Category Archives: languages/linguistics

Interpreters – male or female?

I was catching up with Troublesome Terps earlier today and was interested to have a listen to their views, and the views of their guest speaker on the question of the male female split in interpreting. You can have a listen to the piece here and they have provided some reading material which I have not yet had a chance to have a look at.

In summary though, the theme of their piece is that the gender split in interpreting is not even and there is a preponderance of women and they discussed why that may be. Amongst the items being discussed were rationales along the lines of career opportunity and whether men desired a clear promotional structure.

I found it interesting to listen to the discussion, and it covered a lot of interesting things relating to voice, and the different use of language depending on whether the speaker was male or female. If you are interested in interpreting, it is certainly worth a listen, and some of it is thought provoking.

One point which was only barely touched upon came from a passing comment of Jonathan Downie on the subject of the pipeline. I don’t think he called it that, but pipeline is the accepted term in technology for the incoming cohort of people training to come into the sector, and I think it’s a suitable term also for upcoming potential interpreters. The pipeline is core to discussions about the lack of women in the tech sector. In truth, the tech sector has a chronic lack of women, and its problem is largely two fold: comparatively few women study fields that would line them into technical roles in the technology sector, and of those who do, a lot of them drop out of the sector, or the technical roles, over time. The pipeline is often targeted as a useful and simple solution of the “if we only got more women studying comp sci, it would all be more diverse later”. For various reasons, this is probably not enough but I will come to that later.

Jonathan made the comment that in the interpreting pipeline, it wasn’t so much the lack of men which he noticed at masters level as the lack of British students in the field. As it happens, I’ve previously done some number crunching in the language pipeline for the UK excluding Scotland, and Ireland, going back to 2015. You’ll find a very quick overview of the findings here. The reason Scotland isn’t included is that at the time I ran those numbers (ages ago now), I did not have access to the corresponding figures for the Scottish Highers. The key line that I want to take away from this however is this:

on average, twice as many girls study languages at school leaving stage in both the Irish leaving certificate system and at A-level stage in England/Wales

If I recall correctly, the general finger in the area calculation for the split of interpreters between female and male was around 2:1 or 3:1. It can vary slightly depending on the language.

By the way, in absolute terms, more students study higher level French in Ireland than take A-Level French in England/Wales (I can’t remember if Northern Ireland was included in those figures). Additionally, the supply of language teaching at third level is drying up in the UK with a couple of very common languages (I did research on that too) scattered across the UK and, I think, 2 or 3 schools dealing with the wider range of less common languages.

However, that is all by way of an aside. In the UK and Ireland, at least there is a serious pipeline issue with language skills for boys. In general there are at least 2 girls for every one boy studying language at advanced secondary level. However, it is wrong to extrapolate from the experience in the UK and Ireland to any other country for a variety of reasons, the key one being that other countries make a better fist of teaching their young people foreign languages in general terms (cf Finland, the Netherlands and how to make me feel inadequate Luxembourg), so the lack of a cohort prepared for specialist language courses is potentially not such an issue there. However, it looks in practical terms as though men are not following them. The question is why. I am pretty sure that the answer to that question is not straightforward, but similar to the situation for women in computer science, for example, it has its roots far earlier in the school system. There is research around to suggest that girls are caused to be disinterested in maths and science related subjects based on how they are treated as early as primary school. Socialisation may have a lot to do with how people perceive their strengths for different subjects at an early age. This is a useful piece dealing with that, although it’s six years old and I’m pretty sure there’s been more in depth stuff, particularly in terms of mathematics, in the interim.

So this is one issue with the pipeline. The second issue with the pipeline relates to the perception of the job itself, and this is where I’m going to pop up with a certain amount of speculation. Because of how the system in Ireland works in terms of winning places at university, there is evidence to suggest that a key motivator for some students in terms of their choice of university studies is the likelihood of economic success. In Ireland, that tends to be law and veterinary sciences, with pharm a little way back, and then, things vary according to economic fashion. The bottom fell out of architecture and construction related courses, comparatively speaking, a few years ago, for example. Language related careers are rarely up there with their name in lights. No one mentioned interpreting to me at school (I hardly knew they existed) and we did family research before we even tracked down translation because the school was more interested in marketing courses which were trendy when I was a young one.

