Well, or it may also have been “Greek – An unexpected journey”. But let’s start right at the beginning. The beginning in this case was a family visit to the British Museum at the beginning of 2016. As a family we’re incredibly lucky to live near London, which means a day trip to amazing places such as the British Museum is no problem for us. Among the breathtaking range of artefacts from around the world and different eras, my personal favourites have always been the ones from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and it was in Room 78 containing classical inscriptions from the 6th century BC to the 2nd century AD that it all began. Being a polyglot family, of course my children expected Dad (me) to be able to understand each and every inscription – dads know everything of course! While I didn’t have too many problems with Latin (thanks to five years if learning it in school and a recent refresher with uTalk), I didn’t really know where to start with Greek. I decided then, that Greek would be one of the languages I wanted to learn this year.
Fast forward a few weeks into May to the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin.I had not yet made any firm plans for learning Greek, as I had been working on Esperanto. However, as luck would have it the first talk I attended at the Gathering was about Greek, with the lovely Lilia Mouma from Mango Languages giving a talk on Greek history and language ranging from the Ancient to the Modern. This was also when I found out two more important bits of information: First, that the Polyglot Conference later in the year would take place in Thessaloniki, Greece; and second that Mango Languages where running a competition to learn Greek (the modern variety) for 20 weeks learning with their app and weekly 1:1 tutoring. Well, I entered the competition, and a short while later found an email in my inbox informing me that I had won! OK, so language learning resources for Greek were sorted.
I have to admit that Greek has been one of the more difficult languages for me. Learning the alphabet took a week or two, but internalising it well enough to be able to read semi-fluently or even write took many more weeks. However, it has been an immensely rewarding experience. What I liked most about the approach taken by Mango Languages was that it was quite different to my normal approach. For one thing, at least in the app, grammar is not explicitly taught, everything is taught in the context of a conversation. Secondly, sentences are spoken at full speed by native speakers rather than the slowed down conversations I have come to expect. Yes, this makes things more difficult to begin with, but with invaluable once I actually got to Greece as (unsurprisingly) real Greeks don’t exactly speak slowly! Of course, having the weekly support from top notch online tutor Vasiliki Baskos helped as well. Although my focus was on Modern Greek, as I had been given access to all of Mango’s language courses, my inquisitive nature led me to sneak a peek at their offering of Ancient and Koine Greek as well. I was pleasantly surprised that they use authentic texts from the very first lesson – the Iliad and the Greek New Testament respectively. I may well end up subscribing once I lose my free access. The range and quality of resources are a language lover’s dream come true … I was able practice my Greek at a restaurant in Germany.So,moving forward in my big fat Greek adventure, how well did it work? When I finally arrived in Greece for the Polyglot Conference at the end of October, I managed a basic conversation with the taxi driver who took me to the hotel, I ordered food at the restaurant in Greek and I bought bus tickets, water bottles etc. etc. in Greek. Road and shop signs actually made sense to me, adding to the sense of achievement. It was a special treat to be able to meet Lilia (again) and Vasiliki, my online tutor, in person for the first time. I absolutely loved Thessaloniki, and being able to speak and understand Greek definitely helped at lot. I must go back with the family sometime!
So how did my My big fat Greek adventure end? Coming full circle, back to the British Museum. Despite the Greek language having changed a lot from ancient to modern time, the alphabet has remained the same across thousands of years. So when our family returned to the British Museum for the spectacular exhibition “Sunken cities – Egypt’s lost worlds”, or course I just had to pay another visit to the Ancient Greek galleries. Given that inscriptions tend to contain a lot of names (Alexandros = Alexander the Great for instance), I could now work out a lot of what was written, and the children were suitably impressed. Result!
Are you planning to learn a new language in the new year? Let us know in the comments below.
As a multilingual family we love to celebrate other multilingual families. I feel we can all learn from each other in raising a multilingual family. This week meet Olga and her family and hear how she passes on her culture to her children.. So over to Olga.
We are a family of five, living in the UK, West Yorkshire. My name is Olga and I’m originally from Russia. My husband Richard is a British-born Jamaican. I’m a teacher of English and German as well as an interpreter and simply the person who loves life. My husband is a musician so he spends a lot of time travelling. We have three amazing mixed-race kids.
