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.

Special offer from Rocket Languages

Rocket languages

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I have tried and reviewed their Hindi and Japanese courses, and think they are definitely worth a look. Since then they have added some new languages – Russian and Portuguese – and I’m tempted to try their Russian course, even though I already have plenty of other Russian courses and learning materials. Can you ever have too many language learning materials?

Note: I am a Rocket Languages affiliate, and will receive commission if you buy any of the courses via the links above.

Reflections on the Polyglot Gathering

Polyglots dancing at the Slaughterhouse in Berlin

I got back from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin late on Monday night. I travelled by train the whole way, which is a bit more expensive than the plane, and takes a few hours longer, but I prefer to travel this way, and you see more. The journey went smoothly, apart from the train from London, which was an hour late getting into Bangor. Fortunately I got a partial refund on my ticket. On the Eurostar I talked to a interesting lady from Vancouver, and on the train to Bangor I talked, mainly in Welsh, to a doctor from Felinheli.

This year’s Gathering was as much fun as previous years – it was my third. I arrived in Berlin quite late on Wednesday evening the day before it officially started, and missed out on most of the polyglot games that were going on in the afternoon and evening. Next year I might arrive a day or two before the start to give me a chance to explore more of Berlin – this year I spent most of my time in the venue and didn’t go exploring.

Over the next four days I learnt about many things, including Portuguese-based creoles, Greek, minimalism, Sardinian languages and dialects, why many language learners don’t acquire native-like accents, metaphors in native Canadian languages, language mentoring, how musical techniques can be applied to language learning, the stagecraft of multilingualism, and much more. I got to know old friends better, met lots of new ones, and I spoke lots of different languages. My talk on Manx went well, as did the introduction to Welsh that I helped with.

The talks were mainly in English, with some in French, Italian, German, Esperanto, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, and in various combinations of these.

Between us we polyglots speak quite a few different languages. The most common (i.e. those with quite a few speakers / learners) include English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Romanian, Esperanto, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Serbian, Greek, Finnish, Hungarian, Welsh, Irish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malay, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Swahili. There were also speakers and learners of Wolof, Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi, Romani, Tamil, Latin, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish, Breton, Sardinian, Luxembourgish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, Albanian, Basque, Tagalog, Turkish, Navajo, Toki Pona, Klingon, and probably other languages.

I’m looking forward to the next polyglot event – the North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal in July. I’ll be doing a talk on the origins of language there, so should get working on it.

Some things I learnt from the Gathering

There are many ways to learn languages, and no single way will work for everyone. Some like to focus on one language at a time until they have reached a level they are happy with, then move on to the next language; others like to study many different languages at the same time. Some learn grammar and vocabulary first, then learn to speak; others start using their languages straight away, or soon after they start studying. Some like to study on their own; others like to study in a class and/or with a private tutor. Some combine many of the above and more, to varying degrees – I certainly do.

From Malachi Rempen’s talk on cartooning, minimalism and language learning (Less is More: What Silly Doodles Can Teach Us About Fluency), I learnt that you can do a lot with a little. He showed how he can make his Itchy Feet character express a wide variety of emotions with just a few lines, and suggested that the same can be applied to languages – you can communicate even if you know only a little of a language. He also argued that fluency means different things to different people, and might not be the best thing to aim for.

Tim Keeley, professor of Cross-Cultural Management at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka, explained that the idea that only children can acquire native-like accents in foreign languages is wrong – the brain is flexible throughout live and you can learn to perceive and produce foreign sounds. However there are emotional barriers which stop many people from sounding ‘native’. When learning another language you can also take on or create a new identity, and those who are willing and able to do this are most likely to sound more like native speakers. You also shouldn’t worry about mimicking people. In fact that is a good way to acquire native-like pronunciation.

