Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Italian-American slang to Italian: scooch > scoochamend > scocciamento > scocciatore

Today I came home from work to hear from my eldest daughter that my Italian-American mom had called my youngest son a "scoochamend". He then began repeating it to everyone all day, as 2-year-olds are wont to do.

That’s a word I’ve been hearing since I was a kid. It means that someone is a pain in the butt, but I had no idea what it was in standard Italian. So I figured that I’d try to figure it out...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hashy Pomme+ Bath Speaker review: Get your target language audio and video in the shower—batteries not included (or needed)

If you like being clean—and I'll bet you do—then you probably spend at a bare minimum 5 to 10 minutes in the shower every day. And if you're into Japanese-style ofuro bathing or just take really long singing showers that annoy everyone else in your family (*ahem*), then it's probably going to be a lot more time than that. And if you aren't using that time to get exposure to your target language, then you're missing out.

Years ago I bought some crappy $20 shower speaker on a whim, and it's been one of the items in my language-learning tool kit ever since: turn on some audio (music or podcasts, for example) and get some exposure while you're taking a shower.

Unfortunately there was one thing that always annoyed me about that crappy $20 shower speaker: it needed batteries. That meant that every time the batteries died, there'd be some period of time between the battery dying and me finally bothering to replace them that would result in missed exposure.

After that shower speaker breathed its last breath, I got the Pomme Bath Speaker by Hashy Top-In (pretty sweet Japanglish name for a company that's been around since 1929, no?), which is pictured above. It's powered by the device that you put in it so it doesn't need a battery, and I loved it for that, but this too had something that annoyed me: there's no convenient way to skip a track that you don't want to listen to or to adjust the volume.

I went looking for a battery-free replacement and that was when I discovered that Hashy had upgraded the Pomme to the Pomme+, which remained battery free but scratched one of my itches by adding a button that lets you skip songs. Below is the unboxing and a quick demonstration of how it works.

You'll find my full review after the jump, but I'll say right now that I can completely recommend the Pomme+ to get your daily dose of language learning in the shower.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Get more exposure from target language music by adjusting songs' start and stop times

While using music as a tool to improve my various languages, I discovered something that was crashing headlong into my impatience to learn quickly: when trying to get exposure to a target language via music, I'd often have to sit through parts of the songs that weren't giving me any exposure to the target language or were only providing very repetitive exposure.

There were basically three things that led to this. The first was those parts of the song that were purely instrumental; obviously if nobody's singing, you won't be getting any exposure to the target language. The second was that some songs use languages other than one of my target languages—most commonly English. The third was that certain songs would repeat the refrain or some other part of the song so much that I wasn't getting any particular value from all the additional repetitions.

That led me to thinking that if there's a way I can skip these parts, I can increase my exposures per minute and make the exposures more valuable by reducing excessive repetition. In theory, I could edit out such parts with an audio editor, but that'd be quite a lot of work and I'm not sure the time spent doing so would result in a net gain. However, if the parts you want to skip are at the beginning or end of your songs, iTunes has a pretty easy way for you to skip those sections on a permanent basis: changing the start and stop times of the songs.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ways to master English vocabulary

The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.

Learners can improve their English vocabulary in the following ways:
  • by doing communicative English grammar exercises with daily life content;
  • by practicing speaking on various topics;
  • by reading various materials in English on a multitude of topics; and
  • by listening to audio and video recordings with diverse content.
I believe the best way to learn English vocabulary is by topics with explanations of meaning, examples of usage in sentences, and subsequent exercises.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Always be on the lookout for exposure to your target language

When you start learning a language, there's a pretty good chance that you're going to start noticing that language in all sorts of surprising places. If it's a more obscure language, it might just be in a handful of loan words from that language, but if it's a bit more common where you are, you very well might find it all over the place.

I'm constantly reminded of this while studying Korean in Japan.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Practice speaking English (or any language) with ready-made dialogues

The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.

My suggestions below are suitable for practicing any language and are given of course in addition to indispensable communication practice with native English speakers.

