Multilingualism at University and the add1 challenge

I apologise for not updating this blog for a few months, I began to work over the summer and never really had time to update my blog, nor did I know what to write about. Nevertheless, I’m back now, and this will be my first post whilst I’m at university.

Multilingualism at university 

I am now studying International Relations and Politics at the University of Lincoln, and so far i am loving all that university life has to offer. I chose this course mainly because it suited me to the ground, I could combine my love of Politics, languages and learning about world cultures all into one. My Tutor group is extremely international which makes it all the more better. I feel at home.

So far I have heard many languages spoken at my university. I’ve heard Swedish, Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and some German. it really is like music to my ears. This has inspired to not only begin a new language, but also to practice and maintain my current languages whilst learning about other cultures. As you may remember from my last post, the last language I decided to learn was Hebrew, and now after studying everyday for around three months, I’d say I’m pretty comfortable having a casual conservation.I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in Hebrew, but then this takes us onto the problems of defining fluency. Some may define fluency as speaking like a native and discussing rather complex topics. I on the other hand, like many other polyglots, define fluency as the ability to socialize in a language, to make friends in that language. Because of this, I’d consider myself Fluent in English, Swedish and Afrikaans, and conversational in Dutch, Hebrew, Greek and German. But then again, each person has their own definition.

The add1 challenge 

Recently my friend Brian Kwong introduced me to the Add1 ChallengeA brand new way of learning languages in which we all set ourselves a challenge to learn a new language, or improve a language we’ve already learned. I saw this as a great opportunity to dive into a completely new language. Now my first choice of which language to learn was Japanese, as you can see in this video. This plan to learn Japanese, has however backfired. and I really don’t feel like i can continue or that i will make any progress. So what was i to do? Do i just quit? No, I change language. As pointed out by many people, I’m very unorthodox when it comes to what languages I learn, and I like this. Mainstream languages such as Spanish or French do not interest me, whereas uncommon languages such as Greek and Hebrew do interest me.

The new language

So the new language i will be learning as part of the add1 challenge (a video announcing my change will come in the next few days) will be…Hungarian!! now, you make read this and think that I am absolutely mad for deciding to switch from Japanese and choose to learn Hungarian. well, let me explain. I plan to approach Hungarian as more of an experiment than a challenge. Despite being regarded as one of the world’s most difficult and complex languages, I feel like this will truly test my skills as a language learner. My challenge starts as soon as my course book arrives, and I plan to study for no more than an hour a day and my challenge will finish on January 1st 2014. , I feel like this will give my enough time to try to absorb the language. I will post monthly updates on my progress, and on the last day, I will broadcast a 15 minute Interview in which I will be interviewed by a native Hungarian speaker.

I plan to update more regularly now that I’ve gotten back into my old routine, and I hope you have enjoyed reading this new post. Firstly let me say good luck to all those taking the add1 challenge, and to those learning a new language.

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My progress with learning Hebrew

Since finishing my A-level exams in June, I had the problem of deciding what language to learn over the summer. Do I learn something completely different? Or do I choose a language related to the others that I speak, perhaps another Germanic language? (as they’re my favourite) The choice seemed impossible to me, so I decided to have read through the vast array of language blogs and the polyglot videos on YouTube to help me choose a language. Whilst reading through Alex Rawling’s blog, I stumbled upon the mention of Hebrew. I though to myself “what would it be like to learn Hebrew?” “Would it be a difficult language to learn?” Everyone who has ever been stuck on deciding what language to learn has had to answer these questions. 

So why Hebrew?

The truth is, I don’t really have a particular reason for studying a selected language except for the simple reason that it interests me, and so does the history/culture of those who speak it. A good friend of mind pointed out that I “choose rare languages” and she couldn’t be more right. I don’t choose to study a language such as Dutch or Afrikaans because I think they’ll be useful, I study them because I find them interesting. The same goes for Hebrew. Now to business, one of the first things people are struck down by when learning Hebrew is the script. We are simply not use to reading or writing backwards, nor are we used to reading without vowels. However, this is not as hard as you think. The way I went about learning the Hebrew script was by using what is called an ‘associative technique’. That is to say, I would associate the letters with something to help me remember how to read them.

