I’ve just added the initial parts of two new language courses to Surface Languages. These are Italian for beginners and Polish for beginners.

The courses are simple,  consisting of short sentences, made up  of a few words only and for absolute beginners.

The reason for this was partly based on my experience of starting to learn Polish, which was that I found the language overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start, and couldn’t see how to progress. This problem is particularly acute when you are looking at a language which is completely unrelated to any others you know.

I wanted artificially simple sentences so that I could build up a very basic idea of how the language functions, before moving onto more complicated materials.

I then looked around at other language resources on the internet, and discovered that although there is a vast quantity of information, a lot of it is too complicated for the initial stages of learning. Obviously, the length of time spent on these initial stages depends on the intensity of learning and how many hours you are putting in a day or week.

I then thought it would be useful to add courses which could be used as a starting point in language studies, before beginning to use more complicated materials.

This should speed up initial progress. At some point, I would like to learn Russian, but before I do, I will add Russian to SL, and eat (as it were) my own dog food.

This is a very long term project and I will add these additional languages, and extend the  existing language courses as and when I can. Time permitting.

I am in the process (although that doesn’t come with a particular time-scale) of adding the initial parts to both French and Romanian language courses.



Language learning course on Surface languages

Well. I now have translations (and explanations) for the first of two new free language learning courses which I am adding to Surface langs. They are for Italian and Polish.

You can see the beginning of the free Italian language course. I’ve only added the first few lessons and there is no audio (yet). The Italian and Polish audio   will be coming soon.

These will be the best yet that I have added to Surface Languages, and I would love feedback.

So e-mail me with ideas/kind words etc.

Assimil Polish. Update. Lesson 13

Luckily for me,  lesson 13 mainly contained words that I already knew as I have been struggling to remember lesson 12.

I’m writing a list of words that I can’t remember  and glancing at them periodically.

There seem to be one or two in each lesson which flash into and then immediately out of my mind – such as posprzatać  ‘to clean’.  By the way, the a in posprzatać should have a diacritic, but I can’t add it in the normal apple way by holding a key down and selecting among one of several. Strangely, the particular a required in omitted.



The Secret Project Revealed …

Secrets revealed. Part 1!

I have wanted to expand the content in the existing languages on Surface Languages for some time. I have wanted dialogs and explanations making up language courses rather than groups of phrases.

I am only one person, with limited time and resources and so I’ve been considering the best way to do this.

The answer is to satisfice, which is defined according to the relevant wiki entry and is to use ‘a decision making strategy that attempts to meet an acceptability threshold’.

The decision I have made is to add courses bit by bit and incrementally improve and expand on them. To this end, I have written some code which will enable me to *easily* add, change and expand language courses on this site.

You can see it here, although with dummy data.

I am now in the process of obtaining my first set of translations and audio for Polish. These will illustrate some very basic concepts of the language. I hope with time, feedback and experience I will be able to obtain further and more extensive translations/audio and explanations to improve these free language courses.

I intend to do the same with other languages – starting with Italian.



Assimil Polish. Day 7 and the secret project

Day 7 of Assimil Polish.

Luckily the seventh lesson is a revision lesson, designed to consolidate knowledge.  I’ve used my half hour today to go through lesson 7 and revise the previous six.

Half an hour was not long enough and I ended up spending an hour on this, and also listened to these seven lessons while on the morning dog walk.

I’m starting to understand and enjoy the Assimil method and intrigued to see how much Polish I will  learn during in the next 93 days.

My only gripe is the half hour a day. The introduction to the book ‘Le Polonais’ clearly states ‘En général, une demi-heure por jour suffit’. Now, that might be enough for gifted linguists or anyone who is familiar with other slavonic languages, but for me it is not enough.

I suspect that the half hour is sufficient if you are learning one of the romance languages (as an english speaker), but for Polish it isn’t.

That said I like the short dialogs and will spend in as long as I need to finish this is 93 days.

The Secret Project

The ‘Secret Project’ will be *partially* revealed tomorrow.

Other Stuff

I learnt the Spanish word for toilet today. I mean the white throne within the room itself, not the name of the room which is  ‘retrete’.  The word (used in Spain is inodoro). There is a thread on this on the wordreference forums.

Due to a strange set of circumstances I need to know further and somewhat specific toilet related Spanish vocabulary.

