The joy of languages

Made-in-Japan English!

The Japanese language has no hesitations when it comes to importing words from abroad, and why not? Foreign words add spice to our mother tongue! New layers of meaning and nuance can be instantly introduced to the local language when words are borrowed from over seas.
The Japanese do it when they don’t have an equivalent native word for it (e.g. ネクタイ/nekutai/”necktie”), to express the small differences in nuance (e.g. ライス/raisu/”rice on plates”, as opposed to ご飯/gohan/”rice in Japanese bowls”), or, I’ll admit, just to sound a bit cool (e.g. リスペクトする/risupekuto suru/”to repect”).
Many words are borrowed from the English language, so you may be under the misapprehension that as an English speaker you have a head start in deciphering “Japanglish” words… Well, prepare to be surprised!
(Please note that most of these expressions are very colloquial and should not be used in your end-of-term essays)
Lets see how many you can get right!

 Katakana Verbs

Katakana verbs are made by splicing the first two sounds of an English word with a Japanese verb ending.  This verb type has secured its place within Japanese grammar. It has regular rules for conjugation and pronunciation; they conjugate like the other RU verbs and the intonation is low-high-low. Once you know the original English word, the meaning of its Japanese version should be fairly easy to work out. However, it’s funny how difficult it is to see which English word is hiding when it is camouflaged in thick Japanese pronunciation.

ググる (gugu-ru)

          Waseieigo tte douiu imi?
          “What does waseieigo mean?”
Nobu: ググれば?
          “[         ]!”

A great way to abruptly end the start of a conversation!

Answer: “Google it!”

ダブる (dabu-ru)

Kanojo ga okoru to, kanojo to gojira ga dabutte miete shimau.
“When my girlfriend is angry, she and Gozilla [        ].”

Answer: The word hiding here is “double”, and in Japanese, it means “to overlap” or “to duplicate”.

サマる (sama-ru)

kokomade no nagare wo samatte kureru?
“Could you [      ] what’s happened so far?”

“Sama (様)” is a title for people you respect, for example Prince-sama (王子様/ōjisama) and lady-sama (お嬢様/ojōsama). Alas, to sama doesn’t mean you will be surrounded by members of the royal family. It is much more mundane. Answer: “to summarise”.

チキる (chiki-ru)

suki tte tsutaetakatta kedo, chikicchatta.
“I wanted to tell her/him I liked her, but I [    ].”

 Give up? Well done you got the answer: “to chicken out” “to be a chicken”


You’ve already seen some Japanglish words in one of our past blog posts. Here are some more! Do you see them as an abuse of the English language? Or might they become your new favourite words? Let’s find out!

アバウト (abauto)

abauto na jōhō de handan shicha ikenai yo.
“You shouldn’t judge things on [      ] information.”
You can say that a process is アバウト, or a person is アバウト, and it means: “sloppy” or “imprecise”. It comes from the English word about as in thereabouts.

マイブーム (mai būmu)

Rego ga saikin no mai būmu.
“Lego is [     ] nowadays.”

マイブームmy boom. In other (Japanese) words, 自分の中での流行り(jibun no naka deno hayari/”a popular trend inside me”). They both mean that you “currently really like it”. It feels like a contradiction to describe your personal taste with more general terms like “trend” or “popular”. The expression’s focus is more on the fact that booms or trends fade away as quickly as they came. By saying that something is your マイブーム, you are also saying that you might not be so into it in a couple of weeks.

ボンバーヘッド (bonbā heddo)

asa okitara bonbā heddo ninatteta!
“I woke up this morning with a [     ]!”
The Japanese version of bomber head is used to refer to a hair style and not a narcotic state. It’s a “big afro” or “very messy hair”.

ラブラブ (rabu rabu)

Ryōshin wa sanjū nen tattemo rabu rabu desu.
Even after 30 years, my parents are [     ].
When you are ラブラブ with someone, you are not “rubbing” the other person vigorously (I mean, you could, if you’d like…), instead ラブラブ comes from love love and means that you are “heavily in love” or “lovey-dovey” with that person.

なう (nau)

shibuya nau
This would probably reinforce the arguments that Japanese people talk like Yoda. We say “Shibuya now” in heavy Japanese accent and forcefully make it mean “I am in Shibuya”. Past tense is also very simple.
sutaba wazu
I was at Starbucks

Pick-and-Mix Japanese

Japanese is a very malleable language; you can mix parts of words to create new one.

キャパオーバー (kyapa ōbā)

shigoto ga ōkute kyapa ōbā desu
“There is too much work, I feel over capacity

ドンマイ (don mai)

(to a player who missed a goal shoot)
don mai
Don’t worry about it!”
ドンマイ is a merging of “Don’t worry” and “Never mind!”, twice as effective!

アラサー (arasā)

arasā dakaratte aseranakute ii
No need to get worried just because you are around thirty years old 
アラサー is used commonly amongst women to group and label themselves according to age. This helps when talking about life events associated with those ages. How would you say “around 40” or “around 50”? アラフォー (arafō) and アラフィフ (arafifu)!
How many did you get right? If you couldn’t get any right, ドンマイ!!


