Language, Language learning Leave a comment

Polyglot Gathering Berlin 2015

I got back from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin about an hour ago. I took the train all the way from Berlin to Bangor, via Cologne, Brussels, London, Crewe and Chester, leaving Berlin just before 7am this morning, and arriving in Bangor just after 9pm this evening. On the way there I also travelled by train, though I had to stay in Brussels for one night, and continued the next day. It cost slightly more than flying (only about £20 more) and took a bit longer (about 2 hours – more on the way there), but I saw so much more, and went through parts of France and Germany I hadn’t been before, and visited Belgium for the first time. The engineers on German railways started a 5-day strike today, and I was worried that my trains might not be running. Fortunately they did run, and were more or less on time.

The gathering was bigger than last year with about 350 participants from many countries. There were many people there I knew from last year’s gathering, and from the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad, and I met lots of new people. I had conversations in all the languages I know well, and most of the ones I know less well. There was a Breton speaker there, though I didn’t get to talk to him, as well as speakers of Welsh, Irish, Cornish and Scottish Gaelic. Like last year, there were plenty of Esperanto speakers, and I had quite a few conversations in Esperanto, which I brushed up a bit beforehand. There were a number of people who had studied sign languages there, including BSL, ASL, Dutch Sign Language (Nederlandse Gebarentaal / NGT) and Slovak Sign Language (Slovenský posunkový jazyk / SPJ), and the Slovak signer demonstrated how she interprets songs in SPJ, which was fascinating to watch.

The talks and lectures were really interesting, and I went to quite a few introductions to languages, including Northern Sami, Navajo, Arabic, Hebrew, Milanese, Gottlandic, Finnish, Greek and Basque. I don’t intend to learn any of these languages just yet, but it was fascinating to find out more about them. My own presentation, on the History of Writing, was well received, and I got lots of positive comments.

Some of the polyglots at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in May 2015
Some of the polyglots at the Polyglot Gathering – from right to left: Richard Simcott, Alex Rawlings, Christopher Huff, Jimmy Melo, and me – between us we speak at least 20 or 30 languages, to varying degrees.

The evening activities included a polyglot games evening, an international culinary festival – I took some Welsh cakes and bara brith, which were popular – a book fair, a polyglot game show, a concert with the multilingual French singer JoMo, who sang in 25 different languages, and an international cultural evening, at which I sang a Scottish Gaelic waulking song (Ceud soiridh soiridh bhuam) and one of my own songs – A Hen in My Hat (in 5 languages). After the cultural evening there was a little Irish and Scottish music session – I had a couple of tin whistles with me, and a few other people had instruments.

So now I’m back in Bangor and will start to catch up with the work I couldn’t do while away due to time constraints and internet connection issues.

Breton, Chinese, Cornish, Czech, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Language, Language learning, Manx, Portuguese, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Sign language, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Taiwanese, Welsh 3 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 2 Comments

Language Creation Conference

Last weekend I went to the 6th Language Creation Conference in Horsham, near London. Although I haven’t created any languages, yet, I have invented a few alphabets, and I was invited to attend the conference by one of the people involved.

The conference took place over two days, and there were about 50 or 60 people there – about half of the total membership of the Language Creation Society, who organised it. There were talks about conlangs and conworlds that people had invented, and about linguistic aspects of conlangs and conlanging. David J. Peterson, who invented the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones, and other languages and scripts for other TV shows and films, was there and explained how he can make a living from inventing languages and scripts, and how other people might do the same. At the moment he is the world’s only professional conlanger.

The attendees ranged in age from late teens to sixty or seventy something. There were more men than women, and the level of linguistic knowledge and geekiness / nerditude was high, so I fitted in well. Everybody I talked to knew Omniglot and said they visit it regularly and find it very useful – it’s always nice to meet fans :)

Tomorrow my journey to Berlin for the Polyglot Gathering begins. I’ll take a train from Bangor to London, then from London to Brussels, stay in Brussels tomorrow night, and continue to Berlin, via Cologne, the next day. I’m looking forward to it.

