The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Join Pearson’s “6 STEPS to Exam Success” Online Training Program (February-April 2019)

6 Steps to Exam Success

This training program aims to support teachers and their students with a holistic approach to exam preparation. Cambridge exam experts, consultants, authors, trainers and experienced teachers will provide a holistic view on successful exam preparation, taking us through the basics and all the way to final exam success.  

Here are the speakers and the agenda. You can use this link to register. See you there!

Lindsay Warwick

Lindsay Warwick

Lindsay is a teacher, trainer and materials writer. She has been teaching general English and exam preparation courses for over twenty years.

She is a CELTA trainer and has delivered teacher development courses in the UK and abroad on topics such as train the trainer, using technology in the classroom and helping learners to prepare for exams.

She is co-author of Gold Preliminary B1, Gold Experience B1 and B2+, Expert IELTS 6 and Pearson’s new general English series Roadmap (A2 and A2+).

Step 1: Understand your exam

20th February, 2019

Any teacher helping students to prepare for an exam needs to understand the exam at hand.

In this webinar, we’ll look at key tasks in Cambridge exams, the theory behind them, common difficulties with those tasks and how learners can overcome them. We’ll also look at changes to the Cambridge Preliminary/Preliminary for Schools and Key/Key for Schools exams coming in 2020.

Step 2: Balance your teaching

27th February, 2019

For some learners on an exam course, their main goal is to develop their language skills so they can communicate better. For others, passing the exam is their main goal.

In this webinar, we’ll look at ways that we can deliver lessons so we both develop a learner’s language skills and prepare for the exam. We’ll look at techniques and activities that help us to find the right balance and meet every learner’s needs.

Philip Warwick

Philip Warwick

Phil has been involved in ELT since 1988, working in a variety of countries such as Italy, China, Brazil and Czechia and teaching all types of students from prep school students in a school just outside Hastings to designing materials and teaching scientific writing to Czech scientists for an EU-funded project in Brno.

He’s currently academic manager for a UK based summer school with centres in London, Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge and Canterbury and for an English project in Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia.

In between these commitments Phil works as a teacher trainer for Pearson English, and is never happier than when he can step back inside a classroom, which he does in his friend’s language school in Brno as often as time allows.

Step 3: Monitor progress

6th March, 2019

Students need to have a clear idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to passing exams and in order to do this, teachers need to have clear strategies for each skill tested.

This webinar will look at building exam strategies and identifying progress points. This will allow teachers to offer valid guidance and supervision whilst differentiating between the skills and parts of the exam so that they can review key concepts and track students’ progress.

Step 4: Give feedback

13th March, 2019

A good teacher plays many roles but when it comes to exam preparation probably one of the most important is that of language coach. If a teacher cannot deal with student performance and implement further practice through delivering valid feedback then students will suffer.

This webinar will look at the coaching cycle and how teachers can utilise it to evaluate student performance so that they can provide different forms of feedback and give prompts and tips for improvement.

Billie JagoBillie Jago

Billie has been working in the ELT industry for 7 years, teaching in more than 7 countries, including China, Spain and Italy.

Billie has taught all types of students, from 1:1, to large classes of up to 70. She has spent the last few years focusing on teaching exams and creating course content, and now works as a teacher and teacher trainer in Cambridge.

In between this, Billie is currently completing her DELTA qualification.

 

Step 5: Motivate your students

20th March, 2019

Whether a short course or long course, exam students can easily become demotivated.

This webinar offers strategies and tips on how to maintain student enthusiasm in a positive classroom environment.

We’ll be looking at techniques on how to avoid repetition and motivate students of mixed abilities and skill sets, by looking at how to add variety to common task types and providing the opportunity for these activities to become more student-centred.

John Wolf

John Wolf

John is a MA graduate in Applied Linguistics and DELTA graduate.

For the first part of his teaching career he worked in language schools, teaching mainly younger learners and teenagers, and eventually branched out into other areas of EFL instruction, including exam English, business English, and teacher training.

Currently he works as an international teacher trainer and university lecturer, which provides him with plenty of opportunities to create and search for new ideas for teachers and students.

Step 6: Enjoy your course

26th March, 2019

Teaching exam courses puts a lot of pressure on teachers. We strive to make the experience enjoyable and fruitful, not only for the learners but also for the teacher.

In this webinar I will be sharing some strategies for teaching exams with enjoyment. These include: managing exam practice, readying your repertoire, delegating task creation and finally – deflating the pressure.

