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…)
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.
Why do most English native speakers find it easier to learn German than Polish? Why is Spanish not so hard if you can already speak French? And why are Turkish and Indonesian even more tricky for us?
The answer is obvious if you’ve ever heard of language families. These are groups of related languages that descend from a common base language. Six of the languages we offer are Germanic languages, namely English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, whereby the Scandinavian languages are more similar still to each other. The second major language family on offer at Babbel are the Romance languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian, for example. The languages within a language family have much in common. For example, time expressions sound similar in related languages. Moreover, close linguistic relationships are often also reflected in grammatical rules and concepts.
What implications does this have for learning a foreign language and the courses offered by Babbel?
We generally create new courses for target languages in German and then adapt them for the other six languages in which we offer courses. We ensure that translations and adaptations remain as close as possible to the target language. This means that as many related words and similar sentence structures as possible are used. It is commonly true that the more similar the language you already speak is to the language you are learning, the faster you will understand the rules and relationships. If you are learning a language that belongs to the same language family as your native tongue, you will often require fewer additional explanations than someone whose mother tongue belongs to a different language family.
How we tailor the Babbel courses to your native language
Here is an example: the distinction between the verbs “pouvoir ” and “savoir” is not as obvious to a German speaker learning French as to an Italian. This is because in Italian there is a correlation with “potere” and “sapere”, whereas both verbs translate to the same word in German, namely “können” (can / may). The explanations of when to use “pouvoir” (when something is allowed or possible) and when to use “savoir” (more “know, be acquainted with, be able”) are simply omitted in the French courses for Italian speakers. However, the individual verb forms “savoir ” and “pouvoir” must of course be practiced by all French learners alike.
Conversely, we sometimes need to add explanations to the translations of the version for German speakers for other languages. For example, German speakers are accustomed to inflecting verbs: “ich bin, du bist, er/sie/es ist…” (“I am, you are, he/she/it is…”). Thus we do not specifically point out that there is a separate verb form for each personal pronoun when introducing “être” (to be) in the French course for German speakers. Swedish speakers, who use the same verb form for all personal pronouns – “jag är, du är, han/hon/den/det är…”, are given an additional explanation as follows:
Can you see the difference? Although German and French do not belong to the same language family, they are very similar in this respect. If you want to make learning easy, try some of our “true friends” courses! There you will find words and phrases in your target language that are probably already familiar to you from your native language. You want to avoid pitfalls? Then take a look at the latest “false friends” courses for Polish. They will help you to avoid mixing up terms that sound similar to words in your native language but mean something completely different.
Have fun learning languages!
Economies may grow or contract, travel may fluctuate or decline, but one thing seems to stay constant around the world: People want to learn English. Their motivation varies. It may be a matter of career, an aching to sing along with current music, or just the desire to engage in an international dialogue that, like it or not, is often going on in what has become a de facto lingua franca. But learning English is still tough, and let’s face it, can be kind of boring – especially when it comes to sorting out the finer points of speaking correctly.
But we at Babbel.com have perhaps done the impossible: we’ve made learning English grammar fun. Based on tried-and-true materials by the respected British publisher Collins, we’ve created a full, interactive online course that is not only modern and effective, but virtually pain-free. “English Grammar: Practise the Basics” uses our unique, intuitive and entertaining approach to help those still in the early stages to build their skills and confidence – at their own pace, without the expected hair-tearing or embarrassment.
We also understand that often a major discouragement for learners is the cost of quality teaching. That’s why we’re offering access to the course – currently made up of 20 tutorials and constantly growing. It’s available anywhere, anytime, and can be canceled whenever. There’s an introductory trial tutorial, “This or That,” for free, and then a 20-day money-back guarantee. Click here, register easily if you haven’t already – don’t forget to set your learning language to English – and try out the free preview. For our press release, click here.
Actor/dialect coach Robert Easton as the Klingon Judge in Star Trek VI
Click here to hear the interview with the dialect coach Robert Easton (mp3 – right click to download)
Robert Easton has been working in Hollywood and all over the world for over 42 years “strengthening dialects” and “curing accents”. Ever wonder how Al Pacino got his Cuban on in “Scarface” or how Mel Gibson learned to “talk American”? He’s the man, and Babbel Blog caught up with him to talk to him about accents, regionalities, linguistic politics and … the Oscars. Listen here for just a smattering of the countless flawless accents and dialects Easton can reproduce, from Elizabethan to Punjabi to Sicilian to Philadelphian.
Babbel Blog: So they call you the “dialect doctor”. What’s the difference between an accent and a dialect?
Robert Easton: That’s a very interesting question. Some people use them almost interchangeably. If we’re going to be purists, which I tend to be, dialect tends to be a variety of a language which differs from the so-called standard language in three ways. One, obviously the pronunciation is different, but second of all, the vocabulary is different, and third of all the grammar is different.
I’ve always found it curious that the Americans have no centralized institution which establishes the end-all be-all of language. I mean, something along the lines of the German Rechtschreibungen, grammars that all of which incorporated a rather catastrophic spelling reform mandated by an official agreement between German-speaking countries in 1996. Or the Real Academia Española (the Royal Spanish Academy) which purports to maintain propriety, elegance, and purity in the Spanish language, and consistently has conferences all over Spain and Latin America deliberating which words are worthy of inclusion. The North American language, however, is a bit federated, you could say… if not Balkanized.
For the Brits, one of the closest things to language royalty – along with Oxford’s, of course – would be Collins’ Dictionary, which has recently gotten positively ruthless in cutting words it deems obsolete. The Times along with other linguistic luminaries have taken up the case to save “endangered” words from institutional oblivion, by using them in public, and so reviving them.