Georgian Language: Reasons why it is so difficult for me to learn #3. Tricky consonants.

The very sounds in Georgian are confusing for  English speakers as they use glottal stops to make sounds that look like the same sound, for example p and p’ (written as ფ and პ, respectively), but which they hear entirely differently. Georgians, not terribly used to having foreigners speak their language, have a hard time understanding you before you master this difference (I have been trying for six years on and off).

Certain Georgian consonants may sound very similar to each other, but they are pronounced differently. Each consonant pair represents two similar sounds; one is aspirated the other not. An aspirated sound produces a slight waft of air coming out of your mouth. An unaspirated sound does not. Keti Chikovani explains this and makes the sounds half way through Lesson 13 of learning Georgian for Peace Corps Georgia.

aspirated                           unaspirated

თ    (t)                                         ტ  (t’)

ქ     (q)                                        კ   (k)

ჩ    (ch)                                       ჭ  (t’ch)

ფ   (p)                                        პ  (p’)

ც    (ts)                                        წ   (t’s)

პაპა  (p’ap’a) means grandfather but ფაფა (papa) means porridge

Then there are some really difficult letters for which we don’t have sounds in English:

ხ (x) is pronounced like “ch” in the German composer Bach, my wife’s name is ხათუნა (Khatuna or Xatuna)

ღ (gh) is similar to the r in French, pronounced using the middle of the tongue (!)

ყ (k’) to pronounce this Keti in the video (6:40) suggests moving the middle part of the tongue to the roof of the mouth. My tongue has problems with this, like my body has problems squatting in the Georgian way in their squat toilets….

I practise ხელი (kheli) meaning hand and ყელი (k’eli) meaning throat with my granddaughter, Ana, but I haven’t yet reached the stage where I can say hand or throat with any confidence.

More Strides in Learning Georgian : Principles and actions for learning any language in six months

August is a month where I have very little teaching, it would be good to invest my time learning Georgian rather than wasting my time playing Pool on Facebook, or other such time killing activities. Most of my Pool opponents are Turkish, so I have learnt a few choice Turkish swearwords :/ but Turkish is not currently my target language.

Playing Pool on Facebook

Playing Pool on Facebook

Wasted time is worse than wasted money (Paulo Coelho)

Yesterday, having finished watching the Youtube Georgian Language podcasts, I turned my attention to some TedX talks about language learning, I watched four different clips. They were all interesting, the one I think might be the most useful is this one by Chris Lonsdale in Hong Kong.

His clip entitled “How to learn any language in six months” sounds promising. He identifies 5 principles and 7 actions.

5 Principles

  1.  Focus on language content relevant to you.
  2.  Use your language as a tool to communicate from day one.
  3. When you first understand the message you will unconsciously acquire the language. (Looking at body language, expressions and the like is useful here).
  4. Physiological training – if you can’t hear it you won’t understand. This is a problem I have with Georgian, some letters sound the same to me, like “თ” in “თბილისი” (Tbilisi) and “ტ” in “ნატალი” (Natalie), I have been trying since I began learning Georgian to distinguish these sounds.
  5. Psycho-Physiological State… if you are happy and relaxed you learn much better than if you are sad, angry or worried.

 7 Actions

  1. Listen a lot. This is to pick up on the rhythm and cadence of the language.
  2. Focus on getting the meaning first (it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand every single word).
  3. Use patterns you already know (this is easier when learning a language related to your own, Georgian has little in common with English).
  4. Focus on the core. The high frequency language. In English the most common word is “the”, in Georgian there is no word for “the”, Georgian doesn’t have articles. In Georgian the most common word is და meaning “and”, I tried finding a list of the most common Georgian words, the first list I came across had “როგორც” meaning “as” at the top of the list, but then I also found they’d listed “as” as the most common word in their list of most common Greek Words and most common Galician words… The second list I found was a list of the most common words inputted to the Georgian pages of Wikipedia. This was more useful but had some interesting anomalies, the second most common word was “რედაკტირება“, the Georgian word for “edit” (a common feature of Wiki pages). Georgian frequency list.
  5. Find a language parent. A child often learns their first language from their mother. A language parent is someone who the learner can work with who tries to understand them but without correcting them and using simple words like a mother would to her child. If any Georgians reading this are interested in being my “language parent”, let me know. (We could do an exchange English for Georgian). Apparently spouses don’t make good language parents. I don’t think my mother-in-law would make a good language parent either!
  6. Copy the face. Look at people speaking the language and see how they move their faces to make the sounds.
  7. Make direct connections. Make images related to the word. The Georgian word for tiger is “ვეფხვი“, this looks like it has four limbs.


