Welcome everyone who speaks English as a second language!

Sup all?

I get the fact that the title to this post isn’t very catchy, but it has recently come to my attention that an increasing number of non native English language speakers are using Surface Languages.

Hello, hi, hola, cześć, ciao, salut, bună, привет 

I know this because I periodically check the log files, and I realised that several links were from websites from different countries and in languages other than English. I followed some, clicked, read (via google translate) and was surprised and chuffed to see that SL is being recommended by the non English speaking world …

… which got me thinking.

My next project on Surface languages will be to add an option on the sentences page to allow the sentences to be learnt from any of the existing languages. This will make the page useful for non English speakers, and also for English speakers who for example want to learn French through Spanish etc.

If you are a non-native English speaker, and like the idea, comment and let me know what you think:)

Besos and baci,


Muddy paws at noon

Guess whose made these paw prints?

We have a four legged friend in our household, who not only takes up more than his fair amount of emotional space, but is also incredibly messy.

We went for a walk this morning (as we do almost every morning), and I thought that I’d cleaned his paws when we returned.

But it appears that somehow I had missed one, or possibly two or three. I don’t know how. Paws are cleaned in order.

I know these prints don’t appear too dramatic, but that is because the photo was taken after washing the carpet.

These prints are like footsteps in concrete, which having set are proving difficult to remove. No-one noticed the prints (on the hall carpet) until they had been there for some time.

Wine will be served promptly tonight …



Three romances, one germanic and one slavic language?

Sup all?

There was a brief interlude of blue sky this morning which coincided in a lifting of my mood – also brief. Confidence or causally related? I tend towards the latter.

So, that’s me, but how are you? I’ve been busy on other projects recently, and far away (metaphorically) speaking from Surface Languages apart from adding common words in German, which is a work in progress. There is no audio currently.

Even though French is my main focus this year, I’m also hooked on German which is ironic really, as after years of not learning any languages at all, I’m now trying to learn two.

I have an admission to make. On several of my various posts about using Assimil German,  I have sworn that I would not spend more than thirty minutes a day on the language, in part to see how far I can get with using the Assimil recommended time period.

Today I will do lesson 40 of Assimil German. The increase of new words and grammatical constructions is threatening to overwhelm me. I’m not retaining the new information. It is too much for me to do in thirty minutes!

And my admission?

In addition to Assimil I’m watching episodes of the Easy German series (great fun and subtitled) when I have a spare moment.

I only understand about one word in ten, but I’m fairly sure that reading the subtitles in conjunction with the German is re-inforcing some of the new words/constructions in Assimil.

So, I am in fact, according to my rules … cheating 🙁

Three romances etc

I gave this post the title of the three romances, a germanic and one slavic language because some time back, I wondered how many languages that I could learn to speak to a reasonable standard.

My somewhat arbitrary number was five including French, Spanish, Italian, German and an as yet undecided fifth language.

I can only learn languages that I use or have opportunities to use for some reason, otherwise the motivation isn’t there for me (no matter how cool the language may be).  I have opportunities to use French, Spanish, Italian and  sometimes German.

My fifth is likely to be Russian, although I’m not entirely sure as yet.

I have no need to speak (or am ever likely to need to speak) Russian, but what I am interested in doing is reading.In particular, I’m interested in reading Russian media, especially with the political changes currently underway in both America and Europe.

I would therefore learn only to read, rather than speak and understand Russian.

We shall see.

I haven’t actually given this much thought as yet. And Romanian still appeals …




Assimil German. Lesson 34


The icy blast of winter is apparently about to hit the UK.  In the West Country (my part of the world), it is five degrees and raining heavily, so it is totally miserable with no redeeming features whatsoever.

Grump. Grump. Grump.

I’m now on Assimil German Lesson 34, and since my previous post on the subject have done a lesson day, regular as clockwork for thirty minutes.

In my rules for using Assimil German, my first rule was that I was going to study German for thirty minutes a day.

No more than thirty minutes. No less than thirty minutes. This wasn’t an arbitrary time period,  and is as I understand it  the length of daily study recommended for the Assimil courses.

I have stuck to this, and it is hard, hard, hard.

It is hard because each lesson is detailed. There is new vocabulary, a dialog to be studied, grammar notes to be pored over and exercises to be done.

Thirty minutes is it must be said, a bit of a rush. I remember this as being a problem with Assimil Polish.

But, I’m sticking to the thirty minute rule for these reasons:

Lack of time. I live my life, see friends, have a family, job and so on. In short, I am quite busy.

