Inerniliineq (The Conclusion) – 90 Days of Greenlandic

I should actually mention at first that due to various issues that came up in my life (ones that I’m going to detail in an off-topic post net month), I had to stop at around 70 days, but it is upon me to evaluate what I did right and what I did wrong.

For one, I don’t know if I’ll be doing the final 90-day video because of the interruption, but the prize for My Language Challenge is iTalki vouchers which I might not really want to use anyhow (not right now, at least). And there is just too much going on.

So what did I do wrong?

Three things I did wrong, three things I did right:

Wrong:

  • I didn’t really find a meaningful way to make vocabulary stick. I expected Anki to do a lot of the work for me but often I kept on forgetting the words and eventually a lot of the cards were marked as leeches. There was some vocabulary that I acquired but above all I think that it is minimal in comparison to what I could have done had I focused more on word-pieces than on individual words (which I thought I was more prepared for but there are only so many 15-letter words you can swallow).

 

  • I often listened to a lot of music to the point of diminishing returns. I already know a lot of the lyrics of these songs by heart and a lot of that vocabulary doesn’t always translate to conversational tools (although some definitely can).

 

  • I often listened to a lot of radio even though my ability to comprehend it was sometimes good nad sometimes questionable.

 

Perhaps what I should have done: read more stories, memes and blogposts, and tried to learn Greenlandic with them the same way that I teach Yiddish to my students with stories, memes and blogposts as well.

 

What I did right:

  • At around the halfway point I started using Anki clozes inspired by Bartosz Czekala’s Vocabulary Labs course. I added audio with them. It felt like surgery to go through the flashcards but despite that I felt that I did learn a lot of natural speech patterns and it corrected a lot of the mistakes I was making.

 

  • I think that the videos I made were good despite the fact that the 60-day video had a bit too many hesitations and mistakes. I also made a point of reading a lot of the Greenlandic-language comments and feedback. Thanks to this project I now have dozens of new Greenlandic friends who will help me, not only with languages but my upcoming video game projects!

 

  • I was fantastically persistent for the first 70 days, only having missed my father’s birthday in July in terms of 30 minutes of study. That itself is a victory.

 

So what will I need to do going forward?

  • Drastically alter my flashcards if I found out that they are not working. This is hugely necessary because sometimes I found out that it was WAY WAY WAY too hard and I just was flashcarding other languages on the subway instead (with even highly advanced Swedish being the path of least resistance over intermediate Greenlandic).
  • Take a break from immersion for a while. I already seem to have done everything in that respect but it isn’t translating into fluency.
  • Use my connections that I have and the new pages that I have liked in order to get tiny pieces of vocabulary, one by one.

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For the next 90-day challenge I’ll be doing Tahitian in honor of the year of indigenous languages. It begins tomorrow!

 

How to Learn Yiddish if You Already Know Hebrew from your Jewish School

A long-awaited post, and sorry I haven’t been writing much in a while.

Too often I get asked if Yiddish is an easy language for English speakers to learn. Is it easy in comparison to a language such as Greenlandic or Hungarian? Most definitely. Is it easy in comparison to Romance Languages? Hard to really say, because Yiddish is an entirely different challenge depending on your background.

  • Are you a native English speaker? Expect a lot of words you’d recognize from the shared Germanic experience.
  • Are you a native German speaker? You’ll get a lot of vocabulary, probably by far the biggest advantage, but don’t expect the language for free. There are a lot of vocabulary gaps you’ll encounter even with the most basic words (as an absolute beginner). Not only that, but the grammar will be simpler than that of Hochdeutsch. Your accent WILL also need to sound like something further east (speakers of a language like Polish don’t even need to try to put on a Yiddish accent at all sometimes!)
  • Are you a native speaker of a Slavic language? If it’s Polish, Ukrainian or Russian, expect a good deal of words to be familiar to you. Otherwise those otherwise familiar words may be vaguely familiar, not also to mention the sentence structure of Yiddish being closer to that of a Slavic language rather than to High German.
  • Do you know Modern Hebrew? You’ll recognize many words that entered Modern Hebrew via Ancient Hebrew using Yiddish as a bridge. But some words will have their meaning drastically altered, including, in some cases, a normal word in Hebrew being a profanity in Yiddish.
  • Do you know Ancient Hebrew or Talmudic Aramaic? Many phrases were lifted from both into Yiddish because of Jewish religious scholarship.
  • Did you at any point have an immersion in an Orthodox Jewish atmosphere? You’ll encounter many, MANY phrases and grammatical forms you’ll recognize because of “Yeshivish”. A teacher of mine once described “Yeshivish” as “English but with the Hebrew / Aramaic components of Yiddish still intact”.

But by far the biggest issues with students across the board in making their Yiddish from good to great is the “Loshn-Koydesh” portion of Yiddish, which also uncannily resembles the situation of Sanskrit / Pali loanwords in a language like Thai or Burmese.

