Sweet Italy

Yes, Christmas is over. Even the 6th of January already passed by and someone seems to have decided to gently remove the Christmas decoration from the city. (Yet I thought this photo was too nice not to post) 🙂

But maybe it is natural that ideas are born in the first weeks of the year: when suddenly everything is over and you are left with the same strange stale feeling you get when your friends leave your house after a party and you want to holler after them “don’t leave!!”.

Anyways! In a desperate attempt to be less oblivious to my surroundings I started researching what sfogliatelle and cannoli exactly where after I had seen them in a bakery shop. I always knew that Italy had an incredibly rich world of pastries and baked goods to offer.

Watching baking video after baking video, I came across verbs, collocations and precious proper names – all of them effortlessly rolled off the tongues of the protagonists.

Frullare” and “pastafrolla” seemed particularly delightful, while “crostata” reminded me too much of a “crust” to be appealing. “Carta da forno” was logical, as was “maizena”. “Farcitura” left me puzzled, just as “bagnomaria“. But the “ciliegina sulla torta” or rather, icing on the cake, was “mattarello”, meaning “rolling pin”. Who would have guessed?!

And, being over-enthusiastic as always, I am now picturing pleasant specialized conversations about “dolci italiani” and their preparation, excelling with my refined knowledge.

Playing with the Italian language

Whenever I am travelling abroad, paying a visit to a local bookshop is obligatory.

As in many other cities, in Rome I had the opportunity of going to a bookstore while further nurturing my obsession for train stations. 

When I walked in, I had only planned on looking aorund for a while, of inhaling the relaxing atmosphere that becomes perceptible especially when peacefully observing stressed-out individuals.

Little did I know that an Italian friend would start texting me – and that in the matter of a few seconds we would invent a little game more than adequate for our age group 😉

She asked me some questions and told me how her day was going while I tried to find books whose titles could serve as answers.

I think you can immagine how much fun it was – and how psychotic I seemed frantically running from one end of the bookstore to the other with the sole ambition of taking the next photo.

I whole-heartedly recommend you try out this game when you are in a country  where a language you know is spoken. I think it is an extraordinary way of playing around a bit with the language, of getting creative and maybe even of finding a book you might be interested in!!

Unexpectedly Italian

I am not exactly sure what made me think I could go running for more than 20 minutes before spraining my ancle.

But as I was hobbling home from the park through the almost palpable tranquillity of an Italian Saturday, clenching my teeth and swearing under my breath, I had the idea to create a little collage of random bits and pieces of Italian I gathered in unexpected moments.

Frankly, this is the essence of what I imagined living abroad to be like!

I was blasting anglophone music on my I-pod, merely to distract myself from the sharp pain in my foot, and grabbed a lamp post for balance.

In this moment these little notes caught my eye and the Italian reality crept back into my brain as I studied them with great interest. 

I recalled several words I had studied at some point in the past.

Another day, I caught sight of this little shop called “Animal Zone”.

I snapped a photo of the  shutter and learned the word “cavalluccio marino” (which is adorable). 

I only made sense of the complex joke when I asked an Italian friend to explain it to me!! 🙂

This photographic masterpiece is another example of little Italian advertisments and notes I encountered in the city.

Passing by, I read the word “posatura”.

I instantly remembered an almost forgotten, very demanding interpreting class about parquet floors during which I had learned the word.

Another way of tethering myself to the Italian environment is listening to the radio advertisments or watching the infomercials in the subway stations.

Even on early mornings when I’d rather be undisturbed and stumbling through my own headspace, I sometimes make myself watch, telling myself I will not only establish another contact with the Italian language, but also learn a thing or two about Italian culture :

How are advertisments designed, what are the characteristics of the advertising language and which products are advertised?

It took me some time to accept that biscuits with marmelade are being advertised as a breakfast ma è così che si impara, I guess 🙂


Studiare abroad: Habits

My first bilingual post! (I’m sorry in advance)

“Habits” non è solamente la mia canzone preferita by Tove Lo, ma è anche un concetto sul quale I have been reflecting quite a bit since I started my semestre abroad a Roma.

Why is it that a periodo, which causes you to interrupt your usual routine and slip on another life like a glove, is so adattissimo per adottare nuovi habits?

It is a chance to start over, to meet people senza idea of your emotional baggage, your story, your reputation. Magari è anche la possibility per fare tutto quello che non farai mai più, oppure quello che non hai mai dared to do.

But, as a language enthusiast, I knew che c’era quasi l’obbligo di embrace some habits that were beneficial to my field of study. All’inizio del periodo all’estero you establish a new routine, a new everyday life – and it has never been so easy to trick yourself into doing something giovevole.

Not going to lie: it is equally tempting and easy to adopt bizarre abitudini come eating three jars of marmelade per week (don’t ask, please).

Comunque però, sono arrivata al punto in cui ogni mattina scarico il mio preferito podcast italiano, e lo ascolto mentre mi sto preparando per leaving the house. When I come home, I pass some time scrolling through the news in either of my working languages and I each day I religiously type out the new vocabulary I acquired during my day at university and all over the city.

But, infatti, every day is good enough to adottare nuovi habits – you might have to work a little bit harder on integrating them into your daily life when you’re at home, but it’s worthwhile!! Ve lo prometto 🙂




Are polyglots schizophrenic?

Up to a certain degree, yes!

Have you ever interacted with a person, yet once you switched to a different language your perception of him or her changed entirely?

