Back to Assimil

Hi y’all.

I’ve been metaphorically speaking umming and aaring about whether or not to carry on learning Polish. I’m finding it extremely difficult. I learn a Polish word. I forget it. I read inspiring stories about language learning. Enthused I try again. I crash and burn. And so on.

I was going to quit, but then I read somewhere that 3% of the UK now speak Polish. Three percent! That is a lot of people. That is so many people that I want to know more about the language.

And so I am continuing. I am NOT going to find a conversation exchange. My level is so low that it seems pointless.

My strategy (such as it is) is to alternate between the Polish stories from Learn Real Polish and Assimil Polish. (BTW I’m recommending Polish stories not because I am affiliated in any way, but because I think they are good).

Assimil. Hmmm. I would not recommend Assimil Polish  as a first course unless you either already know the basics of Polish grammar or another slavic language.

I found that the lessons moved too quickly and I struggled to understand and make sense of the grammatical structures. I like to understand why a sentence is put together so I can make my own.

For example, I found a simple sentence like Są ciastka i dobre wino ‘there are cakes and good wine’  (taken from Assimil lesson 12)  confusing. I now know that ciastko ‘cake’ is a neuter noun and in the accusative plural becomes ciastka ‘cakes’. I know that wino ‘wine’ is a neuter noun and in the accusative singular dobry ‘good’ becomes dobre  to agree with wino and so on. I understand the syntax.

I’m now on Assimil lesson 15 and the second time around it makes a lot more sense.

I will let you know how it goes l8r.

Ciao 4 now,


Assimil Polish. Lesson 100 and my thoughts

Due to the boss leaving early, I write this in bed along with a sleeping dog. Disgusting I know, and no doubt horribly unhygienic, but almost certainly good for a healthy immune system. And he isn’t actually under the dovet …

I wanted to have some neat link with ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and Assimil but can’t think of one. Probably because it is too early. I am (by inclination) a games programmer after all. Cliches and all that.

Anyway, back to Assimil.

Firstly, an admission, I *cough* never reached lesson 100 and it could be sometime before I do, but I wanted Lesson 100 in the title. It gives me more credibility. Lists always include ‘ten ways to be highly effective’ *yawn* or ‘100 great ideas to …’ (fingers down throat).

So Assimil. Well, Assimil are a series (of highly regarded) language products comprising of 100 short dialogs, along with some grammatical explanations. The idea is that you spend no more than half an hour a day (or thereabouts) with each lesson, doing a lesson a day until you reach lesson 50. This is called the first or passive wave.

After lesson 50, each day you do the next lesson and revise previous lessons starting from the first. So on day 50, you do lesson 50 and revise the first lesson, and on day 51, you do lesson 52 and revise lesson 2 and so on …This is called the second wave, or active phase.

The key is that you are supposed to learn and reproduce the lesson being revised more or less by heart. So you should have memorised lesson one, two … This works because you internalize key language structres.

The idea is a good one … in theory kids.

Because there is, or certainly was for me a problem with this. I admit it could be that my memory is shot, or my brain is already full but …

… I found that the lessons rapidly increase in difficulty too quickly. I suspect that if you have some knowledge of a similar language this isn’t a problem, but I found it next to impossible to do more than skim the lessons in the half hour allocated in the passive phase.

The amount of new vocabulary added per lesson also increases exponentially, and many of the words only occur a few times within the dialogs. I discovered that it would literally take me hours to complete each active lesson. For me, the course would be much more useful if it covered less of the language but in more detail.

But, forewarned is forearmed, and knowing this I would still recommend Assimil because :-

1. The dialogs are good and clearly spoken.
2. I like the grammatical explanations and notes.
3. I found the shorter dialogs possible and useful to memorise.
4. The course provides a structure to learning.

but with the following caveats.

1. Use Assimil in conjunction with another course.
2. Don’t try and do a lesson a day – unless you are a genius or maybe your memory if better than mine.
3. Don’t use Assmiil as your first course, but spend some time with the language first.
4. Don’t bother with the low frequency vocabulary. An illustration is a lesson in a post office where the word ‘registered post’ is used. This is pretty far down my list of useful vocabulary.

For those who are interested, I’m now on Lesson 38 regarding the active wave, and have stopped the passive wave entirely. In the end, I found it unhelpful, and somewhat demotivating.

To sum up I would say, that using Assimil is like taking a dog for a walk (y ahoro tengo que sacar a pasear al perro incluso si va a llover).

