Product Review- ASLU


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: ASLU (Found at


Type of Product: Website/App

What’s it do: Essentially an ASL training program in a website.  It has lessons, fingerspelling practice, a dictionary, and more.

Languages it offers:  ASL (American Sign Language)  This is taught through standard English, with a sense of immersion placed into the video lessons.

Available Formats: Website:

On the website, there are apps for fingerspelling practice and an ibook, as well as apps for Android.  I have not checked these out myself so I cannot vouch for them, but the site does seem to be constantly expanding to add positive new features.


Strengths: This website is awesome and I could go on about its strengths for days.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • It has a structured syllabus, with a practical layout.
  • It has ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC videos, taught by Bill Vicars.  They are silent, which takes some getting used to, but it’s fantastic to force yourself to really focus in on the signing for that 30 minutes.  Plus, I feel it gives you a sense of how the Deaf actually perceive their language.
  • Each lesson comes with a video, a vocabulary list, a set of example sentences to try (usually with hyperlinks to demonstrations of said sentences), stories to practice, and 2 quizzes.  Talk about a plethora of awesome resources.
  • The lessons have discussions of Deaf culture embedded within them.  This is important, as many hearing people are unaware that there are cultural differences between them and the Deaf.
  • There are in-depth discussions and explanations of ASL GRAMMAR!!!  I can’t stress how important this is- so many resources act as though ASL is “just signed English.”  I cannot emphasize how untrue that statement is– ASL is its own language with its own grammatical structure.  In order to use it properly, one must study this element.
  • The site includes a dictionary and fingerspelling practice, which are both key to learning ASL.  The dictionary links primarily to videos of the signs, which are much more useful than diagrams and written descriptions in my opinion.
  • The site includes encouragement, a suggestion for self-study, opportunities to contact Bill, and more.  It’s truly amazing how many awesome resources this guy has put together.



  • The site is not aesthetically pleasing.  I realize this shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but honestly it was a turn off to me for a long time.  The first time it was recommended to me, I kind of turned up my nose at the apparent “messy layout.”  To be fair, this guy is doing all of this for free and constantly adding new content- trying to do that and make it look all pretty is not an easy task.  Especially when he has a family and a real job, so Mr. Vicars if you are reading this, please understand I’m intentionally nitpicking.
  •  There are some pages missing links.  For example, Lesson 2 has links to the awesometaculor Practice quizzes (20 minute videos of the signs and some sentences with multiple choice answers and it grades you at the end!).  However, I haven’t had this link on any other lesson.  There’s links to the small quizzes (usually done through written descriptions and diagrams).  But not ones to the big quizzes.  It’s no big deal- I just go back through the link on Lesson 2, but it would be better if there was a link for each lesson.  Again, I get that this guy is doing all this for free on his own time, so completely understandable.  He is apparently open to some volunteer coding, so if you have those skills to share and it’s a project you’d be interested in, this is a great chance to build some language karma. 🙂

My Overall Rating and Thoughts?


4.5 Globes out of 5

This site is utterly amazing and I am indebted to Bill Vicars for making ASL learning so easily accessible and fun.  I spent years looking for materials in bookstores and on the web, often only finding “Signed Exact English” materials or fingerspelling practice sites.  I did take two courses in college which helped, but certainly did not cement my learning.  This site has given me new hope and direction in my quest to master ASL.

If I had the computer knowledge, I would gladly offer to help make the site a bit more aesthetically pleasing so that it would get the notice it rightfully deserves.  I’d also love to see the site add a social component to help connect ASL learners (and helpful Deaf persons) so that they can find language practice partners even across the web.  We live in a world with Skype people- this IS an option.  I live in an area where there isn’t much of a Deaf community so finding a language partner online is probably my best option for continued practice.  I could pay for an online tutor, but well, I’m cheap.  Plus I think we all benefit from helping each other.  I’d also love to see some links to quality ASL vloggers on YouTube and related sites.  I struggled to find some- finally locating Trix Bruce and an ASL stories set that have been helpful.  I’d love to know more- I know there are a LOT of great Deaf performers out there who are sharing songs, theatrical performances, and more on the web- I’m just apparently not using the right search terms.

Again though- I’m literally making suggestions to take an already awesome site into the level of Polyglot Perfectionist Nirvana.  Bill Vicars has already created an unbelievably awesome resource and if ASL is of interest to you, you NEED to check it out.


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 06/23/14.

Conducting an Experiment… Mwa ha ha!


