Six Hard Mode Languages

Posted on 27. Jul, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Common Denominators

Everyone’s heard about the world’s most widely-spoken languages – English, Spanish, Russian – snore. So vanilla. So mainstream. They’re so applicable and useful around the world it’s tiresome.

But what about the underground scene in language learning? What about those truly challenging, extreme-sport-equivalent tongues that only the daringest of the daring attempt to master? These languages are so rare, they make four-leaf clovers seem positively abundant. They’re so difficult, you’ll think Russian declensions and Mandarin tones are a Sunday stroll. The following are a few of the world’s least-spoken, most unique, hard-mode languages.

Spoken by four people (as of 2012) on the island of Naunonga, Tanema is a rare Austronesian/Polynesian/Oceanic language in a region of the world brimming with literally thousands of unique languages. If the largest of these Pacific Island tongues, such as Eastern Fijian, Tahitian or Māori are just too ordinary for you, then why not give Tanema a shot? You’ll certainly have your work cut out for you.

archiWith more or less 1,000 speakers, Archi would appear to be much easier to learn than Tanema, not least because the Caucasian mountain region where Archi is spoken is easier to reach than a tiny Oceanic island – but that’s where you’re wrong. Archi’s verbs can be conjugated nearly infinitely; some are recorded having 1,500,000 separate conjugations. One can only imagine what the grammar tables for an Archi textbook would look like.

Taushiro (AKA Pinche, Pinchi)
Thanks to the prevalence of Spanish and Quechua in the Peru/Ecuador region of South America, many native languages in the area are dying fast. Taushiro is one such language, unique for being a language isolate, meaning it’s seemingly totally unrelated to any other language on the planet. With only one reported native speaker, you’re going to have to hope they’re a damn good teacher.

Not really a single language, but a group of languages belonging to the natives of Eastern Siberia and Western Alaska, Yupik is not the rarest language on the list (though with only 15,000 or so native speakers, it’s no English), but it earns its spot by being polysynthetic – that means they like to combine several words into one. If you think German is excessive, try tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq, the Yupik word for “he had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer.”

Another critically endangered language, Ongata is spoken by half a handful of elders in a small village in Ethiopia. The reason why is actually pretty tragic – the Ongata are despised by their neighbors and their language publically ridiculed. To prevent teasing, the elders have stopped speaking it to their children, who have picked up the larger local language of Ts’amay (which itself is endangered by even larger regional tongues). Help the Ongata stand up to bullies! Learn Ongata!

Silbo Gomero
This one is my absolute favorite. Silbo is an extremely unique language “spoken” by the people of the La Gomera island, one of the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. I say “spoken” because it’s not actually spoken; it’s a whistled language. That’s right. What’s amazing about this is that unlike vocal tones, whistles can carry long distances while retaining their pitch, making it ideal to “talk” to your neighbors across the valley. Silbo has words, grammar, tones and all – and, I can only assume, the La Gomera understand what R2-D2 is saying. With the prevalence of cell phones, Silbo isn’t quite as necessary as it once was to communicate over long distances, and is now done mostly for tourism. It may one day become a cultural cliché, but it’s an awesome one.

Sadly, many of these languages are in danger of becoming extinct forever. The United Nations estimates that we lose a language every two weeks. In many cases, language being inextricable from culture, the death of a language means the death of a culture. Personally, I think this sort of thing is an unfortunate but inevitable byproduct of globalization, but it’s great to have records so they can at least be proudly remembered – and, just maybe, picked up by an enterprising language learner like yourself.

What about you? Do you speak any rare language or dialect?

Setting the Conditions for Language Learning – Trip Over your Task

Posted on 22. Jul, 2015 by in Language Learning

If you’re reading this blog, it is a pretty safe assumption that you want to learn a language, sustain a language, and/or improve a language. All of this is great. Transparent Language has created the greatest tool for language for all three objectives.

Technology is a fantastic medium, but everything in life breaks down to action. Behavior. Execution. What are you going to do with these innovations?

In the Army we use a phrase ‘Setting the Conditions’. As I have matured over the years, I see all the implications of this phrase. Leadership, training, organization, planning, logistics, communication, coordinating, the areas in which we must ‘set the conditions’ are nearly infinite.

The primary reason we need to ‘set the conditions’ is due to a phenomena called the ‘hot cold empathy gap’. In short, humans totally underestimate the power and influence of feelings on our behavior. Said differently, a warm man doesn’t understand how a cold man feels. In the Army, this is why commanders live in the same conditions as their soldiers.

