Hawaiian a bigger influence on English than Cornish

It certainly came as a surprise to us to find out that British languages Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish have had less of an impact on the English language than Hawaiian, Swahili and Zulu.

Given the geography, it would be natural to assume that our neighbours from Wales and Scotland and the inhabitants of the South West had contributed a significant amount to English. However, the Oxford English Dictionary found that Cornish has donated just 40 words to English, making it the 45th biggest influencer of the language.

Even those words we have adopted from our British relatives are not in particularly common use. When was the last time you spoke about a fugou (a Cornish word for a house dug into the ground) or took your coracle for a whirl on the lake (a Welsh word for a small round boat)?

The theory behind this is that the Anglo-Saxons felt that the native British languages at the time were insignificant, and that this snobbery led to their being sidelined. As these languages have continued to decline and English has fully established itself as the overwhelming language of choice in the UK, there has been little pressure to adopt words from other indigenous languages of the British Isles.

Unsurprisingly, Latin and French are the two biggest influencers, giving us 40,000 and 20,000 words respectively. Latin arrived in the UK with the Romans, while French became highly influential during the Roman invasion. Our other Western European cousins have also had a significant impact on English, as well as Scandinavian languages from the Viking invasion, with many modern place names being derived from their Viking names.

Read more about the influence other languages have had on English>>

The Irish language resurgence

What connects prisoners and schoolchildren in Northern Ireland? Surprisingly, it’s the move to increase the number of speakers of the Irish language.

The official language of Northern Ireland is English, with Irish and Ulster Scots also spoken by a far smaller proportion of citizens. As of 2011, just 11% of the Northern Irish population said that they had ‘some knowledge of Irish’, behind the 19% of Welsh citizens claiming some knowledge of Welsh, prompting calls from pro-Irish language groups to raise national proficiency of this native language.

In 1970, the first Irish-speaking school, Bunscoil Phobal Feirste, opened in Northern Ireland in an attempt to preserve the language in the local area and to encourage more children to learn Irish amid fears that it may die out under pressures from the far more prevalent English language. To date, there are close to 100 Irish-medium schools in Northern Ireland, and while exam entries remain low, figures have increased slightly in recent years. With post-primary Irish-medium schools receiving state funding, it is clear that this is a cause important to many Irish citizens.

Learning Irish has long been popular among prisoners in Northern Ireland. Learning Irish as a second language allowed inmates to challenge the authority of prison staff by enabling them to hold conversations between themselves without being understood by guards. This meant they could speak about anything without being challenged, forcing guards to learn the language themselves or be left in the dark about inmates’ conversations.

An Irish language pop group, Seo Linn, released a series of tracks covering popular chart hits in the Irish language. Recently they released their first original song in an attempt to fuel interest in the Irish language to connect with younger generations. Exposure to languages in popular culture is a common way to make these languages feel more relevant and up-to-date for teenagers, which can then spark an interest in learning the language.

Do you speak Irish? Would you be interested in learning the heritage language of your country? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Learn Irish with Language Advantage>>

Getting to grips with Croatian

We planned a little escape to the sunshine after weeks and weeks of heavy rain and wind battering the south coast of England.  There were still flights free for Dubrovnik in Croatia and it was a destination we’d been meaning to visit for many summers… but had left it too late to get a flight.

We knew that February was an ‘interesting’ time of year to visit Croatia, but we figured it was on a level with Rome and it would definitely be warmer than the UK. Speaking to people over there, we found out that we enjoyed unseasonably warm weather in Dubrovnik this year with temperatures up to 18 degrees centigrade. We were extremely lucky to have sunshine every day, albeit with quite a breeze blowing.  Sitting outside having a coffee was a delight.

I always try to do a bit of language preparation before I leave, but had been inundated with work, so time was limited.

I did a last minute search of the iTunes store the day before I left on ‘Croatian’ and saw quite a few language learning apps come up. The first was WorldNomads Croatian Language Guide and I downloaded that as it was free. I took a quick look around it – and I don’t know if it was me – but I couldn’t get any audio with the app, which seemed quite pointless. There seems to be a video lesson and I pressed play, but got nothing at all in terms of sound, nor images.

Next I thought I would revert to my old favourite, Eurotalk apps, which I’ve used many times. I downloaded that for about £6.99 and it has served me well. It’s not extensive by any means, but gives me the phrases, and importantly, the pronunciation of the Croatian language which was completely new to me. I must admit I am a bit lost with it and it reminds me what it is like to be a totally new language learner.

I have not got past the ‘First Words’ section of the app and I am almost ashamed to say that I’ve not tried that much. Everyone we’ve met – from 16 year olds to 60 year olds – has an amazing grasp of the English language. I can see that from the TV channels – nothing is dubbed and everything is subtitled. I remember going to an international trade event, where someone from the Croatian Embassy was presenting and I think he said that 80% of the Croatian workforce has a working knowledge of English. If that is so, it is an amazing feat.

