Can alcohol help you learn another language?

Can alcohol help you learn another language?

When learning something, you normally think about pens, paper, workbooks, guides, teachers… The usual stuff. Do you think about alcohol? According to Time Magazine, alcohol helps you speak a foreign language better. I might need to investigate this! For academic reasons, obviously. Time Magazine are not the only ones who think so too. Over the past week I have seen quite a few blogs and articles related to the idea of alcohol and learning.

The article in Time Magazine does advise its readers to drink in moderation rather than getting drunk to learn a language! This I can agree with, after about 8 drinks, only your best friends will understand you, regardless of what language you’re trying to speak. But, is this something that could work? Could alcohol in moderation help someone with language? The Journal of Psychopharmacology has published its findings *, and it’s an interesting read!

The experiment:

The experiment involved 50 native German speakers learning Dutch and the results did show that those with some a controlled dose of alcohol spoke with more fluency than those who had no alcohol in their system. Each person had a two-minute conversation in Dutch with the interviewer. Beforehand some were given the equivalent of a pint of beer, others were given just water. This is a low amount of alcohol… We can assume if they were given a few more pints, the results would have been different. But this is an interesting experiment!

The participants then had to rate their conversation to see what they thought. To see if they thought they had performed well. Those who consumed alcohol thought they had performed worse than they did. We all know that after a drink or two we become a bit more confident in ourselves. Could this have been the case? A bit of liquid courage?

Was it liquid courage?

All 50 of the participants were studying Dutch, so all knew the language, but maybe did not have the confidence to speak it with fluency. But obviously knew a decent amount to converse. Not exactly turning up to Chinese for Beginners with a pint in one hand and expecting to whizz through the class. With the alcohol their worries about making mistakes went away and could just speak, unknowing how far they fluency could take them.

It seems that a drink could have beneficial effects on the pronunciation, rather than the learning. We do not advise you to hit the pub before a lecture! But if it is a case of feeling a bit nervous to speak another language in front of others, then maybe a drink will help you relax. What I have always found helpful is social events. At university the societies put on so many events for students to attend. At French society events you’ll find native and learners conversing in French. The natives don’t mind if you make a few mistakes, as long as you speak with confidence! And when its a classic ‘Wine and Cheese’ night, you know you’ll do just fine!


Bon courage!





Halloween: Lost In (Cultural) Translation?

Halloween is massive in the US, having been passed down from generation to generation. In 2012, Americans spent almost $8billion (almost £5billion) on Halloween. As an American, I grew up with that tradition of Halloween and all that it involves – trick-or-treating, candy, costumes, pumpkins, TV Specials, candy, scary stories, scary decorations and, well, candy. But when I first moved to the UK in 2000, I really struggled to find any kind of Halloween decorations, and trick-or-treaters were non-existent. So imagine my thrill as year after year, Halloween becomes a bigger (and more commercial) holiday here in the UK. This is mainly due, I believe, to Satellite TV and all the American channels for children such as Disney and Nickelodeon, which show all the Halloween ‘specials’ year on year.

But I am not as happy that although the language of Halloween has translated perfectly well across the pond – “Trick-or-Treat” – the culture of American Halloween has not translated nearly so well. This is because, after decades of annual trick-or-treating and celebrating, Halloween and all that goes with it is as ingrained in the American culture and tradition as the 4th of July. Everyone – young and old – simply ‘knows’ what to expect and what to do. But that ‘knowing’ simply isn’t translating across the pond, where Halloween is mainly being copied off of what children see on television and in movies, and not taught from parent to child.

For the first UK generation really trying to embrace the American-style Halloween (and all the merchandisers trying to profit from it), here are a few explanations of some of the activities you see:

Halloween is full of nostalgia. Since it has been celebrated for generations, Halloween has become a way to re-live our childhood. (probably why so many adults purchase costumes – trying to be a kid again) One of my favourite photographs of my mother is of her (age 8) dressed in a nurse costume in 1953, ready to go trick-or-treating. And another is of me in 1972 (age 3), dressed in a clown costume my mother made for me. And now I love dressing my son in costume and sharing all the traditions with him.

