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?

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?

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?

Cows, beef and shepherds

Cows among the heather in Cregneash, Isle of Man

Yesterday I learnt the Russian word for beef, говядина [ɡɐˈvʲædʲɪnə], and the promotely forgot it. So I thought I’d investigate its etymology to help me remember it.

говядина comes from говядо [ɡɐˈvʲadə] and old word for cattle. This comes from the Proto-Slavic *govędo (head of cattle, bull, ox), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷew-n̥d-, from *gʷṓws (cattle) [source].

The usual Russian word for cow is корова [source], which comes from the Proto-Slavic *kőrva (cow), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (horn) [source].

*gʷṓws is also the root of:

  • gak = boar (Albanian)
  • govs = cattle, cow (Latvian)
  • говядо = beef (Ukrainian)
  • говедо = cattle (Bulgarian, Macedonian & Serbian)
  • govedo = cattle (Croatian & Slovenian)
  • hovado = brute (Czech & Slovak)
  • gowjedo = cow (Lower Sorbian)
  • *kūz = cow (Proto-Germanic)
  • Kuh = cow (German)
  • koe = cow (Dutch)
  • ku = cow (Norwegian)
  • ko = cow (Swedish, Danish, North Frisian)
  • coo, kye = cow (Scots)
  • βοῦς = cow (Ancient Greek)
  • bōs = cow, bull, ox (Latin)
  • bou = ox (Catalan)
  • bue = ox, beef (Italian)
  • bife = steak (Portuguese)
  • bou= ox, idiot (Romanian)
  • buey= ox. steer (Spanish)
  • bœuf = cow, ox, beef, jam session (French)
  • *bāus = cow (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bōws = ox (Proto-Celtic)
  • bu, buw = cow, bullock, head of cattle (Middle Welsh)
  • buwch = cow (Welsh)
  • bugh = cow (Cornish)
  • bu, buoc’h = cow (Breton)
  • bó = cow (Irish)
  • booa = cow (Manx)
  • bò = cow (Scottish Gaelic)

The English words beef and bovine come ultimately from the same root. Beef comes from the Middle English beef, bef, beof, from the Anglo-Norman beof, from the Old French buef, boef (ox). from Latin bōs (“ox”)

The Proto-Indo-European word *gʷowkólos, from *gʷṓws (cow) & *kʷel- (to revolve, move around, sojourn) gives us the following words in the Celtic languages [Source].

  • *boukolyos = herdsman (Proto-Celtic)
  • *bʉgöl = herdsman (Proto-Brythonic
  • bugail = shepherd, pastor (Welsh)
  • bugel = child, shepherd (Cornish)
  • bugel = child (Breton)
  • búachaill = cowherd (Old Irish)
  • buachaill = boy, herdsman, servant, boyfriend (Irish)
  • bochilley = shepherd, herdsman (Manx)
  • buachaill, buachaille = cowherd, herdsman, shepherd, youth (Scottish Gaelic)

Oină

People playing oină

I came across the oină in one of the Romanian lessons I did today. It’s translated as ‘oina’ without any explanation of what it means. As the lesson was about sport and oină is something you play, I guessed that it’s some kind of sport.

According to Wikpedia, oină [ˈoj.nə] is a traditional Romanian sport similar to baseball and lapta (a similar Russian sport).

The word oină was originally hoina, and is comes from the Cuman word oyn (game), which is cognate with the Turkish oyun). The game was first mention in writing in 1364. Cuman is an extinct Turkish language that was spoken in Hungary until the 18th century.

Library mice and reading rats

Illustration of a bookworm

I discovered today that in Romanian a bookworm (a keen reader) is un şoarece de bibliotecă (a library mouse), which I rather like, being a bit of a bookworm / library mouse myself.

In French there is a simliar term for a bookworm – rat de bibliothèque (library rat), and in German voracious reader or bookworm is known as a Leseratte (reading rat), and in Spanish the equivalent is ratón de biblioteca (library mouse).

Are there interesting words for bookworm in other languages?

Horses, chariots and cars

Horses at Newborough on Anglesey - photo by Simon Ager

Today I saw a post on Facebook asking why words for horse are so different in languages like English and German, so I thought I’d investigate.