So back to my Croatian… I can’t tell if it sounds more like Italian, German or Russian to my untrained ear… I have started to recognise words by listening to Sochi Olympic coverage and Champions League commentary in Croatian. I will do some research on the origins of the Croatian language and get back to you!

In fact, the only words I can actually remember are ‘Hvala’ (the only thing helping me with that is ‘koala’), ‘molim’ (please) and ‘bok’ (hello). ‘Ra?un molim’ is ‘the bill please’. That is only one word a day… a pretty lame attempt for me.

Find out how to learn the Croatian language and get the Language Advantage>>

Why is Finnish so difficult to learn?

I have just got back from a weekend in Helsinki, and when I wasn’t busy cooing at the pretty snow or devouring a plate of fabulous Finnish food, I spent a lot of time listening to the language. Finnish is often said to be one of the trickiest languages for English speakers to learn, and having experienced it first-hand, I have to say that I’m not entirely surprised. So why exactly is Finnish so difficult to learn?

Finnish doesn’t even remotely resemble its Nordic neighbours, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. Nor is it close to Russian, with whom it shares a border. In fact, Finnish is thought to be related to just two major modern languages: Estonian and Hungarian. These, along with lots of other lesser-spoken languages, belong to the Uralic family. While these languages are relatively similar to one another, they bear little resemblance to any other language family.

‘Thank you’ is ‘takk’ in Norwegian, ‘tack’ in Swedish and ‘tak’ in Danish. So we might expect something similar in Finnish, right? Wrong. If you want to express gratitude in Finnish, you will need to say ‘kiitos’. Conversations in Finnish are certainly not easy for beginners, even if you’re hoping that your strong Swedish or Norwegian skills will carry you through. In fact, Swedish is an official language in Finland, so you will probably be better off speaking Swedish if you’re comfortable with the Scandinavian languages.

And if you think you’ll try your luck with written Finnish, you might want to think again. Double consonants and double vowels are extremely common in Finnish, meaning it isn’t uncommon to find words such as ‘liikkeessään’ (showroom). You’ll also need to remember to dot more than your ‘i’s with words like ‘kääntäjää’ (translator).

The Defense Language Institute in California gives Finnish a difficulty rating of III (out of four) in terms of difficulty for native English speakers to learn, making it the perfect language for anyone who likes a challenge. Plus, we are currently in the most active Northern Lights season in 60 years, so this might be the best time to delve into Finnish or Sami if you’re heading into the Arctic Circle.

Have you ever tried to learn Finnish? What’s the hardest language to learn you’ve ever come across? We’d love to hear your stories.

Learn Finnish with Language Advantage>>

The easiest languages for English speakers to learn

Following on from our last blog post about tips for making languages easier to learn, today we’re going to be visiting several of the top ten easiest languages for English speakers to learn. Just think – if you choose one of these languages and then apply the tips we offered earlier in the last post, you could be holding conversations in your language of choice in no time!

[Read more…]

Top tips for learning languages easily

If your New Year’s resolution was to learn a new language but you haven’t quite got round to it yet, what are you waiting for?! We’re halfway through February, it’s still bleak outside and it’s the perfect time to put these long winter nights to good use with some language learning. And of course, if you start now, your conversation skills should be in pretty good shape for your summer holiday…

1)      Be a social butterfly

If you use Facebook every day, one simple way to ease yourself into a new language is to change the language of your account. You can ‘aime’ your friends’ posts in no time, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly you adapt. Brushing up on your language skills while you socialise online? Yes, really…

2)      Little and often

Many people find the time commitment associated with learning a new language intimidating. However, you really don’t have to spend an hour every single day poring over books and dictionaries. Apps like Duolingo are perfect for dipping into a language in quick ten minute bursts when you’re running a bath or waiting for a bus, helping you fit language learning into your busy schedule. Alternatively, Language Advantage offers the Earworms Rapid Languages range for speedy, song-based teaching.

3)      Eat your words

When you go on holiday, many of your interactions with locals will be around food when you stop for a bite to eat. This is the perfect excuse for you to try that new French restaurant in town or the traditional Italian deli round the corner. See how much of the menu you understand, and you can even practise your accents with your lucky companion.

4)      Watch your language

When the weather is wild outside, batten down the hatches and curl up with a foreign language film. Keep the subtitles on for support or turn them off if you really want to push yourself. In the early stages of language learning, try to watch a children’s film in your language of choice without subtitles so you can familiarise yourself with more common words before you grapple with that gritty art-house drama.

