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?

Between Four Eyes

Illustration of the Swedish phrases mellan fyra ögon (between four eyes)

I learnt this week that in Swedish if you say that something is “between four eyes” – mellan fyra ögon – it means that it is known just to you and the person you’re speaking to, and should be kept secret.

Equivalent expressions in English include:

  • This is (just) between you and me/I
  • Keep it under your hat
  • This is between you, me and the post / gatepost / fencepost / bed-post / lampost / wall
  • Mum’s the word

The phrase “keep it under your hat” with the sense of keeping something a secret apparently first appeared in writing in the early 20th century, and referred to keeping something in your head, i.e. the thing you keep under your hat [source].

The phrase “between you, me and the bed-post” possibly first appeared in writing in 1832 in Eugene Aram, a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton [source].

The phrase “Mum’s the word” has nothing to do with mothers or Egyptian mummies. Instead it refers to the medieval tradition of mumming, a kind of performance involving acting and dancing that was at first done in silence [source].

Do you know any other similar phrases in English or other languages?

Gleann Cholm Cille

I arrived safely in Glencolmbcille (Gleann Cholm Cille) on Saturday night. As we went further west the skies got darker, and when we arrived in Donegal the heavens opened, and it rained almost non-stop until this morning. I don’t come here for the fine weather, but this was a bit extreme, even for this part of the world. Today the sky cleared for a while, and the sun even put in a welcome appearance.

Irish language classes started yesterday afternoon, and the cultural workshops started this afternoon. I’m doing the sean-nós singing, as usual, and am enjoying it, and the Irish classes very much.

There are plenty of people here who I know from previous visits, and quite a few new faces as well. So far I spoken a lot of Irish, and bits of French, Breton, Swedish, German and Czech – people come here from all over the world, so it’s a great place to practise languages.

Last night we were treated to some excellent music and poetry from Bríd Harper and Diarmuid Johnson. Here they are playing some Welsh tunes. Tonight there is some more poetry, this time from Áine Ni Ghlinn.

Lagom är bäst

Lagom

One of the Swedish idioms I learnt recently is lagom är bäst, which is translated as “less is more”, “enough is as good as a feast” or “there is virtue in moderation”, and literally means something like “the right amount is best”.

Lagom [lɑːɡɔm] is a word that is supposedly untranslatable. It is variously defined as meaning “in moderation, in balance, perfect-simple, suitable, enough, sufficient, adequate, just right”.

The Svesnska Akademiens Ordbok defines lagom as:

som är som sig bör (för att passa för ett visst ändamål), lämplig, passande; medelmåttig, medelstor, medelbred, medelgod osv., av normal storlek, styrka osv., normal.

which is as it should (to suit a particular purpose), appropriate, appropriate; mediocre, medium, medium-width, average good, etc., of normal size,. strength, etc., normal

Lagom is apparently the basis of the Swedish national psyche, which emphasises consensus, equality, modesty and avoidance of extremes.

According to Mattias Persson, the word lagom itself actually means “for the law”, or “within the boundaries of the law”, that is, what is normal or according to normal customs. It is a dative case (indirect object) form from lag (law).

Is less more? Are you a minimalist?

Are there words in other languages that have similar meanings to lagom?

Up North & Out West

Directions

This week I learnt some interesting weather-related phrases in Swedish on Memrise, including norrut (up north / northward), söderut (down south / southward), österut (out east / eastward) and västerut (out west / westward).

Examples of how they are used include:

  • Upproret blir mer allmänt och går norrut = The rising is spreading and moving northwards
  • Enandet, som skedde i rätt tid, jämnar vägen för utvidgningen österut = This prompt agreement paves the way to enlargement eastward
  • Det blir regn västerut = There will be rain out west
  • Det klarnar nog upp söderut = It’ll probably clear up down south

Sources: bab.la, Memrise

In Swedish they all have the ut (out) in them, so more literal translations of norrut and söderut would be “out north” and “out south”, or even “north out” and “south out”.

These sound wrong in English, at least to my ears. To me north is up and south is down, so it makes sense to say up north and down south, although I’m not sure why we say out east/west. Does anybody know? Are there other ways to refer to directions?

In Irish, and other Gaelic languages, the words for directions change depending on whether you’re in the north, going north, coming from the north, and so on. For example:

  • tuaisceart = north, northern, ó thuaidh = north of / going north, aduaigh = from the north
  • deisceart = south, southern, ó dheas = south of / going south, aneas = from the south

More details

Treading in Spinach

Language quiz image

A few posts ago I wrote about an interesting Swedish idiom – trampa i klaveret – to make a social mistake, put one’s foot in it, or literally “to step heavily on the accordion”.

Today I learnt the Danish equivalenttræde i spinaten (“to tread in the spinach”). For example, jeg har virkelig trådt i spinaten (“I have really trod in the spinach”) = I really put my foot in it.

