Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quantifying language learning, diminishing returns, and wanderlust

There's an interesting post over on Language Fixation talking about just how much is involved in learning a language, which was inspired by an interesting post on GlobalMaverick talking about the mess between being a beginner and being fluent. There's three points I'd like to focus on from these posts: quantifying language learning, diminishing returns in language learning, and wanderlust (to new languages).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Japan's foreign-language teaching industry valued at a cool $8.7 billion

There's an interesting article in The New York Times saying how Japan is gaga over learning English from Obama's speeches. They apparently even go gaga when they can't really get what he's saying; he's just that moving.

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

75-year-old Iranian guy crowdsourcing a Farsi-English translation in Geneva airport

Here's an interesting anecdote about a 75-year-old Iranian guy crowsourcing a Farsi-English translation in the Geneva airport. Sounds like he's doing a pretty good job of getting it done that way, but perhaps someone should tell him about how to get his foreign-language writing corrected online for free.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The best free online Portuguese-English dictionaries

Continuing my series on free online dictionaries (previously covering Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish), after the jump you'll find my favorite, free, online Portuguese-English dictionaries.

Learning by Mixing target language words into native language texts?

I'm pretty sure this is not a great idea:
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

The best free online Spanish-English dictionaries

My series on free online dictionaries (previously covering Japanese and Chinese) continues. Today I've got my favorite, free, online Spanish-English dictionaries for you, after the jump.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Get your foreign-language audio recordings corrected online for free

I've already given you the low-down on how to get your foreign-language writings corrected online for free. Now I'd like to turn to how to get your audio recordings corrected for free.

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

The best free online Chinese-English dictionaries

Continuing my series on free online dictionaries (for Japanese, see here), today I present you with my favorite, free, online Chinese-English dictionaries, after the jump.

Google's getting into the language-learning game

Google Ventures, Google's venture capital arm, has invested an "undisclosed amount" of its $100 million in EnglishCentral, Inc., an English-language learning website where learners can watch popular videos (such as a clip from Forest Gump or a Red Bull ad) and then get graded on how well they pronounce the words spoken in the videos via EnglishCentral's "unique speech recognition platform".

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.

Links:
EnglishCentral
Google Ventures, Atlas back language startup EnglishCentral [Mass High Tech]
Google Ventures Invests In English Language Learning Startup EnglishCentral [paidContent.org]

Exposure is a great way to learn languages... for computers too, it seems

Ben Taskar at Penn State has a computer learning language by watching TV, listening to audio, and reading texts.

Sounds like a better language-learning program than most people get exposed to.

Link: Machine Learning by Watching and Listening [PhysOrg.com]

Is the FTC about to give Rocket Languages a call?

As I've pointed out before, Rocket Languages has been conducting a pretty blatant (yet successful) astroturfing campaign. I thought that they might have been getting a bit worried when the New York attorney general started looking into the practice in other industries.

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.

The danger-zone skill level in language learning

When you're learning a language, there's a level of skill that I like to refer to as "the danger zone".

To show you where it comes into play, I would say that your ability in a language roughly progresses as per the following graph.

You start with the obvious beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. After that, you get to proficient, where you can use the language to get done whatever it is you need to get done, but you're still obviously not fluent. At this level, and those below it, your lack of fluency lets you make mistakes that would otherwise be considered rude without you being considered rude; fluent speakers will generally assume you just don't know enough of the language to speak with sufficient social grace.