An old book about to cook in the Philips UV-C Disinfection Box.

The Philips UV-C Disinfection Box : An Unlikely Language Learning Ally?

It’s not often I rave about a purchase that isn’t a language book. But I think I might have fallen in love with my latest gadget acquisition, the Philips UV-C Disinfection Box.

Language learning and automated sanitisation don’t seem like natural bedfellows, I’ll admit. But bear with me – there is a connection, I promise.

I’ve been an avid collector of vintage language books for some time now. I particularly enjoy hunting down old Teach Yourself books from decades gone by. They’re both quaint and practical. I can enjoy all the anachronisms of their stilted dialogues and translation exercises at the same time as getting a lot from the no-nonsense grammatical approach.

But, in the words of my Nan, sometimes you just don’t know where they’ve been. And, for an OCD germaphobe, that can be a problem. Of course there are lots of tips and tricks for cleaning up and restoring old books, and I use them all. But there’s that wee niggling doubt for a sensitive soul like me.

Dial ‘D’ for Disinfection

I came across UV-C disinfection techniques during the Covid-19 pandemic, where they were touted in the press as one tool that libraries, amongst other places, were using to virus-proof their returns. Just seconds of a low-power ultraviolet blast apparently kills any sign of dangerous microbes.

Wow. The cleaning freak in me was piqued. This, I thought, was an OCD-er’s dream.

Sadly, at the time, they were prohibitively expensive. Perhaps, I thought cynically, the inflated price was a result of pandemic-driven demand. Or, perhaps less cynically, it was just the premium of new(ish) technology. But in any case, I bided my time and eventually forgot about them – until they recently popped into my line of sight again.

You see, I’d added one particular model – my inner hygiene-geek’s dream model – to the Amazon price tracker site, CamelCamelCamel.com. I’d requested an alert whenever the price dropped from £170-ish to – I thought – a very unlikely £60. And guess what? It only went and did just that.

The Philips UV-C Disinfection Box.

My pride and joy, the Philips UV-C Disinfection Box.

So now, I’m the proud owner of a large disinfection box. It works like a charm – you lock in your book or otherwise, press the button, and it’s blasted with a sanitising beam for a number of seconds. It destroys all bacteria and viruses in Philips’ lab tests, so they say, which gives this second-hand book buyer a huge peace of mind.

I guess this is a story about the joys of clean books, on the surface (in more ways than one). But perhaps more usefully, it’s a reminder to put your most wished-for items onto CamelCamelCamel.com!

A book in the Philips UV-C Disinfection Box.

Cooking a book in the Philips UV-C Disinfection Box.

Close-up of the cover of Routledge's Hindi : An Essential Grammar (2022)

Hindi : An Essential Grammar [Review]

Hindi has sat comfortably amongst Routledge’s Essential Grammars range for some time, offering students the concise, systematic grammatical treatment the whole series is known for. The title appeared in its first edition back in 2007, so a fresh, updated version was a very welcome addition to bookshelves at the end of 2022.

Anyone familiar with my own bookish exploits will know that the Routledge Essential and Comprehensive Grammar series are close to my language lover’s heart. They’re all excellently researched reference and study works, supported throughout with authentic, real-world language. Recent editions have benefitted from an even clearer layout and eye-friendly typesetting, and the Hindi title is no exception. They’re very easy on the reader, particularly in terms of line spacing and table layout.

The book takes the familiar parts-of-speech approach, chunking grammatical elements into particularly brief, easily manageable chapters. This makes for real indexical ease, obvious from the detailed, seven-page contents section. No wading through an amorphous Nouns chapter here! But it’s great for targeted study, too; you could easily tackle a whole section in an hour-long study session, either independently or with a teacher.

As well as the usual amendments and corrections, this second edition offers extended explanations on several aspects of Hindi. These include extra material on flexible word order, ergativity, and politeness distinctions. As with other updates, such as the second edition of the Greek Essential, it’s great to see Routledge’s commitment to keeping the whole series relevant.

