Israel’s street sign vigilantes, learning Hindi, and your brain on language

sign1This week, a mom-and-pop effort to restore Arabic script to street signs in Israel. Earlier this year, Israel’s new transport minister Israel Katz proposed an overhaul to his country’s road signs. So far they’ve been trilingual: Hebrew, Arabic and English. But Katz wants to remove Arabic and English city names and replace them with transliterations of the Hebrew names. So instead of the English word, “Jerusalem,” and the Arabic name for the city, “Al-Quds,” both languages would spell out “Yerushalayim,” the Hebrew name of the city. The proposal hasn’t been implemented yet. signs2But street signs in Israel have long been ideological battlegrounds: the Arabic has often been defaced or obliterated. That’s where Romy Achituv and Ilana Sichel (pictured right) come in. They are reinstating the Arabic, one sign at a time. So far the police haven’t stopped them. (Photos: Daniel Estrin)

Also in this week’s podcast, I speak with author Katherine Russell Rich on learning Hindi at a language school in Rajasthan. Her book “Dreaming in Hindirich-dreaming1 is also an investigation into what happens to our brains when we learn a learn a language. Rich quizzed several neurolinguists, so she could get a handle on the challenges and all-round weird linguistic moments she encountered in her pursuit of Hindi mastery. So there are answers (not THE answers perhaps) to the following: what’s the difference between learning a language “intuitively” as a child and in a classroom setting later on? Why is it so difficult to have a perfect accent in your second or third language? Why do so many people verbally shut down for weeks or months  when learning a language? How does language effect personality and vice versa? And is there blowback from your learned language that changes how you speak your native tongue?

On the subject of the last question, check out this fascinating conversation on The World’s science podcast on the latest research into what happens to your native tongue when you learn a second one. According to this study, you’ll never read your first language in the same way. Also, that cognates can trip you up.

Finally, we cast a somewhat shameful eye over a tough-to-translate expression in Spanish.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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8 responses to “Israel’s street sign vigilantes, learning Hindi, and your brain on language

  1. TJ Felegie (CST229)

    It’s very interesting that it’s a natural process while hitting a certain stage in learning a language is becoming silent and being receptive. Then you have the breakthrough where you jump leaps and bounds ahead of where you thought you were. I’ve had dreams foreign languages I was learning where I really didn’t understand it, and I thought I was going crazy, but I suppose it was just a logical step in internalizing the language.

  2. Jennifer Shim (CST229; Professor Tirpak)

    When I moved to America and started to learn English, I’ve also had that stage where I was dreaming in Engligh (even though I couldn’t clearly understand what it actually meant), was getting confused between my native language and English. I felt like I was having some sort of ‘linguistic disorder’ or whatnot.. I was in the middle, and I wasn’t perfect in neither of them. However, it is a surprise to find out that it is just the way it works.

  3. Pingback: New York’s polyglot cops, Arabic online, and the planet’s most difficult language « the world in words

  4. Pingback: New York's polyglot cops, Arabic online, and the planet's most difficult language | Europe | PRI's The World

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  7. learning english is quite easy, there arem any tutorials on the internet and some audiobooks too ~~.

  8. Pingback: Going to Jerusalem Today | Ana Raayi7 Bukra 3al-Quds

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