Language Dream List

Welcome new followers once again!  I hope you continue to find this blog useful and entertaining!

So tonight’s post is going to be a bit self-indulgent, but hopefully my fellow polyglots can relate.

On most people’s bucket list is a series of trips to take and activities to try.  Mine has its fair share of those, but probably the lengthiest section is “languages I want to learn.” I swear this list never shrinks and can be a bit daunting.  At the same time, looking at it in print makes me happy because reminds me just how many different ways there are to connect in the world and how much I want to be a part of those.  So, for your reading pleasure, here is my list- with a few notes on why I picked each language.

Native Language: English

I was born in the States and grew up learning English.  There is no way around the fact that this is a blessing given English’s dominance in print materials.  Don’t get me wrong- all languages are equally valid and valuable, but I imagine it’s much more difficult to find language learning materials that offer Czech or Swahili translations than it is to find English.  Note: This is one of the many reasons I love the Internet, though.  It connects people of multiple languages and anyone can publish material.  People of languages with very few materials in traditional print now have access to hundreds of web pages of material.  Awesomeness.

Languages I’m Fluent In: Spanish  (AKA- Languages I’m married to, going with the metaphor I used earlier.)

I learned Spanish for the same reasons a lot of people in my area do- it was available.  There were classes in high school, there was a high level of Latin American immigrants to practice with, and there was a Spanish language TV channel in our cable line up.  I didn’t plan on making it part of my career initially, but I fell in love with the culture and the verb conjugations, plus it has greatly enhanced my teaching profession.  Guess I’ve always been a bit of a Latina at heart.

Languages I’m currently Studying:  ASL & Japanese  (These would be long-term relationships but not quite ready to put a ring on it yet.)

TECHNICALLY, American Sign Language was the first language I actively studied.  While I played around with a lot of other languages, I was determined to learn ASL after having read biographies on Helen Keller.  I studied many signs, but never got the hang of the grammar from books alone.  In high school, my focus shifted to Spanish due to its availability, but I didn’t forget about ASL completely.  I took a couple courses in college and have found a quality program online now in order to cement my learning.   (For those interested, I’m following Bill Vicars program and highly recommend it.  Here is the link.)

Japanese is the language I loved from afar for many years until I finally decided to introduce myself.  I love the culture, the architecture, the legends of Samurais and spirits- it connected with me on a deep level.  That said, it has been a tumultuous relationship.  We get really close for a while but then one of us gets busy (okay I get busy) and neglectful and we drift apart.  Fortunately, Japanese always takes me back when I show up with index cards and anime in tow.

Languages I Definitely Want to Learn:  German, French, Italian, Mandarin, Arabic, and Swahili. (I feel like I’m dating these languages now but we’re more occasional hookups than coupling at this point.)

German and French made the list because they are heritage languages for me.  The bulk of my Dad’s family is German and the rest is French.  My grandfather’s brother actually spoke no English until he first went to school.  I have played around with German (particularly on an old Rosetta Stone CD, back when those puppies came free with the computers- ah those were the days).  I call my dog a “hund” and check out language resources for these two when I’m in the store, but for now that’s where it ends.  Someday though, my friends, someday we’ll be together and it will be lovely.

Italian made the list purely by sound.  When I took singing lessons, my favorite pieces were Italian Arias.   I LOVE the sound of Italian- the way it flows off the tongue, the rolling “r’s”, the trills, the rhythm- it may be the most beautiful language to my ears.  (Don’t be offended, my other loves- you each have your own internal beauty.)

Mandarin and Arabic made the list for practical reasons.  Both languages are very widely spoken and are becoming powerhouses in the worlds of business and networking.  I have been doubly blessed by making many friends from China, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, which means I’ll have lots of mentors and speaking partners when I decide to get serious with them.

Swahili has probably the most unique reason for being on my list.  After looking at the rest of my list, I realized that if I learned the rest of my list, I would speak a primary language on each continent, except Africa.  Therefore, I added Swahili to round out the list.

Languages I’m Creating: JAGIS  (Don’t judge me- synthetic languages are just as loveable! J )

A friend of mine is writing a science fiction book.  After years of listening to me complain about how so few science fiction programs address the obvious language issues, she decided to make it a cornerstone of a series she’s working on.  A girl transported across time and space is forced to learn the new language of her surroundings- of course, to do this, she needed a brand new language.  THUS, yours truly is working on creating one.  It is one of the most fascinating challenges I’ve ever undertaken and also one of the most difficult.

Languages I’m Seriously Considering: Tagalog  (It bought me a drink, gave me its number, I just haven’t made the call.)

Tagalog is a primary language of the Philippines.  Immigration has brought a wave of people speaking this language to my area and a few administrators at different schools have noted how valuable it would be to have someone on staff who spoke it.  I hate when family members of my students feel uncomfortable attending school events due to language difficulties, and so this language is on my definite “to check out” list.  At my current place of employment, it is not a pressing need so it ranks fairly low right now, but populations shift regularly so it may move back up the list at some point.

Languages I’ve Got my Eye On: Quichiwa and Arapaho  (I keep checking them out but neither of us have made a move.)

These are Native American languages.  Quichiwa is from Ecuador and Arapaho is from the Southwest.  Both appeal to me on many levels.  I love Native American culture and feel it has been minimized far too often.  Both are endangered languages with only  hundreds of speakers left and therefore are in need of more users to keep them alive.  I’d like to be part of that.