The joy of languages

We asked you what your favourite English accents were




People from all over the world with over 75 native tongues voted in our survey on 60+ accents and the results are in.

Overall, accents from the British Isles* were most revered, with 68% of you backing at least one from the region.

*The British Islesare a group of islands off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great BritainIreland and over six thousand smaller isles (Wikipedia).

The runners up were…



Accents from the USA – 36%

Australian accents – 20%

New Zealand accents – 11%

Canadian accents – 11%

South African accents – 7%


The most popular accent was Cockney

(24% of respondents)

Particularly favoured by Brazilian users, who the data shows particularly like “charming” and “challenging to understand” accents compared to the average respondent. Although not popular at all with Brits, who were the least fond of it of all  the nationalities!

People most liked it on the basis that it sounds ridiculous, yet almost nobody found it endearing or friendly-sounding.



The second most popular accent was Posh English

(23% of respondents)

In particular, cherished by Spanish users, whom the data shows have leanings towards “easily imitable”, “trustworthy sounding” and “intellectual sounding” accents, but like Cockney, it was least popular among Brits!

People liked it most because it sounds intellectual, but it scored comparatively low on trustworthiness.




The third place accent was Edinburgh

(17% of respondents)

Particularly popular with Russian users, whom the data shows were tend towards usual sounding accents, and was least popular with Poles.

People liked it mostly because it sounds quirky and rather ‘like another language’, but it scored comparatively low on sounding intellectual and being easily imitable.




What were the least liked accents overall?

American (Great Lakes, Midland, Minnesotan, Mid-Atlantic/Transatlantic & Western) and British (West Country & Lancashire) accents were the least favoured, receiving very little or no votes.

However, we have to acknowledge that the lesser known accents were fated to come out bottom.

giphy (9)


Top 5 curious facts

(1)  Australians were the only respondents that favoured their own accents above all others.

(2)  Attractiveness mattered more to red-blooded Spaniards than any other nationality when favouring one accent over another.

(3)  Brits are big fans of musicality in accents, whereas Poles couldn’t care less.

(4)  The famous New Yorker accent was lauded for its otherworldiness (“it sounds like another language”) and cool-factor, yet was not deemed trustworthy.

(5)  The North West English accents, Mancunian and Lancashire, along with the American New Jersey accent came out top for sounding “friendly” and “comforting”.

The joy of languages

Avoid These French False Friends!

While French and English languages famously share a large portion of their vocabulary with each other due to common history and close relations, a lot of the vocabulary that is common to both languages has lived different lives and followed different semantic paths until their meanings ended up being completely different at times.

So here’s a little cheatsheet about some of the most common, and potentially most embarrassing, false friends in French and English, so that you don’t shoot yourself in the foot… too often.

Introduce ≠ introduire

Please don’t try to ‘introduire’ anyone in French, at least not in public. This only means ‘to insert’ and wouldn’t be received too well by somebody you’ve just met. Instead use ‘présenter’ – a much better way to make new friends.

Deception ≠ déception

You might indeed be disappointed to figure out that somebody tried to deceive you – which is a good way of remembering that the French word ‘déception’ means ‘disappointment’ while ‘deception’ is ‘tromperie’.

Exciting ≠ excitant

Such an expressive word in English, one that can be used in pretty much any situation that sparks your enthusiasm. But translating it in French by ‘excitant !’ is a mistake you don’t (always) want to make: it mainly describes something that stimulates your body and desires… in a rather sexual way. Same goes with the direct translation of ‘I’m so excited’, ‘je suis trop excité’ which will undoubtedly provoke giggling and sniggering.


Instead, you can express your excitement by saying ‘je me réjouis’ (‘I’m looking forward to it’) or ‘je suis impatient’ (‘I can’t wait’) and avoid all suggestiveness.

Actually ≠ actuellement

It is very tempting to use one for the other, given how similar they are. A classic mistake, especially given the (over-) use of the word in English, but actually, ‘actuellement’ means ‘currently’ and is not used as often as its English false friend. Instead, you can use ‘en fait’ (‘in fact’) or ‘en réalité’ (‘in reality’) to make sure you get your point across.

Preservatives ≠ préservatifs

You would never come across them in French food products ! And it’s not because they are purely fresh, but because the word ‘préservatifs’ means ‘condoms’ and I don’t know where you shop, but I’m sure that’s never OK, anywhere. Instead, you’ll find plenty of ‘conservateurs’ in processed food.


Eventually ≠ éventuellement

It seems like it’s too easy to be true to simply change an English word ending in -ly by a similar-sounding French word ending in -ment, and it is! Here again, the meaning of these two terms diverges quite significantly: ‘éventuellement’ means ‘potentially,’ and you’d have to use ‘finalement’ to say ‘eventually’.



Here’s a completely unrelated picture of some cute kittens to keep you engaged. Keep reading below 😉

Although you might feel nervous about mixing these up in French and being misunderstood, know that the traps are real for both sides of the pond. Here are a few other false friends that will probably help you understand some of the mistakes a French speaker might make in English:

Sensible ≠ sensible

I still make mistakes with these two and realise, often too late, that I may have sounded slightly off topic in some situations by using the English word with the French meaning. For example, whilst blubbing like a baby to the first scene of Bambi, I would say: ‘I’m a very sensible person, you know!’ – when what I really mean is that I’m just a ‘sensitive’ soul. If you want to say ‘sensible’ in French, use the word ‘raisonnable’.

