A bird's feather: the result of exaptation? Image from freeimages.com

Exaptation : Extreme Language Change

In 1990, linguist Roger Lass transplanted an idea from evolutionary biology to historical linguistics: exaptation.

Exaptation is the repurposing of existing elements for brand new functions. In biology, the classic example is birds’ feathers: originally believed to have developed as heat-retaining insulation, they provided a convenient basis for flight. A lucky accident, if you will. And there are plenty of instances that fit that bill in language change.

Lass’ classic example involves the development from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. PIE had a system of alternating vowels (called ablaut) to mark aspect in verb stems. For instance, a present stem might show -e-, while -o- signified perfect and -ø- (zero, or no vowel) was the marker for aorist. Ancient Greek actually preserved that pattern quite well, and Lass gives the examples:

  • Present: lpo (I leave)
  • Perfect: léloipa (I have left)
  • Aorist: élipon (I left)

However, Proto-Germanic did something quite odd. Instead of using it to indicate aspect, it repurposes it to show number in the preterite tense. Look at these examples from Gothic:

  • Present: beitan (to bite)
  • Preterite 1ps: bait
  • Preterite 1pp: bitum

Considering that -a- is the Germanic reflex for PIE -o-, here, we have the same alternation – -e-, -o-, -ø- – but representing something else entirely.

An Idea with Wings?

Cross-discipline metaphors rarely fit exactly like a glove, and it’s clear this isn’t quite like feathers being exapted for flight. For a start, feathers still fulfil both functions: a cosy coat as well as flying apparatus. In general, with exaptation, we’re talking about wholesale transformation of something that had ceased (or was about to cease) to be meaningful any more. Lass called this morphological ‘junk’ initially, but this has been a source of disagreement. Just what is ‘junk’ in a language?

Still, it’s a compelling metaphor, chiefly because it gets the imagination churning. How can things change so drastically in such a short time? What does language look like while it’s changing like this? Does it happen a lot? Can we see it happening now? Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that spawn more questions.

Exaptation hasn’t gained universal acceptance as a theory just yet, some three decades on from Lass’ initial paper. Some say it just boils down to reanalysis, like many similar changes. Others maintain that it’s a very particular direction of reanalysis, so it is unique and worth a place of its own in the textbooks.

Whatever its status, it does throw up some absolutely fascinating examples of extreme change.

You can access Lass’ original 1990 article at this link!

A dark forest, a good setting for an Anki horror story, perhaps? Picture from freeimages.com

Coming Up Blank : An Anki Horror Story

I lived through an Anki horror story this week. 🧟‍♂️

There I was, skipping merrily through my list of vocabulary, words flying past at a rate of knots. This is going well, I thought, with naive overconfidence.

But then it hit me. I stopped fast in my tracks. Staring blankly at the word on the screen, nothing would rise from the depths of memory. A void. I was peering into the darkness, teetering on the brink. Brain, don’t fail me now.

Then, I scrambled to think back, at the edge of desperation, to the time when I first added that word to Anki. Where did I get it from? Could I just recall what chapter it was in, which website I found it from, where I heard it?

Suddenly, I could see the textbook page, the colour of the background, the shape of the word. Almost sobbing with relief, I realised the ordeal was over.

It had come back to me.

What a close one!

The Right Way To Anki

OK, flippancy aside – why was that a horror story, you ask? After all, my visual memory must be great.

The problem here is that I had fallen foul of the dastardly context effect, and the word was, in essence, tied very tightly to the circumstances I learnt it in. Having to dredge up the exact setting of a vocabulary item on a page to recall it isn’t very efficient in the flow of conversation in the target language.

I only had myself to blame, of course. In my haste to add the word to my Anki collection, I broke the golden rule: only include items in context. That means as few isolated words as possible, and more contextualising phrases and full sentences showing the word in use. Learning dictionary-style does not work (believe me – I learnt that the hard way!).

I’ve seen the results for myself; switching to a more phrase-based vocab drilling routine works wonders for your conversation skills. It’s the rationale behind platforms like Glossika, which you can replicate with your own DIY sentence-based vocab strategy. In short: it works.

So yes, of course I should have known better, guv’nor. But my Anki horror story was a timely reminder to get back on the right track (and we all need those now and again).

Colours and lights make for a multimodal experience, just as learning should be. Picture from freeimages.com

Multimodal Learning for Restless Brains

I’m always studying something. It’s something that leads friends and family to think I’m some kind of superlearner.

Oh, I wish that were true.

