Tag Archives: language learning

Substantivos coletivos – aka – Things I’ll never learn in Portuguese

It was during our trip to Bonito, that I first realised that Portuguese had more nouns for groups of animals than English or German. A woman had asked what again the word was for a swarm of butterflies, and the answer was panapaná –  used for butterflies and nothing else.

Indeed, as a colleague taught me later, Portuguese has a whole set of nouns that describe groups of animals, going way beyond the swarm, herd or flock other languages have to offer. Some of these collective nouns are unique to wild or domestic animals, some to birds or fishes and others can be used just as well for a group of bandits.

There are more than comprehensive lists of these collective nouns available online, though the ones I found most compelling are:

  •  Colmeia – beehive / swarm of bees
  • Panapaná – a swarm of butterflies
  • Alcatéia – a pack of wild animals (wolves, lions, wild hogs, etc.)
  • Gado – cattle
  • Manada – a group of donkeys, horses or cattle
  • Boiada – a herd of cows
  • Cardume – a swarm of fishes
  • Fato – a group of goats
  • Cambada, gatarrada, gataria – a group of cats
  • Ponta – a group of mules
  • Vara – a group of pigs
  • Trompa – a group of lamas

Vuelta en clase

Si, si, si. It’s this eternal fight between not being overly motivated of spending one evening per week in class and this objective to learn a new language till I can speak it. Or in the case of Spanish understand those &*à(&çè Spaniards.

But as motivation doesn’t show up for the rendez-vous, I go with the second best option: forcing myself. Less fun but more effective. The teacher seems reasonably nice – not as great as Ana-Maria last year but that really couldn’t be expected – and the fellow students who I hope will drop out soon too.

Besides, I keep on discovering free learning material online like the very useful and extremely well done Veinte Mundos. It’s a monthly journal for English, French or German speakers who learn Spanish. All articles can be listened too and cover various aspects of hispanic – South American as well as Spanish – culture. Una alegria!

русский язык

Food, transport, sleeping, directions, advertisements, understanding of basic information without speaking the language and being able to read… The first day, I was pretty lost in St. Petersburg. Quickly checking the metro plan, njet. Having a look on the menu – next time. And so on.

Then I started to recognise words – ketchup, congress, forum, lift. As of the second day, it was almost like a puzzle. More and more parts being unveiled, completing the picture. Although more often than not, the picture of something incomprehensible. Because being able to read the word, does not include knowing what it means. Still, after recognizing Internet, Restauran (without the ‘t’ at the end), Bar, Club and taking the right metro in the right direction several times,  life was starting to be normal again.

If now, I only manage to learn a few words going beyond yes, no, you are welcome and thanks, to not stand that helpless in front of people, everything is going to be alright.

El mundial de fútbol

Gracias a Anke, encontré ese vinculo de una pagina fantástica sobre el mundial fútbol. Para la gente que busca mejorar su vocabulario de fútbol en español, no hay mejor sitio. No es solo el calendario que vale la pena!

Selective memory

On days where I try to convince my brain to remember Spanish irregular verbs, I wish I had more control over what it actually keeps. I assume most of us have a selective memory but wouldn’t it be nice to have something like a remote control that lets you decide what to delete and what to save? Instead of this handy tool, my brain is perfectly capable to recall irrelevant conversations from months if not years ago but I have to force it by endless repetition to be able to conjugate saber in all times.

I realised that kept memories are most of the time linked to some form of emotions: laughter, surprise, disgust, rage or even mild irritation. The question is now: how can I use this for the past tenses and el subjunctivo?

BBC Mundo & Mi vida loca

For all those who are working on improving their Spanish castellano, there are two webpages, I’d really advise. Well, actually one – the good old BBC*.

