All posts by Ewa

Pretty Ugly – two poems in one

I found the poem Pretty Ugly online and it immediately caught my attention both for its meaning and translation challenges. The author Abdullah Shoaib gives us two poems in one, both with a very powerful message about how we perceive ourselves and how easily we can bring ourselves up or down. I really felt quite sad when reading the poem the first time, the lower my eyes dropped, the more depressed I became. But reading it for the second time my mood changed and I felt uplifted.
My second thought was: would it be translatable into Polish? Find below the original text and my rendering into Polish. I decided to use female gender for the person talking in the poem, as it is probably mostly us, females, that use this kind of internal dialogue 馃檪
You’re welcome to try and translate the poem into your native languages. Please post your translations into the comments, so that we can all enjoy and spread the author’s message to the whole world!

The original poem by Abdullah Shoaib:

Pretty Ugly

I鈥檓 very ugly
So don鈥檛 try to convince me that
I am a very beautiful person
Because at the end of the day
I hate myself in every single way
And I鈥檓 not going to lie to myself by saying
There is beauty inside of me that matters
So rest assured I will remind myself
That I am a worthless, terrible person
And nothing you say will make me believe
I still deserve love
Because no matter what
I am not good enough to be loved
And I am in no position to believe that
Beauty does exist within me
Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think
Am I as ugly as people say?

(Now read the same words, but bottom up.)

Polish translation:

Ca艂kiem (nie)brzydka

Jestem bardzo brzydka
Wi臋c nie pr贸buj mnie przekona膰, 偶e
Jestem bardzo pi臋kn膮 osob膮
Bo tak naprawd臋
Nienawidz臋 w sobie wszystkiego
I nie b臋d臋 si臋 ok艂amywa膰, m贸wi膮c
Jest we mnie pi臋kno, kt贸re ma znaczenie
Wi臋c mo偶esz by膰 pewny, 偶e sama sobie powt贸rz臋, 偶e
Jestem bezwarto艣ciow膮, okropn膮 osob膮
I nic, co powiesz nie sprawi, 偶e uwierz臋, 偶e
Nadal zas艂uguj臋 na mi艂o艣膰
Bo tak czy owak
Nie jestem na tyle dobra, by by膰 kochana
I nie mam podstaw, by my艣le膰, 偶e
Jest we mnie pi臋kno
Bo kiedy patrz臋 w lustro, zawsze my艣l臋
Czy jestem tak brzydka, jak m贸wi膮?

(Teraz przeczytaj od do艂u do g贸ry)

Learning grammar proactively – deduce the rules yourself

learning-grammarI decided to study Spanish. Why? I think this language can come very useful to me in a not so distant future, and also because I simply LOVE learning a new language and I especially look forward to learning its grammar! For me it is like embarking on a pleasant journey of the most fascinating discoveries. You can find out that the languages can be very similar to each other, or you can discover how many various modes there are to say the same thing. It is absolutely amazing in how many ways people can translate their thoughts into words and how immensely rich the structure of a language can be!

But enough exultation. We already talked about how you can study pronunciation with a help of a song. Today I would like to show you how you can start learning grammar of a foreign language, even if you are on a beginner鈥檚 level. This method lets you be proactive and discover grammar rules for yourself, without waiting passively that someone will show and explain them to you. I think it is a very empowering process that brings you satisfaction of being a 鈥渃reator鈥 of a language.聽 So how does it work?

A short guide to learning grammar by deducing its rules

Probably the best text sample for these kind of exercise would be a dialogue. Dialogues are preferable as they usually are constructed with short sentences and phrases with linear, easy grammar. Or you can use a book for children, for the same reason. Once you find a sample of 4-5 sentences, you can work on that.

