Language-passtimes for insomniacs

“Perhaps there is another kind of writing, I only know this one, in the night, when fear does not let me sleep, I only know this one.”* –Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka used sleepless, anxiety-filled nights to be artistically productive and expressed this notion beautifully in a letter to Max Brod from July 1922.

On a somewhat lighter note, I thought I’d list some activities for insomniac language enthusiasts today.

I promise that these little exercises are more rewarding than frantically calculating your remaining hours of sleep or desperately trying to make yourself forget the last horrow movie you watched!

1. Recap the day

Review the activities of the day in your foreign language of choice. You may find this to be an easy exercise with a very welcome soothing side effect!

2.Study nonverbal communication

Your partner, your cat or your roomate is slumbering peacefully in your close proximity and your headphones are out of reach?

For this scenario I’d suggest you grab your phone nontheless and search for a video of a native speaker. Turn off the sound and watch the video focusing on the nonverbal communication. Mirrowing the body language of a native speaker may greatly improve the authenticity of your communication performance.

3. Describe your surroundings

What might remind you of obsessive compulsive behaviour at first is actually a highly effective language exercise. Focus on an object in your room and try to be as precise in your description as possible. Who would have thought how difficult it could be to describe a window in all its technical detail? You may save the terminological research for the next morning, though!

4. Count down

Lastly, I’d like to present you with one of the most addictive exercises. Its simplicity makes it even more brilliant. Count down from 10 to 1 in all of the languages you speak. You will realize immediately how little cognitive effort is required for doing so in your native language. Sleepless hours are an excellent opportunity to practise counting in your weaker languages. After counting, try the days of the week, the months or the alphabet – the possibilities are endless. Maybe you’ll even fall asleep before you know it!


*English translation cited from: CORNGOLD Stanley, Franz Kafka. The Necessity of Form, Cornell University Press 1988, p.22.



Trying something new...

… translating from Portuguese into Italian!

In the course of this month I developed a great interest in the Portuguese language.

I am not only ravished by the similarities between this beautiful language and Italian – it is primarily the pronunciation that intrigues me, as it seems to be the magical combination of French, Spanish and Italian pronunciation patterns.

In order to further nurture my obsession with Portuguese (and to be able to improve my comprehension of the language) I decided to translate this article about the Brazilian portuguese into Italian.

I learnt a lot translating the text into Italian and it makes me very happy to have created the Portuguese version’s congenial sister! 🙂

Check out the Italian version of this post to have a look at my translation!


Unknown language adventures: Croatian

Isn’t there something very intriguing about languages you don’t speak?

Hearing people converse around you in an unknown language can be so relaxing and frustrating at the same time.

There is no point in concentrating on the contents of utterances you hear. All that is left to do is focus on people’s mimics, the tone, gestures and the bare sound of the language. Yet there is a frustrating aspect to it, since you have no access to people’s most important means of communication.

Travelling to Zagreb

I should admit that the Croatian language isn’t entirely foreign to me. Its beautifully soft, soothing sound can be captured all over my city. Apart from that, thanks to me speaking Russian, I could make sense of quite a few Croatian words.

Let me give you some stunning examples along with their Russian and English equivalents 🙂

ostatak – остатки – rest (n.)

platiti – платить – pay (v.)

život – жизнь – life (n.)

Hearing Croatian in its “natural habitat” for the first time changed my perception of it – and as a language enthusiast I tried to edge my way towards an authentic pronunciation of “Hvala” (Thank you) which earned me several confused looks from the supermarket cashiers, as it came out as “Hlava” more than once!

And of course, I had to be the obnoxious person reading out every single advertising slogan I found on the streets:

Za sve koji se vole igrati!

Maxi promo!

Dobra veza čini čuda!

In my “everday life” in Zagreb I repeatedly stumbled across the following words which stuck to my brain:

vući – pull

guraj – push (which might be an imperative form?)

Pozor! – Attention/Danger!

These words are all very practical; which made me realize how different this natural way of language acquisition was from the planned, academic approach I am used to.

Thank you Zagreb for teaching me so many interesting things!