WTF Fun Fact 13717 – Ties Between Norwegian and English

Norwegian and English share a deep historical connection, making them more alike than many realize. These similarities stem from their roots in the Germanic language family, leading to parallels in vocabulary, syntax, and even phonetics. For learners and linguists alike, these connections can simplify understanding and learning these languages.

Vocabulary Overlaps and Shared Roots

One of the most striking resemblances between Norwegian and English lies in their vocabularies. Centuries of trading and Viking invasions left a significant imprint on the English language, embedding Old Norse words into its lexicon. Words like “sky,” “window,” and “knife” have direct counterparts in Norwegian: “sky,” “vindu,” and “kniv.” Such similarities extend to hundreds of everyday terms, making initial learning stages notably easier for speakers of either language.

Syntax also shows remarkable similarities. Both languages generally adhere to a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) sentence structure. This foundational grammar rule simplifies the transition for English speakers learning Norwegian and vice versa. Questions in both languages often involve a simple inversion of the subject and the verb, another parallel that facilitates cross-linguistic comprehension.

Phonetic Parallels Between Norwegian and English

Pronunciation between the two languages also shares some common ground. While each language has its unique sounds, the basic phonetic systems are less divergent than those found in many other languages globally. Both English and Norwegian use a range of similar vowel and consonant sounds, which can ease the learning curve for pronunciation.

Moreover, Norwegian’s consistent pronunciation rules mean that once learners grasp the basics, they can read and pronounce words more predictably than in English. This consistency is a relief for English speakers accustomed to the often irregular spelling-to-sound correlations in their native language.

Mutual Benefits for Language Learners

The structural and phonetic similarities between Norwegian and English provide mutual benefits for learners. English speakers find Norwegian grammar straightforward and its pronunciation rules logical, reducing the time it takes to achieve proficiency. Conversely, Norwegians typically learn English at a young age, finding it relatively simple due to these linguistic similarities.

This linguistic kinship not only aids in language acquisition but also enhances cultural exchanges and understanding. As globalization connects communities, the ability to communicate across languages becomes increasingly valuable. The relationship between Norwegian and English serves as a bridge between speakers, fostering deeper connections and mutual appreciation.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Linguist makes sensational claim: English is a Scandinavian language” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13537 – Apologies in the Workplace

In a study by the University of Arizona, researchers revealed that non-stereotypical apologies in the workplace can enhance communication. This study challenges conventional norms, emphasizing the power of breaking gender stereotypes in apologies to repair trust and foster collaboration.

Gender Stereotypes and Apologies in the Workplace

Sarah Doyle led a research team to explore the nuances of effective apologies in professional settings. Their focus? The impact of gender stereotypes on the perception of apologies. Traditional masculine language, characterized by assertiveness and confidence, and feminine language, known for its warmth and nurturing qualities, were used as benchmarks. Surprisingly, the research found that apologies that deviate from these gender norms were perceived as more effective.

Celebrity Apologies on Social Media

The research commenced with an analysis of celebrity apologies on Twitter. This platform, a hub for public statements, provided a rich dataset of 87 apology tweets from various celebrities. The response to these tweets revealed a pattern. Female celebrities who used masculine language in their apologies received higher engagement and more positive reactions.

The study extended beyond the virtual world into more relatable workplace scenarios. Researchers created situations involving accountants and nurses making mistakes and issuing apologies. Participants in these studies consistently found counter-stereotypical apologies more effective.

For women, using a counter-stereotypical apology increased the perceived effectiveness by an average of 9.7%, and for men, by 8.2%.

The Impact of Counter-Stereotypical Apologies

This research underscores the importance of moving beyond stereotypical patterns in our apologies. By adopting language and approaches that defy gender norms, individuals can enhance the impact of their apologies, leading to better outcomes in conflict resolution and trust-building.

The findings from the University of Arizona research team suggest that the way we construct apologies is as important as the frequency with which we offer them. This shift in focus from quantity to quality in apologies could pave the way for more effective communication strategies in diverse settings.

The study’s results have significant implications for professional environments, where effective communication is crucial. By encouraging individuals to break free from stereotypical language patterns in apologies, organizations can foster a more inclusive and collaborative atmosphere.

Rethinking the Construction of Apologies in the Workplace

As we move forward, this research encourages a deeper consideration of how we construct our apologies. The study highlights the potential for nuanced, thoughtful apologies to make a substantial difference in interpersonal relationships and professional settings.

