‘Jack and the Interstalk’ Review

To begin with a link to the article I will be referring to  in this review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/nov/02/cory-doctorow-children-and-computers

Whilst doing my weekly skim through the Guardian website for interesting articles that don’t feature on the front pages of news websites, I came across this short piece which illustrates the importance the internet and computers will play in future generations’ lives. A quick summary would be that the author is talking about his approach to his toddler being given access to the computer. He describes the creative and fun ways kids can interact with the machine by combining the internet with story time and games. In this particular case he pulls images of worlds such as ‘castle’ from Google in order to illustrate the story for his toddler.

After reading the article, I read a few of the comments and I was very disappointed with some of the narrow-minded approaches. The first comment criticizes the fact that showing a child images may restrict the imagination, but then wouldn’t that include all picture books as well? Images have been simultaneously combined with story telling for centuries and in many ways people are actually defending a more traditional method because of this fear of screens. Children are forever being told to stay away from screens, not to stay on the computer too long, not to watch TV too long, and yet at the same time adult life today suggests that they will probably be doing exactly that in their futures. Screens are eveywhere, from bus stops to our homes and today in education as well. So do people oppose the embracing of screen-mania? Or are they OK with it so long as an educational value is added. I am yet to hear about a parent complaining when new computers are added on any campus, be that a University or Kindergarden one.

What the above article really touches on is the ‘Interstalk’. That magic stalk we are all climbing up which connects us through the Web. We are able to branch out and learn from one another, and although people are still skeptics at home, I am glad education has embraced this movement. The way the toddler is shown to be interacting with the computer and her enthusiasm illustrates this odd hypnotic effect screens have on people, not just children. The same effect can surely help increase concentration in the classrooms, and if made interactive will engage the brain in the correct way to help witht he acquisition of information.

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Best Places in London for Foreign Language Books

Living in London and being unable to get foreign language books, other than on Amazon, was a great dissapointment for me. My course in Comparative Literature involves a lot of international texts, which is precisely what drew me to the course, but it can be very hard to analyse stylistic features in translation. This is why I love to get all of the French authors we read in French rather than English. This approach though took a bit of research to perfect and as this blog is addressed to Language learners I thought I might be able to save someone a bit of time by posting my research on this blog. 🙂

If you are looking for books in a foreign language in London, and don’t want a library copy but one for yourself then there are a few book stores I would recomend. Having worked in Waterstone’s for a while now I wouldn’t advise anyone to order one from local branches of the chain simply because the foreign editions aren’t usually up to date in the system, so much so that when I ordered a book which should have taken 3 weeks it ended up taking 5 months to come in. Personally this wasn’t an issue for me as it was for private reading and I worked in the store, however it isn’t ideal for most people. The Picadilly store however, right next to Picadilly Circus, has very good connections with foreign book suppliars. The last person in charge of the section worked very hard to establish trade relationships with suppliars and so that would be the ideal place to look for any foreign texts. They also have a few bays of French, Spanish, German and Russian literature, among others, in store. So if you are after a classic text this would be a place to check.

The second store I cannot praise highly enough is Grant & Cutler.(http://www.grantandcutler.com/)

Really close to Oxford Circus, it is perfect for a wider selection of foreign language books. Their French, German and Arabic sections are very good and thorough, they stock most classic texts, quite a lot of very good criticism and some newer editions of books including the £2 Folio Editions of some short stories. The booksellers are also great, there is usually an expert assigned to each section, making the store perfect for anyone interested in browsing rather than looking for specific texts.

Lastly if you are after a very specific text, I would, as much as I hate saying it, recomend Amazon. They have an amazingly efficient delivery, even on foreign publications.

On this note I leave you, and best of luck to anyone reading this and looking for books in London!

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A Tribute to a Great Literary Classic

Le Petit Prince

Or to any English speakers- The Little Prince. The reason I want to post about this particular book is simply because of the layers it has. It is a book which, for me anyway, excludes no one. In terms of ages, it can be read by young readers as a heart warming story of a young boy discovering the Universe, grown ups and friendship/love for a rose. For an older reader it can be read as a philosophical text, as a commentary on political affairs, the nature of love and appreciation and on growing up. People can read it superficially or in-depth and both times it proves an enjoyable tale. Being literature student myself, I find that this type of writing is what can make the difference between a book which inspires passion and one which doesn’t. Similarly, the variety of levels can also be said to exist when considering the book as a study text. It can appeal to readers of French of all levels. The illustrations done by the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, attract younger readers, and the simplistic language can make most passages accessible to beginners in French. More advanced readers can however appreciate the stylistic devices of such a well composed book, as well as its fascinating story, and as I said earlier the political/philosophical arguments put through in the book will also interest older learners. Thus showing how the text works on a variety of levels for French learners also.  

