30 July 2015

Learning Japanese Is Not Difficult

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Today, I want to give you a very brief introduction to Japanese. I was asked to do this in Chinese from one of my Chinese-speaking viewers, so I thought I would do it first in English just to see what I have to say on the subject.

Japanese is perceived as difficult.  Japanese is not difficult. The biggest obstacle, to my mind, is the writing system. You, first of all, have to learn the two syllable-based writing systems Hiragana and Katakana, which are parallel, 50 symbols and relatively easy to learn, but you also have to learn at least 2,000 Japanese characters in order to be able to read adult, call it newspapers, books and so forth in the language. And, as you know, I very much believe in lots of listening and reading in order to get used to the language, but on the plus side in Japanese there are no verb endings to worry about, no noun declensions to worry about.

Once you get over that initial hurdle it’s relatively straightforward, other than the fact that it’s different and you have to get used to the way it’s different. You have to get used to the fact that they have these little, call them dividers, call them markers, call them post-position words. Like “I go to Tokyo with you” __________ “with you” ___________ “with you” Tokyo ____, Tokyo ____, _______. You have these little dividers so you have to get used to them, but once you get used to it it’s a pretty good concept. It functions. It’s not that difficult. You don’t have to remember too many things, there’s only a few of them ____, ____, ____.

I’m going to leave a link here to an excellent Japanese grammar which covers most of what you need to know very simply with no typical useless drills and unnecessary explanations. Very much to the point, so check that one out.

So you get used to that. ________ “to you”, ________, the “o” designates ________ as the object. Like I’m going to give you a book ______ ______ ______ is “book” ________, “give”. So that’s the first thing you’ve got to remember. The second thing you have to get used to is the verbs come at the end, so in all of those sentences I gave you the verb came at the end. It’s difficult to get used to.

Japanese_Is_Not_Difficult

It’s also difficult for Japanese people who speak English who have a tendency to say “It is a beautiful day, just I think”. So the “just I think” comes at the end, whereas we say “I think it’s a beautiful day.” So in Japanese the verb comes at the end.

Also, in Japanese they have what I think are very elegant ways of giving and receiving things. So ______ is “to do it for you”, ________ again, _______ is “to do”, _______ is “to give”, _____ is “to receive”. So “I give”, ________, “I do give, do receive”. You have to get used to it. You also have to get used to a lot of stuff is left out in Japanese because it’s understood. So if I say ______, it can mean “I’m going”, it can mean “tomorrow” ________. If I say ______, the _____ indicates a question, but you’ll notice that the pronoun is left out and we know from the context who we’re talking about. There are so many things like that that are contextual. As I say, “Good things come after”, so ________, “if we go”, _______ “probably go”, _________ “We have to go”.

So a lot of these things you just have to get used to and some of the things may seem, at first, a little clumsy. Like “We have to go, we cannot” ________, “cannot” _______. Like “It’s not acceptable not to go” means “we have to go”. At first, these things seem difficult, but they’re not difficult in the sense of trying to remember verb endings, to my mind at least. They’re difficult in terms of getting used to them.

So my recommendation in Japanese is to, first of all, invest the time in the writing system, do a lot of reading and listening, that’s what I did when I learnt Japanese. Don’t convince yourself that it’s difficult, it isn’t, but like any language it requires a lot of exposure, a lot of getting used to before you’re comfortable, before you can understand it when you hear it and before you’re able to speak it.

So that’s just touching a broad brush, including that link to that excellent grammar. If there are specific aspects of Japanese that you would like me to talk about from the perspective of my experience, I’ll be happy to do that. Japanese is not difficult to learn at all.

So thank you for listening, bye for now.

23 July 2015

Output – When You Can’t Wait To Talk

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Today I want to talk about getting to output. Now, obviously, you know that I’m a believer in input, developing comprehension, developing vocabulary, specifically passive vocabulary, at least initially, but eventually you want to speak well. Well, eventually to speak well, you have to speak a lot. Until you understand well it’s difficult speak a lot, but there are things you can do. Of course there are language exchange sites. You can find language partners. At LingQ we have an exchange where you can talk to native speakers. There are many opportunities on the Internet to meet people, even if you aren’t in the country where the language is spoken. I would just like to touch on a few tips, some of the things that I find useful to do at LingQ.

First of all, when I read a text where we have the audio and we have the text, I save words and I save phrases. Now, one thing we can do to liven it up, because we want to mine this material for words and phrases that we can use, is to record ourselves speaking, pronouncing these phrases, particularly phrases, if you save some good phrases.

Now, on the LingQ page on the right-hand side there’s a list of all the words and phrases that you have saved, but to isolate the phrases you need to go to the vocabulary page and then there’s a little button you can click on which says ‘Only Phrases’, something like that, ‘Phrases Only’. That will bring up all the phrases you have ever saved, but there’s also a filter there that allows you to filter by creation date. So if you then click on ‘By Creation Date’, the most recent phrases that you have saved will show up there

So then you can record these. I use Wiretap Studios, but there’s lot of software out there for recording and then you can take away and listen to these phrases on your mp3 player. So you are reinforcing these phrases in your mind, you’re practicing pronouncing these phrases and then you can review them in flashcards and in the flashcards they have text to speech for each of these phrases at LingQ in most of our languages. I find that for individual words and phrases text to speech is very helpful. You might be able to correct your pronunciation. You might even want to redo your recording of them. So that’s one thing you can do.

