Finding Translation; Investing in Your Future With a Second Language

你好! I have been studying Chinese with extra vigour recently, and I have to say that watching a page of seemingly meaningless characters turn into a page of slightly less meaningless characters gives a real sense of accomplishment and a true moment of ‘I-did-this’-ness. Why am I learning Chinese? For that matter, why am I learning the traditional and not the simplified version? Well, I live in a country where traditional Mandarin is the official language, and so firstly it would be darn rude of me not to, and secondly, the opportunities to learn it from native speakers for relatively cheap are rife. My cup doth overfloweth.
Having learned languages in the past (French and German), and having been an English teacher (or as the industry would have us call ourselves “language enabler”) I have a pretty rounded view of what it means to learn a new language from both views of the whiteboard.
Why do people learn a second language? For work? For social motives? To emigrate? For fun? For brain food…?
I come from a city in England with a strong mix of cultures from around the world. It is a place full of pockets of different cultures, which is only heightened by the constant stream of foreign students who head to the city for either of the universities, or to study English in one of the billion or so language schools.
It shouldn’t be forgotten however that each of those students is fluent in another language, and that English is their second language. That is a whole group of people who get to travel to a distant land for work or knowledge.
Why shouldn’t we, as English speakers, give ourselves the great wonderful experience?
Now we know some of the reasons why people do learn a language. Here are some reasons why we should learn a new language…

ahem… “fun”

It’s impressive
Who isn’t impressed  by the sight of a foreigner, in any land, being able to bust out some mad local lingo? It’s a skill that takes time to master, but once you have a language, you can channel the Fonzie and be the cool kid everyone wants to hang out with.
If not, it will at least impress the locals, who you will have a slightly better conversation with after you’ve shown you’re not just there to try and speak English louder and louder until you make your point. You’re actually trying. My bad Chinese is often a wonderful icebreaker with old ladies in markets.
Obviously, make sure you know what you're saying...

Obviously, make sure you know what you’re saying…

You gain perspective on another culture
Who hasn’t heard the one about Eskimos and how many words they’ve got for snow? Though this popular theory was thoroughly debunked recently, the idea remains the same; a people’s language reflects their culture. Culture comes from the environment, the history, the traditions, and the people themselves. If culture is the story, the language is obviously the words used to tell that story. History, and the journey of it’s people, is inevitably locked in it’s words. By learning the language, you are learning the culture. It’s inescapable. Just the fact that they have words for certain things means that those things are common, or were common, enough to warrant verbal expression.
Living in another culture advances your understanding of the world. Immersing yourself in the ways of others helps to flesh out your character, giving you new insight into different world views and mentalities. Some are happy to spend their lives in an area 50 miles from where they were born. I have constantly chased the sunset, and language learning is a tool to facilitate that adventure.

“Anyone know the Marathi for help?!”

It opens doors in life and work
On a personal level, I cannot visit another country without thinking at some point ‘I wish I knew the language’. You get a real sense that you are only experiencing the surface of a place, and that if you could only scratch that surface, there would be a world of wonder under there, just waiting to be seen. Imagine how much more you could gain from a trip to Paris if you could chat with an old artist in his mother tongue in some smokey cafe, or sit and play dominoes with some older ladies in Bangkok? These stories, these experiences, are the bread and butter of travel. A little language goes a long way in these moments, and they are the things that will linger long after the tan fades.
As for work, you make yourself infinitely more employable by being able to speak a second language well. We  live in the global village, like it or not. A range of different industries now rely upon their ability to communicate worldwide, and to establish such links they require staff capable of bi-lingual expression. You can’t expect the world to learn English, after all. As an example, China is a vastly influential industrial nation whose current economic boom has meant the expansion of many companies to oversees trade. Though the English learning industry is currently exploding within its borders, there is still a dearth of people with an English level necessary for business correspondence. If you can appear to your boss and say ‘it’s cool, I got this’ and then rile off some supreme mandarin (tones and everything), you can go right ahead and upgrade your hero status from ‘Nigel’ to ‘Thor’ as you close the Wang account.
Go  me!

Go me!

It increases creativity
Your first language, like the ability to walk and the ability to wash yourself, is a skill you learned at a young age. It is the fundamental way you express yourself, and many people live their whole lives utilising only that initial guise. But language, like any skill, has different forms. We can walk, but we can also run, jog, skip, pirouette, jive, samba, walk like an Egyptian, crawl, slither, wriggle…
Recent evidence has demonstrated a potential link between second language learning and divergent thinking. That is, how to think in alternative ways. This study focused specifically on the difference in foreign language learning from school learning, and how learning a foreign language as an adult often involves fluency, elaboration, originality and flexibility; all skills that can help you develop your inner Van Gogh/Picasso/Lady Gaga.
Bonjour, I'm an artist!

