At least the rains have stopped. Sent from my iPhone
5 June 2013
4 June 2013
Arrived in Vienna with about 2 hours of sleep and went straight to a suburb of Vienna called Grinsing where our host, Gerald Schweighofer , held a dinner. Tomorrow is the main event, the awarding of the Schweighofer Prize for Innovation in the Wood Industry.
Holzindusrie Schweighofer is a tremendous success story, largely due to the brilliant entrepreneurship of Gerald Schweighofer, who is speaking in the video below. He took a family sawmilling company with 500 years of history and turned it into a major international player. Mills today are mostly in Romania. My small company buys wood from Schweighofer, and I will be visiting the operations in Romania.
This will be followed by three days of vacationing there, and that is why I have been learning Romanian these two months. I was at a table with Romanians last night and was able to converse in Romanian. One of the gentlemen in the video is the Mayor of the town of Comanesti who spoke no English. We had a great time, and he insisted that I detour via his town and sample the local goat cheese specialty. I will do that.
2 June 2013
This evening I fly off to Vienna, former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and then to Romania.
I have been creating Romanian Playlists in iLingQ on my iPad, so that I can open them, read them, listen to them, and study them on the plane. I have also downloaded PDF files of Austrian history, Romanian books, and Czech, Romanian, and Russian grammar books that I have emailed to my Kindle account on my iPad/iPhone. I will have access to tons of material which means there is no need to bring any books.
I did, however, bring a short German paperback called ”Denken mit Johann Wolfgang Goethe” that I have been meaning to look at.
29 May 2013
Language learning depends on recognizing patterns says this recent study. Yes, yes yes!!! No to Chomsky’s Universal Grammar nonsense that has occupied linguistics students and professors for so long. When it come to learning languages, we need to de-emphasize complicated grammatical explanations, as well as grammar drills and questions. We need to put more emphasis on feeding the brain lots of examples of the patterns of a language, in context, through massive input, and for reinforcement, in isolation, in the form of basic phrase patterns. Of course some explanations can also help the brain to recognize patterns, but in my view these should not be overdone.
I have started creating a list of pattern sentences for English. I have recorded them and uploaded them to the LingQ library. I have had these translated and recorded in Romanian, for my Romanian study, and added them to the LingQ Romanian library. I regularly listen to and read these patterns, and vary that activity with listening to and reading more interesting content, from Radio Romania podcasts, for example. This trains my brain to notice the patterns of the language.
I am hoping to get other members at LingQ to do the same so that we can build a vast collection of basic patterns sentences in different languages, with audio and text. As we learn a language, the brain picks up on patterns, but only gradually, and not necessarily in response to specific curriculum goals nor deliberate instruction. Perhaps some people are better at recognizing patterns in general, and therefore better at recognizing patterns of pronunciation or structure in a language. However, I also feel we can help the process along, and help learners to improve their ability to notice patterns, bu providing a rich collection of basic phrases and sentences that learners can choose from and mix in with their regular input activities.
Here is my initial list of the categories for which I will continue to develop pattern sentences for different languages and encourage others to do the same at LingQ. The list will fill itself out and grow. I encourage you all to add to it by either creating example sentences or adding to the subject headings.
Subject headings for patterns sentences:
10)To, by with, of, from , for
11) Whenever, however
12) What kind
13) What if
15) Should, must, could
16) Even if
19) It seems to me
20) Since when
21) Want to, plan to,hope to
22) Try to
28 May 2013
During the month of June I will be putting out one video a week in a series I am calling Steve’s Summer Sessions. Each week I will upload a video in which I will answer your language learning questions.
If you have questions about language learning in general or a specific language that you are learning, please let me know. I would love to make a short video reply to any of your questions. Just drop me a line via Twitter and use the hashtags #asksteve. Looking forward to your questions.
See the intro video below:
24 May 2013
Vienna is the city of Mozart, Strauss waltzes, palaces, gardens, and the elegant former capital of that multicultural space once known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When I think of Vienna I think of coffee houses. What a great place for a meet up.
I will be in Vienna on June 3rd, and 4th. A few people have expressed an interest in getting together for breakfast on June 4th. I am staying at the following hotel. Let’s meet at 8:00 am for coffee and breakfast. Please let me know if you can make it.
22 May 2013
German can be difficult according to Kristi Fuoco, in this article in our local Vancouver Sun newspaper. Kristi is living in Germany, studying German and is baffled by German grammar, especially the cases, and thwarted in her attempts to speak German since most Germans are so good in English. At the same time she is not sure that she really likes German. In other words,is she truly motivated enough to learn it?
I think that Kristi has identified some basic issues that affect all of us language learners at some time. But when I am confronted with these feelings I get back to the basic issues, motivation, enjoyment and commitment.
If you are not motivated to learn a language it will be very difficult to do so. So Kristi’s first task is to think of the things she like about the German language and culture, or even individual German people she likes. This need not be all aspects of the culture and language nor all the people, just some. Then she needs to stop worrying about the cases and other elusive aspects of the grammar, and start enjoying the language as a means of communication. As for Germans speaking to her in English, she only has to reply in German. Some will switch to German and others will insist on speaking English, from my experience. You win some and you lose some.