Demand ≠ demander

Please don’t feel too offended if a French person wants to ‘demand you something’; the French verb ‘demander’ simply means ‘to ask’ and isn’t meant to be an imperative order. Unless it’s your boss, then, maybe.

Do it!

Injure ≠ injure

It may be from the fact that insults can sometimes hurt more deeply than punches that these two words are such false-friends. Indeed, the word ‘injure’ in French means ‘insult’ while ‘an injure’ is ‘une blessure’ (which have nothing to do with ‘to bless?).

Envy ≠ envie

This one is pretty tricky. While the verb ‘envier’ has the same meaning as the English ‘to envy’, the noun ‘envie’ expresses a desire or a wish. In French, ‘j’ai envie de toi’ doesn’t mean ‘I envy you’ (‘je t’envie’), but rather ‘I want you’… so again, make sure this is said to the right person and not, let’s say, to your boss talking about their amazing holidays in the Seychelles.

Of course, making mistakes when learning a new language is a real mood-killer and can shake your confidence, but it is these differences and oddities that make speaking another language so enriching. So don’t be afraid of putting your foot in your mouth or leaving on ‘un malentendu’ (‘misunderstanding’), this is how we learn, and soon, you will laugh at the ‘sous-entendu’ (‘double entendre’) of some of these false-friends !


Inside Memrise

A Peek into Gender Diversity at Memrise

International Women’s Day was first celebrated over 100 years ago shortly after the Suffragette movement took place. This year, the focus is on #PressForProgress where people are encouraged to progress the ‘gender parity mindset’ and bring communities together to become more gender inclusive. We wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate our diverse Memrise team, and share with you all how we plan to join in by making our pledge for the year!

One of our company values is Diversity. We pride ourselves in having a wonderfully diverse set of nationalities (more than 22) which brings a variety of cultures, languages, knowledge-sharing and ideas. Memrise strives to have an equal gender balance throughout all levels of the organisation.

We believe that it’s only fair that women are given the same opportunities and support to grow that men enjoy – we want our conversations to be influenced by representatives with as diverse a set of minds as possible! What’s more, we have a very equal split in our user base, and we focus on keeping our users in mind – from ideation through to delivery.

Our overall statistics are impressive – roughly 45% of our employees are female, and 42% of our managers are female, at different levels of the organisation. We are grateful for the high achieving women who have helped propel the company to where we are today.

In Engineering, we rose from 0% females in 2014, to 22% today. This is twice the UK average of 11% for 2017.



How did we achieve this?

So far we have focused on inclusive language in our job specifications – in an article by Harvard Business Review “Why women don’t apply for jobs unless they are 100% qualified”, it mentions that the top reason people don’t apply is “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy”. In our job ads, we have tried to encourage applications and reinforce that we don’t need someone to meet all the criteria to see their value, with phrasing like: “Ideally you will have some or all of the following”  and “If you aren’t completely confident that you fit our exact criteria, please get in touch immediately. Humility is a wonderful thing and we’re not interested in hiring ‘rockstars’ or ‘ninjas’. And we’re at least as interested in character as in talent”.


What do our female ‘Memgineers’ like about working at Memrise?

c“I like working at Memrise for the chance to impact a huge user base and to work with smart, talented people. I love hearing different languages around the office, and learning about different cultures. I think curiosity and inclusion are important here! Everyone is encouraged to speak up, regardless of gender, position, or background.” 

– Chantel Spencer-Bowdage, Full Stack Software Engineer


What is it like being a mother at Memrise?


“As a mother of two sons both under the age of 10, I find working at Memrise a blessing. The flexibility I am given for school drop off times and work from home if I want to on the days when I need, when my kids are ill, is just great. I am able to bring my children into the office if necessary, and everyone is so friendly and respectful to a working mum. I think Memrise would be the last place on earth to practise any kind of discrimination against mums!

– Tuba Demirel Sucu, UX Researcher


How do our engineers feel about gender diversity?

m“The aim of our ‘Diversity as part of company culture’ initiative is not to create an undue advantage for women, but simply to remove barriers to a level playing field. The goal should always be to give everyone an equal chance regardless of gender. It would be equally demeaning to be promoted/hired just because you’re a woman as it would be to get rejected because you’re a man.  We choose to hire women for the same reasons we choose to hire men, because they are good.”

– Beatrice Musca, QA Team Lead


“What I also LOVE about Memrise, is that since I have joined the company, I have never had the feeling of being seen as just a woman. I have only felt that I am seen as a developer.”

– Monica Curti, Android Team Lead

Our commitment this year is to #PressForProgress and be a role model for equality – we pledge to take a step back and understand how we got to these figures. We’re a data-driven company, and understanding this will help us give back to the wider tech community. We want to encourage more women and people of other gender identities to apply, and we also hope to see similar results across the industry. We’re excited to see what is yet to come in 2018!

*Statistics as of the 8th March 2018

Memrise News & Events

We’re joining the Future Fifty 6 programme from Tech City UK!

