Steve’s Answers on Your Language Learning Questions – Part 3
Steve: Hello there, we’re here again. First of all, we have a guest today. We have my friend Gabriel from Brazil visiting who also has his own Facebook page.
Gabriel: Yes and a YouTube channel. We have everything, a website. The Facebook I am especially proud of.
Steve: And you speak how many languages?
Gabriel: I’d say I can have a decent conversation in 10, ay Phillip?
Steve: I have taken the questions that I received here on my channel and I kind of summarized them a bit. I wrote it out in my handwriting, I don’t know if Gabriel can read my handwriting.
Gabriel: There are some words here that are kind of tricky.
Steve: The format is that he’s going to ask me the question, I’ll give an answer and he may disagree or whatever. We’ll see how it goes.
Gabriel: It sounds great, okay. I’m excited about this. So the first two questions are a bit related. The first one is: In Swedish, how do you learn the different forms of the words in Swedish because there are different declensions? I, personally, don’t have a lot of knowledge of Swedish. The second one is: How do you basically learn Portuguese word conjugations, for example, ____ and ____? I have problems conjugating words in Portuguese sometimes. So how do you do that, Steve?
Steve: Well, you know, it’s a problem in a number of languages. There are a number of languages where the nouns or the adjectives change declensions and verbs change, person, tense and whatever. I have gone through the experience of trying to study the tables and I find that it’s not very helpful. I still review them because I come across different forms of a noun or a verb and I’m not entirely sure what form that is. Then I’ll Google for that noun or that verb and I’ll see the table, so I go back there regularly. It’s like going to the water cooler in an office, you go there for a glass of water and you come back. The main thing is you just have to get used to it.
Like the person that asked the question about Swedish and said there are so many different forms of plurals, I don’t even know that. I don’t even know that, but I speak Swedish actually quite well. It’s one of my better languages because I’ve spoken it a lot and I’ve listened to a lot of audio books on Swedish history and stuff.
What I do when I’m reading, for example from Portuguese, yeah ____ and ____ is kind of confusing, so if I’m reading a book I’ll underline it, if I’m on LingQ I’ll save that phrase. I want to help my brain notice whenever that occurs, whenever that appears, but it’s just a matter of a lot of exposure and there are no quick solutions, coupled with occasionally reviewing the tables. Like the person asked, when I come across a noun in Swedish should I remember all the forms. You can’t remember all the forms. It’s not even worth trying, you won’t. So that would be my answer there.
Gabriel: Yeah. Slavic language is the same. Like Russian, all the cases you have to know. It’s intense. So the third question here: How do you find the time, Steve? I’m guessing either learning or keeping up with this.
Steve: I mean the big thing is listening. I would say that 70-80% of my learning time is listening. So if I’m doing anything around the house, I’m listening. If I’m in the car, I’m listening. If I’m cleaning the garage, I’m listening. Exercising, I’m listening. The listening enables you to get up to that sort of critical mass of one hour, minimum, a day. If I listen to something and I don’t understand it, then I’ve got to read, then I’ve got to link it, then I’ll perhaps work on my iPad.
I do a lot of work, I should say, now on my iPad using iLink because it’s very handy, I sit down in a comfortable chair or I’m sometimes on my stepper at home. It’s a matter of trying to find ways to use dead time during the day.
Gabriel: I think this is really cool. Personally, I really like alternating into active and passive listening. Sometimes I’m driving around and I have a language ____, content, whatever it is. Sometimes if I have time and I can focus on the language, then I go for active listening. Then I’m really paying attention and maybe reading the content, as well, maybe on LingQ, maybe on something else.
Steve: I tend not to do that, I mean it depends on your definition of active listening. I won’t sit down and listen, I’d never do that, but if I sit down to learn I’m going to read or link. On the other hand, most of the things I listen to, unless I’m very advanced in the language, I’m also going to read. So in Russian Today I don’t have to read it, I’ll understand most of it. But, in my Polish for example, everything that I’m listening to I’ve read, I’ve linked and then I listen. However, I don’t just sit down and listen, I never do that, but everyone does their own thing.
Gabriel: Question number four: What is fluency?
Steve: You know you get this question all the time. To me, it doesn’t matter. I have done business with people who speak English whose native language is not English who make mistakes and they communicate. I’m sure that when I communicate in other languages I make mistakes. If you can communicate you’re good. We can always improve, yet I’m always glad that I’m able to do whatever I’m able to do.
I guess the definition simply of fluency is that you are comfortable handling, you understand what people are saying and you can communicate on a variety of subjects. Even though your pronunciation may not be all that great, you make mistakes, you’re sometimes at a loss for words and sometimes you don’t understand what they’re saying, by enlarge, you’re communicating and the person isn’t making allowances for you. That’s what it is.
