• Activity
  • Votes
  • Comments
  • New
  • All activity
  • Showing only topics with the tag "language". Back to normal view
    1. If you speak another language other than English, what are some interesting differences with English in its vocabulary?

      I love languages, and one of the great things about learning other languages - or even just learning about them - is how it expands your mental horizons. One of the first things you notice is that...

      I love languages, and one of the great things about learning other languages - or even just learning about them - is how it expands your mental horizons. One of the first things you notice is that many words don't correspond 1:1 with each other in distinct languages. Sometimes, what you think of as one concept gets partitioned out into one, two, three, four distinct word forms in another language. Other times it's the opposite, and distinctions are lost. What are some interesting vocabulary/lexicon differences between English and another language you're familiar with? I'll give some examples:

      • Russian motion verbs are a lot more complex than English ones. There are two distinct words for "to walk", idti and xodit'. The former is used for walking in one direction, the latter for walking in multiple or unspecified directions. The former is also used for single actions while the latter is for habitual action. Russian makes this distinction in every common verb for motion. It also makes a distinction between going by foot and going by a means of transportation, like a car, a bicycle, or a train. In English, you could say "I walked to the store" to specify you went by foot, but you could also say "I went to the store" and the mode of transportation is unspecified. In Russian, there is no single verb "go" that doesn't imply either by foot or not by foot. You have to use either idti/xodit' "go by foot" or exat'/ezdit' "go by some means of transportation". (As I understand it, I'm not a native speaker of Russian, just studied it a bit.)
      • Terms of kinship are a big topic. Wikipedia lists six distinct basic forms of kinship terminology, and that's just scratching the surface. Some languages distinguish between the maternal and paternal side of the family, others do not. Some do not distinguish cousins and siblings. Some make distinctions between elder and younger family members with distinct words. Unfortunately, I don't speak any languages that are markedly different from English. But even in my native Norwegian, which is closely related to English, there are some differences, such as:
        • First cousin is a distinct stem (søskenbarn, lit. sibling-child, i.e. the child of your parent's sibling) from second cousins (tremenning). There are also distinct words for cousin (no gender specified) and female (kusine) and male (fetter) cousins.
        • Maternal and paternal grandparents are distinguished.
        • I struggled to understand what the hell a "cousin once removed" was until I realized it's a kind of family relation that has no name in Norwegian.
      • Or it could just be a single word. For instance, English has one word, "suspicious", meaning both an attitude towards another person's behavior (suspicious of) and that behavior itself (behaving in a suspicious manner). In Norwegian, those are two distinct words: mistenksom (suspicious of) and mistenkelig (behaving suspiciously).

      I've only studied a couple of languages seriously. But I also have an interested in constructed languages as a hobby, so I've dabbled in a lot of languages, looking to pilfer ideas for my own projects. I really think it's expanded my view of the world, by showing that categories that seem obvious, really aren't. That's a lesson I've tried to transfer to other areas of life.

      I also think it leads into philosophy, because it's really a question of how to divide up semantic space. If we imagine the theoretical space of all things that could ever be spoken about, how do we divide up that space into distinct words? Which categories do we choose to represent as meaningful, and which ones are relegated to being a sub-aspect of another category, only distinguishable by context? I imagine that in a culture with large family units, it makes more sense not to distinguish "brother" from "male cousin", than a culture in which nuclear families are the norm, for instance.

      Do you have any cool examples of how vocabulary works differently in other languages, whether it be a single word or a large class of words? Or examples of times when encountering a different way of describing the world by learning another language led to insights in other areas of life?

      25 votes
    2. [Rant] The Great Wall Of Text #1

      From today, I've decided to write at least something every day until the writer's block frees me of its hold. I face this from time to time and don't really understand what to do, there is no cure...

      From today, I've decided to write at least something every day until the writer's block frees me of its hold. I face this from time to time and don't really understand what to do, there is no cure really except hoping that something will happen or some inspiration will strike at some point causing me to write something.

      One of the reasons could be that I'm a computer programmer and mostly blog about technology topics. But programming isn't really a topic or subject on which you can keep churning out rivers of literature, can you? It's a very exact and precise science just like mathematics and I feel most things that must be written about it are already written. In fact, I pretty much feel the same way about any kind of topic, we are literally swimming in oceans of information already! That's probably one of the reasons that keeps me from writing. I don't want to unnecessarily add my useless pennies to great literature contributed by people who are wiser and smarter than me.

