Category Archives: Language

Learning to Read

My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in kindergarten, and she’s learning to read. A few months ago, she couldn’t read at all. But now, she knows the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, as well as all hiragana. What’s that? It’s the main writing script for Japanese.

You see, my daughter also goes to a Japanese school, though not for much longer. She’s able to read both English and Japanese. Actually, she can read Japanese faster. It’s easier to learn to read Japanese than English. You might not think so, since English has 26 letters, while Japanese has 46 hiragana, 46 katakana, and thousands of kanji. It’s hiragana that she knows, and this is what’s needed to be able to read basic Japanese.

But why is it easier for her to read Japanese? Hiragana is phonetic. With a couple exceptions, everything sounds exactly as it’s written. English is a mess. There’s a meme going around:

If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau

Then the right way to spell POTATO should be: GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU

I have no idea what the original source is, but this is everywhere. But you get the point, right? English spelling is stupid. I taught English for 11 years, but I managed to get children, including a 5 year old, to be able to read English reasonably well.

My point here is that if you can read English with no trouble at all, you’re doing pretty good. It must have one of the least strict rules for spelling.

I’m pretty good at spelling. When I was in grade 7, I tested at a university level for spelling. But there was one word that I had no idea how to read: paradigm. When I saw it, I thought, “paradiggum?” I knew the actual pronunciation. I’d heard the word before, but I’d never seen it spelled out. And then there’s “embarrassed.” How many r’s is it? Well, it’s two.  Don’t forget that!

What are some words you had trouble spelling or were pronouncing completely wrong?

Greek on Duolingo!

Finally! This is one of the languages I’ve been eager to learn. I’ve been waiting for Greek to be released in Beta on Duolingo, and now it has been.

This is going to be a very interesting language to learn. I’ve learned the alphabet, and had to know it in university, but that’s only because astronomers name stars with the Greek alphabet. But it’s also used in equations in math and physics. Even though I know the alphabet, I don’t know how to pronounce much of it. I’ll have to learn that.

Another language coming soon is Romanian. It’s a Romance language, so I expect it to be an easier language for me to learn. And for those who know Spanish, Guarani has also come out.

But I’m anticipating a few other languages that are in development, especially Indonesian, Hindi, Korean, Swahili, and Klingon. That’s right, Klingon. But I’m really hoping to see languages like Tagalog, Arabic, Finnish, and of course, Japanese. And Latin, too.

Anything you’re interested in learning? Let me know in the comments below.

Language Test Drives

Several months ago, I did a few language test drives for languages that are available on Duolingo. Since then, there have been several new languages, though three of them use different alphabets. I’m thinking about doing some more language test drives, but I want your opinion.

It’s not easy to choose a language, especially when they’re significantly different than English. So, please vote for which language you’d like to see me attempt first.

Ukrainian and Russian use the Cyrillic alphabet, while Hebrew uses the Hebrew alphabet. Surprisingly Vietnamese uses the Roman alphabet, as does Hungarian.

Let me know which one you voted for a why in the comments below. Thanks!

How Do You Pronounce That?

Have you ever read a book, encountered a word you’ve seen many times and know the definition of, yet you’ve never heard it spoken aloud? This was asked at the Grammarly website here.

Has this ever happened to you? I have a good example of this.

I’d read the word paradigm many times. Basically, it means a model or a pattern. You can read the definition here. But I’d never heard someone read this word out. I’d heard the word spoken before, but I never connected the two. When I saw the word, I always thought, “That’s such a stupid sounding word… para-diggum.”

There are plenty of other words. Hyperbole? Is that a football game? The Hyper Bowl? Or the character Hermione from Harry Potter. Hermy-own? I know how these are actually pronounced, so no problem with those for me. But there are many who don’t know how to say them.

What are some words you knew in printed form, but had/have no idea how to pronounce? Share them in the comments below.

The Teaching Urge – English Lesson Videos

As you probably know, I taught English for eleven years in Japan. It still feels strange that I’m not doing it anymore. I spent more than a quarter of my life doing it. But I have that urge to do something, and I want to make sure I don’t forget grammar rules. I’ve been thinking about what to do, and then it came to me a couple weeks ago: easy one-point lesson videos!

There are English lesson videos on YouTube, of course. But I’m planning on doing something that I haven’t seen (although may exist). I’m going to be doing simple lessons that tackle common problems that people have with English. But the thing is, this won’t only be for English learners, it’ll also be for those who are fluent in English. You see, this is where the writing and editing part comes in. There are many problems that English speakers have with their own language, especially in writing.

This is where you come in. A lot of you are readers and writers. What are some English grammar problems you have? Let me know in the comments below. Your idea will likely become a lesson video!

Is there a Useless Language?

Recently, Jeremy Paxman, said something controversial. He said that French is a useless language. He went on to say that English is the only language we need.

How arrogant. There are about eighty million native speakers of French, and it’s an official language of twenty-nine countries. Certainly not useless to those people. And if you travel to those countries, French is incredibly useful. It’s useful as a second language, as well.

I enjoy studying languages. French is my main target language, other than Japanese. I live in Canada now, and French is useful if you want to have a job with the government or tourism. And if you want to visit Quebec, it’s extremely useful.

Without French, English wouldn’t be the way it is today. There are a lot of words of French origin in the English language. And to be honest, English is one of the most ridiculously illogical languages in the world. It’s the Frankenstein’s monster of languages. It’s adopted words from so many languages that the spelling and pronunciation rules often don’t even apply. That’s one of the things that makes it more difficult to learn than many other languages. At least French has rules that are followed.

But it brings me to this question: Is there a useless language? I don’t think there is a useless language. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Excited for Upcoming Duolingo Languages

I’ve been getting back into studying at Duolingo again, and there are some languages that are coming soon.

First up is Vietnamese. It’s coming tomorrow! I’m really interested in seeing what that’s like. It’s the first southeast Asian language that’ll be available.

Next is one I’m quite interested in, and that’s Greek. It’ll be available in Beta next month! I want to learn that language.

Also coming soon is Hungarian, and soon after that should be Hebrew and Swahili in summer. Hindi will be coming, as well. But then there’s Klingon. It’s been very quiet for a while, but recently started back up again, and they think it’ll be ready this summer.

Korean was added to the incubator, which means it’s in development. But upcoming are some south Asian languages, like Bengali and Tamil. Those will be interesting. However, many people want Finnish, Japanese, Latin, and Arabic. And there’s news that some native American languages will start this year. I wonder what they’ll be.

What are you looking forward to?