Culture around the world

How to Talk Like a Belgian Gourmand

Known mainly for its chocolate and beers, Belgium is a surprisingly diverse country that embraces the beauty and singularity of its 3 official languages, Belgian French, Flemish and Belgian German. As anyone who has travelled this flat land will tell you, its 3 regions have no reason to be linguistically or gastronomically envious of their neighbours. But, whatever language or dialect they speak, one of the things that unite Belgians is their love of food, and the joy they take in talking about it… in rather colourful ways. You will see that it is no surprise that the Surrealist movement found a second home in Belgium!

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Here are a few ways to express your delight about food like a true Belgian gourmand.

When in Flanders, you can say:

  • ‘Iemand de oren van het hoofd eten’, literally to eat the ears of someone’s head when you fancy eating an indecent amount of food.
  • ‘Honger is de beste saus’, hunger is the best sauce because any food tastes better when you’re hungry.
  • ‘Verandering van spijs doet eten’, or change of food makes you eat, which expresses the increased excitement one gets for food when travelling and changing scenery.

In Wallonia:

  • ‘Ça te goûte ?’ literally means Does it taste to you? This is the Walloon way of making sure that you like what you are eating, to which you can answer:
    ‘Oufti, didjû ti, qu’ j’ai bon !’ (Oufti, in the name of God, you, I’ve got it good!) to express your fulfilment. In fact, you can use the untranslatable word ‘Oufti’ for all kinds of expressions of surprise, disgust, outrage, amusement… well everything, really.
  • If you enjoyed your beer and are ready for ‘the same again’, just ask your waiter for ‘la p’tite sœur’, or the little sister, and…
  • … if you’d like to know if your friend would like another beer, they’re likely to answer you with a joyous ‘Non, peut-être !’ or No, maybe!, which means a definite ‘Yes’.

You also should know that, despite the relatively small size and proximity of Belgian towns, the dialects can vary often to the point of misunderstanding. For example, when buying sweets in Liège, ask for ‘chiques’ but in Brussels ask for ‘boules’, as if you ask for ‘chiques’ in Brussels, people will think you are looking for chewing gums, and ‘boules’ (balls) in Liège will make the liégeois think that you might be after something rather indecent.

Here’s a little tour of some Belgian specialities so you’re sure you get what you want:

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Please, do yourself a favour and don’t called them French fries, at least not at earshot of a Belgian! The pride in our frites lays in the process of cooking them twice and the fact that they are ‘proper’, i.e., pretty thick and crispy on the outside but soft like mashed potato in the inside. You can get them in a cone for next to nothing at the friture if you’re in Wallonia (and not friterie like the French say!) or at the fritkot if you’re in Flanders.

Lacquements

Very flat, two-layered wafers soaked in a syrup, the recipe of which is kept secret by two family-run companies. You can only enjoy this  indulgent delicacy during the month of October in Liège, when the funfair is on. Not a kid, adult or elderly person in town skips this delicacy or doesn’t try to guess the ingredients in the precious syrup. Delicious, but careful, ‘ça plaque’ (it’s sticky) like the Walloons say.

Boulets liégeois

A big favourite amongst locals and tourists alike, these huge meatballs are slowly cooked in a gravy of brown beer and Sirop de Liège. The syrup, black and very thick, is adored by the Liégeois, so much so that a full chapter was written about it in the beautiful Walloon short story collection Les Ceux de chez nous (1914).

Mitraillette

Literally, the submachine gun, is half a French bread (or the Belgian name for the baguette) filled with chips and covered in sauce. One deadly lunch indeed!

Waterzooï

This famous creamy stew originates from Flanders, but is loved across the country. The term ‘zooï’ comes from the Middle Dutch for ‘boil’ and is traditionally made with fish. Simple and fragrant, like most Belgian cuisine, it is heartier than it looks.

Speculoos

shutterstock_520537972.jpgSpiced caramel biscuits that are consumed by the kilo at the celebration of Saint Nicholas (who Santa Claus was derived from) on December 6th, but which accompany almost every single cup of tea or coffee in cafés around the country all year round.

Cuberdons

Both Walloons and Flemish claim the invention of these cone-shaped sweets that are hard on the outside with a jelly filling in the inside. Due to their short shelf life they’re not suitable for export and thus only available in Belgium (with a few rare exceptions). In Ghent, there is a well-known cuberdon-war between 2 sellers, which regularly requires police intervention!

I could go on and on and on… and while I suggest you read a ‘beer guide’ to know the difference between Pils, Abbey, Trappistes, Lambic, Tripel, Dubbel, etc., the best way is to visit Belgium with your own eyes, taste buds and ears, and enjoy the diversity of food and food-related ‘belgicisms’ for yourself.

