24 July 2005

Travel to the interior

A person on the Chinese language Forum Westca www.westca.com asked about what to do around Salmon Arm and I gave the following answer which I though might be of wider interest.

There are lots of places worth visiting. You may drive the Coquihalla highway   http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=Coquihalla&btnG=Google+Search&meta= up and return by the Fraser Canyon http://www.fraservalleyguide.com/Yale.htmljust to change the view.

As you cross the Coast Mountain range on the Coquihalla you will see the scenery change, from the big trees of the coastal rain forest you cross into the interior Spruce Pine Fir forests. As you descend from the mountains on to the Interior plateau you will find yourself in semi-desertic cowboy country with Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Fir trees and ranches with tumble weed. The first town you get to in the Interior is Merrit. There are ranches in the area. I would press on, either in the direction of Kelowna or Kamloops. Along the way there are lakes and camp grounds. You should make sure you have a guidebook with you. My suggestion is to go to Kelowna and then work your way North via Vernon, Enderby and then on to Salmon Arm.

There is a lodge near Salmon Arm owned and run by natives, the name escapes me. But if you get the BC Accommodation Guide you will find it. You can rent a small houseboat and just take it easy on Shuswap Lake. You can play golf. Tour around on the smaller roads just to get a feel for the area. It all depends on what you like to do. Then you could continue towards Kamloops and return to Vancouver via the Fraser Canyon.

An alternative would be to return to Vancouver via Cache Creek, Lilloet and Whistler, a spectacular route. All of these routes provide,. to the observant tourist, a panorama of constantly changing topography and vegetation. Plan to stop often by a stream or lake or mountain side just to enjoy the environment.

23 July 2005

Taoism and business

Cliff asks me about the influence of language learning on my business, as well as the influence of Taoism. I discovered the thought of Zhuangzi somewhat late in life. However, Toaism can help both.

I believe it is important to follow your interests and inclinations. As long as you are not lazy, but pursue those interests with sincerity you will achieve success professionally, personally and in the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Rules imposed by others are not as useful as the roads that you find yourself. I have always been adventurous. At the age of 16 I ran away from home after a dispute with my father and hitchhiked 500 kilometres to the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival. I slept in an overnight cafe so I would have enough money to see a play. I got to see the play and “taught my father a lesson”. (I phoned him the first day).

I “hitchhiked” as a seaman on a ship which took me to Europe when I was 19. I hitchhiked all over Europe. I wanted to discover this world. When I studied I studied hard but I usually chose subjects that interested me. I was unable to study things that did not interest me. AIt never bothered me when my language skills were poor. I knew that with enough practive they would improve. N any case they served their purpose in letting me communicate with people of a different culture.

I took the same approach to developing my business carreer. I liked my customers and suppliers. I liked the wood business and put great effort into understanding it. Along the way I learned languages and was not afraid to use them. Things worked out. Nothing was planned.

Languages are like cars and boats that let you hitchhike on the journey of life. You can lock into more relationships that bring you many things, personal and professional.

I do not know if that answers your question Cliff, but I will come back to the subject. In a word, be yourself and pursue your interests. Avoid complicated rules and do not talk yourself out of attempting things you want to try to achieve.

I found a link to Taoism and language study at the following site. http://www.thelanguagexchange.com.au/staff.cfm

23 July 2005


I think the most important quality for a language learner to acquire is independence. At The Linguist www.thelinguist.com I stress this with our tutors. You have to search out your own content of interest. You must become observant of the language. Notice words and phrases that you want to use. When you have trouble saying something, remember what it was. Write it down. Watch for that word or structure when you read or listen. Ask for help when you are with native speakers.

Listen to the pronunciation. Try to practice saying it right. Do not just wait for the teacher to correct you, or to explain the grammar or to tell you how to place your tongue to pronounce correctly. Whatever you find on your own will stay with you. Whatever is just given to you is easily forgotten.

Do not just do your homework. Take the initiative.

20 July 2005

To Tariq Saeed

I really appreciate your kind words. I am happy that people are interested in languages, all languages. That brings the world closer together. I respect the fact that you are a teacher. I respect the fact that you are such a generous person that you give praise to others.

I wish we could make our services free. I have to pay our programmers and our tutors. I cannot make our site free. But we hope to make more and more services free to build up a community of linguists world wide who want to share their experiences with each other across different language divides.

I appreciate your wishes that Allah be kind to me. I am not religious but I respect people who through religion recognize their own humble status and encourage and help others. I try to do that in the name of our common humanity.