Script Support

The book is a winner on another important front, too: alternative script usage. To be fair, if you’re serious about learning Hindi in the long-term, then you’ll probably have started with Devanagari well before picking up this grammar. You might even have studied Devanagari before your Hindi journey like some (ahem). Devanagari is no prerequisite to learning to speak Hindi, of course, and if you’re in it for the casual dabbling, you might not have the time or inclination.

With this grammar, it’s no sweat at all. You can dive into any section of the book and read examples in Devanagari or Latin transliteration. The transliteration is extremely straightforward, too, using capitals to represent retroflex consonants, and the tilde for nasalised vowels. And the transliteration takes nothing away from the book’s commitment to both lanes; this edition still concludes with a substantial section on contemporary script usage, including current trends and recent changes.

Transliteration throughout might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s really not a given with Hindi primers. I’ve been working with Teach Yourself Hindi Tutor recently, and although it’s a truly fantastic and valuable resource, it requires proficiency in Devanagari from step one. Similarly, many beginner’s textbooks provide Latin support only so far, before switching to script after the initial chapters. For some, native script is a choice that definitely comes later on.

All in all, my verdict won’t be a surprise, considering my understandable fanboying of the series: I think this one’s just swell! For Hindi scholars, Indo-Europeanists and dabblers alike, Hindi : An Essential Grammar is a solid title in the series, substantially improved in its new edition.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar, published by Routledge in October 2022.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar [Review]

Only the other day was I heralding the appearance of two brand new Routledge Essential Grammars – and just in time for Christmas, too. So what should land on my doormat this week but the very latest addition, Filipino : An Essential Grammar? There’s no such thing as coincidences, I hear you cry!

Any new language is a welcome addition to Routledge’s solid family of language learning texts, and with this one, it’s a double whammy; it pips the publisher’s own Colloquial series, which still lacks a Filipino / Tagalog title. For a language with upwards of 80+ million speakers worldwide, the book plugs a textbook gap with the solid, practical approach we’ve come to love from the Essential collection.

Filipino : A Concise But Comprehensive Essential

At just shy of 200 pages, the title, penned by Sheila Zamar, is one of the lighter volumes in the series (check out the brilliant Icelandic edition for a true doorstop of a book, for comparison). That said, it’s by no means light on content, divided into well-defined parts-of-speech chapters. Each of these is concise and snappy, but still chock-full of examples of language in use.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar, published by Routledge in October 2022.

As a self-confessed verb obsessive, it’s extremely satisfying to see four very chunky sections (nearly half the book) taken up with a systematic presentation of the verbal system. It’s what you’d expect, given the quite different (and fascinating) classes of Austronesian conjugation, but the exposition and explanation is handled with neat, logical progression. Handily, glosses are provided alongside many of the examples, so you can see exactly what is going on in a given sentence.

(Type)set for Success

If you’re a fan of the series you’ll have already noticed, but I should add a word or two about the excellent formatting of the whole reissued grammar series. From the clean, sans-serif fonts to the clutter-free setting of the tables, the new editions are all exceptionally clear and easy to read. The block-colour covers in blues, aquamarines, crimsons and bricks look both artsy and academically serious at the same time, although that leaves me with one mystery: what do the cover colours signify, if anything? My first thought was language groups or families, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps authors have the option to choose their own favourite as a wee thank you for their work. Answers on a postcard in the comments.

Filipino : An Essential Grammar is certainly worthy of its essential title in a not-so-crowded textbook field for the language. Heartily recommended for serious learners and casually interested polyglots alike!

 

The Buntùs Cainte book - a bit of language learning nostalgia!

Brewing Up Nostalgia : Buntús Cainte

My love of old language books is no secret. I’ve been harping on about my single-handed attempt at recreating the language section of my local Waterstones, circa 1993, for ages. So it’s no surprise that I snapped up another old course when I spotted it in a bookshop this weekend.

The only thing is, it’s brand new.

Well, new is subjective. It’s actually a reprint of a decades-old Irish Language course, Buntús Cainte (Foundations of the Language). It’s been a well-selling title for years, not least for the language; people seem to love it for the nostalgia of the original programme as much as the content.

