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!

The 2019 Polyglot Gathering: Personal Lessons and What I’ll be Doing Next

Here I am watching as the sun sets over Bratislava and a thunderstorm appears to be in the works. I’ll walk outside and enjoy the twilight but first I’ll need to relate a bit about how things went from my perspective.

The fellow attendees at the conference were curious, accepting, not in the least bit critical, vulnerable and kind. Often in the “real world” I sometimes hear comments like “let’s continue in English because I speak English better than you speak my native language” (I know, right?)

But the way things appear at Polyglot Conferences, everyone has a series of ladders and it doesn’t really matter how far you up on them…or not…you are, as long as you have some drive to go higher or even taste a language for a little bit.

There were also great lessons in vulnerability. I saw in genuine action that fluency is not perfection (and come to think of it, I never heard almost anyone speak non-Native English without some type of grammatical mistake. AND THAT’S OKAY.

Corollary: it’s okay to speak any language non-natively with mistakes too, as long as you can communicate and patch your errors one-by-one, which may indeed take a lifetime or never fully get perfect, but that’s the beauty of learning, isn’t it?

In any case, I had a humbling experience realizing what it was like for people to present in their non-native languages. I was a lot more reserved. I was energetic and I second-guessed my grammar a lot. I thought “wow, the speakers of Yiddish and Swedish are gonna give me a bajillion dislikes when these videos come out”.

My first thought after concluding both was that they were disasters. But later on I then realized that despite sometimes fumbling for words, using too many filler words, or even sometimes making Norwedish errors in my Niuean presentation, that’s okay.

It was really the first time I’ve done it and it gave me a newfound appreciation for the many speakers of other languages who gave talks in English as well (and I think I can compare myself favorably with how they did).

I didn’t have the same quality of the “taking a class with Jared is like getting a drink from a firehose” that I have with classes I teach in English (and my classes in other languages are like that but they’re usually not filmed, which was the big issue in making me nervous. I’ve taught dozens of classes in non-native languages before, just not with a camera in front of me that was headed straight to YouTube. I even noticed that when the camera was off I became a lot more natural and less nervous.)

But I guess that’s okay.

My next project will be to improve my Greenlandic and Danish both substantially for the sake of  “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a task that will last ninety days at least.

Greenlandic I speak…okay but not well, and Danish I speak well but I’d like to speak better. I’d rate them as A2 and C1 respectively. I am already developing a plan to get a lot more Danish music as well so that I can create a full-fledged environment of being immersed in both languages (I already have a lot of Greenlandic music but I’m open for more suggestions, too).

The current challenge I’m doing is this one: http://mylanguagechallenge.com/

The requirements: film a 10-minute video after 90 days speaking your target language (or, should you choose the reading or the writing tracks, choose the appropriate avenue). I do have access to native speakers and a lot more than I thought was possible a week ago.

So here’s what happened.

I uploaded a video on Facebook of me speaking Greenlandic for a minute. A Greenlandic friend of mine asked to share it in a group, which he did, and then it became viral in Greenland generating hundreds of likes and I woke up with endless friend requests from all over Greenland (which I accepted because I’m making a video game about Greenland and because it is my favorite country, too!)

I got comments like “we should crowdfund his vacation here” or “he speaks better than most Danes who have been living here for a decade have” (this was something explicitly told to me by my host mom in Greenland. Info checks out.

Well this is going to be fun. Time for me to enjoy the Slovak twilight one last time for this journey.

Thanks for making all of this so memorable!

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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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!

nunavut coat of arms

People Who “Hate” Their Native Languages: My Perspective

Beware the Ides of March!

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Today’s topic is an interesting one that I’m surprised hasn’t been touched on in almost any language-learning blog I’ve encountered.

For many years I’ve heard comments like these:

 

“(Speaker’s native language) is the most useless language in existence”

“(Speaker’s native language) is only useful 0.1% of the time.”

“I suppose there are a lot better things to do with your time (rather than study my native language)”

“Why the fuck do you want to learn (speaker’s native language)?”

