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 😉



How hard is Polish to learn?

While idly surfing the internet for Polish related links I came across a post with a title along the lines of ‘why Polish is easy to learn’. The gist was that Polish was just as easy to learn as any other language. Easy used in the sense of time taken.

Hmmm. The FSI have classified languages into groups according to the time needed to learn them, and this can be found (as always) in a rather dry wiki entry. The gist is that out of four groups Polish is positioned within the third category. i.e. it takes significantly more time to learn Polish than say Italian. It is not harder but it takes longer.

I’m sure that the FSI know their onions, but how about a random and impartial survey of one person trying to learn Polish and a language like … Italian!?

I’ve been learning the days of the week in Italian and Polish.

Let’s compare and contrast.

I wanted to learn the days of the week in both languages and also how to say ‘on Monday’ and so on. (I pretty much knew the Italian anyway).

Firstly, the days of the week in Italian are lunedi, martedì, mercoledì, giovedì, venerdì, sabato, domenica.

To say ‘on Tuesday’ or ‘on Tuesdays’, ‘martedì’ or ‘di martedì is used.  (In Spanish this is ‘ los martes’ and ‘el martes’.   A similar sort of vibe).

So for example, ‘On Friday we needed to bring our cat to the vet’ would be something like ‘Venerdì abbiamo bisongo di portare il nostro gatto dal veterinario’.  If anyone reading this could correct this sentence, that would be peachy.

As it happens, it was a simple case of an ingrowing claw. Easy to resolve. However, as anyone who has had to stuff an angry cat into a catbox will know, a trip to the vet is a harrowing and time consuming experience for all concerned. As is trying to coax an angry cat from under the bed. This is the kind of thing I deal with in my spare time … And this particular moggy is calm compared with another cat of ours (sadly now in the great cattery in the sky). Gardening gloves and teams were needed to take him the the vet.

Now, onto Polish. The Polish days of the week are :

poniedziałek, wtorek, šroda, czwartek, piątek, sobota, niedziela.

So far. So good.

But if you want to say ‘on such and such a day’ some of the word endings change giving:

w poniedziałek, w wtorek, w šrode, w czwartek, w piątek, w sobote, w niedziele.

And if you want to say ‘see you on such and such a day’, the endings change again. I haven’t learn ‘t these yet, but as an illustration ‘see you on Sunday’ (or c u on Sunday as my son might write) becomes:

‘do niedzieli’.

Now that this quick analysis is over, I think I’m fully equipped to answer the question of whether  Polish is indeed more difficult to learn than Italian. And I would say:

Probably not.

But is it more time-consuming to learn??

I should coco. Certainly for me. Interesting. Yes! Fun. Yes! Time consuming. YES!


Moon Face.


I love living in the UK. Yes I do!

You just couldn’t make this up.

Our government (here in the UK) are considering running negative ad campaigns in Bulgaria and Romania to discourage immigration into the UK.

However, if we refer to  the guide to Britishness (written by the government), for foreigners who would be citizens, it starts with ‘Britain is a fantastic place to live: a modern thriving society’.

Well, which is it? A fantastic place to live or complete dump?

If you are planning to take the citizenship test,  and are not buying into the UK being a rainy hellhole, then you better peruse the book carefully.

I tried the test. I thought that having been born in London and lived here all my life I would cruise through without a problem.

I tried a sample of the test on the guardian website and scored 7 out of ten. Among other things, I thought the Queen was older than she was and accordingly that the Jubilee celebrated 60 rather than 50 years. OK, I  already have a passport so being interested in the monarchy isn’t that important to me. But to you, dear reader, who is attempting the test, it could be the difference between citizenship or not. Although, if this negative add campaign takes off, you might not want to become one.

So despite having  lived here all my life, and absorbed the culture as it were,  and ‘what it means to be british’ , I still appear know only seventy percent of the answers.

FWIW. I love living in the UK.  I don’t like the general whinging that goes on about what a bad country it is, how social fabric is unravelling, neighbours not talking, violence increasing and the constant rain. It is a fantastic place to live. I say Bună and Здравейте to the neighbours and all is well.  (That was a little joke, my neighbours are Polish so I say Cześć).

The UK is superb, and I know it is not traditional to say it, but I feel lucky to live here, and proud of my country.  We are only let down by the people in charge. I didn’t vote for them, and we get the opportunity change them every five years.

BTW If rain is a problem for you, or you like your summers to be warm, than I’d consider somewhere with a more mediterranean vibe. Personally, I’m thinking of building an ark.

And the point of this post is? Well, yes I like the UK (hence the title), but there is is also a language related theme to this. It is distinctly possible that there may be more Romanian and Bulgarian spoken here over the next few years, and so what better time to expand on the Bulgarian and Romanian sections of this site.

I would like to add mini-courses on both languages, which would be  something of a new departure for SL which is more about phrases for travelling.

But first, Tagalog or maybe Malay, while I think about the best approach …



My Italian Challenge. A1 to B1. 2013

A1 to B1

After several years of picking up bits of Italian here and there, but never putting enough time and effort into the language to really improve, this  will be the year that I will improve substantially.

With this in mind, today  I had my first Italian lesson, with a native speaker, a teacher from italki. My level was judged to be at the end of A1 (A full definition of which can be found here), but in essence is:-

“Users can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. They can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.”

This seemed a fair enough evaluation to me. I get around in Italian comfortably enough in the most basic sense but struggle if I have to express more than the simplest ideas. So while I don’t have any particular inhibition in attempting to speak Italian, I really can’t.

My aim is to reach a comfortable B1 in the spoken language by the end of the year.  According to the CEFR wiki entry this includes: being able to describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. Great, I like to talk and this would be peachy.