Great Language Game Tests Your Ear For Foreign Languages

Welcome sign - foreign language game
Flickr, Sanctu

Any seasoned world traveler can tell the difference between Italian and Russian, but how about Tamil and Punjabi? Estonian vs. Slovenian? Do you even know where they speak Hausa?

Test your ear for foreign languages with the Great Language Game, compiled from audio samples of 80 languages (just a drop in the bucket compared to the six or seven thousand spoken in the world!) and presented as a multiple-choice quiz. Each correct answer gets you 50 points, the highest so far is 8600 points. The samples were collected from SBS Australia and Voices of America by Australian data scientist Lars Yencken. The easiest language is French, while the hardest to guess is Shona, a Bantu language native to Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Test your language skills at GreatLanguageGame.com

The Most Useful Useless Phrasebook Phrases

broken heartI’ve frequently touted Lonely Planet’s Phrasebooks on Gadling (about as often as I’ve truthfully stated that I receive no kickbacks from them). They’ve saved my butt countless times, helping me do everything from getting on the right train platform to finding out what obscure ingredient is in a dish.

There’s another reason I love these indispensible travel companions, however, and that’s for their entertainment value. Like all LP books, the personality and preferences (and sometimes the nationality) of the authors shine through, although the content is consistent. Whether Czech, Hmong, or Mexican Spanish, you’ll find the layout and categories the same, barring cultural or geographical improbabilities: don’t expect to learn how to get your car tuned up in a Karen hill tribe dialect, for example.

I confess I’ve used my phrasebooks as icebreakers on more than one occasion because they make the ideal bar prop or conversation starter. Whip one out of your daypack, and I guarantee within minutes you’ll have attracted the attention of someone…so wield and use their power carefully.

The following are some of my favorite useful useless phrases culled from my collection. Disclaimer alert: May be offensive (or just plain stupid) to some readers. Also note that phrasebooks, unless written by native-speakers, will always have some errors or inconsistencies in grammar or dialect, especially when transliterated, so I won’t vouch for the complete accuracy of the following:

French
“No, it isn’t the alcohol talking.” Non, c’est moi qui dis ça, ce n’est pas l’alcool qui parle.

“Maybe a Bloody Mary will make me feel better.” Peut-être qu’un Bloody Mary me fera du bien. Unsurprisingly, many LP phrasebooks are written by Australians.

Spanish (Spain/Basque version)
“I’m sorry, I’ve got better things to do.” Lo siento, pero tengo otras cosa más importantes que hacer. Trust me, this comes in very handy if you’re a female traveling in Latin America.

“Do you have a methadone program in this country?” ¿Hay algún programa de metadona en este pais? Because savvy travelers are always prepared for the unexpected.

womanItalian
Under a heading called “Street Life” comes this handy phrase: “What do you charge? Quanto fa pagare?

And because Italians are romantics at heart, you’ll do well to learn the following exchange:
“Would you like to come inside for a while?” Vuoi entrare per un po?
“Let’s go to bed/the bathroom.” Andiamo a letto/in bagno.
“I’d like you to use a condom.” Voglio che ti metta il preservativo.
“Would you like a cigarette?” Prendi una sigaretta?
“You can’t stay here tonight.” Non puoi restare qui stanotte.

German
“I have my own syringe.” Ich habe meine eigene Spritze. This is actually useful, but not so much in German. If you’re traveling to developing nations and have a condition such as diabetes, definitely take the time to learn this. As for carrying syringes and hypodermics in developing nations if you don’t have a pre-existing medical condition, do so at your own risk. I’ve debated it and to me, I’d rather not be caught with “drug paraphernalia” on my person.

Portuguese
“I may be in a wheelchair but I’m able to live independently!” Posso andar de cadeira de rodas mas consigo ter uma vida independente! This isn’t so much funny as it is totally random. And I like the exclamation point.

“Oh baby, don’t stop.” Nao pares, amor! Better have this memorized or you’ll defeat the purpose of looking it up when needed.

Japanese
“Sorry, I can’t sing.” Go men na sai, u tai nam des [phonetic]. Very “Lost in Translation.”
tasmania map
Australian
“I’m feeling lonely/depressed.” “Miserable as a shag on a rock.”
My favorite ‘Strine phrases – not found in the LP book; I just know a lot of Aussies – include “leg opener” (a bottle of cheap wine) and “mappa Tassie” (map of Tasmania, referring to a woman’s pubic region, although I suppose this made more sense before Brazilians became the norm).

Vietnamese
“Do you want a massage? mát-xa không? Not a cliché at all.

“You’re just using me for sex (male speaker).” Am jeé moo úhn laám ding ver eé aang toy [phonetic]. Talk about progress.

Thai: “Where can I buy some gay/lesbian magazines?” mii nang seu keh/khaai thîi nai? Emergency!

