Cornish Language Weekend in Cornwall

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Cornwall is marked in red on the map

Last weekend I spent four days in the beautiful county of Cornwall for a holiday and also to attend the annual Cornish Language Weekend.

IMG_3935I flew from the north of England down to Newquay, Cornwall as I didn’t fancy a 6 or 7 hour drive and so the flight was a very quick 40 minutes and then I picked up a hire car from the airport. My first two nights were spent in the picturesque village of St Agnes where I stayed in a 400-year-old hotel full of character. I was planning to use St. Agnes as a base while I drove around Cornwall in the hire car so I didn’t expect there to be much to see in the village. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I popped outside for a stroll. Firstly, the walk to the beach is gorgeous. You pass a row of delightful 18th century cottages that used to be occupied by ship captains. The street is called “Stippy Stappy Lane” which I thought was a strange sounding name.

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18th Century Houses on Stippy Stappy Lane

Apparently it is thought this was old Cornish dialect referring to the steep steps that take you to the bottom of this stunning little street. Elsewhere in the village there is an old church with tiny, cute wooden doors on the side and the remains of one of Cornwall’s old industries, a 19th century tin mine. Tin mining was a very important industry in this part of Cornwall and it goes back hundreds of years. There are many old tin mines around the landscape in this part of Cornwall and they have been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeological sitesThe whole of Cornwall is steeped in history. The red dots on this map represent archaeological sites to visit.  I would like to have been able to visit many of them but I was restricted for time. I managed to visit the villages of St. Teath and Tintagel in North Cornwall where I visited a medieval church and castle. In the church at St Teath, they have a list of all their vicars on the wall going back to the 13th century!

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St Michael’s Mount

One place in Cornwall I had always wanted to visit was St.Michael’s Mount which is a small island with a population of about 35 people and lies off the south coast.  It is similar to Mont St Michel off the north coast of France although it is smaller. The island has been occupied for more than 1000 years and it is estimated that a monastery was here around the 8th-11th centuries.

On the very south coast of Cornwall I visited the small villages of Paul and Mousehole. Here, allegedly, was where the last native speaker of the Cornish language lived. Her name was Dolly Penreath and she died in the year 1777. I managed to visit her grave. Linguists visited Cornwall from Wales and London in the 17th and 18th centuries to start trying to record what was left of this dying language.

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Dolly’s gravestone with Cornish written at the bottom

Cornwall is a Celtic language, close to Breton and Welsh and was once the main language in Cornwall. During the Middle Ages, English started to creep into Cornwall from the north until the last Cornish speakers could only be found in the very south. There are several reasons for the decline in Cornish. For example, from the Middle Ages, trade at the ports with people from English speaking areas increased the need for the English language and the aristocracy started using English rather than Cornish names. Cornish was beginning to be seen as a language of the poor people.  In the year 1549, the Act of Uniformity outlawed all languages except English from church services. Many Cornish people protested about this as they said many people in Cornwall could not understand English. Several thousand Cornish protesters were massacred by King Edward VI’s army. The Cornish language religious institution of Glasney College was destroyed in the year 1548. Many plays in Cornish were written and performed at Glasney. The subsequent spread of English into the religious lives of the Cornish people is seen as one of the main factors in the demise of the Cornish language.

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St Teath 13th Century Church

The claim that Dolly Penreath was the last native speaker has been disputed for several reasons. For example,  in 1776 a local fisherman named William Bodinar, sent this letter in Cornish and English to the antiquarian Daines Barrington, who had visited Cornwall searching for Cornish speakers. The letter states that around five people in the village were still speakers of Cornish at that time. Bodinar outlived Dolly by some twelve years. There are other examples of speakers who lived in the 19th century too. However, the true revival of the language started in the early 20th century when Henry Jenner published a book called “Handbook of the Cornish Language”. Other publications followed throughout the 20th century and the modern revival began.