Let’s take the letter ‘lamed’  ל. Now, this may not look like anything in particular, but its shape could almost look like a bolt of lightning, as a result of my decisions to think of lightning when I saw it in a text, I remembered that it is pronounced like the English ‘L’. The same goes for the letter ‘daled’  ד. Again, doesn’t look like much, until you begin to associate it with something. As this letter is pronounced like the letter ‘D’ I noticed that it sort of looks like the corner of a door, and thus, I remembered how to pronounce it. I’m not saying this is the best way to memorize the script, this is just one that works for me. 

How difficult is Hebrew compared to other languages?

Well, you may be surprised that it isn’t actually that difficult. There are however certain things one has to remember. Firstly, there’s no ‘to have’ verb in Hebrew. Instead, one uses the expression (there is/isn’t) with the preposition ‘to’.

Boris has a shop

לבוריס יש חנות

(Lit read: To Boris there is a shop)

The same form of learning can be applied to learning the pronouns of Hebrew. For example, the phrase ‘my family’ המשפחה שלי Is literally translated as ‘the family of mine’. The same goes for the plural ‘our family’ המשפחה שלנו ‘the family of ours’. Once you begin to notice these patterns, learning Hebrew becomes a lot easier.

Will it take me long to learn Hebrew? 

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My resources for learning Hebrew: including exercise books.

Only you can answer this question, some people say that it takes month and months to even learn the basics of a language (which I think is nonsense) And there are polyglots such as Benny Lewis who prove to us that a lot can be achieved in under three months, even if you’re learning a difficult language as Benny demonstrates here. The truth is, I don’t know how long it will take before I can say I am comfortable speaking in Hebrew. Currently I study for about an hour a day, that is 15 minutes in the morning, half an hour during the afternoon, and 15 minutes again in the evening. I’ve been doing this for about a month and a half now and I am nearly finishing chapter 5 of my Hebrew course.

Does the future seem bright? 

So far, I can say yes.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed learning a language as much as I’ve enjoyed learning Hebrew. I don’t plan to be discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict in perfect Hebrew, but I would like to communicate with Israelis, or anyone else who speaks Hebrew without much hassle, as well as to make friends in the language. Who knows, maybe one day i will be sitting in a cafe in Israel just chatting with people, talking about my hopes and ambitions, my family back home in England, and  how I got to where I am. Yes, my goal with Hebrew is the same as my goal with any language, which is to express myself through another language rather than just my native English. My ultimate goal however, is to simply broaden my horizons and step out of my comfort zone and into the place where the magic happens.

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Motivation when learning a language

So, last night I went out with some friends for a party and had a great time. I got back home just after 4am and knew I had to be up again at 9am for work. Now there are some people in this world who might call in and take the day off, not me. I have always believed in hard work. I believe that through hard work and motivation, people can achieve so much.

The same message of hard work applies when learning a language, for some it may be an easy for ride. But for most, learning a language can often require a lot of work. So, you start off by choosing the language you want to learn, you then choose a suitable course tailored to your needs (most likely a beginners course such as Teach Yourself). Then you get down to work, and for several weeks you feel like you are really making progress. Suddenly, it feels like you’ve hit a wall, you’ve lost all motivation and can’t continue, so you give up.

But wait, there is a way you can break through this wall and continue to make progress in your target language. The way I do this is simple, I change my routine as a means of motivating me more. It is not enough to spend hours a day studying endless grammar and trying to memorize endless list of vocabulary. There are ways in which you can improve your understanding of the language, whilst becoming more efficient in it!

Okay, so you’ve passed the first part of learning a language and you’ve been studying your course for a few weeks and you can probably understand a little, bravo. Now to change tactics, a good way of doing this id to try and watch movies or TV shows in that language. As your vocabulary may be basic, it would be wise to start with some childrens TV. Youtube gives you access to hundreds of Disney films in many languages which are a great source of improving your language kills! After a few times, you may start to understand a lot more due to the context, eventually you may even be able to watch the films without need of subtitles! And this of course, will motivate you to go further with your language!

