Babbel 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!
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…)
The challenge in bringing Babbel’s new Russian course to life was to find a way for users to type Cyrillic letters using a standard Latin keyboard. Content Project Manager Barbara Baisi from the Didactics department gives us the lowdown.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
I come from Italy and I’ve been working at Babbel since the very beginning in 2008. At that time it was a little smaller [laughs]. Now I coordinate Italian and Russian. I’ve been working on Russian since January. It was a big deal for all the departments in the company.
Babbel’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.
This month Babbel focuses on grammar, with a range of healthy new courses. There are also new pronunciation courses, in-depth Italian, and false friends.
Poor old broccoli, pariah of the vegetable world. Despite the fact that it’s extremely good for you and US President Obama has declared that it’s his favourite food, broccoli is still reviled by children all around the world – and a fair few adults.
A bit like grammar. Years of being forced to conjugate verbs or grapple with textbooks the size of telephone books have left many of us bruised, battered, and wondering if it’s all worth it.
But grammar doesn’t have to be intimidating. The trick is to prepare it properly.
‘Turkish delight’ by Dewet / CC 2.0
Babbel’s Turkish Delights course, full of useful phrases and everyday expressions, is out now.
You are in a shop in Istanbul. You thank the shopkeeper for giving you such a great discount on that rug you really can’t afford, and say goodbye.
“Laughing, laughing,” he replies.
Turkish is filled with these kind of small idiosyncrasies. If people want to thank you for your physical labour, they say ‘health to your hands’. The correct response to someone who sneezes is ‘live long,’ and the reply roughly translates as ‘you see it too’ (i.e. I hope that you live long enough to see my long life).
Babbel’s new course, Typical phrases and useful expressions, is available for both German and English users.
It’s perfect for those who already know a little Turkish, and want to learn the little phrases and expressions that are so helpful in everyday life – whether you’re in Istanbul or Berlin.
At some point in their life everyone experiences a moment of acute embarrassment, when they wish the ground would just open up and swallow them. But what about a faux-pas that you didn’t even know you were making?
Three simple fingers can cause a lot of chaos, as anyone who’s seen ‘Inglorious Basterds’ will know. If Lieutenant Hicox had held up the correct three fingers while ordering a beer, he would never have been revealed as an enemy spy.
Small cultural differences can have a big impact – especially in Brazil.
Imagine you’re in Rio or Sao Paolo and you want to signal to someone on the other side of the street that ‘everything is okay’. Which of the above gestures should you use?
If you picked the middle one then you might want to reconsider. In some cultures this can signal that everything’s fine or that the meal was particularly good, but in Brazil this gesture often refers to the other end of the digestive tract. Yes, that’s right. No wonder the person on the other side of the street is beaming.
Babbel’s new course, Portuguese for everyday life, can help you avoid some of the major pitfalls. It’s filled with language and customs you might encounter on the street. You’ll learn colourful vocabulary for parties and practical phrases for everyday interactions, and discover how Brazilians celebrate.
If you’re a little more confident, you can test your listening comprehension. There are various conversations about travel, shopping, and of course football.
Time to brush up – the World Cup is right around the corner.
Happiness can come at any time of year and not just on Valentine’s day: You get to know someone, you become curious about them and suddenly you can think about nothing else but this very special person. So, we thought we would take the opportunity on this special day to introduce you to our new special courses. In the course “Love letters” you can follow the story of two protagonists, who meet on a dating site. It used to be that such an occurrence would be met with raised eyebrows in one’s circle of friends, but now it has become fairly commonplace to meet someone online. You surely know a happy couple, who found each other in this way, or perhaps it’s even how you met your partner.
It can already be hard enough to put thoughts and feelings into words, in one’s own mother tongue, without offending one’s counterpart. “It was not only important for us that you practice reading and writing in this course, but also that you are following an exciting storyline. And love is after all an enthralling subject!”, explains our Senior Content Manager Katja Wilde. Over the course of the lessons you will discover if Mariana and David can put their initial difficulties behind them and find a way to each other.
At the same time you will expand your vocabulary of terms dealing with ideals of love and relationships. Here, you learn to express your feelings in a language other than your native language. Alongside vocabulary, the course also trains reading comprehension as well as writing texts freely and is intended for our learners who have achieved the level B1.
So then when it happens that you fall in love, you will be able to express what’s really on your mind.
Rather than David and Mariana, French learners will be following the story of Alain and Romy in the course “Lettres d’amour” as they get to know each other, and maybe also fall in love. You can find out here:
Cartas de amor
Read this post in German (Deutsch), French (Français), Italian (Italiano)
Don’t take this course if you’re hungry!!!!!