We’re very excited to announce that we’re joining Future Fifty in 2018. The Future Fifty programme from Tech City UK has chosen a new cohort of 26 late-stage companies and we can’t wait to work with them all.

Future Fifty gives 26 fast-growing companies immediate access to a valuable peer network; expert-led classes and workshops designed to take their businesses to the next levels; and a higher profile amongst the wider tech ecosystem. Future Fifty companies represent some of the country’s most exciting growth stage tech businesses while changing the sectors that they operate in fundamentally.

In numbers:

The 26 late-stage companies this year are joining a larger network of Future Fifty companies and alumni, now totalling 126.

Of those that have been through the programme since 2014, Future Fifty’s track record now includes:

  • Five IPOs on the London Stock Exchange
  • 23 M&A’s of which 7 in the last year, including (acquired $1bn), JustGiving (acquired $120m) and Shazam (acquired $400m).
  • Over $5.5bn raised in funding, including $1.7 billion in 2017
  • The companies have created 27,000 jobs around the world, demonstrating the extent to which tech is rapidly creating jobs and wealth throughout the UK, and have offices in 59 countries
  • A string of alumni companies that are household names including Just Eat and Zoopla.

The companies included, per sector:

Data, Analytics & Cybersecurity: Darktrace Ltd, Semafone, ZappiStore, OpenSignal

Fintech: LendInvest, OakNorth,, Ixaris Ltd

Digital Advertising & Marketing: Captify Technologies, Infectious Media

Enterprise Software:, CloudSense

SaaS: BigChange Apps, UKCloud, Biosite Systems, Click Travel, Masabi Ltd, Egress Software Technologies Ltd, EDITED

EdTech: Firefly Learning

App & Software Development: Featurespace, Memrise Limited

eCommerce & Marketplace: SIMBA, Trouva, MPB Group, SportPursuit

Parveen Dhanda, Programme Lead for Future Fifty at Tech City UK, said: “We’re delighted to welcome 26 new exceptional high- growth companies onto the Future Fifty programme for 2018 and to welcome back 24 of last year’s experienced participants. The Future Fifty class of 2018 includes companies from right across the UK, operating in sectors as diverse as cutting-edge fintech solutions, and innovative music hardware. But all these companies face common challenges in scaling their teams and operations and share an ambition to build world-beating global digital businesses.

“The Future Fifty will get access to some of the world’s leading innovators and experts in the form of our advisors and partners, and join a powerful network of the UK’s fastest-growing late-stage digital businesses, working to grow further, faster, together.”


• 31% companies based outside London

• 15% companies with female founder/co-founder

• Average company age: 8 years

• Average revenues per year: £24.4m

• Average number of employees: 142

• 69% Business to Business companies

• 15% Companies addressing both consumer/ business markets

• 15% Consumer-facing companies

• 11% Female board members

Some of the new companies joining Future Fifty along with Memrise:

BigChange Apps, Click TravelFirefly LearningInfectious Media, Masabi Ltd, SIMBA, and Trouva

Memrise Travel Tips

Be careful with these Japanese words!

Let’s explore the many possible ways you can put your foot in it and embarrass yourself by mis-saying Japanese words! Often getting something wrong is the best way to learn how to get it right: “Mistakes are the seeds for the flowers of success”(『失敗は成功の元』).

So this is your survival guide to avoid making glaring faux pas, a guide which will hopefully only reinforce your memory of these words!

Be sure to enunciate when paying compliments

If you are like me, you probably get shy and all squeaky-sounding when saying nice things to someone you fancy. When complimenting someone in Japanese, you’d better speak up loud and clear, as the simplest difference in pronunciation could potentially cost you an amazing date!

How it sounds in your head:

Kittane, kami
“Oh, you had a hair cut!”

“It suits you.”

Kirei dayo
“You look beautiful.”

How your mumbling could sound if you’re not careful:

Kitta, kami
“Ew, such dirty hair!”

“It smells.”

Kirai dayo
“I hate you.”

Stretched sounds
It’s not only in sports where stretching makes the difference. Stretches of sounds in Japanese can make “a map” (chizu地図) into “cheese” (chīzuチーズ), or “dream” (yume) into “famous” (yūmē有名) … Not knowing when to stretch sounds can, in some cases, leave the other person quite puzzled. Here are some examples:

Unchū wa tachiagaranaide kudasai
“Please do not stand up while (the train) is in motion.”

Unkochū wa tachiagaranaide kudasai
“Please do not stand up when you’re ‘having a motion’ 💩.”

rin no otoga wasurerarenai
“I cannot forget the sounds of bells.”

Furin no otoga wasurerarenai
“I cannot forget the sounds of adultery.”

Kyampu no yoru wa ka wo tabemashita
“I ate curry on the night of camping.”

Kyampu no yoru wa kare wo tabemashita
“I ate my boyfriend on the night of camping.”

50 shades of “you”
It is mind boggling to learn that there are so many ways to say “you” in Japanese. あなた (anata), 君 (kimi), お前 (omae), お前さん (omae-san), そちら (sochira), お宅 (otaku), おのれ (onore), 自分 (jibun), 貴様 (kisama) and so on… But what is even more puzzling is that NO ONE actually uses them in real life! These terms are outdated and although you will still see them in novels, songs, or TV dramas, they can actually make you come across rude or awkwardly distant in real situations. So what do you do in conversations? You refer to the other person by his/her name, adding honorific titles such as さん (san) or ちゃん (chan) if required.


Being adventurous with food
Are you ready to try Japanese cuisine? Historically Japan had quite limited food resources and because of this the Japanese people developed a proud tradition of eating almost every part of the animals and fish found in Japan. Some of theses food items sound very similar, so make sure you understand what you are ordering!

しらす shirasu
= “baby sardines”

白子 shirako
= “fish testicles”

たらこ tarako
= “cod roe”


Being kind on trains
Giving up your seat for someone else is a thoughtful gesture no matter what country you’re in. Just make sure you say it right! You don’t want to be mistaken for one of the infamous sexual gropers on Japanese public transport!

Dōzo, suwatte kudasai
“Please, sit”

Dōzo, sawatte kudasa
“Please, touch”

People are very sensitive about the amount of hair they have
Baldness is a very sensitive subject for a lot of men in Japan. It doesn’t help that we are a nation of dark haired people, which only serves to highlight the tiny amount of hair left on ones head, and thus making it look extra sad and pathetic. For some, being called a hage (ハゲ – “a bald head”) is all it takes to be emotionally destroyed. You may want to avoid saying this at all cost, but sadly there are many words that sound very similar.

Sono hige, yameta hōga iidesu yo
“You should get rid of that beard.”

Sono hage, yameta hōga iidesu yo
“You should stop being so bald.”

Kage ga mietande wakarimashita
“I recognised because I saw your shadow.”

Hage ga mietande wakarimashita
“I recognised you because I saw your bald head.”

Sokono hake, totte kudasai
“Could you pass me that brush please?”

Sokono hage, totte kudasai
”Hey bald head, could you pass that to me please?”

Send in your personal faux pas, we are all ears!



The joy of languages

What’s the romantic word?

In an age of lexical creativity that has given us “lit”, “salty” and “shook” to express states of being, have we come up with terms of endearment that better suit both a new generation of lovers and the complex context in which their relationships are taking place?

We recently polled our social media audience and looked into Google Trends data to learn if there has been any recent innovation in the way people in romantic relationships call one another.  Although our findings might not exactly leave you shook, they might just be little nuggets of insight into habits and innovation in the world of romantic English lexicon.

4Going into this, we thought bae was, by now, a regular go-to term of endearment  among younger generations. Surprisingly, it wasn’t even in the top 5 words likely to be used by our small group of survey respondents (50% of which are 18-24 years old). A glance at historical data from Google Trends seems to validate this, showing that having first peaked in popularity back in 2013, ‘bae’ is not so lit anymore – quite the contrary, in fact. Ever since 2014, the popularity of this term has been in steady decline, even if still included in listicles about millennial slang.




Which, then,  is the go-to pet name for our S.O.’s nowadays? Well, love is really all you need, apparently. “Love” was the overall top pick among our survey respondents (regardless of age, gender or country of birth), followed by “honey”, “sweetheart”, “babe”, “baby” and “darling”. A few extra interesting facts:

  • “Honey” was the second most popular pick among people identifying themselves as female, and all people under 35 years old.
  • “Babe” was the second most popular pick in the US, but the term is perceived as offensive mainly by those living outside of the US and UK.
  • “Baby”  is a popular term among 25-34 year olds but considered outdated by the younger 18-24 group.

So there were seemingly no major love-related lexical innovations, as far as this poll could gather. But perhaps the term of endearment of choice has more to do with geography than generation. Digging a bit more into the online popularity of “sweetheart” and “darling”, we found that these two ToE are primarily used in the North of the UK (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool) . Meanwhile, in the US “darling” is more popular in some Eastern states (Maine, Vermont and South Carolina) and “sweetheart” in some Western states (Montana, Utah and Colorado. Also, Hawaii). *Cue everyone trying to pronounce them in each of these regional accents.


Finally, although widely perceived as an offensive term, it was curious to find b*tch being picked as a term of endearment (first choice regardless of age), even if it was in the undesirable list. The runners-up in ToEs considered offensive were, wait for it, babe and bae.

* * *

Are we really lacking innovation in the romantic terms of endearment department, or is it that we all unknowingly seek to call our romantic partners by names that echo the feeling of comfort, safety and protection that we seek in and fulfil through our relationships?

We’re keen to hear your thoughts on this!


Culture around the world

How to Talk Like a Belgian Gourmand

Known mainly for its chocolate and beers, Belgium is a surprisingly diverse country that embraces the beauty and singularity of its 3 official languages, Belgian French, Flemish and Belgian German. As anyone who has travelled this flat land will tell you, its 3 regions have no reason to be linguistically or gastronomically envious of their neighbours. But, whatever language or dialect they speak, one of the things that unite Belgians is their love of food, and the joy they take in talking about it… in rather colourful ways. You will see that it is no surprise that the Surrealist movement found a second home in Belgium!


Here are a few ways to express your delight about food like a true Belgian gourmand.

