Category Archives: Learning New Languages

Big Trip Weekly Status Update – Three Weeks Left


  • Kept buying more stuff, but haven’t yet had a chance to re-pack after the first time I did it two weeks ago and noticed MOST of my clothes took up 3/4 of the space already.
  • Two purchases arrived that I’m excited about: 1) a old-school digital watch that I will use mainly to tell time without taking out my phone in public and to wake me up, again without leaving my phone out while I’m unconscious. I’ve started wearing it to get used to having something on my wrist and also to test-drive it. And 2) a tiny little indulgent purchase, the Joby tripod adapter for my phone for photographing the aurora (or try to at list). It’s very lightweight and folds flat.
  • Travel/Hostel sheets arrived. I’ve been testing it on my own bed for past few nights. Very thin (almost too thin) but still warm (my room’s warm anyway, though).
  • Finally bought my daypack…s. I got the packable version and a theft-proof version. I honestly can’t decide, partly because I don’t know if I have room for the larger theft-proof version. I’m going to decide near the very end and return the other one.
  • Started reading up on money and currencies. Let’s just say there are a lot of currencies.


  • Finally started going through the cities and booking places to stay. So far, I’ve only done Johannesburg and half of Lima. It’s still somewhat difficult to decide the hostel that’s right for me when I’ve never stayed in a hostel before. At this point, I’m relying a lot on reviews, and there always seems to be something negative said about each hostel. It is what it is.
  • What I realized that I also need to do is arrange airport transfers to and from the hostels. Having traveled in the US, I feel lucky to rely on public transportation or different types of private transport services. But when I go to a foreign land, airport transfer services are really useful, and I get why it’s important now!
  • So right now, for the first fourteen nights of my trip, I know where I will sleep for twelve of them. Progress.

Digital Preparation

  • I started setting up my devices and apps for traveling. Cleaned out a bunch of space on my devices and my Dropbox and downloaded the apps that people recommend.
  • WikiSherpa/Wikivoyage, while super basic, has been really useful. And it can be used offline once you downloaded the pages for the city!
  • Word Lens is also really cool. It’s the one where you aim the camera at a sign in a foreign language and it translates it for you. It was featured on an Apple commercial but was recently bought by Google. And I think that’s why they offered all the language packs for free “for a limited time” whatever that means. So I downloaded all the languages and tested out French both ways. It works pretty well.


  • Submitted my application for Chinese visa this past week. The process was much more efficient than I thought. Just a lot of prep work. So once I get that visa, I can technically travel all the way around the world.


  • I forgot to mention in the past two weeks because it’s been such a passive activity now for the past five months. I’m reviewing all six languages that I will be trying to speak on the trip. I had planned to review 10 lessons from each language over six weeks, and I will be starting week five. With every lesson review, I realize how much I forget. Let’s hope I can get by.

Next Week

  • One thing I’m still really concerned about is my luggage, especially when I still haven’t gotten everything I “need” for the trip and my luggage is probably full. So I really need to do another packing test and make some tough calls on what to and not to bring.
  • Accommodations. Gotta get those booked, at least most of them, something at the start of each city.

(18 days. WHAT?!)

(The sun just had a giant solar storm and triggered really strong aurora borealis that even northern US can see. I’m sort of jealous. Hopefully there’s some residual material leftover in the next month so I can see it in a little over a month.)

Languages Intro-Learned

This past weekend, I finished the first level of Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese. That makes five languages that I had gone through in the past four and a half months (Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Norwegian, and Mandarin). It also makes me ahead of schedule, which was the opposite of what I expected would happen had I taken one month to intro-learn each language, preventing me from learning the languages before my trip. Going at a rate of three 30-minute lessons in two days was semi-aggressive (except for Mandarin, where I doubled the rate), but I think it was totally manageable.

It had also been mostly enjoyable learning not only the language but the slight as well as the big differences with the same words/sentence structure across the languages as well as the cultural influences within each language. Italian and Spanish are similar in many ways (ex. “perché” and “por qué”), while a few Norwegian words are almost similar to English but still follow gender rules in adjectives (ex. “ett glass” (neutered), “en kopp” (masculine)). Japanese and Mandarin are similar in that they’re totally different beasts for those without previous experience, and I can’t imagine how someone can learn Mandarin or Chinese without an immersive experience with reading, writing, listening and speaking for hours every single day.

As I was learning each language, I imagined myself transported to the countries that speak that language and just live life either as a local or a long-term tourist. This has influenced me to return to one of these countries some time within the next five years and just live out my visa (usually 90 days) and see how much I can pick up and see how different life would be. Going full circle, there are two guys currently doing this for a year that have helped convinced me that learning languages is easier than most people think and that I could totally intro-learn five or so languages in less than 6 months.

I also want to keep intro-learning more languages after my trip, though without an urgent need, I may find it difficult to find the same motivation to learn them this quickly. Some of the languages I want to learn are: Russian (many of my coworkers seem to be Russian, so it’d be fun to be able to greet them in Russian), Korean (I’m already doing Chinese and Japanese, so I might as well do Korean as well), Dutch (It’s quasi-similar to Norwegian, and it’s more popular), and German and Portuguese (I might actually do a short crash course on these as I will have short layovers in Brazil and Germany during my trip).

I sort of wish that one day, I will be able to master a few of these languages, though that may involve learning them in a more immersive environment, meaning I would have to live in other countries, which I totally welcome.