My life is truly wild and exciting.



Assimil. Polish. Day 6

It is rapidly becoming clear that completing an Assimil lesson a day in only half an hour is going to be testing.

The difficulty is that Polish words don’t by and large have any relation to English words, which makes remembering them difficult. Lesson 6 which contains by way of illustration the word nadzieja (hope or expectation) and miejsce (place).

My memory is average and without constant reinforcement, I don’t retain new language. Tengo memoria de mosquito 😉

I don’t have time to spend more than half an hour a day on this, and so to increase my chances of success, I’ve made a play list containing all the lessons I’ve completed.

I’m going to listen to this while walking the dog. The next three months are going to be painful – mainly for me –  on the walk.

Well. No pain. No gain. No-one ever said this would be a walk in the park. Apart from said hound.

On a positive note, I like the exercises at the end of each lesson which show how you can combine elements that you have already learnt to make new sentences.

Back in the real world, and as we are having something of an Indian summer, I have the back door open. Cool eh!

But all I can hear is swearing from builders who are working on a roof  some distance from our gaff.

Perhaps they don’t realize how far sound travels. Take note kids!



Assimil Polish. Diary. Day 5

I thought it would be interesting to document my progress of using Assimil Polish. (It is actually called Assimil Polonais as I’m using the French version.) I’m not particularly going to talk about how to use the Assimil courses but rather my experience and success or otherwise over the following three months.

I also hope to be doing a Polish conversational class once a week, so it will be interesting to see how I progress.

I’m on day five, and lesson five of the one hundred lessons. I woke last night trying to remember the Polish word for closed zamknięty. I’m not sure whether this is a good sign or not.

I like the fact that the sentences are short. I don’t know whether this changes in further lessons, but have resisted the urge to skip ahead.

Many language courses contain long sentences which I can never remember. However, even though I’ve already learnt some Polish I’m having difficulty with these simple dialogs and wonder whether even these are too long, and contain too many new words for a half hour stint. (My surface languages parallel text type courses will be simpler).

The word I’m struggling with in Lesson 5 is pomyłka which means appropriately enough ‘error’.




Assimil. Polish in 100 lessons

I’ve been learning Polish since the start of this year, and frankly my progress has not been stellar.

The book I was vaguely using was called ‘krok po kroko’ , and I was using it for reasons which are now unclear to me. The astute reader will notice I’m using the past tense here. I’ve put it aside for the indefinite future.

I’m finding Polish is complicated and krok po kroku,  while no doubt having various strengths has in my mind one large weakness which is that everything is written in Polish.

This might be helpful in an immersive environment, but here in the UK has left me floundering in terms of speaking.

I’ve decided to change my approach and  so I have bought the Assimil Polish course. I’ve never used one of their courses before but have heard of them by reputation.

This particular course consists of 100 short lessons. You do one a day, and at the end of 100 days you have reached an intermediate level in the language. Each lesson is (up until day four ) based around a specific scenario, and has text in Polish and French. (I had to buy the French version as  Assimil is a French company and many of their courses only exist in French). There are explanations of how to use the course all over the internet. All slightly different!

I’m on lesson 4 and plan to do one a day for the next 96 days, at which point I’ll review the course thoroughly.

My initial impressions are positive but with some caveats:

I have a basic knowledge of the structure of Polish. Lacking this, the explanations given on each page would not make much sense.

The Assimil course is marketed as being for absolute beginners. Again, without any prior knowledge of Polish (or another slavonic language) the approach used might be confusing.

Each lesson is supposed to take around 30 minutes. I’m not so sure that this is sufficient time.

I’m only on day four and these points may be unfair but my hunch is that some sort of prior  knowledge is required (or certainly useful) before embarking on said course.

And back to Surface Language

Learning through short  bilingual texts (which is  essentially the strategy used by Assimil and other language products) is definitely a good way of improving languages. Assimil, Rosetta Stone and the old FSI courses etc all do the same thing. There are differences in presentation and style but generally you over-learn a relatively small amount of information.

I’m in the process of adding a similar learning mechanism to Surface languages. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but because of the difficulty of obtaining content have decided that (to keep it manageable) :-

1. My bilingual sentences will not be based around specific situations.

2. They will not  cover greetings, nor formal/informal use of language.

3. They will only use the singular of the present tense.

4. The texts will be designed for absolute beginners.