Who will talk the talk as World Cup enters knockout phase?


It’s mine, mine, mine!

Sixteen teams have departed from Brazil, and the World Cup knock-out phase is shortly to begin. Sixteen teams still dream of being the 2014 FIFA World Cup champion (and in a couple of hours they will be down to fourteen). There is so much analysis of the event from a footballing point of view available, so let’s be nerdy and take a linguistic look instead. Who will get bragging rights come the final whistle, who will squawk and screech and howl in protest at the inevitable controversies to come?

In the top half of the draw, one semifinalist will come from the winners of  ….

  • Brazil v Chile
  • Colombia v Uruguay

It’s a Romance language affair – 1 x Brazilian Portuguese team among 3 x South American Spanish teams. The pressure on Brazil to perform at home is enormous. Chile and Colombia look dangerous.

... and the other semifinalist will emerge from 

  • France v Nigeria
  • Germany v Algeria

European giants v African outsiders; The languages involved, of course, are French (some commentators are calling Algeria the French B team), Arabic, German and English, bearing in mind that there are many, many languages African languages in Nigeria.

football-114653_1280In the bottom half of the draw, one semifinalist will come from the winners of  ….

  • Netherlands v Mexico
  • Costa Rica v Greece

This is Europe v Latin America; Dutch and Greek against Latanish/Spatin.

... and the other semifinalist will emerge from 

  • Argentina v Switzerland
  • Belgium v USA

So many languages involved here! Spanish via Argentina (and it’s increasingly important in the United States); Swiss French, Swiss German, Swiss Italian – and let’s not forget Romansh; Belgian Dutch (Flemish), Belgian French, Belgian German and Walloon (a Romance language), and American English.

People are saying it has been Latin America’s tournament so far, so just going by the force of numbers, Spanish has to be the best bet. But things can quickly change – in a couple of hours at least one, if not two, of those Spanish speaking teams will be gone. Now I am signing off to catch 2 hours’ sleep before Brazilian Portuguese takes on La Roja Spanish at the ungodly hour of 2am Australian time. If  your team is still in the competition, good luck!



Be happy, you’ve got all the ‘be’s in your bonnet

Romance languages

Romance languages (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The purpose of this blog is to enable you/me/us to chat up – oops, sorry, chat with, watch your prepositions, Bernardo! – the 1030 million people who speak the major Romance languages (see the statistics in the ‘Five is a plucky number’ page). The orange and yellow bits on the accompanying map will give you some idea where most of them are. There should be a tiny, tiny dot in eastern Australia, near Sydney, to indicate me – Wikipedia has left me off the map!

Mastering the verb “to be”, needless to say, is an important step along the way because once you have done that you can then go on to say things like “I am hungry, I am thirsty, I am horny” etc etc. In some Romance languages, though, they say “I have hunger” and “I have thirst”, which is why we will study the verb “to have” soon after this. (Whether they also say “I have horniness” at this stage I have no idea, but I guess sooner or later we will find out.)

In the meantime, here is a recap of the verb “to be” in the five featured Romance languages. As noted in previous posts on each, some of these languages have two verbs meaning “to be”, and some have more than one way of saying “you” depending on whether it is a formal or informal relationship. We won’t repeat the explanations here.

French (être):

singular:  je suis;                      tu es;                  il, elle est;

plural:  nous sommes;          vous êtes;            ils, elles sont

Portuguese (ser)

singular: eu sou               tu és;                ele, ela, você é

plural:  nós somos                                  eles, elas, vocês são

Portuguese (estar)

singular: eu estou;               tu estás;               ele, ela, você está

plural: nós estamos;                                      eles, elas, vocês estão

Spanish (ser)

singular: yo soy;                   eres;                él, ella, usted es;

plural: nosotros -as  somos;      vosotros -as sois;    ellos, ellas, ustedes son

Spanish (estar)

yo estoy;                          estás;                   él, ella, usted está;

nosotros -as estamos;     vosotros -as estáis;      ellos, ellas, ustedes están

Italian (essere)

singular: io sono;                         tu sei;                    Lei, lui, lei è 

plural:  noi siamo;                      voi siete;                       loro sono 

Italian (stare, which can also mean “to stay”)

singular: io sto;                   tu stai;                 Lei, lui, lei sta; 

plural:  noi  stiamo            voi state;              loro  stanno

Romanian (a fi)

singular: eu sunt;                 tu eşti;                      el, ea este

plural: noi suntem             voi sunteţi                  ei, ele sunt

Till next time….


Being more French (or more on being French)

musique militaire du Bey de Tunis en 1905

musique militaire du Bey de Tunis en 1905 (Photo credit: histoirepostale)

One of the more enjoyable ways to immerse yourself in a language is through music, and thankfully there are many people who have already done the hard work and posted French songs with English translations on You Tube. Rather than try to offer my own pronunciation guide to the present tense of être, I did a search for “je suis” on You Tube and found this lovely song by a singer called Zazie, Je suis un homme (“I am a man”, which she is not). I gather she is not very impressed with mankind! Nice song, and an admirable political statement, I think. Anyway, there is good vocabulary to be had here:

For those who need a proper pronunciation guide, here is a nice man in a cool jersey on You Tube who covers it fully. Why couldn’t we have had someone like him as a French teacher at school instead of the grumps they gave us? I think with him my marks would have been much better 🙂

I like the way he says c’est tout (that’s all) at the end. If you want to follow him on You Tube, his nickname there is MyFrenchTutor.

And for those who want to know a lot more about the verb être, or any other, there are many websites that assist with conjugation. Here is one:


Next we will look at “being” Portuguese… it’s quite different to being French.

A song for Romantics

Before we go into grammar lessons, let’s kick back and listen to this song by a veteran Romanian group that I like, called Compact. (They do a great mix of uptempo rock songs and wistful ballads.)  Continue reading

Let’s not start at the very beginning

Language Teaching (journal)

Language Teaching (journal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally, there are two types of language guide books: the serious ones which want to go into the grammar in reasonable depth, and those that only want to teach you phrases parrot fashion so that you can say some things when you are in a country on a short-term holiday.

I dislike the latter because I like to know the grammatical logic of what I am saying, the language’s construction. I don’t want to yabber like a brainless parrot. So I tend to go for the former, the more serious language guides.

But usually these books will start by introducing you to the alphabet and the sounds of a language, so on your first lesson you are confronted with a bewildering array of pronunciation rules, such as whether a c is soft or hard before an a, e, i, o or u, and so on, plus the various exceptions, and a lot of unrelated vocabulary. Maybe in terms of language teaching this is a logical way to start, but I find it is easier to just get stuck in, perhaps starting with the equivalents of the verb “to be”, and then take it from there. Once you get comfortable with the language, a lot of the pronunciation rules will come to you naturally by instinct. You will soon know whether a c is hard or soft before certain vowels etc. So soon we will look at the French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian notions of being.