Corona has not just changed life as we know it, it’s also changing our language. Something that’s not only happening to the English language, I’ve noticed changes here in Germany too. A recent conversation with Birgit Kasimirski, a journalist, translator and language nerd like me, led us to collaborate on an article together about this topic and create a short quiz to “Test your Corona English“. The current version is only available in German but I will be translating it and posting an English version very soon.
Article by Rebecca Deacon and Birgit Kasimirski
Fakt ist: Corona verändert wie wir Sprache verwenden
Nicht sicher ist: sind wir uns dessen bewusst? Ein Dialog aus britischer und deutscher Perspektive.
Corona hat uns vor Augen geführt, wie schnell sich Dinge schlagartig radikal ändern. Anders als die Schließungen von Schulen und Landesgrenzen von einem Tag auf den anderen, bemerken wir aber eher verzögert, wie sehr sich auch unsere Sprache in den letzten Monaten verändert oder eher – an die Umstände – angepasst hat.
Der Blick der anderen
Wie verändert sich unsere Sprache und bemerken wir das innerhalb unserer eigenen Muttersprache noch? Fällt das jemandem „von außen“, also einem Nicht-Muttersprachler vielleicht sogar eher auf? Das ist mein Eindruck nachdem Rebecca Deacon, Engländerin, die seit 20 Jahren in Deutschland als Lehrerin und Übersetzerin lebt, mir davon berichtete: Sie stolperte jüngst über das Wort Auflagen, dieses war ihr bisher nicht untergekommen, wogegen ich bei den Auflagen – also dem Wort – keinen besonderen Gedanken verschwendet hatte, mal abgesehen davon, dass ich Auflagen eher im Zusammenhang mit unseren Gartenmöbeln benutze.
Was mich beim Sprachenlernen schon immer fasziniert hat, ist die Art Weise, wie wir Vokabular lernen, erklärt Rebecca. Für mich als jemand, die in Deutschland lebt und ständig von der Sprache umgeben ist, hatte ich angenommen, dass ich ganz automatisch alle nötigen Wörter der Sprache in mich aufnehme. Und dennoch gibt es nach 20 Jahren noch “neue” Wörter für meinen aktiven Wortschatz, in diesem Fall eben das Wort Auflagen. Ich verstand das Wort natürlich im Kontext und konnte mir vorstellen, was damit gemeint war, aber ich hatte es bisher nie zuvor aktiv benutzt und hätte keinen Unterschied zwischen Auflagen, Richtlinien oder Regeln festmachen können. Und plötzlich taucht das Wort überall auf und ich wundere mich, wie ich in einem Land, das – seien wir mal ehrlich – ein gutes Maß an Regeln und Vorschriften sehr schätzt – diesem Wort vorher niemals über den Weg laufen konnte. Habe ich es einfach nur nie gesehen oder ignoriert und werde jetzt so sehr konfrontiert mit dem Wort, dass ich es nicht länger ignorieren kann?
Angeregt durch Rebeccas Auflagen-Erfahrung habe ich mich in der englischen Sprache auf die Suche nach neuen, bisher für mich unbekannten Wörter und Ausdrücken gemacht und dabei herausgefunden: die Engländer sind erfinderisch. Sie verwenden Abkürzungen, Zusammenführungen von Wörtern und Rhyming Slang.
The British way
Die reimende Umgangssprache oder der Rhyming Slang, erzählt Rebecca, ist eine verbreitete Art der Briten, neue Wörter zu erfinden. Beispielsweise: Tom & Dick = sick und zurzeit Miley Cyrus = virus. Entsprechende Sätze könnten lauten: Anne isn`t coming today, she`s Tom & Dick. Oder Have you heard – Peter got the Miley Cyrus. Ein anderer verbreiteter Trend besteht darin, Wörter zu verkürzen, also sagen wir someone has got „the rona“ oder wir benutzen sanny für sanitizer und oder BCV für before Corona virus. Oder Wörter werden zusammengezogen, also wird aus quarantine und martini the quarantini.
Humor und Corona? Geht das?
Die Tatsache, dass mir in der deutschen Sprache, kein einziges neues Wort durch Abkürzung, Zusammenführung oder Reimen eingefallen ist und eine Bemerkung eines guten Freundes zu der Handhabung der Engländer „Über das Thema macht man sich nicht lustig!“ lässt in mir die Überzeugung wachsen, dass unsere Art zu sprechen auch unsere Mentalität widerspiegelt. Aber es bringt mir eher zum Sprichwort: Not Macht erfinderisch – das Sprichwort bezieht sich in seinem Ursprung darauf, Dinge zu überleben, die das leben, die Umstände einfacher oder besser machen. Bezogen auf Sprache: ist es so, dass wenn wir neue Wörter erfinden, das auch die Umstände besser macht oder vereinfacht?
Das ist in Großbritannien oft der Fall, berichtet Rebecca. Neue Wörter wie quarantini oder covidiot (jemand, der sich nicht an die Pandemie-Auflagen hält) zu erfinden, ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, wie Briten Humor benutzen, um mit schwierigen Situationen umzugehen. Es ist überhaupt nicht so, dass wir nicht verstehen, wie ernst die Lage ist. Jeder von uns weiß, wie schlimm Großbritannien getroffen wurde und im tiefsten Inneren macht uns das eine gehörige Portion Angst. Aber der Humor hilft uns dabei, mutiges dreinzuschauen und ganz nebenbei bringt es die Menschen zusammen.