13 July 2005

Audio books for Tony

Tony wants to use audio books to improve his English and to enjoy himself. A good plan! He has divided the book up into digestible pieces. Here is how I would proceed. There are, by the way some excellent site to find audiobooks such as http://www.audiobooks.com/, www.audible.com and others. There are also great sources for other languages like www.ilnarratore.com for Italian. In addition there are resources for libraries like www.overdrive.com and others.

Listen once or twice to get some rhythm and become familiar with what you are going to read.

Read. If the e-book is available you can import into The Linguist and save words and phrases. If the e-book is not available you should read the paper book. Underline the words you need. Find the most convenient dictionary, probably electronic or computer based and get the meaning of these words. Then listen again several times. Read again if you can stand it. Then move on.

You will find that there will always be words that you cannot remember or even hear properly. Never mind. You will be training your reading and listening ability. You will be able to read and understand the words you already know better and better. You will be getting closer to the language, almost in a way that you can touch and taste. And you will slowly add new words.

Best of all I hope you enjoy it.

13 July 2005

More on audio learning

This is from another Forum where a language learner talked about the overwhelming influence of her native language on her ability to remember what she had read in English. She recommended that the learners try to explain what they have just read in the language they are learning. A good idea no doubt, but not something I would do. Maybe I am just too lazy.


A most interesting post. I am no scientist but here is my experience.

1) I do not like to try to remember what I have just read in another language and then have to answer questions on it. I have never done that willingly. I do not believe most people enjoy doing that. It is too much like school

2) I would rather read more content, and learn more words.I want to read and listen to interesting content. That is something I can do daily and enjoy. In doing that I will improve.

3) I strongly recommend listening. In The Linguist system we always have both the audio and the e-text version of all content. Read and then listen to the same content. Do it over and over.

4) You need to work on learning the words and phrases, but do it in a way that is connected to the content you are reading and listening to. Again, that is what we do at The Linguist.

5) If you do all of theses things in a concentrated way for a period of a few months you will build up the new network in your brain you need to process the new language. You need to continue to train that capability

6) I was recently in Europe where I bought audio books in German, Swedish, Italian and French. I found a site where I could download audio books in Spanish. I have been enjoying these over the last few weeks. When I go back to listening to Chinese or Korean CDs, I understand better. In other words listening to foreign languages trains the ability of your brain to process all foreign languages.

Anyway that is just my experience.

“Man does not belong to his language or to his race, he belongs to himself alone, for he is a free being, a moral being.” Ernest Renan, Sorbonne 1881

11 July 2005

Audio learning

I am happy to see two comments, one from Mark and one from Leo. Mark has provided a source of info on the transliteration of foreign names into Chinese. Thanks to Mark for the information.

I look forward to the day when, in Chinese texts, most foreign names will always appear in Pinyin phonetic script based on the pronunciation in the original language with Chinese characters appearing in brackets. This will the most correct representation of the foreign name for the reader. The assumption is that Pinyin will understood by all Chinese readers.

Leo asks my view on audio only courses like Pimsleur or Michel David. In my view these courses have advantages. Listening is easier than reading. Listening is more pleasant. Listening does not seem like work. You can listen everywhere today with CD players, MD player, MP3 players etc.

It might be that listening appeals to the right side of the brain. Muarizio Falghera, President of that great Italian language site Il Narratore, alludes to that possibility in a speech given in May 28 in Milan, Italy.

(Lettura, Dislessia e il Libro Parlato)

( In English)

Reading with the eyes, reading with the ears?

(Dyslexia and the spoken word)

There is no doubt that audio learning is an intense and powerful medium of instruction. I recommend audio books even to native speakers. Listening to audio books is a delightful experience for people who are advanced speakers of second and third languages. The quality and variety of audio books is improving all the time. For intermediate learners it is necessary to combine these audio books with a system like The Linguist.

If the learner can combine audio with reading and the deliberate study of words and phrases, learning will be greatly enhanced. This is true for foreign language learners as well as for people who want to improve their literacy in their native language.

To speak a language well you need to master many words and phrases. You need to read well. You need to practise reading. You need to read easily and develop your reading speed. There are all skills that audio material can help you acquire more quickly. But audio alone will not do it.

11 July 2005

Entrepreneurship…some thoughts

Entrepreneurship…some thoughts.

I am unlikely entrepreneur. I was always more interested in books, ideas, travel, history, food, conversation and languages. Nevertheless a person has to make a living. When I started my first real job at the age of twenty one I found it so boring I wondered how I could possible continue working for the rest of my life.

