The Fine Art of Franglais

Every time I told people about my study abroad plans, they asked me incredulously, “Why Switzerland?” Most  people did not know how multilingual Switzerland is; some Swiss speak French, some a mangled form of German, or that some even speak a little bit of Italian in the south. Switzerland’s mélange of spoken languages seemed interesting, and Lausanne, the city I studied in, was situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, surrounded by the Swiss and French Alps. Who could say no this view?

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After five months in Lausanne, Switzerland, I can definitely say that my French has improved, though I still hesitate to say that I am fluent. The only language that I mastered la-bas was the fine art of Franglais, or the mixing together of French and English. After seven years of French classes, I felt reasonably confident going to a Francophone country, especially after going through the intensive language program of the Residential College (shoutout to my RC French professors Dominique, Mark, and Elissa). Though, when I arrived, I felt like I was in over my head. Somehow, I managed to find all of the holes in my vocabulary during that first week.

To add to the culture shock, my French brain is much slower than, say, my English brain, so it always took me an extra moment to understand what was being asked, and even longer to formulate a coherent response. In casual situations, I would easily start the sentence off properly in French, but then get lost in the middle and resort to saying a word in English, despite my attempts at circumlocution. For example, how does one explain how brownies are different from cake without the (dreaded) word for moist? I once described the brownies as mouillé, or wet, which was not quite the word I was going for. I found later that the word I was looking for was moelleux.

Outside of the classroom, my mélange of French and English worked fine, since most people my age, no matter where they came from, had incredibly fluent English, much better than my French. My professors were less impressed, and many of my papers came back with marks in red pen screaming anglicisme! (This had more to do with the syntax of my sentences, rather than words used.)

Though, frustratingly, as a determined French learner, English was the “cool” or “useful” language for students to know and  the French of the youths I encountered was rife with anglicismes, or words borrowed from the English language. No longer does one send un courriel, but un e-mail, and other newer technological terms, such as internet, iPhone, and blog, just gain a French accent, much to the vexation of my truly French teachers who push for their “proper” French names.

Along with anglicismes, there is a type French slang, most often used in French rap, known as verlan. This will often take a noun and pronounce backwards, such as une meuf rather than une femme (a woman) or une teuf rather than une fête (a party). The word verlan is itself an example of verlan, it plays on the word l’envers, meaning “the reverse.” After years of formal French practice in high school and university classrooms, it was difficult in the beginning to communicate casually with people my age. I never quite mastered verlan, but I gradually improved in fluidity and expanded my vocabulary.

Besides the constant pressure of doing really cool things during my time abroad, living somewhere that speaks a different language is really tiring. There is the constant translation voice going in your head and the perpetual sense of forgetting some exception to a rule. Far from home, I was thankful for my Anglophone friends: Canadians, Brits, fellow Americans. Together, we could forget the stressful (and somewhat illogical) rules of French grammar and syntax to revert back to our mother tongue. But even in the midst of our fluid English conversations, French words slip in, whether by accident or to make a joke: “I was reading an article sur ligne…” “I’m hungry, before we go, let’s mange.” Outside of earshot of Francophones, we allowed ourselves to completely butcher their language with our Franglais, pronouncing French words with completely Anglophone accents, or bastardizing the word with English conjugations.

This was our own type of verlan, our way of connecting over our frustrations with living in a partially Francophone country. Of course, we had all signed up for this program knowing it wouldn’t just be croissants and coffee, but after hours of drab grammar lectures in French, this was our way of taking a break and examining how language affects our lives. Our made-up pidgin kept us sane as we strived to master our nasals and remember the non-sensical genders of words in la langue de Molière. Being immersed in the French language was a priceless experience, one that I hope to have to opportunity to have again. Until then, I’ll be thinking of my time in Lausanne.

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Here’s a freebie pic of Lausanne.

— Emma B.

About the Language Bank!

Here’s a great new blog to follow: the Language Bank! Check them out!

LRC Language Bank

Hi Everyone!

