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.