Monday, October 31, 2011

International Business Times: Foreign-language skills provide sharp edge in the job market

Want some more motivation for your language learning? How about cash money? From the International Business Times:

Job seekers with bilingual skills could look forward to a profusion of opportunities in the coming year, according to various reports and company hiring plans.
A profusion? If that's not so much hyperbole, that sounds pretty good, given that jobs aren't exactly easy to come by at the moment.
[T]he need for transactional knowledge of languages has become very important in both private and government sectors. … Strangely however, … while proficiency in languages—especially in Chinese and Spanish—seems to be among the most critical skills likely to be sought by recruiters over the next decade, very few workers had plans to invest in language instruction.
Speaking just from my own personal experience, foreign-language abilities are a huge asset in a job search; from my first college internship to my current job, language skills were a crucial part of my sell—and often a prerequisite to even get a position.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wanna be a polyglot? Might wanna lay off the alcohol

A new study may indicate that the more you drink, the worse you're gonna be at language learning. From Science Daily:

[A]lcohol damage occurs in gradations: the more alcohol consumed, the greater the damage. … Alcohol has an impact on both gray and white matter, with the greatest impact affecting parts of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes. "These brain areas are critical to learning new information…," said [Catherine Brawn Fortier, a neuropsychologist and researcher at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School as well as corresponding author for the study]. … "Severe reductions in temporal brain regions most often result in impairments in memory and language function… ."
Learning and memory and language function? Golly gee, those sure sound like they'd be important for language learning!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Your target language should become second nature

A quote about skills in general that would also apply to language learning skills (from Time):
"Once skills… become second nature, you can call them up much more easily when you need them," [theoretical physicist Lisa] Randall writes. "Such embedded skills often continue operating in the background — even before they push good ideas into your conscious mind."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Laokang Tone Test Review: Great, simple app for learning how to distinguish Chinese tones

The Laokang Tone Test (via Laowai Chinese) is a simple, free iPhone app that trains your ability to recognize Chinese tones.

Press the play button on the app's opening page, and you'll hear the two-syllable word mama with one of the 20 unique tone combinations for two-syllable words in Chinese. By doing it this way, it accustoms you to the way tones changes when used together with another tone, something Chinese learners usually tend to overlook.

You then must select the tones for each syllable by simply tapping on a graphical representation of the tones. Each test goes through all 20 tone combinations in a random order, only taking a couple minutes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Music: Like jet fuel for kids' (and adults'?) language learning?

Some scientists seem to have come up with some darn good stuff for kids' language learning. From Science Daily:

Canadian scientists who specialize in learning, memory and language in children have found exciting evidence that pre-schoolers can improve their verbal intelligence after only 20 days of classroom instruction using interactive, music-based cognitive training cartoons.
And the results are impressive:
The verbal IQ tests assessed the children's attention, word recall and ability to analyze information and solve problems using language-based reasoning. Brain imaging enabled researchers to detect if functional brain changes had occurred related to the cognitive training.

When the children were re-tested five to 20 days after the end of the training programs, researchers … found quite a different result in the children who took the music-based, cognitive training. Ninety percent of those children exhibited intelligence improvements -- five times larger than the other group -- on a measure of vocabulary knowledge, as well as increased accuracy and reaction time. The music group also showed brain changes that co-related to their enhanced cognitive performance.So what's that mean for us language learners (and our language-learning kids)?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amanda Knox's tragic path to Italian

The language-learning world is not one that's prone for drama and high crimes, but the murder of Meredith Kercher created just that in a place that is surely close to the hearts of many readers of this blog: a study-abroad program. Meredith was spending a year abroad, studying Italian as an Erasmus scholar, when her life was abruptly cut short in a senseless tragedy, and the aftermath of that tragedy sent Amanda Knox down a multi-year language-learning path that I would wish upon no one, but nevertheless resulted in her fluency in the Italian language.

This post looks at Amanda's language-learning background, how her language abilities may have affected her interactions with Italian authorities, and finally how the long path from trial to conviction to acquittal ultimately led to her fluency in Italian.

