I really want to learn Welsh.

I don’t know why—I just started ‘vibing’ with the language, after a few months of dabbling. And the native speakers I’ve spoken to so far have been very enthusiastic about sharing their language and culture. It’s one of my favourite things about studying a minority language.

And after all this, I can tell you: it’s hard to learn.

But not for the reasons you’re thinking!

The language itself is not hard. I made a little meme about the mutations when I first read about them, but since then, I’d like to officially rescind it.

The grammar is okay, especially after Polish. It has quite a lot of unique vocabulary, especially where most European languages share a Latin loanword, but it also has a crap ton of modern English loans.

What makes it so hard?

Resources. (The right ones. Or: lack thereof.)

Allow me to explain.

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I was going to include this as a section in an article about Welsh learning resources, but my frustrations ballooned into a post of its own. I’ve written a Duolingo course review before, so hey, why not.

Part of that original article was about how you can find a few seemingly different learning resources, from books and online lessons to interactive webpages—but they’re all based on the same written textbook that is used for in-person group classes.

And what do you know, even Duolingo’s Welsh course is designed around the very same classroom curriculum. It is emphasised many times in the course notes, and it shows.

The course creators intended it this way so that Duolingo complements the publicly available Welsh classes and reinforces the materials taught in class. I assume they expect most people to learn this way, and I can appreciate the reasoning behind it.

But guess what? Duolingo was always meant to be a self-learning tool.

Every other course on Duolingo has its own design and progression. You learn through sentences and use the vocabulary and grammar in a variety of contexts. Subsequent lessons build on existing knowledge by using those words and phrases as context for new items. Your ‘strength’ in each lesson deteriorates over time so that you go back and refresh your memory. It’s not linear.

And because Duolingo Welsh is designed around a textbook curriculum, it is made like a textbook.

How is Duolingo Welsh just like a textbook?

Each lesson comes with a large amount of reading and grammatical explanations, before you even get to start. Even though I like reading about grammar, Duolingo courses generally teach using sentences that guide you to figure it out yourself through context and only ask questions (in the forum) afterwards. These lesson notes are usually reserved for interesting cultural facts and knowledge, or a reference table you can come back to, rather than required readings.

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Get $10 for a language lesson on italki

My teachers:

00:00 What’s different this week?
01:03 Day 11 (Taiwanese / Taigi / Hokkien)
01:50 Polyglot Conference language practice rooms – how do they work?
02:53 Online Language Exchange (UK)
04:38 SECRET TECHNIQUE – Shadowing
07:30 Dubbing – How Squid Game helped me practise Polish
10:13 Plan for the next period

Subtitles in Polish, English, and Cantonese.

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Niedawno wróciłem z długiej podróży (głównie) po Polsce. Więcej o tym będę później pisać. A istotne w tym jest to, że spędziłem dwa tygodnie z całą rodziną, chociaż za granicą. Przed tym już minął rok, odkąd widziałem swoich rodziców.

Gdy ojciec dołączył do reszty rodziny, nagle pojawiła się unikalna dynamika rodzinna, za którą w pewnym sensie tęskniłem; której nie mogę sobie wyobrazić w żadnej innej rodzinie.

Już podczas miesięcznego pobytu matki u mnie, dziwili się moi współlokatorzy tym, jak się komunikują i dogadują ona i moja siostra. Wydawało im się, że one się ciągle kłócą, na każdy temat.

Podczas całego kolejnego miesiąca, gdy podróżowaliśmy z całą rodziną, obserwowałem i zastanawiałem się.

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Duolingo is probably the most well-known language learning website out there.

It’s fun, it’s stress-free (most of the time), and it helps build a regular habit. Oh, and it’s free.

But as we mentioned on the podcast, Duolingo’s quality can vary greatly from course to course. While the gamified learning system is based on the same principles and exercises, the course design, lesson content, types of exercises, audio, etc., totally depend on each course’s creators.

For example, the ‘biggest’ languages have gained crazy hi-tech features like AI chatbots and learning from stories, while smaller languages…aren’t as lucky.

I’ll assume you know how Duolingo basically works: you slowly make your way through a tree of skills, do lessons with translation exercises, and it sends daily notifications to threaten you into practise. If you want to know my thought on the site as a whole, come join my livestream! In this review, I’m focusing on the design of the Modern Hebrew course.

Course Structure

What is Duolingo most known for? Wacky, fantastical sentences.

Well, not in Duolingo Hebrew. At least, not to the same extent.

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