Polish and some other stuff

I’ve added and now fixed a new word game on SL, and here is an example in  Afrikaans chosen at random.

This leads neatly into – because of the awesome programming of SL 😉 …

As a programmer I’m good enough and pretty much know what I’m doing, but when learning languages I feel much less certain. I’m writing this as I’ve just finished reading some motivational blogs re language learning to encourage me with my Polish struggles, and it amazes me how confident people are.

In real life, I’m quite outgoing, noisy even (maybe hard word if you are uncharitable?). But writing a blog I feel much less confident. I don’t like making definite statements in general and certainly not regarding languages. Life and learning isn’t black and white. There is often no right or wrong but subtleties, nuances and shades (of grey).  These shades are interesting. Apparently.

I don’t even like making definite statements about programming or running websites – areas in which I feel much more certain and have more experience. There is so often more than one approach to a problem. More than one way to skin a cat and One mans meat is another mans poison sums it up. I like maxims. Pithy and to the point.

So, regarding my slow journey with Polish, there is nothing definite, other than it is difficult but rewarding.


I’ve been learning Polish since the start of the year. Not full time. I have a family, job, dog, cat (low maintenance), this website and all sorts of activities going on – mainly arranged by my wife. Luckily. Otherwise I wouldn’t do much other than walk the dog.

The above are excuses  the setting within which I’m learning Polish – or trying to. Ok so where am I? The last time I wrote about this (a month ago?) I decided that I needed to focus on vocabulary acquisition.

Polish Vocabulary Acquisition

I learn Polish words and then forget them.

I’ve learnt about 1000 words. 🙂

I remember about 100 🙁

I can’t speak for anyone else, and I don’t think I am any worse at language learning than the rest of the world, but I am finding it difficult to retain Polish vocab.

What can I say in Polish?

It is not all doom and gloom.

I can introduce myself. I can say jestem rolnikiem (I am a farmer), jestem kelnerem (I am a waiter) or jestem studentem (I am a student). So I can almost say what I do!.

I can say where I am from ‘jestem z Anglii‘ and so on.

I can (more or less) order food – proszę frytki (chips please)

I can say what I like – lubię chodzić (I like walking)

So basically I can say a few things but it you were stuck in a lift with me (and only spoke Polish) it would rapidly become boring.

This will I think drive the next top secret  expansion of SL. This is sort of a hint as to how I hope to (time permitting) expand SL. Only five people read this blog yesterday, and if you five can keep a secret I’ll tell you now …

But what if one of you can’t? Hmmmm … the risk is too great.

So to change the subject :-

I’m about to add audio for the european portuguese pages. Yipee!!

With luck this should be done by next week – ready for the summer hols. So happy days for anyone going to Portugal – who doesn’t want to buy a language course!! And just wants to learn a few words and phrases. Actually quite a few. Over a thousand…




Or Madeira?




New language learning game

I’ve added a new language language learning game to SL.

For the technically inclined it uses a mixture of jquery, javascript, ruby and html, and naturally took me longer to get working than I hoped. I have also discovered there is still one slight bug which I will iron out tomorrow. No doubt there will be more which I will track down and squash over time – probably to do with different scripts, cyrillic, arabic and the like …

For anyone else, I hope you enjoy using it. If you have any suggestions or improvements let me know. I’m going to spend some time over the next day or so improving, refining, bug fixing and adding this ‘Word Game’ to other areas of the site.

I also have audio for the European Portuguese which I will add anon.

Other News.

Our dog was weighed in the vet and discovered to have gained 0.5kg. Not too bad considering how greedy he is, but the vet indicated strongly that he needed to loose it again. He has a graph showing said hounds weight gain and loss over the past years.

He also had his kennel cough booster. Unfortunately, he remembered what it entailed from the previous year and really I don’t need to say much more than I’m now immunised against kennel cough, and it took three people to administer the booster. (Whoever decided that the  kennel cough vaccine had to be dribbled through a dogs nostril obviously hadn’t spent much time actually trying to administer it …)

Update on Polish coming soon ….







The evolution of Surface Languages

I tend to work on Surface Languages in fits and starts depending on what else is going on in my life, and also when I have ideas of how to improve it substantially.

I’m reasonably sure I’ve come up with a way of improving SL immensely, of taking it to the next level, of making it more useful to more people … etc .. etc…

Firstly, I’m going to finish what I am currently working on. I’ve added  Portuguese (European) and Albanian to the list  of languages. As yet these both lack audio, but I hope to add the Portuguese audiosoon – maybe by the end of next week. I don’t want to commit to a timescale to Albanian as it is not so easy to find someone  to record the audio.

I’m also going to add a language learning game, or maybe two. I have the ideas in my mind and just need to code them. Easy peasy, fun to do and fun to use. I hope …

So far. So good.

Secondly, and this is the ‘take SL to the next level’ part, I’m going to add a whole new section for people who want more than ‘get by’ type language.

For you programmers reading this I’m writing it in php and this section will live under sentences.surfacelanguage.com or something similar. The rest of this site is written using Ruby, but for various reasons I think php will be a better fit for this.

