Archives for category: Georgian Language

I’ve mentioned it before, Georgian has this great word “zeg”, meaning the day after tomorrow. It’s cute; it’s convenient; we need it in English. It seems that other people are finally starting to agree with me! Join me in using zeg in English!

This vlog from 2013 (we’re a little behind) has recently been making the rounds of the Georgian internet (slow news week, I guess), as the list of “14 Words the English Language Needs” includes two Georgian words:

You can watch an edited down version of the video that just contains the discussion of the Georgian words here (text Georgian, but video English)

Shemomadjamo has gotten lots of mentions on similar lists, but it’s usually wrong (it should be shemomedjamA შემომეჭამა) and the pronunciation is usually off. I also don’t actually find it such a useful word in reality. Zeg (ზეგ) however, doesn’t get nearly as much listicle love, and it’s infinitely useful.

Anyone care to join me zeg for a meeting of the Zeg Appreciation Society?

Many of you might have caught my title reference to Teach and Learn with Georgia, the Georgian government’s program placing English teachers in public schools (and while we’re vaguely on the topic: no, I don’t work for them).  At first I thought this name was rather hokey, but now that I’ve been teaching for longer, I understand it more, though not, I believe, in the way they intended it.  After my recent post on ExPat-ese, tcjbritishvili wrote a post about his take on the language situation for foreigners here in Tbilisi, and I commented that “I find it sad that there are many teachers who aren’t interested in learning…it seems wrong to me”.  Which has made me get all philosophical about what I do, and why I do it, and the meaning of life, and the universe and…well, I digress.  Though teaching is not my “profession” as Georgian-English would call it,  it is my job and I enjoy it.

Part of why I enjoy it is because I’m a nerd, and I love picking up new facts: one of my textbooks just had a lesson on rituals that discussed the significance and cultural variation of handshakes around the world, and one of my favorite units explains how to survive attacks by various wild animals–this information could come in handy sometime!  I think a love of learning is an important trait in a teacher, though, because it will (with luck) be contagious and keep the students interested in class.  As an English teacher abroad, one of the easiest ways to keep learning is to study local languages and do some online classes for “fun”.   I’m now enrolled in a great Georgian class here: come join me!

(Edit March 22, 2014: Unfortunately the Georgian program is no longer on the website: I’ve kept the following up for posterity’s sake, and if I hear of the situation changing, I’ll edit this post again)

March 4, 2013:

There’s a relatively new Georgian online language-learning website that I’ve been playing with lately:  They offer English, Russian, Italian, and French instruction for Georgian-speakers, and Georgian instruction for Russian speakers.  I’ve been using their Georgian program, and finding it particularly helpful for distinguishing between tricky Georgian phonics: კ/ქ/ყ, ტ/თ, and პ/ფ as well as for improving my Georgian typing skills (maybe not a major concern for everyone, but I consider it a useful life skill).  Even better–the Georgian programs are currently free!  They plan to develop more levels of the existing programs as demand increases, and a Georgian for English-speakers program is in the works.  I’m spreading the word so that demand for the Georgian programs will increase and I’ll be able to get to some more difficult topics, so please join!  I think that non-Russian speakers with a bit of Georgian would find the program helpful for improving their Georgian and perhaps learning some Russian in addition.  Unfortunately, the website itself  is only in Georgian, so I’ll post directions for getting started below.  I think the website is a great supplement to classroom time or life in the country, because it helps to cement high-frequency words through highly repetitive exercises. It won’t make you a fluent conversationalist (or put me out of a job), but it should help increase your comfort level with the fundamentals.  You also earn points through correct answers, and my competitive side quite enjoys overtaking people with Georgian names in their own language…(cheap thrills!).

Directions for starting a program if you don’t speak Georgian:

  1. Go to the homepage.
  2. In the top right corner, under the graphic that looks like the battery click “რეგისტრაცი“.
  3. In the first two boxes “ელ-ფოსტა” and “ელ-ფოსტა განმეორებით ” type your e-mail address.
  4. In the next two boxes “პაროლი” and “პაროლი განმეორებით” type the password you would like to use for the site.
  5. The next box is optional, but you can provide your telephone number, if you like.
  6. Next required box is “სახელი”–first name.
  7. Followed by “გვარი”–last name
  8. The drop down boxes are for birthday (optional)
  9. The next boxes are optional, sex and city if you care to answer.
  10. When you’ve completed the form, push the white bottom below that says “შენახვა”
  11. You’ll receive an e-mail at the e-mail address you provided. Click on the link to activate your account.
  12. When you’re ready to investigate the class options, click on the “პროგრამა” tab. Language classes are listed by the country’s flag.
  13. The rounded boxes on the “პროგრამა” tab will give information about the course: duration (xx დღე) and price (xx ლარი or უფასო free).
  14. To start a free class, click on the “დაწყება” button, and click “OK” as necessary. You will eventually be brought to a screen telling you that you need to install the appropriate keyboard for the language you are learning. You can do this independently of them with no trouble at all, but remember to switch your keyboard or all your answers will be wrong.  Then start the class, and mess around until you start to learn the language and the software.
  15. To start a paid class click on the “ყიდვა” button, which will take you to the payment screen. I haven’t done a paid course, so I can’t explain this step-by-step, but I know that you can pay by credit card or paybox