When in Flanders, you can say:

  • ‘Iemand de oren van het hoofd eten’, literally to eat the ears of someone’s head when you fancy eating an indecent amount of food.
  • ‘Honger is de beste saus’, hunger is the best sauce because any food tastes better when you’re hungry.
  • ‘Verandering van spijs doet eten’, or change of food makes you eat, which expresses the increased excitement one gets for food when travelling and changing scenery.

In Wallonia:

  • ‘Ça te goûte ?’ literally means Does it taste to you? This is the Walloon way of making sure that you like what you are eating, to which you can answer:
    ‘Oufti, didjû ti, qu’ j’ai bon !’ (Oufti, in the name of God, you, I’ve got it good!) to express your fulfilment. In fact, you can use the untranslatable word ‘Oufti’ for all kinds of expressions of surprise, disgust, outrage, amusement… well everything, really.
  • If you enjoyed your beer and are ready for ‘the same again’, just ask your waiter for ‘la p’tite sœur’, or the little sister, and…
  • … if you’d like to know if your friend would like another beer, they’re likely to answer you with a joyous ‘Non, peut-être !’ or No, maybe!, which means a definite ‘Yes’.

You also should know that, despite the relatively small size and proximity of Belgian towns, the dialects can vary often to the point of misunderstanding. For example, when buying sweets in Liège, ask for ‘chiques’ but in Brussels ask for ‘boules’, as if you ask for ‘chiques’ in Brussels, people will think you are looking for chewing gums, and ‘boules’ (balls) in Liège will make the liégeois think that you might be after something rather indecent.

Here’s a little tour of some Belgian specialities so you’re sure you get what you want:

Frites and Frietshutterstock_441505594

Please, do yourself a favour and don’t called them French fries, at least not at earshot of a Belgian! The pride in our frites lays in the process of cooking them twice and the fact that they are ‘proper’, i.e., pretty thick and crispy on the outside but soft like mashed potato in the inside. You can get them in a cone for next to nothing at the friture if you’re in Wallonia (and not friterie like the French say!) or at the fritkot if you’re in Flanders.


Very flat, two-layered wafers soaked in a syrup, the recipe of which is kept secret by two family-run companies. You can only enjoy this  indulgent delicacy during the month of October in Liège, when the funfair is on. Not a kid, adult or elderly person in town skips this delicacy or doesn’t try to guess the ingredients in the precious syrup. Delicious, but careful, ‘ça plaque’ (it’s sticky) like the Walloons say.

Boulets liégeois

A big favourite amongst locals and tourists alike, these huge meatballs are slowly cooked in a gravy of brown beer and Sirop de Liège. The syrup, black and very thick, is adored by the Liégeois, so much so that a full chapter was written about it in the beautiful Walloon short story collection Les Ceux de chez nous (1914).


Literally, the submachine gun, is half a French bread (or the Belgian name for the baguette) filled with chips and covered in sauce. One deadly lunch indeed!


This famous creamy stew originates from Flanders, but is loved across the country. The term ‘zooï’ comes from the Middle Dutch for ‘boil’ and is traditionally made with fish. Simple and fragrant, like most Belgian cuisine, it is heartier than it looks.


shutterstock_520537972.jpgSpiced caramel biscuits that are consumed by the kilo at the celebration of Saint Nicholas (who Santa Claus was derived from) on December 6th, but which accompany almost every single cup of tea or coffee in cafés around the country all year round.


Both Walloons and Flemish claim the invention of these cone-shaped sweets that are hard on the outside with a jelly filling in the inside. Due to their short shelf life they’re not suitable for export and thus only available in Belgium (with a few rare exceptions). In Ghent, there is a well-known cuberdon-war between 2 sellers, which regularly requires police intervention!

I could go on and on and on… and while I suggest you read a ‘beer guide’ to know the difference between Pils, Abbey, Trappistes, Lambic, Tripel, Dubbel, etc., the best way is to visit Belgium with your own eyes, taste buds and ears, and enjoy the diversity of food and food-related ‘belgicisms’ for yourself.



As Memrise’s French Language Specialist, I love to prove French is a much more flexible and playful language than most people tend to think by de-dramatising grammar and teaching colourful turns of phrases.

Always trying to find the best multilingual play on words, I wish I had the awesome, lyrical flow of MC Solaar or Jacques Brel.

Bilingualism Around The World

English around the world

In 2018, the places around the world that are still completely untouched by the English language are few and far between, and the influence of English only looks set to continue growing in the near future. But did you know that the number of people who speak English as a second or third language far outnumber native English speakers in the world?

With the growing presence of English around the world, countless places are also injecting their own local flavour in the English spoken there just as they adopt bits of English into their own languages.

We have talked about Spanglish and Denglish, but now let’s take a quick trip around the world and check out a few other ‘World Englishes’.


1) Hinglish / हिंग्लिश

India is the country with the second largest population in the world, and it is also the country with the second largest number of English speakers if you include those who speak it as a second and third language! Although India has many different languages spoken all over the country including Tamil, Panjabi, Bengali, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi and Telugu, to name just a few, a very large part of the population can speak and understand both Hindi and English to some extent.

This creates the opportunity for a wonderful mix of those two languages, where you might hear somebody say something like “My sabse best friend bahut nice hai!” My best friend is very nice!