Another great way to motivate yourself is to talk to the native speakers of your target language and practice what you’ve learned. Yes, this may seem daunting at first. The fear of forgetting what to say, the fear of annoying the native speakers, and even using the wrong grammar. We all have to start somewhere, and the only way to reach the top is to work your way from the ground up.

Even as I write this, I pretty much only have one eye open as I am unbelievably tired and in need of a strong coffee. Nevertheless, I feel motivated to continue writing this post. Now, this isn’t one of those language blogs which says things like “you can do it”. Of course, anyone can learn a language. But there’s a huge difference between those who ‘can’ do it, and those who ‘will’ do it. Anyone can learn a language, but it takes motivation and perseverance to continue with the learning process and reach the top. Nothing is out of your reach, but it’s up to you break through the barriers holding you back from reaching your goal.

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Greek: The language of knowledge

The term ‘polyglot’ used to describe someone who can communicate in a number of foreign languages. But where does this word come from? Well, it is actually a combination of two Greek words. Πολυ ‘poly’ (many) and Γλωσσες ‘glosses’ (languages). When learning a new language, a lot of people often don’t realise that it’s impossible to start a language with no words. So much of our vocabulary is derived from other languages such as French, Anglo-Saxon, Latin and Greek. This came as a result of years of influence on both English society and literature.

When I say ;language of knowledge’ I’m not trying to be pompous. I am saying this because there are over 50,000 English words of Greek origin. The list  is endless, so I will explain using a few examples. As I am a student, a lot of the subjects one tends to hear about or may choose to study, chances are that it is of Greek origin.

Let’s take for example the word Λογια ‘logia’ (the study of..) Already we know this looks like the suffix ‘ology’. So, if we combine with other Greek words relating to academic disciplines we can see how the language helped in the creation of our own language.

Βιος ‘bios’ (life) + Λογια ‘logia’ (The study of..) = the study of life (Biology) 

ψυχη ‘psuki’ ( mind) + Λογια ‘logia’ (the study of..) = the study of the mind (psychology)

When I am at college, and in the library doing work. A lot of my friends study Mathematics and the Science, and whilst they are discussing their topics, I often hear vocabulary of Greek origin. If anyone who is reading this is interested in the Mathematics or Science, then you may already be familiar with the Greek alphabet.

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Many of us are already familiar with the Greek alphabet

Α – Alpha  Β – Beta Γ – Gamma Δ – Delta  

Ω -Omega

And even those who study Mathematics or Physics will come across will come across Greek letters such as Θ ‘Τheta’ which are used as symbols for constants, special functions, and also conventionally for variables representing certain quantities.

However, it wasn’t just Science which the Ancient Greeks introduced to us. The whole of Western civilization is the result of Ancient Greek society.Our Political system is based on the Greek word δημοκρατία ‘demokratia’ (Rule of the people) which can be recognised at the root word of ‘democracy’.

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What have the Greeks ever done for us?

In summary, I think it’s rather appropriate to paraphrase Monty Python: “What have the Greeks ever done for us?” Well, as it turns out, they’ve done a lot. If you have enjoyed reading this post and are interested in learning more about Ancient Greek culture, history and even the language! The resources on these topics are so vast it is almost impossible to count.

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The history of English

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Settlement of Anglo-Saxons and other invaders on the British Isles

Today English is a language used for communication around the globe. This came as a result of the British empire which spread the English language and culture all over the world, and its impact still resonate today. But has the English language always been like this? Has it remained the same over the centuries? And what was it’s status before the days of the British empire?

A long history

English did not originate  on the British Isles, the language we know today originated from the language of the Anglo-Saxon invaders who settled in Britain following the collapse of the Roman Empire. The desertion of the Romans from Britain meant that the Britons were vulnerable to attack from other invaders. Like the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons brought with them something that changed the face of the country’s history, their language.

English is a member of the Germanic language family and is closely related to languages such as Dutch or German. The form of English we know today was much different during the times of the Anglo-Saxons to which it is often refereed to as ‘Old English’ or Ænglisc. Many well known tales such as Beowulf were written in Old English. When one studies an Old English text, one can see some notable similarities and some notable differences between both forms of English.