Keano, age 9, was born in Russia and has lived there for his first three years before we moved to England. Teanna, age 4, was born here in the UK and is a very vibrant girl. Ronomi, 6 months old, was also born here and is a very lovely cuddly baby.
All our kids are bilingual. Well, apart from Ronomi who hasn’t started speaking yet. At home we speak two languages on a daily basis – Russian and English and sometimes my husband speaks Jamaican Patois.
“You live a new life for every new language you speak” Czech proverb.
When our first child was born we sort of used “one parent-one language” approach but Russian became the “dominant” language because of my son growing up in a Russian-speaking environment and so, when we moved to England, he struggled with English at first when he started nursery. Then I decided to use both languages to make sure he developed equal language skills in both English and Russian and expanded his English vocabulary so he wouldn’t have any difficulties in school. We would read books in both languages, listen to audiobooks, watch TV in both languages, talk to friends and relatives from both family sides.
When our daughter was born we sort of stuck to the same routine – me speaking Russian and English and my husband – English and Partois. Though Teanna took more time to start babbling she still did all her best to speak two languages at the same time.
Both Keano and Teanna sometimes mix two languages in the same sentences. But I noticed it only happens when they are talking to me as they know that I would still understand them whereas with their dad they would speak only English or a bit of Partois without even slightest effort to switch into Russian.
At the moment me and Keano are trying to learn basic Japanese. He finds it easy to understand grammar and has no problem pronouncing words. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of being bilingual – the ability to easily grasp different languages.
At the moment we as a family are producing the series of videos for Russian-English bilingual kids on Russian history. Keano offered his help to narrate them.
Learning a language is not just about knowing the words and phrases. It’s also learning about the culture of the people who speak it, their history, traditions.
This week we have a guest blog from Lucia from Lingholic. She is an inspirational polyglot.She is Portuguese and has a degree in English and German. At the moment she is curently taking a Master’s degree in English as a second language for young learners. She is also improving her Spanish and French!
So over to Lucia…
China, the world’s second biggest economy and home to over five thousand years of unique history and culture. Since China opened its door to the world in 1978, it has become one of the top business and leisure destinations in the world. Although traveling to a foreign country is always exciting, but it can also be difficult, especially when you don’t know the language. Of course, you don’t have to learn Chinese for months to become fluent and enjoy your time in China, but there are definitely some key phrases that will be very helpful for your experience. What Chinese phrases you should know before you visit China? I think these phrases are a good start for your trip preparation:
你好 [nǐ hǎo]
The world famous “Ni Hao” is likely the most well-known Chinese word, and for good reasons; in just about every language, you almost always start a conversation with “Hello” or “Hi”, which is why this is likely going to be the most frequently heard and said Chinese word for you during your time in China. As much as a smile is a universal language, it never hurts to also say hello. And if someone says it to you first – Don’t panic, the proper response to a “Ni Hao” is simply another “Ni Hao”.
2. How much (is this)?
多少钱 [duō shǎo qián]
Regardless if you’re the shopping type when you travel, there is no doubt that you will, at some point, have to ask “How much is this?” , it could be at a train station, Bus stop, or a small local restaurant. So make sure you are fully prepared when it comes to money matters.
3. Where is the toilet?
洗手间在哪里? [xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ lǐ]
No matter where you are, it’s always good to make sure you know how to find the nearest toilet. Let’s break this sentence into two parts; the first part is the word “xǐ shǒu jiān”, which means toilet, and “zài nǎ lǐ” literally means “at where”. You can replace the first part of the sentence with other words to find out where other things are, for example, “where is the ATM” would be “ATM zài nǎ lǐ” in Chinese.
4. Thank you & Excuse me
谢谢 [xiè xie] &不好意思[bù hǎo yì si]
Good manners never go out of style, even when you’re traveling. Saying thank you in Chinese when you’re in China is a great way to show your appreciation, and if nothing else, you will almost always receive a genuine smile in return!
Of course, having good manners isn’t just about saying thank you. In fact, being as polite as you can be when you’re asking for help is perhaps even more important. Before you ask someone where is the toilet, you can start the sentence with “bù hǎo yì si”, which works like “excuse me” in English. You can also use it to apologize when you accidentally bump into someone, or when you need to get someone’s attention.
5. My name is… I’m from….
我叫 (Your name)，我是(country)人 [wǒ jiào (Your name) wǒ shì (country) rén]
There is no better way to experience a foreign country than to talk to the people! Even with the language barrier, you’ll still likely to learn a thing or two about the country and its culture. Start with a smile and “Ni hao”, then follow up with a little something about you!
