Best Countries for Language Learning

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According to research carried out by Preply, the countries with the best language learning environments are Luxembourg, Sweden, Cyprus, Malta, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia, Spain and Estonia.

Their Worldwide Language Index was compiled from analyzing data from 30 European countries, plus the USA, on such factors as the number of official languages, the degree of multilingualism, language learning in schools, the level of competence in foreign languages, access to language learning technology, and whether TV and films are subtitled or dubbed.

Overall, Luxembourg scored hightest, so if you grew up in Luxembourg, you are more likely to be successful in learning several languages. Are there any Luxembourgers reading this? Would you agree with this?

Luxembourg has three official languages: Luxembourgish, German and French, and education is in all three languages. English is also taught in schools, and students can choose to learn Italian, Spanish, Portuguese or Chinese. In addition, some classes are taught in Portuguese or English for the children of immigrants [source].

In terms of individual factors, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Austria, Hungary, France, Latvia, Poland, Italy, Sweden and Croatia all score highly for language learning in school. The countries with the highest level of command of the best known foreign languages include Luxembourg, Sweden and Malta.

The UK only scores highly in the Subtitles, Dubbing and Voiceover category, and the USA scores highly in language diversity.

What this study didn’t look at, as far as I can tell, is whether these countries are also good places to learn languages if you’re from elsewhere. It would be interesting to see how well each country teaches their local language(s) to immigrants or visitors interested in learning them.

Note: this post is sponsored by Preply, an online learning platform, connecting a global network of tens of thousands of active learners and 15,000 verified tutors to study and teach over 50 languages.

Jammy Beef

The French expression faire un bœuf (“doing a beef/ox”) means to jam or have a jam session. A jam (session) can happen at any time when musicians get together and jam, or play and/or sing in an informal or improvised way.

Why do they say faire un bœuf though? What does improvising music have to do with oxen or beef?

Well, it comes from Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof), a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar founded in 1921 by Louis Moysés. In the 1920s and 30s especially, it was popular with musicians and singers, and improvised jam sessions often broke out there. Such activities have been known as bœufs ever since. The bar still exists, but is now a fancy restaurant and apparently no longer has the glamour, social cachet and bohemian atmosphere that it once had [source].

It is not known why we call such activities jam sessions in English. Apparently jam was first used in this way in the 1920s among jazz musicians. Possibly because it involves muscians getting together in one place, e.g. jamming themselves into a room. Or jam might refer to something sweet or a nice treat, which was one meaning of the word that emerged in the 19th century [source].

I’ve played instruments and/or sung in jam sessions in pubs, boats, trains, churches, vineyards, gardens, community centres, castles, fields, airports, mountains and other places. There are always great fun and I miss them.

Here’s a video from a folk music session that used to happen in Tafarn Y Glob, a pub in Bangor, and will start again one of these days, hopefully:

The Welsh session in the Glôb

Are there interesting ways to refer to jam sessions in other languages?

Timely Tempests

If you are in the eye of the storm you are in the center or most intense part of a tumultuous situation, or literally in the calm region at the centre of a storm, hurricane, cyclone or typhoon [source].

Super Typhoon Trami | Supertaifun Trami

In French equivalents of the eye of the storm include l’oeil du cyclone (the eye of the cyclone), l’œil de la tempête (the eye of the storm) and le cœur de la tempête (the heart of the storm) [source].

The French word tempête (storm, tempest), and the English word tempest both come from the Old French tempeste (storm, tempest), from the Latin tempesta (storm, tempest), from tempestās (storm, tempest, weather, season) from tempus (time, weather), from the Proto-Indo-European *tempos (stretch) [source].

The French word temps (time, weather), comes from the same root, as does the Spanish word tiempo (time, weather), Italian word tempo (time, weather) and related words in other languages.

