Polyglot Report Card: May 1st, 2019

Thirty Days. Two Presentations. One fantastic conference. Lots of crises in my recent life in the past year but hoping I’m going to manage well.

So for this one I’m going to only rate languages that (1) I will almost certain encounter speakers of during the conference and (2) are not ones that I regularly encounter at language exchange events by different people (so no Spanish, German or English).

And exactly what I need to do for each.

Let’s go:

Yiddish: above all good in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation is very good, flow is mostly good, I just wish I had more vocabulary, that’s all. But I know plenty of people who would be happy with the vocabulary I currently have in Yiddish. After all, I have more than a decade of experience.

Yiddish plan: my 7,000+ word Anki deck. Use during commutes.

My Yiddish plan is also identical to my Scandinavian plan, but my knowledge of Norwegian is slightly weaker than Yiddish or of Swedish or Danish.

Finnish: Overall quite strong, I think I just need to solidify knowledge of some idiomatic expressions.

Finnish Plan: Cloze Deletions during my commute. Which I’m already doing.

Hebrew: Understanding is EXCELLENT. My vocabulary needs more depth but I don’t know if I’ll have the time to do it, especially with my presentations.

Hebrew plan: use Lingq or Clozemaster more often.

Hungarian: I can manage conversations about some topics well, others not so well. I need consistent practice.

Hungarian plan: watch YouTube / Hungarian TV during workouts or chores.

My Hungarian plan is also valid for Slovak but my flow is a lot better. For obvious reasons I’m more likely to focus on Slovak until after the conference.

Tok Pisin: Haven’t maintained it in a while but when asked to speak it I manage very well. My Bislama and Pijin have somewhat fallen down the wayside but I think I could manage them with a native speaker if I had to. I probably won’t encounter Ni-Vanuatu, etc. at that conference. I know because the guest list is mostly open.

Tok Pisin Plan: Listen to audio in the subway. I can literally understand everything said to almost everything said.

Hawaiian: Probably the dark horse rising star of my group, I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to use it but I won’t be surprised if I do. My accent is good, my basic vocabulary is good, my cultural knowledge is a bit on the weak side, I don’t know Hawaiian songs too well.

Hawaiian Plan: Oiwi TV needs myself a-watching.

Lao: Ha. Probably the one language I’m gonna be the most disappointed in (as was the case in the 2017 Polyglot Conference). I’m going to need to do more than just my Memrise course for this one (I only have Lao, Palauan and Hiva Oa / South Marquesan active on Memrise right now).

Lao Plan: multilingual posting in closed groups, uTalk speaking exercises, possibly customizing Lingq.

Fiji Hindi: I can understand a significant amount, but given that I’ll mostly be hearing Standard Hindi, this will need work. This is a language I retired for a while but then I decided to revive it this month because there will be many people who will have learned Esperanto and Hindi for the Gathering Challenge. (I did not, however).

Fiji Hindi Plan: Put an entire textbook into Lingq (I use the Gujarati slot) during one weekend when I feel very passionate. By “entire textbook” I mean “only the simple sentences”. Then go through the vocabulary during the week.

But as for what I will focus on during May, it will likely be Niuean and Fiji Hindi, actually. These are two languages I think that I’ll need the most for the gathering (with the exception of Slovak which I’ll likely soak up very well once I’m there). So I need to work on those. If I am very, VERY satisfied with Niuean, I’ll pivot to Slovak instead.

For what it’s worth, I’ll be focusing more on fewer languages once this conference is over. And I’ll write in more detail about my plan then.

My list remains the same for my post-Gathering language lineup, and I’ll redesign my website to suit it: Scandinavian, Yiddish, Hungarian, Tahitian, Hawaiian, Greenlandic and Finnish.

(If I add another language it will likely something required for a trip, business or a relationship but only if I deem it ABSOLUTELY necessary and fulfilling)

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I’m Presenting for the First Time at a Conference in a Language Other Than English. How Do I Feel?

Happy Birthday Mom! This post is for you.

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I may or may have not been writing about it here but I’m presenting at the Polyglot Gathering twice next month (actually in a month from this week!) One talk on the Kiribati language in Yiddish, and the other talk on Niuean in Swedish, and both of these talks are aimed at absolute beginners. (I don’t even think I remember anyone other than myself having learned any indigenous language of Oceania at the 2017 Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik. To his credit, Richard Simcott did learn some words of Tongan, from me, and speaks with a great accent.)

This piece is going to be on the short side and a bit of a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing.

For one, I feel relieved. English is one of the languages of my ancestors, but Yiddish and Swedish are “closer to home”, so-to-speak (my great-grandparents on opposite sides of my family spoke those, I should also mention Hungarian and Russian as well).

