Monday, June 29, 2009

The one-millionth word

Global Language Monitor, an American organization that follows language trends, accurately predicted that English would reach its 1,000,000-word mark this month.

On June 10th, Web 2.0 was crowned the one-millionth English word. Welcome to the language.

English has more words than French, German, and Russian combined. But does it really need a million terms?

The average American knows about 20,000 words and uses roughly 7,000 of them a day. Even Shakespeare, who invented some 1,700 terms, only knew about 60,000. I'll bet he always had to have the last word.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Journey to France and to French

This post will be the first to originate from our new American headquarters in Philadelphia. My name is David Donaldson, and not only am I the new COO of Language Routes, but I am also a new learner of French. (Very new, as the early recipients of my first Language Routes email newsletter (sign up here) will attest, given my misspelling of je m'appelle.) My weekly entries will relay any breaking news from the US office, and will also chronicle my efforts to learn French as a forty-something year-old who has never learned a spoken language other than English (middle school, high school and college were Latin, Latin and more Latin.)

I recently traveled to France for the first time, and a Francophile was born within me almost immediately. My first weekend was spent in Burgundy, at the home of some friends in Cravant (a tiny, very charming hillside village near Auxerre.) The rapeseed was in full golden bloom, the weather was warm and sunny, and the weekend was filled with great conversation, sumptuous meals and the steady flow of fine Burgundian vin rouge.

It was after my arrival in Lyon that I began to realize how much I was missing due to my lack of French. The art and architecture of the city was awe-inspiring, the food and wine again ranked among the best I have ever experienced, and the people were open, friendly and helpful - never was I shunned, ridiculed or made to feel stupid, no matter how much I had earned it. When I asked, for instance, why I didn't see any guests or doormen at the Hotel de Ville (pictured above, behind the magnificent Bartholdi fountain on the Place des Terreaux) I was told, very kindly, that Hotel de Ville means City Hall. We had a small laugh, and I was informed that it was a very common mistake from non-French speakers.

The humor of my next misstep didn't become evident to me until hours later. The desk clerk at my hotel spoke very little English, and after I had checked in and gone to my room to unpack I returned to the lobby and asked him for some ice and a glass (you may see where this is going already.) He ducked into the back and returned a moment later with a bowl filled with ice.

"Merci," I said. "and a glass?"

He motioned to the bowl. "Oui, monsieur. Glace."

"Yes, thank you, but I also need a glass."

And so on. Maybe not Abbott and Costello, but enough to make me laugh out loud when I realized what had happened much later.

So my goal now is to be prepared with at least some rudimentary conversational skills before my next trip to France and our home offices in Lyon. I'm taking lessons at my local Alliance Francaise (with the incredibly engaging Marie-Laure), looking into hiring a tutor, and of course utilizing those Language Routes products that are more beginner-friendly. I'm even finding that Bien-dire magazine, which is mostly targeted at more advanced learners than myself, has some very helpful content - such as the article in the most recent issue (No. 64) detailing, with images, common terms heard in a bar or café ("une tasse" "boire un coup" etc.)

Kari's fascinating posts will continue, but please check back weekly to see what's happening here in Philadelphia. And if you have any stories of funny or rewarding moments in your journey to speak French, please do share them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Buon appetito!

I wasn’t surprised to learn that many of the English words used in the kitchen are of Italian origin: pasta al dente, marinara, parmesan, espresso, biscotti… no big shockers there. However, I recently came across a few that made me think, “Mamma mia! I didn’t know that word came from Italian!”

Eat your frutta e verdura!

Tutti-frutti - from tutti frutti, meaning ‘all fruits’

Artichoke – from North Italian articiocco (originally from Arabic al-ẖaršúf)

Arugula - from the Neapolian dialect rugula

Broccoli - from plural of broccolo, meaning ‘cabbage-sprout or top’

Cauliflower - from cavolfiore

Zucchini – from plural of zucchina, meaning ‘small gourd’

Got a sweet tooth?

Soda – from soda

Candy – from the Old Italian zucchero candi

Sugar – from zucchero (originally from Arabic)

Of course, these are just a sampling. But it really gave me an appetite for learning Italian!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Make bilingual the beginning

I grew up in a place where being simply bilingual was borderline boring.

Speaking multiple languages was very common in this small country housing over 78 dialects. It was not at all surprising to meet a person who could speak six or seven languages. Of course, they might not be completely fluent in each one. For example, a friend of mine could just get by in Baoulé, say the greetings in Senoufo and barter for fish at the market in Guéré - this on top of speaking his native language of Bété and learning to read and write French at school.