So there is my list and my reasons.  Lord knows it’s long and I know it’ll probably only get longer.  But that’s okay.  Even if I don’t become fluent in every one of these, just dabbling in them makes me happy.  Feel free to share what languages are on YOUR list- I’m curious why you picked the languages you did.  Plus, perhaps our little Tumblr community can help each other find resources and practice partners, particularly for those tongues with less resources.

ROCK & ROLL ALL NIGHT, & POLYGLOT EVERY DAY!

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 04/22/14.

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Product Review: Duolingo

**Note** These were my views as of April 2014.  I may do an update at some point.

From time to time I hope to review language learning products- be they websites, applications, old-fashioned software, books, or other (who knows what the future holds)- to try to give my fellow polyglot consumers some guidance as to what tools to use and, just as important, to NOT use.  Of course, these are just one gal’s opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

Product Name: Duolingo

Type of Product: Website/App

What’s it do: Let’s you learn a specific language through a semi-game like format.  You pass certain exercises, which opens new levels and vocabulary.

Languages it offers:  Currently it offers Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese.

They are working on adding (hatching as they term it) Russian, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Romanian, and Irish.  All of these are in target language to English formats.

Available Formats: Website: duolingo.com

Also available as an app in the iTunes store, Amazon, and Google Play.  The website doesn’t mention Amazon, but I have it on my Kindle so there ya go.

Strengths: This format has quite a few strengths.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • IT IS FREE.
  • It offers practice in all skills- that is speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
  • It gives you a chance to help translate real articles online, contributing to the polyglot community as a whole and giving authenticity to what you are doing and learning.
  • Friends can follow you and you can compare each other’s progress and help cheer one another on.
  • The game like format, a simplistic as it is, does tend to keep you motivated.  It gives a concrete amount of practice per session and earning the gem for exercise and the trophy for each level is akin to stickers back on our grade school homework- inherently meaningless but we love them anyhow.
  • It also keeps track of your streaks or how many days in a row you practice.  It can be super motivating to see how long you can go without breaking your streak.
  • It is available on mobile devices as an app so it can easily go with you in a functional format.

Weaknesses:

  • The speaking practice grades you on your ability to imitate the inflection of the speaker, not your actual pronunciation.  (They’ll deny this if you ask them, but trust me.  I’ve done nonsense sounds with the app in the same cadence and pitches as the speaker and it has passed me.  Other times I did the correct words but in a monotone and it could not tell that it was right.)  To be fair, speech recognition software is difficult and expensive to design, so for free this is still giving you some benefit.
  • Some of the translations are awkward.  They give you an option to challenge an answer, but it will still count you wrong in the meantime.
  • This alone will not make you fluent.  The activities are very prescribed, aside from the translations, and thus are not geared toward promoting conversational speaking and writing abilities.  It is a great start for basic vocabulary and grammar, but you’ll need to seek out other options beyond that to improve.
  • You can talk with other people via forums, but the site is not set up particularly well for social networking.  It’s a start for sure and my guess this portion will improve with time, but if you are looking to meet and interact with native speakers, this is not the best format to do so.
  • No Asian languages (or African for that matter)are currently included.  (I will tend to note Russian as an European language due to its similarities with some languages in that region.)

My Overall Rating and Thoughts?

3.5 Globes out of 5

This is a GREAT site for BEGINNERS who A) are unsure where to begin and B) need to form the consistent study habits essential to quality language learning.  That said, in its current format, Duolingo only takes you a small portion of the journey.  Consider this the taxi ride to the airport, not the plane to the great land of Polyglottia.

Still the gaming set up is creative and can help keep you motivated, especially when you are first starting.  And of course, major props to the creators for managing to keep this site and app FREE which is a major plus.  Most of us Polyglots would rather spend our money on travel than stuff!

Give it a try if you are just starting out or maybe need to review a language you learned a while ago but has fallen into disuse.  It’s fun and free, so it’s worth your time.  Just plan ahead to open yourself up to more authentic language use in the future.

 

This is your trusty Polyglot Products Private Eyes, signing off.  Hope this scoop is useful to you!

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 04/14/14.

 

Flashcards- Make Your Life Easier

There are a lot of differing opinions out there in regards to flashcards and language learning.  Many linguists and polyglots will say that they are not an authentic way of learning the language, and therefore should be avoided.  Others will point out that at some point memorization plays a role in all learning and flashcards can be a great tool to promote that process.

I tend to subscribe to the latter philosophy, but like many people find making and doing flashcards a bit tedious.  I also know that making and storing paper flashcards can be a pain (literal and metaphorical- damn you hand cramp!).  Not to mention at some point you are likely to have so many flashcards that the sheer number makes the idea of trying to review them overwhelming.

Technology to the Rescue!

There are Internet applications called SRS- spaced repetition systems.   These are digital flashcard systems that keep track of which cards you need to study MOST.  You create the cards, set your preferences for max number of cards per day, and review them.  The computer program randomizes the order of the cards, of course, but it also provides you with an opportunity to rate how well you remember the card.  This could be from not at all to kind of to I got this!  Based on how you rate the card, the computer then determines how long it will be until it shows you that card again.  This way the I got this! cards don’t show back up for several days, while the “Is that even a word?  Did I really type that in?” cards may return in just a few hours or even minutes for review.