Bonjour. I’m an artist!

It unlocks new horizons
Though language, as stated previously, opens new horizons in the literal sense of enabling a fuller travelling experience, it can also open them in a figurative sense too.
For example, if you are a lover of classical fiction and are reading your way through the western canon, you can expect to encounter a range of writers from non-English speaking countries such as Dumas (French), Hesse (German) and Dostoyevsky (Russian). Perhaps you are more interested in Classic Chinese poetry and can’t decide who was greater, Li Bai or Du Fu? Their wonderfully romantic imagery tickles the imagination to this day (that is, if you love drinking and moon light).

“Who doesn’t? AmIright?”

If you are able to read in these native language, you can read the classic stories as they were written, not as they were translated. Authors choose their language carefully, and when this is translated, some of the meaning may be lost as some words don’t have direct translations in English. Most modern translations are fantastically well done, but that doesn’t mean the original doesn’t give something more.
What about world music? Or cinema? There is a profusion of different artistic areas in the world that you will never encounter if you can’t understand them. Learning a language is a key to the arts!
You can study or live abroad
This is my second time living away from my home country, and each adventure has brought with it a whole range of experiences (some expected, some not) that have shaped me and my mentality. I am thankful for these experiences, but there are always more to be had. With a couple more languages under my belt, I could fit seamlessly into tens of others countries and be amongst the people.
In Taiwan there is a great relationship between the universities there and some of the big ones abroad in countries such as America, Germany and the UK. Many students move both ways to study amongst a different culture, and this requires the learning of either traditional Mandarin or English. Even those whose language might not be perfect before they leave will see a huge improvement by the time they return, as to be amongst the language is the best way to learn.
For a work example, if your company has an office abroad and a promotion comes up in that city, they are probably going to be looking for people who will relish the challenge and won’t struggle to adapt. If you can demonstrate a competence in the native language of that place, surely that makes you a front runner?
...should have studied

…should have studied

You can improve your English
Ok, so this may seem a silly reason to learn a foreign language, but stick with me, Quillers. By looking at the grammar structures, how vocabulary is made and how we gain meaning from context, you are wiring your brain to analyse language in a critical way. This mindset will transfer naturally into your first language, as the human brain will always apply new knowledge against that which is known. You will find yourself trying the new rules out on your own language, and even if they aren’t compatible, you will be equipped to critically analyse your own language for it’s own rules. How many of you know the difference between the present perfect simple and present perfect continuous? It is rather a tenuous difference, I know. Hence why many of you probably aren’t familiar with the terms, even though your knowledge of the difference is there, buried in your unconscious mind.
Brain fuel

Brain fuel!

It can save your life
Ok, so this definition needs to be stretched as far as is physically possible. I am not trying to say that one day you will be trapped in a house that is burning down when suddenly you use some Spanish to carefully negotiate with the fire and save your life. No, not at all, (though there is room for an argument that knowing another language could save your life in some situations, such as being held hostage…).
I want to focus here more on the argument that being bi-lingual could actually help to prevent the onset of brain degenerating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
There is a body of evidence to support the idea that learning a second language in early life could help thinking in old age, and by extension this could not only improve your standard of living as an elderly person, but also keep you safer and help you to avoid dangerous situations too. Another study suggests that quality of life is vastly extended, which would also imply a longer life as the longer you are living well, the less chance you have of dying young from health related issues.
Money can't buy you love, but language can give you youth and happiness

Money can’t buy you love, but language can give you youth and happiness

Phew! That was a lot, right? I almost feel like I’ve done enough learning for one day!
Tell me though, who amongst you can speak a language other than English? Is English even your first language anyway? Do you agree with these points or are you thinking I missed something?
For the language learners amongst you, watch this space, as the IQ team will be posting a list of the best apps and programs for language learning, in the near future. Find it here.
Every day’s a school day!
Freeze frame

Freeze frame

Special thanks to arztsamui, Chiwat, graur razvan ionut, imagerymajestic, Naypong, samuiblue, stockimages and Witthaya Phonsawat @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

9 Reasons to Visit Indonesia


The first time I visited South East Asia I was a fresh faced 18 year old boy wearing trousers too big and t-shirts too small. I stayed in Singapore for a hot summer while I sweat out half my bodyweight in the humidity, until a friend and I made a quick trip to Bali.

Nothing quite prepared me for the contrast from the futuristic smartness of Singapore to the grotty, dusty paradise of Bali. The smell of clove cigarettes and the sound of surf in the air became backdrops to future daydreams, and both would stay with me for the rest of my life.

Poles apart, I was captivated more and more by this tiny island pearl with it’s purple and orange sun sets, intoxicating party scene and relaxing atmosphere than with the urban majesty of where I had flown from. Something called to me from that island, and I got my first taste of a world I would spend the next decade exploring.

