30 July, 2010

Toughts on Learning Korean

I've been studying a lot of Korean recently because I'm going to Korea very soon. Thanks to Talk to me in Korean I was quite successful in doing so, especially when you compared it to how little I learned from the various books I bought. In May I wrote about how to read and write the Korean Alphabet (Hangul) and that was basically all I could do except maybe say hi to someone. Despite knowing a lot more about the language I wasn't really able to use it and actually construct sentences. It's one thing to passively know something and then actively use it, especially in a conversation when you have to answer something fast.

When learning Korean, I've noticed a few things worth mentioning:

1) There are a lot of loanwords in Korean

When I learned Hangul I was surprised that I was able to understand some Korean words even though I haven't learned any words yet. All the words I understood turned out to be loanwords from the English language. But these are just a small part of loanwords in Korea, the much bigger part being Sino-Korean words (Koreanized Chinese loanwords). Numbers or days of the week for example have their origin in Chinese. There are two types of Sino-Korean words: Those directly borrowed from written Chinese and those coined in Japan or Korea but using Chinese characters. I'm going to write about Sino-Korean words in more detail in a future blog post.

2) The Korean Alphabet is very easy to learn

I already said this in a blog post back in May: The Korean Alphabet is really easy to learn. Hangul is totally different from Chinese or Japanese, where you need to be able to read or write roughly 3000 or more characters to be fluent, the latter being even more difficult because there are not only all Chinese-based characters (Kanji) but also Hiragana and Katakana. I'm sure I'll cover the Japanese writing system some day. In the meantime, please refer to Google or Wikipedia if you want to know more about it. The Korean Alphabet consists of just a few vowels and consonants, plus some double consonants. That's it. Chinese characters exist in the Korean language as well (Hanja) but you don't need to know them to be able to read Korean.

3) It's hard to stay motivated...

This is mainly because as a German (or English for that matter) native speaker, Korean is very difficult to learn. Words, sentence structures, honorifics are just part of the problem, the other one being that there is little material available to learn Korean properly. Walk into a bookshop and compare the material dedicated to learning Korean and the material dedicated to learning Chinese or Japanese and you'll know what I mean. Additionally, most of these books are either structured badly, really boring, or both. The best way to learn Korean is online via Talk to me in Korean, a website dedicated to teach the Korean language and Korean culture. What's best: It's not only fun to learn Korean with them, it's also free. Only very few items are uniquely made for the store and even though I haven't tried them yet I'd bet $1.000.000 that they're worth the small price tag.

So how do I stay motivated? Well, for one, with Talk to me in Korean it's actually quite fun to study Korean and it also helps to have Korean friends who can clarify things when you encounter problems.
At this point: Thanks to my Korean friends helping me out from time to time. I love you! But the real key to successfully motivate myself is knowing this:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race" - Calvin Coolidge

21 May, 2010

Reggaeton Slang

I've been listening to some Reggaeton (reguetón) lately and learned a lot of slang in the process. Reggaeton is a mix of dancehall and hip hop music from Latin America. You can find a detailed description of its history, musical characteristics and different artists etc. on Wikipedia. Reggaeton singers usually use and create a lot of slang in their songs, here are some of the most important things to know:

- perreo / perrear: dancing Reggaeton, i.e. dancing "Doggystyle", grinding
- gata / gatita: woman, girl (lit. cat)
- guallar / guayar & pegado / pega'o: to dance really closely & really close (lit. plaster, stick, glue)
- tirar / tiradera / tiraera: to diss, offend someone lyrically (lit. throw, shoot)
- Mami, Mamita, Mamacita, Nena, Chula: ways of referring to sexy girls, females use Papi to refer to men

A more detailed list can be found at Reggaetonfever.

12 May, 2010

Nominees for Top 100 Language Blogs

Vote the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2010
Lexiophiles has compiled a list of nominees for the Top 100 Language Blogs 2010. It seems like Steve's Language Blog is among the 495 nominated blogs even though the blog is very young. Have a look at all nominees here. Be sure to vote for your favourite blogs until May 24. You can place your votes in four categories: Language Learning, Language Teaching, Language Technology and Language Professionals. I voted for Jennie in France (Language Learning) & for Talk to me in Korean (Language Teaching). The results will be announced on May 28.

07 May, 2010

The Hampstead School of English

Last year from late March to late June I went to The Hampstead School of English (HSOE) in London in order to take the Cambridge Proficiency Exam (CPE). I had such a wonderful time there so I now want to share my experiences with the school and the city with you guys. I hope it's helpful for all people who are interested in English courses in England.

