The Secret Languages of Great Britain (with Simon Ager from Omniglot)

languages of britain

Episode 37 is brought to you by italki, where you can find a language partner for any language. We tested it with rare languages like Icelandic, and it totally delivered. Get an awesome free lesson deal at italki.

Today's Topic: Multilingual Britain

Britain is not monolingual at all, but in fact it is teeming with languages. In this episode, we present you the real landscape of languages spoken in the British Isles.

Can you guess how many languages are indigenous to this country?

We discovered some amazing things, not lastly you'll NEVER guess what Irish and Spanish bears have in common!

You'll be surprised to find that more than 2 million people in the UK speak British languages other than English. Here is a quick summary of the bigger groups of languages spoken in the UK - not just British languages, but also the immigrant languages most popular in the UK today, for example Polish, Gujarati and Urdu.

Listen to our podcast episode to get a wonderful tour of the British languages, including:

  • What does it take to keep a minority language alive?
  • Did you know there was a Scots dictionary - and how it's influenced the English language?
  • Our pondering of the true official languages of Great Britain
  • Turns out children really are the future when it comes to reviving languages that don't have native speakers anymore, for example Cornish

Lindsay does some amazing demonstrations of the Scottish language and accent. And Kerstin says her first "goodbye" in Welsh!

Which British Languages Did You Know?

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2) using hashtag #cllp on Twitter (I am @kerstinhammes and Lindsay is @ldlanguages.

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Guest Post: 4 Artists Successful Language Learners Listen To

Today's guest post comes from Alice Morell, all the way from the Big Apple. She writes all about the world of music over at, and you can also find her on Twitter. Alice has been investigating the best bands for learning another language and today she'll help out with her tips on

  • the most romantic French band
  • a hot and famous Colombian artist for Spanish learning
  • Germany's liveliest pop group
  • learning English with classic rock passion

Over to Alice!

img © contactmusic, idol, puremusic

img © contactmusic, idol, puremusic

Communication with Bon Jovi: Because we can!

We all know that music is a wonderful way of absorbing life’s lessons, and since elementary school we’ve used it to learn the very foundations of foreign languages.  Long before we could read or write, we were singing, often incorporating words into our language that we didn’t know the meaning of, but we could belt them out with ease! 

Alphabet songs are nearly universal, existing in almost every language, and there’s no coincidence there, music is simply an excellent way to learn language!  Music’s rhythm and harmony allows the sounds and cadence of a language to sink in to our long-term memory, and singing along helps our lips and tongue adjust to forming the sounds that are the foundation of that language.  The fact that singing has recently been shown to be excellent for our health is just a bonus!


In this article we’re going to introduce a few songs that we can use to build on your command of foreign languages, and we’ll start with the phenomenal Indochine. French bands don’t get as much play on the global arena as they probably deserve, and Indochine is one of those bands that really jumps out when you first hear them.  They’re somewhat reminiscent of the rock bands from the 80’s and 90’s, without the driving force of the heavy guitar.  They perhaps more in common with Bob Seger than they do Metallica, but with their catchy songs and easy to understand lyrics, they’re a great tool in learning how to speak French.

The French have always been known as being the masters of the language of Romance, and Indochine is no different.  Such is the case in this next song, where a lover calls out to the man in the moon, wanting to know why he suffers so, and why his love has left him alone in the end.   Sometimes we know the nature of a given thing, and he certainly did—they both agreed it was an adventure, just a torrid affair, but in the end it became much more… To him at least.   The song “J'ai demandé à la lune” speaks of the pain of lost love, and the descent into a sort of lunatic madness.   All we can do is demand of the world, of anyone who listens, to know why our pain is such as it is, why there seems to be no respite.  Perhaps, if there is someone you desire to win back more than anything, you can try winning them back with this song in the language of Romance!


But French is not the only beautiful Latin language. Of the Spanish speaking performers in the world, there are few who so embody the heart of their language as does Shakira.

This Columbian born beauty entered the world on February 2, 1977 as an only child.  Her desire to perform came early in life, starting with an encounter with a doumbek in a Middle Eastern restaurant.  At that moment she took to the table and started dancing, and the dream of performing professionally was born in her.  She followed it faithfully through her life, though not without some stumbles, and it took her until nearly 1995 to successfully enter the Latin market professionally. Then, in 2001, she exploded onto the world scene.

