Sir Richard Francis Burton spoke 24 languages

Question mark
Did you know that Sir Richard Francis Burton spoke at least 24 languages?
Sir Richard Francis Burton was the translator of “The Arabian Nights” into English and a polyglot. The languages he spoke are: Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Asante, Egba, English, Fan, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindustani (Sindhi and Urdu), Icelandic, Italian, Latin, Marathi, Occitan (Gascon/Béarnese dialect), Persian, Portuguese, Pushtu, Sanskrit, Saraiki, Spanish, and Swahili (McLynn, 1990). According to some sources, he spoke 29 languages (Lovell, 1998). Additionally this gentleman mastered many West African & Indian dialects which, if counted as separate languages, would increase the overall count of the languages he spoke to 40.

There are people who may think that if they learn a second or a third language, this can decrease the quality of their other language/s. There may be some truth in this. Linguists call this phenomenon “linguistic interference” – when one language interferes with another. For instance, an English speaker who learns French may use a capital letter referring to languages when s/he writes in French (because in English language names are capitalized) whereas standard French grammar requires a lower case letter only (e.g. français, ukrainien, etc.). However, these instances of linguistic interference are rare. Moreover, the more languages a person knows, the easier it is to learn yet another one. It is even easier to express one’s thoughts when one speaks more than one language.

Some people may also think that there may be no “space” for another language in their head; however, the example of Sir Richard Francis Burton is a great reminder of how many things we can learn and how many languages we can master without fear that “space” may lack.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage everyone to learn languages without fear of losing anything or limiting intellectual capacities. Quite on the contrary, the more languages we know, the easier it is to learn yet another one. The more languages we speak, the broader and deeper our perspective on things may be.

Lovell, Mary S. (1998). A rage to live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
McLynn, Frank (1990). Of no country: An anthology of the works of Sir Richard Burton. London: Scribners.

Argot, jargon, professionalism, and slang

Argot-Jargon-Professionalism-SlangDear All,
Argo, jargon, professionalism, and slang are the terms which are used not only by linguists, but by people with any other background in their everyday life. The everyday use of these terms contributes to the fact that sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. Even linguists who do not work closely with these notions may at times use one term instead of the other. However, there is a slight difference between these terms. The goal of this post is to define each of these terms which, in turn, should help to understand them better and to use them more accurately.

Below are the terms in question:
Argot (from Fr. argot [aʁˈɡo] – “slang”)

  • in the narrow sense was the language “used by beggars and thieves in medieval France” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 85);
  • more broadly, it is “any specialized vocabulary or set of expressions used by a particular group or class and not widely understood by mainstream society” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 85).

Thus, it is possible to speak about the argot of thieves, the argot of underworld, or the argot of lower class. An example of Parisian argot is piaf (bird; sparrow) – the standard French word for “bird” is “oiseau“.

“Cant” is another term which is synonymous to argot, but is used less frequently.

Jargon is the language “which is inaccessible to non-specialists” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 607).

Jargon is characterized by extensive use of terminology, exactness, and economy in transmitting meaning. Foreign words, compounds, special prefixes, and metaphors are common in jargon.

Jargon is used by people belonging to a certain profession; therefore, it is possible to speak about the jargon of programmers, linguists, or educators. Jargonisms (jargon words) can be used by people intentionally in order to show that they are knowledgeable in a certain area.

Examples of jargonisms include “tech” (technician), “PC” (personal computer), “ABD” (all but degree – all other requirements in an educational program have been met).

Professionalism is a synonym for a jargon word.

Slang (=slanguage) is “British or American variant of carelessly used colloquial language with explicitly social and regional variants”(Bussmann, 1998, p. 1084).

Newly coined words and foreign (in fashion) words are some of the characteristic features of slang. While jargon is acceptable (and sometimes even required) in documents and other formal style texts, slang is considered to be informal and is not acceptable in formal document writing.

On the one hand, slang can be used by an individual to hide the meaning of what s/he is saying from other people who do not belong to his/her circle of friends. On the other hand, slang can be used by an individual to show that s/he belongs to a certain group of people (who also use this language). Slang is often employed by teenagers, especially in order to show that they share interests with their peers.

Unlike jargon, slang is not based on any particular professional background. In other words, the same slang word can be used by a doctor and a musician, by a truck driver and a fisherman. Unlike argot, slang is not necessarily used by underclass people only.

Examples of slang include “chick” (girl), “a health geek” (a health-conscious individual).

Sometimes argot words, jargonisms, and slang words make their way to standard language and can be easily understood by most people. For example, “awesome” (great), “smoke” (cigarette), “spooky” (scary), “grub” (food).

Slang can be a separate word as shown in the examples above or a phrase, for example, “junk food” (unhealthy food). A slang word or a slang phrase can have one or more meanings, for instance, the phrase “to give a hand” has two meanings: 1) to help and 2) to applaud.