The school is located in the north of London and is easily accessible by buses (13, 82, 113) or by subway (Finchley Road, West Hampstead). It offers a variety of courses, ranging from General English courses to Exam Courses like TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS and the Cambridge Exams. All courses taught at HSOE can be found on their website. The school provides accommodation if needed.

Before going to London to take the CPE course, I had to send in a hand written text so they could check if my English level was high enough to be able participate in the course. Luckily, they gave me the green light to take the course and a couple of months later I went to London. When I arrived at the school at 8 they made all new students take a language placement test. I was pretty annoyed, given the fact that I already sent in a text for the same purpose. I grudgingly took the test and was later placed in a CAE class instead of the CPE class I wanted to join. I was shocked and felt some embarrassment because I thought the test was pretty easy and because I had already told everyone who asked me about it that I was going to take CPE exam. I tried to convince them to let me change the class by explaining my situation: that I already handed in a text a couple of months earlier. It didn't help, they wouldn't let me change the class. Needless to say, I was very frustrated. My only option was to join the CAE class and ask the teacher there (who, funnily enough, thought I looked like Quentin Tarantino,) if and how it was possible to change classes. She convinced me to try her class first and after about half an hour into the lesson (right after I used the word "omnipotent" she said I was definitely good enough for CPE and went to talk to the staff. Five minutes later I introduced myself to my classmates in the other building...I was relieved.

It was the last unpleasant experience I made during my three months in London, which in hindsight wasn't that bad in the first place because it got resolved pretty quickly. As far as I am concerned, the most important thing about a language school is that they have good teachers, everything else comes second. And HSOE is full of teachers that are friendly, motivated and competent. The CPE course is pretty demanding for people who are going to take the exam. There is about one hour of homework every day and you should in two texts for review every week. I only wrote two texts during my three months and my teachers (the teacher changed all the time so I had lots of them) got really worried. They rated both of my texts a "Band 3" which meant it was sufficient to pass the exam with a C (60% of points) but it wasn't too good. I wasn't worried at all, mainly because I scored between 70-90% points in other parts of the test quite regularly. I was given a "Band 5" rating for my writing in the real test later and Grade A overall. I knew I would pass somehow but I never expected to get an A, especially after hearing how difficult the test was from every teacher. I was very happy!

I think if they let you into the CPE class at HSOE you'll have a 95% chance or more of passing the test. All the talking about how difficult the test is and the hurdles you need to clear before getting into the CPE course are probably there to make sure that the passing percentage is really high. It's understandable  from the school's point of view because they want to advertise with the highest number possible. Looking back, I can only say that I'm very happy with they way things went. I got what I came for (Grade C or more in CPE) on the academic side and I had the best time of my life there. The most memorable things happen after school anyway. Or right before classes, instead of going to classes etc. ;)

05 May, 2010

Getting Started with Korean: Reading

Yesterday I told you how I learned and practiced Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Learning Hangul is the most important step you'll ever make when starting to learn Korean.  Even without ever having learned any Korean words, you'll be able to guess what the English equivalents of the following 5 country names are:

  1. 캐나다
  2. 스웨덴 
  3. 브라질
  4. 프랑스
  5. 폴란드
I found it to be incredibly motivating when I found out that I was able to read Korean words and understand their meanings only about 30 minutes after I began learning the alphabet. 
Country names are not the only words you'll understand when you're able to read Hangul. There are a lot of Korean loan words that have been borrowed from the English language. Try to read the following 5 words:

  1. 호텔
  2. 인터뷰
  3. 바나나
  4. 피아노
  5. 소시지
The English translations of these 10 words can be found in the comments to this blog post. Be sure to at least try to read them before you'll have a look. I'm sure you'll figure it out pretty easily!

04 May, 2010

Getting Started with Korean: The Alphabet

The first thing you should be learning when starting a new language is the alphabet. Luckily, the Korean alphabet (Hangul) is very easy to learn as there are just 24 letters you have to know, 14 consonants and 10 vowels. I learned Hangul in a couple of minutes by watching the video below, provided by KoreanClass101 (click here to watch it directly on Youtube):

See? It's really easy. A whole sentence written entirely in Hangul looks like this: 

피곤해요. 그렇지만 영화 보고 싶어요. (- I'm tired but 
I want to see a movie.)

Obviously, watching just one video about Hangul isn't enough to be able to read and write it properly. That's why I recommend you to practice it here.

