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.



So long Polish (for now)

I’ve been learning Polish for two years or thereabouts, and I’m now going to take a break from it. I feel kind of bad about this, as  my progress has been limited and I haven’t learnt very much. It is entirely my own fault, because while it is a difficult language, it is not impossible.

Polish now longer seems unfamiliar or unnatural for me. I more or less understand how the language hangs together, and could (I think) make rapid progress if I started learning intensively.

But …

… I don’t need to speak it, and I haven’t had enough drive or commitment. I don’t have Polish friends, nor live in Poland. I can’t motivate myself to put in  the necessary hours in to be able to use it effectively.  This may change in the future, but for now boh!

Conversely, I’ve fallen for Italian, which I only started learning as a distraction,  So, today (when I should have been learning Polish) I’ve listened to the radio in Italian and read Dylan Dog (in Italian). I like speaking Italian, and have weekly language exchanges. I’ve learned expressions like ‘L’erba del vicino e sempre più verde and how to use brutte parole. I’m improving. Pian piano. Slowly.

And so (relunctantly), I’m going to put my Polish learning on hold for a while and may (or may not) return to it at some point in the future.

There is also the small matter of time. If I’m learning Polish, I can’t play with other languages …

And naturally (as someone who runs a site like this), I have a hankering …

Besos and baci,




Polish. The struggle continues.

Are you sitting comfortably? I’m not, but that’s a story for another day.

Then I will begin.

But before I do  let me tell you that I’ve just completed a new App which will be here as soon as it has finished the apple approval process. Come on boys. Let it through. Allow the world to feast their eyes on another awesome Surfacelanguages app which is ..

… an Italian word puzzle type game for those of you who like such trinkets and are learning Italian.

For those of you who like such trinkets and are not learning Italian, other languages will follow soon (ish).

As the title of this post indicates, I’m still struggling with Polish. This has again been brought home to me recently as I’ve been doing a large number of language exchanges (scambi) in Italian.  And this in turn has made me think about my progress or otherwise with both Italian and Polish, or more colloquially where I am at. (I know, we are not supposed to write like this, but people say it. Where are you at? Or even where are you to?)

Returning to Italian before talking about Polish. I have reached the point where I really enjoy chatting in Italian. Sure I make mistakes and whatnot but I have fun, and importantly I can generally understand what is said to me. This is crucial (like duh) if you want to have a conversation, chat or meaningfully exchange information about topics.

I’ve made progress, and success breeds success, positive feedback and encouragement encourages more effort in turn leading to more success. And so on.

Back to Polish. It is not that I haven’t made any progress. It is that my progress isn’t very fast. I’m plodding along, like the proverbial tortoise.

In fact, when I was whinging about this, the Boss (who is wiser and more insightfull than me – and also controls the diary) reminded me that I said the same about Spanish. Of course I initially denied this. I was trying to save face. Polish is more difficult than any other language and so on. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to agree that she was correct.

Actually when I think back to learning Spanish (and I’m still learning by the way – it’s not like you can suddenly say I know Spanish …),  it took me years to feel confident speaking the language. If you read my blog regularly, you will see that this is a recurring theme. Learning languages takes me a long time. I don’t mind this, as it is just a fun hobby, a diversion, and a way of learning more about the world.

I haven’t as you may have guessed tried any Polish language exchanges. This is in part because I can’t say much, but more because my Polish comprehension is still very weak.

My experience with exchanges (in general) is that for them to be useful, both people need to have a similar language level. Otherwise most of the talking is done only in one language. This can still be fun, and you can have entertaining conversations but it is not especially useful in language learning terms.

The difference for me is that Italian has become a part of my life.  I have people to talk to, I read and while I try to remember and write interesting (well to me) words and phrases down, I don’t really do any formal ‘studying’.

I haven’t reached that level with Polish. I will and I am looking forward to that point, as that is when the language comes alive and becomes interesting.

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.



Learning Polish. An Update.

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been working on various (non language related) projects – although I will before long (I hope) add some free iPhone language learning apps to SurfaceLanguages.

