Multilingual portals that can fast-track your language learning: try Deutsche Welle

Hello, here is another look at how international broadcasters and their websites can help you with your language learning, with a focus on my five Romance languages. In the first instalment, we looked at the BBC with its online coverage in French, Spanish and Portuguese. In the second part of the series, we found Radio France Internationale went one better by adding Romanian to the above. But alas, no Italian.

Now we will look at the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. As you will see (if you have good eyesight!) from the screen grab below, taken from its English website here, its languages component is pretty impressive: 30 all up, including French, Romanian, Spanish, and both Portuguese for Brazil and Portuguese for Africa. When you go to the DW site, you have to click on the “DW.DE IN 30 LANGUAGES” on the far right of the thin light grey panel at the top of the page, and then the language options will appear as a pop-up above that.

DW languages

OK, let’s have a look at what stories DW is running on the weekend beginning February 28, and bearing in mind that sometimes these broadcasters’ websites are not so much news services but more of a platform to promote their radio or television features.

(I will switch to different coloured text from now on to distinguish my writing from DW’s. Otherwise you will get long slabs of black on white.)

Let’s start with French: the lead story on the home page (the Africa section) looks back at how 130 years ago the superpowers partitioned Africa – with little or no consideration of the needs of the Africans themselves. 

dw french newsOn the “International” page the lead story is how Islamic State militants are destroying archaeological treasures. 

dw french news2

DW’s Spanish site has a strong focus on Latin America. One of its main stories is the capture of a Mexican drug baron.

dw espagnol

On the Português do Brasil website, the assassination in Russia of former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov is given the most prominence. 

DW portuguese brasil

But Brasil does get a mention, at least via the front cover (“capa“) of The Economist

dw portuguese brasil 2um atoleiro = a quagmire, mire, marshy place, puddle, embarrassment, mess, difficulty, pickle, immorality or degradation. 

On the Português para África website, the lead story is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s controversial and opulent 91st birthday party or “festa“.

dw portuguese port

Finally, to the Romanian page. As you would expect, much of the focus was on new Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’s recent visit to Berlin and meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss, among other things, Romania’s desire to enter the 26-nation Schengen Area, the security situation and possible Russian aggression in Moldova (which is between Ukraine and Romania). The Schengen talks also brought up the controversial issue of the emigration of Romanians to other parts of Europe, and whether this migration was good (buna) or bad (rea), and for whom, depending on whether they were skilled or unskilled workers. 

dw romanian

To read a report in English on Merkel’s and Iohannis’s meeting, go here.


Three of the best from quirky Argentinian band Tan Biónico

If you like synth and guitar-driven pop-rock along the lines of US band The Killers, with the occasional bit of camp disco thrown in (à la the English hits of Romanian band Akcent) then Argentina’s Tan Biónica might be worth investigating (tan means “so”). Very popular on their home territory, they make colourful theatrical videos, and their latest single, Hola Mi Vida, (Hello My Life) is doing well.

That song is taken from their new album Hola Mundo (Hello World). Their last release, Destinología, from 2013, spawned two No. 1 singles – Ciudad Mágica and La Melodía de Dios – but I prefer these tracks from 2011 and 2013 instead.

If you want to know more about Tan Biónica, their Spanish entry on Wikipedia is here – the English entry (the link in the first paragraph of this post) is very basic.

Two tenses, same endings: the conditional and imperfect in Portuguese made easier

blackboard-583692_1280Recently I covered the conditional and imperfect tenses in Portuguese, now here’s something to make it easier to master them, at least as far as –er, and –ir verbs are concerned ( –ar verbs are a little different, but we wouldn’t want to make it too easy, would we?)

The thing to remember is that with regular er and –ir verbs, the suffixes are the same in both tenses, only the verb stem is different.

The common suffixes (verb endings) are: -ia, -ias, -ia, -íamos, -iam

  • To form the conditional, these endings are added to the infinitive.
  • To form the imperfect, these endings are added to the shortened verb stem (the infinitive minus the –er or –ir).

