Unintended Consequences

So I just finished reading a truly fascinating book titled, Loonshots, by Safi Bahcall, which I highly recommend by the way, and that book coupled with a few recent experiences at school and in my personal life have got me thinking deeply about the law of unintended consequences. You hear people all the time saying things like, “wow, I didn’t see that coming”, or “you know, things never turn out the way you expect”, or “whoops, I didn’t really think about that”, and even after years of leading change initiatives in schools, and having to unpack plenty of decisions that didn’t turn out like I had planned throughout my life, I still get caught dealing with situations that I had no idea were coming my way…but don’t we all!

Bahcall tells a great story about when the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered by Bedouin shepherds in a desert cave near the Dead Sea in modern day Israel. The archaeologists offered to pay money to the shepherds for each new scrap of scroll that they found. Their idea and intention was solid and sound at first glance, but they didn’t anticipate the unintended consequence of the shepherds ripping up any full scrolls that they found into little tiny fragments to make more money…whoops. It’s a wonderful little reminder about the importance of thinking deeply and critically about the decisions that we make in schools or in life. 

The beautiful and somewhat scary thing about life as we know it is that you really have no idea what is about to come your way. This realization, which I embraced years and years ago, has led me to a focused approach to living in the moment, and a carpe diem kind of mindset that grounds me in the here and now. That said, even though I gave up long ago trying to control the world around me, I have gotten much better at planning ahead, and trying to identify consequences that are in my blind spot. In schools, particularly when rolling out a change initiative, it’s absolutely imperative that you take the time to think about and identify any negative, unintended consequence that might derail or delay your desired outcome. You’ll never absolutely be able to predict how something may eventually play out, but by purposeful planning and strategic thinking, you can help mitigate any undesired or unintended result.

Reading this book was an important reminder for me to slow down, to use the people I trust as thought partners when making important decisions, and to purposely plan time in meetings for strategic and systems thinking exercises. I’m sharing this with you because unwanted surprises are never fun, and I just want to remind you all to pause, take some time to think about the “what ifs”, and to get differing perspectives when making a decision that will ultimately impact other people. Yes live your life in the present, and absolutely seize the day, but also know that it never hurts to plan ahead. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…The greatest thing that science teachers you is the law of unintended consequences- Ann Druyan

Loonshots – Safi Bahcall

Inspiring Videos – 

Heart Transplant

Find Your Voice Choir

What Happened to Kid President?

TED Talk – Unintended Consequences

Related Articles – 

The Cobra Effect

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Organizational Change

Lessons and Takeaways from Loonshots

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Connecting with Students as a Technology Leader

Connecting with Students as a Technology Leader

By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

Often in leadership, it is difficult to keep those important connections that once motivated us to work in education. Meetings, software, cloud platforms, and numerous other tasks can easily overwhelm a schedule and make it difficult to connect with students in a meaningful way.

Here are some ideas and strategies I use to keep student connections strong.

Walk and Engage

Every day I plan a route to walk through the campus. While I walk, I make it a point to engage with students. I like to approach them, and often surprise them, and ask them what they are doing, what they are working on, what is “ridiculous” in math class, etc.

If they are playing games I put away the adult hat and ask them about the game. I want to know if it is challenging, does it teach anything, is it just a distraction, do they think they are addicted to playing, and so on.

Occasionally there is a comment or revelation that allows me to interject an idea or opportunity into their field of view. This casual approach helps me spot trends in the student community, get new ideas, and find students who might be looking for some additional non-academic opportunities.

Join a Club

To be honest, I normally start clubs, but it is a better strategy to join a club. As an administrator, weekly club meetings can be tough to facilitate. As a member and mentor, club meetings are manageable.

Joining a club as a novice who knows nothing is great. Students get to instruct the adult and take a few cheap shots when you make a mistake. All in good fun, but it really helps build the relationship when the equal footing is found.

Build a Student Support Team for Everything

It does not matter if you are an administrator in IT, college counseling, the library, etc. You can build a student support team. Identify students who have free periods, free time, and an interest in what your department is doing. Train these students to work with you and your team, and give them some space to make suggests. Eventually, they will be managing projects.

I have started supported teams from US Grade Level 5 and seen growth and success. Children can do amazing things, even if they refuse to do their homework.