While we’re on the subject, sometimes you have things you want to express or you want to develop vocabulary in a particular area, another thing you can do is to find say material in your own language on the Internet. Put it into Google Translate, that will translate it into the target language. You can then import that as a lesson into LingQ. You can do the same thing saving phrases.

Now, there will be aspects of the Google translation that are not accurate, there will be mistakes. However, I find that it’s quite good enough in order to acquire a specific vocabulary, specific phrasing for a particular area. So if it’s medical terms, economic terms or simply how to express ‘why’, ‘therefore’, ‘because’, ‘from my point of view’, if you put all of those in some text that you grab from the Internet or even which you create yourself in your own language, translate into Google Translate, bring it into LingQ and then go through and do the same thing as I suggested. Collect out the phrases, identify the phrases, record them, listen to it, then do it again in flash cards comparing to the text to speech. All of this is an ability to mine that content for useful words and phrases that, over time, you’re gradually going to be able to use in your conversation.

So I hope that’s useful, I look forward to your comments. Bye for now.

16 July 2015

Language Learning Efficiency and Duolingo

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. Efficiency in language learning is extremely important. I learned that when studying Chinese 45 or 48 years ago. Because there’s so much time involved, even a 50% increase in efficiency has a big impact. And the faster you can learn the language, the more efficient and the more intense, the better you’re going to learn. That was my experience 48 years ago.

So how do we want to spend our time? I checked out Duolingo. Duolingo is extremely well designed, it’s fun, it’s like a game, so you’re playing a game and at the same time you’re discovering a language. You’re discovering the word for bread, eat, drink and cow, things like this. So is that an efficient way to learn a language? In my view, it has a big advantage in that it’s a gamified approach, it is fun and you do learn something. In terms of time efficiency, it’s not something that I would spend a lot of time with because my feeling is that efficient language learning consists of exposing yourself to word-dense material. The greater the density of words, the better, therefore, I prefer listening audio material to visual videos.

Whenever I’ve listened to a story or a novel in an audio book format and then watched the movie, I find the audio book format, especially if the text is available to me, much more intense and much more effective in terms of building vocabulary because building vocabulary is key. As I’ve said before, you don’t need one or two thousand words in order to speak a language, you need 10,000 words. You need lots of words. Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve gone to a country with a thousand words and I got nowhere. Couldn’t understand what they were saying and they quickly switched to English on me or didn’t have the patience to stay with me.

So Duolingo, by all means, you should try it and I’d be interested in hearing other people’s impressions. I think it’s a good way to get started in a language, but also inefficient. It’s not only that the high word density material that I listen to and read is more efficient in terms of acquiring the language and getting used to the language, it’s also that it’s so much easier to organize. Duolingo, I have to sit in front of either my iPhone or computer and play that game, as enjoyable as it may be.

However, I have a visitor coming from the Czech Republic and I’ve been reviewing my Czech. I go on the Internet and download __________, some new episodes. I can read them on LingQ. I can listen to them while walking the dog, while driving. It’s a better use of my time. I can do it while doing other things. If I couldn’t simply listen for an hour or more a day, I couldn’t learn all these languages. It’s just the portability of listening that’s so powerful and then you couple it with reading. Here again, all of the material that I’ve downloaded from the Internet in Czech, I’ve now got it ready to go on my iPad so that I can do my LingQ offline on the plane. I should mention I have to fly to Edmonton tonight.

So in terms of efficiency, I see Duolingo as a great introduction to the language. I think the simple fact that books, reading and listing is just the most efficient way and when you have the opportunity you speak, but in the meantime you are able to spend free time, dead time, in a very efficient way simply by listening and reading.

I would look forward to your comments on Duolingo. I’ve only spent an hour on it. I checked some reviews on the Internet, there are people who have been on it for years and have much more in-depth things to say and you can check those out on the Internet, as well.

Thank you for listening, bye.

9 July 2015

The Golden Age Of Language Learning

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann.

Today my subject is; The Golden Age of Language Learning. It is something that has dawned on me that we live in The Golden Age of Language Learning, now and things may improve, but compared to 50 years ago, 30 years ago, or hundreds of years ago. And I will give you some reasons why. I decided, or I said or there was a request that I would do videos in other languages, so I have started doing that.

French Is Easy For Me – Spanish Not So Much

Now some languages it is easier for me than in another. French is quite easy, Spanish is not so easy. Why? Because I have spoken an awful lot of French, I lived there for three years, I studied there, and I’ve read lots. Spanish – I would say – when I first went there in 1964 and hitchhiked around and I spoke a lot of French and I was listening to truck drivers and, excuse me not French, but Spanish, listening to truck drivers, heard a lot of Spanish and that was kind of the level of my Spanish until about 15-20 years ago when I started trying to read books and at first it was very difficult and the more books I read, the better I got at it. Now I have read so many books in Spanish that I can read it almost like English. But I don’t speak very often, like now I might speak once or twice a year, so it is more difficult for in Spanish. So I said: ‘OK, in order for me to do my video in Spanish I better kind of refresh my Spanish, so what can I do?’

So I can download the e-book, while I have been looking for some books to read, I find this “Dime Quien Soy”, I have mentioned it before. I download it, it’s like 900 pages, great long book, and I’ve got it on my Kindle. So I thought I’d get a Spanish book, and I googled – and I don’t know how I end up with this book, but I think it was recommended. I buy it, it’s on my Kindle. I have got it with me, I am reading it. Then I say: ‘You know what, reading isn’t enough, I need to be hearing Spanish’.

The Golden Age of Language Learning - Spanish Civil War

So I go to audible.com – first of all I Google Spanish audio books, I find some sites where they have some kind of very unpleasant to listen to – text to speech – which is alright for a word or a phrase, but you can’t listen to a whole book in text to speech. But then I find that they have “Dime Quien Soy” in Spanish and audio book on audible.com, which I discover also belongs to Amazon. OK, I have an account there, I buy the audio book, immediately download it. I put an app on my IPhone, which is an audible.com app, so while I am at it, I also buy another audio book on the history of the Spanish Civil War, so those two are plugged right into my IPhone, wherever I go now I can switch. Listen for a while to the history of the Spanish Civil War or I can listen to the audio version of the book that I have already read. Which is fun for a while but after all I know the story so it is kind of fun because you are listening to some of the early parts of the book where you didn’t quite understand who was doing what to whom. And now you hear it again so it kind of fills in some of the blanks, but mostly I listen to this audio book on the history of the Spanish Civil War, which is just fascinating. I never really understood how within the national side and the republican side, there were all these fractions and fighting and stuff going on. And not to mention the cruelty of the war and the number of people who were killed and so forth and so on, but it is just so easy to do. I’ve got this on my IPhone, again, sometimes I have to walk the dog in the afternoon and I am listening to this stuff that I have downloaded off a site and listening to a novel, I am listening to history.

Audible Dot Com

Now I look forward to making more videos and so I can now, with audible you can select the language: Japanese, Swedish. Subject: history, fiction, or whatever I want: German, Italian. I am going to be able to access this material. And now you say: ‘Yes, but that costs money’. Yes, well sure it costs money I mean but compared to a teacher?! You know, if I had had to learn Romanian or any of the languages that I have learned recently; Czech. You know, if I had to engage a teacher and go there once or twice a week and then they decide: ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to study today’. I wouldn’t get anywhere. Whereas this way, now granted you can’t start from scratch and start reading an audio book on audible.com. But there again, as I have mentioned before for Romanian, I just wrote up, sort of basic patterns of commonly used concepts that we like to express; why, because, if, therefore. Whatever it may be; how, when, how many. 200 phrases I put it up on Odesk.com. Please translate and record. Back it comes! OK, it costs me a bit of money, but I put it up on LingQ so other people can enjoy it and I get frequent comments from people thanking me for having put those contents up on LingQ.

The Golden Age of Language Learning - logos

I mean there is more to it than that, I mean, there’s the ITalkies you can get on the internet or you can talk to other people if you want. I don’t do a lot of that myself. It is just so easy. I remember when some years ago I was approached by the local community college to donate money to their language lab and I said: ‘Why would you have a language lab?’ There is so much stuff available now.

The Golden Age of Language Learning

So, I am just so much looking forward to getting back into my Swedish and Japanese and all these other languages to prepare for my talk. I don’t know if it improves my quality of the video, but it gives me a motivation and remember motivation is key. It gives me a motivation for doing it. It is extremely enjoyable and so I really believe that we live in a The Golden Age of Language Learning. And in fact in many ways we live in a golden age. It is so easy to get discouraged by all the bad news that we hear, but then when I listen to the Spanish Civil War, and the Second World War, then not that that’s a standard but. Yes, there are issues, but I think that we are solving them. I am quite convinced that within 20 or 30 years the main source of energy will be solar, we’ll have massive batteries and we will have resolved some of these issues that’s around energy and you know fossil fuels and so on. So as I have said many, many times before I am an optimist and I am very happy to live in the The Golden Age of Language Learning. So that should encourage you to go out there and do more language learning.

30 June 2015

How do we achieve fluency in a foreign language?

The quick answer on how to achieve fluency in a language is that it is a matter of motivation, of motivating oneself. Having seen a lof ot language learners, I am convinced that motivated learners achieve fluency, and unmotivated learners don’t.

I was recently approached by a person who is involved in teaching English to immigrants in the US. He asked me for advice on how to prepare learning material for them, sort of like graded readers.  I answered that there was an abundance of such material available. Probably if he could  influence the attitude or motivation of these learners he would help them more than by creating a new series of textbooks or readers.

Motivation is the driver of success in language learning. Motivation is the magic ingredient for success in any learner’s quest for fluency.  I was reminded of the recent TED video by Scott Geller, “The Psychology of Self-Motivation.” I don’t agree with all of it, but it is worth watching. It is highly relevant to the pursuit of fluency in a foreign language. In particular, the three questions that are asked in the video.

Achieve Fluency Scott_Geller_Ted_Talk
Scott Geller

Achieve Fluency – Can I do it?

If the answer to this question is no, then you are best to stop trying. If you don’t believe that you can reach the destination in your journey, why start?  On the other hand if you believe you can become fluent,  you are well on your way to achieving fluency.

if you have never learned a foreign language, you may not have the confidence that you are a competent language learner, that you can do it, that you can achieve fluency. I know that I didn’t really believe I could do it, over 50 years ago, until I did it in French. Thereafter I have never doubted my ability to learn another language and achieve fluency.

Unfortunately it is only possible to acquire this sense of confidence after having learned at least one language.  Thereafter, the more languages you learn, the more competent,  and therefore the more confident you become. I am a better language learner at age 70 then I was at age 16 because I have done it so many times.

Achieve Fluency Image by Steven Depolo

I firmly believe that we all have the innate ability to learn foreign languages. We just need to believe in ourselves, and stay with the process. We just need to develop new habits and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

There is a condition. Just as with embarking on a journey, when you decide to learn a language, you accept responsibility for reaching your target. In other words you have to take charge. You have to become and an autonomous learner.

Will it work?

Will the learning method that you are using enable you to achieve your goal? If you want to travel somewhere,  you have to be confident that the mode of transportation you are using will take you to the destination. By the same token you have to believe in the learning strategy that you have chosen. if you believe that the learning method you are using doesn’t work, then you should change that method.

If you don’t believe in the method you’re using, it will not work for you. If you believe in the method, you are more likely to put in the time and effort necessary for success and your belief in the process will actually increase the effectiveness of the method. I referred to this as the placebo effect in in a recent a video.

In my view, the most effective learning strategy is one devoted to massive input, listening and reading, using interesting content you have chosen. Of course we need start with beginner material that may not be so interesting, but we can move to authentic and interesting material surprisingly quickly using tools like LingQ.

This means that you seek first to acquire a large vocabulary and a high level of comprehension as the base upon which to build other language skills. I am convinced of the effectiveness of this approach both from my own experience and from reading research on the subject of language acquisition. The fact that this approach has worked for me in the acquisition of over a dozen languages, has only reinforced my belief in this approach. I know that reading interesting language content on my iPad, or listening to an interesting audio book while walking my dog, or driving, is not only enjoyable but constantly improving my language skills.

AAA - Books

If we are familiar with the language, with the way of thinking of the new culture, and if we have lots of words, the ability to express ourselves naturally and clearly in the new language can easily develop. On the other hand, starting with a concern about grammar  and hoping to speak meaningfully when we have trouble understanding what people are saying, seems like putting the cart before the horse.

There are many people, however, who believe that we should speak from day 1.  If they believe in this approach and enjoy it, and if they stay with it, I am sure it works for them. Make sure you find a method that you believe in and one that you find enjoyable, so that you answer “yes” to the question, “will it work?”

Is it worth it?

Do we want to learn the language? Do we like the language? Do we like to be with people of that language group? Do we want to access some aspect of that culture, such as books, movies, music etc.? Do we want to travel to the country where the language is spoken? Do we need the language for our work or to communicate with friends or loved ones? The more times we answer “yes” to these questions the stronger our motivation will be.

Achieve Fluency - Yes
Image by Alexandre Dulaunoy

Aside from these obvious advantages of being able to communicate in another language, learning a language is a healthy habit. Research has shown that learning and speaking another language is good for our brains, strengthens our cognitive skills, keeps us young, and helps stave off dementia when we are older.

Language learning requires a commitment, and therefore it is important that we feel the effort is worth it. When I start out in a language, I struggle with language content that is not very interesting, and yet difficult to understand. Usually within a few months I can access content of interest to me, but which is still difficult, certainly more difficult than reading in my own language. When I start to speak in the language I struggle to understand and to find the words I want. Is this self-inflicted pain really worth it?

For me it is. I know that eventually I will  be able to enjoy books, movies, and friendships in the language. I feel fortunate to be able to speak 15 languages. I can’t begin to describe the enjoyment and benefit that the ability to communicate in each of my languages has given me. My only regret is that I don’t have the time to focus more on each one of them. Each language is a window to a new world, a new expression of what it is to be a human being.

So if you want to become fluent in a language but your motivation is flagging, ask yourself these three questions. If the answer to all three is “yes” , you are on your way. If the answer is no to any of them, you should either abandon the goal of fluency, or else try find new reasons to say “yes”. It is all a matter of the mind over the brain.

25 June 2015

Motivation in Language Learning

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel. This one will help you find your motivation in language learning.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today, I want to talk about motivation in language learning. You know, I have bought lots of books about language instruction, language acquisition. I have them on my shelves, I’ve read them. Some of them have influenced me, some of them I find totally contradicting my experience, but very little, I have found, has been written on the subject of motivating people.

Yet, I believe that motivation is the most important factor in language learning, so I want a talk a bit today about it. Maybe I’ll do a few videos on the subject of what motivates me from my experience and then I’d like to hear from you and then I have some other ideas about how in language instruction we could do a better job of trying to find those trigger points, those hooks that are going to motivate people and different people are motivated in different ways.

I thought of this today because I was cleaning out my garage. We changed our telephone system, got rid of our old TV, great, big, heavy TV, we even changed our central vacuum cleaner. I’ve got to get rid of all this stuff, so I look up the recycle centers here and find out where I go to take this stuff. I take it there and there’s some free recycling run by the city and adjacent to it and part of this complex is this company that takes in all these electrical or electronic goods, old hi-fi’s and everything else. Whatever they’re able to salvage out of them, they salvage. It’s a business, which is good.

Low and behold, everybody working there is Korean. The girl who’s there to receive me and who I asked my question of she’s Korean, so we start speaking in Korean. She was so happy and really, “Wow! You speak so well.” Of course, I don’t. So that motivated me and I said I’m going to back to Korean. I’ve got to get further along in Korean. So there was just a little spark like that. Prior to that, somebody on the YouTube channel had commented, “Looking forward to hearing you speak Polish.” I’ve been letting the Polish lag, so that was a bit of a motivator. In my own experience, those things aren’t strong enough. They’ll get me going for a while, but I have to have that good content.

I should point out, too, last week I traveled to the interior of BC and in the summer if you have the opportunity to travel by car in the interior of BC it is spectacular! So we drove across the Coast Mountains into Kelowna, this beautiful lake in the Okanagan, which is a different climate zone, different type of forest cover and stuff, drier. Visited with a couple in their mid 80s, whom we’ve known for a long time who have moved up there. The fellow, he’s 86 or 87 and he’s still learning Spanish. Then we drove down through Penticton, Okanagan Falls down to Osoyoos.

That country is so beautiful: the vineyards, the fruit orchards. We played golf and visited some vineyards where there’s free wine tasting. We bought some delicious wine. There’s a small winery called Cassini and we went in there, sampled different wines and we decided to buy two cases, like six bottles each of four different wines. We just had some this evening with dinner, a Cera, it was phenomenal! The owner showed up one day while we carting our two boxes away and he’s of Italian origin but lived in Romania, so I spoke a few words of Romanian. There’s a motivation. But, as I say, that is a small motivator. It’s not good enough, I need content of substance.

I’ve been reading this book ________ in Spanish. It’s such a fascinating book I just keep reading and I know that by reading in Spanish, I am continuing to improve my Spanish. It was only 10 years ago that I read my first whole book in Spanish. I haven’t really been working that much at Spanish, but reading more books, plus learning other languages my Spanish has improved. I was able to read the book almost as if it were English. So the big issue remains content.

I’m still attracted to my Russian and Ukrainian. I’m following the events there, so every day I listen to my Russian and Ukrainian and I don’t have the time to go after my Korean. You can get stimulated, that sort of little spark of motivation, but then I need some interesting content to keep me going.

So I’m going to stop it here, but I want to talk next time about how we can determine what motivated people and how that could be introduced into teaching. If people have ideas on that, I would love to hear from them. So thank you for listening, bye for now.

18 June 2015

Are There Different Types of Language Learners?

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. You often hear that there are different types of language learners. There are auditory learners, visual learners and kinetic learners; people who like to learn by listening, by seeing or by doing. Books have been written on the subject, I think even pedagogy has been developed to suit different kinds of learners. Personally, I don’t believe that we learn differently. I don’t think there are purely auditory learners or purely visual learners. I think we all learn in all of these different ways. I think the basic way in which the brain learns is the same.

A professor somewhere in the United States has written on this subject, he also is of the same view and has demonstrated it. I think it’s a fad. What is true is that different learners have different interests. Different types of learners are motivated by different things, so what we should do in language instruction (this is something I alluded to in my previous video) is find out how we can test. What kind of profile can we have or testing procedure to determine where the trigger points are. Where are the things that would motivate learner A versus learner B versus learner C? Maybe there are different types of learners based on what interests them and what motivates them. Maybe there are ways that we can find out what these things are and, therefore, we can motivate learners. I think that’s the challenge.

I know in my own case, I always think of those wonderful pieces of audio or reading that really grabbed me when I was learning say Chinese. I can think of things in Chinese history or _______. I can think of a German cassette tape series where they interviewed people in different walks of life. To me, it’s always been this interesting content that grabs me. Now, some people like to do grammar, some people like to do flashcards, so how do we find out what kind of a learner the person is in terms of what motivates them.

