Don't give up and improve your English through idioms and phrases...

As a French speaker, I have always tried to brush up on my rusty English by sharing ideas or chatting strictly with natives from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, etc. Practicing the language with native speakers helps you be as sharp as a needle.
Some of my non-native English speaking colleagues from Brussels simply cannot seem to get their head around learning English strictly with natives. The snag is that the more English is spoken by non-native speakers, the more it is altered to suit regional needs. As you probably know already, the languages most commonly used by non-native speakers in Europe are English, French and German.
Almost thirty years ago, I had the opportunity to spend twelve months in Southeastern Ohio. It was a complete immersion in an anglophone environment (at a time when there was no internet or not many French speakers in that region). Since then, I have always gone to great lengths to ensure that there is some necessary support in order to adapt to a true anglophone environment and learn English -- to be differentiated from Spanglish, Franglais or EU jargon. You have probably heard about EU jargon before, right? You know, this hodgepodge of most Member States' languages and a clear result of the European Union's will for consensus! Union, mechanism, directive, regulation and synergy for instance are words often overused in Brussels. It sometimes requires to bust a gut in order to defend plain English there.
[Read also one of my previous articles entitled Will Brexit also mean Brexit as far as English language is concerned? at http://bert-languagesandlinguistics.blogspot.be/2016/11/will-brexit-mean-brexit-as-far-as.html]
I often pick my Ohioan host parents' brains to receive explanations on some aspects of the English language and to get abreast of its evolution, today still. It is also nice to have a chat with British colleagues once in a while. Via Skype, you can also easily chew the fat with natives nowadays.
It is wrong to think that you know a language like the back of your hand. In language learning and teaching, there is no other method than applying some self-analysis and always trying to improve.
The key to knowledge of the English language is work, work and forever more work! Being curious is also crucial of course... In the past, I taught several children on the joys of learning English and reading English or American literature. I have always beavered away at sharing tips and sources with those who are interested in learning English idioms and expressions.
I know that some of you might think that mentioning paperback books is kind of old-fashioned but, believe me, it is always nice to turn away from a screen from time to time... Here are therefore references of a few monolingual and bilingual dictionaries as well as useful books that helped me bone up on my English during the last few years:
- An A to Z of British Life, by Adrian Room (Oxford University Press, 1990) - ISBN 0-19-431144-9
- A Practical English Grammar, by A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet (Oxford University Press, 1986) - ISBN 0-19-431342-5
- Collins Concise Dictionary Plus (William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., London and Glasgow, 1989) - ISBN 0-00-433252-0
- Dictionnaire de l'anglais économique, commercial et financier anglais/français et French/English par M. Marcheteau, L. Dahan, J.-P. Berman, C. Pelloux et M. Savio (Langues pour Tous, Pocket, 1995 et 2004) - ISBN 2-266-08921-8
- Harrap's Expressions anglaises (Harrap, Editions Larousse, 2016) - ISBN 978-2-81-870448-6
- Le Robert & Collins - Dictionnaire français-anglais English-French, by B.T. Atkins, A. Duval, R.C. Milne and P.-H. Cousin, H.M.A. Lewis, L.A. Sinclair, R.O. Birks and M.-N. Lamy (William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd. and Dictionnaires Le Robert, 1987) - ISBN 2-85036-088-0 and ISBN 0-00-433451-5
- The Oxford Paperback Thesaurus, compiled by B. Kirkpatrick (Oxford University Press, 1994) - ISBN 0-19-282841-X
Hang in there and hit the nail on the head! You need to learn idioms and expressions. I hope this list of interesting books and dictionaries will be useful for language lovers who want to chat in English and eventually speak less and less Chinglish, Denglish, Spanglish, Franglais, EU jargon or another creole language! No pain, no gain! 😉
Do not hesitate to let me know what your favourite idioms are.


