Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chinese mission

As promised—an entry to my new language adventure. I am going to learn Mandarin Chinese. It has always been one of the languages that I wanted to learn. If you are curious about the details, check out the video below.

Friday, January 13, 2017


It’s been more than a year since I returned from France. One chapter of my language missions is over. From 2012 to 2015, I had been traveling around Europe as a nomad.

One year break

The entire year of 2016 meant a break for my language missions. I traveled, but not because of the languages. I wanted to save some money in Germany and then find a job in the United States. I executed the plan. From January until June, I lived in Hamburg again. Then, I worked offsite from Slovakia, still for the same company, before I quit in October. Only then, I bought the airplane ticket and went for two and half a month to San Francisco.

Plan A did not work out, as I failed to find a job. However, the alphabet has plenty of letters and I still want to settle there. I am trying for the plan B now. Meanwhile, I am going to move to the city of my birth and make Bratislava my home again.

How are my languages doing?

In the place where I lived in San Francisco, the only two languages I did not have anyone to practice with were Slovak and Czech. I have to admit my Romanian got a bit rusty. Maybe the next book I pick to read should be written in this beautiful romance language.

As a little graphical summary for myself, I wanted to create a map of the world with highlighted countries whose languages I speak. Here it is: The parts of the world where I should be able to explain to the waiter that the beer tastes sour and that I want a different one.

I almost got all of the American continent covered. Stupid Surinam.

What now?

The first part of my language missions is over. Traveling in Europe was, thanks to the Schengen Area and my online job, as easy as sitting in a car and driving off. I was also studying intensively and 
basically wrapping my entire life around them.

You know I would not stop at this point, right? I just like to talk to new, interesting people and deciphering books in new languages too much to just let this part of my life go. So I am starting with a new language mission. It will be bit different this time. I will announce it in the next post. Until then, I wish you a wonderful start into the new year of 2017!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Keyboard Layout for Polyglot Programmers

If you are chatting on Facebook with two-three friends and each speaks a different language, switching over between the keyboard layouts is demanding. It would be nice to have more of a universal layout, right? But it shouldn't be too weird and since you are a programmer, it should be based on the US-English layout, which has all those cool programming characters at hand.

Here is my attempt to create such a keyboard layout for MS Windows. It's basically a US-English keyboard, where the numbers in the alphanumeric section were replaced by dead-keys (inspired by the dead-keys from the Czech QWERTZ-layout). I haven't written the version for Unix-like systems, but I might add it later.

You can download it here: al-polyglot-keyboard-2016-source.klc

And it looks like this:

Normal state

Shift key pressed
AltGr key pressed

Who is it good for?

...that use mostly US-English keyboard, but want to write from time to time in their own language with Latin-based alphabet properly, with all the diacritics
...that need to write short texts in several languages and switch over between the layouts often
Web developers
It has a damn-hard-to-find n-dash (–) and his elusive brother m-dash (—)!
Perl6 coders
The layout contains the French quotation marks («»)

Who is it not intended to?

Writers and copywriters
If you want to type fast in a specific language, you should probably stick with one of its dedicated layouts (Good luck learning French AZERTY ;) )
People with keyboards without NumPad
You cannot type numbers in the alphanumeric section of this layout, so numeric keypad is a must.

In what languages can I write with this?

The layout was created, so that it is fairly easy to type in: English, Czech, Slovak, Portuguese, German, Spanish, French (It even has the ligatures æ and œ. The cœur of my sœur rejoices.), Romanian, Polish, Hungarian and Esperanto.

But I discovered many more languages are covered by what I fit in, so you can also type in Italian (with their lack of diacritics and special characters, not much of a hard task), Breton, Catalan, Croatian, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Indonesian, Irish (if you don't require the obsolete dot above—ponc séimhithe), Norwegian, Scottish Gaelic, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Swedish and Welsh.

I have been testing it for a while. Because I was trying to fit in many alphabets, it's a compromise. However, I found out it is very comfortable to type in English, German, Portuguese and if you do not insist on the correct punctuation, even Spanish. French, Czech and Slovak are a bit clumsier. French because of the proximity of the key for the acute accent and the letter e, Slovak and Czech due to the frequency of the accented characters. Maybe, I'll find a way to optimize it in the future. I haven't tested the rest of the languages thoroughly yet.

And in which I can't?

I tried to add Lithuanian, Latvian, Icelandic and Turkish, but I would have to sacrifice either logic of the dead-key combinations or their ergonomics. Sorry guys!