L8r d00ds,



Assimil Polish. Day 58

I’m now on Day 58 (or thereabouts) of the Assimil Polish course.

The Assimil courses consist of 100 lessons which are tackled in two waves: active and passive. The passive wave involves listening to the dialogs, reading the notes and becoming familiar with the translation and source language. The active wave consists of reproducing the dialogs – either in writing, aurally or both, starting from Lesson 1.

The active wave makes a lot of sense, as if you can reproduce these short dialogs, then you will be going some way to internalising some of the key grammatical language structures.

The active wave begins with Lesson 50, and so as well as studying lesson 50, you reproduce Lesson 1. The following day, when studying Lesson 51, you reproduce Lesson 2 and so on …

I’ve now been doing this (active and passive waves together) for eight days.

The initial lessons are quite short (although suddenly become longer and more complicated) and I haven’t had too much difficulty with writing them out so far, as well as saying them aloud.

However, I am unable do this and study a new Lesson, in thirty minutes, and I would say that an hour is more reasonable, and even that is probably not enough if you want to make rapid progress.

As you might guess, I’m now spending an hour a day to go through each new Assimil lesson (passive) and actively learn the corresponding earlier lesson (active).

If you are using Assimil, or thinking about doing so, do not expect to be able to complete each lesson in half an hour. I don’t think it is realistic unless you have studied another similar language, and I have never looked at a Slavonic language before.

Enough of the negative, after day 56, my overall view of Assimil is extremely positive, with a few caveats which I will write about when I’ve finished my initial run through of the course.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m still not chatting in Polish, and I don’t have a language partner. I suppose I still don’t feel it is productive in the sense that I can’t say enough to make it worthwhile. I like to chat. Soy un loro as they say in Spanish. Yeah. Fine. I can tell someone where I live, if it is raining and so on (in Polish), but that is not a conversation. I still don’t know enough Polish to have a conversation – in any real sense of the word.

I’ve spend an hour and a half chatting in Spanish today, but I like to talk about anything and everything. I don’t feel that intercambios at this point are a particularly helpful way for me to make faster progress in Polish. (I have reached the point in Italian, where I should speak more than once a week but I don’t have time).

At this point, faster means remaining focused on Assimil to be able to express myself (even badly) over a sufficiently wide enough range of topics that I can have a conversation. And I don’t mean ‘I live in … ‘, ‘I have a dog’!. Of course, the best way for passive knowledge to become active, is to use it, which in the case of speaking a language means of course to speak it!.



Assimil Polish. Day 35

I’ve now being using Assmil Polish for 35 days, so I’m just over a third of the way through the 100 lessons.

The idea is that around half an hour is sufficient for each lesson, and after 100 days you can reach a level of between A2 and B1 on the CEFR scale.

Half an hour a day. Are they serious?

Well, I don’t know if I am particularly slow at language learning, but somewhere after Lesson 20 the lessons increase rapidly in complexity, and I’ve found that 30 minutes is not enough. In fact, it is not remotely enough.

Nevertheless, I’m not spending any longer than this for two reasons.

Firstly, I’m following the instructions as I don’t want to surcharger ma mémoire ‘overload my memory’, as explained in the intro. Who knows what damage that might do? A memory overload? It doesn’t sound pleasant.

Secondly, I don’t have more than half an hour. I’ve got other things to do like Fix taps. Etc.

What level can I (or you) reach?

I don’t know yet, but I imagine it will should be somewhere in the A2 range.

As I’ve discovered with Italian the difference between a weak A2 (almost A1) and a strong A2 (almost B1) is absolutely huge, so this category is not particularly enlightening.

Do you think the Assimil course is good?

In a word. Yes. When, I’ve finished I’ll write about my experience in more detail.

You Fix Taps. Really?

Yes. Although it would be more accurate to say that I’ve now fixed/replaced one tap. Ever. At this rate I’d need to live another 500 years to have replace ten.

I replaced our kitchen tap which had been dripping for months, thus saving the absolutely gigantic sum any self-respecting plumber would have charged us.

According to my wife, who knows about these things, I was stressed and irritable, while fixing said tap. In fact, she said muttered something like ‘if I’d known what a song and dance you would have made of it …’ . And so on. I focused on the job in hand rather than catching the end of the sentence.

Still, one sudden move and our kitchen would have been knee deep in water. Everything was hanging in the balance. Who wouldn’t be stressed? 

And that folks is life in the fast lane.



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’.