26 September 2005

A good wine

This evening I finished a bottle of very mediocre Italian wine from yesterday and wanted just a drop more with my gorgonzola cheese so I opened a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Now I am normally more partial to Bordeaux grapes (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a Rioja or a Mourvedre like Bandol) but I was really impressed by this Cotes du Rhone. It was a bottle of E. Guigal, the year was 2001. Since I do not normally buy Cotes du Rhones, I must assume this bottle was given to me. I have no idea of the price tag.But it was good. I just had a little bit and am looking forward to continuing with it tomorrow with dinner

23 September 2005

Repetitive listening

I have always believed that repetitive listening and reading of interesting content helps to reinforce learning of words and phrases. This is especially true if the repetitive reading and listening is combined with a systematic approach to reviewing new words and phrases as we do at The Linguist. However, the repetitive listening and reading can be overdone. A learner should move on to new content, even before the old content is fully understood. It is important to be exposed to as much new content as possible.

There several reasons for this and for making sure that the listening and reading is “extensive” enough. First of all it makes the input activity more interesting. This is key to motivation. Second, it makes sure that the learner is exposed to as much language as possible, and to many new occurrences of the words and phrases he/she is learning. Extensive listening and reading is also developing the ability of the brain to interpret and process the new language.

So repetitive listening and reading is important but should not be overdone. Nor does the learner need to fully master one bit of content before moving on to the next. Perfection or total mastery is not the short term aim of language learning, although it can be the long term aim, even if that aim is not likely to be reached!

23 September 2005

The Natural Approach

I was visiting antimoon and came across a reference to the Natural Approach to language learning which took me to a very interesting site about natural language learning. http://maxpages.com/thena

The assumption is that the student should spend the first 1000 hours of their learning only on input, just listening and reading. The theory is that any attempt to write or speak before the learner is ready will “contaminate” the learner. Speaking too early will introduce incorrect patterns in the brain and will create “affective filters” or emotional barriers to comfortable communication in the target language. I am a strong believer in the importance of input. However I think it is impractical to expect most learners to forgo the pleasure of trying to use what they have learned.

I do, however, agree that for a beginner or early intermediate learner to sit in a class with other beginners, all speaking poorly and getting frustrated is a counter productive activity. Learners are best advised to spend most of their time alone with input, audio and text. This input can be provided by a teacher or by recordings and text in various formats.

At The Linguist that is what we do. We also provide an effective way for the learner to really focus on the new words and how they are used. This input will eventually find its way to the learners sub-conscious and make him/her a more natural user of the target language.

22 September 2005

A brief summary of The Linguist principles

Something I wrote recently on language learning:

I believe that the most important thing for language learning is a lot of exposure to the language, spoken and written. This exposure should take place in the form of content that is interesting and authentic, except in the very beginning. The exposure should be repetitive and should consist of short doses at first with the length of the content items gradually increasing.

The learner should use a computer when reading text (which ideally comes with audio for repetitive listening) in order to instantly see the meaning of new words and phrases and to be able to store them for systematic study and review. The learner should be automatically directed towards content where the words and phrases he/she is learning reappear frequently. For the beginner there are a lot of unknown words, but eventually the number of unknown words should settle down to between 5-10% of any passage. All of this can be controlled by a computer program. This input activity should constitute at least 75% of the time spent by the learner.

There should be a minimum of grammatical explanation. There should be a minimum of additional isolated examples of these words and phrases in use, synonyms, related vocabulary etc. presented out of context. There should be a minimum or no quizzes and exercises and all the other teacher oriented activity that is the norm today.

Up to 25% of the learner’s activity should be in speaking and writing. The learner should use his/her newly learned words and phrases as much as possible and get credit for doing so. Inappropriate use of words and phrases will be the major problem for the learner. The learner should be encouraged to speak and not corrected too often while speaking.

Writing should be corrected more severely than speaking. Problems with the use of words and phrases should be identified systematically and the learner should be directed to become observant of how these words and phrases are used during his/her listening and reading. In other words, the output is not only an exercise in expression but also a chance to provide focus for the all important input activity.

20 September 2005

Pronunciation Exercise

Here is a recent pronunciation exercise I published in our newsletter. Click this link  to access the audio version of the text.

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Read this daily. Say these phrases to yourself many times a day.