I also feel as though it is a bit of a “polyglot prize”, in a sense, something that non-native English speakers can be handed for free but for native English speakers having opportunities to present in other languages may be scarce. (Yiddish? How many times to I get to present in that? And so close to the historical Jewish quarter of Bratislava no less? I’m so glad they went along with my suggestion!)

And then of course cruel YouTube commenters will have no choice but to be quiet and my legitimacy will be further cemented online, but that’s just a minor treat.

On the other hand, I’m worried about grammatical mistakes or otherwise being unable to find the right words. Also due to influence from Swedish youth culture, injecting in English phrases is something I do naturally when speaking Swedish and I may have to turn it off completely for this one (except if I’m reading something in English from the slides, given that Niue is, after all, not only English speaking but a former British colony. A book I cite in the presentation is from 1907, which is TWO YEARS after Niue was colonized).

Also another thing: the fact that I’m presenting on languages that I don’t know as well as my fluent languages. I haven’t been told how my accent sounds in either of them, but certainly a lot better than my first attempts at Kiribati which are enshrined in posterity in my YouTube channel. That said, I would imagine that given that people have told me that people appreciate all attempts to speak a language like Hawaiian or Maori (not also to mention my overwhelmingly positive reception as a foreign Fijian speaker in Fiji), the Niueans and I-Kiribati will be no different. (As a Jew I’m a minority myself and so I am tuned into issues of sensitivity and I LOVE it when gentiles learn about my culture/s, and the more the better).

I teach non-English classes all the time (and I’m about to do so again in twenty minutes). That’s not what I’m worried about at all. Perhaps the idea of being judged in an audience is something heavier. But I also imagine that most audiences will be forgiving, the same way that I am forgiving of English mistakes even on the university level, as long as people can express ideas (and often non-native speakers are a lot clearer than native speakers, even with limited vocabulary).

This is going to be fun. Any experiences you’ve had presenting in your non-native language/s? How did they go?

The Key to Learning Prepositional Phrases

Learning prepositional phrases is one of the hardest parts of language learning that, for most languages, remains consistent in terms of difficulty throughout. (Exceptions would be languages like Tok Pisin with VERY few prepositions).

Here’s why:

  • Dialectical differences (if an American reads a Lonely Planet guidebook [keep in mind that those are written in Australian English], there may be some prepositions that he or she may consider “off”)
  • They usually make very little sense.
  • They are required for knowledge of both basic phrases as well as more advanced idioms (even in technical jargon, even in people’s NATIVE languages).

Examples:

In English, you choose something. In Hebrew, you choose in something.

In English, you say “on Wednesday”. In Slovak, you say “in Wednesday”

In English, you take a picture of someone. In Finnish, you take a picture from someone (which can also mean “about someone”)

This doesn’t get easier. And it gets harder with highly inflected languages (of which Slovak and Finnish both are).

What. Are you going. To do?

 

  1. Song Lyrics

 

This is hugely helpful. This enables you to think in chunks, just like native speakers do, as opposed to learners who think in individual words (thanks, Olly Richards!)

 

What’s more, they can create emotional stimuli that are HUGELY powerful. Consider songs that are:

 

Highly emotional in any respect

Highly annoying

Highly offensive or “cringy” (if you can stomach that)

 

Jim Nayder: Bad music makes you want to turn the dial. Annoying music makes you wish you were never born.

 

  1. Glosbe

My favorite program ever. You can use this to lean prepositional phrases.

Step 1: Put in a phrase in your native language (e.g. “picture of me”) and put it in QUOTES (“just like this”).

Step 2: look at the results in the translation memory.

Step 3: You’ll see correct answers.

In the event that your language doesn’t have a developed enough translation memory in Glosbe, do use the same method but with Google Search. Obviously it won’t have the translation piece involved but it will be helpful.

  1. Make mistakes in front of your native speaker friends.

They’ll help you, 19 times out of 20. And the tinge of embarrassment will serve as an emotional stimulus to ensure you remember it PERMANENTLY.

  1. Google Search Results

Do I need to explain this one? Start typing in the phrases in your language in Google Search and you’ll get results in the language you’re learning. These autocomplete suggestions are written by NATIVE SPEAKERS of your target language and will almost always be correct.

This is obviously more helpful with bigger languages but even with a language like Estonian you’ll get useful stuff. With something like Norwegian you’ll get more suggestions than you’ll know what to do with.

  1. Use the combined method for writing exercises.

 

Facebook and blogging are wonderful ways to do this. Also make sure you have friends who will correct you politely and help you in this respect.

 

Also feel free to do this in a number of other Facebook groups as well that are language or culture focused and have lots of members.

 

  1. Translate them literally into your native language for effect.

See the examples at the beginning of this article to have an idea of what you should do. Feel free to explain the more amusing ones to some of your friends (sometimes literally translated prepositional phrases can sound like sexual innuendos in other languages!)

What do you use to learn prepositional phrases? Share anything I may have forgotten in the comments!

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What I Had to Give Up to Become a Hyperpolyglot

Well I’m going to make a number of announcements now.

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While my Slovak studies have been continuing due to the fact that I will be presenting at the Bratislava Polyglot Gathering in 2019 (one presentation in Yiddish on Kiribati and another presentation in Swedish about Niue), I am probably going to retire from my hyperpolyglot life once that spiel is over in June.

I need to be clear about something: I will NOT return to speaking just English, given that my livelihood depends on my knowledge of Nordic languages and Yiddish (as well as, to a lesser extent, languages of South Pacific).

I just feel as though I had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to become that imposter-syndrome-riddled legend. And now I want to live for myself rather than my reputation.

I am glad to have “dated” so many languages and cultures, but now I’d like to settle down and really get to intimately know my favorite languages. These would be, in no particular order, Yiddish, Scandinavian, Finnish, Hungarian, Greenlandic, and Polynesian in general but with a focus on Tahitian and Hawaiian.

My English is EXTREMELY good, even by native speaker standards (I tested in the 99th percentile for vocabulary). I know that there literally might not be enough time for me to get to that level in my “favorite languages”, but I’d like to get closer.

Also the pressure of trying to get me to speak better (Spanish / Modern Hebrew / French / etc.) has been bothering me. I somehow see it as friends who would encourage me to break up with a girlfriend I really love.

So as a result of that I may stop attending language exchange events as often as I used to come June. But maybe I’ll pop in occasionally.

Here’s what I felt I needed to give up as a result of becoming a hyperpolyglot:

 

  1. A Sense of Belonging

 

I became “that guy”, in a sense, the one whose reputation as a “language genius” always proceeded me. ALWAYS.

I never really could find myself connecting to my American culture on a deep level. I gave up American television and news. I found myself permanently apart from the country I spent the most time in.

Even though I felt significantly “at home” among foreigners of all types sometimes, I constantly felt as though I was American first, speaker of their language second.

I became the bridge. A true member of none of the cultures I partook of, but a genuinie member of none of them.

 

  1. Full-Time Fluency without Doubts

 

There were exceptions to this, but often with the languages that I had to spread myself thinly to maintain, I felt that my knowledge of idioms would be thinner than I would have liked, even then I worried about my grammar sometimes.

At first I figured that I didn’t really WANT native-like fluency, but with each year I feel that it is what I want in the languages I want most.

I saw it this way (and the book “Babel No More” manages to point to this): I put most of my chips on the languages I liked most and then spread many of them thinly across many others.

Now I’m going to put all of my chips on the eight languages I like the most. And the fact that Scandinavian languages and Yiddish are closely related, not also to mention the Polynesian family, gives me an advantage in that respect.

I don’t want to sound “learnerese” anymore in any of my languages. I want to sound completely natural. And I got there. But only with a few. But even with those view I want to get better.

I also knew seventeen languages to conversational fluency, but even with half of those I felt as though many of them had holes. Holes are okay. Even very good speakers of English as a second language have them. But I want to make the most of what I can get and that will involve optimizing my skills.

 

  1. Leisure Time

 

This is self-explanatory. I had to convert all of my free time to maintenance. Walking around? You better be listening to audio in one of your target languages. Playing a game? Same.

It took an unbelievable toll on my mental health. The idea that I had to maintain my reputation all of the time meant that everything that wasn’t explicitly related to my career had to go to language learning. The only fun I really had for fun’s sake was video games but even then it was usually to note “what is this game doing well? How about not so well?” concerning what I would incorporate into “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures” and other projects.

 

  1. Security and Confidence

 

Language learning is highly vulnerable because there IS a point where you will sound like an idiom. I got told that my accent was terrible. Sometimes I even got told to stop speaking the language.

And that’s not even going into what was said about me online. Whenever I would read some things, entire days if not weeks would be plunged into despair.

Even with fluency, either professional or conversational, I interpreting things that native speakers said very seriously. “Pretty good” was code for “needs work” or “not passable”. I would interpret anything other than endless praise as “you better work on it!”

And even then I would sometimes interpret praise as the fact that I needed work on it too. (It had to do with a post I read saying that native speakers don’t praise each other’s language skills).

