Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

New Language Tutorial on Afrikaans!

I’m happy to announce that a new language tutorial has been added to Afrikaans! The tutorial was written by Selçuk Mert Köseoğlu and proofread by native-speaker Sarien, who also plans to record some mp3s.

Afrikaans originated from 17th century Dutch and is one of the official languages of South Africa. It is also spoken in Namibia and a few other African countries. There are about 7 million native speakers and 20 million speakers overall. There is still a lot of mutual intelligibility between Dutch and Afrikaans, though it is easier for Dutch speakers to understand Afrikaans than vice versa.

South Africa 2001 Afrikaans speakers proportion map
Where Afrikaans is spoken by the most people in South Africa

As PageF30 mentioned a few months, Afrikaans is rather easy for English speakers to learn because the grammar is not nearly as complicated as other Germanic languages. Nouns have no gender and no cases. There is only one definite and one indefinite article. Verbs do not conjugate for person or number. The infinitive is identical to the present tense and the imperative. The past tense is comparable to the present perfect in English, with a few exceptions for some verbs that still exist in the preterite. The future and conditional tenses are just like in English. There are no progressive / continuous tenses or past perfect tense. The only thing that seems remotely difficult is word order.

I’ve been trying to find more resources for learning Afrikaans online, but there don’t seem to be very many. Hopefully Mert, Sarien, and I will be able to fill in that void. I do plan to create comparative tutorials with Dutch as well for those who want to learn both Dutch and Afrikaans at the same time. (Though I am currently swamped with my translation work and updating French Language Tutorial so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to do it.) If there are other Afrikaans speakers out there who want to help others learn your language, please let me know.

If you are interested in South Africa, I recommend checking out the beautiful photos in the South Africa Flickr pool.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

My Library Thinks Finnish is a Germanic Language

I tweeted this photo yesterday but it irritates me so much that I decided to put it on the blog too.

My local library puts Finnish in the Other Germanic Languages section.

I could let it slide if they organized the languages by geography instead of linguistic families, but they don’t since they use the Dewey Decimal System. Besides French and English, they have labeled sections for German, Other Germanic Languages, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Other Languages.

If you know the Dewey Decimal System, 439 is reserved for Other Germanic Languages, but Uralic languages don’t have their own section so they should be put in 499, or Miscellaneous Languages. At least my library got Hungarian and Estonian right…

Calling Finnish a Germanic language is one of my major pet peeves. It’s right up there with calling Finland a Scandinavian country. Only Norway, Sweden and Denmark are Scandinavian countries – if you want to include Finland or Iceland, the term is Nordic.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

National Foreign Language Week & Promoting Language Learning

This week (March 7-13) is National Foreign Language Week in the US.  It was begun in 1957 by the Alpha Mu Gammar Honor Society to help make students aware of how vital foreign language study is. Of course, if you visit my website and read my blog, then you already know how vital it is and that I promote language learning more often than once a year. So instead of preaching to the choir (and because my translation work is keeping me really busy these days), I just wanted to mention J from 52 Languages, 52 Weeks‘ grant proposal for the Pepsi Refresh Everything competition in Canada.

His proposal is to teach new languages to preschool children by converting “daycares into language nests, places for pre-schoolers to be immersed in a second language and become bilingual from a very early age. It can be a language from the child’s cultural heritage, or it can be an entirely new language to give the child a head start in life.”

His Language Nest project is in the $25,000 grant category under Education.  Voting ends April 30, and you can vote everyday until then. You can also connect with Facebook instead of creating an account to sign in. Also be sure to check out the other participants because you have 10 votes to use each day and there are many other worthy projects among the Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, and Neighbourhoods categories as well.

The American version of the Pepsi Refresh Project has different categories (only Arts & Music, Communities, and Education) and deadlines, so check out their website if you are a resident of the US and interested in participating later this year.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

International Mother Language Day & Recent Foreign Language News

February 21 is UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day, which “has been celebrated since 2000 to promote all the languages of the world. This Day represents an effective mobilization opportunity for linguistic diversity and multilingualism.” Spread the language love!