5)      Come fly with me

It is widely known that immersing yourself in a language rapidly improves language skills. This is why exchange programmes are so popular at school. The great news is that Language Advantage offers a range of brilliant overseas language courses, meaning you can enjoy the sunshine, polish up your language and make new friends in the process.

What’s your best tip for making language learning easy?

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The Winter Games – Languages at Sochi 2014

sochi 2014This year, the Olympic Winter Games will be the held for first time  in the Russian Federation – the Soviet Union hosted the 1980  Summer Games in Moscow. The host city Sochi has a population of 400,000 people and is situated in Krasnodar, which is the third largest region in Russia. [Read more…]

Happy Chinese New Year 2014!

night-life-new-york-chinatownHappy Chinese New Year to all of our readers!

Chinese New Year took place on 31st January this year, but the biggest day for celebrations in the UK is today, 2nd February. London’s Chinatown is set to hold the best New Year event in the country, with other big cities such as Birmingham and Manchester to follow suit.

2014 marks the Year of the Horse, with 2013 being the Year of the Snake and 2015 the Year of the Goat. This represents the animals of the Chinese zodiac, and the years cycle on a 12 year rotation.

Chinese New Year is typically celebrated in China with large family meals. It is also traditional to clean the entire house to make way for the good luck that will come with the New Year. Some people also give gifts of money in red paper envelopes to signify wealth, prosperity and good fortune.

In countries with a significant Chinese population, it is normal for Chinese New Year to be a public holiday to allow families to get together and celebrate.

Each of the days of the New Year celebrations is dedicated to a particular activity. For example, the first day is about welcoming the deities and scaring away the bad spirits with fireworks and firecrackers. On the 13th day, people eat a vegetarian diet to cleanse their bodies from the preceding days of festivities, while the 15th day, or the Lantern Festival, marks the end of the New Year celebrations.

Food is traditionally meat, fish and a series of vegetarian dishes eaten on different days of the New Year festivities. A hot pot often forms part of the reunion family meal to represent the coming together of the family, and dumplings are eaten as it is thought that the preparation represents packaging luck inside the dumplings.

If you have been celebrating Chinese New Year, we would love to hear all about it.

Find out more about cultural celebrations around the world>>

Check out our calendar of world events>>

Fashionistas: it’s time to learn a language

If you’re pursuing a career in fashion, it might be time to put the sewing machine to one side for a while and instead get yourself acquainted with a new language.

Wannabe fashionistas are being advised to learn another language to boost their chances of success in the truly global fashion industry. Whether your designer of choice is Chanel, Prada or Elie Saab, you will need to brush up on your language skills to get a major advantage in the fiercely competitive fashion workplace.

With suppliers and brands based all over the world, it isn’t enough to rely on English anymore. If you find yourself having to communicate with a factory in China or Bangladesh, impeccable conversational skills will be a must – but you won’t always be able to use English. Many clothing manufacturers aren’t based in cosmopolitan cities, and English may not be commonly spoken.

Furthermore, the most dedicated fashion followers travel all over the world to catch the biggest shows, to pitch their designs to the most famous fashion houses and to find the perfect materials for their next big project. It’s seriously impressive if you can hold a conversation with some of the industry’s most influential figures in their mother tongue.

It is just important to be able to communicate effectively in creative industries, such as fashion, as it is in scientific career paths. To fully express your visions and plans, you will need to broaden your vocabulary so that you can hold conversations with clients and win the admiration of others in the industry. With linguistic skills under your belt, you could quickly find yourself becoming indispensible and a crucial, well-respected member of the team.

In any career which involves a lot of travelling and communicating with colleagues and clients in other countries, strong language skills are highly beneficial. If you’re short on time, an online language learning course could be the perfect way to hone your ability, or you could browse our selection of language courses for business to help you conduct meetings and interact in a professional manner with your fellow fashionistas.

Read more about the importance of languages in the fashion industry>>

Find the perfect language course for business>>

Interactive European language map

Do you ever find yourself wondering how to say common words in other languages? Do you know how to order a white wine/ vin blanc/ hvitvin/ valkoviini on your next holiday? What if you need to know when the next train/ næsta lest/ prossimo treno will be?

This fantastic interactive European language map is your new best friend if you’re already planning your travels around Europe for the year. Simply type in a one- or two-word phrase and Google Translate will give you that phrase in the vast majority of European languages to make travelling a breeze.

James Trimble of UK Data Explorer was interested in the shared lexical etymology of Europe, and created this map for a quick at-a-glance guide to those languages with shared origins. However, it’s also great for those of us interested in learning not just one language, but many. That’s certainly something we like to see at Language Advantage!

Explore the interactive European language map>>

Take a course in your favourite European language with Language Advantage>>