27 Aug 2012
There is a Czech proverb I love which means: ‘You live a new life for every new language you speak. If you only know one language, you live only once’.
Image by Zsuzsanna Ilijin
In much of the world, bilingualism and even multilingualism is the norm. The 2012 Eurobarometer report revealed that 98% of Europeans considered bilingualism to be important, and on average, 54% of Europeans are able to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue. But in primarily English speaking countries fewer parents are raising their children to be bilingual. The fact that English is so widely spoken around the world is one of the main reasons for this, giving those of us with English as our mother tongue less of an incentive to learn another language to fluency. But bilingualism and multilingualism have numerous cognitive, cultural, and professional benefits for you and your children.
The benefits of bilingualism include:
- Creates a connection to your children’s cultural heritage, particularly important when parents come from two different cultures. This also means children can communicate with grandparents and other relatives who might not speak one of their languages;
- Ability to build friendships with a wider range of people, read the literature of that language in its original form, watch films in the language, and be exposed to a greater number of ideas and perspectives;
- Strengthening of cross cultural communication skills;
- Increased empathy: research by Princeton psychologists Paula Rubio-Fernández and Sam Glucksberg have shown that bilingual children are better able to put themselves in the shoes of others and understand a different point of view;
- Increased cognitive abilities, for example more effective multitasking: bilingualism decreases confusion when switching between tasks;
- There is increasing evidence that bilingualism can help to cope longer with Alzheimer’s: In a study of 200 Alzheimer’s patients, cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystock revealed that bilingualism resulted in a 5 year delay of the onset of Alzheimer’s compared with monolingual patients. So while bilingual people still develop Alzheimer’s, they are able to better cope with the disease for longer, and function at a higher level than those who are monolingual.
- Bialystock also discovered that bilingual children also process language differently: for example she asked a number of monolingual and bilingual children whether the sentence “apples grow on noses” was grammatically correct. While a number of monolingual children became caught up in the silliness of the sentence, bilingual children were often able to establish that while the sentence did not necessarily make sense, it was in fact grammatically correct. This is because bilingualism can effect the executive control system, or rather bilingual children have an increased capacity to tune out noise while focusing on what is relevant;
- Career advantages: more and more jobs require a minimum of two languages. Want to work for international organisations, or the EU? Some of these jobs require three or more languages, or at least put you at a distinct advantage compared to monolingual candidates. Professors Louis Christofides and Robert Swidinsky discovered that in Quebec, Canada, men who speak English and French earn on average 7% more and women 8% more than this who speak only French.
Bialystock does note that for the positive effects of bilingualism to be in effect, one must use both languages constantly, and not simply dusting off German or French learnt at school once every 3 or 4 years or so while on holiday. Bilingualism is exercise for the brain, and brain needs constant training to retain these fitness benefits.
Are you bilingual? Are you raising your children to be bilingual? Let me know or send me an email, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
23 Aug 2012
Stunning sand art by Andres Amador
A Swiss right-wing populist politician has called for a limit to the number of Germans allowed to seek work in Switzerland
On the topic of Germany, the countryside is struggling to attract enough workers, both local and immigrants, while more and more move to cities like Berlin despite the lack of jobs to be found there. German industrial representatives and politicians are even visiting schools and universities in Spain and Portugal in an attempt to attracted skilled workers to these regions.
Unsurprisingly, there has been an increase in the number of people learning German in Europe during the last few years.
I love these maps created by artist Szuzsanna Ilijin from the ways in which to say hello from around the world.
This fascinating website is a goldmine of information about the 6,909 know living languages in the world.
With over 7 billion people now on the planet, 7 Billion Actions gives you a fascinating look the the world based on your date of birth: number of people born in different regions, rural vs living in cities and towns, number of people born since your date of birth, species of animals extinct, average life expectancy, the number of children women in your region can be expected to have during their lifetime, and so on.
IKEA is branching out into the hotel business. I wonder where they will get their furniture from…
An interesting lecture from the International Migration Institute at Oxford University on why anti-immigrant politics are so appealing – it’s an hour long so you might want to make a cup of tea.
20 Aug 2012
Finding an apartment in a new country is always a bit of an adventure until you get the hang of the new system. Finding an apartment in Stockholm is a situation that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most adventurous, even after years in the city.
This is because unlike in every other city in the world I have lived in, as a foreigner it is almost impossible to get a first hand rental. Swedes can wait up to 10 years to get a first hand rental contract in Stockholm, an option not open to foreigners who might only remain in the city for a handful of years. As a result, the second hand rental market is flourishing, as people are not prepared to wait a decade for a reasonably priced apartment in the centre.
Here are a few tips to make this experience a little easier:
1. Someone who knows someone
This is the way I have found all of my apartments in Sweden, generally through someone who went to school with someone 15 years ago who saw a message from someone else on Facebook and forwarded the details to me because I said I was looking.This might sound a bit hard if you are new to the country and don’t know anyone, but you will be suprised how helpful people in Stockholm can be, even if you just met them once at a bar in Thailand 5 years ago – a sense of apartment seeking camaraderie seems to form in Stockholm.
Put a message on facebook telling people you are looking for a place, tell people you meet at parties, ask your HR department at work if they can send an email around to all the staff at your company or if they have someone who can help you look, post up a message on your blog that you are looking. Someone I met even found his place on twitter as someone he followed posted up an ad.
