Correct these mistakes for Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and there’s nothing jollier than knowing your vocabulary. Therefore, today we’re learning about two Catalan words that foreigners tend to get wrong.

Now that the tió tradition has gone properly international thanks to Kate McKinnon (see video below), it’s time to debunk the belief that tió means uncle. ‘If you know basic Spanish’ some people say and even write on their blogs ‘you’ll know that tío means uncle’. Well, yes; but we’re talking about a Catalan tradition, hence a Catalan word. Tió—not tío—means log, as Kate explains. And isn’t it obvious? I mean, just look at the bloody thing.

What Kate doesn’t get so right is calling it cagatió. However, there is currently a debate among natives about this issue (trending topic included: #EsDiuTió). As the song to make the tió poo presents starts with ‘Caga tió’, which literally translates to ‘poo [imperative] log’, some use this as the log name and that’s wrong. Conversely, cagatió is indeed a word that means the act of making the tió poo, the event. So you’ll say: On the evening of the 24th we’re doing the cagatió and the tió will poo lots of sweets and presents for us.

It's only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

It’s only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

A not-so-festive issue, but relevant any time a foreigner mentions Barcelona, is what you can call the Catalan capital. Barcelona is the official name, that’s easy. BCN is a well-known and correct abbreviation. There is only one more alternative: Barna, from Bar(celo)na. Barça (pronounced ‘barsa’) is just a name for the football team. So calling the city Barça or Barsa is utterly wrong. Mispronouncing the wrong term and calling it Barca (‘barka’) is even worse, as barca means boat.

So you finally know it and you can sound a bit wiser this Christmas. Now go, deck the halls and don your gay apparel, unless you live in an extremely religious country. Ah, the irony!

Proper English on the Spanish radio? Not thanks to Maroon 5

If you ever listen to the Spanish radio, you’ll notice that their English is highly improvable. See some examples.

When Spain couldn’t speak English—or even less than now—the average citizen settled for the pleasure of the melody, which they accompanied with a succession of sounds sort of inspired by the actual lyrics. That is, In the Ghetto sung by El Príncipe Gitano was fine.

You’d think that in 2016 radio disk jockeys would have polished their English due to the exposure to that language. Far from the truth. They even dare make comments that are allegedly related to the lyrics. Allegedly.

After Love Yourself by Justin Bieber was played, a deejay added ‘That’s right. Everyone should love themselves’. She probably focussed on the title, the slow rhythm and the whispering and ignored the words, since ‘love yourself’ in that song is an obvious ‘f**k you’.

They don’t even try. After almost a decade of Halo by Beyoncé—in which the title of the song is repeated to boredom—other deejay introduced it as ‘HA-lo’, four sounds, instead of the six from ‘hey-low’.

'Listen, I'm going to mess with grammar if I want to and you're going to love it'

‘Listen, I’m going to mess with grammar if I want to and you’re going to love it’

However, who can blame them when the anglophone bands commit atrocities such as ‘even the sun sets in paradise’? I’m indeed quoting Payphone by Maroon 5. If the metaphor means that nothing is perfect and the sun sets everywhere, even in paradise, they should sing ‘the sun sets even in paradise’. Notice the place of the adverb. As it is in the song, it means that many things set in paradise, even the sun.

There’s still a lot to do…

Interesting facts about the Catalan language – 2015

Just like last year, the same week of the Diada, the Catalan national day, I want to talk about my language. Here’s a visual selection of the 50 facts about the Catalan situation nowadays published in the InformeCat 2015 by Plataforma per la Llengua.

Adapted from the InformeCAT 2015 by Plataforma per la Llengua

Adapted from the InformeCAT 2015 by Plataforma per la Llengua

Yes, I’m still studying Polish

And my Polish friends find it hard to believe.

I haven’t told you about my progress with the Slavic language since October. Before Easter I spent two weeks in Poland. But why? What’s in there? Apart from Poles, there’s my progress test.

Wouldn't you like all your exams to be like this? [foto©: Rafał Rzepeckl]

Wouldn’t you like all your exams to be like this? [foto©: Rafał Rzepeckl]

Once again some friends hosted me. Friends have, nevertheless, no educational obligation and Polish is used occasionally since English allows for proper communication, which is better than guessing each other’s message. However, I found a way to stimulate my friends to speak more Polish to me: meeting their friends.

