Monthly Archives: May 2015

Ynni Niwclear

Mae’n hen amser i fi ddechrau blogio yn Gymraeg. Felly, dyma rywbeth dw i wedi “paratoi’n gynnar” – erthygl sgwennais i ar gyfer fy Nghwrs Graenus ar-lein. Hoffwn i ddarllen beth mae pobl eraill yn meddwl am y pwnc.

Ynni Niwclear: y Ffordd Ymlaen?

Llaw Niwclear

Un o’r pethau sydd wedi fy mhoeni ers roeddwn yn blentyn yw ynni niwclear. Gyda damweiniau fel Chernobyl a Fukushima, mae’n amhosibl dweud ei fod e’n hollol ddiogel, ond ar y llaw arall nid yw e’n cynhyrchu cymaint o garbon â dulliau eraill. Mae hynny’n bwysig iawn os rydym eisiau brwydro yn erbyn cynhesu byd-eang, felly yw e’n well nag egni adnewyddadwy?

Beth am yr holl wastraff ymbelydrol sydd yn mynd i fodoli am filoedd o flynyddoedd a does neb yn gwybod beth i’w wneud gyda fe? Oes hawl gyda ni adael problem enfawr i genedlaethau’r dyfodol?

All y metel thoriwm fod yr ateb? Yn India, erbyn y flwyddyn nesaf, dechreuir adeiladu’r adweithydd niwclear thoriwm cyntaf yn y byd. Mae thoriwm dairgwaith mwy cyffredin dros y byd nag wraniwm, a bydd yr adweithydd yn defnyddio llawer llai o ddefnydd i redeg y broses ymholltiad niwclear.

Mae thoriwm yn fwy diogel nag wraniwm hefyd. Os bydd rhywbeth yn mynd o’i le mewn adweithydd niwclear thoriwm, mae’r broses yn dod i ben ac mae popeth yn oeri’n raddol – dim ffrwydrad, dim colled ymbelydrol, dim peryg i bobl neu’r amgylchedd. Mae’r broses yn cynhyrchu gwastraff ymbelydrol, ond llawer llai nag wraniwm ac mae’n colli ymbelydredd mewn dau neu dri chant o flynyddoedd, nid miloedd!

Dyw e ddim yn rhywbeth newydd chwaith. Yn y pumdegau a’r chwedegau roedd gwyddonwyr yn yr Unol Daleithiau’n gwneud gwaith ymchwil i greu ynni trwy ddefnyddio thoriwm. Roedd y broses yn addawol iawn, ond roedd un broblem fach. Cyfnod y Rhyfel Oer oedd yr adeg hon.

Roedd diddordeb mawr mewn datblygu arfau niwclear. Dyw hi ddim yn hollol amhosibl defnyddio thoriwm ar gyfer arfau, ond mae’n anodd iawn gyda mwy o risg i’r bobl sy’n ceisio ei wneud e. Trwy ddefnyddio wraniwm roedd yn bosibl datblygu bomiau niwclear, a dyna ble rhoddodd y llywodraeth a lluoedd arfog eu holl gefnogaeth ag arian.

Heddiw mae’r blaenoriaethau wedi newid. Yn hytrach na ffocysu ar arfau a gelynion mae’n bwysig canolbwyntio ar y pethau sydd yn well ar gyfer y blaned i gyd. Mae Tsieina hefyd yn gwneud ymchwil i greu egni o thoriwm, ac wrth gwrs mae gwyddonwyr yn yr Unol Daleithiau, ym Mhrydain a gwledydd eraill sydd yn diddori yn y syniad.

Fel unrhyw beth newydd mae’n eithaf drud i ddylunio ac adeiladu adweithydd chwyldroadol ond dyma gyfle da i Gymru ddangos sut i’w wneud e. Yn hytrach nag adeiladu adweithydd niwclear traddodiadol yn Wylfa gyda’r holl broblemau o ddefnyddio wraniwm, beth am arwain y byd ac adeiladu un yn seiliedig ar thoriwm?

Mwy o wybodaeth (yn Saesneg):

Energy from Thorium

World Nuclear Association

 

MosaLingua on my phone

MosaLingua logo

One of the benefits of attending the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin was the chance to sample a few different language learning methods. MosaLingua is an app for iPhone or Android and it usually costs £3.99 (which won’t break the bank) but Gathering attendees got a free sample.

So, the first question was – which language to try?

Revising while learning

One of the tips to becoming a polyglot is to learn a new language through one that isn’t your mother tongue but you’ve already spent some time studying it. This gives you the chance to revise a previously learnt language (instead of having it go rusty) and stops you thinking too much in your mother tongue. I’m also hoping that it will help me to be able to swap between languages more easily. I decided to apply that principle here and rather than select English as my mother tongue, I selected French.