This is a great site to find accommodation on, but keep in mind that to every apartment advertised, they will receive around 200 replies, so you have to make yours stand out. A friend of mind who found her apartment this way said she wrote a friendly email, telling the woman about herself and responding to key points in the message, making it obvious she was not simply copying and pasting the same reply, but had in fact composed a personal email. The woman replied saying she was one of only two who had written a personal reply, and after a viewing she got the apartment.
Go to Bostad – Lägenheter – Uthyres i Stockholm – and then choose the area you want to look in.
Write your replies in Swedish if you can, unless the ad is in English. It will make your chances of a response much higher – if needed, get a friend to help you create a template in Swedish that you can change around fairly easily.
You will need to search every day, multiple times a day, and reply as soon as possible. Apartments tend to go fast, and viewing are often the same day the ad is published.
Another tip with Blocket is to compose your own ‘looking for an apartment’ ad in the Önskar hyra i Stockholm section. Here the key is to write a nice description of yourself, about your work/studies, and remember to include a picture of yourself. Again, write in Swedish if you can, and you can always write a longer message in English after if you like.
3. Bostad Direct
This is another site to find apartments on, although this one is a paid service/highway robbery, where you pay 695 SEK per 45 day period to access contact information about various apartments.
The apartments here tend to be quite expensive, particularly in relation to their small size, but this is certainly an option while you look for something else at a better price.
Additionally they offer corporate rentals, and these tend to be a bit better than the public rentals, so have a chat to your company and see if they would be willing to help. Keep in mind prices can be negotiated, I know of a few people who have brought the prices of corporate rentals down but a few thousand crowns a month as the owners would rather rent through a company than straight to the public.
4. Other website and options
If you are a member of couchsurfing they have a section under the Stockholm group for those searching for and offering apartments.
I have even heard of people buying Google adsense advertisements, or placing advertisements in newspapers such as DN in the bostad section.
5. Short term rentals
Companies like Citylivingapt offer expensive apartments for short term rental. This could be an option if you need a place for a couple of weeks while you wait to move into another apartment, or if you are only in Stockholm for a month or two.
6. Advertise yourself in buildings you like
I have seen plenty of people place posters up in the entrance ways to apartment buildings they like saying they are looking for a rental, a bit about themselves and their contact details. Even if the poster gets taken down after a day, it might pay off. You can also do this on the notice boards of supermarkets, and I have seen people also post on street lamps… yes really.
I have also heard of people who call up new building developments in Stockholm saying they are looking to rent any apartment that becomes available there. One particular couple with a baby managed to get a great apartment in Hammarby Sjöstad this way. Why restrict yourself to new developments? Check out companies that build apartment buildings in Stockholm and give them a call – they might be able to put you in touch with whoever manages their old builds.
7. Buy an apartment
After moving a few times in a year, you might be fed up and decide it is time to buy. Given the ridiculous pricing of second hand rentals in Stockholm, I know people who pay less for their loan per month than they did to rent. I’ll post about buying in more detail later, but for now, the best place for you to look is Hemnet – this is where pretty much every apartment for sale in Stockholm is listed.
Things to be aware of
There are of course many scammers around trying to make money. Be aware of people who are unable to show you the apartment in person because they are living overseas for various reasons/have had to pop out of the country on a business trip etc, and want you to transfer money to a bank account as a deposit after which they will send you the keys. Generally these apartments are very attractively priced and in excellent locations.
Now this sounds pretty obvious, but often attached to these emails are scanned ID cards/passports of a Swedish person, contracts, etc, to make it appear legitimate. Suffice to say, if you are not able to meet in person, forget it.
But don’t give up
The main tip is to keep looking, and try not to get too disheartened. Put in enough time and effort and you will find something. Even if you need to stay six months in the outer suburbs, once you have made a few more friends your network will widen and someone will know someone who has a place for rent.
Good luck! (and if you have any more tips and trick, post below and share your knowledge)
17 Aug 2012
Photo by Barcroft Media
Lake Retba in Senegal is a milky pink colour.
I’ve always wondered what English sounds like to foreigners. Here is the best example I have seen so far!
Want to live to 100? Australian journalist Sarah Wilson explains that one common factor between the world Blue Zones (the places where people live the longest in the world) is that they eat pork and don’t eat (much) sugar, like in Ikaria in Greece.
Is the sky really blue? Studies of languages from around the world have shown that as names for colours have developed in languages, blue is always the last due to its rarity in nature. Is our belief that the sky is blue influenced by our culture, rather than reality?
An interesting article (English, German) about the need for a revised, more open immigration policy in Europe. With an ageing population, migrants will be needed more and more in the future to fill gaps in the workforce.
Is Europe’s biggest problem the potential collapse of the monetary union, or a looming generational crisis?
Bike friendly Denmark has created the worlds first bike superhighway, allowing more people to commute to and from Copenhagen every day. I love Scandinavia and the Netherlands attitudes to bike riding!
This is a fabulous online shop for globally minded parents and those with children who have lived in multiple cultures (Third Culture Kids). One of my favourite are these number cards for the wall that come in a variety of languages, and the My Roots collection, where you can pin all the places your child has roots in around the world.
Green card Stories is a fascinating book that explores the stories of fifty immigrants and refugees to the US who recently received citizenship or permanent residency. The book aims to dispel negative preconceptions about immigrants, and instead to show a human side not often depicted in the media.
The most gorgeous food blog I have found in a long time – stunning pictures, and even better, the recipes are all gluten and sugar free!