Scott Hanselman

Learning Languages Fast - Can you Flush the Toilet in Zulu?

February 20, '08 Comments [80] Posted in Musings
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Tim Ferriss has a penchant for languages. His post How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour got me thinking because he gives eight sentences that you can use to get a really good understanding of how a particular language is constructed.

The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.
I must give it to him.
I want to give it to her.

Tim uses these sentences because they show how verbs are conjugated between speaker and subject, they show gender, number, direct and indirect objects, negations and tense. Fantastic.

Interestingly, if you ask two speakers of the same language, you might get different answers.

Here's my wife's answers for the first 6 sentences in isiNdebele:

I ephuli libomvu.
Li ephuli likaJoni.
Nginika uJoni i ephuli.
Simnika i ephuli.
Ulinika uJoni.
Ulinika yena.

And here is the same from her sister.

I apple leli libomvu
Ngelika Johane.
Ngipha uJohane i apple.
Siyamupha i apple.
Uyalipha uJohn.
Uyalipha yena.

There's a few things interesting about this, other than two sisters will never agree on anything. Deconstructing isiNdebele (isiZulu), we see:

  • Nouns start with a vowel as in iapple or iephuli or uJohn. (There are many noun classes, not every one starts with i.)
  • The prefix si- indicates we and ya- is present tense, so siyamupha is we (are giving) give
  • Mo uses ukunika to say "to give" and her sister says ukulipha meaning "to hand over" but they really both mean to give. (From http://isizulu.net/) Then her sister goes an uses ukulipha in her 3rd example, so get good examples!
  • There's no gender in the last two, so uyalipha can mean both he gives and she gives.
  • I can see how some verbs are conjugated as in ngipha (I give) and uyalipha (he/she gives)

If there are borrowed words in the language that resonate with me (meaning, I can easily remember them) like imota (car) or ifoni (phone) I can now put together sentences like Imota kaScott (It is Scott's car) or if I learn a few basic infinitive verbs like ukufuna (to want), ukufunda (to learn) or ukucela (to request) I can assemble sentences like:

  • ngicela imali - I want (request) money
  • ngifuna ukufunda isiZulu - I want to learn Zulu

What do you think of Tim's sentences? While you'll not become fluent, it seems to me that this a fun an effective way to learn more than just memorized phrases. You'll certainly build a nice base to build on if your brain works this way.

I know I have a very international readership, and I love travel, so I'd love it if you'd all add in the comments the native translations of these eight sentences in the format:

The apple is red. - PHONETIC PRONOUCIATION - NATIVE ALPHABET
etc...

As an aside, Richard Sprague once said that if you really want to know if someone who says they know a language is really fluent in that language, you should ask them how to say "Flush the toilet." Why that phrase? Because most folks who've cobbled together an understanding of a language from High School or phrase books might be able to assemble an awkward sentence that sounds like "push the button to make the water come" rather than the colloquial or commonly used phrase. For example, in French, "tirer la chasse" translates to the English "pull the chain." Only a person who has lived in a country and gained some fluency knows these kinds of colloquialisms. So the next time your office mate says he knows six languages...find out in how many he can say flush the toilet.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Knowing when to ask for help - Microsoft SharedView

February 17, '08 Comments [30] Posted in Reviews | Tools
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5231481f-1120-47c9-8279-f005c7c74ee0I've been a mess all weekend. Truly. I've been as stressed as I've been in my life, trying to learn a new technology deeply enough to teach it. It's one thing to learn a tech enough to be capable, but in my new role at Microsoft I'm feeling more of a sense of responsibility than I did when I was just Joe Public Who Talks Loud.

I mean, if you speak with authority, you ought to know something about the topic, right? ;)

Anyway, I finally realized that I wasn't reaching out enough to my network of friends/peers/colleagues. This is probably because I'm still getting used to working from home. It's lonely sometimes, and I can't just drop over to a friend's cubicle. This solitary feeling has made me "buckle down" and try to figure things out more that I used to, since I can't just pop into an adjacent office.

Well, my personal lesson for today is knowing when to ask for help.