Some advice for using the online program:

You don’t need to type the spaces between words, and doing so will be incorrect (this takes some getting used to!).

There are multiple different types of exercises including dictation, translation, filling in the blanks, writing just the first letters of the word, and correcting orthographic mistakes–often I find that when the program isn’t working, or claims I’m making mistakes when I know I’m right, it’s because I’m not paying attention to the type of exercise that has popped up.

There are still some minor bugs–sometimes the audio doesn’t match what you’ve typed when you typed correctly, or it tells you to translate into English when it means Georgian, but none of them are remotely dealbreakers in my book.

hey gogo

One of my favorite marshrutka entertainments is the Public Radio International podcast The World in Words.  I particularly like it while I’m on my way to teach, because it puts me in a language-y (or “linguistic”, if you’re against word coinage) frame of mind.   The October 1 edition about the Hobson-Jobson dictionary, a compendium of linguistic borrowings in the British holdings in India, made me think about word borrowings–not across languages as a whole, but among specific groups, such as ex-pats.  Around the same time, I stumbled across an old article from Mental Floss on words English doesn’t have but should (ZEG) which made me think of the strange linguistic borrowings and conglomerations that my friends and I (both foreigners in Georgia and English-speaking Georgians) start to invent and use.  Living in another place changes the way you speak, even in your mother tongue, so I’ve compiled a short list of Georgia Ex-pat-isms.  Please feel free to contribute anything that I’ve forgotten (or am perhaps not cool enough to be a party to) in the comments. Some of these poke fun at life in Georgia, and the difficulty of explaining our lives to those back home, while others fill a gap in the English language due to different cultural circumstances.

to get dajeki-ed: to be told by a very well-meaning Georgian to sit down, or “დაჯექი”.  This is not impolite in Georgian, but many foreigners find it quite annoying.
khachapuri hips: weight gain caused by eating too much Georgian food, in particular khachapuri
marsh: a shortened form of marsh(r)utka that I’ve only heard used by foreigners
to marsh(r)utka it: a casual verb form–to travel by marshrutka
modi man: the man in a florescent yellow vest assisting cars in parking and leaving their parking spots by telling the driver “Modi! Modi! Modi!” (მოდი! მოდი! მოდი!) (Come! Come! Come!)
Tbilisi tummy: the Georgian version of Montezuma’s revenge or Delhi belly. Happens to the best of us…

It’s not a new fusion vocabulary word, but I’ve noticed some foreigners using the vocative cases of bidjo ბიჭო (boy/guy/dude) and gogo გოგო (girl) to refer to their friends, or adding ra რა (what) to the end of things.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to stop myself from calling a friend from home “gogo” because she’ll have no idea what I mean.

Some place names change across languages.  An example that immediately comes to mind is the area of Vake known to foreigners as “UN Circle”  which is called “Round Garden” მრგვალი ბაღი mrgvali baghi in Georgian.

Another common cross-language word exchange is referring to the Georgian language as kartuli ქართული while speaking English (this is the Georgian name).  This actually really annoys me.  I briefly did this while speaking in Russian (rather than using the unpopular Russian form грузинский gruzinskij), and was called out for it.  As it was explained to me “We don’t like that that’s the Russian word, but it IS the Russian word, so go ahead and use it, otherwise you sound silly.”  I feel the same way about people who say kartuli in English, especially since “Georgian” doesn’t have the negative connotations that “gruzinskij” does.  My annoyance at this particular usage is compounded by the fact that it is primarily used by people who don’t actually speak “kartuli” very well, so it strikes me (and not just me) as pretentious.