It was a neurosis that I was aware of from my days in religious school as a pre-teen. The endless “shoulder checking” and the idea that God would always punish you for every small thing…and only now while writing this do I realize that it ended up in other areas of my life without realizing it.

 

  1. Ability to Converse with Certain People

 

This is an odd one. Because my life became so internationalized, there were people to whom I could connect to VERY easily and others whom I could barely manage a conversation with at all.

Among most internationals, I didn’t need to explain the whole Macedonia naming controversy at all. Among many Americans, it was necessary. And many people throughout the world only imagine the South Pacific as “Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti and that’s it” (Kiribati required a lengthy explanation as did Tuvalu or the Federated States of Micronesia). And that’s not even mentioning the constituent countries of New Zealand (such as Niue).

I didn’t want to learn about American pop culture too deeply. It felt fake for me. Sometimes it cost me the ability to connect with people. Although with other internationals we could always talk about our cultural differences or about the things American locals were never asking us about.

 

  1. Time to Relax

 

My polyglot career became everything and it consumed every aspect of my life. I always wanted to get better, almost like an addiction in a sense. I wasn’t allowed to relax because I figured “someone else out there is doing a better job than you are and YOU have to keep working!”

Again, this was another transmuted neurosis from my high school and college days in which I was a “striver”.

 

Bonus: Pressured to learn popular languages and get good at those.

 

Do I need to say more about this? Some people barely believe languages outside of Western Europe exist. The idea that my heart was elsewhere some people found confusing.

If you love something, go ahead and choose what you love above all else. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Why the Jerry Cans (the Musical Band from Nunavut) is Everything Music Should Be

Happy 20th birthday, Nunavut! Well, technically speaking, it was yesterday (given that Nunavut became a Canadian province on April 1st, 1999), but who would take an article seriously if I were to publish it then?

I first discovered Inuktitut (which I have paused for several years ever since my bout with Lyme Disease in 2015, during which I wasn’t actively writing on this or any other blog) due to KNR (the Greenlandic National Broadcasting service).

They showed this music video (turn on CC for English subtitles):

My first thought was to imagine how many Americans would react to seeing the video (use your imagination). My second thought was the fact that the music was not only extraordinarily catchy and familiar but it also showed a genuine desire to showcase everything that daily life in the Arctic is for the community.

Also what’s amazing about the Jerry Cans is the fact that it showcases both Inuktitut and English at regular intervals in many of its songs, as well as the fact that their songs serve as a culture guidebook to the region.

In case you’re curious about the name, it was, if I recall correctly, named after the fact that during their first jam session they used Jerry Cans as makeshift percussion. (I believe they’re used to power snowmobiles) Obviously the jerry cans themselves were substituted for real drums, but the name stuck.

While this song isn’t one of my personal favorites from the band, the fact that it mentions the struggles that Arctic shoppers have has always made it memorable for me in another sense:

And also different cultural perspectives are in order as well, including this song that, in my opinion, no one truly ever forgets:

“This one goes out to environmental propaganda / Dear PETA, you know we can’t stand ya!” (This song will be thought-provoking no matter who you are).

Also note the presence of Inuit throat singing in the song as well, which is, I should note, conspicuously absent from most Greenlandic music (because Danish missionaries banned it in). That said, Rasmus Lyberth from Greenland does also feature something like it in some of his songs.

More controversial issues aside however (or…what people in my area would consider them), the Jerry Cans’ music is positively sublime and captures perfectly the feeling of strolling around the Arctic and admiring all that humanity cannot create.

Check the video description for the lyrics and their English translation.

(I should also remember that I saw many of the hides that you see in the video also present throughout the National Museum of Greenland during my visit there).

In a world of growing cultural divides, I think the world needs a lot more music like this that genuinely causes worlds to open up to people and ignites the curiosity that we all innately have as humans.

Feel free to check and purchase their music on iTunes should you feel so inspired.

Their website is also bilingual in Inuktitut and English as well: https://www.thejerrycans.com/home

Happy 20th birthday, Nunavut!

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Introducing My World, My Everything: WwLW’s Relationship Advice Column for Multilinguals and Language Learners

April is here and with it, as with the beginning of every month,  comes an opportunity for introspection.

So as some of you know I have two primary spheres of my life filled with multilingualism.

One of these is my freelancing business which involves both translating and teaching. Another one of them involves the various language social events I attend on a weekly basis.

There is one aspect of crossover that is had in both of these spheres and that is the fact that often I encounter people who learn languages for the sake of love – either love they’ve found already, or love they seek to find.

It is one of the primary reasons, according to some, that people undertake language learning to begin with. Over half of my students have sited a partner as the primary motivation to learn their target language.