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As Memrise’s French Language Specialist, I love to prove French is a much more flexible and playful language than most people tend to think by de-dramatising grammar and teaching colourful turns of phrases.

Always trying to find the best multilingual play on words, I wish I had the awesome, lyrical flow of MC Solaar or Jacques Brel.

Bilingualism Around The World

English around the world

In 2018, the places around the world that are still completely untouched by the English language are few and far between, and the influence of English only looks set to continue growing in the near future. But did you know that the number of people who speak English as a second or third language far outnumber native English speakers in the world?

With the growing presence of English around the world, countless places are also injecting their own local flavour in the English spoken there just as they adopt bits of English into their own languages.

We have talked about Spanglish and Denglish, but now let’s take a quick trip around the world and check out a few other ‘World Englishes’.

 

1) Hinglish / हिंग्लिश

India is the country with the second largest population in the world, and it is also the country with the second largest number of English speakers if you include those who speak it as a second and third language! Although India has many different languages spoken all over the country including Tamil, Panjabi, Bengali, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi and Telugu, to name just a few, a very large part of the population can speak and understand both Hindi and English to some extent.

This creates the opportunity for a wonderful mix of those two languages, where you might hear somebody say something like “My sabse best friend bahut nice hai!” My best friend is very nice!

Have a listen to this Hinglish shampoo advert and see how much you can understand:

2) Singlish

Singapore is a real cultural and linguistic melting pot with large communities of people speaking lots of different languages. Besides English, most people here can also understand and speak some Malay, Tamil, and various Chinese languages such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, and Mandarin, amongst others. Locals often mix up words and grammar from these languages to create the unique and fascinating Singlish.

One cool example of how expressive Singlish can be is the many uses of the word “can”:

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Check out this Singlish announcement on an aeroplane taking off from Singapore.

3) Chinglish / 中式英语

Chinglish can describe the meeting of English with any of the Chinese languages. There are many Chinglish expressions in English such as “Long time no see!” from “好久不见!” and “lose face” from “丢脸”. But increasingly common are English words creeping into Chinese, often with a quite different meaning from the English.

So if your Chinese friend says to you “我们今晚一起出去high吧!” (Let’s go out and ‘high‘ together tonight!), they probably aren’t suggesting that you go and take some illegal substance, they just want to go out and have a good time.

Have a look at this Chinese comedian’s explanation (in Chinese) of 8 different ways you can mix English into your Chinese to sound like a fluent Chinglish speaker:

4) Japanese-made English / 和製英語

Perhaps one of the most creative Englishes of the world is Japanglish or wasē-ēgo (Japanese-made English), the Japanese have come up with a wonderful range of ‘English’ words uniquely understandable to themselves.

Here are just some of my favourite wasē-ēgo words:

マジックテープ magic tape – velcro

スキンシップ skinship – bonding through physical contact or intimacy

ハイタッチ high touch – a high five

フライドポテト fried potato – chips/fries

ウォシュレット washlet – a toilet that will also wash your bum for you when you’re finished

5) West African Pidgin

West African Pidgin is a language with over 75 millions speakers that has its roots in English and the many diverse languages of West Africa. It began to emerge centuries ago when the region was being ravaged by the Atlantic Slave Trade when people from different places and cultures where thrown together and in need of a common language to communicate with. Since then, the language has continued to serve this purpose throughout the region with large numbers of speakers in Nigera, Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea. However each of these countries have their own variations of the language:

  • Sierra Leone Krio:

Dem dey go for go it res — They are going there to eat rice

  • Ghanaian/Nigerian Pidgin English:

Dem dey go chop rais — They are going there to eat rice

  • Cameroonian Pidgin English:

Dey di go for go chop rice — They are going there to eat rice

6) Talk Pidgin / Tok Pisin

Any idea which country in the world has the most languages in the world? No? OK, I’ll tell you. It’s Papua New Guinea. This small Oceanian country is home to around 12% of the world’s languages (852 of them to be exact).

You might be wondering how a country like that could get anything done with so many languages. Well, just like in West Africa, two new languages developed around places where the most trading was happening. These were pidgin languages, aka, languages with very simple grammar and pronunciation used between speakers of different languages for communication. PNG’s two pidgin languages are Hiri Motu and Tok Pisin, with Tok Pisin now being used by around 5 million people.

Being a simple pidgin language, Tok Pisin has just a few simple words used as ‘building blocks’ to create more complicated meanings. For example:

Grass bilong hed (grass belong head) – hair

Sop bilong gras (soap belong grass) – shampoo

Em i gat bigpela hevi (him he got big-fellow heavy/problem) – he has a big problem

Kaikai bilong moningtaim (‘kaikai’ belong morning-time) – breakfast

Kaikai bilong nait (‘kaikai’ belong night) – dinner

 

Feeling inspired to get speaking a new language? Download Memrise now!