Firstly, I’m always studying because I enjoy what I choose to study. And despite that fact, in many ways, my natural thinking pattern isn’t particularly conducive to long periods of close study. I get bored easily. I daydream. I’m impatient. I’m always thinking of the next exciting thing to learn, not the one I’m currently trying to grasp.

To be fair on myself, these are pretty universal human traits. Most people reading this will see a little of themselves in there, too! So how did friends and family come to think of my erring brain as a particularly effective learning machine? Largely thanks to a few tricks to get around those anti-focus tendencies. In particular, one big trick.

Multimodality

In pedagogy, multimodal usually refers to multi-sensory learning – including visual, audio, kinaesthetic aspects and so on. But the crux of it is variety, satisfying your brain’s craving for stimulation and novelty. In fact, your different modes don’t have to cover the whole spread of senses. They just need to provide an ample range of media and context to give the restless brain regular scene changes.

One thing that really helps me, for instance, is to have both a hard copy and an electronic copy of a text. I switch from one to the other, reading on multiple devices, and in multiple places. I can dip in and out, ten minutes here, ten minutes, there, and my brain doesn’t even have a chance to get bored. It’s a gem of a trick that works for course materials, reference texts and literature.

Multimodal PlanNing

To get the most out of multimodal learning, it’s best to be organised; the first step is always a plan of exactly what you want to get through.

Right now, I’m ploughing through a mountain of book chapters and papers for two linguistics assignments due soon. I know what I have to read and take notes on, and have a tick-list of the material in Evernote.

But to make sure I get through it, in spite of my natural tendencies, I ensure the material is multimodal. I have my reading in a number of formats – PDFs on my phone, tablet, laptop, hard copies in my bag , audiobooks and video summaries where possible – basically, everything, everywhere. Reading in one format and one place to start with, then picking up in a completely different modality elsewhere, really helps stymie reading fatigue.

And a nice side-effect? The range of environments helps beat the context trap, too, not tying your recall to a single backdrop.

When my essays are submitted, and I’m free to return to my language learning materials, one thing’s certain: it’s going to be multimodal!

Repeated colours - repetition in resources like Glossika can be key to securing fluency. Image from freeimages.com

Getting Repetitive : Securing Foundations with Glossika

I’ve reached a milestone on one of my favourite platforms this week – 8,000 Greek repetitions on Glossika.

8,000 is a weird number to celebrate, I hear you say. Well, yes – I was going to wait until the magic 10,000 to sound the klaxon. But it’s still a nice round number, after all.

And the truth is, I’ve started to see huge benefits even before hitting five figures.

Greek has been my great lockdown revival project. I spent some time learning it in my twenties for travel, but had more or less left it to go stale since then. The decision to use Glossika to revive it was partly one of curiosity, having read the success stories online (admittedly on Glossika’s marketing site!) and dabbled with it a fair bit in the past. But I’d also hit upon the benefits of mass sentence techniques independently, and wanted to try an out of the box technique just for the convenience of a quick start.

A Do-Over From the Ground Up

The thing is, the starter material is actually quite low-level stuff. Many of the A1 and A2 sentences are pretty basic in terms of grammatical complexity and vocabulary. What’s more, this set of basic material is recycled over and over again in sets of sentences that often differ very little from each other. 

But it’s exactly that ground-floor, base-level language that makes up the bulk of everyday speech. Practising this core material so intensively creates a super solid foundation for conversational fluency.

And the effect is really quite astonishing.

Just a year of Greek, and my conversational fluency has surpassed my Polish, which doggedly remains around A2 (B1 if I really try hard – let’s call it B0.5!). My Greek accent and prosody feel quite natural; I’ve developed a Greek voice. And it’s not because Glossika has taught me a raft of complicated grammar and vocabulary. It’s because it has titanium-plated my basic foundations in the language.

In short, I feel comfortable with Greek now.

An Additional Tool

Glossika isn’t a perfect or a totally self-contained system, of course (what is?). For one thing, I wouldn’t recommend it as the sole learning route for a total beginner. I’ve tried it – I felt totally lost. Before starting Swahili last year, I attempted to work through the first set of sentences in Glossika’s A1 course. Without a bit of pre-existing grammar knowledge and general language structure, I found the forms completely confusing. I had more questions than answers.

On the other hand, if you are a returner learner, or already have the basics – even if that’s simply some A1 words and phrases – Glossika’s mass sentence drilling can give your language skills a fuel injection.

As for me, I’m at 8,000 and counting. My next step is to introduce it into my other languages, particularly Polish, which is my lifelong challenge (and frequent nemesis!). It’s about time I gave that a leg-up!

