At the moment I’m focusing on improving my Russian and Czech, and am trying to keep my other languages ticking over. I’ve starting using Anki to store and learn words and phrases, and am finding it very useful. For words that can be visually represented, I use pictures rather than translations on the flash cards – an idea from Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever. For other words and phrases I use English translations. I’ve briefly dabbled with SRS programs like Anki before, but never really gave them much time. Now I’m starting to see how useful and effective they can be, especially if you make your own lists, rather than relying on those made by others.

Another way I’m using to help me remember words is to learn the equivalent signs from the appropriate sign language, which I find in the Spread The Sign multilingual sign language dictionary. So I’m learning Czech words and Czech Sign Language signs, and so on. This gives me gestures I can link to the spoken and written words, and I hope it will help me to remember them.

Do you use Anki or other SRS / flash card programs? Do you find them useful?

Czech, English, Language, Language learning, Russian 2 Comments


I came across the Czech word zženštilý yesterday among translations of soft and the pile up of consonants got me wondering whether it was a real word or a typo. I discovered that it is a real word and means: soft, epicene, girly-girly, namby-pamby, nance, effeminate, effeminize, emasculate, pansy, soft, softish, unmanly, womanish, womanlike, sissified [source].

Related words include:

– zženštilec = effeminize
– zženštilost = effeminacy, unmanliness, womanishness
– zženštit = to womanize

These words often have negative connotations in English. Do they have similar connotations in Czech and other languages? Are there any languages in which such words have positive connotations?

Other Czech words for soft include:

– poddajný = soft, flexible, pliant, docile
– pozvolný = soft, gentle, gradual, insidious
– jemný = soft, bland, delicate, elegant, pigeon-hearted, sheer, silken, tender, fine, gentle, mild, milky
– měkký = soft, compliant, crumbly, downy, pulpy, smooth, tender, flabby, flaccid, meek, mild
– slabý = soft, weak, bloodless, complaisant, effete, washy, weak, weakly, shallow, small
– mírný = soft, tranquil, balmy, clement, pacific, peaceable, peaceful, reasonable, restful, gentle, lenient, meek, mild
– vlácný = soft, plastic, pliant, supple
– něžný = soft, subtle, pigeon-hearted, silky, sweet, tender, affectionate, caressing, delicate, fond, gentle, milky
– nezpevněný = soft, unconsolidated, unpaved, washy
– hebký = soft, smooth, downy, velvety, fleecy

What I was looking for was soft as in not hard (of material), so I think the first one, poddajný, is probably the one I want, or maybe měkký.

Czech, English, Language, Words and phrases 6 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


When searching for a translation of a Czech song we’re learning in the Bangor Community Choir I came across the word vituperated. It’s not one I’d heard or seen before, see I had to look it up. It means “to abuse or censure severely or abusively, to berate; to use harsh condemnatory language”. It comes from the Latin vituperatus, the past participle of vituperare, from vitium (fault) and parare (to make, prepare) [source].

The song in questions is called Okolo Hradišťa – here are the lyrics and a translation:

Okolo Hradišťa voděnka teče
Ide k nám šohajek, cosi ně nese
Nese ně lásku svázanú v šátku
Milovala sem ťa, zlatý obrázku.

Milovala sem ťa bylo to špásem
Nevěděl šohajek, že falešná sem
Falešná byla švarná dívčina
Nevěděl šohajek, jaká příčina

Ta moja príčina taková byla,
že mě mamulka velice lála.
Nelaj ně, mamko, ide k nám Janko,
mosím mu nachystat za širák pérko.

Source: http://www.karaoke-lyrics.net/lyrics/hradistan/okolo-hradista-185143

There is a stream of water flowing past Hradisca (a name of a village);
A boy is coming to us and he is bringing something for me;
He brings me his love, tied up in a scarf;
I loved you, my golden picture.

I loved you but it was just for fun,
the boy did not know that I am was not true to him.
The girl was false
and the boy did not know what was the reason for it.

My reason was
that my mum kept telling me off (vituperated me a lot).
Don’t tell me off (vituperate me), mother, Janko (boy’s name) is coming
I have to prepare a feather for him to put on his hat.

Sources: Proz.com and AllTheLyrics.com.

Here’s an arrangement of the song like the one we’re doing in choir (others are available):

I can’t find any information about Hradišťa/Hradisca. Does anybody know where it is?