Which is the hardest language to learn?

While some attempts have been made, it is very difficult to determine the most difficult language. A learner's native language is very important when learning a new language as an adult, thus rendering universal rankings of difficulty meaningless. A native English speaker will learn Dutch much more easily than a Japanese native would. The closer the native language is to the target language, the easier language acquisition will be. 
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State compiled a list with 63 languages and after analyzing their difficulty for English native speakers. There are three categories of languages:
Category I: Languages closely related to English (23-24 weeks)
  • - Dutch
  • - French
  • - Italian
  • - Norwegian
  • - Portuguese
  • - Spanish 
  • - Swedish
  • ...
(30-36 weeks)
  • - German
  • - Indonesian
  • ...
Category II: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English (44 weeks)
  • - Czech
  • - Greek
  • - Hindi
  • - Polish
  • - Persian
  • - Thai
  • - Turkish
  • - Vietnamese
  • - ...

Category III: Languages which are quite difficult for native English speakers (88 weeks)
  • - Arabic
  • - Cantonese
  • - Chinese (Mandarin)
  • - Japanese
  • - Korean

So of the 10 languages I set out to learn 6 are in Category I (German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese), 3 are in Category III (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) and I guess Russian must be in Category II, though I didn’t find it in the FSI’s list.

03 May, 2010

7 Reasons to Learn a New Language

Today I’ll give you seven good reasons to learn a new language:

1. To broaden your mind
“You live a new life for every new language you speak.” I’ve found this particular Czech proverb to be true for myself. Whenever I started learning a new language, it felt like I immersed myself in a new world. If you learn how other people are expressing things, you will know more about how they feel about them. Speaking their language will give you the ability to step inside the mind of another culture and understand it to a much greater extent than without speaking the language.

2. To improve employment potential
Learning a new language can be extremely beneficial for your career. Employees who speak only one language can only communicate with people who speak that same language. Speaking other languages will improve your chances of going on business trips, negotiating contracts or getting a job in the first place. Granted, you probably won’t get an instant raise or offered a better position when you start learning a new language. But it certainly won’t hurt your employability.

3. To appreciate international literature, music and film
Very early in my life I noticed that watching films in the original version is way better than watching the dubbed German versions. And never did I understand that one could possibly  argue against watching a film in its original form. I absolutely hate it when puns or cultural references get lost in translation or when the actors’ lips are out of sync. Most of this is true for literature and music as well. A translated text can never be fully true to the intent, style or uniqueness of its original. Music is almost never translated, so if you want to understand the lyrics you have to learn the language(s) used in the song.

4. To make travel more enjoyable
Learning the language of the country you’re traveling in can make your travel experience so much better. Granted, in most countries people speak English in tourist areas. However, if you want to go off the beaten path and experience a country as it really is, you must speak the language or your travel can become frustrating or even dangerous. 

5. To study abroad
If you plan to study abroad, you might want to learn the language of the country you’re planning to go to. Very often it is mandatory for taking courses and even if it’s not, it will make your stay so much more enjoyable. Any problems with housing, fees, deadlines etc. are less likely to appear if you speak the local language.

6. To make lifelong friends
Learning a foreign language can lead to long lasting friendships, whether it’s through meeting tandem partners or teachers, through establishing a connection with pen pals in another country, or whether talking to exchange students at university or even doing an exchange year yourself. People appreciate the effort you put into learning their language and they’ll let you know, at least that’s what I’ve experienced. The more exotic the language you’re learning, the more surprising and rewarding it is for natives that you’re actually interested in learning it. 

7. To have fun
Last but not least, learning a new language can be surprisingly fun. While fun is probably not the first reason you’ll think of when hearing the words “studying/learning”, it is one of the best reasons to learn a new language. After all, life should be about having fun. And learning a language outside of the classroom definitely is fun! It’s just not that easy so you’ll have to be able to stay motivated for a long time.
This list is by no means complete. Everyone has their own reasons to learn a language and that’s how it should be. Feel free to add more reasons by writing a comment.