There have only been a handful of articles and podcasts I’ve seen address this topic, among them pieces by Benny Lewis and Olly Richards, and here I am ready to announce “My World, My Everything”, which is going to be a spinoff blog launching on Tu B’av (the Jewish “Valentine’s Day”) later on this year (some time in the summer, I’m too lazy to check a calendar).

The primary focus on the blog is going to be relationship advice, primarily for established couples given that this is one of my primary sources of clientele. But there will also be advice for single multilinguals as well.

Here are some topics I’ll be addressing, feel free to suggest some of your own:

  1. Is there a sexiest language? (Hint: not really, the ones you are passionate about the most will make your personality radiate when you speak them).
  2. How to use your significant other as a human instant fluency pill.
  3. How to use your languages or your national / ethnic background to bolster your attractiveness (most of these principles are not gender-specific).
  4. The do’s and don’t’s of learning a language because you fancy a particular native speaker / a nationality in general.
  5. How to convince your beloved to use his or her native language with you (even if s/he wants to use another language instead).
  6. How to be the best language teacher your boy/girlfriend could ask for.
  7. How to find heart-melting ultra-sappy love songs (and the like) in your partner’s target language. Oh, and how to use it properly.
  8. How to learn a language together.
  9. How to make cultural gaps and differences a source of love rather than a source of tension.
  10. How to use languages to repair your relationship, to recover from fights or to get your ex back together with you.

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AND LASTLY…

Some of you may know books that deal with culture differences in general. Some of these books I highly recommend checking out include “When Cultures Collide” as well as the “Xenophobes’ Guides” (these are humorous) as well as the “Culture Smart!” books.

A number of relationship guides for various cultures are also in the world, ones that will seek to foster mutual understanding and a spirit of undying love with people across cultures from all over the world.

What are some of the nationalities you’d like to see covered in this series? Let me know!

Anything else you’d like to see covered? Write things in the comments!

Hope April 1st is treating you well!

How to Write in Your Target Language Very Well, Even if You Are an Absolute Beginner

Like so many of my posts, this was requested by a friend.

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This is probably the closest thing that I’ve come to having a “secret method”, something I kept close to my chest and revealed only to a handful of my students.

Today I’m going to show you how to write in your target language very well, even if you think that your experience with said language is quite meager.

First off, let’s discuss what a lot of people use: Google Translate by itself.

You should be using Google Translate under one circumstance:

Simple phrases that have the check-mark, indicating that they have been verified as legitimate by a community of native speakers.

Come to think of it there isn’t a single language in Google Translate that doesn’t have at least a HANDFUL of verified phrases. These are going to be simple things, such as “how are you?” or “to you” or “for me” or “happy birthday!” Keep in mind that there may be MULTIPLE ways of expressing these concepts so…click through the possible translations by clicking on the results. Some other possibilities may ALSO be verified.

Even then, there are other issues even with verified phrases as well (e.g. formality or gender) that require SOME knowledge of the language to determine how and when you should be using these phrases.

And now we finally get to the fun stuff. Keep in mind that I have been inspired by Universe of Memory, probably one of the best language learning blogs on the web, if not THE best.

You need two things:

  • Google Search (or anything that allows you to search with “ “ -> to determine exact word choice)
  • Glosbe (Only the web version as of the time of writing allows use to use the “ “ method)

 

Steps:

  • Write the text in a language native language or a language you know well.
  • Check phrases that you may not be too sure about by looking at a combination of Glosbe’s translation memories OR Google Search Results. For Google Search Results, you want to find pages that mention a language code in the URL or otherwise look legitimate. (e.g. if you’re doing this for Bulgarian, look for “BG” somewhere in the web address. If you CANNOT find the phrase in quotes the way you have written it into the search engine, the phrase is probably flawed in some respect.)
  • Adjust the sentences to be consistent in formality (this is going to be necessary with almost any language of Europe.

You can also find complicated English idioms easily translated into your target language with the help of Glosbe. The reason for this is that it has a HUGE collection of sentences from languages from the developed world from OpenSubtitles. As a result, almost ANYTHING you’ve heard on TV will be present in this database in the form of cross-translated subtitles.

This way you can get “verifiable” sentences that Google Translate usually can’t do. (It’s a dog-eat-dog word, I hope you’re happy, no hard feelings, etc.)

If you use this method, even as an absolute beginner, you’re going to surprise EVERY native speaker present in your life. There will be some occasional mistakes (e.g. maybe a word for “friend” or “beautiful” maybe be stronger than you realize at first and a native speaker may point it out), but aside from that, this method will net you VERY good results, guaranteed.

Have fun!