I like to speak English. It is pleasant to make the sounds of English. I know that I need to practice. I know that I need to listen often. I know that I need to repeat the words and phrases to myself. I do not mind doing it. I find it fun.

Yes. It is fun to imitate the pronunciation of a native speaker. I know that I can learn to pronounce better. It is not hard. I enjoy slowly repeating the sounds that I hear. I have to keep doing it every day.

The sounds of English are soft. I listen to these sounds and then I repeat them to myself. I imagine myself talking like a native speaker. When I speak out loud in English, I pretend I am a native speaker. Sometimes I read out loud. Sometimes I repeat what I hear on The Linguist. I talk to myself many times a day in English. I repeat sentences from this short passage every day. .

Once a week I record myself. I can do this at the PRONOUNCE page of The Linguist. I also listen to a paragraph from The Linguist content. Then I read the paragraph out loud. Then I record myself to compare with the native speaker.

I will learn to pronounce better. It is up to me. I know I can succeed. I know I do not need to be perfect. I know that I can have a pleasant accent. I know that I can learn to pronounce so that everyone can easily understand me. I am certain that I can do it. I will talk to myself, early every morning, during the day and late every night. I will practice often. In this way I will reach my goal.

20 September 2005

My diary simplified

I am going to write about myself (again). I am going to try to write using easy words.  I will also try to use short sentences.

In this way, it will be easier for beginner learners to understand. I will record my writing so that people can listening as well as read. Then learners should try to learn the words and phrases at The Linguist web site.

Today is a slow day. I just returned from two weeks in Sweden.  and I am still tired. I woke up a few times last nights. Today is a beautiful day. The skies are blue as I look out my window. I should go outside. Instead I am writing this diary.

I was in Sweden for business. We buy wood in Sweden which we sell to Japan. We also sell software systems in Sweden. We had a problem. That is why I had to go there. More on that in the next post.

20 September 2005

My Diary

I am going to start a diary (again). I am going to try to write it in normal English without making any effort to avoid difficult words. Then I will take each entry and remove all or most of the words that are not included in the most common 1000 words of the English language. I will also try to shorten the sentences in the second post.

In this way, I will produce a second entry which will be easier for beginner learners to follow. I then intend to record both of these entries as a podcast so that people can practise listening to them as well as reading them. These content items will then be integrated with The Linguist system so that learners can systematically learn the words and phrases and link them with the other learning activities of The Linguist.

Today is a slow day. I just returned from a two week trip to Sweden and I am still suffering from jet lag. I was up a few times during the night. Today is a magnificent day. The skies are blue as I look out over my little bay here. I should be on the golf course. Instead I am writing this diary.

I was in Sweden for business. We buy lumber in Sweden which we export to Japan. We also sell software systems in Sweden. We had a bit of a crisis and that is why I had to go there. More on that in the next post.

17 September 2005

A Learning Community

Classroom language teaching has the advantage of forcing the learner to do something. On the other hand it is usually an inefficient way to learn a language.

The Internet is a community with tremendous potential for people to interact with new languages and with each other and to learn languages without leaving home. The problem is that most people are not motivated enough to really apply themselves. At The Linguist we are continuing to try to develop a method for language learning that is efficient and enjoyable. We do, however, have to rely on the learner bringing some motivation.

Some people join us and do very well. Some join and to nothing. We are trying to find the ways to increase the number of people who get motivated and push themselves to learn.

We are rewriting our system right now to make it easier, more fun and more efficient. We do not know how successful we will be in converting more people into self-confident autonomous language learners. Time will tell.

Any comments out there?

25 August 2005

Learner’s views, from another website

My advice to both students is to join The Linguist.