Vive la France! Vive la langue française! -- Les tournures de phrase surprenantes de Macron lors de son opposition verbale avec Le Pen (in French only)

Ce 3 mai 2017, lors du débat (nous aurions plutôt tendance à parler de pugilat), j’ai dû vérifier le mot "logorrhée" utilisé à juste titre par Emmanuel Macron envers Marine Le Pen…
C’est féminin (le mot, hein)!
D'après le dictionnaire Larousse, la logorrhée est un trouble du langage caractérisé par un abondant flot de paroles débitées rapidement sur de longues périodes. Le terme logorrhée est devenu d’usage courant pour désigner une verbalisation rapide et parfois désadaptée. Pour en savoir plus, je vous invite à consulter le site du dictionnaire Larousse en ligne sur http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/medical/logorrhée/14253#5Q9d8wIDFDBKrGil.99
Je suis déçu qu’aucun des deux protagonistes n’ait placé le mot "billevesée" (aussi féminin) pendant le débat. Les deux candidats en ont pourtant eu l'occasion à maintes reprises…
Des linguistes ont néanmoins pris note d'un bon nombre de perles pendant ces joutes verbales. Certaines semblent désuètes mais beaucoup sont encore d'actualité. Le journal français Le Parisien a relevé quelques-unes des expressions d'Emmanuel Macron, particulièrement prolifique en la matière:
http://www.leparisien.fr/elections/presidentielle/debat-poudre-de-perlimpinpin-et-galimatias-les-expressions-desuetes-de-macron-04-05-2017-6916131.php (par Romain Baheux, 2017-05-04).
"Galimatias", c’est masculin et avec "s" même au singulier… Je n'ai pas honte à dire que ce mot fut une découverte pour moi tout comme le terme "antienne" d'ailleurs.
D’un point de vue purement linguistique, un quinquennat avec Monsieur Macron à la Présidence semblerait plus intéressant qu’avec Madame Le Pen et ses méthodes "à la schlag" (expression qu’elle a d’ailleurs utilisée en supputant qu'Emmanuel Macron était soumis à… l’Union européenne).
Quoi qu'il en soit, ceci nous rappelle que le français s'est substitué au latin il y a trois siècles environ en tant que langue diplomatique dans toute l'Europe et même au-delà. Voici d'ailleurs un chouette article qui explique pourquoi le français fut adopté comme langue diplomatique en Europe (d'après Le Petit Parisien, paru en 1892 et publié en date du 2017-03-29 par La Rédaction):

Sources: Le Parisien, La Rédaction, Larousse
© Eric Feferberg - AFP


Will Brexit also mean Brexit as far as English language is concerned?

Before the EU referendum in the United Kingdom last summer, professional linguists discussed the possible impact of the UK leaving the EU, in The Linguist:
http://thelinguist.uberflip.com/i/665992-the-linguist-55-2/17 (The Linguist Vol/55 No/2 2016, April/May 2016, pp 18 and 19).

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government and technology. It is the bimonthly journal of the UK's Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL), of which I have been a member since January 2008.

Of course, Brexit will have an impact on the language-related industries and businesses in the UK and in the EU. And how about the risk for the English language itself at the EU level? There is an ever-increasing gap between British English and Eurojargon. English words and expressions in EU publications are more and more misused. Currently working in Brussels and always trying to brush up my rusty English, I only had the chance to speak English -- and English should be clearly distinguished from Eurospeak -- with British, American or Irish expats working either in EU institutions, embassies, multinational companies, lobbies or professional federations in the capital of Belgium. The use of Eurospeak (also sometimes called EU-Speak) has been applauded by young Members of the European Parliament for several years but some linguists including Jeremy Gardner, a senior translator at the European Court of Auditors, do not agree with this. The senior translator is very skeptical about this transformation of English language. In September 2013, Gardner wrote and assembled a document which can be considered as a memo reflecting years of frustration at the use of English in EU documents. The latest version of this memo is available for free at:

What if this pent-up frustration at the wrong use of English words in EU documents and talks had been one of the reasons for the people of Britain to vote for Brexit (and therefore for the rejection of globalism)?

The risk of seeing English become Esperanto in Brussels or elsewhere in the EU (besides Ireland and Malta maybe) is real. An interesting article in The Economist published on 2016-04-23 revealed that "a sort of Euro-English, influenced  by foreign languages, is already in use. Many Europeans use control to mean monitor because contrôler has that meaning in French... [Euro-English] is becoming a dialect fluently spoken by a large group of people who understand each other perfectly well... Britain may be a polarising, unusual EU member, but English has become neutral, utilitarian; it is useful because others understand it." Its association with Britain is weak and will most probably weaken even more since Brexit has come to pass. Read the full article here: http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21697210-institutions-european-union-will-still-speak-kind-english-if-britain

Another major newspaper, the Financial Times, had a very long article about Brexit possibly being an entrée for the French: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e70b5042-3c65-11e6-8716-a4a71e8140b0.html#axzz4DXfFaFAK
It is of course another story but I am not quite sure Germans, Spaniards and others would really appreciate such a rise of the French language at the EU level... It seems that the EU desperately seeks a lingua franca anyway?


