Monthly Archives: June 2012

How Not to Embarrass Yourself in A Foreign Language

This is a great piece! Very funny but true. At least it’s not more depressing news about foreign language budget cuts.

From, June 28, 2012:

If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you’ve done it. The improvised sign language and Hokey Pokey-esque gyrations in an attempt to buy a souvenir at a market or find a bathroom. Becoming fluent in a foreign language isn’t really feasible for a one-week vacation, but what can you do to avoid embarrassing yourself?

We spoke to language expert Benny Lewis, who runs the website, and asked him for his top advice for navigating a foreign language.

Making mistakes is inevitable, but it’s easier than you think to navigate a vacation without getting lost in translation. Even Lewis (who, by the way, is fluent in eight languages, including Portuguese, French, German, and Italian) has had some doozies, including accidentally announcing to a German friend that he was horny and telling a Mexican that he liked to shag the bus every day. (On that note, did you know that embarazada means “pregnant,” not “embarrassed” en español?) Do something similar and you’ll want to zip yourself into your own suitcase and never come out.

Follow his easy tips and you’ll never be embarrassed again.

Etiquette Goes a Long Way
Good manners are universal. If you’re quick with basics like “hello,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome,” people tend to be more gracious as you flub the rest of their native tongue. One of the best things you can do is to research etiquette expectations before you travel. In Paris, for example, call out “bonjour!” when you enter a shop; in the Middle East, don’t admire an object in Arabic unless you want its owner to feel obligated to give it to you. For a primer on local politesse, look up the BBC’s fabulous language-learning website with its quick guides to 40 different languages, including lists and audio clips of what not to say in French, Spanish, and Italian.

Learn These Five Phrases
The first thing Lewis does when he hits a foreign country is to learn these key phrases: “Where’s the bathroom?”; “How much does that cost?”; “Excuse me”; “The food is delicious!”; and “Do you speak English?” “When you’re starting off, grammar is not going to help you,” Lewis says. “You need to set phrases so you can communicate the basics to people.” Tuck a phrasebook into your bag so you can whip it out on the fly, or download a digital version with audio that tells you just how to pronounce “Where’s the bullfight?”

Listen to Pronunciation Before You Go
Nothing gets you the “huh?” expression faster than mispronouncing a foreign word. To get a better sense of how things should sound, check in at, an online dictionary with audio pronunciation. Lewis also likes, where you can upload text and a native speaker will read it out loud and submit a recording for you. How long it takes to get a response depends on how many requests there are for the language you are trying to hear (you can move your request up the queue by recording text for other users).

Two Proven Tricks for Remembering Words
Visualize words. “I’m a very forgetful person,” Lewis confesses, so he relies on old-school memory tricks like creating mental images to match words he’s learning. For instance, the word playa, Spanish for “beach,” reminded him of “player,” so he envisioned a guy using cheesy pick-up lines on the beach. To remember prvni, the Czech word for “first,” he broke it down into the sounds “pro van,” then visualized winning first place at the Van Olympics. The mental images are bizarre, but you will never forget them! You can also try setting phrases to music. You know how you can still sing all the words to that Depeche Mode song from sixth grade? Music is a world-class memory aid, so put it to use while you nail a few foreign language phrases. To cram “Where is the bathroom?” in Italian, Lewis sang “Dov’è il bagno?” to the ding-dong ditty of the Big Ben chimes. “After a couple times it stuck,” he says.

How Technology Can Help
Technology is a godsend for those trying to get by in a new language. Word Lens allows you to hover your phone over text to get an instant translation, even when it’s offline. Google Goggles allow for point-and-shoot translation with your camera phone: Just snap a photo from a baffling menu and the app provides on-the-spot translation. Use the Jibbigo app to get a rough voice translation for whatever phrase a waiter or a shop owner says into your phone. The concept of old-school flashcards has also gone digital. “I’m a very big fan of Anki, a spaced-repetition flashcard system you can download onto your smartphone,” says Lewis. Anki’s algorithm figures out which words are hardest for you-and shows you those more often. You can download premade flashcards decks with the most common words in a language, or make your own with words you see around town. (No worries if you’re a tech-phobe: paper index cards do the trick, too.)

The One Expert You Can Always Rely On
When the DIY approach to getting by in a foreign language fails, consult the concierge or desk clerk at your hotel for translations and phonetic pronunciations of stuff you’ll need to say that day, such as, “Can I get a ticket to the 7 o’clock performance?” The staff at hotels usually speak multiple languages—and are happy to help.

