Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Posts Tagged ‘language

Can Your Hands Speak 40 Languages?

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s Better at English? Swedes or 6-Year-Olds?

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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.

Written by Nathanael Green

April 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Is Your Speech Weak? Or Courteous?

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In a recent article I found on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, the author argues for women ridding their speech of “hedges.”

Hedges are those little apologetic words and phrases we insert into our speech. For example:

  • I’m sorry, but
  • Well, actually, I think …
  • In my humble opinion …

The idea is that these little apologies soften your speech and indicate a low level of confidence. And while the article specifically talks to women (it originally appeared in Redbook), this is something men should take note of, as well.

But my question is this: are hedge words actually bad?

Does hedging your speech actually give an appearance of weakness? Or instead, does it indicate a respect for the other speakers and offer some courtesy to help society run a little more smoothly?

  • This article (the one I referenced above) advocates giving the ax to hedge words and putting more strength into your speech.
  • This article from the Macmillan Dictionary Blog suggests that hedge words may be pretty vital to communication and us all getting along.

Personally, I think it’s a matter of degree. We all know some über-hedging folks who seem to apologize even as they order their lunch. But then there are others who wouldn’t notice a hedge word if it kicked them in the teeth because they’re stubbornly barreling through conversations heedless and disrespectful of anyone around them.

So I’d suggest moderating your hedges. You needn’t preface every idea you have with “This may sound dumb, but …” And at the same time, no one likes it when people bully their way over everyone else’s ideas like Genghis Khan.

Be firm, be confident, and be polite. And just as importantly – be aware of how you speak. Knowing to what degree you use hedge words will go a long way toward projecting the image you want through your speech.

What do you think? Keep the hedge words? Or ditch ’em for stronger language?

Written by Nathanael Green

July 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Using “Over” with Numbers is More Than Acceptable

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bridge in mexicoEarly in my copywriting career, I got into a heated debate with an editor about using the word over to mean more than.

I had drafted a headline on a flyer saying something along the lines of “over 5,000 whatsits” on a promotion for one of the magazines my company produced. The editor took issue with my copy, saying that it should be “more than 5,000.”

I thought that that was total crap.

Either is fine in most instances, and in the promotional piece I was working on — fewer words worked much better. But the editor was insistent on her point, trying to tell me that it’s not just a matter of style, but that using over is blatantly ungrammatical.

Why is using over before a number ungrammatical?

It’s not. But here’s why some people think it is: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Nathanael Green

May 21, 2009 at 6:02 pm

English As It Is, Or As It Should Be?

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Yesterday, I was enjoying my word-nerdery in the reference section at Barnes and Noble (a not uncommon occurrence) when my wife showed me a book100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces.

I smiled. Then I wondered.

If we all mispronounce the same words the same way, doesn’t that mean that language is evolving and our pronunciation is actually correct? English by popular vote?

Or is our language sacred and we should learn to speak it properly?

That got me thinking about how people look at the rules of English, from sentence structure to spelling to pronunciation. Do we get laws handed down to us, or do we just speak however we want?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Nathanael Green

January 26, 2009 at 9:03 pm