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 Rob is Memrise‘s English Language Specialist, teaming up with the other language specialists to create language courses that will help you explore the world by unlocking your language superpowers. He also works with Memrise‘s Marketing Team to make fun videos and blog posts to inspire all the language learners out there.

In his spare time, he can usually be found learning languages – currently Hindi & Greek – and exploring the wonders that the London theatre and comedy scenes have in store.

 

The joy of languages

15 Denglisch Words You Won’t Understand

The late 90s and early 2000s was a fairly important time for Germany. East and West were reunited after half a decade of militarised segregation, EU expansion left Germany in the centre, rather than on the edge of Europe, and in 2002 Germany adopted its new currency: the Euro.

However, perhaps one of the most controversial things to have come out of that time is a certain language, which ever since its inception has confused English speakers and infuriated German language purists. That language is, of course, Denglisch.

Denglisch (literally Deutsch + Englisch) is what happens when trendy Germans start using English in their everyday speech. At first, nobody understands what on earth they are talking about. But secretly, everyone thinks it sounds quite trendy and before long everybody else is talking like that too.

This rose to such a trend that in recent years, Germany’s national rail network the Deutsche Bahn had to publish guidelines to encourage its staff to use German words when speaking to their customers.

But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the Denglisch phenomenon is that even if you’re a native English speaker, you’ll almost certainly have no idea what these Denglisch words actually mean:

1. das Public Viewing

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If someone asks you if you want to go to a “Public Viewing”, you’d be justified in feeling slightly perplexed. Unless it’s a German asking, in which case it’s extremely innocent. In German, das Public Viewing is when there’s a sports match or a concert which is being shown on a huge screen in a town centre or outside the stadium.

E.g. Lass uns doch mal zum Public Viewing gehen!

2. das Peeling

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In the UK, “peeling” is something that happens after you’ve been in the sun too long, forgotten to use any suncream, and are now suffering by feeling like a snake shedding her winter skin. In Germany, however, if anyone books themselves in at the spa for ein Peeling that just means they’re going for a facial or body scrub.

E.g. Ich kann leider nicht kommen, weil ich dann meinen Peelingtermin habe.

3. das Handy

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Next time you go to Germany, if someone asks you if they can borrow your “handy” don’t get too confused. They probably just need to make a phone call. For reasons almost too bizarre to go into to do with a type of walkie-talkie used in the First World War, mobile phones in German are called das Handy.

E.g. Gibst du mir deine Handynummer?

4. das Outing

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While an English family outing might make you think of packing a picnic basket and heading off for some quality time together in a meadow, a German Outing is an altogether different affair. In German, ein Outing means coming out of the closet. In other words, telling everybody that you’re gay.

E.g. Hast du gehört? Er hat gerade sein Outing gehabt!

5. checken

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If we “check” something in English, it means we take another look and see whether it makes sense, whether we made any mistakes, or just if there’s anything we might have missed. In Denglisch, however, the verb checken means to understand.

E.g. Hast du gecheckt, was er gerade gesagt hat?

6. der Beamer

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I remember when my friend’s dad first got a Beamer. It was brand new, and blue. All of us wanted to go for a ride and sit on the leather seats and turn the music up as high as it would go. But unlike in the UK, where a Beamer means a BMW, in German der Beamer is what you use to show a powerpoint presentation, or watch a film on your home cinema. Ein Beamer is a projector.

E.g. Ich will mir so gerne einen Beamer kaufen, aber leider hab ich kein Geld dafür.

7. die City

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In English we have cities, and then we have city centres, and most of the time there’s not much more to it than that. In German, however, the Denglisch word die City refers to the central district of a city, and not to the entire city itself, which is called die Stadt. This possibly comes from the name for the City of London.

E.g. Sie hat eine Wohnung in der City gefunden.

8. der Smoking

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There is little ambiguity about what “smoking” means in English. In Germany, however, you might be a little bit confused to find out that der Smoking is what people called a ‘tuxedo’. If you see a bunch of well-dressed Germans standing outside a casino, looking with concern at the “No smoking” sign, now you understand why.

E.g. Bestehst du wirklich darauf, dass wir unsere Smokings zu dieser Party tragen?

9. der Sprayer

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You’ve probably not ever heard the word “sprayer” in English. Unless you work on an industrial scale farm and use one to make sure all your crops are regularly watered. For Germans, though, ein Sprayer is somebody who goes around with a can of paint in their back pocket, spraying graffiti everywhere.

E.g. Wir müssen auf jeden Fall den Sprayer von dieser Schule entdecken.