The University of Arizona’s study on apology psychology offers a fresh perspective on effective communication. By challenging gender stereotypes in the language of apologies, individuals can enhance trust and collaboration in the workplace. This research not only adds a new dimension to our understanding of apologies but also opens avenues for future exploration in communication dynamics.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Apology psychology: Breaking gender stereotypes leads to more effective communication” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13566 – Can You Forget a Language?

Can you forget a language? Can your brain really unlearn it?

If you took a high school Spanish or French class in which you spent the period reciting verbs and learning to ask for directions to the nearest beach, you may have no problem believing that it’s possible to forget an entire language.

But when it comes to our mother tongue, can it truly fade from our minds?

Can You Really “Forget” Your Native Language?

“Language attrition” is the phenomenon in which language proficiency slowly erodes from our brains over time. Professor Monika S. Schmid, a linguistic expert from the University of York, studies this, noting that an individual may experience bouts of hesitation, mix up expressions, or entirely forget specific terms sometimes.

While aging adults may find that certain words or phrases become elusive, they’re unlikely to completely lose grip on a language they once mastered. On the contrary, youngsters might experience a profound shift.

Kids can learn languages more rapidly than adults. But they can also lose it entirely if they aren’t continuously exposed to the language. For instance, a young Russian girl adopted by an American family demonstrated a rapid decline in her Russian vocabulary as she embraced English words.

The Brain’s Role in Language Retention

A lot revolves around the brain’s architecture. Interestingly, birds and their songs, especially those from the biological order Passeriformes, offer us a clue about retaining language.

These creatures are equipped with a dual-circuit system in their brains, first learning their song and then reproducing it later. A similar framework seems to exist in humans, particularly during early developmental stages.

In essence, by early adolescence, our first language gets imprinted in our brains. While we may overlook certain terms or expressions, the core structure remains intact. This also underscores why many struggle to shed their native accent, even after mastering multiple languages.

But most importantly, it suggests that we can’t entirely unlearn a language.

Avoiding Language Attrition

Contrary to what many might believe, staying connected with speakers of one’s native language isn’t always the antidote to attrition. An intriguing observation among Cuban immigrants in Miami highlighted this. Even while in a predominantly Spanish-speaking environment, they experienced a dilution in their native linguistic structures, largely due to their interaction with diverse Spanish dialects.

But that’s not a loss of language – it’s an evolution. And it’s pivotal to recognize that language change isn’t necessarily negative.

So, Can You Forget a Language?

Witnessing one’s primary language slip away can stir deep emotions, especially when one’s linguistic roots are linked to personal history and identity.

But here’s the silver lining: research continually reinforces the notion that our foundational language remains with us. While accents, dialects, and specific terms may evolve, the foundational structure remains.

So, while languages might fade, shift, or transform, they’re never truly forgotten.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Can You Unlearn A Language?” — IFL Science

WTF Fun Fact 13249 – ChatGPT Consequences for Creatives

ChatGPT is just a generative language model – a very fancy form of autocorrect, in some cases. And it doesn’t give answers that indicate it’s out to replace human writers. But we don’t yet know what the ChatGPT consequences for creatives are – and neither does the AI. When asked, ChatGPT spat out this answer:

“While AI-generated content may be able to produce work that is similar in style and content to that produced by humans, it is not a replacement for human creativity. There will always be a demand for unique and original human-generated content, and AI-generated content is unlikely to completely replace the work of human writers.”

The word unlikely is a bit eye-opening, but a machine can’t predict how humans may misuse it to replace other humans.

What are some of the possible consequences of ChatGPT for creatives?

ChatGPT is already impacting writers’ ability to make a living. And because it’s not a very good writer, it’s affecting people’s access to good writing.

ChatGPT produces the following argument in favor of itself:

“..there is potential for generative AI to be used in collaboration with human writers, rather than as a replacement. For example, an AI language model could be used to suggest ideas, provide inspiration, or even generate a first draft of a piece of writing, which could then be refined and edited by a human writer.”

It “suggests” that humans will learn to work around it and develop new business models to make room for everyone. Of course, it is quite frequently wrong about things.

“The toasters look like us now”

Plenty of writers are having fun with ChatGPT, however. They’ve never written articles with its help while citing it as a resource. What a way to add to your word count!

