Great news story: Lupita Nyong’o: People magazine’s Most Beautiful Person of 2014 and language champion

One of the challenges for multilingualism and languages education in the Anglobubble  is motivating student interest outside of schools. One powerful solution is to connect languages with star power – in order to create global language champions that people feel connected to and can look up to.

Star power works: advertisers don’t pay big sums to big names in Hollywood and showbusiness for nothing. George Clooney’s leading the global Nespresso campaign has been hugely successful in increasing sales for his sponsor (too successful for some, but that’s another story….). Miranda Kerr gets paid big bucks to promote fabric softener in Japan. The list goes on….

Well, there was great news for languages today involving star power, although most Anglobubblers will be blissfully unaware of the link:  Lupita Nyong’o, glamourous Oscar-winning Hollywood star of “12 Years a Slave” (2013, 3 Oscars), was selected as People magazine’s Most Beautiful Person of 2014.




Amongst her many talents (and there really are many) Lupita Nyong’o  speaks four languages: English, Luo, Spanish and Swahili. Her parents are Kenyan but she was born and partly raised in Mexico. Indeed she considers herself to be Mexican-Kenyan – seen most clearly in her name (Lupita: Mexican/Spanish, Nyong’o Kenyan/Luo). She’s also on record as calling herself Chilanga (the term used for people from Mexico City).

Here’s Lupita being interviewed in Spanish about her experience of Mexico:


Lupita’s story is an amazing one of success  (inc TV, film, documentary making….). Having four languages is no burden, it’s a blessing. Lupita is a marketer’s dream: English, Luo, Spanish and Swahili give incredible reach. Lupita taps into the Anglobubble, Latin America and Spain, Kenya and East Africa with ease. People in all of these areas connect with her.

It’s just a pity newsreaders in the Anglobubble struggle with pronouncing her name, as seen in this clip put together by Jimmy Kimmel Live:



Really? After all the film and media exposure, Oscar speeches?  That’s life in the Anglobubble 😉 ….

All in all, despite this hiccup, a great day for Lupita Nyong’o and for languages. Get the message out. Discuss it with your friends and students. There’s a lot to say, and we can change attitudes and get people learning and appreciating languages. It’s hard to resist star power.

To keep up with the Anglobubble, follow on twitter: JohnHajek_lang



Footifying Australia: Using Australia’s language diversity and love of sport to gain market share. NAB’s winning strategy.

Everyone loves a winner – especially when it has something to do with sport. And sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a really clever winner, in this case the National Australia Bank (NAB).

While some of Australia’s residents might think you only need English to get ahead, others are wise to the fact that there is money to be made in multilingualism. NAB, one of Australia’s big banks, has twigged that an increasing number of Australians speak more than one language. It’s something NAB has used to its commercial advantage in its massive national cross-promotion of Australian rules football. There’s nothing selfless about it of course – it’s all about increasing its own national market share of banking. The campaign targets ten of Australia’s many communities (Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Punjabi, Spanish and Turkish) – with the grand final broadcast in each of their languages (available online for the 2013 end of season clincher).

Talk about ingenious marketing. It uses sport (an immediate winner in itself in Australia) and specifically the excitement of the AFL footy grand final  to attract English-speakers and non-English-speakers alike. Such an event – and the build up to it – gives you tremendous exposure, while the combination of the grand final and ten languages generates huge curiosity from all sides. People want to hear what footy sounds like in different languages, and in their own language.

The ad campaign is really clever – it focusses on teaching people selected to call the grand final in a way that’s authentic and exciting. You also have to work out the terminology….. Is a banana really a banana in your language? Notice too it’s not only the voice but also the body that needs to be taught what to do.



It’s a challenge to call a grand final in just the right way – and some practice is needed – as is shown so well in this next ad. In just a matter of seconds the build up of excitement is palpable. No-one can resist a good call – in whatever language. It really does work!



By the end of this ad, you’re jumping out of your seats. Well done NAB!  Talk about clever…..

Keep it up NAB – we want more of this kind of positive advertising that recognizes language diversity right in the heart of the Anglobubble.

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The power of going viral: Suor Cristina, the Voice and the Anglobubble…. A little background helps.

Sometimes when things go viral online, they throw up surprising issues about engaging with language across cultures…. The current excitement around the world about one particular clip in Italian is so great it’s worth blogging about here. Plus it’s not often you hear Italian all over the commercial media in the Anglobubble – especially when it’s a good news story.

Where do we start? It all happened so quickly…. At lunch on the weekend, my sister mentioned a viral clip about an Italian nun singing on something like X-factor. She was quickly corrected: it was the Voice. Shortly after emails and texts started reaching me – wanting to know more about the clip and what else was going on beyond the bleeding obvious….. It was on all the TV news that evening – although they only showed a brief snippet of what really happened. It’s what they don’t tell you that’s often more interesting….

In only a couple of days the full clip (almost 9 minutes – very long as virals go) had had almost ten million views. Another 24 hours later and it’s picked up another 8-9 million…. So why all the fuss? And why is it so interesting?

As you’ll see, it’s about a surprise contestant (rocking it to Alicia Keys) on the Italian version of the Voice. The format’s the same everywhere: the judges can only hear the voice and have to turn around, if interested, to see who it is and to indicate their interest in having that person on their personal team. Here’s what happened:



It’s interesting because of what people don’t know or can’t understand – when they don’t speak Italian. What people wanted to know from me was: who was the nun (and the judges) and what exactly were they saying to each other…..? Well, that and the back story are worth considering and highlight aspects of the world beyond the Anglobubble.