10. der Bodybag

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If somebody in the UK told you they took a body bag to work, you’d either freak out or assume that they work in the funeral industry. In Germany, though, people take einen Bodybag to work or school with them every day, storing their papers or laptops in them: a messenger bag.

E.g. Meine Tante hat mir zu Weihnachten einen neuen Bodybag geschenkt.

11. trampen

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In English, a ‘tramp’ is a homeless person, and if we say that somebody’s ‘tramping’ that most probably means that they’re pretty poorly dressed. Whether or not you’re poorly dressed is fairly by the by in Germany though, because the verb trampen means to stand at the side of the road with your thumb out and try and hitch a ride.

E.g. Nach dem Abitur bin ich mit meiner Freundin durch ganz Europa getrampt.

12. der Oldtimer

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In English, an “old timer” is somebody of a certain age, who moves quite sluggishly. In other words, an OAP, a pensioner, an old person. In Germany, however, the word has an entirely different meaning. Der Oldtimer means a vintage car.

E.g. Sag mal, wann hast du dir diesen schönen Oldtimer gekauft?

13. das Fotoshooting

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This one was in danger of looking too straightforward for English speakers, so to throw us off the scent the Germans decided to mess around with the spelling a bit and add an extra ‘-ing’ to the end. Ein Fotoshooting is a “photoshoot”, just with an extra ‘f’ and ‘-ing’.

E.g. Ich war heute wirklich so müde nach dem langen Fotoshooting.

14. der Dressman

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Unfortunately, der Dressman does not really mean a man who wears a dress. But it’s not actually that far off. In Denglisch, der Dressman is a male clothes model, who you might see hanging around einen Fotoshooting.

E.g. Als Student hatte ich einen Nebenjob als Dressman.

15. der Showmaster

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A “showmaster” is not really a thing in English at all, but in German they are an important part of every great TV game show. Der Showmaster is the presenter, or host. The one who masters the show?

E.g. Sein ganzes Leben lang wollte er Showmaster sein.

Start speaking German today!

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Alex Rawlings - Language Learner in Residence at MemriseAlex Rawlings is a Content Strategist at Memrise. He spends his time designing future Memrise courses, making fun videos about languages, and contributing to the Memrise blog. He tweets @rawlangs_alex and Instagrams @alex.rawlangs

In his free time he enjoys cooking, watching films, and walking his dog. He also writes books, like this one.

Bilingualism Around The World

How Chinese is helping me learn Japanese

During my last two years of school around ten years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to study Japanese and then in my final year, I picked up Chinese too. Both of these courses gave me a good grounding in each language but I wouldn’t have been able to say that I spoke either one above A2 level.

Since then, I have studied Chinese at university and lived in China, and can now speak Mandarin without any problem – I also managed to pick bits and pieces of a few different Chinese regional languages such as Minnan, Chongqingnese and Cantonese.

Huangshan

By the time I joined Memrise I thought my Japanese knowledge was long gone. What little I thought I knew was slowly eroding away from those dark, cobweb-filled corners of my mind where I store words, grammar, and random language facts that I never use. But since then, my interest in Japanese has been very much rekindled for many reasons. For one, lots of my friends and colleagues are learning Japanese, and also Memrise’s Japanese specialist recently started learning Chinese.

From answering Kana’s questions about Chinese, and working on various projects involving Japanese, I have noticed that there is a lot of crossover between these two languages.

1) Hiragana & katakana come from Chinese?! Whaaat?!

You might need to put down some newspaper, ’cause things might get a bit messy when I blow your mind with this little fact bomb. Hiragana and katakana weren’t created out of thin air, but they were actually adapted from the cursive versions of various Chinese characters. Check out this super interesting article (in Japanese) if you want to read more about the history of the Japanese writing systems. As soon as I found this out I not only found it much easier to remember hiragana and katakana, but I also improved my handwriting by imagining that they were cursive Chinese characters.

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2) Bring on the kanji!!

I can read!

Firstly, my knowledge of Chinese allows me to read and understand a lot of Japanese sentences and guess at what they mean even when I might not have the foggiest idea of how to say them. Let’s check out this example:

怒っているのは、お腹が空いているからです。/因为我饿了所以我生气。

(Okotteiru-nowa, onaka-ga suiteiru-kara desu. / I am angry, because I am hungry.)

In this sentence, all three kanji also exist with more or less the same meaning in Chinese, these also happen to be the three key words in the sentence: ‘怒/angry’, ‘腹/stomach’ and ‘空/empty’. So even if I couldn’t read any of the hiragana, I would still be able to make a wild guess at what it means. And knowing a little bit about Japanese grammar just fills in the missing gaps. I know that the “-ている/teiru” describes a continuous action or a state, and “-から/kara” means ‘because’ – so I can easily guess the correct meaning of the sentence.

