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How do babies learn languages?

  • 26/05/2017
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Have a think about being a new born baby for a moment – the bright lights, loud noises, and blurry giants are all you know and see. A baby’s first job is to comprehend all of this, with its small, growing brain; and language is one of the first great hurdles. Communication is limited to crying to begin with, but by 1 year most babies can say singular words and by the age of 3 can express themselves in full sentences. But how can a baby learn a language so easily with a relative lack of brain power? A grown human can struggle with learning French for many years, yet a toddler can have a decent grasp of a complicated language system before they can tie their own shoes.

Children acquire language through interaction. Most parents don’t know how to formally teach a language, but a child will naturally pick up a language that is used the most when around them through their parents, other adults and children; the interaction is key though – a baby will not learn to talk just by listening to the TV or radio. “Baby talk” is another factor in how babies learn a language, as the short sentences/words, exaggerated intonations and repetition work to pull a child along. There’s an argument that a baby’s ability to learn language is genetic, like how a spider knows how to spin a web and that the ability to learn languages at speed quickly falls away once puberty arrives.

So, what about the babies growing up in bilingual households? You would think that maybe a baby would and be unable to differentiate, but recent studies have found this not to be the case. Whilst a baby learning two languages will know fewer words in each, by the age of 3 they are able to understand if someone is speaking a specific language to them. If you’ve been reading our previous blog posts on language, you’ll also know that knowing two languages increases cognitive function… the same rule applies for babies too! The old adage ‘get them while they’re young’ seems fitting.

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The Eurovision Song Contest

  • 11/05/2017
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The final of the biggest and longest running annual TV song contest returns to our screens this weekend. Initially called The Eurovision Grand Prix and first aired in 1956, Eurovision has been a part of European culture ever since. But how much do you know about this old song contest? Allow us to supply you with some interesting facts and figures that you can impress your friends and family with come Saturday evening.

 

  • Until 2017 there have been nearly 1,500 songs that have taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest. If you were to listen to all the songs after the 2017 event, you would have to stay awake for over 72 hours.
  • Who has won the most contests? The answer is Ireland, with seven wins. Sweden comes in at 2nd with six wins, followed by Luxembourg, France and the UK on five.
  • The language rules have changed a few times over the show’s 62-year run. Between 1956 and 1965 the rules on language hadn’t been considered, till Sweden translated their song into English for the competition, and from then till 1974 a country’s song had to be in its own language. ABBA promptly won the competition when the ban was lifted, with their famous song “Waterloo”. The contest reverted back again in 1977, until 1999 when the choice for languages was given once more.
  • Speaking of ABBA, they are the most successful participants of the competition, along with Celine Dion and Bucks Fizz; having said that, career longevity is not really associated with The Eurovision Song Contest.
  • Though there have only been 62 editions of the contest (excluding this year) there have been 65 winners. The famous 1969 event was won by the UK, Spain, France and The Netherlands due to an unprecedented four-way tie on points.  The rules have since been changed.

 

Feeling all clued-up? It’s been our pleasure. We hope you enjoy this years Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev!

 

 

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Language Learning

  • 05/05/2017
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Learning another language is thought to have many benefits; through language you are free to learn about other cultures and other ways of life, as well as being able to impress those around you. Psychological studies have found that speaking two or more languages actually improves your cognitive function, memory retention and can even stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s. The reasoning for learning a language is clear, so what are the best tips for learning?

 

Be confident

Confidence is a key issue in learning a new language. “A lot of people don’t make progress if they don’t open their mouths” remarked Michael Geisler, a US language school president. One of the reasons that many have a hard time with their secondary school language courses is that they have difficulty with public speaking in their own language, let alone a brand new one. But one of the best ways to learn is to make mistakes, and you can’t do this without being confident enough to try in the first place.

Immerse yourself

There are now a plethora of ways you can go about learning a language such as mobile apps, online websites, textbooks, worksheets as well as tutoring, and you’d really be getting a round education if you used every medium of learning available to you. On top of that, small lifestyle changes like setting aside some time every day for your education and watching movies or learning recipes in your chosen language can help speed up the process.

