Well here I am. A throwaway comment from my parents saying that they were thinking about taking me to Fiji later this year has blossomed until TWO full language learning missions about to reach wondrous heights in the coming two weeks.
Well here I am. A throwaway comment from my parents saying that they were thinking about taking me to Fiji later this year has blossomed until TWO full language learning missions about to reach wondrous heights in the coming two weeks.
Many of you will have the feeling of beginning to learn a new language in which you recognize almost nothing. Vocabulary you know is scant, the grammatical patterns are different and you feel that the path of least resistance is to give up.
I highly recommend you don’t give up…because learning a language highly dissimilar to your own (whether it be your own native language[s] or ones you’ve already learned as an adult) IS possible. You will need to adjust your ways of thinking ever-so-slightly.
The good news is that you can harness various skills you have used to acquire your native language (or other languages you know) to learning your new language that seems as though it belongs on another planet.
Given that my native language is English, let’s look some of my languages in terms of “how different they are” from English on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 is very similar to English, 5 is very different. Keep in mind that this is NOT the same thing as difficulty per se.
1: English Creole Languages, Languages of Mainland Scandinavia, Spanish, German, Yiddish
2: Icelandic, Fiji Hindi
3: Hungarian, Finnish, Fijian, Hebrew, Irish
4: Kiribati / Gilbertese, Palauan, Tuvaluan, Burmese
5: Greenlandic, Lao, Khmer, Guarani
The further you get away from the West, the more likely you are to encounter languages that go up the scale. The languages in (1) are very tied to the west on multiple fronts (e.g. Atlantic Creoles, German, Scandinavian Languages and Yiddish all influencing American culture to profound degrees) the languages in (3) have all been profoundly impacted by Germanic-speaking cultures but still maintain a lot of distinctness. With that said, the English influence (add German in the case of Hungarian and Swedish in the case of Finnish) is undeniable in a language like Fijian or Hebrew (given that both were under British rule).
A friend of mine was diving into Korean and he found himself struggling to remember words. And that’s NORMAL. I had that experience with all the languages 2 and higher with the higher numbers requiring more of it.
That said, there ARE ways to remember words in languages highly different from your native tongue EVEN if it seems impossible now.
Instead of looking OUTSIDE the language for connections to words you already know (as would be the standard practice in Romance or Germanic Languages if you’re a native English speaker, or even Indo-European Languages further afield), look INSIDE the language.
In Hebrew I encourage my students to look out for “shorashim” (or root words). These are sets of letters that will encapsulate similar meanings when seen in a sequence. Like in Arabic, the letters will dance around various prefixes, suffixes and vowel combinations that will change the meaning ever-so-slightly.
A more concrete example is with Fijian. The prefix “vaka-“ indicates “possessing the characteristics of, possessing …”. As such, you can collect additional words by looking at words with this prefix and then learning the form of the word without “vaka-“ in the front. Let’s have a look:
Wati – husband, wife, spouse
Vakawati – married (vaka + wati -> possessing a spouse)
To find words that are similar in this respect, one method you could use is to have an Anki Deck of an extensive vocabulary (what is “extensive” would depend on your short- and long-term goals with the language). Look up a root in the deck and you’ll see all words that have it:
The folks at Transparent Language have said that, minus memory techniques, you would need to see a word anywhere between five to sixteen times in order to remember it permanently. A huge advantage is that you can get exposed to one root and its derivatives very quickly in this regard.
Even with a language like English, you can do the same with a verb like “to take” which is idiomatically rich when combined with prefixes (to overtake), suffixes (to take over) or direct objects (to take a break).
Out of all of the languages I have learned, the same principle holds and can be taken advantage of.
Let’s take the Lao phrase ຂໍ ໂທດ (khɔ̌ɔ thòot). It would mean “I’m sorry” but it literally means “request punishment”.
Various languages don’t have a very “to have”, instead they would say something like “there is upon me” (Finnish) “there is by me” (Russian), “there is to me” (Hebrew, although Hungarian also does something similar sometimes) or “there is my X” (where X is a noun – Fijian, Kiribati / Gilbertese and Hungarian do this)
Arcane sentence structure can actually be an ADVANTAGE in some respects. Greenlandic’s mega-long words can be a great conversation starter AND something for you to remember.