In der deutschen Sprache jedenfalls fallen mir keine wirklich erfundenen Wörter ein, vielmehr haben wir ein paar Anglizismen mehr integriert: Homeoffice, Lockdown, Houseparty, Social Distancing, Homeschooling – alles Begriffe, die sich durch Heim-Arbeitsplatz, Sperrmodus, Hausfeier, soziale Distanzierung und Unterricht zuhause nicht 100 -prozentig ausdrücken lassen würden. Diesen wichtigen Hinweis möchte ich an dieser Stelle, geben: Kein Engländer macht home office (Home Office = Innenministerium), they rather work from home! Das führt uns zum nächsten Thema: der Substantivierung.
Das Ding, die Sache, der Sachverhalt
Der Hang zur Substantivierung zeigt sich unter Corona besonders deutlich: Substantive klingen automatisch ernsthafter, seriöser. Würden wir Verben verwenden, würde die Thematik – in unseren Augen – vielleicht nicht schwer genug wiegen. Ausgangsbeschränkungen, Abstandsregelungen, all das klingt in dieser Situation für uns angemessen. Und – wie auch Rebecca gelernt hat – funktioniert es sehr gut, mehrere Substantive aneinander zu hängen: Ausstiegsstrategie, Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien, Abstandsvorschriftenverweigerung, Infektionsgeschehensverlauf.
Ooooh ja, sagt Rebecca, die Deutschen lieben ihre Substantive und erst die zusammengesetzten! Für jemanden, der fremd im Land ist und nicht-Muttersprachler ist das ein guter Tipp – falls man ein deutsches Wort nicht kennt – einfach ein paar Substantive zusammenzupacken, das funktioniert oft gut. Sie kennen das Wort für Dentist nicht? Versuchen Sie Zahn und Arzt in einem Wort und voilá: Zahnarzt! Das funktioniert bei vielen anderen ähnlich:, Frauenarzt, Kinderarzt, Hautarzt. Ganz schön praktisch! Wir Briten lieben dagegen Verben. Wir “arbeiten von zuhause” (work from home, WFH), nicht im home office (warum sollte ich, ich bin nicht der Innenminister!), wir distanzieren uns, we are social distancing und halten keinen Abstand und isolieren uns selbst, self-isolating, finden uns nicht in Selbstisolation wieder. Ich stimme zu, dass Substantive die Dinge irgendwie offizieller und sachlicher erscheinen lassen und Verben den Aussagen einen persönlicheren Ton verleihen.
Und obwohl jede von uns beiden einen eigenen Weg hat, mit dieser neuen Situation umzugehen, finde ich es ziemlich tröstlich und amüsant, wie die kleine alltägliche Sorgen der Menschen in jedem Land sich auf unterschiedliche Weise zeigen und dadurch die ganz eigenen nationalen Gepflogenheiten nochmal zum Vorschein kommen. So behandelte vor Kurzem ein Artikel in einer britischen Zeitung ausgiebig die Probleme, die durch den Gang zum Friseur entstehen können. Die Regierung hat geraten, dort keinen Smalltalk zu halten. Bitte, was? Für uns Briten ist Smalltalk Bestandteil unserer DNA. Wie bitteschön sollen wir ein Smalltalk-Verbot hinbekommen? Am gleichen Tag sah ich einen Bericht im deutschen Nachrichtensender über den aktuellen Skandal in einer Fleischfabrik, wo der Virus ausgebrochen ist. Ein ziemlich langer Teil des Berichts war dem Mettbrötchen gewidmet und der Frage, ob es möglich sei, sich den Virus über den Verzehr von Mett einzufangen. Als Britin gibt es für mich nichts Seltsameres als Mettbrötchen. Obwohl Mettigel!
Die Sache mit der Fleischfabrik hat uns alle erneut auf den Boden der Tatsachen zurückgeholt. Die Ferien beginnen und alle hoffen (hey, ein Verb!) darauf, dass nach all den Auflagen und einer langen Zeit der Abstinenz durch Corona und des damit einhergehenden Shutdown, inklusive aller möglichen Ausgangsbeschränkungen im öffentlichen Leben genauso wie in den Bereichen Arbeit, Schule und Freizeit, irgendwann am Ende doch Verbesserung der Situation, ein Ausweg und die Rückkehr zum Alltag inklusive aller Aufhebungen von Kontaktsperren etc. steht (und noch ein Verb!). Hätte das ohne die Substantive mit Reimen und Abkürzungen genauso geklungen? Vermutlich nicht.
Sollte dieser Text dazu beigetragen haben, Dir bewusst zu machen, wie sich Corona seit geraumer Zeit auf unseren Sprachgebrauch auswirkt, hat das – wie so wenig in letzter Zeit – keinerlei Auswirkungen! Du musst keinen Abstand nehmen und nicht in Quarantäne, es verändert möglicherweise nur Dein Bewusstsein.
Test your Corona Englisch – wie fit bist Du?
