18 October 2013

Learning multiple languages at the same time

Can we learn multiple languages at the same time? Yes, we can, but I don’t do it. I prefer to focus on one language at a time. I devote at least 80% of my learning time to my major language, and 20% to one or more others. We can all learn more than one language. We need to find the ways to do it that work best for us as individuals, in my view.

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.

4 October 2013

Speaking in a foreign language

Listening and reading are my favourite learning activities, but the goal is to speak. How do we get to speak and speak well? We need to speak a lot. It can be a struggle at first, but we usually do better than we think. We need to interact with native speakers, preferably face to face, and in natural and meaningful situations. And we need to pay attention but we should not be too harsh on ourselves.

2 October 2013

Active and passive vocabulary

You need a lot of words to function effectively in a language because you need to understand what is said. Work on your passive vocabulary and don’t worry too much about your difficulties in speaking and using words in the early stages. If you have the passive vocabulary, if you can understand what you hear, you will eventually learn to speak well.

2 October 2013

Hacking language learning

language learning

TED or ideas worth spreading represents itself as a source of stimulating and meaningful talks on a great variety of subjects. Some of these talks are worth listening to, but many are not. TED charges a ridiculous amount of money for people to participate in their live get-togethers, $7,500 for the meeting in Vancouver next March. Ridiculous to me, but obviously not to the people who willingly spend that money to see and be seen.

Here is a presentation on hacking language learning. I don’t believe in language hacks, because I believe that language learning takes a long time. I disagree with much of what Dr. Connor Quinn has to say in this video. I don’t believe that you can simply learn a few words and then be able to speak. You won’t understand what other people are saying. You need a lot of words, which are best acquired through a lot of enjoyable listening and reading. Having learned 14 languages to varying degrees, I know what I am talking about.

I also don’t believe that the field of linguistics has much to offer the language learner.

 

30 September 2013

Come ho fatto per imparare l’Italiano

Non ho parlato molto in Italiano, ma ho ascoltato e letto molto, e ho imparato un mucchio di cose.

23 September 2013

Fluent Japanese in 3 months?

Fluent Japanese in three months? What is the hurry? In my experience, it takes a long time to get used to a new language, and the cultural context of that language. To me it is an enjoyable process of discovery, and one that cannot be rushed. On the other hand, Benny’s mission may encourage people to learn languages. What do you all think?

18 September 2013

Is the United States “Exceptional”

united states exceptional

Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest with his comment that the USA is not exceptional. Putin’s statement is a deliberate attempt to tease the US and garner support in his own country, but in the end probably quite banal. However, the reaction to Putin’s comments by some people in the US is hilarious. This Op Ed piece from USA Today, is a moderate example, one of many. Try googling “Putin US exceptional” and you will see examples of even more jingoistic reactions.

The writer admits that the US is not above reproach, but reaffirms the exceptional nature of the US with statements like:

“it was the U.S. military that turned the tide of the battles in World War I and World War II — and the American economic engine that fueled Europe’s recovery from the devastation wrought by Nazi Germany,”

or:

“in fact, as exceptional nations go, the U.S. ranks right up there with the Roman Empire and England during its period of colonial dominance.”

The facts are that all of the belligerents in the two world wars were exceptional to some extent. The Balkan ambitions of the Austro-Hungarian empire started the first world war. French losses in WW I were exceptional. The losses experienced by countries like Poland and Yugoslavia in WW II were exceptional. The heroic resistance of Great Britain in that war was exceptional. The role of Germany in both wars was exceptional. The Soviet Union played a far more exceptional role in “turning the tide of battles” in WWII, at least in Europe, then the United States. For that matter the whole history of the Soviet Union starting from the revolution in 1917, was exceptional. The US was certainly a positive factor in Europe’s postwar recovery, but I think that many other exceptional factors, including Germany’s response and the creation of the European common market, were equally responsible for this remarkable resurgence.

From a historical perspective, I think it is a little early to rank the US right up there with the Roman Empire. Perhaps it is useful to consider other exceptional countries and empires in history. China, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, India, the influence of France from Louis XIV to Napoleon, and the Ottoman Empire come quickly to mind, and Egypt, Sumeria, Persia, Ancient Greece, and I am just getting started. The dramatic expansion eastward to the Pacific of Czarist Russia is another example that is quite exceptional. For that matter, the techniques developed by the Inuit to survive in the conditions of the Arctic are exceptional.

I think every nation is exceptional. When I study the languages of different countries, even smaller countries like the Czech Republic, I am always impressed by the unique and fascinating nature of their history and traditions. Some countries are large and some countries are small. Some countries are powerful and exert that power. Other countries have frequently been invaded by their neighbours. To me, they are all exceptional.

Maybe what is truly exceptional about some of these Americans (certainly not all) is that they consider themselves to be so exceptional.