Step 1

Look at the text as a whole. Are there any words that appear very often? There should be, and they should be the so-called function words. These can be (examples for English):

  • Articles (the, a, those)
  • Plurality markers (suffix –s)
  • Tense markers (will – future, have – perfect tenses, suffix –ing – continuos tenses)
  • Negation markers (not)

Step 2

Again, look at the text as a whole. Are there affirmative sentences, questions, exclamations? Are there any longer, complex sentences? You should be able to distinguish how questions are constructed. Do they use a function word, e.g. I like cats. Do you like cats?聽Do they use inversion, e.g.聽You are tired. Are you tired?聽Which element connects two phrases when they appear in a complex sentence (e.g. which, that)?

Step 3

Once you were able to identify the function words of a given language, you are probably ready to tell me also which word in a phrase is a verb. Look at the verbs now. Do you notice in how many forms they appear? They may differ depending on a person (e.g. suffix –s for 3rd person singular), or on the tense used (e.g. –ed for past tense). Try to figure out what rules the form of the verb.

Step 4

So we looked for the function words so far. Are there any words that seem familiar to you? Proper names (written with a capital letter), numbers? If so, use them to deduce other parts of the sentence – there should be a verb, a subject, some pronouns and objects, etc. Example:

Joe 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽showed 聽 聽 his 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽sister 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽his 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽new 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽shoes.

Subject 聽 聽 verb 聽 聽 聽 聽聽possessive聽 聽 聽 indirect object 聽 聽 聽 聽possessive 聽 聽 聽 聽adjective 聽 聽 聽 聽 direct object

Do you notice the order of the sentence? Does the subject go first followed by the verb? Or maybe the verb appears only at the end of a sentence?

Test your grammar deducing skills

I prepared a short test for you. It is a dialogue between John and Mette. Let鈥檚 see if you can discover the rules of this language for yourselves.

John: Hej, Jeg hedder John.

Mette: Hej, Mette.

John: Fed fest, hva’?

Mette: Ja, det er det. Hvor kender du Mads fra?

John: Vi arbejder sammen.

Mette: Er du ogs氓 l忙rer?

John: Ja, det er jeg. Jeg arbejder som vikar her i K酶benhavn.

Mette: Kommer du fra K酶benhavn?

John: Nej, jeg er faktisk ikke dansker. Jeg kommer fra Namibia.

Mette: Virkelig? Hvor sp忙ndende! Hvor l忙nge har du v忙ret i Danmark?

John: Jeg har v忙ret her n忙sten 3 m氓neder.

Mette: Men du taler da flot dansk!

Well, how did it go? Were you able to deduce some grammar rules? Below you will find some questions for volunteers, write your answers in the comments!

  • Which proper names did you find?
  • Does this language use articles?
  • Does it use inversion for the questions?
  • Which are the words for yes and no?
  • Which is the word for I?
  • How is the past tense formed?

If you find this test easy, try the one below. And remember: learning grammar can be fun!

a聽Swahili: Habari gani?

a tourist: Nzuri.

a Swahili: Karibu!

a tourist: Ahsante sana!

a Swahili: Jina lako nani?

a tourist: Jina langu Mary Williams. Na wewe, je?

a Swahili: Ah! Jina langu John Alipo. Unatoka wapi?

a tourist: Natoka Marekani.

a Swahili: Unakaa wapi?

a tourist: Nakaa hotelini. Wewe unakaa wapi?

a Swahili: Mimi nakaa Kilindini.

Bilingual career options – how to make your job a success

bilingual-careerToday’s post about the benefits of being bilingual in your professional life was聽written for us聽by a fellow linguist and blogger聽Micha聽from Mindpeeler.com聽(you can find more info about Micha and his work below). In his article Micha shows us that bilingual career options are more numerous and diversified than you can think of. It is an important topic, especially in the times of the economic crisis, so I hope it can inspire you to make the best of your resources and turn your job to a successful career!

Unique professional advantages of multilingualism

It’s pretty obvious that knowing more languages might be an advantage when you’re looking for work, and that more fluent you are the better your chances are, but beyond that, what does bi- and multilingualism have to offer that can further or kick start your career? The answer, of course, is a lot, or I wouldn’t be writing this.