Naturally, I can’t write language courses in multiple (or even a single) language, and it isn’t feasible for me to pay people to do this.  I don’t think it is even particularly useful. There are lots of cheap courses out there already (the Teach yourself) type books etc, which are good places to start. There is also a lot of good information and interesting resources. It is certainly possible to learn a language for free or more or less for free.

But there are gaps.  I have an idea which will (fingers crossed) be an incredibly useful learning aide for people who are moving from beginner to A1 start of A2 type of language learning level for a language.  I’ve highlighted learning aide because this is what it will be. An extra resource. An aide to learning.

I think that anyone learning a language should use many different resources and this will be another free resource. I don’t think there is anything quite like it out there.

I’m excited about doing this. I just need to finish the bits and bobs above and do a bit more thinking.

Other news. For those who read this and the previous entry, if anyone did, and the stats indicate this is unlikely, our dog has now recovered, and is back to full speed when chasing balls, sticks and birds.

He has never even come close to catching a bird, but I guess hope springs eternal. He is a ‘bowl half full’ type of hound.

Tomorrow, he has his boosters, and we discover whether his diet (he is a bit chubby according to the vet) has been a success.

I’ll keep you posted.






Polish and Italian

I haven’t written about my Italian/Polish year for some time. Well, there is no time like the present especially when you are trying to avoid something painful – see below.

I’ve had two Polish experiences this week. One on-line via Skype, and the other at my Polish evening class. I’ve also had an Italian lesson. Busy week?

The experiences are like chalk and cheese. I am making little progress with Polish.  Conversely, I’m very pleased with the progress I’m making in Italian. I can chat away – obviously I make a lot of mistakes, but I can make myself understood, and I’m retaining the language. Yay!

And Polish?

It is not going well. I find it is an order of magnitude more difficult than Italian.

It is a challenge. A big big challenge. Bardzo duży. Bardzo bardzo duży.

I accept the above and embrace it even. Perhaps a trifle reluctantly, but I recognise that I have a problem here and I need to address it to make progress.

So I’ve metaphorically sat back and considered where my biggest blocker lies with the Polish language. It is vocabulary acquisition or more accurately lack of. I am not retaining or maybe learning sufficient Polish vocabulary to be able to have a conversation. I remembered the Polsh word hard today trudny but the word easy łatny eluded me completely.

So, a big push on Polish vocabulary over the next six weeks.

I’m not going to worry about endings, grammar and so on over this time. I’m just going to learn a large amount of vocabulary – which is what I’m trying to avoid while writing this.

I want to able to communicate and then build from this.

Other news. Our dog sprained his paw while chasing a ball too energetically. He is playing up to the level of sympathy being offered. Soon, I’ll be carrying him upstairs.






Where I go from here?

We have all heard of SMART objectives haven’t we? Right ! RIght ?

Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Timely.

These are the things I don’t have in relation to this site or to anything really. Until now.

The four objectives  I have for the following few two months (see uncertainty creeping in already) are :

1. Add a Portuguese section (european variety) to Surface Languages .

2. Add Malaysian to Surface Languages.

3. Add a very cool language learning game to Surface Languages.

4. Objective four has nothing to do with SL. I’m going to learn an extra 200 Polish words.

There is one  caveat and that is being able to find someone to do the audio for Malaysian (at a price I can afford) which might not be straight-forward.

The date is 13 April 20013. The clock is ticking.

Wish me luck.



Patatas fritas, vino tinto and SIM cards

Here are a few useful Spanish bits and pieces referring to Spanish as spoken in Spain. Mainly so I don’t forget what to use in certain situations …

The Spanish word for chips is patatas fritas. And if you want a portion una ración de patatas fritas. Very useful for anyone with children. Especially when they reject tapas. It happens.

You are in a bar (or restaurant), order a bottle of wine and the waiter pours a smidge into your glass for you to taste. You can say está bien or está perfecto to indicate your approval. Unless you want to talk about tears, bouquet and the rest. The glass will then be filled …

If you don’t want to order a bottle of wine, you can always have a copa (glass) which in these abstemious days is probably for the good. So,  una copa de vino tinto should get you a glass of red wine. Una jarra is a jug and will get you a bit more. For example, una jarra de media litro is half a litre – in a jug. More like a carafe than a jug. I would say.

And never order ‘diet coke’ as this will confuse everyone. I think we only have this in the UK. Ask for coca cola lite or coca cola zero. 

You are in a bar, have finished your drink and want to pay. You are in a hurry and so you head to the bar (la barra) to pay. What do you say? You say quiero pagar la cuenta or cuanto es? or cuanto es lo nuestro?

At the end of a meal, assuming of course that you enjoyed it, use estaba todo muy bueno (it was all very good).

And then, after lunch, you need to buy a SIM card. Quiero compar una tarjeta SIM. And because this is confusing in any country no tengo claro qué necesito hacer (I’m not sure what I need to do).

Qué me recomiendas? (What do you recommend?)