If you don’t already know why being multilingual makes your life better:

Being bilingual may delay Alzheimer’s and boost brain power
Research suggests that bilingual people can hold Alzheimer’s disease at bay for longer, and that bilingual children are better at prioritising tasks and multitasking

Juggling Languages Can Build Better Brains
Once likened to a confusing tower of Babel, speaking more than one language can actually bolster brain function by serving as a mental gymnasium

Bilinguals Find it Easier to Learn a Third Language
Bilinguals find it easier to learn a third language, as they gain a better aptitude for languages

I love you wall in Paris

And if the constant news about universities cutting budgets and getting rid of foreign language programs gets you down, there is at least one university in the US that is doing the opposite:

U.C. Berkeley campus expands course offerings
More than half a million dollars will be allotted to numerous foreign language courses beginning in 2011-12 and will ultimately result in more than 30 additional language courses offered

Congratulations to the winner of the Mango Passport Bundle giveaway from last week: @plutoinlove Thanks to all the participants and Mango Languages for making the giveaway possible!

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

Review of Mango Passport & On the Go and Free Product Giveaway for Twitter Users

Last fall, I included Mango Languages for Libraries in my review of language learning websites. If you do not have access to Mango through your library or would like your own personal copy of the program that is not dependent on an internet connection, Mango Languages now offers Passport software and On the Go mp3 downloads for individual users, available in the following languages: Chinese (Mandarin), English as a Second Language, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

The Mango Passport software includes 10 chapters with several lessons each and a review at the end of each chapter. Some languages have more lessons than others; for example, the Italian program that I reviewed has 52, while Czech has 67, Vietnamese has 76 and Japanese has 84. You can try one lesson for free online to see what the program is like, or if you do have access through your library, the Passport software is the same as the Mango for Libraries Complete 2.0 course. Each lesson provides dialogs and conversations in the target language, with color-coded vocabulary, phonetic transcriptions when you hover over the word, voice comparisons for testing your own pronunciation, and timed “cards” so that you must recall the target word or phrase.  Each chapter builds up vocabulary, grammar and culture without being too explicit (especially for grammar) for basic conversation and traveling needs.  The ten chapters in Italian are: Greetings, Gratitude, Goodbyes; Do you speak English?; What’s your name?; Where’s the station?; How much does it cost?; I’d like to order; Can I pay by credit card?; I need help; How do you say Thank you in Italian?; What is it?; plus the course review.

The On the Go product is the audio version of the Passport software. The Main Course mp3s are in the same order as the 10 chapters in Passport, and there is also a Quick Course which doesn’t include the memory exercises so the time is cut in half if you prefer a faster version. Three Review sets of mp3s are also included: Cultural, Phrase and Vocabulary; as well as a nice PDF booklet with all the transcripts.  The booklet does also include the cultural and grammar notes plus the phonetic transcriptions of each word.

The program does not claim that you will gain fluency (and I really don’t believe that any one program will make you fluent) and remember that these products are for beginners. If you already have knowledge of the language, it will probably be too slow and not extensive enough for increasing your vocabulary beyond the basic conversational level. Only neutral accents are used for the recordings, which have been scripted and rehearsed, so it is not the best bet if you are looking for advanced authentic audio with regional accents.  Please check out Mango‘s website, read the FAQs, and try the free lesson to see if the program will suit your needs. The introductory price per language for the Passport software is $150, while the On the Go mp3s are $100 – however, if you buy them together as a Bundle, the price is $200.  If you are interested in mobile apps, Mango Languages will be releasing an iPhone/iPod Touch app this summer.


I have one free copy of Mango Passport & On the Go Bundle to give away, a value of $200!

To participate in this Twitter giveaway, follow these instructions:

1. Either comment on this post or send me an e-mail at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com with your Twitter name and e-mail address.

2. Follow both @ielanguages and @mangolanguages on Twitter, if you have not already done so.

3. Tweet the following phrase “I just entered the @ielanguages giveaway of a Mango Passport Language Bundle from @mangolanguages” before Sunday, February 20, 2011, at 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time. One entry per person.

4. After verifying the follows and tweets, I will choose one entry at random on Monday and contact the winner through e-mail with the promo code for redeeming their free copy of Passport Mango & On the Go in one language of their choice.

Thanks for participating! [This giveaway has ended. Please check newer blog posts for further product giveaways!]

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

Brainscape Flashcards: Website and Mobile Apps

Brainscape is a website that offers flashcards on a variety of topics – more than just foreign language vocabulary – using graduated intervals for maximum repetition and reinforcement of least-known items.  This learning technique goes by many names (spaced repetition seems to be the most common among language learning sites) and it is indeed based on actual scientific research that you can read about in scholarly journals. Brainscape explains the cognitive science behind their system and cites their sources, which is extremely important to a researcher like me who values empirical data and facts over random anecdotes of personal failure or success.