Larger working memory – bilinguals can be more efficient at work

A surprising development for bilinguals is a larger working memory than in monolinguals, even in children. This means that speaking more languages makes you smarter (sort of). You don’t actually get smarter, but your brain functions more efficiently allowing you to perform better in complex tasks. However, people with a high working memory are also more susceptible to stress than people with a lower working memory, so if there is a connection there, we bilinguals might be wiser to pursue work where we have some control over our environment.

More study and bilingual career options

Bilingual career options are more numerous that those open to monolinguals, and I’m not talking about being a teacher. A bilingual person doesn’t need to have any interest at all in language teaching or translation, or any bilingually oriented job in order to take advantage of their skills. Of course that doesn’t mean that those jobs aren’t worth pursuing, they are, but if you don’t like that idea you can also be a more successful physicist because of your language skills.

When you’re looking for a college education you’re not limited to the country that you grew up in. If you’re from Tirol in northern Italy and grew up speaking Italian and German, you’re not constrained to apply for university in Italy, where nepotism and the difficult state of the economy make it increasingly hard to attend a quality institution. If you can wade through the bureaucracy you can go to university in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland, and in doing so circumvent roadblocks that leave perfectly talented monolinguals back home stranded.

Once you’re done with school you’ll find that the job market for you is considerably larger as well. If one of your languages is a lingua franca like English or Spanish entire continents will open up for your exploration. If there is no work to be found in the place where you grew up there is another country (or countries) full of people who will be happy to accept your resume.

Greater professional mobility and versatility

As the economy becomes increasingly globalized it’s getting more and more important for people to be mobile, especially as they rise through the ranks of a corporate system. That means visiting other countries and interacting with other international businesses. Being able to speak another language doubles your chances of being the one person at work who can communicate efficiently with your counterpart company. If you manage to show your skills to the right people, it can make the difference between being a background corporate grunt or a front and center representative of your company abroad.

Who is the author?

Micha is a linguist and blogger at his linguistics blog He introduces his readers to the basics of linguistics in a passionate and often funny way. His posts are informative and at the same time full of personal comments that will have you nod your head in agreement or even laugh. I especially聽like his articles from the Language and the World section, they feel like having a private chat with the author, who is not afraid to touch upon some controversial topics regarding politics, education an cultural issues.

The role of the translator

role-of-translatorThis week three years ago a great American novelist and short story writer passed away in his house in Cornish, New Hampshire. J. D. Salinger was born in 1919; his mother had Scots-Irish origin and his father was a Polish Jew. He is best known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye, which has reached the bestseller status with over 65 million copies sold worldwide. I think everyone of us has read it in their teenage years. But what I like the most are Salinger鈥檚 short stories. 鈥淎 Perfect Day for Bananafish鈥, 鈥淭eddy鈥, 鈥淛ust before the War with the Eskimos鈥 鈥 once you read them you can never forget them. I absolutely agree with Richard Yates, who described Salinger as 鈥渁 man who used language as if it were pure energy beautifully controlled, and who knew exactly what he was doing in every silence as well as in every word.鈥

I would like to pay a tribute here to Salinger鈥檚 genius and encourage you to get familiar with his spectacular literary legacy. I would also like to use one of his stories as an example for today鈥檚 note on different views on the role of the translator. In 鈥淯ncle Wiggily in Connecticut鈥 there is a scene of a girl falling down and twisting her ankle. Let鈥檚 have a look:

鈥淓loise looked up at the ceiling again. 鈥淥nce,鈥 she said, 鈥淚 fell down. I used to wait for him at the bus stop, right outside the PX, and he showed up late once, just as the bus was pulling out. We started to run for it, and I fell and twisted my ankle. He said, 鈥楶oor Uncle Wiggily.鈥 He meant my ankle. Poor old Uncle Wiggily, he called it. … God, he was nice.鈥

A translator encounters here a case of intertextuality. Salinger uses a popular character of a series of children鈥檚 stories by Howard R. Garis. Uncle Wiggily is an elderly rabbit that walks with a cane as he is afflicted with rheumatism. It is also a case of a word play: 鈥榰ncle鈥 and 鈥榓nkle鈥 sound almost the same in English. Is it at all possible to translate 鈥楿ncle Wiggily鈥 into any other language? Let鈥檚 see how professional translators have dealt with this issue.

