Culture around the world

Imagine if we all spoke the same language

There are thought to be between 5,000 and 7,000 languages spoken around the world depending on which linguist you ask. But why? Why is it that I, as an English speaker, would say “Oh no, my hat fell off”, whereas someone in Delhi might say “अरे, मेरी टोपी गिर गई (are, meri topi gir gaee)” and someone else in Beijing might say “哎哟,我的帽子掉了(āiyo, wǒde màozi diàole)”?

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The psychology of languages

Throughout the majority of human history, people lived nomadic lives roaming the world in tribe-like groups living off what food they could find around them. Living like this allowed for humans to share the work load by hunting, gathering and cooking together and to look out for and protect each other. So human psychology developed in a way that we all feel a strong desire to belong to such a group.

For this very same reason, it was also important to distinguish ourselves from other tribes who might attack us or steal our food. I mean, nobody wants to come back to their cave after a hard day’s foraging only to discover that some other tribe has been along and stolen your favourite mammoth-skin jacket and that juicy sabertooth steak that you had salted up and were saving for a special occasion. Am I right?

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This is also true of language; people want to feel a connection with those people in their ‘tribe’ – ‘tribe’ here meaning any group that you belong to, whether that be people in the same town or country as you, people the same age as you, people who have the same interests as you, the same gender, political views, etc. Language is one of the most integral parts of a person’s identity.

For this reason, I believe it is incredibly natural that we all speak different languages and that learning to speak someone else’s language is one of the best ways to connect with them on a much deeper and more personal level.

Free thought or a lack of it

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the ruling government tries to limit the freedom of thought of the people by controlling everything in their lives even down to how they speak. ‘Newspeak’ was a language controlled by a group of people who worked to constantly reduce the number of words and expressions used and, in doing so, limit the amount of non-conformist thoughts.

As a full-time language nerd, I might be a little biased in imagining a world where everybody spoke in the same way all over the world as a dystopian society void of creativity, personality and free thought. But it’s not just creativity and freedom of expression that we would lose if we all spoke one language.

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Many people who have learnt a new language will tell you that they gain a new personality and outlook on life with each new language that they speak. These diverse ways of thinking, behaving and perceiving the world allow people to tackle problems from different angles and think of new and innovative solutions. This is what drives economic and social progress around the world, and what has made humans the dominant species on the planet.

Sure, you might argue that it would be cheaper and more efficient if the world all spoke one language, but that isn’t the way humans behave, just like how it would be more or less unthinkable for all countries to merge into one ‘United Earth Nation’. And it certainly wouldn’t be as much fun. I mean, how would we be able to laugh when someone tells us that the German word for a ‘glove’ is literally ‘hand-shoe’ (Handschuh), and that the French word for ‘candy floss/cotton candy’ is ‘daddy’s beard’ (barbe à papa)?!

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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.

Culture around the world

9 Japanese Anime you may not have heard of

One of the best ways to improve your Japanese is, of course, by watching anime, so we’ve put together a list of great anime of different styles and genres that you might not have heard of before!

1) Astro boy 鉄腕アトム(1963)

The history of Japan’s Anime history starts with Osamu Tedzuka. He pioneered the long format manga focusing on story arcs which lasted more than a normal comic strip would allow for. Tedzuka was also the first person to make a weekly anime TV series. This was a huge and unprecedented task. Tedzuka was successful however and helped to lay the foundations of the anime industry. Astro Boy is a robot with the heart of a human whose story illustrates a bright modern future after the bleak world wars.

 

2) Sazae-san サザエさん (1969)

Sazae-san holds the Guinness World record for the longest-running TV anime series: 48 years and counting. That’s 20 years longer than the Simpsons! Watching Sazae-san at 6:30 on a Sunday evening has become a weekly ritual for Japanese people across all generations. The story itself is a light-hearted family comedy, but it has a dark side. It coined the term “サザエさん症候群(Sazae-san syndrome)”, which is a type of depression that you experience when you hear the opening theme of Sazae-san, when the weekend isn’t over yet, but you know it’s 6:30pm and you are already thinking about work on Monday.