Watch my short video in Russian about how the language we speak influences our personality and get to know my “Russian self”!

Thank you for watching 🙂

The song I used in the outro is “Closer” by Emma Jensen.

Unknown language adventures: Czech edition!

This summer, I had the pleasure of experiencing a Czech language adventure. Thanks to a mixed language interpretation class I have become a bit more familiar with the sound and intonation of this West Slavic language during the past semester.

In preparation for my trip to Brno I looked at this Czech language book I found at the library.  It is called “Tschechisch. Faszination der Vielfalt” and describes the Czech grammar in a very structured, easily understandable way and provides many practical exercises.

I particularly enjoyed the general introduction and how the authors refer to the specific differences between the German and the Czech languages.

It was as hard as ever to contain my enthusiasm when I encountered words I recognized (which was a frequent occurrence) in the beautiful city of Brno.

Mam Přednost! – I have right of way

Samoobsluha – self service

Akadémia umení – academy of arts

I had plenty of possibilities to apply my, admittedly very basic, conversational skills, and, since roaming charges were abolished in the European Union, it was a waltz reaching for my phone to find a translation whenever a word, an expression or an advertisement posed a mystery.

I should think this ad catches every language enthusiast’s eye; and therefore, I will leave it to you to make sense of it! 😉

I will only say this much: only in retrospect did I realize how easily I could have established the connection between the word “hlad” and its Russian equivalent “голод“.

Other questions still have to be answered, for example where the Czech words for music (hudba) and for Austria (Rakousko) derive from…

Dreaming in a foreign language

Dreaming in another language is an extremely interesting phenomenon to all language enthusiasts. It occurs whenever a foreign language has found the way to your heart.

How to make yourself dream in a foreign language? Of course, it will be necessary to expose yourself to the language of choice as much as possible. Continuous and intensive contact allows for the foreign language to take root in your subconscious. Apart from that, I can say from experience that intensive contact with the language right before going to sleep favors dreams in this language.

During the last couple of weeks, I have watched the show “Narcos”, in Spanish, with English subtitles. It was definitely a learning process! The subtitles allowed me to improve my listening comprehension skills in Spanish, while the daily contact with this beautiful, relaxed and powerful language gave a feeling for its sound and pronunciation.  More than once have I found myself lying in bed after an episode of “Narcos”, my head spinning with the resonating Colombian Spanish.

And then, in the end, it happened. I will try and spare you the details of my disturbing dream that included a university class in outer space … the crucial point, however, was that my fellow students spoke Spanish! I have no idea how my brain could create the illusion of me listening to someone speaking Spanish. The experience I had in my dream was the same I have when watching “Narcos”: sometimes I am able to follow the dialogue pretty well, even without subtitles, mostly because Spanish is so similar to Italian. Then again, I find myself unable to decipher what is being said and I only understand a few words.

All in all, this unique experience showed me how receptive our brain is in the moments before going to sleep. I’d like to make use of this fact in the future as well, I am sure it will be worth it!

To conclude, I’d like to present you with the Spanish “chunks” I have learnt so far:

La misma cosa – the same thing

promettemelo – promise me (it)

¡Tienes mi palabra! – you have my word!

¿Donde estamos? – Where are we?

Por favor, tengo que saberlo – Please, I have to know (it)

Non lo quiero hacer – I don’t want to do it


Unknown language adventures: Hungarian

“Translators are nomadic figures inhabiting spaces between cultures” – Cronin 2000: 104

The four days I spent in Budapest for my friend’s graduation turned out to be a most memorable multilingual experience.

It was especially interesting to see how much it differed from my Croatian adventure.

Of course, I was equally proud of myself when I mastered the pronunciation of „Köszönom!“ or the much hipper version my friend taught me: „Kös bro!“.

Yet I could not help but feel intimidated by the incredibly long and complicated Hungarian words that had nothing in common with the Germanic, Romance or Slavic word stems I am familiar with.

The seemingly unpronounceable accumulations of letters discouraged me from reading any street signs aloud, (which might have come as a relieve to my travel companions), I only dared to cautiously whisper some of the words that seemed tame: „tej“ (milk), „vìz“ (water), „kávé“ (coffee).

But, as complicated the Hungarian language and its underlying grammar seemed to me, as comfortable did I feel alongside my many multilingual companions. Not only did they make me feel at home immediately in the very special city of Budapest, but they also excelled both as ad hoc interpreters, and as case studies!

Everywhere we went I admired their skillful „natural“ interpretations: at the restaurant, the ticket counter, the grocery store and at various Austro-Hungarian family gatherings.

In a large group of Austrians, Hungarians and Austro-Hungarians, the biliguals definitely were the lucky ones; and the ones we monolinguals were in dire need of!

It was fascinating at which incredible speed they would switch back and forth between Hungarian and perfect German, how casually they veered in and out of conversations, as the „nomadic figures inhabiting spaces between cultures“* they were.

Yet it was almost equally interesting to see how important a certain degree of nonchalance was in this situation:  as one of the monolinguals you don’t have to understand every single word that has been said. Just lean back from time to time, listen to the lively, incomprehensible chatter and enjoy the show!

All in all, there has never been a better motivator to keep improving my working languages in order to become as fluent and comfortable in all of them as my favourite Austro-Hungarian ad-hoc interpreters 🙂


*CRONIN Michael, Across the Lines. Travel, Language and Translation, University Press, Cork 2000, p.104.

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.



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!