Glossika is a premium product with a price to match, but can prove its worth many times over with a bit of commitment.

Glossika : The Mass Sentence Drill Machine

Don't hit the whisky when your language learning turns to comedy. Picture from FreeImages.com

Married and Drunk : Comedy Moments in Language Learning

Comedy moments in language learning are pretty much inevitable.

But they make learning fun, too. Unintentional double entrendre, accidential Freudian slips and downright nonsensical gibberish are some of my favourite things about language learning. For one thing, the salience of humour means that you never forget the vocabulary associated with these most unfortunate incidents.

Comedy Cornucopia

Lucky, then, that language provides an endless cornucopia of them. And sometimes it can be the strangest pairs of words that bear an uncanny, confusing resemblance to each other despite being poles apart semantically. A recent favourite duo is ua and -ua in Swahili – flower and kill, oddly enough.

And the language keeps on giving.

Just look at this trio from my recent lessons:

-olewa to marry (a man)
-lewa to be drunk
-elewa to understand

Surely this is a joke Swahili is playing on language learners. Just imagine the comedy misunderstandings! For instance, there is a tiny difference between:

  • ameolewa – s/he is  married
  • amelewa – s/he is  drunk

And…

  • ninaelewa – I understand
  • ninaolewa – I am getting married

That’s just asking for trouble (or laughs).

Keep It Together!

So how can we keep this sparring vocab items separate? As I’ve found with some dangerously close Greek words lately, sometimes it’s better not to. That is, to learn then in close proximity, embedded in a phrase or short story, so that they remain distinct in meaning.

For instance:

Amelewa kwa sababu ameolewa! S/he is drunk because s/he is married!
Nimelewa, lakini ninaelewa! I am drunk, but I understand!
Anaelewa, anaolewa? Does s/he understand s/he’s getting married?

These are pretty fun to learn. They’re less abstract – you can picture a silly story behind them. You can also practise them almost theatrically, reading them out with feeling. And hopefully, by doing so, you’re moving the comedy from your real-life interactions to humorous tableaux in your learning material. Phew.

It’s so much more effective that learning them as single, abstract and separate items on empty-looking vocab cards.

Learning Old English? Iceland could be a good detour. Picture from freeimages.com.

The Path to Old English – Taking the Long Route via Iceland

I leapt at the chance to study Old English when the opportunity arose recently. I’m focusing on language change as part of my masters programme, and here was an exciting prospect to explore this in action in my own language.

Disclaimer: I’m a complete newbie. I’ve never studied Old English before. But I was stunned to find out how much of the grammar was oddly familiar. That’s not only because present-day English is the descendant of Old English. In fact, the unexpected boost was due to the fact that I’ve spent so much time with Modern Icelandic.

So how does knowledge of a different modern language help you learn an ancient one?

Well, the Icelandic spoken today is remarkably similar to the Old Norse of a thousand years ago. Its system of inflection is the most undisturbed of all the present-day Germanic languages. Where English, Dutch, Swedish, and even relatively conservative German lost or collapsed their grammatical case endings, Icelandic preserved their intricacy almost in its entirety.

Wind back a thousand years…

Wind back a thousand years, then, and you undo centuries and centuries of change that simplified the systems of those other languages. And at that point, at the end of the 10th Century, English was still young enough to bear a huge family resemblance to its Norse cousin.

Just look at the paradigms for house in Old English and Old Norse:

Old English

Singular Plural
Nominative hūs hūs
Accusative hūs hūs
Dative hūse hūsum
Genitive hūses hūsa

Icelandic

Singular Plural
Nominative hús hús
Accusative hús hús
Dative húsi húsum
Genitive hús húsa

Here you see some recurring themes in these young Germanic languages. For instance, the zero ending of the plural nominative and accusative with strong neuter nouns, the -um of the dative plural and the -a of the genitive plural are all hallmarks of their shared linguistic DNA.

It doesn’t stop there. Besides noun endings, many other features are still shared by Old English and Old Norse at this point – features preserved in Modern Icelandic today. They include the difference between weak and strong adjective endings (which German also clings onto), and sibling sets of personal pronouns (including a dual number), that almost look the spitting image of each other.

Unsurprisingly, you actually don’t have to wind back too many more centuries to get to the point where this pair were the same language (perhaps another 1500 years by one reckoning).

Heavy Lifting Done!