Gabriel: Personally, I agree. I also agree that a lot of people put a lot of emphasis on it and they’re confused. Question five: Where can I find more upper beginner content for Polish? This ties into another question, as well: What are some resources for content?
Steve: This comes up all the time and it’s very important. We have, I think, some very good material for Polish at LingQ. This is the learner at LingQ who feels that he’s kind of done all those and wants to find more upper beginner content. My view is if you’ve done all of the sort of beginner, upper beginner, intermediate content at LingQ, it’s time for you to move into authentic content.
Now, having said that, I know, for example with Portuguese, this one LingQ member created this wonderful series of 20 lessons where she talked about her trip through Europe.
Gabriel: That’s so cool.
Steve: Ten minutes each. She’s with her friend, they lost their bags. It’s very much, call it upper beginner or lower intermediate, but she spoke naturally. So we hope that at LingQ more and more of our members… One of my first Brazilian Portuguese tutors, she did also sort of a diary. She took her kids to the zoo and all this kind of stuff. So to the extent that people will create simple diaries, simple conversations on everyday life, I think that’s what we don’t have enough off. We have the sort of learner-oriented this is a dog, Mary is eating her cake.
Gabriel: From the very beginning.
Steve: From the very beginning. Then you’ve got that upper level, which is podcasts.
Gabriel: Literature in Brazilian.
Steve: I have my Portuguese podcast, _______ that I listen to. I mean you have a lot of this kind of content say that our members at LingQ create, either it’s a diary, my thoughts on this or I talked to my friend, my husband, my wife, my girlfriend, my boyfriend, that kind of stuff. If we can get more of that with good sound quality with a transcript so that you can read it and learn the words, that’s what we really need more of.
As to finding content on the Web, you just have to Google. Maybe you take it and go to Google Translate to get the target language version of what you’re looking for, history of Poland or whatever. Historia Polski, okay, then you put Historia Polski and you’ll get a lot of stuff.
Gabriel: Google that, sure.
Steve: Sure, that’s what you have to do.
Gabriel: For instance, I think I went to LingQ in Spanish and I found some really cool content with the culture. So this lady was talking about the Day of the Dead and I wanted to learn about it, actually. Instead of going to Wikipedia I just saw it on LingQ, so it was pretty cool.
Steve: Now, obviously, in Spanish we have a lot more content than we have in Polish, Polish is a more recent language. In Polish I went to Piotr’s site, I’ve mentioned before, I got his stuff and I imported it into LingQ. So sometimes you have to go and find these resources.
Gabriel: That’s true.
Steve: Piort’s site does real Polish, by the way. RealPolish.pl, I’ll give him another plug.
Gabriel: I want to start Polish myself you know. I hope that knowing Russian will help me.
Steve: Oh, absolutely.
Gabriel: I guess the declensions…
Steve: The system is the same.
Steve: The endings are different, but the basic system is largely the same.
Gabriel: Excellent. Do they resemble each other every now and then? I noticed that between Croatian and Russian sometimes the endings of the words were actually similar.
Steve: Yeah, some of them. Like the instrumental, you know the m or i, that type, but the genitive might be a u instead of an i or something.
Gabriel: Interesting. Then question six: What was your experience like learning Korean, Steve?
Steve: Korean I’m finding very difficult because there are a lot of small, little words there that seem to have six or seven meanings, so when you look them up it’s not that helpful to the context that I’m reading. And, again, a bit of a problem with content that is interesting, yet at my level.
So I have these podcasts that I enjoy, but they’re a little bit difficult. One of them is this _______ that I’ve mentioned, he talks about literature. When he reads from ________ in Korean I’m lost. When he talks about _________ oh, yeah, I can follow him. So a bit of a problem with the language itself in terms of a lot of words that seem to have a lot of meaning. Again, it gets back to the whole content issue.
Gabriel: Yeah, absolutely. This may sound hilarious, but I’ve been trying to learn how to sing Gangnam Style in Korean.
Steve: Oh, yeah.
Gabriel: I probably sound hilarious, but I’m trying to…
Steve: We’ll have to get a video of you singing that.
Gabriel: Whoa! I’ll have to practice, but it should be fun. So question seven, I hope I can read this. Someone is asking, saying: I’m enjoying LingQ. I’m learning French and German. When can I start reading books of interest?
Steve: Okay. Well, again, I find that until I’m very good I prefer to read on LingQ. If on a page there’s like 10 or 15 words that I don’t know, that’s a problem. It starts to interfere with _______.