1. Was ist ein “Coronial”?
a. Jemand, der sich mit dem Cornoa-Virus angesteckt hat
b. Ein Lieblingsartikel, den Sie während der Lockdown gekauft haben
c. Ein Baby, das während des Lockdown gezeugt wurde
d. Eine Person, die einen neuen Job angefangen hat, während sie im Home Office arbeitet
2. Was ist der englische Ausdruck für “Coronaspeck”?
a. Corona fat
b. Corona bacon
c. Covid 19 (pounds)
3. Wie lautet der englische Ausdruck, wenn Sie während eines Zoom-Meetings eine Beziehung beenden?
c. Zoom and Go
4. Welcher Ausdruck kann nicht verwendet werden, um Hamsterkäufe zu beschreiben?
c. Squirrel shopping
d. Panic buying
5. Welcher dieser Grüße wird während der Corona-Zeit empfohlen?
a. A hug
b. An elbow bump
c. A handshake
d. A head bump
6. Um Arbeitsplätze in Großbritannien zu erhalten, kündigte die Regierung ein Unterstützungsprogramm an, das es den Unternehmen erlaubt, Arbeitnehmer vorübergehend in bezahlten Urlaub zu schicken, während die Regierung 80 Prozent ihres Gehalts zahlt. Wie lautet der korrekte Begriff für diese neue Unterstützung?
b. Short Work
c. Paid Leave
d. Gardening Leave
7. Der Tag, an dem Sie gerade leben, aber keine Ahnung haben, welcher Tag es tatsächlich ist, weil sich jeder Tag während des Lockdown gleich anfühlt?
8. Um die Einsamkeit zu verringern und Menschen, die allein leben, zu unterstützen, hat die britische Regierung es kürzlich Menschen, die allein leben, erlaubt, mit einem anderen Haushalt eine Gruppe zu bilden, ohne dass eine soziale Distanzierung erforderlich ist. Wie ist der Name dieser Gruppe?
c. Corona group
- c, Vergessen Sie nicht, dass das Vereinigte Königreich, obwohl es offiziell das metrische System hat, immer noch dazu neigt, zur Beschreibung des Gewichts eher Pfund und “stones” als Kilo zu verwenden. Die USA benutzen ebenfalls Pfunde.
- d, Eine Kombination aus Zoom und to dump, dem umgangssprachlichen Ausdruck wenn man eine Beziehung beendet.
- c, Obwohl Eichhörnchen (Squirrels) gerne Nahrung sammeln und lagern, ist dies kein richtiger Ausdruck für Hamsterkäufe. Alle anderen Optionen können verwendet werden.
- b, Der Ellbogenstoß (elbow bump) war einer der ersten offiziellen Vorschläge zur Begrüßung von Menschen während der Pandemie. Eine Umarmung (hug) oder ein Händedruck (handshake) sollten vermieden werden, und natürlich wäre ein Kopfstoß (head bump) ziemlich schmerzhaft.
- a, Furlough kommt von dem niederländischen Wort Verlof und wurde in der Vergangenheit verwendet, um die vorübergehende Beurlaubung von Mitgliedern des Militärs zu beschreiben. Die Regierung hat das Wort wiederbelebt, um das neue System zu beschreiben, das in Großbritannien während der Pandemie eingeführt wurde. Den Begriff Short Work gibt es nicht, aber Short-time Work mittlerweile doch, um das deutsche System von Kurzarbeit zu beschreiben. Gardening Leave beschreibt, wenn ein Arbeitnehmer aus einem Unternehmen entlassen wird und zu Hause bleiben kann, sein Gehalt aber bis zum Vertragsende in voller Höhe ausgezahlt wird. Paid Leave beschreibt einfach bezahlte Urlaubstage.
Looking for a new job? In these uncertain times it might not seem like the best time to be moving to a new employer. However, some people have been given no choice or perhaps this unprecedented situation has provided people with exciting new opportunities.
This is a repost from 2018 but the information is still totally relelvant and helpful for anyone who is searching for a new job but worried about their English skills. CV and interview coaching is one of the most popular packages I offer, so if you need some support, don’t be shy to get in touch for a free consultation.
Just about every job advertisement you read here in Germany these days contains the words “Fluent English required”. Something that scares the hell out of a lot of non-native speakers. Even the ones who are pretty good at English.
But before you decide you shouldn’t apply for that job, take a minute to consider the following things:
1. “Fluent” does not equal “perfect”.
Nobody is perfect. Not even in their native language. How many people know every single word that exists in their native language? People would consider me to speak “fluent” German as I am a CEF level C2 and can handle every situation from scary telephone conversations with the tax office to nice conversations with my nail lady discussing the pros and cons of a shellac manicure. All of this I can do without reverting to English, checking a dictionary or getting into too much of a flap. But I am NOT perfect. I make small mistakes all the time. And sometimes big fat ones when I’m having a Bad German day. Just for reference, a Bad German day is a bit like a bad hair day. No matter what you do, it just isn’t right. One of my Bad German day classics was asking someone in a tourist information office if I could get to the local castle “mit dem Fuss”. A weird combination of “mit dem Bus” and “zu Fuss” which literally came out as “with the foot”. Like I only had one foot. Or I was planning to hop up there “with the foot”. Yes, my husband still laughs about that one.
2. What is the employer really expecting?
For many employers, good English and fluent English are interchangeable. They only write the word “fluent” because that’s what everybody writes these days. The reality could be they need anything from a level B1+ to a C2. (click here to see more on CEF language levels). Don’t know your level? Ask your English teacher for a guideline or take one of the many free online CEF tests available.