[Photo credits: heart, Flickr user Toronja Azul; woman, Flickr user http://heatherbuckley.co.uk;Tasmania, Flickr user NeilsPhotography]

Language Learning Tips

Italy’s Battle of the Oranges

Even before Filippo Prior rides into the ancient piazza on the back of a horse-drawn carriage, he feels the giddy adrenalin rush of battle and the unnerving fear that comes with the knowledge that he and his teammates are about to get pelted with hundreds of cold, hard oranges.

“You hear the roar of the crowd, people screaming before you enter the piazza,” says Prior, a 21-year old member of the Cavalry of the Tricolore, a carriage team which competes in Italy’s annual Battle of the Oranges, a pre-Lenten carnival in Ivrea, near Turin. “It’s scary. You have a helmet but you can’t see anything because oranges are flying at you from all angles.”

The Battaglia delle Arance is a three-day orgy of orange-throwing insanity that is part of an ancient six-day carnival that attracts some 100,000 spectators and 4,000 participants to the small northern Italian city of Ivrea each February. The event, which begins today, appears to be unregulated mayhem but it’s actually highly structured and has deep historical significance.

The carnival commemorates a 12th century rebellion that was sparked by Violletta, a commoner who cut off the head of a tyrannical lord who tried to enforce the custom of taking her virginity on her wedding night. For centuries, carnivals-goers in the town threw beans at each other because feudal lords used to bestow two pots of them per year on poor people in the town. The bean-throwing was meant to signify their disdain for the handouts, but was also good fun.

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But in the mid-nineteenth century, the tradition gradually changed as young women adopted the custom of standing on balconies and pelting boys they fancied from above with oranges. If the boys liked their attacker, they returned fire. These days, the city trucks in 57,000 crates, or 400 tons worth of oranges from Southern Italy that would otherwise be thrown away for use in the battle.

Dozens of carriage teams on horse-drawn carts, signifying the tyrant’s guards, compete against nine “foot” teams, representing the rebellious commoners. The carriage players are completely surrounded and outnumbered, so these participants have to be either very brave, or very pazo (crazy), preferably both.

“On the wagon, you have only eight people and you are throwing oranges against 400-500 people at a time- you are completely under siege,” says Prior, an Ivrea native who has been competing in the battle since he was 12. “You get hit everywhere- on the helmet, the arms, the chest, your hands.”
According to Prior, each carriage player competes for just one of the three days in the battle due the vicious nature of the combat.

“The next day your arms are purple- completely covered in bruises from getting hit so many times,” he says. “There is no way you could do all three days.”

The local authorities set up first aid tents around the five piazzas used for the event, each one is “defended” by a different foot team. The organizers say that no one has ever suffered a severe injury and some view getting a black eye or a bruise on the face as a badge of courage. Spectators wear red berets to signify themselves as non-combatants but still get hit with stray fire. The splattered oranges and horse droppings create a colossal mess that’s eventually cleaned up by a team of 100 workers.

On Fat Tuesday, a team of judges give awards to the foot and carriage teams based upon their throwing ability, costumes and adherence to rules, such as not hitting the horses with oranges. The festival concludes with a huge procession, which culminates with a likeness of a sword-weilding Violetta presiding over a burning scarlo, a pole covered in heather and juniper bushes. The crowd goes wild, cheering for the scarlo to burn as quickly as possible. A quick burn is an omen that the coming year will be a good one; a slow burn means trouble is on the way.

The teams have been together for decades, but foreign visitors are welcome to join if they pay a registration fee. But Prior has a word of advice for newcomers.

“Definitely wear old clothes and shoes, because all your things will be ruined.”

Photos courtesy of Torino Tourism- via Marco Leonardi.

London’s Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art opens Alberto Burri retrospective

LondonThe Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is one of London’s best small art museums. Housed in an elegant Georgian mansion on a quiet street in the London borough of Islington, it has the best collection of modern Italian art in the city and perhaps the nation.

Its latest exhibition is Alberto Burri: Form and Matter, a retrospective of one of the leading Italian figures in modern art. Burri (1915-1995) started painting while interned in Texas as a prisoner of war during WWII. By the 1950s he was experimenting with common materials such as sacking, plastic, and tar, breaking out of the two-dimensions dictated by traditional painting.

His effect on modern art was huge and spawned many imitators. This exhibition brings together works from a number of museums and rarely seen examples from private collections. Aficionados of modern art won’t want to miss this one.

Alberto Burri: Form and Matter runs until April 7.

Photo courtesy Alex Sarteanesi.

Photo of the Day – Sicilian man

This elegant gentleman was captured in Sicily by Flickr user TravelSeminar. The weathered creases that line his face, the pulled back curtains and shy grin all suggest a moment of welcome and openness. It’s the perfect visual accompaniment to a brand new year – take it as an invitation to get your own travel plans off to a great start. Here’s wishing you all the best in 2012!

Have any great travel shots of your own? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.