26 April, 2010

An Overview of Romance Languages

Romance languages - also called Romanic, Latin or Neolatin languages - are spoken by more than 800 million native speakers worldwide. There is a huge number of different languages in this family of languages, but the most widely spoken are:

1. Spanish (Español, Castellano: ~400 million native speakers)
2. Portuguese (Português: ~240 million native speakers)
3. French (Français: ~200 million native speakers)
4. Italian (Italiano: ~70 million native speakers)
5. Romanian (Română: ~24 million native speakers)
6. Catalan (Català, Valencià: ~9.2 million native speakers)

Other Romance languages are:


As I don't want to confuse you by just numerating different languages, I want to tell you something about the classification of the Romance languages. There are six different groups:

1. Iberian Romance languages:
-Spanish (also called Castilian)
-Judaeo-Spanish (language of the Jewish people who left Spain in 1492 after the Alhambra Decree; today spoken in Turkey, Israel and New York)

2. Gallo-Romance languages
-Langues d'oïl (French as we know it today and its various dialects)
-Occitan (Spoken in Southern France, Monaco and bordering regions areas of Italy and Spain)

3. Rhaeto-Romance languages
-Friulian (spoken in Italy)
-Ladin (spoken in Italy)
-Romansh (spoken in France)

4. Italo-Romance languages
-We can divide different varieties in Northern, Central and Southern Italy

5. Sardinian

6. Eastern Romance languages
-Romanian and its varieties

Some of the Romance languages don't exist any more due to different historical reasons. A good example is the Dalmation language which was spoken along the today's Croatian Adria coast.

After introducing the world of Romance languages to you, I hope that you have felt the desire of learning one or more of them, and therefore I'll have the pleasure to give you some advice in my following posts in this blog.

What are the most spoken languages?

There are a few ways you can measure use of language. Mandarin Chinese (1) has by far the most native speakers with more than one billion natives, followed by Spanish (2), English (3), Hindi/Urdu (4), Arabic (5), Bengali (6) and Portuguese (7). However, when secondary speakers enter the equation, the ranking looks something like this: 
  1. Mandarin Chinese (1.12 billion)
  2. English (480 million)
  3. Spanish (320 million)
  4. Russian (285 million)
  5. French (265 million)
  6. Hindi/Urdu (250 million)
  7. Arabic (221 million)
In other words, if you learn any or all of these seven languages, you can communicate with a lot of people. If you can reach them, that is. The most used language in business is still English and the most used languages by the internet population are the following:
  1. English (295.4 million)
  2. Chinese (110.0 million)
  3. Spanish (86.0 million)
  4. Japanese (67.1 million)
  5. German (55.3 million)
  6. French (33.9 million)
  7. Korean (31.3 million)
  8. Italian (30.4 million)
  9. Portuguese (29.4 million)
  10. Russian (22 million)
Coincidentally, these are exactly the ten languages I’m studying and that I want to master until I’m 30. I’ve always wanted to be able to communicate with as many people as possible in their language. Somehow I intuitively chose the ten most used languages in the  internet. Do you think it’s more useful to learn the most spoken languages as opposed to the ones I learn? I will write more about why you should learn languages and which languages are best to choose in another blog post.

Team Addition - Lorenzo

Today I'd like to welcome another writer, Lorenzo, to this blog. He's fluent in six languages (German, English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) and even planning on learning another one (Arabic). I've known Lorenzo for a long time and I can assure you he's very talented in learning languages and we can expect a lot of insight into different methods and different cultures.

23 April, 2010

Team Addition - Seyoung

I'd like to say hi to 세영  (Seyoung), who will be contributing to this blog from time to time. He'll be writing mainly about Mandarin Chinese and Korean, two languages he's fluent in and that are very difficult to learn for English native speakers.

Why I started this blog

There are a lot of reasons why people are blogging, be it to (re)connect with family and friends, to influence or help people, to make money, to be creative, to tell the world about their travel experiences etc. The goal of this blog is primarily to keep me active and motivated in my quest to learn 10 languages until I'm 30. (Read more about that quest in my profile.) Other goals of this blog are to motivate readers to learn a new language or to get better at a language they already speak and help them by providing useful information about languages. I'll be constantly reviewing books, applications, online communities, DVDs and other material to get better at language learning and I'd love to share the information I get with you guys.

20 April, 2010

Mwah Mwah: The Art of Social Kissing

I've just found an interesting blog post by Anna, one of the writers over at http://www.lexiophiles.com, entitled Mwah Mhaw: The Art of Social Kissing. The post raises and tries to answer some important questions about social kissing: When is it appropriate to kiss and how many kisses do you do? In Switzerland, three kisses are the norm. However, this number may vary a bit depending on who you're asking, a lot of young people stick to just one kiss nowadays. Click on the link below this entry to read Anna's entire blog post.

19 April, 2010

Steve's Language Blog

Welcome to my Blog! Here you'll find anything about languages, starting in a couple of days.