The Lord’s prayer – Old English (Ænglisc)                                        

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;

Si þin nama gehalgod

to becume þin rice

gewurþe ðin willa

Using the example of the Lord’s Prayer, we can see how the English language has progressed through out the centuries. One notable feature within the text are the three unusual looking letters in the Old English text. These letters exist today only in modern Icelandic.

þ – known as ‘Thorn’ and pronounced like the English ‘thin’

ð – known as ‘Eth’ and pronounced like the English ‘them’

æ – known as ‘Ash’ and pronounced like ‘I’ in Icelandic and like the ‘a’ in ‘cat’ in Old English

A sudden change 

The English language continued to change following the Anglo-Saxon invasion. During the middle Ages it became known as Middle English, which is the form of English Chaucer wrote in. Another change came about during the 16th Century which marked the arrival of Early Modern English. This form of English is the closest to the English we used today and was the language used by writers such as Shakespeare.

Summary

Throughout history, the English language has thrived and will continue to thrive. From humble beginnings as a language confined to a small island, to becoming the international global language of communication. It is likely that English will continue to thrive and it’s place in the world will continue to rise above many other languages.

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Dealing with complicated grammar

One of the main issues for people when it comes to language learning is having to deal with the grammar that accompanies the language. This for many people appears to be the breaking point, and can often be the reason why some people choose not to learn a language as they might not be use to such terms as Dative, Accusative, or Genitive. And even gender nouns which we don’t have in English may seem alien when learning a foreign language.

Of course, there are ways of dealing with complicated grammar, but not every language has complicated grammar. In my recent post I discuss the grammar of Afrikaans as I believe it to be quite simple when we compare it to other languages. Firstly, there is no gender in Afrikaans, which of course is good news to English speakers. There’s also no case system which another positive aspect that makes this language so simple to learn. On the other hand, the grammar of languages such as German may seem daunting at first, but it can be over come.

Firstly, before tackling German grammar we should break it down into it’s components:

Noun                                                                               Verb

Gender                                                        Conjugation 

Der – Masculine                                           Ich – e   (Ich Habe – I have)

Die – Feminine                                            Du – st   (Du hast – You have)

Das – Nueter                                               Er, Sie, Es, Ihr – t ( Er, Sie, Es hat – He, she, it has)

                                                         Wir, Sie – en (Wir haben, sie haben – We have, they have)

  

   Cases                                     Masculine       Feminine       Neuter

  • Nominative                                 Ein                      Eine                   Ein
  • Accusative                                  Einen                 Eine                    Ein
  • Genitive                                      Eines                 Einer                   Eines
  • Dative                                         Einem               Einer                   Einem

As you can see, German grammar is of course far more complex than the style of grammar we are use to, as a result, it if often the reason why many people choose to avoid learning it. But there are ways of coming to terms with complex grammar that don’t include hours of strenuous study.

Using dialogues

Many language courses such as Teach Yourself or Assimil include dialogues of the language being spoken in real context. These conversational dialogues are an excellent way to come to terms with grammar because one can identify the syntax and word order of the language when reading or listening to the dialogues.

Listening to music

This is of course very similar to using dialogues, listening to the language being sung helps you to memorize vocabulary more effectively than reading. You are also listening to and learning the grammatical rules of the language, which of course it is one of the most important aspects of language learning.

Speaking with people 

Even native English speakers struggle with grammar from time to time. Another effective method of quickly processing through the grammar of a language is to talk with native speakers. This way, there is a chance they are likely to correct you and this way you remember through trial and error.

There is no avoiding grammar when it comes to learning a foreign language, but it does become an important, and even fun part of the learning process particularly at the later stage. When I study the grammar of a language, I see it almost as understanding how the language works of even thinking “So that’s why that’s written the way it is”. Remember, making grammatical errors when learning a language could in fact be the best way of learning efficiently.

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Just a little something about Afrikaans

One of my all time favourite languages (apart from Swedish) has got to be Afrikaans. I rarely feel as passionate about a language as I do with Afrikaans, possibly because I feel as if it’s one I was meant to speak.