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 来年の2月に帰国する予定です。/明年2月我打算回国。

(Rainen-no nigatsu-ni kikoku suru yotei desu. / I plan to return to my country next February.)

Having kanji in sentences, reading Japanese feels familiar and less daunting even when they might be different from their Chinese equivalents. For example, in Modern Mandarin, you would most likely say 明年 (next year) instead of 来年 (the coming year), and the Japanese character 帰 (to return) is a mix of both the traditional Chinese 歸 and the simplified 归 making this sentence quite an easy sentence to guess the meaning of even if I might have no idea how to read it aloud.

interesting

 

3) Hmm… I wonder how to pronounce that

In point 2, I said that I ‘might not have any idea of how to pronounce’ a kanji in Japanese, and although that is often true, you can often make a good guess. And those guesses only get better the more you learn, and the more patterns you begin to spot.

For example, the Japanese words for ‘weather’ and ‘telephone’ are ‘天気’ (tenki) and ‘電話’ (denwa), the same as ‘天气/天氣‘ (tiānqì) and ‘电话/電話‘ (diànhuà) in Chinese. So in Japanese ‘‘ is pronounced ‘ki‘, just like ‘气/氣‘ in the Minnan dialect of Chinese! OK, so maybe you don’t know any Minnan, but did you spot the pattern with 天 ‘tentiān’ and 電电 ‘den – diàn‘? This little rule might not work for all characters, but there are lots of little helpful patterns like this that will help you learn and even sometimes guess the pronunciation of new Japanese kanji that you learn!

 

I hope these three tips will help you in your own language learning adventures, whether you’re learning Japanese, Chinese, both, or even Swahili or Arabic! 加油 and 頑張れ!

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 Rob is Memrise‘s English Language Specialist, teaming up with the other language specialists to create language courses that will help you explore the world by unlocking your language superpowers. He also works with Memrise‘s Marketing Team to make fun videos and blog posts to inspire all the language learners out there.

In his spare time, he can usually be found learning languages – currently Hindi & Greek – and exploring the wonders that the London theatre and comedy scenes have in store.

 

Guest Post

11 Reasons Why Learning a Language Should be Your New Year’s Resolution for 2018

As we ring in 2018, it’s the perfect time to remind yourself of those language learning goals you forgot about in 2017.

Learning a new language isn’t as scary as you might think. Put aside those bleak memories of high school French class, language learning has comes a long way since then.

As you set about creating your 2018 New Year resolutions, take a moment and rediscover why learning a new language is awesome!

Here are 11 reasons why learning a language should be your resolution for 2018.

1. Better travel memories

Travelling isn’t just about taking selfies in front of a few monuments, eating your body weight in food, then going home. It’s about experiencing the culture and the people who live it.

Start with dropping a few choices words and phrases and you’ll be amazed by the reaction you’ll get from local native speakers. Not only will you be greeted with warm smiles and invitations to afternoon tea (this happened to me in Sicily), it may even open you up to opportunities that you may never imagine possible.

2. Make new friends

Having friends and meeting new people is one of the real pleasures in life. Think how much your friendships would grow just by learning another language? Plus, who knows, that friend might even introduce you to the love of your life!

3. Gain greater confidence

Learning a foreign language is a great way to boost self-esteem and develop confidence. It can be nerve-wracking to work up the courage to speak in a foreign language, but once you start to receive positive feedback from native speakers, the easier it becomes to overcome that fear. This confidence makes you more prepared to overcome fears and doubts in other areas of your life.

4. Become Smarter

Studies have shown that speaking a foreign language actually improves the functionality of your brain!  When you constantly challenge your brain to recognise, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems this actually improves your ability to negotiate meaning in other problem-solving tasks as well.

5. Subsequent languages become easier

Once you get your around how a language works you can start to apply some of the rules across other languages and identify commonalities.

For example, starting with learning a Romance language is great for language newbies. If start with French, then jump to Italian or Spanish, you’ll see how similar the grammar and vocabulary is, making the learning process easier.

6. More job opportunities

As the world becomes more and more globalised, companies look to extend their businesses overseas and deal with international clients. Guess what? They need someone with not only the right skillset but who can speak the local lingo too!

7. Move Abroad

Language has the power to completely change your life and where you live it!

When you’re able to speak another language, it becomes instantly easier to follow your dreams or living in a foreign land. Your life actually feels like a holiday. Remember, you don’t have to be fluent to move abroad, I moved to Italy, got a job in an Italian company when I spoke lower-intermediate Italian.

8. Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Speaking more than one language has the power to ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The results of various studies has shown that for adults who speak two or more languages the first signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia were offset by a few years! While it may not be a cure, it certainly does buys you invaluable time.

