28 December 2013

The importance of resonance in language learning

I am enjoying Slovakia. The people are gentle and helpful, even if a little shy at times. The scenery is wonderful, although there is not enough snow for skiing. I enjoy the food even though it is a little heavy at times. I can understand a lot of Slovakian and Slovaks seem to understand me, but the problem I experience is a lack of resonance.

Bratislava, Slovakia

I have been studying Czech for over a year and a half. I have listened to hundreds and hundreds of hours of Czech. It is hard for me to get my spoken Czech going when I am not stimulated by  an environment which speaks that language. We feed off other people when we attempt to speak a new language. Patient and friendly people help us speak better. The better we understand what people are saying, the better we speak. We respond to this stimulus in an almost musical way, in my opinion. The Slovakian language which I hear around me, even when comprehensible, is not on the same wavelength, nor of the same musical resonance, as the Czech that I am used to, and which I need to in order to warm up to speaking the language.

At least that is what I think. We will see when I get to the Czech Republic in a few days.

Czech Republic

24 December 2013

Language travels in the former Hapsburg realm

After three days in Vienna, my wife and I moved on to Slovakia. In Vienna, we had rented an apartment near the Schoenbrunn Palace. So of course we visited this famous palace. I was surprised to see how small Kaiser Franz Josef’s office and bedroom were. From there he ruled an empire of many nationalities and languages.


As long as identity was focused on church or village, and allegiances were dynastic, this patchwork of nations was able to hang together. With the rise of nationalism, not only did the smaller nations want their place in the sun, but the dominant German and Hungarian speakers wanted to impose their language. This all finally came unstuck after the first world war. Yet there is a certain unity in cuisine, and custom and geography that is still evident today. I have visited Austria the Czech Republic and Romania before, and today was my first day in Slovakia.


We stayed in a modern and comfortable business hotel called the Abba in Bratislava. It was a walk from the train station, and then a further walk to the old town. The old town was quaint and there was a lively Christmas market in the main square. That was yesterday. Today my son Eric and I drove our rented car and all the luggage to our ski resort in the Tatra mountains. My wife and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren came by train. We drove through farmland, and then forested mountain land where there had been a lot of logging. We were impressed by the quality of the roads.

I am surprised that tourism is not more developed here. There is a lot to see and enjoy, good food, and the people are very friendly.

My efforts in learning Czech have stood me in good stead in Slovakia. I can understand all the signs. This is a big advantage, since I always feel a little intimidated in countries where I do not understand what is written. Wherever I have used my Czech, whether speaking to taxi drivers or in train stations or here at our pension, people seem to understand me without difficulty, and I mostly understand what they have to say, except when they are talking quickly with each other.

I went down to the bar at our pension, and was warmly welcomed by the patrons of the bar who offered me a drink. As long as they were talking to me and speaking slowly I was able to stay in the conversation. Once they started telling stories amid hearty guffaws, fueled by the gin, beer, and wine that they were drinking, I sort of got lost. In an hour I will join them and others in a delightfully decorated Christmas dining room for my first ever Christmas eve in Slovakia. I am looking forward.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!





23 December 2013

Further re meet ups in Czech Republic and Slovakia.

It is looking as follows:

Dec 30 evening in Olomouc

Jan 1 lunch in Brno

Jan 1 evening in Znojmo

Jan 2 evening in Bratislava

Jan 4 evening in Prague.


Let me know if you are in the area and would be interested in meeting up.

20 December 2013

Language learning in the electronic age


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


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.