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Ed’s quest to conquer 2,000 Polish words – an update.

By Memrise Blog

As many of you may know, our CEO, Ed Cooke, embarked on a quest to learn 2,000 Polish words in two weeks, in an attempt to win the January Memathon (previously, on the Memrise blog). One week has passed since he first took on this challenge, so we sat down for a quick Q&A to find out how he’s doing so far.

Q: Why did you choose Polish?

A: I chose Polish because I wanted to try an entirely new language, so I could enjoy something of the experience of learning a foreign language for the first time.

There’s also the fact that our lead iPhone dev, Jacek, is from Poland, and I’m gradually trying to learn the native languages of everyone on the team (there are nine mother-tongues in total- this is a project to accomplish over the decade, not the year).

Q: What have you found to be the easiest and the most difficult parts of trying to learn Polish?

A: I’ve found Polish insanely difficult. I think I’m learning it three or four times more slowly than, say, I’ve learned Spanish, French or even Chinese on Memrise. The strategic error I made was to not bother learning the pronunciation system first. I thought that by pure immersion I’d somehow manage to pick up why words like “wszystky” are pronounced “fshishsh”. This hasn’t really happened for me. Fortunately Jacek made me a course last night to help me smash the pronunciation. This will hopefully speed me up, and it will have to if I’m going to achieve my goal of 2000 words in 12 days.

Q: Have you followed your top 5 tips to the letter? What have you learned while trying to follow them, and how have you adjusted your strategy?

A: Good question. I have in large part, but one thing which I’ve had to abandon is learning for the first 10 minutes of each hour, using the Pomodoro method. That works really well for me for “easier” languages like Spanish- I did in and out really flexibly. But I’ve found that even learning five new words takes a lot of effort in Polish (my most recent five were przejść się, wyglądać, będziesz, zajęty and nowoczesny).

It takes a lot of attentiveness to pick up the spelling accurately, and I find that I pick up speed after 10 minutes or so of doing so, as I “tune in”. So I’m changing my strategy for the final five days quite substantially ( I need to – I’m so behind!). I’m now carving our three separate 60 minute chunks during the day for learning (6-7 a.m. noon-1 p.m, 7-8 p.m). And then a big blast at bedtime to review everything that needs reviewing.

Q: After one week of learning, do you think the goal you set for yourself is still achievable?

A: I’ve learned 485 words in the first week, meaning I have to learn 1515 in the final five days of the Memathon. I’m wildly behind, in other words. It’s going to be pretty tough. Part of the issue is that we’re working so hard right now on so many things at Memrise, that I have quite little brain power left for learning. But with the permission of the team, I’m taking a bit of time out of the word day to have a real go at this for the next few days.

Q: What time of day do you feel you’ve learned better/worse?

A: Ooooh, fun question. I would definitely guess that I’m best in the mornings. Evenings have been tough: I’m working at least 10 intensive hours a day at Memrise, and can be quite frazzled by the time evening comes. But who knows, what do the stats tell me, Olivia?

Olivia here! Ed currently has a learning streak of 9 days; having learned for a total of 26 hours and 45 minutes. He is learning better between 12:00 and 12:30 – it only takes him 4-4.3 seconds to give correct answers!-, but it takes him up to 12.4 seconds to correctly answer at 19:15, and his slowest time has been 18.3 seconds at 14:00 – but he was probably having lunch then.

Q: Have you found any similarities between English and Polish?

A: Well, Polish does seem to be a language with – deep down- a similarly resounding beauty and nobility to dear old English. But at the first level of learning, they seem almost impossibly different. The spelling! The horror! The insanity of distinguishing czs from zcs from yszs from wszyss. It’s enough to drive one to insanity. Interestingly, I felt that by just going harder at it, I would come through these confusions, but that’s not quite the case. As mentioned earlier, I’m taking a detour into learning about the pronunciations.

Q: Have you dreamed in Polish over the past week?

A: Cheeky question- I tweeted about this! I did have a couple of days of waking at 5 a.m .in the morning my brain a weirdly confused cosmic landscape of different Polish words and phonemes tumbling and morphing into each other in a kind of hypnotic blur, as if every last resource in my brain was going into trying to make sense of these impossible patterns.

Q: Anything insights you’d like to add?

A: I’ve really loved learning this intensely on Memrise- and seeing how non-intensive even my best efforts are compared to various members of the community who’ve been trouncing me on the leader boards.

It’s really good for all of us at Memrise to use the product this much- tiny problems that don’t seem that urgent can appear colossal when you’re seeing them 1500 times in a day. And I’m already seeing that I’m able to banter a bit with Jacek on the iPhone team. I feel like we’ll be able to conduct maybe quarter of our communication in Polish once I’m done. And I’ll definitely continue with the language- and perhaps even take some conversation lessons in it- once the Memathon is done.