Details (for typography nerds only)

Here is the list of all the possible dead-key combinations (not including their capitalisations):
  • ° (circle above): ů, å (used in Czech and Nordic languages)
  • ~ (tilde): ñ, ã, õ (Spanish, Portuguese and Estonian)
  • ´ (acute accent): á, é, í, ó, ú, ĺ, ŕ, ś, ć, ź, ń, ẃ (w is a Welsh vowel)
  • ^ (circumflex): â, ê. î, ô, û, ĉ, ĝ, ĵ, ĥ, ŝ, ŷ, ŵ (mostly in French, Portuguese and Esperanto)
  • ¨ (diaresis ): ä, ö, ü, ï, ë
  • ˝ (double acute accent): ő, ű (Hungarian)
  • ¸ (cedilla): ç, ș, ț, ą, ę (this group is a mixture of characters with cedilla, comma below and ogonek) 
  • ˇ (caron): č, ď, ě, ľ, ň, ř, š, ť, ž, ă, ŭ (another mixed goup—characters with caron and two last ones with a breve)
  • ` (grave accent): à, è, ì, ò, ù, ẁ
  • · (middot): ł, ż, œ, æ, đ, ø (this is a dead-key category of characters that did not fit elsewhere)

Some notes

  • I tried to prioritize the languages I can write in. So it is possible to type in Hungarian (which I can't speak nor write in it), but the dead-key for the double acute accent is under number 6, so not as easy to access as other accents.
  • Circumflex and (^) and the backtick/grave accent (`) are twice on the keyboard, but I left it that way to keep the layout as close to the original US-English layout as possible
  • Don't use the Romanian ș (s with a comma below) as Turkish ş (s with cedilla), they are two distinct graphemes

Pangrams are fun in all languages

I tested the layout typing pangrams. Pangrams are sentences containing all the characters of a given orthography of some language, or at least all the accentuated characters that use to be problematic in typography or on the web. Some of the pangrams I used are worth sharing :)
«Dóna amor que seràs feliç!». Això, il·lús company geniüt, ja és un lluït rètol blavís d’onze kWh.
“Give love and you’ll be happy!”. This, ingenuous fellow with bad temper, is already in a blue sign of 11kWh.
Gojazni đačić s biciklom drži hmelj i finu vatu u džepu nošnje.
The overweight little schoolboy with a bike is holding hops and fine cotton in the pocket of his attire.
Příliš žluťoučký kůň úpěl ďábelské ódy.
Unduly yellowish horse was groaning devilish odes.
Høj bly gom vandt fræk sexquiz på wc.
Tall shy groom won dirty sex quiz on W.C.
Laŭ Ludoviko Zamenhof bongustas freŝa ĉeĥa manĝaĵo kun spicoj.
According to Ludwig Zamenhof, fresh Czech food with spices tastes good.
Põdur Zagrebi tšellomängija-följetonist Ciqo külmetas kehvas garaažis.
Ill-healthy cellist-feuilletonist Ciqo from Zagreb was being cold in a poor garage.
Fahrenheit ja Celsius yrjösivät Åsan backgammon-peliin, Volkswagenissa, daiquirin ja ZX81:n yhteisvaikutuksesta.
Fahrenheit and Celsius threw up on Åsa’s Backgammon board, in a Volkswagen, due to the coeffect of daiquiri and a ZX81.
Victor jagt zwölf Boxkämpfer quer über den großen Sylter Deich.
Victor chases twelve boxers across the great dam of Sylt.
Árvíztűrő tükörfúrógép
A flood-resistant mirror drill (what a language!)
Quel vituperabile xenofobo zelante assaggia il whisky ed esclama: alleluja!
That blameworthy, zealous xenophobe tastes his whisky and exclaims: Alleluja!
Dość gróźb fuzją, klnę, pych i małżeństw!
“Enough of these threats with the shotgun,” swear I, “haughtinesses and marriages!”
À noite, vovô Kowalsky vê o ímã cair no pé do pingüim queixoso e vovó põe açúcar no chá de tâmaras do jabuti feliz.
At night, grandpa Kowalsky sees the magnet falling on the complaining penguin’s foot and grandma puts sugar in the happy tortoise’s date tea.
Bând whisky, jazologul șprițuit vomă fix în tequila.
Drinking whisky, the drunken jazzman threw up right in the tequila.
Fin džip, gluh jež i čvrst konjić dođoše bez moljca.
A nice jeep, a deaf hedgehog and a tough horse came without a moth.
Kŕdeľ šťastných ďatľov učí pri ústí Váhu mĺkveho koňa obhrýzať kôru a žrať čerstvé mäso.
A flock of happy woodpeckers by the mouth of the river Váh is teaching a silent horse to nibble on bark and feed on fresh meat.
Piškur molče grabi fižol z dna cezijeve hoste.
Lambry silently grasps beans from the bottom of caesium forest.
Benjamín pidió una bebida de kiwi y fresa; Noé, sin vergüenza, la más exquisita champaña del menú.
Benjamin ordered a kiwi and strawberry beverage; Noah, without shame, the most exquisite champagne on the menu.
Yxskaftbud, ge vår WC-zonmö IQ-hjälp.
Axe handle courier, give our WC zone maiden IQ help.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

End of my French Mission

I am writing this post from Hamburg again. Do you want to know how my French mission ended up? Watch the video ;) (French and English subtitles available)

France was an interesting experience. New friendships, some cultural shocks, a bunch of places checked on my "to visit" list. Hard beginnings that turned into another place where I feel at home. Many stories to tell and I will tell them when I meet you (yes you!). I am happy I went there and I left with precious memories. So many people I miss (you guys know who I am talking about :) ).

By the way, I did not say goodbye to la francophonie altogether, I keep reading books (also) in French, my best mate here in Hamburg is from Paris, so there is no way this "mission end" would be a total break up with the French language. Aaand, traditionally, here is a map of the countries in which I can, after the last year, make myself understood.

French-speaking world
Au revoir ! ;)

Friday, November 20, 2015


So what's the city like? The French call it "La Ville Rose". But to me, it seemed always more orange, than pink. The buildings are built of a reddish stone or bricks and even the new business buildings keep onto that style. With its bricks, it reminds of the industrial British cities like Manchester.

What to see there? Is it very touristic?

The most important monument is undoubtedly the town hall built in the 1750's"Le Capitol". If you walk on the Stree of Alsace-Lorraine, you notice a clock with a clock face divided in 24 instead of the classic 12 segments. Garonne, on of the four big French rivers flows through the city and shapes its form and character. Unlike in many other European cities, where the riverfront is the most touristic area, the riverside in Toulouse is quite calm. It's not as shiny and reconstructed as in Bordeaux, for example. In Toulouse, this is the place of picnics, talking, eating and drinking on a grass in front of the river. Especially in the late spring, it is full of students. Toulouse is not a city for tourists, it is a city of student parties. And of course, as a student city, it is relatively empty during the summer.

The Capitol
A special clock. Still not as special as the one in Brno ;)
Garonne riverside with Pont Neuf in the background.
If you need to know something about France: The oldest bridge
in the city is always called "The New Bridge"

Canal du Midi, an artificial waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean sea, built in the 17th century, is another significant element of the city. It is used everyday by lots of runners and bikers. It's pretty, but walking there during a summer night is a bit scary, because of the big amount of rats that live on the slopes and eat out of the garbage cans. And for some reason, you can always find lots of hookers around there after dark, half of which are male transvestites.

The size of the city and its future

Even though Toulouse is the fourth biggest city in France, you don't have that feeling when you are in the center. The buildings of the historic core are rather small. On the other hand, the city with its suburbs spans over a big area. The city is the fastest growing city in France and in several decades, in can overtake Marseilles and Lyon and become the second biggest after Paris, if the rates of growth remain constant. It's a French and European center of aeronautics. If you want to piss off a Toulousain, you just tell him that if you took away Airbus and the universities, there would be about 10 inhabitants left in the city. But you cannot make them angry with that, because they would agree, laughing. Airbus creates a lot of jobs here. Toulouse is the only construction site of Airbus, where they produce the giant A380.

Canal du Midi
The Bridge "St. Pierre"

The surroundings

You can go to "Cité d'Espace"an amusement park dedicated to space. Just after an hour and half of driving, you get to Carcassonnean amazing castle-town that inspired the famous board game. Its towers are impressive. On the top of that, everything is close. You want to surf? There is Biarritz at the Atlantic coast. You want to swim in a warm sea without big waves? Narbonne and Perpignan on the Mediterranean await you. You want to ski? Pyrenees are two hours from there. You are into wine and beautiful villages? Go for a trip to Périgord for a weekend.

There are some places that are good to visit. Like Paris. And then cities, which don't lie on the top of your "to see" lists, but might be better places to live or study.

1. My first appartement. It looked like a house of the Addams Family (its inhabitants were equally creepy, but less nice), I left after a week
2. My second apprtementa studio. Was cool, but expensive
3. The third and final appartement. Cool flatmates.
C. The Capitol
S. Escalier de St. Pierre—place where the beer is cheep and drinking people below the age of 19 abundant
P. Prarier des Filtres—cool for picnics. Lots of concerts in the summer
L. Huge, beautiful library
N. Jean Jaurès—main night life zone, bars, clubs... 

Image sources:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The French Mission

There it is. After two months of preparations, my new mission begins. This time it will be the language of Voltaire and Luc Besson. I write you from a tiny, cute flat in Toulouse, where I will stay for the next four months. I left Madrid almost a month ago and in between I was looking for a stable accomodation. I had to leave from the first one I had found in Toulouse. The house looked like a copy of the Addams Family villa. The inhabitants were also that creepy. I would not mind anything of that, I love the Addams Family, but my food was getting lost. Now I got my own place. With a parking place. And a gym. Suck that.

My goal this time? I wanted to be in Slovakia in July already, and the exams of the Alliance Français don't fit me well. But if I go for an exam, it will be probably B2 at the end of May or C1 at the end of July.

I kind of thought about Paris as well, but then, Paris is relatively expensive, and I don't want to spend the entire mission working just to pay for the rent. And everybody, absolutely everybody who has an experience with the city, told me that people are horrible there. Even the people who grew up there. People usually defend their own city, don't they? So I chose to believe them.

 Toulouse - First impressions

I know I should not compare them, but after Madrid, Toulouse seems small. There is less rubish in the streets, with the exception of dogshit. There is definitely more dogshit in Toulouse than in Madrid. And on Friday nights, the inner centre smells from human pee for a change. It is interesting that in Madrid, the streets of which are so much fuller on the weekends, the guys did not pee in the streets that much.

It is quiet. I was walking on the Rue d'Alsace Lorraine, one of the busiest streets and at that time it was full of people. But everybody walked silently. In Madrid, there are always people chatting, kids playing football and shouting, or at least there is some pub nearby with a football match in the TV. There was always this buzz present. After that, France seems to be a kingdom of peace and quiet. It is not much different in Slovakia though, it's just a change after Spain.

The people, although they don't smile as much on the street, are incredibly helpful and polite, when you ask them something. And... (although it might be only Toulouse) They speak English. Almost everybody I met had a communicational level of English. The knowledge of Spanish is also common.

It's a city of students and also of the aerospace engineering (yuppi!), so I don't think I will be bored here. Stay tuned.

Happy Cliosurvived the Pyrenees
Snow and palm trees
Le CapitolThe town hall

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Am I C2 in Spanish?—The End of my Spanish mission

I got the results of the C2 exam in Spanish. You want to know, don't ya. OK, here they are:

Prueba 1 Prueba 2 Prueba 3
Uso de la lengua, comprensión de lectura y auditiva Destrezas integradas: comprensión auditiva, comprensión de lectura y expresión e interacción escritas Destrezas integradas: comprensión de lectura y expresión e interacción orales
Puntuación máxima33.3333.3333.34
Puntuación mínima exigida202020
Puntuación obtenida26.92 puntos11.57 puntos12.22 puntos

Translated into human speech: Overall, I failed. I am C2 in listening and reading, but I did not pass in writing and speaking. I expected a bad result in the written part, because we were supposed to write three essays in two hours. I was taking my time, had to take a break to go to the bathroom and in the end, I did not reserve enough time to correct my mistakes. But I was really confident about the oral part. I was like María from the soap operas—speaking like a machine gun. I hesitated only a few times. One thing that could have pulled me down was that I was trying to impress them with some phrases that are used only in books and nobody would use them in the everyday speech, as the books were my main source of vocabulary ("También quería hacer hincapié en el hecho que..."). But most probably, I did not sound natural and the number of my mistakes was too high. But at least I know this certificate is really a tough one.

This mission was by far my longest. Seven months of learning and then three more before I will have moved in another country. I chose it so, because I wanted to learn one language, really well and I chose Spanish to be that language. And another reason is that I really enjoyed Madrid.

The exam says I am C2 in reading and listening and somewhere around B2/C1 in speaking and writing. Fair enough, not bad. I am comfortable in Spanish. There are moments when I come to talk to a shop assistant and can't say a word. Then I feel bad. But consequently, I realize it happens to me also in Slovak.

Things I learned

There are also some things I discovered about language learning during this mission. Things that I will do from now on differently:

Regular one-to-one language exchange with a stable person is better than going for language exchange meetings in bars

You avoid that small talk part in the beginning.

It is really important to get the pronunciation right in the first phase and only then read a lot

I began with the books and only then learned that 'b' and 'v' are pronounced the same in Spanish. It cost me a lot to relearn to pronounce it right.

Extra time does not mean progressing at the same pace

When you have little time, you are in pressure and you keep using every moment. If you have several months ahead, you ease the tempo.

But it was not just these things. I also learned that one o'clock is too soon to have a lunch, that it is easier to understand somebody from South America than an Andalusian (Well, except the Argentina. Nobody understands Argentinians.), that it is "okay" if they cut you the internet connection one week before the requested date, that the waves for surfing are so much better at the North of Spain and that if you are a guy, you should go to Medellín, Colombia (supposedly, the gender ration is close to 2:1—although I stay sceptical about this).

Hispanophone World

Here is the map of new the part of the world I can make myself understood, thanks to the last year:

And what makes it even better is that unlike Portuguese, Spanish is much more homogeneous across various countries.

Goodbye Madrid, you will be missed. Especially because of your perfect inhabitants. Thank you, my friends for making this stay such a wonderful experience and see you around ;)