Amy Malloy

Amy Malloy

Amy Malloy is a writer and editor, and the founder of No More Shoulds, teaching mindfulness for healthier, kinder minds.

With 15 years’ experience in teaching, assessment and educational publishing, she now combines this first-hand understanding with certified training in wellbeing practices to help educators and students find inner calm in a stressful world.

Mindfulness for pre-exam stress

3rd April, 2019

The reality of modern English teaching means exams hold higher stakes than ever: a new career, a higher education place, even a new country of residence.

This webinar looks at how mindfulness, the practice of paying conscious awareness to the present moment, allows us to calm the effect of such stress-inducing situations on our thoughts and feelings by actively shifting our relationship with stress. In turn, our students can find it easier to meet exams with a calm, clear head.

We will demystify mindfulness practice, take a straightforward look at the neuroscience behind stress in exam situations, and explore practical mindfulness exercises you can carry out with your students.   

Filed under: ■ Conference Speakers, ■ How to Learn Languages, ■ Stress, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ Teachers

11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Airplanes

Planes have changed a lot since the days of the Wright Brothers (or, perhaps more accurately, Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos). Those first wood-and-cloth contraptions are an entirely different species than the sleek Boeing Dreamliners of today.

With the continual advancements in aerospace technology, it’s hard to keep up with all the amazing things planes today are capable of doing (and withstanding). Below, 11 things you didn’t know about airplanes and air travel.

Airplanes are designed to withstand lightning strikes

Planes are designed to be struck by lightning—and they regularly are hit. It’s estimated lightning strikes each aircraft once a year—or once per every 1,000 hours of flight time. Yet, lighting hasn’t brought down a plane since 1963, due to careful engineering that lets the electric charge of a lightning bolt run through the plane and out of it, typically without causing damage to the plane.

There is no safest seat on the plane

The FAA says there is no safest seat on the plane, though a TIME study of plane accidents found that the middle seats in the back of the plane had the lowest fatality rate in a crash. Their research revealed that, during plane crashes, “the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32 percent fatality rate, compared with 39 percent in the middle third and 38 percent in the front third.”

However, there are so many variables at play that it’s impossible to know where to sit to survive a crash. Oh, and plane crashes are incredibly rare.

Some airplanes have secret bedrooms for flight crew

On long-haul flights, cabin crew can work 16-hour days. To help combat fatigue, some planes, like the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners, are outfitted with tiny bedrooms where the flight crew can get a little shut-eye. The bedrooms are typically accessed via a hidden staircase that leads up to a small, low-ceilinged room with 6 to 10 beds, a bathroom, and sometimes in-flight entertainment.

The tires are designed not to pop on landing

The tires on an airplane are designed to withstand incredible weight loads (38 tons!) and can hit the ground at 170 miles per hour more than 500 times before ever needing to get a retread. Additionally, airplane tires are inflated to 200 psi, which is about six times the pressure used in a car tire. If an airplane does need new tires, ground crew simply jack up the plane like you would a car.

Why cabin crew dims the light when a plane is landing

When a plane lands at night, cabin crews will dim the interior lights. Why? In the unlikely event that the plane landing goes badly and passengers need to evacuate, their eyes will already be adjusted to the darkness. As pilot Chris Cooke explained to T+L: “Imagine being in an unfamiliar bright room filled with obstacles when someone turns off the lights and asks you to exit quickly.”

Similarly, flight attendants have passengers raise their window shades during landing, so they can see outside in an emergency and assess if one side of the plane is better for an evacuation.

You don’t need both engines to fly

The idea of an engine giving out mid-flight sounds frightening, but every commercial airplane can safely fly with just one engine. Operating with half the engine power can make a plane less fuel-efficient and may reduce its range, but planes are designed and tested for such situations, as Popular Mechanics reported. Any plane scheduled on a long-distance route, especially those that fly over oceans or through uninhabited areas like the Arctic, must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Extended-range Twin Operations (ETOPS), which is basically how long it can fly with one engine. The Boeing Dreamliner is certified for ETOPS-330, which means it can fly for 330 minutes (that’s five and a half hours) with just one engine.

In fact, most airplanes can fly for a surprisingly long distance with no engine at all, thanks to something called glide ratio. Due to careful aeronautical engineering, a Boeing 747 can glide for two miles for every 1,000 feet they are above the ground, which is usually more than enough time to get everyone safely to the ground.

