Foreign Language Films Struggle for UK Success

After Polish film “Ida” won the Oscars® Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015, there has been debate over whether the audience for foreign language films is vastly decreasing in the UK. [Read more…]

Happy Chinese New Year 2015!

night-life-new-york-chinatown

Happy Chinese New Year 2015!

2015 marks the Year of the Goat or Sheep (the direct translation from Chinese is ‘homed animal’), with 2014 being the Year of the Horse and 2016 the Year of the Monkey. The Chinese New Year is on 19 February 2015 and is China’s most important holiday which lasts for 15 days. The Lunar New Year or Spring Festival is the most prestigious occasion in the Chinese calendar, with public holidays in Taiwan, Singapore & Malaysia, in addition to China.

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Start a Love Affair with a Romance Language

Saturday 14 February 2015 is St Valentine’s Day and is a great time to start a language love affair with a Romance language in French, Italian or Spanish.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated all over the world with a variety of native traditions to explore and enjoy. However, nowadays, for most of us, it has become a massive commercial event, complete with chocolates, roses, teddy bears and quite frankly anything that is red and pink! Even, the days of anonymous love letters seem long gone …  [Read more…]

Learning a language for business

When we start a new job, we can expect to have to brush up on some of our rusty skills, or perhaps even to learn entirely new ones to make sure we’re ready to hit the ground running. But what if it’s not about learning a new computer program or brushing up on the maths we haven’t used since school, but instead learning a new language from scratch?

The fact is, in today’s global marketplace, some companies will expect you to speak more than one language. If you are going to be trading with specific markets, it makes sense that you should be able to hold a business conversation in that language. However, even if you are not working in a role where you don’t expect to be involved with other markets, there are still many reasons why you might need to have a good understanding of another language.

This article details a woman being offered a job on the condition that she learnt Welsh. Her new role was public-facing, and required her to conduct media interviews in Welsh. While she managed this challenging task with a summer language immersion course and eventually gained a GCSE in Welsh, she acknowledges that this was not an easy task. So how can you equip yourself with the right language skills for your new role?

If you are applying for roles which require new languages, do your homework before you even apply. Showing willing at the interview will stand in your favour, whether this is being able to hold a basic conversation in the language or being able to demonstrate your keenness to learn.

It is also possible to buy language CD-ROMs which are tailored to business. These are ideal if you need to learn how to speak in a professional situation, such as a business meeting or a pitch, rather than learning the usual conversational standard of language. Instead of talking about pets and hobbies, you will be able to talk about crucial aspects of business which will ensure your colleagues and clients view you in the right light.

Additionally, if you need to learn a new language for work quickly, there are many immersive language courses which take place over the world. It is relatively easy to find courses where you can tailor your classes, meaning you can select the right balance of conversational and business modules. Throwing yourself in at the deep end will allow you to conduct business conversations with locals in roleplays and real life, giving you the most realistic experience possible, along with a flavour of the business culture in that country.

To brush up on your business language, check out Language Advantage’s range of fantastic courses>>

Could drugs help us learn languages?

Recent research has found that cognition-enhancing drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil, which are typically prescribed to treat behavioural conditions like ADHD, may be effective at improving language learning skills. As exciting as this may initially seem to those of us who have spent many a frustrating hour trying to conjugate our verbs, is it really as good as it sounds?

There are three main reasons these drugs are thought to improve language learning ability. These are:

  • Improving alertness
  • Motivation
  • Getting a ‘competitive edge’.

Medicines such as Ritalin are used to help people with ADHD and similar disorders to focus on the task at hand and stick at activities for longer. This is obviously highly desirable for those of us looking for a quick fix in our language learning. Once we’ve tried all the apps, CDs and evening classes, wouldn’t it be lovely to take a tablet to help us realise our bilingual aspirations with minimal effort? We can stay alert throughout those boring verb tables, stay motivated and keep one step ahead of the competition, all with the magic of a pill!

Other drugs, such as caffeine and nicotine, display similar effects. Some of us rely on coffee to keep us awake while we’re poring over books, while others find that nicotine calms them down and helps them concentrate on the trickier aspects of a language.

However, don’t go making an appointment with your GP just yet. As exciting as the potential for these cognition-enhancing drugs may be for language learners, many scientists admit that there is not yet enough evidence to draw any strong conclusions about these claims. Much of the research has been carried out in people with existing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, and there are many more studies which need to be carried out before these drugs become a reliable source of linguistic miracles.