      But then the question arises what should I write about or blog about? I can write about nothing in particular and whatever that comes to mind (like I'm doing now) or I can write a research or news article or something. But I don't know how exactly people go about that. Most articles today are opinion pieces anyway and mine will probably be the same. But where do these "opinion writers" get their information from? There have to be some primary or base level sources. What are they? Can you recommend some good ones?

      Another thing that keeps me from writing freely is all the environment you see on the interwebs these days which is just so toxic and discouraging, isn't it? It's not just about having a thick skin anymore but you live in a constant fear of getting canceled for something as trivial as your mere mentioning of some individual (about whom you may not even be fully aware of). I have to think a million times before writing something if this will offend any netizen or not, my guess is that many other writers must be going through the same thing and this is what results in the infamous contemporary expression, Self-Censorship!

      If you're going to constantly self-censor yourself and kill many great ideas when they're just in their infancy, I don't think you'll be left with a lot of creative stuff to write and you may not even feel like writing anymore. Self-Censorship beyond a basic extent (like filtering of abusive words and phrases, etc.) is counter-productive and should be highly discouraged in my humble opinion.

      Other natural antagonists like lethargy, laziness, procrastination, etc. also need to be blamed, of course! Sometimes, I don't find the motivation to read or do further research on a topic. Without reading, you can't get enough material to write, a good writer must be an avid book worm also. I feel sure I can contribute a lot to the literary world some day and I've decided to keep battling with my proverbial pen (actually the keyboard!) until the day it happens.

      I think that's enough for today, might come up with another great wall of text tomorrow! Sorry if I wasted your time.

      9 votes
    3. From beginner to conversational in three months of learning Russian: My takeaways

      I'm posting this outside of the language learning thread because I worry those not currently learning languages are skipping it altogether :) In this post, I want to share general advice and...

      I'm posting this outside of the language learning thread because I worry those not currently learning languages are skipping it altogether :) In this post, I want to share general advice and takeaways about language learning, so this is for everybody, not just current learners!

      Today, I've hit I think a big milestone: I am now comfortable calling myself "conversational" in Russian. This comes on the heels of a 30 minutes, all-Russian, naturally-flowing conversation with my coach who was very impressed, and a couple days after having participated in a total of 4+ hours of conversations that included a native speaker who doesn't actually speak English (training wheels are off, now!).

      The goal I set myself mid-may to reach in 1 year, has been reached in 3 months. My Duolingo streak is on 87 days (or 89? I don't know if it counts the two streak freezes that were used), but I picked up DL a week after I started.

      During this time, I journaled my progress here on Tildes (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 - really, I hope Tildes isn't getting sick of my spam!), and rekindled my love for learning languages. I think it's time for a recap: What worked, what helped the most, etc.


      I didn't follow one specific technique or guide. Everything from the beginning has been improvised, based on experience from previous languages, and gut feel.

      I talked about my methods in-depth in the journaling posts, but here's the bird's eye view of it:

      1. Learn the script first, and how it's pronounced (I had already done that years ago, kinda)
      2. Rigorously followed a single, complete-beginner crash course to get me started. In my case, a 9-hour, 30 episodes youtube series called Russian Made Easy, at an average of 45 min/day.
      3. Started using Drops to start accumulating vocabulary; this replaced Flashcards for me.
      4. After a little while, started the Duolingo course (but I don't use Duolingo the way most people do - See the old journals for details) and kept up with the streak since.
      5. Started listening to spoken material on YouTube, as much as possible, even before I could understand what was being said.
      6. Force myself to interact with the language by switching away from English in a variety of devices and apps
      7. Watch loads of short videos on various bits and pieces about grammar, etymology, word lists and misc advice
      8. Started writing in Russian on IM apps (at first using Google Translate, then without) with natives. Ask for feedback on it all.
      9. Regularly try to speak, to whomever would have a conversation with me.
      10. Regularly introspect: appreciate my progress, share it, and think about what I need to work on

      Deep dive


      I wrote about how important motivation is. People start learning a language and then abandon it after a few weeks like a gym membership purchased on January 2nd. Having a motivator that goes beyond "this sounds cool" is really important, because all this is a lot of effort and your brain won't see the point of making all that effort if you don't have a proper need to go through it all.

      I found that motivation is not a constant, either. It is something which has to be maintained. Sharing this experience with you all has been immensely useful in that process. And having native speakers in your life who can really appreciate your progress and encourage you is excellent.