 

3) Lupin the Third ルパン三世(1971)

A comedic rendition of an action manga about a group of thieves. They are a Robin Hood outfit, only they do not give to the poor. Acrobatic escapes, impossible gunfights, deadly katana attacks; the visual work is very fun and you will grow to love the good-natured characters in the show. Lupin the Third has been remade multiple times, and in 2015 the 5th season was aired. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli films, the 2nd season may interest you which had Hayao Miyazaki on the creative team.

 

4) Your Name 君の名は(2016)

This Sci-fi based upon a shamanistic myth tells the story of a boy from the big city and a girl from the rural countryside waking up in each other’s body and then setting out on a quest to discover why. The director, Makoto Shinkai, made it his mission to graphically capture the beauty of Japanese landscapes, both in the city as well as the countryside. His success will take your breath away.

 

5) 5 centimeters per second 秒速5センチメートル (2007)

One of Makoto Shinkai’s earlier works 5 Centimetres Per Second is a visual and musical poem of bitter-sweet romance. The director’s love for Japanese culture is lovingly woven into the film. He manages to capture the essence of daily life in Japan, right down to the smallest detail.

6) STEINS;GATE シュタインズ・ゲート (2011)

Based on a science fiction video game, where the mission is to travel back in time and make the right choices to save your friend’s life. For mystery lovers who enjoy the subtle art of foreshadowing, you will love this anime. Concentration must be kept at all times to pick up the clues if you want to solve the mystery. The show is famous for being a slow burner, a slow starter that gradually develops into a veritable helter-skelter of emotions.

 

7) Bakemonogatari 化物語 (2009)

The protagonist is a half human, half vampire, who rescues the female characters around him who are haunted by monsters. Do not underestimate this anime based on its girly cover, nor scorn it by assuming it’s another Twilight inspired chick-flick. It is based on a novel whose plot relies on clever wordplay. This anime is only recommended if you are willing to take on the challenge of linguistic circus…

Here is a taster: one of the monsters that appear is called 重し蟹 (omoshikani), which deprives you of your weight. Weight in Japanese is 重さ (omosa), and the word for heavy is 重い (omoi), which sounds identical to the word feelings (想い). The sound of the word for “thoughtful”, 想いし (omoishi) changed to 重し (omoshi =weight) over time. This monster is actually a god (神 kami) in the form of a crab (蟹 kani) and what it is doing is alleviating the emotional ‘weight’ of that person’s thoughts.

 

8) Ping Pong ピンポン (2014)

Historical anime based on mangas can be either a hit or a miss. The animators are constrained by the original body of work, or their animation skills develop and push the story to further heights of success. Ping Pong is definitely the latter. Peko is a star ping pong player who aspires to become the world champion. Smile is Peko’s friend who plays ping pong just to kill time but has a natural talent which captures people’s attention. People around Smile care about his talent more than he does, and the constant pressure put on him causes his self-confidence to unravel.

 

9) The Tatami Galaxy 四畳半神話大系 (2010)

If you are looking for something different, The Tatami Galaxy might be the one for you. The story follows a university student who appears to be living in a parallel multiverse. He joins an on-campus society without much thought, where he meets his friend and enemy, Ozu. Ozu becomes his “black cupid” that either helps or ruins the main character’s romance with a girl Akashi-san. Every episode ends with the line, “if I had joined a different society, my student life might have been slightly better…”, and the wish is granted and the same character restarts his student life all over again! The mesmerising use of colours and tongue-twistingly fast narration accelerates and heightens the hallucinogenic corkscrew effect of the looping storyline.

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Kana

 

As Memrises Japanese Specialist, Kana looks at ways we can make learning Japanese a joyful adventure.

She finds Japanese 親父ギャグ (dad jokes) hilarious and is often looking for ways to say them in English… 車が来る、まあ!” Trolley approaching! Oh golly!… Okay, she is clearly still learning.

Culture around the world

10 Must Read Spanish Books

Spanish is not only one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It’s also one of the most widely read. Spanish boasts an impressively large and diverse canon of literature, written across the entire world. Learning Spanish gives you the opportunity to read some of these amazing works, in the original!