And, just for fun, I chose to learn Brazilian Portuguese. MosaLingua

I confess to having a slight advantage here. The language isn’t completely unknown to me although I haven’t tried to learn it. I used to know a few Brazilians in Australia and I could often understand when they spoke Portuguese to each other. Also, when I went along to a presentation in Portuguese at the Polyglot Gathering, I found I could understand most of it.

What I’ve learnt so far

Well, I’ve been learning for a few days following the recommended 5 minutes per day. I would usually spend rather more time than that if I were serious about learning a language – about 20 to 30 minutes if possible – but I just wanted to dabble with Portuguese and see what I thought of the app.

Session One – I was presented with 5 words to learn for the day and they were all words I could guess: e.g. senhora, senhor, senhorita, obrigado(a).  Obviously the app has to assume that the learner has no knowledge to start with, but when I had no difficulty with these words I was asked if they were too easy and if I wanted to progress to a harder level. For the moment I’ll stay where I am, but good to see that I can move on if I want to.

Categories and custom lists

The app offers the facility to create your own custom lists of words or phrases that you want to learn and you can ignore words that you don’t consider useful. The vocab comes in categories, so you can select to learn from a particular category, e.g. transport, shopping, basic phrases, emergencies.

Dialogues

By going to a Plus section, you have the chance to learn from dialogues. These are presented in steps: audio by itself initially so you can listen several times and see how much you understand. Then you can play the dialogue again with subtitles in your target language (e.g. Brazilian Portuguese), then with subtitles in the language you know (e.g. French), and finally, the whole dialogue is presented with key phrases on cards that you can learn and test yourself on.

MosaOnline

You can get directly to the MosaLingua online community from the app where you can join a users’ group and receive advice on language learning. There is also information on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MosaLingua

So what do I think?

It’s a bit too early for me to tell yet, but the quality of the sound files is good and there is quite a lot of written advice on how to learn that is easily accessible within the app.

The app itself is easy to use and responds quickly. As I’m not in any hurry to learn Portuguese I’ll probably just puddle along with it doing the 5 minutes a day until I get to a stage where I have to put more effort in, then I’ll see how it compares to other methods. At the moment it only seems to be teaching me individual words and short phrases, but it’s too early to say how useful it will be and I have to start somewhere!

With any luck I’ll be able to add Brazilian Portuguese to my list of languages spoken at the next Polyglot Gathering!

Duolingo

As part of my journey to becoming a polyglot, I’m testing out the various online language learning methods that are available. Today I focus on one that is free to use and becoming very well known – Duolingo.
Duolingo Logo

Appearance

There is one word for the look and feel of Duolingo – cute!

It is engaging, entertaining, and rather addictive, and with its ‘lingot’ rewards and ‘leveling up’ it feels like a fun game. It’s equally attractive and easy to use on a laptop or smartphone, so you can practise wherever you are. But, how well do you learn a language?

Revision

In the past I’ve studied several languages, but neglected them. I know they are there buried in my long-term memory, but I need to reactivate them. I decided to try Duolingo to see if it could help to recover my lost fluency in German, Spanish and French. Yes, all together at the same time! Why not?

I started with German before I went to visit my German penfriend and found that it definitely helped me remember vocabulary and basic phrases. I started by attempting the Placement Test which Duolingo uses to assign you to a starting level if you have prior knowledge. This Placement Test is invaluable. It gives you an insight into your current ability and allows you to jump over the beginner levels if that is appropriate.

There is also a Test Out check that you can do when you start on a new topic and you think you already know most of it. You get 3 Heart lives to start and you lose a Heart each time you get something wrong. If you make it to the end without losing them all, you are credited with that topic and you can move on.

The Placement Test gave me a few levels start in German, Spanish and French and I’m currently sailing through the topics, really enjoying challenging myself with the Test Out first to see how much I can remember before working through the topic if I have to.

So far, so good!

Learning a New Language

But what if I try a language I’ve never learnt before? One with spelling that doesn’t seem to bear much relation to the pronunciation? One that I’ve hardly ever heard spoken before?

One like … Irish?

No point attempting the Placement Test, so straight into Lesson 1 – Basics.

It was interesting to hear the pronunciation of the words – especially to learn that cailín, the word for girl, sounds like ‘colleen’ that I heard as a word for an Irish girl when I was young – but there are times when a new word is introduced just in the written form with a picture and until you come across it again somewhere in the practice exercises and it happens to have a sound file with it, you only have a vague idea how to pronounce it.

This is a flaw. I don’t know if it is like this at the beginner levels of all the languages, or it just happens that the team building the Irish course haven’t included enough sound files, but I found it a bit annoying.