Any of the terms discussed above (argot, scant, jargon, professionalisms, and slang) are sometimes referred to as a “secret language” due to the fact that not all people can understand such language even though they are native speakers of the standard language in which this secret language functions.

An individual’s speech abundant in argot, jargon or slang can be referred to as “lingo” or a “sociolect”. The former term underlines that it is a special type of language which (just as standard language) is used to communicate, but is not understood by all. The latter term underlines the fact that sometimes argot, jargon or slang can be more common in certain social milieu.

In brief, what is the difference between argot, jargon, professionalism, and slang? Argot is used by underclass people and belongs to an informal style. Jargon (which is synonymous to professionalism) is characteristic of a certain profession and can be either formal or informal. Slang is used by young people and people sharing different professional interests or social backgrounds; slang belongs to an informal style.

To sum up, this post has defined the following terms: argot, jargon, professionalism, and slang. Peculiarity of each of these terms and examples of their use have been discussed. Differences between each of these terms have been briefly pointed out.

Bussmann, H. (Ed.). (1998). Routledge dictionary of language and linguistics; translated and edited by Gregory Trauth and Kerstin Kazzazi. London: Routledge.

Educating the mind

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all (Aristotle).

Dear All,
It is not uncommon to hear some students complaining about the necessity to take courses which are only indirectly related to their area of specialization instead of focusing on their majors or minors.

The quote above by Aristotle underlines the importance of educating not only the mind, but also the heart, in other words, the person as a whole rather than instructing an individual in a narrow area of knowledge. This is probably the real value of classical education which the majority of postsecondary institutions provide – to teach a person a variety of topics, to educate a student to be able to find solutions across different areas of knowledge, and to succeed regardless of the complexity of a given situation, including situations in the field of the person’s specialization which may require knowledge from multiple disciplines.

In my opinion, humanities are therefore, an indelible element of any educational system which strives for excellence. Humanities in turn, rely oftentimes on sciences (for example in conducting quantitative research) and therefore, should not underestimate the importance of sciences for development of humanities.

Linguistic humour

Friedrich von Schlegel, quote.pngDear All,
The quote above by Friedrich von Schlegel calls upon bringing together the world of science and humanities. Indeed, some of the greatest discoveries were made at the intersection of disciplines. For example, radio galaxies were found through the combined analysis of radio and optical data.

What can unite sciences and humanities? The answer is: hard work, perseverance, and … humour. It is certainly important to maintain excellence in research through hard work and perseverance, but sometimes it is also important to distance oneself from research and to smile. This helps to see the whole picture better in addition to particular details and thus, to advance research and to make it even more successful.

Below are a few linguistic jokes. I am going to add this list as I come across more linguistic jokes and anecdotes. If you know more, share them in the comments! Thanks!

You are tense, moody, irregular? You must be a verb (Linguist Llama Blog, 2015)!

Do not touch morpheme with bare hands. Risk of inflection (Linguist Llama Blog, 2015).

What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus (OD, 2016)!

– Did you know that my puppy has a degree?
– Ha, ha, ha! No, I didn’t.
– He is a dogtor.
– LOL, medical or PhD?
– He is a petiatrician!
– True!
– You pet!

Чи ви знали, що у мого цуценяти є професія? Він – видатний кусьменник. У нього є хвіст, цебто хист!

Dr. Smith: Put aside the test-tube.
Dr. White: Ok.
Dr. Smith: Prepare the electrolyte.
Dr. White: K.
Dr. Smith: Then add the electrolyte into the test-tube.
Dr. White: Potassium.
Dr. Smith: How is potassium related???
Dr. White: “K”.

Saint Nicholas: HO-HO-HO!
Scientist: Holmium (Ho), a chemical element with atomic number 67.

Ted: Hey John!
John: Helium (He) + Yttrium (Y). Hi Ted!
Ted: Hydrogen iodide (HI) John!

A real-life anecdote: a famous musician has a T-shirt with the following inscription: “Education is important, but playing guitar is importanter”.

Enjoy the balance of your week!*

*This joke is, probably, most suitable in accounting; however, since the humour is achieved through linguistic (stylistic, to be more concise) means, it has been added to the list. The humour here is based on using a professional term in this unexpected, everyday context.

Linguist Llama Blog (2015).  Retrieved November 20, 2016, from
Oxford Dictionaries (OD) (2016). Retrieved July 10, 2016, from


Colours. What do they communicate?

Video credit: Vanessa Van Edwards, “Decoding colors how they affect behavior” January 7, 2014, via YouTube.

Dear All,
Have you ever felt that a certain colour is pleasant to eyes and another colour looks sad, yet another one is cheerful? This may be because each colour has a communicative potential on its own or in combination with other colours and factors.