Conlangs, English, Language, Travel 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 6 Comments

Five methods for improving your language level towards Mastery

This is a guest post by Benny Lewis, of Fluent in 3 Months. He’s launching a series of beginner guides for Chinese, French, Spanish, German, English and Italian this week, but in today’s post he wanted to write some tips here for those of you working on your more advanced skills!

If you’ve been studying a foreign language for a while, you’ve likely considered testing yourself to determine just how “good” you actually are. Many turn to the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), which provides a reliable standardized system to test and understand language levels.

While I’m usually known for my 3 month language “missions” to go from an absolute beginner to a B1/B2 level, this post is for the steps beyond those early stages. (If you are a beginner language learner then be sure to check out these brand new guides I have just created about getting started in particular languages.)

Drawing from my own experiences sitting the C2 level exams in both Spanish and German, I will share with you 5 methods for building your language level from CEFR’s B2 (“upper intermediate”) to C2 (“mastery”). But even if you aren’t preparing for a specific exam, these techniques will help you level up your language skills, regardless of your end goals.

Taking a Test vs. Developing Communication Skills
Studying for a test and for communication are not the same thing. With a test, your study needs to account for the specific format of the test, whereas day-to-day communication doesn’t require you to perform the same type of tasks. Your methods need to match your end goals with the language and, more importantly, the way you study for a test may not actually improve your ability to communicate in the language.

That probably sounds counterintuitive. After all, shouldn’t studying for a language test improve your communication ability? Essentially, tests have such specific requirements that you may need to step away from focusing on improving your conversation fluency, in favor of alternative methods.

Understanding the C2 Level and Parts of the Exam
The main difference between the B2 and C2 levels is being able to identify subtle differences and distinctions in how ideas are expressed. At C2 level, you’re understanding fine shades of meaning, so that you can express and understand a topic in a variety of ways.

CEFR level exams are broken up in to five parts: oral, writing, grammar, reading and listening, and we’re going to discuss specific methods to help you develop the skills you need for each part of the test.

1. Study Less to Improve Your Oral Skills
The oral part of the exam is where your ability to comfortably flow with the language comes in to play, and it’s difficult to develop a high level of oral skill if you’re always stuck inside a book.

Instead of focusing all of your energy on grammar rules and vocabulary flash cards, get out and meet with native speakers for at least an hour a day, speaking only in the target language. Can’t meet in person? Then find online conversations partners to meet with over Skype.

While I advise this for people who want to reach B1/B2 level too, what needs to change is what you talk about if you are aiming for Mastery. In my C-level conversations, I steer our chats to more advanced topics, like philosophy, politics, and have even had (friendly) debates with my teachers. In some sessions, I may watch a news report and have to give my opinion on it.

Forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone will open up new conversation topics to you. This comes with practice rather than studying. After your spoken session, take all the new words you learned or all the things you wish you could have said and revise that, but the bulk of your oral improvement needs to come from practice.

2. Write About Specific Topics, Over and Over Again
If you can speak confidently and correctly, then transferring that skill to writing is generally pretty easy. The main difference is to remove casual empty-softeners (“like”, “y’know”, “isn’t it?”) and conversational connectors which makes speech seem more natural, but doesn’t work in the written form.

One method I recommend is to practice writing about the themes that are common for the exam and then have them reviewed by a native speaker. Then, try to write (without referring to the original) on the same topic again, using different ways of expressing yourself. You can get free feedback on short texts on lang-8, but I recommend having someone familiar with the exam structure to correct much longer texts and offer more feedback than simple corrections, such as how you could develop your ideas more.

Since one of the main differences between B2 and C2 is your ability to understand subtle distinctions in ways of expression, it’s helpful to practice this skill by writing on similar topics in multiple ways. Be sure to have a native speaker review your different texts and explain how the feeling and nuanced meaning of one is different than the other.

