Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Monthly Archives: September 2014

European Language Day Celebrated in Iceland

“Auður Hauksdóttir, lecturer in the Danish language, stated that Icelandic students don’t learn enough languages. English is important but not sufficient.

According to figures from Eurostat, the teaching of German and French as a third language in primary schools decreased from 2006 to 2012, whereas a much higher percentage of students in the other Nordic countries start learning these languages at a primary school level.

Auður thinks it’s very important that Icelandic children and teenagers learn about other cultures by studying their languages.”

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Languages do matter!

Germany To Consider Ban On Late-Night Work Emails

“If passed, such a law could serve as a model for preserving workers’ privacy and curbing the culture of being constantly on-call for work. Though some workers in France earlier this year adopted a so-called ban on emails after 6 p.m., the labor agreement was not cemented into law.

Some large companies, such as Daimler and Volkswagen, have already adopted rules to limit work-related stress. Last month, Daimler allowed about 100,000 workers to delete emails they received while on vacation. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop its BlackBerry servers from sending emails after working hours.

But for many, work still seeps into the home life. Germany is often lampooned as the punctual, industrious workhorse of Europe. But when the country ratified its constitution in 1990, it preserved for its citizens the right to develop one’s personality. And it’s difficult to work on your character and hobbies when your professional life looms constantly in the background.”

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Languages do matter!

Avec Erasmus+, le message est clair: l’Europe investit dans ses jeunes (Erasmus+ launch)

“Aujourd’hui, Erasmus+, dispose d’un budget de près de 15 milliards d’euros – auxquels il faut ajouter 1.7 Mds € pour sa dimension internationale – soit 40 % en plus que les programmes précédents. Il étendra ainsi ces possibilités à plus de quatre millions de personnes, leur donnant la chance d’étudier, de se former, d’acquérir une expérience professionnelle ou de travailler en tant que bénévoles à l’étranger, tout en découvrant des cultures, des langues et des personnes différentes. En France, ce sont ainsi plus de 500 000 étudiants ou autres qui participeront à une mobilité Erasmus.

Avec Erasmus+, le message est clair: l’Europe investit dans ses jeunes.

We know that our foreign language skills are falling behind; Erasmus+ will support initiatives to boost them.”

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Languages do matter!

Polyglots and insults: how our European leaders use language

To mark the European Day of Languages we examine how political leaders speak – both at home and abroad

Putin, a former KGB agent who spent five years in Dresden, is proud of his fluent German. Putin has also been studying English while president, but he rarely speaks English in public, and never in a diplomatic setting. He did, however, woo the International Olympic Committee in heavily accented but convincing English when bidding for the winter Olympics in Sochi.

As a native of the old DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), Merkel studied Russian rather than English at school. She’s still functionally fluent, and is happy to chat to fellow leader Vladimir Putin socially in Russian, though the pair use an interpreter once they move to formal diplomatic conversations.

Hollande speaks working English but with a pronounced accent: as he admits himself, ‘I speak English like a Frenchman.’

The prime minister (Cameron), in contrast, boasts O-level French, but gives no indications of ever using it (unlike Blair, who, having worked in a French bar as a student, was reasonably fluent).”

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Languages do matter!

Mandarin Overtakes English as Hong Kong’s Second Language

“Move over, English. In Hong Kong, Mandarin is fast emerging as a new lingua franca.

Fresh on the heels of a fracas between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese ignited in part by controversies over language, Hong Kong’s latest official census report reveals Mandarin has eclipsed English as the language second most commonly spoken by residents of the special administrative region.

The proportion of Hong Kong residents who report they can speak Mandarin – referred to in mainland China as Putonghua, or “the common language” — clocks in at 48%, according to census figures released this week (pdf), narrowly surpassing the 46% of Hong Kongers who can speak English. In 2001, the last time Hong Kong conducted a census, only a third of Hong Kong residents reported being able to speak Mandarin.

China has worked to promote Mandarin in Hong Kong, particularly in schools, since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

Frustration over Beijing’s attempts to spread Mandarin have long complicated China’s already messy web of politics and identity.

In 2010, more than 1,000 people rallied in southern China to protest what they said was a government effort to gradually eliminate Cantonese, also the dominant dialect in Hong Kong.

Language has played a role in a recent ramping up of mainland-Hong Kong tensions.

Hong Kong residents — 96% of whom speak Cantonese, according to the census — may be speaking more Mandarin, but many appear to have conflicted emotions about it. A survey conducted by Hong Kong’s Center for Communication Research found that the number of Hong Kongers who describe themselves as feeling “proud” of Mandarin dropped to 29% in 2010, down from a high of 34% in 2006.”

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Languages do matter!

Listen To This Teenage ‘Hyperpolyglot’ Speak 20 Different Languages

“Timothy Doner began studying foreign languages intensely at the age of thirteen. Today, Doner, still a teenager, can speak more than twenty languages, making him one of the world’s most famous polyglots – but equally impressive is his mature perspective on the subject of his linguistic fame.”

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Languages do matter!

At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covert (but the customers speak foreign languages! :))

“This purveyor of skinny lattes and double cappuccinos is deep inside the agency’s forested Langley, Va., compound.

Welcome to the “Stealthy Starbucks,” as a few officers affectionately call it.

Or “Store Number 1,” as the receipts cryptically say.

It is one of the busiest Starbucks in the country, with a captive caffeine-craving audience of thousands of analysts and agents.

Amid pretty posters for Kenyan beans and pumpkin spice latte, nestled in the corner where leather armchairs form a cozy nook, the supervisor said he often hears customers practicing foreign languages, such as German or Arabic.”

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languages do matter!

English, French, German remain most common foreign languages in EU28

In the EU, which has 24 official languages, three remain far ahead of the rest when it comes to secondary school learning

In the EU28 in 2012, English was still the most commonly studied foreign language at lower secondary level, with 97.1 percent of pupils learning it, far ahead of French (34.1 percent), German (22.1 percent) and Spanish (12.2 percent). The importance of English as a foreign language in the European Union is also confirmed by its No. 1 position in nearly all member states.

On the occasion of the European Day of Languages, celebrated each year Sept. 26, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, publishes data on language learning at school. The general objectives of this event are to alert the public to the importance of language learning, to promote the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe and to encourage lifelong language learning in and out of school.”

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Languages do matter!

Presidential Candidate in Navajo Nation Protests a Language Requirement

“In his run for president of the Navajo Nation, Chris Deschene has presented voters with impressive credentials: A veteran of the Marine Corps, he is a lawyer, a trained engineer and a former member of the Arizona House of Representatives, where he represented part of the tribe’s reservation.

But there is a problem that may disqualify him as a candidate: His command of the Navajo language is far from perfect, as he himself admits. And Navajo law requires the tribe’s president to speak the language fluently.

Thus Mr. Deschene’s candidacy has exposed a deep divide within the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Indian tribe, about the role that language should play in modern Navajo society, the tribe’s direction in the new millennium and how traditionally Navajo the tribe’s leader needs to be.”

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Languages do matter!

Catalonia president signs independence referendum decree (Catalan)

“Catalonia, which includes Barcelona, is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialised regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.

The question now will be on how far the Spanish government is prepared to go in order to stop a referendum, our correspondent adds.”

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Languages do matter!