9. No more subtitles and dubbing

Forget straining your eyes to read subtitles or sitting through terrible dubbing. So much meaning is lost when movies, books and TV shows are translated.

World famous books like The Little Prince, War and Peace, and The Alchemist were meant to be enjoyed in their original language. Even with the best translators, you would be surprised how much is lost in translation.

10. Discover a new culture

Speaking another language will help you understand the world a little bit better. As you study the words you begin to unlock the finer details on what makes a culture tick.

Since I started learning Arabic, I would never have thought how considerate and polite the language and native speakers would be. For example, the word for please is min fadlak, which literally translates to, “from your grace”, and if someone asks, ‘how are you?’ a common reply would be ‘Alhamdulillaah, I’m good’ meaning, thanks to Allah, I’m good.

11. Better Memory

When you learn a language, you’re essentially exercising the brain. This ‘exercise’ occurs when you memorise rules and vocabulary. Studies show that this repetitive action actually beings to improve your overall memory.

So, there you have it! While we all have different reasons for wanting to learn a new language, hopefully these bonus benefits will give you that needed boost to start learning your next language in 2018.

Start speaking a new language today!

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TIGMichele from The Intrepid Guide is a travel and language blogger. She lives by the motto “The more we travel, the more we learn.” With her blog, Michele shares her passion for bringing language and travel together through with her destinations guide, language learning tools, and travel phrase cheat sheets, and more! Follow her on social media as she shares fascinating and little-known linguistic and cultural facts.

Check out her InstagramFacebookYouTube and Twitter, too!

 

The joy of languages

Why AI Translation Doesn’t Mean You Should Stop Learning Languages

One of the most groundbreaking moments of 2017 was undoubtedly in October, when Juston Payne, one of Google’s Product Managers, launched the Google Pixel Earbuds. To the audience’s amazement, he demonstrated how he and his Swedish colleague could hold a conversation in each other’s languages, all entirely translated in-ear by Google Translate’s latest machine learning artificial intelligence technology.

The potential implications of this were huge. If we now lived in a world where we could just buy some earphones and suddenly understand any language in the world, why would anyone bother to learn languages?

But before you get too excited about Douglas Adams’s prophetic Babelfish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy finally coming true, here are five reasons why – in fact – no matter how good AI gets, you will always need to learn languages.

1. It’s not just about understanding people

Learning a language is not just about being able to understand what other people are saying. The learning process is important too! Setting goals and daily streaks, and then setting up a routine and a mindset that enables you to reach and even exceed them is where the real magic is. When you learn a new language, you also learn a lot about yourself and come away with a new skillset and plenty of insights that will serve you well in whatever else you do in life.

Relying on AI translation to understand other languages is a bit like putting on one of those exercise belts while you watch TV. Sure, you might lose some weight in the short term, but you won’t get into the good habits of eating healthier and doing more exercise that you need to sustain that in the long term.

And besides, no ear pieces will give you all of these…

2. There are a gazillion reasons why learning languages is good for your brain

Every time scientists do research into the effect of learning languages on the brain, they come back with amazing results. So far they have proved that learning another language makes you smarter, gives you increased cognitive powers, and even delays the onset of dementia by 4.5 years on average. The most amazing thing about these results, is that now scientists have even proved that so many of these benefits are available to anyone who learns a language at any point in their lives, not just those who were lucky enough to be brought up bilingually.

Learning a new language is like the Olympics of sudoku. It is the best workout your brain can get. Those amazing and truly life-changing benefits that you can only get by learning a second language are not going to disappear. But if you stop using languages and start relying too much on AI and automated translation, you won’t be able to enjoy them.

3. Stumbling around a foreign country armed with just a few phrases is FUN!!!

One of the true joys of travel is trying to make yourself understood with a hilariously limited set of phrases and little else. Embrace the true comedy of smile-and-point, and go off on an adventure where your ability to express yourself is temporarily reduced to that of a 3-year-old. Read people’s body language, and try to connect with them in a way that a soulless, computerised voice being piped into your ear will never be able to match.

Besides, setting off round a market in a different country armed with your ear piece, your mobile phone and your 4G connection might sound like a great idea. But there are a couple of things that may go wrong with that, such as…

4. Pray to the gods of battery

Since the advent of mobile technology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has never looked the same. Two fundamental bases had to be added in order to achieve all of life’s happiness: WiFi and Battery. These two highly unreliable and limited resources lie are crucial in order to reap any of the benefits of modern day technology.

