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September 2, 2011 / KaTe

And we’ll go hunting … languages!

Recently I’ve had a pleasure of attending the Agile2011 Conference in Salt Lake City. I’ve attended many really interesting classes, but the most amazing thing happened to me, when I didn’t. Sessions that day were scheduled for 2 hours. I wanted to get into one class I have been waiting for from the beginning, but it was limited to 60 people, and I did not get in… so I went to a number two on my list. I sat there for fifteen minutes and left disappointed, so I went to number three, same happened here, so I just decided to go to the Open Jam. Open Jam was just a space where people could talk, give speeches, get help from coaches etc. I came into the room and I saw a fellow coach – David talking to the coolest looking person I have ever seen – It was the steampunk dream come alive! A guy in a very classic grey and copper suit with a waistcoat, short curly hair and long, curled mustache. He only took his hat off because it was too hot to keep it on. “– Willem, I have a natural for you to hunt!” – David introduced me. “- This is Kate and she is a native Polish speaker!” I felt a little weird knowing that I will be “hunted”. I didn’t know what to expect, but then I noticed Willem’s face glowing when looking at me “- Wow! I have never hunted Polish! Let’s do that!” I was excited – almost thrilled. David told me about this before, that there is a game, where endangered languages are being saved – like Chinuk, a language not long ago spoken by one person, now quite a few, Willem being one of them. And it’s a very beautiful language.

Willem Larsen

So, they led me to a table, covered with a green sheet of a very casino-looking fabric. Later on, I learned that this is a setup that Willem uses to give his game more “gamy” character. It was rough in touch and a very pretty shade of green. I like green. 🙂 “- Can I record our game?” –Willem asked “- I have never hunted Polish, so I want to learn a little more” Of course I agreed – my excitement went through the roof. “- This is a game. It’s not a learning game, it’s a copycat game.” –Willem started explaining as we sat by the table “- And we will learn like little children, not by translating, but by copying. Each time you translate from one language to another, you kill a fairy. Do you want to kill fairies?” – Of course I didn’t. What would happen if I killed a toothfairy? “- But to save many fairy lives, we have to make a ritual sacrifice. I need to know how to say: What is this? ” “-Co to jest?” – I replied. “-Okay, so now we can start. Everything on the table is in the game.” I noticed a black and red ballpoint pen, and an imitation of a dollar bill. So we will be talking about this? Game on! So I was talking in Polish, asking “what is this” answering, naming things on the table, while Willem was using a little sign language to help him navigate through the talk. I have to say here that Polish is considered one of the hardest languages if not the hardest. Grammar is extremely complex, with words having more than 30 forms, many sounds sounding very alike for non polish speakers. At least the alphabet is normal… 😀 Willem was literally dragging words from me along with understanding. After an hour and a half, we have had a simple, legitimate and completely grammatically correct conversation in Polish, talking about pens, dollar bills and empty glasses. How Fascinating! So I returned to the same place every day in the morning so that others could hunt some Polish along with Willem on following days. It was unbelievable. Few days later, on a formal dinner, one of the people playing the game approached me in the ballroom, and we just had a short conversation in Polish about his empty glass … that was just out of this world. In an hour, all these people learned more Polish than a regular student would have over few months. They might forget it later, but they definitely will be able to distinguish Polish from other languages later on.
During the hunting, Willem used a lot of signs from ASL – the American Sign Language. They usually depicted a technique, or made learning more fun and easier. The ones I remember the most are:

Technique (ASL Dictionary – Technical)

This is a sign for technical or technology. Willem used it to mark a technique – a rule of play. It was very helpful, you knew when he shows something very important. I’m using this in my life and work now!

Obviously! (ASL Dictionary – Bright)

This is fun! When you want everything to be simple and clear, you call obviously. This way you make sure than everyone is on the same page and nothing obscures our view and understanding.

Full (ASL Dictionary – Full)

This is an absolute revelation to me. You call this when you’re having fun, but you’re just about not to. You indicate that you’ve had enough. You can use it at work, at home and anywhere else in interaction with people.

How Fascinating!

I couldn’t find an ASL sign here. You just throw your hands in the air  Great technique for any meeting or discussion. If you make a mistake, something is awkward or you’re just excited, throw your hands in the air and shout How Fascinating!

This is really something amazing. I will be trying to develop some cultural discovery workshop based on these techniques. Go ahead, try it! You can learn some more on the Language Hunters website. I was even featured on their blog! –



Leave a Comment
  1. Paweł (@pol84_) / Sep 3 2011 5:29 pm

    Regards from Poland 🙂

    • KaTe / Sep 4 2011 9:36 am

      Greetings to my fellow countryman 🙂

  2. Jonathan Perret / Sep 3 2011 7:52 pm

    Hi Kate, it was very nice to participate in the Polish-hunting with you. I can still remember the sentences I learned, how fascinating ! Together with Emmanuel Gaillot we keep talking in Polish about our full and empty glasses just for grins 😉

    Thank you also for giving a detailed account of how Willem introduced the game, that’s useful as a reference — I tried to entice other people to play the game back home, but clearly I don’t have Willem’s talent for “selling” it yet.

    I hope there will be games played online, google hangouts seems well adapted for that…


    • KaTe / Sep 4 2011 9:32 am

      Thank you Jonathan! I hope we will be able to meet – maybe on agile 2012 to continue the hunt 🙂 Or- Skype or hangouts, I guess we should try it someday. I loved it, and I want to continue hunting and being hunted 🙂


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