First of all, what is the nature of colour? A lot of people think that colours are a part of the objective reality and are one of the basic characteristics with which an object can be identified. In other words, it is widely accepted that objects have certain colours. For example, we say that these two cars are identical except their colour: one is blue and the other one is green. However, speaking strictly in physical terms, colours do not exist; they are not an attribute of objects. They are rather the ability of different objects to reflect light differently and the ability of our brain and eyes to percept this. Have you ever met a colour-blind person? This person does not see colours in the same way as the majority of other people do. This happens because of this person’s physiological characteristics, not because an object suddenly changes its nature when this person looks at it. This is a simple proof (mind experiment as Einstein called it) of the fact that colours are subjective perceptions rather than a part of the objective reality so to say or a given characteristic of an object.

Now let us focus our attention on the communicative aspect of colours. The video above by Vanessa Van Edwards deals with the following colours:

1) Red – the colour of passion and aggression. It attracts attention, therefore, ladies can benefit from wearing red clothes for the first date. This colour also stimulates digestion.

2) Grey – neutral, more passive. If walls are coloured in grey, such ambience may give a low energy feeling to a person. This colour in clothing allows focusing on the subject matter more than on the speaker. It can be paired well with some other colours such as blue, purple, and orange.

3) Blue – the colour of the sky and the ocean. It is considered loyal, dependable, trustworthy, and wise. Wearing blue may communicate that the person who is dressed in blue is an expert, calm, and knows what s/he is doing. This colour may be a good choice for men to wear on a first date. Walls coloured in blue may help workers to make fewer mistakes when they work. According to some other sources (e.g. DeVite, 2009), blue is the colour of acceptance and whenever a person negotiates a thing (e.g. an interview), it may be beneficial to wear this colour.

4) Purple – this colour appears relatively rarely in nature and it was hard to make purple dye in the past. This is one of the reasons why this colour is associated with luxury and royalty. It is best when used in moderation and is paired well with grey. It may be a good colour for a gift wrap to make the gift look more expensive. When this colour is used in excess, it can make a thing look artificial and fake.

5) Orange is the colour of success and high energy. Orange clothes  may be great for wearing to a gym or for a sports team. This colour is also known for stimulating appetite and, therefore, is used by some restaurants to increase their sales.

Subtle varieties of colours according to Vanessa Van Edwards (2014) communicate the same meaning as their saturated variety, but with a lesser intensity. She also notes that colours do not dictate behaviour, but they can help to communicate certain things.

Besides the universal meaning of colours, it should be mentioned that colours can mean different things in different cultures (see post on giving flowers across cultures). For example, red is the colour of richness in Chinese culture and the colour of women’s beauty in Russian culture. White is the the colour of purity in some western cultures and the colour of sorrow in some Asian cultures.

Besides the cultural aspect of the meaning of colours, colours can also mean different things to individual people. For instance, if in the past a person has showed great energy in grey environment and won a competition, the same colour (grey) may become associated with high energy as compared to orange or to the original meaning of this colour.

In brief, this post has addressed the question of the communicative potential of colours. Besides certain universal “semantics”, colours can have different communicative potentials depending on the given culture and person’s individual experiences.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please add a comment to this post below. Thank you.

DeVito, J. A. (2009). The interpersonal communication book. (12th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.


IELTS: Fingerprints

Dear All,
IELTS (International English Language Testing System)is English language. It is taken by students who go to a country where they main language of instruction is English, by workers going to work abroad (even if their mother tongue is English), and immigrants. Today IELTS requires test takers to submit their fingerprints (in addition to taking a picture of the person). This measure is justified by security reasons. However, how this ensures security or prevents from cheating is not clear.

Once in our conversation with an IELTS representative she mentioned that this measure may help if a person had a twin and wanted to cheat. However, it is unclear how exactly this is going to help since IELTS is likely to be the only database storing this person’s fingerprints and there is nothing to compare them to. Moreover, how many people who take IELTS have a twin and how many of those twins can actually pass the test better than their twin brother/sister?

According to an official IELTS representative, “these are an integral part of the test’s anti-fraud measures which allows IELTS results to be trusted worldwide”. However, IELTS was a trustworthy language test even without the fingerprint taking practice and would continue being so because fingerprints are not the reason why IELTS is trusted.

Other tests such as CELPIP (Canadian English Language Test) and TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) do not require fingerprints and are still reputable and widely accepted. The reason why IELTS and these two testing systems are trusted is because they have multiple locations across the globe and use unified and transparent standards. In this way, people from different countries can take the same test and their knowledge can be measured and compared more or less accurately.

Furthermore, it takes one whole day to take IELTS. Adding the fingerprint procedure is another unnecessary step which takes away more time and thus is can make test takers more tired and distracted which may affect their results (since the procedure takes place before the test).

In addition to this, some people may have ethical concerns about fingerprint taking: fingerprints are recorded if a person is a criminal, why should test takers submit their fingerprints? Why should IELTS authorities assume by default that test takers want to cheat?

The question remains open. What do you think about the practice of collecting and recording fingerprints from language test takers? Please share your opinion in the comments to this post. You can also vote in the poll below. Thanks.