So, generalising wildly, there’s a pipeline issue because boys are funneled towards technical courses and in general terms, the career of interpreter is not necessarily high profile as a good earning opportunity.

I suppose the question which next arises is what happens to men once they are in the pipeline and in the industry. I cannot really answer this question as I don’t currently work as an interpreter. I took an interest in this piece because I trained as an interpreter but work primarily in the tech sector where matters are largely inverse, and where there is a great deal of discussion on the question of women in the pipeline, women in the industry, diversity in the industry. Yesterday or the day before, Susan Fowler, a site reliability engineer, published this on her blog. My personal experience has involved men telling me the only reason women go to college is to get married and anyway they don’t know how to work (imagine a 21 year old bachelor student saying this to a female masters student with more than 10 years experience working in the tech sector and you’ll get an idea of just how stupidly obnoxious some people can be).

Is the interpreting sector sexist? I don’t know if it is, or whether the split is a symptom of wider attitudes in society which have their roots at a far earlier stage of education. It seems to me, however, that there is not necessarily a similar level of pushing men out of interpreting as can be seem in certain parts of the tech sector. Would we better off with a better balance? I think yes we probably would but that’s because in general, society is better off with a better balance across most jobs. Do I think interpreting as a skill is adequately valued? The straight answer to that is right now, and depending on your culture, probably not. Clearly, the large international organisations could not function without interpreters. Nor could the US or British armies in Iraq and Afghanistan. However – anecdote alert – when I did CPD in Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh last year – one course participant noted that historically, in her country, at certain times, interpreters tended to be men because it was a distinguished role and could not be left to mere women. Strangely enough, software development and programming, in the early days, was left to women because it was not considered to be particularly difficult (hah) and the men did more praiseworthy and important work with hardware engineering. It seems culture and perception have an awful lot to answer for on both fronts.

WordPress tells me this is nearly 1,500 words, so for the tl;dr version: it strikes me as though the lack of men in interpreting is programmed into the system quite early, and subsequently, the lack of economic value linked with the role may serve to lessen the attraction for men who tend to target economically important jobs (or perceived better paying roles anyway), or who potentially tend to get paid more when the majority of their cohort are also male.

From that point of view – and it kills me to say it – one of the best things female workers in areas which are predominantly female staffed (so nursing, teaching, interpreting, translation) could do to improve their earning potential is to increase significantly the number of men in their sector.

And a corollary of this, by the way, strikes me as being a likely motivation for getting more women into computer science and related fields – namely reducing the cost of those roles.

Okay. I might revisit this later when I am awake.




The invisible conduit of interpreting

Jonathan Downie made an interesting comment on his twitter this morning.

Interpreting will never be respected as a profession while its practitioners cling to the idea that they are invisible conduits.

Several things occurred to me about this and in no particular order, I’m going to dump them out here (and then write in a little more detail how I feel about respect/interpreting)

  1. Some time ago I read a piece on the language industry and how much money it generated. The more I read it, the more I realised that there was little to no money in providing language skills; the money concentrated itself in brokering those skills. In agencies who buy and sell services rather than people who actually carry out the tasks. This is not unusual. Ask the average pop musician how much money they make out of their activities and then check with their record company.
  2. As particular activities become more heavily populated with women, the salary potential for those activities drops.
  3. Computers and technology.

Even if you dealt with 1 and 2 – and I am not sure how you would, one of the biggest problems that people providing language services now have is the existence of free online translation services and, for the purposes of interpreters, coupled with the ongoing confusion between translation and interpreting, the existence Google Translate and MS’s Skype Translate will continue to undermine the profession.

However, the problem is much wider than that. There are elements of the technology sector who want lots of money for technology, but want the content that makes that technology salable for free. Wikipedia is generated by volunteers. Facebook runs automated translation and requests correction from users. Duolingo’s content is generated by volunteers and their product is not language learning, it is their language learning platform. In return, they expect translation to be carried out.