The beauty of this is that after the first few days of inputting and reviewing cards, you return to a very manageable number of cards to review.  You don’t have to go through all 1001; instead, you can focus on the 50 that are really tough for you.

I personally use the Anki system.  I have it downloaded onto my computer but you can actually do everything from the web.  (In fact, if I was just starting now, this is what I would do.  Makes your cards much more portable.)  I believe they do have working interfaces for most tablets and phones so you can make your flashcards as mobile as you are.

Here are 3-4 SRS programs and their sites to check out if you think this is something you might want to try.  (By the way, they are all FREE.)

Anki: http://ankisrs.net/

Surusu: http://www.surusu.com/  The writer of the blog AJATT (All Japanese All the Time) recommends this one.  My fellow polyglot amigo who I often reference in this blog is also a user.

 

 

Mnemosyne: http://mnemosyne-proj.org/    I do not know anyone who has personally used this, but that does NOT mean it’s not a great program- check it out and see if it fits your needs.

 

 

Super Memo: http://www.supermemo.com/english/smintro.htm I am not sure if this program *technically* falls into the SRS category.  Again, I have not personally used it.  However, it does claim to be learning method to improve memorization, so it’s worth checking out.

UPDATE: Memrise is now my tool of choice and beats the rest to me in terms of versatility.  I’ll probably do a post just on how awesome they are at some point.

Flashcards AREN’T for everyone.  But if you think they’d be a valuable tool for you, I suggest making them as efficient as possible and get the most out of the time you spend reviewing.  If anyone else knows of a great SRS program that I’ve not included, please feel free to inbox me so I can let our fellow Polyglots know.

May the language force be with you… and you… and you…

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 04/07/14.

Where on Earth Do I START?

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First of all- welcome all you lovely new followers!  While not British, the only word that comes to mind to describe how I feel about all the attention my last post received is chuffed.  It’s a fine word for it- Martin Freeman would approve.  I hope you continue to find my posts useful or at least entertaining.

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You have decided to learn a new language.  You are committed- you are willing to shell out some financial resources (within reason), you have carved some time into your hectic schedule, you have set a goal and by golly, you achieve your goals.  You are good to go!

That is, until you walk into a bookstore and stare blankly at the rows and rows of language learning materials.  Or you do a Google Search and find a dozen sites and that’s not including the advertised ones.  If this is your first rodeo, you don’t have the first clue what gear and get-up you need.

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Please allow me to be of service.Here are my suggestions.

1.Start simple.

When I first started being interested in languages (and had disposable income), I bought every resource imaginable.  I stored dozens of websites in a folder in my bookmarks list.  I even checked out every library book I could find.  The result?

I was so overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information that I didn’t really absorb any of it.

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If this IS your first rodeo, I suggest you start with ONE good source, maybe 3 at the most.  That doesn’t mean don’t dabble with others- just don’t commit beyond your means and in this case your means are your study time and your brain’s maximum intake.  As you find a rhythm, you’ll learn how to navigate more smoothly between various sources and use resources appropriately.  But in my experience, too many resources at the beginning is similar to too many cooks in the kitchen.  You get frustrated and distracted and before you know it, you’ve burned the sauce.

2. Get the RIGHT resources

I am a public school teacher.  I am someone who learns best in a classroom environment.  Therefore I DO advocate getting a quality textbook.  Why?  GOOD textbooks do the following:

  • Structure learning in a format similar to how the brain takes in linguistic information (i.e. it puts the morphemes and syntax structures in an order that linguists have come to call the “natural order” or the order your brain would learn them in under immersion circumstances.)  This means you are more likely to actually retain the new structures because you’ve learned the ones your brain sees as prerequisites first.
  • Blend vocabulary and grammar together.  New language learners tend to get completely focused on one or the other.  In my opinion, your adult brain needs both.  You don’t need to spend 5 years deducing the grammar from a series of authentic sentences- you can speed it up.  Likewise, learning all the grammar in the world may make you able to explain how a language works, but it won’t get you speaking it.  You need both to optimize your language learning.
  • Offer a variety of practice strategies and activities.  These can be especially useful if you have a language learning partner but aren’t sure where to start with conversational practice.  Trying some of the book exercises and discussing your answers together can help improve your recall and the depth of your comprehension of new content.
  • Make you aware of cultural information.  While not a substitute for authentic material and situations, textbooks often include snippets of real literature, information about famous persons, and notes on cultural quirks and customs that are unique to the area that speaks your new language.  These can be both useful and interesting and may give you ideas on where to look for more information, both on your language and its culture.

What do I mean by a GOOD textbook?  Well, that could be a post all on its own.  Without going off on too much of a tangent, I suggest looking at what textbooks local colleges and high schools are using.  Take note of the copyright- make sure it is within the last decade as linguistic research has radically changed how textbooks are organized now.  Current textbooks, such as Avancemos for Spanish, are much more skill-based and culture rich than their predecessors.  You can often find used copies of books online.  They may be a bit pricey, so do your research first.  However, a great textbook is well worth a few extra dollars.

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(I highly recommend Japanese in Mangaland and  corresponding workbook.  It is fun and well-structured.) (For any language, I am not a big fan of the For Dummies or Everything About series.  Both tend to put too much grammar into one chapter and do not provide enough opportunities to reinforce the material.  But to each their own.)

