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.




What does ‘Buscarle très pies al gato’ mean in English?

On my morning walk (in the drizzle and under grey west country skies) I found myself wondering about the above saying. I returned to my gaff and googled. I knew roughly what it meant, but

Literally Buscarle très pies al gato means to look for three legs on the cat.  Obviously it is a saying, so the literal meaning isn’t the actual meaning.

So what does it mean?

I found a reference to this on lasfrasesparahoy where they suggest that the Real Academia Española (big dudes who are officially responsible for overseeing the Spanish language)  state that it means empeñarse temerariamente en cosas que pueden acarrearle daño.

This translates as ‘insist recklessly  in things that can bring you damage’.  empeñarse could mean ‘insist on’ or ‘get into’ depending on the context but I think here ‘insist on’ is a better translation.

I found another meaning here the gist being No le busques tres pies al gato para indicar que no debe uno complicar lo sencillo o intentar probar lo impossible.  The expression ‘no le busques tres pies al gato’ indicates that you should not overcomplicate or try to prove the impossible.

Well, that seems similar but not identical to the meaning given by Real Academia Española.

I googled some more and discovered a definition stating it meant Significa buscar el lado negativo de las cosas ‘to look for the negative side of things’. I don’t like this one.

I googled some more and a common translation given is ‘to split hairs‘ . This means to argue about small or unimportant details.

Stop splitting hairs.



I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone use it.

So what does it mean?

I think the primary translation is ‘Don’t look for trouble/complications where there aren’t any’.

I think is can also be used in the sense of ‘splitting hairs’ E.g. Yo no le busco tres pies al gato, simplemente que me parece absurda la explicación dada. ‘I don’t want to split hairs but the explanation given  seems ridiculous to me’.

There might also be another meaning of ‘there is no point flogging a dead horse’. I’m not sure about this.

None of these match empeñarse temerariamente en cosas que pueden acarrearle daño which I may have mistranslated – which is distinctly probable.

After writing this,  it is still raining, there are still paw prints everywhere, my dog is still wet, and I am still none the wiser about this saying. I need to find more examples, and all will become clear.

Besos, peace, ciao


I’m fed up. Sono di cattivo umore. Tengo la mala uva.

Sometimes I read all these frankly tediously upbeat blog posts about language learning, personal growth, how to overcome any obstacle in ten easy steps and so on and so forth.


My mood today is not suitable for all this relentless optimism.

Don’t these people ever wake up, smell the coffee and think ‘better stay in bed. It is probably safer and more productive’?  Don’t they every lose their way in life? Don’t they ever just want to scream?

They must feel like this. Life must at times get to them. Sometimes they must spiral into a negative ego state or some sort of good mood death spiral. Surely no-one is optimistic all the time.

I’ve not even had a bad day. I’ve just in a bad mood. I have no excuse for it. I’m just being self-indulgent, petulant and spoilt.

And to make matters worse, the icing on the cake as it were,  I’m going to have to make mashed potatoes.

Even worse it is a Monday which means alcohol free for another few days. Two days consecutively to give the liver a fighting chance according to the quacks. And so three to be safe?  If it was a Friday (for example) I would go out and have a few sherbets.

Thanks for reading. I would like to say I feel better now. But I don’t. I probably will tomorrow.

If anyone has got this far, I’ve been working on Polyglot People over the past few weeks. It is almost done apart from content. Click on it at your own peril as there are definite bugs. Of course content is the major obstacle for a site of this type, but the coding is almost complete.

I’ve also got a translation for some Icelandic phrases which I hope to add over the coming days/week depending on events which are as normal outside my control.



What next?

Sup doods?

I’m going to add sections on the  Belarusian and Basque languages over the coming weeks – assuming I can find translators who respond to my emails.

But, but, but ….

I have another idea for another website, and as usual find myself distracted.  It is to do with languages (Italian to start with) and will be free to use.

Happy days.

Pax etc,


Si annis multis vixerit homo …

Si annis multis vixerit homo et in his omnibus laetatus fuerit, meminisse debet tenebrosi temporis, et diorum multorum, qui cum venerint, vanitatis arguentur praeterita.

Well yes. A pithy quote from Ecclesiastes 11 which as I understand it, reminds us that most of what we do is meaningless. You can see a few translations here if you feel so inclined.

It is one of my favourites (I’m not religious but I have a print copy of the vulgate which I delve into from time to time), and reading this I thought to myself ‘hey moonface, it is about time you added a latin crossword to surface languages’.

To think is to act – which it probably shouldn’t be – and is as I have alluded to before on this blog a slight problem area. I should really plan more.

But anyway, I’ve added a Latin crossword to Surface Languages and very good it is to.

I just need to remove the settings button (which serves no function in this particular crossword), which dear reader I will do tomorrow.



2014 and what next for Surface Languages??!

Apparently, six people read this blog yesterday.

Six! Can that be true? Has my blog really gone viral so soon? Well, happy Christmas, buon Natale, feliz Navidad, Boże Narodzenie and all the rest to you good folks (and anyone else who stumbles into my parlour).

You six are all special, and don’t forget it. Apart from being intelligent, good-looking and all around good eggs, you are also the first to hear about my plans for next year. These are :-

1. Six new languages for Surface languages. Icelandic and Basque will be two of them.

2. Add a lot more Russian to SL. Yay!

3. I will add an export facility to SurfaceTexts (and any other features that seem particularly cool). There is an ‘export’ button which is not plumbed in. No code as yet.

4. I will add some more languages to the crossword/puzzle section of SL.

5. I will start and finish a new game for the iPad/iPhone … I have what I consider a completely awesome idea – which based on past experience isn’t necessarily a good indicator of success, but nevertheless I am going for it.

