Monthly Archives: April 2015

Language Immersion

For the next two weeks I will be immersed in other languages. I will be starting with Welsh, then throwing myself into the world of a polyglot in Berlin!


Starting tomorrow Tresaith will be welcoming 10 adult learners who have decided to spend an entire week living through the medium of Welsh. Some will be nervous, some will be excited, some will be a little of both, but one thing is certain. From the following week on, they will have the capacity to go about their daily lives using Welsh as they will have proved to themselves that it IS possible.

I’ve been to bootcamp before and been through the whole experience so I will be there to give a hand and offer an understanding shoulder if moments of frustration should set in. Everyone reacts differently, but it is common to become very tired after a couple of days as the brain starts to rebel and wants to relax back into English.

Those that push through this stage and force their brain to cooperate find that it starts to become easier until eventually speaking Welsh seems like the most natural thing in the world. And I really look forward to watching hesitant learners turn into new Welsh speakers.


Following that I’ll be heading off to Berlin to experience the Polyglot Get-together. I hope to meet lots of people that I only know online – from Facebook or online language-learning courses – to make new friends and to dabble in new languages. Who knows? I might find people that have learnt Welsh and want to practise! It would be interesting to see how many others know what language we’re speaking.

So my next post will be packed full of news … and hopefully a successful report on the next step in my goal of becoming a polyglot.

Tragedy in the Mediterranean

Here in Wales we don’t get boatloads of desperate people drowning while trying reach our shores. We don’t even have a particularly high rate of migration, apart from people moving here from England. But the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean must surely touch us all.

Some people try to claim these aren’t REAL asylum seekers. They call them economic migrants as if trying to avoid watching your children starve to death because you don’t have the money to feed them somehow means you are less deserving of assistance than those fleeing violence.

I cannot believe that anyone would risk their lives making such a treacherous journey just because they weren’t completely satisfied with their conditions and wanted something a bit better. These people are desperate. No one in their right mind would attempt that crossing if they weren’t.

UKIP wants to drastically reduce the foreign aid that the UK gives to improve conditions for people in their homelands. What affect would that have? It would increase the numbers of people forced to search for a way to sustain their families elsewhere. There would be MORE people needing to leave their homes and struggling to reach a place of safety.

If we really want a solution we need to find ways to help people have safe and satisfying lives in their own countries. We need more of the quiet heroes like Wil Morus Jones who started BanglaCymru, a Welsh organisation that performs free surgery for the extremely poor in Bangladesh, giving a new lease of life to those suffering from cleft palate deformities.

The world has the capacity to feed and nuture all its people, but everything is out of balance. There are governments and leaders across the world that are more concerned with protecting the welfare of a few at the top than improving the standard of living and providing hope to the many at the bottom. While we still have such an imbalance, people will become desperate and do anything to give a better life to their children. While we still have that, I fear we will see more of the tragedies that occurred this week.

Read more from The Conversation

German in 2 weeks

The Main Goal

In two weeks time I go to Berlin – and I want to speak German!

It’s not like I’m starting completely from scratch … I did get to the stage where I could hold a basic conversation at one stage, and I took an intermediate level class in Sydney back in 1980 … but, as I said, that was 1980 and I haven’t really spoken any German since.

I also have an underlying goal to become a real polyglot – not someone that has a passive knowledge of how several languages work and can say a few phrases in them, but someone who can have an interesting conversation with native speakers – which is the reason for my trip to Berlin – to attend the 2015 Polyglot Gathering and gain inspiration from those that have achieved my dream.


But after the Polyglot Gathering I will be going to meet someone very special.

In 1980, when I was attending the German class I decided I needed a German penfriend. I got hold of a German magazine and wrote a letter to the Editor asking if anyone would like to correspond with someone living in Australia. I had no idea that it would bring so many responses. Every day brought more and more. One day I received 52 letters – all from German people wanting to write to me.

Initially they came from what was West Germany, but after a few weeks I received a handful from the East. These seemed especially significant as the writers didn’t have many opportunities to correspond with people in the west.

I ended up taking the majority of the letters to a couple of secondary schools that taught German as I couldn’t possibly answer them all, but I wrote to several of them myself. Most of them dropped away over time, but right from the beginning my correspondence with Traudi was special.

Phonecall in the night

We were married around the same time, and had our first child in the same year. Traudi sent me photos of her house and lifestyle, and I sent her photos of mine. She was full of questions, curious to learn of life beyond the Berlin Wall, and I was curious to know what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.

One day I received a letter with her phone number. She said it was very difficult for her to call me, but she could receive a call from the West. I worked out the time difference. If I was up feeding my young baby in the middle of the night, that would be a good time to call. The International Switch Operator in Brisbane was very surprised that I wanted to call an East German number but managed to put me through. If you’d asked me straight after the call what we talked about I couldn’t have told you. We had 5 minutes of laughing and crying and total disbelief that we were actually talking to each other.

I’ve never spoken to Traudi since, but we’ve exchanged letters and cards over the years. I read of her joy at being able to travel to Sweden after the Wall went down, her struggles when she lost her job then her husband lost his, and the amazing way they picked themselves up working with unemployed youth and establishing an eco business based on environmentally sound gardening.

I will be spending two days with Traudi and Jürgen at Haselnusshof and I can’t believe we are finally going to meet after all this time.

My German has to be good enough!

Online Learning

How am I revising?

I’ve been dabbling in a few different methods to see what will get me to my goal the fastest. I started by glancing through a few German books that I have and amazingly some basic vocabulary started to come back.