I enjoy being in Germany. There is a lot to like in German culture, its cities, the liveliness and energy of the people. Above all I get a thrill from the fact that I am able to operate in that language environment and communicate, even though I make mistakes. Yes, there are many people who speak English well and insist on speaking English. I have not found them to be the majority.
So in summary, Kristi needs to remind herself of how lucky she is to be in Germany, learning German and immersing herself in another culture. But even more so she needs to remind herself how well she is doing. She needs to focus on the moments of success, and I am sure they are many. She should not set impossible standards for herself but rather enjoy what she has achieved. This will fuel new energy for her studies, and gradually, impreceptibly, her German will continue to improve.
21 May 2013
I am a fan of online learning for languages. Without the Internet I could not have advanced so quickly in Romanian and Czech, for example.
But online learning can have its problems. For three or four days last week, LingQ was so slow that it became difficult to use. We had not done anything different at LingQ. We contacted our service provider and they claimed that they had not done anything different either. We posted a notice apologizing to our users at LingQ and had our tech people in Vancouver, and the people we work with elsewhere in the world, look at all the things that might have caused the problem. Then all of a sudden, yesterday, we were back to normal. According to our service provider there was a routing problem in the network somewhere upstream from them.
I love using LingQ, as well as the iLingQ app on my iPhone and mini iPad. But sometimes all this technology can be a little finicky. The power of online learning and the complexity of the technology which supports it is amazing. Sometimes we take these benefits for granted and when problems arise it is easy to get quite annoyed. I have to remind myself how much better off I am, and how much faster I’m learning than if I were in a traditional classroom.
For the last three or four days when LingQ was quite sluggish, I spent more time on my iPhone and iPad. This meant more reading on the iPhone and iPad, and more reviewing of flashcards. I also spent more time with good old paper resources, like books. I am happy, though, that I can get back to online learning with LingQ. I have only got two weeks until I go to Romania.
14 May 2013
Do grammar instruction, corrections and role playing help us learn languages? I guess it does but only to a very limited degree. Here is an interesting excerpt from a discussion on a recent Internet forum.
“To me, the research appears to indicate that explicit form focused instruction (EFFI) and corrective feedback (CF) as they are commonly practiced don’t have a particularly significant effect on learners’ underlying linguistic systems (See John Truscott’s criticisms of corrective feedback for example).”
It is worth reading this sentence a few times, in order to really understand it. “Form focused” instruction means grammar instruction. “Corrective feedback” means correcting learners’ mistakes. Research indicates that these two mainstays of language instruction don’t have much impact. A good example of this is the “s” in the third person singular, present tense, in English. We say “he goes”, “he works”, “he lives” etc.. This is taught very early, yet most English learners continue to struggle with this simple rule, even after years of studying the language.
I have three Romanian tutors with whom I talk via Skype. Two are women, neither of whom were trained as teachers. They are happy just to converse with me and send me a report with a list of phrases containing the mistakes I made during the conversation. This is enjoyable and works well.
Today I started with a new tutor since I want to step up the pace of my conversations. I will be in Romania in a couple of weeks. This man is a trained teacher of Romanian, and an editor of educational books and magazines in Romania. At first he insisted on correcting everything I said. Then he told me that I should only use very simple short sentences for the first few weeks. To top it all off, he proposed that we choose a theme to talk about. Rather than just converse on subjects of interest, he suggested we pretend that I am in a store. We could then talk about the items that could be found in the store, sort of like role-playing I guess.
I told him that I was not interested in this traditional approach to language learning, with corrections, and artificial dialogues. I just wanted to have a natural conversation. I don’t want him to speak English. I don’t want him to correct me while I speak. Both of these activities interrupt the flow of our conversation.
I do want a thorough list of the phrases that I use incorrectly. I import this list into LingQ and save the words and phrases to my personal database at LingQ. In this way I take advantage of speaking in Romania with a native speaker, and then later can take my time reviewing my mistakes or the vocabulary that I need to learn. The whole process is enjoyable and I look forward to my next lesson.
When I hire my teachers I can tell them what I want. I would not want to sit in language classroom where I am at the mercy of the teacher.
7 May 2013
Our motivation is what determines success or failure in language learning. So what motivates us to learn different languages? For myself over the last few years, I can see a variety of different motivations. I am learning Romanian, a language that had not interested me before, simply for the reason that I will be visiting Romania in June. So now I am putting in an hour or two a day into learning Romanian.
I decided to learn Russian because I wanted to read Russian novels in the original. I also wanted to prove my approach to language learning, which focuses less on grammar, would work with Russian. I decided to learn Czech because my parents grew up in Czechoslovakia. I wanted to learn more about the country and it’s history.
I am also motivated to learn languages that are related to languages I already know. I learned Czech after Russian and Portuguese or even Romanian because I know other Romance languages. My reason for learning Korean has many motivations. Yes, it is easier because I already know Chinese and Japanese. But my short-term motivation for learning Korean is my golfing buddy Mr. Choi. Sharing language learning with friends is a great experience. It is a great way to practice and keep you inspired. It’s those initial motivations that get you going in the language. I find that once I start learning a language the motivation becomes to reach fluency. The pleasure of discovering a new language and culture becomes it’s own motivation and reward.