Maintaining a solid foundation in any profession is important. Many in education chose that path because of the benefits of working with children. If you lose that foundation, you will lose your joy, and when that happens cafeteria food will taste much worse than it is.

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A Sense of Wonder

In 1974, a young boy named Harold Whittles is about to experience his world in a new and astounding way. For the first five years of his life preceding this moment, Harold has not heard the sounds around him as he has been deaf since birth. This is about to change as technological advances have led to Harold’s meeting with a doctor to be fitted with a hearing aid.

The remarkable picture below captured the moment when Harold heard for the first time and was transported from a world of silence to one filled with seemingly countless different sounds emanating around him. Harold’s eyes are wide with astonishment and wonder.

It is this sense of wonder, conveyed in an emotional and extraordinary manner through Jack Bradley’s photo, that serves as a reminder of our role to nurture the natural curiosity in our students and their exploration to understand the world around them. Our students also remind us each day that we adults should never lose a child’s sense of awe and wonder.

As we prepare for our annual community Thanksgiving celebration, I was drawn back to Harold’s story and the importance of both gratitude and wonder. In the spirit of giving thanks, I would like to convey my deep levels of gratitude to be a member of a community dedicated to ensuring a learning environment that regularly leaves students and adults in a state of wonderment.

P.S. Thank you to our talented science teacher, Stephen Boyd, for introducing me to Harold’s story.

Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash: Sunrise breaking into the forest.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

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The Absolute Best Accessory for Your Apple Laptop

By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

I am not one to recommend products. However, lately I have come to realize that since Apple removed all the useful ports on their laptops, I am reliant on a single $2.00 piece of hardware: a USB C-Port Adapter. This little piece of plastic magic makes my workflow work.

This tool is a simple design at a modest price point, yet, it is often the solution that moves a project from idea to reality. I connect dozens of devices using this technology bridge in order to deliver curriculum, podcasts, 3D printed objects, etc.

The most remarkable quality this small island of magic possesses is that is constantly reminds me that we do not need solve problems via upgrades. We should be solving problems with technology and educational technology by tightening our workflows and being resourceful.

There seems to be a constant insistence that X is not fast enough, or Y is not dependable. I constantly hear people state that the equipment they have in 2019 cannot solve a 2001 problem. The issue is rarely the stuff, the issue is usually the workflow.

Try Something New with Something Old

Here is an exercise I would recommend everyone try on their campus. This can be done for fun, as club, or as some type of fun challenge.

Have departments, staff, students, and other community members submit some issues or problems that continue to linger in the classrooms (learning spaces). Appoint a small team to review the problems, and choose one.

Finally, put this problem out to those willing to compete for a solution with the following criteria:

  1. The total budget that can be used to solve the problem must be less than $10.00 (or equivalent)
  2. Solving the problem using used equipment, materials, recyclables, etc. earns teams extra points
  3. Using school owned equipment to plan and produce a solution is required; donations are not allowed

Professionally, I actually try to follow this process all the time. The items above are on a personal check-list. My goal is to model a solution using existing resources.

What if It Works?

Often real solutions arise that are functional, but below standard. That is not a bad thing. The school has empowered a community driven development cycle, and created a working prototype under the umbrella of healthy competition. There are no losers in this game, everyone learns, and everyone wins.

In fact, if a school can continue to improve the process, and raise the standard internally, the outcome would be a community built and maintained solution. Older students can keep the momentum going as long as school mentors and leaders provide regular oversight.

Small Solutions have Real Power

This small solution below, is actually very important to my workflow.

No one needs to build a Tesla to change the world for the better. It is important to develop a philosophy of empowering students and teachers to create small things that improve daily workflows, increase efficiency, and add comfort and entertainment to the campus.

Start small. Ask questions. Find a problem. Make a prototype. Change the world.

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Civic Responsibilities

One of the many things I appreciate and admire about Switzerland is the collective commitment to civic responsibility. The pragmatic Swiss approach to the establishment of community norms in combination with both an individual and societal belief in supporting and adhering to these agreements have resulted in a country that runs incredibly well.

ISZL‘s commitment to these ideals was evident during last week’s road safety training. Our Kindergarten students had the opportunity to learn from a local police officer about traffic rules and, more precisely, how to navigate pedestrian crossings. The fact that young children in Switzerland take public transportation and make their way to school unaccompanied by an adult does not happen by accident. The effectiveness with which the local police partner with schools to educate young children about their civic responsibilities is clearly by design.