Let’s use a common –er verb as an example, vender (to sell)

CONDITIONAL                               IMPERFECT

  • eu venderia                            eu vendia
  • tu venderias                           tu vendias
  • você/ele/ela venderia             você/ele/ela vendia
  • nós venderíamos                   nós vendíamos
  • vocês/eles/elas venderiam    vocês/eles/elas vendiam


angel-298494_1280The same applies to a common –ir verb such as dormir (to sleep)

CONDITIONAL                               IMPERFECT

  • eu dormiria                            eu dormia
  • tu dormirias                           tu dormias
  • você/ele/ela dormiria             você/ele/ela dormia
  • nós dormiríamos                   nós dormíamos
  • vocês/eles/elas dormiriam    vocês/eles/elas dormiam

So, it’s pretty simple; because the imperfect uses the shortened verb stem, it is less of a mouthful than the conditional, which doesn’t always slip off the tongue easily.

Remember, these five endings also apply to –ar verbs in the conditional (eu falaria = I would speak) but not the imperfect, where a different set of endings is used (eu falava = I was speaking, tu falavas, etc).

For more information, go to the Verbs tab on the main menu bar. An explanation of Portuguese subject pronouns can be found under Grammar on the same menu bar.

Multilingual portals that can fast-track your language learning: is RFI right for you?

People’s online reading habits have been researched thoroughly nowadays, and for all the media companies I have worked for in the past decade – be they news-oriented or more fluffy entertainment style – the patterns have been the same. The peak reading period tends to be between 6am and 9am. That is, when people wake up they like to know what has happened overnight, if anything, and what are likely to be the big issues in the day ahead. smartphone-584704_640The advent of smartphones and tablets and broad wi-fi coverage from the telecommunications companies has made this more pronounced. Few people read a newspaper on the trains any more, they are all online – mostly on social media (although a good number, I notice, play games). There is also a noticeable rise in reading activity round about 9pm or 10pm, when people are unwinding in bed. (If you do this, please note that more and more reports are coming out saying that the constant subjecting of ourselves to the blue light of our smartphones and tablets is disrupting our sleeping patterns and is bad for our health.)

I have previously written on how you can change your default computer language and internet home page to boost your language studies: see Language learning can click easily into place, which also looked at the BBC’s French, Spanish and Portuguese news pages. Unfortunately, the BBC does not delve into Romanian or Italian. However, Radio France Internationale goes one better as far as Romance languages are concerned. Have a look at its language options (I am using the English version here.)

RFI language box

It offers French, of course, Spanish, Portuguese and, rather surprisingly, Romanian. If you are learning one or two of these languages, and are one of the poeple who likes to cast your eye over the news headlines just after you have woken up, RFI is a great website to use. You’ll soon learn the key words of the day in all four languages.

Below, for example, are screen grabs of their coverage of a recent big news item – Jordan’s execution of two jihadists in retaliation for Islamic State’s horrific immolation of the Jordanian Air Force pilot whose jet crashed while on a raid over Syria. How much can you understand of their news reports? I bet it is more than you’d think. (Apologies for not picking a more pleasant story, but it was the biggest news item at the time I started preparing this post. Right now their lead stories are all different.)



RFI French Jordan



RFI Portuguse Jordan



RFI romanian jordan



RFI spanish Jordan

In coming weeks we shall have a look at other international broadcasters to see what their language offerings are like. With any luck we will find one that does include Italian.                                                      


I have a soft spot for Jordan. I had been there in 2011 on a travel writing assignment, it was my first trip to the region, and I was very taken in by the friendliness of the people. At the time, trouble had already started brewing in Syria, and Jordan was having to give shelter to what turned out to be a massive influx of refugees. I found the execution of the Jordanian pilot, Moath Youssef al-Kasasbeh – burnt alive while trapped in a cage – particularly gruesome and barbaric and shocking. We live in a very troubled world. You can read my impressions of Jordan here.