At first everybody loves that crazy guy who’s learning their language and introductions and first contact are made in Polish. Thanks to that, the conversation continues like this and now I’m a lot more able to join in than last summer.

There are still lots of gaps, but my fake understanding face is convincing enough to keep the dialogue going so that I get immersed in Polish. At some point I’ll say more than three sentences in a row in English and they’ll swap to it to save me a headache.

So much have I improved that I understand radio announcers a lot better. Such is my progress, that back to Barcelona I went to a pub with a Polish friend and some Slovak acquaintances of him and I could even understand some of their sentences. I’m on fire.

What’s your English dialect? Got words?

Today, I’m sharing with you three simple, short and even fun tests to test your dialect and your vocabulary in English.

Which English? (5 min)

Cutest thing ever for a post about English [photo: Daily Mail Online]

Cutest picture ever for a post about English [photo: Daily Mail Online]

English grammar is different around the world and influences of your own language—if it’s a different one—may show on your performance. This test consists of three parts. First you’re presented with a sentence and two pictures and you have to choose the image that best represents the sentence. Then you have to tick the phrases that fit in some gaps. Finally, you need to point out the grammatically correct sentences of a list. It’s not uncommon to find different answers to the same thing. But this test doesn’t allow greys; it’s black or white.

An algorithm will guess your dialect and your native language. The more people take the test, the better its guess will be. I took it twice and got English (UK) as my dialect. Scottish and Australian/Welsh were the second and third/third guesses, respectively. As for my native language, the first option was English (UK) and the third was Finnish both times. Its second guess was either Spanish or Hungarian.

How strong is your vocabulary? (1 min)

There’s only 10 questions. You need to select a synonym for each word out of four choices. That’s all. The average score is 2470. My average [3 attempts] is 2800.

Word test (5 min)

In this test you get 100 letter sequences. You have to decide whether they are actual English words or not. This gives an estimate of the percentage of English words that you know. Natives should get about 67 %; high-proficient second language speakers should get 33 %. My average [3 attempts] is 71 %.

I encourage you to take the tests and share your results here. Try to beat me. Someone has to take this show-off down a peck or two.

English at international events — be patient

Last year I reported the basics of a kick-off meeting for a European research project. At some point I hinted at a post on the English spoken there. Here it goes.

Should you need to face an audience in English at an important international event, you’d prepare thoroughly what to say. However, the way you say it is so important that proper content can sound silly in the wrong words. Here are some common mistakes committed last year.

Or we 'pretend' to [photo: Tom Blunt]

Or we ‘pretend’ to [photo: Tom Blunt]

It’s not weird to hear sentences like ‘We pretend this platform to be universal’. And it’s not that those researchers are planning to fool the scientific community; it’s that pretend is a false friend for a word that in Romance languages means intend. They genuinely wanted that platform to be universal.

The problem with these words is that the speaker doesn’t know they’re not what they seem. To avoid misunderstandings don’t just guess words but check them. If, on the contrary, you’re an English speaker, prepare for next time and try to learn what they mean when they mean something else.

There will also be literal translations from other languages expressions and structures such as ‘Let’s go to continuous’ instead of ‘Let’s continue’, or ‘Can we stay with your presentation?’ instead of ‘Can we keep [a copy of] your presentation?’. These examples come from Spanish and the second one was written in a form.

Literal translations can be hard or even impossible to understand. If you’re on the receiving end, there’s not much you can do. If you’re the source of the message, check and double-check expressions that are likely to be repeated. Pay special attention to text on paper—even hire a professional. Once it’s printed, it’s there for the whole event.

Finally, although a native accent is not required, you should prepare the key words. Report, research, deputy, deliverable or develop will be pronounced differently even by the same person. Look them up in a dictionary for the right pronunciation or warn your colleagues they’re saying it wrongly.

To sum up, don’t take any chances. Choose your words carefully as you do with clothes, for both are your image and can help or destroy you. On the other side, be patient if you’re an English speaker. After all, everyone is making an effort.