I am establishing a habit. I am establishing the habit of learning German, and I can always find thirty minutes a day to study the language.

My style of language learning is slow and steady, and I’ll tell you why this matters with German below.

My primary focus (this year) is French. My primary focus is French at least until the end of the year, so German can’t encroach too much onto the time I’ve put aside for French.

Curiosity. Assimil courses indicate that you can reach a B2 level (see below) once you have completed the course. I don’t believe this for a minute, but  am intrigued to see how much I can learn using the Assimil method properly.

How long does it take to learn German?

On the cover of Assimil German, there is a little sticker with a B2 on it. The B2 refers to a level within the Common European Framework of Languages (CEFR), and for all intents and purposes means conversationally fluent.

Assimil German with Ease is designed to be completed in one hundred and fifty days.

So, in approximately one hundred and fifteen days, I will be  conversationally fluent in German.



There is NO WAY IS THAT POSSIBLE with half and hour of studying a day.

I really don’t want to sound negative about Assimil German as I love it. I love the book. I love the audio. I like the explanations. Yadder.  Yadder. Yadder.

I don’t know why language courses feel the need to inflate the level of competence that you will have reached after completion.

My current guess, is that after finishing the course, and having had some conversation practice, that I might be able to have reached a high A1 or low A2 on the CEFR framework.

I would consider A2 a great achievement after six months of half an hour a day studying.

We shall see.

Slow and steady

As promised a few lines ago, I’ll tell you why slow and steady matters for me with German, and that is because …

German is going to be one of my languages.

I want to reach a B2 level in five languages.

German is a good choice for me, as apart from the inherent coolness of a language with insanely long compound words, and a great literature, I have the opportunity to hear and probably practice on a semi-regular basis.

I have discovered before (with Polish), that if a language doesn’t feature in my life in some way, I can only dabble, which is often ultimately unsatisfactory.

I’d thought that Afrikaans would be my fourth language, but that is not to be as  German (my latest flirt)  Ich liebe dich 🙂

In case you are wondering:

I’ll update you on my progress in two weeks, shortly before the dreaded Assimil active phase!

And I know what my fifth and final language is going to be.  I’ll tell you next time, but I’ll give you a clue, it is romantic …

Besos and baci,


Using Assimil German effectively

Sup Puppies?

I was woken early this morning, as the Q of My H had to leave early. In consequence, I’ve been rather more productive than normal this morning. I’ve already completed the next lesson in Assimil German, walked my hound (SWP), had breakfast (muesli and yoghurt if you must know) and listened to several French podcasts.

As you can tell from todays weather picture, Jack Frost came out to play during the night. According to my father, Jack Frost is the man responsible for leaving frosty, fern-like patterns on windows on cold winter mornings.

Luckily we now have double glazing. Progress has its merits.

As it happens , I love frosty mornings (especially with double glazing) and so does SWP, so we both bounded out (him literally and me metaphorically) and started our day with a satisfying woof, bark and snuffle though the ice and cold.

But I digress, I am now on lesson 25 of  Assimil German (after a brief hiatus over Christmas and New Year),  and thought it was time for an update as to my progress, and some thoughts on how to use Assimil effectively.

If you’ve read my blog before, you will already know that several years ago, I battled with Polish without much success and I also used Assimil Polish in that particular skirmish.

Although on balance, I like Assimil Polish, I wasn’t totally wowed by the product, and had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it.

In contrast, I’m having much more success, and I am loving Assimil German. I think is to do with how I am using it, rather than with the course itself.

These are my thoughts on how to obtain the best results from German with Ease.

Four rules for using Assimil German effectively

1. Spend thirty minutes a day using Assimil and no more.

This is slightly counterintuitive,  but one of several areas where I went astray when using Assimil Polish. I spent longer on each lesson than I should have, resulting in burn-out and discouragement.

The course lasts one hundred and fifty days, and you need to maintain your motivation during this time period. An easy way to do this is too keep your aims manageable, and thirty minutes a day of learning isn’t much. There are very few people who can’t find thirty minutes a day to do something that they want to do.

If you commit do studying for half an hour and no more, regardless to whether you have fully learnt the days lesson or not, you will make progress.

2. Focus absolutely when using Assimil German

An advantage of only spending thirty minutes studying is that you can concentrate absolutely during this period.

There is no excuse for letting your mind wander, for looking at your emails, for checking the news, sending texts, and all those other, oh so crucial things that we do all through the day.