Have a listen to this Hinglish shampoo advert and see how much you can understand:

2) Singlish

Singapore is a real cultural and linguistic melting pot with large communities of people speaking lots of different languages. Besides English, most people here can also understand and speak some Malay, Tamil, and various Chinese languages such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, and Mandarin, amongst others. Locals often mix up words and grammar from these languages to create the unique and fascinating Singlish.

One cool example of how expressive Singlish can be is the many uses of the word “can”:


Check out this Singlish announcement on an aeroplane taking off from Singapore.

3) Chinglish / 中式英语

Chinglish can describe the meeting of English with any of the Chinese languages. There are many Chinglish expressions in English such as “Long time no see!” from “好久不见!” and “lose face” from “丢脸”. But increasingly common are English words creeping into Chinese, often with a quite different meaning from the English.

So if your Chinese friend says to you “我们今晚一起出去high吧!” (Let’s go out and ‘high‘ together tonight!), they probably aren’t suggesting that you go and take some illegal substance, they just want to go out and have a good time.

Have a look at this Chinese comedian’s explanation (in Chinese) of 8 different ways you can mix English into your Chinese to sound like a fluent Chinglish speaker:

4) Japanese-made English / 和製英語

Perhaps one of the most creative Englishes of the world is Japanglish or wasē-ēgo (Japanese-made English), the Japanese have come up with a wonderful range of ‘English’ words uniquely understandable to themselves.

Here are just some of my favourite wasē-ēgo words:

マジックテープ magic tape – velcro

スキンシップ skinship – bonding through physical contact or intimacy

ハイタッチ high touch – a high five

フライドポテト fried potato – chips/fries

ウォシュレット washlet – a toilet that will also wash your bum for you when you’re finished

5) West African Pidgin

West African Pidgin is a language with over 75 millions speakers that has its roots in English and the many diverse languages of West Africa. It began to emerge centuries ago when the region was being ravaged by the Atlantic Slave Trade when people from different places and cultures where thrown together and in need of a common language to communicate with. Since then, the language has continued to serve this purpose throughout the region with large numbers of speakers in Nigera, Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea. However each of these countries have their own variations of the language:

  • Sierra Leone Krio:

Dem dey go for go it res — They are going there to eat rice

  • Ghanaian/Nigerian Pidgin English:

Dem dey go chop rais — They are going there to eat rice

  • Cameroonian Pidgin English:

Dey di go for go chop rice — They are going there to eat rice

6) Talk Pidgin / Tok Pisin

Any idea which country in the world has the most languages in the world? No? OK, I’ll tell you. It’s Papua New Guinea. This small Oceanian country is home to around 12% of the world’s languages (852 of them to be exact).

You might be wondering how a country like that could get anything done with so many languages. Well, just like in West Africa, two new languages developed around places where the most trading was happening. These were pidgin languages, aka, languages with very simple grammar and pronunciation used between speakers of different languages for communication. PNG’s two pidgin languages are Hiri Motu and Tok Pisin, with Tok Pisin now being used by around 5 million people.

Being a simple pidgin language, Tok Pisin has just a few simple words used as ‘building blocks’ to create more complicated meanings. For example:

Grass bilong hed (grass belong head) – hair

Sop bilong gras (soap belong grass) – shampoo

Em i gat bigpela hevi (him he got big-fellow heavy/problem) – he has a big problem

Kaikai bilong moningtaim (‘kaikai’ belong morning-time) – breakfast

Kaikai bilong nait (‘kaikai’ belong night) – dinner


Feeling inspired to get speaking a new language? Download Memrise now!



 Rob is Memrise‘s English Language Specialist, teaming up with the other language specialists to create language courses that will help you explore the world by unlocking your language superpowers. He also works with Memrise‘s Marketing Team to make fun videos and blog posts to inspire all the language learners out there.

In his spare time, he can usually be found learning languages – currently Hindi & Greek – and exploring the wonders that the London theatre and comedy scenes have in store.


The joy of languages

15 Denglisch Words You Won’t Understand

The late 90s and early 2000s was a fairly important time for Germany. East and West were reunited after half a decade of militarised segregation, EU expansion left Germany in the centre, rather than on the edge of Europe, and in 2002 Germany adopted its new currency: the Euro.

However, perhaps one of the most controversial things to have come out of that time is a certain language, which ever since its inception has confused English speakers and infuriated German language purists. That language is, of course, Denglisch.

Denglisch (literally Deutsch + Englisch) is what happens when trendy Germans start using English in their everyday speech. At first, nobody understands what on earth they are talking about. But secretly, everyone thinks it sounds quite trendy and before long everybody else is talking like that too.

This rose to such a trend that in recent years, Germany’s national rail network the Deutsche Bahn had to publish guidelines to encourage its staff to use German words when speaking to their customers.

But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the Denglisch phenomenon is that even if you’re a native English speaker, you’ll almost certainly have no idea what these Denglisch words actually mean:

1. das Public Viewing


If someone asks you if you want to go to a “Public Viewing”, you’d be justified in feeling slightly perplexed. Unless it’s a German asking, in which case it’s extremely innocent. In German, das Public Viewing is when there’s a sports match or a concert which is being shown on a huge screen in a town centre or outside the stadium.

