Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Language’ Category
There’s a distinct difference between writing headlines for advertising or marketing copy and writing titles for fiction. Here is that difference:
Writing headlines is an interesting, challenging process where I get to try different techniques
to craft an engaging line to elicit a specific response.
Writing titles sucks.
Oh, I know they’re both in my job description. As a freelance copywriter, I often write multiple headlines in a day. (Here’s an old post on what it is a copywriter really does, just in case you’ve forgotten.) And as a fiction writer, every piece I write needs a title.
So why the big difference? Read the rest of this entry »
I’m always reading and doing research for any number of projects, and occasionally something sticks with me that just continues to be fascinating.
This post is about one of those fascinating things … but prepare yourself.
The more you think about this one, the more interesting it gets.
Ever go to plan a vacation (somewhere … anywhere but here!) and wonder where your English will be of the most use?
Of course, I’d advocate learning at least some, if not a significant amount, of any local tongue. But let’s face it: learning all of the world’s estimated 6,500 languages is hard. Like, really hard.
So what countries speak English the best?
This blog post from The Economist highlights a new study that examines the fluency of foreign English speakers.
According to the post:
EF Education First, an English-teaching company, compiled the biggest ever internationally comparable sample of English learners: some 2m people took identical tests online in 44 countries. The top five performers were Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The bottom five were Panama, Colombia, Thailand, Turkey and Kazakhstan. Among regions, Latin America fared worst. (No African country had enough takers to make the lists’s threshold for the minimum number of participants.)
The post, which is fairly short and contains lots of other intriguing tidbits about the whys and hows of foreign fluency.
But one thing in particular caught my eye:
Starting young, while it seems a good idea, may not pay off: children between eight and 12 learn foreign languages faster than younger ones, so each class hour on English is better spent on a 10-year-old than on a six-year-old.
All right. I guess I can buy that, especially from a financial standpoint, but I would like to point something out.
Even though children may be able to learn more quickly at a later age, it still may be a good idea to start a second language younger so that by age 10, they’re already working with a good foundation and can grow from there.
An often-cited study by K.A. Ericsson and A.C. Lehmann shows that expertise in almost any field requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
If older children really soak up languages better than their younger brothers and sisters, think how much more and how quickly a ten-year-old would learn if he’d already had four years of instruction.
So, I like soccer. When I lived in Germany, I lived near Cologne, and naturally my Bundesliga team was the local 1. FC Köln. Even now, I’m still a fan of die Geißböcke, though games are hard to catch on TV.
(Left is Hennes, their mascot. As if you needed another reason to love Cologne.)
Here in the States, though, soccer is much less prominent, but despite that, I recently got a local team of my own to cheer for. And that, dear friends is Philadelphia Union.
If you’ve ever taken college English, you know something about styles of writing. And you know there are different ones with different rules.
MLA, Chicago, AP … and those are just a few established style guides in the US. Then you’ve got spelling differences between American English and British English (color and colour).
But what if there were a central agency to regulate English spelling, usage and grammar? Other languages have them.
In a previous post about language disorders, I mentioned Foreign Accent Syndrome. That’s where a person who’s suffered a brain injury suddenly sounds as if they have a foreign accent, usually due to a specific speech impediment.
Something seemingly similar, but actually quite different, happened recently in Croatia. This article talks about a recent instance when a girl awoke from a coma unable to speak her native Croatian. Instead, she was fluent in German.
Of course, being in a coma didn’t impart any miraculous lessons ala Phenomenon; she had been studying German already.
Still, it’s interesting to think about how the brain handles language if her first language (Croatian) is suddenly inaccessible and her facility with a second language she’d been studying is enhanced.
I don’t know how much follow-up there will be in this case, though I’d be very interested to learn if her Croatian returns, and if so, will she still retain a high-level of German proficiency?