Monday, February 25, 2013

How to use Furigana Inserter in Chrome and Firefox to add furigana to any Japanese webpage

振り仮名ふりがなFurigana is a Japanese reading aid, consisting of small phonetic characters printed above a word with Chinese characters to indicate the characters' pronunciation (as seen to the right). It's used in materials for native-Japanese kids who are still learning the characters and in materials for native-Japanese adults for very difficult characters, but it also has obvious uses for language learners.

Furigana Inserter is an extension for Chrome and for Firefox that will let you add furigana to any open webpage. With Furigana Inserter, you can turn this:

into this:

So as you can see, it's a pretty useful extension for a Japanese learner. Once convenient use for this is adding pronunciation info to dictionaries that don't have them out of the box (ALC, I'm looking at you).

The following instructions lay out the simple steps to get it up and running in Chrome and the not-so-simple steps to get it up and running in Firefox on a Mac.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How to practice English listening comprehension and speaking skills

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.

In order to have good skills in listening comprehension in English and to speak it fluently, a learner should practice listening to audio and video aids in English (dialogues, thematic texts and narrative stories) with subsequent speaking. It is preferable to have English transcripts of audio and video material. I suggest that learners practice listening comprehension with subsequent speaking on a variety of topics and with materials for all levels on a regular long-term basis in the following sequence:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Latin, Greek, and Russian characters in a Venn diagram


Above is my take on this Wikimedia commons Venn diagram showing Russian, Greek, and Latin characters. Basically I grabbed the three alphabets off of Wikipedia, matched characters used in multiple alphabets in a spreadsheet, sorted, and stuck them in the diagram. The only substantive difference between mine and the Wikimedia one is that I alphabetized the characters (by Latin first, then by Greek, and then by Russian), which makes it a bit easier to read.

So what's this got to do with language learning? Well, if you already know a language that uses one of those alphabets and you're learning one that uses another (or, better yet, you're learning multiple languages and need to learn both of the other two), then obviously this has some utility for you. But, more generally, this is a great example of using diagrams and similar visual representations of data (like these tables for Japanese kana) to make things easier to remember.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How many words do you need to know in a foreign language?

When looking into what seems to be the never-ending abyss of learning a language, it's nice to have an idea of where your finish line might be. Most of the individual pieces of language data that you'll be storing in your head consist of vocabulary, so knowing how much vocab you'll need to reach the vaunted native level is a pretty good indicator of where your finish line is.

So how many words does an average native speaker know? Good numbers are pretty hard to come by and the jury still seems to be largely out on any conclusive numbers, but there does seem to be a rough consensus that with 20,000 or so words you'll pretty much be covered in anything you want to use the language for.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to make the most of listening to target language music

If you like music (and science tells me that you do), then you'll like listening to music in your target language. And if you like doing something in your target language, do it.

That just leaves us with figuring out how to milk every drop of language-learning goodness out of music.