Furthermore, while they may help you learn the language itself, drugs are no substitute for learning the cultural context of a language. You may learn Japanese to a very high standard, but without understanding the cultural usage of the language, you could find yourself in hot water in an important business conversation or on your holiday to Tokyo.

To give yourself the best chance of success in your chosen language, we can help. We can advise you on the right programme to suit your needs, helping you get the language advantage in business and leisure.

Read more about using drugs for language learning>>

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What’s the best method to learn a new language?

Like many people, I have promised myself time and time again that I will brush up on my foreign language of choice. However, the GCSE French textbooks I stashed away many years ago, confident I’d definitely use them again, have remained in a bag in the back of a cupboard somewhere ever since I put my pen down in my final exam. Now I’m out of education and I have a little more free time, I would like to make a proper attempt at re-learning everything I’ve forgotten. But what’s the best way to go about it?

Textbooks

Textbooks are great for giving you a consistent source of information. You will learn the correct grammatical structures and spellings, and the same terminology will be used throughout. Textbooks are also great if you want to keep revisiting the same material. However, it will be tricky to learn the accent with a textbook alone, so a textbook and CD-ROM combination might be more valuable.

Audio

Lots of language courses are delivered solely via mp3 audio files or audio CDs. These are good as they help you pick up the nuances of the pronunciation and the rhythm and intonation patterns, which can help you become a more natural, fluent speaker. However, you may receive less exposure to spellings, which you will need to learn alongside the audio course to reinforce your understanding.

Face-to-face courses

Evening classes are a fantastic way to hone your skills with other like-minded friends. You can test your skills in conversation classes and learn from experts and other amateurs and benefit from your new support network. Many language courses now take place overseas in countries with native speakers, giving you a more immersive experience and allowing you to familiarise yourself with the language with natives in their own environment for the ultimate challenge.

Apps

Apps are the biggest trend in language learning right now. Apps like Duolingo can be downloaded onto your phone or tablet, meaning you can learn languages on the move. They are designed to be used in short bursts, perhaps when you’re on the bus or waiting for a meeting to begin, meaning you can cram your learning into your busy schedule. ‘Being too busy’ is no longer an excuse, as your lessons come with you!

Get your Language Advantage with our range of language courses>>

Students enrolled in language degrees declines once again

The number of students enrolled in foreign language degrees in the UK is at its lowest in a decade.

While students taking STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) have increased, those opting to study traditionally popular languages such as French and German have fallen.

Some of the reasons students are shunning language degrees include the prevalence of English in the global business environment and the perceived difficulty of performing well in these degrees. With such a vast range of options available to today’s students, who are able to study virtually any subject, languages have lost their appeal.

However, this is bad news for young jobseekers in the UK. Foreign language degrees are popular with employers, who appreciate the time and commitment that goes into learning a new language, and they stand graduates in good stead in the highly competitive jobseekers’ environment.

The number of students in the UK has decreased overall, but this downward trend has hit language degrees particularly hard.

However, languages remain the most popular degrees for British students studying abroad in France and Germany, with rising numbers indicating that this could become the most popular way to study a language. This plunges students into an immersive environment and surrounds them with their chosen language and culture, which can make the language learning process faster and more successful.

But all is not lost if you decided against a language degree. There are lots of courses available to help you learn in your own time, whether this is an evening class, a structured CD-ROM/ DVD-based course or even a mobile app.

Read more about the decline of language degrees in the UK>>

To find the perfect language course for you, browse our selection>>

The relationship between gestures and Italian sign language

Think about how many gestures you use on a day-to-day basis. From rubbing your fingers and thumb together to signify money to the quick mime of a hand tipping a mug to ask if anyone wants a cup of tea, it’s probably a lot more often than you realise. But few languages make more use of gestures than Italian.

While the use of gestures throughout Italy is widespread, it has recently come to light that the deaf Italian community has struggled to understand where exactly they fit in. Italian Sign Language is far richer in meaning than the 250 gestures used in daily life by Italians from all walks of life, but it is often overshadowed by the more familiar gestures with which Italians and other Europeans have become accustomed.

In Italy, it may not be too difficult to make yourself understood with gestures alone. Gestures can be considered a form of language in much the same way as sign language, though gesticulating is more of an enhancement than a robust language in its own right. The problem deaf Italians have is that while everyone can communicate with gestures of sorts, very few people understand their sign language, making it difficult to speak to hearing Italians.