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Book Stall at the Cornish Language Weekend

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Cornish Language Class

Today, there are many books to buy in Cornish as well as many ‘classics’ that have been translated into Cornish. A large selection is available to buy online here. There are Cornish language classes held throughout Cornwall as well as a distance learning course.  I completed the first few lessons on the distance learning course before attending the Cornish Language Weekend in Newquay.

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Troyl – Cornish Traditional Dancing at the Cornish Language Weekend

The event is held every year and they cater for complete beginners right up to advanced levels. You can now even sit official exams in Cornish. As well as Cornish lessons, the Cornish Language Weekend included other activities such as an afternoon walk with commentary in Cornish and English, a ‘troyl’ (traditional Cornish dancing) and Cornish singing. The price for attending the weekend was very reasonable. If you would like to find out more about the Cornish weekend, please click here.

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Unexpected Language Challenge – Slovak

I have booked to attend the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, Slovakia at the end of May. The organisers have announced a 50 day challenge between now and the event to learn Slovak. Participants in this challenge will have to do a short presentation on a topic of their choice for 1-2 minutes at the Gathering and then answer some simple questions. Polyglot prizes will be awarded by the judges.

So, I have decided to join and I think it will be fun. Firstly, I hate going to countries where I can’t speak the language. The British have a very bad reputation of being monolingual and expecting foreigners just to speak English. The slang name is a “Brit Abroad” with the following meaning according to Urban Dictionary “An individual from the UK who travels to foreign countries with no intention of integrating with the culture there. Instead, they hunt down a full English breakfast, followed by a bar to watch football, 10 pints of Carling and a Sunday roast. Never attempts any of the language and is constantly ridiculed by locals who know they can’t understand one word they are saying. They sit on the beach in uncomfortable temperatures, wear no sun cream, a white handkerchief on their head and sit down to dinner resembling a lobster that’s been caught on the job. Such an individual can be mostly found in Spain in any location prefaced by ‘Costa’, the Algarve and various other areas that have been downgraded in order to make these people feel more at home.” I’d say that was a pretty accurate description and typical holiday resorts in the Mediterranean have a lot of these people, so when I travel to the Spanish coast or anywhere similar, the locals are shocked that I speak fluent Spanish. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I never like to travel without even knowing small amounts of the local language so I wanted to learn some Slovak anyway, so why not take part in the challenge too?

My main method of learning will be with practice on Skype with native speakers on Italki. This is the way I learn best and I support the “speak from day one” method. I will also be using this website which has lots of content for various levels of Slovak. In addition to that, I have found a verb conjugator website and at the start of a new language, I like to learn the present tense of the most common verbs so that I can start speaking sentences straight away. I am also going to have a look for any YouTube lessons as I learn well from video lessons too. I need to focus much more on speaking rather than writing because the end task is all spoken.

For the rest of the summer I will be doing a mini project on Napoletano to help support my presentation about minority languages in Italy that I will be doing at LangFest in August. Then I will be learning some Croatian for my Croatia trip at the end of the summer.

There is still time to book tickets for the Polyglot Gathering if you are interested.

If you’d like to know more about Bratislava, there is a lot of information on this website.

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Picture courtesy of the Visit Bratislava site until I can replace it with my own after my trip .

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Language Plans & Events for this year

As it’s January, I have been setting my targets and planning my language learning and travels for the year.

Language Studies

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At my Gaelic college in the Isle of Skye

Now to April – I am working on Egyptian Arabic as a 90 day challenge with an aim to being able to have a 15 minute conversation on video at the end. I have a very good tutor called Sumayyah who I found on the Verbling website.

Feb to June – I have registered for a Scottish Gaelic course again with the college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in the Isle of Skye. This means the next four months will be tough.

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I was on TV at LangFest in Montreal last year

End of March to end of June  – Special 90 Day Project  – I have found a Skype tutor to teach me Napolitano (Neapolitan dialect). I have decided to do this to improve my knowledge before my presentation about minority languages in Italy at LangFest in Montreal in August.