And when pressed a bit on its ability to replace humans, it recites the same old line about the potential for collaboration before producing the following paragraph:

“Overall, it is important to approach the development of AI in creative fields with caution and a recognition of the potential risks and benefits. While AI has the potential to transform the creative process in many ways, it is important to find ways to ensure that it does not have a negative impact on the livelihoods of human artists and writers.”

Of course, that last part is up to humans.  WTF fun facts

Source: “ChatGPT isn’t putting me out of a job yet, but it’s very good fun” — TechCrunch (paywalled, sadly)

WTF Fun Fact 13195 – Tartle

The Scots have some great words in their vocabulary. Take “tartle,” for example. Have you ever heard of it?

What is a “tartle”?

Tartle is a Scottish word. It refers to the feeling of hesitation or panic that one experiences when one can’t remember someone’s name. Scots also use it to describe the act of hesitating to introduce someone because you can’t remember their name.

When someone experiences tartle forgetfulness, it can be caused by a number of factors. These include age-related memory loss, lack of attention when the person was first introduced, or normal forgetting. It can also be related to a condition known as anomic aphasia. This is a type of language disorder that affects the ability to recall words, including names.

The word tartle is not widely known outside of Scotland, but it is a useful word to describe a common experience of social awkwardness. You can also use the word tartle to describe the general feeling of hesitation when you are trying to remember something (not just a name) or when you are in a situation where your memory failed.

According to The Scotsman (cited below): “What makes the word so special is that it doesn’t apply when you forget the person’s name entirely. Oh no. It exists only to encapsulate the brief awkwardness while you rummage around your brain for the answer.”

Describing social awkwardness

There are many words and phrases in the English language that describe social awkwardness, here are a few examples:

  • Inept: This word is used to describe a lack of social skills or ability.
  • Bumbling: This word is used to describe someone who is awkward, clumsy or inarticulate in social situations.
  • Tongue-tied: This phrase is used to describe the feeling of being unable to speak coherently or express oneself effectively in a social situation.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Scottish word of the week: Tartle” — The Scotsman

WTF Fun Fact 13145 – World Website Statistics

While more people use the internet in Asia than anywhere else in the world, English is the predominant language of the world’s websites. According to First Site Guide (cited below): “25.9% of the internet is in English, 19.4% is in Chinese, and 8% is in Spanish.” Keep reading for more worldwide website statistics.

More world websites statistics

Asia has over 2.8 billion web users, with over 1 billion active users residing in China and 659 million in India.

Europe is the continent with the second most internet users, though they have under 700 million. The US comes in third with 307 million users (as of early 2022).

The age group with the most internet users (at least as of 2019) is 25 to 34-year-olds. They account for 1/3 of web users.

The majority of people also use Chrome as their browser. In fact, 65% of people use Chrome while the next most popular engine (Safari) is used by 16.82% of users.

According to First Site Guide: “The most connected region globally is North America, with over 75% of people having an internet connection. It is closely followed by Europe, in which over 68% of all people have internet access. The region with the least internet connectivity is Sub-Saharan Africa, with 24% of people having internet access according to internet usage statistics.”

Worldwide web searches

Google is by far the most popular search engine, holding 92.7% of the market share. In second place is Bing with just under 3%.

While DuckDuckGo is the search engine with the most privacy features, it’s used by only .5% of internet users.

And while you might think iPhones are ubiquitous, they’re also expensive. That’s probably why most mobile internet users (nearly 75%) use an Android OS.

And time spent on smartphones is rapidly increasing. 12 years ago, we spent less than an hour a day looking at the internet on our mobile devices. Today, we average about 2.8 hours. And this is only expected to increase.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Internet Statistics 2023: Facts You Need-to-Know” — First Site Guide

WTF Fun Fact 12949 – 200 Invented Languages

Writers and linguists have created over 200 entirely new languages over the millennia for use in literature, films, games, comic books, television shows, etc.

According to (cited below), here is a list:


  • Adunaic from J. R. R. Tolkien’s works
  • Aklo, Tsath-yo, and R’lyehian are ancient and obscure languages in the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and others. Aklo is considered by some writers to be the written language of the Serpent People
  • Amtorian, spoken in some cultures on the planet Venus in Pirates of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs and several sequels. Judged by critic Fredrik Ekman to have “a highly inventive morphology but a far less interesting syntax.”
  • Ancient Language in the Inheritance Trilogy by Christopher Paolini (although this is considered to be a cipher of English by many)
  • Angley, Unglish and Ingliss – three languages spoken respectively at Western Europe, North America and the Pacific in the 29th Century world of Poul Anderson’s “Orion Shall Rise”. All derived from present-day English, the three are mutually unintelligible, following 800 years of separate development after a 21st century nuclear war and the extensive absorption of words and grammatical forms from French in the first case, Russian, Chinese and Mongolian in the second, and Polynesian in the third.
  • Anglic, the dominant languague of the declining Galactic empire depicted in Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry series, is descended from present-day English but so changed that only professional historians or linguists can understand English texts.
  • Anglo-French, in the alternate history world of the Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett – where England and France were permanently united into a single kingdom by Richard the Lionheart and their languages consequently merged.
  • asa’pili (“world language”), in bolo’bolo, by Swiss author P.M..
  • Atreides battle, in Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Babel-17, in Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
  • Baronh, language of Abh in Seikai no Monsho (Crest of the Stars) and others, by Morioka Hiroyuki
  • Black Speech – language of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings
  • Bokonon – language of the Bokononism religion in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”
  • Chakobsa, a language used in the Dune novels by Frank Herbert
  • Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini appears to be written in a constructed language which is presumably the language of the alien civilization the book describes
  • Common The language spoken in a wide variety of fantasy fiction, particularly Dungeons and Dragons.
  • D’Haran The ancient, dead language of pre-Great War New World (D’Hara, Midlands, and Westland) in Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series.
  • Drac, language of the alien species in Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine and The Enemy Papers
  • Kad’k, the language of the Dwarfs in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
  • Earthsea books (by Ursula K. Le Guin)
  • Language of the Making – the basis of all magic, spoken by Dragons as their native tongue and learned with considerable effort by human mages
  • Hardic – linguistically descended from the above
  • Osskilian, and Kargish – a different family of languages, distantly related
  • Elemeno, language of two sisters in Caucasia by Danzy Senna.
  • Fremen, language of the native people of Arrakis, in Dune and other novels by Frank Herbert
  • Galactic Standard Speech in Asimov’ “Foundation series”. Inhabitants of the planet Fomalhaut speak “an extreme dialect” of it.
  • Galacticspeak from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Gobbledygook, the language of goblins, in the Harry Potter series. Noted speakers include Albus Dumbledore and Barty Crouch.
  • Glide, created by Diana Reed Slattery, used by the Death Dancers of The Maze Game
  • Groilish, spoken by giants in Giants and the Joneses by Julia Donaldson.
  • High Speech of Gilead from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (series)
  • Ilythiiri, the language of drow elves in Forgotten Realms setting. [2]
  • Kesh, in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel Always Coming Home
  • Krakish, in Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky
  • Láadan (ldn), in Suzette Haden Elgin’s science fiction novel Native Tongue and sequels
  • Lapine, in Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • Lilliputian from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Further samples of the language are provided in T. H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose. In Gulliver’s Travels, other fictional languages, spoken in other places Gulliver visits, are also presented, e.g. Brobdingnagian, Laputan, Balbinarbian and Houyhnhnm languages.
  • Mando’a, created by Karen Traviss, used by the Mandalorians in the Star Wars Republic Commando novels Hard Contact and Triple Zero
  • Mangani in the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Marain, in The Culture novels of Iain M. Banks
  • The languages of Middle-earth (most notably Sindarin (sjn), Quenya (qya) and Khuzdul) by J. R. R. Tolkien, partly published in The Lord of the Rings, and posthumously discussed in The History of Middle-earth and other publications.
  • Molvanian from Molvania, A Land Untouched By Modern Dentistry
  • Nadsat slang, in A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • Newspeak, in Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (fictional constructed language)
  • The “Nautilus Language”, spoken on board Jules Verne’s famous fictional submarine, in token of crew members having completely renounced their former homelands and backgrounds. Every morning, after scanning the horizon with his binoculars, Nemo’s second-in-command says: “Nautron respoc lorni virch”. The meaning of these words is never clarified, but their construction seems to indicate that the “Nautilus Language” (its actual name is not given) is based on European languages.
  • Old Solar, in Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
  • The Old Tongue from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series
  • Paluldonian in a Tarzan novel, Tarzan the Terrible, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Used by the inhabitants of the realm of Pal-ul-don in Africa, separated from the outside world by impenetrable marshes.
  • Parseltongue, the language of snakes, in the Harry Potter series. The ability of humans to speak it is considered a magic ability.
  • Pennsylvanisch, from Michael Flynn’s The Forest of Time
  • Pravic and Iotic, in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Ptydepe, from Václav Havel’s play The Memorandum
  • Quintaglio from Robert J. Sawyer’s Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy
  • Quenya from J. R. R. Tolkien’s works.
  • Qwghlmian from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle
  • Rihannsu, spoken by the Rihannsu (Romulans) in the Star Trek novels of Diane Duane
  • Spocanian, in Rolandt Tweehuysen’s fictional country Spocania
  • Stark (short for Star Common), a common interstellar English-based language from Orson Scott Card’s Ender series
  • Starsza Mowa from Andrzej Sapkowski’s Hexer saga
  • Troll language from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
  • Utopian language, appearing in a poem by Petrus Gilles accompanying Thomas More’s Utopia
  • Whitmanite, spoken by members of a radical Anarchist-Pacifist cult of the same name in Robert Heinlein’ The Puppet Masters. “Allucquere” is a female given name in Whitmanite.
  • Zaum, poetic tongue elaborated by Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksei Kruchonykh, and other Russian Futurists as a “transrational” and “most universal” language “of songs, incantations, and curses”.