See also posts on IELTS books, TOEFL, and CELPIP.

Reading aloud to enhance language skills

Reading-aloudDear All,
Technically, there are four basic language skills: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. However, in reality, they are inseparable and work together to produce what is known as language proficiency. For example, when a person participates in a conversation, s/he is expected to both speak and listen; if the conversation is over Skype, then to write and to read too.

The four skills work closely together in a lot of speech situations. But have you ever considered that the four language skills are also tied together in a different way? Namely, while we practise speaking, for example, we also often practise listening because the best practice of speaking is probably participation in a conversation and this typically involves listening.

Similarly, when we read, we can also contribute to the three other skills (besides the reading skill). One way to make most of your time reading is to read aloud. Reading aloud activates not only our visual memory (we read with eyes), but also auditory memory (we hear ourselves pronouncing words and phrases) and articulatory memory (our mouth and tongue “remember” how to build correct phrases and sentences). The more articulatory organs (e.g. tongue and lips) and organs of perception (e.g. eyes and ears) participate in speech, the better the information is remembered and the likelier we are to use the phrases we came across and to build new ones on their basis in our own speech.

It is important to note that although reading is a powerful tool to enhance language proficiency, it should be also combined with extensive speaking, listening, and writing to improve the ability to communicate in a foreign language overall. The point that I wanted to underline in this post is that whenever there is a chance to read, it may be a good idea to read aloud to contribute to better dynamics of building language proficiency.


URL (link) shortener

Google-URL-shortenerDear All,
Have you ever tried to copy a link to share with your students, colleagues or fellow students and the link takes half a page with a lot of strange symbols? It may still work well if you send it electronically, but what if you want to print it and to include in a syllabus or other educational materials?

Luckily, there is a reasonable solution – a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, i.e. a link) shortener, a Web application which allows entering a long link (a) and getting back a short one (b). It is possible then to share link b with other people. This link b works in exactly the same way as link a directing people to the same Web resource.

The URL shortener in the image above is Google URL shortener (there are a lot of others on the Web). Here is the link to it:

How does it work? Just copy the link you want to shorten, paste it in the provided space, and get it shortened. Copy it and share with the people you want electronically or use it on printed materials. If you have a Google account the links you shortened in the past are displayed in your history on the Google URL shortener page. If you remove (hide) your shortened links from your history, they are removed from the list, but continue existing and people are still able to use them (as long as the original Web resource [i.e. the long link] exists).


We are what we repeatedly do

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit (Aristotle).

Dear All,
Have you ever seen and marvelled at a person performing breakdancing: hand hops, head spins, crickets, windmills, flares, air tracks, turtles, hand glides, halos, elbow spins, etc.? I totally enjoy watching people showing this art. Interestingly, they also started somewhere and came a long way from being unable to perform relatively simple moves to executing most sophisticated elements because they practised.

The same thing is true about education. The quote above is reminder about this – we achieve things (including excellence in education) by practising them. Do you want to succeed in education or even earn a PhD? Yes, you can do this. Make your studying a habit, just as sportsmen (or breakdancers) do. If people can learn to do hand hops by practising, then you can earn your degree by practicing too. Just as breakdancers work with their muscles, work with your head. Add flexible, be wise, be careful, be bold, do things with love. Good luck!

Irradiation and learning

Irradiation-2Dear All,
An old Latin proverb says “Mens sana in corpore sano” or “Healthy spirit in a healthy body”. This proverb underlines the importance of physical health for one’s spiritual life. In my opinion, it is equally applicable to the process of learning. In order to learn something it is important to be healthy because when a person is ill, the only thing s/he really thinks about is his/her health. In other words, to make sure that the learning process is smooth, it is necessary to keep healthy. However, there are a lot of things that keep us unhealthy and therefore are best to be avoided. Today I would like to speak about irradiation (the symbol which is used on food packaging of irradiated food is the above image).

According to Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to a controlled amount of energy called “ionizing radiation” (CFIA, 2014)*.

According to encyclopedia Britannica, “Irradiation, or radurization, is a pasteurization method accomplished by exposing meat to doses of radiation” (Russel Cross, 2011).

In other words, irradiation is the process of exposing food to radiation. Ironically, nuclear wastes are used for this process. Some claim that irradiation is a safe way to prolong shelf life of products and to reduce the number of bacteria in food and thus help to avoid poisoning with food. Others admit that it may prolong shelf life of some products, but it has no practical worth in preventing food poisoning since irradiation does not kill bacteria that cause botulism or viruses.

The first camp is represented by food manufacturers or food resellers and some agencies aiming at prolonging shelf life of products and increasing revenue. The second camp is represented by scholars who study the process independently.

