Language & Learning
Polyglot happy wishes to Babbel.com that hasn’t stopped talkin’ since it launched in January 15, 2008! (Pictured at a little birthday shindig from a hazy last night in Berlin above.) Have any multilingual birthday wishes? Comment away… and check out some of behind the scenes features below to see a bit more how the intuitive, interactive language learning platform ticks. Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, happy Bday, feliz cumpleaños, joyeaux anniversaire, buon compleanno!
Babbel.com is closing in on its first anniversary on Thursday, the 15th, when we will be launching an ‘Inside Babbel’ series chronicling a bit of the goings-on behind the scenes at the language-learning website. But we thought in the meanwhile we’d give you the heads-up on a slightly older anniversary today, which would be the biblical confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel, which ostensibly happened on a Tuesday, the 13th.
While Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to avoid unnecessary travel and watch their backs on Friday the 13th, in Spain, Latin America and Greece Tuesday is the day to look out for. As Martes (Tuesday) in Spanish is linguistically linked with Mars, the god of war and violence, its combination with number 13, long a bad luck número, is almost too much for some to take. According to wikipedia, there’s actually a condition called Trezidavomartifobia, a paralyzing phobia of Tuesday the 13th.
Reuters Africa picked up on a little tidbit from a dubiously scientific survey by HSBC International Bank on the “expatriate experience abroad”: Apparently Germany is the number one country in the world for expats to find “love”, with a quarter (24%) of expats located in Germany marrying a local. Germany also came out as the spot where most expatriates (75%, according to the survey) “learned” the language of the host country.
Now, I say dubiously scientific here because I’ve always been suspicious of this whole “expatriate” idea. Not to mention its cutesy shortened form, “expat”. What makes an expat an expat, rather than an immigrant (or shall we say, to make it equallly cute, an “immy”)? HSBC did not set out to define, among the 2,155 persons they surveyed, what an “expatriate” was other than “an individual who relocates to another country”.
Imagine the moment, when the responsible editor of the “Max Planck Research” magazine learned, that the chinese symbols on the cover of its latest issue were an advertisment for some kind of strip club. That was not intended by the publication of the old and respected German research institute - as can be read in an apology to the readers: “Prior to publication, the editorial office had consulted a German sinologist for a translation of the relevant text. The sinologist concluded that the text in question depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context. To our sincere regret, however, it has now emerged that the text contains deeper levels of meaning, which are not immediately accessible to a non-native speaker.” The cover replacement (see above on the right) is the title of a centuries old book from a swiss jesuit.
More then 200 Million high school students in China study English while about 25,000 of their U.S. counterparts study Chinese language according to a Report from a Northwestern University graduate journalism student. It is not only global competition in economic terms which suffers under the unwillingness of more then the half of US high school students to learn a foreign language – but, according to some, it’s also a national security risk. A language professor was cited as saying: “As the U.S. helps piece together the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, the former intelligence agent said he suspects there will be a greater need for Urdu, spoken in Pakistan; Hindi, spoken in India; and possibly Pashto, spoken in Afghanistan or Dari, spoken in eastern Iran and western Afghanistan.”
The Marines, at least, are taking language learning from a security point of view: Working together with the monolith of language learning software – Rosetta Stone – which won a $1.2 million contract for courses, the soldiers can learn about 30 languages in 150-200 hour courses through the MarineNet distant learning portal.
The following statement of Kristian over at web-translations made me wonder. He was writing about how much is too much in language learning, and ends with the following: “As for me, well, I speak 6 languages…English, French, small talk, MSN speak, some basic programming languages (do they count? They should as they have strict syntax like any other language) and, of course, the language of Luurve.”
Yes, what about “code”? Does it count? There are several dozens of important programming languages and many more derived dialects plus some pidgin codes. And one would think, well, you don’t speak them literally, you hack them into the keyboard. But there are stories about conferences with lots of tech geeks where insider jokes and whole presentations consists just of spoken code. Over here for example, some programmer wishes to speak code.
How about a glimpse into the future of online education? Stephen Dowes’ article about “The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On” is an informative read about recent trends in eLearning. It also gives quite plausible predictions for things to come. Besides statements about “informal learning” (have a look at our factsheet for all these terms) and technology trends – e.g. the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project – the most interesting part for me was the one about “Connectivism”.
The concept of a “learning theory for the digital age“, introduced by George Siemens, is based on the assumption that the amount of accessible knowledge is growing at an exponential rate: “Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”
In all the hullaballoo lately about the democratization of foreign language education through the internet, one issue that tends to get left by the wayside is: What happens if you want – or really need – to learn a language but don’t have access to a computer?
Under the banner of “Language is a Human Right”, the non-profit Fluenz.org, based in Hollywood, CA, has developed “El Book”, a free primer for US Spanish-speaking immigrants with absolutely no prior knowledge of the language on the bare rudiments of English. A friendly, straight-forwardly designed lesson in black-and-white printable PDF with an accompanying (though not essential) set of audio files – easily burned onto a CD – is aimed not directly at the presumed student, but rather at NGOs, churches, local and state governments who could do the duty of transferring the material to analogue and distributing it to those who would use it.
Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive psychologist, referred to it as “a bomb thrown into the party”. The bomb? The discovery by Christian-missionary-cum-Linguistics-chair Daniel Everett of a group, the Pirahã, deep in the Amazon, whose language seems to eschew the grammatical use of “recursions”. What kind of party is that then, you ask? It’s a academio-linguistic one that’s been going on for about forty years now, celebrating the idea of Universal Grammar, which according to the Chomskyan theory, essentially allows language to occur.
But according to the Guardian, “it only takes one black swan to falsify the proposition that swans are by definition white.” That is, the fact that the Pirahã exist basically turns upside the idea that the grammar is actually universal. (more…)
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.