It was essential for daily life that everyone be able to communicate, which meant that sometimes you didn't use the correct verb tense or the right gender. If a Dan speaker wanted to do business with an Abé speaker, they might do so in a mixture of French and Dioula, the Manding language spoken by traders across the region.

As globalization progresses, we assume that the use of English will only increase. It's already the language of business, science and the Internet - so if you speak English, you're all set, right? I disagree. Never underestimate the power of greeting a person in their native language. It shows respect and interest, and can often open doors. Nelson Mandela said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." We need to start looking beyond bilingual and branch out into multiple languages.

* Did you know? The bilingual population ranges from between 60% and 75% of the world’s people. It is common for most of the world’s societies to be multilingual.
Recent studies have shown that becoming bilingual makes learning new languages easier. You've already mastered your native language. Have you started on a second language or maybe a third? Keep going. Practice the greetings in the language of your great-grandparents. Brush up on your high school Spanish. Learn a proverb or saying in the language of a country you want to visit. Set a goal to make bilingual just the beginning.
Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.
The limits of my language are the limits of my universe.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, June 13, 2009

10 reasons to learn French

1. A language spoken throughout the world

More then 200 million people speak French on 5 continents. The French Language comprises 68 states and governments. French is the largest foreign language learned after English and the ninth most spoken in the world. It is equally the only language with English that one can learn in every country in the world. France has a very large network of cultural establishments abroad where it is learned in French courses by more than 750000 persons.

2. A language in order to find employment
Speaking French and English is an asset for multiplying your chances in the international hunt for employment. The knowledge of French opens the doors of French enterprises in France as well as abroad in all of the Francophone countries (Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, and all over the African Continent). France, the fifth commercial power and third most welcoming for foreign investments, is a leading economic partner.

3. The language of culture
French is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance, and architecture. Knowing French, it is to have access to the original version of large texts of French literature and the Francophone but equally in cinema and in song. French is the language of Victor Hugo, Moliere, Leopold Sendar Senghor, Edith Piaf, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alain Delon, and Zinedine Zidane.

4. A language for traveling
France is the most visited country in the world with more than 70 million visitors each year. With a knowledge of French, it is often more pleasant to visit Paris and all the regions of France (from warmth of the Cote d’Azur in the snow covered Alps to the untamed coasts of Brittany) but also taking in the culture, the attitudes, and the art of life of the French. French is also very useful when one visits Africa, Switzerland, Canada, Monaco, les Seychelles…

5. A language for studying in the French Universities
Speaking French notably permits pursuing studies in France in the reputable universities or in the great schools of commerce and engineering, classes among the best superior establishments in Europe and in the world. The students mastering the French language can benefit with French government scholarships in order to attend a third cycle of studies in France in all the disciplines and to obtain internationally recognized diplomas.

6. The other language of international relations
French, is the language of work and the official language of the UN, the European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross… and many other international judicial groups. French is the language of three city seats of European Institutions: Strasbourg, Brussels, and Luxembourg.

7. A language for opening oneself to the world
English and German, French is the third language on the Internet ahead of Spanish. Knowing French permits taking another look at the world of communications with Francophones on all of the continents and informing oneself gracefully in the large international media in the French language. (TV5, France 24, Radio France International)

8. A pleasant language to learn
French is an easy language to learn. Numerous methods exist for learning French in amusing ways for children or adults. One can also very quickly attain a level for communicating in French.

9. A language for learning other languages
Learning French helps one in learning other languages, notably the Latin languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian) but also English since French provided more than 50% of the English vocabulary.

10. The Language of Love and Spirit
Learning French, it is foremost the pleasure of learning a beautiful language, rich and melodious that everyone often call it the language of love. French is also an analytical language which structures thoughts and develops critical thinking which is very useful in discussions or negotiations.

Source: Consulate General of France in New Orleans

Click here to get started!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mandarin makes you musical

Learn Mandarin and become more musical? Apparently, the two go hand in hand. Researchers discovered that speakers of tonal languages are much more likely to have perfect pitch. In Europe and the US, only one in 10,000 have the gift. But in certain parts of China it is very common to have the ability to sing or recognize the pitch of a tone by ear.

The study results suggest that learning a tonal language plays a far greater role in perfect pitch than genes. Asians participating in the study only scored better if they were fluent in their parents' native tongue - and the level of fluency seemed to affect their mucical abilities as well.

So, who wants to learn Mandarin, Cantonese or Vietnamese?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

English words in the French language?

Surely not, I hear you say. Mais oui ! Here are eight words in English that you'll often hear on the streets of France.