According to Dr. Gayle Eversole (2015):

  • no one knows what the effect of irradiation on human health in the long run.
  • “Irradiation exposes food to the equivalent of 30 million chest X-rays.”
  •  “Irradiation creates new chemicals in foods called radiolytic products. Some of these products are known cancer-causing substances (like benzene in irradiated beef).”
  •  “Irradiation destroys essential vitamins and nutrients that are naturally present in food” and “accelerate[s] vitamin losses occur during storage–up to 80%.”
  •  “Safer, well-tested alternatives to irradiation exist.”
  •  “Irradiation plants pose environmental threats to workers and surrounding communities.”
  •  “[I]rradiation both creates harmful free radicals and destroys the antioxidant vitamins necessary to fight them!”
  •  “In Europe, food irradiation has been used to camouflage spoiled seafood.”
  •  “Studies on animals fed irradiated foods have shown increased tumors, reproductive failures and kidney damage.”
  • “In Georgia, radioactive water escaped from an irradiation facility; the taxpayers were stuck with $47 million in cleanup costs.”
  • Chromosomal abnormalities occurred in children from India who were fed freshly irradiated wheat.”

The information above can make one reflect on potential health issues and to seek a safer way. The alternative to irradiated food is non-irradiated food and particularly organic food. Nowadays staple organic products (e.g. wheat, buckwheat, millet, oats, apples, potatoes and many others) are affordable even to students and low income families. And this option should be tried as an alternative.

The learning process is a demanding task and every effort should be taken to help this process. Food has a tremendous effect on learning. There is food that helps learning and there is food that makes us sick and distracts from learning. Students and other learners (and instructors) are too busy to be ill. Therefore, it is important to consider all healthy options which facilitate learning.

Similar posts: Good food for good studies and GMOs and health concerns.

* Bold type added.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (2014). Food irradiation. Retrieved October 10, 2015 from
Eversole, G. (2015). The dangers of food irradiation. Retrieved October 10, 2015 from
H. Russell Cross (2011). Meat processing. Retrieved October 9, 2015 from


Competence, health, and decisions

Video credit: The Globe and Mail, “Chris Hadfield’s three tips for success” October 24, 2013, via YouTube.

Dear All,
The video above is about Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut and Commander (Expedition 35) of International Space Station. I am posting this video on the blog because an important question is asked and Chris Hadfield has given an interesting answer.

Specifically, Chris Hadfield is asked to share his experience and to give some advice for success. In brief, the answer consists of three parts:
1) competence* to be able to perform your work (or study) well and to grow in your own field;
2) health which presupposes physical exercises and healthy eating; and
3) decision making, a skill which can be developed by practising.

This advice is applicable to the sphere of education. If one wants to succeed at a university all these things are important. There may be a “temptation” to skip exercises or self-education or even decision making due to responsibilities at the university and the amount of materials to learn there, but these three things are in fact just as important to succeed as preparing for day-to-day classes.

Therefore, I wish to extend this advice to aspiring students, future professors, and professionals. Education, health, and decision making skills are indispensable in academia and can take you to space!

* In another video from space, Chris Hadfield mentions “education” as the first tip and more specifically the “desire to know new things”, in other words, it is importance to be willing to learn things on your own, beyond school and academia.


La Bibliothèque électronique du Québec


Dear All,
I have come across a valuable resource for those who like reading in French and who is learning French –

La Bibliothèque électronique du Québec (

This is a collection of digitalized books of classical authors. Since the copyright on these books has expired, they are available for free download. It is possible to download a book in any of these three formats: DOC, EPUB, and PDF. The variety of the formats makes it convenient to read the books on different electronic devices (e.g. a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop).

My favourite collection is “A tous les vents“. It contains multiple books by such authors as Jules Verne, Hans Christian Andersen, Honoré de Balzac and others.

Enjoy the books!

More resources for readers and learners of French: Improve/ maintain your French.


Technique to advance education

Nothing so furthers education as loving and being loved (St. John Crysostom).

Dear All,
Have you ever taught to a big class of students? Have you managed to show your appreciation to each of them? Impossible? Well, that’s the art of teaching.

There are many techniques to advance education. Audio-visual aids, for example, is one of my favourite ones. I like short videos to the point on the subject matter in question or a related diagram. They can express so much in so little time. Plus since they are visual, the visual memory is also activated contributing to better dynamics of learning let alone the interest that these audio-visual aids trigger in students. However, all this and other useful techniques are of little use if the instructor does encourage his/her students to learn, does not show appreciation of the students, and does not take interest in what s/he is teaching.

The quote above by St. John Chrysostom summarizes this important technique. Do you remember some of your best classes? What do they all have in common? As for me, my best classes were those which I taught with enthusiasm, appreciating my students, and transferring my interest in the subject matter to them.

Similar: Nine tenths of education is encouragement.


Teaching and learning English, French, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian

FeruDear All,
I have just come across an excellent resource for teachers and learners of English, French, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. This is a blog devoted to teaching and learning these languages. The blog is called Féru:

While teaching and learning resources are abundant on English and some other languages, they are much more scarce on Ukrainian for example. This is especially true for English-speaking teacher and learners. Therefore, Féru blog may be of interest to the people who are teaching or learning Ukrainian as well as English, French, Polish, and Russian. I was excited to find illustrated Ukrainian idioms and grammar graphs on this blog.