 

 

You will also eventually need a good dictionary.  This could be in the form of an app with today’s technology, though I admit to still being a fan of my old hardback copy.  (I’ll explain why in another post.)  There is a lot of controversy over whether one should use a target language to native language dictionary or a dictionary IN the target language (i.e. Webster’s but with Spanish definitions).  Personally I think both have their uses and especially if you are going the digital route and can find such resources for free or cheap, I suggest getting both.

3.Use social media wisely

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Social media can be a great way for you to get a daily dose of your language, even when life throws you a curveball and you can’t study.  I set my Facebook into either Spanish or Japanese at all times.  (Word to the wise- take a mental note of how many lines down the “Account Settings” button is before you do this.  It will help if there is a vital reason you need to change it back.)  My cellphone is also in Spanish.  This means every SINGLE day (heck let’s face it, almost every hour), I am confronted by some foreign text.  The great thing?  My brain quickly STOPS thinking about it as foreign text.  It starts seeing a puzzle to solve and eventually recognizes words without me even realizing I learned them.

Twitter and Tumblr are two other great sources.  Follow 1 or 2 people that are either native speakers of your L2 or who offer something in it.  There is a great tumblr blog called Spanish-quotes that takes popular English quotes and translates them.  That can be a great positive start to your day and your learning.  On Twitter I follow musicians, sports stars, news sites, and so forth to get a daily dose of language.  The news sites can be especially useful in your growth in language, as they often link to actual articles so that as your vocabulary improves you can start increasing your reading exposure.  Don’t sell those celeb tweets short however; many of those can teach you about modern slang and “texting” type writing skills you WON’T find in any textbook.

4.Balance your materials

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I said it earlier in my pro-textbook rant but I’ll repeat.  You NEED to balance grammar and vocabulary.  Having both WILL increase your efficiency in language learning.  It is important to note however that YOUR balance and MY balance may look different.  I am a very grammar driven person and so my balance is probably 60-40, with grammar leading the way.  I have friends who hate language rules and their balance looks more like a 30-70 split with vocabulary clearly winning.  I stress that you tweak your program until you find the balance that feels right for YOU.

You also need to balance your skills.  Try to get yourself using all 4- listening, speaking, reading, and writing- as soon as possible.  A good book will likely promote this, but if you find yourself struggling, check out italki or a similar site for ideas to work each skill.  Youtube is filled with listening opportunities, PalTalk and Skype are filled with native speakers to connect with, and there are e-pal matching websites all over the web.  Reading material is a news or Wikipedia search away. (Or check out LingQ which has tons of reading and listening material.)  Use your tools- but don’t let them use you.   Find one or two you like, make your habits, and keep it simple until you are ready to add more.

Don’t become paralyzed by the sheer abundance- recognize that banquets are great, but you don’t have to stuff yourself to the brim.  Take what you want now- the rest will still be there later for you to partake.

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5.Follow your OWN gut

This is easily the most important on the list.

You may be reading this thinking “But I freaking HATE textbooks.  I like mess, I like jumping from one thing to the next.  I have lots of native input available to me and that is where I want to start.”  You want to know how I respond to that?

More power to you.

The MOST important thing you must do as a language learner is to take charge of your own learning.  You have to be intrinsically motivated for this- it’s a lifelong process and while external factors may help light the fire, only you can stoke the coals.

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This means you have to know yourself well.  Know how you learn and how you need to organize your time and materials.  Do you need to schedule study sessions or assign yourself tasks?  Do you need lots of grammar and slow and steady increase of vocabulary?  Or do you prefer to flood yourself with words and reference grammar as you go to help parse it all out?  Do you need to keep a binder of your notes, with tabs for vocabulary sections and grammar concepts and skills input practice?  Do you even NEED to take notes?

For me personally, I need about 60% grammar at the beginning and 40% vocabulary in terms of my direct instruction.  I need simple skills practice spread out over a reasonable length of time.  I challenge myself to do ONE thing with my languages daily but I don’t assign a time or specifics to which thing I do what day.   I keep a notebook and my materials together and do often use highlighters and tabs to color code my work.  If I can, I attend a class.  At minimum, I find a language partner.  THIS is what works for me.  BUT it’s not what works for everyone.  My friend who I’ve often mentioned before is a much more solitary learner.  He is not one for taking notes or book instruction.  He is one for diving into authentic material head-on.  He is, paradoxically to some people, also a HUGE grammar nut.  He is a big fan of processes like shadowing and constant audio input.  He had successfully taught himself Japanese BECAUSE he KNOWS what works for him.

I give you my advice from my own experiences both as a learner and a teacher of languages.  But I would be amiss to not request that you use them only as you yourself see fit.  I hope this gives a bit of clarity to anyone lost in the overwhelming sea of “where do I begin?”  Here, my friend, have a life preserver.

And then?  Just keep swimming. 😉

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Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 03/31/14.

Laws for Linguists

So by now some of you lovely faithful readers have got to be thinking:

“Okay, the inspirational, touchy feely stuff is great BUT how about something practical?  Something I can actually apply!”

Well, I do aim to give the people what they want. 

There are a lot of websites out there that will give a list of guidelines and practices to learn a language.  Every polyglot has their mantras and I’m no exception.  So today,  I’m sharing my list of language learning rules to help you get started.  Next week, as a follow up, I’ll share how I organize my language learning, especially when I first start.