There are quite a lot of ready-made conversational English dialogues on a multitude of topics with authentic natural wording with useful content (and vocabulary) at all levels of difficulty from basic to advanced levels. It's hard and time consuming for learners to create such dialogues on their own, as this would require a lot of imagination about potential content of conversations in various situations and issues of discussions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): Dealing with the lack of one-to-one translations

Randy explains his second major issue with flashcards as follows:
And the other bad side-effect of learning from flashcards is that they encourage you to believe in one-to-one translation. They make you narrow-minded and unaware of the language you think you're learning.

When you learn a foreign word and an English word together, and burn them together in your mind as a pair, you create the illusion of a world where every language is exactly the same, just with different words. But that world doesn't actually exist.
Assuming that there's always a one-to-one translation between any two languages is simply a patently false assumption. Now that you've been disabused of that notion, you no longer need to worry about flashcards "encouraging you to believe in one-to-one translation".

Now that that's out of the way, we can turn to the more interesting question: how do you deal with words that have multiple meanings in one language or the other? This is a real issue when using flashcards—and when learning languages generally—but hardly one that can't be overcome.

All you need to do is find some way to differentiate the slide of the flashcard that would become the same, and there are numerous ways to do that.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Difficulties and problems in learning English

The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.

Different students can have different difficulties and problems in learning English. They can make different mistakes in English pronunciation, grammar, orthography, and vocabulary usage.

There is a connection between the native language of a learner and particular difficulties in learning and using English and the kind of mistakes a learner typically makes in English pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary as there is native-language interference in learning and using English.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): Translation is not the end result of flashcard use

This week I'll take aim directly at one of Randy's main criticisms of flashcards: that flashcard users will end up being trapped in some abyss of always needing to translate from their native language to their target language.

This is just plainly false. Flashcards that use your native language to explain the meaning of a word in the target language are merely using an associative mnemonic device (namely, a meaning of the target language word in your native language) to connect the word in the target language to its actual meaning. At some point in your learning, you will rely on that mnemonic device to recall the word—that is the point of the mnemonic device, after all—but that will be temporary; as with any good mnemonic device, you'll eventually stop needing the mnemonic device to recall what you want to recall. In other words, translation should never be the end result of flashcard use.

Let's walk through this step by step with an example borrowed from Randy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Considerations before practicing a real-life topic in English

The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.

My ideas below may help you practice a language even on your own more comprehensively and productively.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): Learn faster with flashcards than without

In my last post, I described how flashcards allow you to learn words to which you otherwise wouldn't get sufficient exposure to commit to memory. But what about those words that you would eventually get enough exposure to learn? Should those be excluded from flashcards?

No. And the simple reason is that you can learn them even faster with flashcards than without.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The importance of listening comprehension in English

The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.

The actual process of oral communication consists of two integral parts: listening and speaking.

People do not develop listening comprehension skills in English only by watching English movies (films) and other programs on video, on TV, or on the Internet, or only by listening to BBC English, Voice of America, and other radio programs and to audio/video recordings for learning English.

People also listen to and learn different accents and peculiarities of English usage in real-life settings in different English-speaking countries by native-English speakers in terms of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and style (formal and informal English). Informal English includes colloquial, slang, and dialectal usage.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): Learn more with flashcards than without

There are two main reasons why you should use flashcards. The first is that, with a spaced-repetition system, they allow you to learn more quickly than exposure alone. I'll turn to that in my next post.

The second reason—and the one I'll cover in this post—is that they let you learn words that you otherwise wouldn't be able to learn.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): How much to use flashcards

Flashcards should be taking up about 10% to 20% of your language-learning time. To see how I've arrived at that range, let's start by considering the two extremities of the flashcard use continuum.

Point A is no flashcard use at all. This is Randy's stance. Point B or thereabouts, on the other hand, represents the other extreme: you're using flashcards as your main way to learn a language. When I read Randy's criticisms of flashcards, it comes off to me as if he's throwing those criticisms at someone who's at or approaching point B as their language-learning method, i.e., pretty much the only thing they're doing is using flashcards.

