Category Archives: Language Learning

Hyperpolyglots and Amikumu

If you’re a reader of the Welsh news site Cymru Fyw, you may have seen the magazine artlcle about Richard Simcock, who is very well known in the polyglot world – in fact, he speaks so many languages he’s known as a hyperpolyglot!

There is no magic number of languages you need to speak to be classed as a hyperpolyglot. Some put it at six, but having been to a Polyglot Gathering where I’ve heard people say, “I ONLY speak six languages”, I suspect it’s rather more than that; but whatever the number, Richard definitely qualifies.

In Richard Simcott: Y dyn sy’n siarad 25 iaith yn rhugl it explains that he has studied around 50 languages, but now speaks about 25 fluently. Interestingly, it was growing up close to the border with Wales and seeing bilingual children effortlessly switching between Welsh and English that helped to start Richard off on his journey of language-learning.

One of the points he makes in the article is how important it is to practise a new language as much as possible. To keep up his Welsh while living in Macedonia, for example, he tries to think in the language, and he listens to other languages every day.

Richard is also a user of the new app, Amikumu. This is available for Android and iOS, and can help you find language-learning partners in whatever language you want to practise.

It’s particularly useful to people learning Welsh in areas where they aren’t surrounded by Welsh speakers – both outside Cymru, and in parts of Cymru where English is dominant.

Here is a screenshot of Richard’s profile. You can only see the top 18 languages here, but Cymraeg is amongst them – not one that he considers he speaks to advanced proficiency, but certainly no longer a beginner.

How good it would be to travel all over the place – both within Cymru and to other countries – and find speakers of Cymraeg wherever you go.

The more people register to use Amikumu, the more possible that will be.

 

 

Busy Times!

‘It never rains, but it pours’, they say. I’m not sure that really applies in Cymru as it mostly seems to drizzle very lightly here, but when it comes to working as a freelancer it’s certainly true.

There are times when I don’t seem to have enough work coming in and I start wondering if this freelancing lark is such a good idea, but lately it’s been more a question of ‘where can I get some extra hours to fit in all I need to do?’

Still, I’m not someone that likes to sit around twiddling their thumbs, so I’m not complaining. And I think I’m on top of everything now! Unless one of the agencies that sends me work produces something else out of the blue.

One of the work tasks I’ve had recently was hardly work at all – more an excuse to speak Welsh all day and enjoy seeing others becoming Welsh speakers. I was up in Bontnewydd, observing and helping out while four Welsh learners submitted themselves to a 10-day intensive Welsh course run by SaySomethinginWelsh and not only lived to tell the tale, but came out the other end as very competent Welsh speakers!

Next month will be my turn – my first time guiding another four people through their paces – and I’m really looking forward to it!

logoBut before I get to that I have another couple of language-based events to take part in. Amikumu is now available with a Welsh interface and is starting to take off, with more and more Welsh speakers of varying levels joining. Next weekend I’ll be heading over to the one-day Welsh school in Derby to tell all the participants about the app, and I’m really hoping I’ll be able to test it along the way by meeting up with a Welsh Amikumu user or two.

After that, I’ll be down in Caerdydd for a few days – catching up with friends, but also helping out with a SaySomethinginWelsh promotion event. So exciting!

So yes, finally after a lifetime of passion for languages, I’m finally starting to get somewhere!

And my dream of being a polyglot is starting to take shape as well. I’m having Skype conversations in German and French, and listening to the news in Spanish every day, plus reading in Esperanto and Welsh, and dabbling a little with Duolingo Swedish.

Now, shall I learn some Portuguese before I go to the Universala Kongreso de Esperanto in Lisbon next year? Silly question – of course I shall!

Looking Forward

So 2016 didn’t really turn out to be what I was expecting.

“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition”, as they say, but no one expects to get cancer either, so to say that I was stunned by a mammogram result back in May showing I had breast cancer is an understatement. Still, if I hadn’t gone for that mammogram I would have had no idea – it’s a very sneaky illness – so I’m glad I did, and I’m glad that we have amazing treatment that can knock cancer cells on the head. OK, the treatment kind of knocks everything around for a while, but you just cling on to the thought that, no matter how I feel right now, this is making me better!

I’ve made it through surgery and chemotherapy. Just a course of radiotherapy to go and I’ll be ready to tackle 2017!

So did my plans to become a polyglot get put on hold? Are you kidding? What better way to while away the hours in the Chemotherapy Unit than lots of language revision with Duolingo. Yes, while others were doing crosswords or listening to music on their iPods, I was blasting my way through lesson after lesson in French, Spanish and German.

I found my concentration wasn’t good enough to let me learn any new material, but revision was fine – especially languages that I had once been fairly confident in, such as Spanish or French. I doubt if anyone can actually say they enjoyed their chemo sessions, but I came close and felt I was making good use of the time.

All this concentrating on getting well has put my plans to become location independent in terms of work behind though, so that has to be my focus for 2017. I still have to have Herceptin injections every three weeks through to September, so I won’t be going a great deal of travelling this year, but I can certainly get myself in a position where that is more of a possibility.