Reading a book in translation is like asking a friend to go on holiday for you, then show you some pictures and tell you how it was. Reading a book in the original is like getting o the plane yourself and diving into a different world. When you first start out, it can be a bit intimidating if there are lots of words you don’t recognise, but don’t worry. The more you read, the easier it gets.

Here are some top tips for reading in a foreign language:

  1. Don’t look up every word. Be strict with yourself, and only reach for the dictionary when you’re really lost.
  2. Take it slowly. Even just reading a page at a time in a foreign language is a great achievement!
  3. Read things that you enjoy. If you’re having fun, you’ll be much more motivated to keep going.

So here are 10 unmissable books in Spanish, that you absolutely must read:

1. Cien años de soledad

61PUpJp3HOL._SX369_BO1,204,203,200_Author: Gabriel García Marquez
Year: 1967
English Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude

This landmark novel by Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez is normally the first to come to mind when you mention literature in the Spanish language. It tells the story of the different generations of the Buendía family, which takes place in the fictional town of Macondo, and has come to symbolise the story of Colombia, its civil wars, and its fate as a nation. It is influenced by Modernism and the Cuban Vanguardia movement, and is an iconic work of Latin American Magical Realism. It has been translated into 37 different languages and sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

2. La sombra del viento

51atSLpTSaL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Year: 2001
English Title: The Shadow of the Wind

This worldwide bestseller by Spanish writer Carlos Luis Zafón is a romantic thriller set in Barcelona. It follows a young writer who is approached by a mysterious unknown figure and asked to write a book, starting at the industrial revolution, leading all the way up to the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. La Sombra del Viento has managed to sell 15 million copies worldwide in many different languages, making it one of the world’s most popular published books. There’s lots of magical realism in this one, but it doesn’t technically belong to the genre.

3. Rayuela

Author: Julio Cortázar
Year: 1963
English Title: Hopscotch

Rayuela is a very original Vanguardist novel by French-Argentinian author Julio Cortázar. What makes Rayuela so unique, is that you can read it however you want. The chapters are all jumbled up, so if you read it cover to cover you will find yourself jumping from Chapter 20 to Chapter 2 and back again. Or, you can find your way from chapter to chapter and try to read it chronologically. You can also skip chapters completely if you don’t want to read them, as not all of them are supposed to be essential to the plot. The plot is set in Paris, where Cortázar spent many years, and depicts bohemian Paris with many autobiographical touches.

4. Crónica de una muerte anunciada

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Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Year: 1981
English Title: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The second book on this list by Colombian literary giant Gabriel García Márquez is here not least of all because of its extremely original style. Crónica de una muerte anunciada is written backwards. The book starts at the end and then progresses forward back towards the beginning.  Its opening line is: “El día que lo mataron, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las cinco de la mañana“. (“The day they killed him, Santiago Nasar got up at 5am”). You know he has been killed, but over the course of the book you will find out who has done it and, most importantly, why. This is a short but thought-provoking read perfect for intermediate learners.

5. Las travesuras de la niña mala

TravesurasDeLaNinaMalaAuthor: Mario Vargas Llosa
Year: 2006
English Title: The Bad Girl

This love story by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, who was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2010, is sure to be a favourite amongst language lovers. The protagonist is a conference interpreter based in various cities around the world. He starts in Lima, Peru, in the 40s and 50s then goes on to Paris, London, then spends some time in Tokyo before ending up in Madrid. Vargas Llosa takes this opportunity to portray the different histories of these cities, and captures how they were at the time. He describes the hippies and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in London in the 70s, Madrid in the 80s, the artistic boom in Paris and the worst of revolution and guerrilla war in Peru.

 

6. Como agua para chocolate

aa2e7bd96277108fb2d091e8a15154d8--chocolates-book-jacketAuthor: Laura Esquivel
Year: 1989
English Title: Like Water for Chocolate

Mexican author Laura Esquivel’s popular novel Como agua para chocolate is a classic of the magic realism genre. A traditional Mexican family uses cooking and the mysterious mysticism that surrounds them to escape their dull lives, in which they are constrained by society’s expectations and prescribed gender roles, in order to truly express their feelings and fulfill their dreams. Laura Esquivel originally published the novel monthly in a magazine, with a different recipe accompanying each chapter. So by reading this book, you’ll also learn how to cook some delicious Mexican food! Como agua para chocolate is perfect for intermediate learners of Spanish, and was even made into a popular film in 1992.