All of this devalues the human element in providing language skills. The technology sector is expecting it for free, and it is getting it for free, probably from people who should not be doing it either. This has an interesting impact on the ability of professionals to charge for work. This is not a new story. Automated mass production processes did it to the craft sector too. What generally happens is we reach a zone where “good enough” is a moveable feast, and it generally moves downwards. This is a cultural feature of the technology sector:

The technology sector has a concept called “minimum viable product”. This should tell you all you need to know about what the technology sector considers as success.

But – and there is always a but – the problem is not what machine translation can achieve – but what people think it achieves. I have school teacher friends who are worn out from telling their students that running their essays through Google Translate is not going to provide them with a viable essay. Why pay for humans to do work which costs a lot of money when we can a) get it for free or b) a lot less from via machine translation.

This is the atmosphere in which interpreters, and translators, and foreign language teachers, are trying to ply their profession. It is undervalued because a lower quality product which supplies “enough” for most people is freely and easily available. And most people are not qualified to assess quality in terms of content, so they assess on price. At this point, I want to mention Dunning-Kruger because it affects a lot of things. When MH370 went missing, people who work in aviation comms technology tried in vain to explain that just because you had a GPS on your phone, didn’t mean that MH370 should be locatable in a place which didn’t have any cell towers. Call it a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Most people are not aware of how limited their knowledge is. This is nothing new. English as She is Spoke is a classic example dating from the 19th century.

I know well who I have to make.

My general experience, however, is that people monumentally over estimate their foreign language skills and you don’t have to be trying to flog an English language phrasebook in Portugal in the late 19th century to find them…

All that aside, though, interpreting services, and those of most professions, have a serious, serious image problem. They are an innate upfront cost. Somewhere on the web, there is advice for people in the technology sector which points out, absolutely correctly, that information technology is generally seen as a cost, and that if you are working in an area perceived to be a cost to the business, your career prospects are less obvious than those who work in an area perceived to be a revenue generating section of the business. This might explain why marketing is paid more than support, for example.

Interpreting and translation are generally perceived as a cost. It’s hard to respect people whose services you resent paying for and this, for example, probably explains the grief with court interpreting services in the UK, why teachers and health sector salaries are being stamped on while MPs are getting attractive salary improvements. I could go on but those are useful public examples.

For years, interpreting has leaned on an image of discretion, a silent service which is most successful if it is invisible. I suspect that for years, that worked because of the nature of people who typically used interpreting services. The world changes, however. I am not sure what the answer is although as an industry, interpreting needs to focus on the value add it brings and why the upfront cost of interpreting is less than the overall cost of pretending the service is not necessary.

Some of my best friends are interpreters…

Most mornings, I read Ryan Heath’s newsletter from Politico. I like it for a lot of reasons – there’s a very strong scattering of pan European news links for example, and the news is insular at a European level rather than at a local city level. These are good things as they broaden my horizons. He’s generally a good curator of stuff that interests me as well – at this point I would say that if you have any interest in Europe and European affairs, it is worth subscribing.

So what has this to do with interpreters and the sky over them? Well this morning, he pointed at this story in the EU Observer. It quotes Klaus Welle as follows:

Speak slowly, speak in your mother tongue. Those are the main elements which lead to a deterioration in quality,” he noted. “It drives them crazy”.

I do, as it happens, spend quite a bit of my time, listening to EU parliamentary committee meetings and parliamentary plenary sessions. I also know how to interpret. I just don’t do it for a living right now. I know what Klaus Welle is trying to achieve. I think it’s laudable, and I think it is necessary. I just wish he had…tried to do it differently.

Interpreting is a highly challenging activity mentally. We have a limited understanding of how people can even do it, but they do, and in so doing, they facilitate communications between many people who might not otherwise be able to communicate. In many respects, simultaneous interpreters are basically babelfish.

Their job is to facilitate communication and when you have a room of up to 600 people who speak, between them, up to 24 languages, that’s massively impressive. And for the most part, they are so good, we take it for granted.

European Parliament procedures bring some interesting challenges however, and a key one is that when you have limited speaking time – which is guaranteed to be the case in a plenary session – people, rather predictably, try to maximise it and carefully write speeches to get as much into their 1 or 2 allotted minutes. As a result, what people are confronted with is not so much a minute of spoken language, but a minute of densely packed written language, read out.

