Our fascinating alphabet

Lots of things fascinate me about the way we communicate with the written word. I’ve recently stumbled across a few alphabet-related facts that might interest you too.

Browsing in a local bookshop, I was delighted to find the Diccionario del origen de las palabras (‘Dictionary of the origin of words’)*. I’ve been looking for an English equivalent for some time, but without success.

Anyway, under abecedario, I found out that our Latin ‘alphabet’ takes its name from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. In contrast, abecedario refers to abcd (a, be, ce, de), the first four letters of the Latin system.

So, abecedario is the actual name for the collection of Latin letters that we use. Here in Spain, it is often used interchangeably with alfabeto when referring to the alphabet. (I can’t find a different English translation of abecedario – is there one? Or did it get lost on the way to the UK?)

I then spotted a post on the origins of abc …

Read More

The sad decline of languages in UK schools

I mean the decline of taught, modern foreign languages, not sweary bad language (I’m sure that’s probably still learnt and applied with enthusiasm).

This article in the Guardian, Who still wants to learn languages?, raises a few key points from recent studies, as well as interesting observations. In summary:

Funding for languages has been cut and departments are closing across the education spectrum, from schools to universities. Since language learning was made optional after the age of 14 in 2004,  numbers have been dropping. (Just in state schools? The article’s not clear.) There’s a sharp distinction between provision at state schools and at independents (“38 per cent of 14-year-olds in the state sector were studying one modern language and 1.9 per cent were studying two; 99 per cent of 14-year-olds at independents studied at least one language”). As a result, “the experience of other cultures is now confined to an elite”. Languages are losing out in the (short-term) education market because they are a long-term choice in terms of …

Read More

Language learning: a great leveller

Learning a new language is one of those great activities that reduces the differences between people. It doesn’t matter what job you do, where you’re from or how much you earn; once you’re thrown together to grasp a new language, everyone’s in the same boat.

This occurred to me while reading one of a series of blog posts in The Guardian by writer Will Self. There’s something reassuring in reading about how a distinguished wordsmith experiences the same challenges in mastering another language (in his case, French) as everyone else.

I can definitely relate to this comment:

I’ve noticed how acutely geared to my general wellbeing my ability to speak French has become: on days when I’m rested and in good spirits, I feel like a saucy Maurice Chevalier in the making, but on down days I’m Antonin Artaud, brokenly raging in a straitjacket of received English locutions.

Some days, I feel as though I could talk forever and my Spanish friends seem to understand me. Other days, …

Read More

Learning languages online

As if I needed another distraction, this week I discovered Busuu.com. It calls itself a ‘language learning community’ and is basically another social network with a twist: you create a profile for yourself and add details of the languages you’re learning.

Busuu.com offers courses in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian at the moment. As well as providing units in vocabulary and grammar, it also prompts you to submit a short writing exercise that other members can then check and correct.

Improved site tools and features

This is a great little tool for language learners and much better than anything else I’ve found online so far. I’m not sure how old the website is, but I’m guessing it will of course be further developed.

A few things that I’d like to see are:

an improved search tool that lets users search using a keyword — I’d like to make ‘friends’ with people in my locality, not just my country downloads (PDFs and podcasts) with more detail and exercises than just those found in that unit — these …

Read More

Is bad English better than no English at all?

I’m really not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if the end result is the same: nobody finds your website.

I’m talking about the English content offered by many websites that have a different primary language. The internet’s great because it opens up your business to many more people, who speak many different languages. But it really doesn’t matter if all the other languages on your site are written beautifully if the one they’re reading is just not very, well, good.

Of course, this is great news for me because this is something I can help with – ironing out those grammatical lumps and bumps. But perhaps you need a bit of convincing as to why it’s so important, so here are three reasons (and for argument’s sake, I’m going to refer to English) for starters…

Help people to find you

If you want English speakers to find you, you need to provide words they’ll use in the search engines. It’s no good having an English version if everything’s spelt wrongly or grammatically incorrect. If you’re offering something that ‘is respectful …

Read More

Learn a language, help your writing, improve your prospects

The Guardian recently reported that “there is increasing demand around the world for [website] translations into English…particularly inside businesses”.

This is an interesting and exciting prospect for me, as a web copywriter living in Spain, learning Spanish and hoping to gain clients here.

Increase credibility and improve search results

As well as needing help translating content into English in the first place, many companies have websites with English (‘the language of business’) pages that, while understandable, could be better.

I already offer help in this area, and have rewritten the English pages for a local Spanish web agency. It recognised that to attract the substantial English businesses in our locality, well-written web pages provided credibility and would help it to appear in relevant search results.

Write appropriately for your readership

But learning a language doesn’t just mean adding another service to your offering; it can help to make you a better writer. John Clifford, Quality Manager at corporate web agency Investis, has a diploma in French translation from the …

Read More