3 June 2014

Learning languages makes you smarter

Bilingual people are smarter, and it doesn’t matter when you learn a new language according to this recent study.

To quote the article, 

“Findings showed that those who spoke more than one language tested better on intelligence tests, regardless of when the second language was picked up.”

Now that should be motivation to get cracking on your language study.

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3 June 2014

Russian nationalism on the move.

Interesting article from New York Times on the situation in Eastern Ukraine. The article treads lightly on the responsibility of the Russian government. Yet to me Putin (and the Russian government) is the prime culprit behind the unrest and loss of life in Eastern Ukraine. Putin obtained explicit permission from his rubber stamp parliament to invade Ukraine. Putin massed troops on the border of Ukraine. Either he intended to invade and change his mind,  or he just wanted to intimidate Ukraine and inflame Russian nationalism in Eastern Ukraine.  Putin stated publicly that the formation of Ukraine as a separate country in 1991 was illegitimate, and that large parts of Ukraine really should be part of Russia. Putin annexed Crimea with the help of soldiers from the Russian base there, which he at first denied and then admitted.  Russian “volunteers” recruited and trained in Crimea,  armed with automatic weapons, soon showed up in Eastern Ukraine to foment unrest and organize an armed rebellion. These forces are now formidable, including many “volunteers” from Russia, armed with very sophisticated weapons from Russia. I don’t believe this would be possible without direction, or at least some involvement by the Russian government.

But more than anything else, Russia’s relentless propaganda attack on Ukraine, using its overwhelming control of media in Russia, and hired trollers on social media and news websites, has whipped up feelings, not only in Russia, but amongst Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine. That is what is behind much of the unrest there. What is most shocking to me is that so many Russians who live in the West just accept Russian nationalism and related propaganda. Beyond the daily falsification of news, well documented on sites like Stop Fake, it is the constant demonization of the Ukrainian government and state that is one of Russian’s main weapons in its  goal to destabilize Ukraine, all in the name of elevating Russia’s sense of its own might and power.

Russian nationalism will be an increasingly important source of destabilization in the world in the years to come. I don’t yet see the end of the troubles in Ukraine. If Russians living there can be roused to the siren call of Russian nationalism, and garner “volunteers” , often heavily armed, and other forms of military and financial support from  mother Russia,  the same scenario can be played out elsewhere where Russians live in large numbers. And if Russians can ignore national boundaries in the name of nationalism, will other nationalisms follow suit.

27 May 2014

When to Start Speaking a New Language?

One of the liveliest discussions within the language learning community is on the subject of when to start speaking. I am a proponent of letting the learner choose when to start, and my personal preference is to delay speaking. I prefer to invest a fair amount of time in listening and reading, in order to gain some familiarity with the language and acquire a decent level of vocabulary. Then when I start speaking, I have something to say, and I can understand what others are saying.

To me, speaking from day one, in other words forcing people to speak right away, is  like asking people to sing who have never heard a song, play tennis who have never seen a tennis game, or swim who have never seen a person swim. What’s the hurry? It is much easier to start speaking when we are somewhat familiar with the language. Focusing on comprehension is less stressful and more pleasant than forcing oneself to speak.

Here is a discussion on the subject with Martin Weiss, American polyglot, who has a different point of view. What is your personal opinion? Feel free to share in the comments!

27 May 2014

Can English speakers learn languages?

Of course English speakers can learn languages, but mostly  they don’t. Why? Here is a guest article I wrote on the subject recently for an interesting new blog on language learning called Lingholic. 

This blog belongs to Sam, a fellow Canadian polyglot who lives in Ottawa. He manages to combine his passion for learning languages, his blog and a full time job. With this growing army of language bloggers, the world is slowly becoming more open to the joys of learning languages, or at least I hope so!

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14 May 2014

Fluency outweighs pronunciation

The goal in learning to pronounce another language should be communication. Can I be understood?

Based on this research,  for native speakers who are listening,  fluency is more important than pronunciation. In other words, our ability to put words together accurately, smoothly and fluently, is much more important than trying to pronounce like a native.

Fluency requires a wide vocabulary and a sense of which words normally are used to describe certain situations, and which words are normally used together with other words. To acquire this you need to read and listen a lot.


29 April 2014

Interleaved learning, or learning without pressure

Interleaved learning is an approach to learning that departs from the traditional block or focused approach to learning. Interleaved learning and the research behind it, is based on the idea that if we should not focus on learning or mastering one skill or set of information, such as a limited group of words in a foreign language.  Instead , we should move on to other skills and bits of information, and then come back to the first group of skills or information later.

Research shows that, in the short term, the block learner does better. In the long run, the interleaved learner retains more. See some interesting examples. 

Here are a couple of videos on this and how this relates to learning languages at LingQ.

17 April 2014

The 90-Day Challenge: A Final Review

My 90-Day Challenge has come to an end! A period of increased learning intensity brought me new momentum in my Korean, and taught me some new learning habits. I can’t say I am fluent, but I feel confident I can become fluent if I keep going. In that sense I achieved my most important goal. It was worth the effort.

Congratulations to all the participants who shared this great learning journey with me and made a breakthrough in their languages!

10 April 2014

Writing helps you notice the language

I wrote 250 words of Korean today on a rather difficult subject. Lots of mistakes, which were corrected by Korean member at LingQ.

I would rather be listening and reading, but I know the writing helps. It helps me to notice the language.  It is quite motivating to see your writing corrected so I hope to do some more tomorrow, if I have the time. Time, where to find the time…

9 April 2014

Really enjoying writing Korean

I am glad that my son nudged me to start writing Korean. I know writing is good for language learning, but I kept putting it off. Now with less than a week to go, I have to write to meet my obligations under the 90-Day Challenge. Using the iPad makes it a lot easier. I can touch the Hangul characters on the iPad screen without having to use a mouse, as on the computer. I can even dictate Korean using the dictation software that comes with the ipad, and then correct the mistakes. And writing does give you a better grasp of the language and makes it more fun to read.

8 April 2014

A glimpse of the Maidan

I don’t know how many people follow these events in Russian but the following exchange provides some insight into the dynamics of the Maidan and yet another example of how Russian TV deliberately edits video to spread misinformation.