My language-learning has carried on right through my treatment; in fact, it’s probably done more than anything else to keep me going. I set up several regular Skype conversations through Speaky so I’m gradually improving my conversational skills in German and French, and the people I chat with are starting to feel like friends. I enjoy Esperanto phone conversations from time to time, and I’ve started listening to news and podcasts in French, German and Spanish.

As I suspected, I can understand quite a lot of the French and Spanish, but German is still hard for me. I’ve completed the German ‘tree’ in Duolingo though, and more and more I hear those words being used in the Deutsche Welle Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten (news spoken slowly). I’m also working through a Deutsche Welle interactive online course which is building my everyday vocabulary and adding to my cultural knowledge of Germany.

Did you know that in Cologne you can stand next to a parking machine, pay for the ticket using your mobile phone, and the ticket prints out of the machine? So much better than searching your pockets for the correct change!

But what about Welsh? Have I forgotten about Cymraeg? Of course not! I had just qualified as a Welsh tutor for adult beginners when I received the diagnosis, so no chance for me to leap into working in a classroom. I’m interested in doing online teaching though, or perhaps some translation work in the future so, with the help of a friend in Cardiff, I’m working my way through an old text called Cyflwyno’r Iaith Lenyddol. It gives practice at using the very formal Welsh of traditional literature with translation exercises, and I’m enjoying doing those.

So that’s it. 2016 is behind me, and after the radiotherapy, the cancer will be behind me. 2017 is the year I come a lot closer to my goals. Bring it on!

Making progress

polyglot

One of the aspects of learning more than one language that I have found difficult over the years is being able to jump from one language to another.

A while back I described the frustrating experience of happily speaking Welsh with friends and neighbours one week, having an Esperanto-speaking visitor come to stay for a few days, then opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish whenever anyone spoke to me in Welsh as my brain had completely switched into Esperanto and refused to go back!

I went to the Polyglot Gathering this time last year in Berlin, and my head was swirling – words from different languages jumbling themselves up in my brain so I didn’t know what language to speak at all!

What to do about it?

After giving it some thought I realised, of course, that the only way to master any skill is to practise it. If I wanted to be able to swap easily from one language to another, then that’s what I needed to practise. So I set about forcing my brain to cooperate: reading in Esperanto while listening to the radio in Welsh, sitting down to a Duolingo session practising one language after another, reading in one language and thinking how I would say that in another … and slowly, slowly it started to work.

It felt like my brain was physically resisting at first, then some kind of barrier went down – or perhaps a different neural pathway opened up – and all of a sudden it became a whole lot easier.

Spanish guests

Today I put my new skill to the test. After a whole week immersed in Welsh helping to run a SaySomethinginWelsh.com ‘bootcamp’ in Tresaith, I came home and welcomed Spanish-speaking AirBnB guests. We started chatting in English, discussing language learning in general – a common interest. I was asked about Esperanto and was able to produce a few Esperanto sentences without too much thought.

Then we decided to switch into Spanish! I was a bit rusty at first, but I didn’t have that ‘concrete in the head that won’t budge’ feeling that I used to get trying to swap, and lo and behold, the Spanish came flooding back and there I was chatting away in Spanish! Was I pleased with myself! Lucia is keen to improve her English so we’ve agreed to have language exchange sessions over Skype moving forward, selecting a topic beforehand so we can both research the vocabulary we need, then spending 15 minutes or so discussing the topic in one language, then the other.

And after my guests left, I immediately went back to thinking in Welsh! I might not be in the same category as some of the polyglots I’ve met, but I feel like I’ve climbed another rung of the ladder, and I’m definitely not slipping back down!

Fun with Speaky

Speaky
It had to happen! Duolingo has the cute green owl, the Welsh version is hoping to have Dewi-lingo, a cute red dragon (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and now I’ve come across Speaky. Is it a bird? Is it penguin? Who knows? But Speaky is the character that represents a language exchange website that lets you find language ‘buddies’ for free and start practising your languages.

I thought I’d sign up today and have a look around to see what it offered.

I created my login and was asked to select the language/s I was learning and the language/s I spoke as a native speaker. As an aspiring Polyglot I chose Spanish, French, German and Esperanto as the former, and English and Welsh as the latter. You never know – I might find someone learning and wanting to practise Welsh!

Within 10 seconds a message popped up – “Hola” – and it was someone in Costa Rica happy to help me practise my Spanish. I didn’t expect that so quickly, but we chatted away using written Spanish for a few minutes, before I needed to think about other things such as cooking dinner and signed off again.

Next time I’ll make sure I have a bit more time available and explore some of the other options, like the voice chat. It seems the ‘live chat’ is still in Beta, but the interface is very user-friendly and it certainly seems like a great option for improving conversational ability in another language without the expense of actually going there.

Definitely worth a try!

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!

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.

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!

Bootcamp

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.

Berlin

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.

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.

Traudi

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!