Suor Cristina Scuccia is real, 25 years old from Sicily with, in her words, a gift that she is passing on. You won’t know the following from this clip, but she is a member of the Ursuline order based in Milan. And her path to taking her vows started during a musical when she played the role of a soon to be nun asking questions about God and her own path (I am not kidding….).

The judges – all very different – are well known in Italy:

Raffaella Carrà – singer, entertainer, host, famous since the 1960s in Italy (and beyond including Latin America). She’s 70 (it’s that mediterranean diet….). You can’t be Italian without knowing who la Carrà is.

Piero Pelù – with the facial hair, Fiorentinissimo (most Florentine) from his accent – lead singer with LITFIBA – an Italian rock band that just won’t die….

J-Ax (that’s right: Jay-Axe)- famous rap singer – he’s the one with the hat breaking into tears. He’s well known for such songs as  ‘A cena dai tuoi’ with Emis Villa.

Noemi – ex-talent show contestant who’s made it big, most famous for ‘L’amore si odia’ (with Fiorella Mannoia).

The discussion between judges and Suor Cristina is even more fascinating than the singing. People without Italian are curious – they can tell it’s interesting stuff  (Remember it’s a very long clip – in Italian without subtitles and it is also quite complex – shifting in content, topic and perspective). Everyone  – including the judges – is obviously keen to know what a nun is doing on the show.

There’s also the question of appropriate behaviour and tenor – the jocular proximity required between contestants and judges, tempered by the specific identity of the contestant, and the need to convince her to join someone’s team.

The first issue – for Raffaella to establish – is how exactly one should address Suor Cristina: she asks for explicit permission to use the informal TU form. This is not a small question – research we conducted at the University of Melbourne showed that nuns were typically addressed with the formal LEI form – indicating some reverent distancing. Quite coincidentally we’ll be talking about politeness and address in my advanced Italian class this week – so this is a good REAL LIFE example of how relationships are negotiated in Italian – so we’ll be discussing the clip. Once Suor Cristina says TU is perfectly fine, the others let rip – with colloquialisms (potentially even a little vulgar – at least to English ears), cajoling and jokes. She’s a nun but she’s young – and that’s the clincher for the other 3 (as our research also shows). Raffaella throughout is much more restrained in her interactions – despite her facial expressions…..

There’s a lot more I could say – the clip is great for deconstructing…. e.g. the many references to religion (including talk of a possible phone call from the Pope) in a very knowing Italian context (e.g. the reaction of the audience throughout). And why exactly she’s on the show…. 

If you’re teaching Italian, the clip is definitely something to show students – they might know about it already, but either way, they will be fascinated to see the Voice in Italian….. The shared experience of knowing the format is important: students seem to enjoy viewing their own world transposed into another language (see my earlier posts about Avicii’s Wake me Up and the Cup Song in Irish).

And if you don’t speak Italian, why don’t you just listen and enjoy and see what you can understand and make of what you see? If nothing else, Italian is a beautiful language after all – in sound and gesture. 🙂

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Roger Federer – a real (language) champion in every sense of the word – unless you’re in Australia….

Roger Federer really does have it all – amazing sporting skill and success, loads of prize winnings and sponsorships, good looks, great personality and at least 4 languages. How lucky is he! He’s a great role model – someone we’d like our teenagers to emulate. No? You’d think having 4 languages (more on that later) would be something everyone would appreciate as an incredible advantage and achievement – but sadly that’s not the case for many residents of the Anglobubble. If you don’t believe me, have a little look and listen at this clip of Roger being interviewed post-match at the Australian Tennis Open in 2011. Try and identify what languages he is speaking – and notice how effortlessly he moves from one to the other. But pay particular attention to the Antipodean accent of an unidentified journalist if you can…. (from 47 sec in)


The clip I am showing was put together in China – because they were amazed and admiring of how easily he returned and lobbed linguistically when dealing with the media.  That seems a normal reaction… But not in the Anglobubble. Here’s what the journalist has to ask: “Roger, just a question about all your languages. Do you ever wish or regret you speak so many languages?” It makes Roger sound like he must be suffering from some kind of chronic medical condition…. We can be pretty certain the Anglobubbler asking the question is monolingual. One of the secrets of Roger’s success has been his language skills – he does interviews in English, French, German and Swiss German – with aplomb. People in English-, French- and German-speaking countries love him because he can communicate directly with them and they can communicate directly with him – without translation. That’s what we call cornering your market! It’s good human relations and excellent business. Well done Roger! We need to tell our little Aussie tennis stars to do the same. Now how come Roger speaks 4 languages? Well, he was raised in German-speaking Switzerland – his father’s homeland – where he was raised speaking Swiss German and English at home (yes, his mother is an English-speaking South African!) and standard German at school. He learnt French as a teenager when he went to tennis academy in French-speaking Switzerland. It all seems perfectly natural when you know the back story. Because Roger has an unusual accent when speaking English (he sounds slightly foreign) we assume he learnt it as a second language. This is Anglobubble bias – we make assumptions about who’s really English-speaking or not…. We really need to be more aware. Here is Roger again having fun with languages at the French Open in 2010 – with the ease of a real (language) champion.


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