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

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.

A Review of Mondly

Mondly screenshot

Recently I was approached by the people behind Mondly, a newish language-learning app, who wanted to advertise on Omniglot.

Before agreeing to advertise such apps, I usually try them out for myself to see if I can recommend them. So I’m currently learning Czech on Mondly. It’s a language I’ve studied on and off for years, so I have a basic knowledge of it. Mondly lets you start at beginning, or at an intermediate or advanced level – I chose the intermediate level.

The app presents you with a daily lesson, and you can choose to study other lessons as well. These have various themes such as family, travel, food & drink, and so on. There is also a chatbot, with which you can have conversations using the words and phrases you’ve learnt, and at the end of each week there’s a quiz.

It looks good, the interface works well for me, the lessons teach you a manageable number of words and phrases, and show you how to put them into sentences, and the audio is clear.

33 different languages are available on Mondly, including major European languages, and Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Vietnamese, Hindi, Indonesian and Thai.

You can get lifetime access to all of those languages for just US$99 (normal price US$1,999.99).

Disclaimer – although I will receive a commission if you subscribe to Mondly after clicking on the links in this post, I do think this app is worth a try.

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?

500 days of Duolingo

Duolingo screenshot

Today my streak on Duolingo reached 500 days. Before then I had a 96 day streak, but lost that one day when I didn’t quite get enough points. So for the past 596 days I have studied a bit of various languages every day. This is the longest continuous period of study I’ve managed, and I plan to maintain it for as long as possible.

Back in early 2017 I started studying Swedish and Russian on Duolingo. Later I added Romanian to the mix, and this year I added Danish and Esperanto. I’ve finished all the Swedish and Russian lessons, and am continuing to study them on Memrise. I decided to take a break from the Romanian last year, and am currently working on Danish and Esperanto. When I finish them I may add other languages I want to improve, such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German.

I can’t say that I’ve become fluent in any of these languages, but my knowledge of them certainly has improved. I’ve made more progress with Swedish and Danish than with Russian or Romanian, which I find more challenging.

On Memrise I’m currently studying Swedish, Danish, Russian and Cornish, and have learnt bits of Icelandic, Slovak and Slovenian over the past year or so. I may start Slovak again in preparation for the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava next year.

What’s your longest streak on Duolingo, or other language learning apps?

What do you think of this aspect of such apps?

Polyglot Conference – Day 1

The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.

There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.

I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.

They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.

Slovenian (slovenščina)

I’ve been learning Slovenian for nearly three months now, and will have chances to use it when I go to Slovenia in a few days. I’ll be there for the Polyglot Conference.

While I can’t say a lot in Slovenian yet, I have at least learnt the basics. I’ve been using a Memrise course based on Slovenian for Travelers, another version of which is available here.

As I’ve studied other Slavic languages to varying degrees – Russian, Czech, Slovak and Serbian – I can recognise quite a few words in Slovenian, and the grammar seems similar. I like the sound of Slovenian, and may continue learning it after the conference.

My favourite Slovenian words are currently: predvčerajšnjim (the day before yesterday) and pojutrišnjem (the day after tomorrow).

I plan to record an episode of the Radio Omniglot Podcast at the conference. It will be about the conference, and the people there, and will hopefully include recordings of participants speaking as many different languages as possible. Looking forward to it!

Pronunciation is fun

The other day I realised that one reason I like languages is because I enjoy just saying foreign words and phrases, especially ones that contain sounds and combinations of sounds not used in English. I imitate native speakers as best I can – not just the sounds of the words, but the intonation, and even pitch of their voices as well.

At the moment I’m learning Swedish, Danish, Russian and Slovenian. I started learning Swedish out of interest in the language, and because I like the sound of it, and have fun pronouncing it. I started learning Danish and Slovenian in preparation for trips to Denmark and Slovenia, but also enjoy pronouncing them. I’ve been learning Russian on and off for years for various reasons, and enjoy pronouncing it.

Maybe I’ll learn some other languages just to have fun pronouncing them. Languages with clicks, like Zulu and Xhosa, or with ejectives, like Georgian. I already know some songs in these languages, so it would be quite useful to know a bit more about them. It would also be interesting to visit places where they’re spoken, and to use them, but that would not be a priority.