I've become REALLY good at remote tools since I've been doing this remote thing (even before). I've used NetMeeting, Remote Assistance, GoToMeeting, VNC, CoPilot.com, LiveMeeting, Hamachi and a dozen things in-between.

Nothing has come close to the ease of Microsoft SharedView. It isn't heavyweight like LiveMeeting or fuzzy like VNC, plus it lets you show your screen to up to 15 other people.

One of the coolest things is that everyone gets their own "personal mouse pointer" with their name hanging off it, so you can see what someone is referring to when they are talking!

Today when I was at life's lowest ebb, I called Rob and Phil and said "guys, I need a code review." I did a Vonage conference call and they logged into the Shared Session using just my email address. Bam. No pausing, no firewall futzing, it's the greatest thing since FolderShare.

I hope it stays free and wonderful, because it saved my bacon this evening. Whew. Now I can sleep.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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This Week on Channel 9: Feb 15

February 17, '08 Comments [11] Posted in ASP.NET | Microsoft | Podcast
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While I was up in Redmond for the week, I stopped by the "This Week on Channel 9" show with Dan Fernandez and Brian Keller.

It's a weekly show and this is the 3rd episode. I had a great time and I'm hoping they ask me back, maybe once a month.

Someone asked me on Twitter "you're becoming a media person, do you write code anymore?"...and I cried. Yes, I write code every day, phooey on you. ;) I'm just having fun visiting my buddies, but I'll try to show you some more code.

I kind of messed up their show because we were screwing around and they kept laughing. You can see some out-takes (bloopers) if you watch until the very end, after the credits at about 25:00.

I hope you enjoy it.

NOTE: If you want a FullScreen WMV you can get it, as well as a downloadable version or view it on the Channel 9 site.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Geek Developer Cribs on10

February 15, '08 Comments [39] Posted in ASP.NET | Channel9 | Microsoft | Personal | Podcast | Programming | Remote Work
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Rory and Chris came over to the new house recently and this is what came of that visit. The video is up on10.

"In this edition of Show Us Your Home, Scott Hanselman - a guy who works out of his home office - shows us his Geek Developer Crib with Rory Blyth on the glass and Chris Sells on the open mic.
Scott takes us on a tour of his OCD wiring, Windows Home Server, Xboxen, and personal effects. Special thanks to Rory for producing."

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  • About Scott

    Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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    Hanselminutes Podcast 100 - Building Community with Norm Judah - CTO of Microsoft Services

    February 15, '08 Comments [3] Posted in ASP.NET | Microsoft | Podcast | Programming
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    ph_norm_judah

    My one-hundredth podcast is up. Madness. This week I talk to Norm Judah, the CTO of Microsoft Services. We talk about running a world-wide multi-cultural organization of 16,000 consultants, building online community, and writing green software.

    We spoke at Microsoft TechReady6, an internal Microsoft version of TechEd just for the field. Norm conceived and organized this massive conference in order to get the field up to date on the all the cool stuff coming out of development centers. Whip smart, yet still accessible, Norm was very cool to take time from his insane schedule and talk to me. I hope you enjoy it.

    Subscribe: Subscribe to Hanselminutes Subscribe to my Podcast in iTunes

    If you have trouble downloading, or your download is slow, do try the torrent with µtorrent or another BitTorrent Downloader.

    Do also remember the complete archives are always up and they have PDF Transcripts, a little known feature that show up a few weeks after each show.

    Telerik is our sponsor for this show.

    Check out their UI Suite of controls for ASP.NET. It's very hardcore stuff. One of the things I appreciate about Telerik is their commitment to completeness. For example, they have a page about their Right-to-Left support while some vendors have zero support, or don't bother testing. They also are committed to XHTML compliance and publish their roadmap. It's nice when your controls vendor is very transparent.

    As I've said before this show comes to you with the audio expertise and stewardship of Carl Franklin. The name comes from Travis Illig, but the goal of the show is simple. Avoid wasting the listener's time. (and make the commute less boring)

    Enjoy. Who knows what'll happen in the next show?

    About Scott

    Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.