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?

Time is pouring

This week I learnt the Russian expression до сих пор ― (do sikh por), which means still, hitherto, up to now, thus far, or literally “until this time”.

The пор comes from пора (pora – time, season, weather, period), which appears in such phrases as:

  • пора́ идти́ (pora idti) = it’s time to go
  • в са́мую по́ру (v samuju poru) = in the nick of time
  • до каки́х пор? (do kakikh por?) = how long?
  • с каки́х пор? (s kakikh por?) = since when?
  • до тех пор, пока́ (do tekh por, poka) = so long as
  • с тех пор, как (s tekh por, kak) = ever since
  • на пе́рвых пора́х (na pervykh porakh) = at first

Source: Wiktionary

It’s interesting that пора means both time and weather – some other languages also have one word for both: temps in French, amzer in Breton, aimsir in Irish. Do you know of others?


I’m currently in Bratislava in Slovakia for the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, which starts tomorrow, although there was an opening ceremony this evening.

The Polyglot Gathering 2019 begins

Today I went on a tour taking in three countries – Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. I had conversations in English, French, German, Mandarin, Spanish and Irish, and spoke odd bits of Czech, Slovak, Russian, Scots, Hungarian, Portuguese, Welsh, Esperanto and Swedish.

Hainburg Castle

I probably won’t have much time for blogging with all the intensive polylgotting that’s going on. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Cheeky faces


In my Czech lessons this week I learnt two words that can mean face – obličej [ˈoblɪt͡ʃɛj] and tvář [tvaːr̝̊], which also means cheek. I couldn’t work out why one was used to mean face in some contexts, and the other in other contexts. Can any of you enlighten me?

Obličej comes from the Proto-Slavic ob + lice (face, cheek), which is also the root of the Czech líc (front, face, right side, face side) and líce (cheeks).

Cognates in other Slavic languages include: Polish oblicze (face, character), Russian обличье (image, character, look), and Ukrainian обли́ччя (face, character) [source].

Tvář comes from the Proto-Slavic *tvarь (creation, creature) [source]. Cognates in other Slavic languages include: Polish twarz (face), Russian тварь (creature, being, animal, beast, monster; mean, vile, worthless), and Croatian tvar (substance, material) [source].

Another Czech word for face is ksicht, from the German Gesicht (face).

Context Matters

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


Illustration of a tie

Today I discovered that the Russian word галстук [ˈɡalstʊk] (tie, necktie, neckerchief) was borrowed from the German Halstuch (tie, scarf, cravat, necktie, neckwear, kerchief, bandana, neckerchief neckcloth), or from the Dutch halsdoek (neckerchicef, scarf, shawl).

When words beginning with h are borrowed into Russian, the h becomes г (g), as there is no h sound in Russian. This is probably why I didn’t spot the connection between галстук and Halstuch before.

Halstuch comes from Hals (tail, stem, cervix neck, throat) and Tuch (cloth, sheet, square, blanket, drape, kerchief, towel, scarf, dishcloth).

There are quite a few other Russian words borrowed from German, including вахтёр (porter, janitor, watchman) – from Wächter, картофель (potatoes) – from Kartoffel, and клавир (keyboard instrument) – from Klavier.

Sources: Wiktionary,

A Slew of Servants

When putting together a post on my Celtiadur today, I discovered that the English word slew (a large amount) is related to words in Celtic languages for troop, army, host or throng, and to words for servant in Slavic languages.

Slew was in fact borrowed from Irish – from the word slua (host, force, army; crowd, multitude, throng), from the Old Irish slúag / slóg (army, host; throng, crowd, company, assembly), from Proto-Celtic *slougos (troop, army), from the Proto-Indo-European *slowgʰos / *slowgos (entourage).

Manchester Day Parade

There are similar words in the other Celtic languages, including llu in Welsh, which means host, multitude, throng, crowd, flock, army, or regiment, and appears in the Welsh word for police: heddlu (hedd = peace).

In Manx the equivalent is sleih, which is the general word for people, and also means public, family, relations, inhabitants, crowd or populace.

Words for servant in Slavic languages, such as sluha in Czech and Slovak, sługa in Polish, and слуга (sluga) in Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, all come from the same root, via the the Proto-Slavic word sluga (servant).

Another English word that comes from the same root is slogan, from the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm (battle cry), from the Old Irish slúag / slóg (army) and gairm (a call, cry) [source].

Sources: Wiktionary, On-Line Manx Dictionary, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru

Rare Letters

Multiocular O

Today I heard about a very unusual and rare Cyrillic letter – the Multiocular O (Мультиокулярная О in Russian):

According to Wikipedia, this letter is “a rare exotic glyph variant of the Cyrillic letter O. This glyph variant can be found in certain manuscripts in the phrase «серафими многоꙮчитїи» (many-eyed seraphim)”. It appears in a copy of the Psalms from about 1429.

This is an example of what it looks like in a sentence:

Multiocular O in a sentence

Source: ВикипедиЯ

Some other unusual Cyrillic letters include:

  • Monocular O: Ꙩ ꙩ – used in ꙩко (eye)
  • Binocular O: Ꙫ ꙫ – used in ꙫчи ([two] eyes)
  • Double Monocular O: Ꙭ ꙭ – used in ꙭчи ([two] eyes)
  • Hundred thousands: ҈
  • Millions: ҉
  • Thousand millions: ꙲

None are commonly used, but I’m happy to know that they exist.

Who needs emoticons when you have letters like and ?

Do you know of any other unusual letters in Cyrillic or other scripts?

Selective Understanding

Do you ever find yourself listening a something in a language you thought you knew well, and having difficultly understanding it?

This happens to me, even with languages I speak fluently, such as Welsh and Irish, especially when people are talking about an unfamiliar subject, or using an unfamiliar vocabulary.

Yesterday, for example, I watched some videos on YouTube in Russian and Swedish. I don’t speak either language fluently, but I can usually get a least some idea what people are talking about in them. With these videos though, I found it difficult to understand very much at all, as they were talking about people and things I know little or nothing about.

This is the Russian video – something about US visas, I think:

This is the Swedish video – something about politicians, I think:

I can usually understand just about everything on Radio Cymru (a Welsh language radio station), but sometimes I find it difficult to follow what people are saying, especially if they’re using very colloquial or very formal language. So there’s always more to learn.