How a music band inspired me to learn Polish? (and helped me with pronounciation)

I had a hard time coming up with a good and decent post… sometimes, it is so hard to think on them in the middle of lots of commitments at work or personal ones. Yet, I had been thinking for a while on things that helped me with motivation while learning a language. Sure, people are probably the number one motivation (specially with Polish, in my situation), however, another motivation was music.

When I was meeting my friends, we exchanged a lot of music. I gave them music in Spanish, they gave me music in Polish. At first, I was quite reluctant to listen to it. Listening to music in languages I didn’t understand wasn’t a thing for me at that time. Yet, I gave it a listen.

It was immediate love. Music I could listen everywhere that didn’t bring in a bad mood or so. There were sad songs, but others that were very good. The band I first listened to was…

MYSLOVITZ.

A band formed in the Silesian conurbation in the 90’s that later became one of the biggest rock bands in Poland. Despite they tried to release an English-speaking album, they focused mainly in the Polish market and have been a staple and popular band for the Polish youth. Despite I still cannot get over that Artur Rojek left the band (the former main singer), I still like to listen to it and I have met great fans of this band with more or less my same interests.

One of the songs that captivated me from day one was this one, about the life of the Northern Irish footballer, George Best. A sort of sad song in which it is played in a rather quiet and relaxing mood. Probably an anthem to get people thinking and moving, yet reflect on the excesses (that sometimes are good, but everything in moderation!).

Without further ado, here is my take on the song:

Odurzony Piotruś Pan – A groggy Peter Pan
Zwykle w centrum świata stał – He usually stoof at the centre of the world
Wieczny chłopiec taki był – He was like an eternal boy
Przegrał wszystko nie poczuł nic  – He lost everything, he didn’t feel anything
Gdy pełna szklankę wychylił znów – When he again knocked back full glasses
Rosły mu skrzydła i wtedy się czuł  – His wings sprung up and then he fell

Powiedz Georgy Best, co poszło źle – Tell me, George Best, what went wrong
I jak mogłeś wszystko tak spieprzyć – and how could you fucked everything up?

Odurzony Piotruś Pan – A groggy Peter Pan
Książę życia umiera sam – The King of Life is dying alone
Spadając z krzesła mówił mi tak: – Falling down the chair, he told me that
“Nie umierajcie tak, jak ja” – “Don’t die like me”

Powiedz Georgy Best, co poszło źle – Tell me, George Best, what went wrong
I jak mogłeś wszystko tak spieprzyć – and how could you fucked everything up?
Powiedz Georgy Best, co poszło źle – Tell me, George Best, what went wrong
Dlaczego nie udało się Tobie – Why weren’t you able to..
Powiedz Georgy Best, co poszło źle – Tell me, George Best.

Sort of negative, yet I love it… probably since it was one of the first songs I even knew in Polish, thus I have a certain connection to it.

Language learning and mental health: a true supplementary therapy

Lately, I have been thinking about this. I dealt with a really bad moment in my life about 2 years ago and one of the first steps I took to get myself back together (besides changing several things regarding my life) was taking back language learning at a rather formal environment. I took back German for a while before running into the opportunity of my life, learning Polish for real 🙂 . In both instances I must say I felt more confident of myself and gained a lot of self-trust and some of that lost self-esteem since I had to interact with new people and making constant silly mistakes (like the time I called a certain disgusting figure of Chilean history a “hero” in Polish). Losing any kind of shame was important and of course, when traveling, leaving insecurities behind and just go with the flow and expect to be corrected sometimes (despite I would get several smiles) and not take those corrections personally. Such attitudes helped me a lot with feeling better about myself, accepted and even making friends easier than before. Specially friends I can geek out about languages or cultural aspects without being mocked by people because “we have got each other’s backs”.

I must say I am glad I haven’t been the only one with this positive experience. Even The Guardian has featured a piece on why the typical language class structure is a good solution for people dealing with mental health issues. This article describes beautifully the experience on how language learning became a journey of self-knowledge and shutting the mouth of the “black dog” (aka depression) and enjoying the long, hard, but fun path to fluency of a language without being aware of it, of course. A post from LanguageTrainers also offers a great infographic that simply explains the benefits of language learning:

Infographic from Language Trainers

Even the NHS recommends it to take it as an activity that does help you feel better about yourself and in which age is no limit. I still remember that my classmates from German class were from different ages, neighbourhoods or even walks of life, yet we managed to have fun together, enjoy our classes and not to mention the classical Feierabend which was expected by all of us 😀 .

By the way, I am not saying that language learning should be the solution to mental health issues and ditch all official and mainstream therapy for it, but it should be a supplementary therapy 🙂

Have you had any good experiences in your life with language learning? Have you struggled with mental health issues in the past and found a good way to deal with it? Share them in the comments!

Why I don’t call myself a Polyglot

I have been thinking about this issue from a long time. In many places or language blogs, I tend to see many people claiming to be polyglots and giving their own explanations to this polemic concept. Often, they quote role models they follow, whether from history or current times. Nonetheless, what calls my attention is that every person has its own perception of being a polyglot, which makes me feel like it is a clique or a closed group of people in which there is no space for further discussions, interests or such. There are even people who think that “you cannot be a polyglot if you do not know X language”.