Although I haven’t heard any ex-pats actually use it in conversation, I think I’m going to take Mental Floss’ advice and try to make zeg (ზეგ=the day after tomorrow) happen. This is the only Georgian word that I give my students blanket permission to use in class. (And Regina replies “Shut up, Em.  Stop trying to make zeg happen. It’s not going to happen)

As I was staring out the window of the bus this afternoon, I started chuckling and I was delighted to realize that I had understood a pun in Georgian.  Now, this isn’t a particularly sophisticated play on words, but, still…it’s a step.  We drove past a bar and restaurant called the “Mego-Bari”  (მეგო-ბარი).  The word “bari” (ბარი) means “bar”  (the i/ი on the end is the marker of the nominative case, if you care).  Megobari (მეგობარი) is the Georgian word for friend.  It seems like this is the kind of bar where everyone ought to know your name…

This post was originally published here on December 6, 2011.  It’s once again application season, so I’m re-posting this year.  I quickly scanned the information to ensure that it isn’t egregiously inaccurate, but I am by no means an authority, so please confirm the information independently.  -Em

A Public Service Announcement: It’s getting to be the time of year for school and scholarship applications, so I thought I would spread the word about the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, which I received in graduate school and allowed me to learn Georgian.  The Department of Education’s website on the program with full information is here.  In short, graduate students (and at some programs, undergraduates) can receive a tuition and fees waiver from their university, as well as a living stipend to study a Less Commonly Taught foreign language and the corresponding area studies.  In the current cycle, Columbia, Duke, UNC, Georgetown, Harvard, Indiana University, Ohio State, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Kansas, Michigan, Pittsburgh, University of Washington, and Wisconsin-Madison have received funding for the Russia/Eastern Europe/ Eurasia area program.  Of these schools, a quick search reveals that Ohio State, Indiana, and University of Chicago are accepting applications for the FLAS in Georgian language and area studies (keep in mind that my Googling is by no means the end-all-be-all of information on this topic).  Deadlines and application process for the fellowship and corresponding programs vary slightly by school, so be sure to take a look at each program’s information individually.  Please, also, comment here if I’ve missed any schools offering a FLAS in Georgian, or if you know of any other Georgian-language programs that are supported by a different means.

Georgian letters, with their Cyrillic and Latin equivalents
(from Wikimedia Commons)

As an English teacher, I’m frequently asked “How many languages do you speak?”  and the short answer to that is “Four…to varying degrees”.  What’s a more interesting question, though, is “What languages do you speak on a daily basis here in Georgia?”.  The answer to that may surprise you: even though Georgian and Russian are among the languages I speak, I usually speak English in Georgia.  Part of this is because, when you boil things down, my JOB is to speak English with Georgians.  At work, I always speak English with my students.  Even though they know I speak Georgian and will sometimes chatter at me excitedly in Georgian, I try to reply in English.  I am, as a general rule, not a fan of relying on translation in class, so I do as much as I can to avoid telling my students a Georgian translation of English words they don’t know.  If it is necessary, though, it is generally my co-teacher who supplies the translation: giving a bad translation is certainly a greater sin than translating in class on occasion!  At home, I speak exclusively English with my host siblings, who are both studying it in school and have high academic aspirations. When my host father learned that I spoke Georgian, his first reply was “But then how will the children learn English?!?!”, so I try to be very conscientious about using English with them for everyday tasks, not just when we’re doing academic English work.  I communicate with the older generations of my host family in Georgian, but my host mother (my primary interlocutor) is naturally an excellent communicator–she’s very good at understanding and being understood without benefit of a common language.  My closest friends here are English-speakers, though our group is quite international.  Most of my daily conversations in Georgian are little things that don’t require a particularly high level of language skills: taking taxis, or buying things in stores.  Though, increasingly often people will switch to English out of the blue.  Most of my Georgian-language practice comes from working with my language textbooks and watching TV in Georgian.  Although I speak Russian slightly better than Georgian, and it is often touted as the second language of Georgia (it was mandatory in Soviet schools, and most of the ex-pats I know were Russian or Russian Studies majors), I rarely speak it.  It’s useful to be able to read the Cyrillic alphabet, since many signs are still in Russian and I can read it more quickly than Georgian.  Other than that, most of my conversations in Russian are with the Russian teachers at the school I work at (though sadly due to schedule and administration changes I’m no longer sitting in on Russian classes).

This situation couldn’t be more different from what it was during my first trip to Georgia nearly two years ago.  President Saakashvili has declared that he wants English to be Georgia’s second language, like Russian has been historically, and I have seen this change happening before my eyes (or ears).  Two years ago (at which time I had only studied Georgian for one year, though I had five years of Russian under my belt), I spoke primarily in an odd hodge-podge of Georgian, Russian, and English, as did most of my interlocutors.  It wasn’t pretty, but we managed to understand one another most of the time.  It’s also important to note that at this time I was primarily in Tbilisi, and now I live in the regions.  (English is generally more widely spoken in the capital, where there are more foreigners and more universities).