Or as a customer of babbel commented on completion of our recently released Spanish course:
“Congratulations!!!!! Your section on Food in Spain and Latin America is outstanding. Very well constructed, interesting and helpful in understanding food & culture. Only negative…as I study I become hungry.”
So before you set off on this culinary journey through Andalusia, Valencia or Mexico, it would be advisable to fill your refrigerator with a good selection of savoury and sweet dishes. With each new vocabulary question you will get cravings for a different culinary delight. Before you head off to Galicia, buy yourself some fish or sea food. Stock up on juicy steaks for the lesson on Argentina. Check your supplies of blackberries, custard apples, and papayas, to get a bit of a feel for how incredibly delicious Chile’s freshly squeezed juices are.
Scallops in a special white wine sauce: a Galician starter
Please note, you’d do best to get hold of a cookbook! This course contains no recipes, rather it is a culinary journey through some of the regions of Spain and Latin America. Among other things, you get an idea of what varieties of coffee there are and what dishes to cook for starter, main course or dessert. So along your journey you won’t just be learning gastronomic vocabulary, but you will gain a cultural insight into the diverse cuisine of the Spanish-speaking world.
Hot chocolate with fried pastries is a popular hangover-cure throughout Spain.
So, if you want to know how tortilla in Spain differs from tortilla in Mexico, or you want to get to know the shellfish a bit better, which in Chile is called jaiba but in Spain is known as cangrejo then eat your fill and click here: “Food in Spain and Latin America”
About the blogger: Frauke is, among other things, content project manager for Spanish and has tried the varied menus on her travels through the Spanish-speaking world. Her mouth always starts watering when she thinks back to the Chilean hot dogs, Andalusian tapas or Castilian chickpea stews.
Click here to go to the course
Read this post in German (Deutsch)
Anyone who hears the name Poland and still thinks of socialist chic and endless Siberian iceage seasons has missed something. Certainly since its entry to the European Union in 2004, Poland has no longer been an insider tip as a holiday destination and tourists from all around the world have been thronging to the showcase metropolises of Krakow, Warsaw, Danzig and Breslau.
City breaks are actually some of the most popular types of vacation for tourists to Poland: The former Krakow residence of the Polish King Wawel, the new alte Starówka (old town) in Warsaw – which after its almost complete destruction in the Second World War has been rebuilt to original designs – and Breslau, the European City of Culture 2016, all invite you to stroll about, explore and discover. The weather too is actually nicer than its reputation, a trip to Poland can be very pleasant, even in its coldest months. Anyone who drives to Warsaw should definitely take a detour through Lublin, two hours to the south east: It is a particular cultural highlight in August! Traders from Western and Eastern Europe sell their ethnic wares at the historical Jagiellonian annual fair, while the Ukrainian cult band Dakha Brakha performs on the Plac Po Farze. Soon afterwards you will find high wires being stretched between the renaissance buildings in the historical old part of town at the Carnaval Sztukmistrzów (festival of street performers), and at night the town is lit up by fire jugglers while the Cirque Baroque performs at the Palace Square.
Poland also has much to offer nature lovers: Several mountain ranges (Tatry, Beskidy, Bieszczady), a national park with a wild Bison population (Żubry) – which incidentally gave its name to probably the most famous Polish Vodka Żubrówka – and even a small desert! The “Polish Sahara” (Pustynia Błędowska) extends a proud (?!) 33 km² to the north of Krakow – so nobody will die of thirst here. The Baltic Coast bike trail stretches over 500 km from Usedom to Kaliningrad, and the Masury Lake District (Mazuren) has meanwhile become the new sailing paradise for Warsaw high society. Warning – mosquito spray (spray na komary) is essential here!
Especially if you are travelling far from the larger cities you should also pack in your luggage, alongside Lonely Planet and your wash bag, a few basic Polish phrases. That’s why you will learn in the new course “Polish for holidays” how to order a cool beer and where you will find tasty Piroggen after a long day’s sightseeing. You can practice communicating with the natives and you will also be primed with helpful tips for a visit to the pharmacy in case of a small emergency. And if phrases like zwiedzić muzeum (visit a museum) make you dizzy: Take courage! Because anyone who dares to have a go at twisting their tongue around the eccentric consonant combinations of the Polish language will unlock a friendliness and enthusiasm in their Polish counterparts, since they know themselves that their language is not one of the easiest in the world – and they are even perhaps a little proud of this fact….
Click here to go to the course
About the blogger: Katharina grew up bilingual German-Polish and has been a Content trainee in the Babbel team since July.