In English horse-related words include horse, stallion (male horse), mare (female horse), foal (young horse), filly (young female horse), colt (young male horse), pony (a small breed of horse), and equine (a horse or horse-like animal; related to horses).

Horse comes from the Middle English horse / hors, from the Old English hors (horse), from the Proto-Germanic *hrussą (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱr̥sos (horse), from Proto-Indo-European *ḱers- (to run) [source]. This is also the root of the Proto-Celtic word *karros (wagon), from which we get the currus (chariot), and the English words car, cart and chariot, and related words in other languages.

Stallion comes from the Middle English stalion, from the Middle French estalon and is of Germanic origin [source].

Mare comes from the Middle English mare / mere, from the Old English mere / miere (female horse, mare), from the Proto-Germanic *marhijō (female horse) [source].

Foal comes from the Middle English fole, from the Old English fola, from the Proto-Germanic *fulô, from the Proto-Indo-European *pōlH- (animal young) [source]

Filly comes from the Old Norse fylja [source].

Colt comes from the Old English colt (young donkey, young camel), from the Proto-Germanic *kultaz (plump; stump; thick shape, bulb), from the Proto-Indo-European *gelt- (something round, pregnant belly, child in the womb), from *gel- (to ball up, amass) [source].

Pony comes from the Scots powny, from the Middle French poulenet (little foal), from the Late Latin pullanus (young of an animal), from pullus (foal) [source].

Equine comes from the Latin equīnus (of or pertaining to horses), from equus (horse) [source].

The equivalent words in other European languages include:

Germanic languages

  German Dutch Danish Norwegian Swedish Icelandic
horse Pferd Paard hest hest häst hestur
stallion Hengst hengst hingst hingst hingst graðhestur
mare Stute merrie hoppe hoppe sto
märr
hryssa
foal Fohlen veulen føl føll
fole
föl folald

The German word Pferd and the Dutch paard come from the Middle High German phert / pherit / pferift (riding horse), from the Old High German pherit / pfarifrit / parafred, from the Late Latin paraverēdus (substitute post horse) [source], from para-, from the Ancient Greek παρά (from, by, near) & verēdus (a fast or light breed of horse), from the Proto-Celtic *uɸorēdos (horse) [source], *uɸo- (under) & *rēdo- (to ride; riding, chariot), from the Proto-Indo-European *(H)reydʰ- (to ride) [source].

The words hengst and hingst come from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱanḱest- / *kankest- (horse), which is also the root of the Welsh, Cornish and Breton words for mare, and of the Old English word for horse or stallion, hengest.

Romance / Italic languages

  French Italian Romanian Spanish Portuguese Latin
horse cheval cavallo cal caballo cavalo equus
stallion étalon stalone armăsar padrillo garanhão celo
mare jument giumenta
cavalla
iapă yegua égua equa
foal poulain puldero mânz potro potro equuleus
equulus
pullus
vitulus

In Latin there was another word for horse – caballus, which was only used in poetry in Classical Latin, and was the normal word for horse in Late and Vulgar Latin. It possibly comes from the Gaulish caballos [source]. This is also the root of the English words cavalry, cavalier, cavalcade and chivalry,

The word equus comes from the Proto-Italic *ekwos, from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos (horse) [source].

Celtic languages

  Breton Cornish Welsh Irish Manx Scottish Gaelic
horse marc’h margh ceffyl capall cabbyl each
stallion marc’h margh march
stalwyn
stail collagh
grihder
greadhair
mare kazeg kasek caseg láir laair làir
foal ebeul ebel ebol searrach sharragh searrach

The Scottish Gaelic word for horse, each, comes from the
Old Irish ech (horse), from Proto-Celtic *ekʷos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁éḱwos (horse), which is also the root of the Breton, Cornish and Welsh words for foal.

The Breton marc’h (horse), the Cornish margh (horse) and the Welsh march (stallion) come from the Proto-Brythonic *marx (horse), from Proto-Celtic *markos (horse), from the Proto-Indo-European *márkos (horse). [source]. This is also the root of the Irish marcaigh (to ride), the Scottish Gaelic marcaich (to ride), and the Manx markiagh (to ride).

Slavic languages

  Bulgarian Czech Polish Russian Serbian Slovak
horse кон kůň kón
konno
лошадь коњ kôň
stallion жребец hřebec ogier
rumak
конь
жеребец
жребец žrebec
mare кобила klisna klacz
kobyła
кобыла кобила kobyla
foal жребец hříbě źrebak жеребёнок фоал žriebä

The Russian word for horse, лошадь, is a borrowing from a Turkic language, probably Tatar [source].