July to Sept  – For the summer, I will do a new 90 day language challenge in a Slavic language (either Slovak or Croatian).

I still maintain my better languages through Skype conversations without needing to do much studying (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, French and Sicilian). I am also continuing with Chinese and German lessons on skype because I have been studying those languages for over a year now.

Language Related Travel Plans

April – I will be attending a weekend course for Cornish in Cornwall, England. Cornish is a Celtic language that was revived in the last century after it became extinct in the early 1800s (dates disputed!). Cornwall is a beautiful part of the country and I will be hiring a car for a couple of days and travelling around the region. I plan to visit the church where the last Cornish service was held in 1678. If you are interested in learning Cornish by distance (the price is very cheap!) you can find out more by clicking here.

May  – I will be attending the Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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Alghero, Sardinia

June  – I will be going to Alghero, Sardinia where they speak both Italian and Alguerés (a variant of Catalan). Last time I was there, I was able to practise both languages.

August  – I will be at LangFest in Montreal where I will give a presentation about the minority languages in Italy as well as a short lesson in Sicilian.

September – I will be visiting Croatia and Montenegro which is why I want to learn some Croatian before my trip.

October  – I will be attending the Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland. I hope I can see the Northern Lights again like I did on my last trip to Iceland.

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My Trip to China & learning Chinese

Last year, I was the winner of an online language challenge where you learn a language for 90 days and then make a 15 minute video speaking in that language with a native speaker. The prize for the winner is a free return flight to the country of their target language. As I was learning Chinese for this challenge, my prize was a free return flight to China!

I had already briefly visited the south of China on a one day excursion from Hong Kong but back then I could only speak a few phrases in Chinese and I really lacked confidence. When I returned to China for my prize winning trip after completing the challenge, I was able to speak a lot more Chinese than my last visit and I had much more confidence. I was able to get by in restaurants (this was important because I am vegetarian), in shops and at tourist sites. I even managed to use my Chinese to buy clothes, discuss sizes, colours, trying them on and as it was close to Christmas, I bought all of my Christmas presents for my family in China. I had a lot of fun choosing unique gifts that I wouldn’t find at home.

img_9051My hotel was in a hutong (alley) area of Beijing. It’s quite a central location and within walking distance of the Forbidden City and the main shopping street. The hutong streets are very narrow and old. There are quite a few shops in the hutongs as well as a few cafes and hairdressers. My hotel was within a traditional old building in the hutong and was decorated in traditional Chinese style. The service from staff was excellent and I enjoyed being able to stay somewhere so unique.

I was in Beijing for just under a week. I booked several guided tours before I left home. I had always wanted to see the Great Wall. It has been on my wishlist for many years. My first full day included a visit to both the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. First, we went to the tombs and we were able to go inside and see the red coffins and thrones from the Emperor. img_9458The surrounding countryside is very pretty and from Ming Tombs you can see other tombs up in the mountains which aren’t open to the public. After lunch at a restaurant near the Great Wall, it was time to make our way up to the Wall for some free time to walk along it. The busiest part of the wall is Badaling as that is the nearest part to Beijing. I chose to go to Mutianyu because it was a quieter part of the Wall. I think I made the right choice because while I was on the Wall, I was able to get lots of photos without any other people in them! The walk up to the Wall is tough if you are not very fit. In fact, just walking from the car park up to the cable car is tough because it’s up quite a steep hill. It was certainly worth it though!

Over the next few days I visited the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the zoo to see the pandas and the Olympic Stadium. 15085664_676891065813826_5336481132796604197_nI would recommend taking a small group 5 hour walking tour of the Forbidden City as there is so much to see in there and most bus excursions only have 1 or 2 hours at the Forbidden City which is nowhere near enough. The Summer Palace was very interesting too with a beautiful setting on a lake.

img_0020The Chinese people really appreciated me speaking their language and I received lots of compliments even though my Chinese is still quite basic as I was only learning for 90 days. However, I am glad I was able to do everything I needed in China and I enjoyed the challenge and my trip so much that I am continuing with my Chinese studies and my 8-year-old niece is now keen to follow in my footsteps.