It is one of the most heart warming and beautiful stories I have laid my eyes on and for this reason I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone interested in improving their French, whatever the level.

Here is part one of a musical performance of this great story which I think does justice to the original:

The rest is available on youtube.

One of the great parts about studying this text, and this is particularly helpful for more advanced learners in French, was being given the task to get to grips with the style used by the author. Antoine de Saint-Exupery uses a very simplistic and straight forward style. The sentences are very brief and childlike but also effective. One of the tasks set to us was to try and replicate the style by adding our own chapter to the book. This engaged the imagination as well as the linguistic skills. A lot of the book itself can be read as autobiographical, and so a lot of research into his life was also needed in order to help us with the task, but on the whole it allowed us to engage with the text in a very personal way, which is an inspirational way of teaching a text. I would recomend this to onyone teaching any literary text because one of the most effective things is always a personal engagement with the writing, style and content.

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The Language(s) of Music

This post is a musical indulgence with a linguistic twist. I was hoping to share some of the daring musicians who have taken language and transformed it into a much more versatile free form within their music. I have collected songs by musicians which meddle with the usual language parameters ,revive old languages, invent new ones and combine already existing ones.

Musicians who use a mixture of languages:

This category was the one which was the easiest to populate.Music is often called ‘Universal’ most notably because of its transcendental nature when it comes to its audience. There isn’t really a prerequisite to listening to music, you don’t have to have studied it as a subject to feel like you can appreciate it. Nietzsche as well as Plato identify the freedom of music in a sense. For both of these philosophers music is a pure form of art which doesn’t necessarily imitate, but can be imitated in the imagination. It gives birth to images and feeling, but doesn’t necessarily draw from them. In this respect it is more of a free form and more accessible than other forms of art. The addition of language can then become its only restriction and one way the following musicians have overcome this is by using a multitude of languages.

Manu Chao- Me Gustas Du
(French, Spanish, English, reminds me of code switching because it happens throughout)

Gogol Bordello- Trans Continental Hustle
(Not too different from Manu Chao. They both draw inspiration from the musical culture of the languages they use, in Bordello’s case it is a real Gypsy mele of culture in music and language.)

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)- Wild World (Bana, Bana)
(Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, uses a lot of Islamic music and language in his more recent work. This reworking of his ‘Wild World’ is great example of language and music melting together, there are two languages and two styles of music whih he combines here and the two often become indistinguishable.)

Jacques Brel- Marieke
(French and Flemmish are both used here. Again it is very similar to code switching.)

The next few are somewhat different because the language mixing isn’t so much throught the song but it is still there.

Francis Cabrel- La Corrida
(For the impatient: the Spanish comes in at the end of the song but very effectively takes on the form of a last lament.)

Nick Mulvey-Didn’t Have Time
(Nick Mulvey is an unsigned musician who has taken a lot of his inspiration from Zimbabwean, Malian and Congolese music. He uses the languages as well as the traditional riffs in his music.

Cheb Khaled- Aicha
(The famous Franco-Arabic rendition of Aicha. Again there is a language change into Arabic at the end of the song and a very strong Arabic influence in the music throughout. The song became a hit in Europe and is still played often in the old French speaking colonies in the Middle East- I couldn’t get away from it even if I had wanted to when I was in Morocco.)

Musicians who take inspiration from old languages:

Jeff Buckley- Corpus Christi
(Jeff Buckley sings an old Middle/Early Modern English carol. The language is an old variation of English and is in some cases incomprehensible to the English speaker today.)

Slavi Trifanov- Jovano, Jovanke
(This Bulgarian pop-folk singer takes a lot of inspiration in old Bulgarian and Macedonian songs. This is an example of one such song which combines old Bulgarian and Macedonian.)

Musicians who have gone outside of the parameters of known languages:

Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five- Heebie Jeebies
(This is rumoured to be one of the earliest versions of Skat which came about as Louis Armstrong forgot the lyrics to the song. If this was indeed the case then that just shows to what extent the manipulation of language can create music. Language in skat metamorphoses into music.)

Ella Fitzgerald- One Note Samba
(Again a very good example of skat where language melts into music.)

Django Reinhardt- Nagasaki
(Nagasaki is mostly sung in English however it uses some language mutation and just a general play on words.)

The next few are quite an interesting set of songs taken from a video game. They were written with the future sound of the languages in mind, showing what language might develop into:


There is an interview with the artist of the songs, Emi Evans available (click here). She explains how she went about writing each song for the different languages she was asked to draw from.

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Power to the (Connected) People?

Or even power to the connected people.

