Welsh Is Not English: How The Welsh Language Fought Back

When I first moved to the UK 15 years ago, I thought Welsh was dying out.

But did you know that people went on protest marches and even got ARRESTED to keep this language alive?

In this podcast episode, I bring you interviews with Welsh learners and teachers, sharing their own passions for this ancient language.

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10 Polyglot Conversations from Langfest 2017 in Montréal

This podcast episode is a bit like a Wundertüte - a lucky dip bag of interviews with wonderful people who made the 2017 Langfest event what it was. Thank you so much to all of these lovely people - Langfest was motivating, informative, energising, and of course very, very multilingual.

Here's a taste of what you'll find inside the episode:

Could you become a multilingual parent?

We've all seen the feats of Bella Devyatkina, who speaks 8 languages at age 5. But how does that work? In my interview with conference organizer Tetsu Young, we touched on the everyday actions that he and his wife create a multilingual environment for their three (!) kids.

Applying your outside skills to language learning

langfest podcast 2017 montreal

You might not know this, but all of us have hidden skills that help us learn languages. I interviewed Benny Lewis and Tim Pelletier to find out what theirs are.

Impressions of Québécois

From how to make those dipthong sounds to religious swearing, be a fly on the wall during our French-language lesson on the Québec dialect.

Learning in Your Coffee Break

In an interview with Mark Pentleton from Radio Lingua, we discussed how language learning can fit into anyone's busy life - and why doing a little bit less might just help you learn more.

 Meeting Langfest Founder Tetsu

Meeting Langfest Founder Tetsu

A few words in Romanian

Listen to me try as hard as possible to get my Romanian pronunciation right with the kind help of presenter Mihai. Ooof!

Unconventional Motivational Techniques

Jana Fadness is a polyglot, translator, traveller, and introvert. She shares her insights on the most popular motivational techniques - and how she found her own unconventional ways of making things work. Jana's interview was amazing, her honesty stood out among the crowd.

I will share more about my talk with you as soon as the Langfest crew have put the finishing touches to their videos.

In the meantime, get the travel bug with me and check out 8 Life-Changing Language Learning Events Around the Globe.

Top 5 Fictional Languages (Podcast Episode 51)

Do you speak Sindarin?

top 5 fictional languages

The world of fictional languages is richer than a London billionaire, and we have researched and collected the most awesome fictional languages for you to learn about.

In this episode, you'll hear the new Good, Bad and Struggling followed by the Ultimate Fictional Languages Chart. Here in the shownotes, you'll see our Top 5 and the best of all links available so you can follow along and listen to the show.

Our Top 5 Fictional Languages

  1. Elvish
  2. Nadsat/ Newspeak
  3. Klingon
  4. Minionese
  5. Simlish

And here is a little bit more background information to tell you which languages we discussed in the show, and what they mean to us.

Dothraki, High Valyrian and Game of Thrones

The languages in Game of Thrones were developed by David Peterson via a referral from the Language Creation Society. David says "You have to start with the language and the people..what might their world be like?"

No character is a better representative of their power than Danaerys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi, Stormborn, and all that). This queen conquers her lover's heart by connecting to him in Dothraki, the language of the horse people who don't have a word for "boat". She also speaks High Valyrian, and gains an advantage in several scenes in which she understands what's said about her by oblivious fools.

Elvish, Quenya and Tolkien

These languages were made famous as part of the Lord of the Rings saga. Author J.R.R. Tolkien spent nearly 60 years working on Elvish languages: Sindarin, Common Eldarin, Quenya and more - there are roots and language families, and he created a whole language family tree and evolutions rather than just one language, and his world-building skills are breathtaking once you start getting into the endless back stories he created for Middle Earth.

While the Elvish languages remained at the center of Tolkien's attention, the narratives of Middle-earth also needed languages of other races, especially of Dwarves and Men, but also the Black Speech. It's a dystopian parody of an international auxiliary language, just like Sauron's rule over the Orcs is a dystopian parody of a totalitarian state.