We are the Language Bank and we’re excited to engage with you all over this year and the many to come. We are a resource within the Language Resource Center that has partnered up with local community organizations and nonprofits to assist in their translation needs and requests. These translation requests come from a range clients, from local nonprofits that provide services such as food pantries to families hoping to get documents translated for their adoptive children.

The basics are pretty straightforward. People submit their translation requests to us, specifying from which to which language they would like their translation. We at the Language Bank will run through our database for volunteers who match these criteria. We then connect volunteers to our clients so that they can communicate—easy!

We have requests coming for both interpreting and translating. When I first started working at the Language Bank, I didn’t…

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What Does It Mean That Russian Is An ‘Inflected Language’?

Anyone studying an inflected language?

Fluent Historian

Obligatory picture of Red Square. Obligatory picture of Red Square.

Before I started learning Russian, a lot of the sources I read said it was hard. Not only does it have a completely different alphabet, they warned, but it’s an inflected language. A quick search of this term—inflected language—revealed that Russian nouns change depending on where they are in a sentence. That is, nouns have different cases. Changing the case is called declining. The names of the cases used in Russian are nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, prepositional, and instrumental. This post will deal with nominative (used for the subject of a sentence), accusative (used for direct objects), and dative (used for indirect objects) in more detail.

To understand case in general, take these sentences in English: The cats eat and I love cats. In the first sentence, cats is the subject, while in the second, it is the direct object. It’s the same word…

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The Art of Being Bilingual

Bilingualism is the ability to understand and communicate in two languages. To me, it is how I catch the pieces of my grandmother.

I think language is a different experience for everyone. Some people are masters of the craft—they easily capture the “gist,” or what I think is the nuanced, near­-native understanding of a language; they quickly turn their words into another language. To others, it’s a grueling process, plunging deep into grammar rules and pronunciation. “Gist” comes later because the foundation is so hard to build.

For me, language is neither extreme; I’m neither a master nor a slave to the process. My parents immigrated to the States before I was born. I spoke exclusively Korean in the house. I got my English from school. There wasn’t really a tangible process of language learning to me. Even so, my environment surrounded me with English, which became my native language—the language I am most comfortable speaking. Korean became my second language and inevitably, I lost much of my proficiency in it.

My grandmother’s garden is located in the backyard of her home. It is rare to see in Seoul because many of the older generation have left the homes they had built to move into apartments that reach higher and higher every year. In the face of this dynamic landscape, my grandmother’s house remains untouched—an artifact of the sixties when the house was built from fresh concrete and filled with my grandmother’s hopes. My grandmother’s garden remains the one dynamic patch of life within her unchanging home. Often, our discussions pivot around this patch of land—what new flowers have blossomed today.

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The pieces of her flowers: Today.  Cactus.  Picture.  Fade.

Eloquence in translation, as I have read, comes with mastery of the target language—of the native tongue. I subscribe to this ideology because it makes sense. “Gist” is important here once again. Once you understand the intent of the first language, it becomes less complicated to string together the ideas into coherence. I find myself constantly piecing together a narrative with clues. I try to understand the intent of the original, and mirror the same eloquence. It is through this process that you realize that finding the translations to every word is not as important as carrying the same messages across in the most similar manner.

When pieced together, my grandmother’s message: This is a cactus flower. I took this picture before it withered. Cactus flowers wither quite quickly.

cactus1          cherries

There’s something very reassuring about knowing another language.

“Foreign” is not necessarily “unfamiliar.”

Korea stands 14 hours away on a direct flight from the Detroit Metro Airport to Seoul Incheon Airport, and does not share the same common language with the States. There are no two nations so different when it comes to customs, cultural standards, and landscape. But from learning—or perhaps speaking Korean, I feel that this disparity is lessened. I think that at the base of knowing another language is a basic understanding of the culture that surrounds that language.

From understanding we derive a relationship.

I think that’s irreplaceable and important, especially as the world becomes more and more interconnected.     I think that my elementary understanding of Korean, though highly lacking, ties me back to those who matter to me.

How we work with language and all the culture and nuances it carries—the weight of that language—that is what makes bilingualism worth it. That is the root of the familiar that connects us to each other.