      The most useful part of my "method" is definitely the variety of the language diet. It seems to me that following only a set of single-source courses will just leave you with huge gaping holes as soon as you leave its bubble. It'd be like learning to read by only reading the same 100 words, over and over, until you become very quick at reading specifically those words. And then you're done and you come across the word "exhaustion" and you're like, what the fuck do I do with this?

      So yes, a variety of activities that will cover all types of input (reading, listening) and outputs (speaking, writing and thinking). And with the varied diet, one should also be careful not to burn themselves out by doing too much. I ensured that a lot of what I was "doing" was passive: Switching my phone's language, leaving audio in the background, asking others to speak to me in the language and translating if I need, etc. My active learning was only being done when I felt like it. This circles us back to the motivation aspect: If that's rock solid, then you will want to keep studying/reading/learning, and you'll do more.


      So yes, quantity and regularity are also important, and keeping the language in your brain every single day is, I believe, critical to help it develop. The languages I do not think about on a regular basis don't develop. Despite speaking Greek my whole life, only interacting with that language once every couple weeks at most has kept it from evolving beyond a pretty basic level, and now I'm convinced my Russian is better than my Greek. Oof, this puts shame on my supposed bilingual heritage.

      Finding comfort

      I think it's easy to get frustrated at a language you're not yet good at, because you're so used to how you normally do things, that communicating is SO FRUSTRATING when you don't have your whole toolkit.

      Speaking in the target language, with people who know your primary language(s), can also highlight that frustration because the barrier feels "artificial". For me, I have not particularly enjoyed speaking to non-natives, and that hasn't motivated me much. However, speaking to natives has been much easier because it's really nice to think "Hey, you've been making all these efforts to speak in a language I understand, let me do the effort this time".

      And well, finding a way to be comfortable speaking is critical. Olly Richards mentions that, if you start speaking too early and in an unsafe space, you can scare yourself into a "bad experience" and regress because of that. I can definitely see that, and I personally was careful to challenge myself without trying to push too hard.

      Over time, you can get very good at getting a sense of how difficult a certain activity or material is for you. You have three grades: Things you are comfortable with (level+0), things that are challenging and teach you (level+1), and things that are straight up too difficult for you (level+2).Input-based method proponents often advise staying at +1, without really defining what that means, but it's true you kinda know it when you see it. For example, watching Let's Plays in Russian is still my_level+2 for me, but I see them slowly edging towards +1, and that type of material is super effective because, any time you see the progress happening, your motivation is massively improved.


      Developing on comfort: You have to be comfortable making mistakes. This is what really scares everybody, and it was definitely the case for me as well.. I was (and still am) ashamed of my bad grammar especially, and if I don't know how to say something properly, I hesitate to say it at all. But you gotta push through that. There's a balance to strike as always, and you still need to be ok with

      How I use Google Translate

      I've been doing something which has helped a lot, and in hindsight it's obvious to me why, so I want to share this and popularize this technique.

      I started writing to native speakers on IM very, very early (people often use and recommend Tandem for this). Because I didn't have a good enough control over the language yet, what I would do was: Write in Google Translate what I want to say. But without writing long, complex sentences; instead, I would write things I felt I wanted to be able to say. So instead of "Hey, I'm super hungry right now, do you wanna meet me and grab a bite on the way?", I would write "Hey, I am a bit hungry. Can we go eat together?".

      I would take the translation, understand it, and usually I would write it again on the keyboard rather than copy-paste (this helps with memorization). Sometimes I would use voice input, because cyrillic keyboard hard.

      Then, over time, as I got better at output, I would think about what I want to say directly in Russian and write that into Google Translate to check it (and sometimes do a little back-and-forth dance to see if it suggests alternate forms).

      So, yeah, this has been extremely helpful because it's given me a way of using the language as a tool from pretty early on. It's great because Google Translate really is going to adapt to your level, so if you want to be at "level+1", you just have to figure out what that looks like for you in your native language.


      Wow, what a journey. Of course it's not over, but I've actually hit my goal... with nine months to spare! That's enough time to make, like, a whole baby.
      I want to keep improving, not stagnate, so I'm now going to keep using the language and I think wait that full year before I really start learning a new one. (Ukrainian was next on my list, but I'm shocked at how much I now understand of it, it's much closer to Russian than I thought; so I'm still undecided).

      I have loved sharing this experience with you, Tildes, and I really, really hope I motivated some of y'all in your own language learning journeys. If these threads have helped you in any way, please do share it with me here or by DM, I want to know!

      Это был замечательный опыт, и мне было очень весело. Русский язык прекрасен.

      12 votes