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Google to Help Save the World’s Lost Languages

In an effort to help preserve some of the world’s rarest languages, Google has teamed up with various universities and cultural diversity organizations to form the Endangered Languages Project. The company is providing assistance to these groups to build a vast database of information on thousands of languages that are at risk of being completely forgotten.

According to the Endangered Languages Project, roughly 3,500 unique languages are at risk of being wiped out within the next century. As each language disappears, so does a piece of each culture’s identity, and the spoken history of each group is threatened. You can explore the location of each threatened language using the built-in interactive map on the project’s website, and even add your own input if you have special knowledge of a language on the site.

Some of the cultural preservation advocates on board the project include the Alaska Native Language Archive, the Indigenous Language Institute, and various schools such as UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania. With so many people working to preserve these rare dialects, there is undoubtedly a greater chance to save them than ever before.

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Ghana Seeks to Make Foreign Languages a Priority


From, June 26, 2012:

A three-day workshop on foreign language policy, organized by the Ministry of Education has ended in Koforidua.

The programme, which was sponsored by the French Embassy in Ghana, was on the theme: “The importance of making foreign language a priority in the development of an emerging country”.

Mr. Lee Ocran, Minister of Education in a speech read on his behalf, said Ghanaians have since independence expressed keen interest in learning French as second foreign language.

“That is not to say that the other foreign languages like Arabic, Spanish or Madarin, widely spoken all over the world are less important,” he said.

Mr. Ocran said the government was placing emphasis on the learning of a second foreign language to promote technology, science, culture and a technical know-how, adding “these are tools of development”.

“This is the real reason why the Ministry of Education attaches so much importance to teaching and learning of foreign languages and therefore wants a second look at the policy”.

Ms Benedicta Naana Biney, Director General of the Ghana Education Service GES), has called for a review of educational policies to enhance teaching and learning in schools.

She said the GES was appreciative of the French government’s incessant financial, logistical and technical support towards the promotion of teaching and learning of French language in Junior and Senior High Schools since its introduction into the school system.

Mr. Frederic Clavier, French Ambassador, in a statement read on his behalf, said the French Embassy would continue to support the teaching and learning of French in Ghana.**


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Foreign Languages and U.S. Economic Competitiveness

I’m glad that the CFR has joined those like myself and others who support the need for increased foreign language study in the U.S.!

Article by Edward Alden for Center on Foreign Relations, June 26, 2012:

Americans are lousy at learning foreign languages. We all know the historical reasons – the United States was long a big, largely monolingual country with a fairly self-sufficient economy. U.S. economic and military might (and that of the British Empire before) spread the English language across the world, so that English became the global second language and the de facto language of international business.

But in the latest Renewing America Policy Innovation Memorandum, A Languages For Jobs Initiative, scholars from the Center for Applied Linguistics argue that Americans in the future are unlikely to get by so well on English alone. Nearly 30 percent of the U.S. economy is now wrapped up in international trade, and half of U.S. growth since the official end of the recession in 2009 has come from exports. The fastest-growing economies in the world are not English speaking. And as Brad Jensen of Georgetown University has shown,the most promising export sector for the United States is business services, which often requires face-to-face interactions with foreign customers. As the authors write: “[F]uture U.S. growth will increasingly depend on selling U.S. goods and services to foreign consumers who do not necessarily speak English.”

Yet American students are woefully unprepared to do that. Foreign language education is actually on the decline in the United States. Only 15 percent of primary schools teach foreign languages, even though it is much easier to learn one by starting very young. Even in middle and high schools, foreign languages are generally optional and not required for graduation. Not surprisingly, just one in five public school students currently studies a foreign language.

The authors argue that the priority of foreign language instruction in education must be increased. This includes proper assessment and accountability, and the development of more immersion programs, which have been shown to be the most effective form of language instruction. The United States should take advantage of its large immigrant population of foreign language speakers to expand and strengthen immersion programs.

Some states are catching on, following Utah which has long been a leader in immersion education. Last year, Delaware Governor Jack Markell launched the Governor’s World Language Expansion Initiative, which will create new immersion education opportunities. Governor Markell argues that multinational companies in his state – of which there are many thanks to business-friendly laws and regulations –can’t find the foreign language speakers they need. Three Delaware school districts will launch Chinese and Spanish programs next year, and state has set a goal of 20 immersion programs with over 2,500 students by 2015 and over 6,000 students by 2020.