The concept is simply to rate how well you felt you knew each item on a numerical scale, starting at 5 for perfectly down to 1 for not at all.  The items that you rate lower will reappear more often so that you can focus your attention on them rather than spending time on the ones you already know fairly well.  Currently there are flashcards available in the subjects of Test Prep (GRE & SAT vocabulary plus Driver’s Ed), Languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, ESL and survival Russian & Portuguese), and Knowledge Junkie (random facts for nerds like me). Audio is provided for many of the language cards and will be continually added for languages that do not already include it. Keyboard shortcuts are also available (spacebar and numbers) so you aren’t required to click constantly.

At this time, all of the flashcard sets are available for free on the website.  Just create an account or sign in with Facebook and add them to your library.  You can also create your own cards or import lists of items in XML or CSV format as well as share them with other users on the site. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, Brainscape also offers apps for each of the flashcard sets.  More than half are free through iTunes’ app store.  Eventually there will be a single app for accessing your library and syncing your progress between the website and app so that you can start learning on one platform and continue on the other with no interruption.

Even if flashcards are not your thing, Brainscape’s blog is still worth checking out for articles on learning, memory, cognition, education, etc. They update it quite frequently and have great guest bloggers and interviews.

Finally, I have five promo codes for the French Vocab Genius app for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (normally $7.99) which includes nearly 3,000 audio flashcards. The first five people who e-mail me at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a code will receive one! [EDIT: All of the codes have been given away already!]

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

Spanish Resources for Teachers and Learners

Hi guys, my name’s Andrew, and I’ve been teaching myself Spanish on and off for over 3 years now, and in the process of doing so I’ve learned an enormous amount about how to learn a foreign language on your own and Spanish in particular, and of course I’ve accumulated a very large collection of resources that I’ve found to be useful in helping me. I talked about doing a guest post with Jennie because she has expressed an interest in learning Spanish herself and also said she wanted to get more information on Spanish up on her site, and she said that a list of resources (free sites, etc.) that I particularly liked would be great, so that’s what I’ve got for you below. These are only a very small fraction of the sites and tools that I’ve tried at some point, but they’re the best ones.

Tools: Dictionaries and Translators and Conjugators, Oh My!

First and foremost is my overall favorite tool: – The dictionary is excellent and works perfectly and everything, but it’s not just that, it’s that plus the translation tool you see there directly below it that, when you enter something in it to translate, runs it through Google Translate and Yahoo!’s Babel Fish and FreeTranslation so you’ve got 3 different translations to choose from (Google’s is almost always the best), plus the verb conjugator they’ve got there that produces what are easily the best organized and easiest-to-read conjugation tables of any conjugation tool I’ve found yet (you can get to it from the main page by hovering over the ‘More’ menu and selecting ‘Conjugation’).

The Spanish dictionary is the best I’ve used, the translator is the best I’ve used, and the conjugator is the best I’ve used, hands down. Awesome tool, and it’s so nice to just have one site that I have to have bookmarked and need to refer to whenever I need to do nearly anything reference-related with Spanish.

If you’re a flashcard person (I am, now that I don’t have to actually deal with the physical ones) then you’ll love Anki: it’s something called an SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) that functions like flashcards but much, much better in that it not only eliminates the actual paper ones but also deals with which card you need to review and when by using a special algorithm that takes into account when you last reviewed it, whether you got it right, how old it is, and how many times you’ve already seen it–you’ll go from initially reviewing a card once a day for a couple sessions quickly (if you get it right) onto once every 3 then 5 then 15 then 30 days then once every couple of months, this way you can have literally thousands of words and phrases that you review, you’re never allowed to forget any of them, and reviewing them only takes 10-30 minutes a day or so depending on how many cards you have (I have about 500 right now and my average review is 15-20 cards that takes all of about 3-5 minutes per day).

Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, is shutting down, so there are now going to be a LOT of people out there in need of a replacement, and I’m certain that Anki will get the lion’s share of them quite easily.

I don’t think I’ve heard this anywhere else, but I will tell you right now that the best source for looking up Spanish slang is…Urban Dictionary. Seriously. Nothing beats it.

Mind you, I’m talking about looking up a slang word that you heard in Spanish–if you want to find out if there’s a Spanish slang for something you know in English then Google is your best bet: “spanish slang for _____”.

Need to know what a “rolo” is? Urban Dictionary’s got your back (it’s a Colombian slang term for someone from Bogotá). How about the oft-heard Mexican slang term “pinche“? Yup. “Majo“? Yup (2nd definition is correct). “Chiflada“? It’s there. See what I mean?