The police officer who met with our students demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism and impressive pedagogical skills. The traffic safety lesson, conducted in partnership with ISZL’s teachers, involved differentiated and personalised instruction, focused on building relationships, and provided students with an opportunity to develop their German language skill

The resulting demonstration of learning involved each student individually stopping traffic with a hand wave, looking both ways to ensure their safety, and then crossing the street at the designated crosswalk. Of course, the students were also encouraged to give a wave of thanks as they passed in front of the cars. For those students who were initially reluctant to cross the road, the police officer and teachers gently helped them to develop the understanding, skills, and confidence needed. It was exemplary teaching at every level!

ISZL’s vision is to help every student turn learning into action, creating opportunities for students to stretch themselves further and achieve more than they believe possible. The realisation of this vision will look different at every level of the school. At the Kindergarten level, our students were able to turn their learning into something they may not have thought possible – to cross a busy street alone.

Thank you to ISZL’s teachers and the Zuger Polizei for their important work to ensure our students continue to learn about their civic responsibilities and turn their learning into responsible action.

Featured Image by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

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What’s Your WHY?

So for the past several years I’ve been working as an adjunct professor for Endicott College, teaching Master’s Degree classes on change management and innovation in education. It’s something that I truly enjoy for a number of reasons, but mostly because it provides me the opportunity to learn with educators from all around the world. With every new class and cohort I get re-inspired, I re-connect with why I love teaching so much, and I continuously get challenged to think about the “why” behind what we do as educators. This past week, I asked my current group of passionate professionals to answer that very question in a discussion post, “What is your own personal WHY as an educator? How do you live that truth both inside and outside of the school?”, and the answers that were shared absolutely made my heart want to burst!

It was beautiful to hear them all talking about wanting to inspire young people to be positive change agents for our world. It didn’t matter what subject or grade level or position within the school community they were in, every student in the cohort, from countries spanning across 4 continents, feverishly talked about wanting to develop beautiful human beings…not engineers, or mathematicians, or scientists, or entrepreneurs, or doctors or artists, but beautiful human beings!

They talked about the responsibility and opportunity that they had to teach compassion, and empathy, and resilience, and diversity, and social justice, and environmental stewardship, and intercultural understanding and love…it was heartwarming to say the least because I share in that belief that regardless of what careers our young people end up choosing, it’s who they are as people that will make all the difference! It feels good to know that teacher leaders from around the world are living and breathing this same purpose, and connecting to the same WHY when they wake up every morning. I felt honored to be able to reply back to each discussion post and to share that my WHY connects so strongly with theirs. 

Honestly, it was a fun question to ask, and an important one to think about from time to time I believe. We often get so busy in our day to day lives that we can go weeks and weeks without stopping and re-connecting with our meaning and purpose as educators. This week I’m going to ask that you all take a few minutes to answer that same question for yourselves, and maybe even talk about it with a friend or a colleague…maybe even start one of your weekly meetings sharing your WHY out with each other. It’s a powerful and empowering experience to share your WHY with others, and to see how beautifully we are all connected to one another in our pursuit of creating a better world for our kids. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

When you learn, teach. When you get, give. -Maya Angelou

Inspiring Videos – 

Football Surprise

The Surprising Science of Happiness


Lego Wheelchair

Related Articles – 

Teachers Make a Difference

Simon Sinek – The Origin of the WHY

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Performance: A poor proxy for future success



I have just finished reading Professor Damian Hughes’ The Barcelona Way. I believe that many parallels can be drawn between sport and education. This certainly rang true as I read this entertaining and insightful analysis of the winning culture of one of the world’s most successful football teams.

FC Barcelona takes great pride in fostering a power-base among home-grown players and that means identifying and investing in talent from a very early age. In a culture where many, many young boys grow up dreaming of playing for FC Barcelona, how does the club know who will be the ones that will win games for the club 10 or 15 years down the track?