Now, it could be argued that the average MEP has the right to do this. When they do this, however, they make it harder for their audience, be that those who share their language, or those who need to find a way of rendering it into another language. Maybe they are not necessarily representing the interests of their constituents if they are not taking into account the best way of communicating their interests. Maybe it is just completely counterproductive.

In other words, if you are speaking in a chamber where what you are saying needs to be interpreted into 23 other languages, the likelihood is that you’ll be more successful if you take that fact into consideration, not just for the interpreters, but for your colleagues. Other MEPs. And especially, for the people you represent. This is not a question of preventing interpreters from going crazy. It is a question of helping them to help you get your message across. That is, after all, what they are there for.

As I mentioned, I listen to the European Parliament feeds when I have time. I have heard people switch language mid contribution. I have seen plenary contributions delivered at such high speed that they were very nearly incomprehensible. And I have heard chairs pleading with contributors to slow down and give the interpreting service a chance.

Against that, I have heard some clear, concise speakers who were a pleasure to listen to.

Railing against interpreters going crazy just because they are pleading for people to speak in a manner that makes it possible for them to be interpreted is missing the point. The speakers have a part to play in facilitating communication too. Otherwise, why speak?



Undergraduate languages in the United Kingdom

I write, from time to time, on language related matters and one of the items on my list of backburner projects was to have a look at undergraduate language options in the United Kingdom. I had a look at Ireland as well but since we have 7 universities, there isn’t very much of interest to consider when it comes to language provision in Ireland. UCC is about your best option there. I’ll post the graph of that later.

The United Kingdom is interesting for a couple of reasons: firstly, tuition provision in languages has been falling off a cliff there and language departments have been closing near hand over fist. One of my recollections relating to language tuition provision in the university sector was that there was a great breadth of provision in terms of languages offered when I was looking for somewhere to study back in 1990, and given changes to language related matters in the UK in the interim, I was interested to see how things looked. Data, however, is not that easily come by and in the end I would up collecting it manually.

One of the things I wanted to do was see what the obvious clusters were and it occurred to me that using languages and higher education organisations as nodes might allow a network chart to be built. I actually did a proof of concept of that with the Irish provisions purely because there were neither too many languages nor too many universities (seven of the latter and not far off seven for the former). The network depicting software which I used was Gephi.

According to the basic research which I did, 78 higher education organisations are offering primary degrees of which a language is a major component. I suspect, if I were to look more closely and root out things like “International Business With A Language” type degrees, the number of pure language related courses would be significantly lower. I have not decided how best to sort out data to get that information and I may not do it just yet.

Eventually, when I plotted things, there was an interesting imbalance on the graph. I noted this on the graph itself for which you can find here, but it is obvious enough below too.

UnitedKingdomWhat this tells you is that if you want to learn anything other than, effectively, French, Spanish, English, Italian, German, Russian or Chinese, most of your options are limited to two universities in London or one in Edinburgh. The overwhelming number of universities which offer any language study at all draw primarily from the seven listed above. There are a few stragglers around but that’s more or less the way things are.

One of the things I would consider doing with this data at some stage is comparing language provision in the United Kingdom with language provision in the university sector in a bunch of other European countries, and also, looking at comparing provision of official European languages within the university sector across Europe. I really have no idea how I could quickly get this data together – I do not know if it’s even available anywhere. But it would be interesting to see where the holes exist in terms of provision of tuition at university level of official European languages.

Language learning

I found myself taking part in a discussion on language learning this morning and thought it might be worth a while to drop in some things that are on my bloglater list. I will develop them in more depth later maybe but this is just an overview of them.