Yiddish is a phonetic language for the MOST PART. This means that you read words exactly the way they are spelled. There is one noteworthy exception, however, and that is the Loshn-Koydesh words. The words lifted from the Bible and the Talmud into Yiddish (many of which hopped over to Modern Hebrew in turn) are spelled the way they would be written in Hebrew.

This is an issue because in Yiddish, like in European languages, individual characters represent vowels (so “ayin” is always an “e” sound and one vav makes an “u” sound [in Lithuanian Yiddish, that is]). But in Semitic languages such as Hebrew, the vowels are not written out and are expressed with notations below and above the letters. (Although sometimes letters afterwards can provide some clues).

And the pronunciation of these words in Yiddish is almost NEVER the same as the way they are in Modern Hebrew! And the syllable stress is different! (Compare “ShaBAT”, meaning the Sabbath in Modern Hebrew, to “SHAbes” in Yiddish).

Sephardi Hebrew was chosen by Zionists in order to be more distant from the Ashkenazi Diaspora (and later this served to accommodate the background of Mizrahi Jews as well, to whom Yiddish was unknown).

So you’re dealing with two drastically different pronunciation schemes.

What do you do about it?

For one, realize that, much like in English, you will have to memorize each the pronunciation of each Hebrew word or phrase individually. “Yaakov”, meaning Jacob, is “Yankev” in Yiddish and there is no “n” sound articulated anywhere in the spelling at all. Yom Kippur becomes “Yonkiper”, with the m indicated in writing being fully transmuted into an n sound. This largely had to do with Polish phonology patterns which Yiddish imitated.

The good news is that many of these are very frequently used and, in some rare cases, may actually match the way they would be pronounced if they were phonetic Yiddish words.

However one thing to watch out for is the fact that sometimes Hebrew PIECES end up in words, in which you pronounce the word phonetically except for the Hebrew part. “Hargenen” (to murder) one such example, with the “HRG” component being written with no vowels, the same with “farsamte” (poisoned), in which “SM” may cause some students to read it as “farsmte”.

In dictionaries you’ll find these words fully spelled out in terms of the way they should be pronounced.

In summary (with some added tips):

  • Knowing Hebrew of any form is likely to be an advantage when you learn Yiddish
  • Do keep in mind that in comparison to Modern Hebrew the syllable stress follows Indo-European, not Semitic, forms.
  • Some Ashkenazi Jews nowadays use a combination of Israeli pronunciation with Ashkenazi Pronunciation. This does not work for Yiddish, even spoken in contemporary Hasidic communities today. Get a Yiddish dictionary (or find one online) and follow the pronunciation guides there.
  • The Hebrew spelling is a very rough guide to the pronunciation.
  • Sometimes pronunciation of one word can have some variations. “af tzu lokhes” = out of spite. Sometimes “lakhes” or “lehakhes” as well.
  • Sometimes pieces of Hebrew words end up smushed between normally-spelled pieces (see above with “farsamte”)
  • Lastly Soviet Yiddish spells the entire language phonetically with the Hebrew origin words intact but not spelled the way they would be in Hebrew.

Zol zayn mit mazl! (May it be with fortune!)

kegn dem shtrom

90 Days of Greenlandic: 45 Days Left

So I tried out My Language Challenge for the first time (http://mylanguagechallenge.com/) and perhaps I should write a bit more about what it entails and how it has helped me speak Greenlandic better (and to what degree).

Here’s how it works (as of the time of writing):

At the start of the 90 days, you make a contract with yourself to study a certain amount every week (I had 30 minutes every day and so far I have only missed one day which so happened to be my father’s birthday). You register your progress on a spreadsheet as well with “Yes”, “No” and “Break” cells.

There are also Micro-Challenges sprinkled throughout, in which you are asked to complete a certain task 15 minutes every day for a week. The most recent one was “watch something for 15 minutes every day”, thankfully Greenlandic YouTube content is not only present in spades but also surprisingly good (and some of it comes with English subtitles!)

What’s more, the participants are put into groups to compete against each other, as well as groups of people studying the same language (as well as the “everybody else’s languages” category).

It somewhat reminds me of a project I did when I was 12 to study holy texts every day for twenty minutes in the memory of children murdered in the Shoah (this was when I was in the Orthodox Jewish day school, back when I knew VERY little about Greenland or the Arctic in general).

Lastly, the challenge entails a video component in which you are to make a video on Day 0, Day 30, Day 60 and Day 90, and they increase gradually in length depending on the level that you started at.

So how has my Greenlandic improved?

Well judging from the comments I’ve received on my videos and my increasing ability to read them better, I’ve been making “silent progress”, in a sense. My motivation still is in a state of emergency, my ability to read stuff has improved a lot, but I somehow still feel lost when listening to news broadcasts or things without a lot of context clues.

