The end of Polish and new distractions

Hej kochani! So, it's a week since I should have finished Polish but I'm still doing a bit of studying on and off, as I don't really feel like I've done justice to the lanaguge. Just like with Tamil, I just haven't spent that much time over it on over the course of a month. Also becuase I have an older Colloquial Polish which goes through the grammar in a way that I find really satisfying to study but puts me right back into my comfort zone of studying from books and making notes, rather than speaking. I took my Polish books on a seaside break with no internet and managed to get through a lot of lessons and make a lot of notes, but not really retain them. This is a lesson I should take on board really, when I try to tear through my text books at speed, it is often at the expense of trying out what I have learned and remembering it. I need to create my own sentences etc and not just consume. I found it hard to connect with Polish on the whole, but what one great thing was that there is such a great community of Polish bookstagrammers and language instagrammers, so I could do some of my Spanish tricks of picking up slang from social posts and the replies so that I can pretend to be a little more fluent. So with a guilty conscience, I need to move on to Gujarati. I expect I will come back to Polish before long though. Even though I have plenty on my plate, I had a few flashes of language inspiration last week, which I am just going to list here so I can sort of put them to bed: + Old English... I read something about etymolgy of English words and subsequently ordered Teach Yourself Old English so I can develop my understanding of my own language + Classical Greek... I got a copy of Plutarch's Greek lives in a charity shop and reading the introduction about how Plutarch lived in this transition world between Roman and Greek made me want to learn Classical Greek so much. So I ordered TY Classical Greek and a Grammar and Dictionary. + I finally found a Tamil Grammar which has actual and romanised scripts. So in love! + For Spanish, after nine months of not being bothered, I want to get excellent at Spanish and am on the DELE train again... I need to make a plan to take B2 probably next Autumn... +I'm becoming more and more interested in Indian history and have ordered a lot of books...

One week into Polish


This is the second weekend of the Polish part of my challenge. It isn't going quite as well as Tamil. On one hand I don't have a new alphabet to learn and the pronunciation is touch but totally doable. On the other, I am finding it super hard to keep the consonant-heavy words in my memory and my main resource is a 1983 copy of Colloquial Polish from Skoob books, which doesn't have the same audio as is now on the Colloquial website. I also don't have any connections with Poland or its culture or history yet and I'm struggling to find the cultural hook.

Colloquial Polih ( or at least my very old edition) is heavy on grammar and teaches you all the conjugations of to be right away which I like. My mind was really rebelling against Colloquial Tamil's 'stealth' approach where they introduce new structures in the text and don't tell you, so you never really learn it. It is quite refreshing to see a verb table and have it be clear when Tamil is so ambiguous.

The resources I am using are The Oxford Essential Polish Dictionary and Routledge Polish; An Essential Grammar. I haven't found any books or TV shows yet but I was excited to learn that Chopin was Polish and I am really enjoying Adam Zamoyski's History of Poland (in English, sigh). I have also been trying to watch all Luca Lampariello's videos about learning Polish.

Overall, I really want to get a decent understanding of this under my belt, but I still feel like doing things in Tamil and I'm worried about my Spanish, which is hamstringing me a bit. I haven't had a chat in another language all week (after Anna Spanish confronted me about not knowing colours). I am doing that thing where I drift and think about Portuguese or Italian and just seem to be busy but not make progress. I think I need to find some Polish friends and learn a bit more about the pOlish community in London.

Week 3 with Tamil

வணக்கம்!  Hello!

This is my third weekend of Tamil and according the random of rules of this project, it should be the penultimate. Next week should see me starting Polish...

So, how is life with Tamil? Well, as per, work has been very busy, so I'm not exactly making the tearing fast progress that you might expect. BUT, I have now had two lessons from Italki with two different teachers from Tamil Nadu in India. The first sent me some really helpful phrase lists with romanised and Tamil script, but then made me read them out over and over for an hour, which wasn't very productive. The second, who I had a lesson with at 8am this morning used a powerpoint with phrases BUT also had be go through the sounds of the key vowels and consonants several times and did fun things that got me thinking, like asking me to come up with questions around the key question words, even though she hadn't taught me any verbs yet! I also managed to remember to record the lesson, which will make a huge difference - pronunciation is tricky. But I've already listened to to the recording once and I can feel myself getting into parrot mode and getting a bit more of a grasp on things, in a way that three weeks with Colloquial Tamil just hasn't done.