I was lucky that I had been accepted into the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. A government job is in many ways less demanding than a private sector job. They probably won’t fire you, at least not for a while. In some ways it is more frustrating since it is not always clear that what you are doing is of any use outside the bureaucracy. I hung on there for seven years before moving to the private sector.

The private sector is different. Unlike the government service, the private sector does not require you to demonstrate that you are working by staying late, for example. You just have to get the job done. You are no longer looking for some ideal solution, or writing reports full of POLICY recommendations. The grand theories are of no interest. You just have to act. No longer do you put things off, you do things right away. At least that was my experience. What a change.

Not everybody in business is a genius. Most, in fact, are not that effective. One of the early lessons is that there are lots of people regularly screwing things up. I worked at a major lumber exporting consortium in the 1970s. Whenever one of my colleagues complained about one of our suppliers or customers screwing things up, our boss would say “ This would be a great job if we had no suppliers or customers!”. Another of his sayings was “It is a long road that has not turns”. So, I learned to expect the unexpected and just deal with it as best I could. No theories.

I formed my own company in 1987. I already had product knowledge, market knowledge and contacts. However, I succeeded largely because of people that I met AFTER I started my company. These were people who had skills and capabilities that complemented mine, both within my company and outside as customers and suppliers. I did not do it on my own. I was able to offer value to these people and they in turn offered me value. We all achieved a new level of success because we worked together.

The point is that to succeed in business you need to meet people and to give them something. If you have something to give, chances are you will get something back. So the ability to relate to others and create these value connections is key.

One other thing. I had a meeting the other evening and went to the wrong place at first.  I had supper at a restaurant nearby. I had an excellent bowl of lentil soup, an outstanding lamb souvlaki and a glass of wine. It was all very inexpensive. One of the best Greek meals I have had in


. If I had not gone to the wrong place, I would never have found this restaurant.

Remember the law of unintended consequences. Remember, you never now what will lead to what. The main thing is to get out and do something.

8 July 2005

Body language

Don asks if we deal with body language and if we use videos. We do not address the issue of body language nor do we use videos.

If you are surrounded by native speakers you may pick up some of their body language. I do not think this is something that is necessary nor is it something that can be taught over the Internet. We have decided to use the web as our classroom. We concentrate on things that are easily delivered via the web.

We offer interesting content for intensive listening and reading. We offer a systematic way to learn new vocabulary. We offer writing correction and on line discussion. We offer the chance to interact with native speaking tutors and other learners from different cultures. All of this prepares the learner for encounters with native speakers.

We have stayed away from videos for several reasons. First, they are not as language intensive as the spoken or written word. Second, they require the learners to sit in front of a TV or computer. We want the learners to listen and read a lot wherever and whenever they are. We want the learner to achieve up to two hours per day of interaction with the language, every day.  This is hard to achieve with video. Video, movies, TV , radio, newspapers etc, are all additional activities that are no doubt beneficial, but not central to the program we offer.

As to the issue of a neutral accent, I think this is quite subjective. I personally feel that the Canadian or General American accent is quite neutral and the most universally useful accent to learn. But I recognize that I am prejudiced by the fact that I speak that way. Learners living in Australia would want to learn the Australian accent. One of the weaknesses of our system is that our content is mostly in Canadian or General American. Even though most people find this easy to understand, we do intend to add more regional variants of English to our system. People should be able to imitate the accent they find the most useful or appealing.

8 July 2005


The other day someone asked me if we had scenarios at The Linguist. He meant do we have scripted scenarios of dialogues at the bank, at the train station etc.. I said no.

The scenario approach is like so much else in language training; a vain attempt to find a short cut. It does not work. Even if you learn a scenario for the bank, when you go to the bank the conversation will be different. Sure you need to learn the words for bank book and bank account and deposit etc. These should be taught through natural and interesting content and not through artificial scenarios.

But even if you know some of the words that you need, you still need the language knowledge. The real dialogue at the bank will not be the same as the scenario you study in your book or CD. Every scenario in real life is unique. You need real language competence to deal with what awaits you at the real bank. To achieve that competence there is no substitute to a lot of exposure to the language.

So I return to my battle cry. Listen to and read things that matter to you. Stay with it. Put in the time.  And use a systematic method to really learn the new words and phrases that you encounter. Go the language itself and figure out how can make your listening and reading and talking and writing as efficient and enjoyable a learning experience as possible. I may be prejudiced but I think that The Linguist system offers that.