Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Finno-Ugric Fun: Finland and Estonia

Part 1: Finno-Ugric Fun in Finland and Estonia

Vacation 2014 began and ended with conference presentations in Paris and Oslo, so naturally I also had to travel to countries I had never been to before in Europe. I decided to start in Finland before heading over to Sweden and Norway, with a day trip to Estonia. My housemate in Australia was attending the same conference in Paris so she travelled with me for a week, and I was able to meet up with a few other former English assistants that I hadn’t seen in a few (too many) years. It was so good to see them again!

Although it is currently summer in the northern hemisphere, I was quite cold in Helsinki and Tallinn. The temperatures weren’t actually that cold – it was usually around 15 C, sometimes 18 C – but coming from 30 C in France, it was a tiny bit of a shock to the system. We had 11 C and sleet one day in Helsinki, and lots of wind in Tallinn. Good thing I brought my coat. Nearly 24 hours of sunlight was fun, except when your accommodation doesn’t have blackout curtains. I found it a bit hard to sleep since I’m used to total darkness, and when it’s still light outside at 11pm you don’t feel as tired as you should anyway.

Helsinki railway station

Muscley men on Central Railway Station in Helsinki (unfortunately under construction right now)

I felt a bit lost with signs and menus in Finnish and Estonian as I haven’t really studied any Finno-Ugric languages in detail yet. However, most things were also translated into Swedish (an official language of Finland), German, English and sometimes Russian (especially on the ferries). Multilingual signs always make my day.


Finnish, Swedish, German and English

The Tallink ferry between Helsinki and Tallinn only takes two hours so it is a great day trip. Except for maybe the Sibelius monument in Helsinki, most of the famous sites are within walking distance in both cities and Suomenlinna fortress is a short ferry ride from Helsinki. The old town of Tallinn is also a short 10 or 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal.

Suomenlinna Fortress

Suomenlinna Fortress

Old town of Tallinn

Old town of Tallinn

In Tallinn, we had lunch at Olde Hansa, a medieval restaurant that is a total tourist trap. I still don’t actually know what I ate besides the chicken, but it was so good! We also climbed up the tower of the town hall and St. Olav’s church for great views of the old town. I bought an adorable handmade wool cardigan for my nephew and we had the best hot chocolate at Jerntorgith cafe before hopping back on the ferry to return to Helsinki.

I never take photos of food, so you can believe me when I say this meal was amazing

I never take photos of food, but this meal was amazing

We also took the overnight Tallink ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm and it is more like a cruise than just a ferry. The main difference is that you take your luggage on board with you. There were plenty of shops and restaurants, activities for kids, a spa, a casino – everything but a pool, really. We left Helsinki at 5pm and arrived in Stockholm at 9:30am the next morning. You can book a place in the buffet restaurant for both dinner (you’ll be assigned a table) and breakfast (you can sit anywhere). Or, you can always make reservations at the restaurants or even just grab a snack at the cafés. Bonus: Both of these ferries have free wifi! And of course, both Finland and Estonia use the euro so you don’t have to change currency.

Finnish and Estonian realia will be added to the site soon. Up next: Sweden!

If you’re wondering why the blog hasn’t been updated in a while – everything has been a little crazy for me this year. I took over a French class halfway through the semester and needed to prepare for two conferences in Europe when I found out I had to move just before leaving. It was extremely stressful! Luckily we’re on break now between the two semesters and I’ve settled into my new place, but I still haven’t managed to get an internet connection.

Undeciphered Scripts: Rongorongo on Easter Island

As a new assistant editor of the Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies as well as a new associate curator of the Easter Island, Myths and Popular Culture international exhibition, I am exposed to a wide range of interesting topics related to the South Pacific. My latest fascination involves rongorongo, a system of glyphs found on Easter Island in the late 19th century. Easter Island is famous for the moai, or stone statues, which many people wrongly believe are only heads. In fact, they have torsos as well, but many of the moai are buried in the ground up to their necks. Rongorongo was not inscribed on the moai, but on wooden tablets – none of which remain on the island as they are all now in museums or private collections.



The glyphs are written in reverse boustrophedon (alternating directions) and have yet to be deciphered by linguists. Some believe the glyphs are not actually writing or a representation of the Rapa Nui language, but perhaps proto-writing or even a mnemonic device. Overpopulation, deforestation, European diseases and Peruvian slave raids almost killed all of the Rapa Nui by the late 19th century. Much of the history and knowledge of the previous generations died with them, so we may never be able to decipher rongorongo.