Last but not least, you should definitely know how to say “No”.
6. I don’t want (something)
我不要[wǒ bú yào]
As a tourist or visitor, you will inevitably become a target for street vendors, or simply receive offers of services and products you may not need. To get yourself out of this type of unwanted situation, you can just politely, but firmly say “wǒ bú yào” or just “bú yào”, followed by the service or product offered.
In addition to a few common phrases, there are also a handful of things you should keep in mind for your trip to China, such as taking off your shoes before entering someone’s home, and always have your hotel’s business card (with Chinese characters) with you at all times.
Are there any other phrases you think are really important to know?
We are really blessed to have a guest post from the inspirational bilingual author Delia Berlin. Prepare to be encouraged and provoked to think.A tall order, but she does it! Emotional Aspects of Language Learning
I grew up in Argentina and my first language was Spanish. Then and there, any knowledge of a foreign language was universally valued. My school years in Argentina exposed me to German, English and French. Today, I’m only fluent in Spanish and English, but I still have rudimentary knowledge of a variety of languages.
Having spent my adult life in the US, when I had a daughter I had to decide what language to use with her. Since I always thought that speaking more than one language was beneficial, I wanted her to learn both English and Spanish. She was bound to learn English from her teachers and peers, so I chose Spanish. She grew up bilingual, and decades later she is now raising a bilingual child of her own.
So why is it that so many Americans with parents or grandparents who spoke another language never learned a word of it? A friend of mine pointed out that in her family, the first generation of immigrants was focused on fitting in. Learning English and leaving the old language behind was required for upward mobility and success. There was no practical value in teaching children a language for which they no longer saw use. For these immigrants who had left their countries forever, survival depended on growing new roots as Americans.
In the years between the world wars, immigrants arrived in waves. There was a hierarchy for these groups, with the latest one to arrive usually being the poorest and least socially connected, and therefore shunned. With language as the main identifier of one’s group, the quicker one learned English, the sooner this discrimination would diminish. Native languages were a liability. It was only natural for parents to want their children to sound “American” and to be spared these difficulties. As for children themselves, then just like now, their focus was to fit in with their peers.
The first time I noticed a child in the US who spoke Spanish but pretended he didn’t, I was baffled. But then, I understood. Here, if you are middle class and educated, travel and have global interactions, proficiency in Spanish is helpful. But if you are a Latino child in a poor community, speaking Spanish may have given you nothing but grief. And so ironically, emotional aspects come into play and those who are most disadvantaged become less likely to exploit the rich, low-hanging fruit of an additional language, that eventually may give them an edge.
Although largely spared, I was not blind to the prevalent prejudice and discrimination against Latinos while raising my daughter. I understood that if she was going to speak and maintain Spanish, she had to “buy in” to its benefit. In those days, I didn’t have many bilingual support sources at hand, but a home-made combination of talks, travel, books and even a little Sesame Street, seemed enough to convince my child about the value of her Spanish.
These days, with easier travel, increased communication technology, more diverse populations and a global economy, the practical value of knowing multiple languages has skyrocketed for some. But for many they still remain a stigma.
During the last four decades in the US, inequality has increased resulting in more marked segregation in neighborhoods and schools. In my own town, for example, more than three quarters of the students are Latino, while more affluent adjacent towns have mostly white, non-Latino enrollment.
Our teachers and school administrators do their best to support bilingualism, but with segregation entrenched, prejudice and discrimination are hard to eradicate. Speaking Spanish is not perceived by many of these children as helpful, and this presents an emotional barrier to developing and maintaining bilingualism. How could we change this negative perception in every child who has the opportunity to learn Spanish from a young age?
In my community, my contribution comes in the form of writing bilingual books for children and reading them at local schools. Bilingual books help children make linguistic connections between their languages. In their homes, these books allow every family member (a grandma who may not speak English, or a young uncle who doesn’t know Spanish) to share the same story. Children can discuss the story with everyone in the family, and even adults may benefit by improving their own language skills. By reading these books in local schools, I also demonstrate that bilingual skills are valuable. Many of these children have never met an author, let alone a bilingual one. For some of them, this single experience may tip the scale of motivation.