Enough of that.  I want to talk about my Polish progress. As anyone who reads or who has read this blog will know, I’m finding it extremely difficult.  This isn’t surprising as Polish is a difficult language for a non slavic language speaker to learn. And just to clarify I don’t mean it is difficult to say ‘my name is …’ or ‘I live in …’, but to have more meaningful conversations. (I’m approaching fifty and am not interested in saying how r u, wotz up, lol etc.)

At the moment I’m not focusing on speaking (as I don’t have time for a regular conversation partner) but I want to understand and read. One thing I have noticed about many language learning blogs is that the writers are younger. The advantage of being young isn’t that you can’t learn languages when you are older, or that it is more difficult, but you have less commitments.

Less commitments = more time.

I don’t have much spare time, but what I do have is an hour in the morning when I walk my dog. I also have fifteen minutes in the evening. As I said, I have many demands on my time.

I no longer use Assimil Polish, and wouldn’t recommend it. It becomes too difficult too quickly. Instead  each evening I spend my fifteen minutes going through one of the stories from Mr Real Polish (there are one hundred along with variations, questions and answers and so on) , and during the walk listen to these at random.

Fifteen minutes is the time I need to understand a story when I hear it at random on the playlist.

My comprehension is definitely improving, and many of the more common Polish words are now starting to stick.

I am making progress – albeit slowly.



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,


A Polish Dilemma

I have a dilemma.

It is pretty much halfway through the year and I’ve now been learning Polish for a year and a half. My level is very low although I more or less understand how the language works and how to construct a basic sentence.

I know the basics, I can order food, introduce myself, exchange a few pleasantries, but I can’t have an interesting conversation. My language level is way, way, way to low.

I’m not bothered by my level as I haven’t spent much time with the language, and I know what I need to do to improve.

The steps I know I need to take would be :

1. Spend the next week ensuring I know the basic verbs and revise basic vocabulary.

2. Find a conversation partner/teacher and spend several hours a week talking.

I know what I need to do to improve. I also know that although Polish is difficult, it is not impossible.  In fact the more Polish I have learned, the more interesting I have found it and the more it makes sense.

For the record I think that you probably need triple the time to learn Polish as opposed to a language like Italian.

The problem is that I have no need to speak Polish, no trips to Poland planned (or likely) and am not surrounded by Polish speakers. In other words although I  like the language, I lack the impetus I require to make decent progress.

Conversely with Italian, I’ve made friends (on the internet) and talk regularly. My level is improving constantly.

And so I don’t know whether it is worth continuing in the same vein (i.e. learning bit by bit) , because while I know the steps I need to take to actually be able to speak the language, I’m unlikely to take them. I don’t have unlimited spare time.

I really can’t decide what to do. I don’t want to stop learning Polish, but at the same time am starting to feel frustrated by my lack of progress. And yet, I don’t have time to commit to another evening (or two) chatting (or trying to) in Polish (as well as Italian and Spanish).

And yet that is exactly what I need to do.




Polish Frustrations

I think Polish my have defeated me for the time being, and am considering taking a break in my attempts to learn it.

The problem I face is that I don’t really need it. In fact I don’t have any need to use it in my day to day life. I like it as a language, and I like how it sounds.

But …

… the languages I need are Spanish and of course English. Italian is handy for holidays and I hear a fair amount of Catalan spoken.

So what do I do? I like Polish. I really do, but I have no compelling reason to learn it. I am working in a vacuum as it were. It is not the kind of language you can dip in and out of, pick up without effort etc. It is difficult and requires time and dedication.

I have arrived at a point where I more or less understand how the language works, and how to construct a sentence.

I know that to make real progress I need to find conversation partners and start talking several times a week. I not sure that I have either the time or the motivation.

As I said, I am thinking of taking a break.



Some Polish words

I’ve just learned the following ubrania ‘clothes’, spodnie ‘trousers’,  szafa ‘wardrobe’, koszula ‘shirt’ and naczynia ‘dishes’.

I’ve also learned diluns, dimarts, dimecres, dijous, divendres, dissabte and diumenge which are the days of the week in Catalan.

I  then panicked  as I couldn’t remember the days of the week in Polish. These are poniedziałek, wtorek, środa, czwartek, piątek, sobota, niedziala.

I’ve also discovered that the Afrikaans word for spider is spinnekop.

