Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

We need to speak to your teacher urgently

Switzerland is a fine student in the world classroom. A bit of a teacher’s pet (chouchou) you might say. The report card reads: Diligent, polite and organised; an excellent student. 

Just look at the results: Global competitiveness: 1st of 133, global innovation: 1st out of 143, prosperity: 2nd of 142, human development: 3rd of 187, happiness: 8th of 155, press freedom: 1st of 178, democracy index: 8th of 167; and hang on... what’s this one, and why is it in bold… English Proficiency: 15th of 24 countries in Europe.

Ouch! I think it’s time we make an appointment to speak with the English teacher. Urgently!

Yes, Switzerland ranks behind Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and Latvia in English proficiency according to the annual English Language Proficiency survey by the Swedish education and language company EF.

World-wide, Switzerland was ranked 18th out of 63 non-Anglophone countries. Last year, the Swiss were 16th. The four Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, Poland and Austria topped the survey. Switzerland finished just ahead of the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia and the Dominican Republic. France finished 29th.

The overall Swiss score was 58.3% which placed it at the bottom of the high proficiency category compared to top-of-the-table Denmark 69.3% with very high proficiency. The survey found that Swiss-German adults have a consistently higher level of English than their Swiss-French and Swiss-Italian counterparts. Swiss women speak English slightly better than Swiss men.

Of course Geneva, the country’s most international and English-speaking city, scored the highest mark... didn’t it? No, not at all. Zurich and Winterthur have the highest English proficiency levels. They both scored 64%. Berne scored 63%, Geneva 60% and Lausanne 58%.

Word of the year

The Oxford Dictionaries 2014 word of the year is the verb to vape; the act of inhaling from an electronic cigarette. Usage of the word has more than doubled since 2013 as have the number of people that vape. (We pray that those who vape will not be called vapists.) Vaping won against competition from the following words:

slacktivism: a blend of the words slacker (a lazy person) and activism. The word is generally used as a negative term that describes "feel-good" measures in support of a social cause that have little or no practical effect, but give a sense of satisfaction to a slacktivist. The actions require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist

bae: an affectionate term for a romantic partner. It became popular in social media, hip-hop and R&B music thanks to a Pharrell Williams' music video titled Come Get It, Bae. Ironically, bae is also a popular Danish word for shit, poop or merde.

Word pleasure

Yummm... sex and chocolate. You can now add language learning to this list of pleasures. Researchers from Barcelona’s Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and Germany’s Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg found that learning new words activates the ventral striatum, the reward centre of the brain which is also activated by positive emotions related to chocolate, sex, and drugs.

Researchers say the findings could explain the extraordinary evolution of languages in Homo-sapiens, as well as individual motivation in studying of foreign languages.  So next time you feel like bit of mallemaroking to stimulate the ventral striatum of your bathykolpian and callipygean lover... just let your basorexic desires go wild. Afterwards you might need a lie down. I think I need a lie down now.  I am feeling a bit capernoited after that inaniloquence. Where's the chocolate?


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