In this episode I discuss which languages are easiest to learn for native speakers of English, and what factors make languages easy or difficult to learn, including grammar, spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, the availablity of resources, and so on.
Top reasons for giving up on a language include losing interest, not having enough time, getting distracted, another language seemed more interesting, and it being too hard.
Tunes features in this episode
Lifting the Lid / Codi’r Caead – a tune I wrote on the cavaquinho in 2020.
In this episode I talk about, and in, Gibberish – what it is, where it comes from, how I learnt it, and possible reasons why some people find it difficult to learn.
How to speak Gibberish:
Tunes features in this episode
Dancing on Custard / Dawnsio ar Gwstard – a tune I wrote on the harp in 2016.
In this episode I talk about Volapük, an international auxilliary language created in the late 19th century by Johann Martin Schleyer, a German priest. I look at the history of the language and its structure and vocabulary, and also talk a bit about Schleyer himself.
Volapük was the first international auxillary language, or indeed constructed language, to attract a significant number of adherents. At its peak there were an estimated 283 clubs, 25 periodicals in or about Volapük, and 316 textbooks in 25 languages.
Not long after that, however, the Volapük movement began collapse and by the early 20th century few people were interested in Volapük. Many former Volapükists switched their attentions to Esperanto, which was published in 1887. Or tried to improve the language, and create new versions, none of which had much success.
The photo above is of Johann Martin Schleyer and comes from: Wikipedia
Information about Volapük
Examples of spoken Volapük
Tunes features in this episode
In this episode I talk about language families – what they are, and how they develop, and I introduce some major and minor language families.
According to Wikipedia, a language family is “a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family”.
According to Ethnologue there are currently 142 different language families and 7,111 living languages. The ten largest languages families account for about 88% of the world’s population, and 74% of the world’s languages.
Top Ten Language Families
|Language Family||Number of languages||Number of speakers|
Here’s an illustration a the family tree of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages:
More information about language families
The tune featured in this episode
In this episode I bring you news from the 2019 Polyglot Gathering, an annual get-together of polyglots and language lovers from all over the world. This year the Polyglot Gathering took place in Bratislava, Slovakia for the third time – it started in 2015 in Berlin, and was there for three years, then moved to Bratislava. The next Gathering will be in Teresin, near Warsaw in Poland from 26-30 May 2020.
I was planning to interview people at the Gathering, and to keep an audio diary, but was enjoying myself too much and decided to give you a flavour of the event after I got home. So this is the story of my Adventures in Polyglotland.
My badge from the Polyglot Gathering showing the languages I speak fluently, or at least fairly well:
N = native language, C = advanced level, B = intermediate level, A = basic / elementary level, en = English, cy = Cymraeg (Welsh), zh = 中文 [zhōngwén] – (Mandarin Chinese), ga = Gaeilge (Irish), es = español (Spanish), de = Deutsch (German), eo = Esperanto, gd = Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic), ja = Japanese, gv = Gaelg Vanninagh (Manx Gaelic), ru = Русский [Russkij] (Russian), cs = český (Czech), sv = Svenska (Swedish), da = Dansk (Danish).
Information about polyglot events: http://www.omniglot.com/events/
Music featured in this episode
In this episode I talk about the international language, or la lingva internacia, otherwise known as Esperanto. I look into it’s history and development, and discuss the language itself.
Here are some native speakers of Esperanto (they do exist) talking in Esperanto:
How Esperanto can help you to learn other languages:
This is an original song in Esperanto:
Music featured in this episode
The Esperanto anthem, La Espero, written by L.L. Zamenhof:
Mwmpwy Porthaethwy / Menai Bridge Fancy
More information about Esperanto:
Most people know, or at least have some idea what an alphabet is, but many people might not be so familiar with abjads, abugidas, syllabaries and other writing systems. In this episode I explain what these words mean, and how these writing systems work. I also talk a bit about the history of writing.
Here are some definitions:
Alphabet – a set of letters or other signs, usually arranged in a fixed order, used to represent the phonemes (sounds) of a language [source].
Abjad – a type of writing system where each symbol stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel [source]. Also known as a consonant alphabet. Long vowels can be indicated by consonants, and short vowels can be indicated by lines, dots and other squiggles added to the consonants letters. When written with the short vowel symbols, they are said to be ‘vocalised’. Normally they are written ‘unvocalised’.
Abugida – a segmental writing system in which consonant–vowel sequences are written as a unit: each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is secondary [source]. Also known as a syllabic alphabet or alphasyllabary.
Syllabary – a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words [source].
Logograph – a single written symbol that represents an entire word or phrase without indicating its pronunciation [source].
Ideograph – a graphic character that indicates the meaning of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it [source].
Pictograph – a picture representing a word, phrase, or idea, especially one used in early writing systems. A picture or symbol standing for a word or group of words [source].
The development of the Chinese character for horse
The tunes featured in the episode are:
The Blackbird’s Tail / Cynffon yr Aderyn Du
The Dragon’s Fancy / Mwmpwy y Ddraig
In this episode I look into the differences between languages and dialects, and talk a bit about where they come from and how they develop.
Max Weinreich (1894-1969), a Russian linguist who specialised in sociolinguistics and Yiddish, popularised the saying,
אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט
(a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot)
A language is a dialect with an army and navy
There are various definitions of language. This is one from the Free Dictionary:
- Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols.
- Such a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words.
- Such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect.
Merriam-Webster defines language as:
- the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community
- a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings
There are also different definitions of dialect. The Free Dictionary define it as:
- A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists.
Merriam-Webster defines dialect as:
- a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language
Tunes featured in this episode hear
This epsiode is about polyglottery and was partly recorded at the 2018 Polyglot Conference in Ljubljana in Slovenia.
I talk about what is a polyglot, how many languages you have to speak to call yourself a polyglot, and discuss what polyglots get up to, including the Polyglot Conference and other polyglot events, such as the Polyglot Gathering and LangFest. There are also some sound bites from participants in the conference in a variety of languages.
Definitions of polyglot:
- “A polyglot is a person who speaks or understands many languages; a person with a command of many languages” [Collins English Dictionary].
- “person who knows and is able to use several languages” [English Oxford Living Dictionaries].
Definitions of polyglottery:
- “The knowledge or use of several languages, polyglot character” [English Oxford Living Dictionaries].
Other takes on polyglottery
Websites of some of the people who took part in the episode
- Foreign Language Expertise with Alexander Arguelles
- How to get fluent, with Dr Popkins
- Lindsay Does Languages. Lindsay is also co-host of the Fluent Show podcast
- The Intrepid Guide – Language Guides & Travel Tips from Around the World
- LinguaMaterna – Learn a New Language Without The complications
- Wouter Corduwener’s YouTube channel
If you took part in this podcast and have a website, blog, YouTube channel, etc that you’d like to see included here, let me know in the comments.
Videos from Polylgot events
My photos and videos from polyglot events