I have been reading quite a bit about the recent uprisings in the Middle East and this has got me thinking about the way information and data have been coming into our news reports. What really sparked this off was a live feed from the Guardian website which shows the variety of sources the information stems from (Link to the article can be found at the bottom of the page ). Facebook, twitter, youtube as well as live feed video websites are but some of them.

These sources are not too different from the type of information that was being transmitted at the time of the Tsunami in Hawaii. The predicted hour at which the Tsunami was said to hit the island was preceeded by a wave of live feeds from the inhabitants. I remember watching the events as they happened via a web cam and a Skype connection. These were not reporters sending in the feeds, but the general public. In a sense this illustrates the power of communication the internet has today. If you are one of the people connected then you have the power to communicate your message to a global audience and in some cases this can be more influential than the ‘official’ methods of communication. The news agencies seem to have embraced this to an extent. The BBC for one has for a long time now urged people with relevant information to get their point accross via e-mail, or twitter. The same can be seen in the comments section of the Guardian website where employees or journalists that work for the Guardian are asking people on the ground to get in touch with any updates. This really is an empowering to the internet user. Of course this in itself has a downside as the proportion of people without internet access is still much greater, however it is a new channel of communication which I for one am glad to see the media embracing.

Although this takes us away from languages, it is still relevant in a sense because the internet can be used in language development in the same way. The aim in language acquisition is communication. Well what better way to communicate than via the web which is connecting people on a global scale.

What the internet can give language learners:

  • A realistic dimension students can see the applications of language in a practical sense as it allows them to access information and communicate with people, which may have been impossible with a language barrier
  • Access to sources the web, as can be seen from my collection of useful websites (still growing), has a multitude of useful information that can actually help you learn languages and its free (apart from having to put up with adverts which pay for it all)
  • Cultural informationby this I mean the ability to tap into the artistic culture, so access to famous musicians, films, authors and sometimes even access to their works- take Spotify for example. After having listened to Francis Cabrel and Manu Chao it then recommended Charles Trent to me and I am enchanted

(For anyone who hasn’t heard of Charles Trent: Charles Trenet – Y’a de la joie I am afraid I only have him on Spotify at the moment so only users will be able to have a listen.)

To all those daring to speak out today, whatever the language.

  1.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2011/feb/16/middle-east-protests-live-updates
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Think your English Vocab is good?

Well if you, dear reader, pride yourself on having a good English vocabulary then why not put that to the test and at the same time do a bit of good to end world hunger? There is only one place to do that and I cannot reccomend it enough:


This website shows a great deal of innovation and creative thinking and I find appeals to many people. For one who doesn’t like to be challenged? It offers a competitive and even addictive self-testing game. The competition can be against other people whom you know an are comparing scores with or against yourself. Using language for this is ideal because people like to pride themselves on their knowledge of either their own language or a foreign language. In this respect you are being challenged not only on something you would feel proud of but also confident, and language can be somethign very personal. These are all attributes of the game which I think explain its addictive nature, and combining that with a philanthropic twist makes it ideal when you have run out of things to browse on the web. So when looking at this I thought of how this concept could be developed into an aid to foreign language learning. If the website could expand to incorporate a variety of languages and difficulty levels then learners could turn to it in order to either determine their ability or as a learning device. It may seem odd to call it a learning device, however as the same questions keep coming around again if you fail to progress onto the next level, this allows for repetition, which has for a long time been a part of the language acquisition process. On top of this there is the charitable aspect to the exercise which can be used to motivate individual learners, as well as the competitive aspect I mentioned earlier. With the right sponsorship from large companies who might wish to show their charitable side, as well as with support from the academic world which could encourage learners to try this out, the website could develop into what I think could be something quite phenomenal.

(I am aware that I am indulging a concept which might be somewhat simple and idealistic, but hopefully there is some truth to it all. Oh wait they have already done it! http://www.freerice.com/category All we need now is the publicity!)

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‘Links to Lingua’


I have added a tab to the blog which is called ‘Links to Lingua’ and it is as the title suggests a page of links to websites which can be of benefit to learners of foreign languages. I will try and add a more general category once I have a few more general websites to recommend, but at this time it has links which might be of use to French, German, Spanish and Latin learners. These are all languages I have had to use in either my past or current studies and so I’m more familiar and better placed to recommend websites along those lines. For each website there is a link, which is active, as well as a short description of the type of website it is. I will update these whenever I find anything new and interesting that fits into these categories.

In further support of what I said in my earlier post I will also endeavour to add links to articles and news websites in the respective languages. I am an ardent believer in the importance culture plays in language and how tapping into that through online access to newspapers, magazines and even blogs, can help learners assimilate the language faster.

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