“Boo!” Heard Around the World: An International Look at Halloween

Posted on 31. Oct, 2014 by in Language Learning

Take break from searching for the perfect costume and step away from the candy (or come share with us!) to see what other cultures around the world are doing this Halloween.


Image by William Warby on Flickr.com

The American way of celebrating Halloween made its way to Denmark in the late 90s, though many Danes claim it is just another example of a media stunt promoted by the supermarkeder (supermarkets) so they can sell legetøj (toys) and kostumer (costumes). Sounds similar to how many Americans feel about Valentine’s Day, right? Regardless, Danish children enjoy carving pumpkins and bounding door to door proclaiming Slik eller ballade! (Trick or treat!)

The holiday hasn’t gotten quite as big in China, but among younger generations of Chinese people, Halloween is definitely gaining popularity. The Chinese call the holiday 万圣节 (wàn shèng jié), which literally translates to 10,000 Saints Festival. From school activities, to family-friendly events, and of course, plenty of parties and concerts to attend, it really seems to be catching on, especially in the bigger cities.

Similarly, although Halloween has no roots in German culture, you can definitely expect the holiday to make an appearance. Horror movies come on TV, children dress up for trick-or-treating, and clubs host Halloween parties. There are, however, a number of more popular German traditions similar to Halloween, or that occur around the same time, which range from religious events to more commercial celebrations. For example, being predominantly Catholic, Bavaria (Southern Germany) and Austria celebrate Seelenwoche (All Souls’ Week) from October 30th to November 8th. It is a week of remembrance to honor the dead and visit family graves with fresh flowers and lanterns.

The same is true in Spain (and in most Spanish speaking countries), where people prepare themselves  to visit their loved ones in their final resting place (the cemetery) for All Saint’s Day. There is, however, a popular literary tradition: many Spanish theatres will put on José Zorrilla’s masterpiece, Don Juan Tenorio, which tells the story of a young, cynical swordsman who seduces a noblewoman. The story gets juicier and juicier from there, but we won’t spoil it here!

Meanwhile, children in the Arab world are anxiously awaiting their own version of Halloween, known as Saint Barbara’s Holiday (عيد القديسة بربارة). Unfortunately, they’ll have to wait all the way until December 4 to partake in the customary trick-or-treating. After going door to door for candy, children roam the streets singing the traditional song about Saint Barbara. The myth tells of a young girl who wishes to devote her life to serving Allah, but whose father has betrothed her to a pagan prince. Quite the dilemma, as you can imagine.

So while you’re bounding door to door collecting candy—or enviously watching as your children do so—think about how many other children are doing so worldwide. It may not be the most traditional of holidays, but it’s exciting to see other countries partaking in the joys of looking silly (or spooky!) and grossly over-consuming sugar for one night. And if you’re in need of some inspiration for your own costume, why not choose from one of these popular Ancient Roman costumes!

Do you celebrate Halloween in your country? What’s your favorite Halloween tradition?

7 Tips for Learning Multiple Languages Simultaneously

Posted on 29. Oct, 2014 by in Language Learning

Oh, hey! Nice to meet you. I’m not from around here. My name’s Lindsay and I blog over at Lindsay Does Languages, make language videos over on my YouTube channel, and teach languages via Skype. Phew. Today, however, I’m here on the Transparent Language blog to share some tips about learning multiple languages simultaneously. Over the summer, I ended up learning four languages at the same time! Not on purpose, you understand, but it was a pretty crazy time. I like to think I managed to stay sane…I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Image by Lindsay Dow

Image by Lindsay Dow

1: Plan.

Even if you learn a language and never ever get the chance to use it, one thing that will be a useful skill to come from your efforts is your organisation and time management. Hooray! This doesn’t mean that if you’re always being teased for being late and messy then you can’t learn multiple languages. Of course you can! Your time management and organisation will improve. You know the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’? Well, one man’s late is another man’s on time…kind of. As long as you’re happy with your organisation then you’ll get stuff done. Boom!

2: Be realistic.

In writing this, I’m not saying that learning multiple languages at once is an easy task but it’s definitely achievable if you’re realistic. You’re not going to perfect your French in 6 weeks if you’re also trying to learn Arabic from scratch at the same time. Set yourself realistic goals and don’t worry if you find yourself studying one language more than the other at any one time. Personally, I’m totally guilty of this! I feel bad for a language if I don’t study it as much as others – like I’m neglecting it – poor language! Slowly but surely, I’m learning that there’s not enough hours in the day to devote equal time to all the languages I’d like to. And I’m learning that that’s ok.

3: Keep it fun.

Language learning shouldn’t be a chore. The moment something becomes boring, find a new way to learn it – mix things up and keep it fresh and interesting. Find a YouTuber in the language you’re studying or look for a local conversation partner to talk in the language about stuff you’re interested in. Also worth noting here is that although I haven’t yet tried it myself, I heard recently that double subtitles are a thing?! This could be mind blowing in a good or a bad way but it’s definitely worth a shout!

4: Pick good ‘uns.