The expression a tempest in a teapot, meaning ‘a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion’, dates from 1818, and is apparently the American English equivalent of the British English storm in a teacup. Before then the equivalent was a storm in a creambowl, which dates from the 1670s [source]. Other versions of this phrase include a tempest/storm in a glass of water and a storm in a wash-hand basin [source].

In French you could talk about une tempête dans un verre d’eau (a storm in a glass of water)

Spanish Cows

comme une vache espagnole

In French if you don’t speak a langauge very well, you are said to speak it “like a Spanish cow”, or “comme une vache espagnole” [source]. For example:

  • Il parle anglais comme une vache espagnole
    He speaks English like a Spanish cow
  • Elle parle français comme une vache espagnole
    She speaks French like a Spanish cow

This expression was first used in writing in the 17th century, and possibly referred to vasces, that is Gascons or Basques, rather than vaches, or cows. At the time, Basque people from Spain probably didn’t speak French very well. Or it might come from basse (servant, maid), or from the use of comme une vache as an insult. Also, calling people and things espagnole (Spanish) was also an insult at the time [source].

In English you might say that someone speaks broken English or bad English, or that they butcher or murder English. Although, as the American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. says “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language” [source].

You could make up other ways to say you speak a language badly:

  • I speak Russian like a Pavlovian pig
  • I speak Czech like a Bohemian badger
  • I speak Romanian like a Ruritanian rabbit

Are there idioms in other languages to refer to people speaking them badly, or indeed well?

Here’s an audio version of this post.

In the Same Boat

All in the same boat

Over the past year, and before, we’ve often been told that we’re all “in the same boat”, at least in the UK. The intention is to suggest that we are all in a similar situation or predicament, and the expression is often used by those in positions of power, wealth and privilege.

The idea of being in the same boat meaning ‘having the same fate’ first appeared in writing in 1584 in Thomas Hudson’s translation of Du Bartas’ Historie of Judith:

haue ye paine ? so likewise paine haue we :
For in one bote we both imbarked be.
Vpon one tide, one tempest doeth vs tosse,
Your common ill, it is our common losse.

It appeared more or less in the current form in writing by Thomas Taylor, a British cleryman in 1629. He said:

He is in the same boate which is tossed and threatned with the tempest, and is someway interessed in the common cause, and quarrell.

Source: phrases.org.uk

Equivalents of this phrase in French include:

  • être logés à la même enseigne = to be lodged at the same sign
  • être dans le même bateau = to be in the same boat
  • être dans la même galère = to be in the same galley
  • être dans la même barque = to be in the same rowing boat
  • être dans le même pétrin = to be in the same kneading trough
  • être dans le même bain = to be in the same bath

Source: Reverso.net

Which of these, if any, is most commonly used?

In other languages, such as Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese, you can talk about being in the same boat. Are there any languages in which this idea is referred to without mentioning boats?

Scribacious Library Mice

An interesting word I learnt the other day while listening to the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast was scribacious, which means “prone to excessive writing” [source], “having the tendency to write a lot or too much“ [source], or “addicted to writing, fond of writing” [source].

Scribacious comes from scribe (someone who writes), from the Middle English scribe, from the Old French scribe (scribe), from the Late Latin scriba (secretary), from scribere (to write, draw (up), draft, scratch).

Are there any other words that mean “fond of writing”?

Some related words include:

  • scribaciousnesss = the quality or state of being scribacious
  • scribal = relating to scribes and their work
  • scribely = of, relating to, or characteristic of a scribe; scribal
  • scribable = capable of being written upon
  • scribbleomania = obsession with scribbling
  • scripturient = having a violent desire to write

Bookworm / Library mouse

One who is fond of reading might be called bookish, a bookworm or a bibliophile. Do you know any other words for this?

In Dutch a bookworm is a boekenwurm [source], and similarly in German a bookworm is a Bücherwurm [source].

In Spanish a bookworm is a ratón de biblioteca (a library mouse), a ratón de archivo (an archive mouse), a gusano de libro (a bookworm) [source].