    More ideas: There is no definitive method to learn a language, nor any tool or teacher that will single-handedly deliver you to the holy grail of fluency. Language is written, spoken, read and heard. Each of these areas is considered a core skill within which there are myriad potential inputs; would you restrict yourself to one in your native language? All too often, people enter their weekly language class to converse with their teacher, but then barely have any contact with other native speakers or the media being broadcast in their target language. Try something new every day. Listen to a cheesy song, read a newspaper article from a newspaper whose politics differ from your own, write a story for kids, attempt some improvised theatre and talk to yourself while cooking.

    more tips


Georgian Language: Reasons why it is so difficult for me to learn #2. Peculiarities of the verb “have”

  • Some of the most frequent and necessary word forms are not only irregular but also highly counterintuitive, which means you have to learn them early along with the more straightforward parts of the grammar.  For example, the verb ‘to have’ seems like it should be very basic, but you need to know that it takes a dative case subject that agrees with what look like object prefixes, a nominative case object that agree with subject suffixes, and you also need to know whether the possessee is animate or inanimate, because there are two entirely different verbs for ‘have’ that depend on that fact.  Also, these two verbs use different irregular stems in every tense, so they require a lot of memorization.

მყავს I have (animate object). მე მყავს ერთი და. I have a brother.


მაქვს  I have (inanimate object) მე მაქვს ერთი სახლი. I have a house.

and transport is an exception…

მანქანა მყავს… I have a car

Thomas Wier (Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Free University of Tbilisi) remarked on the Georgian language: “The language itself has features that few languages around the world have. Compounding the problem is the fact that the context in which you learn the language (the resources available, and the attitude Georgians take towards foreigners speaking their language), means that foreigners have an uphill struggle even if the language itself were not unusual,”

Reading in Georgian : Galaktion Tabidze გალაკტიონ ტაბიძე

Poetry is a big feature of Georgian culture. Many of the important streets in Tbilisi are named after Georgian poets…Chavchavadze, Rustaveli, Tsereteli, Vazha-Pshavela etc… sadly these Georgian poets are hardly known in the English speaking world. One street with high class restaurants is named Tabidze Street after the poet Galaktion Tabidze (1891-1959). I have a book of Tabidze’s poems with English translations by Innes Merabishvili. I am trying to learn one of these by heart, perhaps his most famous poem… ქარი ჰქრის… (Blows the wind)


Galaktion Tabidze “Poems”

The poem published in 1924  is 10 lines long (the first and last are the same, which makes my task a little simpler).

ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის,

პოთლები მიჰქრიან ქარდაკარ …

ხეთა რიგს, ხეთა ჯარს რკალად ხრის

სადა ხარ, სადა ხარ, სადა ხარ?

როგორ წვიმს, როგორ თოვს, როგორ თოვს

ვერ გპოვებ ვერასდროს… ვერასდროს!

შენი მე სახება დამდავს თან

ყოველ დროს, ყოველთვის ყოველგან!

შორი ცა ნისლიან ფიქრებს სცრის …

ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის!

Looking at each line in turn…

ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის,

the first line is quite easy the first two words being simply repeated twice

პოთლები მიჰქრიან ქარდაკარ …

the second line is trickier, the first word I know means leaves (პოთლები) the second  მიჰქრიან is not easy having a difficult consonant cluster in the middle “ჰქრ” it is like putting h – k and r together,  the final word  ქარდაკარ (kar-dakar) I remember because I think of a rally car in the Paris Dakar rally.

ხეთა რიგს, ხეთა ჯარს რკალად ხრის

რიგს sounds like the English word “rigs” and ჯარს sounds like the English word “jars” so I imagine these in trees (ხეთა) when trying to remember the line.  რკალად (this means arch and I just have to learn it). The last word  ხრის rhymes with ჰქრის.

სადა ხარ, სადა ხარ, სადა ხარ?

like the first line here we have two words repeated, it is a useful phrase სადა ხარ? means where are you?