The other Slavic words for horse come from the Proto-Slavic konjь (horse), of unceratin origin [source].

Other European languages

  Latvian Lithuanian Albanian Greek
horse zirgs arklys kalë άλογο
ίππος
stallion ērze erelis hamshor επιβήτορα
mare ķēve kumelė merak φοράδα
foal kumeļi kumeliukas pjellë πουλάρι

Sources: Reverso, Linguee, bab.la, Google Translate

One language

Omnigot logo

Yesterday I say a post in the Silly Linguistics Community on Facebook challenging people to write a sentence in all the languages they speak. This is what I came up with:

Tha e duilich writing une phrase ym mhob språk atá agam, pero ich 試試 red ennagh symoil を書く, kaj nun я хочу říct že il mio tomo tawa supa está cheio de țipari.

This means “It is difficult writing a sentence in every language I speak, but I will try to write something interesting, and now I want to say my hovercraft is full of eels”.

The languages, in order, are Scottish Gaelic, English, French, Welsh, Swedish, Irish, Spanish, German, Chinese, Manx, Japanese, Esperanto, Russian, Czech, Italian, Toki Pona, Portuguese and Romanian.

It’s not the best sentence ever, perhaps, but I enjoyed the challenge of putting it together. It also got me thinking about how many languages and writing systems I could use in a version of my motto “one language is never enough“. This motto appears on some versions of my logo, such as the one above, and I usually try to write it in several difficult languages.

Here are some versions I came up with today. The first version incorporates some of the languages I speak and am learning, plus a few others.

Une singură 语言 är nikdy недостаточно – languages = French, Romanian, Chinese, Swedish, Czech / Slovak, Russian.

Ett seule 言語 ist nunca yn ddigon – languages = Norwegian / Swedish, French, Japanese, German, Portuguese / Galician / Spanish, Welsh.

Jeden lingua er niemals suficiente – languages = Czech / Polish / Slovak / Rusyn, Asturian / Chamorro / Corsican / Galician / Italian / Latin / Sicilian / Interlingua, Danish / Faroese / Icelandic / Norwegian, German, Spanish / Asturian.

Can you incorporate more languages and/or writing systems into this phrase?

The Road Runs

Today I learnt that one way to say goodbye or farewell in Romanian is drum bun. This came up in a Duolingo lesson, and I translated it as “good road”, which is what it means literally. However that’s not how it’s used.

Drum (road) comes from the Greek δρόμος (drómos – road, track), from the Ancient Greek δρόμος (drómos – roadway, road, street, way; journey), from the Proto-Indo-European *drem- (to run) + -ος (-os).

*Drem- is also the root of the English drome, as in hippodrome, aerodrome, velodrome, anadrome, syndrome and palindrome.

In case you’re wondering, an anadrome is a word which forms a different word when spelled backwards, such as desserts and stressed. They are also known as volvograms, reversgrams, heteropalindromes, backwords, semordnilap or emordnilaps, or semordnilaps [source].

Other anadromes in English include spar / raps, star / rats, bus / sub, nip / pin, and so on.

Can you think of others in English or other languages?

Snow falls

As there has been some snow here this week, and it’s snowing at bit as I write this, I thought I’d look at some words for snow.

Snow / Eira
A bit of snow in my garden yesterday morning

In Romanian snow is zăpadă [zəˈpadə], which comes from the Slavic word zapadati (to fall) [source]. To snow is a ninge, and snowfall is ninsoare, which both come from the Latin ningere (to snow), utimately from the Proto-Indo-European *sneygʷʰ- (to snow) [source].

The English word snow comes from Middle English snow/snaw, from the Old English snāw (snow), from the Proto-Germanic *snaiwaz (snow), from the Proto-Indo-European *snóygʷʰos (snow), from the root *sneygʷʰ- (to snow).

Many of the words for snow in other European languages come from the same Proto-Indo-European root. However, words for snow in Welsh (eira), Cornish (ergh) and Breton erc’h, come from the Proto-Celtic *argyos (white), via the Proto-Brythonic *ėrɣ (snow) [source].