Logic would surely suggest that current performance is the most reliable indicator of future performance. But this logic is flawed and Hughes provides us with an excellent illustration of this:

Take the National Football League (NFL), for instance, which represents the zenith of talent-identification science. At the pre-draft NFL ‘combine,’ teams exhaustively test players in every physical and mental capacity known to science: strength, agility, explosiveness, intelligence. They look at miles of game film. They analyse every piece of evidence available data. And each year, they manage to get it absolutely wrong. In fact, out of the forty top-rated combine performers over the past four years, only half are still in the league, never mind the star performers.

A lot of smart people have been thinking about why this happens, and they’ve decided the problem is not that the measures are wrong – the problem is that measuring performance is the wrong way to approach talent identification.

According to much of this new work, what matters is not current performance, but rather growth potential – the complex, multi-faceted qualities that help someone learn and keep on learning, to work past inevitable plateaus, to adapt and be resourceful and keep improving.

This can’t be measured with a stopwatch or a tape measure. It’s more subtle and complex. Which means that instead of looking at performance, you look for signs, subtle indicators. In other words, you have to close your eyes, ignore the dazzle of current performance and instead try to detect the presence of a few key characteristics.

FC Barcelona is ‘more than a club’ in the way that it represents Catalonia and strives to play a certain style of football. But its success is still measured in games and trophies won and depends on developing players that can deliver those wins and trophies.

The International School of Yangon (ISY) is a community of compassionate global citizens. ISY’s Vision is to develop lifelong learners who will be a force for positive change in the world. Instead of developing players to win football games, ISY is striving to develop students who can change the world for the better and the success of the school will be measured in these terms.

Before identifying the key characteristics that must be present in a student for them to go on to make a positive difference to the world, we must be clear that these characteristics are not replacements for academic performance. While not all change agents are academics or even professionals in the traditional sense, academic performance is the most effective way to position oneself to make a positive difference. After all, those young football players in the NFL combine got their opportunity through their performances. Hughes’ point was that those performances could not be taken as indicators of future success in the absence of some key characteristics or attributes.

ISY’s compassionate Mission and Vision were confirmed just over a year ago and we are currently reviewing our Schoolwide Learner Outcomes (SLOs) to ensure that what we expect of our students (and faculty) align with the Mission and Vision. SLOs is the term used by The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), our accrediting authority.

After a collaborative process to identify the current and future needs of our students in light of our Mission and Vision, we reviewed the research and frameworks of educational authorities such as WASC, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, Center for Curriculum Redesign, and The International Baccalaureate. Seven ISY Attributes have been preliminarily identified as being essential for the success of our students, in addition to academic performance:

  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • Reflection

Hughes himself identified ‘early ownership’ as a key to the success of FC Barcelona’s best players:

As psychologist Marjie Elferink-Gemser’s work shows, one trend among successful athletes begins when they’re thirteen or so, and develop a sense of ownership of their training. For the ones that succeed, this age is when they decide that it’s not enough to simply be an obedient cog in the development machine – they begin to go further, reaching beyond the programme, deciding for themselves what their workouts will be augmenting and customizing and addressing their weaknesses on their own.

Hughes is essentially describing student agency – the capacity and propensity of students to take purposeful initiative.

The development of student agency and the ability to apply knowledge and skills to unfamiliar or unknown contexts (crucial for FC Barcelona players) have been identified as pressing current and future needs of our students at ISY.

We believe that the explicit integration of the seven ISY Attributes into our curriculum, pedagogy, and extra-curricular program will develop the agency and application needs of our students. It is then our hope that our students will meet the needs of the world in which they will live and make a decent and happy life for themselves in doing so. Some of them might even get a trophy.

Hughes, Damian. The Barcelona Way: Unlocking the DNA of a Winning Culture. Macmillan, 2018.

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“That Would Never Work Here”: Overcoming Context Paralysis on Behalf of Gender & Sexual Minorities Worldwide



The title of this blog is the same as the that of a book chapter I wrote, published last month in the Annual Review of Comparative & International Education 2018. In it, I coin the term context paralysis, a reluctance to engage with issues when the cultural context may make doing so difficult. I challenge educational researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to consider how they can leverage their understanding of local context to safely and respectfully improve rights and protections for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) students where they live. I invite you to read a lightly edited excerpt from my chapter:

The dominant perspective, worldwide, is that heterosexual, cisgender people fulfil the natural, normal, and correct version of gender and sexuality. In my studies on the topic, I have encountered no culture that treats GSM (gender and sexual minority) people equally to their heterosexual, cisgender peers. Those who claim equality usually point to the “elevation” of GSM people through “positive” stereotypes, fetishization, or hypersexualization. Proclaiming gay men to be inherently fashionable is a “positive” stereotype, for example. these instances still highlight an atypical, non-normative status, which is not the same as equal. To exist outside of the heterosexual, cisgender norm is to be “othered.”