How a backwater dialect – Castilian – became the talk of Spain

I am still travelling back in time to the Iberian Peninsula (that’s Spain and Portugal for the geographically challenged, plus bits of France and Andorra and Gibraltar), using Melveena McKendrick as my guide. I have moved on from the feats of Hasdrubal The Handsome, to the exploits of the likes of Sancho The Fat and Alfonso the Learned. I am now thinking of calling myself Bernard The Learned – I rather like the sound of it. (We won’t mention my fat levels).

The Alhambra, in Granada, which was the last Moslem area to fall back into the hands of the Christians. Image from Pixabay

The Alhambra, in Granada, which was the last Moslem area to fall back into the hands of the Christians. Image from Pixabay

So, to recap a bit, the collapse of Roman rule was followed by the Visigothic era, and then from 712 the Arab conquest began and “by 718 the country had fallen like a ripe plum into the hands of the caliph of Damascus, then capital of the Islamic world,” writes McKendrick, who must have had plum trees in her garden. Initially the Arabs/Moors did try to carry on into France, but they got beaten back at Poitiers and eventually settled into al-Andalus, as they called Islamic Spain, and from which Andalusia gets its name. They did not attempt to conquer the mountainous north of Spain (i.e. the regions we know as today, going from West to East, as Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country and Navarre). The Moslems adopted a policy of religious toleration, McKendrick notes, and the Christian communities living under Moslem rule, who were called Mozarabs, spoke Arabic and vulgar Latin. A prosperous period followed, al-Andalus became independent of Damascus (whose influence waned and Baghdad became the central authority) “tenth-century Moslem Spain [was] the cultural and intellectual center of a still-benighted Europe, a glittering meteor of civilization in a sky that was empty of all but a few stars“.

The Arabs were great farmers and cultivators. “A living testimony to the contribution made by Spanish Moslems to the life and economy of the Peninsula is that a large proportion of the four thousand Arabic words found in the Spanish language refer to agricultural produce and techniques and to commerce in general.”

Castile gets its names from the castles that characterised the region.  Pic from Pixabay

Castile gets its names from the castles that characterised the region. Pic from Pixabay

However, history and politics are all about power struggles, both internal and external. Regional tensions rose, and the Visigothic “mountain shepherds” of the north began to regroup. The kingdom of Asturias disintegrated into three, Asturias, Galicia and Léon, but then Galicia and Léon merged and the city of Léon became the capital. The kings of Léon had to build lots of castles on Spain’s central plateau to defend their territory, and this area became known as Castile, which soon grew in importance and was “cast in the spearhead role hitherto occupied by Léon. Asturias had spawned Léon and Léon had spawned Castile, and in each case the offspring had usurped the parent’s position.”

Even linguistically Castile assumed the lead,” McKendrick writes. “It was populated by migrations of mountaineers from the far north whose tongue was more emphatic and more primitive than the romance language spoken across the greater part of the Christian north. As Castile took the forefront of activities, the language became transformed from a backwater dialect into a vigorous innovatory vernacular to form the Castilian that became modern Spanish.”

So there you have it. It’s not the whole of the story, of course, from a linguistic and historic point of view. Castile occupied a central strip of the Peninsula, but there was what was to become Portugal to the west, and to the east what would become the Kingdom of Aragon and the principality of Catalonia. And let’s not forget Valencia and Murcia too.

Alfonso X (cenre) "LibroDesJuegasAlfonXAndCourt". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Alfonso X (centre) “LibroDesJuegasAlfonXAndCourt”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Later, when Alfonso X (The Learned) came to the throne of Castile, he embarked on a massive drive to have all the major scholarly works of the world translated, and it gave Castilian even more impetus. “Alfonso’s aim was to make the maximum amount of information available to the maximum number of people,” McKendrick notes, “and to this end the language into which his collaborators translated, and in which they wrote, was not Latin but Castilian. This meant that what was still a fairly primitive form of the vernacular, used in day-to-day living, was suddenly compelled to cope with a wide range of sophisticated subjects, and abstract concepts that were entirely strange to it. In the space of this one reign, therefore, Castilian became an infinitely richer and suppler form of expression – a language ripe for literary development.”

Enough history for now. Bernard The Learned is going to become Bernard The Bed-Ridden. Goodnight!