3. Do the exercises and take them seriously.

The exercises reinforce not only what you have learnt during the lesson, but also in previous lessons.

4. Read the notes with care and attention.

The notes explain the grammatical structures used in the lesson. The idea is that bit by bit you will absorb (assimilate) the various grammatical structures needed to speak the language.

5. A possible fifth rule

I know the title was four rules to using Assimil German effectively, but my ideas, change, evolve and possible improve (like a fine wine) with time.

I’m going use the Assimil Romanian with ease course later this year, and have a fifth rule which I’m going to try when I do so, but with German I’m sticking with these four.

What have I learnt so far?

I know now that Montag (Monday) in German literally means the day of the moon, from  Mond (Moon) and Tag (day).

I look at German words with more care and curiosity. Often learning one word gives you two. Die Wochentage (days of the week) is composed of Woche (week) and Tag (day) or Das Geburtstagfest (birthday celebration) is made up of Geburt (birth), Tag (day) and Fest (celebration).

I’m starting to understand some  basic German grammar, in particular how German articles change in the accusative.

An example would be: Der Student sieht den Professor (The student sees the professor), where the masculine definite article der  changes to den in the accusative.

Grammar is explained bit by bit and chunk by chunk in the notes to each lesson, which is why Rule 4 is so important.

I’m starting to become familiar with some basic German constructions.

Of course, and this should always be emphasised, for passive knowledge to become active, you have to use it!

I’m not doing this with my German for now, as my spare speaking time (as it were) is taken up with French.

Who is Assimil German suitable for?

I am really enjoying German with Ease, but it is not for everyone.

If you don’t like self-study then it is not for you.

If Grammar isn’t your thing, then the Assimil German with ease is not for you. The notes and explanations are grammar heavy.

If you can’t commit to thirty minutes study a day, it is not for you.

Assimil German is, as are so many things in life, what you choose to make of it.

And finally:

Completely at a tangent, I thought that the ending to the New Years Day special of Sherlock Holmes (the Six Thatchers) was a bit brutal. No spoilers in case you haven’t seen it, but I wonder if the plot arc is now heading in the wrong direction.

I’ve always been a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and the way that the new BBC series has updated the original and made it relevant to today is pretty splooshy. However, you can’t beat the originals,  which you can read at the Gutenberg archive for free.

Just so you know, if you click the links and purchase these products, I get paid a commission. Thanks. It keeps Surfacelanguages alive and growing.



Easy romance grammar. Countries and cities


I know fireworks are traditional, but I’m fire-worked out and although the year has changed the weather in the West Country hasn’t.

I’m not whinging about my morning walk with SWP because the Queen of my heart (from now on QofMyH) took him. He is bedraggled, happy and we have muddy paw prints all over the house.

While SWP was enjoying rolling in the mud, I was listening to Français Authentique while enjoying my breakfast yoghurt. The key concept behind Français Authentique is that you listen to the same content again and again, ideally with some focus.

This morning I was focused (unusually for new years morning but the body works in mysterious ways), and I was listening to an episode which mentioned countries.

As I was listening attentively decided to check the grammar. French grammar is a walk in the park compared to say: POLISH, but it still has its complexities, nuances and subtleties.

How to use  French  articles with countries very very easily

I decided to simplify the use of articles relating to French countries to a couple of rules that will work 99 percent of the time for me. There is a Latin phrase Qui docet discit (‘He who teaches learns’) and I’m rather hoping that writing this down will help me as well as you.

Before we start you need to know:

Countries have a gender which can be either Masculine or Feminine.

When referring to a country in French, the definite article (the) is used, and so the gender is important.

La France est très belle (France is very beautiful).

L’angleterre est le plus beau du monde (England is the most beautiful country)

Crucially for me, as I live in Europe and mainly refer to european countries, the gender of most european countries is feminine. 

As an aside in French,  almost all the countries which end in e are feminine.

L’Allemagne    Germany

L’Angleterre  England

La France France

L’Espagne Spain

L’Italie Italy

La Pologne Poland

La Roumanie Romania

La Russie   Russia

La Suisse   Switzerland

Le Portugal    Portugal is  masculine.

The point here is that the article of any country that I am likely to refer to or talk about is feminine. By the way, I don’t want to sound disrespectful towards the Portuguese here (and I love the sound of Portuguese) but I’ve never been to Portugal and am unlikely to talk about it in French.

Rule number 1. All countries are feminine

My first rule is that all countries in French are feminine in gender (which they obviously are not), but all countries that I am likely to refer to are!

