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Language learning adventures


I am fascinated by languages and have been learning them, on and off, since 1981. I currently speak five languages fluently, six semi-fluently, and have a basic knowledge of ten or so others.

This page gives a summary of the languages I know and have studied, in more or less chronological order of when I first started playing with them.



English is my native language, and was the only language I spoke until the age of 11. I grew up in Lancashire in the north west of England, and acquired an R.P. accent from my parents, and some aspects of other accents and dialects from other people. My accent tends to change depending on who I'm talking to, and I enjoy mimicing different regional accents, which is possibly one of the reasons why I developed such an interest in languages.


Welsh (Cymraeg)

Welsh was probably the first other language I encountered. My mother, a non-Welsh-speaking Welsh woman* who grew up in England, and has tried to learn Welsh a number of times. So there were Welsh language materials around the house and I picked up some odd words and phrases, and I always wanted to learn the language. I studied some Welsh in 1998, did courses in Wales in 2007 and 2008, and since 2008 I have lived in Bangor in North Wales, and regularly use Welsh. I can now speak, understand, read and write Welsh well.

* This idea is much easier to express in Welsh: Cymraes di-Gymraeg.

More about my Welsh learning adventures


French (français)

I started learning French at secondary school in 1981 at the age of 11. It was compulsory for the first three years, and as I found it interesting and had a vague idea that I'd like to work abroad one day, I decided to continue studying it after that. After finishing school in 1988 I spent a year working in various places, including three months in France, and became fluent in French. After that I only used my French occasionally and it became somewhat rusty, until I started going to a French conversation group every week in Bangor. I can now understand and speak French fluently.

More about my French learning adventures


German (Deutsch)

I started learning German at secondary school in 1982. It was an option that I chose because I thought it would be interesting, and because I seemed to have some talent for languages. I continued learning it for six years. Since leaving school I rarely used my German and it has become somewhat rusty. However when I meet German speakers and on trips to Germany I have found that I can get by in German and understand it quite well.

More about my German learning adventures


Icelandic (Íslenzku)

During my year off between school and university (1988-1989) I had a vague notion of trying to find a job in Iceland. Why Iceland? Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. I bought a Linguaphone Icelandic course and had a go at learning the language. After struggling with a few lessons I gave up. I didn't go to Iceland in the end but would like to one of these days.


Italian (italiano)

I learnt a little bit of Italian in 1988, and learnt some more in 2002 before going on holiday to Sicily. Since then I've learnt a bit more, and find I can understand and read the language quite well, though my speaking and writing abilities are limited.

More about my Italian learning adventures


Japanese (日本語)

I dabbled briefly with Japanese in 1988 with a Linguaphone course, then I studied it, along with Chinese, at the University of Leeds from 1989 to 1993. During my second year at university I spent a semester (4 months) studying Japanese language and history at a university in Osaka. After graduating I spoke Japanese quite well, but as I haven't used it much since I've forgotten a lot of it. I can still have a basic conversation and understand the language to some extent.

More about my Japanese learning adventures


Portugese (português)

While working in a hotel in Jersey in 1989 I picked up a bit of Portuguese from my colleagues, most of whom were from Madeira. I learnt some more Portuguese before going on holiday to Madeira in 2002, and to northern Portugal the following year.

Thanks to my knowledge of French and Spanish I can understand written and spoken Portuguese to some extent, and can have a basic conversation.

More about my Portuguese learning adventures


Mandarin Chinese (普通话/國語)

From 1989 to 1993 I studied Mandarin Chinese (and Japanese) at the University of Leeds. During my second year I spent four months studying Chinese in Taipei, and I returned to Taiwan after graduation to study Chinese for another year. By the end of that year my Mandarin was more or less fluent and I got a job with the British Council in Taipei, where I worked for four years. Since returning to the UK in 1998 I have maintained my fluency in Mandarin and use it whenever I can.

More about my Mandarin learning adventures


Cantonese (廣東話)

While studying in Taiwan in 1990 and travelling in China in 1991 I learnt some Cantonese from friends and from books. I learnt some more after I returned to Taiwan in 1993, and have studied the language a bit since then. I can understand it to some extent and have a very basic conversation.

More about my Cantonese learning adventures


Taiwanese (台語)

I learnt some Taiwanese while working in Taipei from 1994-98. At first I tried to learn from friends entirely by ear without making any notes. This didn't work very well, so I tried learning it from books as well. I became familiar with the sounds of the language as I heard it every day, but have yet to learn more than the basics.

More about my Taiwanese learning adventures


Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)

I first got interested in Scottish Gaelic through music while at school, and finally got round to learning it in 1996 while I was in Taiwan. Before then I'd tried to learn some Gaelic songs, and since then I've done a number of courses in Gaelic songs at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye. I can understand, speak and read Gaelic quite well, and write it to some extent.