I hope this resource may help to English-speaking teachers and  learners who are interested in finding useful information on teaching/learning English, French, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. If you have more resources on teaching and learning of these or other languages, please share in the comments to this post. Thanks!


Varenyky-perogiesImage credit: Kagor, “Kapersy 027” May 4, 2008, via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Dear All,
Today I would like to speak with you about perogies! Perogies (Canadian English spelling) are considered to be traditional Ukrainian food. They are also widely available (e.g. frozen at a store) in Canada and Poland.

Did you know that in modern Ukraine, perogies are best known under the name of Varenyky? The word “varenyky” (pl. of “varenyk“) comes from the Ukrainian word “varyty” – ‘to boil’ because this product is cooked in boiling water. Perogies/ varenyky are also known under the following names/spellings: pyrohy, pyrogy, pyrogie, pierogi, perogi, pierogy, perogy, pierógi, or pirogi.

Although the spelling may be different, the meaning is always the same: dumplings filled with various fillings and cooked in boiled water. Interestingly, in Canada perogies are usually prepared only with either potato (and onion) or cheese (and potatoes) fillings. Whereas in Ukraine, perogies are eaten with a variety of fillings such as potatoes (and onion), cabbage, or as dessert with cottage cheese, sour cherries, raspberries, etc. (the cheese filling is not typically used in Ukraine). Perogies are served with sunflower oil or sour cream in Ukraine.

How perogies are served in your culture/country? What is the name/spelling of the product? What are the typical fillings?


Improve/ maintain your French

TintinHi All,
Today I would like draw your attention to an excellent resource for the people who are learning French or who want to maintain it.

If you are learning French as your additional language (second language, etc.), then you need to use it as much as possible. It goes without saying that it is best to take every opportunity to speak it. But what else and what if your possibility to speak it is limited? Well, watching movies in French and listening to French singers or stories in French are also great ways to improve your French.

Besides all these things, I personally like reading. With modern technologies you can read an electronic book on your device anywhere: while waiting for a bus, while resting from your studies and work, in the evening or over a weekend, at home or in the open air. In a word, it is extremely convenient, relaxing, and inspiring. So, if you are learning French and need to learn it fast, it is an excellent way to supplement your main learning material/practices. If you already know French, but have limited opportunities to practice it, and still want to maintain your knowledge (“use it or lose” as the proverb says), then reading in French may be a good way to go about it.

What to chose for reading? It is best if you can find what you like. I love classic adventures. Therefore, I recommend “Les Aventures de Tintin” for personal use and use in classrooms for French learners. It is an excellent comics series (série de bandes dessinées). What are some of the advantages of reading this series? Here are just some of them:

  • light adventure reading;
  • intercultural intelligence enhancement;
  • living (Balzac type) characters;
  • images help to understand unknown words and to remember them;
  • dialogic form of the narrative focuses on words used by French-speaking people in face-to-face communication;
  • introduction of conversational cliches.

This link leads to the website where you can download the full collection of “Les Aventures de Tintin” in PDF:

This series was created by a Belgian author Georges Remi writing under his pseudonym “Hergé” (formed by the first letters of his real name). If you are interested to learn more about this author and the context in which the books were created, here is an excellent website containing a video interview with the author and other materials:

To recapitulate, if you are learning French, you can certainly read French books (like the series above) to diversify and further improve your language. If you want to maintain your French, but have little time to do so, reading is something you should be able to afford (time wise) and enjoy!


Independent and dependent variables


Dear All,
When we conduct a linguistic research, we usually work with a number of variables some of which are independent and some are dependent. This post defines these two types of variables.

An independent variable is what is given (e.g. age, sex, social class, geographical location, occupation), the “input”.

An dependent variable is what results from this set of independent variables (e.g. pronunciation of the phoneme [r], use of a particular dialect, use of a particular sociolect).

Depending on the set up of a study one and the same variable (e.g. the use of slang) may be either independent or dependent. Therefore, a variable taken out of the context of a study is neither independent nor dependent in itself. It becomes such only within a given context. You can find a good example of independent and dependent variables within their context in “Social stratification of English” post.

Healthier and longer life

SmileyDear All,
Many centuries, across different cultures people have been looking for a way to make our lives healthier and longer. Well, modern medicine has partially succeeded in this by helping to prolong our lives to a limited extent. But what about the quality of life? How to make it not only longer, but also healthier and therefore happier. Can hapiness, in turn, make our lives longer?

