Learning language takes me forever.

It does. I’m not complaining, as learning languages is a fun hobby but it does.

Anyway, I stumbled across the start of a blog where Nic Elliott is going to learn 23 languages in 12 years to a B1 or B2 level which equates to a language every six months (more or less). He already knows some of the languages to varying degrees so he is not quite starting from scratch but …

… I couldn’t do it.

I’m pretty sure that there is no way that I could learn a language to B2 level (or even B1) in six months, no matter how much time I devoted to the task.

I know nothing about neurology and how new patterns are established in the brain, but have discovered from my own experience that I need time to internalise ideas and (language) structures.

An example for me is Polish, which I stopped attempting to learn a year ago, but now is finally starting to make sense to me. (I was again looking at Assimil Polish). When I return to the language, I’m convinced that my progress will be rapid(ish) as the language is now familiar, but (for me) this familiarity takes and requires time (even away from the language).

The number of words you know (and can use) is a reasonable indicator of your progress and progression through a language. Additionally and among other things, I am a programmer, and so I tend to break down tasks into chunks (and never complete them according to some), but to reach B1 level you need to know (and be able to use) around 2000 words and for B2 4000 words. This equates to learning either ten or twenty words per day.

This doesn’t sound like much, but is surprisingly difficult, for me anyway.

I’m learning Afrikaans and as part of this am using Memrise to learn 20 words of Afrikaans a day.

Now Afrikaans vocabulary is (for English speakers) relatively easy to learn as there are many similarities between the languages, but even so, I’m struggling with 20 words a day, and think that ten might be more realistic.

This would take me down to a B1 type level in terms of vocabulary over six months.


Anyway, good luck to him. I’m going to follow along – intrigued and slightly envious.



Afrikaans sentences

As I’ve become more interested in Afrikaans (comprehension mainly), I thought that it would also make sense to learn the Afrikaans sentences on SL.

In starting to do so, I discovered the sentence page didn’t work as well as I wanted on phones. Well, that is now fixed. Yippee.

I learnt Sentences 1-10 yesterday and Sentences 11-20 today. So far, so good.

But what if I now want to test myself on all the sentences that I have learnt so far?

I can’t 🙁


I’m going to fix this over the following week(s).



Afrikaans comprehension

Sup doods?

I could just have well written Italian comprehension, Greek comprehension and so on.


The elephant in the room.

The big k.

There is  often a focus on speaking within the language learning circles. But perhaps going against the flow here, I think that comprehension is a more difficult skill to master.

If  you want to start talking, start with these five hundred sentences in your preferred language, and then, well … talk.  There is no need to buy expensive courses etc, although (again swimming against the tide) I would also buy a grammar book and dictionary.

However, learning these 500 sentences won’t enable you to understand much, even though you can talk a bit about yourself. (They are based more or less on conversation topics that have come up over the years in language exchanges that I have done).

Understanding native speech takes time, and I don’t so much mean face to face conversation (where with luck your conversation partner will modify their speed if you can’t understand), but the television, a film or the radio.

I have Afrikaans radio on in the background (I can’t stand silence), and understand not a word.

My current language experiment is to slowly work my way through an Afrikaans audio book (Kobra if you must know), and at the end, see how much of say the radio, that I can understand.

It might be a crazy experiment. We will c.




Trying to understand Afrikaans

Well, the title says it all.  I’m either reading Kobra (the Afrikaans version) or listening to Afrikaans music in my spare time, and not understanding very much. As I have no background in Germanic languages (other than English),  this is hardly surprising but doesn’t bother me particularly. In fact, it’s probably an advantage. There is something strangely therapeutic  about slowly working through books and lyrics to unearth the hidden (to me) meaning – when there is no particular pressure or need to do so. I’m just scratching an itch really. My grandfather was an Afrikaans speaker, and somehow this has sparked my interest in the language. I’m determined to finish Kobra, and see where that takes me with the language.




False Gods

Beware false gods. And idols. I haven’t turned religious but am referring to people who become experts.

There is a trend general internet trend followed by people who become experts and authorites on something. They do something a bit out there, a bit radical, a bit polemic,  and through this gain a following. So far, so good and often interesting.

They then make pronouncements and set themselves up as experts, and after a while, start selling something.

These instant experts usually have no particular relevant qualifications, either gained through practical experience or more formal methods of learning.

As a somewhat crotchety old man, I at times, read their blogs and muse a bit upon their confidence and perhaps arrogance. When you are young, you believe that you know everything. The older you get, the less you know. You realise that there are subtleties and uncertainties in almost anything that you do.