This is my video below showing various places during my trip :

To read about my Chinese challenge with a link to my Day 90 video with a native speaker, click here.

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Learning Sicilian in 90 Days

In English followed by Sicilian:

This week is the end of my 90 Day Add1Challenge to learn Sicilian. I already speak Italian and I have been to Sicily so I thought it would be interesting to try and learn Sicilian. After 90 days, I made a video speaking in Sicilian for 15 minutes with my tutor.

The language of Sicily is spoken by around 4 million people. Many people believe that Sicilian is a dialect of Italian. However, this is not true as Sicilian is actually older than Italian and was the first Romance language to develop from Latin with some words influenced by French, Arabic and Greek. cnv00017a-updated Written documents in Sicilian have been found from the 13th century. However, Sicilian is still not an official language in Italy or Sicily. In recent years, some schools in Sicily have begun to teach the language.  Sicilian can also be divided into various dialects. Most resources are in the western dialect. However, I have been learning the dialect from Catania which is the one that my tutor speaks. I have therefore been able to use resources in the western dialect and easily change them to Catanian dialect with the help of my tutor. Most material is in Italian although there are some books published in English. There is no formal spelling system in Sicilian and the books I have listed here show the various ways to spell words if necessary.

Sicilianu:

Sta simana finisci a mo sfida ca si chiama “Add1Challenge” pi mparari u sicilianu in 90 ionna. Pozzu ggià parrari italianu e iu ì in Sicilia, quindi pinsai ca puteva essiri ‘nteressanti pruvari a mparari u sicilianu. Dopu 90  ionna, fici ‘n video parrannu in sicilianu câ mo prufissurissa.

A lingua da Sicilia è parrata da 4 miliuni di cristiani. Assai cristiani crìdunu ca u sicilianu è ‘n dialettu di l’italianu.  Tuttavia, chistu non è veru picchì u sicilianu è cchiù vecchiu di l’ italianu e era a prima lingua romanza sviluppata do latinu. vtsicily23Ci su cetti paroli di origini greca, araba o francisi. Documenti scritti in sicilianu furunu truvati duranti u tridicesimu seculu. Tuttavia, u sicilianu non è àncora ‘na lingua ufficiali né in Italia né in Sicilia. Nda l’uttimi anni, cetti scoli cuminciarunu a nsignari a lingua. U sicilianu pò essiri suddivisu in divessi dialetti. A maggiuranza di materiali disponibili pi studiari si trova supra u dialettu occidentali. Tuttavia, staiu mparannu u dialettu di Catania, picchì a mo prufissurissa parra stu dialettu. Quindi, putevu usari u materiali cû dialettu occidentali e u modificai facimmenti cu l’aiutu dâ mo prufissurissa.
A maggioppatti do materiali è in italianu ma ci su cetti libbri pubblicati in inglisi. Non c’è ‘n sistema fommali d’ortografia in sicilianu e i libbri ca allegu mostrunu i divessi modi di scriviri i paroli.

This is my video speaking for 15 minutes in Sicilian with my tutor Eleonora after learning for 90 days.

In August 2016, I will be giving a presentation at Lang Fest in Montreal about minority languages in Italy and focusing on Sicilian. You can buy a ticket by clicking on the link above.

Resources to learn Sicilian:

Italki Tutor (Eleonora) click here

Sicilian Grammar Site: click here

News Blog in Sicilian: click here

Facebook Group for Learners: click here

Books:

  • Learn Sicilian  – Mparamu Lu Sicilianu by Gaetano Cipolla. This is an excellent book and written in English. It has lots of texts to read as well as grammar, verb tables and exercises. It includes a DVD for audio and the level is around B2. It includes the imperfect and past perfect subjunctive tenses (the present subjunctive is now almost extinct in Sicilian).
  • Sounds of Sicilian with CD
  • Introduction to Sicilian Grammar by JK Bonner.

