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Winter traditions in Sweden and Russia

Posted on December 18, 2014 by

Winter traditionsBabbel is releasing two courses with a focus on winter traditions: Swedish winter holidays and celebrations and Holidays and celebrations in Russia, where you can discover the Swedish relationship to mys, who ‘Lucia‘ is, how Russians celebrate the new year, and much more. But why do so many of these celebrations and feasts take place in the winter?

Imagine waking up and going to work in pitch darkness. Just before lunchtime the sun is rising, only to set again some time after your lunch break. You go home from work in darkness and wake up again fourteen hours later – still in the dark. It may not sound too appealing, but this is what winter is like for large parts of northern Europe. Celebrations and small rituals are a way to cope with the long dark tea-time of the soul.

Take the Swedes for instance. They light candles andgather at home for some mys – cosiness. This is probably the key word to Swedish culture nowadays. Everything is mys, and all kinds of words can be constructed with out of it:myskväll (cosy evening), höstmys (autumn cosiness), vintermys (winter cosiness), mystofflor (cosy slippers), or the most infamous one: fredagsmys (Friday cosiness). That is when you gather in front of the TV with your whole family and eat tacos. Or maybe kebabpizza – a Swedish fusion of kebab and pizza, with iceberg lettuce and yogurt sauce on top.

Turning everything into mys helps Swedes through the winter. And in mid-December, when the nights are longest according to the Julian calendar, Lucia (St. Lucy) brings light. Every kindergarten, nursing home and church gets a visit from a singing Lucia procession, consisting of Lucia herself, with candles in her hair, her female tärnor companions, and the male stjärngossar (star boys) who wear huge paper cones on their heads.

It is hard to say where the Lucia tradition comes from, but parts of it are medieval or even pre-christian. Dark forces were said to be out haunting people, especially the witch Lussi, who was riding in the sky with her minions and would prey on anybody foolish enough to be outside. Later on this merged with the Catholic celebration of St. Lucy of Syracuse. Today’s Lucia celebrations are a mélange of different traditions, but with one central theme: bringing light in the darkest hour.

In Russia, the most important annual celebration is that of the new year, Novy God (Новый Год). Since according to the Julian calendar New Year’s Eve (31 December) is almost immediately followed by Christmas (7 January), Russians have about ten days of holiday with lots of champagne, caviar, and – if you’re lucky – gifts. They are brought by the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, дед Мороз (Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost), who visits new year’s parties, schools and kindergartens, accompanied by his granddaughter Снегурочка (Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden).

Russian traditions tend to have religious, pagan or Communist origins, and they are celebrated with gusto, almost like a form of protest against everyday hardships. Daily life in Russia can occasionally be a tough slog, whether you’re fighting the weather, social injustice, or bureaucracy. The worse the problems, the harder and more fiercely people party – after all, no-one knows what will happen tomorrow!

Engaging in some serious mys with mulled wine, or letting the vodka flow until the daylight finally returns – how do you cope with the winter darkness? And do you have any favorite winter traditions from Northern Europe? Let us know in the comments!

Portrait: Aldo from Trieste

Posted on November 26, 2014 by

Portrait: Aldo from Trieste

We’re doing a series of portraits of Babbel users – a snapshot of their lives, and their reasons for learning a language. If you would like to share your story with us, please leave a comment below. This month we spoke with Aldo, a 70-year old man from Italy full of energy and motivation. Canoeing in the morning, chess in the afternoon, and now a new goal: learning English. (more…)

British and Irish food: It’s not as bad as you think

Posted on November 19, 2014 by

British and Irish food

Matthew Youlden, editor in our Didactics department (pictured here with senior project manager Maren Pauli) and one of our favourite polyglots, has created a new Babbel course about British and Irish food. He tells us why food from his country has such a bad reputation, what to do with old bread, and why he has to choose whiskey from Ireland over Scotland. (more…)

Portrait: Mireille from Lausanne

Posted on October 17, 2014 by

Portrait: Mirelle from Lausanne

We are launching a series of portraits of Babbel users – a snapshot of their lives, and the reasons why they are learning a new language. If you’d like to share your story, let us know in the comments. This month we spoke with Mireille, a 24-year old student from Switzerland who is learning Swedish for a very good reason – love.

My first encounter with Swedish was in school. When I was 16, I met my boyfriend… who was Swedish. (more…)

Portuguese for beginners

Posted on September 26, 2014 by

Portuguese

Anja from backpacking blog happybackpacker.de has been travelling the world for almost 15 years, writing about her travels and her two great passions, surfing and diving. She recently spent several months on the road in South America and was reminded how important it is to have a few phrases of the local lingo up your sleeve. (more…)

How to build a new learning habit in 3 steps

Posted on August 28, 2014 by

learning habit

Knowing how to build a new learning habit is crucial for your long-term learning goals. That’s why for the past few months, we’ve been investigating habit-forming. How can we help people form habits that keep them engaged in regularly learning a language?

We all know that an important part of learning is repetition and regularity. This may sound rather boring, but it is inevitable if you are serious about it.

A regular comment from our users is “I can’t find the time to learn regularly.” Does this sound like you? How many times have you gotten to the end of a long day, and not managed to find that little ten-minute window you promised yourself?

While we understand time is an issue, we believe the real challenge lies elsewhere.

It turns out that there is a way to create a new routine in your life. It starts with choosing a very simple behavior that you wish to do every day. But contrary to popular belief, it’s not about scheduling that behavior at a specific time, but about reliably triggering that new behavior so it becomes second nature.

Here’s how you can build a new learning habit in three simple steps. (more…)

What is the sexiest accent?

Posted on August 6, 2014 by

sexiest accentHere at Babbel, we don’t shy away from the big questions. How can we solve global warming? Is Keynesian economics dead? Which nationality has the sexiest accent?

*cough*

(more…)

American slang – it’s a piece of cake

Posted on July 22, 2014 by

american slangBabbel’s new course, American Slang, teaches you the most useful American expressions and phrases. It got us wondering: why is something that’s easy ‘a piece of cake’?

Here are some of the (possible) origins of some classic American expressions. Take them with a grain of salt!

 

broke – to have no money, or to be bankrupt

Many banks in post-Renaissance Europe gave their customers small porcelain tiles, with the person’s name, credit limit, and the bank written on them. Think credit cards, only heavier. The customer brought the tile with him when he wanted to borrow money, and if he was past the limit, the teller ‘broke’ it.

(more…)

Russian stereotypes quiz

Posted on July 16, 2014 by

russian stereotypes

To celebrate the release of Babbel‘s new Russian course we’ve compiled a quiz to test your knowledge of Russian stereotypes. We looked at what the numbers said, and we asked Larisa Bulanova from our Didactics department to give us an insider perspective on what Russians think.

So: is it true that Russians drink vodka like it’s going out of fashion? Is it actually that cold?  And if you go to Russia, should you watch out for bears?

Remember, they’re called stereotypes for a reason! Please don’t take them too seriously.

Test your knowledge of Russian stereotypes… click to begin the quiz.

 

 

Why are people really learning languages?

Posted on June 18, 2014 by

If you’re learning a language at the moment, take a second to consider this question: why?

Recently, the question has been framed in economic terms. Freakonomics began it with a podcast that questioned the financial benefits of language learning. Over at the Economist’s Prospero blog, Robert Lane Greene argued that the numbers were higher than had been estimated and varied greatly depending on language.

It’s a debate worth having – albeit a bit sad that we reduce the beauty (and unquantifiable benefits) of learning a new language to an economic return on investment.

But how decisive is this factor? For which age groups and nationalities? What are the main reasons that make people want to learn a language?

(more…)