I am also now the proud owner of a Tamil - English dictionary from Collins, which was made for English learners and so isn't ideal for me, but I love performative spending on language learning. There aren't many other accessories to buy, unless I splash out on some books and items made for diaspora kids.

In terms of culture, I have been eating a watching some things... last week I ordered kotthu roti, pol roti with coconut sambar and mutton rolls from a local hipster Sri Lankan street food place. It was delicious, and shortly afterwards my copy of Sri Lanka the cook book arrived, so now I can theoretically make some of the tasty things we ate. I am still on a major Indian cook book buying jag, and just got a Meera Sodha one. Although she is Gujarati, she seems to have quite a few Sri Lankan recipes. One (not Sri Lankan) one I tried today was dosa made with besan / chickpea flour, to go with some lime dhal I had made. The Dosa were do badly made - thick like flat Yorkshire Puddings - so I think there future is being cut up for kotthu roti! I need to learn more about food in Tamil Nadu. So far I am relying on a Madhur Jaffrey Flavours of India eprisode on Iplayer and a copy of the accompanying book which I managed to find on Amazon marketplace.

There are plenty of Tamil films on Amazon and Netflix, but as I don't understand them, I have sidestepped them so far in favour of general films on Indian culture - A Suitable Girl, Indian Matchmaker -which I am finding very interesting. I also saw part of Bollywood film Chennai Express, but literally had to turn it off because I found the depictions of people from Southern India pretttty mind blowing. Maybe I should go back and watch it in order to understand things better.

So far, things challenge has me super-interested in Tamil and Indian languages but pretty lukewarm about switching to Polish. Though I am sure I will fall in love with it as soon as I get to use the amazing Vittles Guide to the Polski Sklep.

Things I still want and need to do during Tamil time:
-Chat with the lovely people who are excited I am learning Tamil
-Read my book 'The Biography of Tamil'
-Order from amazing local Sri Lankan restaurant Sambar Express and try idli
-Finish ore of Colloquial Tamil

In other news, I am still taking two classes of Spanish a week and feeling more and more frustrated by my crappy pronunciation and grammar. Earlier, inspired by Tamil class, I started shadowing a Mexican youtube video on fitness. I can't decide if this will help more than doing exercises in my sentence builder book. Who knows. I am just sick of not being able to join the Instagram group chat each week because I'm not used to second person plural conjugations. I joined the 30 day speaking challenge again in August and have only barley managed to do weekends so far, but I am keeping it casual and doing speeches pretty much off the cuff. Which reminds me, I have to do one on weight loss tonight...

Two weeks with Tamil

So, I'm two weeks into Tamil. I have done 5 chapters of Colloquial Tamil, found some amazing Tamil you tubers and instagrammers and learned a little more about Tamil culture around the world. I've also managed to find 3 Tamil speakers through social media who have wished me well and who I have exchanged a couple of words with.

 I also made a first foray into written Tamil which has been really exciting! I have always admired how it looks but with over 200 letters, I wasn't sure I would even get them to them in a month. In the end a lovely person on instagram triggered it by replying to me in Tamil on instagram comment. I couldn't translate it in app so I had to work out how to use the Tamil key board on iPhone to type the message into Google Translate. Suddenly, by doing it, all the different letters started to make more sense and i got a little flash of insight into the patterns - so very satisfying!

 I'm enjoying myself but I also only have a tiny bit more Tamil than I did last week and I'm getting a bit distracted learning about more general culture in India - so I need to refocus. Therefore, I have booked a italki class in Tamil tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Tamil resources:
Verb table Colloquial 
Tamil audios

Tamil Youtubers
Steffi Ulagam 

Day one with Tamil

Vannakum to my first day in Tamil!

I spent a lot of time reading about the culture and relationships of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamil communities. The answer... it's complicated, probably more so than I can get a handle on through a bit of googling. I found this article on Tamil community relations in India and Sri Lanka and this article on Chinese and Indian influence in northern Sri Lanka very interesting.

My other task this morning was (importantly) figuring out what Tamil foods I could try locally. Mutton rolls look promising.

I then remembered about the language and did the first chapter of Routledge Colloquial Tamil. I can see why these books don't get the best reviews, you have to be pretty intrepid to pick up all the words that get thrown at you later. The word for sugar cane juice comes up in a random dialogue once and you're meant to remember it forever. Right.

This chapter taught how to introduce ourselves, pronouns, suffixes and the future conjugation for some useful verbs like eat and drink. Interesting the future tense is used to describe habitual actions. Third person pronouns and conjugations are used to be polite, so that all feels familiar although learning new endings literally sends me to sleep - I actually had to have a couple of naps during this chapter.

Written language is being introduced very gradually and in a way that's more focused on recognising words on signs than writing, so it looks like I might be illiterate in Tamil by the end of the month! Recognising the spoken verb conjugations and working out what they are is pretty hard. But oh well, it's day one....

The challenge of retaining this information and adding to it is on!

New project; languages of Croydon

"Dabbling" with other languages that aren't Spanish has always made me feel strangely guilty and dirty. It is so hard to get a language into your brain and it is so easily dislodged that focusing on anything that isn't Spanish just seems dangerous! I also had a weird hang up for a long time that having language books for languages you didn't know yet or weren't actively studying is decadent and wasteful. I don't know why... and I guess I'm cured now because buying language books is one of my favourite hobbies...

Since the lockdown started and I've been spending a lot more time in the suburb of London I live in, I have been thinking more and more about learning languages spoken by my neighbours and local communities in my area. As I have been getting more adventurous with cooking, I have been more curious than ever about the languages and cultures of the food I'm eating. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world and love my local shops that sell food from a huge variety of cultures, and I want to learn more about them. Ellen Jovin's nine year blog to learn the languages spoken in New York has inspired me a lot.

So, I've decided as long as I can keep up my Spanish, I am just going to go for it and spend a month getting to know the basics of the main languages of my town that I haven't studied before. But on top of the language I also want to educate myself about the culture, food and history associated with each of them.

Right, so what does that mean in practice? Well, the last time the UK did a census was 2011 and another is due next year, so I figure that I will arrange my schedule to try get familiar with the local languages that I don't know before the new results are in!

In 2011, the top languages spoken in Croydon after English were the following. The ones that I have never studied about are highlighted:

  1. Tamil
  2. Polish
  3. Gujarati
  4. Urdu
  5. French 
  6. Portuguese
  7. Turkish
  8. Malayalam
  9. Spanish
My plan is to spend four weeks (ish) with each until the end of the year. That's not much time and I need to keep my foot on the gas with Spanish too, so I am going to follow a very simple roadmap for language dabbling from Marco Camilo
  • Learnt to present myself
  • Follow starter grammar structures
  • Memorise the names of my most frequently used objects
  • Practice different verb forms with the objects from step 3
I also want to research and write about the history and culture, find some local restaurants that serve food from each culture, and blog about the resources I found, so it could be a busy six months.

Lastly, I'm going to play it by ear with speaking to people. I'm not sure if that is realistic after a month beyond saying thank you, and I'm not sure where I will find language partners. I assure you that I won't just be looking for people who look like they might speak the months language and accosting them...

I'm excited for this project, let's see what I can do!

Language consumerism

Language book shelf tours and text books reviews are always my favourite content on YouTube and Instagram so I decided doing a  series of posts on my own buys might help motivate me to write more about my language learning.

I am a big materialist and just love to horde language resources.

I think this is partly because my second language, Danish, is so small that there just aren't that many resources to be had. As soon as I started learning Spanish I was overwhelmed by all the different stuff you could buy - from verb wheels to magnetic words!

Language shopping is a guilty pleasure of mine. I feel bad about picking up new things but I get a lot of stuff secondhand, and when I don't I try to tell myself that it's an investment.  And sometimes I do just need to read the same grammar point explained in five ways before it makes sense.

So starting next week, I'll be sharing some of my favourite books from my main languages and some random other ones that are knocking around my language library - stay tuned!