Gabriel: You’re grabbing the dictionary every five seconds, right?
Steve: Right, if the subject is something that I’m very familiar with or very interested in. Like history, you can actually have a lot of words that you don’t understand. But, if you’re reading literature, I find that you miss those words you’re missing a lot. So I tend to want to find say things that were written in the 19th century, older material that I can get free and import into LingQ.
How long does it take to get to a level where you can just pick up a novel and read it, it takes a long time. I can’t just, it just depends. It takes a long time, but I would try it. I would buy a book. Buy a book on something you’re very interested in and try it.
Gabriel: Personally, I fully agree.
Steve: One thing I don’t do is I don’t then look up every word and try and import it into LingQ. I did that for a while, but it’s just too time consuming and the benefits are limited.
Gabriel: I guess it’s nice to just either guess the content or if you understand 90% of the words you can simply…
Steve: Absolutely. What’s so ______ about language learning is you want to be doing different things, so read a book that you don’t understand, do some very simple content, pull something of interest into LingQ and link it. Do all these different things. As long as you’re engaging with the language you’re going to improve.
Gabriel: I think that’s quite fantastic. I’m surfboarding some Russian content into LingQ, actually. I had this lady actually do the audio for me, as well, so I’m really excited about that because I can study the words, I can take a look at them, I can do flashcards, which is awesome. I’ve been boosting my learning and my understanding, which is a lot of fun. Next question: How are you enjoying Polish and how are finding, I guess, consonant clusters?
Steve: Well, I’m enjoying Polish immensely. I enjoy the Real Polish from Piotr, but I’m also enjoying now an audio book. I bought __________, which is this book about Russian which I’ve read and English and now I’m listening to the audio book. I also found an audio book on Polish history. I’ve ordered some Polish books from a Canadian Web-based bookstore. I’m having some trouble. They won’t let you download eBooks from Poland for some reason. Anyway, I’m enjoying it tremendously and, of course, helped by my knowledge of other Slavic languages.
Insofar as consonant clusters, it seems that the Poles will go _______ for something that maybe in Russian would be ______. It’s not a problem, you just get used to it.
Gabriel: It just looks intimidating. It’s like oh, my God, there are all these consonants.
Steve: I mean how can you have a word that goes ________? Come on now. I shouldn’t say that. How can you have English?
Gabriel: The word through, for instance.
Steve: Through, those, bow, cough, rough, that’s pretty weird. To that extent, Polish is consistent.
Gabriel: I see.
Steve: Polish is consistent. The only one that isn’t consistent I discovered is the word for apple, which is ________. It’s not pronounced _________ it’s pronounced ________. So there are some sounds that disappear in Polish.
Gabriel: That’s interesting. Actually, I’m legitimately interested in picking it up or getting started within the next few months. I’m going to see your results and then…
Steve: Great! I mean it’s a great country. There are 40 million people. They’ve got a great history.
Gabriel: I have a lot of friends here, basically here in Vancouver, that have a Polish background. One of my best friends, he actually went to med school in Poland, then he came back and he speaks with his parents. I know a few words, but I’ve found some things tremendously hard, actually. Like the ___ sound.
Steve: It’s almost like a W.
Gabriel: I was trying to say the word ________ and then my friend said it sounds like you’re saying the word for Belgium.
Steve: Okay. Don’t worry.
Gabriel: I have to focus on pronunciation for Polish, for sure. The last question here, I’m interested in hearing the answer for myself. It’s a good question: What kind of advice or what advice would you give to your younger self?
Steve: In terms of language learning?
Gabriel: Yes, in terms of language learning.
Steve: You know it’s an interesting question. Really, when I read the book that I wrote 10 years ago about language learning nothing much has changed. Technology has changed, access to conversation partners on the Internet, content on the Internet, meaning this became an mp3 player. Fifty years ago I had open reel tape recorders.
No, once I realized that to learn a language you have to be motivated and it’s not sufficient to sit in a classroom. That was my experience in school, where the teacher would teach us French and we would pass the exam, but we couldn’t speak. Once I realized that it was all about motivation and spending the time and really engaging with the language, then that’s it. I I explore for content, I focus on structures that give me trouble, nothing much different.
Gabriel: Okay. That closes it. Would you like to add anything?
Steve: No. I just want to say we went a little bit longer today because we were fortunate to have Gabriel visit with us and provide his input.
Gabriel: It was a huge pleasure.
Steve: I’ve done some videos with him for his Facebook page and, hopefully, we’ll do some more.
Gabriel: Of course, with pleasure. It was fun to read the questions. Thank you, Steve.
Steve: Thank you, Gabriel. Bye for now.