Forvo is a very interesting website, and immensely useful to language-learners. It’s sort of like a dictionary in that it’s got most of the words currently in use in a language (and they’ve got over 180 languages at the moment) but instead of giving the definition for it they give you the pronunciation…in the form of an audio recording that you can listen to instead of that IPA gibberish that no one understands, that way you can actually hear a native speaker pronouncing the word you’re looking up! How awesome is that?

General Learning Resources

My personal favorite that I’ve used forever is Ben and Marina’s Notes in Spanish where you can listen to many, many, many hours of conversation between the two of them about all sorts of interesting things, and what makes it really outstanding is the fact that they’ve got 3 sections based on difficulty: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I can’t tell you how nice this is, each lesson not only has a conversation in actual colloquial Spanish but they also take time after each one to explain what they were talking about, go over vocab, slang, etc. The Beginner’s level has about 5 minutes of conversation and 10-15 minutes of explanation, and the conversation itself is done slowly using basic grammar and vocabulary, but it’s not textbook or childish, it really just works perfectly, you have to try it to see what I mean.

The audio lessons are completely free and that’s what I’m referring to, they also have worksheets that they charge for: although they’re very helpful, you absolutely do not need the worksheets; all they are, are transcripts of the conversation in Spanish (no English translation–that would make them worth it) with a little vocab afterward. has got 165 children’s books in Spanish available online for you to read. Do I really need to tell you what a fantastic learning tool children’s books in your target language are? They’re at a children’s reading level, they’re fun and far more interesting than a textbook, and they’re free!

Wikipedia’s section on Spanish grammar is probably all you’ll ever need, if that–there isn’t much you can’t find an adequate explanation of in there, however…I do have a Spanish grammar book that I absolutely love, it’s concise, easier to understand than any other explanation of Spanish grammar I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot), small enough to fit in a back pocket, and fairly thin (200 pages): Barron’s Spanish Grammar

The Spanish section of the BBC’s language-learning page is fantastic, tons of free videos, newscasts, radio broadcasts, lessons, etc.

On my own site I’ve got a very long list of websites where you can watch streaming Spanish-language TV for free that I highly recommend–unlike every other list I checked when putting that post together, there isn’t a dead link on there anywhere (that I know of, if you find one let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it) and I’m constantly updating it to remove sites that don’t work any more and add new ones. Most of them are TV stations and they’re all organized by country so you can pick a specific country if you’re especially interested in it. This is, by far, the most comprehensive list of such sites you’ll find anywhere online, I promise you (I know this because I looked at every other such list out there in the process of making this one).

Language exchanges can be very hit-or-miss, but they’re a fantastic (and for some people: only) way to find native speakers to practice with, plus you do it via Skype so you never have to leave the house. The one that I’ve had the best luck with, by a long ways, is The Mixxer. Keep in mind that you’ll have to message 5 or 10 people for every 1 that you manage to get to converse with you on a regular basis, but it’s extremely convenient and entirely free unlike paying for a tutor or something, and a lot of people live in an area where they just can’t find native speakers to practice with face-to-face so this sort of thing is their only option.


Mine!!! Well you knew that was coming, right? I presume that you’re doing this from home, alone, and don’t want to spend much/any money on it. I have published such fascinating and riveting articles as how to learn Spanish from Shakira’s music videos (there are two prior similar posts based on two of her other songs: Suerte and La Tortura that are linked to from that one), and the ever-popular Telenovela Method of learning Spanish.

The blog formerly known as ‘Actualidades’ but currently called Zambombazo (no clue why he did that, but anyway…): this guy is super-active, posting really good quality stuff about 2-5 times per day. What he does is use current pop-culture media like music videos, short clips of TV shows, pictures, news stories etc. that are from a Spanish-speaking culture somewhere (he does a good job of changing up the countries and giving you a good variety) and then turning it into a little mini Spanish-lesson where he has a series of questions that either you or your students are supposed to answer afterward. It’s just one guy doing all of it and the amount of work he puts into this site is just unbelievable, either he’s retired or independently wealthy, there’s no other explanation.