While recently in Europe we’ve just got used to being able to get free data roaming when travelling within the EU, around the rest of the world using data while abroad is still an extortionate liability. Meanwhile in the UK, our chances of continuing to enjoy free data roaming so we can access services like Google Translate in 2019 and beyond look as stable as the colour of our passports…

5. AI advances are going to make learning languages easier, better and more fun than ever!

Here at Memrise we have teams of people working on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technology in order to make the learning experience on our courses truly amazing. Over the next few years, Memrise is going to become much more adaptive and personalised to you. We’ll be able to better understand your natural language learning ability, and judge how frequently you should be reviewing words you’ve learned based on that. We’ll also be able to take into account other languages you speak, and any other skills you have to make sure you’re getting the most streamlined and efficient course you can.

In other words, thanks to AI technology, learning a language at Memrise is going to get faster, more convenient and more relevant than it ever has been before 🙂


Alex Rawlings - Language Learner in Residence at Memrise

Alex Rawlings is Memrise’s Language Learner in Residence. He spends his time working with the Language Research Team, making fun videos about languages, and contributing to the Memrise blog. He tweets @rawlangs_alex.

In his free time he enjoys cooking, watching films, and walking his dog. He also writes books, like this one.

Interested in writing for us? Contact us here!

Want to speak a new language? Start today!

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Culture around the world

7 Magical Christmas Traditions from around the World

Ah, Christmas!  Lights are being strung, trees are being decorated, cookies are being burned, and around the world, people are starting to countdown the days to the Christmas holidays.  But wait – how DO other people from other parts of the world celebrate the holiday season?  

Well, as it turns out, Christmas traditions can vary quite a bit from country to country.  Let’s take a look at the unique and surprising Christmas traditions found around the world!

GERMANY

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“DAS CHRISTKIND” IS COMING TO TOWN!

In Germany, the most important day of the Christmas holidays is without a doubt Christmas Eve, or Heiligabend in German.  

Unlike in much of the English-speaking world, Germans unwrap their presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning.

Traditionally, there is no fat man in a red suit sliding down your chimney.  Instead, Baby Jesus himself (German: das Christkind) squeezes himself through the keyhole in your door bearing gifts.

GERMAN ADVENT CALENDARS ARE “YUGE”!

German Adventskalender take the tradition of Advent calendars one step further than most other cultures.

Many German Advent Calendars are homemade and quite large, boasting special gifts in small pouches for each day of December leading up to Christmas.

These gifts range from chocolate to books to small toys.

LIVE AND LET LEBKUCHEN!

In the period leading up to Christmas, or in German “die Vorweihnachtszeit”, throughout Germany you will find Christmas markets opening their doors.

These can be minuscule markets in the most remote villages to world-renowned Weihnachtsmärkte in cities such as Nuremberg, Dresden, and Berlin.  

When visiting a German Christmas market, be sure to try the local Lebkuchen (a pastry akin to gingerbread) and Stollen (fruit cake).  As opposed to the widely feared American version, German fruitcake is actually quite tasty!

Oh, and don’t forget the Glühwein. Prost!

RUSSIA

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IF YOU WANT CHRISTMAS, THEN WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR.

Russia, like many countries in Eastern Europe, celebrates Orthodox Christmas, which takes place on January 7th.  

So, if you’re planning on being in Russia around the end of December, be prepared to drown your sorrow in lots of Vodka because:

THE 25th OF DECEMBER IN RUSSIA IS JUST A REGULAR DAY

If you’re a student or working in Russia and are hoping to get the 25th of December off, you’re out of luck.  Some universities even hold exams during this week.  

The upside is that if you really love Christmas, just head on over to Russia after celebrating at home and you can have Christmas twice in a year! (You hear that, Timmy Turner??)  

Don’t get too overly excited for the 7th of January, though, because:

THE REAL PARTY IS ON NEW YEAR’S

Even more important than Christmas in Russia, is New Year’s, or Новый год.

In fact, in Russia you won’t find Christmas trees, but rather “New Year’s trees” (in Russian: новогодние ёлки/novogodnie yolki).  

People don’t give Christmas presents, but rather New Year’s presents.  The decorations in cities that most people would generally associate with Christmas are seen as New Year’s decorations by Russians.

FRANCE

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YOU’LL “LOG” CHRISTMAS HERE!

Ok, sorry for that slightly painful pun, but as it turns out, yule logs actually play a big role in French Christmas.  

In French, yule logs are called “bûches de Noël”, and are the quintessential dessert for Christmas Eve dinner in many Francophone parts of the world. Other common dishes are foie gras and salmon.  

Do you often suffer from post-Christmas-blues?  Fear not- in France, the festivities are not done after the 25th, since…

FRENCH PEOPLE ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE EPIPHANY

On the 6th of January, French families come together once again to visit with one another and eat “galette des rois” or “King’s Cake”.  