Shakira is the mistress of more than one language, and she is known for her vibrant and energetic body movements as well as the sheer fire she puts behind her lyrics. The song La Tortura shows that the right woman can get into your head and never leave, even if you failed to keep her by your side.  From that moment, you’ll forever be on the outside, remembering the past with a hunger that overrides every thought of the present with a deep longing for the past. Singing along with this will help bring out the passion in you, and kindle a smoking fire of memory about the hungers of times gone by.

Wir Sind Helden

What if Latin is not your thing? How about Deutsch? There’s a little known fact about the German language, and that’s how close America was to speaking it as the primary language.  When the vote went down to determine what the ‘official language’ of America was going to be, we were one vote away from greeting people with “Guten Tag!” instead of hello. 

The members of Wir sind Helden are incredibly passionate about life, and more importantly living it.  It’s almost as if this next song was a call out to all of the who keep vacillating between action and inaction, tormented by their emotions and unrequited love.  “Alles” is a song that talks about embracing your life, and truly living it.  Stop whining and complaining about the situations you live bound by, and do something about it.  Get up and live your life, because in this uncertain world everything is allowed, and everything is believed, and everything’s forgiven, and everything’s in vain.

 Wir sind Helden is an amazing band that speaks of some of the fundamental absurdities of being human.   We want so much, we strive for so much, but we stand in the corner not telling people we love them.  We wait for others to fall in love with us rather than reaching out and loving others, and we hide in our corners afraid of what will happen.   So what’s stopping you from reaching your dream of learning German?  With Wir sind Helden to guide you through learning the language with its beautiful upbeat songs, not a thing!  

Bon Jovi

And what about those of you who might be wanting to take your English to the next level? We’re going to end our little trip with a ramble through through the wild west of 80’s rock and the only peace a wandering a vagabond may ever know.  In this ballad, none other than the legendary Bon Jovi belts out his love for a woman who is the only reason he ever decided to set his boots by the door. During this one quiet moment, he takes the opportunity to tell her he’d stop his wandering ways, and lay her down on a Bed of Roses, if only just to stay right where he is forever.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!





English is My Native Language - And Here's Why I Learn 3 Others Too.

[ed.] Welcome to Angel Armstead, one of the new writers at Fluent. This is her first post, a fascinating story of how this American realised how much fun other languages are. Her language combination is awesome: Japanese, Mandarin, Russian!

english other languages

I Speak English So I Don't Need Another Language

Growing up I didn’t hear much about learning a foreign language. I did hear these sentiments expressed:

“I speak English so I don’t need another language”

“If you want to speak to me, speak English” or

“This is America, we speak English here.”

Family, friends and associates have asked me why I would waste my time learning another language when my first is spoken widely around the world. Sadly for a while I felt the same.

I first got an interest in foreign languages when I heard Spanish spoken. A friend of mine and I went to the library and picked up a few Spanish books. It was fun learning new words. Unfortunately I didn’t stick with it because I got along just fine with only English. It wasn’t until I got interested in the Japanese language that I really decided to ignore the mantra of “English only” that I had heard from many people.

When I got interested in studying Japanese, things were different. I really wanted to know everything about that language. I fell in love with the writing system (even if I complain about the Kanji sometimes), traditional culture, and the way the language sounds. Later my interest moved towards pop culture (anime, music and video games.) Although I had played video games before, I just never had played them in a language other than English. So far it’s the only language that I’m studying where I have bought movies, games, books and anything I can find in its language. I do think a big part in learning a language is your passion for that language. Once I had the passion for Japanese no excuse to continue with just English were relevant to me.

What If I Fail At Learning A Language?

There is one idea I have always had in my mind. It’s one of my reasons that I think held me back the most from learning a second language after I'd studied Japanese.

The idea is this: I’ve met many people who have tried to learn a second foreign language and failed. As a result they gave up language learning altogether. That made me think that maybe your second foreign language in some ways is your most important foreign language and deserves a lot of attention.

It's Becoming A Habit

Originally before I started learning Japanese I had planned to learn Mandarin Chinese but I didn’t pursue it, because I thought it was impossible as a choice for a second language. I even took classes in Mandarin but had to quit because of the location of the classes. I took Japanese in college for over three years. Their hardest script Kanji is borrowed from China. As a result I ended up learning some Mandarin Chinese words anyway. It does sometimes feel like I’m learning two languages when I’m working on the writing system.

Almost anyone who knows me knows I am in love with the Japanese language. I don’t think it’s just because of the anime, movies and culture. I think that the Japanese language was the language that showed me that I could actually do this. I don’t think I would have the interest I have in foreign languages if it wasn’t for Japanese. I can read all of the kana, speak conversationally and read at least 500 of the kanji. That was a major confidence booster as far as languages are concerned.

