Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 7 Comments



I came across an interesting word in one of the books I read recently – snickerdoodles. From the context I guessed that they are something you eat, but wasn’t sure what. I now know that a snickerdoodle is a type of cookie made with butter or oil, sugar, and flour rolled in cinnamon sugar that is characterized by a cracked surface. They are possibly German in origin and their name may come from the wonderful German word Schneckennudel (“snail noodles”), a kind of pastry. Alternatively snickerdoodle might be a nonsense word from the New England tradition of giving cookies whimsical names [source].

Do you know of any other whimsical names for cookies or other food?

Language 4 Comments


A interesting word that comes up sometimes in American books I read is noogie [ˈnʊɡi], which is used in the context of one person giving someone else a noogie. The people involved are usually kids, and it sounds like a somewhat unpleasant experience, though until I looked it up, I didn’t know exactly what the word meant. It isn’t used in the UK, as far as I know.

According to Merriam-Webster, a noogie is “the act of rubbing your knuckles on a person’s head to cause annoyance or slight pain”. The origins of the word are unknown, and it first appeared in print in 1972.

Are noogies used outside the USA? Are there other words for this practice in other countries?

English, Language, Words and phrases 5 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 4 Comments

Interview from Novi Sad

Here’s an interview I did at the Polyglot Conference in Novi Sad last month with Lindsay Dow of Lindsay Does Languages. I talk about how Omniglot came into being, and about learning languages, particularly Welsh.

English, Irish, Language, Language learning, Travel, Welsh Leave a comment

Mutual intelligibility

This week I heard an interesting conversation about the mutual intelligibility between Czech and Slovak friends. They were talking in English, but said that when they can talk to each other in their own languages they’re able to understand everything. The Slovak lass said that she finds it strange for Czechs to speak Slovak to her as if they speak Czech she understand them without difficulty, though if people from other countries speak Slovak, that’s fine. I use what little Slovak I know with her, for example. The Czech lass said more or less the same thing about Slovaks – she doesn’t expect them to speak Czech, though if they do, that’s fine by her.

If you are a native speaker of Czech or Slovak, what’s your take on this?

What about other languages that as mutually intelligible as Czech and Slovak?

I understand that Swedes and Norwegians can talk to one another in their own languages, for example. Would it be strange for a Norwegian to speak Swedish or vice versa?

Czech, English, Language, Norwegian, Slovak, Swedish 9 Comments

New Omniglot designs

You might have noticed recently that various different designs are being tested on Omniglot. The idea is to improve user experience on the site, and to increase my revenue from the site. While the latter certainly is true – my income from Google ads has been up 200-300% since the changes were started a few months ago, which means that my overall income has almost doubled – I’m not convinced of the former.

When you visit the site in different browsers and on different devices you’re likely to see different designs. You may even see different designs each time you visit in the same browser/device. I can see the old site in Chrome and Firefox on my laptop, but in IE, and on my Samsung tablet, I see new designs. You can see the old site by clicking on this link.

I have put a poll on the Omniglot Facebook group asking whether you prefer the new designs or the original site. Please let me know what you think, if you haven’t done so already.

If the majority are for the old site I will switch back to it.

Here are some examples of the new designs:

An example of a new homepage design

Inner page
An example of a new inner page design

An example of a new homepage design

Inner page
An example of a new inner page design

Here are the original designs:

Original homepage

Inner page
Original inner page

General Leave a comment

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 8 Comments

Muddling through

to muddle through
– “to succeed in some undertaking in spite of lack of organization” [source]
– “to succeed in doing something despite having no clear plan, method, or suitable equipment” [source]
– “to cope more or less satisfactorily despite lack of expertise, planning, or equipment.”
synonyms: to cope, manage, get by/along, scrape by/along, make do, make the best of a bad job [source]

When learning a language, or other things, are you someone who can set goals, make plans and stick to them?

I do sometimes set myself language learning goals, and often make plans, and even manage to stick to them for a while. However my goals tend to be fuzzy, my plans half-baked, and my sticking-to-it abilities somewhat sporadic. Generally I tend to learn bits and pieces of languages as the fancy takes me, and try a variety of courses and methods, at least until I get bored or find alternatives, and just muddle through as best I can.

When people ask me for advice about learning languages, as they often do, I have plenty of suggestions, but the only one I stick to is to do a lot of listening. So I don’t really practise what I preach. Is my advice less valuable as a result? Perhaps it is.

Do you advise people to try learning techniques you don’t use or rarely use yourself?

Does the concept of muddling through exist in other languages?

English, Language, Language learning, Words and phrases 6 Comments

Reverse psychology and language learning

Yesterday I met Aran Jones, the guy behind the website, and we had a very interesting chat, in Welsh, about language learning. His site started as a Welsh language course, and now also offers courses in Cornish, Dutch, Latin and Spanish. You can learn all these languages through English or Welsh, and you can also learn English and Welsh through Spanish, and he plans to offer more languages in the future. The courses are designed to get you speaking in a relatively short time.

One interesting point we discussed was the way language learning is presented. Many courses claim that you can learn a language quickly and with little or no effort. All you have to do is listen and repeat – don’t worry about learning grammar or vocabulary! Moreover people who encourage others to learn languages tend to emphasize that it is possible, anybody can do it, that you don’t have to have a special language gene/gift/talent, and that it isn’t all that difficult. Just jump in and start speaking! Don’t worry about mistakes!

An alternative approach is to say that language learning is really hard, takes a lot of work, and that relatively few people succeed, and to discourage people from trying it. By presenting it as a real challenge like this you might encourage more people to try. When they find it isn’t as difficult as they expected and that they can succeed, they will have a greater sense of achievement. In other words, a kind of reverse psychology. On the other hand, many people already believe this and are convinced that they can’t learn a language, so it wouldn’t work for everyone.

Another thing we discussed was improving your listening comprehension, especially if you find speech at normal speed difficult to understand. Slowing down your recordings, or asking people to speak more slowly, is a way to deal with this, and can work well. An alternative is to speed up the audio – in some SaySomethingin lessons the audio is at twice the usual speed, for example, and if you listen to it quite a few times you will eventually understand it. Then when you listen to it at normal speed it will be much easier to follow.

Here’s an example of recording in Spanish at normal speed (which sounds fast to me).

Here’s this recording at twice the normal speed.

I do something similar when learning to play classical pieces on the guitar and piano – if I’m struggling with a piece I might try something even more challenging. Then the original piece seems easier when I go back to it. Or I try playing folk tunes as fast as I can, then slow then down to a more normal speed, and they seem much easier.

Cornish, Dutch, English, Language, Language learning, Latin, Spanish, Welsh 4 Comments