First, the BBC has a language learning page for 7 languages for absolute beginners. Now, I’m not an absolute  beginner any longer but I still like the way the page is set up and gives you some basic knowledge to get started. What I really enjoyed though was Mi Vida Loca. It’s an interactive drama – for once an online exercise that actually deserves the claim ‘interactiv’ – that allowed me to revise basic vocabulary in a funny and entertaining way. I’m not much of a soap opera fan but I relly grew attached to Mercé.

Second, for those who picked up speed and want to improve the vocabulary in order to talk about things that are actually and currently going on on this little blue planet turning around this small star, BBC Mundo offers a great portada, videos y noticias. I find the news much easier to understand than on El País which is maybe the next step but for now, I’m happy that I got this far.

*I don’t get anything for promoting the BBC here. With such great tools, she (he? – it’s Die BBC in German) would need it anyway.

Please excuse my dear aunt sally

I can’t calculate in any other language than German. Counting is OK but if I see some multipliers or alike, I first translate the numbers in German, do the calculation and translate the result back in the original language. After doing this for a few years, I got pretty fast in English and French.

Anyway, tonight in the Spanish class: numbers and calculations. Only that the teacher hadn’t heard of the good old Punkt- vor Strichrechnung; or as the English say: Parentheses / Exponents / Multiplication & Division / Addition & Subtraction (P=please, e=excuse, m=my, d=dear, a=aunt, s=sally)*.  Trying to explain that a mathematical rule doesn’t depend on el idioma was quite tough; I’m not quite sure that prioridad de operación did the trick. In the end, Ana-Maria is right, she always is, but I would have liked to give a proper explaination. Quand même…

*A very beautiful expample of mnenomic or “donkey bridge” as the Germans say.

Voy a aprender español

After opting for Dutch two years ago, the time passed like crazy has come to chose Spanish. Let’s see how far my motivation will carry me this time because just like Dutch; Spanish is not a language you need in Brussels. Actually, not even French is indispensable; only English is.

Pero no pasa nada porque español es una idioma hermosa et me gusto mucho aprenderlo.

Big advantage: there is more than one country, generally with a warmer and sunnier climat ,where I can go and practice.

No translation needed

Schadenfreude Avenue Q

It’s great to see how flexible English/American integrate new words in the English language. And yes, there is an English word for Schadenfreude – it’s the German one.

Definition: “Schadenfreude is happiness at the misfortune of others”.


I do not give any guarantee for the spelling but due to the huge demand (one email), I thought that it may interest you to know some of the very, very basic words in isiXhosa. Here you go:

Molo – Hello

Ewe – Yes – also Answer to Molo

Haij – No – pronounced like Hey, took me five weeks to get it.

Haijbo – Oh no, used frequently.

Kunjani – How are you?

Ndiphilile – I am fine

Kunjaniwena – And how are you?

Ndiphililenam- I am fine, too

Mlungu – milk, white person (usually meaning me when I hear it)

Nkosi – Thank you

Nkosi kakhulu – Thank you very much.

Andikuva – I did not hear you/I do not understand you

Andias – I do not know.

I know and understand some more words/sentences but I am not sure if it would useful for anybody out there to write them down. Just to give you an idea, I know how to say: The rain is coming; The reverend is out of office; Can I have water, please?; I learn isiXhosa.

The story with the clicks is a little bit complicated to describe. So please read this more as a try. There are basically three clicks: “c”, “x” and “q”. The “c” is the easiest one, pronounced as if you were blaming a child “tstststs”. The “x” is a click you make with your tongue and the “q”, well, I never performed this one correctly I think. It is close to the noise you would make with tongue when you want to imitate a trabbing horse.

As I told you, that’s a try.

One thing I realised is that as long as I do not speak this language, I would always be an outsider among the people I life with. I am excluded of basic conversation as soon as there is more than one person.

I also came to a point to realise that even if I learned the language and improved it to be fluent, that there would still be the differences in culture and traditions. And since this is a question of growing up with, I know that I could never become a part of this society.

Not to mention the question of my skin colour…