Linguistics

Mandarin Tones Are Not As Hard As You Think

Mandarin tones do take some getting used to, but they are not as complicated as you might think! I have noticed that language learners often decide not to try learning Mandarin because they are daunted by the thought of using pitch to distinguish meaning. But guess what—Mandarin tones are famous for being among the simplest of all tonal languages to …

Read More »

Shadowing: This Exercise Will Make You Sound Like a Native

Since I posted my blog post on the importance of prosody, many of you wrote to ask for more explanation of how my shadowing exercise works. It is a very powerful exercise and has helped me immeasurably. It is particularly useful for tonal languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, or Thai. I’ve written a more detailed explainer here, and made some …

Read More »

Linguistics 101 Series: Why You Need to Master Prosody to Speak a Foreign Language

When you learn a foreign language, you usually study pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Maybe even a new alphabet. But how many of your language teachers have ever mentioned prosody? Prosody is the “music” of language. In spoken languages, prosody is the variation of pitches across a sentence or discourse level. For example, in American English we tend to raise our …

Read More »

You Might Want to Learn These Languages

If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that you’re a hopeless language addict, suggestible to any new language recommendation, and forever putting languages aside to try out the new hot thing. So maybe I shouldn’t be enabling you. But if you’re looking to learn a new foreign language and don’t know which one to choose, I have …

Read More »

Irregular English and How It Got That Way

Happy International Mother Language Day! My mother language, or “mother tongue” as we say in the US, is English. This is fitting for a linguist. Not because it is currently a so-called lingua franca, but because it is a very mixed-up and promiscuous language, vulnerable to nearly any language it comes in contact with, mixing its many linguistic influences, sometimes …

Read More »

10 Ways to Improve Your Accent in a Foreign Language

Working on your accent? So am I — in six languages. As a native speaker of English and an adult learner of Spanish, French, Mandarin, Korean, Indonesian, and ASL, I’ve had my fair share of phonetic struggles, from Mandarin tones to that rolled Spanish “r”. But guess what? There are concrete steps you can take to improve your accent, especially …

Read More »

What You Need To Learn a New Language

Apps, textbooks, and tutors will definitely form the basis of your language study. However, without the right frame of mind, it will be hard to actually design and follow through with your study plan. Here are some things that will help you create an optimum environment for language learning, and guess what? They all cost you $0. CURIOSITY Mark Twain …

Read More »

The Languages Of Hawaii

Since my husband and I live in Korea, and my parents and sister live in California, this Christmas we decided to convene smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on an American island called Hawaii (or, as the Koreans might call it, the American Jeju 😉 ). Before our trip I figured I had better bone up on Hawaiian …

Read More »