Words, phrases and idioms tell stories in your native language too, but chances are you probably won’t be aware of them and if you do eventually, it may be after a decade or two of speaking it, if not more.
Scene: a synagogue event.
I got “Colloquial Hungarian” earlier that day. I met a Hungarian girl and the only thing I know is a basic greeting. I ask how to say “pleased to meet you” and she says “örülök hogy megismertelek”. You can imagine how much I struggled with this simple sentence on day one, much to her laughter and those looking on.
The fact is, I never forgot the phrase since. Because I associated it with that incident.
You can also do the same with individual words and phrases that you may have heard through songs, song titles, particularly emphatic scenes in movies, books or anything else you consume for entertainment in your target language.
The over-dramatic style of anime actually helped me learn a significant amount of Finnish phrases as a result of “attaching” them to various mental pictures. Lao cinema also did something similar. Pay attention ever-so-slightly to the texture of the voice and any other details—these will serve as “memory anchors”. It’s a bit like saving a GIF to your brain, almost.
The Fijian word for a sketch / painting is “droini”. Do you see the English cognate?
It’s the word “drawing” –Fijianized.
Do be aware, though: some English loan words can mutate beyond their English equivalents in terms of meaning. Japanese is probably infamous for this (in which a lot of English loan words developed lives and meanings of their own, much like Hebrew loan words in Yiddish sometimes found themselves detached from their original meanings in Hebrew).
Another example: Sanskrit and Pali words in languages of Southeast Asia in which Theravada Buddhism is practiced. Back to Lao. The word ປະເທດ (pa-thèet) may be foreign to you as the word “country”, but you’ve probably heard the word “Pradesh” before in various areas of India, even if you know nothing about India too deeply (yes, it is the same word modified for Lao pronunciation). The second syllable in particular may be familiar to you as the “-desh” from “Bangladesh”.
Which brings me into another point…
Tuvalu is a country in the South Pacific. It means “there are eight”. The Fijian word for to stand permanently or to be built is “tu” and the word for eight is “walu”. Fijian and Tuvaluan are not the same language but they are family members. You can recognize various other words by determining what place names mean or even names of people you know (whether well-known historical characters or your personal friends).
Another example: Vanuatu. Vanua in Fijian is a country or a place. Tu is the SAME root that we have in “Tuvalu” (yes, the “tu” in “Tuvalu” and “Vanuatu” mean THE EXACT SAME THING!) Vanuatu roughly means “here is our country” (or “country here”)
Again, this is something you can do for many languages. I remember doing in in Germany as well.
I was amused by the fact that the Tuvaluan word for “to understand” is “malamalama”. I posted it in a small polyglot group. A friend of mine who studies mostly languages from Western Europe and the Middle East asked me to conjugate it.
Tuvaluan doesn’t have verb conjugation. It instead puts particles before a verb to indicate tense. “Au e malamalama” -> I understand -> I present-marker understand.
Surprisingly this system (not entirely foreign to me because of having studied other languages in that family) was not foreign to me. But I learned to like it. A lot.
Feel free to tell interested friends about what makes your different language very different in terms of grammar. Some may even be intrigued about the fact that many languages don’t have an equivalent of “to have”.
There are some things that are a bit difficult to embrace, such as Greenland’s verb conjugation that has transitive forms for each pair (in normal English, this would me an I X you form, an I X him / her / it form, an I X all of you form, an I X them form, a you X me form, a you X him / her / it form … FOR EVERY PAIR).
That said, your love of your new language will find a way.
I’m sure of it!
So here I am with a deadline quickly approaching. I’ve been devoting much of my year to Fijian and it occurs to me that I am solidly B2 in terms of speaking (probably where I am with a language like Hebrew or Finnish).
This would be a great situation but…as it turns out, Fiji also has Fiji Hindi as well, and I’ve read in multiple places that Indo-Fijians play prominent roles in the tourist industry.
And concerning Fiji Hindi, I am NOWHERE NEAR where I want to be.
What I can do:
(1) Very simple sentences
(2) Order stuff in restaurants
(3) Ask for directions
(4) Speak quite slowly
What I CANNOT do:
(1) Read most texts.