Language learning games

I’m writing this at 6.40 in the morning. I had read somewhere that a distinguishing characteristic of many successful CEO’s was that they got up early every day to do important ‘stuff’. This coincided with my wife leaving extremely early for work, and so I decided to try it.

Never again. This is presumably one of many reasons I’m not a successful CEO.

Back in my world, I’ve added what I would loosely call ‘language learning games’ to help users of Surface Language to learn words for fruit, count to 20, months and so on.

The stats show that these are very popular which has tempted me to add some more.

I’ve two ideas:

A game to help learn sentence order. The sentences would be split into the constituent words, jumbled up and would have to be re-arranged.

A game to practice spelling of individual words and increase vocabulary. Groups of words would be split into letters (or groups of letters) and randomised. The letters would have to be re-arranged to make the words in the list.

I recently came across a Spanish expression pasar la noche en blanco (to sleep badly) so I might say he pasado la noche en blanco.

I thought that I might make a collection of similar colloquialisms and add a new section to SL?



Just relax and enjoy the ride.

I just noticed/remembered/panicked over my rather ambitious goals for Polish, and starting to realise that they are likely to be unachievable for me over this time scale.

After a brief panic, I decided not to stress over this to much and just enjoy the ride. I’ll get there eventually. I’ve got a dog to walk, work to do and so on and so forth. I’m enjoying learning the language. I’m in no hurry. In reality, I’m unlikely to speak it much outside of Skype and my Polish class but who knows?

So what about conversational Italian?

I’m certainly improving much faster so I think the B1 level is definitely reachable by the end of the year. I can string sentences together and bit by bit they are making more sense. I’m finding it easier than Polish by an order of magnitude. Maybe this will change given time. Once again, who knows?

I’m pretty sure that I’m a more efficient programmer than language learner. But then I’ve put my 10,000 hours into that particular activity.

Incidentally, this is why all the content on SL is professionally produced.





Learning Polish. Week 10 or thereabouts

I’ve been learning Polish for more or less ten weeks and it’s time for an update as to my progress or lack thereof.

Finally, I am making some slight progress. I can almost make a sentence. Yep, it has taken me this long, but I’m starting to say things like ‘mam dużego psa’ (I have a big dog) or ‘mam czarnego kota’ (I have a black cat).

This is surprisingly difficult in Polish. In Spanish, a non-inflected language, it is simple.  ‘I have a black cat’ is ‘tengo un gato negro. There is no messing around with endings or worrying about cases. ‘Gato’ and ‘negro’ are used as found in the dictionary.

Polish is inflected, so to say ‘I have a black cat’, you have to remember that both ‘black’ and ‘cat’ are in the accusative case, and then construct the sentence accordingly.

‘Cat’ in the dictionary is ‘Kot’. As ‘kot’ is in the accusative and is masculine, you add an ‘a’.

‘Black’ in the dictionary is ‘carny’.  ‘Kot’ is accusative and masculine, and  ‘carny’ must agree with ‘kot’  and becomes ‘czarnego’.

This is different for plurals, female nouns and so on.

So finally, I’m starting to have an idea of how the language is built, or how to construct ‘small’ sentences.



Polish grammar made easy. Genitive. Singular. Nouns

Last night I went to my Polish evening class, which is tends to be light on grammar and big on talking, but last night we discussed the genitive case for singular Polish nouns.

I haven’t found many easy Polish grammar resources on the internet, and the ones I have come across have been too complicated , so here is what I learnt.

It is the genitive singular (nouns) made easy.

Polish has three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. The genitive is different depending on the gender of the noun being used. Now, this is difficult to learn and remember so  for each gender you learn a sample sentence illustrating how it is formed.

Negation, in Polish, requires the genitive, and so each of these sample sentences will need the genitive. There are three genders, three nouns and three example sentences.

Let us start with the feminine. Kawa is the word for coffee. It is feminine.  The genitive of kawa is kawy.

Ja nie lubię kawy.  ‘I don’t like coffee’.

And now the neuter. Mleko ‘milk’ is a neuter word. The genitive of mleko is mleka.

Ja nie lubię mleka.

And now the masculine. Brat ‘brother’ is masculine.

Ja nie lubię brata.

So, feminine nouns change the ‘a‘ to ‘y‘, masculine nouns ending in a consonant  add an ‘a‘ and neuter nouns change the ‘o‘ to ‘a‘.

This is a good start (apparently) with one caveat. Masculine nouns ending in a consonant (e.g. brat) will either add an ‘a‘ or … ‘u‘. This wasn’t mentioned in our class, and I can only assume that we were being protected by our teacher from overload, and that more information will be forthcoming next week. I’ll keep you posted.

Unfortunately, you have to learn the correct ending as it is not possible to guess predict in advance which it will be. E.g. The genitive of the noun adres is adresu.

And some are completely irregular.

Nevertheless this is a good start.

‘ve added this mainly so that when I loose the sheet of paper I scrawled my notes on I still have somewhere to refer back to. As do you, dear reader who is learning Polish 😉