Why there are ashtrays in the bathrooms

The FAA banned smoking on planes years ago, but eagle-eyed passengers know that airplane lavatories still have ashtrays in them. As Business Insider reported, the reason is that airlines—and the people who design planes—figure that despite the no-smoking policy and myriad no-smoking signs prominently posted on the plane, at some point a smoker will decide to light up a cigarette on the plane. The hope is that if someone violates the smoking policy, they will do so in the relatively confined space of the bathroom and dispose of the cigarette butt in a safe place—the ashtray, not a trash can where it could theoretically cause a fire. If you do smoke in the bathroom, expect a massive fine.

What that tiny hole in the airplane window does

It’s to regulate cabin pressure. Most airplane windows are made up of three panels of acrylic. The exterior window works as you would expect—keeping the elements out and maintaining cabin pressure. In the unlikely event that something happens to the exterior pane, the second pane acts as a fail-safe option. The tiny hole in the interior window is there to regulate air pressure so the middle pane remains intact and uncompromised until it is called into duty.

Why airplane food taste so bad

Airplane food has a bad reputation, but the food itself isn’t entirely to blame—the real fault lies with the plane. A 2015 Cornell University study, reported by Time, found that the environment inside an airplane actually alters the way food and drink tastes—sweet items tasted less sweet, while salty flavors were heightened. The dry recycled air inside the plane cabin doesn’t help either as low humidity can further dull taste and smell making everything in a plane seem bland. According to a 2010 study from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Germany, it’s about 30 percent more difficult to detect sweet and salty tastes when you’re up in the air. Next time you fly, skip the meal, and maybe try a glass of tomato juice instead.

About those oxygen masks

The safety instructions on most flight include how to use the oxygen masks that are deployed when the plane experiences a sudden loss in cabin pressure. However, one that thing that the flight attendants don’t tell you is that oxygen masks only have about 15-minutes worth of oxygen. That sounds like a frighteningly short amount of time, but in reality that should be more than sufficient. Remember, oxygen masks drop when the airplane cabin loses pressure, which means the plane is also losing altitude. According to Gizmodo, a pilot will respond to that situation by donning an oxygen mask and moving the plane to an altitude below 10,000 feet, where passengers can simply breathe normally, no extra oxygen required. That rapid descent usually takes way less than 15 minutes, meaning those oxygen masks have more than enough air to protect passengers.

Why planes leave trails in the sky

Those white lines that planes leave in the sky are simply trails of condensation, hence their technical name of “contrails.” Plane engines release water vapor as part of the combustion process. When that hot water vapor is pumped out of the exhaust and hits the cooler air of the upper atmosphere, it creates those puffy white lines in the sky. It’s basically the same reaction as when you see your breath when it’s cold outside.

This article originally appeared on TravelandLeisure.com

Filed under: ■ Senses, ■ The World

New NPR Podcast for Curious Kids and their Grown-Ups

This week NPR unveiled their new children’s podcast, Wow in the World. Hosted by Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas, this show is for curious kids and their grown-ups! Check out the trailer and subscribe at http://n.pr/2pcPbQN.

Wow

This is the first time in NPR’s 47-year history that it will release a children’s program.

Starting May 15, NPR’s Guy Raz and SiriusXM’s Mindy Thomas will take kids and their grown-ups on a journey into the most incredible science and kid-friendly news stories of the week.

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, ■ TV & Radio

Recommended Brain Workout: Flex Your Multilingual “Muscles”

