Monday, January 24, 2011

February is the Great Language Learning Challenge! *fanfare*

Get Ready.... Get Set...
Here at the Steamer's Trunk culture is kind of important, if you haven't figured that out already. But aside from art, food, and clothing, what else is a major facet of a culture? Language. In the 19th century and the ages prior, it was de rigeur to have fluency in multiple languages- not only to be fashionable, but also practical. You simply weren't educated if you didn't know Greek, Latin, and French or English. As the modern age progressed however, the Great European Empires standardized, indigenous languages died out, while other ones were strangleheld into learning the mainstream languages of the day in order to enjoy political and economic benefits. (Then again, the Romans did it, Charlemagne did it, this blogger is doing it inadvertently...)

But this is steampunk! History with the benefits of the contemporary! With all of this internet at our fingertips, we can certainly learn about a culture's clothes and art, so why don't we study their languages too? There is actually a Learn a Foreign Language Month, but it's a little appreciated observance in December and I'm anxious to try out this experiment and see if others are on board. That's why Multiculturalism for Steampunk: The Steamer's Trunk declares February to be the Great Language Learning Challenge!

I know that it takes months of study to have a grasp of a language and years in order to achieve fluency. However, much like National Novel Writing Month this is meant to be an exercise in trying something new rather than mastering an extensive skill in a month. The first thing you need to learn a language is the interest and drive to do so, and the Challenge is meant to help start that.

1. No google translate, babelfish, or other translation websites for help. Not only is this cheating, but a lot of times the syntax is wrong and boy, will you look a fool.

2. You must learn correct (or as close as you can manage if you have difficulties) pronounciation- it's wonderful that you can say "C'est tres bon", but not so much if you say it "Kest tress bone".

3. You must learn 100 vocabulary words- please try to avoid cognates, those are easy!

4. You may not learn a variation on your own primary tongue- so no British English/American English. Yes, as different as European French and Quebecois is, the structure is still similar and gives you an advantage. The ONLY exception to this are official language variations of sign language. (For example, if you speak English and are American, you may learn American Sign Language and still be within the rules. My hat goes off to you- learning to sign is quite difficult, I've tried.)

5. I'm sorry geeks- but fantasy or science fiction constructed languages are not allowed within this event, this includes: Elvish (Sindarin AND Quenya), Klingon, Dwarvish, Naavi, or the Divine Language (.... Leeloo multipass?).

6. In the spirit of this blog however, Esperanto is completely allowed. For the unfamiliar: Esperanto was invented in the 1880s as an uncomplicated and non-violent language for everyone to learn which would, in hope, bring about peace and understanding. If there ever was a steampunk language, I suppose!

7. Your vocabulary can only include a maximum of two expletives and furthermore they have to be ones actually used in the language, not translated from your primary tongue. Sorry, all.

8. At the end of February, upload a video to youtube of you making the following introduction from memory- feel free to be creative and fun with your videos! Be sure to place a transcript of what you've said in the description, along with a translation if you so choose.

When you upload your video, make sure:
-It has the tags: multiculturalism, steampunk, and GLLC
-It has "My Great Language Learning Challenge" and then the language you learned as the title. (So mine would be: My Great Language Learning Challenge: Georgian.)
-There is a link back to this blog post in the description so people know what the hell you're on about.

The Questions:

-Greeting of your choice (in the plural, to be specific)
-My name is _____
-I have learned (language of choice).  (Yes, we're bringing TENSES into this.)
-I am from (your city/town, state/province, and country of origin)
-I am a(n) (occupation)
-I like (list at least four hobbies, sports, or other things you enjoy)
-My favorite food is ______.
-My favorite book is ______.
-What was you favorite vocabulary word?
-Finally, answer this question- Are you going to learn more?

9. When viewing another participant's video, please be open-minded and courteous. People are putting themselves out there by learning a new language and unveiling the results for the world to see, so if their accent is off or they misconjugated slightly, be nice and helpful rather than derisive or negative. This month is meant to get people interested in learning and appreciating different languages, so let's be encouraging folks!

A postcard (probably 1910s) extolling the peaceful virtues of Esperanto
10. Have fun with your video- because the participant who makes the most creative or fun entry wins a special prize! A custom-made Central Asian style hat by Miss Kagashi herself! Think of how dashing and warm you'll look! If the winner happens to be vegan or have issues with real (recycled from vintage coats) fur, faux fur can be easily substituted.

Note: this hat was made by CW, but is the style of the prize hat.
Suggestions and Ideas:
- Listen to native speakers. Whether in movies, music, or even videos on youtube, hearing a native speaker will often help you grasp the rhythm and sound of a language.
- Perhaps pick the language of an indigenous people, like Zulu, Quechua, or Ojibwemowin. Not only are they very fun to learn, but you can also aid in the preservation of a language that might be dying out.
- If you work in service, education, or business, perhaps take this as a jumpstart to learn a language that might give you an advantage in your working life. Some of the fastest growing languages right now are: Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi-Urdu.
- Of course, knowing Spanish, French, or English aids a great deal in everyday life as well. If I had a nickel for every time I had to use my conversational French skills (living in Detroit, of all places!) I would be able to buy myself a nice dinner.
- Get to know and love your culture! Are you learning Thai? Go for dinner some night! What about Spanish? Try watching a film in Spanish! (I would recommend Cronos, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Not only is it deliciously dark, but the Cronos device looks very steampunk.)
- Get a friend to learn your language with you! Not only does it pull someone else into my evil scheme, but then you have someone to practice vocabulary with. Skype is an excellent tool for this, which I will be using in my quest to learn (the very difficult) Georgian.... blame G.D. Falksen.