Afrikaans is often considered to be a language of controversy, many modern day South Africans regard it as a language of oppression  due to Apartheid. Years ago, Afrikaans and English were the only official language of South Africa, where as now there are 11 official languages.

Where Afrikaans came from

Afrikaans is West Germanic language, and historically it is a daughter language of Dutch. Before Afrikaans became an official recognized language, it was often referred to as ‘Cape Dutch’ or ‘Kitchen Dutch’. due to it being a mere slang form of Dutch. The term ‘Afrikaans’ is actually Dutch for ‘African’.There is a large degree of mutual intelligibility  between the languages, due to the fact that around 95% of Afrikaans vocabulary derives from Dutch, however it is easier for Dutch-speakers to understand Afrikaans than for Afrikaans-speakers to understand Dutch. Afrikaans first originated from 17th century Dutch dialects and as a result, it is the youngest of  the Germanic language branch.

Why Afrikaans is considered an easy language

Afrikaans is the fourth most spoken Germanic language in the world after English, German and Dutch, hence why it is seen to be a great entrance into the Germanic world for English speakers. One reason why Afrikaans is easier than other Germanic languages such as German is due to the lack of complicated grammar. Firstly, unlike German, there is no gender in Afrikaans which is easier for English speakers. Secondly, the grammar in Afrikaans may not be entirely the same as English but it is very simple and can make things easier when one starts to learn Dutch or German.

A bit of grammar

In order to make a statement in Afrikaans negative, the word ‘nie‘ is added after the verb and at the end of the sentence.

Ek praat Afrikaans  (I speak Afrikaans)

Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie  (I don’t speak Afrikaans)

The past tense in Afrikaans is formed by using Het (has/have) along with the past particle of the verb ge

Ek praat  (I speak)

Ek het gepraat  (I spoke)

The Future of Afrikaans 

In terms of South African media, Afrikaans is making a prevalent return, particularly in the film and music industry. Films like Bakgat (an Afrikaans teen film) and Verraaiers (a drama set during the Boer war) are a beginning of a new breakthrough in Afrikaans cinema. The same can also be said for Afrikaans music, bands such as Straatligkinders and singers like Bok Van Blerk are examples of the rise of Afrikaans in the media. 

Summary

In my opinion, Afrikaans is one the most beautiful and expressive languages in the world, and I don’t just say this because it is a very easy language. I taught myself Afrikaans using an older edition of ‘Teach Yourself Afrikaans’ along with listening to a variety of Afrikaans music and speaking with South African friends. Some English speakers may also be aware of Afrikaans words such as ‘Braai’ which means barbecue, which have been incorporated into South African English. So if you ever get the chance to visit South Africa, or get into contact with South Africans, then learn Afrikaans, whilst being one the most geographically spread languages of South Africa, it will make your experience all the more enjoyable and amazing.bly-kalm-en-praat-afrikaans-1

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Who can learn languages?

The answer is simple, anyone can learn a language! With the right attitude of course. Some people assume that you can only learn a language if you are supposedly ‘talented with languages’, some believe that you have to move the country of the language you want to learn, whilst others believe that you have to buy expensive software such as ‘Rosetta Stone‘ in order to progress quickly and effectively in a language. To tell the truth, none of this is true. the best way I’ve discovered to learn a language is through constant trial and error.

Widely known Polyglots such as Benny Lewis advocate this idea that you do not need to be a linguistic expert in order to learn a language, you just have to be wise about how you do it. If you just keep reading or ‘studying a language’ for a prolonged period of time, you aren’t actually learning to speak it . Instead you are learning how the language works. The best way to learn to speak a language effectively is to try and practice with native speakers or other learners as often as you can, even if you make mistakes. I feel it is better to make mistakes  that way you are constantly improving and getting better at speaking in your target language!