0:06
¿Hablas español? Parlez-vous français? 你会说中文吗?
0:12
If you answered, “sí,” “oui,” or “会” and you’re watching this in English,
0:18
chances are you belong to the world’s bilingual and multilingual majority.
0:23
And besides having an easier time traveling
0:25
or watching movies without subtitles,
0:27
knowing two or more languages means that your brain
0:29
may actually look and work differently than those of your monolingual friends.
0:34
So what does it really mean to know a language?
0:38
Language ability is typically measured in two active parts, speaking and writing,
0:43
and two passive parts, listening and reading.
0:46
While a balanced bilingual has near equal
0:49
abilities across the board in two languages,
0:52
most bilinguals around the world know and use their languages
0:55
in varying proportions.
0:57
And depending on their situation and how they acquired each language,
1:01
they can be classified into three general types.
1:04
For example, let’s take Gabriella,
1:07
whose family immigrates to the US from Peru when she’s two-years old.
1:12
As a compound bilingual,
1:13
Gabriella develops two linguistic codes simultaneously,
1:18
with a single set of concepts,
1:20
learning both English and Spanish
1:22
as she begins to process the world around her.
1:25
Her teenage brother, on the other hand, might be a coordinate bilingual,
1:29
working with two sets of concepts,
1:31
learning English in school,
1:33
while continuing to speak Spanish at home and with friends.
1:36
Finally, Gabriella’s parents are likely to be subordinate bilinguals
1:41
who learn a secondary language
1:43
by filtering it through their primary language.
1:46
Because all types of bilingual people can become fully proficient in a language
1:50
regardless of accent or pronunciation,
1:52
the difference may not be apparent to a casual observer.
1:55
But recent advances in brain imaging technology
1:58
have given neurolinguists a glimpse
2:00
into how specific aspects of language learning affect the bilingual brain.
2:05
It’s well known that the brain’s left hemisphere is more dominant
2:09
and analytical in logical processes,
2:11
while the right hemisphere is more active in emotional and social ones,
2:16
though this is a matter of degree, not an absolute split.
2:20
The fact that language involves both types of functions
2:22
while lateralization develops gradually with age,
2:25
has lead to the critical period hypothesis.
2:28
According to this theory,
2:30
children learn languages more easily
2:32
because the plasticity of their developing brains
2:35
lets them use both hemispheres in language acquisition,
2:38
while in most adults, language is lateralized to one hemisphere,
2:42
usually the left.
2:44
If this is true, learning a language in childhood
2:47
may give you a more holistic grasp of its social and emotional contexts.
2:52
Conversely, recent research showed
2:54
that people who learned a second language in adulthood
2:57
exhibit less emotional bias and a more rational approach
3:01
when confronting problems in the second language
3:03
than in their native one.
3:05
But regardless of when you acquire additional languages,
3:08
being multilingual gives your brain some remarkable advantages.
3:12
Some of these are even visible,
3:13
such as higher density of the grey matter
3:16
that contains most of your brain’s neurons and synapses,
3:19
and more activity in certain regions when engaging a second language.
3:23
The heightened workout a bilingual brain receives throughout its life
3:26
can also help delay the onset of diseases, like Alzheimer’s and dementia
3:31
by as much as five years.
3:33
The idea of major cognitive benefits to bilingualism
3:35
may seem intuitive now,
3:37
but it would have surprised earlier experts.
3:40
Before the 1960s, bilingualism was considered a handicap
3:44
that slowed a child’s development
3:45
by forcing them to spend too much energy distinguishing between languages,
3:50
a view based largely on flawed studies.
3:54
And while a more recent study did show
3:56
that reaction times and errors increase for some bilingual students
3:59
in cross-language tests,
4:01
it also showed that the effort and attention needed
4:03
to switch between languages triggered more activity in,
4:06
and potentially strengthened, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
4:11
This is the part of the brain that plays a large role
4:14
in executive function, problem solving, switching between tasks,
4:18
and focusing while filtering out irrelevant information.
4:22
So, while bilingualism may not necessarily make you smarter,
4:26
it does make your brain more healthy, complex and actively engaged,
4:30
and even if you didn’t have the good fortune
4:33
of learning a second language as a child,
4:35
it’s never too late to do yourself a favor
4:37
and make the linguistic leap from, “Hello,”
4:40
to, “Hola,” “Bonjour” or “你好’s”
4:43
because when it comes to our brains a little exercise can go a long way.

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►WRITE

Teachers Recommend: Enrich Your English Vocabulary

Welcome back from holiday!

The first post in 2016 comes from the teachers at the school Solo Idiomas in Madrid.

Here’s what teachers there recommend:

Solo Idiomas

1. In order to enhance your speaking skills, the first thing you have to do is create a comfortable environment for “language immersion”. If you have never been to an English speaking country, try to combine different activities:  read blogs, articles, listen to music you like (don’t forget to pay attention to lyrics, as you can learn some new colloquial expressions from them), watch series and TV shows in English. These are effective ways to learn expressions that you may not find in textbooks. While practicing any of the activities above, try to guess the meaning of words from their context before looking them up in the dictionary.

2. If you try to memorize words out of context, one by one, it will be a bit challenging to use them naturally in the flow of speech. It is very important to learn how to use collocations, as English words have a lot of meanings depending on their usage with verbs and prepositions.

 Once you have added new words to your vocabulary, try to use them as often as possible, make up questions and sentences for extra practice. You may also find it helpful to make notes of synonyms as well as antonyms when you record new words, to expand your vocabulary. This will help you distinguish between general and more specific meanings of words.