More about my Scottish Gaelic learning adventures


Spanish (español)

I started learning Spanish in 1998 while I was in Taiwan as I had a plan to go travelling in South America. Since then I've learnt bits and pieces of Spanish now and then, and have acquired a large collection of Spanish language material. I have been to Spain, Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba and can speak Spanish at a basic level, and understand and read it to some extent.

More about my Spanish learning adventures



In 1999 I started learning Esperanto out of interest and to see if it was as easy as people claim it to be. It is relatively easy to learn, and I can understand and read it, and speak and write it quite well. I use it at the polyglot events, and also practice it with a friend on Skype fairly regularly.

More about my Esperanto learning adventures


Irish (Gaeilge)

I first got interested in Irish through music while at school, and started learning it in 2004. Before then I'd tried to learn some Irish songs, and since 2005 I've studied Irish in Donegal in Ireland for a week or two every summer. I can now understand, speak, read and write and sing in Irish well.

More about my Irish learning adventures


Czech (čeština)

I started learning Czech in 2006 as I had some Czech friends and I thought it would be interesting to learning a bit of the language. Since then I've studied Czech every so often and can now have a basic conversation in it and understand it to some extent.

More about my Czech learning adventures


Russian (Русский язык)

I first started learning Russian in 2007 as I wanted to try a Rosetta Stone course in a language I didn't know, and because part of my job involved putting together websites in Russian. Since then I've studied Russian every so often and can now have a very basic conversation in it.

More about my Russian learning adventures


British Sign Language (BSL)

In 2009 I started learning BSL mainly out of curiosity. I used online courses and other resources, and some books and DVDs. I found the language fascinating and would like to learn more.

More about my BSL learning adventures


Breton (Brezhoneg)

I started learning Breton in 2012, having previously only dabbled with it briefly. This was partly because I hosted some Breton-speaking couchsurfers at that time, and because I was curious to know how Breton is similar and differs from Welsh. I completed most of an Assimil course, and got to the stage where I could read and speak the language to a limited extent.

More about my Breton learning adventures


Dutch (Nederlands)

I started learning Dutch in 2013 partly out of interest to see how it compares to German and English, and because I have a number of Dutch and Dutch-speaking friends. Thanks to my knowledge of English and German I can understand written and spoken Dutch to some extent, and am gradually improving my speaking and writing abilities.


Toki Pona

In 2015 I learnt some Toki Pona, after being inspired by meeting its creator, Sonya Lang, and a few speakers at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in 2014. I thought the idea of a language with only 120 words was intriguing and wanted to learn more. I can now have a very basic conversation in Toki Pona.


Cornish (Kernewek)

After many years of dabbling with Cornish every so often, I decided to learn in it in 2016 using SaySomethinginCornish, mainly. Even before I started I could understand odd bits and pieces, thanks to my knowledge of Welsh and Breton, and have noticed that Cornish has more in common with Breton than Welsh.


I've also learnt some Hungarian, Turkish and Arabic for trips to Hungary, Turkey and Morocco, and have dabbled with Latin, Hindi, Urdu, Swedish, Serbian and Romanian for fun and interest.


Current language proficiency

The table below shows the languages I've studied/am studying in more or less chronologial using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to indicate my level in each one. It doesn't include languages I've only dabbled with. The CEFR grades above are based on my own estimations.

Summary of my language abilities

Language Listening Reading Speaking Writing
English native native native native
French C1 C1 C1 B2
German B1 B2 B1 B1
Japanese B1 B1 B1 B1
Mandarin Chinese C1 B2 C1 B2
Cantonese A1/A2 A2 A2 A2
Taiwanese A2 A1 A2 A1
Spanish B1 B1 A2 A2
Scottish Gaelic B2 B2 B2 B1
Welsh C1 C1 C1 C1
Esperanto B1 B2 A2 A2
Irish C1 B2 C1 B2
Italian B1 B1 A2 A2
Portuguese B1 B1 A2 A1
Czech A2 A2 A2 A1
British Sign Language A1 - A1 -
Manx B2 B2 B2 B1
Russian A1 A1 A1 A1


Formal language study and qualifications

The courses in the Celtic languages were all short - a week or two. I haven't done any formal studies, exams or proficiency tests in other languages.


Current language use

I listen to radio stations in various languages regularly, read novels, and sing in a variety of languages in the Bangor Community Choir. I also go to a French conversation group and a polyglot conversation group, and generally find whatever other opportunities I can to use and improve my languages.


Other languages I've studied

Welsh, French, German, Italian, Icelandic, Japanese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Korean, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Esperanto, Hungarian, Turkish, Arabic, Czech, Irish (Gaelic), Latin, Manx (Gaelic), Russian, Urdu, British Sign Language (BSL), Hindi, Breton

About this site | Omniglot - a potted history | About me | My language learning adventures | My singing adventures | My songs | My tunes | My musical adventures | My juggling adventures

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