Il piatto del vicino è sempre più buono

I was walking my faithful dog in what could only be described as monsoon conditions, and ignoring the rain, and focusing instead on an Italian podcast when I heard:-

Il piatto del vicino è sempre più buono.

Literally, this means ‘the dish of the neighbour is always better’, and I suppose we should also add ‘than mine’.

The English equivalent is  ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’, often shortened to ‘the grass is always greener’.

The Italian version that I had come across previously was:

l’erba del vicino è sempre più verde.

This literally has the meaning ‘the grass of the neighbour is always greener’.

I wondered if this was a witty play on words, and so I googled finding:-

Il panino del vicino è sempre più buono

Il cibo del vicino è davvero sempre più interessante?

Il fumo del vicino è sempre più buono

I’m assuming that these are all variations on an Italian theme.

As it was still raining and miserable, and like a rat after a terrier, or a dog after a bone, I was intrigued with my initial results and continued on the same theme.

I wondered what the French version would be. Now according to  this word reference thread it is:

l’herbe est toujours plus verte ailleurs

which seems extremely close to the English (as does the Italian version), which begs the question as to which is the original version, and where did it come from.

I googled some more and found (Ovid):-

fertilior seges est alienis semper in agris vicinum que pecus grandius uber habet

I translated this as:-

The most fertile crop is always in the fields of another  and he has the most fertile cattle.

It is claimed in some quarters that this is the origin of ‘the grass is always greener’. It may well express the same sentiment as our modern version but it is unlikely in the extreme that there is any kind of link between the two. Anyway Ovid distinctly mentions cattle, missing in the modern version.

In my travels, actually in my Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (in which there is neither hide not hair of ‘the grass is always greener’) I also came across:

Hills are green far away.

which I will now use as a substitute.

Essentially, despite some enjoyable research, I found nothing of any use to the original question as to the origins of either ‘Il piatto del vicino è sempre più buono …’ or the grass is …

I’ve always found it intriguing how many (almost) word for words translations exist between proverbs in Italian, Spanish and English.

I wonder if some of them entered the English language through French back in the day?

I’ll get back to you on that …



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,



My Polish and Italian (after another year)

It’s been some considerable time since I treated the internet to an update on my progress with these two languages.

I think in some ways, this blog is an antidote to the current meme sweeping the internet about how skills in general (and languages in particular) can be learnt at great speed. I’m not bitter or anything – OK!?

You might be able to guess that my progress has not been rapid.

Keep in mind that I’ve been learning Italian & Polish quite part-time and some might say perhaps uncharitably sporadically, while working, being a dad, husband, cleaning paws and so on and so forth.


I’ve been spending more time learning Italian than Polish. Considerably more, and I’ve been reading a lot.

I aimed to reach B2 on the CEFR by the end of this year.

My Italian oral and written comprehension is at B2 level or above (woop woop) – which is partly to do with the fact that I understand Spanish well and also because I’ve listened to a fair amount of Italian. I walk SWP every day, and normally listen to Italian or Spanish audiobooks. So I listen a lot.

Now speaking,  well my spoken Italian is still at a B1 level although I’ve spoken a lot over the year. I have fun speaking (mangling) Italian and can more or less talk about anything,  but still the fact remains that my spoken level is still assessed at B1. I make mistakes, and at times I  struggle for words. But still, I can more or less talk about anything.

Italian (and Spanish) are frequently described as ‘easy’ languages which I always find amusing. Easy to speak badly perhaps. Do these people who describe these languages as easy actually speak them well? Who knows. But being able to introduce yourself,  say a few basic sentences and not much else does not qualify in my view as speaking a language.  I like to talk about anything,  politics, day to day life, cost of living, going to the pub, literature (books to you and me), feelings, weather, climate change … In fact, I talk too much according to the boss.

It can be discouraging to hear people describe a language as easy and quick to learn when your personal experience shows the opposite. There are a lot of polyglot videos on the internet where some so and so states that they speak X languages, and then you hear a monolog roughly the same in each language. Normally it will be something like ‘My name is Z. I speak N languages. I’ve been learning Italian (substitute whatever language you want here) and I think it is a beautiful language’ and so on. This doesn’t demonstrate much, and I wonder how many of these ‘polyglots’ can have free flowing conversations about a wide range of topics.

How many people who describe Italian as an easy language do you hear actually conversing at any reasonable level?  You need a lot of words to discuss a wide range of subjects and it takes time to acquire these words. It takes even more time being able to use them in context. It might be different for you (and you), but this is how it is for me.  And this, my babbers is my blog and how it is for me. If you find Italian easy and have learnt fast (and are a native English speaker), then you are a shining star. Or deluded. Look into your heart and take your pick.


