20 December 2013

Language learning in the electronic age

electronic

Language learning has become tremendously more convenient thanks to modern technology. I just can’t say it enough. I discover new benefits constantly.

Yesterday was a day of travel. My wife and I flew from Vancouver to Amsterdam, and then on to Vienna where we now find ourselves. During the flight I read a diary of the year 2010 in the life of Michal Viewegh called Další báječný rok. I have the feeling that I got to know him personally just by reading his very frank entries in his diary. Therefore it was a shock to discover that in late 2012 Viewegh suffered a traumatic aortic rupture, which has affected his ability to continue to write novels.

I started reading this diary in Vancouver. His language is easy to read for a learner of Czech such as me. I then found some online sources for Czech e-books and audiobooks,  ereading.cz for e-books, and audioteka.cz for audiobooks. I was able to go to both sites, find books by Viewegh, pay with PayPal, and import them onto my Kindle app on my iPad, or in the case of audio books, import them to iTunes.

For much of the flight from Vancouver to Amsterdam I was able to read Viewegh’s diary and other works, while looking words up in my excellent Bitknights Czech dictionary, which I have on my iPad. I accumulate one hundred words on the dictionary, which appears to be the limit to the number of words you can save in your history file. I then email this history file as a CSV file to myself, and from there import it  into my vocabulary section at LingQ. Therefore these words which I am starting to learn will appear highlighted in yellow in my future reading at LingQ. So I am able to close the loop on reading that I do out of traditional books, e-books in Kindle and LingQ, and make sure that I acquire the new vocabulary that I encounter in my different forms of reading.

The convenience of the whole process, from finding the sources, paying with PayPal, carrying a bunch of books and audio books in my iPad, and closing the loop with the dictionary lookups back to LingQ, is just amazing. We live in interesting times.

 

16 December 2013

Sunset in Vancouver Dec 16

photo

16 December 2013

Meet ups in Vienna, Poprad, Olomouc, Bratislava, or Prague

Meet ups in Vienna, the Tatras, Bratislava or Prague over Christmas and New Year. Anyone interested? Please let me know.

14 December 2013

Manning, Alberta – Changes Come to the North

Had a wonderful few days in Manning, Alberta. On Thursday, while I was there, it was apparently the coldest place on earth at -39 celsius.
The Peace River region of Alberta and B.C. is rich in farmland, forests and oil and gas. The people are friendly. It is truly the big country.

4 December 2013

Off to Manning, Alberta

Tomorrow my wife and I travel to Manning, Alberta for the 20th anniversary party and annual general meeting of Manning Diversified Forest Products. The temperature is -28 degrees celsius. Should be brisk. Here are some pictures which I found in an interesting photography blog.

3 December 2013

Pope Francis and capitalism

Pope Francis’ negative view of capitalism is out of place. We live better, longer, healthier and especially more securely today, than ever, thanks to capitalism. How much regulation, taxation and equalization we need in today’s capitalist societies is for each country to decide, not the Pope. Pope Francis should worry more about church issues, such as birth control, the celibacy of priests and other issues.
An interesting read on capitalism and the dramatic decline of violence in our societies can found in Stephen Pinker’s new book.

27 November 2013

Travel and language learning

Is travel a motivator for language learning? Yes.
Do you need to travel to the country in order to learn the language? No.
If you travel to the country, will you learn the language? Not necessarily.

20 November 2013

Task Based Language Teaching and the Manitoba Ritz cracker

Language Teaching

A mother in Manitoba sent her children to pre-school with a warm lunch of carrots, potatoes, and meatballs. As reported in this newspaper article, the pre-school fined the mother $10 for not having included any grain in the lunch. The pre-school supplemented this lack of grain with Ritz crackers. The teachers at the pre-school were acting based on their understanding of the Canada Food Guide.

This reminds me of my dealings with the Canadian Immigration Service. I was asking them to make LingQ available as an option for immigrants who are learning Canada’s official languages. They refused and explained to me that all government financed language instruction has to conform to Task Based Language Teaching methods. Both are examples of how bureaucratic decision-making takes away choice from individual citizens.

Even if the bureaucratic decisions were better, I still believe individuals should be allowed to make their own choices. But in both cases the bureaucratic recommendations are quite unsatisfactory in my opinion.

Ritz crackers are highly processed foods that I would never feed to my children or grandchildren. Many of the recommended food choices in the Canada Food Guide are arbitrary and inappropriate.

Task Based Language Teaching is nothing more than a new language teaching fad. I have linked to the Wikipedia article explaining what is meant by this term. It is well worth reading. It is interesting that when you search Google for “task based language” there are far more pages with “task based language teaching” than “task based language learning”. The reason is that this technique is more about how teachers can control students in the classroom, rather than how language learners can learn.

Here are some excerpts:

“According to N. S. Prabhu, there are three main categories of task; information-gap, reasoning-gap, and opinion-gap.[7]

Information-gap activity, which involves a transfer of given information from one person to another – or from one form to another, or from one place to another – generally calling for the decoding or encoding of information from or into language. One example is pair work in which each member of the pair has a part of the total information (for example an incomplete picture) and attempts to convey it verbally to the other. Another example is completing a tabular representation with information available in a given piece of text. The activity often involves selection of relevant information as well, and learners may have to meet criteria of completeness and correctness in making the transfer.

Reasoning gap Reasoning-gap activity, which involves deriving some new information from given information through processes of inference, deduction, practical reasoning, or a perception of relationships or patterns. One example is working out a teacher’s timetable on the basis of given class timetables. Another is deciding what course of action is best (for example cheapest or quickest) for a given purpose and within given constraints. The activity necessarily involves comprehending and conveying information, as in information-gap activity, but the information to be conveyed is not identical with that initially comprehended. There is a piece of reasoning which connects the two.

Opinion gap Opinion-gap activity, which involves identifying and articulating a personal preference, feeling, or attitude in response to a given situation. One example is story completion; another is taking part in the discussion of a social issue. The activity may involve using factual information and formulating arguments to justify one’s opinion, but there is no objective procedure for demonstrating outcomes as right or wrong, and no reason to expect the same outcome from different individuals or on different occasions.[7]

I am totally opposed to this kind of instruction. I do not want to sit around with other learners and have teachers prescribe for me what I am supposed to pretend that I am talking about. I prefer meaningful listening, meaningful reading, and meaningful interaction with native speakers. All of this can be achieved via the Internet and doesn’t require me to attend the classroom where I am fed Ritz crackers or tasks, at the whim of a teacher.

 

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.