How does this influence our behavior? In a ‘warm’ state, fully rested, inspired to achieve some goal—lose weight, get up earlier, stop smoking, begin a new Yoga routine, learn an instrument, learn a language–we make plans based upon this ‘warm state’.

At that time we make this mental commitment, we underestimate how it will actually feel to begin such an activity.  Just getting up a bit earlier is an experience of shock. The warmth of the bed, the urge to return to sleep is so powerful at 0500—nothing like we assumed at noon the previous day when making this decision.

This totally reminds me of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman yelling at Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Pyle cannot negotiate the first ladder in an obstacle course, and Hartman yells, (among other colorful language) “If God wanted you up there, He would have ‘miracled’ your butt up there.”setting the conditions

Setting the conditions is being realistic enough to understand that God will not ‘miracle’ us to our stated goal, but simply making a commitment without putting in some scaffolding around that decision leaves us like Private Pyle,150 lbs of chewed bubble gum.

What are some examples of ‘setting the conditions’? Here are a few that I try incorporate for other areas in my life:

  • Go to bed in my running shorts. One less thing to do before I head out for a run or go to the gym in the morning.
  • Pack my gym bag at night, and place in the car.
  • Pack my lunch the night before. (Full disclosure: my wife does this for me.)
  • Have James Allen homepage the first page that opens on my Internet browser.

So what are the ways to set the conditions for sustained language training? Relying on willpower is a fool’s errand. It is much better to change the environment as much as possible so that it is easier to do the task than ignore it.

Trip over your language training.

Here are a couple of ideas, but I’m curious to know what works for you. What hacks have you used?

  • Email myself a reminder with the Transparent Language’s webpage in the email. One click and I’m in.
  • Tie my language study to another habit that is already hard-wired., such as listening to my vocabulary lists while driving to work.

How do you set the conditions for language learning? This is not rhetorical, I’m truly curious. I am always looking for better ways to do the things I don’t necessarily enjoy doing.

Traveling Light and Language Learning

Posted on 20. Jul, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Three Things

My first time traveling overseas all by myself, my mother gave her the advice that her mother gave her on her first time traveling all by herself: all you really need are tickets, your passport, and money. The Holy Trinity. The idea is that as long as you have a way to get there, your identification and a way to pay for things, the rest is extra. Pretty much anything else you might need can be bought along the way.

These days, that list is quickly shrinking to just cell phone (tickets, even money) plus passport, and I imagine physical passports probably won’t be around for that much longer either. That said, even if you do use your cell phone for everything you should definitely bring hard copies of your tickets and an extra credit card hidden somewhere in your underwear. A light-fingered thief and a loose pocket can quickly part you from two-thirds of the all-important Trinity.

The point is, when traveling, there’s no need to pack a crazy amount of luggage or stress out about what you might have forgotten. When I leave a place, I always have that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something crucial. I just think back to the rule: got my tickets? Check. Passport? Check. Money? Check. Good enough. Now I can enjoy my travels and shrug everything else off.

The same goes for language learning.

Deep down, tickets/passport/money are simply another way of identifying the means/self/currency of your travels. A ticket represents a device, a means of getting from A to B. It’s the manifestation of the how. Your passport is your identification, the proof that you are who you say you are. It’s the who, the answer to the question of self. Money is the way – the literal currency, the stuff of trade, the tender by which you exchange what you have for what you want. It’s the circulation of give and take, the back and forth that moves you ever forward.

And means/self/currency is indeed all you need for language learning. The means is your scheme, your process. How do you study? How do you practice? What is your system, your device? What’s the method wrangling the madness? You pick a mode and its framework, and you obey it. Then, the self – you, of course, but also what you identify as. What’s the you you’re bringing to the how? What does he/she/it want, and how do they appear? Finally, the currency – what do you the self bring to the how? What do you offer? What language do you have to exchange, to barter with? When you’ve solved these three enigmas, you’ve got the only important truths to learning a language.

Just kidding. Those last two paragraphs are just a bunch of made-up nonsense.

Don’t overthink it. That’s the only lesson here, and it’s applicable not just to language learning, but to anything you do. Pick the most important things to you—perhaps it’s being able to speak, perhaps its grammar focus. Perhaps it changes day to day. Just identify what’s really important and you’ll avoid flailing about, madly trying to pack everything into your luggage, trying to learn everything at once and stressing that it can’t be done. Just listen, speak, and learn.

What would you say are the kernel truths of learning a language? What’s the tickets/passport/money equivalent of simplifying your journey?