Other languages by Tolkien include Kkuzdul (Dwarves), about 5 different Mannish languages, and my favourite, Black Speech of Sauron. What a dedicated life's work.

Klingon and Vulcan

Klingon is a famous alien language - could this be the most famous Alien language? - from the Star Trek world. It was developed by linguist Mark Okrand. Klingon is different from Tolkien's languages as Mark only had to write language for the film dialogue at first, but for the next movie this started growing into a full language. Mark himself has published "The Klingon Dictionary".

I love how Klingon mirrors the culture of its speakers, so that "nuqneH", the Klingon greeting, reportedly translates to no more than "whaddaya want?". There's no "hello" in Klingon.

Klingon has an incredible fan base, evidenced by the existence of the Klingon Language Institute, which provides meet-ups, a certification programme, a language corpus and language exams.

Na'vi

In James Cameron's movie Avatar, the alien race Na'vi were given a fully developed language by linguist Paul Frommer. This represented the demonstration of how advanced the race is, and how it contrasts with the soldier who enters their world.

Simlish

Simlish is a language not developed for a movie or a book, but for a video game. What started out as pleasant gibberish in Will Wheaton's first game in 2000 grew to become a beloved part of the game. Apparently, it's a combination of "Latin, Ukrainian, Navajo, and Tagalog."

Minion Language

The Minions in the Minions films are all voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin. His parents are from France and Indonesia and he spent a lot of time working in London. They didn’t invent a full Minion language because they wanted to keep the funny random gibberish element for humour, and as such this language is a lot of fun for everyone, as there’s bound to be something you understand

Newspeak in 1984

Newspeak is thought control, designed to limit freedom of thought by making the language smaller. In the classic book 1984 by George Orwell created this language. He said "the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." shudder

So here is a remarkable example of language used for evil, and you can spot Newspeak vocabulary like un, ante, plus and doubleplus, which gets combined with English words.

Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange

This language -- or is it a dialect? -- was created in the original book "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess, and later used by Stanley Kubrick in the film version. The name comes from the Russian suffix for "-teen", and it is indeed a teen speak. Burgess actually learnt some Russian and had a real interest in language. He learnt Malay, and taught himself Persian too.

Nadsat features many Russian-sourced words, such as devotchka, govoeeting, malenky and yarbokles.

What do you think?

Do you agree with our Top 5? Ready to chat a little more? Share your own favourite fictional language in the comments - and tell us if we forgot any important ones!

How An Encounter With Tibetan Monks Inspired Christine To Learn Three New Languages

What is it that makes me so happy about language learning?

It's not just about showing that the human brain is capable of miraculous feats. It's also about using language as a lmetaphor for understanding other people.

When Fluent reader Christine McKenna contacted me by email with her story, I was drawn to it immediately. She speaks of language changing her perspective, and tells a story of how incredible it is to dive in and let your studies lead you to a new life. Christine is a yoga teacher living in the US, and has been studying languages for more than a decade.

Her language choices are Tibetan, Sanskrit and French. Intrigued? Then read on to find out how she connected to those languages.

If you're curious about diving into the languages mentioned in this post, you can download a little bonus page full of great resources from Christine and me. Click the button to get our recommendations.

It Started With Tibetan Monks

Before my current life as a yoga teacher, I was a software developer for 23 years.

In middle age, I developed an interest in broadening my horizons to something beyond full-time engagement with technology. I encountered Tibetan monks who had come to perform rituals at the Sackler Museum of Asian Art in Washington, DC. They explained that they lived in India as refugees.

This was late 2001 and they were doing a healing ritual for Americans after the 9/11 attacks. Impressed by their generosity. These people lived as refugees, yet were concerned for us! 

Exploring further, I met a translator and teacher of Tibetan philosophy who said there were linguistic and cultural nuances that were difficult or impossible to communicate in English. Drawn to find out more about this phenomenon, I began to study Tibetan language.

