Òrain Ghàidhlig / Gaelic Songs

I arrived safely at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO) last night. It was raining a bit when I arrived on Skye, and the skies were cloudy this morning, but this afternoon the sun came out and its rather warm.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

There are quite a few different courses happening here this week, including Gaelic language at various levels, Gaelic for Irish speakers, Gaelic song, and accordion. There was a wine and cheese welcome event last night, and I saw a few people who I know from previous visits to SMO, and met some interesting new people. I spoke some Scottish Gaelic, and quite a bit of Irish and English.

The courses started today, and in the song class we learnt seven songs. I knew some of them already, or had at least heard them before, so they were relatively easy, but others were new to me. The theme of the class is songs from Lewis, one of the Western Isles off the west coast of Scotland. Our tutor, Christine Primrose, is a renowed Gaelic singer from Lewis, and is full of fascinating stories about the songs we’re learning, about the people who wrote them, and about the times when they were written.

On the road to Skye

Glasgow / Glaschu

Today I’m in Glasgow, and have been exploring a bit. I’m staying here tonight, then continuing my journey tomorrow to Mallaig, then to the Isle of Skye, where I’ll be doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs from the Isle of Lewis at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college.

This is the 6th time I’ve done a course there. I always enjoy it, learn lots of songs, get to speak Gaelic, and other languages, and meet some interesting people.

I plan to make the next episode of my podcast about Scottish Gaelic, and hope to interview a few people at the college for it.

I’m looking forward to the train ride from Glasgow to Mallaig along the West Highland Line tomorrow – the scenery is wonderful, and includes the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which appears in one of the Harry Potter films.

West Highland Line / Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean


I had a great time in Aarhus. I arrived on Friday afternoon, and am currently on a train on my way to Copenhagen. I’ll be flying back to Manchester this evening, and should arrive back in Bangor late tonight.

In Aarhus I stayed with a Czech friend who teaches linguistics at the local university. She introduced me to some of her colleagues and friends, and showed me round the city. We also went for walks in the woods, round a nearby lake – Årslev Engsø – and to the beach.

Aarhus is quieter and smaller than Copenhagen – easy to explore on foot, and it seems like a friendly place, and its nickname is the ‘City of Smiles’.

I spoke a bit of Danish, though found it difficult to understand what people said to me in Danish. I also spoke some Welsh and a fair bit of English – all the locals I talked to speak English well, and they didn’t all switch to English when they heard my less than perfect attempts to speak Danish.

Here are some photos:


Exploring Copenhagen / Udforskning af København

Today I am in Copenhagen on the way to see a friend in Aarhus. I left Bangor at way-too-early o’clock this morning, and arrived in Copenhagen early this afternoon. I’m staying in an AirBnB in Sydhavn, not far from the centre of the city. One of my hosts is from Moldova, and the other is a Dane, who I haven’t met yet. I spoke a bit of Russian and Romanian with my Moldovan host, which she seemed pleased to hear.

This afternoon I explored the touristy part of Copenhagen, and saw some nice parks, a castle, lots of boats, including a tall ship, a little mermaid, and some interesting buildings. I heard quite a few different languages being spoken, including Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese and other flavours of Chinese, English, French and even a bit of Danish. My knowledge of Danish is limited – I can read Danish quite well, and speak and understand it a little.

Cycling seems to be a popular way to get around here, perhaps because Copenhagen is so flat. There are plenty of cycle paths, and even traffic lights for cyclists. There are also many cargo bikes – three-wheeled contraptions with a large container on the front for shopping, children, pets or other things. Some cyclists indicate they’re stopping by raising their arm, as if asking a question, which is practical, but looks quite funny to me.

Here are a few photos:

Copenhagen / København

Tomorrow I’m off to Aarhus to see a Czech friend who teaches Linguistics at the university there. We usually speak a mixture of Czech, English and Welsh, and now we can add some Danish to the mix.

Later addition – I’ve met both my hosts now – the guy is actually from the Faroe Islands, and we’ve just had a very interesting conversation about Faroese and other languages. He told me that they used to borrow a lot of words into Faroese, especially from Danish, but now tend to create new words from Faroese roots. He finds it hard to understand some of the new words, as he’s not used to using them. They speak English to each other, by the way, as he doesn’t speak Russian or Romanian, and she speaks only a little Danish, and no Faroese.

Back in Bangor / Yn nôl ym Mangor

Janko Kráľ Park

Yesterday morning I went for a wander around Bratislava, had lunch, then headed to the airport. I got there a bit early, and spent my time mainly listening to an audiobook. There were a couple of other polyglots (from Russian) there, so I had a little chat with them as well.