(2) Significantly understand naturally spoken speech (even though I can “get the gist”)
(3) Have anything resembling an intellectual conversation at all.
I’m not going to lie, 2018 has been a hard year for me, probably one of my hardest is recent memory. Luckily things are looking up.
That said, I have one chance to get Fiji Hindi to shine courtesy of this blog and my YouTube channel, and so I’ll have to set a plan in motion.
(1) COMPLETE the Peace Corps book in the language learning series (I think I’m slightly more than half-way-done)
(2) NO ENGLISH AUDIO for news or almost anything unless absolutely necessary while I’m at home. Fiji Hindi except for things related to business, or maintaning Fijian or other languages I may need for classes or business.
(3) I have to listen to Fiji Hindi audio on the street constantly. Luckily I have that.
(4) Maintain my Fijian (which I want in ship-shape) by translating every Facebook post I write into Fijian…until I leave.
(5) Truly build an immersive environment during what time I have left.
Fiji Hindi has been hard for me just because of the whole “not many resources” and “no standard” thing. Most South Asians I have encountered been very supportive, even if they didn’t even know that Indo-Fijians existed until I told them.
I am in panic mode right now. And on top of that I’m working on translations AND “Nuuk Adventures”.
But I guess this post will be something hilarious for me to look back on. Especially if I succeed.
I will make a prediction: I will have managed better with Fijian and POSSIBLY Fiji Hindi than I did with Burmese last year. I have learned much since the last time.
Leave me encouraging messages! 🙂
The last post of the month!
Because of work that I’ve been doing on “Nuuk Adventures” as well as other commitments, I haven’t been making videos or writing blog posts as often as I used to. I do love what languages give me, but the biggest dream in my life right now is to get my first video game published and popular and while there have been difficulties with that, I will need to make sacrifices in other areas of my life. And that’s okay.
Anyhow, for June 2018 I imposed a challenge on myself to not write two consecutive posts in the same language for a whole month.
Here are some things that I realized as a result of the experience:
Hungarian and Fijian were my primary focuses in June and will continue to be so in July (when I revive my Fiji Hindi as well). Devoting a serious amount of time to three languages every day will be difficult, but I’m not one to be afraid.
I don’t have a single Facebook friend who speaks Fijian (even though I do know some who can read Fijian words out loud and pronounce them correctly). That said, I often wrote posts in Fijian with English translations in the comments.
I have a substantial amount of Hungarian friends and Hungarian-speaking friends from other places (the U.S. and Israel, mostly). Between that and machine translations for Hungarian (despite the fact that they translated the word “Fijian” as “fiancé” in a recent post of mine), I didn’t need to translate them into English.
I struggle with Hungarian sentence structure (although I’m getting used to the cases better every day).
In line with that thought…
Learning Hungarian for me has proven to be MUCH, MUCH easier than learning any language from Oceania. Hungarian is all over the internet in comparison to languages like Fijian or Gilbertese.
As a result, my motivation for Fijian somewhat slumped because sometimes I felt that I couldn’t find interesting content as much (although maybe I’m…not looking hard enough! Yo, I’m always open for suggestions…)
Gilbertese was also an issue because “comprehensive input” (describing something that Olly Richards is currently using with his Italian project) has been…non-existent…except for my YouTube series on Gilbertese which is helpful but it’s clear that I’m a non-native and that my pronunciation in the earlier entries needed improvement. (the ‘ in the b’a combination is pronounced as “bwa”, and in some Gilbertese orthographies is written as such).
Actively translating things into rarer languages was helpful.
That said, sometimes I worried that I was “doing it wrong” and sometimes I realized that my vocabulary retention wasn’t too high.
But the key is to do something that helps, even a little bit, and to keep doing it.
Machine Translation or not, most people would see something in Finnish and scroll past it if they don’t have a solid ability to read it.
I saved my longer, eloquent posts for being written in English and then had quaint observations and jokes in other languages. This doesn’t reflect my skills, but rather my audience.
My posts are open and so when people saw what I was doing they were immediately intrigued. With growing skepticism of polyglot culture for a number of reasons, the fact that I was writing posts in many languages, some of which haven’t been touched by machine translation at all, was a clear marker that I was genuine (which I know that I am).