Czech, English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Songs, Words and phrases 4 Comments

New Omniglot design

Recently I have been working on a new design for Omniglot which should be better on all devices, including phones. I’ve built a drop-down menu using CSS Menu Maker and have tweaked the colours and a few other things. You can see the pages I’m working on in the telling the time section. I also plan to redesign/refresh the homepage, and welcome your suggestions for that.

Here are some screen shots (what I see in my browsers might not be exactly what you see):

Screen shot of the new design of the time index page

Screen shot of the new design of the time index page

What do you think of the new design?

Does it work on smaller screens?

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 2 Comments

What does it take to master a language?

Today we have a guest post from Alex Sorin of Foreigncy featuring an interview with their Persian linguist, Matt Cheek.

Those who have succeeded in turning their passion for languages into a career making a difference in the world know that mastering a language takes years of persistence and dedication. Turning your passion into your trade requires more than just language study, it includes significant time spent abroad absorbing a country’s culture, and always seeking new tools to harness your skills. The below interview was conducted with Foreigncy‘s Persian linguist, who shares his thoughts on what it took to master the Persian language and how his journey studying Persian led to a deeper appreciation of a foreign culture.

First, what is your favorite Persian expression?

دستت درد نکنه – “Dastet dard nakoneh” It’s an idiomatic expression meaning roughly “thank you” or “don’t trouble yourself” in Persian, but the literal translation is “May your hand not have pain.” I also really like the Persian saying, گل پشت و رو نداره “Gol posht o ro nadareh” which is used specifically when you are sitting directly behind someone and they turn around to apologize for your having to sit directly behind them and see the back of their head. This phrase is a response to that apology and literally translates to “A flower doesn’t have a front or back.” I like idioms because they really reveal a lot about how people from that culture think.

When did you become interested in studying Persian and what were the most challenging aspects about learning the language?

I’ve always been interested in languages in general. In high school, Spanish and French were the only classes I consistently did well in, but I was basically ordered to be interested in Persian when I showed up to the Defense Language Institute and assigned to learn the language based on aptitude tests and the needs of the Marine Corps. Being assigned to Persian turned out to be an amazing thing as I fell in love with the language and the culture of Iran almost instantly. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I had been assigned any other language. The most challenging aspect of the language for me to grasp was the direct object marker را “ra” and when to use it.

How would you compare the military’s language learning methods to that of universities? What’s better or worse?

Honestly, the military’s language training was so vastly superior it’s not even a fair comparison. At DLI you are assigned to a class of around 20-30 students from all military branches. All of the students have no knowledge of the language at all when the program begins. The class is further broken down into sections and each section may have 4 students each with each section having a designated “main” professor. The professors at DLI are all native speakers for the target language and they rotate hours teaching your section, so you may be exposed to an Iranian PhD with a Tehrani accent in the first hour of the day, an Iranian PhD with a Shirazi accent in the second hour, and so on. Each day you study with these native instructors for a minimum of 7 hours and then you have mandatory study halls and homework. So, it’s a very intensive program and my Persian program lasted for 52 weeks. By the end of the program we were dreaming in Persian and able to carry on full conversations about abstract ideas and we reached levels of fluency that were pretty astounding.

In college, I was in the highest level of Persian classes offered by UNC and I was one of three students in the class and the only non-native speaker among the group. My professor was a PhD holding Iranian, but she was the lone professor, which meant exposure to only one accent. The military simply has the advantages of being capable of taking 100% of students’ time and good performance on the foreign language proficiency tests comes with a monthly pay increase. While in college I had Persian classes three days a week for fifty minutes at a time with homework and readings to complete before each class session. If you want to become proficient in a language and your plan is to do so through college classes, you will need to supplement whatever classes you take with a lot of additional resources, whether that is daily language drills like we do at Foreigncy, time spent speaking with native speakers, listening to podcasts and YouTube videos, or reading news articles. I have plenty of friends that became highly proficient in Persian through college though, so it’s definitely possible to become proficient in a language by way of college classes.

Tell me a bit about your time in Tajikistan. How crucial is it for a Persian language student to live in a country where the language is spoken? What role did being immersed in the culture play in shaping your mastery of the language and appreciation for it?