I also found that being forced to remember the spelling of words right from the beginning was frustrating, but then I have become used to the listen and speak method of the Say Something in Welsh course, so I would rather not focus on the written form so early on.

Having said that though, I will persist. I rather like the way the Irish words feel to pronounce, especially the ‘fullness’ of the ‘r’ sounds, and I can feel an expedition to the Gaeltacht coming on in the future!

Penfriends for 35 years

The Polyglot Gathering was only the beginning of my trip to Germany. What came next was an extremely special and emotional meeting that I will never forget.

How it all began

In 1980 I was attending a German nightclass in Sydney, Australia. I was very keen to have contact with someone actually living in Germany, so when I got hold of a German magazine I wrote to the Editor and requested a penfriend. I had no idea what was to come!

Literally hundreds of letters started arriving – 52 on one single day! Evidently the idea of having a penfriend in Australia was very appealing to a lot of Germans. At first they were overwhelmingly from West Germany, but then a trickle started to come through from the East – behind the Iron Curtain. A lot of the letters were very similar, but one stood out in particular. I don’t know what it was, but Traudi’s letter seemed different – somehow more personal – and I was keen to write to her.

I selected a few, mainly from the East like Traudi, and took the rest to local secondary schools that taught German. There was NO WAY I could handle that many letters!

Gradually the other correspondence dwindled and stopped, but Traudi and I kept writing. It was fascinating comparing our lives and sharing our experiences as new mothers living in completely different circumstances. We exchanged photos and talked about our hopes for the future.

A phonecall in the night

Then came a letter with a surprise. Traudi had organised a 17-digit phone number which I could use to call her. She wasn’t able to call out, but she could receive a call. I worked out the time difference and saw that it would be good to call when I was up in the night feeding my young baby girl.

I had to make the call through an International Operator in Brisbane, who sounded half asleep and was very surprised that I was trying to call East Germany. “I hope YOU can speak German when they answer on the other end, as I can’t!” but he was keen to help.

We got through, but that first time Traudi wasn’t home. Jürgen, her husband, asked if I could call again at the same time the following night and he would make sure she was there. The following night I contacted the Operator again and we went through the procedure again.

This time Traudi answered. I don’t think we said a lot: it was mainly laughing, crying and exclamations of joy, but it opened a small chink in the Wall.

A change of strategy

Unfortunately I didn’t keep my German up, moving to Weipa where there was no nightschool and then starting to learn Spanish instead. Gradually I wrote shorter and shorter letters as it took longer and longer for me to write in German.

I didn’t want to stop writing though, so Traudi suggested that I write in English and she would get help to translate it, and she would continue to write in German which I could manage to read with the help of a dictionary.

This worked well, and although we dropped down to only once or twice a year, we kept the communication up.

The end of the Wall

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 Traudi’s life began to change. At first it wasn’t for the better in terms of job security. She and Jürgen both lost their jobs and with a young child wondered what to do. Keen environmentalists they decided to become as self-sufficient as possible, and established Haselnusshof – a traditional German country house with enough land around to grow all kinds of vegetables and fruits, raise chickens, and generally live off the land.

And it was to Haselnusshof that I made my way from Berlin.

Meeting after 35 years

Traudi and her son, Christian, who is now a husband and father of a delightful 2-year old, met me at Wittenberge station and it was truly as if we’d known each other all our lives. We couldn’t stop hugging each other, delighted that we had finally met. Even the fact that my German was decidedly rusty (despite cramming from an old textbook during the 1.5 hour train ride) didn’t detract from the emotion of the meeting.

Meeting in Wittenberge

I stayed for 2 nights, sleeping in a little Swedish style guest cottage in the garden, and finding out all about Traudi’s life. She explained how lucky she was to get that original magazine, sent to her from the West by a relative. Often such items were removed by the East German officials, but with it being a busy time just before Christmas somehow the magazine had made it through in a parcel. Traudi wasn’t sure if her first letter would reach me or if she would be able to get a reply, so it was amazing that we were able to correspond all that time.

With Jürgen we visited Das Grüne Band at Wirlspitze, near Arendsee. This is the site of the dividing fence between East and West which has been preserved in its entirety as a long nature strip. Jürgen often leads groups here to learn about the history, and pointed out some of the key features – remains of casings of landmines, a post with rusted barbed wire pinned to it where the old fence used to stand – then he took Traudi and me by the hand and together we walked symbolically from the old East part into the West.

Das Grüne Band

It was an incredible feeling, knowing how very different that spot would have been when we started corresponding.

It was hard to leave on the third day, but it was time for me to head home to Wales. Now I’m determined to get my German back to a reasonable level of fluency so I can write more often and perhaps we can even Skype! And of course, I look forward to welcoming Traudi to Wales when she’s ready to make a return visit.

