Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
While that's fun and all, the most interesting part of the article was this little tidbit:
The publishers [of learning resources using Obama's speeches] are trying to tap into a foreign-language teaching industry [in Japan] that the Yano Search Institute said was valued at ¥767 billion, or $8.7 billion, in 2008. The figure includes the cost of books, CDs, dictionaries, e-learning programs, standardized English tests, and the cost of private language lessons. The institute, in Tokyo, says the majority of the spending is aimed at learning English.Just to see it with all the zeroes, that's $8,700,000,000. To put that number into perspective, that's more than the GDP of 46 countries as listed in the CIA World Factbook. And that's how the industry was valued in 2008—hardly a stellar year for the world economy.
So if you're in the language-learning industry and Japan's not a major focus for you, it's probably time to make a Japan plan.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Waikato University PhD student Michael Walmsley is working on a project which will help language learners build their foreign vocabulary by reading texts online where some of the words have been replaced with words in their target language.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Unfortunately, your options here are still pretty limited. As far as I can tell, there are only two places where you can submit recordings and get them corrected by native speakers, neither of which are close to making the feature ideal: Livemocha and Lang-8.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
This investment represents nothing more than Google dipping its toe in the water of the language-learning world. Let them get in up to their ankle or knees, and we'll all think back to the quaint days when we thought Rosetta Stone was a big player in the language-learning world.
Google Ventures, Atlas back language startup EnglishCentral [Mass High Tech]
Google Ventures Invests In English Language Learning Startup EnglishCentral [paidContent.org]
Sounds like a better language-learning program than most people get exposed to.
Link: Machine Learning by Watching and Listening [PhysOrg.com]
But now they'd better be worried; the U.S. Federal Trade Commission will start cracking down on astroturfing as of December 1 of this year.
To show you where it comes into play, I would say that your ability in a language roughly progresses as per the following graph.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Frank J. Sulloway, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives”(Pantheon, 1996), points out that second-born children tend to be exposed to less language than eldest children. “The best environment to grow up in is basically two parents who are chattering away at you with fancy words,” Dr. Sulloway said.That seems fairly obvious to me—expose them to more words and they learn more words—but the good doctor lends some authority to it.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
There are lots of them out there that simply do it character by character, but as context can affect the tones (e.g., whether the characters are part of a word or not), the best ones take this into consideration.
Here are a two of the better ones:
If you've got a block of text that isn't on a website for which you want the furigana, then simply copy and paste it into Furiganizer. It'll do the same thing that Hiragana.jp does for websites for whatever block of text you dump in.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
For the first time in some two decades (in which time, I'm sure, many of us have commenced our studies of Chinese), China is considering revising some characters. The revisions only affect 44 characters, and below you'll find them in their revised format (click to enlarge):
Some of these characters I doubt whether I've even seen before, while a bunch are quite familiar. At first glance, I didn't even notice the changes, but, on a second look, it seems that one of the biggest changes is that of 朩 děng becoming 木 mù. So clearly we're not dealing with a revolution here, but still something that we learners should take note of.
And all this just when Taiwan starts talking about making the jump to simplified.
I don't know about them, but I'm still holding out for the implementation of one of the few ideas from Mao Zedong that just might make sense:
Reform of Chinese characters must be carried out in the direction of total Romanization that I believe is the mainstream of language development in the world.Then again, he also thought that backyard steel furnaces would be a good idea, and that didn't turn out so well, so maybe we should just stick with the characters and consider this idea to be in the official 30% of things that Mao got wrong.
通用规范汉字表 Tōngyòng Guīfàn Hànzì Biǎo (General-Use Standard Chinese Character Table) (in Chinese) [中国语言文字网 Zhōngguó Yǔyán Wénzì Wǎng (China Language and Writing)]
Revision of 44 Chinese Characters in Hot Debates [CRI English]
I've been trying to find some Japanese podcasts for which the text is also available, without much success. LingQ's list of resources surprisingly has nothing suitable, and googling was turning up little. For whatever reason, there seem to be few Japanese podcasts that also provide transcripts.
But then I stumbled upon Podcastle.
Link: Lawrenceville man sentenced for immigration fraud [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Monday, August 31, 2009
Then today up pops this article on the New York Times, which takes my one further step of letting learners pick whatever they want in languages and applies it back to literature (with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it subtitle of "The Future of Reading").
After the jump, let's strike out references to literature and replace them with references to languages, just to see how well these arguments work in both realms.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Lang-8 is designed to help you get your writing corrected, but with a little help from a tool called Snapvine, you can also get your speech corrected.
How to do it, after the jump.