**Disclaimer**
EVERYONE is different.  Some of you may disagree with these rules or my organization methods and to you I say Kudos.  Way to figure out what works best for you.  That is not only awesome, but also I’d love to hear about it so I can share more helpful information with our fellow polyglots.  All I ask is that you share your opinions and tips in a tactful manner.  Thanks!

MY RULES FOR PERFECTING YOUR POLYGLOT-NESS

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1.  10 minutes a day is better than an hour a week

If you take away nothing else, please take away this.  I know SO many people who buy a dozen language learning resources, sign up on countless websites, join 50 social media groups, and go on a language BINGE because by golly, they have DECIDED to learn this language NOW!  While an initial binge is understandable (and frankly unavoidable if my own past endeavors are any indication), it is not, and I repeat, NOT sustainable.  A four hour binge on Saturday becomes 2 on Sunday, then half an hour on Monday, and before you know it, it’s been a month and you have to blow the dust off your lovely books and re-set all your passwords.

Set a REASONABLE amount of time per day to work on your language.  I recommend no more than 30 minutes when you are starting, and be satisfied with yourself if you manage at least half of that with consistency.  Because my friends, THAT is the key- consistency.  Language is a daily practice, not a test to cram for, so make it part of yours.  I promise reading 1 tweet a day will gain you more in the long run than a once a month binge session with those Rosetta Stone CDs.

(A lot of people find they benefit from time-boxing or task-boxing various aspects of language learning.  For more information, check out this blog.)

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2. Balance your input

If you REALLY want to be solid in your target language, you need to balance all four skills.  That means you need both listening and reading input, and you need practice in both speaking and writing (typing is acceptable in this modern era, though for unfamiliar scripts I do recommend some handwriting practice).  Fortunately, access to all of these is relatively easy to find nowadays.

 “Oh yeah, right.  I want to learn Gleepglop the language of Cave People of Biddledoo.  Where on earth am I going to find this stuff?”

Even for obscure languages, it is AMAZING what the internet has managed to put together.  To find resources, here is a short list of ideas:

  • a) Check out livemocha.com .  You can love or hate their language classroom setups, but bottom line, they CAN connect you with native speakers of a wide variety of languages.  Many are more than willing to help and some may want your assistance in learning your native tongue.  You get to gain a skill and build karma helping someone- talk about a win-win.  UPDATE: Livemocha closed last year, but a new website is in its place: www.hellolingo.com.  I have not checked it out much, but it does appear to be a good language exchange site.  I also recommend italki because you can hire professional teachers, community tutors, or find free advice from fellow language learners.
  • b)  Check out Wikipedia.  That front log in page?  It lists a TON of language options.  Do all of them have a bunch of articles?  No.  Is it a start?  You bet.
  •  c) Go to Google Translate and learn a few words.  It’s not perfect, I realize this.  But if you can learn the word for “news”, you’ll be on your way to both audio and reading input in short order.

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3.  Find SOMEONE to practice/learn with

This goes along with the last one, but merits its own mention.  Languages are about interaction with one another.  It is VERY difficult, though not impossible, to do it all on your own.  If you can, make friends with a native speaker.  Again the above resources (as well as more I’ll share over time) can help you do that even over a great distance.

If not, see if you can find a friend who also wants to learn your language.  While native input is great, even someone at your own level can be a great help.  Generally, no two people have the same strengths and sometimes talking about points of a language that you find confusing with someone else can bring great clarity.

If no one in your immediate circle is interested, turn to social media.  Tumblr and Facebook are both great starting points for finding people interested in your language.  Share ideas, resources, frustrations, etc…  E-mail, instant message, Skype if you feel comfortable.  Part of this whole adventure is communicating with new people, and while it may be a bit scary at first, I promise you’ll be glad you did.

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4. Make it fun

If all your language learning becomes is reviewing flashcards and staring at grammar charts, you will likely burn out quick.  (Unless you are an uber grammar nerd, in case carry on my brother/sister!)  While both of these may be necessary from time to time, try to inject pieces of fun into your language learning.  You enjoy Facebook and Twitter anyhow?  Put Facebook in your target language or follow some celebrities on Twitter in your new tongue.  Love Manga or fanfiction?  Search for Manga raws (those in the original language) and try to puzzle out a word or two.  Search on AO3 by your target language- you MIGHT even find a translated copy so that you can compare the version in your L1 to that in your L2.  Listen to silly vlogs, watch god-awful but heart-touching telenovelas, find a comedian or two.

Find the fun in language study and you’ll seldom have to search for motivation.

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5. Don’t Buy it to Shelve it

I mentioned this in my first blog but I will probably continue to beat this particular horse.  PLEASE do NOT spend your hard earned cash just to fill your bookshelf with a bunch of resources you don’t use.  I’ve done it and my wallet likes to remind me often.  If you find a resource you think can help you, by all means GET IT.  But recognize quality  over quantity.  It is often better to spend $50 on a really good resource than $10 on a slapped together phrasebook.

 AND there are LOTS of really great free resources which can keep your costs low.  Hello Internet and Thank You!  🙂

If you need help picking out a good resource, try checking out reviews online or look for the fellow polyglot in the language section.  You can always recognize us- we are the ones RE-ORGANIZING the section because some moron put the Hebrew book in the Chinese section and the Arabic book in ASL section and … well, you see where I’m going with this.  Even if we haven’t studied your language, we probably can judge a book by its table of contents, illustrations/diagrams, and other features.  We love to help newbies, so feel free to ask!