  1. on average, twice as many girls study languages at school leaving stage in both the Irish leaving certificate system and at A-level stage in England/Wales
  2. in absolute numbers, more students study higher level French in Ireland than study A-level French. A-level students have a higher average grade than HL Leaving certificate students and almost 30% get an A or higher at A-level, versus around 13% in Ireland.
  3. After French, the second most popular A-level foreign language is Spanish where the number of candidates is higher than for HL LC candidates.
  4. Spanish is the only language where there are more A-level candidates than HL LC candidates.
  5. The second most popular language for HL LC is German.
  6. HL LC statistics give figures for Italian; the A-Level stats didn’t, but interestingly, did give figures for Irish. If they were higher than Italian, then the figures for Italian are extremely low at A-Level stage.
  7. Amazon has opened up its Kindle store to include significantly more foreign language literature than was previously the case.
  8. The internet makes access to foreign language media significantly easier than was previously the case
  9. Facebook allows you to customise your newsfeed sources to include foreign language media options more easily than Google does. Google News, however customisable it is, is still a fiasco in that respect. It is distinctly monolingual – so while I can easily pull in foreign sources, those foreign sources are still English language.

With respect to the A-Level  HL LC comparison, there are serious difficulties in doing a qualitative comparison given feature differences between the two exam systems, viz, in terms of mandatory subjects and de-facto mandatory subjects. The Leaving cert is a marginally less specialist set up and it is worth noting that the comparison figures above are specifically higher level figures and do not include the high number of students taking ordinary level studies. Students at LC level take 6 to 7 subjects whereas A-level tops out at 4 usually. Irish, English and mathematics are defacto mandatory in Ireland – nearly every single students takes all three – and most university requirements include a minimum of some sort of a pass in a foreign language module. Hence, the motivations are different. This may be reflected in the average grades which, for A-level, are across the board, higher.

Data sources:

  • HL Leaving certificate:
  • A-level:

Language skills.

The Economist is shouting about lack of language skills in the UK again. Their basic thesis is that the lack of language skills amongst UK workers costs in economic growth. I’m not sure how much we can stand over that assertion – the Economist admits as much –

This lack of language skills also lowers growth. By exactly how much is hard to say, but one estimate, by James Foreman-Peck of Cardiff University, puts the “gross language effect” (the income foregone because language barriers alter and reduce international trade) in 2012 as high as £59 billion ($90 billion), or 3.5% of GDP.

which suggests it’s basically educated guesswork.

For unrelated reasons, I had a look at CPL’s language vacancies yesterday and the one thing that interested me is how low the salaries are on average.

The simple issue is this: if we do not value language skills economically, people will not study to acquire those skills.

Comparatively, we value programming skills more highly although they are significantly easier to come by. Put simply, the amount of time required to get usefully acquainted with a programming language (including assembler) is significantly less than the amount of time required to get usefully acquainted with a foreign language.

Put simply, the return on effort in acquiring foreign language skills to a high level, is low compared to the return on effort in acquiring programming skills.

I might have more sympathy for the idea that the economy was suffering by a supposed lack of foreign language skills if foreign language skills related salaries were increasing. The truth is they aren’t, really, because the skills are being imported.

Learning Finnish

If you look at my CV or my About pages you will see that in 1998 I spent some time in Finland learning Finnish. It was four intense weeks of Finnish through the medium of Finnish, supported by the nice people in the Finnish Government who, at the time, funded two people to go to study at summer school in Rauma each year. I am not sure if they still do it and I don’t even know now how I found out about it. I was a temporary agent in Brussels at the time but I got the scholarship on the basis of being Irish.

Anyway, four weeks of intense study will take you so far, and I did some follow up work while I was still living in Belgium, but life took an interesting turn into computer programming and somehow, this habit of acquiring bits and pieces of human languages got set aside in favour of speaking directly to computers. I wrote assembler for a long time. And I learned Java, and I made projects happen with Javascript, Python and R. And SQL.

I did a postgrad in computer science last year which finished up around September and usually, when I do something like that, I follow it up with some completely different activity. Instead of it being some form of craft work (my last postgrad was followed up by a stained glass and mosaics design course), I decided to pick up Finnish again.

Finnish is an interesting language in a lot of respects. It is a branch of the Finno-Ugric languages which are generally thought to be unrelated to the Indo-European languages (although I believe there is some research in philology questioning this). Unlike most languages, it has an entirely logical spelling system with no irregularities. It has some grammatical oddities and structurally, it has some serious idiosyncrasies. Above all, it is a highly compacted language. I remember some of the very basic stuff, but I have more or less forgotten the verb and noun rules.