6. Improve my Italian from my current (weak) B1 level to B2.

7. Continue learning Polish, and maybe start chatting on-line once I improve. I’m still at the level of idę do parku na spacer (I go to the park for a walk) , so chatting on-line is not so productive.

It is number five that currently has my attention. I almost have a design (in my head). W00t W00t! Ph34r de coding skilz 3tc.



I was just settling down to do my Polish homework.

Kind (normally) people e-mail me periodically, with all sorts of helpful comments, suggestions and so on for Surface Languages. Thanks doods. I appreciate it.

I attend a weekly Polish class, and every now and then we are set homework, and every now and then I do it. Having left this to the last minute, I was just settling down to start (and finish) said homework, mentally girding my loins as it were, when I received an email with some rather cool suggestions for this site. Thanks. The idea is sparkling and I will certainly add it at some point in the future. Sadly, this line of thought has derailed my focus, and the Polish will have to wait. Perhaps, this is why some people learn languages quickly, and some dawdle? Who knows.

So, I am a programmer. A geek at heart. I can write assembler and twiddle bits. (I think the parroty error joke is hilarious). Ha!

But still, I have only so much spare time and I am working on another top secret project. And so this (uber cool) addition to SL will have to wait until after christmas. Or possibly longer.

Don’t read the next bit as it is really to help me remember what I am doing:

Use PHP and not Ruby. Installation of the Ruby environment is schifo.
Use Sqlite and nothing bigger to start.
Don’t get distracted by this amazing watch app that I’m itching to write.
Keep is Simple (Stupid). KISS. Let us say it again. KISS.
Get something working quickly.

It is the watch App that might derail me. I am by trade a games programmer and this idea is the dogs.

Ph34r my l33t coding skills!




Put your hands up if you think Spanish is easy?

Shame on you if you raised your hand.

I’ve been looking at Portuguese just to get a feel for the language (I’m not trying to learn it as such), but in a similar way to the idea behind the 52 languages in 52 weeks blog (although not so ambitious), I’m keen to expand my language horizons.

The dude behind 52 languages in 52 weeks project aimed to cover 52 languages in a year. The idea appeals to me, especially as someone who has difficulty finishing projects, but I digress.

Personally I think a more relaxed timescale such as a month per language is more suitable, allowing time off for holidays, good behaviour, work? and so  on.

As I said, I’ve been looking at Portuguese which has in turn made me consider Spanish again.

In Portuguese, as in Spanish it is in fact straightforward to string together simple sentences, as you will see when the fruits of my labour are released onto Surface Languages.

You only need to know some easy grammar/constructions to make a sentence. Grammar that you can pick up over a few hours. Subject followed by verb followed by object. Plurals add an s. Etc. Only two genders. Feminine nouns mainly ending in an a and masculine nouns mainly ending in o. Lots and lots of regular verbs ending with ar. And so armed with this information, you can make a simple sentence!

I’m messing around here, but the idea is sound. You can not do this with, for example, POLISH. Sigh.

I think it is this that gives the misleading impression that Spanish (and Portuguese) are easy languages to learn.

But, they are not easy to learn well. The initial barrier to entry, to start speaking is easy to overcome. But  anyone can speak a language badly, so don’t be fooled. It takes time to learn to speak any language well.  Even, the so-called easy languages.

And what about comprehension?????

How many of you who put your hands up are able to understand Spanish radio? Or films? Or native speech when it is not dumbed down? Or even directions when you ask ‘donde está el bar’?

Or you ask someone Qué tal? and they reply Estoy de mala uva. He pasado la noche en blanco. Easy? No, it takes time to learn these expressions. Easy is the wrong word to learn with any language. It gives the wrong impression.

The reason people erroneously consider these languages easy, is that it is (in comparison) to other languages straight-forward to start making simple (and I mean simple) sentences.

But they are not easy.

They are not difficult either.

But they all need time.



Learning lots of languages.

One of the things that interests me is learning a little bit from a lot of languages. I don’t mean in the hyper-polyglot type of way but more a snippet here, a word there, a greeting, a rhyme, how to say hello, maybe count to ten and so on.

Another thing that intrigues me is learning slightly more than a snippet, just to get a feel for or idea of a different language, and again I don’t mean necessarily learning a lot. Some of the most useful expressions (hello, goodbye, how are you doing?), counting to ten, and some very basic grammar.

I’m keen on the idea of sufficient basic grammar to be able to modify phrases from phrasebooks, munge them together and make new ones. I.e. a few basic verbs (present tense only), possessives (my, your and so forth), maybe a demonstrative or two, articles and some simple sentence structures.

And so I’m currently learning what I can about Brazilian Portuguese during November. So, to recap, in a short period of time, a good (or at least enjoyable) approach is to learn useful expressions, very basic grammar, and specific expressions that you are likely to need.

If for example, you are travelling to watch the World cup in Brazil your group of specific expressions might include football related phrases and eating, drinking and travelling type phrases.

If you are hanging about with your Portuguese mates, then maybe your group of specific expressions will include phases to amaze and amuse like ‘England are going to win the (football) world cup’.

Hmmmm. Well, who knows.

As I’m not travelling anywhere, only have a few hours to spare, and am just interested in learning a bit about the language, I’m just going to learn some useful expressions and some key grammatical points.

Naturally, I will get translations completed where appropriate – as can be seen by the deliberate mistake on the SL home page where I link to a Brazilian course that doesn’t yet exist. I hope somebody else will find these useful in days to come. One of these somebodies will probably be me, as once we move into December I will almost certainly forget what I have learnt.

Probably retaining only a snippet, a word or two! Hmmmmm.

I’ll leave you with a *snippet* of Polish, which is after all the language I’m supposed to be learning. Maybe it is true – I lack focus ????

ślimak ślimak pokaż rogi
dam ci sera na pierogi.