After a few starting pains (there are many dialects and variants), I found my solid grounding in literary Tibetan. Later I went to India and lived in a Tibetan refugee community. I took courses, helped out with various tasks (teaching technical skills, editing English translations), and developed my spoken Tibetan. After about eight months, I traveled to Nepal, to live in Tibetan communities and study.

My most engaging learning occurred while listening to conversations in public places. In Tibetan communities in India and Nepal, Tibetan conversations would flow freely as I visited teahouses and other public places. I was listening for cultural assumptions and how the language was being used. Listening was easier for me than constructing sentences of my own, so this helped move my skills along.

After I had learned a certain amount, I decided to take my next steps in conversation and scholarship. I returned to the US and a move to the East Coast gave me the opportunity to study Tibetan and Sanskrit at the University of Virginia.

Next Steps: Sanskrit and French

As part of my History of Asian Religions degree, I found myself adding more languages, too. I took up Sanskrit to better understand literary Tibetan.

While exploring history and availability of Tibetan-language manuscripts, I realized considerable research had been published in French! The French have a long history of Oriental studies - you need only visit the Website of Bibliothèque nationale de France and enter tibetain in the search to find out more. So after a while, I became persuaded I should study French to be the best and most responsible researcher for the history of Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhism.

In the university environment, I was typically more than twice the age of the next-oldest student in my classes. This was not a problem; I never felt out-of-place. I seemed to have fewer social distractions, knew exactly what I wanted from each class and remained very focused. Contrary to stereotype, I was often more comfortable with technology than some of my classmates. I seemed to be the only one in my French class to prefer an electronic dictionary to the traditional printed versions.

Language and Culture

In the Tibetan community, I encountered a philosophy and culture in which compassion is emphasized.

This shows itself in the language in wonderful ways: Verb tense and aspect differ significantly from English, in ways I hadn't imagined. Initially, I would ask a bilingual Tibetan, "How would I say [something or other] in Tibetan?" and they would respond "You wouldn't."

Puzzling, but I finally understood that the world-view is significantly different and the language corresponds to that. Also some distinctions have historically not arisen; Tibetans have black hair, and there are traditionally only two words for hair color, black and what they were calling “blonde”. I was informed that my dark-brown locks are blonde for their purposes.

 Tibetan Poems and Proverbs

Tibetan Poems and Proverbs

To immerse oneself in traditional Tibetan writings is to immerse oneself in a culture that values kindness and compassion over material concerns that pervade English language. This is not to say all Tibetans are saints or that I have not encounter Tibetans behaving badly. However, I find the mainstream culture inspiring. The centers of learning have long been monasteries; the head of government until very recently was also a spiritual leader--the Dalai Lama, said to embody compassion. Meditative practices are part of the culture.

To immerse oneself in traditional Tibetan literature, and much of their modern media is, typically, an effective way to pause and creatively re-direct thoughts based on Western cultural biases.

Everyday Language Immersion

There is much more I’d like to learn about these languages and the cultures they express! Right now I type most of my notes in Tibetan and Sanskrit; I would like to spend more time on hand-writing and calligraphy.

I often choose to immerse in language, sometimes simply crossing the border and spending time with French Canadians, or with Tibetan refugees in the U.S. or abroad. I may spend a day at home watching videos and reading books in a particular language, and I find that fluency develops - or resurfaces - and I lose some cultural baggage. Languages make me better at taking a new perspective.

Currently, I need to stay close to home, with little opportunity to travel. However, spending a day totally immersed in French or Tibetan - videos, reading, writing, even thinking in a chosen language - feels like a vacation because I make a mental shift. I also have occasional access to a Tibetan language conversation partner, or can video chat with one of my French Canadian friends.

Start Learning Tibetan and Sanskrit

Have you studied any of these ancient Asian languages? What is your experience with the compassionate world view of Tibetan culture?

If this story has made you curious to try out the languages for yourself, don't forget that you can get Christine's recommendations as a bonus to this post right here.