European Union: 60% of lower secondary level pupils studied more than one foreign language in 2014

According to statistics produced by Eurostat, learning a foreign language at school is very common in the European Union (EU). Around 18 million lower secondary school pupils (98.6% of all pupils at this level) studied at least one foreign language in 2014. Nearly 11 million of them (59.9%) were studying two foreign languages or more.

English was by far the most popular language at lower secondary level in 2014. English was studied by more than 17 million pupils (97.3%). French (5 million or 33.7%) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23.1%) and Spanish (2 million or 13.1%).

Here is the link pointing to the full press release issued by Eurostat on Feb. 1st, 2016: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7146709/3-01022016-AP-EN.pdf/31595c2c-dbb8-4c95-9ad5-8cb038ffecd3


Exciting keynote speakers and large attendance at second edition of Translating Europe Forum in Brussels

I cannot be thankful enough to have received a confirmation from DG Translation, the European Commission's in-house translation service, for me to participate in the Translating Europe Forum which was held at the Conference Centre Charlemagne Building (CHAR) in Brussels on 29-30 October 2015. I could not make it on Thursday 29 October but attended a very informative session and great workshops from 9:15 to 12:45 on Friday 30 October 2015.

I was first surprised to see a full house in the Charlemagne Building's main meeting room Alcide de Gasperi (capacity: 447). Attendees, the vast majority of them being young translators since this year's forum was all about young people in translation, could enjoy a first excellent presentation by Italian freelance interpreter, translator and branding coach Valeria Aliperta who was introduced by Galician translator and television presenter Xosé Castro Roig. Valeria Aliperta, also Head of External Relations of IAPTI and a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, explained how translators or interpreters can use branding to get more visibility and enhance their profile online. Through her boosting presentation, the Italian interpreter gave an insight and a few takeaways into starting branding process, explaining why it is relevant to go through it, telling why we should invest in such branding, etc. Valeria Aliperta studied in Italy and now lives in the UK where she founded her own business called Rainy London Translations. You can see on her website www.rainylondontranslations.com and on her blog http://www.thestylishfreelancer.com/ how branding is not simply a pretty or colourful logo but a tool for every translator or interpreter in a modern world.

After this plenary session held in the De Gasperi room, I had the chance to attend two workshops: a first one on the role of translation for multilingualism and another one on revision and terminology. The first workshop focused on the "Man vs. Machine" debate and was illustrated by examples mentioned by a great panel of language industry experts like Mr. Panagiotis Alevantis, DG Translation's representative in Athens, Greece, Mrs. Judit Sereg, a freelance audiovisual translator from Hungary, Mrs. Zoe Moores, a respeaking expert from Britain, and Konrad Fuhrmann, Policy Officer at DG Education and Culture of the European Commission. Mr. Panagiotis Alevantis explained how in Greece and Cyprus young people who have learned a second language at school simply cannot speak in it when they reach the university level. He also highlighted that 51% of Greek businesses find language skills more important than digital computer or IT skills. There is therefore a need to focus on language learning in schools nowadays, especially since the Europe 2020 - Rethinking Education project has been underway and should set a new benchmark on foreign language learning. At least 50% of 15 year olds should have knowledge of a first foreign language and at least 75% should study a second foreign language by 2020. There is much talk about the benchmark being that students should reach level B2 in accordance to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Integrating this into the digital single market will be a real challenge. As today's technological developments are ongoing and Google Translate is much talked about or criticized, quality work and awareness of translators keep making a difference in the business. For instance, we definitely need translators when it comes to idioms. As it seems that machines are taking over and people do not take care about writing and language learning anymore, there is a clear signal to be sent to politicians and maybe some lobbying to be done among MEPs for instance. Let us not forget, as Mr. Alevantis pointed it out, that the real international language for business remains the language of your client (and not necessarily English)! Mrs. Moores ended the workshop by saying that technology could also be of help or generate innovation in some way in the translation business. She said that respeaking, a process of using speech recognition software to produce subtitles in real time for live television programmes, pays off for instance. She works full-time as a respeaker in Great Britain. Mr. Fuhrmann and Mrs. Sereg concluded that although big groups like Microsoft and Google tend to stop cooperating with universities in order to develop e.g. their spelling and auto-correction systems, technology could also be a benefit for less used languages like Hungarian, Basque, Welsh, etc. which could serve as a new digital eco system for smaller companies or assocations willing to develop open source translating or terminological tools. And why not having translation play a role in the language learning process in the end?