I think Randy's completely correct in that, as a language learner, you don't want your language-learning time to be anywhere near point B. If you simply try to remember a string of facts without every actually applying them, Randy's completely right: you're going to struggle to ever get your speaking off the ground.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): When to use flashcards

You'll want to use flashcards during "trapped time", i.e., time in which you can't otherwise efficiently gain meaningful exposure to your target language, and minimize their use at other times.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why I use flashcards (and you should too): How to use flashcards the right way

This post is part of a series on using flashcards written in response to Why I don't use flashcards (and you shouldn't either) and other related posts on
  1. How to use flashcards the right way
  2. When to use flashcards
  3. How much to use flashcards
  4. Learn more with flashcards than without
  5. Learn faster with flashcards than without
  6. Translation is not the end result of flashcard use
  7. How to deal with the lack of one-to-one translations
A few years back Randy on wrote some posts arguing that you should never use flashcards in language learning: "Why I don't use flashcards (and you shouldn't either)", "The flashcard holy war rages on!", and "8 ways to learn a language without using flashcards", and it's a constant theme of his posts generally.

In the second of the above-mentioned posts, Randy remarked:
I have a strong suspicion that the biggest advocates of flashcards are people who haven't yet finished learning their first foreign language. And I expect that the number of polyglots using flashcards is extremely low.
It's high time that a big advocate of flashcards and polyglot explain why Randy's advice is wrong.

Randy argues, in short, that you should learn only through reading, listening to, writing, and speaking the language (with an emphasis on reading), looking up unknown words as you come across them or learning them from context. My position is that you should learn through reading, listening to, writing and speaking the language and supplement that with flashcard review because that'll allow you to learn more in less time, and each problem Randy raises about flashcards is either incorrect or can be overcome without detracting from your learning.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Using music to improve a language that you're not currently focusing on

The main thing that has always made me reluctant to add another language to those I've already started is that, with work, a brood of rambunctious offspring, etc., the amount of time I have to throw at language learning tends to be limited. Well, what with me getting all gung-ho on Korean lately…

I thought it was time that I came up with some kind of systematic way to continue growing my vocab in the languages that I'm not really focusing on at the moment. Given my time restrictions, the system would have to work with a minimum amount of time but pack the strongest punch possible in that time.

I know that Susanna Zaraysky would approve when I decided that music was the answer.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The value of oral translation into English

The following is one of a series of guest posts by Mike Shelby. Mike is a former ESL teacher who has been quietly (i.e., without his own blog) disseminating his thoughts on language learning around the internet for quite some time.

Have you noticed that interpreters have to possess the most thorough knowledge of a foreign language, especially of conversation, vocabulary and grammar? Perhaps foreign learners of English can achieve fluency in English also through oral translation from their native language into English. It is possible to check oneself this way when practicing speaking in English every sentence in ready-made materials with both native-language and English versions. I also believe that the value of oral translation from a native language into English with self-check is underestimated by English teaching specialists for self-study and self-practice of English conversation, vocabulary and grammar. Oral translation practice should cover English grammar, conversation, and vocabulary. Thematic dialogues, questions and answers on conversation topics, thematic texts (informative texts and narrative stories), grammatical usage sentences, and sentences with difficult vocabulary on various topics, especially with fixed phrases and idioms, can be used in practicing English through oral translation from one's native language into English.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to type in Korean on a Mac

Given how much digging I had to do to get to the bottom of how to type in Korean (i.e., in "hangul") on a Mac, I thought I'd make a quick summary of how to do it. This'll run you through the basics and a few slightly trickier questions:
  • How do you set up Korean typing?
  • How do you type Korean double letters?
  • When one syllable has no final consonant but the next syllable has an initial consonant, how do you prevent the initial consonant of the second syllable from being treated as the final consonant of the first syllable?
  • How do you turn Korean writing into the corresponding Chinese characters?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Forget less of your target language with better kinds of exposure

I recently stumbled across some pretty interesting data on how quickly we forget things depending on how we were exposed to those things. From a post by AJ Kumar called "You Forget 80% of What You Learn Every Day!":

We learn:
  • 10% What we READ
  • 20% What we HEAR
  • 30% What we SEE
  • 50% What we SEE and HEAR
  • 70% What we DISCUSSED with OTHERS
So how do the four core skills of the language-learning trade—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—fare in the above?