Today I would like to discuss briefly an interesting study by Deborah Danner, David Snowdon and Wallace Friesen (2001). Below is a table briefly describing the essence of the study:

Objective To find out how positive emotions influence longivity of life and health.
Subject Presence/absence of positive emotion words and sentences.
Method Linguistic (semantic) analysis.
Variables Independent: 180 autobiographies; occupation (nuns); sex; age.
Dependent: the quantity of semantic units expressing positive, neutral, and negative emotions; longevity of life.
Result The nuns in the autobiographies of whom there were found most of semantic units expressing positive emotions lived by 10 years longer (!) than those in whose autobiographies there were the least number of semantic units expressing positive emotions.
Significance of the study This study incorporated 180 samples, managed to exclude a lot of factors (such as bad habits, food, exercising, occupation, etc.) and looked at a considerable period of time (60 – 70 years). In this sense, this research looking at the longivity of life and positive emotions is unique in its way.

In summary, this study showed that nuns writing more positive autobiographies in young adulthood lived longer than nuns writing less positive autobiographies.

This study answers an important question: do positive emotions affect the longuivity of our lives? The answer is a firm “yes”. However, it also raises two other important questions: 1) does our attitude to the things that happen around can make us happier? and 2) how to make ourselves truly happier?

Danner, D.D., Snowdon, D.A., & Friesen, W.V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804–813.

Linguistic Web tool

ReversoHello Everyone!
Today I would like to share with you quite an interesting linguistic tool. It is called Reverso. Reverso can be useful to people who are interested in linguistic matters such as: translation, conjugation, spelling, dictionary forms, and usage examples. This tool can be of use to learners of foreign languages who want to conjugate a verb or to translate words as well as to see in which context a particular word is used. This Web resource is accessible at:


Interjections in English

YAY-2Dear All,
This post discusses interjections in English. It defines an interjection and provides a resource to look up various interjections in English, their variants, and examples.

What is an interjection? The word ‘interjection‘ comes from Lat. ‘intericere’ meaning “to throw between”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary online, interjection is “a word or phrase that is used as a short, sudden expression of emotion” (CDO, 2015). Interjections (such as “hi” and “bye”) can be used to initiate a conversation or to terminate it in a polite way.

Grammatically, the status of interjections is debatable, “as they behave strangely in respect to morphology, syntax, and semantics: they are formally indeclinable, stand outside the syntactic frame, and have no lexical meaning, strictly speaking” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 582). Interjections are often onomatopoeic in nature (i.e. they are formed in imitation of sounds, e.g. ho-ho-ho).

Interjections are often used in face-to-face communication or by writers reproducing or creating resemblance of a conversation. For example:
Helen: Tom, have you brought your umbrella today? It’s raining cats and dogs!
Tom: Oops, I forgot…

Interjections are often used by native speakers of English on a daily basis and therefore are important to get acquianted with by the people who study English as their additional language. It is also a powerful tool of creating verbally colourful and authentic dialogues in writing.

If you are interested in more examples of interjections in English, their forms, verbal translations, examples, and meanings, this Web page may be a good starting point:

Have you ever been in a situation where interjections were very important or confusing? Please write a comment to this post. Thanks!

Cambridge Dictionaries Online (CDO) (2015). Retrieved August 1, 2015 from,
Bussmann, H. (Ed.). (1998). Routledge dictionary of language and linguistics; translated and edited by Gregory Trauth and Kerstin Kazzazi. London: Routledge.

Giving flowers across cultures

DaisyDear All,
Flowers are considered to be an excellent gift in many cultures across the globe. However, there are certain cultural differences as to what flower gifts are appropriate and which ones are not. Below are several of them:

1) In Belarus, Hungary, Russia, and Ukraine odd number of flowers are presented to living people and even number of flowers are brought to commemorate people who passed away. This does not apply to bouquets in which the number of flowers is usually not counted.

2) 13 flowers in Peru are avoided due to bad associations with the number.

3) White flowers or flower wrapping would be inappropriate for living people because the white colour is associated with death in Japan.

4) Red roses as a gift are appropriate for romance purposes only in Germany.

5) Yellow flowers are associated with death, sorrow, and separation in Mexico and Russia.

6) Red flowers are believed to bring bad luck in Mexico

7) Marigolds are used to decorate cemeteries in Mexico.

What cultural differences do you know pertaining to flower gifting in different countries and places? Please share by adding a comment to this post, thanks!

Nine tenths of education is encouragement

Nine tenths of education is encouragement (Anatole France).

Dear All,
This quote by Anatole France underlines the importance of encouragement in education. Certainly, encouragement advances education and improves information retention, but what is the way to encourage students? In fact, there are many ways. Some of them are:

1) show respect to your students by asking their opinion and listening to it – you may be surprised how often they will come up with perfect answers about which you have not even thought. Even if this does not happen, your students will be happy to listen to your answer (and remember it). Also remember to be sincerely respectful and polite in any other way.

2) Appreciate – it is important to notice students’ success and to make it explicit even if the progress is modest. There are many way to do so, for example, give good marks to active students (not only those whose answers were right), say that “because you worked so hard today, I am going to cancel (give you extra time, have fewer questions, increase your mark by 10%) the test next time”, say that you are happy with their work/progress today.