Beautiful translation

A Polish translation by Agnieszka Glinczanka and Krzysztof Zarzecki:

鈥淓loiza utkwi艂a z powrotem wzrok w suficie. 鈥 Kiedy艣 鈥 powiedzia艂a 鈥 przewr贸ci艂am si臋. Czeka艂am na niego zawsze na przystanku, przed sam膮 kantyn膮, i kiedy艣 zjawi艂 si臋 za p贸藕no, autobus ju偶 ruszy艂. Zacz臋li艣my biec i ja si臋 przewr贸ci艂am, skr臋ci艂am sobie kostk臋. A on m贸wi: 鈥濨iedny pan Kostek.鈥 O mojej kostce tak powiedzia艂. 鈥濨iedny, ma艂y pan Kostu艣鈥, tak j膮 nazwa艂鈥 M贸j Bo偶e, morowy by艂.鈥

The Polish translation uses a functional equivalent, substituting 鈥楿ncle Wiggily鈥 with a functionally similar pun 鈥楶an Kostek鈥. The Polish equivalent of an 鈥榓nkle鈥 is 鈥榢ostka鈥 and 鈥楰ostek鈥 is a male first name.

Faithful translation

And an Italian translation by Carlo Fruttero:

鈥濽na volta, – prosegu矛, – sono caduta. Lo aspettavo sempre alla fermata dell鈥檃utobus, in faccia allo spaccio militare, e una volta lui 猫 uscito in ritardo, proprio mentre l鈥檃utobus ripartiva. Ci siamo messi a correre, e io sono caduta e mi sono stortata una caviglia. Lui ha detto: 鈥濸overo zio Wiggily鈥. Parlava della mia caviglia. Povero zio Wiggily, l鈥檋a chiamata..* Dio se era carino.鈥

Here * the translator inserts a footnote, explaining who Uncle Wiggily is. Then the translator gives us another way to interpret the word play, explaining that 鈥渢o wiggle鈥 in English means 鈥渢o move about, to fidget鈥. We have here an example of a different idea about the role of the translator. The Italian translator decided not to search for an Italian equivalent but to leave the original name 鈥淲iggily鈥 and to provide the reader with an explanation of how to understand it. Which solution is better?

Translator or traitor?

Following the first strategy the translator aims to adjust the text to the norms of language and cultural, aesthetic and cognitive horizon of the Polish reader. The reader can enjoy the word play and the reading continues uninterrupted. The second strategy results in the reader being aware that what he is reading is a translation; the translator introduces the reader to the American cultural world and communication community, informs him of the existence of a character called Uncle Wiggily, and lets him ponder on the implications of the verb 鈥渢o wiggle鈥.

What is the purpose of translation then? Friedrich Schleiermacher comments on this question, saying that either the translator leaves the author in peace and brings the reader towards the author, or leaves the reader in peace and brings the author towards the reader.

Which strategy do you find best in this particular case? Which solution would Salinger prefer with regards to his work? Must it be true, as Voltaire said, that translations are like women 鈥 either beautiful or faithful?

3 myths about bilingualism dispelled

Let鈥檚 look today at the most common myths about bilingualism, still haunting the scientific scene.

Myth One 鈥 monolinguality is normal.

A monolingual individual is the norm all over the world. It is, after all, the starting point in dealing with basic topics in linguistic research, such as the construction of grammar, nature of competence, mental representation of language, etc.

Myth Two 鈥 monolinguality is desirable.

It is more efficient and economical to learn just one language, so that you are left with more time that you can devote to learning other things. It is said that bilingualism hampers development in children, and not just linguistic development but also intellectual.

Myth Three 鈥 monolinguality is unavoidable.

