The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

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: Daniela in Brussels

Posted on December 17, 2014 by

retratoBabbel User Portraits are glimpses into the lives of people around the world. If you would like to share your story with us, just leave a comment below. This month, we talked with Daniela Schaller who has been living in Brussels for a few months with her husband and young son, and who learned Dutch quickly with Babbel.

I started learning Dutch with Babbel in May of 2013. At that time, I had no idea I’d be living in Belgium one day. I’d always been interested in the language, and the defining moment for me to start was the wedding of a friend, who married a Dutchman. I wanted to at least be able to chitchat with him and the other Dutch guests. When my husband got the offer for a  position at the European Parliament, it was a wonderful coincidence.

Arriving in Brussels, I would have placed myself at a beginner level of A1 or A2, but when I took the assessment test at a Belgian language school, I was placed at advanced level B1 or B2. At that point, I’d only learned with Babbel. Here in Brussels, there are tons of beginner’s courses, but barely any for advanced learners – at least none that I can fit into my schedule. I have a young son that I pick up every day from kindergarten. So I’ll just keep learning with Babbel.

What I also really like about Babbel is that I can easily integrate it into my everyday life. When we were still living in Potsdam, I was always learning on  the subway or on the way to work. But now I also like to sit at home for a half-hour and learn while my young son, Nikolai, is playing or sleeping.

Incidentally, Nicolai is learning French in preschool. In Brussels, French is spoken often and Dutch almost never. For that reason, shortly before my move, I also started using Babbel to refresh the French I learned in school . That helps me here a lot, because I speak French literally every day – it started with the apartment hunt, but I also speak French when grocery shopping, at public offices or at the doctor’s . But I also hear English, for example, when it has something to do with registration forms or when my son’s French-speaking teacher realizes that she’s speaking too fast for me.

My husband is just starting to learn French at work, although a lot of German is also spoken there. Little Nikolai might have more of a knack for it than his father! He already says “mama” to me in French and can already count to thirteen. He’s also already started to pick up a lot from the other children. He always says: “All the other kids speak such a funny language.”

If you would like to share your story with us, just leave a comment below!

 

Translated from the German by Frank Cifarelli.

Why learning a language should be your New Year’s resolution

Posted on December 5, 2014 by

New Year’s resolution

It’s that time of year again. Time to look back at the past year with pride and satisfaction, but maybe a smidgin of regret too. Have you achieved what you wanted? Did you get that raise, find that special someone, write that novel? Or are you sitting on a couch covered in stale Oreo crumbs watching reruns of Cheers and wondering where it all went wrong?

Well, it’s time to let all that go. The new year brings its own momentum, a sense of promise and the possibility of change. For all the awful clichés surrounding New Year’s resolutions, if you make the right ones they can be very motivating. (more…)

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…)

Why age is no barrier to learning a language

Posted on October 22, 2014 by

neuroplasticity

“To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”

– Bernard Baruch, American financier and philanthropist.

 

Dear reader, are you in the prime of your teenage years? Or are you twenty, fit and raring to go? Is your life laid out before you like a majestic Persian rug?

Good for you. Now shoo. That’s it, skedaddle. Vamoose. Go and read something else.

Ah, that’s better. Now they’ve all cleared out, we can talk about a somewhat delicate subject: whether it’s possible to learn a new language when you’re a bit older. Can you keep all that new vocabulary in your head? Can you learn new grammar structures? Is it too late to start? (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…)

How we learn languages: The Army Method

Posted on October 8, 2014 by

army method

My grandmother learned French at school in Australia in the late 1950s. For years she studied it dutifully, and the one phrase that she recalls vividly to this day is:

La plume de ma tante est dans le jardin avec le lion.

For those who never had the pleasure or pain of learning French, it translates as ‘My aunt’s pen is in the garden with the lion’. Difficult to slip into casual conversation, to say the least. (more…)

Tongue-twister challenge!

Posted on October 1, 2014 by

tongue-twister

When you’re learning a new language, tongue-twisters are a great way to practice your pronunciation. Tongue-twisters are sentences or series of words that are hard to say. They often have similar alternating sounds, like ‘s’ and ‘sh’ or ‘p’ and ‘b’. Although they are typically nonsense, the English classic “She sells sea shells on the sea shore, and the shells that she sells are sea shells, I’m sure” was actually a popular song in 1908 based on the life of Mary Anning, a famous British fossil hunter and collector.

To celebrate the release of our Swedish tongue-twisters course, we’ve selected eight tongue-twisters in different languages – English, German, Italian, French, Danish, Swedish, Turkish and Russian – and turned them into short animations. Can you master them? (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…)