Being prudent, I have picked up the books I bought 15 years ago to study Finnish, mainly because I know they are good books, and also because getting decent dictionaries seems to be harder now than it was then. And this includes going through the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa book store online. The other thing I am doing, which is linked to some rather traumatic memories involving German, is reading a news story a day with the aid of a dictionary. This is massively challenging for several reasons, of which, having forgotten the verb and noun rules, identifying root forms of both can be impossible, and of course, it just takes a long time. I do, however, believe it is one of the more effective ways of broadening your vocabulary. It’s just not that easy.

In terms of language acquisition, some things are much easier now. I am not really going to talk about Duolingo (I have doubts about it as a learning tool for me anyway, and I don’t believe it offers Finnish), but the simple availability of media. Even for Finnish, there is a substantial amount of material available through Youtube videos, for example. There are a number of radio stations available via TuneIn. YLE, the state broadcasting service does a special Easy Finnish news report which is what I use as raw material for my reading exercises. At the weekend, I think I will be able to watch skijumping and ice skating in Finnish.

When I was learning French, to get any media at all, I used to hide in a car which had a long wave receiver. At this point, it doesn’t massively matter how much I understand, only that the amount I am understanding is growing on an ongoing basis. My passive vocabulary will grow much more quickly than my active vocabulary and this is not all that surprising since this morning’s news story was about unemployment and part time work.

The interesting thing, from my point of view, is how much hard work goes into language acquisition. Being absolutely honest, it is harder work than learning programming languages.

And yet, in certain respects, it is very rewarding. One of the interesting things about Finnish is how sentences are structured and how that might suggest a completely different way of looking at the world. I find it fascinating purely from that point of view, never mind being able to converse with people in Stockmann when I go shopping there. In a lot of ways, I am really sorry I set it aside for so long. I am having fun with this.

The activity of interpreting

One of the things which a lot of people don’t actually know about me is that I trained as an interpreter in my twenties. I have a diploma from the University of Westminster, which, at the time, was the leading interpreting school in the United Kingdom. While I don’t interpret any more, I’m still interested in on a tangential basis and that’s why I found this article from Mosaic very interesting yesterday. I’ve always wondered about how it can be possible to carry out simultaneous interpreting even as I did it. A lot of it is practice related, and technique/strategy building. In certain respects, I found it a lot like playing music. It’s a skill you learn by doing, not so much by understanding how it works inside your mind. And yet:

The caudate isn’t a specialist language area; neuroscientists know it for its role in processes like decision making and trust. It’s like an orchestral conductor, coordinating activity across many brain regions to produce stunningly complex behaviours.

I strongly recommend reading the piece – even aside from the whole question of interpreting, the piece brings up some interesting information in the area of the neurosciences. I wasn’t familiar with the site before now, but it had an interesting collection of science writing on it from a number of different fields in the life science sector so the interpreting piece aside, I (so far) find it a valuable resource.

One of the aspects of programming life that most software developers will talk about, in terms of getting anything done, is flow. When you’re in a zone where everything is just working together nicely, the problem solving is happening, it’s you and the code and the phone isn’t ringing. There’s a space I used to get into in interpreting – I miss it a lot – which is broadly similar; I called it the zone; I imagine other people approach it different because like most effects, it can be quite personal. I actually did an interpreting test for the first time in more than ten years last year and while it didn’t go perfectly for me, I did, in the course of practice, hit that zone a couple of times. I’d love to see what my brain activity looks like when I hit; it’s a place where you’ve to fight for nothing mentally.

There are a couple of different paths into a career as a conference interpreter. The University of Westminster cancelled the course I did a number of years ago and appear to have replaced it with an MA in Translating & Interpreting, but there appears, in Ireland, to be a course at the National University in Galway, and in the UK, there are joint translation/interpreting courses at the University of Bath, the University of Leeds, London Metropolitan University, The University of Manchester, the University of Salford and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Outside the English speaking colleges, there are options in France and Belgium at ESTI and ISTI and in Germany at Hamburg and Heidelberg (at least). These courses are postgraduate courses so fees are very obviously going to be a factor to consider.