As usual I lack focus.

My life is wild.




Polish is more difficult than Spanish. The proof.

There is an internet meme regarding language learning, and is states ‘all languages are equally easy to learn’ with the inference that they all take a similar amount of time.

My experience of learning Polish for the last 18 months shows sme this isn’t true. Polish is not impossible, but it is more difficult to learn than Spanish for this english speaker. It is useful to know this and not be discouraged by slow progress.

What I am writing here is based on my experiences so far of learning Polish.  I’ve been learning Polish for the last year and a bit, and spend  exactly 30 minutes a day on the language. I freely admit that is not enough for fast progress, but I am talking relatively here.

I’m not fluent in many languages. I’m not a polyglot. I have no special gift or technique. (I’m not even selling anything). I can’t move to a country and magically speak the language by osmosis or having a few conversations at a bus top and so on.

So, I’m Mr language learning average.  I am   ‘the man on the clapham omnibus‘ as a wise man once remarked. In other words. ‘a reasonably educated and intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the defendant’s conduct can be measured.’ As can be inferred from the word defendant, this description came from a legal judgement, but it seems appropriate (although I’m not too keen on nondescript).

I’m going to show why Polish is more difficult than Spanish (for an English speaker) with an example.

I am at the pool with friends. (I’m not but this is my example. Clever huh!).

Firstly, we have the Spanish version, which is  Estoy en la piscina con amigos followed by the same version in Polish Jestem na basenie z przyjaciółmi.

The Polish version is more complicated because of the grammar needed to construct the sentence.

To construct this sentence in Polish you must deal with:

Jestem ‘I am’. In fact this is from of the easiest verbs in Polish. Irregular of course, and different depending on whether you are a man or woman in the past tense. But I digress.

The preposition na followed by the locative case means ‘at’.  You also need to know whether to use w (e.g. Jestem w domu) or na as this depends where you are ‘at’ – as it were. You also must remember to use the locative case, as na has a different meaning when followed by the accusative.

The Locative case. In brief the Polish word for swimming pool is Basen but when talking about ‘where’ something is located the locative case is used. You also need to know the appropriate ending for the noun in the locative which appears to be almost random. Actually there are rules but it seems easier to gradually learn the various locatives in situ.

The preposition z which has the meaning of ‘with’ or ‘from’ depending on whether the noun that follows is in the genitive or instrumental. This sentence requires ‘with’ and so the Instrumental case is needed.

The instrumental case. The word for friend is przyjaciel (I think – I wrote this from memory so errors are probable). The genitive plural of przyjaciel is przyjaciółmi (I’m fairly sure but not positive).

Now the Spanish version.

EstoyActually one of the more tricky areas of Spanish. You have to choose between one of  two verbs to use when saying ‘to be’ ser and ester. Anyway ‘Estoy‘ means ‘I am’.

En means in. You don’t need to worry about cases and the like as Spanish doesn’t have them. Nor does English.

La piscina means ‘the pool’.  Spanish nouns have a gender but almost all nouns ending with a are feminine so they are not particularly difficult to learn, and crucially there is not normally a big impact on the construction of the sentence.

So if I wanted to talk about ‘the pools’ I would just add an s on the end las piscinas. See. Easy. That pretty much sums up plurals in Spanish. Just add an s. The plural of Polish nouns are more complicated with a lot of irregular nouns to remember. So Polish wins here in terms of difficulty – certainly if you have a memory like mine.

Con is a preposition meaning with. Again nouns do not change just because they happen to follow it.

Amigo means friend and we add an s on the end to make friends. As an aside the Polish plural of friends przyjaciele and if your friend happens to be female it is something else again. In Spanish if your friend is female, just change the o to a resulting in amiga.

And so we have two sentences.

I leave it to you to judge which is easier.

Of course, I’m making a point here, and that is don’t expect to find Polish easy. I don’t think Spanish is easy either, but there is a lower barrier to entry certainly at the beginning. It is MUCH easier to construct simple sentences in Spanish than in Polish and have a chance of being correct.

I don’t know if Polish suddenly becomes more straight-forward later in the game, as I’m not there yet. I kind of hope so.

Besos etc,