3. Get yourself an interview and then let them decide.
If English is important they will test it during the interview anyway. If they decide your level isn’t good enough, then that’s that. But perhaps your level is good enough for what they need and meets their idea of “fluent”. If you really want the job, it’s worth giving it a try at least. You could also ask in the interview more about what skills you really require in English.
So, to sum up, defining the word “fluent” is a bit like defining the word “fit”. I can run 5 km without dying so some people would call me “fit”. On the other hand, I generally can’t do it in less than 30 minutes which means I’m pretty slow, so therefore a lot of people would say I’m “not fit”. In the same way, everyone has their own definition of fluent. Just take a look at the blogs and forums on this subject and you’ll get a lot of different answers.
Try not to see fluency as an unrealistic ideal. There’s more flexibility to fluency than you think.
Do you have a different idea of “fluent”? Feel free to comment below. For regular posts like this straight to your inbox, subscribe to my blog by adding your email address in the box on the right.
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It’s a couple of years since I wrote this post but the “10 minute” question has frequently come up in client (remote) meetings over the last few weeks, so I thought it might be worth reposting. A lot of people have started projects during lockdown such as yoga, cooking, woodwork and interestingly (for me at least) some are learning a new language. Resources showing us how to do all these things are endless but often the question remains, how much time do I really need to invest? Maybe this post will help you decide.
Where would Germany be without the sausage? The wurst is omnipresent here from street festivals to Saturdays at the football, from Christmas markets to your average takeaway stand serving the slightly bizarre, currywurst (chopped up sausage with ketchup and curry powder!). If sausage disappeared from German lifestyle there would be a big empty section in the supermarket and a certain level of hysteria among the non-vegetarian/vegan section of the population i.e. most Germans and my husband! Apparently, there are around 1500 different types of sausage in Germany. That’s a lot of wurst!
Of course, the wurst has also made its way into the language and there are lots of great idioms/sayings that are sausage-related. As I have said before, idioms are a fun way to spice up your language skills and impress a local. Just make sure you learn them word for word, as one small mistake can mess up the whole thing. So, here goes with my top 5 wurst idioms and their rough translation:
- Let’s start with my absolute favourite. Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst / Don’t play the insulted liver sausage. Basically, this can be used for anyone who’s in a bit of a huff, bent out of shape and sticking out their bottom lip because they feel they’ve been treated unfairly and now they’re playing the insulted liver sausage. No idea why this one has to be liver sausage (if anyone out there knows, please tell me).
- Armes Würstchen / Poor little sausage If you know something about the German language, you might notice the suffix chen on the wurst here. Chen is used to form a diminutive, making the wurst small. So, if you call someone an Armes Würstchen / Poor little sausage you basically feel sorry for them because…..well let’s face it nobody wants to be or receive a small sausage, right?
- Eine Extrawurst kriegen / To get an extra sausage On the other hand, if you are a lucky person, people will tell you, you get an extra sausage. This could be anything from getting extra helpings at dinner to getting a better bonus than your colleagues. Because the only thing better than sausage in Germany is of course, more sausage (and perhaps a beer to go with it).
- Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst / It’s coming down to the sausage This is kind of like it’s coming down to the wire i.e. this is where it really counts. The final match of a tournament or the last 10 minutes of a tight game or the last exam that’s worth extra points. In the past, it was apparently common at village fairs that the prize for winning a contest was a sausage. It’s all coming down to the sausage now!
- And to finish, as we finally start to come out of lockdown and see a faint light at the end of the dark covid-19 tunnel, Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei / Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. At some point, all things must come to an end. Apart from the sausage.
All this makes me wonder if other countries have similar idioms using their national dishes. Do the Spanish have idioms about paella or the Japanese about sushi?? Let me know if you’ve ever come across something similar or have other wurst idioms to add to my collection. Thanks for reading and as always, please subscribe (in the box on the right) if you would like to follow me and receive this content straight to your inbox.
Happy English Language Day! Yes, it seems everything has its day these days and the English language is no exception. April the 23rd was introduced as English Language Day by the United Nations to “celebrate multilinguism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization”. And why this date in particular? Well, it turns out that April the 23rd is Shakespeare’s date of birth AND death. Really. He was apparently born on this day in 1564 (although accurate records don’t exist) and died 52 years later on the 23rd of April 1616. He shaped the modern English language, inventing over 1,700 words that are still common today, ranging from amazement to zany. So, to celebrate English Language day, here are 5 great reasons why it’s good to improve your English. Really hoping my clients are reading this…..
- Job. This one is a no-brainer but the fact is, speaking good English can seriously open up your career path. There are very few jobs today that don’t involve some level of communication in English. Even if your company is local not global, chances are they have international customers or perhaps plan to expand internationally in the future.
- Information. More than half of all online content is in English. Which means if you don’t understand English, you’re missing out on a whole lot of internet sources of information. In addition, large amounts of films, series and books are written in English. Improving your skills means you won’t need to rely on translations or subtitles to enjoy this content.
- Education. English is spoken in so many countries that there are thousands of courses taught in English all over the world, so understanding English opens up a huge range of opportunities in education. In addition, English is now increasingly the language of science. Most papers are written in English, even if the reseacher is not a native.
- Travel. One in five people in the world can speak or at least understand English. That’s over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Of course, I’m in favour of learning some of the local language when you travel but if I hadn’t learned some Swahili when I was in Tanzania, the next best thing was English. This goes for a lot of countries. English is the official language in 67 different countries and the second official language in another 27. According to the Pew Research Center, almost every country in the world requires children as young as six to learn a foreign language at school and it’s usually English. So, if you want to travel and make your life easier, speaking English is definitely the way to go.
