Anyone who shares my fascination with language and uncovering the obscure will enjoy browsing the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. There are reckoned to be over 6,000 languages in the world with some half of those under threat of extinction this century.
Continue reading “Uncover global languages with captivating interactive atlas”
Bilingualism has hit the headlines this weekend, with some fascinating new research findings. Bilingualism is a brilliant skill in my opinion. To be able to speak fluently in more than one language, or even to think in more than one language, not only aids communication but must surely help expand your view of the world and philosophical approach to it.
Bilingualism – mental recycling?
Continue reading “Bilingual brain brilliance”
Language learners in Japan have a turned to a new book to improve their use and understanding of English: The Speeches of Barack Obama.
The 95-page book and accompanying CD has become a runaway success among Japanese students of English, according to a recent BBC report.
The book contains many of Obama’s speeches, dating back to his now famous address at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Each English transcription is accompanied by a Japanese translation.
The title has surged to No. 2 in the best-seller list, with more than 400,000 copies flying off the shelves.
Many students learn the speeches off by heart. But their appeal is not only their timeliness and topicality. According to one English teacher, it is also the clarity and rhythm of Obama’s language.
WorldAccent’s London-based Japanese typesetter agrees: “Obama’s speeches are very poetic, but very clear. They pack a lot of meaning into a few words, and the language really flows.”
A spokesperson for the publisher commented that they would not, though, be publishing speeches by just any president. “Would you buy the text of former President George W. Bush’s speeches?” he asked.
There is mixed news in a new report on languages in secondary schools from the National Centre for Languages (CiLT). They looked at a sample of schools across the UK in a survey they have carried out each year since 2002.
First the good news. State schools in the UK are starting to offer a much broader range of foreign languages than the traditional French or German. Since 2005 the number of schools offering Mandarin as an option has increased from 2% to 14%, while Italian has increased from 7% to 18%. The availability of Urdu, Russian and Arabic has also increased.
With China’s growing influence in the world, making Mandarin available as a foreign language option can only be a good thing. And learning it from an early age is no bad thing either, as some people find it difficult to adapt to the Mandarin pronunciation later in life.
Many also find it difficult to get to grips with the writing system which uses individual characters for particular words or concepts. The examples featured in the Chinese GCSE specification (PDF) I looked at were written in Simplified Chinese, as one would expect for people learning Mandarin with an eye to interacting with mainland China (or more correctly the People’s Republic of China).
This at least reduces the number of characters that need to be learned, although there are still thousands!
And it is interesting to note that many Traditional Chinese characters seem to be gaining currency even in the PRC as the influence of Hong Kong is felt.
There is a down side exposed in the CiLT report though. Although the decline in foreign languages in our schools has bottomed out, this summer saw just 44% of Key Stage 4 (ie 16 year old) pupils sit a language GCSE. Compare this to France where the teaching of English is compulsory up to age 17.
Although many schools are taking up alternative qualifications to GCSE to tempt pupils to learn languages, we still lag some way behind many other EU countries.
My daughter is currently going through the process of chososing her GCSE subject and to try to ensure she takes at least one foreign language I will be directing her here – 700 reasons why it is good to learn another language.