The language I am currently teaching myself is Irish Gaelic. I am teaching myself using RoutledgeColloquial Irish’ and I think it is a really effective and worthwhile course. I spent the last two days reading the first chapter, listening to the dialogues, and then doing the  exercises. After I felt I had a small grasp of some basic Irish, I decided to speak with my friend from Ireland who is also a student polyglot and who speak Irish. She kindly notified me on my progress so far, as well as tell me how I can improve! This way, I have learned through trial and error. In some cases, learning a language is like riding a bike or learning to walk. You don’t learn by following rules or by taking a theoretical approach, you learn by failing again and again until you’ve mastered it. Thomas Edison explained that he hadn’t failed, instead he’d found 10000 ways that didn’t work.

Of course, complete fluency in a language can take a while, and in some cases it is better to be immersed in the language. This shouldn’t discourage you! If you are like me, you want to learn a language in order to make new friends, and experience a different culture. Then learning a language by practicing with others is the most effective way to progress quickly. In summary, you don’t have to be some sort of language genius to learn a language, you just have to be smart about how you do it and how much effort you put in..

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Svenska

Det allra första språket jag lärde mig var Svensk. Jag vet inte hur jag bestämde att lära sig svenska men jag vet som det är mitt favorit språk. Och naturligtvis, denna blogg handlar om språken! Så, jag heter Elliot, jag kommer från England och jag bor I Leicester med mitt familj. Jag är i mitt sista år på college och Jag planerar att åka till universitetet för att studera internationella relationer.

När jag igång att lära Svenska, Jag hade många svårigheter med grammatik och uttal. Men över tiden, och med öva, mina öron vant sig ljudet av språket genom lyssna på Svenska musik. Jag tycker min förståelse av skrivet Svenska är mycket bättre än min förståelse av talas Svenska. Detta beror på att jag har hade mer öva med skriven Svenska genom läser texta.

Jag skulle vilja att förbättra min Svenska och kanske blir flytande. Jag älskar att lära språken och Jag tror att svenska är ett vackert språk.

Här är en video av mig att tala Svenska!

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The languages right on our door step.

Before I started travelling, I was certain that English was the only language necessary for global travel and communication. This assumption however, has changed.

Several years ago, my family and I decided to visit Cardiff for the first time. I had been in Wales many times before, however this time, something amazing happened. For many years I had assumed that English was the only language spoke in Wales, I was wrong. Seeing so bilingual road signs such as the famous “Croeso I Cymru”  began to amaze me. It was as if I had stepped into a different world. This was enhanced when I began to hear this musical language being spoken by many of the locals, including the young people. In recent years, the Welsh language has gone under enormous efforts of revival. This is evident in the growing number of Welsh-medium schools, as well as TV and Radio channels.

Today, the Welsh language is primarily known for being sung (particularly by Welsh male voice choirs) and the many bilingual road signs. Although it is still considered an official language of the United Kingdom, those who speak it on a daily basis are still primarily confined to certain areas of Wales, particularly the North. I only spent several days in Wales, this didn’t stop me buying a small phrasebook in order to learn a little Welsh.

I decided to buy “Street welsh” as I was interested in speaking the language. Celtic languages such as Welsh are vastly different from the Germanic and Romance languages to which we may be more accustomed to, due to the differences in pronunciation and syntax. Scottish Gaelic for example, very similar to Welsh as it is confined to certain areas of Scotland where it is still spoken as a first language, rather than English. Scottish and Irish Gaelic fall into a different category of Celtic languages than Welsh, they a part of the Goidelic branch whereas Welsh is a part of the Brythonic branch. Both forms of Gaelic can often be mistaken for each as much the vocabulary and pronunciation is very similar:

English                                   Scottish Gaelic                 Irish Gaelic

How are you                            Ciamar a tha thu                  Conas atá tú

So why the interest in Celtic languages? Well, many people believe that the Celtic languages are of no use and no one should consider learning them. I however, strongly disagree with this view as I think that a language is only useless if there is no one to speak it with. If you manage to learn one of these Celtic languages and speak to the natives in their language, they will hugely appreciate it as you have taken the time to learn what could be a particularly difficult language, but don’t let that put you off! The Celtic culture is one of the most welcoming in the world, as well as their languages being some of the most expressive and musical. I certainly plan to become more proficient  in these languages in the coming future and due to recent developments, there has been a huge increase in the number of speakers, which is always a good thing!

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