School policy, practice, and climate can dramatically impact the educational experience of GSM students. GSM children who attend schools that are inclusive, supportive, and protective of GSM people are more likely to see positive results in terms of their attendance[1][2], grade point average[3], and emotional wellbeing[4]. While not all studies explicitly factor in the cultural context where the school is located when analyzing results, some that do show that protective school climates, regardless of locale, are significant influencers of GSM student wellbeing[5][6]. That is to say that it appears to be the actual school policies and practices, not the local social norms influencing them, that makes the impact on students. I cringe at the cliché, but schools do make a difference.

Furthermore, schools are in a unique position, with access to large numbers (usually majority proportions) of children during their developmental years. Schools, therefore, are exceptionally poised to shape the perspectives and futures of entire generations of young people. This power can be used to reinforce a dominant and discriminatory perspective but may also be leveraged to support more egalitarian practices. To unequivocally state to a class of students that gender and sexual minorities are valid and worthy people, deserving of equality, is not only an extension of support to the GSM child listening in the room, but may also change the social context that this child grows up in by influencing the biases of their peers.

To address systemic discrimination and marginalization, it helps to look at the actual systems involved. I would wager that no other government system, world-wide, has quite the same impact factor on the biases and perspectives of future generations as the educational system. For this reason, schools are a fitting point of intervention to address this prominent inequality of systemic discrimination against GSM people.

Excerpt taken from:

Meadows, E. S. (2019). “That would never work here”: Overcoming ‘context paralysis’ on behalf of gender & sexual minority students worldwide In Wiseman, A. W. (Ed.) Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2018 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 37), 287-305. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.

How have you overcome context paralysis to support LGBTQ+ students where you work?  

[1] Jones, T., & Hillier, L. (2013). Comparing trans-spectrum and same-sex-attracted youth in Australia: Increased risks, increased activisms. Journal of LGBT Youth, 10(4), 287–307.

[2] Ferreyra, M. E. (2010). Gender identity and extreme poverty. In Dubel, I. & Hielkema, A. (Eds.), Urgency required: Gay and lesbian rights are human rights (pp. 207–212). The Hague, The Netherlands: Hivos.

[3] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[4] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[5] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School climates and reduced risk for suicide ideation in sexual minority youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279–286.

[6] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting risks: High school gay-straight alliances and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. School Psychology Quarterly, 26(2), 161–174.

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Transformative Competencies

The Future of Education and Skills 2030, published by the OECD, identifies three “transformative competencies” that students need to contribute to and thrive in our world. The first competency is about creating new value and our commitment to innovate and “think outside the box” to shape better lives. This focus integrates a sense of purpose with critical thinking and creativity. The second competency considers our ability to be comfortable with complexity and ambiguity in an interdependent world, while also developing a high degree of empathy and respect. The third competency refers to the commitment to take responsibility for our actions as our students are guided by a strong moral compass that considers personal, ethical, and societal goals.

There is certainly alignment when considering ISZL’s vision in the context of the OECD’s aspirational goals. Our vision at ISZL is to help every student turn their learning into action – an approach that is designed to support every student in realising how much they’re capable of and to go on to make the most of who they are. In support of both ISZL and the OECD’s vision for learning are our school’s Personal Development Week (PDW) experiences that offer students exceptional learning environments and meaningful and relevant growth opportunities.

During last week’s PDW experiences, more than 1,000 of our students were engaged in experiential learning opportunities ranging from locations in Zug and Switzerland to Europe, and around the world, including destinations such as Iceland, Ghana, and the Himalayas, among others Throughout the week, our students were actively developing the OECD’s three transformative competencies in meaningful and active ways. The long-term impact of the PDW trips was highlighted at a recent ISZL alumni barbecue when several former students shared how the PDW experience was transformative to their learning experience and a highlight of their time at ISZL.