My grandmother likes to send me pictures of her garden. Last week, she sent me a picture of cherries and cactus, accompanied by small words of wisdom. Unfortunately, idioms, when translated, tend to lose their meaning, however her words were wise because I understood beyond language.

— Stephanie Choi

Can I have the language of origin? Language Knowledge is Key to Spelling Bee Success

“Bouillabaisse”, “Scherenschnitte,” and “Rhodochrosite.”

All three of the words above can be found in nearly any English dictionary, but they probably don’t look familiar upon first glance. While words like these do not typically pop-up in normal conversations, they recently made an appearance on national television during finals of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Spelling Bees are well-known throughout the United States as a platform for students, usually aged 9 to 14, to test their vocabulary knowledge by spelling words onstage in front of a large audience. These young competitors could encounter any word from the English language, but the biggest challenge is the uncertainty of which word they will face when they step-up to the microphone: will it be a common word, or something a little more intimidating, such as “pyrrhuloxia”?

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Since there are over a million English words listed in the Merriam Webster Dictionary, it is very likely that students at an advanced spelling level are asked to spell words that they have never before seen or heard. If you’ve never seen the word before, how could you possibly know how to spell it?

Your first instinct might be to spell the word the same way that it sounds.This can be helpful at times, but there are many English words that are not spelled phonetically (take for example “gnome”, “tsunami”, or “psychology”).

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During a Spelling Bee, competitors are allowed to ask a few questions about their word, such as its definition or how it would be used in a sentence, but the most insightful question of them all is the language of origin. It is very common for languages to adopt specific vocabulary from other languages, and English is no exception. By knowing the language that an English word originated from, spellers have a better chance of identifying special patterns from that language, especially if they have dedicated time to learning bits and pieces of foreign languages.

Learning German, for example, could be immensely helpful when faced with a word like “Gummihandschuh.” This word means rubber glove, but a literal German-English translation of this word is “Rubber-hand-shoe.” The German language is notorious for mashing numerous root words together to create one massive, compound word. By knowing the definition and recognizing the root words that make-up a compound word like this, a speller has a much higher chance of spelling a German word correctly.

Another helpful tidbit of knowledge comes with knowing which letters of the alphabet are exceptionally common in each language. Latin and Greek are the two most common languages of origin referenced during the spelling bees, but a very interesting distinction can be made between these languages in regard to the letter “k.” In a Latin-derived word,  you would rarely ever find a word that contains the letter “k.” This is very useful with a word like “hippocrepiform’, since it is much more likely that the /k/ sound is represented by the letter “c.” On the other hand, Greek-derived words are significantly more likely to utilize the letter“k,” which could make all the difference between spelling a word correctly or incorrectly.

Every word that composes the English language has a history behind it, and its spelling often reflects the characteristics of its original language. Whether you are a champion speller or just beginning to learn a new language, you may find your English spelling skills improving when you learn a new language.

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–Emily D.

Hebrew learning app reviews

Anyone learning Hebrew out there?

Mr Multilingual

I’ve been trying to refresh my Hebrew. I’m ashamed to say I’ve forgotten quite a bit.

So, I thought why not try some apps? They’re free/cheap enough, most of the time. So, I searched and found two that I like. Here’s a quick review of each.


Hebrew Letters Numbers Free

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No matter what language, numbers are always my weak point; so, I needed something to help me revise the Hebrew numbers. This app, made specifically for children, helps with learning and practising numbers 1 – 10. It also has a section each for the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) and for colours.

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The user hears the letter/number/colour pronounced and tries to click the right one.

Because it was made for (apparently young) children, though, there the corresponding written word for the vocabulary is left out. That would benefit me. But, at the same time, the encouraging exclamations of כל הכבוד…

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How to Stay Motivated When Learning A Language

Great advice to keep going on your language learning! Don’t give up!

shukuzen (粛然)

Hi guys!

I’m sure there are approximately 40982505830495832 trillion articles like this one out here, but I figured it’d be a good idea to throw my change into the metaphorical “two cents” jar.

So here are my top five ways for staying motivated enough to self-study every single day!!!!1!

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