I’ve been to Los Angeles to take some English classes, in order to take the TOEFL exam, I’ve just come back and I wanna review my expirience.
First of all I have to say I’ve been “studying” english, following the “Antimoon method” for about a year and a half(watching a lot of tv shows and movies, with or without english subtitles, reading some book, and looking up for every difficult word or strange grammar, writing some email with my american penpals. I confess I’ve never used Supermemo, ‘cause it’s pretty boring, at least in my opinion. I’ve also been studying pronunciation and the american accent, with Ann Cook’s “American Accent Training” and the useful Antimoon Forum).
Anyway I decided to take these classes to rewiev the teoric stuff (the infamous grammar!) and focus on the Toefl skills, while I would have the opportunity to speak for a whole month with natives and I could test my actual level in pratical situations.
The bottom line is that the english course has been a rip-off, for some reasons:
1)I expected to speak English all the time, but the place I lived in (UCLA) was full of Italians, who didn’t care a damn about speaking english, so I ended up speaking a lot of Italian (my native language)
2) There were a lot of foreign people, whose english was very bad. I think that talking to people who can’t really speak english can damage YOUR english, for many reason: first of all you are exposed to “bad” english, and this can reinforce your mistakes. Second, when you are talking to one of these guys you don’t care about the form, the correct grammar, the right intonation and pronunciation, you do care only about the contents of your message, because it’s hard to communicate with them; instead, when you speak with a native you’ll focus much more on the language.
3)when you are in an english-speaking country, sometimes you are in some situations that require a fast communication (resturants, stores, airports), and again, you’ll focus much more on the content than the language, and this could reniforce your mistakes.
4)The english classes were really useless: I was put in the most advanced level, and still they would stick with the same old crap (modals.. the future in the past.. the articles!!). The teachers were very bad, not really committed and not organized, and the lectures were boring, the only thing they were able to do was to read the grammar book.

I had some satisfactions, though: all the americans I talked with were very impressed about my english, especially the pronunciation and the american accent, they couldn’t recognize my nationality and they asked my how long I’d been living in the Us (I’ve never been in an english speaking country before),and they asked me if one of my parents was american.
I found that as soon as I got there I was really embarassed, I’ve never talk to natives before, and my english was really awkward. I knew I could find the correct expressions and sentences in my mind when I was alone, but when I was speaking to natives, expecially in class, my english freezed.
After a week of “trials and errors”, though, I started feeling more confident, and the right sentences started coming magically to my mind, without thinking about’em.
I think the sentences have always been in my mind, I’ve acquired them with all the inputs I’ve been exposed, like Antimoon explains, but I think that in the first place they were blocked by some psychological obstruction. At the end of the month I found myself thinking in english,and thinking about all the sentences I could use in some differnt situations. Hence, I agree with Antimoon about the inputs and the fact that speaking can reinforce your mistakes in some ways, but I also think some conversation pracitce is necessary, maybe monitored by natives, and focused on all the aspects of the language and not on the topic ( you wanna focus on “how you say it”, and not on “what you say it”).
Anyway, I took the Toefl test, scoring 275/300 without studying a single word of grammar.
I wanna advise all the Antimoon readers that intend to take the Toefl test not to waste a lot of money with this english courses, that are all scams, but to stick with the Antimoon method: watching tv, reading some book, chatting,writing, and maybe talking with some natives. I don’t know about the other exams (Cambridge, Ielts, and so on) but I think it’s the same.

tae won   Thu Aug 25, 2005 3:36 am GMT
I totally agree with you, JL Italy. I’ve been studying English for one and a half years with the Antimoon method. And now I think I’m falling in love with English. :)) In Korea, the most famous English exam is TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication) which lots of college students need to take to get a good job with a big corporate such as Samsung, LG, etc. And some unversities require a certain point of TOEIC of their students to ‘let’ them graduate. Many students in Korea are tired of taking some English test and also studying their majors. Even students who are not interested in laguages can’t help but studying English for their career. So, actually, they do study English really hard and get some high TOEIC score before they graduate. But the problem is having a high TOEIC score doesn’t really match the real English fluency. I saw a student who got a 920/990 score couldn’t communicate with a native in a real situation. I think that’s because they focused on only the TOEIC test and its tips. I really want to introduce this method to my friends and other students. And I will. If you start to get interested in the language of English, itself, I think the TOEFL or TOEIC test won’t be a problem.

24 August 2005

The Linguist Club and The Linguist Challenge

The Linguist Club is a free area in The Linguist. The Linguist Club has limited content and limited functionality. The Linguist Club does not provide tutoring, English conversation or writing correction services. It does, however, give an idea of what The Linguist is all about. In order to join you need to go to the site and click on “contact us”.

FM 96.1 Vancouver 各位听众为了了解预言家挑战请看这个说明

This is to remind our listeners on FM 96.1 Vancouver about their chance to participate in The Linguist challenge. Click on this link to read about The Linguist Challenge in Chinese and English. To join you will need to go to The Linguist website  and click on “contact us”. Just send us an email to tell us you are interested.