In 2021, the world is increasingly a global community. 13.5% (just under 43 million) of Americans speak Spanish as their first language. And, 16% (just under 53 million) of Americans speak a dialect of Chinese. Finally, with the transition of the traditional workplace to one where employees can work remotely, and clients can be across the world, foreign language learning is becoming an increasingly top priority for professionals living in the United States. In this article, we’ve selected the best techniques for learning foreign languages, leaving it up to you to pick which one you prefer.
WHY IS LEARNING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE IMPORTANT?
There is demonstrable evidence that people have an infinite capacity for learning language, especially if the student starts young. Foreign language knowledge also impacts other areas of your life – such as academic achievement at the college level, provides increased employment opportunities and can prevent age-related cognitive disorders and losses.
According to the US Foreign Service Institute:
It takes 600-750 class hours (or, 36 weeks) of learning to obtain basic fluency in foreign languages classified in Categories I and II (languages more like English, such as Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, etc.)
It takes 1,100 class hours (44 weeks) of foreign language learning to obtain basic fluency in Category III languages (languages with alternative alphabets, or significant cultural differences from English, like Russian, Vietnamese, Finnish, Farsi, etc.)
And, it takes a staggering 2,200 hours (88 weeks) for native English speakers to learn basic fluency in a Category IV (languages that are very difficult for native English speakers to grasp, such as Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean)
AS YOU KNOW, THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS AN EVOLVING, EVER-CHANGING CONSTRUCT. THE WORDS WE SPEAK AND WRITE CAN CHANGE IN MEANING, BECOME FORGOTTEN, OR MORPH INTO SOMETHING QUITE DIFFERENT. THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS THAT LANGUAGE, AND LINGUISTICS, IS SUCH A CHALLENGING DISCIPLINE.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the leading resources for English, officially added 840 words in September 2018. While not all the words are new in other cultures, or among those of us who use slang and abbreviated terms, they are certainly new to the dictionary. The words now have a status that they did not possess before.
This is important because slang often enters our lexicon but may never become so common that it enters the dictionary. The sheer number of words added this year indicates that English is rapidly growing. The broader scope of language, with digital access through social media sources like Twitter and Facebook, means an increased awareness and acceptance of terminology and vocabulary from all facets of our global society. Embrace the change, or be left behind.
Words like iftar, the end-of-day meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast during Ramadan, were added. So was gochujang, a Korean chili paste now beloved by many foodies. They also added guac, an abbreviation of guacamole. We are also fond of mise en place, a French term for setting out your ingredients before the start of the cooking process.
Here are some of the other words recently added, particularly those which are commonly used.
Adorbs – an abbreviation for adorable. “That video of the woman covered by kittens is positively adorbs!”
Bingeable – An adjective for the type of television show that you sit and watch multiple episodes of at one time. “If you’re looking for something bingeable, try that new thriller on Amazon.”
Biohacking – An unconventional biological method, such as gene splicing, used to better someone’s condition or lifestyle. “The clinic was able to add years of quality living to him through some experimental biohacking technique.”
Bougie – An abbreviation for the bourgeois, meaning someone who is preoccupied with wealth and status. “That guy she’s dating is a real bougie, isn’t he?”
Fave – An abbreviation of the word favorite. This is a slang term which has been in popular use since the 1930s! “He’s my absolute fave singer!”
Fintech – Technology and businesses serving the digital and online financial communities. “His new job in fintech keeps him very busy.”
Generation Z – Born in the 1990s or 2000s? You are Gen Z. “One of the nicest people I know identifies herself as Generation Z.”
GOAT – An acronym for Greatest of All Time. It specifically applies to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but is now used in any context. “When it comes to NFL quarterbacks, the discussion is closed. Tom Brady is the GOAT.”
Hangry – If you are irritable because you haven’t eaten, you’re hangry. “Don’t even try talking to him right now, he’s hangry.”
Hophead – This old, outdated noun meaning a drug addict is finding new life as a word meaning a beer enthusiast. “He’s such a hophead that he’s starting his own brewpub.”
Latinx – This is a gender-neutral word to identify someone of Latin American origin. “My co-worker is a Latinx.”
Mocktail – This is another word that I’ve heard for years. It refers to a drink which looks like a cocktail but contains no alcohol. “Give me the keys, and order me a mocktail. I’ll be the designated driver.”
Rando – A disparaging term for a random person who just appears without any introduction or apparent reason. “We were having a quiet drink at the bar when this rando showed up and tried to buy us a drink.”
TL; DR – An abbreviation for the phrase too long; didn’t read. “He sent me his blog for review, so I replied, TL; DR.”
And before you say that about this blog, we’ll end it here. Do you have any words that you think belong in a dictionary? Let us know!
It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of food on the development of modern languages.
The word for the cereal we eat in the morning is derived from Ceres – the Greek goddess of agriculture – while dinner originates from ‘disner’ in Old French, which in turn stems from the Gallo-Romance ‘desjunare’, meaning ‘to break one’s fast’.
Food has also infiltrated many aspects of modern communication, with a multitude of common phrases and sayings derived from foods.
Even the word ‘food’ itself can be used to describe something that provides mental nourishment or stimulus – ‘food for thought’.