Russian is now my latest language interest. I used to joke with friends in college about learning Russian. The good thing about friends in college is that they only knew me after I was truly into languages. So for me to tell them that I was considering learning Russian wasn’t a big deal. This is probably the only one of the three that I listened to on YouTube videos before deciding I wanted to learn more of it. I just started learning Russian & Mandarin full time as I had been putting them off for years. I was really motivated when I came across the #add1challenge, my inspiration me to really work more on Russian and Chinese. Japanese was already an everyday thing.

If my past self as a child saw me now they probably wouldn’t believe that I finally pursued an interest in foreign languages. I used to think the furthest I could go in another language was greetings! I still have a ways to go with Japanese, Mandarin Chinese & Russian but I am much further even in Russian than I ever thought I could be. I even have future plans for other languages such as Spanish, German & Arabic. Once you start..

Which languages are you holding yourself back from?

[ed.] I think Angel's story is inspiring and shows one thing in particular: Most of us are holding ourselves back from success, for fear of failure. If you really want to get started with a language, ask yourself:

Which discoveries are you holding yourself back from?

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!


What's the bigger world language - Mandarin Chinese or English? by Teddy Nee

In today's blog article, I'm proud to share a personal account from the other side of the world. Teddy Nee is from Indonesia, studies in Taiwan and has high ambitions to be speaking 6 languages: Fujianese, Indonesian, English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Esperanto. Teddy says on his website that learning languages mostly requires discipline and commitment, and in his article today he'll talk more about how English and Mandarin compare.

English and Mandarin from Personal Experience

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “English”? You may recognize it as an international language.

What will you think about “Mandarin”? Is it the second international language?

International Languages

Mandarin has the world’s most speakers, followed by English. Nevertheless, most of the resources
on the Internet utilize English as the content language. W3Techs conducted a survey and showed that more than 55% of websites use English. Moreover, about half of research journal publications in the world use English.

English has also been the most utilized foreign language for international events – conferences, business meetings, etc. The number of English as foreign language speakers has surpassed 700 million people.

English and Mandarin rank top two of the list of international languages – most spoken and most utilized. The importance of English and the recent popularity of Mandarin have made both of them the most highly demanded second languages.

The Benefit of English and Mandarin

I came to Taiwan to pursue my study in Applied Computing at the International College of Ming Chuan University in 2008. After my graduation in 2012, I received a scholarship to pursue IMBA studies in the international program at National Taipei University of Technology, Taiwan.

Having the opportunity to study in these international programs, I noticed that students from around the world use English as the common language. However, Chinese students and students of Chinese ancestry (also known as “overseas Chinese”) will tend to use Mandarin in communicating among one another although Mandarin may be their second language. They mainly come from Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Macau. Thus, knowing both English and Mandarin would give you the highest chance to socialize with people of different language backgrounds. Understanding the culture is also important because it complements the socializing manner.

Furthermore, numerous companies have made English and/or Mandarin ability one of their employment requirements. Therefore, knowing them absolutely makes the job seekers, including me, more competitive in the job market.

Personal Learning Experience

I have learned English for more than 10 years at school, just like most of the students around the world. I love reading very much and it is one of my language learning methods. One of my favorite English magazines while I was in school was Reader’s Digest.

Reader’s Digest covers a wide variety of topics, including jokes and games.

Mandarin shares similarity with the Minnan language that I speak as one of my native languages. Thus, speaking Mandarin has been easier than writing or reading. Mandarin has been the compulsory subject of foreign language in the school that I attended while I was in the third year of junior high school.

I also took a summer Mandarin course at National Taiwan Normal University in 2011. You can find numerous resources on the Internet about Simplified Chinese (Mainland China) and Traditional Chinese (Taiwan). Apart from using the learning materials that I found on the Internet, I also practice by reading Chinese articles on websites.


The speaker of English and Mandarin definitely get an abundance of advantages. The difficulty and ease of learning them depend on the learners’ language background. Discipline with the language-learning schedule and commitment to learning the language form two most important principles in my language learning.

Note from Kerstin

Hope you enjoyed today's guest post from Teddy - you should absolutely go over to his blog and check out the wealth of free resources he shares over there:

I love how Teddy cites reading as one of his favourite things to do in a foreign language, and hadn't even thought of Reader's Digest as a resource for it. Is there a version in the language that you are learning?




4 great free courses from international broadcasters

Watching the television or listening to the radio is always considered one of the most effective ways of consuming your target language. It's easy and passive enough to be done along with other activities, and with tools like TuneIn Radio it has also become widely available. But it's not so well known many international channels also have fantastic language classes on their websites. These resources are definitely worth your time.