This year marked the ten year anniversary of my first trip to SE Asia, and I have made many trips, trails and travels around this great continent in that time. As followers of IQ will know, the team and I have been in Indonesia for the past fortnight. So what better way to mark a decade of travelling than to share some Itchy Quill reasons to visit one of South East Asia’s greatest countries?!

“Give me an I, Give me an N…”

The Beaches

Who doesn’t love a beach? Ok, so there are some among us who are merely food for the sun, and any venture out into its blistering rays can lead to an instant state of lobsterfication with a crispy char; but don’t let that stop you experiencing the wonders of some of the magnificent coastline! Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, consisting of over 17000 islands. With so much coastline, it is no wonder that some of the world’s most beautiful beaches can be found there.

Strangely, considering the climate, there are few sharks to worry about too. In fact, since 1984 there’s only been five reported shark attacks, and four of those happened near Bali. With so many beaches, it should be pretty easy to find a spot of your own so you can have pearly white sand, clear blue water and clean fresh air all to yourself.

There’s no better place to see a sun rise…

... or sun set

… or sun set

The Islands Themselves

Of course, islands aren’t just there to birth to the world some stunning beaches. As mentioned before, there are some 17,000 islands across Indonesia. Around 6,000 of these are populated, with around 1,000 permanently settled. This gives Indonesia an eclectic mix of religions, cultures, traditions and people.

Each island has its own identity, and seeing how Indonesians are able to maintain their cultural distinction in an ever modernizing environment is a highlight on its own. When the Majapahit empire spread itself across the islands  of SE Asia nearly a thousand years ago, they established the framework for the current borders of Indonesia. As a result, we see so many vastly different peoples united under one flag. This diversity breeds a stunning testament to the earth itself, and the progress of the people within it’s boundaries. This eclectic mix affords the modern traveller a rich opportunity to experience the world of  the other.

Many islands have earned themselves different reputations, and it should be a breeze to ascertain for yourself which island matches your personality. There is definitely something in Indonesia for every taste; Java has it’s volcanoes and temples, Bali offers a popular party scene or reflection in its many ashrams, Lombok has beaches and peaceful surf, the Indonesian part of New Guinea has great scuba diving and a rich and thriving tribal history, while Borneo contains vast rainforests and great trekking. That’s not all; with Sulawesi, Sumatra, The Moluccas, The Banda Isles… and many more, you’ll surely be able to find an islands paradise that can offer you exactly the trip you want, from relaxation to adventure!

...or to live that Crusoe life

Some just want to live that Crusoe life

The Rainforests

Indonesia can boast the largest rainforests in all of Asia, and as recently as 1960, 80% of the country was forested. Unfortunately, as the world’s demand for commodities such as pulp, palm oil, paper and plywood grows, and factors such as political corruption, uncertainty on land ownership rights, and poorly enforced environmental laws take effect, it is estimated that only just more than half of Indonesia’s original forest cover now is remaining. Indonesia, sadly, has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, with conservative estimates putting the figure at 2.4 million acres being cleared a year! To give you perspective, that’s the area of 1.3 million football pitches, or 2847 Central Parks!

What makes this even sadder is the fact that with deforestation comes the removal of natural habitats for animals. As this area is wiped out, so too are the various creatures that call it home. Indonesia’s diversity is world famous, with such flagship animals as the Sumatran Tiger, pygmy Elephant, Orang-utan and rhino. It’s not too late to save it.

If you feel like doing something, visit:

Do you want to have to describe what a tiger looks like to your perplexed grand kids?

Jeez Bobby, what did you eat?

“Jeez Bobby, what did you eat?”

Coffee and Goreng

The first time I tried nasi goreng (literally ‘fried rice’) it blew my tiny mind, but since then I have managed to consume a whole variety of other culinary wonders from this fair country.

Historically, Indonesia is the home of many spices we now know as standards, such as nutmeg, cloves, pepper and mace, hence how it was known as the home of the ‘Spice Islands’ to Dutch and English traders of the past. Within Indonesian cooking, these are combined with many other taste sensations such as vinegar, lime leaves, ginger, turmeric and chilli to create the distinctly Indonesian cooking style of contracting flavours (spicy, sour, sweet, hot) and textures (wet, coarse, spongy, hard). If you’re going to try anything, try sambal (a spicy sauce) and satay (chicken and peanut skewers).

As the third largest producer of coffee, Indonesia is a great place to grab your morning mud. In fact, the expression ‘a cup of Java’ comes from the name of one of Indonesia’s islands where initial coffee plantations were established. You can also find a special coffee called Kopi Luwak, or ‘civet coffee’, made from coffee beans that have been eaten and then pooped out by a civet. Yes, it sounds gross, but it is actually supposed to be more intense as the chemical reaction inside the animals digestive system heightens the quality of the bean as many of the bad bits are removed; something for the bucket list!