Georgia isn’t an English-speaking country yet, and people still are very appreciative when foreigners try to speak their language, but a trip to Georgia is no longer the linguistic challenge it used to be.

Working on Russian homework. Note that I've got three languages going at once in my notebook. The Georgian-language Russian textbook should make a good souvenir, though!

In an attempt to better integrate into my school and keep Russian and Georgian from jumbling together in my head, I’ve started sitting in on the eighth-grade (second-year) Russian class at my school.  (I studied Russian in both undergrad and grad school, and my Russian is generally better than my Georgian, though still embarassingly poor after six years of study with fantastic professors.  In contrast, I’ve only had two years of actual Georgian classes.)

The difference I see between the students in Russian class and in my English class is quite pronounced.  Part of this comes from the age of the students.  Georgian students now start English in first grade, and used to start in third or fourth grade.  (I co-teach all the first through sixth grade classes in my school).  By contrast, the Russian class is eighth grade, and the students started studying Russian in seventh grade.  In my experience, eighth graders are far less excited about all things school-related than their elementary-school aged siblings are.  There is also, of course, the political element.  Georgia is trying very hard to move West, and the history with Russia is troubled.  Because of this, English is seen as a cool language that will help them in the future (and helps them listen to pop music now) whereas Russian is just another of the subjects that they have to learn in school because their teachers make them.  My school’s Russian teacher is (IMHO) quite good, and despite the lack of motivation, the kids are learning Russian.  I love sitting in on the class—on one level it requires some major mental gymnastics on my part.  The grammatical explanations and translations of hard vocabulary all come in Georgian!  This doesn’t help me figure out what the word means, but helps me practice switching between the two languages in my head and should help me pick up some new Georgian vocabulary.  On the other hand, Russian class is relaxing—Russian is EVERYONE’s second language, so we’re on much more equal footing than we are in either English or Georgian.  My Georgians speak very good English, but I still have to sometimes rephrase, explain, or slow down for them to understand me.  Everyone knows how hard it can be to live your life in a foreign language, but it’s also difficult to live in your native language with people who speak it as a foreign language (even if they speak it excellently) because you always have to think if the words you’re using are comprehensible, and make sure you don’t talk too fast.  My Russian isn’t good enough for this to be a problem.  Maybe with more practice and use, I’ll soon get to the point when I’m not confused when a taxi driver speaks to me in Russian.

I was lucky enough to have a FLAS Fellowship in graduate school to learn Georgian, and I love the language.  That is not to say, however, that learning Georgian is always an easy path.  I’ve studied the language for two years and lived in Tbilisi for three months, and I still cannot correctly pronounce the letters “ღ” or “ყ”.  Despite my phonetic difficulties, I found Georgian to be an easier language for me than Russian–the grammatical structure worked much better for the way I think about language.  (My classmates did not always agree with me on this).  However, a little bit of Georgian can get you a long way.  In my experience living in Tbilisi last summer (after just one year of Georgian), very few Georgians expect a non-Georgian to even try to speak Georgian, and they were surprised and flattered when I tried, and we could almost always cobble together a mutual understanding.

There are two primary Georgian textbooks for English speakers that I’ve heard about: Beginners’ Georgian by Dodona Kiziria and Basic Georgian by Nana Danelia.  (UPDATE–I’ve heard that Basic Georgian is now out of print, but some friends of mine would like a copy, if  you happen to have one you’re planning on parting with please let me know!)  I’ve also heard of a language text similar in approach to Basic Georgian called “Biliki” (ბილიკი –path) that contains very similar exercises but has a snazzier layout.  (I also heard quite the soap opera about why the two books are so similar…)  I haven’t been able to find it on the internet, though.  I’ve used both the Kiziria and the Danelia books, and for a true beginner, I recommend the Danelia book.  That being said, it is the Kiziria that I intend to take with me to Georgia–it seems more designed for a student with some exposure to Georgian trying to make grammatical sense of what they’ve picked up through in-person interaction.

One of my Georgian classmates got me the Book2 Georgian-English book for my birthday.  I don’t recommend it as a stand-alone book as it doesn’t really teach grammar, but as a companion to one of the other books it is a great help for learning vocabulary and practicing structure.

As for Georgian-English dictionaries, I’ve heard (and haven’t disproven) that there isn’t really a good small-size Georgian-English dictionary.  I like the website Targmne (Translate) for looking up words, but verbs are hard.  Google Translate is getting much better, and is certainly useful, but it isn’t up to its own standard yet.

Any other resources I should check out?

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