Note that the above books are mainly written in the Western Sicilian dialect from the Agrigento area, however they do mention the differences with Catania and the Eastern dialect and subdialects.

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Polyglot Conference, Thessaloniki, Greece

With a clear view of the spectacular sunset through the full length windows, it was hard to believe this was our stunning venue for the Polyglot Conference. This year the event was held at Megaro Moussikis in Thessaloniki, Greece. I have been to Greek islands many times but this was my first visit to Thessaloniki.
img_8629-v2My day of arrival was free time for me to explore the city. There are many ancient buildings and sites to see in Thessaloniki. I wasn’t able to go inside them all as it was a Greek National Holiday but I took many photographs. p1050893Among the sites I visited outdoors were the Arch of Galerius and the nearby Rotonda, the Roman Forum, Palace of Galerius which dates from the 4th century AD and the 15th century Turkish baths known as Bey Hamam. My favourite site was the Church of St Dimitrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. Built in the 7th century AD, it has a stunning interior and was truly a special place for the locals.

greece-2I walked from Aristotelous Square along the promenade to the White Tower to take photographs at sunset and I had dinner at some of the fabulous restaurants along the seafront along with some of the other polyglots.

The Polyglot Conference consisted of two full days of interesting lectures and presentations about many aspects of languages and language learning. All presentations were recorded and will soon be uploaded onto YouTube. In total, there were 25 presentations over the two days.

img_8658One of my keen areas of interest is endangered languages and so I was excited to see on the agenda that Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann was coming from Australia to speak to us about Aboriginal languages and what is being done to revive them within their communities.  I had been following his Facebook page for some time before the conference. He told us about his project to revive the Barngarla language within their community and about how the Barngarla people are now learning their own language which was last spoken around 50 years ago.

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Me with Professor Zuckermann and conference organiser Richard Simcott

I became interested in Aboriginal languages when I visited Australia earlier this year. I bought a book about the Noongar language and I wrote a blog post about it with links to resources. You can read that blog post here.

Alan R King gave us a talk on learning small languages and told us all about a project he had worked on in El Salvador where he helped to grow the Nawat language within the local community because it was on the brink of extinction. You can hear a song he played to us in Nawat by clicking here.

Ellen Jovin talked to us about the many types of language books available in the marketplace and which types she prefers and why. As a learner myself who still prefers books, her talk made me think about my choices of language books and how the dialogue-focused books are not the best for my style of learning.

I enjoyed Tim Keeley’s talk about the age factor with language learning, looking at both young and old learners. I was always interested in how children who learn foreign languages at a young age grow up without having a foreign accent. Studies are not completely conclusive but they show that the oldest age we can learn a second language to be able to speak like a native is between 2 and 13. I’d say nearer the age of 13 because I know people who moved to a new country around that age and began to learn the language and now as adults they sound native. In our older years, studies have shown that learning languages keeps the brain healthy and delays dementia.

Lýdia Machová gave us the last presentation of setting priorities for language learning. She told us about how she would learn a new language by herself over a two year period and how she would focus on different skills for a couple of months at a time. It’s an approach I haven’t used myself and one that I would like to give a try!

img_8645I managed to practise all of my languages at the conference even my basic Arabic! However, by far the language I practised most was Greek and I was glad that I completed six months of speaking lessons in Greek beforehand for the Add1Challenge . I made videos speaking for 15 minutes with a native speaker. You can see my latest video here in Greek with English subtitles. Knowing enough Greek meant I was able to cope in the country for everything I needed to do at the hotel, in restaurants, taxis, sightseeing at the church and at the bookshop. Overall, a fabulous weekend in Greece with delightful food and friendly, welcoming people. It’s a country I will always return to.