It definitely won’t be another 35 years before we meet again!

Polyglots in Berlin

I’m back from Germany and I hardly know where to start to describe the amazing experience of attending the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin – 350 people with a passion for learning languages all together in the one spot! Absolutely incredible!

I had been brushing up on my Spanish, Esperanto and very rusty German, and wondering whether I would remember any French or Japanese at all, but what was the first language I spoke? Welsh!

I was waiting in the queue to collect my meal tickets for the duration when the person ahead of me turned round, glanced at the name card hanging round my neck, and started chatting in Welsh. It turned out he also spoke Esperanto and about 8 other languages, so we did have a bit of choice, but Welsh was good! At least I wasn’t rusty in that one.

But where else in the world would people casually mention that they ONLY spoke about 6 languages? At the Polyglot Gathering it wasn’t uncommon to see people with so many languages they could hardly write them all on their name card! I developed a serious case of language-learning envy!

The venue

The ‘gathering’ took place over 4 days in the A&O Hotel/Hostel, just a few minutes walk from the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station, so very convenient. I was in the cheapest accommodation – an 8-bed dormitory – and others had arrived before me so all the bottom bunks were taken. Luckily I don’t mind climbing up and down ladders and the mattress was very comfortable so that was fine. I slept extremely well!

The day programme

The programme was well organised with concurrent sessions occurring in three different rooms on the same floor. All of the topics sounded very interesting so luckily the organisers arranged for the sessions to be filmed. I’ll be catching up on the ones I missed later!

Rooms 1 and 2 had a huge variety of presentations on aspects of language learning, different methods, maintaining motivation and talks on language groups, such as Languages of Europe, Native Languages of North America, and Don’t be Afraid of Tonal Languages.

Room 3 mainly gave taster sessions on some of the lesser learned languages, e.g. Tamil, Northern Saami, Slovak, Scots and Hebrew. Those sessions were very popular and unfortunately the room wasn’t big enough to accommodate all that wanted to attend. It got pretty squashy in there at times, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment.

The night programme

To me the after-dinner events were one of the highlights of the gathering and I enjoyed myself immensely.

For the early arrivers on Thursday night, there was a session of fun language games with two teams competing to pronounce tongue twisters in exotic languages, and a great language recognition challenge. It was similar to one that I became slightly addicted to online for a while – The Great Language Game – and I was quite pleased to find I was at least in the middle somewhere in terms of how many I could identify. I had a little advantage in being able to spot Pacific languages such as Tongan and Maori, but no chance when it came to distinguishing between others like Estonian and Latvian or the Slavic languages.

Friday night was a social mingling while tasting foods and specialties from various countries and browsing through a selection of language learning materials at the Book Fair. I would like to say that I staunchly resisted the temptation to buy lots of books …. but the truth is that I knew I didn’t have room for them in my little suitcase so practicality overruled my desires.

Saturday night was a panel competition of a polyglot game show – Ĝepardi. The contestants had to choose from categories and give a response in the form of a question that was answered by the text displayed. Sound complicated? You’re right! The winner was the person that managed to score zero, with the other two plunging into the minuses due to incorrect responses. But every time the contestants were mystified at least one person in the audience knew the answer. Some seriously knowledgeable language nerds amongst us!

Sunday night was the brilliant JoMo concert. Picture an energetic, guitar-playing Frenchman from Toulouse leaping about the stage and singing in over 20 different languages and you have an inkling of what it was like. Jean-Marc Leclercq holds the Guinness Book of Records for singing rock and traditional songs in 22 languages. He was hoping to break that record in this performance but I haven’t heard yet whether he succeeded. What I do know is that he put an incredible lot of energy into it, coming back for 2 long encores. I have become a dedicated fan!

And then we came to Monday night and the last night of the gathering. It was an International Culture Evening full of delights and surprises. We were given a beautiful demonstration of musical sign interpretation for the deaf, Irish dancing and tin whistle playing, and various other demonstrations of talent, culminating in a grand multilingual performance of Frѐre Jacques. Someone counted up to 30 languages accounted for, and my funniest moment of the gathering was the whoop of delighted from 2 attendees when they found the words online in Klingon! I joined with two other Welsh speakers and we did a quick translation then sang in Welsh. I must find the Maori version for next year!

Wrapping up

And so it came to an end, but I came away exhilarated and motivated and determined to not only revise and revitalise the languages I’ve studied in the past and let slip away, but to learn a couple of new ones for next year.

For those that didn’t make it, here’s a 1-minute taster vlog by Lindsay Does Languages for you to enjoy – Polyglot Gathering 2015.