A lot of people in the online Facebook groups added me as a result. Yes, I have following enabled, but I’m always glad to help others in any way I can. Granted, I get hundreds of messages a day and it has been hard for me to keep up. But I do try.
I’m not going to lie, I genuinely enjoyed this, it made me project a more interesting version of myself and it cemented my vocabulary in many languages significantly.
I also got two corrections over the course of the month (one from a Hungarian speaker and another about word choice from a Swedish speaker). I’m grateful for your input and I don’t take it personally.
JULY 2018 Challenge:
July 2018’s challenge (I’m probably going to make the weekly challenges a habit, inspired by the legendary Ari in Beijing):
– I must translate ALL Facebook posts I write into either Fijian or Fiji Hindi. This is true regardless of source language. (Posts in Hungarian, Hebrew, Danish, English, etc. are affected)
– Exceptions include emergencies and life-changing announcements (including “Kaverini” announcements)
– I can write the translation in a comment instead (for example, if I want to write a very powerfully worded political piece, I may opt for doing this).
– I may use any orthography for Fiji Hindi.
– I may use as many English loan words in Fiji Hindi as necessary for it to feel genuine (e.g. the way an Indo-Fijian would speak). The same is true for English loan words in Fijian.
– For the sake of balancing translating into the two languages, I have to alternate between Fijian and Fiji Hindi with each post. If I translate into both, it serves as a wild card and I can choose which of the two to do for the next post.
– Instagram is unaffected, but if I share any Instagram photos or videos to Facebook, I must translate the caption into one of the two languages in a comment (or both).
– The challenge will be suspended in the event of me going abroad. (Foreshadowing?)
CAN I DO IT? We’ll see!
From years ago. My language list is a bit different now.
A few days ago (four days ago, to be exact), I had grown significantly burned out from studying languages of Fiji and Rotuman proved to be a heavy challenge for me with even the most basic level seemingly out of reach (as things stand).
I decided I needed a break from my routine of having my studies of Fijian eat up any gains any of my other weaker languages would have had. I yearned for something more, a language that didn’t feel like it was a “chore” or an “obligation”. I tried to improve Kiribati and Burmese but I sort of “wasn’t feeling it” for either…not right now, at least.
Then, after having a feeling that I couldn’t shake, and a certain infatuation with a language I haven’t felt in a wrong time, I knew I made the right choice when I began to study Hawaiian (as of four days ago).
I do remember my promise to not learn any new languages for 2018. Well, the promise was to not learn any language not related to business, travel or romance. But as a game designer and someone who hasn’t played the seventh generation of Pokémon games yet (set in “Alola”, heavily inspired by Hawaii), I’m going to need to play through the games with some knowledge of Hawaii / the Hawaiian Language first. After all, I’m also designing a game set in a real world location and I’d like to see what Nintendo / Game Freak / the Pokémon Company do(es) well.
Hawaiian fit the bill. After Fijian (which I’m continuing to improve), Hawaiian seems more approachable with the sentence structure and many aspects of grammar no longer foreign at all.
What is odd, however, is the fact that there are so few letters. 13 letters (one of which is the glottal stop “ ‘ “, known as the “ ‘okina”). So “credit card” would be “kāleka kāki”. Personal names are also localized as well, and many traditional English names familiar to most Americans have been morphed into something not even remotely recognizable (Fijian had more letters so it didn’t really have this problem).
I really admire the community of Hawaiian speakers for bringing this language so far with communities and harnessing technology in every sector. I can imagine that, despite the fact that it is still listed by UNESCO as “severely endangered” (It is the least safe language in Google Translate, I believe), Hawaiian will continue to survive and proliferate contrary to all expectation.
Upon hearing speakers from universities and schools speak, they don’t speak of Hawaiian as “dying” but rather in a constant surge of revival. It seems that, from the sheer looks of it, that Hawaiian speakers seem to be more hopeful about the future of their languages than, let’s say, Icelanders would be about theirs (that said, I think that the reports of Icelandic’s “decline” are heavily exaggerated).
Hawaiian, unlike many other languages of the Pacific, has a TON of resources to learn and, I would imagine, many ways to find speakers in New York City and many other places. The amount of loan words founds in English from Hawaii is staggering (luau, kahuna, hula, wiki, etc.) The idiomatic similarities it has with Fijian also make it a lot less stressful experience and a more enjoyable one. I can imagine that future languages from Oceania will come with ease to me.