In my more charitable moments, I think that these ‘so-called’ experts scratch the surface of something and think that they have mastered  the subject. They never dig deep enough to peel back the layers. They never even realise that the layers exist.

The more you learn about a subject, the more you realise that you don’t know.

Programming is a good example. It is straight-forward to learn how to write some javascript (and a useful skill), but in more depth you might want to connect to a server. A whole load of server side scripting will be required and maybe connecting to a database. Perhaps a knowledge if SQL will be required?

But this is still at a high level, it is possible that you might need to understand how an operating system works, write interfaces to devices, structure code containing millions  of lines and  and so on.

You can not master programming in weeks or months, but you can learn how to function in a specific domain.

I think that the same goes for learning a language. It is easy to scratch the surface, but digging deeper takes time.

So, sense check what you read.

Besos & baci,


I’m not learning Polish

I’m not really learning Polish. I don’t need to speak it, am not moving to Poland and so on. I have discovered that I can’t learn a language without a practical use for it, and I don’t have this with Polish.

But I do find the Polish  language interesting, and don’t want to stop learning the language entirely.

I have decided on a compromise.

And so I’m using Duolingo as an experiment. Each day I do one new Polish lesson, and revise one old one (or two maximum) using the ‘Practice Weak Skills’ button. I’m only learning one a day as I don’t have much time and I’m interested to see how much I can learn in this slow but steady manner.

The time commitment is minimal (ten minutes a day at the maximum) and I am intrigued to see how much Polish I will be able to read at the end of the course.

If this works for me, I can gradually work my way through the languages offered, as a way of satisfying my language wanderlust.

Besos and baci,



I found out that an old friend killed himself recently.

We had lost contact through changing jobs,  career choices and life styles.

He was a good person who faced challenges he couldn’t overcome.

I’ll have a drink for you tonight.

Rest in peace.



To duolingo or not to duolingo

that, my friends is the question.

I’ve been using duolingo over the past few weeks to practice my (extremely) weak Polish. I’d heard a lot about duolingo but never used it.

I can tell you it’s great fun. I can now say (in Polish) :-

Koń je ser  ‘The horse eats cheese’

I also know other useful phrases like ‘I hear voices’ or ‘I am not a woman’.


It is certainly a good and (very) addictive way for building vocabulary, but I’m not convinced that it is much more than this, which by the way, that makes it worth using, when you have a spare moment.

I wouldn’t use it as my primary method of learning a language, more as a fun addition, as the phrases you learn, are not those that you will use in a normal conversation.

Anyway, I’m using it to increase my Polish vocabulary, when I have a spare moment. I like it. It is free, and it is definitely addictive.  I want to finish my Polish language tree!  After that I will use Duolingo for Romanian (when the language is added).

So, to answer my own question, the answer is ‘to duolingo’ but as a supplementary method of language learning,  when for example, you would be surfing the net, wasting time reading blogs and the rest.



Brand management is pernicious


It seems that, UC Davis, a Californian university pepper sprayed students some time back. Don’t worry. It happens. Students. Seat of learning. Pepper spray. These things go together like strawberries and cream.

For some reason, the university is now trying to hide references to the incident. I wonder why?

Quoting from this article in the guardian : “Multiple contracts were with Sacramento-based IDMLOCO, which was awarded its first six-month contract, in June 2014, for the amount of $82,500, for “search engine results management” that involved creating new content to push “negative” results lower in searches”

This is online brand management, and happens all the time.

So why is this relevant to language learning? Well, why do you think that certain big name learning products are always linked to positive success stories?

Could it be … Could it be .. that they are all absolutely brilliant, and will bring you fluency … quickly … effortlessly … and so on and so forth.

Unlike the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, I don’t always believe six impossible things before breakfast.

This, my friends, is often the result of using ‘Brand management’ to manipulate search engine rankings (perfectly legally) to return the information that THEY want you to see.

Sure I’m paranoid. But am I paranoid enough?!



Improving my Italian with Alice nel paese delle meraviglie


I’m listening to Alice nel paese delle meraviglie ‘Alice in Wonderland’ while I walk my dog – who incidentally has just undergone the yearly nasal spray experience. (For those who don’t have a dog, yearly vaccinations include one which is sprayed down the snout of said animal. It is not an enjoyable experience)

So why, you may ask yourself is the famous Moonface, purveyor of fine software,  listening to Alice nel paese delle meraviglie. Isn’t it a story for children? Well, apparently, it is. It is also brilliant, funny, easy to listen to and I’m learning useful words like bruco, giro, riccio and so on.

And full of useful insights:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” (said Alice)

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Besos and baci,