(48 days until start of trip)

(People (mostly public figures) have been doing ice-bucket challenge to raise awareness of ALS. Kind of nice way to use viral marketing.)


Norwegian Progress 1-19

Hyggelig å hilse på deg.

Kunne du si det en gang til?

Can’t believe I’m just about two-thirds done with the program. Norwegian is starting to make more sense with the way things are pronounced. They’re not completely fixed like Italian or Spanish, but I think I can remember most of the sounds. Again, the familiarity is so divided between English and the other romantic languages: English in terms of how close some of the words are similar, and romantic languages in terms of adjectives having genders.

I still have to get right the intonations of words. Oftentimes, sentences sound like questions, and questions sound like sentences. I have to remind myself to try to copy the pronunciation of the speakers.

(79 days)

(Germany won the World Cup over the weekend.)

Norwegian Progress 1-9, and Smørbrød

Favorite word right now: kjøpe, only because its pronunciation is so different from English (it sounds something like “shiurper”)

Also in Lesson 9, I learned about smørbrød, which is an open-faced sandwich popular in Norway and that region. One thing I love about getting ready for this trip is that I learn about the culture.

So now, I’m going to try to eat one while I’m in Norway, and I looked up how to eat it (answer: with a knife and fork). I looked it up on YouTube and found this brief story about the smørbrød (or smørrebrød in Danish) in Denmark:

(88 days)

(I spent the past two days researching and logging clothes that I’d like to get for the trip. It’s a lot of work shopping, and I look forward to being done with it and move on the next part of the planning: where to sleep for the forty or so nights)

(Just read that the TSA is requiring electronic devices to be charged for any U.S. bound flights. Makes sense, but now I have to make sure my flight from Japan to Hawaii will have my devices charged!)

(Talked to my friend Mike on Facebook today. He’s taking a year off and is currently traveling in Europe. Need to do a mind-dump with him when he gets back and get advice for traveling in Europe).

Norwegian Progress 1-7

Favorite/speakable/longest line so far: Jeg vil ha noe å spisa hos deg.

I’m in the state between catching and asking myself why I’m making seemingly random sounds, and totally impressed, dumbfounded, and surprised that I’m understanding and learning these words in just the past few days. It goes to remind us that language is a human construct, and we make meaning out of things and enough of us just agree on those meanings in order to interact with one another.

I’m still having trouble making sense of all of it, but with each new group of words, I have a better grasp. I do find myself asking why I’m learning Norwegian, but other than the applicability in other countries that also speak the language (very few), I could say the same thing about the other languages I’m learning as well.

Because of the origins, it’s very different from the Romantic languages (French, Italian, Spanish), and it’s different but also similar to English, which is just a bit comforting.

I also looked up the city of Tromsø on a map, with a bit of Street Viewing. It’s actually a nice little town, and I can’t wait to visit and experience the normalness of other people’s home while admiring any beauty it might have.

(Just under three months, 90 days. It’s actually making me a little anxious)

(Hurricane Arthur is making landfall)

(An overpass collapsed in a World Cup city in Brazil, which brought up issues that Brazil is having managing its airports and services. I hope my layover in São Paulo will be smooth.)

Spanish Progress 1-15

Word I just learned and kind of like: “demasiado”. It’s simple and long-ish. The other is “juntos”. So different but familiar.

Only in the past two lessons did I finally start feeling intuitive enough to think of words in Spanish without translating seconds before. The pronunciations of all the Rs and Ls from one word to the next is still hard.

Also, I’m starting to blend some really similar words into Italian. I’m also forgetting a little bit of the Italian as well. I do short reviews every week but I may need to review more as the trip gets closer. And it’s getting closer.

(107 days)

(There is some sort of situation in Iraq. Not very clear what exactly)

Spanish Progress 1-6

Favorite word to say: Bolivar
Hardest word to say: restaurante

So far, I’m taking Spanish somewhat casually. That may or may not contribute to my difficulty in “feeling” the language. It may be that this is the fourth language I’m going through and I’m getting very used to the progression of topics and words they are teaching at this point of the program.

Finished Japanese I

Just finished the Pimsleur Japanese I set of 30 half-hour lessons. I’ve enjoyed them, along with the French I and Italian I sets.

I’m realizing though, that this is still giving me very limited vocabularies at my destinations. Even though it’s better than nothing, for sure, and even though I’m going to be at these locations for 3-5 days only, I’ll most likely going to be alone with my English thoughts. And that is fine; that was my original expectations anyway.

But having seen “A Map for Saturday”, I’m expecting to meet people in hostels, but I feel obligated to still communicate in the local language and not just English. Being an introvert and having never stayed in a hostel, I do hope I’ll at least meet some people I can do activities with for even a short part of the trip.

(119 days left)

(It’s D-Day 70th anniversary)

Japanese Progress 1-27


As cheesy as that sounds, I sort of wish I will have real use for this utterance sometime this trip.

(Current trip planning status: assembling packing list, may start seriously looking at accommodations next)

(WWDC revealed a bunch of stuff. I may find good use of iOS 8’s new features during the trip.)

(121 days. 4 months!)

Japanese Progress: 1-6


I swear Pimsleur made these programs with the focus for customers to pick up people in foreign places. It’s more like Pimp-sleur. This being my third language series, I can guess what’s coming at around lessons 9 or 10.

(141 days)

(Bought travel insurance yesterday.)

(Justin Timberlake released feel-good music video with Michael Jackson)