19 November 2013

Golf and language learning – An interview with Martin Chuck

I had a chance to interview Martin Chuck, one of the most popular golf instructors on YouTube. Do you see any similarities between learning to play golf and learning languages?

12 November 2013

Word count, graded readers and fluency

How many words do we need to know? When are we fluent? How useful are graded readers? It all depends.

8 November 2013

Graded readers and word count. What do you think?


Word count and graded readers are popular talking points when it comes to language learning. There is a lively discussion thread at our LingQ forum about graded readers. This article on Wikipedia discusses the different ways of determining the readability of a text.

There is no doubt that the more known words there are in a text, the easier it is to read. However, for my language learning, that is not necessarily the overriding factor when it comes to choosing content to listen to and read. Using LingQ, I am quite happy to work my way through interesting texts with a relatively high percentage of unknown words. I am driven by my interest in the subject. I have the audio as well as an online dictionary and LingQ’s functionality to help me.

I prefer the real language, authentic content, as soon as I am able to access it. Surprisingly, often the same people who are focused on word count in graded readers also believe that less than 1000 words is enough to be conversational in a language. In reality, with less than 1000 words, the unknown words percentage in any conversation will be very high.

Personally, I find this obsession with word count a little excessive. As an indicator of difficulty, it is helpful, the way we do it at LingQ. However, using the computer and online dictionaries, it is not necessary to commit to a long program of learning with graded readers. And it simply takes too long to acquire vocabulary that way. I want the real language to learn from. No simplified Tolstoy for me.

At least that is what I think. What has been your experience?

31 October 2013

What is the major obstacle to achieving fluency in another language?

major obstacle

I will be in Arizona and California for most of the next month. November is the rainiest month in Vancouver. My wife and I often head south for the month to play some golf and visit with friends. I will try to keep the videos and blog posts going.

But I have a question. Let me know what you feel is the major obstacle you face in trying to achieve fluency in another language.

31 October 2013

How to memorize vocabulary

I don’t memorize vocabulary. I rely on exposure to the language to acquire my vocabulary. I read, and listen a lot, and work the vocabulary using flash cards with all the information on the front of the cards. Exposure works better for me and is more enjoyable than trying to memorize, but to each his/her own.

28 October 2013

Multilingualism and the brain. A conference at McGill University, Montreal

I attended a conference at McGill University in Montreal. There were many presentations about multilingualism from a linguistics and neuro-scientific perspective. I am not sure of the connection with language acquisition. Check out the website.
Videos of the conference will be posted.

22 October 2013

Learning multiple languages – Part 2

Can we learn multiple languages at the same time? I prefer not to do this, but obviously many people do like studying this way. It seems that many people like to study a second language via a third language.
I spend most of my learning time in the target language. The language of the dictionary, or of any grammatical explanations, is not that important to me, as long as it is as clear as possible. Therefore I prefer to use my own language or a language that I know well for the dictionary or for any reference material. I tend not to learn a second language through a third language, although this seems to be a popular approach with many people.
But to each his or her own!

11 October 2013

Language goals and frustrations

Most people in language programs don’t achieve their goals, assuming they have some. In any case many learners, or most, eventually drop out.

10 October 2013

Language learning drop outs

language learning

I had lunch the other day with a college language professor. He told me that the dropout rate for students of Asian languages at his university was very high. Most students who start a first-year program give it up in the first year. Apparently this is not unusual. The attrition rates for online language learning and high school language learning are also not very encouraging. It appears that no one gets very far in language learning, no matter where or how they study.

In Canada it cost an average of about $5,000 a year to attend a university. The true cost of the University is closer to five or six times that amount per student. The rest is covered by the taxpayer. Since most students in a liberal arts program take five courses per year, one language course costs about $5,000. It seems tremendously wasteful to me that students are allowed to take a language course and then abandon it, in other words throw away $5,000. At the very least, in situations where the tax-payer is paying, the learner should have to demonstrate sufficient motivation to study independently , before being allowed to take a language course.

Let’s assume students were given the choice between studying at LingQ for a year for one hundred dollars, or paying $5,000 for a university language course, both out of their own pockets. Most learners likely abandon their studies before the end of the year in either case. However, the  few motivated learners would do well in both programs.

Using LingQ would make a lot of economic sense. A lot of money could be saved. The survivors could then be entitled to a government subsidized college language course in the second year.



8 October 2013

Motivation for the lazy language learner

You can be a lazy language learner and still learn quite well. Motivation is the key.