Bilingualism is just a negative temporary phase on the way from monolinguality in L1 to monolinguality in L2. It is inevitable that a person will lose one of their languages on the way, or worse 鈥 will become equally incompetent in both languages.


Phew!!!… Luckily, these myths have been long abolished, thanks to, among others, Francois Grosjean, but some remnants of these opinions may still be found pulled out from under the carpet here and there.

Let鈥檚 hear what researchers of bilingualism say today.

Addressing Myth One

Grosjean says: 鈥渞esearch on bilingualism was often conducted in terms of the bilingual’s individual and separate languages (the use of language A or of language B when in fact both languages are often used simultaneously).鈥 (Interview on bilingualism 2002.

Addressing Myth Two

Still Grosjean: 鈥淩ecent studies indicate that bilingual children do better than monolingual children in some domains (e.g. tasks that require control of attention, also called selective control); they do as well as monolinguals in other domains (鈥 and they sometimes do less well than monolinguals (e.g. in vocabulary tests where only one language is taken at a time, and the child is dominant in a language). The latter result can be explained by means of the Complementarity Principle which states that bilinguals usually acquire and use their languages for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people. Different aspects of life often require different languages. Unfortunately, research rarely takes into account this principle and hence bilingual children are penalized when compared to their monolingual counterparts.鈥

Addressing Myth Three

Grosjean says 鈥淚 am constantly thinking of bilinguals who belittle their bilingualism because they do not master their languages to the same level. This leaves them insecure and worried about their status as human communicators. This saddens me as all bilinguals should have positive feelings about their bilingualism. I often tell them that monolinguals have to cover all domains of life with just one language and that they, as bilinguals, have to do so with two or more languages (one language for some domains of life, the other language(s) for other domains, and two or more languages for yet other domains). They are human communicators, like monolinguals, but they simply communicate differently.鈥


Some researchers express their point of view in a more radical way. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas writes:

monolinguality is a result of a wrong educational policy and of lingucism. The patients, i.e. those individuals who suffer from monolingual stupidity, are in need of care.鈥 And she continues: 鈥like cholera or leprosy, monolinguality is an illness which should be eradicated as soon as possible. It is dangerous for peace in the world.鈥 (Bilingualism or not 1984)

Nice, ah? Well, who said scientific world is all about egg-headed weaklings who never leave their labs and talk mainly to rats? Oh, they know how to fight for their standpoints and will resort to any kind of dubious methods on the way. Scientists rule!

How to create a speaking robot

Who hasn鈥檛 read those science fiction novels where humans live next to speaking robots that can think and feel, so that they basically become better than us, because they don鈥檛 tire and they don鈥檛 die and it marks the ending era of humans who become organic batteries or slaves, or flee to other planets, or withdraw to underground cities where they plan their grand revolt…

Ok, let鈥檚 take it easy for a while. So, how do you teach a robot to speak?

Language Acquisition Device

So far humans are the only beings that have learned to communicate in language. According to Noam Chomsky (Rules and representations, 1980), humans are equipped with a built-in language processing mechanism that he named Language Acquisition Device. LAD is universal for any natural language, and genetically attached to all the human brains. It is the innate hardware, which means that we instinctively know how to process the linguistic input in order to construct rules, to understand linguistic behavior of others and to generate appropriate linguistic performance.

Universal Grammar

For LAD to be applicable to any language in the world there must be some universal rules to each language. Chomsky called it the Universal Grammar, a set of principles, some relevant, some irrelevant to a given language. Children are naturally endowed with an evaluation metric that allows them to pick the relevant parameters for their native language. For instance, there is the Pro-Drop Parameter, which determines whether a language can drop the subject pronoun, as Polish does, e.g.: Znam dobrze tego pana (I know that man well). There is no need to use 鈥淚鈥. In: Ja znam dobrze tego pana, 鈥淛a鈥 is redundant as the verb already carries information about the subject.

