Thursday, July 30, 2009

Follow this blog on Twitter

Thanks to a couple of friendly tweets mentioning this blog on Twitter, I can finally cross off "set up Twitter account for Street-Smart Language Learning" from the to-do list.

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

Rosetta Stone takes on LiveMocha + Sponsored "Review" on TechCrunch

In a bid to stave off competitors like Livemocha (reviewed here) and Busuu, TechCrunch is "reporting" (I use the term loosely) that Rosetta Stone has finally taken their first major step into using social networking for language learning:
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

Rosetta Stone actually gets some balanced publicity

One of the things I missed while overwhelmed by my move to Japan was the article Rosetta Stone: Speaking Wall Street's Language in Time magazine. I've mentioned before how Rosetta Stone's marketing people seem to do a great job of producing favorable coverage: lots of Rosetta Stone rahrah, but little of the skepticism that I and other language bloggers have of their method.

Time, however, avoids joining the cheerleading squad.

Seeking recommendations for a spaced-repetition system that syncs between your iPhone and your desktop

I recently got an iPhone with one of my main reasons for doing so being to productively fill the time I have on the Tokyo subways when I can't grab a seat and break out my laptop. One of the things I intend to do with that time is using a spaced-repetition system ("SRS") to help expand my Japanese vocabulary. So I'd like to see if anyone out there has any recommendations for such a system.

There are a few features in particular that I'm looking for.

Best time to learn a foreign language: between birth and age seven?

Some scientists seem to think that that's what new research shows (hat tip: Steve Kaufmann at The Linguist on Language), but I'm not fully convinced because I don't think the scientists have ruled out that the cause of young children's language-learning ability is the kind of exposure they are getting rather than some innate age-linked ability.

Just to scratch the surface, let me point out some of the advantages of small children's learning methods.

Getting to Grammar: Grammars are incomplete

Language Fixation makes the following observation:
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.

Vote on the 2009 top 100 language blogs at LexioPhiles

We'll forgive them for not including this blog among this year's nominees, but head over to LexioPhiles to cast your vote for the top 100 language blogs of 2009 in the following categories: language learning, language teaching, language technology, and language professionals.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Getting to Grammar: Differentiate grammar and word usage

One argument made against actively trying to learn grammar is that, even if you get the grammar rules down pat, you still don't sound like a native speaker. Assuming you've really learned to correctly use the grammatical rules from your target language, then there are two possibilities as to why you don't sound like a native speaker. One is that something other than grammar is the problem. The second is that, assuming that everything in your grammar is correct, it is not complete. I'll come back to how your grammar is likely to be incomplete in a subsequent post, but for now let's focus on what else might be a problem.

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.

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.
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.

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.

What do you call a person who speaks one language? American.

If you're an American who's studied languages, you've probably come across this joke, or some variant of it, before:

Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual.

Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual.

Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
A: American.

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

Language-learning linkwrap 7/16/2009

Company Settles Case of Reviews It Faked: Fake reviews cost this company $300,000. I wonder if Rocket Languages is on New York's attorney general's to-do list.

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've moved to Japan

In case you've been wondering where I've been for the past three months, I've moved to Japan! If you've never done it before, moving to pretty much the other side of the world can be something of a complicated process, so I ran out of blogging time with all the things on the to-do list. I'm still neck-deep in a to-do list of unpacking and whatnot, but one way or another it'll be finished pretty soon, so hopefully I can get back to plenty of language-learning goodness.

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!