Sunday, July 2, 2017

John le Carré Balm for languages teachers

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why Is English Spelling So Weird?

Why Is English Spelling So Weird? a cute film with live human doing speeded up drawing about the history of English and its many contradictory origins.  "English spelling might seem crazy and unfair, but there are reasons for how it got to be that way. Here is the brief history, in words and pictures, of our weird spelling system and the people who made it." From Akira Okrent. Linguist, author of In the Land of Invented Languages, Chicago. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Words can make you sick. Or healed. Heavy or light.

Words can make you sick. Or healed. Heavy or light.  Here’s an experiment that might prove it.
"Words create worlds because the universe is always listening. "

A nation’s identity lives in its language

“A nation’s identity lives in its language ..  a lot.” Tim Minchin on the documentary about Australian humour and comedy “Stop laughing … this is serious” 8 April 2015.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape

The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape. Ann Robertson pointed this out via Facebook. The article is reversing the normal expression and talking about "landscape linguistics" - the thousands of micro-terminologies for landscape features in languages around the world, including English dialects. As the world hyper-urbanises, all that old familiarity with animals, plants, soil, rain and creeks etc may be lost. It will create (is already creating) a different kind of human being (with different language of course for their experience) , ones who voluntarily live like the crew of Star Trek in a totally synthetic environment made of plastics, silicone, aluminium, steel. Go roll on the lawn, quick! Our grandchildren may not know the words "blade of glass tickling your back" or "worm hole" (except in science fiction).

Something else language lovers will like. The Vikings Are Coming! by John-Erik Jordan.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

9 Words With Totally Unexpected Origins

9 Words With Totally Unexpected Origins CHRISTINA STERBENZ OCT 18 2013 It's a year old but who cares, still fun.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Denmark's education: two foreign languages compulsory, third available.

Danish Folkeskole Education Obligatory subjects
The teaching in the nine-year basic school covers the following subjects which are compulsory for all pupils: Danish, Christian studies — including in the oldest forms instruction in foreign religions and other philosophies of life, PE and sport, and mathematics during the entire 9-year period;English and history from the 3rd to the 9th year; music from the 1st to the 6th year; science from the 1st to the 6th year; art from the 1st to the 5th year; social studies from the 8th to the 9th year; geography and biology from the 7th to the 9th year; physics and chemistry in the 7th to 9th year; needlework, wood- or metalwork and cooking for one or more years between the 4th and 7th year.[3]
The instruction in the basic school furthermore comprises the following obligatory topics: traffic safety, health and sex education and family planning as well as educational, vocational and labour market orientation. Optional subjects The second foreign language, German or French, must be offered in the 7th to 10th year. The following optional subjects and topics may be offered to the pupils in the 8th to 10th year: French or German as a third foreign language, wordprocessing, technology, media, art,photography, film, drama, music, needlework, wood- or metalwork, home economics, engine knowledge, other workshop subjects, and vocational studies. Furthermore, Latin may be offered to the pupils in the 10th year.
The teaching in the 10th form comprises the following subjects as obligatory subjects: Danish, mathematics, and English to an extent corresponding to a total of 14 lessons a week (i.e. half of the minimum weekly teaching time). Instruction must be offered in PE and sport, Christian studies and religious education, social studies and physics or chemistry. Furthermore, pupils who have chosen German or French as second foreign language in the 7th to 9th years must be offered continued instruction in that subject in the 10th year.
My Comment 
Ach du meine Güte, make all the excuses you like about the dismal state of languages education in Australia, but Denmark has just over a quarter our population in 43,094 square kilometres (16,639 sq miles)and does so much better. It's attitude of the society, and political will. And "just do it."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Speech was given us to disguise our thoughts

A pearl of wisdom in the Hobart Mercury newspaper of 1 October 1895 following excerpts from the Government Gazette:
"Speech was given us to disguise our thoughts, but you may preach till doomsday and then you will not disguise the fact that Jones' IXL Jams are the best in the world."
[THE GAZETTE. (1895, October 1). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved February 16, 2012, from]

I love IXL's old, zany and tiny ads such as:

EAT JONES' IXL JAMS. The total wealth of Great Britain with all her possessions is estimated at £8,000,000,000. France comes next with £7,500,000,000. The wealth of the six largest nations in the world aggregates £33,000,000,000. [EAT JONES' IXL JAMS. (1897, July 8) Launceston Examiner(Tas. : 1842 - 1899), p. 2. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from]

EAT JONES' ' IXL JAMS. "Lives there a man with soul so dead, who never to his wife has said-'Use BOROLEINE SOAP.' "
That's a pre-feminist puzzler. (

EAT JONES' ' IXL JAMS. Kid gloves, with hand-painted flowers on the back, are the latest fad in Paris.
(1897, July 10). Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899), p. 8. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from

The technique seems to be, we'll give you one extraneous fact to illuminate your life and you swallow our message and our jam, please. Reminds me of the outrageous, hilarious and high-production-value television advertisements coming out of Sweden lately. We'll give you a laugh or three; please buy our vacuum cleaners, Volvos and IKEA.

