Patricia is one of our most hard working uTalk challenge participants, learning Basque, Czech, Farsi and Kazakh since January (and let’s not forget Icelandic, Esperanto and Latvian last year)! We can’t wait to hear which language she’ll choose next…
There are many reasons why I love learning languages, including popular ones such as improving my résumé or getting by on a trip (and yes, I’ve got another trip to Iceland lined up, það er spennandi!). However, today I’d like to share with you one reason that is perhaps a little less obvious.
Due to an unexpected flight delay on my way from Pittsburgh, I recently overnighted in Toronto. The airline provided us (wonderful) accommodation in downtown Toronto and I shared a cab ride with two other stranded passengers. The cab driver had a talk radio station on, but it was not in a language I immediately recognized. Curious, I asked the driver which language that was. He told me it was Amharic, one of the languages of Ethiopia. I excitedly told him it was a language that was on my uTalk Challenge list and that I would learn it soon. Promise. He laughed and told me a little about Ethiopia and the Ethiopian community in Toronto. He taught me how to say “Hello” in Amharic and said I was brave to take on a new language every month. He then asked which language I was learning at the moment. I told him I was learning Persian (Farsi) and loving it.
The other two passengers in the cab then turned to me and said “well maybe we can help you then”. I lit up and proudly said “shabetun bekheyr”, “parvaz”, and “ba t’akhir” – “good evening”, “flight”, and “delayed”. They smiled and asked me what else I knew and if I had any questions about the language. And from there on, we talked about the old Persian script, Noruz, the influence of French, various historical events, Persian poets, and many other things. When I had left my house that day, I hadn’t expected to learn so much from people who, up to that taxi ride, were perfect strangers.
And that’s exactly the point: learning languages, even at a rudimentary level, opens you up to the world because it fuels curiosity. I didn’t converse in fluent Persian with my fellow passengers – I just let them know that I was interested in it and the culture and history that surround it (but it was very nice to hear that my pronunciation’s lovely!).
On that night, immersed in the vast multiculturalism of Toronto, I suddenly felt extremely connected to the world. And that’s the feeling I keep seeking over and over again in my language-learning journey. Perhaps it’s one of those “chicken or egg?” things, where it’s unclear whether learning languages opens up your mind or if it’s the curiosity that encourages you to learn languages… but whichever one came first for me, I’m certainly happy they keep feeding off each other.
So go ahead, tackle a new language, just start with a few words – you never know where it’ll take you.
by Patricia Ochman
My initial reason for taking on Icelandic was pretty pragmatic: I had started riding Icelandic horses and purchased a friendly Icelandic gelding, Léttfeti. I felt that picking up some Icelandic would allow me to get access to a treasure chest of information about my favorite breed and help me better understand my Icelandic best friend.
I took on a uTalk challenge and started learning Icelandic. Since I know Danish, I figured, how hard could it be? I would have this down in 30 days, no problem.
Well, fruits and vegetables were fine… but then it got thorny. Very thorny, very fast. Icelandic, it turns out, is not that similar to Danish. My initial enthusiasm turned into frustration because I thought this was supposed to be easy. Why were there three genders, four declensions, unusual pronunciation, weird words in weird places?
I gave up. It was too complicated, too different. Sorry Léttfeti, we’ll have to stick to English.
Until one day, I remembered that when I was younger, I refused to learn declensions in Polish because English and French (languages I already spoke) had no declensions. That’s when my teacher said, “That’s just the way it is; Polish has declensions and you’re going to have to learn them.” That response later resonated in my head when my Latin teacher made us repeat “rosa, rosam, rosae, …”. That’s just the way it is in Latin, I thought. I learned Polish and I learned Latin and I accepted declensions. I even started thinking that declensions add richness to a language, just like the pluperfect subjunctive tense adds richness to French.
Later on, I learned Finnish and because I had been told that Finnish is unlike any other European language, I just started from scratch, not assuming I would know anything at all. Hyvää päivää, olen Patricia. It went well and I progressed at a satisfying pace. It was unfamiliar and beautiful.