I had a great time studying in Tajikistan. It was an eye-opening experience because I thought I was going to be able to communicate effectively going into the experience, but what I found out is that Tajik involves far more Russian loan-words than I had expected. It’s crucial for a student of any language to immerse themselves in the language and culture in order to really learn to speak the language on a high level, but immersion doesn’t exactly necessitate living in that country. For instance, a Persian speaker can speak far more Iranian Persian in parts of Los Angeles than they can in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. I was really in a unique position there as I was immersed in Tajik language and culture, but my goal was to study Iranian Persian. The role that my immersion experience played in my language skills was a large one as I improved my speaking and listening a great deal, I learned a lot more about everyday idioms and speech patterns, and I was able to have some great experiences observing how Sunni Islam is lived on a daily basis.

When you were starting out as a Persian student, what were some study strategies that worked best for you?

I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to and communicating with native speakers. You can pick up some bad habits if you only speak with second-language speakers of a language and you will develop an awkward accent. For me personally, I spent as much time with my professors outside of the classroom as they would allow me to. I did everything short of following them home at night because I saw the need for speaking and listening and having immediate feedback if I mispronounced or misunderstood something. Another thing I did then and do still to this day is I try to translate everything into Persian in my head, even my thoughts. A good practice to get into is to, when speaking English, stop yourself and think, “how would I say that in X language?” If you can’t express the thought in your target language, then go learn how to. I also studied flashcards religiously, but it’s important to not just look at the target language and think of the English translation, the reverse is harder and helps ingrain the target word into your brain so you can begin to think in the target language. It’s also important to approach a language with no fear, don’t be afraid of messing up or sounding like an idiot.

If I was a Persian student, how do you recommend navigating a Foreigncy Persian set to utilize it to the fullest?

You should review the flash cards thoroughly, go through them with the Persian side showing first and listen to the pronunciation of the words you don’t know how to pronounce. Then, go through the flashcards again with the English side showing first. If you can’t think of all of the Persian equivalents of the English words, review the cards again. Then complete the drag and drop quiz a few times until you feel comfortable enough to read the article. Read the article and copy/paste words you don’t know to save later so you can define them and make flashcards out of them. If you did this everyday, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to pick up a Persian language newspaper and read and comprehend it.

What separates someone who becomes a language expert from those that don’t quite make it to that level, because we all start at the same place. Is it raw talent and inherent language ability, or does determination and persistence win out in the end?

There is undoubtedly some aspect of innate ability involved in second language learning, this has been scientifically proven. But, determination plays a much larger role in my eyes. If you are willing to put in the time and energy actively seeking out uses for your second language, you will not only improve linguistically, but you may even find unique opportunities you never would have had as a monolingual person. For example, in an attempt to use more Persian and Dari, I volunteered to translate green card application appointments for Iranian and Afghan refugees in my city through a non-profit organization and it’s not only been productive for me from a linguistic perspective, but it has been a rewarding experience that has led me to meeting some interesting people with unique perspectives.

About Foreigncy
Foreigncy is a critical language training website for professional and aspiring linguists. Foreigncy’s team prepares daily language sets that prepare you to read foreign language news articles in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Russian.

English, Language, Language learning, Persian (FarsI) 1 Comment

French & English Language Exchange

I went to the French & English Language Exchange group in Liverpool last night – a friend found it on Meetup, decided to see what it was like, and asked me to come along. They meet twice a month at Thomas Rigby’s, a pub in the centre of Liverpool, and last night there were 30 or 40 people there, including some French people – far more than ever go to the Bangor French conversation group. I talked to various people from England, Brazil, China and New Zealand in English, French, Mandarin and Portuguese. So it was worth going, though it is quite a long way to go – about an hour and a half from Bangor – and I might go back there occasionally.

Do you meet up to find / arrange similar groups?

Does it work well for you?

There are very few groups on meet up in the Bangor area at the moment, but I might set one up.

English, French, Language, Language learning 2 Comments

Language and travel plans

I’ve been thinking about my language and travel plans for this year and have decided to spend a few weeks in Russia – probably in July – at a Russian language school. Every year for the past ten years I’ve gone to Ireland to do courses in Irish language, singing and music in July, but this year I fancy a change. I plan to learn as much Russian as I can before going to Russia and to focus mainly on Russian throughout this year, while keeping my other languages ticking over.

Apart from the trip to Russia, I’m going to the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin at the beginning of May, and on a choir trip to Oloron Sainte Marie in the south west of France at the end of May. I also plan to do a course in Scottish Gaelic song in Scotland in August and will probably go to the Polyglot Conference in New York in October.

Can any of you recommend a Russian language school?

When is the best time of year to visit Russia?

What are you language/travel plans for this year?

English, Language, Language learning, Russian, Travel 2 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 5 Comments