- Fun. Ha ha. I can literally picture some of my German clients sitting in front of me, struggling through future tense and muttering away at how really Scheiße the English language is. But really Helmut, it can be a lot of fun! It’s incredibly rich (it has more words than any other language), it allows you to communicate with 20% of all people on the planet people and it can open up new worlds of information, education and entertainment. And like all language learning, it’s good for you. I know I often bang on about this but studies have shown that learning a second language is good for brain health.
Feeling motivated to get started? Why not join my Duolingo challenge and start learning now from the comfort of your couch? Or drop me a line if you are looking for some live coaching. And as always, feel free to add your comments below or follow my blog by adding your email address to the box on the right.
Week three of lockdown and life is no longer as we know it. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.”
Speaking to people over the last couple of weeks, one question seems to come up a lot:
“What day is it today?”
We’ve all been thrown out of our usual routines and somehow every day seems to be blending into the next. There’s no going out to work, to the gym, to a cafe, to meet family or friends, to the pub. We’re all still trying to do these things in a remote way but there’s just one problem. It all happens in the same place. At home. And it’s starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day!
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the film Groundhog Day, my first question would be, why? It’s a classic Harold Ramis film from the early 90’s starring the magnificent Bill Murray. Murray plays Phil, a self-centred, obnoxious weatherman who gets sent to the small town of Punxsutawny to cover the story of the famous groundhog who comes out of his burrow on February 2nd to make an anuual weather prediction. Phil hates his job, his colleagues and all the annoying people of this little town. However, one morning he wakes up and realises, he’s reliving the same day, over and over again and it won’t stop. He’s stuck.
While it might not seem like your average self-help coaching film, there’s a lot to learn from Groundhog Day. Whole coaching books have even been written about about The Wisdom of Groundhog Day (Paul Hannam) explaining how the film is not just a comedy but also about self-improvement and self-transformation. The message is pretty simple. Once Phil realizes he can’t change his circumstances and he’s stuck, he chooses to change his attitude and ultimately himself instead. He creates his own ideal day based on creativity, compassion and contribution. He adapts to his surroundings and makes the most of his circumstances, utilizing his time to learn the piano, learn French and be nice to people. He makes friends with the locals, falls in love with his colleague Rita and soon becomes the most popular guy in town. And finally, he’s happy.
In a way, being “stuck” at home in lockdown is similar. We can’t change our circumstances, we can only change our attitude and how we use this time. So here are 5 lessons from Groundhog Day which might help you deal with life in lockdown:
- Establish new and better routines. Nobody likes being pushed out of their usual routines. They give us a sense of comfort and control over our lives. To help bring back that feeling, establishing new routines is essential. Try to get up at the same time every day and stick to a morning routine e.g. shower and breakfast. And while you’re at it, why not create some new and better routines. Not all the habits from your pre-corona life may be worth holding on to after all.
- Be kind. Take a minute to think about the people you know who might be suffering during this crisis. People who are worried about their jobs, health, they’re home alone or struggling to with work from home while handling their kids. There are a lot of people in difficulty right now. Drop them a mail, give them a call, think of a way you could help from a distance. Helping other is a win-win, as it supports them, it makes you feel good and it takes your focus away from your own problems. And remember this is “physical” distancing rather than “social” distancing. There are plenty of ways to still say social, even if you can’t meet people. Skype, Facetime, Zoom, calling, emails or even the good old-fashioned letter.
- Suppress the sea monster. Lockdown does not mean you need to turn into a creature from the deep in pyjamas. Go out, get some fresh air and daylight, have a shower and make yourself look presentable. Feel like you would on a normal working day. Fresh air, daylight and exercise are essential to well-being. Studies of people suffering from depression show that just a few minutes a day walking outside in the fresh air can improve mood and mental health. In the same way, take pride in your work/home space. Declutter and tidy up. Clutter in the home can actually cause anxiety and has been linked to higher levels of cortisol (the stress causing hormone). The last thing anyone needs now is more stress.
- Learn a new skill. Phil learns French (to impress Rita) and takes piano lessons. If there’s a skill on your bucket list, perhaps now is the time to get started. Learn that language (there is still time to join my Duolingo experiment), take up knitting, learn how to cook, start writing that novel. Sometimes, the best way of getting things done is to simply begin.
- Think about what you can learn going forward from this bizarre experience. Maybe this time has brought you closer to certain people (despite the social distancing), you’ve learnt a new skill or developed good habits. That’s a win and something positive to take away from lockdown. We keep talking about life going back to normal at some point. But perhaps some things will have changed for the better and we can go back to a nicer normal. Think carefully about the future and all the things you really want to do when this is all over. Because at some point, it will be over. As Phil says in the film:
Phil: Do you know what today is?
Rita: No, what?
Phil: Today is tomorrow. It happenend.
As always, if you would like to receive more content like this straight to your inbox, add your email to the box on the right. Thanks for reading and stay safe.
So, maybe you’re already tired of people telling you about all the great ways you can spend your time in isolation right now. Get fit, start knitting, declutter your house, sew your own face mask, count your toilet rolls….