Here are three of the most common examples of foods used in English.
Salt is a term of praise if a man is considered ‘worth his salt’ or is judged to be ‘the salt of the earth’.
In medieval times, an inferior guest at a banquet, seated at the bottom end of the table, was described as being ‘below the salt’.
Today, a person’s salary is based on the Latin word ‘salarium’, which comes from the allowance given to a Roman soldier to buy his salt.
Egg derives from the Old Norse word ‘eggja’ – and there are many modern phrases that relate to eggs.
You can ‘egg someone on’, for instance, or get ‘egg on your face’ when embarrassed by something you have done.
‘A good egg’ refers to a person who is good to the core, while ‘a bad egg’ refers to someone who may appear normal, but who is no good on the inside. The latter stems from cracking an egg open only to find out is has gone off.
A secondary meaning of cheese comes from the Persian Anglophile phrase ‘the chiz’, meaning a thing that is good.
The word itself has been used as a noun to describe something wealthy or top-rate since the turn of the 19th century, possibly due to the custom of American retailers to display overlarge wheels of cheese as a publicity stunt.
‘The big cheese’ refers to the best of the best, while the word cheese is also used frequently when talking about money and wealth. ‘He’s got a lot of cheese’, is a good example, as is ‘I need to make some cheese’.
Cheddar, as in the type of cheese, is often used in the same way. Fans of Hip Hop and rap music will be familiar with this.
UNCOVER THE HIDDEN MEANING
Upon hearing food phrases in everyday conversation, you could be mistaken for thinking they are a load of nonsense. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is always a hidden meaning behind food phrases.
Here are some other favourite food phrases in use today and the meaning behind them.
‘It’s all gravy’ (It’s all good) ‘Cool as a cucumber’ (Super, totally cool) ‘Chew the fat’ (To engage in frivolous conversation) ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles / Don’t cry over spilt milk’ (Stuff happens) ‘Piece of cake’ (Easy) ‘Butter someone/something up’ (To flatter) ‘Spill the beans’ (Give away a secret) ‘Use your noodle’ (Use your brain) ‘Go bananas’ (Go crazy) ‘Bring home the bacon’ (Earn money) ‘A bun in the oven’ (Pregnant) ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’ (Reality check) ‘The best thing since sliced bread’ (It’s a big deal)
FOOD IS A GLOBAL LANGUAGE
But food phrases are not just found in English. Most languages around the world use food to convey meaning.
No country is the same, however, as a culture’s preoccupations traditionally have a big influence of the way language is used.
In France, for example, the passion for eating and discussing food has flavoured French in a number of tasty and unusual ways, with some expressions entirely unique to different regions or generations.
Here are some of the best examples in French today.
‘Appuyez sur le champignon!’ meaning ‘press on the mushroom!’ (Step on the gas!) ‘Avoir la banane’ meaning ‘having a banana’ (To have a big smile) ‘C’est pas la fin des haricots’ meaning ‘it’s not the end of the string beans’ (It’s not the end of the world) ‘Va te faire cuire un oeuf’ meaning ‘go cook yourself an egg’ (Go to hell) ‘Il fait tout un fromage de rien du tout’ meaning ‘making a cheese out of it’ (Overly dramatic)
Italy, which is championed around the world for its fine cuisine and delicious dishes, is also home to some unique food phrases.
Below are some great examples in Italian.
‘Conosco i miei polli’ meaning ‘I know my chicken’ (I know what I’m talking about) ‘Sei come il prezzemolo’ meaning ‘you are like parsley’ (You pop up everywhere) ‘Non fare il salame’ meaning ‘don’t act like salami’ (Don’t be a ham, you idiot) ‘Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco’ meaning ‘not all donuts come out with a hole’ (Things don’t always turn out as expected) ‘Non puoi avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca’ meaning ‘you can’t have a full wine barrel and a drunk wife’ (You can’t have your cake and eat it too)
CROSSING THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
There are also a number of instances where food phrases are used in more than one language to convey the same meaning.
Here are three of the most familiar phrases with cross-language implications.
LA CRÈME DE LA CRÈME
‘La crème de la crème’ meaning ‘the cream of creams’ has found its way across the Channel from French to English.
The phrase refers to the best of the best or the elite. It also occasionally expressed as ‘the cream of the crop’.
WHAT A PICKLE
‘What a pickle’, which is used to describe a tricky or difficult situation, is a food phrase that has made the switch from English to French.
In France it is ‘quel cornichon’ but carries exactly the same meaning. It is also sparingly used as an insult or a put-down.
WORTH HIS SALT
‘Worth his salt’ is a food phrase that has found its way into many languages around the world. It is most commonly used when referring to someone who is good or competent at their job or a specific task.
The phrase can often be heard in French (digne de ce nom), Italian (degno di questo nome) and Spanish (que se precie).
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
So it’s clear to see the impact that food has had on the development of modern languages around the world.
But language is constantly evolving and it will continue to do so – in terms of where we are at present, we are only on the starter. The main course and dessert are still to come, and food, once again, will play an important role in this development, as people come up with fresh, innovative and unique ways of expressing themselves.