Вы получили сообщение от Катрина со следующим содержанием:I studied a year of Russian back in high school, but the only word I could remember was the first one, вы, which means "you". A couple of free online dictionaries quickly got me this translation:
You have received a message from Katrina with the following contents:Knowing what it meant was a good start, but I also wanted to hear what it sounded like; although I can read the letters, I have no idea how close my imagined pronunciation is with the actual pronunciation (ultimate result: not so close). Without a Russian speaker anywhere nearby, and without feeling like spending the time to find one online willing to humor me via Skype, I googled about for a text-to-speech solution online, and quickly found one.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
[T]he state Department of Human Services (DHS)… ruled that Baltazar Cruz was an unfit mother in part because her lack of English "placed her unborn child in danger and will place the baby in danger in the future."Wow. That's not too far away from sounding like an article on The Onion, but it is in fact real.
A quote by Mary Bauer, the legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which helps people like Baltazar, points out the ridiculousness of this rather nicely:
Bauer points out that children have been raised safely in the U.S. by non-English-speaking parents for well over a century. Had they not, thousands of Italians and Russians would have had to leave their kids with foster care on Ellis Island.Indeed, such a rule would have resulted with my own father ending up in foster care.
Luckily these cases seem to alway get overturned and the children reunited with their parents, but to subject anyone to this in the first place is absurd.
Links: Can a Mother Lose Her Child Because She Doesn't Speak English? [Time]
- Como é que vocês chegam neste site? Não conheço nenhuma ligação a este site dum site brasileiro. É tudo por Google?
- O que é que vocês querem de mais neste site? Eu gostaria muito se ainda mais brasileiros viessem, e por isso dou pra vocês o que vocês querem!
The same is actually true of LingQ as well. I do think that if Livemocha and Lang-8 get Wikipedia pages, then there's no reason why LingQ shouldn't have one. However, let's let that one cool off for a little bit and focus on Steve's entry for now.
Here's how I started it:
Steve Kaufmann is a Canadian polyglot linguist, author, award-winning blogger and the founder of the language-learning website LingQ. He currently speaks twelve languages to varying degrees of fluency: Cantonese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.I modeled the text after Michel Thomas' Wikipedia entry. I made lots of citations, but as the article's not so long, I marked it as a stub in the hope that you guys would step in and expand it.
To keep this from getting deleted, remember to cite! cite! cite! Steve's book is up on the web completely for free, and it's full of good, citable information (Wikipedia loves citations to books). And feel free to dig up any information that might be floating around the internets, especially on official sounding stuff (wasn't there an NPR interview a while back?).
Also, Steve, you're not allowed to edit your own entry, so please don't! But if you've got links to media coverage, that'd be helpful. And, of course, if "anonymous" comes along and edits the entry, hey, who's the wiser?
Professor Fish found himself surprised that he was nodding along with many of the conclusions of this right-wing group.
I think they all missed the boat on language learning.
We are very happy to announce that our FREE language learning website www.hello-hello.com is available in Beta!!!!The bold emphasis on "Beta" is in the original, and rightly so; I kicked the tires today and they are definitely still in beta.
Also, they're completely free for now, but they'll be doing the same freemium model that's on Livemocha or Busuu; a good chunk of the content is free, but to get the very best stuff you'll need to shell out a bit.
So go ahead and kick the tires for yourselves, tell them where the bugs are, and let us know what you think in the comments below!
Links: Hello-hello.com, Livemocha, Busuu
Friday, August 28, 2009
Where you can find them, after the jump.
Foreign students are always welcome in English-speaking business schools. Most programs love to accept diverse groups of applicants to simulate real-world scenarios in the classroom. To be considered for acceptance, however, you must be able to speak and write English relatively well. Fortunately, there are quite a few English-learning tools online that can help you brush up on your skills before you apply to your program of choice.
Five free tools that work particularly well for business school applicants, after the jump.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
How to use the Character Palette to look up characters by their radicals, after the jump.
I'd've probably went with the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world today—the Latin alphabet—that's been happily applied to languages from Turkish to Vietnamese to Indonesian to the vast majority of Polynesian, Amerindian, and African languages. Not only would that have facilitated them learning Latin-based languages (including all of those in Indonesia), it would have also facilitated others understanding their language. Now everyone's gotta jump through the hangul hoop before that happens.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The BBC, among others, are reporting that Shanghai is looking to get rid of its Chinglish (crappy English composed by native-Chinese speakers) that can be found on signs all over Shanghai (it incidentally can be found everywhere else in China too, but it seems that no one else in China has done enough lately to get the media in the U.K. to write about them).
The persistence of Chinglish has been a puzzle to me for years (and Japanglish, perhaps better known as Engrish, as well, but let's leave that for a later post). There are all sorts of native-English speakers floating around China (take a look at just about any college, and you'll probably find a bunch). Many of them would probably be happy to correct the English for free. Slap "internship" on this correcting role and they'll come in droves.