Bore ddoe mi wnes crwydro o gwmpas Bratislava, ges i ginio, ac yna es i i’r maes awyr. Mi wnes i gyrraedd yna tipyn bach yn gynnar, a mi wnes i gwario fy amser yn gwrando ar llyfr sain yn bennaf. Roedd dau amlieithogwyr (o Rwsia) yna, felly mi wnes i cael sgwrs bach â nhw hefyd.

When I was queueing for the flight, a mother with two daughters was in front of me speaking Slovak and English to each other. By coincidence, they were the same ones who were in the queue in front of me in Birmingham on the way to Bratislava.

Pan ro’n i’n ciwio am yr ehediad, roedd mam efo dwy ferch o’m blaen i yn siarad Slofaceg a Saesneg efo’i gilydd. Fel cyd-ddigwyddiad, roedden nhw yr un pwy oedd yn y res o’m blaen i yn Birmingham ar y ffordd i Bratislava.

On the train from the airport there was a man speak and singing loudly in a language that sounded like Arabic. He appeared to be talking and singing to someone on his phone, though may have just been doing it to himself – he was rather drunk, I think.

Ar y trên o’r maes awyr roedd dyn yn siarad ac yn canu mewn iaith sy’n swnio fel Arabeg. Roedd fel petai roedd o’n siarad ac yn canu efo rhywun ar ei ffôn, ond mae’n bosib roedd o’n gwneud hynny efo’i gilydd – roedd o wedi meddw, dw i’n meddwl.

I arrived back in Bangor last night, and today I’m catching up with things I couldn’t do while away

Mi wnes i gyrraedd yn ôl ym Mangor neithiwr, a heddiw dw i’n gwneud y pethau ro’n i ddim medru gwneud wrth i mi bod i ffwrd.

Exploring Bratislava

Yesterday was the last day of the #PolyglotGathering. I spent the morning learning how to tell stories through dance. We improvised one dance, then learnt some hula dances. It was a lot of fun, and a nice change from the usual talks.

Here are some photos of the Gathering, and from previous polyglot events:


In the afternoon I went to a talk about podcasting, which was interesting. I’ve been considering starting my own podcast for a while, but haven’t actually got round to it yet. I have a name for it – Radio Omniglot, and some ideas about what I would talk about, and now know more about how to set one up and publicize it.

After dinner – chicken and rice, again, I went with some others to a bar in the Old Town. It was the first time I’d been that side of the river, and had a nice evening there. I didn’t stay out too late, as I was rather tired, and managed to find my way home on foot.

This morning there was a polygot picinc in the Medická záhrada (Medical Gardens), a nice little park not far from the centre of Bratislava. It was quite hot, so most of us sat under a tree, and talked and ate for a while. In the afternoon I went on a walking tour of Bratislava’s old town, which is rather fine, and we had a funny and informative guide. After that some of us went to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner. Then I come back to my temporary home by tram and on foot.

Here are some photos of Bratislava:


During the Gathering, and today, we got free travel on trams and buses in Bratislava by showing our name badges, although there rarely seem to be ticket inspections. I only took advantage of this last night and today, as the place I’m staying is only a ten minute walk from the Gathering venue. Others stayed further away and used the buses a lot.

I’m flying to Birmingham from Bratislava tomorrow afternoon, and should be back in Bangor tomorrow night.

Polyglot Gathering

This afternoon I’m off to Bratislava for the #PolyglotGathering – 5 days of talking and learning about languages, meeting other language enthusiasts, and having fun.

This will be my first trip to Bratislava, though I have been through it before when travelling between Vienna and Budapest. I was going to go to the Bratislava at this time last year for the Gathering, but decided to cancel that trip, unfortunately, after breaking my ankle.

I’ll be doing a talk on ‘Deconstructing Language’ on Friday morning. It will look mainly at where words come from, and how and why they change over time. I will also talk a bit about how grammar develops.

For the past few months I’ve been learning some Slovak, mainly with the 50 languages app and Memrise. I already know some Czech, so can understand some Slovak as well, but can’t say much yet.

Heim aftur / Home again

The Polyglot Conference is over now for another year, and I arrived back to Bangor yesterday. Although the conference only lasted two days, a lot was packed into that time.

On the Friday I went on a Golden Circle tour with two coach loads of other polyglots. Unfortunately it was a wet, cloudy and cold day, so the views were not great, but the landscape we could see was rather fine.

The first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir), a World Heritage Site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It is also where the Iceland parliament (Alþingi) met from AD 930 until 1798.