Accoriding to Den Danske Ordbog, træde i spinaten means “utilsigtet sige eller gøre noget dumt” (to accidentally say or do something stupid).

Another version is træde/trampe i spinatbedet (“tread/tramp in the spinach bed”) [source].

Then there’s the spinatfugl or “spinach bird”, which is apparently a person who writes reviews or other cultural material in a newspaper without a journalistic background [source].

Does anybody know why such a person is known as a spinach bird?

The word spinach comes from the Middle English spinach, from Anglo-Norman spinache, from the Old French espinoche, from the Old Occitan espinarc, from the Arabic إِسْفَانَاخ‎ (ʾisfānāḵ), from the Persian اسپناخ‎ (ispanâx).

Apparently spinach cinema refers to “Movies that are not very exciting or interesting, but that one feels one must see because they are educational or otherwise uplifting.” [source]

Are there any interesting spinach or other vegetable-related idioms in other languages?

Bratislava

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.

Gender Matters

In languages with grammatical gender, such as Spanish and Swedish, gender matters and can sometimes lead to misundertandings if you get it wrong.

Some words may sound the same, but have different genders and different meanings. For example, in Swedish a team is ett lag (neuter) and a law is en lag (common gender).

I haven’t come across any other homographs like this in Swedish, but there probably are others. Do you known any more in Swedish or other languages?

I found some in Spanish, including:

  • el coma = coma; la coma = comma
  • el mañana = future; la mañana = morning
  • el moral = blackberry bush; la moral = morale, morality
  • el papa = pope; la papa = potato
  • el pez = fish; la pez = tar, pitch
  • el tema = subject; la tema = obsession

Other Swedish words I sometimes get muddled include: väg (path, road) and vägg (wall), and svart (black, dark) and svårt (hard).

So it’s not just gender that matters – accents and spelling are also important.

How do you learn the genders of nouns in languages with grammatical gender?

Instrumental Idioms

trampa i klaveret

The other day I learnt an interesting Swedish idiom – nu trampade jag verkligen i klaveret, which means “I really put my foot in it” or literally “now I really stepped (heavily) on the accordion / piano / keyboard”.

According to the Svenska Akademiens Ordböcker, trampa i klaveret means “göra en social tabbe” (to make a social mistake). Apparently it comes from the phrase “Det låter, sa bonden/klockaren, trampade i klavere” (It sounds, said the farmer / watchman, like trampling on the keyboard” [source].

To put one’s foot in it means “to say or do something tactless or embarrassing; commit a blunder or indiscretion.” [source]. The origins of this phrase are not known.

Other idioms involves musical instruments, or instrumental idioms, include:

  • rhoi’r ffidl yn y to = to give up / throw in the towel (“to put the fiddle in the roof)
  • to play second fiddle = to take a subordinate position to someone was is more important
  • to blow one’s own trumpet = to boast about your own sucesses
  • to blow the whistle (on sth/sb) = to report illegal / unacceptable activities

Do you know any more?

Wise Clocks

city hall from Hantverkargatan Stockholm

The Swedish word klok [kluːk] means wise, sensible or intelligent. It doesn’t sound quite like the English word clock, but looks like it should. In fact it sounds more like cluck.

Some examples of how it’s used, and of related words:

  • klok gubbe = wise old man
  • klok gumma = wise woman
  • klok som en bok/pudel/uggla = as wise as a book/poodle/owl
  • En sådan politik skulle inte vara klok = Such a policy would be ill-advised
  • Detta är en klok rekommendation = This is a sensible recommendation
  • det verkar klokt = that seems wise
  • Är du inte klok? = Are you out of your mind?
  • Är du inte riktigt klok? = Are you crazy? Are you completely out of your mind?
  • Jag blev inte klok på det = I cannot make it out, It didn’t make sense to me
  • klokhet = wisdom, prudence, sense, wit
  • klokskap = cleverness
  • klokt = wisely, judiciously, sagely

Owls are also seen as wise in English, and although we don’t say ‘as wise as a book’, reading books can help on the road to wisdom. Poodles are not usually associated with wisdom in English, as far as I know, but it seems they are in Swedish.

In other languages, what is the equivalent of the phrase ‘as wise as an owl’?

Klok comes from the Old Norse klókr (arch, cunning, clever), from Middle Low German klôk.

The Swedish word for clock is klocka [klɔkːa], which comes from the Old Swedish klockæ, from Old Norse klokka (bell, clock), from Late Latin clocca (o’clock), probably from the Proto-Celtic *klokkos (bell), from the Proto-Indo-European *klēg-/*klōg- (onomatopoeia).

Sources: bab.la, Linguee, Ord.se, Svenska Akademiens Ordböcker, DinOrdbok, Wiktionary