The last workshop I have attended on Friday morning dealt with revision and terminology. Three brilliant students (two from Belgium and one from Switzerland) involved in terminological research, proofreading or revision gave interesting presentations of their work done through their studies in major European universities.

The wrap-up session was again moderated by Spanish journalist Xosé Castro Roig who gave the floor to Rytis Martikonis, Director-General of DG Translation, and other young professionals. Major risks and threats like the "Man vs. Machine" issue, the gap between academia and real life, the price pressure or the deprofessionalisation in the sector of translation can be tackled thanks to big events like the Translating Europe Forum. It was the second edition of the now traditional annual event. Mr. Martikonis invited all participants to come back to Brussels next year and see how all young translators have evolved. It was also highlighted that it was a real pleasure of being a translator when attending such a well-organized event like the Translating Europe Forum. As a conclusion, we can all agree that language is not only about data or reducible to digital data. As Mr. Martikonis finally put it: "Mastering the language will help meet challenges!"

You can find details and information about the excellent Translating Europe Forum 2015 (including video files of all presentations freely available) on: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/programmes/translating_europe/forum/index_en.htm

The motto of DG Translation is "Link up with languages" and the forum was indeed an excellent opportunity to do so!



Improving English reading/listening comprehension - Selection of useful hyperlinks for kids and teenagers

Just like every year, I was asked to help some kids and teenagers who had to retake language examinations last summer (either in Dutch, English or German). I did help a young female cousin who had not achieved satisfactory results in Engish last June. Her teacher asked her to work on her listening and reading comprehension as well as on her writing skills over the summer.
We worked on that last August. I quickly noticed that my young cousin knew some appropriate vocabulary but she was shy and not confident in building long sentences in plain English. She was not used to watch TV programs or listen to podcasts in English language, etc. While it was rather easy to make my cousin write a few essays about topics studied at school or based on her course material, it seemed definitely more complicated to improve her listening comprehension skills in such a short time. I gave her a few tips to prepare effectively for the retake exam. The efforts made by my cousin eventually paid off and everyone (herself, parents, relatives and myself) is now very happy about how it turned out.
Among the tips given to my young cousin last summer, there was a selection of useful links which have helped and still help her improve her listening and reading comprehension. I have also shared these links with my two sons, who should also improve their English language skills on a regular basis.

Here are the selected hyperlinks:

Listening comprehension
http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/skills/listening-skills-practice (a website created by the British Council);
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/multimedia/london/ (a website created by the BBC World Service);
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/ (a website created by the BBC-British Broadcasting Corporation);
https://www.englishclub.com/listening/ (EnglishClub, a free website for learners and teachers of English);
http://learningenglish.voanews.com/ (a website created by VOA-Voice of America).

Reading comprehension
http://www.thetimesinplainenglish.com/wp/ (a website created by The Times);
http://www.englishforeveryone.org/Topics/Reading-Comprehension.htm (a website created by the Read Theory team, a group of professional writers and educators);
https://www.newscientist.com/article_topic/teenagers/ (a website created by the weekly magazine New Scientist).

For adults who want to improve their comprehension skills and brush up their rusty English, these links also offer them a nice opportunity to do so.


Quelle sera demain la langue de l’Europe?/Welche Sprache spricht Europa in Zukunft? (broadcasted on ARTE at 14:00 on 2015-06-06)

Which language for Europe?

MT+2, of course! Well… Here is the explanation: the EU would like to have every European speak three languages, that is to say two languages besides his/her mother tongue. Except that MT+2 has been quickly replaced by MT+E: mother tongue + English. And this means two, not three! Why would young people learn a second foreign language when they manage to be understood anywhere thanks to some English language skills? In these circumstances, why not have English to become the lingua franca of all Europeans one day? It is now unquestionable that even young French people start to learn English, a language held in contempt in the past. And there are less and less of them who learn German nowadays.

But having English as a lingua franca is not so simple after all...

See the Yourope report broadcasted on ARTE and arte.tv on Saturday, Jun. 6th, 2015:

- French version on http://info.arte.tv/fr/quelle-sera-demain-la-langue-de-leurope
- German version on http://info.arte.tv/de/welche-sprache-spricht-europa-zukunft