27 August 2013

About learning Spanish

The most important thing in learning Spanish, as in learning all languages, is the motivation. The language itself is quite consistent, and is relatively easy to learn.

26 August 2013

The power of listening


My grandchildren in Vancouver attend French immersion school. This means that their classes, most of them, are in French. French immersion is very popular amongst English-speaking parents, because it enables their children to go to a school where there are fewer special needs learners.

On the positive side, students in French immersion develop good French reading skills. However, they understand spoken French fairly well, but only fairly well, after years of French immersion school. Their speaking skills and pronunciation are not as good as they should be, in my opinion. They have a strong vocabulary, and therefore can easily learn to speak the language well if they are motivated to do so and have the opportunity to speak a lot.

However, at school, the only French they hear comes from their teachers. I remember when I was in school, I didn’t always listen very attentively to my teacher. The other students were usually quite a distraction, or maybe I spent most of my time trying to distract them. I don’t remember. Listening to the teacher in the classroom is not enough. I would like to see the kids be assigned listening on MP3 players in order to improve their comprehension and pronunciation, but also to develop the skill of listening.

Most of my language learning time is spent merely listening. I do this all the time while performing other tasks. Yet some people claim that they are unable to focus while listening in this way. I feel this is a skill that can be developed. Probably it is an important skill to develop while kids are at school. If people develop the ability to download audio lessons and listen and learn, they can use a lot of dead time during the day to acquire knowledge and skills in various fields, throughout their lives. Listening is a powerful way to learn!

You won’t be surprised to know that I think LingQ is an excellent way to develop listening skills. Children could be assigned interesting content to listen to and read, and asked to save words and phrases (create LingQs) from these texts. Their knowledge of these saved words and phrases could easily be reviewed on the cloze tests that are a part of the LingQ system, as a measure of their activity and to motivate them to complete the assignments.

Compared to the enormous cost of our school system, and our expensive university system, the tiny little MP3 player could be a powerful yet inexpensive tool, if only people were trained to listen.

22 August 2013

Idiomas: Aprendizaje pasivo y activo

Para mí, esa distinción no es tan importante. El aprendizaje de idiomas es un proceso integral. La escucha y la lectura son actividades de comunicación con el idioma. Son las actividades de base para prepararnos a hablar. Una vez que empezamos a hablar tenemos que hablar mucho, y sin preocuparse ni de la gramática ni de nos errores.

22 August 2013

Active or passive language skills, youtube and more

I think the difference between active and passive language skills is overblown. Language learning is an holistic process.

19 August 2013

The long road to language learning success

language learning

It takes a long time to learn a language. I have sometimes compared language learning to an upside down hockey stick. There is an initial quick steep climb, followed by a long straight period when we are often not aware of our progress. That early climb, when something unintelligible all of a sudden becomes meaningful to us, is most gratifying. The long road to fluency, slowly acquiring new vocabulary and new habits, requires a lot of determination and perseverance.

One of my Youtube viewers, atf300t, left the following comment on one of my videos:

“When you start learning a new language, your progress is quite noticeable — you knew nothing and now you can understand simple text and slow speech. However, after some time, it may appear that you do not make any progress. At this point, majority of extrinsic motivated individuals often become demotivated and stop learning.”

He went on to say, in a comment to another video:

“I do not think it’s correct to say that immigrants who go to those language schools are not motivated. If they were not, they would not go there. They may have plenty extrinsic motivation – chances for a better career, earn more money, etc, still they do very poorly. What they lack is intrinsic motivation to learn the language. Only _intrinsic_ motivation makes one a successful autonomous learner.”


  1. Not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.


  1. Belonging naturally; essential.



So what does this mean?

It means that if you are trying to learn a language for someone else, or for some objective outside yourself, e.g. to get a better job, to improve your pay, to please someone else etc., you are likely not to stay the course. You will start to waiver along the long road to fluency and you won’t get there.

If, on the other hand, the desire to learn the language comes from within, if you truly like the language and if you enjoy learning it, then you will stay the course and eventually achieve your goal.

There are things that you can do to increase your intrinsic motivation. Ideally the language interests you for its own sake. But what if the language and culture don’t interest you, but you have to learn it anyway? My advice is to try to find some small aspect of the language or culture that does interest you. Work at it. Your taste for the language can be developed. It is a long road to fluency, so you are best advised to find a way to make the process enjoyable.

17 August 2013

Эхо Москвы (Echo Moskvi) at LingQ!

Echo Moskvi

LingQ has obtained permission to use content from Echo Moskvi in our Russian Library.
We will be adding lots of their lively interviews to LingQ. They are great for learning Russian and will be available for free download from our site. But for the real thing visit Echo at their site.

17 August 2013

About learning Russian

My own personal perspective on Russian, the language, learning it, and to some extent the country and the people.

16 August 2013

Mоe русскoe приключениe

Как я начинал изучать русский, и что это значит для меня.

13 August 2013

Language learning progress

Sometimes we feel that our language learning is stagnating. How to make sure that we are continuing to make progress? Easy, keep moving forward. Don’t spend too long on each lesson. Don’t expect to nail things down or master them. Just keep on learning and forgetting and you will move forward.

12 August 2013

How the brain learns languages – the case of bilinguals

The Brain

Here is a fascinating article about how the brain learns languages written by François Grosjean, Emeritus Professor of psycholinguistics, Neuchâtel University, Switzerland. The article discusses:

” whether verbs and nouns in Chinese are represented in the same way in the brain as are their counterparts in English: verbs in the frontal region of the brain and nouns in the posterior region. The authors noted that verbs and nouns in Chinese do not contain grammatical markers as do similar words in English and other Western languages. In addition, many Chinese verbs can occur as subjects, and nouns as predicates. Finally, Chinese has a much higher number of ambiguous words than English that can be used either as a noun or a verb ……..

Having shown that very different languages, in this case English and Chinese, have different neural representations for nouns and verbs, the interesting question became: What about bilinguals who store and process these two languages?”

For bilingual speakers of Chinese and English who learned the languages early, “the researchers found that Chinese nouns and verbs involved activation of common brain areas (thus replicating the first study) whereas English verbs engaged many more regions than did English nouns.”

” bilingual learners may deal with word information of the two languages separately. Thus, when word class is an important marker during language development, as it is in English, early bilinguals will acquire this language-specific property. In sum, the bilingual brain is highly plastic.’

This turned out not to be the case for a group of Chinese who learned English after the age of 12:

“They too showed no significant differences in brain activation for nouns versus verbs in Chinese (once again replicating the earlier study) but, to the surprise of the researchers, they showed little neural differentiation of nouns and verbs in English, unlike the early bilinguals.”

However, the researchers “noted aspects of their data that seemed to show that with more linguistic exposure to English, and hence improved language proficiency, the late bilinguals may yet develop neural sensitivity to noun-verb differences in their second language.”

What this means is that the brain perceives these parts of speech differently in the two languages. This confirms my impression that a noun or verb or adjective in one language, may have a different function in another language.

In Chinese, for example, adjectives can behave like verbs. You can have the past tenses of adjectives.

“他老了. 他胖了. 她生气了.” etc. (“He has grown old. He has gotten fat. He got angry.”)

The fact that differences in the roles of parts of speech are not equally clearly delineated in all languages, is only one of the reasons why I remain skeptical about Chomsky’s universal grammar.