What next?

I’ve added a Romanian crossword and word search to the word games  page of Surface Languages.

I’ll add crosswords in other languages over the following weeks/months.

So what next for Surface Languages? 

In the near future would like to add Icelandic and also the audio for Albanian. Both of these should be easy enough to do. I should probably give myself some sort of time-scale for this to prevent dithering. But a leopard can’t change its spots …

And following on from this I could add more languages …

But I think that first (or maybe in conjunction) with this, I’m going to start implementing my *secret* project, which to give you a clue is to add substantially more to some of the existing languages.

Cat News

To totally change the subject, we have a cat, who goes by the name of Pinky. (He is male, but unfortunately the vet thought he was a she and hence the name).

He is old in cat years and heading towards 19. Unfortunately, he is becoming increasingly cantankerous or possibly dementing, and his nature has never been exactly what I would call sunny.

He woke us all last night with angry meows.  I’m going to record them next time and add them to this blog. Maybe someone who understand cat language can tell me what he is so cross about.



Romanian language crossword

The clue is in the title really.

What with it being a bank holiday here in the UK, and me having time on my hands, I thought I’d *quickly* add a Romanian crossword and so on to the word games.

The code was already written (and tested) on Polish, Spanish and Italian. So what could go wrong? It would work straightaway and I could return to my normal bank holiday pursuits.

Well, it turns out that Romanian has a large number of diacritics.

I knew this already, but didn’t know how many. Each diacritic requires a special piece of code so that the comparisons with or without diacritics work correctly.

The Romanian word for cat pisică has a diacritic on the a.  The crossword needs to be able to treat piscia and pisică as the same word. This allows the solver to choose not to enter diacritics (which can be tedious on some gadgets).

I thought I had handled all the different diacritics when adding the Polish crossword.  Polish has a lot of them. So for example, in Polish ę needs to be treated as e or ż as z.

But it seems that Romanian has more.  Romanian has (for example) the aforementioned ă which needs to be treated as an a.

A few lines of code need to be amended.




Spanish Colloquial Phrases

I am learning Spanish, and in an effort to improve my level, have started to learn more colloquial expressions.

I’m adding them here so I don’t forget them, don’t lose them, and also so at some point in the dim and distant I can add them to a new section in Surface languages.

Also, to include them here, I have to have used them at least once, preferably in speech, but written will do. 🙂

Spanish colloquial phrases that I’ve used:

Estar en Babia   to be daydreaming

Estar a dos velas  to be skint

Ser un loro  to be a chatterbox

Hacer la negra to have bad luck

Tener memoria de elefante    to have the memory of an elephant

Tener memoria de mosquito  to have the memory of a goldfish

Volverse loco   to go nuts

Irse la olla    to go nuts (se me fue la olla)

Estar de mala leche      to be in a bad mood

Importar un pimiento      to not matter, be important (me importa un pimiento quien gana las elleciones)

tienes que ir con mil ojos  you have to have eyes in the back of your head

Me lo pierdo    I miss out (from doing something I want to).

Me he pasado la noche en blano  I slept badly.

Mi vida está patas arriba  My life is a complete mess.  (patas arriba literally means paws upwards).

La casa está patas arriba  The house is a mess (un lugar muy desorganizado)

Levantarse con el pie izquierdo  to get up on the wrong side of the bed.

Frase hecho    set phrase

Estás de broma!    You’re kidding.

He oido hablar de el     I’ve heard of him.

Matar el gusanillo         To have a snack.

Estar como sardinas en lata    To be cramped (like sardines).

a gatas                          On all fours.

fuimos al quinto pino      We went a long way.

pedirle peras al olmo      This has two meanings : to ask for something impossible, and  a similar meaning to the english ‘to get blood out of a stone’.

The first meaning is clear as an olmo ‘elm’ can’t produce peras ‘pears’. I don’t know why it also has the translation of ‘to get blood out of a stone’.

Watch this space.



A bit more on crosswords

I might at times lack focus and direction. I’ve explained this elsewhere, and it is one of many of my excuses for not being a CEO, world leader or some such.

But also, when developing Surface Languages, my ideas change and evolve, and not solely with the direction of the wind.

An example of this happening concerns dictionaries.

A while ago, I was very keen on adding a load of dictionaries to SL, and I’m still keen, but I’ve realized that I was in danger of becoming sidetracked with the whole dictionary shebang.

There are already great dictionary sites out there – although not perhaps for minority languages – and Surface Languages is about language learning.

So, I’m going to add the word games for most of the languages on this site over the coming weeks, and not obsess over dictionaries.

Crosswords and language learning

Of course, learning a language is far more than learning lists of words.

But I like crosswords, and the best way, in my opinion, of acquiring vocabulary is by doing different things with the language.

Talking. Way! Reading! Way!. Listening!! Writing. Duh!

Doing crosswords is just another way of increasing and re-inforcing your foreign language vocabulary, as it is of increasing your vocabulary in your mother tongue. (lengua materna, madrelingua, język ojczysty in the languages I am learning. I don’t know enough Polish to be sure of  this but ojczysty appears more like ojciec ‘father’ than mother to me. Hmmm).