Learning a language is something people would often like to do but never find the time to do. Along with getting fit and learning to play a musical instrument, it’s normally in the top 3 of most desired skills. So, if it’s been on your bucket list for a while, this could be your chance!
Maybe you fancy starting a new language or picking up something you learnt back in school. I’m looking for as many volunteers as possible to join in and see just how effective it is to learn a language with an app. Duolingo is the biggest and most popular free app/website for learning a language with over 300 million users. It’s easy to use and aims to make learning fun. Whether you’re an experienced language leaner or a complete language muppet, Duolingo’s mission is to provide free, easy, language tuition for everyone.
What is the challenge?
It’s pretty simple. Try to complete 24 hours of learning with the app before Sunday May 31st. If you start today and learn every day that would be around 24 minutes a day. Duolingo doesn’t track time but according to their website, one lesson = approx. 10 minutes so you can use this as a guideline.
Back in 2018 I carried out a 24-hour Polish project. The rules were the same but I only had lessons with a native speaker and used books and cards. No apps or online tools. I would now like to compare that experience with a completely online/no human interaction/social distancing experience. This time, I’m going to spend 24 hours learning Turkish, but only using Duolingo.
How does it work?
- First of all, download the app (available for both iOS and Android) or go to Duolingo.com
- Choose a language you want to learn (they have a great selection)
- Set a daily goal (you can change this later) and then set up a profile (name, email address and a password)
- Join my experiment class by going to your Profile, press Progress Sharing and add the Class Code GQVAAD. (If you have any problems joining the group, just let me know). That means I can see who is taking part and the progress they are making. Alternatively, you can just drop me a mail here at the website or on Facebook or Xing. Let me know what language you are doing and your email address and you can join the challange without being in the online group. Just keep track of how many lessons/hours you do. At the end of the challenge, each participant (whether they complete the challenge or not) will receive a short questionnaire from me to give their feedback on the experience. I plan to use this feedback to write a post reviewing the Duolingo app and the general experience of learning a language online.
Why should I take part?
Well, first of all because it’s always fun to learn something new, set yourself a challenge and you can impress everyone this summer with your new language skills! It also means that at the end of the journey, my review of Duolingo will be based on numerous opinions and not just mine. I would be extremely grateful for your support.
What language should I choose?
Absolutely anything that takes your fancy. Duolingo has a great selection from standards like French and Spanish to much more exotic things like Vietnamese and even High Valyrian! I’m planning to do Turkish i.e. a level 2 language like Polish (see list below) and a language where I’m a complete beginner. But feel free to choose anything you like the sound of. Whether you’ve learnt it before or it’s completely new. To stay motivated, keep in mind the following things when you are making your choice: Do I like the sound of the language? Is the language used in a country I like or would like to visit one day? How difficult is it? The list below gives you a rough guidleine:
Level 3 (most challenging for English native speakers)
Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic
Russian, Hindi, Greek, Turkish, Polish, Hebrew, Czech, Hungarian, Ukranian, Vietnamese
German, Indonesian, Swahili
Level 1 (least challenging for English native speakers)
French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Romanian
What is the start/finish date?
You can join in at any time. However, the end date of the challenge is May 31st.
What if I don’t manage my 24 hours?
Nothing of course, this is not school! It’s just supposed to be a bit of fun. If you don’t manage the 24 hours, I will still be interested in your feedback at the end, to find out what you think of the app and why you didn’t make the 24 hours (frustration, boredom, lack of time etc.)
I’ve used Duolingo a lot in the past. My advice would be:
- Add the new language to your language settings on your phone. This helps with typing different characters and predictive text.
- Always have the sound switched on so you can hear AND see what you’re learning.
- Try to speak out loud as often as possible to get used to hearing your new language “voice” and get used to pronunciation.
- Think carefully before deciding which language you want to do. This helps you to stay motivated in the long run
So that’s it. If you have any questions, please let me know. Looking forward to learning with you!
Sounds like a dance move or an exotic cocktail but in fact, the Swahili Swerve is what I call my recent “abrupt change of direction” in my language learning journey. I’d been plodding along quite nicely this year. I brushed up my Spanish to use at a wedding in March, my Polish teacher was here again over the summer so I ploughed on with “the terribly difficult Polish language” (his words, not mine) in preparation for my trip to Warsaw in November. But then all of a sudden, out of the blue, I’m sitting in a jeep at Kilimanjaro airport at the start of our Tanzanian holiday and our driver Tito (who became my Swahili teacher for the next few days) was greeting us in Swahili, “Karibu”. Oooooh something shiny and new! Within the first 15 minutes of our drive, I’d learnt a few phrases and from there I was off!
On arrival at our first lodge, news quickly spread amongst the staff that there was a Mzungu (white foreigner) learning Swahili and by dinnertime I was happily communicating with them and having a great time. Every time I went to the bar, to the buffet to reception or generally wandered around the complex, staff started talking to me and handing me their own handwritten list of useful words for me to learn. They were so sweet, polite, patient and encouraging that over the next week I continued to learn and practice with Tito and talked to anyone along the way who would listen to me.
So, how is this possible? How can you start speaking a brand-new language and making basic conversation with locals in such a short time? It’s true that my experience of learning and teaching languages gives me a head start, but there’s really no magic here. And that’s why in this post I would like to share my own tips on how to get going with a new language in 15 minutes flat!
- Rule 1: No fear! Probably the most important rule when it comes to learning and, most importantly, speaking a new language. If you are afraid to speak, you will not progress. End of story. Forget the shame, swallow your perfectionist adult pride and just give it a go, right from the start. This strategy always works for me (see The Polish Project). In addition, the locals were sooo patient and supportive that I never once felt stupid, even when I made mistakes. That was a huge help. Once you get over your fear, your progress will be unstoppable. If you are unlucky and the native you speak to is unsupportive and doesn’t want to help you, find one who does. There are always plenty out there, I promise. If you don’t have the luxury of having a patient native to practice with, YouTube should be your next option. There are thousands of videos with natives giving you the “First 20 words/phrases” in whatever language you want to learn. Listen and repeat out loud as many times as possible. Talk to your friends, family, the cat, whoever will listen. It doesn’t matter if they understand you or not, the point here is to find and listen to your own “language voice” as early as possible.
- Rule 2: When you’re starting out, don’t learn grammar right away. Focus on useful phrases and learn by heart, word for word. Once you get deeper into the language, you can see the patterns and figure out some basic grammar. But at the beginning, keep it simple and most of all, practical. Learning “Everything is great thank you” or “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” can be used immediately and much more often than “I go, you go, he goes…..” yawn, yawn
- Rule 3: Be a parrot Listen and repeat, listen and repeat. Every time Tito taught me a new word, he repeated it at least 4 or 5 times and I copied. Not only does this give you chance to get used to the sound of the word and help you learn it (and drive the other person in the jeep i.e. my husband, mad) it helps with accent. It’s no good learning a new language if no one understands you because your accent is all messed up. I’ll talk about the importance of a good accent in a future post but personally, I think it is essential and the sooner you start working on it, the better.
- Rule 4: Choose an easy language Listen out for words you might already know and create hooks. While Swahili sounds like an difficult, exotic language, it’s actually classed a level 1.5 for English natives i.e. relatively easy. If you want to see progress quickly and you have a choice, aim for an “easy” language. For example, if you are a native English speaker then French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese are considered easier than say Bulgarian, Russian or Turkish. Swahili is phonetically easy for English speakers and I was amazed at how many words I already knew. If you’ve ever watched The Lion King, you probably have a lot of words already; Simba, Pumba, Jambo, Hakuna Matata! Finally, a vocabulary “hook” or mnemonic is really helpful when you are learning brand new vocabulary. Try to find a connection between the new word and your own language e.g. the Swahili word for “Yes” is “ndio” which sounds a bit like “indeed” which is close to “yes”. There’s your hook.
- Rule 5 Have fun with it Learning should always be an enjoyable experience and add something positive to your life rather than cause stress. Will I use my Swahili in the future? Honestly, I don’t know. It is the most spoken African language and around 90 million people speak it so yes, perhaps. Personally, the most important part of my Swahili swerve to me was making a connection with the local people and seeing how much they appreciated my efforts. Their big smiles and positive reactions constantly reminded me of my favourite “language learning” quote:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)
Maybe you have a trip planned and want to give a new language a try? Follow my tips above and let me know how you get on. As always you can add comments below or add your name to the box on the right to follow my blog.
A question I often hear from my clients. Considering that most of my clients are German and the Germans love having certificates, not a big surprise. But also, not an easy question to answer.
Of course, sometimes there is a necessity for a certificate. Universities often require a TOEFL certificate from foreign students. But for the average language learner like me who doesn’t need a certificate for higher education, is it worth the time and effort?
On a cold, rainy Sunday back in December I got up early to take a train to Stuttgart to spend my day taking the Japanese JLPT N5 exam. JLPT certificates are the gold standard when it comes to learning Japanese. They test vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening skills and can be taken on just two specific dates (in July and December) every year. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t test my sushi-eating or karaoke-singing skills but despite that, I still managed to pass and am now the proud owner of an N5 certificate. The question here is, was it worth it? The travel costs, exam costs, stress, the sleepless nights (the night before the exam I dreamt that once I arrived in Stuttgart, I was actually a contestant on Takeshi’s Castle, wearing a strange outfit, a pink helmet and being introduced to General Lee. Ganbarimasu!!) However, I can honestly say, for me personally (Takeshi’s Castle nightmares aside) it was definitely worth it. And here’s why:
- Let’s face it, when it comes to reaching tough targets, we all need a bit of a push. A fixed deadline and a clear objective combined with a dose of personal pride (nobody wants to fail) can be very motivating.
- Exams often force you out of your comfort zone to tackle tricky material and skills that you might normally avoid, which in my case are my Japanese listening skills. However, listening comprehension was 30% of this exam so I was forced to practice it and stop avoiding it.
- Revising for exams can help you reassess your learning methods in general and may open up new methods or bring you back to ones you had forgotten about. When I first started Japanese, I often used Quizlet to learn my vocabulary and phrases. After a while, I got bored of it but then rediscovered it during my exam preparation. Revising also helps you see how much you have actually learnt so far. Learning a language often feels like a huge, unmanageable, never-ending task but looking back over what you have done and focussing on what you already know rather than what you don’t yet know, is a nice feeling.
- Everybody loves a benchmark. When it comes to any kind of skill, we all like to know where we are in the big picture. Although most people have no idea what JLPT N5 means, I can see where I am and where my next target should be.
- Finally, I have to say I was AMAZED at the number of fellow Japanese learners (strugglers) willing to sacrifice their Sunday and battle their way (without outfits or helmets or General Lee) through this exam. I was expecting to be in a dingy room with a handful of other language nerds like me, plus the usual gamers and cosplay girls. Not so! There were literally hundreds of people there. It’s nice to know, I am not alone.
Of course, there can be a downside. So, before you rush out and register for that exam, consider the following points:
- Cost. The costs can soon add up: registration, travel costs, materials, extra lessons etc.
- How’s your exam attitude? Bit nervous about such things? Totally normal, most people are. So nervous you want to vomit and run out of the exam room faster than your Takeshi’s Castle contestant legs can carry you? Give it a miss. There’s no point putting yourself through that much stress.
- Are there plenty of preparation materials? Mock papers and workbooks help you prepare not just for the content, but also the layout and structure of the exam. People often fail exams simply because the paper didn’t look the way they expected it would or the question format was unclear. Make sure you know exactly what a typical paper looks like, what you will have to do and how much time you will have to do it.
- But most importantly, the main question should always be, is the exam relevant? Will you be learning things you really need? Of course, there is always some random vocabulary on the essential learning list. For example, I had to learn the the verb sasu, which translates as to put up one’s umbrella or to wear a sword in one’s belt. What??? Look carefully at the vocabulary you will be required to learn. TOEFL is often the first English certificate people think of but there might be a more useful exam for you e.g. something with more of a business focus like TOEIC or BEC. Ask your teachers, do your research and think carefully before you commit.
Personally, having a clear target, a bit of pressure and now feeling proud to have passed my exam, I am glad I did N5 and I’m planning to take N4 in December. Ganbarimasu!
Have you ever taken a language exam or are you planning to do so in the near future? As always, feel free to add your comments below.
So, here we are at the beginning of a new year, looking ahead at what we want to achieve and once again, I’m making a new list of goals. You may remember I did the same last year. I had 9 goals on my list and here’s how I got on:
- 2 goals ticked off 100% (Japanese and slow cooking)
- 3 goals adapted and then ticked off 100% (I started learning Polish instead of Italian, I learned to loom instead of knit and loomed a jumper for Polo, my dog)
- 1 goal got 30% ticked off (still a few more kilos to go)
- 3 goals were complete failures (guitar, book proposal and (gasp) my cake decorating skills! Still no idea how the hell that didn’t happen.)
Despite those 3 flops, I’m pretty happy with what I achieved. So, I decided to make a list again, consider what went right and what went wrong last year and make a few adjustments to my strategy.
My list for 2019 turned out to be very “language learning” dominant, so I thought I would share a separate “language goal list” with you and my tips for sticking with it. When people make their bucket lists, learning a language often comes high up along with travel, learning a musical instrument and getting healthy/losing weight. Surprisingly, when I recently took a look at dayzero (a website where people share their bucket lists) “Kissing in the rain” was also featured very highly! Just head to Sheffield on a Friday night and have a few drinks. Job done.
But moving away from the random targets, why is it that things like learning a language, playing an instrument and losing weight are often on these lists. Unfortunately, it’s because they are often the things that elude us. They take time, dedication, some discipline and are long-term projects. While my 24-hour Polish Project had its advantages, I know a lot of what I learned has already slipped away as I have been totally focussed on my Japanese for the last few months. In many ways, languages are the same as health and music. They are never really short-term projects, but rather a way of life. While that all sounds a bit daunting (especially the health part as cinnamon rolls are currently my “way of life”), let me share my language targets for this year plus some tips on how I intend to reach them:
1. Do the next JLPT (Japanese Proficiency) certificate in December
How? So, this is a good example of smart goal. The key here is the deadline. I’ll talk about the pros and cons of language exams in another post soon but registering for and taking part in an official exam really kept me on track last year. Finally getting my certificate also gave me a real motivation boost.
2. Refresh my conversational Spanish by mid-March
How? Again, I have a deadline (wedding in Madrid in March) but I have also tried to make the language focus quite specific. I initially wrote “Refresh my Spanish” but then realised that is way too vague. What does it even mean? How much? Refresh what exactly? Better to prioritise exactly what I want to use it for. In my case, to chat to any Spanish people on our table (although the bride is actually English. Hopefully we are not on a Brexit table!)
3. Refresh my Polish for a trip to Warsaw in June
How? Once again there is a date. It isn’t fixed yet but I am definitely going to Warsaw with a friend sometime around June. As I am still very much a beginner, my focus here will be on travel survival phrases and some basic small talk. Again, I have already planned what I need to focus on.
4. Start learning Turkish
How? Turkish is going to be another 24-hour experiment (like the Polish Project) but this time only using the Duolingo app. No idea yet where this journey will take me but I’m excited to start something totally new (the only word I know is Döner) and get more experience of using apps to learn languages which I can also pass onto my clients.
5. Read at least 4 books in German
How? One of my non-language learning targets for this year is to read more fiction. I realised that I’ve spent the last few years mainly reading coaching books and I really miss reading fiction. Luckily, my German is good enough to do this quite easily and I feel that it’s a good way to keep my language level up in a passive way. The key here is fun. It‘s something I like doing that takes little effort.
So what are your goals? Do you have any language learning plans for 2019? Feel free to add your targets in the comments below. Sometimes just writing them down can give you the motivation to get moving. And as always, if you would like my posts sent straight to your inbox, feel free to follow me by using the box on the right.