This is a kind of tart that people in France, Switzerland, Belgium and French-speaking Canada associate with the last day of Christmas.  

THE EASIEST WAY TO BECOME KING

A beloved tradition is to bake a small figurine made of porcelain or plastic called a “fève” (literally “broad bean”) into the galette.

When the family slice the galette, the youngest person there has to go under the table and call out names one by one to announce who’s turn it is to receive a slice.

If you happen to find the fève in your slice, you get the honor of being crowned “king” (or queen) for the day.  

As “roi/reine de la journée”, you get to wear a special paper crown and choose your king or queen that will rule with you (what a perfect excuse to call up your crush!).

CZECH REPUBLIC

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RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL

St. Nicholas, known as Mikuláš to Czechs, shows up on the 5th of December, a whole day earlier than in other European countries, such as Germany or the Netherlands.  

Don’t expect him to show up at your doorstep alone, however. He’s usually accompanied by a few “angels“ and “devils” (generally played by parents and/or the uncle everyone dislikes) and will ask you to recite a Christmas poem for him.

If you do so and you’ve been good, you’ll get a basket of sweets and fruit.  If you’ve been naughty, one of the devils will hand you coal. Just like in English-speaking countries, this is mostly more of a threat than a reality, luckily!

SHOE-TING FOR THE STARS

One more very unique, yet dying, Czech Christmas tradition, is házení botou, or the “tossing of shoes“.  

For centuries, young girls have tossed a shoe over their shoulder, and if the shoe faces the door, it means they will soon move out and should prepare for marriage.

If the shoe faces inwards, the girl is out of luck—at least for another year. My Czech friends, however, say that almost no one does this anymore, except in small remote villages.

CHINA

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AN APPLE A DAY- MEANS IT’S NEW YEARS?

Only about 2% of Chinese people are Christians and in the countryside, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what 圣诞节 (”shèng dàn jié” Mandarin for Christmas) is.

Nonetheless, in larger cities, where American and Western cultural influence has become more prominent, lights, trees, and other decorations are set up in honor of the holiday.

A tradition of gifting apples on the day before Christmas is becoming more widespread in the cities, especially among students, as the first character of the word apple, “píng guǒ” (苹果), is pronounced the same as that of “píng ān yè” (平安夜), the Chinese name for Christmas Eve (literally translated as peaceful night).

But honestly, let’s face it: In China…

…NEW YEAR’S IS WAY MORE LIT

If you want to experience a real celebration in China, then come during 春节 “chūn jié”, or Chinese New Year’s.

New Year’s is the largest holiday of the year and takes place around the end of January or beginning of February.  

It is also known as the largest human migration in the world, where hundreds of millions of Chinese make their way home for a two-week celebration with their families.

COLOMBIA

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FOOD, FESTIVITIES, AND FAMILIA

Christmas, or Navidad, is for many Colombians their favorite time of year. Like most of Latin America, Christmas in Colombia involves a lot of three things: family, lots of great food, and music.  

¡ES UN CHICO!

One of the most traditional customs leading up to Christmas in Colombía is the “Noche de las velitas”, or “night of candles”, which takes place on December 7th. This celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  

On the night of the 7th, “faroles” (paper lamps) and candles are illuminated throughout the streets, shopping centers, and homes of Colombian cities and towns.  

These paper lamps mark the beginning of Christmas time for most Colombians.

NOVELAS Y POSADAS

Starting on the 16th December, many Colombians begin saying Novenas. These are a series of prayers lasting nine days leading up to Christmas Eve.  

Posadas, meaning “inns” in Spanish, is another tradition common throughout Latin America. People walk around their neighborhood singing Christmas carols, which symbolize Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay.  

The celebrations culminate in midnight mass and spending Christmas day with the family.

TO SUM IT ALL UP…

No matter how and if you’ll be celebrating Christmas this holiday season, we wish you all:

Happy Holidays, Frohe Weihnachten, С Рождеством, veselé Vánoce, 圣诞节快乐, Feliz Navidad, and a very Merry Christmas from Memrise!

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25551567_1982253808682944_2061178276_oJack Fordon has a passion for languages and travel. He has lived in six different countries (and counting), and the amount of languages he speaks fluctuates between ten and twelve-ish, depending on how many beers he’s had. Currently, he is a student of Slavic Students and Mandarin Chinese at the University of Heidelberg in Germany but has spent the last year on exchange in the Czech Republic and St. Petersburg, Russia.

When he’s not learning languages and/or traveling, you can find him volunteering for local environmental groups, out in nature, in the movies, or playing one of four songs on the piano. Check out his new Youtube channel and follow him on Facebook at „Jack’s Language Adventures“ and Instagram at @fordonjack!