როგორ წვიმს, როგორ თოვს, როგორ თოვს

this is about the weather, how it rains (წვიმს) and how it snows (თოვს)

ვერ გპოვებ ვერასდროს… ვერასდროს!

we have the combination ვერ three times in this line, I think of a worm “ver” in French. გპოვებ the word for find begins with g and p a consonant combination we don’t have in English at the beginning of a word (we have it in pigpen)

შენი მე სახება დამდავს თან

this line is causing me problems შენი მე “you” and “I” are words I know,  სახება here I notice the three consonants ს – ხ – ბ look similar interspersed with vowels. დამდავს თან I am having trouble remembering this damdevs tan is how it sounds like some made up country in central Asia.

ყოველ დროს, ყოველთვის ყოველგან!

here we have ყოველ repeated three times, ყოველ means “every” and sounds a little like the English word “hovel,” a lowly dewelling.

შორი ცა ნისლიან ფიქრებს სცრის …

შორი (shori) means far or distant I can imagine distant shores,  ცა means sky, ფიქრებს (nislian) sounds a bit like a Japanese car (Nissan), სცრის (stsris) again we have the …რის ending …

ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის, ქარი ჰქრის!

the last line is the same as the first…so that’s easy

Now to learn it all…

Here are two English Translations of the poem:

The wind it whirls, the wind it whirls, the wind it whirls
and the leaves pursue the wind to wind, a-whirling…
Ranks of trees, rows of trees arch their backs,
where are you, where are you, why so far?
Oh, the rain. Oh, the snow. Oh, the snow!
Where’d you go? Where’d you go… No one knows!
But your portrait swirls deep within my mind
everywhere, in every way, all the time…
The far-off skies sprinkle mist and thoughts…
the wind it whirls, the wind it whirls, the wind it whirls…

Translation: Timothy Kercher

Whirls the wind, whirls the wind, whirls the wind

And the leaves whirl from wind still to wind

Rows of trees, lines of trees bend in arch,
Where art thou, where art thou, why so far?..
How it rains, how it snows, how it snows,

Where to find, where to find… Never know!
But pursued, but pursued by your eyes
All the time, everywhere, every time!..
Distant skies drizzle thoughts mixed with mist…
Whirls the wind, whirls the wind, whirls the wind!.

Translation: Innes Merabishvili

Georgian Lesson 2

Four and a half years I have lived in Georgia. Georgian is very different from the European languages I know (French, Spanish, German or English).  I lived in France for six years and after two years I was reasonably fluent in the language. I thought Georgian would be similarly acquired but that isn’t the case. It will require some effort on my part and I am lazy.

Georgian lesson 2 : დალევა / სმა

Georgian lesson 2 : დალევა / სმა

I’ve been reading a few children’s books in Georgian, and translating them with the help of Khato (my lovely Georgian wife), a small Georgian English dictionary and Google Translate.

I asked Khato for lessons and marked 5 hours in the week when we could meet for lessons. The first lesson was on Tuesday 18 March, it took place in the kitchen and included phrases like:

ხათო თლის კარტოფილს    Khato peels potatoes

ხათო რეცხავს კარტოფილს  Khato washes potatoes

ხათო ჭრის კარტოფილს  Khato cuts potatoes

ხათო წვავს კარტოფილს  Khato fries potatoes

Talking with Charlie, a teaching colleague at the French school on Wednesday, I asked him for some suggestions for learning Georgian. He is an American who has been in Georgia for a much shorter time than me but gets by in Georgian.

He told me he’d take a verb and write it down in the various cases.  He also said it was better to use Georgian characters from the outset than using Georgian transcribed with Roman letters.

So for my next lesson that’s what I did.

I took the verb სმა or  დალევა (if someone Georgian can tell me the difference between the two I’d be grateful) meaning drink and got Khato to show me how it conjugated.


მე სვამ            I drink                                                   ჩვენ სვამთ   we drink

me vsvam                                                                            chven vsvamt

შენ სვამ           you drink                                             თქვენ სვამთ   you drink

shen svam                                                                          tkven svamt

ის სვამს           he/she drinks                                      ისინი სვამენ   they drink

is svams                                                                               isini svamen


მე დალიე           I drank                                                  ჩვენ დალიე   we drank

me davlie                                                                             chven davliet

შენ  დალიე          you drank                                      თქვენ დალიე   you drank

shen dalie                                                                            tkven daliet

მას დალი            he/she drank                                  მათ დალიე   they drank

mas dalia                                                                          mat dalies



მე დალე            I will drink                                     ჩვენ დალევ   we will drink

me davlev                                                                            chven davlevt

შენ დალე          you drink                                     თქვენ დალე   you will  drink

shen dalev                                                                          tkven dalevt

ის და          he/she will drink                      ისინი დალეენ   they will drink

is dalevs                                                                              isini daleven

As you might see from the transcription, Georgian has unusual combinations of letters to an English ear. ვსვამ! (vsvam)

მე ვსვამ ჩაის (me vsvam chais) I drink tea or I am drinking tea

We also looked at words for the family brother-in-law is the same as son-in-law (სიძე) .