When I’m out with my young granddaughter, we speak Spanish. While rarely anyone says anything, gestures and actions speak louder than words. The wide range of responses from people around us spans from sheer delight to harsh judgment. At times, even I become self-conscious enough to switch languages, as if needing to prove that we can speak English, that we are home.
We all can find our own ways to recognize the value of languages to motivate children’s learning. Our help could come in the form of praise for a child’s language proficiency, or a request for help with a translation. And it could be as subtle as becoming aware of our own reactions to people speaking foreign languages. Worldwide there are different social dynamics at play for each foreign language. Some languages may even trigger public distrust, avoidance, or fear. Children may not be able to articulate these reactions, but they certainly notice and internalize them.
Delia Berlin was born in Argentina but has spent most of her life in Connecticut. With graduate degrees in both Physics and Family Studies, she worked in early intervention, education, and administration, and taught child development at the college level. She writes bilingual children’s books, as well as essay collections with her husband, artist David Corsini. For more information about Delia Berlin and her books, visit her website at deliaberlin.com.
If you’d like to buy some of Delia’s lovely books click on the links below.
This week we have a guest post from the lovely Lily. Lily She has just completed her time in Portugal with the Erasmus programme. Lingotastic only exists because of the Erasmus programme, we met in the UK as native German Maik came over with the Erasmus programme. But, enough of our story, over to Lily…
Hi I’m Lily and I’m a third year languages student. For the past nine months I have been studying in Portugal as part of the Erasmus programme for my degree. I’m studying French and Portuguese, and usually in the UK it is compulsory to spend the third year of your studies abroad in order to gain firsthand language experience before completing your final year back at your home institution. My university is slightly different in that it does not allow you to split the semesters between countries, so the summer vacations either side of the academic year are crucial if, like me, there’s a second language to maintain! So last summer I was an au pair for a family near Lausanne in Switzerland, and this July I will be following an intensive course in Lyon, France. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten everything!
Languages are unfortunately becoming less and less popular in the UK, as options for GCSEs and A-Levels, and many languages university departments have closed in recent years. It’s a real shame as I’ve found my degree to offer me great flexibility with ideas for the future and opportunities for study. I think I was extremely lucky to have had a truly passionate and engaging French teacher at secondary school for 5 years, and her dedication and inspiration helped me to pursue my eventual degree choice. My French classes at school were taught completely in the target language, and as we were all beginners, this was definitely like being thrown in at the deep end. However, it was certainly the most effective way for me to pick up my first second language, which was far more successful than my attempt with Spanish, the classes for which were taught in English.
When it came to choosing degree programmes, I knew French would figure in the mix in one way or another, and the great thing about most of the degree programmes on offer is that you can normally take a language as an elective module, so you can gain accreditation for language learning even if your degree is in maths or zoology. A joint honours language programme was the route I decided upon, and I chose to learn Portuguese ab initio, taking an accelerated course. Sometimes when I tell people what I study, they ask “why Portuguese?”, and I still don’t have a concrete answer. It’s partly because I wanted to learn a language that was a bit more niche and away from the usual European languages that are taught at schools (not that Portuguese is so very niche with over 200 million speakers worldwide, but still), and I also had hopes to spend the year abroad in Brazil, because it would coincide with the Olympics and I thought that would be a good plan. And saying you can speak Portuguese is normally a good conversation opener when you’re talking to people.
As you can imagine, learning a new language as well as starting university in a new city was quite overwhelming, but we all got there in the end! Because the course was accelerated, we learned most of the grammar and the intricacies of the language very quickly, and as a result my range of vocabulary was quite limited, but this was justified with the reasoning that the year abroad would help fill the gaps. I eventually chose to study in Coimbra, Portugal, mainly due to costs and a few other reasons that made staying closer to home more desirable at the time, and I’m so glad I came here! I’ve still got about a month left in which I need to finish some work and take my final lot of exams, but other than that it’s going to be a time to enjoy and relish my last days in Portugal. Erasmus is such a good opportunity for all students, not just linguists, to participate in, because you’re living in a new country with new people, and you’ve got to adapt pretty quickly to a new culture and vibe; my friend who is studying in Germany came to visit me and she said she had more culture shock coming to Portugal than when she first arrived in her host city. It’s not all coffee drinking and partying., as many people think Erasmus is (well, it is for some, but this academic year carries a lot of weighting for my final degree classification, so I have had to maintain some work ethic throughout), but there are infinite opportunities to meet people from all over the world, to travel to other countries and cities, and to become well acquainted with another city and country. I think I know more of Portugal than I do of the UK in all honesty now!