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6. Keep it Real, Yo

Let me state that as a Spanish Language teacher, I am actually a big fan of textbooks.  I think they can be invaluable in helping someone who is overwhelmed with the concept of learning a new language organize their studies and give them a general pathway.  That said…

Authentic material is an ABSOLUTE MUST if you want to learn your language right.  You need to be exposing yourself to native speech and text as soon as possible.  Fortunately, Mr. Internet is happy to serve.  I strongly recommend YouTube videos and Tweets to the new language learner- they’re short and manageable, easily fitting in the 10 minute every day time slots I mentioned earlier.  News articles and videos are also great sources, as well as television websites in your L2.  (These often feature short commercial trailer type clips of shows as well as synopses and reviews.)  Find something that intrigues you and check in regularly.  Authentic input helps you get beyond the formal language of the textbook into the everyday colloquial speech you will more likely encounter.

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7. Check in with Your “Why”

A friend of mine was recently discussing his Japanese study with me.  He told me how he had started learning Japanese so he could better understand the various Anime shows he loved so much.  Yet as his study progressed, he found himself watching less and less Anime.  He also found himself often starved for motivation to continue with his study.

“I spent all this time learning this language FOR THIS PURPOSE.  Then I didn’t use it.  How dumb was that?”

Why did you pick this language in the first place?  For work, for fun, for a significant other?  Did you like an aspect of the culture or want to travel to this place?  Whatever your why is, make sure it is intricately tied into your language practice.  Post a travel brochure in your study area, whisper a sweet nothing to your partner once a week in their native tongue, read about that unique cultural attribute in your new tongue (or a mixture thereof).  Keeping your why an integral part of what you are doing will help you keep your eye on the prize and sustain motivation.  I’m glad to report my friend is watching more Anime again and finding study easy once more.

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8. Remember, the Tortoise Won

We live in a world of instant gratification.  We want something, we go after it, we get it (or we don’t), we move on.

Language learning doesn’t work that way.

You are going to have days where it seems like every single vocabulary word you’ve bothered to learn just flew out of your head.  You are going to have times when the grammar doesn’t make sense, or you’re tired and stressed from your job and don’t want to put in the time, and you WILL have days (or even weeks) where you say “To hell with this” and ignore your lovely language in favor of socializing, TV, or other distracting pursuits.

 This is OKAY.

It’s important to remember that learning a language is a lifelong endeavor.  You’ll never be perfect, never know every single word, not even in your own native tongue.  And if you think about it, that really takes the pressure off.  You have the rest of your life to learn this and so, if today is bad, you CAN come back tomorrow and get it right.

This is NOT an excuse to skip a week of practice.  Rather, it’s a recognition that there is no finish line to race toward; only slow and steady progress toward a series of goals you set for yourself.  That’s how you learn a language.

 

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A cool pic of fellow (and far more famous) Polyglot Benny Lewis.

I don’t claim to be an expert, just a fellow polyglot reporting from the trenches.  These worked for me; I hope they can give you some guidance.  I’d love to hear from any of you about your own “language learning” rules.  Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Live Long and Polyglot On, Ya’ll.  🙂

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 03/25/14.

When You Look in the Mirror

Last week I wrote about what I see as the #1 reason why many people don’t learn languages.  They start off with the best of intentions, but don’t actually make consistent  use of the tools they acquire.

This IS a huge reason why many people don’t end up being the bodacious bilinguals they want to be.  But there is a sadder reason why others don’t achieve it.

They don’t think they can.

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I have met so many people who tell me they just don’t have what it takes to learn a language.  Their reasons often include:

–       I’m not smart enough.

–       My memory sucks.

–       I just don’t have a “knack” for languages.

–       I’m too old.  (Often spoken by people under 40.)

This saddens me folks, because scientifically speaking you absolutely DO have a knack for languages.  Your brain is hard-wired to process it- it’s been doing so since you were born.  If you competently speak your first language, then you ARE capable of speaking a second or even a third or more languages.

(To those worried about not possessing an innate ability or talent for languages, I’d like to mention that linguists are actually in hot debate over whether or not such a thing actually exists.  The two primary professors of my graduate program in TESOL studies differed greatly.  My advisor did NOT believe there was such a thing as “innate talent for languages” while my other professor did think some people had more of a knack for it than others.  I’ll debate this topic at some point with a few polyglot friends of mine but for now take comfort in the fact that there have been NO conclusive studies to show that certain people have any more talent for languages than others.  You CAN do this.)

Intelligence and memory do help.  I’d be lying if I told you otherwise.  BUT intelligence is multi-faceted and where it seems inadequate in one area, it often more than makes up for it in another.  Memory can be improved and there are a plethora of ways to do so.  (Some will be discussed here.)  But also realize this- you really only need about 500 words to start reading and speaking at a basic level in any language.  That sounds like a lot until you realize the average language has 250,000 words.  That means you only need to learn 0.2% of the vocabulary available in order to really get started.  I promise once you get started, vocabulary will generally add itself naturally to your mental inbox, just like it does in English.

(Sidenote- English, last I checked, has more than 1 million words still listed as in effective use.  You speak this language without knowing all of them- you can do it for another.)

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(For the record- I love this lady.  She kept it real.  I don’t mean any disrespect in posting this.)