In French a bookworm is a rat de bibliothèque (a library rat) or a dévoreur de livres (a devourer of books) [source].

In Italian a bookworm is a topo di bibliteca (a library rat/mouse) [source].

What about in other languages?

Breakfasting

The Spanish word desayunar [d̪esaʝuˈnaɾ] means to have (for) breakfast, the reflexive version, desayunarse means to have breakfast or to breakfast, and desayuno means breakfast.

Desayuno

These words come from des- (negative suffix) and ayunar (to fast) – so when you have your desayuno you could be said to be “defasting” or “unfasting”, which are similar to the literal meaning of breakfast (“break one’s fast”).

Desayunar is possibly related to the Vulgar Latin *disieiunāre (to eat breakfast), from Late Latin ieiūnāre (to fast), from the Latin ieiūnus (fasting, abstinent, hungry) [source].

From the same root we get the English words (to) dine, diner, dinner and jejune (lacking matter, empty, devoid of substance), the French words déjeûner (lunch, to have lunch) and dîner (dinner, to have dinner), the Italian word digiunare (to fast), and related words in other languages [source].

Some related words and expressions include (from Reverso):

  • desayuno tarde/tardío, desayuno-almuerzo = brunch
  • desayunador = breakfast nook
  • Desayunaremos = We’ll get some breakfast
  • desayunar con café = to have coffee for breakfast
  • ahora me desayuno de ello = this is the first I’ve heard of it
  • desayunar con algo = to get the first news of sth
  • desayunar fuerte = to have a big/solid breakfast
  • hoy no podría desayunar = I can’t face breakfast this morning
  • Aquí podrá desayunar, almorzar y cenar = Here you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner

If you eat breakfast, what do you usually have, and when do you breakfast?

For me breakfast is always the first meal of the day, even if I get up late, as I’ve got into the habit of doing other the past year or so. This morning, for example, I woke up at about 9am, learnt some Danish, checked my emails, learnt some Swedish, watched some videos on YouTube, learnt some Dutch, watched more videos, then finally got up at about 11:30am. This is a fairly typical morning for me. For breakfast I usually have porridge with fruit, and some fruit juice. If I have any bread, I’ll have some toast as well.

Small Cakes

An interesting Danish word I learnt recently is småkage [ˈsmʌˌkʰæːjə], which means biscuit or cookie, or literally “small cake” [source].

Færdige småkager

The Dutch word koekje [ˈkuk.jə], meaning cookie, is a diminutive of koek (cake), so you could say the it means “small cake” as well. It was borrowed into English and became cookie. This was borrowed back into Dutch as cookie to refer to internet cookies [source].

The word kage [ˈkʰæː(j)ə] (cake) comes from the Old Danish kakæ, from Old Norse kaka (cake), from Proto-Germanic *kakǭ (cake), from the Proto-Indo-European *gag-/*gōg- (round, ball-shaped object; lump; clump). The Dutch word koek comes from the same Proto-Germanic root [source].

The English word cake comes from the same Old Norse root, and has been borrowed by a number of other languages [source], including Dutch, where it became kaak [kaːk] (ship biscuit) and cake [keːk] (pound cake).

In French the word cake [kɛk] refers to fruitcake (containing rum) or quick bread (a smallish loaf-shaped baked good). In Portuguese it became queque [ˈkɛ.kɨ], meaning a muffin or cupcake – the same word in Spanish, pronounced [ˈkeke], refers to a cake, cupcake or biscuit.

The plural form cakes was borrowed into Danish and became kiks [ˈkʰiɡs] – a cracker. In German it became Keks (biscuit / cookie), which was borrowed into Russian and became кекс [kʲeks], which means cake, fruitcake, cupcake, dude or guy. This sounds a bit like the word kecks, which in northern England and Scotland is a slang word for trousers and/or underpants, from kicks (breeches).

Here’s an audio version of this post.