Comic books

  • Bordurian in some of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, mostly in The Calculus Affair
  • Interlac, the universal language spoken in the 30th century in the Legion of Super Heroes comics
  • Kryptonese, or Kryptonian, the language of Superman’s home planet of Krypton
  • Syldavian, in some of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, mostly in King Ottokar’s Sceptre
  • Movies and television
  • Two kinds of alien language, termed “Alienese” and “Beta Crypt 3” appear quite frequently in background sight gags in Futurama.
  • Ancient in the Stargate universe (i.e. Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis) is the language of the Ancients, the builders of the Stargates; it is similar in pronunciation to Medieval Latin. The Athosians say prayers in Ancient.
  • Atlantean created by Marc Okrand for the film Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  • Cityspeak, a “mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German,” plus Hungarian and French, spoken on the street of overcrowded and multi-lingual Los Angeles of 2019 in Blade Runner. Similarly, used in many cyberpunk genre role playing games.
  • The Divine Language is a language invented by director Luc Besson and actress Milla Jovovich for the 1997 movie The Fifth Element.
  • Enchanta, in the Encantadia and Etheria television series in the Philippines, created by the head writer Suzette Doctolero
  • Gelfling, spoken in Jim Henson’s fantasy epic The Dark Crystal
  • Goa’uld, the galactic lingua franca from Stargate SG-1, supposedly influenced Ancient Egyptian
  • Huttese, language of both alien species and people in some of George Lucas’s Star Wars films
  • Irken, in Invader Zim, by Jhonen Vasquez, et al.
  • Klingon (tlh), in the Star Trek movie and television series, created by Marc Okrand
  • Krakozhian from The Terminal
  • Ku, a fictional African language in the movie The Interpreter (2005)
  • Linguacode, a universal language code sometimes used by the United Federation of Planets in the Star Trek television series.
  • Marklar, spoken by the people of Marklar in a South Park episode.
  • Minbari from Babylon 5, three related languages used together, corresponding to the areas of expertise of the three societal castes.
  • Nadsat, the fictional language spoken by Alex and his friends in Clockwork Orange
  • Nellish, a personal language from the main character of Nell
  • Paku from Land of the Lost
  • PortuGreek, the trade language featured in Waterworld
  • The pseudo-Spanish/Greek/Arabic language of Republica, as used in the fictional Chanel 9 program within the British comedy sketch show the The Fast Show
  • Quenya (qya) and Sindarin (sjn), the two Elven languages, spoken in the Lord of the Rings movies.
  • Slovetzian, the fictional Slavic language of Slovetzia in the movie The Beautician and the Beast
  • The Star Wars series features several fictional languages.
  • Tenctonese from the Alien Nation movie and television series, created by Van Ling and Kenneth Johnson
  • Unas in Stargate SG-1, supposedly the first hosts of the Goa’uld
  • Ulam, language spoken by the prehistoric humans in Anthony Burgess’ movie Quest for Fire, created by melting roots of European languages.
  • Vampire language used in the movie Blade.
  • Vulcan language from Star Trek
  • Unnamed languages
  • In the Janissaries series of science-fiction novels by Jerry Pournelle, the human natives of the planet Tran speak a language apparently derived from Mycenaean. A form of Latin is also spoken in an empire resembling ancient Rome’s, but only by scholars.
  • Riddley Walker, a 1980 novel by Russell Hoban, set in a post-apocalyptic future, is written entirely in a “devolved” form of English.
  • Writer/director Luc Besson invented a Divine Language for Milla Jovovich’s character “Leeloo” to speak in the film The Fifth Element.
  • Music
  • Gulevache: fictional Romance Language of the kingdom of Gulevandia on the bilingual opera Cardoso en Gulevandia by the comedy group Les Luthiers
  • Kobaian, the language used by 70’s French rock group Magma.
  • Vonlenska, sometimes known as “Hopelandic”, the language sung by Jón Þór Birgisson of the Icelandic band “Sigur Rós” on many of their songs.
  • Loxian, featured on the Enya album Amarantine.
  • Unnamed language by Yves Barbieux, used in his song “Sanomi” and performed by the Belgian group Urban Trad in the Eurovision Song contest in 2003.
  • Mohelmot, a forbidden language used by The Residents on the album The Big Bubble: Part Four of the Mole Trilogy.
  • Unnamed language by Emmanuelle Orange, used in her song Pialoushka and performed by Montreal band Eden106.
  • Unnamed language featured in the chorus of 2NU’s 1991 track This is Ponderous.
  • Unnamed language featured in the soundtrack to the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “List of constructed languages” —