If you’re learning a language for fun, then pick languages you know you can learn together that won’t inflict upon each other. For some, the best thing ever might be to learn Spanish and Portuguese at the same time, but for the majority of people this will be ridiculously confusing and counter productive. Save the Portuguese for a later date and replace it with Korean, for example, and you might well be more successful in all three.

5: Make it the norm.

Integrate your languages into your everyday life in a way that suits you. The more languages you learn at once, the more important it is to make time spent on everyday tasks useful. Pop a little book in the bathroom for when you’re brushing your teeth, invest in a little MP3 player or copy a CD for the car to play on the commute. Whatever you do every day, think of a way to language-ify it. And then make up a word like language-ify to describe it.

6: Find what works for you.

This one is definitely closely linked to the last point and you’ll have to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. For example, you could try putting one track from a language learning CD in each language on your MP3 player. Or you could try listening to the whole thing in one language for a week, then swap languages the week after. Although most people claim to prefer sticking to one language at once, this is definitely something that varies person to person, so take some time to find what you prefer.

7: Reward yourself.

Don’t punish yourself if you don’t study “enough” or if you deviate from your schedule. It happens from time to time. You may be awesome but you’re still human, and sometimes humans need a break. Give yourself one. Even if that break involves watching a double subtitled film. Enjoy it!

Are you learning multiple languages at the moment? Did you find these tips useful? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

6 Ways Bilingualism Can Further Your Career

Posted on 27. Oct, 2014 by in Language Learning

Image by OzinOH on Flickr

Image by OzinOH on Flickr

We live in a competitive world. During the global economic downturn a few years ago, companies were forced to lay off thousands of employees to remain afloat and competition for jobs has only increased since then. The economy has improved but jobs remain scarce.

So what can you do to increase your chances of landing a job in this new economy?

Motivation and experience certainly help but being bilingual can give you a clear advantage over other candidates. The ability to speak a second language has become a valuable asset as our society becomes increasingly diverse in the 21st century. From schools and hospitals to banks and tech companies, organizations around the world are aware of this cultural diversity and often seek out potential candidates who can meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Below are six ways bilingualism can benefit you in the professional world.

1. Increase your chances of getting hired

As the number of positions decreases and the number of applicants increases, employers are looking for additional qualifications that will make an applicant stand out from the crowd. Being bilingual is one of those qualifications. In fact, just last year, CNN Money named bilingualism as the hottest skill for job seekers.

Taking the time to learn a second language demonstrates a strong work ethic that is attractive to any employer. Businesses looking to reach customers around the globe will look favorably on an applicant who is not only culturally aware but has the requisite linguistic abilities that will benefit the company. Being able to read and write in a second language can make you even more attractive to potential employers.

2. Earn more money

Studies have shown that bilingual employees can earn between 5% and 20% more money per hour than those who speak only one language. Bilingual employees have a useful skill that can translate into increased revenue for the company, and as a result, some companies will compensate these employees accordingly. Reports have shown that pay differentials for bilingual workers can increase base hourly pay anywhere between 5-20% per hour.

3. Seek different job opportunities

Being able to speak a second language will also increase your employment options. A growing number of positions in many companies list second language abilities as a requirement. This automatically eliminates the majority of people who are not bilingual and means that there is less competition for those key jobs.

Healthcare is a growing field with excellent job prospects for the future and hospitals are constantly seeking doctors, nurses and technicians who speak a second language to meet the needs of patients of different cultures. If you work in customer service or as a sales representative, adding a second language to your list of skills will facilitate communication between you and your customers. If you are looking for a position in Public Relations, Human Resources or marketing, a second language could be very useful.

Furthermore, when you speak a second language you increase your chances of being hired by a foreign corporation. If your second language is French, imagine working for a French company looking to hire a native English speaker. International organizations like the United Nations look specifically for people who can speak several languages.

4. Bridge the cultural gap

An ability to communicate in a second language is valuable, but being able to relate to people from a different background is equally important. Being mindful and considerate of foreign customs and etiquette can go a long way to bridging the cultural gap. For example, shaking hands is a customary gesture in the western world to greet someone but if you travel to Asian countries, bowing might be more appropriate. In the United States we like to smile and make eye contact when introducing ourselves. In foreign countries, these gestures might be deemed unusual or even impolite in some circumstances. In France, it is customary to maintain a certain formality when addressing people by using “Monsieur” or “Madame” followed by the person’s last name, even those you have known for some time. Be aware of what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t and you will be more successful as a result.

5. Travel

Although this is not guaranteed, being bilingual increases your chances of being able to travel. This will be dependent on the company you work for and the nature of your work, but an opportunity to take a business trip to China if your second language is Chinese is one of the perks of bilingualism.

6. Take on a second job

If you’re looking to supplement your income or you want to improve your second language skills, you may consider becoming a translator, interpreter or teacher. As a certified translator, you’ll be able to translate written text into your target language and vice versa. As an interpreter, you’ll provide oral interpretation between two parties. You might find that teaching a second language is rewarding and one that gives you the chance to live in foreign countries.

What other benefits do you find bilingualism offers in the professional world? Share your comments below!