Finally, to my favorite MYTH to crush.  “Young people learn languages faster… you’ll never be bilingual if you didn’t learn as a child… I’m too old.”  This is one misconception that I’d love to annihilate from the planet because it is absolutely, completely, 100% FALSE.  That’s right, folks.  Your age does NOT impair your ability to learn language.

 

 

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In fact, studies have shown that adults are capable of learning languages much FASTER than their kid student counterparts.  Why?  You have all this awesome background knowledge to help you!  You know by this point how to study (though we could all use a few pointers in a new subject area), you know a first language solidly and can make connections across languages, and you even have a wide array of mental images and memories that you can attach new information to, helping your brain access it faster and more efficiently.

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The ONLY aspect of language where children excel beyond adults is in pronunciation. As we age, the cilia in our ears decrease. That’s why you can’t hear as high of frequencies with age.  This also means your ability to discern nuances between sounds (specific phonemes) also decreases. However, you are still more than capable of speaking the language within the “range of acceptability”- i.e. in a manner that native speakers can
understand you.

The big difference between kid and adult learners is kids don’t consciously realize they are learning a language and they often feel they HAVE to learn the language in order to get what they want.  If Mom only speaks Spanish (at least to them), then if they want milk, by golly they’ve got to learn that word leche.  We learn what we have to in order to satisfy our own needs and desires.  I am certain at some point in your career you have been tasked with something you were uncertain how to do.  (If you haven’t, *SPOILER ALERT*, you will be.)  Your choice was learn how to do the task or find another job.  I’m guessing most chose the former.

Okay, I’ve rambled enough.  What’s my point?

My point is this- if you look in the mirror everyday and the person you see is someone incapable of learning a new language, then my friend you’ve lost before you’ve even begun.  As Henry Ford once said:

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Most of us life-long learners like to make goals and that is fantastic.  What’s important is to remember there are three kinds of goals: appearance, performance, and identity.  (Please see this blog for a way more thorough and much better explanation than I’m about to give.)

Appearance goals are the ultimate achievements. Your appearance goal as a polyglot is likely a visual image of yourself conversing easily with natives of your target language. This is great- but ultimately you don’t have a lot of control over this BIG goal. The control you do have comes from achieving a series of smaller goals that all contribute to it.

These are called Performance goals. This could be to learn twenty words a week, or spend ten minutes a day listening to the news your L2, or even read the newspaper in your new language once a month.  These are tangible, actionable pieces that are invaluable to you achieving your ultimate, appearance goals.  But before you start creating these, there is one more set of goals you HAVE to address.

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Identity goals are, in my humble opinion, the KEY to achieving the rest of this puzzle. This is about how you see yourself.  Are you someone who is incapable or incompetent at learning languages?  Or do you see yourself as a future polyglot?  Do you look in the mirror and see an explorer ready to tack a new set of words and syntax, a voyager into the lands of verbs unknown? If you start seeing the potential in yourself, the rest of the goals are going to be MUCH easier to achieve.

NOTE- I said easier and not easy.  You still have to do the work and there will be days you don’t want to.  But if you see yourself as capable of mastering your L2, if you stop seeing your brain as an obstacle and rather as a fantastic tool, you CAN become the polyglot of your own dreams.

Now, for a bit of tough love before I sign off.  Many people use the “I can’t learn a language” phrase to mask this reality: “I’d like to be able to speak another language but I don’t want to put in the work.  To these people let me say this:

It is perfectly OK if you do not feel you have the time, energy, or motivation to devote to learning a new language.  What is NOT okay is perpetuating the idea that some people are incapable of doing so.

Every time you say that about yourself, others hear it and absorb that message.  Particularly young ears.  They become convinced that the ability to pick up a new language is something “you’ve either got or don’t.”  And far too early students convince themselves they don’t got it.  That’s the sad part.

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Be honest with yourself.  Do you really WANT to learn a new language, to the point that you are willing to make the relationship sacrifices I discussed last week?  If not, fine.  Just admit that to yourself and others.

But if you are, do NOT let anyone, especially your inner demons convince you that you can’t.  You are more than capable, and with the right set of tools, you are unstoppable.

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Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 03/17/14.

The Parable of the Wannabe Polyglot

Once, long ago, an aspiring but disillusioned polyglot sought out the Keeper of the Languages.  It was a long and arduous journey, but the Seeker brought snacks so all was well.  When at long last the Seeker found the Keeper of the Languages, the wannabe polyglot knelt at the Keeper’s feet.                             image

“Oh your Linguintastic Awesomeness, I have traveled long and far to ask of your wisdom.  I too wish to reach Multilingual Nirvana but alas nothing I have tried has worked.

I bought language dictionaries.  I collected youtube videos.  I signed up for classes on Coursera and LiveMocha.  I even took out a second loan and bought Rosetta Stone!  Yet still I am but a single language speaker.  What is the SECRET, oh great Keeper of the Languages?”

The Keeper looked down at the Seeker, smiling in a knowing fashion. Then the Great Fountain of Linguistic Knowledge spoke:

“My child, I hear that you have gathered many tools.  But, may I ask, have you actually USED any of them?”image

This parable is a direct derivative of the various people who have asked me what they need to do to learn a language.  People always ask me WHICH tools they need to achieve their goal.  Certainly some tools ARE better than others (otherwise this blog would be moot), yet I can’t help but feel they are missing the point.