Language selects from a fixed set of parameters, which means that learning a new language is nothing more than changing the plus and minus values of parameters of Universal Grammar, from those of one language to those of the other. Now, a Polish student of English has to start using the Pro-Drop Parameter, to 鈥榮witch it on鈥 in order to communicate well in English. And a student of German needs to activate a filter that will control the end of phrase position of a verb. And a robot would probably feel most comfortable with something like that:

鈥淎 formal grammar G = (N, 危, P, S) is context-sensitive if all rules in P are of the form

伪A尾 鈫 伪纬尾

where A 鈭 N (i.e., A is a single nonterminal), 伪,尾 鈭 (N U 危;)* (i.e., 伪 and 尾 are strings of nonterminals and terminals) and 纬 鈭 (N U 危;)+ (i.e., 纬 is a nonempty string of nonterminals and terminals).鈥


And who would say that linguistics belongs to humanistic studies!

Follow up:聽

Are some nations louder? On voicing patterns and foreign accents

Remember that peaceful sunny afternoon, your kayak sliding away with a slow river current, and you, balancing the paddle in your hands, watching the world go past, listening to birds twittering in the bushes, trees humming in a light warm breeze, water swirling along the river banks, bubbling under half immersed rocks…. And then: Ja, ich hab dir gesagt, gib mir noch ein Bier, schneller!!! Ahaha!!! Hans, guck mal wie schoen ist es hier! Mach mir eine Foto!!!

Happy-go-lucky people, having good fun wherever they go. Oh yes, they know how to party. But why are they so loud!?

Another example. When I lived in Italy, I now and then talked to my mom on the phone when in company of my friends. At some point my mom had to ask: Is there a fight going on? Why are they shouting so much? Well, my friends were just talking, having a laugh, they spoke at their usual volume of speech. So are some nations louder than other? And what reason lies behind it – is it predetermined culturally or phonologically?

Shouting inside exercise

This weekend I had a chance to participate in a course on voice emission and vocal hygiene. Some basic things like breathing, voicing, articulating and resonating were discussed. The most interesting for me was the part on natural resonators 鈥 the skull and its bones and the rib cage and abdominal areas are natural resonators of the body, and they are responsible for the amplification of the sound and its deeper frequencies. We can make the sound louder without straining our vocal cords. For instance, we practiced shouting inside 鈥 you shout and draw the sound back to your throat in waves, it makes the sound much stronger with no effort. So maybe that is why some nations speak at a higher volume – they use resonators to a greater extent. Have you ever noticed whether you talk louder in one language than in another?

Why some of us can never get rid of a foreign accent?

Another interesting issue is articulation. We don鈥檛 have a separate vocal apparatus for each language we speak. A newborn baby is predisposed to learn any voicing patterns, be it click consonants of some African languages, nasal vowels of Polish, German umlauted vowels and so on. This flexibility of vocal cords disappears after first years, that is why so many late bilinguals will never sound like natives. de Bot in his model of bilingual speech (A bilingual production model: Levelt’s 鈥楽peaking鈥 model adapted, 1992) suggests that although there are separate formulators for each language, which means that different procedures are applied to the grammatical and phonological encoding of L1 and L2 speech, there is only one articulator (that converts the speech plan into speech), which makes use of one set of sounds and pitch patterns, only some of which are language specific. It explains possible occurrence of foreign accent in speakers.

It鈥檚 time for an example. The most frequent vowel in English is the vowel called 鈥榮chwa鈥. It sounds like nothing really. It is the sound of any vowel which is not stressed in a word, e.g. tomorrow 鈥 you hear 鈥榦鈥 distinctly, but the first syllable is something like /tyhm/. Or potato 鈥 you distinctly pronounce 鈥榓鈥 but not 鈥榦鈥, it becomes /pyhteito/, another one: attend 鈥 sounds like /yhtend/. In Polish or Italian, although only one syllable in a word is stressed, you are supposed to voice every vowel, so all vowels are easily audible. After a few months in the States I noticed that I became sloppy in Polish and didn鈥檛 bother to voice all vowels, which made my speech hardly understandable. It reminds me of that scene in some Polish movie in which an airport hostess, before making an announcement in English, puts a piece of potato in her mouth to give herself natural blurry English articulation.

