What do you do?

What do you do?

Language courses usually have lessons that explain how to talk about your job / profession / work. The examples they give might include jobs like doctor, nurse, teacher, secretary, engineer, architect, writer, ninja, etc. These are all mentioned in lessons I’ve done on Duolingo (and other apps).

If you tell someone you’re a teacher or a doctor, they probably have at least some idea of what that entails. However, there are many jobs and other ways to make a living that are more difficult to define and explain, even in your native language. I’ve never come across a language lesson that includes unusual or difficult-to-define jobs like influencer, game tester, snuggler, bounty hunter or youtuber, for example.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend and he asked how my business is doing. I’ve told him what I do before, and have shown him Omniglot and explained what the site is about, but he thinks that it involves translation in some way. He’s not the only one to think this.

I wouldn’t usually call myself a translator or interpreter, although I did do a bit of translating and interpreting many years ago, mainly between Mandarin and English. These days I sometimes translate mysterious inscriptions and other bits of writing sent to me by Omniglot visitors, and occasionally help friends with translations, mainly between English and Welsh.

Sometimes I say that I’m a linguist. This usually leads to questions about which languages I speak and/or teach. I might try to explain what linguistics is all about and what I mean by linguist, but often I don’t bother. It depends on the situation.

I did teach English for a short while in Taiwan, and occasionally I teach people juggling and other circus skills. Does that make me a teacher? I don’t think so – I have no teaching qualifications, and only limited experience.

Sometimes I say that I’m a writer, and when they hear this, people assume that I write books and ask where they can find them. Maybe one day I will write books, but in the meantime I have written about more than 1,800 languages and writing systems, over 3,500 blog posts, and some silly dialogues and a short story that I’ve made into videos.

I could call myself a musician, singer-songwriter, composer and/or arranger as I have written 80+ songs and tunes. I do this because I enjoy it, and don’t earn anything from it. I share my songs and tunes online and with my friends, and occasionally perform in public.

Sometimes I say that I run my own company, or that I run a language-related business. This is true, but the company consists of just me. I am the director, secretary, marketing and sales department, and everything else.

On Twitter I call myself a Wordherder, Tunesmith and Gravityweaver.

When trying to explain this in other languages, I might just say that I’m a linguist, writer, translator, depending on which of these words I know in the relevant language. If I’m asked for more details, I direct people to Omniglot.

In case you’re not sure what I do, and how I make a living from it, you can read about it here, and/or listen to my podcast about it.

Do you have a difficult-to-define or unusual job or way to make a living?

Double Dutch

This week I finally finished the Russian course I’ve been working through on Memrise, and am giving Russian a break for now. I may go back to it at some point, and try to get a better grip on the grammar, which I still find hard, even after three years of studying a little every day.

I promised myself that I’d start learning a different language once I’d finished the Russian lessons, and have decided to learn some more Dutch. I know a little already, and can understand it to some extent thanks to my knowledge of English, German and related languages. So it’s easier for me than Russian. I’m just learning it on Duolingo at the moment, and may try other apps as well.

I like the weird and wonderful phrases that come up on Duolingo, and expect there’ll be plenty in Dutch. A couple of very useful phrases that came up today were:

Pardon, ik ben een appel
Excuse me, I am an apple

Nee, je bent geen appel
No, you are not an apple

Perhaps a good way to start a conversation.

I’m collecting these on Omniglot, of course.

Holding Up

When faced with long words in languages like Russian, one thing that helps me remember them is to break them down into their constistuent parts and find out what each part means.

For example, a Russian word that came up in my lessons recently was поддерживать (podderživát’) [pɐˈdʲːerʐɨvətʲ], which means to support, keep up or maintain [source].

It comes from поддержать (podderžát’) – to support, help up, & -ивать (-ivat’) – a verb suffix.