And, yet, Chinglish persists.
Now, however, you don't need to bother to seek out an in-situs native speaker because there's an even easier way to get native-level English on all the signs in China: the Chinese speakers tasked with making these signs can make use of websites where you can get your foreign-language writing corrected for free.
So, Shanghai (and the rest of China), if you're listening, save yourself a few bucks—and perhaps some embarrassment—and throw the text into one of these sites the next time you need a sign in English.
If Chinglish truly goes the way of the dodo (I have my doubts), we native-English speakers will of course miss its unintentional hilarity. So, in honor of the Chinglish we have grown to love, I give you even more Chinglish, after the jump, including photos of a masterpiece of a Chinglish sign that I took myself, plus links to much more (warning: involves an obscenity or two).
Sound like something you'd be interested in? A comparison of the websites on which you can do just that, after the jump.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The dictionaries, after the jump.
And this here marks Street-Smart Language Learning's 100th post.
A few factoids about this blog, and the addition of a co-author to the book, after the jump.
This feature seems to have been originally designed in mind for going the other way—you can also speed it up to 2x—for people who wanted to get through podcasts or audio books more quickly (it unfortunately does not work with songs).
But they threw in the 1/2x speed as well, and that's good news for us language learners. If there's something in a podcast or that you don't quite get on the first pass, you can back it up a bit and slow it down to half speed, or if you're just getting started in your target language, perhaps you'll want to listen to everything at half speed.
How to do it, after the jump.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The video, which tosses out a couple of interesting things for language learning, after the jump.
Probably the most interesting fact they toss out in respect of language learning is this (at 1:00 in the video):
2009 US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students out performed those receiving face-to-face instruction... 1 in 6 higher education students are enrolled in online curriculumSo, if you've run into a language teacher who's skeptical about your use of eduFire, Lang-8, LingQ, Livemocha, or any of the rest, hold your ground because you've got some good statistics on your side.
At 2:00 in the video, it points out a language-learning resource that has certainly not gone unnoticed by language learners:
Wikipedia has over 13 million articles. Studies show it's more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica. 78% of these articles are non-English.That means there's a pretty darn good chance that you can get materials in your target language on Wikipedia (and, of course, for you English learners, that means that 22% of the articles on there are in your target language).
With no further ado, here's the video:
Monday, August 17, 2009
Well, as far as I can tell, there's a Japanese emoticon in which I can see nothing but our dearly disarmed Mr. Baba:
(´ω｀)Japanese people apparently see happiness in this emoticon (1st column, 7th from the top), but I don't know what's happy about losing an arm.
And wait until you see what chaos emoticons bring us after the jump.
Autism is a spectrum of medical conditions where people have a lot of difficulty in forming social relationships and in putting themselves in other people's shoes, to imagine other people's thoughts and feelings.Or, in other words, they struggle with being empathetic.
But, still, autistic people demonstrate language-learning skill:
Tammet’s particular developmental disorder is Asperger’s syndrome, a mild, high-functioning form of autism. … People with Asperger’s often have normal to high IQs and good language and learning ability.While this certainly doesn't prove anything definitively regarding empathy and language learning, and it doesn't address directly the issue of accents that was at issue previously, it does raise another question mark about just how important empathy really is in language learning.
My days are, predictably, dominated by Japanese and English. I try to maximize my use of Japanese because of my need to use it at work, but there are two places where I use English as a matter of course. The first is with my kids; I only use English with them, and my wife and I speak English to each other whenever we're in earshot of them, in order to maximize their exposure to English. This is of course a direct trade-off between my Japanese and their English, but one I'll take to prevent them from speaking Engrish. The other place I use English regularly is of course at work when I need to do any of the various things a lawyer might need to do in English.
My language-learning day gets kicked off with my morning alarm; I awake to the sound of Japanese podcasts giving me today's news. Breakfast with the fam is largely in English, although my wife always speaks to the kids in Japanese and the nanny speaks to all of us only in Chinese, so that'll be floating around as well. My mother typically joins us for breakfast via video chat, so once in a while she and I will use some Italian when we don't want anyone else to understand.
Daniel was recently profiled in a British documentary called “Brainman.” The producers posed a challenge that he could not pass up: Learn a foreign language in a week - and not just any foreign language, but Icelandic, considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn.The actual video referred to is here (starting from 41:15).
In Iceland, he studied and practiced with a tutor. When the moment of truth came and he appeared on TV live with a host, the host said, "I was amazed. He was responding to our questions. He did understand them very well and I thought that his grammar was very good. We are very proud of our language and that someone is able to speak it after only one week, that’s just great."