A child’s first Halloween is a BIG deal. The perfect cute costume, lots of pictures, and the first Trick-or-Treating (even though they can’t eat the candy, or will even remember any of it). I fondly remember carrying my 2 day old niece around as her 5 year old sister knocked on the doors. Yes, 2 days old; and being absolutely gutted when my just-turned-1 year old son fell asleep before I could take him out. Go ahead – Google Images: ‘baby’s first halloween’ and have a look.

Trick-or-Treating (going from door to door in costume, asking for candy) is for children up to about 12. That’s it. Teenagers will either be given a dirty look or flatly turned away.

You only go to doors that have the porch light on. Period.

You must be in full costume. Just a mask doesn’t cut it. You will be turned away and embarrassed (or given the nasty, stale, unpopular candy left-over from the previous year, which is what a friend of mine does – that’s his ‘Trick’ part of Trick or Treat!)

Jack-o-lanterns are essential, and have become an art form for many. Oh sure, the basic triangle eyes and jagged smiling mouth is always popular, but many are now featuring famous faces and logos, and even being sculpted. (Google Images: of Jack-o-lantern art)

Costumes can be anything – there are just as many Cinderellas and Angry Birds as there are Ghosts and Witches. This is mainly because, unlike here in the UK, where it is not unusual to see Snow White or Spiderman sitting in a Tesco trolley and fancy dress is available in stores year round, Halloween is the only time costumes are on sale in stores in the US, and the only day kids get to go around town in costume, pretending to be whoever they wish to be. (Costumes one of the key aspects of Halloween, aren’t cheap: parents spent around $1 billion on children’s costumes in 2012.)

That goes for adults, too! In 2012, 76 million adults dressed up, spending $1.2 billion on them. And pets! Yes, 15% of Americans also put a costume on their pets, spending $310 million in the process.

For the adults, Halloween has become second only to Christmas in sales of Home decorations and candy. One search for ‘Halloween’ on Pinterest will show you. Neighbours compete for the best costumed house – some with flashing lights synchronised to spooky music, animated life-size figures, and fog machines!

And of course there are all the month-long haunted houses, haunted hayrides and haunted Maize mazes – some for profit, others for charity.

So, will Halloween grow to become as big as it is in the US? Maybe.

Can the people of the UK copy what is done in America? Sure.

But will it be as much fun without all the tradition and history and nostalgia Halloween conjures for Americans every year? Probably not. As with translation of language, simply copying the like-for-like words isn’t enough – there has to be accurate translation of the meaning, too. In this case, of the culture, not just the activities.

What do you think? Can Halloween ever really translate across the pond? Or will it mutate, like the English language itself, into a different celebration?

We all laugh in the same language!…or do we?!?

Around the world we can all recognise when someone is sharing sad or happy emotions, however we might not be able to read it with the same ease. The difference between the meanings of laughter between languages are not clear when writing! Especially when web chatting or texting!

Not only do we have different way of laughing for different situations: ha (you are funny, not too much), haha (actually expresses fun), hoho (Santa Claus style), hehe (a bit more polite), hihi( giggling), ghghghgh (stressed laugh) , ti-hi (cheeky laugh), muhaha (cartoon or bad laugh) not to mention the abbreviations like LMAO, or the most common LOL.

We also have different written expressions for the same laugh: taking the English language as example, ‘haha’ can be translated in many ways:

– In Portuguese is hashuashuashuashua”, “kkkkk”, “rsrsrs”
– In Spanish – “jajaja”
– Arabic – “ههههه” (“hhhhh” – Arabic doesn’t write short vowels, so that could be read as “hahahahaha)
– Thai – “55555″ (“5″ in Thai is pronounced “ha”)
– French – “hahaha”, “héhéhé”
– Russian – “хахаха” (“hahaha”), “бгггггг” (“bgggg”), “гггггг” (“gggggg”), “олололо” (“olololo”)
– Ukrainian – “бгггггг” (“bhhhh”), “гггггг” (“hhhhhh”)
– Korean – “ㅋㅋ” (“kk”), “ㅎㅎㅎ” (“hhh”)
– Japanese – “wwww”, “ふふふ” (“huhuhu”)
– Mandarin – “哈哈哈哈哈” (“hahahahaha”), “呵呵呵呵呵” (“hehehehehe”)
– Indonesian – “wkwkwkwk”, wakakak (big laughter) and hehehe…. 99x (99 times); the higher the number gets the more the person is laughing
– Swedish – “hahaha”, “hehehe”, “hihihi”
– Vietnamese – “hihihi”

And these are only a few! Share a smile in every language! If you want more information regarding the languages we cover go to our languages page.