Language Events for next year:

Polyglot Gathering in Bratislava  – 31st May- 4th June 2017

Language Festival in Montreal  – 25-27 August 2017

Polyglot Conference in Reykjavik  – 28-29 October 2017

See you all next year!

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Guest Post – Learning a Language Through Immersion by Lucia Leite of Lingholic

This week, I am publishing a guest post written by Lucia Leite of Lingholic.com about learning a language through immersion. I have done this myself over the years, mainly when I was learning Italian. I was sent to Milan for work and my Italian was still quite basic at that time. After about 3 months of working all day, every day with Italian people and watching Italian TV in the evening as well as using my ‘Da Capo’ book for help with grammar, my Italian had become as fluent as my Spanish which was what I wanted.

Taking the Plunge: Learning a Language Through Immersion

Do you look back on grade school language classes and wish you would have paid attention more? Youre not alone. With an increasingly international focus on business and in other professional arenas, knowledge of two or more languages can present serious benefits. The job market of today is a competitive one, and you want to make yourself stand out. Textbook companies, online learning portals, and even phone apps have become ever popular in encouraging people to pick up a new language, no matter the level. Still, despite all of the formal language acquisition methods to parler français, sprechen sie deutsch or hablar en español, theres no parallel to full language immersion in order to master even the toughest of languages.

Nothing quite beats workbook homework like sipping wine across from the Trevi Fountain, learning to dance flamenco in the hills of Granada, or navigating the subway routes in Tokyo. The truth is, living or vacationing in a place void of your mother tongue will require stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to new lengths in order to understand and be understood. The benefits go on and on. Here are a few to keep in mind to help you get the ball rolling on your next big language adventure.

Learn in Ways You Never Thought You Would.

Have you ever thought of binge watching your favorite television show or streaming new music as homework? In fact, these are some of the best ways you can learn a new language. Maybe you dont have the time or resources to book your travels around the world just yet, but listening to music or watching programs in your target language can be hugely beneficial. If youre not totally confident in your skills yet, utilize subtitles (also in the target language) or take pauses in between to do some translation. Again, dont make total comprehension your first goal. Even for advanced speakers, training your ear to pick up on a new accent always takes some time. But with context clues, youll be on your way to understanding faster than you thought possible.

Your Language Comprehension Will Skyrocket.

Throwing yourself into the deep end with language learning is not always comfortable, but its sure to be rewarding. From daily activities like ordering a morning coffee, catching the bus, or shopping for clothes will force you to interact using new vocabulary and phrases. When youre first learning, its easy to be shy or feel embarrassed about making a mistake. But the more you focus on conveying and understanding main ideas rather than every small detail, the better apt youll be to excel. Language is like any skill that takes practice, and with a friendly demeanor, most locals are happy to help you along.

Accents Will Develop Naturally.

If youre used to practicing a new language via textbook material or online, its possible youve been spoiled with listening activities latent with slow speaking and standardized accents. When it comes to languages spoken all around the world, its only natural that regional dialects and accents  develop. Getting to know a new accent is a great way to feel more a part of local culture. At first it may be difficult if youre straining with the breezy relaxed accent of Andalucia or the blunt choppiness of speakers from Manhattan, but dont let yourself get discouraged.

You’ll Test Out Slang with the Locals.

Beyond simply tonal differences, youre sure to pick up on colloquial phrases as well.This can be anything from simple regional greetings and goodbyes or other situational phrases that will give you a deeper insight into the culture. Its another way to make language fun and new. Find local friends or set up a language exchange to perfect your skills and practice your slang and idioms. Locals will appreciate the effort youre making to talk just as a native speaker would.

You’ll Gain Appreciation for a New Culture.

Most importantly, learning a new language means access to a part of the world, group of people, and way of life that you may never have experienced had you not taken the time to give it a shot.

Learning a language in an immersive environment full of little victories and huge leaps forward will give you the confidence to try all sorts of new skill sets, language related or not, to go out and conquer. Its a leap of faith you wont regret.

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