3. Don’t Just Study Grammar, Use It!
To build your skills for the grammar test you will need to take a two-pronged approach.

First, study and learn to recognise grammatical patterns. CEFR examinations require an understanding of technical aspects of the language so you will need to study for the specific exam format. Look at past papers from the exam, and come up with as many possible iterations of of the answers as you can.

Second, enhance your study of technical grammar with regular practise of the rules you are learning. Schedule time with a native to review the grammar patterns you have studied and use them in actual communication.

This practical application of the material will help you build a deeper understanding, because the more you practice the rules, the more familiar they will become.

4. Build a Deep Understanding of Specific Vocabulary
The reading section in a C2 exam requires you to rephrase answers, extrapolate slightly, search through text for certain information and be able to produce vocabulary – not just recognise it. This is not the same as generally summarising a chapter of a book, for example.

To prepare, practice answering questions on texts for sample exams. Don’t just “read a lot”. Then run those answers through a native, and take note of key vocabulary that comes up again and again.

This may sound odd, but in my experience, reading more won’t necessarily improve your reading score on an exam. The focus in these exams is on an active and deep understanding of the language. When you see questions about a text you’re reading, you’ll need to demonstrate that you have a precise understanding of the words on the page, and this is much more about being familiar with specific vocabulary.

5. Create a Focused Environment for Listening and Taking Notes
Given the format for CEFR exams, passive listening will have little effect on improving your score. It is great for giving you a “feel” for the language and to get used to the sounds, but it doesn’t help you with the skills you need to develop at this level — focused listening and taking notes.

There are two things you can do to improve these skills. First, when you are listening to audio in the target language, use 100% of your focus on what you are hearing (not doing anything else at the same time). Try to hear and understand as many details as possible from the audio.

Second, practice taking notes. Start by listening to a 30 second segment of audio and write down as much as you can about what you’ve heard. The goal isn’t to write the text verbatim, but to make sure you can share specific details about the information. You can increase the challenge by extending the time by 15 second increments until you are comfortable taking notes for a 3 to 5 minute audio recording.

Make a Plan That Works For You
When you’re preparing for your next exam (or working to “level up” with your language), make a plan for your study. Don’t just leave it to chance or try to pick up things passively.

Although I’ve provided some methods here, you should still make sure that your study is always geared towards your specific ways of learning. Your “best” method for learning a language is going to be different than mine or someone else’s, so look at study methods more like a scientist experimenting with different theories. Test them out, see how they work for you, and then keep those that have the best results.

Studying for an exam is different than studying for daily use of a language. Plan your study to accommodate the specific requirements of the exam and focus on those methods that will provide your best results.

English, Language, Language learning 6 Comments

Blue eyes and black butter

I discovered today that the French equivalent of a black eye is un œil au beurre noir (a black butter eye). It is also known as un œil poché au beurre noir (an eye poached in black butter) or un cocard (a rosette or lesion).

According to L’Internaute.com, the expressions containing beurre noir date from the 19th century, and the butter in question was butter used when poaching eggs which coloured the egg white. The egg yolk was compared to the eye, and the darkened white to the discolouring of a black eye.

In German the equivalent is ein blaues Auge (a blue eye), and in Spanish it’s un ojo morado (a purple/bruised eye).

Are there other ways to refer to this in other languages?

By the way, I don’t remember way the conversation came round to black eyes last night, but none of us have them.

English, French, German, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Closing out

In the Czech lessons I’ve been working my way through I’ve noticed that the Czech host says (in English) at the end of each lesson “To close out this lesson, we would like to practise what you have just learnt.”. I would say finish rather than close out, and thought close out was a non-native usage. However recently I heard American friends using the same expression, so it seems that it is used in American English.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to close out is defined as:

– exclude; preclude

So it does exist as an expression, but the meaning doesn’t quite fit with finishing a lesson.

Do you use or have you heard this expression?

Czech, English, Language, Words and phrases 8 Comments
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