Does comedy work in translation?

translation - by Lingua Translations Does the translation of a joke work as effectively as the original?

How often have you sat there and felt completely lost when everyone else is laughing at a funny joke, because the punchline has gone over your head? Probably everyone can say that they have experienced that feeling at least once before.

In an article featured in the Telegraph in August several comedians described their experiences of doing their comedy shows abroad. Some had done so in English speaking countries, which although straightforward to a certain extent, still carried its own problems. The main issue with many translations is whether they are relevant to the target audience. The same is true of comedy. Certain things are universal – it is a pretty safe bet that a dog chasing its tail, or a cat gearing up for a fight against the furry feline in the mirror are likely to raise a few laughs, regardless of which language you speak, but what about more culturally relevant jokes, puns and so on?

Comedians draw on past experiences for many of their jokes, sometimes these are events that people from countries different to the comedian’s own homeland can relate to – politics, international relations, stereotypes, for example – but then there are the jokes that it is more likely only someone who grew up in the same context as the comedian will understand. References to an English children’s’ TV show might be lost on someone from Germany or even America for example and therefore the humour could easily be lost in too. Without the cultural relevance, certain jokes just do not transfer from country to country. The same is true when we try to replicate comedy in translation. Literal translation is not enough because often part of the comedy is the way words work together and play off each other. These same connections may not be present between ‘equivalent’ words in other languages. The key is therefore to find a way of making the same point but in a way that is culturally relevant to the target country. Is this ever truly possible though?

Eddy Izzard, one of the comedians in the Telegraph’s article, learned enough French to present his show abroad, however he found as he worked with script writers and French speakers, that many of his jokes had to be dropped or heavily edited because there was no suitable translation of them. It is of course always possible just to work out equivalent words in another language but that is not translation! It needs to be idiomatic in the target language. This is not always the case in translation, for example with literature some translators believe expressing the original document, no matter how awkwardly, in the target language is the main concern. Others feel that a ‘natural’ idiomatic sounding expression is always the priority. Comedy translation is almost certainly grouped with the latter.

What do you think? Can comedy truly be translated?

It’s that time of year again: Fall Back!

It’s that time of year again: The clocks fall back on Sunday 29th October!

We are gearing up for everyone’s favourite Sunday! 25 hours! On Sunday the UK will revert back to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). This marks the end of British Summertime – some would say that happened a while ago, but hey ho.

Daylight saving time was introduced in 1907 by William Willett noticing that us Brits were wasting the daylight. He argued that if you changed the time so it would be lighter in the morning, we were more likely to get up and start work (thus making more money). Unfortunately, back then he didn’t see the invention of black out curtains! Something of a necessity if you are like me and love your sleep in the Summer. He thought that this idea could have significant health and happiness benefits. The bill was rejected at parliament in 1909, but this didn’t stop Willett from trying to persuade the public on his idea.


William Willett passed away in 1915, one year before the Germans adopted his idea of Daylight Saving in 1916. Not long after Germany adopted this, Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Turkey all followed suit. The Summer Time Act of 1916 was passed by Parliament on the 21st May 1916 with Summer Time finishing on the 1st October.


Over 100 years later and people are still questioning whether we need to ‘leap forward and fall back’. It made sense during WW1 and WW2, but what about modern lives? All we know is we really do enjoy that extra hour in bed once a year!

clock 225 × 225Luckily these days, computers, phones, even cars change the time automatically so you don’t have to remember. Weather and news updates also tend to remind you in the run up to the change as well. But if you do have any analogue clocks, you may need to remember to change them manually, otherwise you’ll be running 1 hour earlier than everyone else!