At the simplest level, this little voyage of discovery is just a fascinating observation in its own right. It leaves you wondering just how mutually intelligible the languages still were at that point in time – could Lindisfarne monks, for example, just about make out what the Vikings were shouting at them in that strangely familiar tongue?

Beyond that, however, it also shows the incredible utility of side-stepping from one subject to another related one. So much previous experience in Icelandic can be of use when starting out in Old English. The big grammatical challenge, the heavy lifting of getting your head around case and noun inflection, is already done. Just as it is in different ways, when skipping from German to Norwegian, or from Dutch to Afrikaans, or from Icelandic to Faroese.

It’s certainly a compelling argument for building up your polyglot stash by hopping between fairly closely related languages – a much-loved technique in the community.

Brennu-Njáls Saga

Brennu-Njáls Saga : Easy Routes into an Old Icelandic Classic

Brennu-Njáls Saga, or the saga of Burnt Njál, regularly ranks as one of the most popular and loved of the Icelandic family sagas. Thanks to its lively, twisting-and-turning and regularly bloody plot, it’s also one of the best-known, in Iceland and beyond.

It makes for fun subject matter, then, on all sorts of academic programmes at all sorts of levels. Needless to say, I was more than chuffed to get the chance to work with it towards my MSc this year. Who doesn’t like a bit of high drama for credit?

That said, as a relative newbie to the tale, it took a bit of prep to enjoy fully the immersion within Njál’s world. It consists of over 150 chapters, with multiple characters – both headliners and a plethora of bit-parts – and as such, it can be dizzying to follow closely. Especially if you are getting to grips with it in the original language.

Thankfully, there are some excellent resources to help out, whether that’s in Old Norse, Modern Icelandic, or English. Here are some of the best routes I’ve found into this exciting, distant world.

Brennu-Njáls Saga for Free

Dipping your toe in the water is the first step. And you can get to know the sagas for absolutely no outlay. Totally free. If that’s not an invitation to give them a try, I don’t know what is!

The Icelandic Saga Database project makes available the entire collection of family sagas in existence, both in the original (with modernised spelling), as well as numerous translations. Brennu-Njáls Saga, with its wildly popular status, is available in six languages. You can read online, or save to read offline as EPUB or PDF files, amongst others.

Brennu-Njáls Saga : The Cook Translation

As fantastic as free is, some of those translations are rather old. For instance, the English translation of Brennu Njáls on the Icelandic Saga project site is the 19th Century version by George W. DaSent.

However, some scholars prefer to set the more modern translation by Robert Cook – this is the edition set on my own university course:

Besides, if I’m getting to grips with a text intimately, I like both an electronic and hard copy; the Cook translation was a no-brainer despite the absolutely adequate older translation in PDF form.

The Perfect Spoken Companion

I find the ready availability of audiobooks also a great support when diving deep into long texts, too. Audible by Amazon have a superb English version available, narrated expertly by a speaker with native Icelandic. I cannot tell you how beautifully he pronounces the many, many personal names:

However, before you buy that, there’s a trick to get it much more cheaply than the standalone list price (nearly £20 at the time of writing). If you purchase the extremely cheap Kindle version (72p, right now!), you have the chance to add WhisperSync narration for £2.99. Oddly, that Kindle version is not the Cook version, as listed – it’s actually the older DaSent translation. However, the narration is the Cook work. Look beyond that minor confusion, and for just a few quid you can listen to the recommended modern translation.

Cowboy Crib Notes

Now, if you have a passing interest in Old Norse or the sagas, you may well have come across Jackson Crawford already. He’s the stetson-wearing academic who shares his nordic knowledge before stunning Colorado backdrops. His video catalogue is prolific and very current – he posts regularly on all sorts of aspects of Old Norse.

Crawford has helpfully published a whole series of recap videos for Brennu-Njáls Saga. They’re straightforward and clear – music to the ears of students trying to get their heads around the dramatic twists and turns. The first part is here:

Easy Access

Finally, if the original Old Icelandic is proving tough, but you still want a taste of the language, there are some wonderful free modern Icelandic resources available via Iceland’s education department Menntamálastofnun (a goldmine I’ve tapped many a time). They are retellings, rather than phrase-for-phrase translations, but offer an easy way in if you want to support your modern language studies too.

The Menntamálastofnun version splits the tale into two parts, available as e-books, the first part here, and the second here.

Takk fyrir, Ísland!

Góða skemmtun!

Whether you’re giving Njáls a go for fun, for study, or both, these are all great places to start. And if it whets the appetite, there is a whole world of material written about the saga. A quick search on JSTOR throws up myriad articles. That’ll keep me out of trouble for a few weeks…

Góða skemmtun / have fun!

A colourful disco. Expressing what goes on at the disco is made all the easier by aspect. Image from freeimages.com

A Handy Aspect : Expressing Continuity and Completeness the Neat Way

I’ve been doubling down on Greek and Polish lately. And it struck me that they have similar tactics for expressing something we might not be overtly familiar with in English: aspect.

Aspect refers to how an action plays out over time. Typically, that includes notions of whether it was continuous, or complete / finished (telic). In grammatical terms, the opposition is between imperfective (the ongoing sort of action) and perfective (the completed one). It’s something we express in English, but typically we employ a bunch of strategies (and often several words) for it:

  • I was eating (continuous, no end point)
  • You have eaten (a complete action – the eating started and finished)
  • She ate it up (ie., she ate all of it – it’s gone now!)

So far so good; it’s nothing we’re not used to. After all, English does like its wordy, compound verb constructions.

An Intriguing Aspect

On the other hand, Greek and Polish – two languages you might not normally lump together – actually deal with this type of accent extremely similarly and succinctly. Firstly, Polish (and other Slavic) verbs come in aspectual pairs, each one expressing one end of that continuous-complete continuum:

  • 🇵🇱 robić (to do – imperfective, continuous, repeated, habitual etc.)
  • 🇵🇱 zrobić (to do – perfective, completed action, started-then-finished etc.)

Likewise, Greek has a system of alternating verb roots to express the same:

  • 🇬🇷 γράγω (ghráfo, write – root stem, used for imperfective forms)
  • 🇬🇷 γράψω (ghrápso, write – dependent stem, used for perfective forms)

As unfamiliar as the system of aspect-within-the-verb can seem at first, when you get used to it, it turns out to be a very economical and elegant way to narrate action. Just a tiny tweak alters the framing of your story:

  • 🇬🇷 έγραφα ένα γράμμα (éghrafa éna ghrámma: I was writing a letter – and it wasn’t finished before whatever happened next happened!)
  • 🇬🇷 έγραψα ένα γράμμα (éghrapsa éna ghrámma: I wrote, and finished, a letter)
  • 🇵🇱 robiłem moje zdanie domowe (I was doing my homework – but didn’t necessarily complete it)
  • 🇵🇱 zrobiłem moje zdanie domowe (I did my homework – and it’s complete!)

Neat, right?

Aspectual Automation

When first getting to grips with aspect in a new language that makes it explicit, you have to do a quick ‘mental check’ before you narrate events. What happened? Did it finish? Did it carry on? Was it interrupted? It’s the kind of thing that native speakers do intuitively. But, after a while, you start to do that aspect calculation automatically, too.

Luckily, if you also study Romance languages, you have a head start. In Spanish, for example, the difference between the imperfect and the preterite is one of aspect:

  • 🇪🇸 escribía una carta (I was writing a letter)
  • 🇪🇸 escribí una carta (I wrote a letter)

But it’s the Germanic languages, like English, which have tended to lose their in-verb markers of aspect. English has ended up with just two synthetic (inflected, single word) tenses, present and past; for all the other fancy, nuanced stuff, we need to fall back on our bunch of words techniques.

Aspect can be a tricky thing to get your head round if you haven’t grown up with the concept overtly in your first language. But it’s a fun feature to master, especially for telling stories in your target language(s)!

Calm those seas - give yourself a flexible learning week. Image from freeimages.com

Flexible Learning Week : Catching Your Breath While the Sea is Calm

Thank goodness for flexible learning week.

University of Edinburgh students’ eyes will light up at the mention of the phrase. Flexible learning week is a mid-second-semester break in lectures for independent study. It’s a chance to catch up, do some further reading, or just catch your breath and recharge. And it’s very welcome.

I’ve used mine to revisit this semester’s lectures, in readiness for a linguistics assignment just around the corner. It’s allowed me to build a bit of confidence in my knowledge of the material without the panic of the next topic coming before I’ve had a chance to digest the last.

It got me thinking: couldn’t we all do with a flexible learning week now and again?

DIY Flexible Learning Week

If you have a language learning plan, chances are it’s an ongoing, cumulative thing. Effective language learning and maintenance is a regular habit, and we build it into our day-to-day. But building in pause for thought is a good mind-health strategy, as flexible learning week shows.

For those worried that it’s just a foot-off-the-pedal break in momentum, don’t see it as a rest. Instead, it’s a chance for consolidation, for reflecting on your progress so far, and maybe revisiting some of the materials you thought could do with a bit more attention. Having a week free of calendar appointments and formal, diarised learning can be completely liberating.