3. Use monolingual dictionaries (English-English dictionaries). You will expand your vocabulary in a very effective way if you use monolingual dictionaries instead of a bilingual ones. Surely it will take a bit more time to find the right definitions, but you will learn a lot of synonyms and your speech will gain in accuracy.  Plus, it is a great way to “dive” into language. The more you investigate new language, the more confident you will become. Some of the most popular online dictionaries are Merriam-Webster, Oxford and Longman.

4. Create a memo book to write down the new words. It may sound boring for you to write down words to learn, but organizing your personal word lists is an activity which definitely will help you expand the number of words in your active vocabulary. I would suggest that you stick to a certain routine – it is much more efficient to practice English 30 minutes every day than 2 hours at the weekend. Choose which way is suitable for you: either write the words in alphabetical order, or combine them thematically. You can also use your tablet or phone to organize your vocabulary.

5. Remember that all these techniques are particularly useful if you practice English with a friend or tutor. That’s why we recommend that you join a conversation English class or a regular English meeting in your city. 

*****

So, if you find yourselves in Madrid, you are welcome to pay a visit to Solo Idiomas.

If you may find yourselves in Krakow this January, it is worth checking out this invite from the American Consulate:

U.S. Consulate Krakow Language Club  
The Consulate is pleased to continue the second edition of the English Language Club for Polish high school and university students. Each week the club will focus on a new discussion topic drawn from important issues of the day. The goal of the club is to give English language learners an opportunity to develop their speaking skills in an informal setting. All levels of English are welcome. Participants must register in advance to participate in an English Language Club session. Complete information is available on the Consulate website.

 

 

 

Filed under: 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ How to Learn Languages, ■ School, ■ Teachers

An Anti-creativity List for 2015

From the Harvard Business Review

Five years ago I published a version of this tongue-in-cheek checklist on HBR.org that highlighted how organizations kill creativity. It really touched a nerve​—​people flooded the post with No.examples from their own organizations of how their managers and colleagues stifled innovation. Even clichés like “We’ve always done it this way” seemed to be alive and well back then. Given all the talk in recent years about unleashing creativity in organizations, I wondered whether the same creativity killers are still at work today.  So, I’m posting a slightly edited version of the original video to ask viewers around the world  what’s changed. What happens in your organization today that shuts down creative thinking? Please post your examples of anti-creativity in the comments section. Thanks, and enjoy.

Filed under: 3►STYLE, 8►BUSINESS, ■ About Organisational Cultures, ■ Creativity, ■ Dream Jobs, ■ Harvard Business Review, ■ Podcasts

To Add on Your e-Shelves: WhyEnglishMatters Documentary Series

Business Growth

English helps drive business growth.

A vast majority of companies with adequate English proficiency believe they are more competitive globally because of their employees’ proficiency, according to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. 

The Need for English is Growing

The need for English is growing.

According to an ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries, the demand for employees who are proficient in English will continue to grow.

 

English Proficiency Opens Doors

English proficiency opens doors.

With a solid understanding of English, your employees may build better relationships internationally.

English is the Language of the Internet

English Is the Language of the Internet

The Internet connects people all over the globe and accounts for a greater share of the world GDP than agriculture or energy. Used by more than a quarter of all Internet users, English is the single most used language on the Web.

English as a Common Language Drives Efficiency

English as a common language drives efficiency.

ETS and Ipsos Public Affairs surveyed 749 HR leaders of large, multinational companies in 13 countries. They described the role English plays in the efficiency — and therefore the cost effectiveness — of their staff. Communication, collaboration and productivity are all at stake.

English Skills Can Pave the Way to Global Expansion

Explore the Impact of English Proficiency on Global Business

In today’s global marketplace, English is the universal language of business. In our exclusive whitepaper, 66% of companies reported that the lack of an English-proficient workforce posed a challenge for global expansion. Alternatively, 94% of companies with adequate English proficiency have found that English has made them more competitive globally. Putting English proficiency first drives global growth and leads to business success in new markets.

Filed under: 1►LISTEN▼, 8►BUSINESS, ■ Global Issues, ■ Technology & Our Generation

Breaking the language barrier | Tim Doner | TEDxTeen 2014

Laguage in its sense, in essence, represents a cultural world view. And if I can impart you with anything today […] it’s this:

you can translate words easily but you can’t quite translate meaning.