The title was originally a 1960s TV show on Irish state carrier RTÉ. Like other national broadcaster courses such as the Gaelic offerings from the BBC, Can Seo and Speaking Our Language, the show was supported by printed materials that you could pick up at your local bookshop. All of them had a warm, friendly approach to “language learning in your living room”, which is probably why they still stir up such nostalgia.

The book itself is still a great resource for learning basic Irish. It’s straightforward chalk ‘n’ talk if you like that kind of thing, with vocabulary and phrase lists and brief grammar examples. It comes with two CDs of audio materials – pretty indispensable if you’re new to Irish orthography. And at less than 10€, it’s all a bit of a bargain.

Fancy a Brew?

But the loveliest thing about it is that nostalgia it brews. The cover font, still in its groovy 1960s typeface and colour scheme, is a joy, as are the of-their-time stick cartoon illustrations throughout.

Buntús Cainte

It’s a reminder that good language learning materials aren’t a sum of their content alone. They’re about the feelings they inspire, the memories they connect you back to, the vibe you get from them. Clicking with a course is a holistic process. It’s no wonder that it’s still one of the best-selling Irish books.

In a similar vein, there was a heart-warming documentary on the making of Speaking Our Language recently, which has all the same feels. Worth checking out if you want to know how these institutions of educational TV work their way into our hearts.

In any case, it’s great to find an old gem of language learning. Even greater that it’s a fresh, new print that I don’t have to clean upI don’t have to clean up, for a change!

Two different copies of Teach Yourself Swedish, freshly arrived from eBay!

Luck of the eBay Draw

The stars aligned for me this week. Not one, but two 1990s copies of Teach Yourself Swedish arrived in my postbox. Used, super cheap, but both so pristine you’d think they’d never been removed from their original bookshop shelves. Winning the eBay language learning lottery!

Why two copies of Teach Yourself Swedish, you ask? Isn’t that just being greedy?

Well first, is there really such a thing as greed when it comes to books? Our love knows no bounds. (Note: it probably is possible to have too many books, but I’m not there yet.)

Secondly, they’re actually different books.

A Long Time Ago in a Language Learning Galaxy Far Away…

You see, Teach Yourself has been going for donkey’s years, and by the 80s and 90s, the company had accrued a whole back catalogue of vintage language learning titles. As I’ve said many a time before, older language learning material shouldn’t be written off – it’s solid, albeit usually more grammar-based learning, and often very inexpensive.

But clearly, things needed a refresh. So Teach Yourself set about recommissioning a lot of those old tomes with completely updated replacements. It started in the late 80s, with updated French, German, Italian and Spanish titles. At first, these appeared in the 80s blue style covers.

But, come the 90s, Teach Yourself went arty in glorious technicolour. The book covers positively exploded in shapes and colours. Many are things of beauty (at least to my geeky eye), and it’s one of the reasons I love collecting them.

The Double Life of TY Books

However, those books had a double life during the transition. Older courses saw reissues, but with the bright, shiny covers. One last hoorah before they were retired.

But then, their successors (or usurpers?) came along, in their shiny, new covers – sometimes the same ones as the old course! Teach Yourself Gaelic, for example, recycles the same wrap even as it transitions from the old Roderick MacKinnon course to the updated Boyd Robertson edition. You can only tell the newer edition from a big yellow New! box in the corner. (No, that text was never going to age well.)

This clearly isn’t the case with Teach Yourself Swedish. Both the R.J.McClean and Vera Croghan books have their own wonderful designs. But for all intents and purposes, they were both still new language books in the 90s.

It’s just one has a much older soul. And I love it all the more for it.

A pristine copy of Teach Yourself Swedish by R.J.McClean (1992)

A pristine copy of Teach Yourself Swedish by R.J.McClean (1992)

The eBay Bookseller Lottery

With the wonderful quality of these two titles from that crossover period of the early 90s, I clearly lucked out on the eBay wheel of fortune. Items from the eBay book giants are generally in great condition; some just require a bit more TLC than this pair.

Of course, you can’t tell the condition of books from eBay supersellers until they arrive. That’s part of the fun, of course. But it does lead to the occasional sigh of deflation, as one described as very good lands on your doormat in a rather more dishevelled state. That doesn’t happen too often, thankfully.

And it a couple of quid a pop, it’s a fun gamble!