Archive for the 'Foreign Languages' Category

Traditional Language Classes… They Try So Hard!


I almost feel bad for my Spanish professor. I can tell she loves language, she loves her native Spanish language, she speaks English well and I believe her degree is in French, but the methods she relies upon are quite obviously bad. You’ve all been in these classes… Learn present tense, learn past tense, memorize verb conjugations, demonstrative pronouns ect ect.

Yet it remains completely obvious that most students do not learn. It remains completely obvious that students lack interest. It remains completely obvious that Americans in general do have second language skills unless they were born into a language other than English. Yet we continue to beat that dead horse, a corpse that long ago decayed.

Polyglot Spotlight

I like a lot of language aficionados online, but there are three that I find deserve special attention, due to the work they put into the community through their writing, videos, websites ect. I find each one to be a varying degree of interesting, entertaining, approachable or normal. To anyone who dips in on the language learning community’s blogs and youtube channels will be familiar with this group. I hit the extremes of agreement and disagreement with each of them, but I’m a friendly polemicist that long ago realized if I only hung out or was interested in people that agreed with me fully, I’d have zero friends and would have to live as a hermit. These polyglots also disagree with each other, sometimes at high volume and sometimes only in the nuances that an attentive listener can catch.

This post though isn’t about opinions or disagreements on methodology, or anything else controversial, as much as I love that stuff. It’s simply about great everyday people who love to learn languages, and loving languages is something that almost no one reading this post can argue with.

I’ve included videos that I feel most represent the traits I like most about each of the following bloggers. So in no particular order:

Moses, who is better known by his youtube name Laoshu505000, is a video making machine and language boot camp specialist. He attacks languages with a fury about three months at a time. He takes them on in an academically focused way that most of us only wish we had the patience to to handle. He is the epitome of regular middle class guy learning languages. He’s married, he has an everyday middle class job, he’s not really a big world traveler. He just loves acquiring language after language.

This following video is an example of his passion, I only regret that he’s not wearing his signature fishing hat during it. Don’t get used to the Moses without the headgear:

Next up is Steve Kaufmann, probably the internet polyglot I’m most familiar with, who’d I’d definitely meet-up with if he ever found himself in Vegas, although I’d let him visit the brothels on his own. I know him mostly from exchanges on his blog and the Lingq.com website. Steve and I have similar trait in common of being intensely polemical. It’s one of my favorite things about his videos and blog posts. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think I’d sum it up if I said that we believe what we believe and we’ll defend it (in order to strengthen the belief or adjust it to new truths). I’m pretty sure in both of our cases we could be convinced of a different view, but it’s up to the facts and opponent’s presentation.

Steve knows about twelve languages to varying degrees, he goes on runs of making videos and then on separate inactivity runs on that front. As of late his blog has been an education blog as much as it has been a language learning blog. Steve is especially great because he’s knowledgeable in a variety of subjects, he’s a retired successful business owner and he’s always interested in discussion with both those who agree and disagree with him. Just be careful not to curse on his blog…. on this site don’t worry about it so much.. I collect all words. 🙂

Here’s Steve going on one of the little input rants he’s famous for, interesting stuff:

Third and certainly not least of all is Benny Lewis, or better known as Benny the Irish Polyglot. Benny is simple, his name is Benny, he’s Irish, and he’s a polyglot. Benny seems like a fun and entertaining guy, despite the fact that he doesn’t eat dead animals or drink the luscious juice that his Irish forefathers (who I’m forever indebted to) had a hand in creating (eating animals and drinking “luscious juice” being my second and third favorite things to do, behind writing).

Benny has been in Vegas, and we were supposed to meet up, but a mixture of my studies and Benny falling off the wagon and learning of the joys of dollar beer at the cheap casinos and doing illegal substances off illicit body parts of irresponsible women (mom!!), we didn’t meet up unfortunately.

Benny is most admirable for his love of people, as you can see in the videos his goal is to travel, meet people and have loads of his version of “fun”. And he picks up large amounts of the local language along the way.

Another fun thing about Benny, is that he comes from a technical background, so his videos have a pretty high production value and a sort of “corny to be funny” quality as can be seen here:

If you don’t think that’s hilarious then… your parents didn’t do drugs while they were pregnant with you… (loser).

Well here are three wonderful learners and teachers by example of language learning. They all have their own method and ways of assimilating language and living life. Any one of them, or all three could help you waste time with their ideas and antics, of course that’d be a bad thing…

Practicing a Little Polish, Talking About a Polish Fighter

What Do You Do When You Don’t Have Time?

I mentioned awhile back that I would have to put my practice of the Polish language down for awhile, since I’d be so short on time. I seem to have taken that idea one step further and pretty much stopped studying all my languages (which is pretty bad since I’m actually taking a Spanish class at school -my “Spanish class” is a subject I will take on in a later post). The class, being a complete beginner’s class, unfortunately cannot stay very interesting, it also only meets one day a week. The wonderful world of life may have kept me from doing any comprehensive work on the various languages I’m trying to make stronger, but that can’t really stop me right?

Polish is the most difficult to keep up and advance. I’ve talked before about getting my wife to speak more to me in Polish, but Stu Jay’s post rings true here. It’s not that she gets angry; it’s that it just doesn’t work. We speak to each other in English and it’s strange for our relationship to speak anything else, even if I can get by with some smaller stuff. It makes me want to kick myself when I think how much I avoided just speaking some Polish when I lived there , after I’d accumulated a decent enough vocabulary.

My Spanish has always been good enough to “get by”, but never good enough to sound smart in. With Spanish I have the opposite problem, I need some hot beef vocabulary injections, there’s nothing wrong with my flow in Spanish, it’s all in the fact that sometimes I just don’t have the words. This is what happens when the only Spanish you speak growing up is with your grandmother and it always involves asking for food. If there is a problem with Spanish, it’s more of an excuse, since I’ve grown up around it in my family, and since I’ve grown up around it because I live in the Southwestern quarter of the United States-it just seems so much less exotic.

It is an excuse since the style of literature I most lean towards is the dreaminess and the light existentialism of Latin literature. I hold myself back from reading a lot of Marquez and Borges, because I want to read them in Spanish. Bolano excites me, and I’ve never even read a page. I absolutely loved Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind , but am sad because I read the English version. So my excuse of Spanish not being exotic enough does not hold weight. In Las Vegas I’m also in a better position to have those engaging conversations, naturally there are far more Spanish speakers in Nevada and California than Polish speakers.

So I fall back into the internet polyglot mantra: Enjoy yourself with the language. I may not have time to study vocabulary and may not be in a position to speak as much Polish as I would like to, but I can still listen and read the news in these languages, I can still read lower level books in Spanish and Polish that I enjoy (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe seems to be a common first foreign language book choice of mine). Though I’m busy with everything, it doesn’t mean I can’t try to use these languages during other parts of the day, and if you have the same problem, it doesn’t mean you can’t try to use your target languages during the day either.

Total Annihilation Challenge from September to September

You can read about the Total Annihilation Challenge at:

Unilang

Then there’s a more personal concise explanation at:
babystepsoffluency

Essentially it’s an immersion challenge that you do along with others, the idea is work hard and finish with the most progress. I will be using this blog and Unilang to track it. I’ll start here with some of my goals and what I’m going to do, my self-challenge will be from September to September.

POLISH-
1-25,000 words known in lingq. (using mostly jedynka at polskieradio.pl)
2 8000 lingq created.
3 1000 lingqs learned.
4 Have 3000 Anki cards for 10,000 sentences method.
5 Finish the novel Nigdziebądź.
6 Finish Assimil the listening, exercises and dictation.
7 50 writings submitted to Lang-8.
8 Force my wife to speak more to me in Polish.
9 Understand TOKFM podcasts.
10 Find conversation partner on skype.

Spanish –
1 Get an A in Spanish 111 and the next class in line too.
2 15000 words known in Lingq.
3 3000 lingq created.
4 500 lingqs learned.
5 2000 sentences in Anki.
6 Longer conversations with the grandparents
7 Understand the Venganzas Del Pasado Podcast.
8 Do all the Assimil Dictations and exercises
9 50 writings posted to Lang 8
10 As many Lingq conversations as possible.
11 Read El Sobrino De Mago, El Leon La Bruja y el Ropero, Cien años de soledad

FRENCH
1 Get an A in French 111 and the next class in line
2 10000 Known words in Lingq (using mostly geopolitique at radiofrance.fr)
3 Read L’Étranger
4 5000 lingqs created
5 1000 lingqs learned
6 2000 sentences in Anki
7 Finish Assimil First Wave Exercises and Dictation
8 Have Assimil Business French started
9 Start conversations on lingq
10 50 writings on Lang 8

Well, I already know this a bit of a prayer but we’ll see. I’m a masochist I guess. At least I don’t have to learn a new writing system for any of these. I’d just like to see where I am with this stuff by September 1st, 2011.

If lingq opens starts Czech I may play with that, I may also do a little German on lingq too. I’m starting to get hungry for German again :)…

Ambition is getting the better of me…

Benny the Irish Polyglot

Our friend Benny over at Fluent in 3 months posted his results for his German C2 exam.

I think he failed in his opening goal (one part, the sounding like a native speaker he completely dropped), but I also think he did a great job. Sadly he did not study in the way that he claims to be the best way.

His German should probably go on his list of languages he now speaks, but not for the reasons he claims work. He has now officially learned every language he knows in either the traditional way or the Lingq/Krashen way, or some combination of both.

The only thing we can really agree with him on is the fact that if you want to speak go out and do it… His results do not reflect the actual way he’s learned languages.

His next goal is Hungarian, I’m curious to see what his detailed goals will be with a language that is only (somehow someway???) only related to Finnish and Estonian and has 14-17 noun cases depending who you ask and has far less English/Romance Language cognates than German and Czech do.

Good luck Benny.

The Polish language will have to wait for French and Spanish

I’ve recently hit a tiny little bench mark in my Polish studies at lingq.  I’ve finally reached 10,000 words known, and while I think I should have reached this little mark a long long time ago, I am nonetheless  very happy that I finally made it to 10,000.

Polish has been for about two or three years my primary L2 (with French and Spanish being far seconds and German and Japanese being my “play toys”), and while I’m not as far as I think I should be in Polski, a whole lot of that time was spent ‘learning how to learn a language’.  Now, school is starting in the fall and I’ve decided to take on way more than I can handle.  Two of my classes will be language classes but unfortunately the college in Las Vegas does not offer Polish.  I will be taking the road most traveled and taking classes in French and Spanish.

Now I’m not as anti-classroom as a lot of internet language learners are, but I definitely go in with some reservations.  The most important thing to point out, is that I wouldn’t be taking these classes if I didn’t have to.  I’m going in knowing half the stuff they’re going to make me do is going to be useless, but still it’s for college credit, it’ll give a good review of the basics, which I’m already aware of in both languages and I just like being around language, even if it’s not the most effective way of learning them.

Polish will end up falling onto the wayside though.  She’s not dead, and I’ll still consider her my number one L2, but obviously I’ll be a little strapped for time to be doing a lot of input study and word collecting.  This may be a blessing in disguise though.  I by far have a huge deficiency in speaking Polish, I’ve just not practiced at all.   I’ll just have to push my wife to speak it with me more in this time I won’t be able to read and lingq….


It should be noted that these are Polish words known.

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