Language Learning Update

Just finished the Spanish course on Duolingo

This week I finally completed the Spanish course on Duolingo. I’ve been using it to improve and refresh my Spanish, as I have studied the language with various courses before. I can now understand, read, write and speak a lot more Spanish than before, though need to practise speaking and writing it more.

I first took a placement test on Duolingo to see how much Spanish I already knew, and didn’t start from the beginning. Then I skipped through each level using the tests, rather than working through each lesson individually. Had I done that, it would take a lot longer. For now, I’m not studying Spanish actively anymore, but will use it whenever I get the chance.

Over the past two and a half years or so, I’ve studied languages every day with Duolingo (current streak = 767 days). I’ve completed courses in Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Danish and Esperanto. I also completed the Romanian course, then they added lots of extra levels, and I haven’t gone back to work on those. At the moment I’m focussing on Czech, and will continue to do so, working through every lesson, so it’s going to take quite a while. I don’t plan to start any other languages until I’ve finished the Czech course.

In the meantime, I’ve also been studying Czech, and Russian, on Mondly – Czech for 226 days and Russian for 153 days. I really like their courses and am learning a lot from them.

On Memrise I’m studying Russian, Danish and Swedish. When I started using Memrise nearly two years ago, I already knew some Russian and Swedish. and started Swedish from level 2. I started Danish last year from scratch, although my knowledge of Swedish, and German and English, certainly helps. I’m currently doing level 6 courses in Swedish and Danish, and level 5 in Russian.

By the way, if you sign up to Memrise by 16th September, you will get a 50% discount, and I’ll get a small commission.

I find these apps with the streak counters really encourage me to study every day. It has become a habit to do so, and one I plan to continue for as long as possible.

Apart from these studies, I keep my French and Welsh ticking over by speaking them regularly, and other languages by using them occasionally.

How are your language studies going?

Do you prefer to focus on one language at a time, or to learn two or more simultaneously?

What courses, apps and other resources do you use?

Treading in Spinach

Language quiz image

A few posts ago I wrote about an interesting Swedish idiom – trampa i klaveret – to make a social mistake, put one’s foot in it, or literally “to step heavily on the accordion”.

Today I learnt the Danish equivalenttræde i spinaten (“to tread in the spinach”). For example, jeg har virkelig trådt i spinaten (“I have really trod in the spinach”) = I really put my foot in it.

Accoriding to Den Danske Ordbog, træde i spinaten means “utilsigtet sige eller gøre noget dumt” (to accidentally say or do something stupid).

Another version is træde/trampe i spinatbedet (“tread/tramp in the spinach bed”) [source].

Then there’s the spinatfugl or “spinach bird”, which is apparently a person who writes reviews or other cultural material in a newspaper without a journalistic background [source].

Does anybody know why such a person is known as a spinach bird?

The word spinach comes from the Middle English spinach, from Anglo-Norman spinache, from the Old French espinoche, from the Old Occitan espinarc, from the Arabic إِسْفَانَاخ‎ (ʾisfānāḵ), from the Persian اسپناخ‎ (ispanâx).

Apparently spinach cinema refers to “Movies that are not very exciting or interesting, but that one feels one must see because they are educational or otherwise uplifting.” [source]

Are there any interesting spinach or other vegetable-related idioms in other languages?

Blue Ants and Pencils

Blyant (pencil in Danish and Norwegian)

In Danish the word for pencil is blyant [ˈblyːˌanˀd], which sort of sounds like blue ant. When I learnt this, I wondered where this word comes from, and I thought I’d share what I found with you.

The word blyant, which is also used in Norwegian, combines bly (lead) with the French suffix -ant. It is an abbreviation of blyertspen [source], which comes from blyert (black lead, graphite), from the German Bleiertz (lead ore – lit. “lead earth”) and pen [source].

Related words include:

  • blyantsholder = pencil holder
  • blyantspenge = financial allowance for members of the European Parliament (“pencil money”)
  • blyantspids = the tip of a pencil
  • blyantspidser = pencil sharpener
  • blyantsstreg / blyantstreg = pencil line
  • blyantstegning / blyanttegning = pencil drawing

Source: Den Danske Ordbog

The words for pencil in Swedish (blyertspenna), Faroese and Icelandic (blýantur) come from the same roots [source].

