Language Matters: Learn to Talk Like a Scalawag

Arr matey, you best be swabbin’ the poop deck before I make ye walk the plank!

The Greenwood Public Library in Indiana is making the world a more swashbuckling place with its new free online language courses, including a five-lesson class on pirate-speak.

Get ready for next year's Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Of course, for those looking to learn a more traditionally useful language, the library is also offering classes in languages like Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, German, Italian, and English as a second language.

Online language courses are a departure from the traditional ways of learning languages in classrooms with lots of face-to-face interaction and practice.  But with the ability to access the language classes on smartphones and other mobile devices, these courses offer something traditional classes don’t: convenience and portability, which is important when undertaking something as time-consuming as learning a new language.

Greenwood Public Library’s classes are only available to those holding a Greenwood library card, but many other public libraries around the country offer similar language courses.  If you’re in the U.S., look up your local public library to see what they have!

Would you take an online language course?  What about an online pirate language course?  Shiver me timbers!

Vocablet of the Day: Selfie

It’s Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013, and if you have a smartphone or a computer with a webcam, it’s probably something you’re familiar with.

Study ‘selfie‘ NOW in VocabNetwork’s Self Absorbed studylist.

Sometimes you need a picture of yourself — for a social media profile, to document a new hairstyle, or just because you want one — and the easiest way to make that happen is with a photograph that one has taken of oneself, usually with a smartphone or webcam.

Selfies are all the rage these days, with everyone from celebrities to politicians snapping quick pics of themselves and posting them online.  Some say that selfies are further evidence of the increasing narcissism of society brought on by social media websites like Facebook and Instagram, while others argue that people have created self-portraits for centuries, and the selfie is just a new version of that.

Do you take selfies and post them online?  What do you think of the whole selfie phenomenon?

Study ‘selfie‘!
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Language Matters: Christmas Carols in Native Languages

In the United States, the holiday season is in full swing, which means Christmas carols playing on the speakers in many stores and restaurants around the country.  Always in English.

How about something a little different?

Indian Country Today Media Network has on its website five Christmas songs sung in indigenous languages from North America — Woodland Cree, Ojibwe, Navajo, Cherokee, and Arapaho.  The songs are as beautiful as ever, and some of the videos include lyrics so you can sing along.

Here’s my favorite:

Vocablet of the Day: Deferential

To show respect toward a man, you can call him “sir.”  But to show the same respect to a woman, which word should you use?

Study ‘deferential‘ NOW in VocabNetwork’s Show Some Respect studylist.

Sometimes it can be tricky to be respectful, especially when cultural norms cause mixed messages.

In the southern United States, calling a woman of any age “ma’am” is considered the polite thing to do.  In other parts of the country, however, “ma’am” is reserved for older women, and “miss” is used to be deferential towards younger women.  So when you’re trying to be polite to a woman of indeterminate age (outside of the American South), it’s probably a good idea to stick to “miss.”

What words do you use to be deferential to women where you live?

Study ‘deferential‘!
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Language Matters: The Universal Word

You probably say it every day without even thinking about it.  Someone says something you don’t understand or you didn’t quite hear them correctly, and you utter the common response:


In a new study, researchers argue that “huh” is, in fact, a true word and that it is the only universal word across all languages.

It’s a true word because it isn’t innate — it’s a part of language that must be learned — and it follows the rules of language — you’d have to learn how to say “huh” correctly when you’re learning a new language.

“Huh” also has a true meaning — it’s not just a noise of surprise or confusion.  When you say “huh?” in conversation, you’re expressing a few things at once: you don’t understand something due to lack of knowledge and you’re asking for a response to clarify what you didn’t understand.  All in one tiny syllable.

While the researchers couldn’t study the use of “huh” in every existing language, they did look at 31 dialects from five different continents to gather their data, providing ample evidence of the ubiquity of the word.

What do you think?  Is “huh” really a word?

Vocablet of the Day: Inevitable

How far would you go to face your fears?  Would you climb into a coffin?