Fluent in 3 Months is a general language-learning blog run by ‘Benny the Irish Polyglot’ and he’s currently in the Philippines and focusing on Tagalog right now, but this is one that anyone learning any language for any reason ought to be subscribed to, Benny puts out awesome stuff and his lifestyle is fascinating and something I hope to somewhat emulate eventually: what he does is move to a new country for 3 months at a time during which he forces himself to get conversationally fluent in the local language (in 3 months, hence the name of the site). So far he’s done Irish, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German using this particular method (he also speaks Esperanto). Fascinating stuff, good writer, and he’s walked the walk (taught himself multiple languages) and consequently earns the right to talk the talk and be taken very seriously.

I especially liked his post on ‘the smartest decision you will ever make’, which does an excellent job of explaining his philosophy on language-learning.

Spanish Only. Oh this is going to be fun: Benny (above-mentioned) and Ramses (guy who runs Spanish Only) not only use diametrically opposed methods (Benny knows that the correct way is to start speaking a language as soon as possible, Ramses religiously follows the belief that you should go through a ‘silent period’ first where all you do is listen and read) but they’ve also been at each others’ throats a bit recently (watching the back-and-forth cat fight on twitter was genuinely entertaining, haha), so I’m sure they’ll be ecstatic about seeing their sites right next to each other here. He does publish really useful stuff, though, but nowhere near as frequently as Benny (Benny publishes 3-5 times a week, Ramses is more like 2-4 times a month).

Language Fixation is another great language-learning blog that I really like due to his analytical approach and extreme emphasis on numbers, analysis, record keeping, setting very specific goals, and in particular doing a great job of keeping track of his results and then publishing them for other people to see. He’s also of the input-only-to-begin-with school like Ramses but has also published some great advice on how to get speaking practice on your own that I found to be especially insightful and valuable.

Randy over at Yearlyglot is on a similar sort of program as Benny in that he has a set time (one year) to learn each of his languages and then at the end of that year he travels to the country in question to test himself (he’s currently in Italy but has already started on Turkish which is what he’s learning for this year).

And, of course, if you’re not subscribed to Jennie’s blog, you should be (click me!)–she posts great stuff regardless of what language you’re learning.


My personal favorite regardless of what language you’re learning, and probably the biggest language-learning related forum on the internet, is HTLAL (How to Learn Any Language). Keep in mind that people there are very analytical and logical about how they go about doing things, but that has resulted in a level of quality of information that you won’t find anywhere else. I especially recommend people check out Iversen’s ridiculously long ‘Guide to Learning Languages’ (set aside a few days for that one).

Foro de Español is one that I don’t frequent much but that’s only for lack of time. It’s huge and specifically for people trying to learn Spanish (it’s the only one I know of entirely dedicated to Spanish).

Omniglot forum is in a very similar vein to HTLAL except that it’s not quite as big (though it’s still very active).

That’s it, guys. I didn’t want to do an insanely long list of every possible thing that might be useful to someone somewhere, I wanted to only recommend things that I, personally, have used and found to be really useful and valuable resources–the stuff above is probably 10% of what I’ve got in my bookmarks and such, but it’s the best. I hope you find it as valuable as I thought it was.



Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

In Search of More Multilingual Vocabulary & Verb Conjugation Lists

In my never-ending search for websites that provide multilingual vocabulary lists for comparative study, I came across Poliglottus last week. They have two main sections: Basic Vocabulary of 1,300 words in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian and Basic Verb Forms in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Sardinian.  Yes, Sardinian!

You choose two languages, a “chapter” and click Final Exam, then choose Memorize for the lists to appear to the right.  You can also choose Simulator for a flashcard system or Examination to test your memory by typing the translation.

Each chapter has 48 words or verb conjugations total, with 12 appearing at once. Vocabulary words are not in thematic categories, however, and seem to be just random. The verbs are not actually labeled for tenses (though there are two chapters per tense in this order: present, present perfect, imperfect, future, conditional, past conditional, past perfect, subjunctive, imperfect subjunctive, and past perfect subjunctive when I chose Italian/French) but the same verbs are used for each tense – be, have, do, go, want, know, etc. – and they are always in the classic I, you, he/she/it, we, you (plural), they order.

In addition to the sites I’ve previously mentioned such as Book2 and Internet Polyglot, Unilang also includes a MediaGlyphs Wordlist and Basic Phrasebook for comparing two languages. Yet the only resource I’ve found so far that includes more than two languages side-by-side, except my own Romance and Germanic vocabulary & verb pages, is Frederick Bodmer’s Loom of Language which was published in the 1940’s – meaning many of the words are no longer used and words related to technology are completely absent.