The German word for pencil, Bleistift [ˈblaɪ̯ʃtɪft] comes from a similar root: Blei (lead) and Stift (pen) [source].

There is in fact a creature called a blue ant (Diamma bicolor) – it is blue, but is a species of wasp rather than an ant, and lives in parts of Australia [source].

Context Matters

Context
matters / Контекст имеет значение

When learning new words in foreign tongues I find that I can remember some words more easily than others, especially if they are similar to words I already know in English or other languages. Other words don’t seem to stick in my memory so easily, even if I try to connect their unfamiliar sounds to familiar words.

In Russian and Czech, for example, there are quite a few words that I can understand when I see them in a sentence, but may not be so sure what they mean when I encounter them on their own – having some context makes all the difference.

Another challange with Russian, at least for me, is recognising words at a glance. Words written in the Cyrillic alphabet don’t seem to have such distinctive shapes as those written in the Latin alphabet, which makes them more difficult to distinguish. This is probably because I haven’t spent enough time reading Russian texts.

Words in Swedish, Danish and Spanish, the other languages I’m working on at the moment, tend to be much easier for me to remember. Many of them are simliar to English, or to other languages I know. The ones that aren’t similiar tend to be short, especially in Swedish and Danish, and I find them easier to remember than longer Russian or Czech words.

Learning lists of words without any context can work with a lot of repetition, and maybe some mnemonic techniques, but it seems to be better to learn words in context.

How do you learn vocabulary?

Blah blah English blah blah

Blah blah

A Danish friend came to visit Bangor this week. He makes the ActualFluency podcast, and is one of the people behind such courses as Italian Uncovered.

We talked a lot about websites and marketing, particularly email marketing, which I haven’t done before, but am going to try.

As well as Danish and English, he also speaks Russian and Hungarian, and has studied other languages. He doesn’t know any Welsh though, and I was curious to find out what Welsh sounded like to him. As I speak and understand Welsh, I can’t get an outsider’s perspective on it. To him it sounded very foreign – something like “blah blah blah blah English word blah blah blah blah”.

When I listen to languages I don’t know, they may sound like that to me. Mostly mysterious sounds with occasional recognisable words. The recognisable words are borrowed from English, or from another language I know, or are the names of places or people.

When listening to languages related to ones I know, I can usually understand more, or at least recognise more words.

What do unknown languages sound like to you?

The hieroglyphs in the image mean “The cat dances when the crocodile hides” (iw ib(A) miw imn msH), and come from Hieroglyphs.net

Danish rooms

My lodgings in Aarhus

Recently I learnt that there are two different words for room in Danish: rum [ʁɔmˀ], which is a general room, and værelse [ˈʋæʁɑlsə], which is a room for spending time in, at least according to Memrise. Is this correct?

Værelse comes from være (to be) and -else (a suffix that turns verbs into nouns) [source].

Subspecies of værelse include:

  • soveværelse = bedroom
  • badeværelse = bathroom
  • arbejdsværelse = study
  • børneværelse = nursery
  • hotelværelse = hotel room
  • klasseværelse = classroom
  • loftsværelse = loft
  • gæsteværelse = guest room

[source]

A related word is tilværelse (life, existence).

Rum means room, comparment or space, and comes from the Old Norse rúmr, from the Proto-Germanic *rūmaz (roomy, spacious, open), the same root as the English word room [source].

Subspecies of rum include:

  • omklædningsrum = changing room, locker room
  • møderum = meeting room
  • siderum = (small) chamber, side room
  • tørrerum = drying room
  • haverum = garden room
  • gårdrum = courtyard

[source].

Other Danish words for rooms include lokale (room), stue (living room), sal (hall) and køkken (kitchen).

Polyglot Plans

Polyglot - definition

I just registered for the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava at the end of May / beginning of June. This will be the fifth time I’ve been to the Gathering – the second in Bratislava, and I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll be staying in the same AirBnB as last time, which is close to the Gathering venue, and not too far from the centre of Bratislava. It’s easier that way as I already know my way around the area.