Getting emotional – interference in bilinguals

A Zen teacher would say that we need to get rid of emotions, that they are an unwelcome baggage that hinders us on our pathway to enlightenment. Driven by emotions we tend to commit smaller and bigger blunders, I bet any of us could recall a few painful memories that better remain unmentioned.

How do emotions affect bilingual speech?

Emotions influence our actions and our speech, mostly because we first speak then think. Hence the true maxim: Speech is silver, silence is golden. Language performance, being a linear time-sensitive process, is hard to control, and we may end up saying something we would rather hold back. For bilinguals it may be the case of using wrong language – such cases are called interference and are defined by Grosjean as: 鈥渢he involuntary influence of one language on the other鈥 (Life with two languages: an introduction to bilingualism, 1982), which may be caused by situational and emotional factors such as stress, fatigue, last language spoken, etc.

Gestures and exclamations

Emotional interjections and exclamations are especially susceptible to interference. After almost a year in Italy, even when I talked to a Polish person I couldn鈥檛 help but react spontaneously with Italian phrases such as 鈥榤a dai!?鈥 for disbelief, 鈥榖oh鈥︹ for feeling undecided or 鈥ahia!!!鈥 when hurt. Not to mention the very expressive style of Italian gesticulation, so familiar to anyone who has ever watched 鈥淭he Godfather鈥 or 鈥淭he Sopranos鈥.

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When does interference occur?

Interference in bilinguals may occur at various levels of language performance, such as phonology, causing an agitated Spanish-English bilingual to shout 鈥Be careful!鈥 with a heavily rolled alveolar /R/; or syntax: 鈥To nie robi sensu!鈥 – a very ungrammatical form in Polish, but in all likelihood an effect of interference from English 鈥業t doesn鈥檛 make sense!鈥 and German 鈥楧as macht kein Sinn!鈥

Lexical interference can easily lead to misunderstanding, especially when you talk to monolinguals. After spending a few months in the States I used to insert 鈥whatever鈥 at the end of almost every utterance. Having returned back home, I tried to overcome it, which I found extremely hard, as there is no such expression in Polish. That led me to producing such forms in Polish as 鈥cokolwiek鈥, 鈥co艣 tam鈥, and after applying some effort I managed to change it to 鈥niewa偶ne鈥, which could be probably the closest counterpart of 鈥whatever鈥, although it still does not cater for all its meanings and uses. Also, my American friend with whom I spent three months in Italy has become painfully aware of lack of such expression in Italian, so we ended up inventing our very own word 鈥cosamai鈥, which continued to baffle our Italian friends.

Last but not least -bad language

Talking about expressing our emotions, especially the negative ones, we should not forget about bad language. I guess all of you would have something to say in that matter. Even monolinguals use foreign language swear words, often not being aware of their actual force of expression, which may lead to even more stressful situations in multicultural groups of people. Oddly though, swear words tend to be one and only element of a foreign language that are acquired with seemingly no effort at all, and they stick the longest, too…

How to study pronunciation with a song

In the first post Learn a new language with a song we were talking about the advantages of singing as a method of studying a foreign language. Besides the fact that songs are original products of the culture you wish to learn, and the fact that they evoke pleasant emotions on your part, we pointed out how a song’s structure – rhyme and rhythm – helps us master the difficult art of correct pronunciation.聽

I just came across an interesting study on how singing helps patients after stroke to start speaking again. Research showed that while singing and speech are processed by different areas of the brain, one can influence the other in terms of improved breath control, concentration, and speech production.

So there is hope for us as well! Ok, in Part 1 I asked you to prepare the songs you wish to study and to find their original lyrics and translations. Now all you need is TIME to practice .

