June 17, 2021

Online superorganisms


Tim Urban's Tweet

A while ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Urban, tweeted a tweet in which he expressed sadness about the fact that Nature (the scientific magazine) was posting too much political content. 

As it unfortunately often is the case today, this, in my opinion innocent tweet, caused an all out war in the comment section with dozens of people attacking him. 

This being sad, but not surprising, I noticed one other thing however. Consider this tweet: (I intentionally deleted the parts that would identify the topic so that I wouldn't get accidentally flamed as well:)

"Come on Tim, you are better than that...remember when you published that multipart hagiography of Elon Musk on yours? What happened to you, dude?? Tim you're better that this. You've had some pretty yikesy takes lately. Hoping it's just a phase and I legitimately don't see the problem here. Very silly tweet. Even if that was a mistake—and I very much hope it was—you’re coming across as what you once called a zealot. ....is this performance art?"

What is interesting about it is, that it is actually not one tweet. These are 10 tweets posted by 10 different people which I pieced together. To me they legitimately seem like written by one person. 

Diverting slightly, more and more I've been thinking about the fact that people connected to the internet have turned into this huge neural network where each one of us is acting like a single neuron in that network. 

December 21, 2020

Some thoughts about my dear book about Chinese Characters


Several years ago I wrote a book about Chinese characters called Understanding Chinese Characters. What started out as small research for my personal study purposes turned into this gigantic project that took more than 5 years of very intensive research and writing to complete and even though I did most of the work alone, there were almost 30 people involved helping me. Many many thanks to them, especially those who were very involved and the book could never have been finished without them. When I was done I was so tired and burned out, that even though I managed to push the book over the finish line with 100% diligence, after I self-published, I had no energy left for promotion whatsoever. 

I'm not a sales person anyway and I feel very uneasy when I have to talk about something I did not to mention promote myself or a product or an idea I worked on, so I submitted the book only to one publishing house and when I got rejected (which happens all the time and I accepted it normally) I only put the book on my blog and let it live it's own life. 

I am very surprised and happy that to this day with basically zero promotion and with the book being hidden on my blog there were almost 200 people who were interested in it enough to buy it. Many thanks to everyone who did.

In either case, the reason why I'm writing this article now is because a reader left a comment under the article where I talk about my book and asked a few questions, the most important being: how is my book different from all other books about Chinese characters? 

A lot of time has passed since my Chinese character burn out and when I read his comment I realized that a reader who doesn't know my work from my Understanding Chinese Characters youtube channel really does not know why I think my book is the best book about Chinese characters ever written! :) All jokes on me. 

He mentioned one Russian book to me and told me that to him it essentially looks the same as mine except for the colors and I have to agree. On the surface and without any explanation the two layouts do look similar:

December 05, 2020

Discussions with my Slovak-born Chinese friend about tones in Mandarin Chinese

Recently I've been going to my friend's Chinese restaurant every Saturday to eat and have a good time for a few hours with my local Slovak-Chinese friends.

I've been always fascinated with perfectly bi-lingual and bi-cultural people - the more complex or unexpected the combination the better. My friend's parents are from the ZheJiang province in South-East China. He was in China for 3 years from 6 to 9 years old to learn Mandarin (until then he only spoke his local ZheJiang dialect at home with his parents) and came back to Slovakia right before he would have learned anything about the structure of Mandarin in Chinese schools as Chinese students do.

He speaks Mandarin completely by feel, at a native level, albeit with a limited vocabulary and sometimes limited expressions, but at a native level. He speaks Slovak better than Mandarin. He feels more Slovak/European than Chinese. 

Since I started learning Mandarin, I was always most curious about how native speakers perceived tones, how and whether at all they think about them when they speak and it was quite difficult to talk about this to educated Chinese native speakers, because they all had learned about the structure of Mandarin in school which influenced their perception. 

My friend however knows nothing about Mandarin structure, speaks it intuitively and the following, to me fascinating, discussion took place:

November 28, 2020

Substance and Form


When I was younger, say between 13 and 21, to a great extent, I was much better at speaking foreign languages because I didn't really care that much about what I was saying :) 

To me it was important that I had a good accent, that I sounded like a native speaker and it was often at the cost of substance - the actual message I was delivering and the way I was structuring it. I might have sounded 100% like someone from New Jersey, but if you paid close attention to what I was saying, it wasn't very coherent. Now, provided, I was young at that time I wouldn't expect my younger self to be very coherent in the first place but I think I would have had struggled even if I had tried. 

As I got older, I started to realize that substance was actually quite important. Surprise (笑). As a lot of people, I imagine, I realized that most of what I was saying, no matter how complicated, was just a resonance of what was said around me. Almost everything I was saying and even thinking was something I'd heard from someone else before, only gravitating to those thoughts and language that was appealing to me and not forming it myself. 

June 15, 2020

How polyglots learn foreign languages - University research questionnaire




Hello everyone,

a university student from Finland asked me if I could answer some questions for his Master's thesis about how polyglots learn foreign languages. It's not like I get flooded with requests like this every day. I am very honored, that someone would like to hear my opinion for academic research and every time I am asked to summarize how I learn I feel like I get better and better at summarizing something I have no idea how to summarize :) 

I suspected my answers would turn into a small essay so I decided to post the text as an article for anyone interested as well.

Vladimir



1) Mother tongue(s): 

Slovak/Czech, Hungarian


2) Enlist the languages you know and evaluate the level of each according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, eg. Spanish C1 etc. (descriptions of the levels available on the last part of this questionnaire).