I haven’t decided if I’ll give a presentation or run a workshop at the Gathering. At previous polyglot events I’ve given talks on writing systems, the origins of languages, the origins of words, Manx, and language death and revival, and helped with a Welsh language workshop. Any suggestions for what I could talk about at this and future polyglot events?

At the end of January I’m going to Edinburgh for LingoFringo, a fringe event to the main polyglot conferences and gatherings with a focus on workshops, community and networking events. I’ll be running a workshop on traditional Scottish Gaelic songs there.

So this month I’ll be brushing up my Scottish Gaelic, preparing for the workshop, and continuing to work on other languages. The languages I’m focusing on currently are Swedish, Danish, Russian, Esperanto, Cornish and Scots. This year I also plan to learn some more British Sign Language and Slovak, and maybe some German, Czech and Spanish.

I don’t plan to start any new languages this year – we’ll see how that works out.

What are your language-related plans for this year?

Christmas

Christmas tree / Coeden nadolig

Did you get any language-related goodies for Christmas?

Are you planning to start learning any new languages next year?

I got a British Sign Language (BSL) course, The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony, and a t-shirt with hello on it in many languages.

I plan to concentrate on improving my knowledge of the languages I already know, rather than starting any new ones. Whether I stick to this remains to be seen.

Oh and Merry Christmas
Nadolig Llawen
Joyeux Noël
Nedeleg Laouen
Frohe Weihnachten
Nadelik Lowen
聖誕快樂
Nollaig shona
メリークリスマス
Nollick Ghennal
¡Feliz Navidad!
Nollaig Chridheil
С Рождеством
God jul
Veselé vánoce
Glædelig jul
Ĝojan Kristnaskon

Just speirin

Last night I saw FARA, a brilliant group from Orkney, in our local arts centre. One of the songs they sang, Speir Thoo The Wast Wind, was in Orcadian dialect and based on a poem by Christina Costie from Orkney.

Orcadian dialect is a type of Insular Scots that combines elements of the extinct Norn language and Scots. There isn’t a lot of information available about Orcadian, but I will try to put together a page about it on Omniglot.

Each verse of the song and the poem finishes with the line “Speir thoo the wast wind, bit speir no me”, which means “Ask the west wind, and don’t ask me”, I think.

The word speir [spiːr], which is also written speer, means to enquire or ask, according to The Orkney Dictionary. When I heard it in the song, I thought I might be related to words for to ask in North Germanic languages, and it turns out that it is.

It comes from the Old English spyrian (to track, inquire, investigate, examine), from the Proto-Germanic *spurjaną (to search; to examine; to ask) [source], which is also the root of the Danish word spørge (to ask, inquire), Norwegian word spørre (to ask, inquire), and the word spyrja (to ask) in Icelandic and Faroese [source].

A few other words from Orkney dialect: hoodjiekapiv, hoodjiekapiffle, hoodjiekaboogle, which are all Orcadian equivalents of whatsit, thingy, doobry, thingamajig, whatjumacallit, thingamebob, etc [source]. What do you call something when you can’t remember it’s normal name?

You can hear the song here:

Furtive ferrets

What do the words furtive and ferret have in common?

ferret

They come from the same root – the Latin word fūr (thief).

Furtive comes from the French furtif (stealthy), from the Latin fūrtīvus (stolen), from fūrtum (theft), from fūr (thief) [source].

Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) comes from the Middle English furet / ferret (ferret), from the Anglo-Norman firet / furet (ferret), a diminutive of the Old French fuiron (weasel, ferret), from the Late Latin furo (cat; robber), a diminutive of the Latin fūr (thief) [source].

Alternatively ferret comes from the Latin furittus (little thief) [source].

The Latin name of the ferret, mustela putorius furo, means something like “stinking robber weasel” [source].

Fūr comes from the Proto-Italic *fōr (thief), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰṓr (thief), from *bʰer- (to carry) [source], which also the root of words for child in Germanic languages, such as bairn in Scots, barn in Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish, and barn/bern in West Frisian [source].