Now if you give me a week of complete immersion and a good native-speaker tutor, I could make a great start in any language, but I don't think I could even come close to what Daniel was able to do. So what's the magic sauce and where can I get some? Well, it's unfortunately not quite as simple as all that; Daniel is a high-functioning autistic savant, so his brain works quite a bit differently from yours and mine.
If you've seen the movie Rain Man,that's a savant. Savant syndrome is a developmental disorder "characterized by one or more areas of expertise, ability or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations". In Daniel's case, his limitations are very few (for example, he's not a big fan of crowds and has trouble recalling faces), and his abilities are impressive—with his skills in language learning, memorization, and making complex calculations standing out as particularly impressive.
While I'm not putting any money down on anyone coming even close to Daniel's abilities (he's one of perhaps 50 in the entire world with skills like his), Daniel himself thinks that his learning strategy doesn't require his brain. Daniel's magic sauce, after the jump.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The video that started the controversy and how Rosetta's mixed up in it all, after the jump.
[A] team of scientists in Switzerland is claiming that a fully functioning replica of a human brain could be built by 2020. … They are using one of the most powerful computers in the world to replicate the actions of the 100 billion neurons in the human brain. It is this approach - essentially copying how a brain works without necessarily understanding all of its actions - that will lead to success, the team hopes.While this raises all sorts of fun things—like confounding ethical dilemmas and the singularity—let's see what this might do for language learning.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
This seems to be a pretty common method. Is everyone just playing follow-the-leader (i.e., following Rosetta Stone), or is there actually some science to back up all this fervent picture clicking?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
My initial reaction is that, no, there aren't, because going slower helps you absorb better, but I suppose there could be some argument to covering quantity.
Links: Repeat "A-E-I-O-U" to Read Faster [Lifehacker]
ThatWhichMatter Delivers Grammar Tips in Tweets [Lifehacker]
ThatWhichMatter, a Splendid Twitter Feed on Grammar and Usage [Daring Fireball]
“I didn’t know anything about China,” said [Joshua Arjuna Stephens, who graduated from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in American studies]. “People thought I was nuts to go not speaking the language, but I wanted to do something off the beaten track.”So there you have it: two years.
Two years later, after stints in the nonprofit sector and at a large public relations firm in Beijing, he is highly proficient in Mandarin . . .
After two years of living and working in China, [Sarabeth Berman, a 2006 graduate of Barnard College with a major in urban studies,] is proficient in Mandarin.
Links: American Graduates Finding Jobs in China [New York TImes]
The site appears to have been actively largely in the early 2000s, but is still kept up by the person who was behind it, Tim Gally. Here's how jeKai describes what it's there for:
In May 2000, a group of volunteers throughout the world began creating an open, free, online Japanese-English dictionary. The form and content of the dictionary are decided by the participants in the project. Among its features are the following:My guess is this little Web 1.0 project fell into disuse as Web 2.0 wiki-based sites made this kind of effort a lot easier, but the fact that it's still coming up in Google hits demonstrates its ongoing relevance.
- Definitions that explain the meaning of words as completely as possible
- As many examples as possible of each word in real contexts
- Photographs and other illustrations, especially for entries about uniquely Japanese things
- No restrictions on the type or range of vocabulary
- No restrictions on the length of entries
It seems to have a lot of things that aren't adequately explained elsewhere, one of course being ～かねる -kaneru, but another you might find of interest is their list of Japanese baseball terms. There's a whole bunch of other stuff up there as well, so I'd recommend you Japanese learners to have a looksee.
Monday, August 10, 2009
“I don’t believe that charters and vouchers are the threat to schools in Orange County,” ... said [William M. Habermehl, superintendent of the 500,000-student Orange County schools]. “What’s a threat is the digital world — that someone’s going to put together brilliant $200 courses in French, in geometry by the best teachers in the world.”I'll bet we can come up with a few "brilliant" online courses in French—and probably for a lot less than $200.
Well, Ramses has made it a little easier for you Spanish learners with this database of Spanish sentences and their English translations (hat tip: Babelhut).
There's nothing quite like context to help you learn a language, whether for vocab or catching grammatical rules in practice, and sentences give you bite-size chunks of context good for just that. They won't be quite as useful for you as they were for Ramses (who got them from their original context), but the database can save you some work if you're looking for a ton of sentences that already have translations conveniently located nearby.
My one request at this point is a way to easily incorporate these into a spaced-repetition system. Currently, as far as I can tell, you'd have to pluck out the sentences one by one, but hopefully that is something that will change over time as it continues to be a work in progress.
However, I'd say a lot of follow-up is needed before this can be considered a "conclusion".