Study ‘inevitable‘ NOW in VocabNetwork’s Control Your Destiny studylist.

Even though death is incapable of being avoided or prevented, most of us would prefer not to think about it.  Some, however, take the opposite approach.

In psychological terms, it’s called immersion therapy: throw yourself into whatever scares you.  If you’re afraid of spiders, let three of them crawl over your hands.  If you’re afraid of flying, book a ticket across the Atlantic.  And if you fear the inevitable approach of death, climb into a coffin.

Does the idea of getting into a coffin freak you out?  Or do you think it might make you feel more comfortable with the fact that your own death is inevitable?

Study ‘inevitable‘!
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Language Matters: Slang — Not Too Cool For School

It’s the part of learning another language that can be the most difficult to pick up — slang.

If something is hip, then it’s cool… or is it hot?  Somehow, being “down to” do something is the same as being “up for” doing something.  And what the heck is “twerking?”

Many English language learners move to the United States to perfect their language and learn American slang.  While they can speak English fluently, they know that their speech is more formal and proper than that of their American peers, and they want to change that.

Stephen Mayeux, teacher of English as a Second Language at UC Davis, has written lessons based around 90′s hip-hop to teach students American ways of speaking.  ”Straight Outta Compton” is a perfect example to teach language learners about variations on pronunciation, substituting the sound “outta” for the words “out of.”

Other language teachers are doing similar things, incorporating slang into their lessons to give students a more complete picture of the language and allowing them to fit in more easily with their native-speaking friends.

How much English slang do you know?  Would you want to take a whole class on slang?

Vocablet of the Day: Shed Light On

What makes someone intelligent?  The way scientists are trying to find out might surprise you.

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Researchers who want to know more about the nature of genius are looking to make clear or supply additional information on the subject by going to the source — the brain of one of the world’s most brilliant minds.

When Einstein died in 1955, scientists knew his brain was special, so it was dissected and preserved.  Modern-day scientists are using new knowledge and techniques to analyze the brain in their attempts to shed light on the nature of genius.

Do you think that the physical brain has an effect on intelligence?  How else could scientists shed light on this complicated subject?

Study ‘shed light on‘!
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Language Matters: Speaking Without Numbers

Can you imagine a language without numbers?

The Piraha, an indigenous people of Brazil, speak a language that uses only eight consonants and three vowels, depending instead on tones, stresses, and syllable lengths to express meaning.  The simplicity of their language means they can hum or whistle whole conversations!

They also have no words, or concepts, for numbers.

The modern world would be bewildering without numbers, but the Piraha don't see any use for them.

There is a word that means a “small size or amount,” a word for a “somewhat larger size or amount,” and a word for “a bunch,” but no words for individual numbers.

Why no words for numbers?  The most likely reason is that the Piraha have never needed them.  Nothing in their way of life requires counting or differentiating between specific numbers of items, so their language never developed those words.

The Piraha also seem to have no interest in learning about numbers or arithmetic, again because their culture does not require the knowledge.  Why study something of no practical value to your life?

There is a word in the Piraha language for all other languages that translates as “crooked head.”  They see all other languages as “laughably inferior” and show no interest in learning them.

It’s hard for us to imagine an existence without numbers.  Even the way we measure time requires numerical words and representation.  How do you think life would be different without the concept of numbers?

Vocablet of the Day: Fleeting

When you see a tree in bloom, what do you think about?  Springtime?  Warm weather?  Or the brief and ephemeral nature of life?

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Youth, beauty, springtime, even life itself — all of them lasting for a very short time in the grand scheme of the world.

Cherry blossoms are celebrated around the world for their incredible beauty during the brief period in spring when they bloom into gorgeous pink flowers.  In Japan, the fact that the blossoms appear for such a fleeting amount of time adds to their beauty and meaning, reminding us that nothing in life is permanent.

Have you ever seen a group of cherry trees in bloom?  What does the fleeting nature of beauty mean to you?

Study ‘fleeting‘!
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