Though coffee is not indigenous to Indonesia (having originally been taken there by The Dutch East India Company in the 17th century in an attempt to break the Arab monopoly on coffee trading), it is very much a part of the fabric of modern farming and an integral part of social life. Woven into the fabric of society in a similar way to the USA, make sure you take the time to check out some of  the wonderful independent coffee shops.

Be aware, due to it’s extremely fertile soil, Indonesia is home to some of  the most delicious fresh fruit imaginable. One such fruit, the Mangosteen, is so addictive that one member of the IQ team consumed 20 in four days. Prepare yourself!

Pictured: Nature crack

Pictured: Nature crack

Komodo Dragons

Nothing says badass quite like an animal that lives on a tiny island surrounded by tiny prey that still evolves to be a giant monitor lizard destined for fame as a bond villain pet.

That aside, these wonderfully unique creatures call the island of Komodo their home. It is not a huge trip to get to their conservation area from Bali or Lombok, making seeing them in the wild an easy thing to tag on to your trip.

“Oi, whatchoo lookin’ at?”


South East Asia is awash with various traditional techniques for massage, from the traditional Thai style to the Chinese rub down. Yet Indonesia is one of the best places to get great value for money in this regard. Throw a stone and you’ll hit some form of spa or massage parlour in most of the tourist areas, and a particular highlight would be getting a massage on the beach, the sun warming your back while the sea spray and rolling waves fizz in the background.

To give you perspective, it is possible to get a full body massage for around $4 for an hour. Surely, that alone is worth the flight there?

The existential crisis is free of charge

The existential crisis is free of charge

Volcanoes and Tectonics

Stretching across three tectonic plates (Pacific, Eurasian, Australian), Indonesia is home to one of the highest concentrations of active volcanoes, and regularly experiences other seismic activity. In fact, it is due to this seismic activity that Indonesia even has so many islands to begin with.

This natural activity is not always birthing new lands, but can sometimes take away also. In 2004 it was badly hit during the Indian Ocean tsunami. Thankfully, seismic events on a scale like that are rare.

150 active volcanoes call the archipelago home, most famously Krakatoa, Tambora and Toba. If you visit Java, the most popular volcano to visit seems to be Mt Bromo, though be prepared to rub shoulders with what will feel like everyone in the world if you try to catch the sunrise there, as it can be incredibly crowded during peak times.

As my dad used to say,

As my dad used to say, “a volcano is a mountain with hiccups”


Candi are the Buddhist and Hindu temples of Indonesia built between the 8th and 15th centuries. Their rather unique look makes them great photo fuel, plus most are quite easy to get to as drivers for hire can be pretty cheap. Many areas have their own specific temples, though if you find yourself in Jogjakarta, Prambanan is a UNESCO listed site that boasts some of the greatest examples of Candi architecture. It is an hours drive away and is definitely worth visiting.

Borobudur is another such place, though on a grander scale. Many compare it to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, though the two should only be talked about in the same breath to emphasise how other temples are dwarfed in comparison. Truly, Borobudur is such a wonderful sight, and my mind melts when I think of the hardship the initial builders would have faced constructing it in the gruelling tropical heat and humidity generated by the pounding sun and surrounding rainforest. You truly get a sense of the holy, even if you are not spiritually inclined, and standing at the top to take stock of your surroundings only offers you further reflection and enlightenment.

That is, until random groups of teenagers come and ask for a photo with you. Smile and enjoy it, as you may find yourself more of a hit than the venue itself!

Be quick and you can take a photo without any tourists!

Be quick and you can take a photo without any tourists!

The People

And so we reach the last point; the fantastic people of Indonesia. Their warmth, banter and friendliness make this country an absolute treat for the traveller, and many times I found myself awed at the kindness of strangers. With 250 million people calling Indonesia home, and the government recognising 6 major religions, it is an eclectic melting pot of values, beliefs, cultures and personalities that make for some wonderful experiences.

As English and Dutch are still widely spoken, and as the official language, Bahasa Indonesian, uses the same alphabet as English, it can be quite easy to find your way around.

If you enjoy haggling, you’re in for a treat too. People are good sports, and haggling is very much a part of how to purchase in many market stalls and with taxi drivers. I say smile and have fun!

“I feel like some enchilada”

So what’s stopping you? Grab a rucksack, get on a plane and go and experience it for yourself. Don’t take my word for it!

Have you visited Indonesia? How was it for you? Is there something missing from this list that should definitely be here?

Is there a place you loved visiting that you want to share? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!


Special thanks to antpkr, M – Pics, marin, njaj, papaija2008, suwatpo and Vlado @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015