So then, why was I so frustrated with Icelandic? Could it be that my frustration had nothing to do with the language and everything to do with the fact that I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole? It is certainly a very comforting feeling to think that something that is new to us is similar to something we already know. After all, we are regularly told “try it, it tastes just like chicken”… But doesn’t that just defeat the whole purpose of trying something new? How about “try it, it’s nothing like chicken, it’s totally unique and your mind may just be blown”?
I was trying to make Icelandic seem similar to something I already knew when it really wasn’t, and that’s what hindered my progress. I tried to put myself in the same mindset I had for Finnish and just told myself that this would be different. I’d have to let go of the buoy I was apparently desperately hanging on to and I’d simply have to embrace Icelandic for all its… well, Icelandicness.
I started focusing on the things I already knew in and about Icelandic and built on that. I tried to figure out its internal logic, its particularities, its flow. I started repeating out loud the words and sentences I learned and slowly made sense of them. Eyjafjallajökull is really not that scary when you understand that it’s just a juxtaposition of “islands”, “mountains” and “glacier”. Icelandic started to make sense and I started loving it. I’m still a beginner, but I’m now an excited beginner, unafraid of straying from what I already know. Vel gert!
I believe learning languages expands one’s mind, and this may be a reason why. Learning a new language means getting out of that familiar English, French, German, etc. playpen and discovering new ways of organizing and expressing thoughts. Scary at first, sure, but oh how rewarding.
Last month, the EuroTalk team took on a new year challenge – to learn a language using the uTalk app. Some of us did better than others, and Nat was our clear winner, completing the app in just over two weeks.
But the ultimate test was still to come…
The uTalk language challenge for January comes to an end on Saturday, and we’ve loved hearing about everyone’s progress! Check back here next week to see how we all got on here in the office (trust me, you won’t want to miss that), but in the meantime, we asked a few of our most enthusiastic competitors to tell us how they got on.
Has anyone else taken part in the uTalk challenge? Did you enjoy it, and most importantly will you be continuing with your new language? We’d love to hear from you, so please share in the comments 🙂 And if you missed it this month, it’s never too late to start – uTalk is available from the App Store, and you can start learning your first essential words completely free.
Don’t miss our February photo challenge, which kicks off on Sunday!
Now over to our uTalkers 🙂
Ingrid, learning Serbian
I’ve really enjoyed doing the challenge. Serbian is a language I’ve wanted to get to grips with for a long time for quite a bizarre reason (it involves a love of the Eurovision Song Contest!) but I haven’t really known where to start.
The app’s been great, although I’d recommend using it on an iPad rather than an iPhone if you can. Oh, and the range of languages available is amazing!
It’s been slow-going – well it’s a tricky language! – I tried to do some in my lunch-break and on my commute but it was generally too noisy to concentrate. I have a trip to Belgrade planned for early April and it would be so nice to communicate on even the most basic level in their own language, so I’ll definitely be keeping it up.
Patricia, learning Icelandic
My name’s Patricia and I’m from Montreal, Canada. I’m the happy owner of a wonderful Icelandic horse, Léttfeti. I’ve been riding Icelandic horses for four years and I’ve been to Iceland. And I absolutely love Björk 🙂 I took up the uTalk challenge so I could begin to learn more about the Icelandic Horse breed, about Icelandic riding and about Iceland in general. I hope to go back there soon.
The uTalk app is a whole lot of fun, filled with useful words and phrases. I particularly enjoyed repeating the words and phrases after the native speakers and then hearing my own voice. What a great tool to gain confidence and improve pronunciation! I also really liked the Iceland module, which contained many words and phrases pertaining to things that are specific to Iceland.
The app is very visually pleasing. It works offline, which is great for learning on planes, subways and other areas without internet. This app can also be used as an offline dictionary, which I find particularly useful. Thank you for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to the next Challenge!
— Patricia Ochman (@speedbird_o) January 20, 2015
Alex, learning Romanian
I found it really fun learning some basic Romanian, especially because I’ve been able to greet Ioana each day saying ‘Buna Ziua’, and trying out a few random words on her. I found the speaking and recall games the most useful as you can check you actually know the words, rather than passively recognising them. The memory game, on the other hand, is the bane of my life as I always manage to forget where one thing is and miss the full score. Overall, I’ve found uTalk really fun and easy to use at the gym while I’m on the bikes or during my lunchbreak.