поддержать comes from под- (pod-) – under, by, near, & держать (deržát’) – to keep, to hold. So you could see that you’re ‘underholding’ something or someone when you support them in Russian [source].

Related words include:

  • поддержка = support (financial, etc)
  • поддержание = maintenance, sustenance
  • поддерживаться = to be supported / maintained
  • поддерживающий = backer, supporting, supportive

There are many more words that have the prefix под-.

How do you remember words in languages you’re learning?

Upload a language straight to your brain

Have you ever tried to learn a language?

Maybe you’ve struggled with a language for years and never really got the hang of it.

Ever wished you could simply wave a magic wand and be able to speak another language fluently?

The lingoboffins at the secret Omniglot laboratory have been working on this problem for a long time, and believe that they have finally found a solution that will work for everybody.

It was announced today that a revolutionary new app will soon be available that will enable you to upload a whole new language directly into your brain.

apps

No more spending years learning vocabulary, trying to get to grips with grammar, and fumbling with the pronunciation. All you need to do is download the app, tune it to your brain, and upload a language. Then you will be able to understand and speak* that language almost immediately**.

*This app does not give you the ability to read and write in another language. We are working on another app which will do that.

**The actually time it takes to tune the app to your brain, and for the language to settle in, may vary from a few hours to several months, or even years.

Terms and conditions apply. This app is not currently available anywhere, but keep checking back, and one day it might be.

New Year

It seems that a new year, and indeed a new decade has started, so Happy New Year / Decade!

I’ve noticed that some people are looking back at what they’ve done / achieved, etc over the past decade, so I thought I’d do something similar.

Back in 2009 I was studying for an MA in Linguistics at Bangor University, while working on Omniglot in my spare time, and writing for a couple of other websites. I finished my course in September of that year, though didn’t officially graduate until the following year, and have been working full-time on Omniglot since then.

Over the past decade Omniglot has grown quite a bit – I add something new, or make improvements, almost every day. The site now contains:

… and much more.

Since 2009 Omniglot has been visited by 176 million people, who have made 234 milion visits and viewed 407 million pages. There have been visitors every single country and territory, even Antarctica and North Korea. The top ten countries vistors come from are USA, India, UK, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa. The most spoken languages of visitors are: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Dutch, Russian, Chinese and Polish.

Over the past decade I’ve studied and dabbled with a few languages, including: Breton, BSL, Cornish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Icelandic, Irish, Latin, Manx, Romanian, Russian, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Toki Pona. I also started creating my own language: Laala, and made some con-scripts such as Crymeddau and Curvetic.

I joined a French conversation group back in 2009, and have been going almost every week since then. This has really helped to improve my French and I feel a lot more confident about using it now. When I can, I also go to a Welsh conversation group, and for a while I tried to run a polyglot conversation group.

Every summer I’ve been to Ireland to do courses in Irish language, traditional Irish songs, harp and/or bodhrán playing. I’ve also been to Scotland quite a few times to do courses in Scottish Gaelic songs.

In 2012 I started writing songs and tunes, and have written quite a few since then, especially in 2019, when I wrote a new song almost every month and several new tunes. I also started to write out the music for my tunes and songs, and to make new arrangements of them.

The first song I wrote was The Elephant Song, which came to me after going to a poetry writing workshop.

I haven’t made a good recording of my most recent song, but here’s one I wrote in November / December 2019:

Since 2014 I’ve been to a number of polyglot events, including the Polyglot Gathering and the Polyglot Conference. At most of these I’ve given talks or run workshops.

Polyglottery

In 2018 I started the Radio Omniglot Podcast, and have made 27 episodes so far. I try to make two episodes per month, but don’t always manage it.

In 2018 I also launched the Celtiadur, a collection of Celtic cognates, where I explore links between modern and ancient Celtic languages. This is an extension of the Celtic Cognates section on Omniglot.

Wow! Putting it together like this makes me realise that I haven’t been entirely idle.

