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.

http://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-witnesses-say-euromaidan-participants-were-paid/#more-2066

7 April 2014

Language and politics, Ukraine and Quebec

Language and politics often go together. Language is often as much a political weapon as a means of communication.  Ukraine and Quebec are examples. For a fascinating glimpse into the tensions of Ukraine, if you understand Russian, watch today’s episode of ShusterLive.

I was treated to political debate in front of 6 students from Donetsk who had visited Kviv, and 6 students from Lviv who had visited Donetsk, on an exchange sponsored by the Donbass hockey team in the KHL. I was pleased to see Ruslan Fedotenko there, two time Stanely Cup champion  with New York and Tampa Bay, and  currently captain of Donetsk hockey team. The politicians included the first President of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, and various politicians from both Western and Eastern Ukraine.

The most sensible people were the students, who said little, but made a lot of sense, whereas the politicians looked like they are quite incapable of resolving anything or finding a compromise.

Meanwhile, Quebec voters rejected the call of the nationalists, and voted for stability. I have the feeling, based on the students I saw on ShusterLive, that if the politicians and hot heads got out of the way, normal citizens in Ukraine would also prefer stability.

 

 

 

6 April 2014

I spoke too soon, as things heat up again in Ukraine.

Demonstrators in the Eastern Ukraine cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv have stormed government buildings, waving Russian flags. The scenario has some resemblance to what happened in  Crimea. I have no idea what the people in these regions think, how many want to join Russia, how many support the government in Kiev, how many just want more autonomy within Ukraine. I guess time will tell.

The Kiev government is in a difficult position, probably afraid to put down the demonstrators too harshly for fear of giving Russia an excuse to intervene. Putin has created a popular mandate with his program of stirring up patriotic feeling on the one hand, and reducing independent media and freedom of expression on the other hand.  I am following these events daily, via the international, Russian and Ukrainian media, with all of the biases and inaccuracies we usually expect from the media. But at least there is some independence of views and some genuine attempt to find out what is happening. I avoid the government controlled Russian media which is nothing more than a propaganda machine, reading from a script.

30 March 2014

Some words of wisdom from Tolstoy’s War and Peace

As the tension eases a little, at least for now, around the situation in Ukraine, it is useful to reflect on the words of one of my favourite authors, and a major  incentive for me to learn Russian, Lev Tolstoy.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” 

― Leo Tolstoy

“A Frenchman’s self-assurance stems from his belief that he is mentally and physically irresistibly fascinating to both men and women. An Englishman’s self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organized state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets. A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“Kings are the slaves of history.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“To us, it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England’s policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg was wronged. We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have the with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolensk and Moscow and were killed by them.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“Millions of men, renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes of men had come from the east to the west slaying their fellows.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“When it is impossible to stretch the very elastic threads of historical ratiocination any farther, when actions are clearly contrary to all that humanity calls right or even just, the historians produce a saving conception of ‘greatness.’ ‘Greatness,’ it seems, excludes the standards of right and wrong. For the ‘great’ man nothing is wrong, there is no atrocity for which a ‘great’ man can be blamed.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“Napoleon, the man of genius, did this! But to say that he destroyed his army because he wished to, or because he was very stupid, would be as unjust as to say that he had brought his troops to Moscow because he wished to and because he was very clever and a genius”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

It was necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real power — the soldiers who fired, or transported provisions and guns — should consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals…”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“On the twelfth of June, the forces of Western Europe crossed the borders of Russia, and war began–that is, an event took place contrary to human reason and to the whole of human nature.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“The combination of causes of phenomena is beyond the grasp of the human intellect. But the impulse to seek causes is innate in the soul of man. And the human intellect, with no inkling of the immense variety and complexity of circumstances conditioning a phenomenon, any one of which may be separately conceived of as the cause of it, snatches at the first and most easily understood approximation, and says here is the cause.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“And so there was no single cause for war, but it happened simply because it had to happen”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace