The Babbel Blog

Online Language Learning

Lost your alphabet? Korean is up for grabs

Posted on October 31, 2008 by

Apparently there are people who lack any alphabet for their spoken language. You find such groups for example on some of the 10.000 islands of Indonesia – that’s what linguists from South Korea are reporting. But these minorities are ready to embrace “Hunminjeonguem” -nowdays called “Hangeul” – the Korean alphabet, researchers found out.

The aphabet was invented some hundred years ago as an alternative to the rather complex Chinese characters. Hangeul (or Hangul) is well known for its logical design: It has 24 letters – ten vowels and 14 consonants — and is capable of expressing 11,000 different sounds.

Since last year, another group of Korean linguists has been working together with ethnic minorities in Yunnan, China, to preserve their cultural heritage: They speak with eldery tribe members, “walking museums” and try to develop a custom Hangeul writing system to record it all. Some of the minority groups in Yunnan lost their language altogether, adopting Mandarin or other ethnic languages.

(via Omniglot)

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¡Sube, sube! Or rather, baja!: Zune to become Univisión’s exclusive digital music provider

Posted on October 30, 2008 by

Zune, microsoft’s candy-colored answer to the ipod and itunes, has recently put their cards on the US Latin music industry by signing a pact with Univisión to become their exclusive online music download provider. Univisión is a New York based Spanish-language TV station broadcasting in the US and Puerto Rico, with one of the more visited websites in Latin America.

But Zune is not the only one laying their naipes on the table, with Baja Zune Música en, the Latin entertainment conglomerate is ostensibly hoping that the rate of music downloads in that market will go up instead of bajar (go down). According to Billboard this has been historically low, with digital music making up only 2.2 % of all Latin album sales.

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Voting from Spanish to Yup’ik: Rights for language minorities in the US presidential elections

Posted on October 27, 2008 by

Bryan Sells, an attorney with the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke to Babbel Blog about the legal provisions made to facilitate voting for non- or limited- English speakers in United States, especially in light of the upcoming US presidential election .

Click here to hear the interview with Bryan Sells. Right click to download mp3

Babbel Blog: Briefly, what does the Voting Rights Project do?

Bryan Sells: We protect voting rights on a non-partisan basis. Our mission as part of the ACLU is to fight for the principles embodied in our nation’s constitution and civil rights laws. A lot of what that means on the day to day, is protecting minority voting rights, working to improve the election system.

We have the election coming up on November 4th. A lot of registered voters in the United States do not speak English as a first language or not at all. Do you have a rough idea of how many voters we’re talking about, and what provisions are there in the law for non-English speakers?

I don’t have any good data on how many people use or need language assistance. But it is a federal law that applies everywhere in the country, that if you need language assistance, or assistance of any kind because you can’t read the ballot because of literacy issues or language issues, or if you’ve got a physical disability, you have the right to bring someone with you to interpret or translate, and help you in casting a vote. That applies everywhere.

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Some lists and it’s dialects again

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courtesy of failblog.orgThey couldn’t find one, and so they simply made their own list of the “Top 100 Language Blogs” . That’s how the people over at LexioPhiles explained their motivation for searching through 300 blogs, sorting them by “three main categories: content, consistency and interactivity”. They also made some lists about language Podcasts, most spoken languages and translation blunders (see picture, courtesy of LexioPhiles belongs to, which purports to become the “Wikipedia of languages”.

Following a link on the Bremer Sprachblog about people being stigmatized for their dialect, I stumbled upon the work of Babara Soukup. In her own account, she is “fascinated by the study of language attitudes and ideology” and did her PhD about “The strategic use of Austrian dialect in interaction”. She worked on “Language attitudes in the United States towards Southern American English” as well.

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“The words should roll out of the mouth” – On the dubbing of “The Wire” in German

Posted on October 24, 2008 by

For the original interview in German click here.

Frank Schröder is one of the two authors of the German dubbing of the acclaimed television series “the Wire”. In an interview with Babbel Blog, he speaks about the difficulties of translating the dialogue-rich series, which portrays the day to day goings-on of the police and drug dealing millieu in Baltimore. The series has been running for the past few weeks on German pay television. Schröder not only took care of direction for the dubbing of the first season, but he also dubbed the voice of the role of the policeman “Herc”.

Babbel-Blog: Even in the USA, some have to use subtitles to understand what’s happening in the show, because the slang can be almost incomprehensible to the untrained ear. As authors of the dubbing text, were you a bit stunned at first?

Frank Schröder: At first we were a bit stunned…when the raw translation of the first episodes were ready. I had a look at them together with “continuity,” that is, the English script and the German raw translation. That way I could understand a lot more than on the first look. My English isn’t that bad, but that way it was more understandable in some places.

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No judgements: Global Language Monitor tracks political buzzwords, filters through Obamarama and surges out of the quagmire

Posted on October 21, 2008 by

After posting last week about the CNN story proclaiming that Sarah Palin spoke at a higher grade level than Joe Biden, I was curious about the organization that made this assessment, and what they thought it meant. Now that curiosity has brought Babbel Blog together with Paul JJ Payack of Global Language Monitor to speak about political buzzwords — from “quagmire” to Obamarama — and, well, everything in the dictionary. Click here to listen to the interview with Paul JJ Payack. Right click to download mp3.

Babbel Blog: What does Global Language Monitor do?

Paul JJ Payack: Basically what we do is monitor global English and its impact upon various areas of culture.

What exactly is “global English”? How does that differ from American English or British English?

Five years ago we thought that it was an interesting idea to monitor the growth of the English language. We started with, I was the founding president of, and it’s the largest multilingual site on the planet, with about 300 different languages, 30 million pageviews a month. What we decided was that it would be interesting to focus on English. What was happening with English was, in 1960 there were 250 million speakers of English. In 2008 there are 1.35 billion speakers of English. (more…)

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Maps: 1,000 dialects and 6,912 living languages

Posted on October 17, 2008 by

Last week we had Mara interviewing the Dialect Doctor, who claims to cure accents and strengthen dialects. Well, now here is databank of roughly nearly 1,000 speech samples: Native and non-native speakers of English all read the same English paragraph; the recordings are collected and listenable over at the speech accent archive. They have the nice feature of a world map with a red flag from every region they’ve got a sample from. Click on the flag for an audiofile and a phonetic transcription.

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Sex, drugs and gobbledigook: Sigur Rós and RjDj emote in “musilanguage”

Posted on October 15, 2008 by

According to evolutionary musicology, “Musilanguage” is a proto-linguistic form of communication somewhere in between, on the one hand, emotive grunting/cooing/moaning/what-have-you, and then on the other, semantically/ symbolically appropriate but sonically arbitrary sounds that convey meaning (i.e. words). As most things are when it comes down to it, this particular concept is about gettin’ busy.


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There goes another myth: Children aren’t “sponges”

Posted on October 10, 2008 by

It’s not just the free-market myth that’s crumbling these days: Anne Sodermann, Michigan State University professor emeritus of Family and Child, spent some hundred hours in a bilingual Mandarin-English Kindergarten in Bejing. In a recent study (Powerpoint-presentation here), watching 3 to 6 year old children from 16 nationalities, she came to a surprising conclusion: “There’s a wide-held perception that if children are very young, learning(another) language is extremely easy for them – that they are like sponges – and that is just not true. Their motivations for doing so are very different from those of older children or adults,” says Sodermann.


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How do you say “body language” in Spanish? Debate does not provide the answer

Posted on October 8, 2008 by

Maybe too cowed to weed out the actual message(s) from last night’s American presidential debate, the media’s now wringing their hands over “body language“. Once again, more than what Senators Barack Obama and John McCain said, it’s how they said it. A nice bear hug at the end deflected the damage of McCain pointing and referring to Obama as “that one,” or Obama audibly sighing and shaking his head.

Paralanguage — tone and vocal nuance — was just as crucial. Obama apparently made a big boo-boo and came off as a bit alienating by eschewing a middle American twang and saying ‘Pahk-istan’ and ‘Tahl-iban’. The winner? More or less consensus is: if we’re speaking in body language, it was Obama. But if we’re speaking in paralanguage, McCain is ooooo-one for ZEEE-ro.

One language they did NOT speak in — or about — in last night’s debate, however, was Spanish. (more…)

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