“I think my native language is boring”

“I would trade my native language for…”

 

I should mention two things:

  • I’ve been guilty of this myself. Part of me wishes that English wasn’t my native language. That was literally the second blog post I ever wrote about on this blog, actually!
  • Almost all of the people who made comments like these were westerners (although I’ve heard some people from Asia or the Americas do the same, too—but not as frequently. From Africa and the Pacific, not to date).

 

Before I continue I’m going to say that I do NOT include people who actively dislike their language due to trauma. (e.g. “my grandmother was a native German speaker from Nazi Germany and after she left she refused to speak German ever again”. Disclaimer: this describes neither of my grandmothers). That’s beyond the scope of what I feel qualified to talk about, and in the event you DO encounter someone like that, avoid that language altogether without questions. End of story.

 

But as far as ordinary people who somehow feel that they could trade their native language (or one of their native languages) for another one, there are some things that I’ve noticed.

 

  • Sometimes they just say that in order to get you to validate their native language.

 

YES. This has happened to me. Enough for me to write about it.

 

Only yesterday was I in a Talmud class and we had a discussion about the fact that, according to Jewish law, prospective converts have to be refused three times (in order to show that they are genuinely serious about becoming Jewish, regardless of what liabilities it may bring them in the future).

 

Sometimes someone who says “why bother learning (my language) if so few people speak it / everyone in my country speaks English anyhow / it’s ‘useless’” may actually want you to justify your decision passionately. Or they may actually want to hear your story in detail but don’t want to ask directly.

 

The more fluent you are in a language, the LESS this will happen, especially if your accent is good.

 

There’s a reason for that, actually. Because if you speak it well enough, it shows that you’ve had a good enough reason to invest a lot of time into it, so your reason will almost CERTAINLY not be within the realm of questioning (e.g. having done business there, married to or dating a native speaker, etc.)

 

  • If they use ANY amount of the language with you at all beyond basic greetings, they really DON’T hate their native language. Especially if they show telltale signs of enchantment.

 

If they did (and yes, I have encountered a handful of cases in which they did), they wouldn’t smile if you speak their language, they would instead appear disgusted and a tad confused. They wouldn’t be continuing the conversation in the “useless language” and playing along with you with smiles as they do it.

 

This is the case with me and English. I may have extremely conflicted opinions about American English, but if someone wants to learn it from me, I’ll usually play along rather than act frustrated (especially if someone really needs help with his or her English). Because whether I like it or not, American-ness is a part of who I am (in addition to my other identities).

 

  • Sometimes this attitude can reflect a certain sense of jealousy (that we ALL have) about speakers of certain languages.

 

I’m hugely jealous of Greenlandic native speakers. I make no secret of that fact. (It still remains the hardest language I’ve ever attempted to learn, bar none, to the degree that if someone lists a major language as the hardest to learn, I’m secretly scoffing on the inside.)

 

Throughout Europe I’ve met many people who view American English native speakers as lottery winners and view them with a certain sort of jealousy that they can’t hide. And yes, you will make friends JUST by virtue of that fact alone, especially with people who feel that they need the conversational practice or even knowledge about American culture (this is true no matter WHAT your native language is, actually! Someone out there is looking for you! This can also be the case if you’re a fluent speaker of a language, even non-natively).

 

My knowledge of whatever native languages I can’t have and I can’t catch up with will almost certainly never be on the level of a native speaker. But I can try and keep learning. And if it is of any comfort to you, my knowledge of other English-speaking cultures and their idioms are also going to be out of reach in terms of “perfection” as well.

 

But you don’t need to be a native speaker to be good. Far from it, in fact.

 

  • Unless someone brings up a traumatic incident or shows signs of vexation, do NOT take “I hate my native language / I think it’s useless” comments seriously.

 

And there also is a chance that you just MIGHT need to get better at their language in order to get them to warm up to you!

 

One last thing: you can actually use this to your advantage to keep conversations in your target language (which I’ve noticed is becoming less and less of an issue the more experienced I get. It was a noteworthy issue back in 2014 and is almost NOTHING now, but we’ll see how Austria and Slovakia fare later this year on that front). Benny Lewis famously would bring up his English-language Catholic school experiences in order to guilt people away from using English with him in places like Spain. I’ve never had to go to that length but I’m certainly willing to describe the darker sides of my American experience (which I won’t go into right now).

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!