7. 20 poemas de amor y una canción desesperada

Neruda_-_Portada_Veinte_poemas_de_Amor_(1924)Author: Pablo Neruda
Year: 1924
English Title: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda published this collection of love poems in 1924, when he was only 19. It is controversial for its strong imagery, especially given the author’s young age, yet to date remains the best selling poetry book in the history of Spanish literature, with over 20 million copies sold. It was also translated into English by the poet W. S. Merwin. Neruda’s memorable lines are regularly quoted by Spanish speakers, such as: “Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos” (“I want to do to you what Spring does to the cherry trees”)

8. Corazón tan blanco

51QmpP3wU7L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Author: Javier Marías
Year: 1992
English Title: A Heart So White

Here’s another favourite for language lovers! Spanish writer Javier Marías tells the story of how the narrator, a conference interpreter called Juan, tries to use his newly-wed wife Luisa to get to the bottom of his father’s previous two marriages and their murky past. The novel makes use of its setting in decadent Havana, Cuba, and touches on the topics of politics, love, and –of course – the life of conference interpreters.

 

 

 

9. La casa de Bernarda Alba

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Author: Federico García Lorca
Year: 1945
English Title: The House of Bernarda Alba

If you’d rather read a play than a novel, Federico García Lorca’s outstanding work La casa de Bernarda Alba is an excellent place to start. This play is about a family of women and their matriarch (Bernarda Alba). The father of the family has just died, and the entire house in Granada, Andalusia is in mourning. The play takes place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and so serves as a metaphor for post-war Spain. Its portrayal of the Catholic austerity and repression that characterised the post-war era is the perfect setting to tell this story about women, and how the different daughters react to the repression of their female characters. Some have suggested that La casa de Bernarda Alba was Lorca’s premonition of his own death.

10. El Aleph

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Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Year: 1945
English Title: The Aleph

El Aleph is a short story written by Argentinian writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, and is published in the collection El Aleph y otros cuentos. The stories contain lots of symbolism, as well as little morals and parables concerning identity, immortality and the infinity of time. This extremely thought-provoking and gripping read is a must for anyone learning Spanish.

 

 

 

 

Want to start reading Spanish today? Check out Memrise!

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Bilingualism Around The World

¿Sabes any Spanglish? Or maybe, un poco de inglañol?

“Spanglish” – You have most likely heard this word before. Or maybe “Inglañol”? Whether you have heard it before or not, you can probably hazard a guess at what it might be. Spanglish is the fascinating result of Spanish and English coming together and sharing words and grammar with each other.

The term Spanglish usually refers to Spanish with lots of English mixed in, whereas Inglañol usually refers to English with lot of Spanish mixed in.

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The number of speakers of Spanglish is difficult to nail down, but we can be certain that it is in the millions. With over 40 million Spanish speakers in the US, it is completely natural that people would start to mix Spanish with English and vice versa creating a unique and diverse form of communication. That said, it is not only in the US that Spanglish is spoken. The use of Spanglish is on the rise and people are speaking it all over the Spanish-speaking world. For example, you might hear your Mexican friend say something like “¡Órale vato, wacha la ranfla, no la vayas a parquear ahí que anda rondando la chota!” (Hey, dude, watch the car, don’t park it there because the police are around).

Mixing languages in this way in a conversation between two or more bilingual speakers is called code-switching and is a very common and normal occurrence. See our previous post about this to learn more about code-switching!

The Spanglish spoken in different places also depends on the local varieties of Spanish and English, for example, the Spanglish spoken in Miami, where there is a heavy influence from Cuban Spanish, is very different from the Spanglish spoken in Puerto Rico.