Current level:

Slovak C2
Czech C2
English C2
Mandarin C2/C1
Spanish C1
Italian C1
German C1
Russian C1

Hungarian B2
French B2
Portuguese B1

Classical Chinese B1
Latin B1

I learned other languages as well, but my current level in them is very poor. Maybe worth mentioning only might be, that when I was more involved with languages, apart from the above, I was able to hold a decent conversation without having to switch to English in: Polish, Serbian and Persian.

May 30, 2020

Are Simplified Chinese Characters really that new?



The great majority of Simplified Chinese characters* were created during the simplification process in the 20th century in the PRC. What is however probably not very well known is that a lot of what we call Simplified Chinese Characters today are characters that are very old themselves.

These characters may have originally had meanings that were not the same as the characters they replaced in the simplification process, or they sometimes were alternative modern or older versions of the same character but in either case, these Simplified Characters existed for a very long time in history as well (as will be shown, often for more than 2500 years).

The point of this post is not to argue that all Simplified Chinese characters are old, or praise their age and neglect the fact that they don't corrupt the phonetic and semantic elements of Traditional characters they replaced. I'm simply stating an interesting fact and addressing the common misconception that all Simplified Chinese characters were created ad hoc in the in the simplification process in the 20th century.

Furthermore, the simplification in the 20th century by the PRC government wasn't the first one in Chinese character history. There were several ones, some large-scale and systematic, others having the nature of random improvements, with the 20th century one being the most recent one. These previous simplifications also often corrupted individual character elements rendering them irrecognizable as will be shown below.

To name just a few all following Traditional characters had previously been simplified with their originals clearly containing recognizable phonetic and/or semantic elements:


Original meaning "to harvest grain" formed by 禾 (meaning grain) and 千 phonetic (pronounced qian1) originally written as 秊
https://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=en&char=%E5%B9%B4


Original meaning "outer side of garment" formed by 衣 semantic (meaning "clothes") and 毛 phonetic (pronounced mao2) originally written as 𧘝
https://ctext.org/dictionary.pl?if=en&char=%E8%A1%A8

October 18, 2019

Language Trivia

Hello everyone. I made a list of language-related questions for a friend of mine for a trivia game and I thought I would post the questions here for fun.

The rules are:

A) No google:)
B) If you get the whole question right, you get a point
C) Feel free to write your answers in the comments

Here are the questions:

1) Name the three largest Indoeuropean language families in Europe

2) Name 5 major Germanic languages

3) Name 5 major Romance languages

4) Name 7 major Slavic languages

5) Name 3 major Ugro-Finnic languages

September 16, 2019

Impossible tasks and bad techniques

If you see someone trying to lift a 500 kg stone with rollerblades on their feet, maybe knowing that that person had never done any exercise in their lives before, it's clear to you that that person will not lift the stone.

Firstly, the stone is just too heavy and secondly, it's really a dumb idea to try to lift it with your rollerblades on.

Unfortunately, the way people are trying to achieve language proficiency in some languages, is something you cannot see with your eyes, and a lot of people simply don't realize that either the goal they are working towards is impossible to achieve or the methods they are using will not work.

Some very difficult languages just cannot be learned to a satisfactory level with current methods. It's just like trying to lift that very heavy rock with rollerblades on.

So..if you are learning a language and are not making progress the problem might not be your lack of talent, but rather the fact, that with the methods you are using, you just objectively cannot learn what you are trying to learn.

August 29, 2019

Multilevel text analysis

Sometimes people ask me whether I use any special methods to learn languages so quickly and so well. These are their words, not mine:) I think language learning is very difficult, takes forever and I think I make a ton of mistakes in every language I speak including my native language. I used to say that talent, passion, focus and a lot of time are probably what influence my results most, but there are also a few methods that I like to use and I wanted to write about one today.

When I'm learning a new language, I like to analyze it on my own. The usual way I used to go about this was to make notes directly into the text I was reading, but this would get messy very quickly, especially when I knew very little or nothing about the language, because I needed to take a lot of notes:

My notes on Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic wars. Latin.

The advantage of this approach for me is, that I can write notes or translations of the text I'm analyzing directly into the text in any language I feel fits the translation/analysis best. If, for instance, in the text I come across a noun in accusative, I write the translation of that word into my native Slovak, because it also has an accusative and represents the form of the Latin original in my mind perfectly. If it's some strange verbal form, I usually write the translation in Italian (or English), since its verbal system is quite complex and derived from Latin and I usually can find a very good match. If it's some rare expression, I usually translate it into English or Slovak, since my vocabulary base is best in these two languages.

July 09, 2019


Understanding Chinese characters is a book that compiles years of Chinese character study in a concise and understandable way for the learner. Learn to understand Chinese characters for what they really are with a book that is easy to use, combining the best modern Chinese character academic research with the best learner experience.

Written by Vladimir Skultety, a graduate of Chinese studies specialized in Chinese character etymology and a polyglot speaking 15 languages working as an interpreter of Mandarin Chinese, English and Slovak.


Buy PDF for € 24.99 (+VAT)


Free Character practice sheets included

Download a FREE 50 page preview


Key features
  • suitable for anyone looking to understand and learn Chinese characters quickly and effectively
  • simple enough for beginners, detailed and accurate enough for advanced learners
  • characters in the book cover up to 70% of most modern texts written in Chinese
  • contains both Traditional and Simplified characters 
  • free printable character practice sheets with correct stroke order included
  • based on years of extensive and very detailed academic research, but written in a way which avoids academic clutter
  • high quality color images
  • custom designed illustrations
  • custom painted Oracle bone characters
  • licensed beautiful Seal Script font
  • 273 pages