Michael Levi Harris, an actor and polyglot from New York, talked about parallels between learning a part and learning a language. He explained that actors tend to exaggerate speech and physical mannerisms when learning a part, then make them more subtle, and that language learners can try the same things – exaggerate the pronunciation, gestures, etc. until they become second nature, then tone them down. He also talked about taking on different identities when speaking different languages and with different accents. If you can find a native speaker of a language whose voice and mannerisms appeal to you, then you can create your character in that language based on them.

The extend to which you take on a new identity in a new language depends on how much you want to integrate into a new culture. If you want to be taken for a native, then you need to sound and act like them. Alternatively you could try sounding like a native, perhaps with a bit of a foreign accent, but not worry so much about acting like them. If you spend a lot of time in a different county interacting and observing the natives, you’re likely to pick up at least some of their behaviour anyway.

Fiel Sahir, an Indonesian-American musician and polyglot who currently lives in Germany, talked about applying musical techniques to language learning. He explained how practice is the key to music and language, but it has to be intelligent practice that focuses on areas that you find difficult. This might be particular passages in a piece of music, or particular tenses or noun declensions in a language. By focusing like this, you can make a lot of progress.

Focus is something that I find difficult sometimes. I can and do focus, but often get distracted. I was thinking about how I’ve been dabbling with a variety of languages recently and not making a lot of progress in any of them. So my plan is to focus on one, or two, languages for the next year – Russian and Czech – and learn as much as I can in them. I will keep my other languages ticking over, but not spend much time on them.

Polyglot Gathering 2016

I’m currently at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin. I arrived here on Wednesday evening and have been speaking and hearing lots of different languages. So far I’ve had conversations in English, French, Welsh, German, Irish and Mandarin, and spoken bits and pieces of Spanish, Italian, Russian, Czech, Portuguese, Toki Pona and Esperanto. I’ve also heard some Finnish, Punjabi, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Slovak, Sardinian, Dutch, Hebrew, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish and other languages that I didn’t recognise.

Yesterday I went to talks on Portuguese Creole languages, Greek, language learning and linguistics, how to achieve advanced language competence, and on connections between cartoons and language learning. This morning I’ve been to talks on teaching multiple languages simultaneously, and languages and dialects of Sardinia. All the talks I’ve been to so far have been in English, apart from the Sardinian one, which was in Italian.

I’ve met lots of people I know from previous polyglot events, and lots of new people too. I might try to explore a bit more of Berlin at some point as well.

Learn Korean for free!

90 Day Korean

90 Day Korean have an exclusive offer for Omniglot visitors: three free Korean courses.

The 90 Day Korean web course teaches to you how to have a three minute conversation with a native Korean within 90 days. It’s a beginner Korean course that delivers you PDF and mp3 lessons in your inbox every week with only the essential parts of the language, all explained using psychology and stories so you can’t forget them (even if you tried).

Two winners will receive 90 Day Korean web course scholarships for 30 days. One grand prize winner will receive a 90 Day Korean web course scholarship for 90 days.

The first three people to answer the following questions correctly will receive the scholarships.

1. When was the Korean alphabet invented?
2. What is the second largest city in South Korea?
3. How many hanja do people in South Korea have to learn at school?

Please write to me at feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com with your name and the answers. Do not post them in the comments.

Update
We have a winners of all the courses, so this competition is now finished.

Northern and Southern Korean

Today I found an interesting article about difference between the Korean spoken in North Korea and South Korea. Apparently the Korean spoken in North Korean has a different accent, archaic vocabulary, and lots of loanwords from Chinese and Russian, while in South Korea they have a lot of English loanwords. To South Koreans the Korean of North Korea sounds old fashioned and quaint. Some also see it as ‘pure’ as it has few loanwords from English.

The article mentions an app called Univoca, short for “unification vocabulary”, that is being developed to help North Korean defectors in South Korea to learn the Southern version of Korean.

Have you ever tried to learn a different dialect or regional variety of your language?

Have you changed your accent to fit in?