Sunday, August 9, 2009
This list is for users of LingQ.com to identify sources of language content consisting of both audio and text.Listening to audio is great, but it's even better when you can refer to a text to find that word you didn't quite get.
I'm currently working on setting up a bunch of podcasts that I can regularly listen to so that I can keep languages I'm not using so much moving forward, and this list has some good leads for me. I've been able to dredge up some thing that aren't on this list, so I'll be dropping LingQ a line to add them in. If you know of any similar content sources that are not yet on the list, I encourage you to do the same.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Here's how the site sells itself:
LEARN a new language anytime, anywhere with online, interactive lessons that will develop all the skills you need.That sounds a lot like Livemocha to me.
TEACH other members your language and learn from native speakers.
COMMUNICATE with native speakers and make friends all over the world.
Strangely, the simple site is designed primarily as an image (that image above is a screen grab), as if to avoid Google bot detection and stay off the radar for the time being. On the other hand, they do have a perfectly searchable Facebook page.
One thing I'm curious about is the Men's Health article they got some coverage in. Keep in mind that this is an unreleased product:
[R]einforce your lessons by signing onto social-networking sites that let you interact with native speakers. "They use functional language that you'd hear in conversation," says Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Her favorite is hello-hello.com.So how exactly does an unreleased site become someone's favorite tool? I smell something fishy! (Or perhaps a rational explanation that's just escaping detection, but I digress...). [Update: Yup, there was a rational explanation that was escaping detection. See the comment below.]
So... what do you know about Hello-hello.com? Drop a line in the comments below or send an email to tips at this domain name. (And I welcome comments from you, Hello-hello.com, because I know you're keeping an eye on those Google Alerts!)
Win the Mind Games [Men's Health]
So far, it looks like Anki's solution for an unbroken iPhone, iAnki, is the best option available, although it's far from ideal. The software is testy, something of a challenge to get working, and syncing with Anki on the desktop can be a headache, but its core study functions by and large work fine and, in the end, you do get two-way syncs with Anki's desktop application.
Let's get into the nitty-gritty, after the jump.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Pretty much every day at work I make use of Japanese Law Translation, which is pretty much what it sounds like it is, but it's got a few neat tricks up its sleeve.
The website is maintained by the Japanese Ministry of Justice, with contributions from various lawyers (including those at my firm), legal academics, and others (more about its genesis is available here). It is in effect the official translation of legal terms in Japanese.
It has a basic bilingual dictionary, where you can look up words in English or Japanese. (And there are rumblings of later expanding it to include Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese as well.) It then gives you a list of the definitions that contain the word plus links to the laws it's found in.
However, not all terms that have been translated can be found in the dictionary, so another very useful tool is the ability to search translations of the law for the word you're looking for. That will get you both the English and the Japanese text and you can figure out how the word was translated.
As the website is a work in progress (and will need regular updating as laws change), not all laws and regulations are included yet, and as mentioned above not all terms have been added to the dictionary, but it is a very useful tool if you ever have a need for legalese in Japanese.
It's got separate lists for all four levels of the test (1, 2, 3, and 4, with 1 being the hardest), or you can view the vocab all together. The list was made in 2005, so it may be a little out of date, and it was made in Taiwan, so you'll probably get that variety of Chinese.
One thing I like about this list (and that I'd like to see in other such lists) is that it notes on which syllable the stress falls in the Japanese word. My wife often says I use stress in Japanese words where there isn't any. This chart seems to back up her criticisms, given how many words are marked as having "0" (i.e., no) stress and thus should just be read flatly.
When you look up the Japanese for the English noun "pattern" on ALC, you get (deep breath, now) 傾向 keikou, 模様 moyou, 型 kata, 原型 genkei, 型紙 katagami, 柄 gara, 形態 keitai, 構図 kouzu, 模範 mohan, and パターン pata-n (as if they didn't have enough ways to say it with Chinese characters, they had to bring in a loanword from English as well). Let's see if we can figure out what to use when.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Before I do, however, I'd like to put a call out for any of the free, online dictionaries that you might like. I've found before that sometimes the best dictionaries don't turn up easily in searches, so I thought I'd see if a little crowdsourcing might be able to find me some new and interesting hits.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Here's the play-by-play. In my earlier post on the best age at which to learn a language, I wrote:
Kids often get corrected by the adults around them...Steve replied:
[I]t is not my experience that infants are corrected in their use of language.And I elaborated:
Although some people correct children explicitly (we do), the usual route is that they're corrected indirectly when the adult repeats the phrase in some way back to them. Think something like a child saying, "Eat apple!", and the adult saying back to them, "Oh, do you want to eat the apple?" It's more subtle than directly correcting, but it's correcting nonetheless.After I posted this comment, I went back and read Steve's earlier comment where he wrote "[kids] hear it and they imitate it", and began to wonder if this was a to-MAY-to / to-MAH-to thing where I'm calling it "being corrected" and he's calling it "imitating".