Information on Henry Jones, founder of IXL jams.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Greeks understood: Happy is the enthusiast

"The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things. They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language—the word ‘enthusiasm’—en theos—a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys." ~Louis Pasteur""

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Languages Sound Like To Foreigners

This is hilarious and intriguing and maybe even useful for studying prosodics. The Daily Mail 19-03-2014 said: "A young woman has filmed herself speaking gibberish in a string of different accents to show how people speaking foreign languages sound - at least to her. Nineteen-year-old Sara from Finland uses her remarkable skill for mimicry to show what different languages sound to foreigners who don't understand them. Her caricatures are so good that, to anyone who doesn't know the languages she is imitating, she could almost be a fluent speaker." See also at YouTube and her second one on YouTube: What Languages Sound Like To Foreigners #2 The pumped up emotional reactions in the comments themselves show something: how much people care about the sound of their languages, and get defensive even about a joke, when they would normally not think about it consciously. (Same girl displaying her singing range: One Girl, 14 Genres - Remix by Manu) Career in linguistics, translation, film making or singing? Which one will pay best, I wonder?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Irra Wangga Language Centre

Irra Wangga Language Centre

"The Irra Wangga Language Program is a professional Aboriginal-directed program, working both with and for the community. Staff at Irra Wangga are passionate about the preservation, revitalisation and maintenance of Aboriginal languages and culture, and it is this passion that drives the program. " [Thanks to John Bass for pointing out this site.]

This makes me think: you can have stunning academic expertise about languages and linguistics but it is feeling for language, loving it like your patch of land and your family, respecting it for all its carries of your people's lives and thoughts and history, that makes a living language. Because you are living in it and through it. Just using it day in and day out for practical and emotional life. It is not just an inert, abstract system. It is identity, it expresses who people are and what people do. Its living nature also makes learning the languages of others all the more difficult, demanding and delightfully rewarding.  Phil Mahnken

Thursday, November 7, 2013

At the end of the day, it is what it is.

"... at the end of the day it can’t be helped, language changes, language extends and cross-pollinates, mainly through pretentious eejits carrying weird-sounding words across oceans and then it becomes something different, and then well what can you say but it is what it is, in all honesty?"

* Ivan Nahem is a writer and yoga teacher; he lives in Woodside, Queens.

Read more: Top ten Irish expressions an American picked up living there            IrishCentral

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

10 Quirky But Cool Uses of English by  MIKAEL LEVIN DECEMBER 22, 2012 (Thanks to Annie Robertson for pointing this out.)  e.g.  I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Language is not harmless ... but can be health giving

Language is not harmless. It is through language that unspeakable horrors against blacks, women, Jews, and others were justified. [...] As historian Marjorie Spiegel notes, throughout history, when oppressors wanted to target a particular group, they used language to prepare the population for the coming destruction. Slavery was accepted because the terminology used to describe black people — mad dogs, coons, apes — did such a powerful job of turning humans beings into something 'other' that it was not considered a crime to sell them into bondage. [...] These are our teachable moments. It is through our reaction to these incidents that we can finally turn the fantasy of how we Australians perceive ourselves into the reality of a tolerant and equal nation.  
McGuire ape gaffe exposes Australian tolerance as myth Ruby Hamad  in Eureka Street 30 May 2013 

Here's an example from two very different countries using language in devious and dangerous ways:

Second, the issue is being misrepresented in Indonesia. Reporting on the Abbott visit, the Indonesian media have repeatedly described asylum seekers as illegal immigrants using the Indonesian term imigran gelapGelap means dark and suggests activity that is shadowy and suspicious. The Abbott Government uses similar language and is happy to see the issue defined this way. It allows a humanitarian and human rights issue to be reduced to one of criminality, justifies tough action and absolves one of a duty of care for those legitimately seeking sanctuary. Pat Walsh Abbott's mixed messages for Indonesia in Eureka Street 2 October 2013

Costa Georgiadis, the Greek-Aussie gardening & waste recycling prophet, reckons if you want to change culture, you have to change thinking and to change thinking you have to change the vocabulary people use. Costa looks at the positive health giving uses of language that leads us to do good things for ourselves. Stop saying trash, rubbish or garbage, to be dumped. Say "waste" and we think : "We are making this waste, we are responsible for our waste and we can recycle our waste." Orwell wrote about the sinister, harmful side of thought control through language. Wittgenstein said "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language." We all know this. Buddhists say we should be mindful of every moment and every word and every thought. Hard work!

I find it interesting to compare our attitudes and vocabulary with that of the USA. Have a look at this page about the origins and meaning of Jim Crow at the Ferris University's Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. That same university's brief pages promoting languages learning (only two: Spanish and French) and their page on their Festival of Nations stand in stark contrast to America's colonial, segregated and racist past. I wonder whether their take up rates for these language programs and intercultural activities are any better than ours. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rhythm link to language ability - and so much more.

   On our visit to Caloundra Primary School yesterday, I noticed six top hats pasted on the window and six labels about Edward de Bono's different problem solving & learning strategies. I commented to my travelling companion that it always seems to me that second language learning calls on so many different dimensions of mind, e.g. all sorts of memory of course; logic for grammar; acting ability for imitating accents and emotional delivery; awareness and control of rhythm and intonation to get the music of the language right; interpersonal and cultural sensitivity for the pragmatics of relationships though another language; emotional dispositions such as persistence and patience so that you allow yourself to go through a long apprenticeship and not be turned off because you do not understand all immediately; and more. Baroness Finchley once stated that it takes 200 brain centres working in coordination to put together that miracle called language competence.
   It's a complex universe and life. It takes a complex code to represent it. It takes a complex brain to master that code which is also a social and always evolving phenomenon. I think that diversity of components is what makes L2 learning so rewarding and, for some, so challenging. Perhaps similar challenges, but much richer authentic purposeful input, exist for first language acquisition too.
   I so wish foreign languages teachers had the time and opportunities to really train properly for their complex jobs (they don't in Australia -they should have specialised degrees - if lucky they get one or two courses in a DipEd) ... and to prepare properly in their jobs (they don't) to take advantage of all the huge range of life situations and mental-emotional faculties that language calls on.
   That's what this short newspaper article Rhythm link to language ability sent by Heather Kopp made me think ... when I should be finalising exams, revamping courses or marking.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Free Sample Articles from ACTFL

Free Sample Articles from ACTFL the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).  This looks good OCTOBER 2012 Going for 90% Plus: How to Stay in the Target Language or from August 2012 Beyond Requirements: Why Do Students Continue with Language Study? Check out ACTFL webinars and other activities, they are on Facebook.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Turning 'Otherness' Into an Asset

Margaret Mead famously wrote about the profound changes wrought by the Second World War: “All of us who grew up before the war are immigrants in time, immigrants from an earlier world, living in an age essentially different from anything we knew before.” The same applies to thinking about the future; we all need to be looking at the future with the immigrant’s eyes, willing to discover a new land, learn a new language, a new way of doing things.  Turning 'Otherness' Into an Asset June 05, 2013 Marina G. Executive Director, Institute for the Future

Friday, March 29, 2013

Word hunters

This sort of novel may help seed linguistic curiosity in the young.

Word Hunters - The Curious Dictionary

'While stories build from words, it’s true, The words themselves have stories too. Who dares to read? Who dares to look? Who dares to hunt within this book?' 

An action-packed adventure story filled with humour, excitement and mysteries to solve, Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary is sure to capture the imagination of children with an interest in history and language. Described as a ‘word nerd adventure’, the story winds through history showing how words evolve over time, such as tracking ‘hello’ back through time to ‘Ah, Rou’ in Rouen, France in 925. Visit the Word Hunters website.

Quoting from

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lingua Franca finale: "Unbreak my heart"

The very last Lingua Franca radio program replayed a program on morphology, especially the prefix un- in pop songs. "Unchain my heart" is right. "Unbreak my heart" is a rule breaker or linguistic special effect. You can't un-give someone a ring. Why not?
How come you can be hurt by an unknown assailant but you can't unknow or undiscover or unthink things or uncry your tears .... Why not?
How come we know intuitively what verbs we can un- and which ones we can't. This final 26 January 2013 Lingua Franca was triggered by the words of the popsong, 'Unbreak my Heart'. The reknowned grammarian and former keyboard player in the soul group the Ram Jam Band, Geoff Pullum, uncovered the reversing 'un'-cryptotype while visiting Australia.
  The entire Lingua Franca series is available online as transcripts and audio files. Wonderful stimulating fodder for language lovers. Thanks to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Maria Zijlstra.