Rule number 2. Always use en with countries

Always use en when talking about going to a country, living in a country and so on.

Again this is patently wrong as au is used with masculine countries, but as I almost always refer to feminine countries, when I want to say ‘I’m going to ‘ followed by a country, I use en.

More precisely, En is used after feminine French countries, continents and feminine regions.

Je vais en Ecosse le mois prochain

Il travaille en Allemagne

Ils vivent en France depuis longtemps

Je suis allé en Algérie cet été

Il habite en Provence (la Provance)

Cet été il part en Bretagne (la Bretagne)

Rule Number 3. The definite article isn’t used in conjunction with en.

I now have three simple rules which for me will almost always allow me to speak grammatically when using countries in French.

As we are talking about going to places, I thought I would mention that:

à is used with towns

Jean habite à Edimbourg

If you want life to be complicated:

If you want to speak correctly, all of the time then you need to know that :-

au (a + le) is used with masculine countries

Philippe est sa femme partent demain au Costa Rica

aux (a + les) is used with masculine countries

Ils habitent aux Etats-Unis

Dans + le is used with regions that are masculine plural

Il est né dans le Poitou

Nous travaillons dans le Jura

All places ending with a are masculine, as are British names of counties.

Teresa est en vacances dans le Yorkshire

Personally, I’m aware that there is a difference between masculine and feminine countries but am content to learn my simple rules and pick up the subtleties over time and exposure to the language.

Overlaps with other Romance languages

There are big overlaps between the grammar of the romance languages, and the use of definite articles with countries is one of them. I’ve briefly outlined a few of the similarities – just for fun that you can see the similarities between French, Italian and Spanish.


La Francia, La Germania, La Gran Bretagna, L’Italia, La Polonia, La Romania, La Spagna, La Svizzera

Il Portugallo

Again the only masculine country is Il Portugal  (Portugal), and again the definite article is used in the same way as in French with countries.

L’Italian e le sue regioni …  (Italy and her regions …)

Conosci l’Inghilterra  (Do you know England?)

In is used for counties and continents, and a is used with cities and small islands. In is used in the same way as the French en.

sono andato in Francia (I went to France).

sono andato a Roma (I went to Rome).

Sono stato in Italia tre anni (I went to Italy three years ago).


The genders are again identical (for the european countries chosen) with Portugal being the only country of the bunch with a masculine gender.

Spanish doesn’t in general require the definite article before a country. Common exceptions are La India (India), el Reino Unido  (the United Kingdom) and Los Estados Unidos (The United States).

In fact, Spanish is the easiest of the lot regarding countries with my simple rules being:

Don’t use the definite article in front of countries apart from  La India (India), el Reino Unido  (the United Kingdom) and Los Estados Unidos (The United States).

Use en where we would use in and a where we would use to.

¿Fuiste a Inglaterra el año pasado? (Did you go to England last year?)

Estaba en Londres. (He was in London)

Vivió en Londres. (He lived in London)

¿Has estado en Inglaterra?  (Have you been in (to) England?)

There are numerous example in the 500 sentences in different languages.


All the above countries are feminine, even Portugal which is Portugal in Romanian.

I was going to add more about Romanian but am not sufficiently sure of my ground. I’ll add more to this post when my Romanian studies are more advanced:)


I like and use books, not only on my kindle but real physical copies:

Complete Romanian: Teach Yourself (Book/CD Pack)

Easy Learning French Complete Grammar, Verbs and Vocabulary (3 books in 1) (Collins Easy Learning French)

Easy Learning Spanish Grammar (Collins Easy Learning Spanish)

Talk Italian Grammar



2017. Same direction with a new voice



This is a picture of my four legged bezzie on our walk this morning. I hadn’t wanted to leave the house as it was wet, drizzling and not particularly warm.

As you might guess, I didn’t have much choice. It was my turn to walk today (or so I was informed by the Queen of my Heart), and my hound was keen.

New years eve is a perfect time for reflection, planning, and thinking about what went right and what went wrong during the year.  I normally listen to podcasts during my constitutional but today before I switched on my phone I reflected a bit on my year, and talked it through with perfect puppy.

And these are our conclusions:

What went right in 2016

Surface Languages

Surface languages has continued to grow with between 500,000 and 600,000 page views every month.

It has never been affected by Google algorithm changes as I never optimise the pages for SEO, and try and make them as useful as possible to language learners.

Most visitors find the site through word or mouth and links from other websites to relevant pages.

