Survival Spanish for Librarians Course

Posted on 04. May, 2016 by in Language Learning, Language News, libraries

In our increasingly diverse population, languages are critical to almost every public service industry. First responders are learning Spanish in St. Louis and Mandarin in New York City to better serve non-native English speakers in the midst of a crisis. Public schools offer night classes to parents of ESL students to keep them informed and help them integrate. State courts hire legal interpreters for more than one hundred languages each year.

But when it comes to serving non-native English speakers, particularly immigrants and refugees, librarians are at the forefront. Libraries provide free internet access, job hunting assistance, ESL materials, and citizenship services. It would be a shame to let the language barrier stand in the way of these critical services. That’s why many librarians are going above and beyond to learn a few phrases in the major languages of their community.

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We want to help. Since the U.S. now has more Spanish speakers than Spain, that seems like a good place to start. We’re thrilled to announce the release of the Survival Spanish for Librarians Course. Four conversation-based lessons will step librarians through common scenarios, including issuing library cards, checking out materials, providing computer services, and answering phone calls.

It’s a free online course, so there’s nothing to lose (and a whole lot of language skills to gain!) Librarians can learn more here.

Twist Your Tongue in 17 Languages

Posted on 02. May, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Lingua Pravorum

Lots of people have asked me for translations for the tongue twisters in the above comic, so before we continue, here they are, including transliterations so you can twist your tongues yourselves (remember to say them five times fast!):

1. French: Les chaussettes de l’archi-duchesse, sont-elles sèches ou archi-sèches? (The socks of the arch-duchess, are they dry or extra-dry?)

2. Italian: Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa. (On top of the bench, the goat lives. Under the bench, the goat dies.)

3. Russian: Карл у Клары украл кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет. Transliteration: “Karl u Klary ukral korally, a Klara u Karla ukrala klarinet.” (Carl stole corals from Clara, and Clara stole a clarinet from Carl.)

4. Portuguese: O rato roeu a rolha da garrafa de rum do rei da Rússia. (The rat nibbled the cork of the bottle of rum of the king of Russia.)

5. Japanese: にわの庭には、二羽の鶏はにわかにわにを食べた. Transliteration: “Niwa no niwa ni wa, niwa no niwatori wa niwaka ni wani o tabeta.” (In Mr. Niwa’s garden, two chickens suddenly ate a crocodile.)

6. Hebrew: !טיאטאת ת’תא? – לא טאטאתי ת’תא, תטאטא אותו אתה Transliteration: “Titita tata? – lo tititi tata, tetate oto ata!” (Did you clean the locker? – I didn’t clean the locker, you clean it!)

7. Korean: 간장공장 공장장은 강 공장장이고, 된장공장 공장장은 공 공장장이다. Transliteration: “kan-jang-kong-jang kong-jang-jang-eun kang kong-jang-jang-ee-go, dwen-jang-kong-jang kong-jang-jang-eun kong kong-jang-jang-ee-da.” (The president of the soy sauce factory is president Kang, and the president of the bean paste factory is president Kong.)

8. Turkish: Kartal kalkar dal sarkar, dal sarkar kartal kalkar. (The eagle takes off, the branch bends; the branch bends, the eagle takes off.)

9. Esperanto: Serpo servu cin por ĉerpo el cerbo de serba cervo. (May a billhook serve thee to scoop out a Serbian deer’s brain.)


I love these. Do you know how hard it was to figure out how to draw that Japanese one? And look at the Korean one – even if you can’t read Hangul, you can totally see it’s a tongue twister just by looking at all those little loops. Plus, that Esperanto one is super gross.

I got tons of feedback on this comic for tongue twisters in other languages, so here are some of my favorites:


