language difficulties

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,”

Georgian Language: Reasons why it is so difficult for me to learn #1. Consonant Clusters

I know, I am lazy and not gifted at learning new languages but six years in Georgia, I should have made better progress, some of the blame might be apportioned to the difficulty of the language. I intend this to be the first of a few posts of observations as to why Georgian is so difficult to learn unless you are a child in Georgia.

I can see only two reasons for wanting to learn Georgian:
1. You want to live there for a long time.

2. You want the challenge of learning a REALLY difficult language (Hungarian, Polish or Cantonese Chinese might have a similar level of difficulty).

Outside Georgia, there isn’t much need for Georgian. I’m planning to stay here for a long while more, maybe for the rest of my life, so I have to get to grips with this tongue twisting tongue.

 #1 Exorbitant consonant clusters, both quantitatively and qualitatively are more complex in Georgian than almost any other language, making simple articulation of the language difficult for non-Georgians.

English is not completely devoid of consonant clusters consider “tchb”, looks foreign or certainly not English but we say it without thinking in “matchbox”, “sks” in asks causes some native English speakers problems.

Georgian takes consonant clusters to another level. The Georgian alphabet has 5 vowels like the English alphabet but 28 consonants.

The capital Tbilisi თბილისი, puts a T in front of a b, something never seen in English at the beginning of a word, Mtskheta ( მცხეთა), a former capital is even worse.

Thanks is “gmadloba”… გმადლობა.

მწვრთნელი ” meaning trainer contains one of the most formidable examples of consonant clusters, the first six letters მწვრთ are all consonants, which would be transliterated into English as seven consonants in succession… “mtsvrtneli.”

The vowels in Georgian are ა ე ი ო უ (equivalent to a, e, i, o and u).

Here is a bilingual text of Little Red Riding Hood…I’d  place the tortoise in front of the Georgian text and the hare before the English text.

Little Red Riding Hood Text

Little Red Riding Hood Text

I’ll say “nakhvamdis” for now.

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?)