Ungrammaticality

When learning a new language, it helps if you learn how to use its grammar. There is much debate about how to do this.

Some people might advise you just to speak a language as soon as you know anything, and not to worry about making mistakes. In fact, they might encourage you to make mistakes. You will eventually pick up the grammar through extensive use of and exposure to the language, and maybe occasional glances at grammar books.

A ‘traditional’ approach to language learning involves concentrating more on learning the grammar before you try to use the language.

A combination of these approaches might be most effective. This is something I discussed on my latest podcast.

Last night one of the people at the French conversation group seems to have taken the first approach – he knows quite a bit of French vocabulary, but is not very good at putting words together into coherent sentences, or at using the grammar. As a result, it was rather difficult to work out what he was trying to say. I imagine native speakers of French might have less patience than us when trying to understand him.

So while it is possible to speak a language without knowing much of the grammar, you might find it difficult to make yourself understood.

Depth v Breadth

Depth v Breadth

Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook saying that some polyglots “are just jumping from one language to another, only reaching beginner or at most intermediate level” and “They’re learning bits of many languages but mastering none of them.”

The person who wrote this states that he would prefer to focus on one or two languages and become really competent, learn them in depth, and learn about the culture, literature, poetry, and so.

If you learn many languages at a lower level, “[…] your language efforts make you nothing more than a glorified party trick. You can make people smile at a party when you can introduce yourself in 5 languages. But your language skills have no depth or breadth.”

There are as many ways to learn languages as there are language learners. Some prefer to focus on one or two languages and learn them to a high level, others prefer to learn more languages to a lower level. Some combine both approaches – they may learn some languages to a high level, and others to a lower level.

I can focus on one language or other interest, at least for a while, but usually have several projects on the go at the same time. As a result, it takes me quite a while to learn and improve my skills and knowledge, and I accept that I’m unlikely to become fluent in all my languages, or a virtuoso on any of my instruments, or a great singer or composer, or an amazing juggler / circus performer.

Are you a specialist, able to focus on one language, or other project / interest / hobby?

Or are you more of a generalist, flitting between different languages and interests?

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

A plethora of pronouns

Czech first person singular pronouns

Recently I have been learning some more Czech. I work through a few lessons on Duolingo and Mondly every day. Even though it’s many years since I last studied any Czech, I find I can understand quite a lot, and guess unknown words from context. One thing I struggle with though is all the noun declensions, and the many different forms of pronouns.

Czech has seven noun cases, so nouns and pronouns can come in up to fourteen different forms (6 or 7 in the singular and 6 or 7 in the plural), depending on the role they play in a sentence. In fact the plural forms are the same for some cases, but singular pronouns have long and short forms, and different forms after prepositions.

For example, I is in the nominative, which is mainly used for emphasis and is generally dropped – (Já) vidím tě = I see you. The nominative singular of you is ty: is the accusative (and genitive) short form – the long form is tebe. Word order is flexible, so you could also say Tě vidím or Já tě vidím. Is there any difference in emphasis between the different word orders?

Some more examples:

  • Vidíš = You see me
  • Mluvíš se mnou = You are talking to me
  • Dáváš mi peníze = You are giving me money
  • Nemluv o mně = Don’t look at me
  • Vidíš můj dům = You see my house (dům [house] is masculine)
  • Vidíš moje domy = You see my houses
  • Vidíš mou kočku = You see my cat (kočka [cat] is feminine)
  • Vidíš moje kočky = You see my cats
  • Vidíš moje auto = You see my car (auto [car] is neuter)
  • Vidíš moje auta = You see my cars
  • k mému překvapení = to my surprise
  • Odpovězte, prosím, na mou otázku = Please answer my question
  • Váš dům je blízko mého = Your house is near mine

This are some forms of the first person singular pronoun (I, me, my, mine). There are as many, it not more, for other pronouns. Maybe one day I’ll be able to recognize and use them all.

More about Czech declension.