(Some audio by TTSMP3.com)

Incidentally, the photo above shows what I would call cookies. The one below shows what I call biscuits:

Biscuits

Not everyone would agree with this, perhaps, and apparently some might call these biscuits:

biscuits

They look more like scones to me.

What are biscuits / cookies to you?

Strangely Rare

Strangely Rare

An interesting Dutch word I learnt recently is raar [raːr], which looks and sounds a bit like the English word rare, and is related to it, but actually means wierd, strange, funny, odd or unusual.

Here are some examples of how it’s used (from Reverso):

  • Ik heb een raar telefoontje gehad = So I got a weird phone call today
  • Want je doet een beetje raar = Because you’ve been acting a little weird
  • Zelden heb ik zo’n raar voostel gelezen = I have rarely come across a proposal as strange as this
  • Het lijkt gewoon op een raar besluit = Okay, well, it just seems like an odd decision

Raar comes from the Middle Dutch raer (rare, unusual), from the Latin rarus (scattered, seldom, few, rare, uncommon, thin, loose), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁reh₁- (to separate) [source].

From the same root we get words in quite a few other languages, including:

  • The English word rare (uncommon, scarce), via the Middle English rare/rere (airy, vacuous, porous, breathable, uncommon, scarce, small) and Old French rare/rere (rare, uncommon).
  • The Danish word rar [ʁɑːˀ] (pleasant, kind, nice), via the Middle Low German rar (rare, valuable).
  • The French word rare [ʁɑʁ] (rare, scarce, sparse).
  • The Spanish words raro [ˈraɾo] (strange, odd, rare) and ralo (scarce, uncommon, sparse)
  • The Swedish word rar (cute, sweet, and rarely, rare), via the Middle Low German rar (rare, valuable).

Another Dutch word for strange is vreemd [vreːmt] (strange, weird odd, foreign) [source].

The Dutch word for rare is zeldzaam [ˈzɛlt.saːm], which also means scarce or uncommon. This comes from the Proto-Germanic *seldasiuniz (rarely seen), from *selda- (rare) and *siuniz (sight) [source].

The German word seltsam (strange, weird, odd, funny, curious) comes from the same root [source], as does the rare English word seldsome (rare, uncommon) [source].

The English word seldom (infrequently, rarely), comes from the Proto-Germanic *seldanē (seldom; rarely), from *seldanaz (rare) [source].

Here’s an audio version of this post.

(Some audio by TTSMP3.com)

Here’s a song I wrote a few years ago that seems to fit with today’s topic: It’s Okay To Be Odd

Elephant Paths

A desire path is “a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.” They tend to appear as shortcuts where constructed paths are not direct, have gaps, or don’t exist. Desire paths are also known as desire lines (in transport planning), game trails, social trails, fishermen trails, herd paths, cow paths, elephant paths, goat tracks, pig trails, use trails or bootleg trails [source].

A view from Roman Camp
An example of a desire path on Roman Camp in Bangor

In Dutch a desire path is olifantenpad [ˈoː.li.fɑn.tə(n)ˌpɑt] or olifantenpaadje (elephant path) because elephants tend to choose the shortest path to wherever they go, and make paths on the way. These terms became popular particularly in 2011 after the publication of the book Olifantenpaadjes by Jan-Dirk van der Burg and Maarten ‘t Hart, in which they document such paths [source].

When such paths are made by animals, they are known as wildpad, wildspoor or (wild)wissel [source].

Are there other names for them?

Another kind of path is the geitenpad or goat path, which is may be narrow, temporary and dangerous, and may not be recognizable as a path. They are kind of the opposite of olifantenpad.

Other types of Dutch paden (paths) include:

  • bergpad = mountain path/road
  • bospad = forest path
  • fietspad = cycle path
  • gangpad = aisle
  • ruiterpad = bridle path/way
  • voetpad = footpath, walkway

In French a desire path is known as a chemin de l’âne (donkey path) or ligne de désir (line of desire).

What about in other languages?