Jacqui, learning Croatian
I first discovered EuroTalk when my children were involved in the Junior Language Challenge in 2010, and, as a language graduate, was very impressed with how easy it was to master the basics. Since then, I have never quite prioritised the time to learn a new language myself, so when I heard about this month’s challenge for adults, it was just a matter of picking which one to try.
Why Croatian? It’s a country I quite fancy visiting, and as I’ve never attempted a Slavic language before, it seemed like a worthy contender for the challenge. Come 1st January, it soon became clear to me that Slavic languages do not have much immediately in common with either Romance or Germanic ones, and it often felt more like a string of tongue-twisters with some different accented letters to add into the mix for good measure. Daunting, yes, but I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I discovered that standing in the middle of the room and declaiming the words in theatrical fashion was quite effective!
After a month, I’ve made great progress. I haven’t earned maximum points (I’m on just over 4000), but I have managed to learn a lot more than I thought I would, even waking up some mornings with various phrases springing to mind! This achievement wouldn’t have been possible without something like the uTalk app. The approach of listening and repeating with a few simple games just works at this level of language acquisition.
The good news for me is that I’ve now booked a short break to Croatia in the summer – make mine a ‘čaša šampanjca, molim vas’.
Katherine, learning Czech
I chose to learn Czech as it was a completely new language to me, and I will be visiting there later in the year, so it will be fun to try out a few phrases!
I have found the app quite addictive – as soon as I’ve got a good score in one topic I want to get started on another one! The games really help you to learn quickly, and although I can’t pretend to remember every word, it will be easy to brush it up again later. So, a great challenge, and good fun!
As you may remember, I’ve been learning Icelandic for the January uTalk Challenge. It’s a totally new language for me, with different rules and pronunciation to other languages I’ve studied, and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it.
There are a few sounds in Icelandic which I really love. One of them, which I’m going to (unflatteringly) call the ‘spitty’ sound, is the sound made by a double ‘L’, as in the word for car (‘bíll’). It’s incredibly satisfying to replicate, although I can’t really explain why – just find an Icelandic person and ask them to say the word for car, or get uTalk and hear our lovely voice artists say it, and you’ll see what I mean.
There are also a few sounds which have just tied my tongue into knots. Although a surprising amount of Icelandic seems vaguely intuitive for an English native speaker, occasionally I’ll come across a preposterously long word boasting a collection of ‘eð’s and ‘þorn’s (the two ‘th’ letters), and it’s really been a case of memorising the words at this stage. It took me absolutely ages to master ‘hjúkrunarfræðingur’ (rather less manageable than English’s nice and simple ‘nurse’) and ‘afgreiðslumaður’ (‘shop assistant’). However, on most topics there have been several items I can make an intelligent guess at, either because they have some connection to the English (‘hjarta’- heart, ‘kókoshneta’- coconut, ‘baunir’- peas, ‘bjór’- beer) or because Icelandic is wonderfully logical at times: it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that ‘á bak við tréð’ indicates ‘behind the tree’, and ‘Ég er með tannpínu’ means ‘ I have (lit. I am with) toothache’. So I have had it slightly easier than some of my colleagues, who have been battling with languages completely unconnected to English.
My technique has been to cram as much in as quickly as possible, launching into the Hard Game first and then going back to Practice to check on what I got wrong. I’ve left all the Recall sections until I’ve completed the other games in all the sections, and then I’ve gone back and used it as a test of how much I remember. I’ve also been pointing to people and things all weekend and saying the word in Icelandic, and getting anyone I’m with to repeat the words back to me. I’ve found this really useful because it makes you assume a certain amount of teacher-like responsibility, so if I’m not 100% sure on what I’ve told them I’ll go back and double-check it. Also, if they repeat back anything nonsensical I realise I’ve probably pronounced it terribly in the first place, and need to revise it. So thank you to everyone who’s put up with me spouting random Icelandic words at them recently! What I now plan to do is to leave the Icelandic for a week and then to come back to it towards the end of January and do all the Recall sections again, and see how much I remember (hopefully a lot).
I’ll leave you with my favourite word so far, which is ‘surfing’ – again, just another really satisfying sound: ‘brimbrettabrun’: