maandag 29 februari 2016

5 best language learning websites

Which websites are the best ones to study a language? Here's 5 to start with:

Remarkable design, easy use. The website teaches you languages by inviting you to write, listen and read sentences. It's very interactive and ideal for on smartphones. The biggest advantage is that the website is completely free.


Want to practise all your skills? Here's your way to start! Busuu covers over 35 languages and does so with so many tools! You can connect with teachers and other students. But... you have to pay to get access to more materials.

Over 6 million users - connect with those you want to. Very flexible. Live classes. Free and paid services. You can 'earn' new classes by teaching others. Loads of people are there, so make sure to select the right ones!

Fun and learning combined. About 15 languages are available. The site offers an app as well, and, very surprisingly, there's a speech recognition software. So get ready to speak!

My Language Exchange
Very accessible and with a variety of options. It really helps to connect with other students. Try the pen pal option, there are 1 million persons waiting for you from over 100 countries.

Of course, there's many other websites that offer language games and lessons. Many of them focus on just one language. Make sure to check them out!

See also:

zondag 28 februari 2016

Language jobs in Europe - update

Which countries in the European Union (EU) need foreign languages? That's the key question the European Commission asked in a report published on 26 February 2016.

Not surprisingly, the different countries have different needs. But the main conclusions were quite surprising. The needs are very high: about one quarter of our jobs need a good level of knowledge of a foreign language. The higher the position, the higher the need.

English is not necessarily the most needed second language. Languages spoken by neighbour countries and non-English trading partners are needed as well. Business doing international trade are more demanding for foreign language skills, as well as the manufacturing sector and in the industry.

However, public services seem not to be needing languages. Strange, since the globalisation certainly has an effect on local governments. Businesses do not seem to find foreign language skills essential for new employees, compared to other skills.

And lastly, persons speaking several languages definitely have an advantage over those who only speak one language, since it is believed export will grow if the number of multilingual persons at a company increases.

Great findings! It should encourage you to study some more languages!

Executive summary
Picture's public domain

How close are European languages?

An interesting study checked how close European languages are. Main ones are Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages. However, there's no Maltese on the chart. And that's definitely a European language.

See the map here.

donderdag 18 februari 2016

English 500 years ago - what a difference!

English 500 years ago - that's quite some time. Check out this poem 'Speke Parrot' read like it was read half a millennium ago. The introduction is in Latin though.

If it teaches us one thing, it's that languages evolve. Some languages evolve more than others. Especially those that are not or barely written evolve quickly. Because of technological developments, but also because people just invent new words. Languages live. So we need to know new words like telegraph or MP3, but also for new forms of organisations and functions like NGOs, or president.

Public domain picture
If you're interested in keeping up with the latest developments, usually a central language institute regulates the use of the language. The most funny way they do so, is by changing the dictionaries. New words are now included, and old words disappear. Make sure to check these language institutes.

More information on the poem? Well, check out the website.

zondag 14 februari 2016

French language course - first chapter!

public domain
Check out this first chapter of a top-notch French language course - mine. In the first chapter, we'll go over some basics, such as pronunciation, the alphabet, the article in one minute (yes, you've read that correctly, I explain the French article in just one minute), the French pronouns and how to use to be in French.

On top of all, there's a tip as a bonus as well as a dialogue, including how to meet other persons in French. If you like it, my French course is just one click away! Oh, and the first video is promotion, second one the fun starts!

Don't forget: French is the language of the future! So make it yours as well, and make sure to check these awesome resources.

zaterdag 13 februari 2016

Test your Dutch knowledge - are social media good for language?

Are you better than the average Dutch student? Test your knowledge on this test for experts, organised by Knack. Find out why it's important below.

Languages have through the centuries been a source of power: the ones that master the elite's language, will have easy access to the elite, and hence a great deal of power. So the better one speaks a language, the higher the position in society.

Social media - good for languages? copyright 
An easy example is Arabic: the written language is especially challenging to learn. This advantage was used during the conquest by the Ottoman empire of large parts of Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Still today, a good mastery of the language is an advantage to get access to top-level jobs. 

Closer to Europe, Latin was used by priests to keep their privileged access to God. Only priests could read the Bible, which was exclusively written in Latin, so the Christians would be obliged to go to Church every Sunday to be a good Christian. That's one of the reasons why priests kept their power over whole towns. In fact, it was also one of the reasons why Protestantism was founded. Nowadays, only in the Vatican Latin is still spoken.

Still today, writing language mistakes in application letters is a bad sign. That is why the deterioration of writing skills in Dutch might become a problem. Even children and teenagers use their own language to form their own 'exclusivity ring' with their friends, the only ones who know what YOLO, OMG, ROFL and other mean. Moreover, with WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media, youngsters are encouraged to write as short as possible...

Oh, and OMG is Oh my God, ROFL is roll over the floor laughing and YOLO is you live only once, which is the same as carpe diem ("seize the day" in Latin), written 2000 years earlier.

Here's a list on 60 of these short words. Have fun translating the internet's chatrooms!

Great language movie: 'La Grande Illusion'

Set in the first World War, a few prisoners of war try to escape from the German prison. The use of three languages (German, French and English) make the movie 'la Grande Illusion' (the big illusion) already interesting to watch. Including many language subtleties, a great sense of humor and sometimes interesting questions popping up, like the cow that doesn't care whether she's fed by a French or a German person.

Some other interesting details: one of the detainees is a jew, another one belongs to French aristocracy and discusses what aristocracy is going to become after the war with a German aristocrat. This somewhat predicts the end of the rule by unelected leaders in Europe after the first World War. Interestingly, there's not many prison escape movies from Germans escaping - unfortunately, since they went to war for more or less the same reasons, at least in the first World War.

The movie received a high rating on IMDb, the Internet's biggest movie database. There are some parts of the whole movie on YouTube, so make sure to check them out.

Copyright: PD
Movies: good to learn a new language?
Is watching movies a good way to learn a language? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If a movie is on with subtitles and we're not at all listening to what the persons are saying, the value is about zero. However, if we're watching a movie in a different language with subtitles in the different language, that's great, because it improves our vocabulary, our listening skills and our reading skills at the same time.

For beginners, it might not be a good idea: people speak too fast, there's no way of following the movie, so it becomes an embarrassment. For more advanced students, it's great. Especially with series, so we can adapt our ears to the characters' voices.

dinsdag 9 februari 2016

European Parliament: what do they do for languages?

It's quite difficult to find out what the European Parliament does for improving multilingualism throughout the European Union (EU). It's easier to discover how many official languages there are: 24. The latest addition is Croatian, thanks to the latest country that became a member of the EU.

 © European Union 2015 - source:EP
A quick check on the Parliament's audiovisual library on the word 'language' results in a few videos and loads of pictures of conferences, meetings and so on. Anyway, one can argue that removing taxes on trade between Japan and the EU is good for language exchange. So is the Erasmus programme, as well as the Schengen agreement, so Europeans can move freely to another EU country.

One very interesting initiative though, is the so-called European Parliament Intergroup for Minorities, National Communities and Languages. Which is a very long title for some Parliamentarians joining NGO's to promote the issues of minorities. It exists since 1983, meets every month and has even a Facebook page. Check out the interview below with the chair of that group. According to him, one third of European citizens speak a minority language. Mind as well his Spanish accent in English - I personally love Spanish speaking English.

Another interesting point is the official EU languages: some non-official languages are more spoken than some official languages. Check them out (numbers are approximate speakers in the EU, not necessarily native ones, Turkish, Arabic and Tamil not included, source):

Bold ones are official EU languages:

  1. Maltese (400 000) 
  2. Luxembourgish (400 000)
  3. Basque (600 000)
  4. Welsh (750 000)
  5. Irish (1 000 000) 
  6. Estonian (1 200 000)
  7. Russian (1 500 000)
  8. Latvian (2 000 000) 
  9. Galician (2 400 000)
  10. Slovenian (2 500 000) 
  11. Lithuanian (3 000 000)
  12. Slovak (5 200 000)
  13. Finnish (5 400 000) 
  14. Danish (5 500 000)
  15. Croatian (7 000 000) 
  16. Catalan (9 000 000)

Very strange that Catalan is not an official language. That can only fuel the Catalans' hunger for independence. And the Maltese made quite a good deal with Europe, they managed to make their language official while there's 6 other languages with more speakers that didn't manage!

Also check out this study - a lot of data about Europeans and their languages.

Untranslatable words: interesting

A great discussion topic in multilingual environments: untranslatable words. If you're feeling a bit uncomfortable, it's a great icebreaker, especially if there's lots of people around from all over the world.

My favourite: Fingerspitzengefühl. That's in German, and it means literally: the great feeling in the finger. But the actual meaning is that general feeling that you know something is wrong, or something should be done. It's like intuition, but somehow different.

Every language has its own, and The Book of Life made an interesting compilation:

Make sure to check them out!

Facebook to learn French!

(c) public domain
Facebook is a great way to learn French. The posts will appear in the timeline, so we'll automatically learn or see some French words. Especially those that are often on Facebook. There's many groups, where we can meet fellow students and talk about how we can learn French. Also: check the 'expat' page of the city you're living in.

Here's if you live in Paris:

And one additional tip: turn off the automatic translation off by clicking on automatically "translated from French" and then "never automatically translate French". You can do that for any language. Or follow the steps here.

Oh yes, check out those other resources to learn French.

Multilingual countries in Europe: who has the most official languages?

There's a difference between multilingual countries and multilingual persons. Some countries have more than one official language, but that doesn't mean that all the inhabitants speak all those languages. Multilingual persons are those that speak more than one language. There's many benefits to that, for example a better capacity to memorise.

Let's see which countries in Europe have more than one official language:

  • In the north of Serbia, there's 'only' 7 official languages. Yes, 7. Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Ruthanian, Hungarian, Slovak and Czech. One advantage: they're quite similar. No wonder so many Serbians are multilingual.
  • Switzerland has 4 official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. However, the use depends on the different parts of Switzerland called cantons.

  • Belgium, one of Europe's strangest countries when it comes to language arrangements, has three official languages: Dutch, French and surprisingly German. Dutch is mostly spoken in the north of the country and French in the south. German is spoken in the east region near Germany.

Official languages in Europe, copyright: public domain

  • Luxembourg, the small country in between Belgium, Germany and France combines French, German and Luxembourgish. Many Luxembourgians are multilingual, and the three languages are official nation-wide, unlike Belgium.

  • Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, has two official languages: Russian and Belarusian.
  • Cyprus, divided in two, has surprisingly both Turkish and Greek as official languages. That's because there were many Turkish living there before Turkey's invasion of 1974. However, in the Turkish part only Turkish is an official language.
  • Finland's official languages are Finnish and Swedish, since there's quite a minority of Swedish persons living there.
  • Ireland also has two official languages: Irish and English. Irish or Gaelic is also an official language of the European Union.
  • Kosovo has Albanian and Serbian as official languages.
  • Maltese nationals usually speak Maltese at home and English when studying at the University. They're both official languages, so it's easy for tourists to go there.
  • The Netherlands have Dutch and Frisian as official languages. Frisian is spoken by half a million persons, and is one of the closest languages to English.

Interested? There's many more countries in Europe that grant certain rights to certain languages. Check them all out on Wikipedia.

maandag 8 februari 2016

Accent circonflexe: the end?

Recently, some newspapers have written that the accent circonflexe: the " ^ " will disappear. Many French language learners cheered, because it's the source of many learning difficulties that only exist in French. However, it's not going to disappear. But what's really the issue? And what really happened?

First, the Académie française - that's the institute that makes the rules for French - announced the new spelling rules. Indeed, some words would lose their accent circonflexe - but that's just one of the changes. And it's only for the ones on the I and on the U, unless it changes the meaning of the word. For example, dû (past participle of devoir, to have to) and du (of, from, it's a combination of de + le). And even if we keep writing with an accent, it's still correct. So we have the choice now.

Students and teachers are supposed to apply the rules in the school year 2016-2017, so in September 2016. Except from the accents circonflexes, some other words were simplified.

And, by the way, the Académie française also makes a dictionary, you can find it via their website. Funny thing: the website is not translated into any other language - chauvinism according to some, purism according to others.

More information on (it's a French site):

Don't forget to learn French using these resources!

Bilingualism vs second-language acquisition

Academics have a different vocabulary than people who just teach or learn languages. That's not only for languages, it's as well part of any scientific field. For example, economists argue about 'rational choice' where people say 'common sense' to make economic decisions. It's called the 'jargon', meaning the language spoken by experts in a certain domain, that normal persons don't understand.

So in the language field, there's a difference between 'bilingualism' and 'second-language acquisition'. Bilingualism refers to people who know two languages and use them. Whereas second-language acquisition is about people learning a second language. Do you find that an important difference, and do these terms and the linguistics jargon interest you? Then you'll find the lecture below extremely interesting!