The Rapa Nui still live on Easter Island, which is now a special territory of Chile, and the island has not been uninhabited since the Rapa Nui arrived (perhaps as late as 1200 CE). The population dwindled to its all-time low of 111 in 1877, but today the population of the island is near 6,000 and more than half are Rapa Nui. Most representations of Easter Island focus on the moai and the incorrect assumption that the island is uninhabited. Out of all of the commercials, advertisements, cartoons, novels and comic books I’ve been investigating lately, this Chilean commercial is the only one that focuses on the Rapa Nui people rather than the moai. Note how the island is also called Rapa Nui (the name for the island in the Rapa Nui language) and you can hear a few words of Rapa Nui being spoken as well.

Mutual Intelligibility between English and Scots

Frisian is often cited as the language that is closest to English, but Scots is actually closer (i.e. has a higher degree of mutual intelligibility with English). Not Scottish English, which is a variety of English, or Scottish Gaelic, which is actually a Celtic rather than a Germanic language, but Lowland Scots.


Map of the areas where the Scots language is spoken.

There are just over 100,000 native speakers and it is classified as a traditional language by the Scottish government and a regional or minority language by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Here is a lecture in Scots about the history of the Scots language. How much can you understand?

Peace Corps Language Learning Materials

Free Peace Corps Language Learning Materials: Over 100 Languages Available

Peace Corps Language Learning Materials

If you love free public domain language learning resources as much as I do, then check out the Peace Corps Language Courses Archive. Live Lingua has a large collection of Peace Corps manuals teaching languages ranging from Acholi to Zarma (over 100 languages are available!) and some also include audio resources in addition to the language manuals. If you have other PC manuals to share, please let Live Lingua know and they will add them to their site.

The Peace Corps does have their own Digital Library of Technical and Training Manuals if you are also interested in learning more about the work that PC Volunteers do. Although this library doesn’t seem to offer language courses, some of the manuals are written in French and Spanish so they can still be used as language learning resources.

How to Learn Languages by Reading Interlinear Books

How to Learn Languages by Reading Interlinear Books

Linas is a language learning enthusiast who founded His project aims to make literature more accessible to language learners. He wrote this guest post to introduce the concept of learning with Interlinear books.

If you have been reading this blog, you probably already know Jennie has strongly supported listening and reading to learn languages, and she has even published her own bilingual book to learn French. I would like to present you a further method for learning languages by reading bilingual books – Interlinear book translations, or, as we call them, Interlinear books.

What are Interlinear books?

Interlinear books are bilingual books, where each word or expression in the original language is followed by an English translation below. Because Jennie has been teaching French, let’s look at what an Interlinear translation of the first sentence of Le comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père, would look like:

Example of an Interlinear translation of the first sentence of Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

As you can see, each word is translated literally. Moreover, if the meaning is not clear by translating the word literally, an Interlinear text would add parentheses, which help understanding. Moreover, expressions are also joined together, so, for example, “c’est-à-dire” would be more likely to be joined and translated as “that is” and not as “it’s to say.”

What are Interlinear books good for?

Interlinear books make it possible for language learners to read and enjoy books in their original language without a dictionary.  Reading with Interlinear is fast because you don’t need to spend much time looking up the meaning of each word. Moreover, you also have the most appropriate meaning for each word selected by the translator, which means that you save time by not going over all the possible translations of a word and deciding which one fits best. You are enabled to understand nearly all of the story, which sustains your interest in reading. Finally, an Interlinear translation is, arguably, the closest to the original, thus reading one is good if you simply want to enjoy the language of the author to the fullest extent possible.

Can you have only books translated in Interlinear?

The project, Interlinear Books, has only been translating books so far. However, many things can be translated in the Interlinear format: short stories, plays, even poetry. Yes, poetry can be translated, although, admittedly, it would  not ordinarily make a very good tool for language learning. Here’s an Interlinear translation of a short poem (technically – an epigram) by Alexander Pushkin, the father of modern Russian literature, writing about a person he thoroughly disliked:

Interlinear Poem of Pushkin translated by

Where can I find Interlinear books?

At Interlinear Books, we have been working hard to make Interlinear translations. We have so far made four of them, enabling you to learn Lithuanian, practice Swedish, or improve your German or Russian with our books. In those languages, we have translated one book each. Those are books by classical authors, such as Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy or Selma Lagerlöf. All the translations are available for purchase as e-books on our website.

Here are a few examples of what our currently existing translations look like:

Example of Swedish Interlinear translation of "Skatten: Herr Arnes Penngar" by Selma Lagerlöf from

Example of Swedish Interlinear translation of “Skatten: Herr Arnes Penngar” by Selma Lagerlöf

Example of Russian Interlinear Translation of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy by

Example of our Russian Interlinear Translation of “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy

What about Interlinear books in languages other than German, Lithuanian, Swedish and Russian ?