And that sort of thing is absolutely helpful when learning a language. When I'm not quite getting my point across, then finally I manage to grudgingly do so and the person says the equivalent of, "Oh! So you mean that you want to eat the apple!", I've got the correct way of saying it right there for the taking.
In any case, Steve continues:
I simply do not buy it. You cannot possibly correct enough errors to make a difference. Children and most good learners correct most of their mistakes on their own. The brain gradually corrects itself as the patterns of the language become clearer.OK, I'll draw a line in the sand in response to that. My position, after the jump.
I was interning that year in Japan's legislature, and he wasn't exactly strongly supported there either. So it came as no surprise when the legislative-office rumor mill brought wind of an alleged interaction between Prime Minister Mori and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the G-8 summit that was held in Okinawa in July 2000, several months before my internship began.
Basically it went something like this. Mori, not very good at English, got some coaching from translators to help him at least get a basic greeting down for when he was to meet with Bill Clinton. But, instead of starting with, "How are you?", Mori forgot how it was supposed to go and blurted out...
One particular utterance that came directly from my own mouth demonstrates the point neatly. Some of my more-or-less inebriated non-Japanese colleagues were chugging ramen. Slurping vigorously would be a more accurate description, but we settled on "chugging" to describe the action. When a bowl of ramen was passed my way, I declined, saying, "I ain't chuggin' no noodles!"
The linguistic dissection, after the jump.
I haven't logged into Livemocha for a few weeks. When I did so today using Safari, I was greeted with this (click on the image to see a bigger version):
So I've got to use either Internet Explorer or Firefox. Despite Safari working fine up until now, it looks like something won't be working quite right if I continue using it.
Argh. I hope this is another of what I would like to believe are temporary growing pains. Let's hope they start growing out of their growing pains, rather than introducing new ones like this.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
You can follow this blog on Twitter at streetsmartlang, and the obligatory tweet feed has been added to the right column.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Their new system, called TOTALe, adds two interactive ingredients to the mix. The first is the Rosetta Studio, a live lesson area where you and two other students at your skill level work one-on-one with a live, native speaker.Sounds like they're taking a cue from the Michel Thomas method here.
The second ingredient is Rosetta World, a matching service that connects a native speaker of one language with a learner of the other and, in some cases, vice versa.And let's not forget the juicy price.
TOTALe will be available on [July 28, 2009,] and will cost $999 for a twelve month subscription. This includes Studio sessions and you can repeat sessions as necessary. After the introductory period it will cost $1,200.And that's no typo.
So that's the crux of the news story. Unlike Time, however, John Biggs at TechCrunch found himself utterly unable to not gush over Rosetta Stone. However, you might be able to forgive him since Rosetta Stone sponsored the post.
The cringe-inducing gushing, after the jump.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Time, however, avoids joining the cheerleading squad.
Seeking recommendations for a spaced-repetition system that syncs between your iPhone and your desktop
There are a few features in particular that I'm looking for.
Just to scratch the surface, let me point out some of the advantages of small children's learning methods.
What I feel with Chinese (and I think this applies to other languages too) is that there are two levels to [learning grammar]. There are sentences that are technically “grammatically correct” according to someone’s made-up grammar rules that seem to fit all situations, and then there are sentences that actual people say and that actual native speakers consider to be correct.Language Fixation is touching on two things here. The first is word usage, which I already addressed here, and the second is informal grammar rules.
Native speakers often seem to use the language in ways that seem to break the grammar rules included in most grammars. These may break the rules found in the book, but are they really breaking the rules of grammar of the language as they exist in the wild? You can probably guess that my answer is going to be no.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Here's a problem described by Geoff of Confessions in the comments of an earlier post of mine on grammar:
After I found myself in a French-speaking environment, my latent knowledge was activated and my French took off. But before that, I had a nasty habit of creating sentences that fit the rules but that no native speaker would actually say.And here's Language Fixation on a similar note:
[W]e can all surely think of examples we have heard where someone says something in our native language but it doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe it’s technically correct, but nobody really says it that way.I myself run into this problem all the time in. Take Japanese as an example. I'll say something, completely grammatically correct, only to be informed by my wife that that's not how a native speaker would phrase it. She then tells me how it should be and, little by little, through lots of these short exchanges, I get to sound more and more like a native speaker.
Quite commonly, there are many “grammatically correct” ways to express ideas, but only a few of them are the ones that native speakers actually use. This is really what it means to speak a language… you say what other people say, because you’re used to how it works.