I don’t think the issue is so much, “Are there different ways in which different people’s brains work differently to learn languages”, I think it’s basically the same. The brain, as I understand it, basically, has to get used to the stimulus that it receives and out of the disorder of all this stimulus it has to create patterns. I don’t for a minute believe in Chomsky’s universal grammar, I don’t believe that for a minute. I think the way we naturally, through listening as children and hearing the language, start to form patterns, put labels on things and then start to make sense of it. It’s the same way we deal with all the phenomena that we encounter in life. The brain has to put some order to this; otherwise, every time they encounter that situation it’s new, so they have to make rules, they make their own rules.

I think all of our brains work the same way; however, for whatever reason, we have different interests. Some people like sports. Some people like music. Some people like reading. Some people don’t like reading. So there are definitely different types of language learners. I think the key thing there and the challenge is to try to find out what makes people tick when it comes to language learning. How can you trigger people and how can you design a curriculum with 30 different people in the classroom that is going to make sure each student is motivated to the maximum. That should be the challenge in language learning, rather than grammar instruction or drills and worrying about kinetic learners and things of that nature.

Anyway, that’s the start of a good discussion, so I look forward to hearing from you. Bye for now.

11 June 2015

The Importance of Grammar

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. Today I want to talk a little bit about grammar. By the way, you notice I don’t have my glasses on. I had this eye operated on so I can see. If I look at the screen now and close my bad eye, I can see very, very clearly. If I close this eye, it’s a blur. Eventually, I’ll have the other eye done and then I’ll see far away. I’ll still need glasses for reading, but that’s great.

Grammar, the importance of grammar and how we should deal with grammar, there’s this constant debate. Some people say grammar is a waste of time. Other people say that you have to first learn the basics. It’s a theme that I’ve dealt with before, but I thought I would go into it again.

Very quickly on the subject of videos in different languages, we want to take our time doing them because we want to develop subtitles in English. I’ve got the list here:

{Steve speaking various languages}

I don’t think I’ll be able to handle Polish yet.

{Steve speaking various languages}

Anyway, just to say, I’ll be going through those, but I want to wait until we’re able to provide subtitles.

Grammar, a big debate on our forum at LingQ, my view is this. I think traditional language instruction places far too much emphasis on grammar and it does it the wrong way. It introduces complicated explanations, complicated rules and then a bunch of exercises where you’re forced to try to practice what you’ve just, presumably, learned. The trouble is you don’t learn it because many of these correct usage patterns take a while to assimilate.

Most language books you buy are going to have 70% grammar explanations, exercises and a small amount of text. I think you should have far more interesting text with a vocabulary list and some focus on the basic patterns that show up in this text and then they should be introduced again in subsequent lessons. Here again is this pattern that we’ve seen before, here are five more examples and here are two that show up in the lesson, so you’re getting a chance to review the basic patterns without worrying too much about explanations.

Grammar Granny

You can have some explanations, but without the drills and the exercises and focus mostly on content and the reason is this. A language that you have had lots of exposure in, that you’ve spoken a lot in, you start to sense instinctively what is correct and what isn’t. Correct not only insofar as grammar rule endings or whatever, but also in terms of word usage. This is just a matter of getting used to the language and when you are used to the language you naturally say it correctly.

If you are relying on your recollection of the rule, you will always doubt yourself. Even when you got it right, even when you have a sense of how it’s used correctly, you will doubt yourself. You’ll want to look it up, you’ll want to check against the rule and that’s not good for developing fluency. Focus more on comprehension, vocabulary, input, getting used to the language, with a little bit of help by way of review of basic grammar patterns. Grammar has its place, but that’s how I would go about it.

I’m trying to keep these videos short. We can have more discussion on the subject, if there’s interest. Bye for now.

4 June 2015

What Do You Believe? The Placebo Effect Of Language Learning

This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Hi There Steve Kaufmann here again to talk about language learning.

And I want to talk about something that I often think of and that I have been meaning to do a video on and that is what I would call the placebo effect in language learning. Placebo P L A C E B O that’s what they call the sort of; hen they test a new medicine, they typically give, say, half the people they are testing the new medicine and another half the placebo, which looks like the medicine, but in fact doesn’t have any medicinal ingredients.

And when they test people they find that if there are three groups. Let’s say; those who took the medicine, those who took the placebo, which is an imitation medicine and those who took nothing. That if the medicine is effective then the people who took the medicine will do better. The people who took the placebo will do next best and the people who did nothing, will do less well. So even those who think they have the medicine are going to do better, because our belief in the power of, say, a pill or something influences us because everything inside us is influenced by how we feel and what we think.