Anyway, I increase my English vocabulary by doing crosswords.  Naturally, I do the quick crosswords from  the Guardian,  and only when I have hours to spare would I do the cryptics from the same paper.

I thought that it would be very helpful to have crosswords for beginner language learners with a limited number of ‘easy’ words.

As the crosswords are generated at random, and taken from a short list (of between 500-1000) words, the same words will appear frequently.

This, dear reader, should help make them stick.




Polish vocabulary for beginners

I’m creating a list of Polish vocab for beginners for the crossword and word search generators.

As I’m learning Polish (and am still a beginner (boo, hiss) ), I am including all the words that I have learnt (or sort of know) over the previous year.

The good news for me is that I know more Polish words than I thought. Maybe as many as a 1000. I’ll find out when I finish this list. Yes, yes, yes, I know language learning is far more than lists of words. I chat in Spanish and Italian (with lots of mistakes!), but not yet in Polish. Soon though.

The good news for other Polish learners is that they are all words added by a beginner, and so suitable for beginners.

Of course everyone has different ideas as to what you should learn and what a list of words suitable for beginners list should contain. The answer is … there is no answer. It depends on what you want to do with your language. But still, I need a word list for the various crossword makers and generators.

This list is personal to me, and what I have learned so far, and as such (and I don’t know why) fruit and veg seem to be over-emphasised. Not every-one wants to learn the word for cucumber (ogórek, pepino and cetriolo in the languages I am learning) but it appears in the crosswords.

Other than this the contents are very generic – dog, cat, table, chair, man, woman, child  and so on.

Creating the word list for the Polish crossword generator has made me think again about the Italian crossword. This has two settings: easy and … difficult.

Difficult includes the entire dictionary of around 500,000 words.

The easy setting includes words chosen by me! My level of Italian is now (I suppose) a highish A2, and so the words I have chosen  for the easy setting, might well include words that a beginner has not come across yet.

And so …

… I’m considering using the Polish list as the template for all other languages for the easy word game setting.

This should work well, and if I am cunning I can automate the creation of these lists.

If I have time, I’ll also include a ‘medium’ option for the crossword, which will include the current contents of Italian and Polish. Maybe?

Decisions. Decisions.



A Polish Crossword. Part 2.

I’m sitting here listening to Melech Mechaya, and I feel pretty chuffed becuase …

… I’ve fixed all known bugs in the randomly generated Polish crosswords.  Happy days!

The key phrase here is ‘all known‘ as it is very rare for any piece of computer code not to have any hidden ‘gremlins’ within. Sad but true.

Now, these crosswords are currently generated from a list of two hundred or so words that I have written down over the past year.

As my Polish is still at a beginner level (sigh), the majority of the words in the list are the sort of words you learn when starting out with a language: cat, dog, black, white and so on. These are perfect for beginners.

I will add the remainder of my ‘known’ words soon. As luck would have it, I’ve kept a list of words that I know, should know, or maybe have learnt during the last year.

I’m interested in seeing how many Polish words I’ve managed to retain during this time period.

I’m thinking it could be as many as ….

…. five or six hundred????

This equates to around two a day!! Hmmm. While I’m not the fastest language learner in the world, this seems rather slow. Ho hum.


Moon Face.


A Polish crossword

Yes. Well, I like crosswords. Good time wasting distractions that they are.

And so today, I thought I would add a Polish crossword to Surface Languages.

In theory, this should have been very simple. I’d written some ‘generic’ crossword generating code, which is already used to create Italian crosswords. I thought that all I would need to do was add use a Polish dictionary in place of the Italian,  and bobs your uncle.

Of course, nothing in life is simple. I should know that by now.

Part of the charm of the Polish language is the numerous diacritics and accents that it uses. For example the Polish word cześć  (‘hello’) has diacritics on both s and c. I’m sure that memorizing these is good for the brain.

I have added options to the crossword code which allow diacritics to be (gasp) ignored. So, for example, czesc  would be considered correct if the “don’t check accents” option was ticked.

Neat? It can be slow entering accents in Polish and other languages on an English language keyboard.  And maybe you don’t want to? Give the user options:)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

I had a hunch this would be the case. There are as they say ‘issues’ which I will try and fix tomorrow assuming I have time and can figure out the cause.

The word maker and word search do because there is no need to enter letters. (The dictionary is currently very small, as I was using it as a test but it proves there are no coding issues).

Rain = wet paws and damp fur. Sigh.




Italian word search

The clue is in the title really. I’ve just added an Italian word search to SL. That is what happens when the ‘heat wave’ ends. I do some l33t coding …. 🙂

I read a science fiction book some time back in which before anyone died, their brain was scanned and all original their thoughts saved for posterity.

In the book, a surprising number of people had had no original thoughts, and nothing was saved.

I think this blog is heading in that direction.

My footprint on the internet, soon to be washed away by the tides of time, probably not even saved by the way back machine.

I feel maudlin.