Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sacré bleu! Will French become the world's number one language by 2050?

In the early modern era, la belle langue francais was the intellectual world's lingua franca, spoken during the Enlightenment by the aristocrats and thinkers of Europe in their courts from Paris to Berlin to Moscow. During the American Revolution, one of the greatest minds among the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was dispatched as an envoy to Paris to coax the French into joining our side. Why? Because he was one of the few founding fathers who could speak fluent French.

But then, in the 19th Century, there came to the forefront what the French later called "La langue du Coca-Cola" (the language of Coca Cola; i.e. English). At first English seized from French the initiative in the world of commerce, perhaps because of the robust trade under way in the British Empire. Later, French was displaced in most other spheres.
But, voila, just when it seemed as if Voltaire, Rabelais and Moliere would be swept aside by Dickens, Twain and Shakespeare, here rides the French investment bank Natixis to the rescue. C'est merveilleux, n'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chinese youth Yu Ming Studies the wrong language before visiting Ireland -- or the right one?

Here's a touching nine-minute video about a bored Chinese youth, Yu Ming, who spins a globe and randomly points to a country to escape to. And when the spinning slows, his finger chances to land on Ireland. He wrongly assumes that the Irish language is the dominant language of Ireland and, in China, he studies it to fluency or near-fluency. But when he arrives in the Ould Sod, he gradually realizes that English is everywhere -- and Irish nowhere. In fact, only a small percentage of the Irish still use it in small pockets of the country. Fortunately, Yu Ming chances to run into a native speaker in Dublin. This is the story of a beleagured Celtic language -- under siege in its own country by that eight hundred pound gorilla of languages, English. Here's a link to the video embedded in linguist Donovan Nagel's language-learning blog, The Mezzofanti Guild:

Monday, September 2, 2013

What does it take to become a speaker of 10 or more languages? Time magazine's Katy Steinmetz discusses the phenomenon of "hyperpolyglottery" with the author of Babel No More

The hyperpolyglots -- speakers of many, many languages, often 10 or more -- are rapidly populating YouTube with their astonishing videos, delivering short monologues in one tongue after another. The movement has even been begun scheduling its own international conferences. Here, Time magazine's Katy Steinmetz discusses the growing phenomenon with the author of Babel No More.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The App That Makes Your Smartphone a Powerful Language Tutor

One of the most powerful language learning tools is in the palm of your hand.

Your smartphone.

Thanks to the free downloadable app Google Translate, your smartphone can become an instant bilingual dictionary, a native speaker pronouncing words for you, and an instant personal translator accompanying you as you make your way through a foreign country.

Today, I tested Google Translate in English-to-Russian exercises and was astounded at, for the most part, how accurate it was. Since my grasp of Russian is elementary, I experimented by speaking into the microphone simple sentences whose translation into Russian I already knew. The accurate performance was uncanny, like something out of a science fiction movie.

The program display has a microphone icon you can press, which enables you to speak into the smartphone what you'd like to say. A translation then appears on the screen. To hear this translation as it would be pronounced by a native speaker, just press an icon resembling a speakerphone.

This program also comes in handy in testing your ability to generate sentences in your target language. You speak the English sentence into the phone, look away from the screen and imagine the correct translation, then back look at the displayed translation to check yourself.

If you use Google Translate on your desktop computer, rather than a smartphone, the program will automatically create a sound file each time the audio of a voice recording is played back. Written input sounded out with the speakerphone icon will also generate a sound file. That audio file is stored in the drive's Temporary Internet Folder, which can be accessed through this path:

C:\documents and settings\ (NAME)\Local Settings\ Temp \ Temporary Internet Files

Once located, the audio file can be transferred to C:\my music, where it will automatically be loaded into your Windows Media Player's library and turned into an MP3 file. Using Windows Media Player, you can then burn that file to a CD to be played in your car if you use drive time for language learning.

This opens up the possibility of cutting and pasting entire passages into Google Translate to be rendered into portable audio files for your language learning.

To use Google Translate on your desktop machine or tablet, go to:  

Muchas gracias, merci beaucoup and danke schoen to Google.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Parlez-vous francais? New research suggests that learning foreign languages increases the size of the brain's memory center -- the hippocampus -- as well as tissue in the cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain. And, supposedly, it delays the onset of Alzheimer's.

Click here to read the Science Daily article.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ancestor of most of today's languages fanned out from Near East 8,000 years ago?

A new study published in the journal Science suggests that most of the world's population today is speaking a language descended from a small group of farmers in the Near East 8,000 years ago. This includes languages as diverse as English, German, Russian, and Hindi.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Key points for learning a language

In the following video, I summarize some key points in learning a foreign language. Your methods and your mood will spell the difference between victory and defeat.