WTF Fun Fact 12932 – Nigel Richards, French Scrabble Champion

Nigel Richards is from New Zealand. He’s a worldwide Scrabble champion, but his most impressive feat may just be winning the French-language Scrabble World Championship without actually knowing how to speak French.

Memorizing vs learning

If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you know that there are two parts to success – grammar and vocabulary. You can be great at grammar, but if you can’t memorize new words then it doesn’t do you much good. Equally, you can know lots of vocabulary words, but if you can’t put them together in a sentence (or even pronounce them), you can’t actually speak the language.

Nigel Richards memorizes the dictionary

Before trying his hand with French, New Zealander Nigel Richards won a couple of English-language Scrabble championships. But that clearly wasn’t enough of a challenge. That’s when he decided to tackle French.

But when you’re playing Scrabble, grammar doesn’t matter, only the words in the dictionary do. So Richards decided to try and memorize as many words as possible from the French dictionary.

Clearly, he did a great job, because he beat all of the actual French speakers in a 2015 tournament.

According to NPR (cited below): “It was only in late May [of 2014] that Richards began his quest to win the French world title, according to the French Scrabble Federation. That’s when he set about memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary.”

Richards obviously has an impeccable memory. After all, there are 386,000 words in French Scrabble and only 187,000 in North American Scrabble.

Scrabble expert Stefan Fatsis told NPR: “Basically, what he does is, he looks at word lists and looks at dictionary pages… he can conjure up the image of what he has seen. He told me that if he actually hears a word, it doesn’t stick in his brain. But if he sees it once, that’s enough for him to recall the image of it. I don’t know if that’s a photographic memory; I just think it’s something that his brain chemistry allows him to do.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Winner Of French Scrabble Title Does Not Speak French” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 12768 – English as a Second Language (ESL)

Technically, English is the most commonly spoken language in the world. However, that’s only because of the number of non-native speakers who learn it as a SECOND language.

In fact, English is more popular as a second than it is as a first language.

If you count only native speakers then Mandarin Chinese is the spoken language in the world.

How many people speak ESL?

There are roughly 378 million people who speak English as their native language. That sounds like a lot, but compare that to the roughly 995 million people who speak some form of Mandarin Chinese as a native language (that’s about 71% of China’s population).

However, due to the number of people who learn ESL, including many Mandarin speakers, English has become the most widely spoken language in the world.

There are around 743 million non-native speakers who learn ESL in the world. So if you add those to the native speakers, that tops the number of Mandarin speakers.

In 2022, surveys found that 1.5 billion people worldwide spoke English either natively or as a second language. Mandarin dialects still come in a very close second.

Second-language speakers

Native English speakers, particularly in the U.S., tend to be less likely to become fluent in a second language (despite learning a bit in school).

In Europe, people are more likely to truly learn to speak a second language. An EU survey found that 56% of Europeans speak a second language. The number of Americans who are bilingual hovers around only 20%.

Interestingly, even though many people the world over speak some English, the country with the highest level of proficiency when it comes to ESL is The Netherlands. Their citizens are more likely to be fluent. They’re followed by Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

In nearly every country surveyed, women had better ESL skills than men.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Which countries are best at English as a second language?” – WE Forum