Þingvellir / Thingvellir

Next we went to Geysir, and area of volcanic activity with a number of sprouting hot springs, including the famous Great Geysir, which is currently inactive, and Stokkur, which erupts every few minutes (see photo below). We also had lunch here – there are a number of eating places and souvenir shops in the complex near the hot springs. I was expecting the whole place to stink of sulphur, but it didn’t really.

Þingvellir / Thingvellir

Our final stop was Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), waterfalls in the canyon of Ölfusá river. They were spectacular, and well worth seeing.


In the evening, after we arrived back in Reykajvik, I went for dinner at an Indian restaurant with a few other polyglots.

The conference started on Saturday morning with interesting speeches by Dr Sebastian Drude, the director of the Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding, and Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former President of Iceland and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for languages.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir opening the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

Then there were talks on a variety of topics, with themes including Icelandic language and culture, bilingualism and autism, and maintaining ‘small’ languages. Some of the speakers were lecturers or researchers in universities, others were language enthusiasts. The talks I found most interesting were the one by Daniel Tammet and Sigriður Kristinsdóttir about how he learnt Icelandic in a week with her help; one about bilingualism and autism, one about the cognitive effects of language learning, and one about Mongolian.

The 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

There was plenty of time between the talks and at lunch to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and practise languages. During my time in Iceland, I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese and Irish, and spoke bits of Czech, Scottish Gaelic, Breton, Manx, Swedish and Icelandic.

Lunch was provided – small sandwiches and wraps, though didn’t appeal to me, so I bought something else in a supermarket.

A panel discussuion at the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik

There weren’t any organised activities in the evenings, as there are at the Polyglot Gatherings. Instead babbles of polyglots went off to do their own thing. I went for dinner with some polyglot friends and had very interesting discussions about all sorts of things, not all of which were related to languages – we do have other interests.

The annoucement of where the Polyglot Conference will be in 2018

The next Polyglot Conference will be in Ljubljana in Slovenia from 5-7 October 2018 (as you might have guessed from this photo). So next year I will learn some Slovenian before the conference in Ljubljana, and some Slovak before the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava in Slovakia.

On Monday I did some work on Omniglot in the morning, explored Reykjavik a bit, had lunch in a restaurant in the old harbour area of Reykjavik, did some more work, then explored a bit more with the two Russian teachers who were staying in the same place as me.

Iceland is a very expensive place, which I expected. Meals in restaurants cost at least twice as much as in the UK, as do most other things. It wasn’t as cold as I expected – about 7-10°C during the day and 2-5°C at night. All the locals I met speak very good English, but if you speak Icelandic, they’re happy to speak it with you. There are apparently quite a few people who have moved to Iceland recently for work, most don’t speak Icelandic. On a clear, dry day, the scenery is spectacular. Even on grey, wet days, it’s still impressive and dramatic.

There are some more photos on Flickr:

Iceland / Ísland

Ég fer til Reykjavíkur á morgun

I’m off to Reykjavik tomorrow for the Polyglot Conference. This will be my first time in Iceland, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

I’ve been studying Icelandic with Colloquial Icelandic and Memrise for about a month now. I won’t be having complex conversations just yet, but do at least know some basics. I’ve found quite a few Icelandic words that are similar to English, Swedish and/or German, which helps, and the word order is also similar to English.

One of the speakers at the conference, Daniel Tammet, will be telling us how he learnt Icelandic in a week – rather better than I’ve managed. It should be a very interesting talk.

The title of this post means “I am going to Reykjavik tomorrow”, I think.

Rochester and the Huguenots

This weekend I visited Rochester in Kent for first time, and had a nice day exploring the town. Among its historic buildings, which include an impressive Norman castle, there is the French Hospital. This was founded in 1718 to provide accommodation for Hugenots (French protestants), fleeing religious persecution in France. It now provides sheltered accommodation for elderly descendents of those Hugenots.

Rochester Castle

I also visited the nearby Hugenot Museum, which is very interesting.

One question that is apparently often asked, is where does the name Hugenot come from?

There are various answers to this, but nobody knows which is correct.

The Hugenots in fact referred to themselves, at least early on, as members of L’Église Réformée (the Reformed Church).

The most credible theories are:

– It is derived from the Flemish Huisgenooten (House fellows), and/or the Swiss German Eidgenosen (confederate), and also possibly from the name of Hugues Besançon, a leader of the Genevan partisans.

– They are named after King Hugo’s Gate in Tours, which was reputedly haunted by Le Roy Huget.

– They are named after Hugh Capet (941-996), the first King of the Franks of the House of Capet.

Apparently my surname, Ager, is a Huguenot name, though there is no Huguenot connections in the family history, as far as I’m aware.

Sources: Hugenot Museum, Online Etymology Dictionary

Rochester Cathedral