Ultimately, the two big employers of interpreters in the world are the United Nations and the European Union institutions.

From the point of view of what you need to go down the road of interpreting, the obvious ones are a) a very strong command of your mother tongue and b) comprehensive understanding of two other languages.

You also need the ability to research and get up to speed with various different fields of expertise. The one which used to make my blood run cold during my training was any discussion of European fisheries policy as fish species in English were ongoing hassle, never mind fish species in French and German.

In many respects, it’s a career which allows you access to learn about a lot of other different areas; I’d be happy to go back. But I’d also like to look at breaking down the challenges in automating it as well and that’s a really hard problem to solve; not least because we haven’t solved machine translation very effectively either although a lot of work is happening in the area. Not because I would like to see a bunch of interpreters lose their jobs – they shouldn’t because for all that we might get actual words automatically translated, we are missing a lot of the non-verbal nuances and cultural markers that come not directly from the words themselves, but how they are used, and marked with non-verbal clues, for example. Computers don’t get irony or sarcasm.

One of the reasons I really like the Mosaic piece is that it provides some useful other references for you to carry out your own research. With respect to science writing online, this is really helpful. I have to say kudos to them.

Word of the Day: Entlieben

In addition to the tech stuff, and the data stuff, and opinions linked to each, I have an interest in languages as well (this might explain one of the projects I have running in the background)

Given the fact that I lived in Germany for a few extended periods between the ages of 19 and 23, it’s surprising that the first time I came across the word entlieben was this morning, in particular, since entlieben perfectly describes something that’s happened me a few times in my life, and probably most people.

If you go to online Duden, the definition is given as:

aufhören [einander, jemanden] zu lieben

This can be translated as “stop loving [one another/someone]”

But I don’t think that’s quite the holy all of it in atmosphere. I prefer the “fall out of love with” translation which adds a little nuance which I think matters in the case when we are discussing labelling feelings.

The opposite – incidently (because, mostly you have to do it first) – is verlieben. Interestingly, Duden defines that as:

von Liebe zu jemandem ergriffen werden

To be moved to love someone is the literal translation. Here, we would say ” fall in love with”.

The verb lieben means to love or to like – a bit like French it covers a few bases, although both have closer equivalents to like in the indirect forms “Ca me plait” and, specifically for German, “Das gefaellt mir”. It’s interesting to note, by the way, that usage of the verb “like” in English functioned this way around five hundred years ago, per Shakespeare. But this is not a discussion of verbs describing the action of “being pleasing to”.

What is interesting – if you are of a systematic kind of mind is the impact of prefixes on a root word like lieben, and how they can be used for similar impacts on other root words. I’ve been aware of these for years – the ones that stand out from German language tuition at university are Einsteigen, Aussteigen and Umsteigen, which respectively mean “get into” [a form of transport], “get off” [a form of transport] and “change from one to another”[form of transport].

I’ve seen the form ent– before in verbs like “entziehen“, to take away, withdraw. I’ve just never seen it used on the verb lieben before and despite the fact that it’s a straight application of an unmysterious system in the German language, it seems rather lyrical in a way that something de- does not in English.



Languages from a young age

I’m not entirely sure who dropped this in my twitter feed this morning but it caught my attention because it relates to teaching children foreign languages from the age of 3.

I am in favour of children learning languages from a young age and I am starting to do some research into how children acquire language for a separate reason anyway, but this concerned me:

When children join the preschool class of Moreton First at three years of age, they are exposed to four languages.

The four languages are English, French, Spanish and Chinese.

Catherine More, the head of the Moreton First School mentions explicitly research discussing the benefits of bilingualism and I fully favour that. However, bilingualism only works if it’s done properly. Quadrilingualism is not doing bilingualism properly.

Having spoken to parents in bilingual households, full fluency in two languages is hard work and that is with the benefit of home contact. If I were looking to school a child in an atmosphere where they were to be getting linguistic advantage, I’d prefer it to be just one foreign language, but taught in a more indepth manner.

Moreton First is a feeder school for Moreton Senior School. It would be interesting to test the fluency of children in the four languages as they progress through school.