If I do this, I would search for the most interesting-sounding words and phrases, and also tongue twisters, rather than focusing on the most common words and grammatical patterns. I probably wouldn’t learn to speak and understand the languages, but would have fun anyway.

Here are some tongue twisters to play with:

And here’s a tongue twister in Xhosa:

Have you learnt, or are you learning, any languages because you like the sound of them and enjoy pronouncing them?

Učenje slovenščine (Learning Slovenian)


Yesterday I started learning Slovenian (slovenščina) in preparation for the Polyglot Conference in Ljubljana in Slovenia in October. I always try to learn at least a little of any languages I’m likely to encounter on my travels – it’s only polite.

I’m using a Memrise course, and may use other resources – if you have any suggestions, do let me know.

A few years ago I went to a polyglot conference in Novi Sad in Serbia, and learnt some Serbian before going there. Slovenian seems to have a lot in common with Serbian, so far.

There was a lass from Ljubljana learning Irish in Ireland last week, and she taught me a few useful Slovenian phrases.

Can you learn a language just with Duolingo?

A screen shot of my Duolingo Romanian course

For the past year I’ve been learning Romanian with Duolingo. I wanted to see if I could learn a language entirely with that course, and chose Romanian because it was the only major Romance language I haven’t studied, and I have some Romanian-speaking friends.

Although I can understand Romanian to some extent now, especially when it’s written, I can’t speak it very well as I haven’t used it with real people much yet.

Compared with the other Romance languages, the grammar of Romanian is more complex, with four noun cases, like Latin. If you just use the Duolingo app, you have to try to work out the grammar for yourself, which isn’t easy. The online version includes some notes on grammar, but I’ve been mainly using the app. So my knowledge of the grammar is somewhat limited.

I do have a Colloquial Romanian course, which should help me to learn the language more thoroughly, but I’ll probably have a break before learning more.

I’ve also been learning Swedish and Russian on Duolingo for just over a year, and started learning Danish a few months ago. I had dabbled with Swedish a bit before, mainly with Babbel, and have studied Russian on and off for quite a while using various courses.

I can have conversations in Swedish, and Russian, though still have quite a way to go before I consider myself fluent in either language. I can read and understand quite a bit of Danish, though can’t say a lot yet. I find Swedish and Danish relatively easy as they have quite a lot in common with English, German and each other, and relatively simple grammar. Russian is more of a challenge – the grammar is more complex and there are a lot of unfamiliar words to learn.

For the past few months I’ve also been using Memrise to learn Swedish, Danish and Russian. In some ways I prefer it to Duolingo as Memrise focuses more of phrases you’re likely to use in everyday life, and the recordings are made by real people rather than robots.

I do like some of the ridiculous phrases that pop up on Duolingo though, such as:

– Sköldpaddan har en gul hatt = The turtle has a yellow hat
– Han går som en älg = He walks like a moose
– Jag hör inte dig eftersom jag har kanelbullar i öronen = I don’t hear you because I have cinnamon rolls in my ears
– Skildpadden drikker te = The turtle is drinking tea
– Anden læser avisen = The duck is reading the newspaper
– Ca caută ursul în șifonier? What is the bear doing in the wardrobe?
– Am un cuptor plin cu pui = I have an oven filled with chickens
– Eu am văzut o bufniță răzând = I saw an owl laughing
– Моя лошадь не художник а архитектор = My horse is not an artist but an architect
– Этот человек говорит, что он волшебник, но я ему не верю = This person says he’s a wizard, but I don’t believe him
– У меня есть говорящая лошадь = I have a talking horse

So, is it possible to learn a language just with Duolingo?

You can learn a lot, but it’s unlikely you’ll be speaking the language well by the end of the course. For me it works best for languages related to ones I know with grammar you can pick up as you go along (Swedish & Danish), and not quite so well for more distant and grammatically complex languages (Russian & Romanian).

I am now on a 328 day streak on Duolingo, and before that I was on a 96 day streak, but didn’t get enough points one day last summer to maintain it. So that’s 14 months of studying every day. When I’ve studied languages before, I would sometimes miss a few days, or even weeks. Now I don’t want to miss a single day.

Have you learnt any languages entirely or mainly with Duolingo?