There is no doubt about it, I’m finding Polish difficult. There are reasons for this.

I’m disorganised. Who isn’t? Maybe I need to read ‘ten ways to be more effective in life’ or ‘five strategies for learning faster’? There is more chance of hell freezing over. But I digress.

Polish is difficult. There is no doubt about it. In relative terms it is considerably more difficult than Italian. Italian is described (not by me) as an easy language, but it is definitely more accessible (for English speakers) than the slavic languages. Anyone who describes Polish as easy has a screw loose. It is interesting, fun and has lots of consonants but it is not easy.

Polish is not particularly accessible. Once you move beyond basic sentences mam na imię … (My name is …), you have no choice but to understand the grammar or you will sound like a complete numpty. Slavic grammar is complicated, and it takes time to understand and internalise.

I don’t have a pressing need to learn Polish. I have a reason to continue it that I won’t go into here, but it is not pressing. I’ve reached the level where I could learn much faster, but I don’t have enough of an incentive and this is what is slowing me down. The language is difficult but my slow rate of progress is now down to lack of time spent with the language.

So what is my level? Low. Pretty low. Less low than twelve months, but still low. I know a lot of (unimportant) nouns and some bits and pieces but am far, far, far away from being able to impress with my Polish.

Where do I go from here?

I’m carrying on with my Italian and hope to reach B2 at some point next year. Fingers crossed.

Ditto with Polish. Really I should find a conversation partner, but I am (at the moment) too *ahem* lazy or perhaps inept.

It is lucky I’m a competent programmer.



Panna, crema, cream and custard

Well  there I was thinking that crema  meant ‘cream’ in Italian when suddenly it is brought to my attention that it means custard.

You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.

If you want to ask for a hot chocolate with cream in Italian (and it happens) just say :-

Un cioccolato caldo con la panna. How confusing is this? Panna means ‘cream’. Say it once. Say it twice …

And other important news:

It is the time of year when our hound needs his annual checkup and injections. I’m not looking forward to the trip to the vet because :-

1. He hasn’t been taking his diet seriously and they have a graph of his weight. This is shown to us on a computer. I feel guilty and he doesn’t.

2. The booster he needs requires a nasal spray. Have you every tried giving a nasal spray to a large dog? A dog who recognises a nasal spray when he sees one, and doesn’t like what he sees. It is not an experience you forget in a hurry.

And there is more.

I’m working on a site called Polyglot People (as and when), being as I have things to do like trips to the vet, fixing a broken fence (sigh) and so on.

Anyway, it is coming on well, and will be awesome.



Language plans for 2014

Sup doods?

Well, y’know that as I (at times I admit haphazardly) run, improve and generally work on SL, it seems only natural that I should have some language plans of my own.

They are (duh!) there for all to see under language goals. During 2014, I will continue to learn Polish and Italian.

During 2013, my Italian improved dramatically. I’m not brilliant, but I can communicate. So happy days, I’m not a complete language numpty. (Spell check doesn’t like numpty, but it is a word in these parts).

During 2013, my Polish didn’t. What? Why? Can you communicate?? Nie, no and no.

So why was this?

Basically, because Polish is about 1000000000000 times more difficult than Italian. This figure isn’t precise, but it gives you a general idea.

Actually, that was a joke. Did you get it? No. The real reason was that I’ve *cough* (and if I can’t be honest here …) not really spent that much time on Polish. I’ve been busy. Things to do, websites to run, *games* to program. Oh yes.

So I’ve set myself achievable goals.

1. I’ve set myself the goal of counting to 20 in Polish. I’m pretty sure that I can achieve this, and at least tick something off at the end of 2014 – although I still get dziewięć (nine) and dziesięć (ten) muddled up – which was part of my 2013 Polish challenge. Hmmm.

2. I’m NOT going to learn to tell the time. This is horrendously difficult in Polish, and anyway I always wear a watch or use have a phone, gadget or other lo-tech device.

3. I’m going to learn more of slimak, slimak …

OK. OK. That was another joke.

Apart from number 3. I really will do this. And number 2. I really won’t do this. And number 1. I don’t like learning numbers in any language. I happened to be chatting in Italian today, and it turned out I didn’t know the number sixteen (sedidi). So well, the likelihood of me learning this in Polish is small.

So, Moonface, enough of what you are not doing? What are you going to do to improve?

I will tell you all. It is not a secret. But it is raining, late, the battery is running out on my macbook (nine hours wtf??) and so it will have to wait until tomorrow. (Metaphorically speaking. Tomorrow might well be the day after, or a bit later even, but you get the picture. Soon. I will tell you SOON. I promise.