  • Polish: Przyszedł Herbst z pstrągami i słuchał oszczerstw z wstrętem przeszukując otwory w strzelnicy. (Herbst came with the trouts and he started to listen to calumnies while repulsively searching through the holes in the firing ground.)
  • Chinese: 四是四,十是十,十四是十四,四十是四十,四十四隻不識字之石獅子是死的. Transliteration: “sì shí sì, shí shì shí, shísì shí shísì, sìshí shí sìshí, sìshísì zhi bùshízǐ zhi shíshīzǐ shì sǐ de.” (4 is 4, 10 is 10, 14 is 14, 40 is 40, 44 illiterate stone lions are dead.)
  • Indonesian: Saya sebal sama situ sebab situ suka senyum-senyum sama suami saya sehingga sekarang suami saya suka senyum-senyum sendiri sembari sama saya. (I hate you because you used to smile at my husband; now he likes to smile for no obvious reason when he is with me.)
  • Finnish: Kokooko Kokko koko kokon kokoon? Kyllä Kokko koko kokon kokoon kokoo! (Will Kokko gather up the whole bonfire? Yes, Kokko will gather up the whole bonfire!)
  • German: Fischers Fritze fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritze. (Fisher’s errand boy is fishing fresh fish, fresh fish are fished by Fisher’s errand boy.)
  • Arabic: أَلَمٌ أَلَمَّ أَلَمْ أُلِمَّ بِدَائِهِ … إِنْ آنَ آنٌ آنَ آنُ أَوَانِهِ Transliteration: “Alamun alamma alam ulimma bida’ih … In aana aanun aana aanu awaanih.” (I’ve got pain, but I don’t know the disease . . . if it hurts me, it should be healed.)
  • Tagalog: Ginago nang gago ang gaga na nagpagago sa gago. (Idiot #1 fooled idiot #2 who let idiot #1 fool himself.)
  • Greenlandic (and my personal favorite): Taskeqakataqaanga. (I’m tired of holding this backpack.)


Got any others for us? Chime in on the comments below, and I’ll add them to the list above!

Why Language Matters for the U.S. Military

Posted on 27. Apr, 2016 by in CL-150, Language Learning

The U.S. is notoriously less language-capable than our allies and adversaries. This gap in training—which can’t adequately be filled by contract interpreters or machine translation—results in unacceptable risk and limited opportunities.

In an era of persistent conflict and powerful cooperation, the U.S. military is recognizing the need for better language capabilities across the spectrum. A Soldier at a traffic control point may need an arsenal of only a few dozen memorized words and phrases like “Stop.” or “I need to inspect your car.” A Foreign Area Officer advising foreign military officials or a Military Cryptologic Linguist transcribing foreign communications must be far more effective in a language, at least a 3/3/3 on the ILR scale.

In both scenarios, effective language training is paramount to a successful mission. Even the Government Accountability Office acknowledged that “language training is as important as marksmanship” for modern-day service members to achieve a number of goals:

Building International Partnerships

The U.S. military isn’t always focused on “the enemy”. More often, military leaders are communicating with partner nations and organizations. Did you know the U.S. contributes troops and military advisers to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, from national security reform in Liberia to natural disaster relief in Haiti? The U.S. military also responds to natural disasters worldwide, most recently assisting in rescue efforts after the earthquakes in Japan in April 2016. Military linguists trained in Japanese were crucial in coordinating the two forces.

Army officer Morgan Smiley explained the importance of building partnerships to TIME magazine, saying language skills “may lead to more effective and efficient techniques for building the capacity of our current and future partners and reduce the need for deployments of robust US forces.”

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“Language Lessons” by U.S. Army Europe is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Gaining Local Support

For overseas missions, both peacekeeping efforts and wartime deployments, troops need to operate within the local culture. History indicates that support of the local population is critical to mission success. Language training prepares troops to communicate with locals and be sensitive to their culture.

Lt. Col. John Newman recognized that the military cannot “force the American model on another country; we want to work within their culture. By understanding their language and culture, we’re able to do things that don’t offend them, can achieve goals by avoiding conflict.”

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“Top enlisted U.S. Army Africa Soldiers lecture in Ethiopia 090724” by US Army Africa is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Supporting Other Federal Agencies

The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) is the military’s premier culture-based language school, providing instruction in more than two dozen languages. What many don’t know is that the center trains military linguists to serve other federal agencies, including the DEA and FBI, to whom language skills are equally critical.

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“Georgia AG team sharpens language skills, prepares for Afghanistan” by Georgia National Guard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

To achieve these goals, none of the traditional substitutes for personal proficiency (machine translation, contract interpreters, etc.) can achieve what is needed for a leading world power in military, diplomacy, intelligence, and security. Despite the overwhelming need, the risk to America’s language programs is very real. That’s why Transparent Language is transforming the economics of language learning to provide more reliable, effective, and cost-efficient language training to U.S. military members*.

To learn more about our work and what we’ve learned along the way, download our new white paper: What We Know and Believe about Materially Improving the Economics, Logistics, and Reliability of Language Training and Sustainment in USG

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*Active duty U.S. military members can start learning languages completely free through the CL-150.