Visit the country

Once you understand the basics of a language, most experts will agree that throwing yourself in the deep end and living in the country of your target language can be hugely beneficial, if only for the fact that you won’t have much of a choice! Another benefit of spending time in the country is that you begin to understand the culture, and you hear words and phrases in their most natural environment.

And remember, practice makes perfect!

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The Future of Languages

  • 20/04/2017
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Last week we wrote a blog on the creation of languages, how they were born and how the morphed into the modern languages we know today. But what happens when we look to the future in our rapidly changing language landscape?

 

There are roughly 6000 different living languages around the globe today. Here’s a table of approximations (no sources seem to agree on exact numbers) of the most popular languages spoken by native speakers:

  1. Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese) – 1.2 Billion
  2. Spanish – 450 million
  3. English – 360 million
  4. Hindi – 310 million
  5. Arabic – 290 million

As you can see China takes a clear lead due to its huge population. But when studied languages are considered, the ‘league table’ looks different. English takes a big jump to around a billion speakers, European languages also swell to higher numbers, whereas Chinese stays at the same mark. When looking back in history to see when and where languages have grown, there is a clear correlation between economic growth and prosperity and language popularity. Like the Roman empire before it where Latin was spread throughout Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea, the far-reaching effects of the British Empire and its industrial revolution can be seen throughout the world today. So, the truest way to judge the future of language might be to look to the future of growing economies. China is the one of the stand out growers over the past few years, and consequently its number of foreign learners is growing. An interesting case is India, which has also seen major growth; due to the influence of the British Empire, English is used in the higher levels of government and is the ‘lingua franca’ (bridge language) for business in the country.

As the world becomes more globalised it seems that the more popular languages can only grow. English looks to become the most widely used language to due Britain’s colonial past and because its relatively easy to learn - especially compared with Chinese – and we may see many smaller languages die out as the bigger ones become more popular. An interesting notion is that we may see more cross-languages as immigration rises in urban areas and languages seep into each other.

So, it seems that English is the ultimate lingua franca for now and looks to stay that way in the near future. As for a few centuries down the line? Your guess is as good as ours…

 

 

*As it is nigh impossible to get true data on the number of different language speakers around the world, we’ve purposefully been vague with the statistics in this blog*

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The Creation of Languages

  • 13/04/2017
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Communication is recognised throughout the animal kingdom, whether it be through sounds, movements, body language or even vocalisation and hand gestures in primates. But no form of communication comes close to human’s spoken language. The ability to convey even the most complex thoughts and emotions is one of the many things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, but how did it come to be this way? The first appearance of language between homo sapiens is thought to be between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago, and while the truth of how spoken language was born is still a mystery, there are some prevailing theories as to how it’s come about.

 

 

The first is of course Darwinism; that natural selection would mean that ancient humans who used better forms of communication would be more successful in what they did, such as hunting. The other theory is that as we evolved to deal with the likes of tool making or learning the rules of the world, our brains grew larger and our cognitive function increased and therefore our ability to create and understand more complex forms of talking to one another grew as well. What is likely is that it was a cross between the two, in that the capacity for language was already there, but natural selection refined the process, as a more advanced communicator would have an advantage to his grunting cousin.

Eventually these advanced grunts would morph into what we know now as the modern languages around the world, otherwise known as natural language. When a language is planned or artificial, it is called a constructed language. Normally this means that certain aspects are picked from different languages and put together, such as interlingua which uses a host of western European languages as its base and is comprehensible to those who speak the Romance Languages. Another example is the artistic constructed languages such as ‘Elvish’, a language created by J. R. R. Tolkien, which was based on Finnish, or ‘Klingon’, an almost completely made up language created by a producer of the Star Trek series; these languages are made to add a sense of realism to science-fiction/fantasy worlds.

From the grunting at each other thousands of years ago, there are now over 7,900 different living languages. We’ve come a long way.

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