I should also say that, at this point, it seems that my true language “loves” lie with Oceania, Scandinavian and the Jewish Languages (not also to mention languages of my heritage like Hungarian, which I sadly haven’t been focusing on as much as I could have been but I was sidetracked by Fijian for travel reasons quite early into 2018. Late 2018 will get Hungarian handled, this I promise.)
I also can’t keep on picking up new languages forever and maintenance is already starting to become an issue. That said, perhaps I need to be more inventive and hopeful and silence voices in my mind telling me that I can’t. Or I need to think more deeply about what I want.
That said, at the very least 2018 brought me Fijian. It seems that Fiji Hindi (a small amount), Hungarian, and maybe Hawaiian and Kiribati can also be mine by the time 2019 comes in. Maybe deep improvements in Greenlandic and Lao as well. If I try. I had a long list of languages that I wanted to improve or at least sample in 2018, but with several new games coming out this year and changes in my life it doesn’t seem likely.
That said, I encourage you to follow your dreams in any capacity you can. Your life belongs to only you and you deserve your best shot. End of story.
2018 has had its share of victories for me so far, but sadly it also resulted it a huge series of rude awakenings.
For one, especially after the Polyglot Conference and my growing presence online, I’ve felt my inbox flooded with people asking for learning advice and resources and many other things. I am very grateful for that, in a sense, but to some degree I feel overwhelmed because the day is not far off when I will get WAY too many messages for me to deal with.
I started this blog and became a teacher because I know that the contemporary world is full of pain (as has, most likely, all of human history to date). Contemporary marketing thrives on insecurity, building up limiting beliefs and convincing people that their dreams are out of reach.
I know how it feels to be confused and without hope, and I hope that my writings have brought at least a little bit of healing to the world.
On the other hand, since this year started, there have been a number of difficult happenings. I woke up on morning to find an entire thread on Reddit devoted to hating me with every imaginable awful thing said about me (they linked to my blog and that’s how I found out about it). Thankfully the moderators got involved (perhaps a bit too late) and doled out warnings and deleted the thread (sort of) but the damage still lingers in my heart, despite some apology messages I got.
Anti-Semitism has also entered as well in ways I don’t want to describe. Suffice it to say that, while being Jewish has largely been a source of advantage and comfort for me nowadays rather than either a social liability / point of discrimination / source of guilt, it has been used against me….especially in private messages from complete strangers who don’t hold back.
Unlike in previous years, I find myself in a permanent spotlight. I can’t live a private life anymore, even if I wanted to. But this is what I wanted for years and it is surprisingly stressful when I got it.
I have to be aware that every interaction I have with anyone ANYWHERE has the potential to be used for me or against me. I have to keep my fluent languages in even better shape.
This ties into another thing: I’ve been focusing a lot more on my fluent languages than I have on ones I’d like to know. Part of me wishes it were otherwise, but I also fear that I am suffering from burnout as well.
Thankfully earlier this year I also became a video game tester as well so that has been something new, exciting and quite fulfilling. But if you’re expecting that a job like that is “play games and get paid”, you’re not exactly right. (A lot of the games can be extremely frustrating and you have to take detailed notes on what does or doesn’t work).
Earlier this month I said I was working on Kiribati and Rotuman, but I gave up on improving Kiribati after the first day (for now, at least). I’ll come back to it another day, perhaps one in which I haven’t suffered from so much “Oceania fatigue” (Rotuma is different given that it will likely come of use in Fiji, however slim the chances, and if it blossoms into something to write about I can’t lose that chance).
I constantly feel as though I need to maintain ALL of my projects PERFECTLY AT ALL TIMES, in a twisted perfectionism that has left me confused. I find myself wondering if the good fortune I’ve had so far is something I even deserve, and doubting my successes is another thing I do with unfortunate consistency.
One day I think I will no longer be vexed by this “new state of things”. But much like adjusting to a new reality, as I had too many times throughout my life (going to an Orthodox Jewish Day school for the first time, entering an inner-city high school from there and then Wesleyan University and then four other countries FOLLOWED BY a confused return to my homeland which didn’t seem as though it was mine anymore) will take a lot of difficulty at the beginning, followed by (what I hope can be) some variety of solace.