InterlinearBooks is currently working really hard on providing even more Interlinear books. Currently, we have not yet announced what languages we are going to be translating, but you can be among the first to learn that by signing up to our mailing list. You can also be a part of the process of choosing new translations – we always like to hear ideas!

So, what do you think about this? What new translations would you like to see? Please tell us in the comments.

Frozen’s “Let it Go” in 25 Languages with Subtitles

Disney has released a multilingual version of the song “Let it Go” from the film Frozen. There are 25 languages total in the song, and luckily there is a version on Dailymotion with all of the lyrics and English translations available as subtitles:

“Let It Go” (All 25 Languages Transcript… by Ko Sherman

If you click CC at the top, you will see three options for subtitles:
1. EN (English): Translation
2. ZH (Chinese): Multilingual
3. FR (French) : Romanisation (of Multilingual lyrics)

You can also find the full song in several languages on Youtube, even those languages that are not included in this video. Just search for Let it Go in [language] and you’ll find that some videos have the lyrics and translations included, such as this Dutch version:

Mooc Videos and Subtitles for Language Learning

Using MOOC Videos and Subtitles to Learn Languages

Free MOOC Videos and Subtitles for Learning Languages

Although there don’t seem to be any MOOCs on the major provider platforms for learning languages (Update: Finally, they do exist!), Coursera does offer courses in French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, etc. that you can use to help you learn the language. Most, if not all of them, provide subtitles for the videos so you can watch and read at the same time.

EdX has also started offering courses in Spanish and French, but unlike Coursera there is no option to sort courses by the language they are offered in so you will need to choose from the Schools & Partners list. For example, UAM, UC3M, UPValencia, OEC and IDB are all Spanish-speaking institutions while Louvain and EPFL are French-speaking.

Several courses in French and Spanish are available via FUN and Miríada X while iversity has a few courses in German. These platforms are more likely to offer subtitles since they are designed for native speakers of these languages.

Spanish language courses on Coursera

The great thing about Coursera is how easy it is to download all of the videos and subtitles at once. After joining a course, go to the Videos page that lists all of the available lectures. Using the free DownThemAll add-on for Firefox, you can download all of the files by using the Fast Filtering option to select only the videos and subtitles. (The subtitles are in .srt format and not hard coded into the videos so you can turn them off to test your comprehension.)

Down Them All Add-On for Firefox

FYI: Even if a course has already finished, sometimes you can still enroll and have access to the videos within the class archive.

European Day of Languages 2013

Just a reminder – the European day of Languages / Journée européenne des langues is tomorrow, September 26!


From the official website:

Throughout Europe, 800 million Europeans represented in the Council of Europe’s 47 member states are encouraged to learn more languages, at any age, in and out of school. Being convinced that linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent, the Council of Europe promotes plurilingualism in the whole of Europe.

The Great Language Game

The Great Language Game: How many languages can you identify?

The Great Language Game

Here’s a fun new game to get addicted to: The Great Language Game

Data scientist Lars Yencken has created a neat game where you listen to an audio clip and choose which language it is. All of the clips are from Australia’s SBS (which you should listen to anyway since so many languages are available).

The number of possible responses increases the longer you play to make it more challenging. So far the highest score is 4,050. Can you beat that?

Dutch Heritage in the US: Holland, Michigan

I am currently in the US visiting family and I stopped by Holland, Michigan, since I hadn’t been there in 20 years. It was founded by Dutch settlers in the mid 19th century and a large majority of Dutch Americans still live in Michigan. There is also a city called Zeeland nearby. Holland is often ranked as one of the happiest cities in the US and one of the best places to retire.

I did not go to Nelis’ Dutch Village this time (where I bought my klompen – wooden shoes – when I was 10) but I did go to Windmill Island to tour the last windmill that the Dutch government allowed to leave the Netherlands, called De Zwaan. Ninety percent of the windmills in the Netherlands were destroyed during WWII so the remaining windmills are protected by the government and cannot leave the country. De Zwaan is still a working windmill and you can buy the flour that is ground there in the shops.

De Zwaan

Unfortunately it was too late to see the tulips, but there is a Tulip Time Festival in Holland every May (as well as a Dutch Winterfest every winter to celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas). Windmill Island Gardens is still pretty cute without the tulips:


The tour of the windmill also includes a short Dutch folk dancing performance:


There are plenty of wooden shoes around:


And signs written in Dutch, of course:



Many of the street signs in Holland have a tulip on them as well:


Admission to Windmill Island is $7.50 and admission to Nelis’ Dutch Village theme park is $10 though you do not need to enter the park in order to visit the shops and cafes.