Some typical Spanglish expressions

Some typical Spanglish phrases are directly translated from English and might sound pretty weird to a native Spanish speaker hearing Spanglish for the first time, such as:
Te llamo p’atrás I’ll call you back (in standard Spanish: te vuelvo a llamar)

Está p’arriba de ti It’s up to you (in standard Spanish: depende de ti)

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Other Spanglish words are created when a Spanish word is used but with the meaning of a similar-sounding English word. For example, the word carpeta means folder in standard Spanish, but can be used to mean carpet in Spanglish. Some other examples are:

rentar – to rent (in standar Spanish ‘to rent‘ is ‘alquilar‘, and ‘rentar‘ means ‘to make a profit‘)

librería – library (in standard Spanish ‘library‘ is ‘biblioteca‘, and ‘librería‘ means ‘bookshop‘)

It is also very common to add the suffix ‘-ear’ to the end of a word to make it into a verb, for example: emailear (to email), twittear (to tweet), wachar (to watch), and parquear (to park).

 

 

Some people tend to think of Spanglish or Inglañol as ‘bad Spanish’ or ‘bad English’, but in reality, it is a unique variety of the language with elements of both and which reflects the awesomeness and diversity of the community that speaks it. Many children are now growing up speaking Spanglish as a first language, and lots of people are proud of their Spanglish identity.

There are many prominent Spanglish speakers in the world, many of whom have created songs, films, and other works of art using the languages. Check out this selection of Spanglish songs – you probably know a few of them! There is even a Spanglish translation of one of the most classic pieces of Spanish literature, Don Quijote de la Mancha, which was translated by Ilan Stavans, a sociolinguist and leading authority on Spanglish. You can read the first chapter here!

 

Feeling inspired to learn some Spanish?

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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

Why French is much easier to learn than English

French is the language of love. With its romantic cities, world-class wines, delicious cuisine, and stunning coastline and beaches, who wouldn’t want to learn this beautiful language?

Well, as it turns out, many of us have a sort of fear of speaking French. We’re put off by its difficult spelling and really fear making a mistake! Some of us might have traumatic memories of failing French tests at school have been put off learning it ever since.

But fear not! Because as this post is going to explain, French is actually one of the easiest European languages to learn. In many ways, it’s even easier than learning English! And as French is a world language, spoken by over 220 million people, learning French can give you access to a huge chunk of the world.

So ignore the nay-sayers – let’s find out why learning French is actually pretty facile !

1. French doesn’t get hung up on the past

Talking in English about something that happened in the past is like opening a Pandora’s box of different nuances, implications, and subtleties. In French, however, it’s a lot simple.

I didI have done, and I did do in spoken French is just j’ai fait.

I used to doI was doing, and I would do in spoken French is just je faisais.

That’s pretty much all there is to it!

2. Gender patterns are easy to spot

One of the biggest challenges for English speakers when learning French is getting used to the idea that every word has its own gender. A French table is a ‘she’, but a French wine is a ‘he’.

However, unlike in German where genders are so unpredictable that they drive all students to the breach of insanity, in French, there are patterns that are actually quite easy to spot.

MASCULINE
If a word ends in -age, -ment, -il, -ail, -eil, -euil, -eau, -eu, -er, -oir, -isme, -ing, -ard, -am, -um, -em, -it, -est, -an, -and, -ent, -in, -int, -om, -ond, -ont, -ème, or ège, then it’s usually masculine.

FEMININE
If a word ends in -tion, -sion, -son, -ure, -ude, -ade, -ée, -té, -ière, -euse, -ance, -ence, or -ie, then it’s usually feminine.

3. French verbs are much easier than Italian, Spanish, German and most other European languages.

In English our verbs pretty much stay the same, no matter who is doing them. I speak, you speak, we speak and so on. The only exception is he, she or it, who actually speaks.

In French, things look deceptively different, although actually it’s pretty easy. The verb parler, which means ‘to speak’ looks like this:

je parle
tu parles
il/elle parle
nous parlons
vous parlez
ils/elles parlent

At first glance this might seem intimidating. But in actual fact, four of these are pronounced exactly the same way. Because ‘s’ at the end is silent, je, tu, il and elle all really just parle, and the -ent in ils parlent and elles parlent is also silent, so sounds exactly the same as je parle.

That leaves three endings: parle, parlons and parlez. But things get even simpler when you realise that vous parlez is pronounced exactly the same as the infinitive form parler which means ‘to speak’.