The Fijian and Fiji Hindi recordings are almost ready, I just need to compile and upload them!
Do YOU relate to anything that I’ve described here? Go ahead and let us all know!
Happy 1st of May! Don’t be confused by the title, this is actually an article filled with encouragement for YOU! Hope your resolutions are going by okay!
Come to think of it, it actually isn’t the PEOPLE themselves but rather their MINDSETS, which are always subject to change (and yes, I do mean always!).
The general rule is this: believe those who want to help you up, and don’t believe those who want to push you down.
However, it can also occur to me that, sometimes, I myself may have written or said something that you may have construed as discouragement or the like. I will say that it is NEVER, EVER my intention to express anything less than “all human beings deserve fulfilled dreams”.
Sometimes there are people who, due to some circumstances, may be wounded or otherwise having a hard time. They may also be blinded on behalf of a belief system (and not just religious ones, mind you) that may prevent them from thinking in any other ways.
To celebration 1/3 of 2018 being over, let’s take note of some variety of opinions you should watch out for:
I remember when I was in the Orthodox Jewish Day school of Hard Knocks, I was feeling insufficient, doubtful and overall extremely insecure (this was in my early teenage years, by the way).
The reason? A lot of the teachers were getting me to think about what I WASN’T doing to be a good Jew vs. what I WAS doing.
By contrast, the people at my local minyan in rural Connecticut as well as my rabbis here in New York DO actually tell me that, despite my spiritual failings and any hardships / sins I may have gathered, that I actually am a good person because of the work I’ve done for the proliferation of my own Jewish heritage as well as healing in the world.
As a language teacher I focus on what my students have BUILT UP vs. what they don’t have yet.
An example of this: someone who compares a language you’ve learned in adulthood to that of a native speaker (in an unfair light). Another example: someone who puts down your language abilities on account of one mistake. (The latter is significantly rarer).
One very toxic YouTube personality, within the same video, said that YouTuber X was not a real polyglot because he didn’t do any work in field linguistics with languages with no written form…followed by saying that YouTuber Y was wasting time because he was focusing on rarer languages from the developing world.
Another person tried to accuse me of claiming fluency while knowing only a few sentences of the language. Presented with evidence to the contrary, he proceeded to call me a bunch of names and told me that I didn’t understand how “hard it is” to learn a language. (If you know only how to speak only in insults and diatribes, I bet not only learning a language would be hard but literally everything else in your life).
There is no way to reason with such people. They only seek to infuse self-doubt into the people enjoying the success they wish they were having. And they can have it. But only with changing a toxic mindset. Luckily, this can come easily.
I’m certified in multiple languages (Yiddish, Hebrew and Danish) and I teach nearly nine others. Someone who tries to tell me that I only know how to speak English? Disregard. Someone who tries to tell me that my teaching business is a scam? Disregard. Someone who tries to tell me that I didn’t learn all of these languages when there are videos of me using them? Disregard.
You should ask no less of yourself.
In playgrounds for children there are the variety of kids who want to cooperate and help other people build things and have a good time. There are others that want to destroy the fun for everyone else, perhaps out of boredom or some other negative emotions. (I’ve been both kids, so I know how it feels).
There are people who have an aura of bitterness and pessimism throughout, and this can be especially true on the internet. Some people can’t even bring themselves to say anything positive. Don’t try to get them to. Instead keep on playing and building sandcastles.
Yup. Even if that anyone happens to be myself.
Ever since I graduated from college I decided I would adopt a new rule for my life: this is my life and my dream, and I do what makes it possible. Those who are willing to support me – I will actively seek their company and provide them with support. Those who seek to discourage me in any form – I will distance myself from them, until they learn to do otherwise.
This is your life. You are the hero/ine. You will be a legend to be remembered to whatever degree you want to. Don’t let anyone else take that from you.
I’ll be focusing on Kiribati and Rotuman for May 2018. The Fijian and Fiji Hindi videos should be up in about a week. I’m still thinking about how to do the “cover” of Ari in Beijing’s “Fail to Win” video. It’ll be on its way!