Excited? I know I am! The Challenge officially begins February 1st, so pick your language, find some sourcebooks or programs, and get ready to dive in! Feel free to comment with your chosen language, you might find a study buddy.

If you're participating, feel free to join the official facebook event as well!


  1. אויב עמעצער ווילט זיך ייִדיש לערנען, איך קען דיר הילפֿן.

  2. Hmm... I've had this language software gathering dust for months. Seems as good a time as any to win a new hat.

    I like hats.

  3. Also, I think I'm going to learn Hungarian.

  4. ...Do we get extra creative points if it's not something generally taught in schools?

  5. Does Latin or another ancient language (Greek, Hebrew &c) qualify?

  6. This sounds like fun! Norwegian for me. :D

  7. I'm brazilian... Even knowing that I will not compete, I will try learn Turkish! Hahaha

  8. Good mention of Esperanto.

    The study course is now receiving 120,000 hits per month.

    That can't be bad :)

  9. Eee! I LOVE learning things about other cultures, and this was the perfect prompt to remind me of a goal I had when I was smaller: Learn Hawaiian!
    Might be a little harder to find resources on, but by the gods I will manage!

  10. I'm not sure if I will compete (though the hat is tempting...) but I will certainly learn Kurdish.

  11. I am totally on board with this. I think the most difficult part will be choosing what language I want to learn.

  12. I'll go for Tibetan, I think.

  13. This sounds like fun. I have an idea that is unique, ties in with my steampunk character, and is something I think you might like. Assuming I can find some source material, is there a restriction based on the obscurity of the language or scarcity of speakers?

  14. Not at all Ben- if you can find the source material, feel free. In fact one of the many factors behind this challenge is the possibility that people will learn endangered languages and aid in rehabilitation efforts.

    Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about:

  15. You can always use LiveMocha as well. But this challenge is making me rethink picking up Hindi again, or maybe working on Chinese again. (Not that I got very far, lol.)

  16. This is just the prompting I need to get a move on with learning Gaidhlig.

  17. Does a language we are already learning count? I took french II last semester(and the teacher complimented my accent)and am trying to keep it up. If not, I will have to decide on Italian, Welsh, or Gaelic (Irish or Scots).

  18. does it count if I recently started a German course? because, honestly, I don't think I can handle learning more than one language at a time :)

  19. Instead of cheating (I've been taking Latin for the last two years) I'll try to learn Gaelic. It's been on a list for awhile now, so it's the perfect time. Irish Gaelic, probably.

  20. Does Sign Language count? I need to learn it anyway to deal with some of my hard of hearing patients. And this is a good a time as any to start learning.

  21. Well challenged. I may not post about it, being videologically incompetent, but I'll endeavour to join you all. I'm a linguist, so it's a bit of an advantage to me, so maybe I should try two?

    I've been dabbling in Chinook Jargon, so I could dust that off, and I found some interesting stuff on Friulian the other day... (I already have a favourite word in Friulian - sglonf).

  22. I may learn two. I tried to learn Japanese a few years back but lapsed because I had no one to converse with; I've also wanted to learn Korean.

  23. @Diego Leite: if you really go in for Turkish, and are your friends. It is not easy to get a good Turkish dictionary in print. Beyond that, good luck. It is a difficult but extremely beautiful language. Well worth the effort.

  24. To anyone who is interested in learning Esperanto for this challenge, there is an Esperantist group at the Steampunk Empire. Beginners are more than welcome!

    I'm already intermediate at Esperanto, so I'll be giving Dutch a try for this challenge. Good luck to everyone participating!

  25. Excellent! I think I'll go back to the Polish that I *was* trying to learn, but only got so far as "What is that?" with.

  26. Great timing! I'll be studying weaving with Zapotec Indians down near Oaxaca. Was planning to learn some Zapotec before I go, until I found out there are 57 dialects! So I'll wait until I'm there, and be sure to commit Miss Kagashi's phrases to memory.

  27. I'm thinking Romany maybe Hindi. Or maybe I'll get ahead for my Sanskrit class.

  28. Ah this fits wonderfully with the goals of my Japanese project! Definitely submitting a vid :D

  29. I take up the challenge. I shall give Japanese a shot and if I can spare the time give Euskara (Basque) a shot.

  30. I have decided to go with Navajo, since there are a lot of speakers out here in New Mexico. Rosetta just came out with a trial version, and there are materials in the libraries.

  31. My hat! I just got quite a surprise to see my hat on your blog (in a good way) :D

  32. IOncomplete transcript, but here it is:

  33. Alas, my webcam died, I may not be able to complete the assignment on time...


  35. Hmmm... Aaron, right now it is only you and me...

  36. I was going to try to do it on friend's computer today... and *their* webcam died. I have all the luck, lol.

  37. Neih haih hohksang. Ngoh jiu Gwen. I hope to make my creative video in Cantonese. Zoigin.

  38. Hat please.

    All necessary tags and info are on the YouTube page.