Guide to improving your pronunciation with a song – step by step

Step 1

First, listen to the song. What emotions do you get from it? Do you like it? What does it remind you of? Try to match the song to some personal experience. If you are having trouble here, you can start with reading the lyrics鈥 translation 鈥 what is the song about? Love troubles? Happy summer days? Some disturbing memory? Anger and jealousy? Can you relate to these emotions?

Once we created an emotional link to the song, we can focus on the contents.

Step 2

Read the translation.聽 Which part is the chorus? Is it a story narrated over time or is it more like loose observations? Would you use the phrases from the song in everyday life? Listen to the song a few times and try to follow the lyrics while looking at the translation. Can you tell which part of the song corresponds to which content?

You can repeat each part of the exercise as many times as you feel necessary, it is important though to follow the correct order. So first listen to the song, then listen to it while looking at the translation, and only then move on to Step 3.

Step 3

Listen to the song and read the original lyrics. See? At this point you already know which bit of the text corresponds to which bit of the song, and you are already able to follow what the singer sings about.

Songs are great to study from, because you immediately hear how words are pronounced, where the accents fall and how the whole phrases follow their internal rhythm. So, very quickly you can now move on to Step 4.

Step 4

Try to read the lyrics aloud, always checking if your pronunciation is close to the original. You can correct yourself easily, listening to the song bit by bit. Focus first on single words, remember to check if you put the accent on the correct syllable and notice the length of the syllables in a complete phrase.

Step 5

Try to read the text fluently, with the same speed and rhythm as the singer 鈥 it does not mean that you need to sing it! No, just try to follow the singer and try to make it sound natural 鈥 you will need to check your breath鈥檚 length, otherwise you risk suffocating yourself in the process.

An example of a well-prepared material for Polish-Italian study:

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It is best to repeat this part many times, till you feel comfortable with it. It may take hours or days, depending on how much time you can devote to the practice. But in the end, you should be able to sing along with the singer, most probably having learned the lyrics by heart. And this is the first scope of our exercise.

The second goal is to use the lyrics to study grammar and to learn new words. But this is the topic for another story. Keep tuned!

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Sing to speak a foreign language

Learn a new language with a song

If you ask people who are successful in learning foreign languages what are their favorite methods for studying a new language, many will mention learning from songs. The first thing that comes to your mind would probably be, oh yes, because it is so PLEASANT, you listen to nice music and enjoy the emotions that the music brings. But it is not all there is to this seemingly easy method.

First of all, a song represents part of the CULTURE of the language you study, it is REAL, unlike a study book texts that usually sound very artificial. No matter if you are a beginner or an advanced student, this method allows you to immerse in a real life experience that you share with the society you would like to get to know better.

A song is an artistic expression, you can feel all the emotions, and as you recognize the EMOTIONAL weight of the words, they become easier to remember. This is true, music and emotions definitely help getting our ATTENTION and making the phrases stick longer in our memory.

Another advantage of using a song for learning a language is that songs usually RHYME and even if not, they preserve a certain RHYTHM. The lyrics are naturally divided by the rhythm into SHORT phrases, which usually are written in everyday language and composed in quite SIMPLE grammar.

Ok, so how do I start studying a foreign language from a song?

Find a group or a singer that you like 鈥 no use listening for hours to someone you don鈥檛 appreciate. Preferably choose songs performed by a single person and sung in an easily understandable way 鈥 no choirs, no opera divas, no roaring metal bands, no speed of light rapping gangstas. You should be able to recognize single words when listening to the song and reading the lyrics simultaneously.

Once you have your set of songs, three to five to start with, search for the lyrics in the original language and check if you can find their translations into your native tongue. If translations are nowhere to be found, you can use Google translator (with all its faults, it is a very useful tool, just don鈥檛 trust it too much), or you can choose to use translations into a language you already know. When I was studying Italian, I used English translations, as translations into Polish were unavailable at the time.

You can find useful material on Youtube, like for instance here:

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In the next post we will be talking about how to use the songs and materials you prepared to achieve our two goals: native-like pronunciation and easy way to understanding the grammar. Keep tuned!

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Sing to speak a foreign language