In all of these cases, we're talking about grammatically correct speech. If the speech is truly grammatically correct, why doesn't it sound like native speech? Leaving pronunciation issues aside, that leaves only one obvious culprit: word usage.
Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
I've heard this joke applied to Brits as well.
In any case, I hope some Americans (and Brits) out there will join me in defeating this stereotype.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Raising a Child in Two Worlds: Nicole Sprinkle seems to be a bit too worried about whether her biracial child will be better at English or Spanish. Wrong question. The question she should be asking is how can I make my daughter obtain native-level proficiency in both languages? Note also the "two worlds" hyperbole of the title. Something like "Raising a Child to Use Two Tools" would be a bit more realistic.
The Chinese Language, Ever Evolving: A debate almost as exciting as Coke versus Pepsi: simplified or traditional Chinese characters.
Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says: More fun with Chinese characters. Now, if the characters in your name aren't on a pre-approved list, you can't use them.
Great Videos in Any Language: Videos translated into more than 40 languages.
I arrived here on May 31 and I'm working at Nagashima Ohno and Tsunematsu, one of Japan's "Big 4" law firms. While I was hired of course to work primarily in English, everything around me is in Japanese and I get lots of exposure to it, which is creating a great language-learning environment (which, unsurprisingly, is heavy in legalese). I'm also living with my in-laws, so the percentage of time that I'm only using Japanese is pretty high, although I'm not quite at complete immersion because of the legal work I need to do in English and the English I speak with my kids.
I've set myself a little goal for the next year: I want to get my Japanese to sound indistinguishable from a native speaker almost all the time. We'll see how that goes.
I've also got a whole bunch of half-baked posts from the past few months, including a lot more on my Getting to Grammar series, that I hope to push out the door over the next several weeks. So keep your eyes open! Although I'm not quite out of the woods yet in terms of things that are keeping me from blogging, the posts'll be here soon!
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
[B]rain cells activated by an experience keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people joined in common witness of some striking event. Call on one and word quickly goes out to the larger network of cells, each apparently adding some detail, sight, sound, smell. The brain appears to retain a memory by growing thicker, or more efficient, communication lines between these cells.My approach to language learning has always been one of multiple types of exposure. Take a new vocab word, for example. Let's say you come across it in a book. You've now got speed dial set up between that book and the word, and perhaps between the word and the sentence, paragraph, thing it was in reference to, etc. Then you look it up. Now you've got the connections built to the meaning. Let's say you later hear it in a podcast. There's another connection. An example like this would seem to fit into the paradigm they suggest: you're building thicker connections to that word, and are thus more likely to learn it. Apply that to all units of language learning—words, phrases, grammar rules, characters, pronunciation, intonation, etc.—and you can see how various exposure makes language learning easier.
A quick look at the ethical issues, and a clip from The Matrix,after the jump.
In coming decades, [Osaka University professor Minoru] Asada expects science will come up with a "robo species" that has learning abilities somewhere between those of a human and other primate species such as the chimpanzee.Read the full article here, or just check out the video below. So far, all the robot appears to be able to say is "e" え.
And he hopes that this little CB2 may lead the way into this brave new world, with the goal to have the robo-kid speaking in basic sentences within about two years, matching the intelligence of a two-year-old child.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I've mentioned before how RosettaStone's PR people seem to be everywhere, and competitor Rocket Languages doesn't appear to be taking it sitting down. In fact, they appear to be doing a full-court press, including what appears to be a pretty blatant astroturfing campaign.
formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous "grassroots" behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.Why do I think Rocket might be astroturfing? The blatant evidence, after the jump.
Young Americans going abroad to teach: When in economic peril, teach English abroad.
Statistical language learning in neonates revealed by event-related brain potentials: Say what? Babies can learn in their sleep! I wonder when and if that wears off...
On to Z! Quirky regional dictionary nears finish: For buffs of obscure Americanisms, this book's for you.
More languages, not fewer: Professor Erin Hippolyte "regularly see[s] statistics that link world language proficiency to salaries that are 8-20 percent higher." What exactly is a "world language" anyway? I wonder if it's a West Virginia regionalism for "foreign language". Someone should check a quirky regional dictionary. I am probably proficient in one or two "world languages", so where do I apply for the raise? When are Professor Hippolyte's office hours?
The Waver's Dilemma: A lot more information on how runners communicate in English than I gave you in my post on the runners' nod. For the record, I'm personally against waiving on the grounds that it makes you break form.