Then I signed up for a German Made Simple Udemy course. I was lucky enough to do that when it was being offered free, though I see it’s over £160 now! I have nearly finished it and it’s going really well, reminding me of the basic grammar structures.

I’m also following the German course on Duolingo and I have to admit I’m finding that quite addictive! I can’t believe that such a high quality course is offered free!

I would love to take up Benny the Polyglot’s Fluent in 3 Months but I don’t have that long!

I’m going to add some Bliu Bliu into the mix though, to increase my vocabulary reading jokes and listening to native speakers.

And I’ve been given a whole list of suggestions of podcasts and good websites to listen to by a sympathetic fellow language learner.

So, two weeks to go before I put my revision skills to the test.

But there is one other little hurdle to get over as well – I’m going to a Welsh bootcamp in the lead up to going to Berlin – only Welsh allowed! If anything is going to earn me my novice polyglot badge, that will.

Wish me luck!

The Polyglot Game

In order to practise switching from one language to another, it was suggested that I try my hand at the Polyglot Game. It basically consists of a spinner with several languages written on it and the participants take turn to spin the spinner, then start speaking in whichever language comes up.

You can see a couple of polyglots showing their skills in the following YouTube clip. I will get there!

Language Confusion

It started as a normal day for me here in Wales – listening to Radio Cymru, reading a little from Golwg and doing my best to think in Welsh as much as possible. But, I had an Esperanto-speaking visitor on the way.

Esperanto – the international language

I learnt Esperanto back in 1997 when I was living in Australia. I attended the only Universal Congress (annual international get-together for Esperanto-speakers) ever held on Australian soil in Adelaide, and I was hooked on the language. How could I not be when I was surrounded by people from all over the world, from all sorts of different language backgrounds, freely and fluently communicating in a neutral, international language. The atmosphere of amazing and although I hadn’t been learning Esperanto very long myself, I found I understood a lot of what was being said. Flying home to Perth I cried. I didn’t want to leave!

Esperanto in Wales

But Esperanto isn’t hugely popular in Wales. There is a small group that gets together in Cardiff once a month (see Esperanto in Cardiff for a calendar of their activities) to socialise in Esperanto but as I was concentrating on learning Welsh at the time, I found I inserted more and more Welsh words into my Esperanto conversations – to the amusement of those that could understand Welsh and the confusion of those that couldn’t!

Visitor from Korea

A very useful service exists for travellers in the Esperanto world – Pasporta Servo. It maintains a list of Esperanto speakers around the world who are willing to give a few days’ accommodation to Esperanto-speaking guests. When I lived in Perth, Western Australia, I hosted a number of guests from countries as diverse as Ghana, Argentina, The Netherlands and the US. It was a great experience! I also stayed with Esperanto-speakers when I travelled in Vietnam and I learned a lot more about the everyday life of the people than a tourist normally would.

So, I recently put my name back in the Pasporta Servo to see if I would get any enquiries from Esperantists keen to learn about Wales. It wasn’t long before I had an email from a woman from South Korea – Minmin – and she arrived last Sunday.

Brain freeze

What happened next was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had!

At first I struggled to speak Esperanto. I was so rusty and all that came out was Welsh. It didn’t help that there are some similar words, or those that started with the same letter:

  • today – heddiw (Welsh) – hodiau (Esperanto)
  • window – fenest (Welsh) – fenestro (Esperanto)
  • roof – to (Welsh) – tegmento (Esperanto)

All I needed was the slightest hint and all that came out was Welsh. But then a really weird thing happened.

The next day it was as if my brain suddenly thought I know this language! It’s really familiar! and it threw a switch. My Esperanto came flooding back … and my Welsh disappeared, completely! I was totally fine chatting away in Esperanto with Minmin, but when the phone rang and the caller was someone I had only ever spoken Welsh with I just stood there totally frozen. I opened my mouth to speak but no Welsh would come into my head – not even the most basic phrase. I couldn’t remember how to say I am let alone discuss getting a new floor in my bathroom!

It felt like there was some kind of battle going on in my head, and Welsh wasn’t putting up much of a fight. I somehow stammered through that conversation in extremely broken Welsh, then had the same experience when we visited the Amgueddfa Wlân. I discussed the menu board with Minmin in Esperanto, turned to order food and felt really stupid – no Welsh! I didn’t want to resort to English, so I stuttered through a couple of sentences in a mixture of Esperanto with the odd Welsh word that managed to push its way through, but it was really frustrating and I thought my head was going to explode.

Brain thaw

It carried on like that for a whole day. If I put the radio on I could understand everything (well, to my normal level of understanding!) and if I read any Welsh – no problem at all – but totally incapable of producing a coherent sentence.

Then, to my great relief, the following day the struggle in my brain started to relax and the Welsh started to come back. When I said something in Esperanto to Minmin I then thought how I would say it in Welsh and as the day progressed it became easier and easier. I still confused the two occasionally but it was clear that it had only been a temporary affliction due to the sudden shock of forcing my brain to recall something it had stored away in a hard-to-reach spot.

Now that Minmin has gone I’m determined not to let the Esperanto slip away again. I will do it in reverse – speaking Welsh, then thinking how I would say that in Esperanto, just enough to keep it active when I want it.

And if I really want to be a Polyglot, I’ll have to do that with all the languages I learn. It will be interesting to find out what is the minimum I need to do to keep up a certain level of ability. There aren’t enough hours in the day to practise every language I want to learn, but people successfully become Polyglots so no reason why I can’t too.

Let’s hope my brain doesn’t have other ideas!