Increasing overseas tourism to the United States – which has been an Obama administration priority – has also underscored the importance of language skills. With many more Chinese and Brazilian tourists, for instance, hotels and retailers will pay a premium for staff with the language skills to communicate with those visitors.

While much of the competitiveness discussion concerns the performance of the U.S. economy, the real issue at stake is the competitiveness of future generations of Americans. U.S. companies will find the personnel they need to compete in export markets, and are perfectly happy to hire English-speaking foreigners rather than foreign language-speaking Americans. Americans who speak English alone will increasingly face a disadvantage in competing for some of the best jobs in business.

Certainly language is only one part of the set of skills that U.S. students will need to thrive in an increasingly global economy. Study abroad, foreign travel where possible and familiarity with other cultures are all important parts of the mix. But the ability to communicate in one or more foreign languages is clearly key.

Foreign language instruction needs to stop being an afterthought in the K-12 curriculum and instead become a top priority alongside math, science and the humanities.

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Rhode Island Foreign Language Plans

Having children learn and be fluent in a second language by 2030 would be a major accomplishment and hopefully encourage other school systems in the U.S. to make similar plans.  Let’s support this effort! Here’s the story from, June 25, 2012:

Officials from Rhode Island government, business and education have come up with a plan designed to better educate kids in foreign languages. 

The Rhode Island Roadmap to Language Excellence has a goal of making sure young people entering the workforce are fluent in two languages by 2030.

The Providence Journal reports ( the plan calls for pilot language programs in up to five school districts in the fall. It would have all the state’s districts involved by 2016.

The plan’s authors eventually would like to see an immersion-style program in which half a child’s academics would be given in a language other than English.

The roadmap came out of a summit hosted by the University of Rhode Island last December on the growing need for workers fluent in foreign languages.


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Foreign Language Skills and the Irish Economy

Article from, June 22, 2012:

Forfás and the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) have today published a study, Key Skills for Enterprise to Trade Internationally, which sets out the skills and talent needed to drive Ireland’s trade and export performance in both existing and emerging overseas markets.  The study provides a detailed blueprint for adjustments to our education, training and professional development to align skills with the needs of exporting businesses.

Languages and Sales

The report outlines the essential skill sets that individuals should look to develop to avail of employment opportunities arising within exporting companies, in particular the need to dramatically improve our foreign language proficiency and our ability to sell into international markets.

The report makes a range of specific recommendations to ensure that our education, training and professional development meets the needs of our exporting companies.  It recommends boosting the supply of foreign language skills (both numbers and proficiency) at third level including German, French, Spanish and Italian as well as Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic.  It also highlights the need to increase formal international sales training at third level, including compulsory modules on international sales in business courses and the introduction of a degree and post-graduate diploma in international sales with foreign languages.

Recruitment Difficulties

In the preparation of the study Forfás consulted widely with over 60 companies – both foreign affiliates and indigenous.  The companies surveyed anticipate a positive employment outlook, with their employment levels expected to increase by between 15% – 20% over the next three years.  Recruitment difficulties are anticipated in sourcing international sales staff and people with foreign language proficiency and software engineers.

Employment Opportunities

The study has identified 2,200 potential job opportunities arising within exporting companies which could be filled through tailored skills conversion courses, developed in partnership with industry – in the areas of ICT computing, customer sales &  service support with foreign languages, design engineering, international sales with foreign languages and project management.

Launching the report, Richard Bruton. T.D., Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said: 
“Ensuring we have the skills required for current and future business is a key part of the Action Plan for Jobs, and today’s finding that over 2,000 opportunities will come on stream in companies which could be filled through conversion courses is stark. I am determined to continue working with cabinet colleagues to ensure that not only do we create more jobs, but also that we have the skilled workers to fill more of them from within our workforce.”

Chairperson of the EGFSN, Una Halligan said, “We need to align our education, training and continuing professional development to the international trade skills requirements of our enterprises.  The companies that we spoke to are telling us that they are finding it difficult to get skills in international sales and in foreign languages.  In addition to these jobs we also know that there is potential for foreign affiliates and indigenous companies to further grow existing markets in the UK, US, and the euro zone and to develop new markets including Brazil, Russia, India, China South Africa (BRICS) and the Middle East.”

