This was 2016 in the blog

A new year has come along with new year’s resolutions such as reading blogs. Therefore, we start 2017 revisiting 2016. This way, if you’re new to the blog, you can learn what it is about. Conversely, if you’re a faithful reader, you can re-read the most popular posts.

The most popular posts of 2016 in pictures

The most popular posts of 2016 in pictures

These are the posts published in 2016 with more hits (posting month in brackets):

  1. Correct these mistakes for Christmas (December)
  2. 1st SETAC science slam across the pond (August)
  3. Chemists conspiracy: all drinks are the same alcohol (February)
  4. Science slam: Enjoy learning science (June)
  5. Posters at scientific congresses (May)

Interestingly enough, the last post published was the most successful. Either people care a lot about mistakes for Christmas or I’ve been writing rubbish for twelve months.

Additionally, the two most visited articles of all times were:

The most popular posts of the year and of all times were mainly about science and language, respectively. It seems that readers want what’s in the title of the blog. It’d be weird if you came here to read mostly about books and birthdays.

Let’s hope we keep on the right track this year.

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…

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.

Babbel: learning languages online

When I wrote about how I got my survival level in Polish, I mentioned the Babbel site to learn languages and promised to post an extended review that’s available now.

Babbel is a tool for learning up to 14 languages online (and on mobile devices)—but you might not want to go for all at the same time. It’s also my main tool for learning Polish and I survived in Poland with monolingual Poles, so it must be good. Let’s have a look.

Right after logging in, there’s the home page with the activities of the day and a menu bar at the top. The language of the interface and the lessons can be chosen and even changed, but that may affect the stored vocabulary.

Evidence that I do study Polish

Evidence that I do study Polish

There’s a warm up activity called Daily Challenge (below the welcome message). Some words are shown with proposed translations and the user has to agree or disagree. It’s simple and boosts your self-esteem.

My advice for a second step is to review vocabulary with the Review Manager. In fact, for short sessions that’s my only exercise. All the words, expressions and phrases in the lessons are added to the Review Manager. On the right of the home page there’s a button to review them in groups of 10. The Manager classifies them in 6 levels depending on your performance. Each level has its own frequency of revision: daily for level one, twice a year for level 6. All vocabulary items and their levels can be checked in the Vocabulary section of the menu above.

Select courses according to your needs and interests

Select courses according to your needs and interests

Courses can be selected in any order from the Courses section of the menu. The basic types are grammar and vocabulary, but there are others. Different languages may have different courses. The selected one will show in the home page with the appropriate lesson on display, but they can be taken in a different order and as many times as the user desires. Grammar lessons tend to start with short explanations with examples and vocabulary ones show the items to study together with a picture and with audio to learn how to pronounce them. Both situations are followed by brief matching or filling-in exercises. After the completion of every course a certificate is awarded—it’s up to the student to decide the real value of it.

Regarding quantity and level of the content, I’d say it’s directly proporcional to the popularity of the language. On the other hand, it’s enough for, at least, the first years of a new language or as a support. Babbel is not a tool for preparing official exams.

Finally, there’s a People section in the menu for interacting with other users, either for linguistic exchanges, group study, simply socializing or even fight for the top 5 scores (climb up the list by reviewing vocabulary and completing lessons).

Babbel is not for free; the quality/price ratio is, nevertheless, more than satisfactory for a committed student. Four subscription options are available from 1 month for 9.95 € to 1 year for 59.40 € (4.95 €/month). I bought and recommend the annual subscription, not only because of its wonderfully ridiculous cost, but also because if you’re not devoting at least 12 months to a language, you should find something else to do.

Were you curious about Babbel, you can take a course for free for each language. Additionally, for having read this far, here’s an invitation for a free week for one language without content limits. However, I don’t know if there’s a limit of invitations, so don’t hesitate. The only thing I’d ask for in return is a comment about your experience and, if you finally subscribe, tell Mr Babbel that I sent you—if I’m lucky, I might get paid a commission.