E.g. Lass uns doch mal zum Public Viewing gehen!

2. das Peeling


In the UK, “peeling” is something that happens after you’ve been in the sun too long, forgotten to use any suncream, and are now suffering by feeling like a snake shedding her winter skin. In Germany, however, if anyone books themselves in at the spa for ein Peeling that just means they’re going for a facial or body scrub.

E.g. Ich kann leider nicht kommen, weil ich dann meinen Peelingtermin habe.

3. das Handy


Next time you go to Germany, if someone asks you if they can borrow your “handy” don’t get too confused. They probably just need to make a phone call. For reasons almost too bizarre to go into to do with a type of walkie-talkie used in the First World War, mobile phones in German are called das Handy.

E.g. Gibst du mir deine Handynummer?

4. das Outing


While an English family outing might make you think of packing a picnic basket and heading off for some quality time together in a meadow, a German Outing is an altogether different affair. In German, ein Outing means coming out of the closet. In other words, telling everybody that you’re gay.

E.g. Hast du gehört? Er hat gerade sein Outing gehabt!

5. checken


If we “check” something in English, it means we take another look and see whether it makes sense, whether we made any mistakes, or just if there’s anything we might have missed. In Denglisch, however, the verb checken means to understand.

E.g. Hast du gecheckt, was er gerade gesagt hat?

6. der Beamer


I remember when my friend’s dad first got a Beamer. It was brand new, and blue. All of us wanted to go for a ride and sit on the leather seats and turn the music up as high as it would go. But unlike in the UK, where a Beamer means a BMW, in German der Beamer is what you use to show a powerpoint presentation, or watch a film on your home cinema. Ein Beamer is a projector.

E.g. Ich will mir so gerne einen Beamer kaufen, aber leider hab ich kein Geld dafür.

7. die City


In English we have cities, and then we have city centres, and most of the time there’s not much more to it than that. In German, however, the Denglisch word die City refers to the central district of a city, and not to the entire city itself, which is called die Stadt. This possibly comes from the name for the City of London.

E.g. Sie hat eine Wohnung in der City gefunden.

8. der Smoking


There is little ambiguity about what “smoking” means in English. In Germany, however, you might be a little bit confused to find out that der Smoking is what people called a ‘tuxedo’. If you see a bunch of well-dressed Germans standing outside a casino, looking with concern at the “No smoking” sign, now you understand why.

E.g. Bestehst du wirklich darauf, dass wir unsere Smokings zu dieser Party tragen?

9. der Sprayer


You’ve probably not ever heard the word “sprayer” in English. Unless you work on an industrial scale farm and use one to make sure all your crops are regularly watered. For Germans, though, ein Sprayer is somebody who goes around with a can of paint in their back pocket, spraying graffiti everywhere.

E.g. Wir müssen auf jeden Fall den Sprayer von dieser Schule entdecken.

10. der Bodybag


If somebody in the UK told you they took a body bag to work, you’d either freak out or assume that they work in the funeral industry. In Germany, though, people take einen Bodybag to work or school with them every day, storing their papers or laptops in them: a messenger bag.

E.g. Meine Tante hat mir zu Weihnachten einen neuen Bodybag geschenkt.

11. trampen


In English, a ‘tramp’ is a homeless person, and if we say that somebody’s ‘tramping’ that most probably means that they’re pretty poorly dressed. Whether or not you’re poorly dressed is fairly by the by in Germany though, because the verb trampen means to stand at the side of the road with your thumb out and try and hitch a ride.

E.g. Nach dem Abitur bin ich mit meiner Freundin durch ganz Europa getrampt.

12. der Oldtimer


In English, an “old timer” is somebody of a certain age, who moves quite sluggishly. In other words, an OAP, a pensioner, an old person. In Germany, however, the word has an entirely different meaning. Der Oldtimer means a vintage car.

E.g. Sag mal, wann hast du dir diesen schönen Oldtimer gekauft?

13. das Fotoshooting


This one was in danger of looking too straightforward for English speakers, so to throw us off the scent the Germans decided to mess around with the spelling a bit and add an extra ‘-ing’ to the end. Ein Fotoshooting is a “photoshoot”, just with an extra ‘f’ and ‘-ing’.

E.g. Ich war heute wirklich so müde nach dem langen Fotoshooting.

14. der Dressman


Unfortunately, der Dressman does not really mean a man who wears a dress. But it’s not actually that far off. In Denglisch, der Dressman is a male clothes model, who you might see hanging around einen Fotoshooting.

E.g. Als Student hatte ich einen Nebenjob als Dressman.

15. der Showmaster


A “showmaster” is not really a thing in English at all, but in German they are an important part of every great TV game show. Der Showmaster is the presenter, or host. The one who masters the show?

E.g. Sein ganzes Leben lang wollte er Showmaster sein.

Start speaking German today!


Alex Rawlings - Language Learner in Residence at MemriseAlex Rawlings is a Content Strategist at Memrise. He spends his time designing future Memrise courses, making fun videos about languages, and contributing to the Memrise blog. He tweets @rawlangs_alex and Instagrams @alex.rawlangs

In his free time he enjoys cooking, watching films, and walking his dog. He also writes books, like this one.