One of ISZL’s longstanding PDW trips is related to our school’s involvement with the NAG program in Nepal, which is a charity in Kathmandu that provides critical and essential support for young children. To advance this important work, ISZL will be holding its annual NAG Charity Run later this month to raise awareness and financial support. All community members are encouraged to join this special event.

A heartfelt thank you to all of the teachers and staff members who coordinate and lead these unique learning experiences, in addition to travelling and supporting our students during the trips. Without the dedication and commitment of teachers and staff, these trips would not be possible.

Photo Credit: Diego Jimenez on Unsplash

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

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Never Odd or Even

“Never odd or even.” Why not start a blog post celebrating the beauty and oddities of language with an intriguingly perplexing phrase that is also a palindrome – a word or a sentence that reads the same backwards? First, my apologies in advance to anyone who suffers from a fear of palindromes, or what the Germans refer to as “Eibohphobie”, which is, in a deeply ironic twist, a palindrome itself! Okay, now on to what is already looking to be a higgledy-piggledy blog post originally designed to commemorate the September 26th European Day of Languages.

A day to celebrate language represents a fabulous or, borrowing from Mary Poppins, a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious opportunity. There are currently between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken among approximately 7 billion people. There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe, representing about only 3% of the world’s total. Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa and at least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual.

The evolution of so many languages over the centuries has resulted in words that are especially descriptive and specific. For example, the Slovak word, prezvoniť, means to call someone’s mobile from your own without the other person picking up with the intention of leaving your number in their phone’s memory. The Albanian word, vetullhen, refers to an eyebrow arched like the crescent moon. The Dutch word, broodje-aap, refers to an awful, often invented story that is told as being true, thus becoming a myth. The Irish use the verb plubairnigh to describe the distinctive thick, bubbling sound that porridge makes when boiling. The Germans use the word, Zechpreller to describe the person who leaves without paying the bill. And, perhaps my favourite, the Finnish use the word poronkusema to describe the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break (about 5 kilometres if you were wondering).

With the risk you may think this is all poppycock or, worse still, tarradiddle, let’s take a look at some tongue twisters that challenge our language skills.

English speakers may recall reciting this children’s song: She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure. So, if she sells seashells on the seashore, then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

How about this French tongue twister? Combien de sous sont ces saucissons-ci? Ces saucissons-ci sont six sous (How much are these sausages here? These sausages here are six cents).

Or, try this German tongue twister: Zwei schwarze schleimige Schlangen sitzen zwischen zwei spitzen Steinen und zischen (Two black slimy snakes sit between two pointed stones and hiss).

A Polish variation: Król Karol kupił Królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego (King Karl bought Queen Caroline coral-coloured bead).

And, finally, a Swedish tongue twister: Far, Får får får? Nej, inte får får får, får får lamm (Father, do sheep have sheep? No, sheep don’t have sheep, sheep have lambs).

Idioms also represent a deeply interesting aspect of language, usually highlighting cultural, historical, and traditional themes. By way of an example of how an idiom can span languages, all of the following idiomatic expressions are similar to “The apple does not fall far from the tree”:

  • Æblet falder ikke langt fra stammen. (Danish)
  • Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm. (German)
  • Nem esik messze az alma a fájától. (Hungarian)
  • Obuolys nuo obels netoli rieda. (Lithuanian)
  • Niedaleko pada jabłko od jabłoni. (Polish)
  • Jabolko ne pade daleč od drevesa. (Slovenian)
  • Äpplet faller inte långt från trädet. (Swedish)

Did you know that there is a word in the English language that describes the fear some people suffer from when they come across long words? The word for this phobia is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. While it is in no way my intention to diminish the suffering anyone with this phobia experiences, it is hard to ignore the irony here given the length of this word! So, if you are a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic, please skip this next section as it will highlight some of the longest words found in languages.

  • Hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism (English word for the love of long words; 33 letters)
  • ακτινοχρυσοφαιδροβροντολαμπροφεγγοφωτοστόλιστος (Greek word meaning to be dressed in golden-shining, thundering and incandescent clothes; 47 letters)
  • Kindercarnavalsoptochtvoorbereidingswerkzaamheden (Dutch word related to the preparation activities for a children’s carnival procession; 48 letters)
  • Speciallægepraksisplanlægningsstabiliseringsperiode (Danish word for the period when a specialist doctor’s planning of the practice is stabilized; 52 letters)
  • Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas (Finnish word for a technical warrant officer trainee specialized in aircraft jet engines; 61 letters)
  • Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung (German word for a regulation about competences; 67 letters)

Of a particularly impressive note, the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes coined the following 183 lettered word meaning a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, fowl and sauces:


While these are fascinating and interesting language facts to consider, I should move beyond what some would consider my lollygagging and return to the motivation for this post – the celebration of language. While I am currently living in Europe and the European Day of Languages is certainly of great importance to the region, I would also like to extend the celebration to all languages and areas of the world when highlighting how important language is to our cultural heritage, to our understanding of ourselves and others, and to our ability to see and understand the world in different and new ways.

The International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) is fortunate to have Lorna Caputo as a member of its team serving as a language specialist and overseeing, among her other duties, 16 after-school language programs. In her blog, Exploring Multilingualism, Lorna highlights the importance of all languages:

It is the harmonious coexistence of languages that enables people to develop intercultural understanding, appreciate cultural diversity and work together better. Multilingualism is what unites many different regions within countries and is at the core of many national identities. Even in multicultural cities, you can observe local dialects and languages coexisting with other international languages. It is helpful to understand how schools can often be located within this linguistic intersectionality, and how schools prepare their students to navigate their familial, local, national and global linguistic landscapes.

Lorna will also be quick to discuss the research supporting the advantages associated with children learning multiple languages at a young age, which features an important aspect of her work with ISZL’s learning program.

In a note to community members this week, Lorna asked us to build on our recent inclusion work (see Inclusion & Community) and translate the phrase, “We are all ISZL” into their native language. Here are some of the wonderful responses:

  • We are all ISZL (English)
  • Мы все ISZL (Russian)
  • Me ollaan kaikki ISZL (Finnish)
  • Vi är alla ISZL ( Swedish )
  • ISZL 我們是一家人 (Mandarin)
  • Siamo tutti ISZL (Italian)
  • Hepimiz ISZL’iz (Turkish)
  • Wir sind alle ISZL (German)
  • Nous sommes tous ISZL (French)
  • Todos somos ISZL (Spanish)
  • Tots som ISZL (Catalan)
  • Somos todos ISZL (Portuguese)
  • Wij zijn allemaal ISZL (Dutch)
  • Mi mind ISZL vagyunk (Hungarian)
  • Είμαστε όλοι ISZL (Greek)
  • Mi smo svi ISZL (Serbian)
  • Vi er alle ISZL (Danish)

In closing, I hope you didn’t find this post to be too higgledy-piggledy, but rather a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience! While my hope has been to highlight some of the interesting and unusual aspects of language, there is always the shadow of kakorrhaphiophobia, or the fear of failure, associated with this quixotic endeavour. There is a lurking feeling that perhaps I should have been more pauciloquent and that this text had been less argle-bargle in style, avoided goggledygook, and did not generate any bobsy-die. The last thing I want to do is to leave you bumfuzzled, frustrate you with the confusing “never odd or even” palindrome, or to diminish your status as a deipnosophist. Finally, I hope you don’t see me as a blatherskite, a hoddy-noddy, or a floccinaucinihilipilificator at heart!

Okay, this is probably enough tomfoolery, twaddle, and balderdash for today!

In the celebration and appreciation of all languages!


Some Definitions:

  1. Argle-bargle: copious but meaningless talk or writing
  2. Balderdash: senseless talk or writing
  3. Blatherskite: a person who talks at great length without making much sense
  4. Bobsy-die: a great deal of fuss or trouble
  5. Bumfuzzled: to be confused
  6. Deipnosophist: a person skilled in table talk
  7. Floccinaucinihilipilificator: the action or habit of estimating something as worthless
  8. Goggledygook: language that is meaningless
  9. Higgledy-piggledy: in confusion or disorder
  10. Hoddy-noddy: a foolish person
  11. Kakorrhaphiophobia: an irrational fear of failure
  12. Lollygagging: to spend time aimlessly
  13. Pauciloquent: using few words in speech or conversation
  14. Poppycock: nonsense
  15. Quixotic: extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical
  16. Tarradiddle: pretentious nonsense
  17. Tomfoolery: foolish or silly behaviour


Reference: The majority of the sources for this article are from the following website: https://edl.ecml.at/(Take their language challenge: QUIZ)

Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne

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