The secret to successfully learning a language isn’t so much about the tools; it’s about the commitment.image

Language is a DAILY practice- it requires consistent nurturing and tune-up.  I have watched people spend hundreds of dollars on software programs and books, and then watched all of it gather dust on shelves.  Rosetta Stone does not work if one leaves the CDs in the box.  Same goes for paying/signing up for courses and not showing up.

A fellow polyglot friend and I once joked that languages become significant others.  The plus side is there are no laws against polyamory with a set of abstract concepts, so you don’t have to worry about committing to more than one.  Bear with me as I expand on this crazy metaphor.

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First, you flirt with a language.  You eye it across the bar- wow those words are beautiful.  And check out that syntax!  You’re smitten and you check out a few webpages or thumb through a book or two at Barnes and Noble.

Next comes dating your language.  For those fearing rejection, languages are always up for a good time, though some play hard to get a bit more than others.  You gather resources, you play around a bit, you get native speaker friends to teach you a few words.  It’s light, it’s fun, you wonder where these words have been all your life.                             image

Then reality hits you.  You are in a significant relationship and you don’t really know when that happened.  All you know is this beautiful abstract phenomenon has a hold of your wallet and your time, but you’re not as sure about your heart.  You’ve learned enough to hold basic survival conversations- are you sure you want any more out of this relationship?  It’s time to either put a ring on it or see other grammar charts.

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(This stage can be particularly interesting if you’re on your 3rd or more language.  My friend equated working on his 3rd language as feeling almost like he was cheating on his 2nd.  Obviously his time was now being split and he felt like he had neglected the 2nd language some in the process of courting the 3rd.  I equated the 3rd to being his mistress.  Again, the good news is that languages are wonderfully accepting and lack the jealousy found in most relationships.  Therefore, you can split your time as you desire- guilt-free!)

Finally, if you do decide to make a life-long commitment to your language, you will find some similarities to taking on a spouse.  It will require your time and even some monetary investment.  You will have good times and bad times (“Why the *BLEEP* do I have to learn subjunctive to stay with you?  Screw your irregular verbs!  I hate your lack of consistent pronunciation!).  You will take trips together, meet other couples (fellow polyglots get easier to spot with time), and chase a variety of dreams together.  And if you really love your language, you will find this commitment to be one of the most fulfilling of your life.

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So my friends, if you stumbled upon this blog wanting to know THE SECRET to learning languages, this is what I offer you.

Be prepared for a SIGNIFICANT commitment.  One that will be with you daily from now on.  Be prepared to give time to your language and be prepared to make some sacrifices.  

From personal experience, I can promise you this.  The rewards far outweigh the costs.  I strongly recommend embarking on a tryst with a language today.

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Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 03/11/14.

Loving Languages or A Wordy Romance

If I had to blame someone, I guess it would be Muzzy.

Those simple commercials with the green, furry, and friendly monster where the girl just a wee bit older than myself spoke perfect French?   They managed to ignite a fire. 

It started off innocently enough.  I’d go to the library every week in the summer and check out dozens of books and among them would be something language related.  Which language didn’t matter really- some weeks it was American Sign Language, others it was Spanish, on more than one occasion it was Japanese.  We lived in a small town and therefore the language learning options weren’t exactly plentiful, but I made my way diligently through what WAS available, poor pronunciation be damned. 

Then came an ACTUAL language class- high school Spanish I.  I found out languages weren’t a simple “take Spanish word A and replace English word A” process.  They were living, breathing organisms complete with unique grammatical structures and nuances of inflection and pragmatics and different body language and more!  I’d always loved grammar (I was that weird kid who LIKED diagramming sentences) and the complexity of my passion just endeared it all the more to me.

My language list was growing out of control, seemingly headed for a heartbreaking crash.  In my late teenage years, I knew I wanted to speak over half a dozen languages and that that number would likely only increase with age.  But I lived in a small town with a small library with only one shelf dedicated to foreign languages (ASL among them) and almost none of those came with grammar explanations or pronunciation tapes.  Surely it was all a pipe dream…

Enter “The Internet.”

Thousands…. Millions of free resources at the click of a button.  Entire websites and databases dedicated to learning languages.  Soundclips and video and native speakers to practice with- I had entered linguistic nerdvana.  Languages I had never heard of suddenly became “must haves” on my list to learn and I gave myself over to the notion that speaking 15 languages before I died was no longer impossible, though possibly improbable.

So here I am at age 29 with a list of 2 mastered languages, 2 in-progress languages, another 8 must-learn languages, and a few more on the “well if I get time…” list.  I have a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education and a Master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) which really should be called a pedagogic linguistics degree.  I’m a polyglot, a linguist, a lover of foreign tongues, and an admirer or accents.  And I want to offer whatever help I can to others like me.  Because while the vast number of resources now available to us linguaphiles is incredible, it also can be intimidating and overwhelming.

The goal of this blog is to help equip our kind with knowledge to wade through the resources and find the ones best suited to our task.  It is also to hold discussions and even rants about language learning and cultural competence and all the myriad of concepts that play into it.

I’m not a believer in “experts.”  I’m a believer in a shared community of learning and resources.  And I’m a believer that learning each others’ languages is the best way to start learning each others’ hearts.

Muzzy stole my heart with a few words in French a long time ago.  Which language has stolen yours?

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 03/03/14.