Honestly, I find the concept so polemical and overrated that I avoid defining myself as one of them. First of all, in Chile, the concept is hard to understand. Many people do not care about language learning or just think it is a silly pastime which does not bring any profit whatsoever. So imagine telling one of those people, “oh, I am a polyglot”… Poly-WHAT?!
Then, one of the “famous people” in Chile who described himself as a polyglot was a total fraud. The name Ziad Fazah might ring a bell for many of you. A man living in Brazil who claims himself to know more than 30 languages fluently and was proven to be a fraud in Chilean TV in the 90s (despite his latter claims that “it was staged” and that “he was nervous”, I can attest that it wasn’t and this man was a complete fraud). With all of those precedents, you might think

So, what are you, then? What do you consider to be in relation to languages?

One of the first things I was taught while doing my degree in History was that language creates realities. That is, you should be careful with the language you use in academical work and look for the right concepts that could reflect situations. No wonder the concept of race is now ditched for human beings and we now tend to say ethnicity (which reflects better it) or there is a strong movement to stop calling people with disabilities “handicapped”, “disabled”, “sick” or worse concepts, but mentioning they are people first; or one of my favourite replacements, to call mental health by its name and not put them all as “sicknesses”.

Since there is not a strict criteria for being a polyglot and many people have pushed for a rather agressive or even conflictive agenda with my beliefs, I decided to describe myself as a:

Language enthusiast

What does that mean? Someone who likes languages and loves learning about them. I could probably add to it language and culture enthusiast since culture is 100% important when learning a language in my situation (i.e. the social mores, music, pop culture references, et al). It is a less restrictive and more inclusive (I am all for inclusion here!) concept than polyglots. You could know even one language quite well (or 4 or 5), but push for awareness of other languages and cultures. You can say you have picked up some phrases in that language and that you really want to continue learning them, but probably not in the near future. It is a concept that invites people to sit back and enjoy their learning and take it as it is. It is also an invitation to know your strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have to push yourself for recognition and knowledge quantity. Who cares about mastering 6 and 7 languages when you don’t have the time for it? No one will care about it. People would probably admire you more when you acknowledge the time you have available and you may learn one language, but one language well (thanks to online tandems, materials, lessons, consuming media, et al).

A language enthusiast tends to have an open mind towards other languages and cultures, avoiding any kind of previous judgement and tries to be aware about the do’s and don’t’s and can talk about many topics and even letting know their opinion with respect. I also believe there should be an important responsibility about history and human rights: being aware of the local history and what may be sugarcoated. Being aware of the past and that you can forgive, but do not forget and that should be done together. We cannot forget what has happened. Be acquainted with the issues facing the culture that speaks your language can create better connections and empathy with people.

Yes, I am only comfortable with expressing myself in 3 languages, but that doesn’t mean I love learning about cultures, languages and trying my luck with new ones 😉

My 3 weeks in Hungary or how I picked up any language but Hungarian

Debrecen and Budapest
Debrecen and Budapest

I am now back from my study holiday in Hungary. To say I had fun, I learned tons of things and that I loved it would be too little. It was so intense yet I can say I remember every second of it. I have met tons of interesting people, hearing different languages and struggling with Hungarian bureaucracy… even with buying a sim card 😛 . Anyways, most, if not all, memories were good.

Yet, to be honest, if you would ask me if I picked up any Hungarian, my answer would be ehm… the enough words to be polite and such. It is a hard language and my time there was so short and intense that I barely took time to pick up a book I bought on Hungarian grammar for foreigners. Yet, I became quite interested on Hungarian Modern Culture and History, especially the role literature played on it. I became acquainted with the works of Csokonai, Petőfi, Fazekas, Ady, Attila József, among others and they were wonderful writers. Sure, I read them in English, but I managed to hear some of their works in the original language and they were… wow! If I ever learn Hungarian, it would be thanks to them, but right now… I am just sitting back and enjoying the journey.

However, with Polish, I must say I am trying to feel more confident with speaking. Sure, my writing skills are good, but I need to work on being more fluent. I am so perfectionist that I tend to make long pauses while speaking (in order to think the right declension or verb… and no, I cannot be drunk all day!). Indeed, it takes time and MORE AND MORE speaking, so one of my goals for this part of the year would be working with a good and reliable tandem partner to see if we can speak at least once a week. At least, I had lots of chances to speak with Poles in Hungary and even… in Poland! Yeah, I went on a daytrip to Poznań which was plenty of fun and gave me the chance and confidence that I am heading the right way.

Nonetheless, regarding the title. I must say I picked up 2 languages easily during my stay in Hungary, mainly because I hanged out with native speakers of those languages: Italian and Croatian. Italian was an easy language to pick up since I can say I grew up listening to Italian music and watching some Satellite TV (Italian football was quite popular in Chile in the 90s). Now, Croatian… that is completely different!

I am quite interested in the Balkans from University and having the chance to meet lots of Croatians meant fun and picking up the language easily and with that, Polish does help to understand it. Who knows? Will I motivate myself to learn it? I prefer just to enjoy knowing more about the culture right now.

Polish is my priority 1, 2 and 3… yet I have to see how much time I have available these days. If I do… maybe I can squeeze in some self-studying in a new language 😛 . I am still trying to collect some material to see if it is user-friendly and worth giving a shot without giving it up in the middle.