As far as I can tell, my language skills have improved, and I can hold a more natural conversation in Portuguese, which was my main goal. I certainly haven’t achieved fluency or anything like it, but I’m more competent and I can understand much more, which is all that I could have asked for. Sure sometimes I can share a joke and laugh with the postman, and other times the waiter can’t really understand what I’m trying to order, but it’s swings and roundabouts, which is what I’ve come to expect with language learning. Also, I’ve developed a genuine love for my third language, which is great, because before I came here my relationship with Portuguese was slightly more love-hate, depending on how well my revision was going on a particular day. I would certainly recommend the Erasmus experience to everyone, even just taking a couple weeks out of the year to study a course somewhere abroad would be a great experience for anyone. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life so far – I know I’m only young! – and I cannot recommend it enough.
Lily has completed her time in Coimbra, Portugal and in now in Lyon France improving her French. Follow her adventures on Lily has a blog.
How did you boost you language skills? Let us know in the comments below, you could even be our next guest blogger!
We have a brilliant guest post from Jess, on her final week of Erasmus Programme in Nantes, France. Team Lingotastic only exists because of the Erasmus programme, we met in the UK as native German Maik came over with the Erasmus programme. But, enough of our story, over to Jess…
“What is the point of learning French ? Surely they can all speak English over there?”
I am faced with this question almost daily. Friends, family, acquaintances, the internet, even celebrities seem to find learning a second language pointless and a waste of time. (In the words of Jeremy Paxman earlier this month, English is the “only language that you must have”, and learning French is “positively bad for you”)
So, what is the use of French? I often struggle to find the words to answer this question quickly, but in brief: language really is so important in our lives. From the beauty of communication, to the gateway to getting about, language really is essential. We go about our daily business using it, and without language, the world would be completely silent. Learning a second language on top of your mother tongue really is a journey, and you can learn so much more about the world and yourself by doing so. Not everybody on this earth speaks English, and learning French has opened up my mind and given me so many new skills that I would never have gained before.
I started my language journey at age 12 in secondary school. Like most of the kids in the class, I never really saw how French could be “useful”, and had a similar mindset to people such as Paxman, thinking that if I spoke English really loudly when abroad everyone would have to understand me (just a hint, this doesn’t work) . It was only at 16 that everything clicked into place, and by watching French films, reading French editions of Cosmopolitan Magazine and listening to French music, I started to see how the language fitted into another culture. I was lucky enough to have a French teacher at A Level who really gave me a love for the language, enough so that I chose to pursue it at a degree level.
It is true when they say that you only really learn a language when you become immersed in it. Thanks to the Erasmus Programme, I have been able to study in Nantes, France for the past academic year, and meet the most wonderful people from all around the world. Erasmus is a wonderful scheme and an excellent opportunity for all language learners, as it lets you study or work in the country where your chosen language is spoken, and offers a lot of financial support. I would recommend this programme for anyone looking to improve their language skills, or even start from scratch, as immersion is a great way of getting into a new language and culture.
Learning French in France has helped me improve considerably. You really cannot comprehend how important having a second language is until you live daily life outside of an English speaking country. From organising accommodation, paying rent, getting the bus to going food shopping…all of this requires you to communicate and understand what is being said. You will pick up so quickly, and after a few weeks, it became a second nature. I’ve managed to learn so many quirky expressions, learn so many amazing stories and pick up things that make perfect sense in French but do not even have a meaning in English. I think this is so valuable and special, and helps me love France and French even more.
The skills I have learnt living in France have also been so valuable. Languages teach you so much. You have to think on your feet always, and you have to be confident enough to laugh off the mistakes you make whilst also learning from them. I do not regret moving over to France one bit, and would do this year all over again if I had the time and money. It has been amazing to get this opportunity to go out there and be a part of French society, and speaking the language really makes you feel a part of France.
So the point really of learning a language is that you open your mind. It can take days, weeks, or even years to feel like you have mastered a language, but the skills you gain along with is will aid you for life. I am grateful that my languages journey has been so positive, and I hope that when I qualify as a teacher, my journey can help others to start their own.
If you want to read more of Jess’s time in France check out her blog