So that leaves parlons, which is the most different of all the forms. But to make matters even simpler, French people rarely if ever say nous parlons. Instead, they just use the word on, which sort-of translates to ‘one’, and follows exactly the same pattern is il/elle parle. So ‘we speak’ is on parle in colloquial French.

So when learning the verb parler (to speak), the only forms you really need to learn are parle (which you say for I, you, he, she, it, we, and they) and parlez, which sounds the same as the infinitive, and is only used for formal and plural ‘you’.

4. French vocab only gets easier

Some languages start out quite easy and then get harder. But French is one of those languages that starts out quite hard, but then gets easier. Especially if you speak English already.

Many of the basic words in French are quite different to English: apple is pomme, car is voiture, mother is mère and so on.

But as you get more advanced in French, you’ll realise that so many of the words are extremely similar, if not identical to English. Agriculture is agriculture, decision is décision, direction is direction, and so on.

You may actually know more French words than you think! Check out this recent article on the Memrise blog for more on that.

That’s because English was heavily influenced by French after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. French became the language of the courts, of government and the law, and so many more complex words in English come directly from French.

According to some estimates, 40-45% of English vocabulary is shared with French!

5. French is all around us!

France has an extremely rich and influential culture, and the traces of that are all around us to see. In the Western World and elsewhere, we are used to restaurants having French names, or even having entirely French place names on our maps.

That’s given us a familiarity with French that we might not have with many other languages. It might be entirely subconscious, but when you learn about those funny looking accents like the French ^ symbol, you may recognise it from words like Côte, which is a restaurant chain in the UK.

Equally, there are so many cities and streets in the UK and USA with names like Montpelier, Lacrosse, Belfort, and Bellevue. When you start learning French, and finally find out what these things mean, then you should have a little lightbulb going off in your head. These are things you’ve known your whole life, you just needed to start learning some French to work out what they meant!

Learning a language is never easy, but picking up some French is nowhere near as hard as you might think.

Start speaking French today!

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The joy of languages

Portuguese and Spanish: What’s the difference?

Back in the day, both Portuguese and Spanish both evolved from Latin, and so naturally, they both have many similarities. Many Portuguese speakers even find it very easy to understand Spanish, and vice versa. This also makes it much less of a challenge to learn one of them if you already speak some of the other.

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1) Grammar

The grammatical structure of the two languages is very similar – they both have a lot of fun with their verb endings, unlike English where we say “I eat, you eat, we eat, they eat”. E.g.:

Pt: Eu como, tu comes, ele/ela/você come, nós comemos, vós comeis, vocês comem

Sp: Yo como, tú comes, él/ella/usted come, nosotros comemos, vosotros coméis, ellos comen

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In both languages, feminine words also tend to end in “-a”, and masculine words tend to end in an “-o” (although in Portuguese this sounds more like “u”).

But you mustn’t get complacent if you speak one of these languages and think that you already know the grammar of the other; there are also many differences. Some differences are small, like how to say “I am going to eat”, Spanish speakers would say “Voy comer”, whereas Portuguese speakers would say simply “Vou comer”.

The Portuguese ways of saying “my/your/our” etc. are also different to Spanish, they cosy up to Italian and throw in the word “the” (“o”/”a”/”os”/”as”), because why not? So “I left my spacesuit at home” would be “Deixei o meu traje espacial em casa” (Pt) and “Dejé mi traje espacial en casa” (Sp).Spacesuit.gif

There are also much bigger differences, such as Portuguese’s dreaded future subjunctive, a verb form which is more or less dead in modern, spoken Spanish. So when in Spanish you would say “Si yo soy elegido presidente, cambiaré la ley“, Portuguese speakers would say “Se eu for eleito presidente, mudarei a lei“.

2) Pronunciation

Portuguese speakers usually find it very easy to understand spoken Spanish, but while Spanish speakers have little problem with written Portuguese, ask them to understand spoken Portuguese and their reaction might often be:

¿qué?cat

So why is spoken Spanish easier to understand than spoken Portuguese? One of the main reasons for this is the vowels. Spanish has five simple vowels: “A, E, I, O, U”.

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Portuguese, on the other hand, has around 14 vowels depending on your accent, including five nasal vowels!