I’m still looking for a website, or even a spreadsheet, that includes multiple languages instead of just two that can be customized or modified.  I’m just wondering if a master comparative vocabulary list with words grouped thematically already exists somewhere.  Someone mentioned this on the forum a while ago, but I don’t know if anything ever came of it.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

The Power of Babel by John McWhorter

The Power of Babel is a book about the natural history of language that I read recently while getting over my Christmas cold. (As you have probably noticed from the lack of website updates, I’m still recovering and not doing much besides sleeping and reading.) The book is rather inexpensive at Amazon though it is not available for Kindle, which unfortunately seems to be the case for many language and linguistics books.

Click image for page

Since I found the book to be rather entertaining and insightful, here are some interesting factoids from a few chapters.

  • The future tense in Romance languages derives from combining the main verb plus the conjugated forms of have in Latin. I will love was amare habeo in Latin and it transformed into amerò in Italian. So having to learn various endings for all six person and tense combinations in Italian, French, Spanish, etc? Thanks Latin!  Inflections are transformed this way in many languages, but thankfully English had a simpler process with fewer endings overall (did became -ed for all six, for example.)
  • Much like inflections, tones developed over time from sound changes to distinguish meaning between words. In Vietnamese, for example, tones did not originally exist but then final consonants wore off of many words, changing the sound of the preceding vowel. Now it is these tones that distinguish the differences in meanings instead of the final consonant.  Inflections and tones were not present in the earliest forms of language and they are not necessary to human communication. They are merely accidental changes of words and sounds that produced a more complicated form of the language.
  • The Normans who invaded England in 1066 did not speak a standardized or Parisian French that many people think of, but rather the Norman dialect. The “French” words borrowed at that time were actually the Norman pronunciations, where Norman had k and ei but Parisian had sh and oi (compare carbon/aveir and charbon/avoir). This is also why Montréal is not Montroyal – it was settled by people from Northwestern France rather than Paris.
  • Most people know that double negatives used to be grammatically correct in English, but there are other features of contemporary non-standard dialects that are in fact closer to early modern English than today’s English. Even though thou went out of fashion by 1700, the singular you did not and its corresponding verb conjugation for be in the past tense was, in fact, was.  Letters written by educated people in the 1800’s indicate that “you was” was the standard and it was only because prescriptive grammarians decided that it didn’t sound correct that they stamped it out of modern English by rewriting grammar books.
  • One of the few examples of Scots that still exists, or at least is recognizable, in modern-day English is auld lang syne, literally old long since or “days of yore.”
  • The human proto-language (if you believe that there was one) was very similar to today’s creoles in that the grammar was much simpler – no inflections or tones, or even relative clauses, because these complex features developed due to sound changes and the fact that most language became written instead of only spoken.
  • And of course, my favorite part: the acknowledgement that French is actually two languages: written and spoken. McWhorter mentions a few of the parallels (nous vs. on, ne…pas vs. pas, est vs. c’est) and how textbooks do not do a very good job of informing the learner that the gap between these two is wider than for most other languages.  Written French was codified centuries ago and rarely changes, but the spoken form is highly dynamic, even for non-colloquial speech by the educated. It should be no wonder that c’est was the basis for is instead of est in French-based creoles – se in Haitian creole – because that is what the people always heard in everyday speech.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.

Christmas Wonderland in Michigan’s Little Bavaria

Every time I come back to Michigan, whether it’s in December or not, I have to go to Frankenmuth and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.

Originally settled by Lutheran immigrants from Franconia, Frankenmuth today is nicknamed Little Bavaria and is probably Michigan’s most popular tourist attraction. The city itself is rather small (2.8 square miles with 4,600 people) but the architecture is undoubtedly Bavarian and they even have their own Oktoberfest each year, which is sanctioned by the city of Munich. The biggest attraction is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the largest Christmas store in the world.

Located only 15 minutes from my childhood home, Frankenmuth began my love affair with all things German and started the association Germany = Christmas in my mind. I went to Bronner’s on Friday for some holiday cheer that I had been missing in France.

The best part of Bronner’s is of course the Christmas around the World section, full of ornaments from other countries.

You can find ornaments saying Merry Christmas in over 100 languages.

And ornaments in the shape of famous buildings and cultural objects, such as the Eiffel Tower and bottles of wine for France.

Even the trashcans are multilingual.

And outside of the store stands the Silent Night Memorial Chapel, a replica of the original chapel in Oberndorf, Austria where Stille Nacht was written. The signs along the sidewalk are translations of Stille Nacht/Silent Night into several languages.

Now I’m ready for Christmas!

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.