Friday, October 14, 2011

GraspChinese review: Pretty good way for Chinese beginners to get started is an online Chinese course for the total beginner. The first 10 lessons are free and for $14.99 (or $12.74 with the 15%-off promo code "GRASP15" that will work through the end of 2011) you can get a month of access to all 37 lessons, with discounts for longer subscriptions (GraspChinese provided me with a free six-month subscription for review purposes, so I had access to all 37 lessons). The short and succinct lessons cover the basics of Chinese vocab, grammar, and pronunciation, with a welcome focus on teaching the four tones. It's a pretty good place to start your Chinese efforts, especially given how quickly you should be able to go through the material, but wholly omitting Chinese characters is disappointing and needing to hear a non-native speaker pronounce Chinese words is not ideal.

GraspChinese's lessons are for the most part organized around doing a bunch of things that a traveller to China might need to do while there (ordering a coffee, shopping, etc.). Each lesson consists of a series of narrated slides, a listening comprehension exercise, dictation exercises for words and phrases, a list of vocabulary and key phrases from the lesson, and—when the vocabulary of the lesson lends itself to visual representation—an image selection exercise not unlike those found in RosettaStone or Livemocha.

Guidelines for guest posts

Guest posts have been a part of this blog for some time now. As I keep getting requests from potential guest bloggers, I've decided to create this post explaining my guidelines for guest posts so I can lazily link here whenever someone wants to do one.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How Steve Jobs made language learning easier

As you may have heard, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc., passed away last week at the age of 56.

Steve doesn't appear to have been much of a language learner (one somewhat unreliable source tells me that he spoke Malayalam, presumably learned during the time he spent backpacking around India), but it's hardly surprising that the course Steve cut through technology has had many reverberations in the way we study languages. The changes are really knock-off effects from what was happening at a higher level, and much of it seems to be "someone would've done this sooner or later" kinds of things, but the big changes are obvious when I compare to the way I learned languages 15 years ago, and I for one am glad those changes came sooner rather than later.

Three ways he did that, after the jump.

Advertise on Street-Smart Language Learning

I've recently been getting some inquiries about advertising on here, so I've decided to test the waters with a monthly banner ad auction. Lang-8 kindly agreed to be my banner ad guinea pig, and you can see what the banner ad will look like above. The minimum bid is just $10, which should hopefully make the advertising accessible to just about anyone.

Find out more after the jump.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stopping the study-abroad fail train

The Associated Press is reporting about a trend in studying abroad away from "so-called 'island' programs, where Americans live, study and often party together" (via irishpolyglot). The results of these programs, as you might imagine, is that students learn little of the local language.

My study-abroad program in Shanghai was very much an "island" program. Our dorms and classrooms were a bunch of apartments in a fenced complex with a pool. Each apartment had four English-speaking students, English television channels and our classes were in English (except for our Chinese classes). It took me about two months to make my escape to a host family a few blocks away, but I was glad I did as my learning speed picked up immediately.

Although I've seen Americans get stuck in such an island on every single study abroad program I've ever been involved with, it's hardly limited to Americans and other English speakers. It's likely to be a problem for any group of native speakers studying abroad in sufficient numbers, with Japanese and Korean students coming to mind as well. One of the most extreme examples I've run into is a Japanese guy who had gotten a four-year college degree from the States and, a few years after graduating, when I asked him something like "Oh, so your English is pretty good then, right?" in English, he had no idea what I was saying. None. Turned out that he had bubbled himself up in Japanese so much that he never really got his listening and speaking skills to improve very much and had passed all his classes through reading alone. Yikes.

Getting back to our U.S. study abroad programs, the trend seems to be taking steps to put an end to this kind of thing. Let's run through the ways noted in the article that they're going about this, after the jump.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How being multilingual can help a career in criminal justice

The following is a guest post by Marie Owens. Marie works in security logistics, writes for Criminal Justice Degree Online and is a frequent guest blogger on various related topics.

The field of criminal justice in the United States is as diverse as the individuals in which professionals in the field come in to contact. In addition to police and detective work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that those with a criminal justice degree can work as probation officers in the field of pretrial services, assist addicts as substance abuse treatment counselors and also work with families and individuals as social workers. Federal and state agencies mandate training modules and testing score adherence, so as to vet candidates for open positions. Even so, it is frequently overlooked that being multilingual greatly assists a criminal justice professional in a chosen field, to the point of being an essential skill.