Two recent factors will help my Georgian, I hope.

In September. I moved to Varketili (Var ketili means I am kind in Georgian), my mother- in -law, Zoia, moved in, she speaks very little English, so if we are to communicate, I need to learn Georgian. Also my hours at the French school have been greatly reduced this year, which is good for my Georgian. Before when I was thinking in “foreign” I was thinking in French, now I use Georgian more in daily life than French.

The longest journey starts with a single step.

I need to get motivated and learn Georgian….




Reading in Georgian: 3 მელა და წერო (The Fox and the Stork)

“The Fox and the Stork” is a tale with a moral.


მელა და წერო.

I first started reading books in a foreign language when I lived in France. In January 1993, I read Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel Voyage au Centre de la Terre in French. I knew the story having read the book previously in English and having also seen the film. It took me a month to get through the novel underlining words I didn’t know, checking in a bilingual English-French dictionary and marking the book in pencil with the English translation. I have since read over a hundred books in French.


I now have books in three languages to read. I no longer need a pencil and dictionary for reading in French, only occasionally do I find a word, I don’t know. The Georgian book is a library book, so I won’t mark it. I use a notebook to copy out each line of Georgian then use a combination of what I know, Google Translate and my wonderful Georgian wife, to translate each line into English. I am not at a stage yet, where I can think in Georgian.


The books are short, so I can get through one in a couple of hours.


This story is about a fox (მელა) and a stork (წერო), who are friends but the naughty fox likes to play tricks on his friends.

მელა წეროს ხშირად ეხუმრებოდა … The fox liked playing tricks on the stork.

The fox had an idea for a new trick and invited the stork to lunch. The poor stork was unable to eat the soup from a bowl.


საბრალო წერო! Poor stork! You can see her difficulties from the delightful illustrations.

As you might have guessed the stork got her own back, inviting the fox for a meal which he couldn’t eat, because it was served in tall thin glasses.


The moral of the tale being: always treat your friends well and they won’t trick you.

Now I have a third book in the Usbourne first reading series.


ჭრიჭინა და და ჭიანჭველა (The Cricket and the Ant). I think it will be a while before I can read the works of famous Georgian writers like Rustaveli, Vazha-Pshavela or Tabidze in the original Georgian.

Reading in Georgian: 1: არრა My first book in Georgian

Four years and three months in Georgia and my knowledge of the language is woeful. Last New Year’s day, I made a resolution to learn Georgian by this New Year’s Day. I don’t think this will be a resolution I can keep. I know quite a few Georgian words but stringing them together is a problem.

Georgian is so unlike the European languages I am familiar with. They have their own unique alphabet ა,ბ,გ,დ,ე etc… The 33 letters look to me rather like twisted paper clips. On the plus side it reads from left to right (unlike Hebrew, Arabic or Chinese).

My wife speaks English very well, so there is no motivation for me to learn Georgian to communicate with her. Since September we have been living with my mother-in-law, Zoya, who doesn’t speak English so this provides more motivation to learn.

I find learning the words difficult, they are often long and have no resemblance to words I’m familiar with. Even simple words like mother is დედა (deda) and father is  მამა (mama). Hello is გამარჯობა (gamarjoba).

There are a number of letters, which to Georgians sound different like  and , but in English both are “t” the first is the “t” in Natalie, the second the “t” in “tbilisi”.

At the Christmas Expo I found a children’s book called “არრა!”


I have read this once to my granddaughter, Ana, without understanding everything I was reading, and my reading speed being frustratingly slow for both me and Ana.

Now I am determined to read it and learn the relevant vocabulary.

The story is a simple story of a naughty dog who thinks he is very good (დაან კარგი). He also thinks his name is “Nooo!” (არრა!), because that is what people constantly tell him.


Here he is dutifully tasting the chicken for his humans. We see on the right the speech bubble “არ-ა !!” (ar-a!! meaning no!!).

Wish me luck! (how do you say that in Georgian?)