Geoff of Confessions makes a valid criticism of the state of modern grammars:
When I was in grad school, we talked about the spiral syllabus. Imagine a spiral staircase going up multiple floors: You keep coming back to the same points, but at a higher level each time. Unfortunately, conventional grammars don't do this. They typically are divided into, e.g., phonology, morphology, and syntax, with morphology broken down into nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, etc. The treatments can get pretty exhaustive and the learner has to figure out how deep to dive in.How to mediate the problem, and the as-far-as-I-know non-existant solution of a frequency grammar, after the jump.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Although we’re forced to guess because the neural basis of memory isn’t understood at this level, let’s say that one movable synapse could store one byte (8 bits) of memory. That thimble would then contain 1,000 gigabytes (1 terabyte) of information. A thousand thimblefuls make up a whole brain, giving us a million gigabytes — a petabyte — of information. To put this in perspective, the entire archived contents of the Internet fill just three petabytes.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
As promised, on Thursday I got the chance to let my four-year-old daughter use Skritter. She naturally likes to play video games, so I asked her, "Do you want to play a Chinese character game?" Naturally the answer was yes.
So I sat her down in front of the screen. The first character, if I recall correctly, was wǒ 我 ("I"). Out of context, I'm not sure that she knew what it was, even though she heard it, so I gave her some quick example sentences so she definitely knew which wǒ it was. To make this easier for kids, it'd be great if you could replay the pronunciation and if it had example sentences in Chinese, or even if it at least could read the English meaning out loud. Then I could just show her which button to push and she could go at it all on her own.
Once she knew what she was writing, I showed her how to press the "show" button to reveal how to write the character. She knows very few characters at this point, so she had to show pretty much every one. A few she only showed once, and then, beaming, she said, "I showed it once and then just remembered it!" Bingo. I hope getting kids to learn remains this easy forever.
Once she knew what she was writing and how to figure out how to write it, I just let her go to town. For each new character, she'd ask me what the word was. Some, like rén 人, she knew, but for the most part I had to give her examples so she'd understand the meaning. But she happily sat there going through them. This certainly looks like it can be a great tool for her to learn Chinese characters.
Related: Skritter to learn Chinese characters
I was in the shower listening to my mix of five-star (according to my own personal rankings in iTunes) foreign-language songs. Now normally I tend to listen to podcasts, but sometimes you just need to get your groove on and today was that day for me. The playlist, which is supposed to be random, spit out a bunch of Spanish songs all in a row: El Niágara en Bicicleta by Juan Luis Guerra,El Último Beso by Los Boltons (a Spanish cover of Last Kiss by The Cavaliers),Esposa by Tony Vega,Estoy Aquí by Shakira,Mirando el Mar by The Sound Lovers, Buscando América by Ruben Blades,and Ciega, Sordomuda by Shakira. Naturally I was singing along with these songs, which, in addition to keeping me entertained (my wife, not so much), is a good repetition of the vocab contained in the songs.
After I got out of the shower, I had to go downstairs to tell the Chinese-speaking babysitter that she could go whenever she wanted to. As I was walking down the steps, I was thinking about what I'd tell her and I heard in my head, in Spanish, "Si quieres ir..." ("If you want to go..."), and it occurred to me that that was a bit odd. Here I was about to tell something in Chinese to a Chinese speaker and Spanish was coursing through my brain. I'm pretty sure that if that hadn't run through my head as I was walking down the steps, the first words out of my mouth to the babysitter would have been in Spanish. Listening to and singing along with those songs had put me in Spanish mode, and I didn't snap out of it until I consciously thought about it.
This phenomenon intrigues me. Anyone else who speaks multiple foreign languages ever run into this? I'm curious as to what is the relationship between this and language learning. I suppose it's a good thing that my mind just kind of switches automatically into another language, but how can I improve my ability to bounce between languages? The obvious answer is practice, but with better understanding of what's really going on in my head, it'd be easier to really figure out how to utilize this best for language learning.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Let's clarify one thing here; both the pro- and anti-grammar camps share the same goal: learning the grammar. It's the how that is in question. The most extreme pro-grammar position would have you start with a grammar and not do anything else until you have the grammar down. The most extreme anti-grammar position would have you parachute right into the middle of the language zone with no background and have you learn it all by observing the language in use.
Neither approach optimizes efficacy. Many high school kids in the U.S. have studied 3, 4, or even 5 years of a language, but just try talking to them and you'll realize that the hidebound grammar-centric approach most of those schools are using is a complete failure. On the other hand, learning completely by induction requires huge amounts of time and leaves gaps for things that are less commonly encountered, especially when time is limited, as it is for most language learners.
Ramses did make a good point:
It’s just a pity to see that many people in the pro-grammar and anti-grammar camp just focus on LEARN grammar or DON’T LEARN grammar, and don’t come up with alternatives.Let me see what I can do about that. My alternative, after the jump.