So, if you like my site and want to see it grow, tell people.

I added further sentences in different languages.

My secret website

I’ve finally made the first tentative steps towards building another website which is an exercise in creative writing.

I’m learning French

I eventually made the commitment to learn another language properly, and have been having weekly French lessons using a teacher from italki.com.


I am a big fan of body weight exercise (push ups, levers handstands …), and have made considerable progress during the year.

What went wrong in 2016

I set up several sites that were a complete waste of time and effort. I didn’t think about nor plan them sufficiently.

In fact the past several years of my life is littered with half-finished websites that were almost but not quite good enough to continue developing.

I wasted a lot of time and was unproductive both in language learning and website construction. This was caused, as usual, by a lack of structure and organisation in my day to day life.

Plans for the future

I’ve never been a ‘proper’  blogger. Every now and then, I metaphorically, put pen to paper and post something almost at random, generally related to language learning, but not always. I’m going to try blogging ‘properly’. I’m not limiting myself to language learning, but want to talk about the life and times of a fifty something year old living in the UK.

I’m going to use my own voice.

I’m going to continue with My Secret Website. I’m torn as to whether to link to it here or not. The reason for not is that I want to see if it can succeed  entirely on its own merits without being linked to any other site, rather than to hide the content which is quite fluffy and entirely innocent.

I intend to add five hundred more  sentences in other languages to Surface Languages, time and money permitting.

And finally, this isn’t a plan but a possibility.  I use three websites, Italiano AutomaticoFrançais Authentique and Mr Real Polish and was wondering about either creating something similar in English or adding a section to Surface Languages in a similar vein.

Happy new year my puppies.



My five romances. Or maybe four ..?

romaniaI was wondering recently how many languages that I can realistically learn to a B2 level on the CEFR scale given the time I have available. I like languages and language learning, but I also have other interests and hobbies, and my so my spare time, like everyone else is limited. I have maybe an hour a day free which I can invest in language learning.

Somewhat arbitrarily and answering my own question, I think  the number is …


But which five languages should these be?

Two of  my five language slots are already taken by Spanish and Italian.

The third language is going to be French, which I’m currently learning. I have found a good teacher on italki, and in addition I’m using Français Authentique as my primary learning method. It is extremely good, and as it is primarily oral can be used wherever and whenever you have a spare moment.

I am convinced that by the end of next year, I will have attained a B2 level (or thereabouts) in French.

But which other languages should or could I learn?

The possibilities are German, Afrikaans, Polish, Russian and Romanian.

Russian is appealing, but almost one million people in the UK speak Polish.

German would be useful to me as I hear it fairly regularly.

Romanian while being a romance language has around twenty percent slavic vocabulary. It has interesting grammatical features.

Decisions. Decisions.

I’m moving towards Polish and Romanian.

Anyone who reads my blog will see how I dither and flit in general, but the real positive over the past few months is that I’m really working hard on French. I’ve made huge progress and I am loving it.



My language goals. 2017

I know it’s slightly early but being organised I’ve already decided on my language goals for 2017. As ever, these are subject to change.

Last time I wrote about my language goals, I wrote:-

I’m going to learn German and improve my French. Of course, I state this, look at my somewhat checkered past, and wonder why I bother.

The good news is that since writing that, I’ve found a French teacher on iTalki, and am now having weekly conversational French lessons, and these are going extremely well.

I’ve never actually spoken French before (apart from the occasional merci or bonjour), although I have read a lot and listened a lot to French over the years.

This is a massive step forward,  and I’m confident that by the end of 2017, my spoken French will be a high B1 or possibly B2.

I’ve also started on Assimil German and am now on lesson 18.

I’m enjoying it, and will complete the 100 lessons. This will take approximately another 132 days. (Although there are 100 lessons, due to the two phases used by Assimil it takes 150 days to finish the course).

But it is here, at day 150, that my plans will I suspect come unstuck. I know that to make progress with my German, and to activate the mainly passive knowledge that I will (hopefully) have acquired, I will need to start:-

reading, listening and having a weekly conversation exchange.

I don’t have time,  as I’m busy with French but I do have thirty minutes a day.

This is the time required by Assimil, or so the blurb says.

I’d say this was hopelessly optimistic in terms of retaining information, when learning a new language.

But what if someone (ahem me), was returning to a previously studied language, like say Polish?

And because my version of  the Assimil Polish  is only available in French, I’d also be reinforcing my French.

Win, win, win.




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 …