Whatever Works For You

And in language learning it is exactly the same way. I know that I am a better language learner today in my 70th year than I was at the age of 16 because I know I can do it and I am confident that I going to succeed. But it is not only that. I know that the method I am using is effective. I know that reading is very good for my language learning. Right now I am reading a long novel in Spanish, it is called “Dime quién soy” and it’s a very interesting spy thriller that takes place in the historical – you know – civil war in Spain and Second World War and stuff, but I know that just the fact of reading this book is going to do so much for my Spanish. Improve it. I am exposing myself to certain patterns, to words and stuff. But if I don’t believe that reading is good for my Spanish, and right now I am not really working on Spanish. It is just that I happened to come across this book and I am reading it.

Believe - Book
Image by Simon Cocks

But it was the same when I was learning Czech. Very early on I started reading this book on Czech history and even though there were a lot of words that I didn’t know and which I didn’t look up, but I know from experience that – and because I have some sense of the history – so as I read through this thing it is not only enjoyable, but it makes me feel good because I know that it is going to improve my Czech.

Believe In The Method

So some of you may not like to read. I happen to believe that reading and then listening when you don’t have the ability to focus on just the one task, but I happen to know that that is very effective and I believe it is very effective. If you believe other things are effective. If you believe that Pimsleur is effective, if you believe that assimil is effective, if you believe that Anki is effective. Whatever it is, if you believe it that is going to help you learn. Our attitude towards the task, as I have said so many times, you know that we like the language, that we’re confident and stuff. But even to the extent that you have to believe in the method – the learning method.

And one of the difficulties we have at LingQ is to persuade people that just by doing the things that we ask them to do, just by reading and listening and saving words and reviewing these words and then eventually talking to people that that’s going to improve their language skills. If they don’t believe that: A. they won’t stick with it but B. it’s that placebo effect, just as with these tests of the effectiveness of medicine. If you believe in the medicine, if you believe in the method, you will do better. So whatever your favourite method is believe in it and stay with it and you will learn better.

Videos In Your Language

By the way, one final thing, I am happy to do some of these in other languages. Which languages would you like hear me speak in? Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French, Russian, German, Swedish whatever. Let me know. I will try my best even if in fact if I happen to stumble while speaking in those languages.

Bye for now.

1 June 2015

Why we need language teachers

Many people, at some time or another, say they want to learn another language. Few manage to get beyond a beginner level. Most of these unsuccessful learners have language teachers explaining the language to them, drilling them and correcting them. Successful language learners don’t need anyone to explain the language to them, correct them, nor drill them in the language.

This, then,  begs the question. Do we really need language teachers?

The Quiet Revolution

Montreal in 1961 was a society of two solitudes, of two separate societies, one French speaking and one English speaking. The “quiet revolution”, which would change the role of the French language in Quebec, and lead to a transformation of Quebec society, was just about to take place. Jean Lesage had just been elected Premier of Quebec.

I lived in Montreal at the time and was essentially unilingual, despite 12 years of French language classes at school. Just as happened with Quebec society, I experienced my own quiet revolution, and was transformed. As result I now know 15 languages. Why did that happen?

graffiti-156018_640

The agent of my transformation was not a politician, but a teacher, a French professor at McGill University, whose name was Maurice Rabotin. He stimulated me. He provoked me. He encouraged me, and I developed a passionate interest in French culture and civilisation. I then proceeded to learn the language on my own. He didn’t teach me the language.

The Best Kind Of Teacher

Over the past few months I have been interacting with a Spanish class at St. Andrews School in Delaware, in the United States. The high school students in this school, after 2-4 years of Spanish, are able to express themselves surprisingly eloquently, on fairly complex subjects of their own choosing. Their achievements are impressive, and far above the ordinary. Why are they so exceptional, compared to the typical results of high school language instruction?

In my view, a major reason is their teacher, Donald Duffy. He stimulates them, provokes them, and encourages them. The results speak for themselves. When his students spoke to me in Spanish, he only helped them if they ask for it. He didn’t correct them. Yet they discussed history, art and other subjects quite fluently.

Language teachers - happy studentsImage by www.audio-luci-store.it

So it seems to me that a teacher is not needed to teach the language, but can be a decisive factor in the acquisition of the language. To see why that is so it is important to review some interesting research results on language acquisition.

Language Acquisition

In my recent video entitled “The three main myths about language learning” I referred to a most interesting paper entitled:

Self-Selected Pleasure Reading and Story Listening for Foreign Language Classrooms by Beniko Mason

Some of her most incisive comments, based on her research, are as follows.

Reading books and listening to stories for acquiring a foreign language may sound like nothing new. We have been teaching reading and listening for the last 50 to 100 years in foreign language programs in schools all over the world. But the way we have been offering reading and listening classes to students has been ineffective, inefficient, and insufficient.”

What has been ineffective, inefficient, and insufficient about the way we offer reading and listening classes is that we teach in skill-based explicit ways…. Teachers have been misled to believe that conscious learning of the rules of the language is necessary, and that output practice helps consciously learned knowledge become automatic competence. What is needed is a drastic change in teachersʼ understanding.