Love you all/besos/hugs and so on and so forth,



Crosswords and language learning

I’ve almost finished adding a crossword game to SL. To be more precise, I’ve added it to SL but it isn’t entirely finished. There are bugs, and all things being equal they will be fixed next week.

I uploaded it by mistake too early. So if you try it, go easy on me.

Remember PPPPPP?

Proper planning prevents p**s poor performance. (No swearing on my blog). Unless you are FBTFFOF – work that out yourself. Anyway, as usual my attention to detail planning wise is poor. Very poor.  These reasons and many more explain why I write iPhone Aps for a living, rather than run a FTSE 100 company or something more grown-up.

For the geeks among you, feel free to copy the code (mainly javascript). I wouldn’t recommend it particularly, as it turns out that writing a decent crossword generator is something you need to do more than once to get it right. And as with so many things in life, it might well be something you only do once. It also turns out that my javascript knowledge isn’t as l33t as it could be. Ho. Hum. This isn’t the first time I’ve written shonky code, and it won’t be the last 🙂

For the non geeks/programmers javascript is a programming language commonly used to make webpages more splooshy. (I’m going to turn auto-correct off. I meant to write splooshy, and definitely not splashy).

I’m really hoping that these crossword generators will be a useful language learning resource, as picking up vocabulary can be difficult and needs re-inforcement in as many different ways as possible. This struck me as a good one – while chilling in the garden drinking a cool cider or maybe red wine.




I’m learning Italian and …

… it gives an insight into my (probably) flawed decision making process.

I’m learning Italian which is why the first dictionary I added is  an Italian dictionary. (The next will probably be Polish – for the same reason).

This is probably not a good reason for deciding which dictionaries to add, and in what order. Plan to fail or fail to plan?! Hmm.

Anyway, I’m happy, the weather is good, paws are clean, and I think (to improve) my Italian, Surface Languages needs the following three ‘dictionary’ games to be added:

1. A  Word making type game like this 🙂 As I already know how to do this, I’ll do it first.

2. A word search type game. Quite therapeutic and I think easy to add.

3. And this is the what I really want to add an Italian crossword based on the dictionary. I imagine there are all sorts of complexities to iron out with this. I’ve never written crossword/dictionary code before.

I can’t wait …



Italian Dictionary

I know I sound like a stuck record – continually wittering on about dictionaries. (If any of you can even remember what a record is or the origin of the expression you get a bonus). I’m showing my age … soon I’ll start talking about gramophones.

Anyway, I have finally added an Italian dictionary to Surface Languages. Phew!

I’m well chuffed.

OK, I accept there may be teething issues but that is the nature of the beast. Bugs will occur and I will fix them.

Other Dictionaries?

Naturally there are other Italian dictionaries out there, and  this begs the question: do we really need another one?

Of course we do!


Well, for a start, on a personal kind of level, it is a proof of concept. I now know how to add a dictionary to SL and as importantly how to obtain the information from Wiktionary – (perfectly acceptable according to the Creative Commons License).

This means that I can add dictionaries (over time) for some of the smaller (although equally important) languages. I have a hankering to add Catalan …

And answering the next question which is: what are you going to do with the dictionaries?

Look up words!!??

Obviously,  but I also have the basis to allow me to  create an app for  iphone and android devices when I have a moment.

It also means that I can add some cool and sparkling dictionary related games – and I will do this next week. I hope … 🙂

And even better, down South (UK South that is) where I live, summer is about to start – according to the met office! For once, I’m going to believe them, what with it being July and all!

Peace and happiness,


Italian dictionary. Coming soon …

I’m been kind of obsessed with adding dictionaries (and just as importantly) dictionary games to Surface Languages for some time now. It has proved more difficult than I imagined:(

Difficult but extremely interesting in a nerdy sort of way. I am a geek so this isn’t a problem, but it has still been time consuming, and I have other things to do. Once the first dictionary is up and running, I’ll update anyone who is still with me on my Italian and Polish learning. Loving both – but guess which is easier?

Luckily, the summer still hasn’t started, so I haven’t been distracted by wanting to spend too much time outside. Apart from morning walks with the hound, and the odd bit of compulsory lawn mowing.

Oh. And I have some pots … Geraniums mainly ..

So, where am I dictionary wise?

Well, there is a hidden Italian dictionary on the site. As the functionality isn’t complete, you can’t find it from any menus.  But, I hope to have it finished by the end of this week or next depending on what else I have to do in the meantime.

And then on to dictionary games!

I intend to add lots. Yes, I am the sort of person who reads dictionaries for fun, and it strikes me that dictionaries and word search games are like raspberries and cream, hand and glove, carne y uña, and so on. (I learnt that last one recently).

Adding dictionary games will be like a walk in the park (on a summers day) and I can’t wait.

Pax to you all,