I’ve found that when I do this with my languages – perhaps taking a week of random dabbling – I often get a touch of the ‘returner learner’ effect, too. After all, a change is as good as a rest.

The Right Wavelength

It’s a timely reminder that we are not built like robots; our energy and drives come in waves and cycles, and a bit of punctuation in your routine can be a good pacer.

As for the next step in flexible learning at Edinburgh? Convince the powers that be to build a study week into the first term, too!

How do you build in natural breaks for reflection and consolidation? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

A sundial - one way to measure the polyglot days! Image from freeimages.com

A Multilingual Manifesto : Daily Tactics for a Polyglot Plan

I’m always inspired by the work of other polyglot learners. This week, I was living for the enthusiasm in this post on working eleven active language projects into daily life. There’s inspiration if ever you needed it!

It’s not all work and no play, though. The post reminded me that keeping up your languages isn’t about interminable formal study sessions, or filling all your spare moments with strict heads-down books-open calendar scheduling. There is a place for that, of course, and many of us happily geek out over it.

But too much intensity will burn the shine off anything in the long run.

One antidote to this is to foster brief but very regular habits, or daily tactics. These draw on the trusty old little but often approach. But there’s a second, even simpler method for working this sage advice into your day: putting language in your path. Create an environment in which you naturally bump up against foreign language material in the course of your day-to-day, even when not officially studying.

Multilingual Manifesto

Setting this environment up requires just a little initial planning. It involves putting together a multilingual manifesto: a plethora of personal polyglot policies which create effortless exposure to language.

These tweaks, or displacements, help shift your focal centre to target language interactions with the media around you. Most importantly, they are dotted around, and embedded within you day. They are the kind of activities that work just as well for one or two languages as they do for handfuls of them at the same time – especially if you have both active and maintenance projects.

Here are a couple of my own personal favourites for levering in the languages almost imperceptibly!

Languages on Drip

I am a news junkie. I can’t help it – I just love knowing what’s going on. Under normal circumstances, I will be checking live UK news outlets multiple times a day. Yes, I acknowledge that this can be an unhealthy addiction in current times!

Predictably, bad news fatigue prompted me to make a change-up in my life. But this change-up could be useful; I decided that overseas, foreign-language news sources would now be my first port of call.

First, I shuffled my links and icons so that foreign sources (like the excellent NRK app from Norway) were more accessible. Next, I turned off notifications from English-language news apps, and turned on those in other languages. This is incredibly useful; I now get regular snippets popping up on my phone in multiple languages. I hear a ping, and get a little reading tester in any one of my languages. Bite-sized practice, drip-fed at regular intervals: perfect.

There’s another positive side-effect. The news is engaging again – the Fleet Street-induced media fatigue has subsided!

Subtitles and Chill

News-fixing via notifications is the perfect example of a zero effort change to make language pop up in your everyday. Another is to tweak your defaults on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Of course, the obvious (and most full-on) language learning advice for using streaming is to watch foreign language series or shows dubbed into your language(s). But that can be quite hard work, and there is actually no need to max it out all the time. Heaven knows, watching nothing but shows in a language you’re still learning can frazzle the mind.

Instead, simply switch target language subtitles on by default. That way, there is always some foreign language content in front of you, even when you just want to relax and not bombard your brain too much. Your eye will wander to the bottom of the screen now and again, catching the odd new word or interesting translation. Believe me, I’ve picked up some very interesting Polish vocab watching Star Trek Enterprise.

And of course, the full-blown, polyglot, stereo experience is always there when you’re ready for the mental gym.

Switch Your Sauces

Of course, you don’t get more everyday than food and drink. And foodies can mix it up a bit by introducing a couple of kitchen-specific personal policies.

If you regularly cook from scratch, switch your sauces… I mean, ahem, sources. Find a target language recipe book or website, and commit to find dishes from there alone. It needn’t be for every meal. But once or twice a week, banish your native language from your meal prep.

2020 saw me resurrect my old, forgotten Greek, and initially through the medium of food. Making a night a week Akis Night has been transformational (at least for my food and drink vocabulary!).

The World’s Your (Polyglot) Oyster

This trio has worked a treat for me lately. But you can find polyglot tweaks to put languages in your path in all corners of your life. From gaming, to exercise, to background chatter while you work, there are ways to study multiple languages a day yet not be studying 24/7.

So what will your multilingual manifesto look like?