Teachers must understand that consciously learned knowledge is fragile and easily forgotten, but unconsciously acquired language competence is permanent. Most language rules do not have to be explicitly taught. They can be acquired without teachers’ spending hours on explanation, and without studentsʼ doing hours of drill-based homework. They can be acquired through reading many books and listening to many stories”(for more research evidence of the effects of reading on language acquisition, see Krashen, 2004). Besides, when students are forced to do drills, they do not learn much. People have said that conscious learning is a short cut, but this is not the case.”(Mason, 2005, 2007; Mason & Krashen, 2004)

Language teachers - Bored students

Some late-acquired rules of grammar may have to be pointed out and taught to more advanced second language acquirers, especially for editing purposes, but the majority of foreign language students in colleges and universities seem to be beginners and low intermediates, and our immediate goal is to help them become upper intermediate or low advanced learners. Another goal in school is to help students become autonomous, so that they can keep acquiring English on their own after they finish school“(Krashen, 1998). After we help them reach the high intermediate(for example, paper and pencil TOEFL 500) and low advanced levels (for example TOEFL 550), they can continue to improve their competency on their own.

Students can reach the upper intermediate level largely from reading and listening” (Krashen, 2004) and can reach the most advanced “academic” language level only through reading. “More skill-building, more correction, and more output do not consistently result in more proficiency” (Krashen, 1994, page 48). Rather: “Reading is the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammar, and the only way we become good spellers.”

Abundant listening and reading experience is missing in our language programs. Story-listening and self-selected pleasure reading are the bridge to academic language.

We have been making students speak and write too early. We make our students repeat after the teacher or a tape, have them sing songs, and make them memorize texts and dialogs. We make them do free conversation when they are not yet ready to speak easily. We make students write with correct spelling, make them write a diary, and make them translate texts in writing. We do this because we believe that speaking and writing practice causes improvement in speaking and writing. Those who listen and read do better on writing and speaking than those who do not spend as much time in reading and listening.”

I can’t improve on what Ms. Mason has written here. I can only confirm that this has been my experience.

My Language Learning “Secret”

Why have I often learned faster than other learners? Because I read so much more than most other language learners. I also engage in massive pleasure listening to subjects of interest. Where I am unable to find interesting content in both audio and text format, my learning suffers.

Why do I not tend to forget the languages that I learn? Because I learned them through massive listening and reading using material of interest to me. If I were to learn them using grammar explanations then my knowledge of these languages would be “fragile” as Mason says.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Krashen over lunch in Riverside, California. He gave me a remarkable paper which I hope will bring about a  “quiet revolution” in language instruction.

language teachers Krashen and Steve

Can second language acquirers reach high levels of proficiency through self-selected reading? An attempt to confirm Nation’s (2014) results.

Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California (Emeritus)
USA

Beniko Mason
Shitennoji University Junior College
Osaka, Japan

Abstract
An analysis done by Nation (2014) leads to the conclusion that readers in English as a foreign language can gain about one-half a point on the TOEIC test for every hour of independent English reading. A statistical analysis of progress made by seven adult acquirers of English living in Japan was performed to confirm this conclusion: All were intermediates, but there was considerable variation, with TOEIC scores ranging from 220 to 705. All engaged in self-selected reading, and took pre and post TOEIC tests. Hours spent reading was an excellent predictor of gains on the TOEIC and the rate of improvement was nearly exactly the same as that reported by Nation.

On the basis of a corpus analysis, Nation (2014) estimated that readers can move from elementary levels of vocabulary knowledge in a second language (knowledge of 2000 word families) to a very high level (knowledge of 9000 word families) after a total 1,223 hours of reading, about one hour a day over three years. Nation concluded that a “vocabulary size of 9,000 words or more is a sensible long-term goal for unassisted reading of simplified texts” as it will “provide coverage of over 98% of the running words in a wide range of texts.”

Some may argue that this sample is too small, and perhaps from a methodology perspective this is a valid criticism. However, the validation of these results is all around me.

Passing The Tests

I can confirm that a high level of vocabulary is needed to understand normal adult material in a language, whether listening or reading. This is essentially what TOEIC is all about.I can also confirm that reading is the most effective, and least expensive, way to acquire this vocabulary. Even for specific tasks, like working at the reception desk of a hotel, or going to the bank, we can’t just learn the “task based “ language. We need a broader grounding in the language which is best acquired through pleasurable listening and reading.

language teachers A plusImage by Bman2011

I enjoy listening,  as a convenient way to get used to the sounds and intonation of a language, and to prepare for speaking. But to acquire a word, I usually want to see it. The image that I retain of a word is its written form, rather than a picture. I visualize the letters “R” “E” “D” and not the colour red when I hear the word “red”.

Why Do We Need Language Teachers?

So again, we have the question. If reading and listening are the most effective ways to learn a language, why do we need a teacher? The answer is simple. Most of us need to be stimulated, encouraged and provoked.

I have likened language learning to grazing, wandering over vast areas of content, reading a bit here, listening to a bit there. The role of the teacher is that of shepherd, prodding us to go in search of greener pastures, steering us in the right direction, rounding up the stragglers, but letting us munch away at our own pace and to our hearts’ content.