A lot of the studying I have been doing has largely been passive, with the exception of the Huggins International 30-Day Challenge with which I combined it so I would feel more natural speaking in front of a camera than I was previously. That has HUGELY improved my ability to put sentences together and also made me more aware of many of the suffixes.

Greenlandic native speakers usually tend to use more of the suffixes and stack them more readily, as opposed to foreign speakers from (Denmark / France / USA / elsewhere) who usually tend to use more discrete words. This sometimes creates something of a “foreigner-speak” in my opinion, although I haven’t nearly heard as many foreigners speak Greenlandic to get a scientific view of the process.

What’s more, I decided to satiate my desire to try out a lot of languages (many of which I’ve savored already) by using the prompts from the 30-Day Speaking Challenge to have three different ten-day challenges for languages I want to “flirt with”.

In another fifteen days I will probably have to make a longer video but at least this time I have a topic: a lot of Greenlandic followers have been asking me about my background so this next video will likely be about my life story.

Mother of the Sea and Me

My Motivation is in a State of Emergency

I just uploaded my Day 30 video for Greenlandic on Facebook (the final installment for the 90th day will be a conversation with a native speaker. And before you ask, yes, I have access to them. Many of them, in fact).

But I can’t help but notice over the course of the past month that, with the exception of financial earnings (and, to some degree, even that), my motivation is virtually gone. It has gotten so bad that I’m not even motivated to have fun anymore, oddly enough.

What exactly is going wrong?

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I can theorize.

  • The routines are not helpful at all

My retention from Memrise is virtually nil at this point, minus some occasional passive-understanding bonuses. It feels like a chore to me, almost, even for languages that I really, really want.

I remember when I was in Jewish school that there came a point in which I asked myself what the big idea about reciting the prayers every day was, given that I had recited them so often that I can (still) remember all of them. Now if only I could memorize OTHER languages with the same efficiency.

Which gives me another idea…

  • Create new routines

In Orthodox Judaism there is the idea that one should pray three times every day. A set of texts that are recited, partially out loud, partially silently, and also regulated by time constraints (the morning prayer, afternoon prayer and evening prayer all have to be recited at certain times).

Perhaps in some respects I should treat my phrasebooks like prayer books, and read through them, even silently, on a daily basis. That way, I can actively memorize a lot of the material very well even if I have only passive understanding of it.

  • I want to build other areas of my life, too

I want to be a better game designer, better at understanding relationships at all kinds, better at connecting with people with whom I have nothing in common. I love languages, but sometimes I feel that too much of them blocks other areas of development in my life as well and I have to be conscious of that.

 

So what do I do know?

Well, on top of the 30-day Speaking Challenge which I’ll be doing tomorrow for Greenlandic and likely either Hawaiian or Tahitian (I’m leaning towards the latter), I think I should follow the prayer book routine at least for a while and see where it gets me. I’ll probably do it with my Greenlandic phrasebook, recite one portion of the book in the morning, another in the afternoon and another in the evening. (Like in the Jewish understanding, sometimes I can stack the afternoon and evening sessions back-to-back).

That way I’ll have everything memorized before I know it and internalized with the exact precision with which I remembered the prayers.

This should be fun.

Oh, and the half-way point of 2019 is upon us.

See you in July!

Quality Games: My Plans for Immediately After the Polyglot Gathering

Greetings from my hostel in Vienna!

So with two presentations, three performances and two mini-talks I’ll be giving at the Polyglot Gathering next week, it occurs to me that next week it all comes to an end and I’ll be in the real world again.

As much as I really like speaking multiple languages, there is one thing that needs to poke its head in.

Multiple things, that is.

For one, there is the understanding that maybe I should focus more on quality rather than quantity. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I deliberately finding myself using English in hostels in Austria and Slovakia JUST so I can feel vulnerable and get detached from my identity and self-esteem being entirely hinged on being a polyglot.

And a polyglot I will remain, mostly because I have to retain my knowledge of Yiddish and Nordic languages in order to earn money.

And the second thing, is, of course, my game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, which was delayed due to a number of personal crises in my life.

So starting with next week I’ll be focusing almost all of my language efforts on Greenlandic and Danish (my fluency in Danish notwithstanding, but I want to get better in terms of my accent and vocabulary) until “Nuuk Adventures” hits stores.

This will mean a lot of sacrifices on my behalf, but my languages should serve my professional life, not the other way around (unless it happens to be convenient).

Once Nuuk Adventures is out, I’ll likely be learning the language of the place where the next “Kaverini” adventure will take place. I’ve decided it but I can’t reveal it quite yet.

And I’m not going to lie, part of me is very excited to get a language to near-native fluency. Sure, my knowledge of other Nordic languages isn’t going anywhere and I’ll be retaining my Hungarian and Yiddish as well (and likely some Modern Hebrew), but nothing else is certain.

Perhaps I should say “thank you for understanding” in the event you’re disappointed. But this is a new beginning for me that I knew was coming for a while.

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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)

fiji hindi episode 4