Polyglottery

Novi Sad Catholic Cathedral

Yesterday morning I met up with other conference participants and after a bit of a wander around the city, we had lunch then went to the opening ceremony a reception. In the after we had a little guided tour of Novi Sad seeing some interesting buildings, including the Catholic or Orthodox Cathedrals, and the fortress. There are some rather attractive buildings here, wide, pedestrianised café-lined streets, some nice parks and generally a relaxed kind of atmosphere.

In the evening we all went to a restaurant about 4 or 5km from the city centre for dinner. I walked there with a few others, and the rest went by bus or taxi. We had a nice dinner with lots of polyglot chat, then some people started dancing, and others carried on chatting.

Novi Sad town hall

Today there were lectures and talks on a variety of topics including sound symbolism, the magic of metaphors, language coaching, and acting and humour in a foreign language.

So far I’ve had conversations in about 10 languages and spoken bits and pieces of maybe 10 others. In some cases this was only a few words (all I know), in others it was a bit more. There are even two guys here who are learning Scottish Gaelic, one of whom also speaks a bit of Manx, and another who is learning Irish.

Archerien

An interesting word that came up in my Breton lesson today is archerien, which means police. It caught my attention because it has no obvious connection to the word police, and because it is completely different to the equivalent words in other Celtic languages:

– Welsh: heddlu (“peace force”)
– Cornish: kreslu (“peace host”)
– Irish: gardaí (síochána) (“guards of peace”); póilíní
– Manx: meoiryn shee (“peace keepers/stewards”); poleenyn
– Scottish Gaelic: poileas

The English word police comes from the French police (public order, administration, government), from the Latin polītīa (state, government), from the Greek πολιτεία (politeia – citizenship, government, administration, constitution). It is shares the same root as policy, politics, politician and various other words [source].

Many languages use variants on the word police, e.g. Politsei (Estonian), პოლიცია (polits’ia – Georgian), Polizei (German), पुलिस (pulis – Hindi), پلیس (pulis – Persian), Booliis (Somalia), Policía (Spanish), Pulis (Tagalog), but some do their own thing:

– Bavarian: Kibara
– Chinese: 警察 (jǐngchá); 公安 (gōng’ān)
– Faroese: Løgregla
– Greek: Αστυνομία (Astynomía)
– Hungarian: Rendőrség
– Icelandic: Lögregla
– Japanese: 警察 (keisatsu)
– Korean: 警察 (gyeongchal)
– Thai: ตำรวจ (tảrwc)

Are there other examples of languages with a word unrelated to police for police?

Hangeul / Han’gŭl Day 한글날

Hangeul / Han'gŭl Day 한글날

Today is Hangeul Day (한글날) in South Korea, the day when they celebrate their alphabet. This year is the 563rd anniversary of the promulgation of Hangeul by King Sejong the Great in 1446.

According to The Korea Herald, the Korean government is keen to encourage people all over the world to learn Korean and plans to increase the number of Sejong Hakdang, centres teaching Korean, to 500 by 2015. At the moment there 16 Sejong Hakdang in China, Japan, Russia, USA and a couple of other countries, and there are plans to open a Korean language centre in Sri Lanka.

Korean is also apparently taught in hundreds of universities in some 60 countries, and increasing numbers of courses are offered in Asian countries such as China, Thailand, India and Japan. Also, some Korean companies with operations in China are offering incentives, such as promotions and business trips to Korea, to Chinese workers who become fluent Korean.

By the way, here’s a useful site that transliterates from Hangeul in Romanization and vice versa.

Globalizing the Korean alphabet

A group of linguists in Korea are looking into giving people with no written form of their language ways to write using the Korean alphabet (hangŭl), according to this article.

A number of communities they visited in Indonesia were keen on using hangŭl to write their languages and plan to send representatives to Korean to learn the alphabet, who will then to teach it to their communities.

The Korean alphabet is currently used only to write Korean, so it will be interesting to see how well it will work for other languages.