Le week-end
masculine noun
The French have actually used this term since the 1920s. You may also hear partir en week-end to mean going away for the weekend. Note that le week-end has a hyphen!

Un leader
masculine noun
You can talk about un leader sportif or un leader politique. Le leadership is also used.

Un talkie-walkie
masculine noun
Why the inversion? No one knows. And in the plural, you add an 's' to both words: les talkies-walkies.

If you like something: C’est cool !

Booké, surbooké
If you're busy, you could say « Je suis booké ». And if you are very busy, you are surbooké !

To be sure your French is up-to-date and not passé, here are some commonly used English words you'll hear on the street but won't find in the dictionary... yet!

Don't be surprised if someone replies to your question with « Yes ». It's very popular among younger generations.

If you want to catch up with a friend, you can say: « Donne-moi de tes news. »

Une check-list, un check-point, un check-up are already in the French dictionaries, but you'll have to wait a bit before seeing 'checker'. In the meantime, vous pouvez checker vos e-mails !

Monday, June 1, 2009

10 tips for traveling to Europe this summer

It's that time of year again. The cherries are in season and so are the tourists. Don't get me wrong - I love visitors to our city. They remind me to open my eyes and appreciate the experience of living in France.

If you'll be traveling to Europe this summer, here are my 10 tips for a more enjoyable experience. Bon voyage!

1. Make a scan.
Before leaving on your trip, scan your passport, travel documents and emergency contact numbers (including credit card companies and banks). E-mail the scans to yourself so you can access them from any cybercafé in case of loss or theft.

2. Look around.
If no one else is wearing shorts in the Fine Arts museum, maybe you shouldn't be either.

3. Get a name.
Each time you visit a new site, first take a photo of a sign or brochure with the name of the location. That way when you go to look at your photos after the trip, you'll remember which basilica had the beautiful mosaic and which square had the sculpture of the women driving a chariot.

4. Step aside.
In many countries it is polite to stand to one side on escalators to allow others in a hurry to pass you. France is one of these countries. For the record, I think it's brilliant.

5. Get close.
Americans have a much larger sense of personal space than many other cultures. If the subway is crowded, squeeze in to make room for others. We're all in this mass transit thing together!

6. Have a plan P.
You may soon find that public restrooms are something you took for granted back home. I don't mean nice, clean restrooms. I mean any restroom. Go when you have the opportunity (hotel, restaurants, museums...). Otherwise, look for pay toilets (usually 25 to 50 centimes in France). Near tourist attractions you may find Turkish toilets, a.k.a. 'squatty potties'. Ladies, time to work those quads! The trick is to stand as far as you can from the 'flush button' and push it with your foot so you don't get hosed. Oh, and carry tissues in your purse.

7. Go local.
There are usually two kinds of local food specialties. The first one everyone eats, the second only the locals eat. Try both.

8. Ditch the pack.
Not the pack as in the group, but as the fanny pack (or bum bag if you're Australian). Opt for a travel wallet instead. You can wear them discreetly under your clothes and your wallet and travel documents will be much safer than if worn around your waist.

9. Use your inside voice.
Remember that someone around you probably understands English. (Trust me.) That means they can understand if you complain about their country/food/public restrooms/many prostitutes. They also understand when you tell your friend your wallet is in your pocket, but credit card is in your backpack.

10. Keep reading.
And if you haven't yet decided where to go this summer, I recommend that you read the following reviews of Lyon...

"France's second-largest metropolitan area, Lyon has many of the same charms as Paris: great opera, chic shops, river cruises, world-class museums and even a tall, 1893 metal structure that looks like the Eiffel Tower. But Lyon is older than Paris, has more Roman ruins and, as local residents will tell you, better food. "
--Going to Lyon, New York Times

"Lyon is the best base for exploring the Rhône region. It has the finest food in France and a historic core unequaled in the region."
--Introduction to Lyon, Frommer's

"Lyon has been among France's leading cities since when the Romans ruled...Lyon is the most historic and culturally important city in France after Paris. Here you'll experience Old World cobbled alleys, Renaissance mansions, and the classy, Parisian-feeling shopping streets of the Presqu'île district. "
--Sightseeing High and Low in Hilly Lyon, by Rick Steves

"Food? Art? History? It's all here in this slightly quirky city."
--A Taste of Lyon, LA Times

"Dirty, sprawling, fast, sexy, Lyon is like Paris waking up after a hard weekend. It has its beautiful parts – what better place to build a city than at the confluence of two of France’s most graceful rivers, the Rhône and the Saône – and its history stretches back to Roman times, but France’s second city is best loved for the here and now: for food, fashion and culture."