Why broadcasters offer good language tuition

Not only are these channels ambassadors of their country, but they also have a stake in their own good image in their country. They  have a massive archive of great audio and video to show you how the language is used. And finally, they broadcast in that language - of course they want you to learn it because then you'll be a new customer. Oh, and the resources are free. Everybody wins. 

Here are some TV and Radio station websites offering excellent language courses:


Language: French

Who? TV5 Monde is the leading global network broadcasting in French, based in Paris and available on every continent.

Where do I look? The service is called TV5Apprendre, and you can start right from the beginning with "Première Classe" which shows you a little video clip and many exercises corresponding with the topic. It's a great source of multimedia, well structured and a fab way of practising your French.

TV5 also offers excellent reading exercises based on current affairs, and online games like Lettris (French language Tetris...).

Any other goodies? Try the monolingual dictionary before you use a French-English one.

deutsche welle.png

2. Deutsche Welle

Language: German

Who? Deutsche Welle (German Wave) or DW for short has been around since 1953, and it's Germany's best-known international broadcaster and actually offers programming in lots of different languages.

Where do I look?  The DW website itself is available in 30 languages, and you can switch at the top right of the site itself. The German language offering is split into

Any other goodies? Great Twitter account full of interesting words and retweets from greats such as @fluentlanguage

2. BBC

Language: English, or you can visit many world languages in the BBC Languages Section.

Who? The BBC is the world's biggest broadcaster, part owned by the British government and nearly as iconic as the Queen. Their international branch is called the World Service.

Where do I look?  The English Learning home page is a nice place to start with current affairs, news and quizzes. There aren't any courses taking you up to a level systematically, but just so much fun material to practice with.

Any other goodies?  Don't miss the 11 "In your language" sections, where you can study English from your own native language such as Vietnamese, Pashto, French or Chinese.  


4. Russia Today

Language: Russian

Who? Russia today is a young international broadcaster, founded in 2005 and based in Moscow. They've become a staple of hotel rooms worldwide and broadcast in 4 languages.

Where do I look? Get started by registering on the LearnRussian page.

It may not be as flashy or multimedia-rich as its heavyweight colleagues from the other countries, but RT makes sure it teaches you a healthy dose of grammar and the exercises build up in a sensible way. I think it's a fine little resource.

Any other goodies? Indeed, there is a great introduction to the Cyrillic alphabet with audio examples.

Love your Fluent community

If you know of other free courses from national broadcasters, please post a comment recommending them or email me about it.

Is too much choice the reason you're failing to learn a new language?

Yesterday I spoke to a lovely new group of people about what I do. I talk to people about how I am a language tutor because I believe in languages as a fab thing to learn. I want them to shake off the myths, and any mediocre experiences they may remember from school.

And after being confronted with the common "we Brits are just so rubbish at language learning" and "well, it's really quite hard and we're lazy", I encountered a new and really interesting perspective on why so few people in this country get involved in languages.

English is too popular

"Don't take this the wrong way", my conversation partner started, "but you Germany, everyone's first foreign language is English. It's the same in France, in Greece, in Brazil, no matter where you go. But here in the UK, what would we learn that's as widely spoken?"

I had never heard this particular perspecitve before - the global dominance of English is obviously old news, but the lack of a second world-dominating language as a discouraging factor? "We're too popular, we don't know which one of the second bests to pick!" That's something really interesting.

img by Lauren Macdonald (CC)

img by Lauren Macdonald (CC)

Which language is as big as English?

Newspapers often love looking for the next big thing, and in language learning this is often considered to be Mandarin Chinese. Employers love it because China is such a big market, and it has the fresh untainted factor that German and French often lack. But is it the obvious choice? No. I agree that I couldn't see a real obvious choice for English learners. Statistics tell us that the most commonly studied foreign languages in the USA today are modern European ones, and it is no different in the UK.

Choice as a motivator

My response to the comment, after thinking about this particular predicament, was that the particular dominance of English can serve the English native speaker extremely well. You get to pick your second language, free from the pressure of what's popular around the globe. You can make it your own choice and use that as a motivator! So you might not be learning a language learnt by as many speakers, but if you want a world dominating one, I'm pretty sure we can find an alternative.

What's your advice? 

I would love to hear your perspectives. Did you ever have the agony of choice, and did it ever put you off learning a language? Or is this kind of problem just a bit of a #firstworldproblem? 

Which language would you recommend to a native English speaker?