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Buuuut Portuguese also uses the same five letters to write these 14 vowels, which means you really have to know the spellings to know how to pronounce a word. In Brazil, the letter “e” at the end of a word often sounds like an “i”, and if there is a “d” or “t” before it, that “d” or “t” will change to a “tsh” or “dj” sound, so “importante” is pronounced “ĩportãtshee” (with a nasal “i” at the beginning and a nasal “a” in the middle). But go to Portugal, and you will hear something different; the same word will be pronounced “ĩpurtãteuh” (or even “ĩpurtãt”)!

shocked

Take the same word, “importante”,  in Spanish and you will see that the pronunciation matches each letter completely.

3) Vocab

The vocabulary of both languages come mostly from Latin, and usually have the same meaning, but like all languages there are some differences to watch out for. For example:

Despido = “naked” in Portuguese, but “dismissal/firing” in Spanish

Aceite = “accept” in Portuguese, but “oil” in Spanish

Embaraçada/embarazada = “Embarrassed” in Portuguese, but “pregnant” in Spanish

Presunto = “ham” in Portuguese, but “presumed” in Spanish

The days of the week can also trip people up. In Spanish there are different words for each day: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo. Whereas Portuguese speakers give numbers to most of the days of the week: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira, sábado, domingo.

So, in conclusion, si hablas español, aprender o português não será muito difícil para você, e se você fala português, tampoco será muy difícil aprender español. Just remember to keep an eye out for those pesky little differences so you don’t get caught out!

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5E0A3584 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.

 

Bilingualism Around The World

12 Celebrities Who Speak Many Languages

Many of us look at our heroes or celebrities with a curious fascination.

We ask, “How did they get there? I could never do anything close to the things they’ve achieved.”

Good news is that’s not completely true!

What’s something many successful people have in common? You’ve probably never made the connection, but it’s multilingualism! Who knows, there just might be a correlation somewhere! Speaking multiple languages won’t necessarily turn you into a celebrity, but it will make you more interesting to talk to, and that’s basically the same thing right?

Let’s see a few examples, shall we?

1. Johnny Depp

The state of Kentucky is never the first thing that comes to mind when Johnny Depp is mentioned.

We all know him for his role in Pirates of the Caribbean. You wouldn’t think it of an alcoholic pirate but Johnny has mastered another tongue. He speaks the language of romance due to a relationship he had with French actress Vanessa Paradis. Despite having a reasonably high level in the language, he’s adorably self-deprecating.

In most award ceremonies around the world, acceptance speeches are a commonality. When Johnny Depp received a César Award in 1999, he shrewdly avoided giving a speech by having it pre-recorded. He then played it for the audience from the microphone. But rest assured, his French is good.

You can watch that speech here:

2. Natalie Portman

This beautiful actress is fluent in multiple languages. Being of Israeli-American heritage, she had an early exposure to multiple cultures.

But she didn’t stop there. Her curiosity blossomed and she decided that one other language isn’t enough. She saw the value in connecting with others and where languages can bring you.

According to the internet, she’s gone on to learn French, German, and even Japanese at varying degrees of fluency. Mazel Tov.

3. Jackie Chan

“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!”

It may have been written to protest war in Vietnam, but it’s good rhythm. Everyone loves to dance to it, especially Jackie Chan, at least when Agent Carter shows him how in the movies.

Jackie Chan is from Hong Kong which means he’s a native Cantonese speaker. In order to build connections and work with those from mainland China, he had to learn Mandarin which is a completely different language. And of course Jackie speaks English. If he didn’t, the Rush Hour series would never have existed.

Here’s Jackie singing “I’ll Make a Man out of You” in Cantonese. 謝謝 Jackie!!

4. Charlize Theron

As famous as she is, there’s a high probability that you’ve been pronouncing her last name wrong.

Charlize is from South Africa of an Afrikaner background meaning that her native language is Afrikaans. This vibrant language is a descendant of Dutch brought over from colonial days past. Her last name is pronounced with a rolled ‘R’ and sounds more like Tron.

5. Novak Djokovic

Whether you watch tennis matches religiously or not, you’ve heard of Novak Djokovic. Or is that because I shop at Uniqlo?

The tennis king speaks six languages. In addition to his native Serbian, he speaks English, Italian, German, Spanish and French! He even quoted this folk proverb during an interview: “Learn a new language, get a new soul.”

6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Other than his smile and acting career, Joe’s got a love for another country. He fell in love with the French language and culture in college and followed to fluency. Definitely not the typical case, which shows this is definitely something admirable about him.

7. Mark Zuckerberg

Everyone knows speaking a language is nerve-wracking. Imagine doing public speaking in another language?

A few years ago, I remember scrolling Facebook when this video went viral. The CEO of Facebook took the plunge and demonstrated his command of Mandarin at an event at China’s famed Tsinghua University.

We gotta give it to him. Zuckerberg knows how to win a crowd, but also get vulnerable! If he’s allowed to make mistakes, so are you.

8. Christopher Lee

A legend in the world of acting, we know him as Saruman, Count Dooku, etc… But what is often not mentioned is his various other talents. He was part of a metal band and sang into his 90’s. He even released an album just before his passing. Like what, who does that? Especially at his age.

I’ll only slightly mention his language repertoire. The beast of a man spoke French, German, Italian and is rumored to have proficiency in others. Just as impressive is how he’s one of the few actors that managed to stay married with a clean record.

R.I.P Christopher Lee, we miss you.

 

9. Queen Silvia of Sweden

Queen Silvia may not be an elected official but she is integral to Sweden and the world. German by birth, she speaks three Germanic languages and three Romance languages. Her marriage to King Carl-Gustaf XVI led to Swedish and her own mother spoke Brazilian Portuguese. French, Spanish, and even Swedish Sign Language comprise her majesty’s repertoire. You can only imagine how this helps in diplomatic relations and maintaining world peace.

If you think that royalty is pointless, I sympathize. But you might be surprised that their money goes to more causes that we hear about.

 

10. Pope Francis

If there’s one world leader that’s been trending for awhile now, it’s Pope Francis! The first Pope of South American heritage was born in Argentina of Italian ancestry. It’s estimated that around 60% of Argentines have Italian blood which has even influenced their accent to an extent. Being the Pope, he speaks Italian, is conversant in Latin, German, French, Portuguese and bits of English.

Here’s a video by LangFocus that discusses the Pope’s language skills.

11. Trevor Noah      

Before he became the host of the Daily Show, this young South African was known for his crisp stand-up comedy. Born during apartheid to a Swiss father and African mother meant he had quite the diverse upbringing. According to an NPR interview, he speaks Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Tsonga, Afrikaans, and English. Not bad eh? If you want to hear him speak in various African languages, you should watch his “It’s my culture” DVD. Though hysterically funny, it will be hard to understand unless you’re familiar with South African culture, politics, and sports.

“Here’s a video of Trevor unintentionally seducing Stephen Fry through the Xhosa language on the show QI.”

https://www.npr.org/2016/11/22/503009220/trevor-noah-looks-back-on-childhood-in-the-shadow-of-a-giant-his-mom

12. Viggo Mortensen

Our last celebrity is no joke. He speaks to Elves in Sindarin and knows Middle Earth like the back of his hand.

The King of Gondor had a crazy childhood in multiple countries. He was born in the states to Danish and American parents and partially raised in South America. In addition to English, Danish, and Spanish, he also speaks French, conversational Italian and bits of Catalan. You can see him act completely in Spanish if you watch the historical fiction film Alatriste.

Here’s a video of him speaking Danish:

 

No Matter Who You Are Learning a Language Is Important

Isn’t it great? You don’t have to be a celebrity to charm people. Sometimes all you need is to care for others and love conversation. Oftentimes, languages are the best key to the doors of people’s hearts. Take it from the people above. 😃

Want to speak a new language?

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4-editA breaker of every stereotype one can give (except that he loves rice and wears glasses), Indonesian-American Fiel Sahir is the author of Between3worlds.com hailing from New York City. He passionately teaches empathy through cultural exploration and conversation. A classical guitarist by trade, he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Classical Guitar performance in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is also the Director of Int’l Outreach and Partnerships for Polyglot Indonesia. You can contact him directly via fiel@between3worlds.com and get a conversation started.

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