“Expanding into new markets requires a ramping up of skills and experience levels.  Absolutely key in this regard are our abilities to sell effectively and for staff right across functional areas of companies to be able to communicate and understand those markets.  Foreign language capability and cultural awareness are essential.  An improved supply of domestic foreign languages capability, including German, French, Spanish and Italian as well as Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, would be a major boost to enterprises achieving their export potential. Firms have a main role to play in communicating a message of the value of foreign languages proficiency for rewarding career opportunities to students, parents and teachers.  At third level, findings are that there is a relative lack of Irish graduates with foreign language proficiency and international market experience. Employers value such a period abroad, which increases the students’ employability and job prospects,” continued Halligan.

“Irish exports have proven resilient with total exports growing by 5.5 per cent to €172 billion.  But despite a robust export performance Ireland is struggling to maintain its global share of world exports with a decline from 1.13 per cent in 2010 to 1.05 per cent in 2011.  Irish goods exports also tend to be concentrated in a narrow range of sectors – pharmachem and business services being the two dominant sectors.  The top 10 destinations of Irish export account for 70 per cent of total exports.  There is a need for us to diversify in terms of sectors and markets,” said Martin D Shanahan, Chief Executive, Forfás.

“It will be a challenge for Irish exporting companies to increase their goods and service exports to existing markets in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain while at the same time increasing exports to newer high potential and emerging markets in the BRICS countries and Middle East.  Skills are a key factor that can lead to export success.  Having the international selling skills and the language and cultural capability and talent is a key requirement,” continued Shanahan.


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Tanzanian Academics Stress Proper Teaching of Foreign Languages

From, June 23, 2012:

It is high time we introduce teaching foreign languages in the country besides English and specifically start with French as long as there are qualified teachers.

Dr Mwajuma Vuzo of the University of Dar es Salaam says French language should be additional foreign language because Tanzania for a long time has been focusing on English.

Vuzo, a lecturer in Language Education Department of Education Psychology and Curriculum UDSM, was commenting on “Tanzania’s education vision of 2025 to have at least two foreign languages.”

“French is foreign in the Tanzanian context, hence if all preparations for teachers and methodological issues are taken care of most of the students will be successful,” says Dr Mwajuma.

On here part Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) Director of Curriculum Development and Review (CDR) Angela Katabaro says between 2004 and 2005, there was a review to introduce French language at primary school.

According to her this was to be done through ‘communicative approach’ in language teaching to enable students master the language effectively.

“Tanzania education vision of 2025 is to have at least two foreign languages and we decided to start with French and later on other languages will be taught,” adds Katabaro, Director of Curriculum Development and Review.

Katabaro pointed out that poor implementation of the current curriculum at primary education level is key factor for poor performance of students, particularly in English, which is foreign language.

Meanwhile, Nicholous Asheli, Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, at UDSM maintains that the government must have clear policy on language and be keen in language projects.

He says the government should think about sustainability of language projects because a big problem currently is for donors to support projects for a while and then abandon them.

“As for French, I don’t know the purpose of the programme… what we are lacking in Tanzania is defining our purposes. Otherwise, we do not need to waste resources on projects that will not bear fruits,” says Nicholous.

He advises the government to be careful in determining its goals before embarking on language projects.

Dr Kitila Mkumbo Senior Lecturer School of Education at UDSM is of the opinion that French is not a priority because Tanzanians are still ‘backward’ in English language compared to Kenya and Uganda.

He explains that Tanzania’s nearest competitors are East African Community members who speak better English while Rwanda and Burundi are in efforts to improve the language.

“I am not happy with this French programme, we should strengthen English first by increasing books, language experts and language laboratories,” says Mkumbo.

The argument is if the government has failed to strengthen English language which has been used for years it is difficult to attain its goals of introducing French in primary schools.

Reacting, Kizito Lawa curriculum specialist charged with French language subject at TIE says the government has trained enough teachers through French project support. He adds that there are enough facilities including language laboratories and the society should expect a good product.

“Students are taught by well trained on teachers who use communicative approach and not the structural approach that was used in the previous curriculum,” explains Lawa. Katabaro admits there are challenges but it is too early to evaluate the success or failure of French language programme in primary schools.

Lawa says they have trained 100 teachers; 80 of them have qualified and are now teaching the subject in various schools.

Katabaro adds: “You can’t make evaluation in education within a short time people need to understand that, otherwise, we won’t focus on development projects if we want to see product in a short time.” 


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