3) Be creative – find the way to explain even difficult material in an interesting way. For example, if you teach an ESL class and the topic is “Eating out”, you may want to invite your students (if this is an adult group) to a restaurant and learn the material there, on concrete examples.

4) Exemplify – provide accessible examples for the new concepts that you explain. Sometimes two, three or even four examples are necessary.

5) Ask for feedback – use a form like below to solicit feedback. This should show if your students are struggling with anything in the course and if they do, this will allow to take a timely action, Therefore, it is a good idea to ask for such feedback not at the end of the course, but somewhere in the middle.


6) Have various types of testing – different students learn differently and it is always a good idea to vary your tests: multiple choice assignments, fast quizzes, open-ended questions, and creative individual or group projects are just some of the options. Some student may like one kind of testing better than another kind and will perform better and happier in it.

7) Adjust the material – make sure to adjust your material to the level, age, and language of your students. To be effective learners, your students should be able to get information in an accessible way. For example, sometimes it is a good idea to avoid excessive terminology or to go over it at the beginning of the course (and from time-to-time). If the material is difficult – explain it in an easy way with abundant examples, preferably related to students’ everyday life.

8) Prepare interesting facts – how many people speak English as their first language on the planet? How many people speak English as their second language? Third? How many “Englishes” (variants) do there exist and why is it important to know this? Did you know that …?

9) Let students be independent – do you know how psychologists recommend to encourage little children to eat healthy food? They recommend to do so by allowing children to prepare their own food. In language courses, the class sizes are usually relatively small and this makes it possible to allow students to act as an instructor and to explain certain concepts to their group mates (make a list of such concepts and dates when they should be presented and allow students to sign up for the concepts; then allocate five to fifteen minutes during each class for this purpose. Remember to mark students’ efforts (this should contribute to their final grade) and to appreciate their preparation. Also be ready to give them a hand with the preparation, e.g. during office hours).

10) Learn – as you teach a course, you will see that certain strategies work well, while others need improvements or best to be avoided (e.g. too time-consuming or too difficult for students to cope with). Learn from this and incorporate this when you teach the course again or use it in other courses.

In summary, remember to encourage your students in a variety of ways and they will reward you with excellent knowledge and the desire to learn more.


Video credit: Chemical Engineering Resources, “Making educational videos” March 9, 2014, via YouTube.

YouTube is a media tool:
It has a lot to educate and entertain.
Be like a bee, collect only the nectar which is cool;
From other stuff you can refrain.

You can also use it to educate,
To make information easier to understand
For your students and to be able to navigate
Through book chapters and on a better job to land.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds into your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover (Mark Twain).

Dear All,
Whatever we study, whenever we conduct research, however hard our work may be, let’s remember to explore, dream, and discover. The quote above by the American writer Mark Twain is just about this: explore, dream, and discover. Most of us have been told so many times that we are wrong, that sometimes we are too scared to make a mistake. In fact, a lot of those statements were inappropriate. Others were made by the people who may be wrong much oftener than we are. Yet others may have been made by those people who are scared themselves to boldly explore good things. Therefore, let somebody’s words in the past not prevent us from exploring, dreaming, and discovering. Even if we make a mistake, it is a result albeit negative, it is something that helps us to improve our approach, to make our research tools more sophisticated, to discover new good things. If you are studying ESL, if you are taking any other course or if you are teaching a course, please remember to explore, dream, and discover!

History of English

Video credit: The Virtual Linguistics Campus, “The History of English (An Overview)” December 17, 2014, via YouTube.

Dear All,
This post discusses briefly the history of the English language.

Five major periods of the language development can be outlined:
1) England before the English (55 BC – 600 AD):
– the Celts;
– Julius Caesar’s conquest;
– the invasion by the Picts, the Scots, the Jutes, and the Saxons;

2) Old English (600 – 1100):
– the invasion by Germanic tribes (the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes);
– the language is synthetic in nature and has free word order;

3) Middle English (1100 – 1500):
– the Norman conquest in 1066;
– Norman aristocracy (law, literature, official documents are in Norman French);
– English is the language of the lower class;
– the Black Death (labour shortages and increased usage/prestige of lower class language)
– the Hundred Years War (no longer need of learning/teaching French);
– introduction of the printing press (standardization of English);
– beginning of colonization (English is spoken in Americas and other places),
– the language has the Germanic core and a lot of words of the French origin;

4) Early Modern English (1500 – 1700)
– Shakespeare;
– the King James Version of the Bible;
– the language is analytic and the word order is direct: SVO;

5) Present-Day English (1700 – present):
– inner circle (e.g. UK and Australia), outer circle (e.g. India and Jamaica), expanding circle (e.g. Japan and Indonesia);
– language of the international business, science, trade, and sports.

It is interesting to note how much the history of a language is linked to the sociocultural history within which this language functions. Similarly, the present-day sociocultural context of a language influences considerably its modern life and development.