Illustration by Dawn Kim/TED | ideas.ted.com

Featured illustration by Dawn Kim/TED

 

During the past few years, I’ve been referred to in the media as “The World’s Youngest Hyperpolyglot” — a word that sounds like a rare illness. In a way it is: it describes someone who speaks a particularly large number of foreign languages, someone whose all-consuming passion for words and systems can lead them to spend many long hours alone with a grammar book.

But while it’s true that I can speak in 20 different languages, including English, it took me a while to understand that there’s more to language than bartering over kebabs in Arabic or ordering from a menu in Hindi. Fluency is another craft altogether.

I began my language education at age thirteen. I became interested in the Middle East and started studying Hebrew on my own. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was soon hooked on the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash, and would listen to the same album every single morning. At the end of a month, I had memorized about twenty of their songs by heart — even though I had no clue what they meant. But once I learned the translations it was almost as if I had downloaded a dictionary into my head; I now knew several hundred Hebrew words and phrases — and I’d never had to open a textbook.

I decided to experiment. I spent hours walking around my New York City neighborhood, visiting Israeli cafés to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. Sometimes, I would even get up the courage to introduce myself, rearranging all of the song lyrics in my head into new, awkward and occasionally correct sentences. As it turned out, I was on to something.

IF THE STANDARD OF SPEAKING A LANGUAGE IS TO KNOW EVERY WORD — TO FEEL EQUALLY AT HOME DEBATING NUCLEAR FISSION AND CLASSICAL MUSIC — THEN HARDLY ANYONE IS FLUENT IN THEIR OWN NATIVE TONGUES.

I moved on to Arabic, which I’d study every morning by reading news headlines with a dictionary and by talking to street vendors. After that it was Persian, then Russian, then Mandarin … and about fifteen others. On an average day, I’d Skype with friends in French and Turkish, listen to Hindi pop music for an hour and eat dinner with a Greek or Latin book on my lap. Language became an obsession, one that I pursued in summer classes, school, web forums and language meet-ups around the city.

By March of 2012, media outlets such as the BBC and The New York Times featured stories about me, “The Teen Who Speaks 20 Languages!” For a while, it was a fantasy; it made what many thought of as a bizarre hobby seem (almost) mainstream, and gave me a perfect opportunity to promote language learning.

After a while, though, my media “moments” felt more like gruesome chores than opportunities to spread the word. Most news shows were interested only in the “dancing bear” act (“You wanna learn more about the Middle East? Cool… Say ‘you’re watching Channel 2’ in Arabic!”) As lighthearted as that might have been, it left me with an uncomfortably personal lesson in modern media: when the goal is simply to get the viewers’ attention, the real importance of a story often gets lost in translation.

When I was beginning to discover languages, I had a romanticized view of words like “speak” and “fluency”. But then I realized that you can be nominally fluent in a language and still struggle to understand parts of it. English is my first language, but what I really spoke was a hybrid of teenage slang and Manhattan-ese. When I listen to my father, a lawyer, talk to other lawyers, his words sound as foreign to me as Finnish. I certainly couldn’t read Shakespeare without a dictionary, and I’d be equally helpless in a room with Jamaicans or Cajuns. Yet all of us “speak English.”

My linguistics teacher, a native of Poland, speaks better English than I do and seems right at home peppering his speech with terms like “epenthetic schwa” and “voiceless alveolar stops”. Yet the other day, it came up that he’d never heard the word “tethered”. Does that mean he doesn’t “speak” English? If the standard of speaking a language is to know every word — to feel equally at home debating nuclear fission and classical music — then hardly anyone is fluent in their own native tongues.

Reducing someone to the number of languages he or she speaks trivializes the immense power that language imparts. After all, language is the living testament to a culture’s history and world view, not a shiny trophy to be dusted off for someone’s self-aggrandizement.

Language is a complex tapestry of trade, conquest and culture to which we each add our own unique piece — whether that be a Shakespearean sonnet or “Lol bae g2g ttyl.” As my time in the media spotlight made me realize, saying you “speak” a language can mean a lot of different things: it can mean memorizing verb charts, knowing the slang, even passing for a native. But while I’ve come to realize I’ll never be fluent in 20 languages, I’ve also understood that language is about being able to converse with people, to see beyond cultural boundaries and find a shared humanity. And that’s a lesson well worth learning.

Watch Breaking the language barrier, Timothy Doner’s talk at TEDxTeen 2014.

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 3►SPEAK▼, ■ How to Learn Languages

3 Ways to Speak English

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

Noam Chomsky on Language Aquisition

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ YouTube

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