I Spent a Week Learning High Valyrian from 'Game of Thrones'

Welcome to peak nerd.

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(Image credit: HBO)

I am a nerd and pretty proud of it. I'm talking a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-fiction in middle school, cosplaying at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter nerd. And don't worry—those aren't humblebrags, they're regular old genuine brags.

But I'm not one to rest on my laurels. I know I could always be less cool, and I don't let opportunities to become so just pass me by. So as a proud Game of Thrones fan, when the chance to learn High Valyrian (via the language-learning app Duolingo) presented itself, I couldn't pass it up. Speaking a fictional language is truly the nerdiest bucket-list material, so please join me on my ascent to peak geek.

Khaleesi Log: Day One

Let's start with a little background on what High Valyrian is and why I would be interested in learning it. As the Duolingo "tips and notes" section explains: "High Valyrian is the language of the old Valyrian Freehold, a thriving civilization destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm centuries before the action of 'Game of Thrones' begins. It was a language of dragon tamers and warriors, but is now a language of refinement and education—a memory of a bygone era."

In other words, it's Daenerys' native language.

Literally, the first word I learned in the course was "kepa"—the High Valyrian word for "father." The first full phrase I learned was "happy father." Bring on the patriarchy, amirite? But by the end of my first day studying High Valyrian, I was mostly equipped to identify people as men, women, boys, girls, mothers, and fathers—which means that if nothing else, I'm going to be a blast at my next family reunion.

Khaleesi Log: Day Two

Today I learned the words for yes, no, welcome, please, and thank you—because pleasantries come after war, obviously. I also learned "valar morghulis," the only phrase in High Valyrian that every Thrones fan knows. For those of you with a rich social life and no time for intricate fantasy worlds, "valar morghulis" means "all men must die," and it's a common refrain among the people of Westeros and Essos.

Khaleesi Log: Day Three

I learned the words for "see," "love," and "hear." I was much more focused on my verbal skills today than during the first few days, and caught myself doing a comically bad Emilia Clarke impression (complete with slight British accent on top of the fake Valyrian accent).

My dog was very confused and kept running through every trick he knows as if trying to get me to stop speaking the strange language. Note to self: Must learn High Valyrian for "sit."

Khaleesi Log: Day Four

I learned the word for "admire" and was forced to use it in both the "wow, I admire this accomplished person" and "the men admire the pretty ladies" context. So there's that. I also learned the words for "guest" and "sword" in the same lesson, which makes me think the people of Valyria were probably terrible, terrible hosts. My thoughts are with you, Jon Snow.

Khaleesi Log: Day Five

The words were finally starting to flow and sound beautiful. The common tongue began to taste like sand in my mouth. WHY DO WE LET BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGES DIE?

Oh right, because this one never actually existed until HBO commissioned it. I didn't forget that or anything. I definitely remember that this is fiction and that I'm not the Mother of Dragons.

Khaleesi Log: Day Six

Touched fire. Still feels hot. Which I expected because I'm not delusional at all. I learned some new vocabulary (like the words for "owls" and "Unsullied"—which, even though it's a proper noun, has its own word in High Valyrian). The sample sentences started becoming more feminist. My favorite is "vali kirini issi se ābri sylvī issi," which means "the men are happy and the women are wise."

Like Missandei, High Valyrian might be my favorite language. Unlike Missandei, I don't speak 19 languages from around Westeros and Essos—at least until Duolingo adds more lessons. (Another note to self: Learn "Hint, hint, Duolingo" in High Valyrian).

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Kayleigh Roberts
Weekend Editor

Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.