This raises an interesting question about the relationship between gesture and sign language in other parts of the world. In countries such as France and the UK, speakers are known for being relatively more subdued in their gesticulating and actions. This provides less of an aid for those who speak the language poorly, but British Sign Language (BSL) and French Sign Language have a much higher status than Italian Sign Language, which is not even recognised as an official language in Italy.

For speakers of sign languages to receive certain rights, that sign language must be recognised by the government. This allows them to receive the assistance of interpreters, for instance in court and in medical situations, and gives them access to signed communications. While Italian Sign Language is popular in the deaf community, Italy still needs to go a long way to ensure that speakers get the same linguistic rights as hearing individuals who use gestures to accompany their every day spoken communications.

Read more about the relationship between gestures and sign language>>

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The difference between US and UK English

On Saturday, I’m making my first trip to New York. Fortunately there will be no language barrier facing me, but it got me thinking about the difference between UK and US English and their global usage and status.

Despite the fact English originated in the UK, it is the US form of English that tends to be spoken around the world. International language schools teach the US vocabulary, and students find themselves speaking with American accents, most likely without ever realising.

US English is spoken by around two-thirds of English speakers worldwide, helped in part by the vastly greater population of the United States compared to the United Kingdom. However, despite the significantly larger geographical area of the US, American English is relatively homogenous alongside its UK counterpart. Accents tend to be less distinct, and one accent may be used by swathes of the country – this is unheard of in England, when even the short distance between Liverpool and Manchester offers up very different accents.

Some of the differences between US and UK English are minor, such as the ‘-ize’ suffix used in American words as opposed to the British ‘-ise’ in words like ‘hypnotize’. However, there are lots of disparities in the vocabulary, such as ‘sidewalk’ for ‘pavement’, ‘faucet’ for ‘tap’ and even, confusingly, ‘chips’ for ‘crisps’ and ‘fries’ for ‘chips’.

There are also differences in the pronunciation. In US English, the rhotic ‘r’ (where, for example, the ‘r’ is pronounced at the end of ‘car’) is generally considered a prestige variety, whereas in British English, this is primarily used in Scottish dialects, and is considered non-standard. Words like ‘better’ are pronounced ‘bedder’ with a tap sound, which, again, is considered non-standard in the UK.

American English also uses some different grammatical formations. For example, in the UK we might say ‘I would have done’, whereas in the US you would say ‘I would have’. In the UK, you ‘talk to’ someone; in the US, you would ‘talk with’ them.

I can’t wait to spend some time immersed in US English, and I’ll report back on anything interesting I come across when I get back!

Learn to speak English with Language Advantage>>

Why do pronunciations change over time?

As a Linguistics graduate, my three years of study came flooding back to me when I stumbled across this article about the various language processes which have been slowly changing the pronunciation of the English language. Historical linguistics is the study of language change over time, and can focus on spelling, syntax, vocabulary or, in this case, the phonology.

Phonology is the study of sound in language, and looks at the way different sounds adapt to their environment. It differs slightly from phonetics, which is the study of the acoustic processes that take place when we speak. Phonology looks at the rules of language, and historical linguistics can lead us to an explanation of an observed phonological rule.

‘How many languages do you speak?’ is one of the most common questions I’m asked when I say I studied Linguistics. However, it’s not a case of studying one language. It’s language as a whole and all the rules that go with it. It puts the foundations in place to be able to analyse languages somewhat objectively using a ‘toolkit’ of information that allows us to probe the sounds, the meaning and the grammar of languages, along with where they came from and how they evolved.

Language change may be conscious, or unconscious. Sociolinguistics accounts for much of the conscious language change, with convergence (trying to sound more like others) and divergence (trying to sound different to others) mechanisms used to establish a new way of communicating. Many of the phonological changes outlined in the article, however, are unconscious, and fuelled primarily by the anatomy of the vocal tract.

For example, epenthesis, the process of adding an extra sound into a word, was not a conscious change in the language. The rapid movement from the nasal sound [m] in ‘empty’ to the plosive [t] forces a sound in between to make the transition easier for the human vocal tract to process. The [p]  acts as a bridge between the relatively different [m] and [t] sounds, taking the place (labial) and voicing from the [m] and the manner (plosive) from the [t] for a consonant cluster which is easier to articulate.

I will be writing more about linguistics in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more!

Read more about the phonological change of English>>