So as a language learner and language teacher (and of course, avid Polyglot Blogger extraordinaire 🙂 ), I like to try out new methods and tricks of language learning from time to time just to see what’s fun and/or efficient.  I share a video a few weeks back from a self-described PolyNot who discussed the role of vocabulary in language learning and how one actually needs a lot less words than one thinks in order to start reading a new language.

This got me thinking.  Yes, in theory, in most languages, the first 100 words can really take up a large percentage of text.  Some studies suggest that in English that first 100 words makes up as much as 50% of text.  (Let that sink in friends, it’s a big number.)  One might think they’d found the Holy Grail of language learning hearing that.


But (there always is one) the one thing those studies seem to neglect to mention is that most of those words are function words– that is conjunctions, linking verbs, prepositions, articles, etc…  All the words that are more difficult to define and that your brain doesn’t grab onto as easily- in fact it often just skips them when you’re reading because it doesn’t need them too often.  So the question becomes HOW do we make use of this knowledge in a legitimate way?  If we read big pieces of text, we may recognize the words but not have any sense of meaning.

The answer came to me like a lightning bolt.  Small pieces of text… in everyday language… oh my gosh did somebody say TWEETS?!?


So for the last 3 weeks I’ve started an experiment that I call “A Tweet a Day” (clever titles are my specialty as I’m sure you are all aware by now ;).  Here is how I went about it.

First I found a list of the 1000 most high-frequency words in Japanese.  (Okay I cheated a smidge in that I had a friend of mine who is much more skilled at Japanese find me said list because I trusted his judgement.  I suggest you use this cheat if you have the choice.  If not and you are concerned about finding a quality list, hit me up with your language of choice and I’ll help you find one.)

I then decided that each week I would add 10 words and ONLY 10 words to an Anki deck.  Studies show that most people really only retain 5-10 words max a week in terms of new vocabulary over the long term.  I have a very good memory so I went with 10.  If memorization is a struggle for you, I suggest you start with 5.  Remember, a lot of these beginning words are function words, and therefore aren’t going to come as naturally.  (You can also use old school flashcards or a different SRS system of course.  If you don’t remember what an SRS is, refer to this post I made earlier this year.)

Then each day I logged into Twitter and found a tweet.  I try to just choose one of the early ones on my feed for the day, but as I follow a news group, they tend to monopolize the feed so sometimes I just pick a random Twitteratti that I follow and go with an earlier one from their direct feed.  I can hear the panic already: “How do I find people to follow if I don’t know the language yet?”


I suggest finding music artists and sports stars first, as well as maybe 1 major news outlet.  Usually if you do a quick Google search of the country of your language (or one of them) and the word “musician”, “athlete”, or “news”, a Wikipedia article or two will lead you in a solid direction.  After that, Twitter will often send you lists of suggestions to follow.  I tend to click on ones with interesting pictures- I can always UNFOLLOW them if they turn out to be stupid.  (Yes, you CAN unfollow- social media need not consume your soul with overwhelming amounts of information to read!)

(I’d stick to only one news outlet solely because those suckers post A LOT.  BBC Mundo and NHK flood my newsfeed to the point that I can’t find anyone else by skimming it.  They are, however, solid sentences with actual correct grammar, so they have their pros as well as their cons.)

Lastly I copy and paste the Tweet into a OneNote Journal I set up for this purpose.  You could physically copy it down, which would actually be good for your memory, but I’m lazy hehe.  I then break my reading into 3 steps.

FIRST, I do a cold “read” on the tweet.  I label this pass 1 and I attempt to mark/translate any words I know off the top.

SECOND, I run through my Anki flashcards (if I have any due that day).  I then take a second crack at translating what I can of the tweet.  This usually includes writing a quick guess at what the gist of the Tweet probably is.

LASTLY, I get a Google translation of the tweet. I know I know, Google translate is not always accurate and if you have a better option, use it.  Sometimes I ask the aforementioned friend for a translation but he’s got a life and isn’t always available. Usually for 140 characters or less, Google can manage something that I can draw a solid translation from.  I then make a few notes to myself about what I understood, what I misunderstood, and whether I’m making progress.

Today, after having only entered 30 words thus far into the deck, I managed to translate half of a news tweet correctly.  I may have looked something like this:


The best parts of this?  At 140 characters, I’m not overwhelmed by trying to read something with such little vocabulary knowledge.  It also takes me less than 10 minutes generally to do all the above steps, with about 20 minutes on the day I put in new vocabulary.  It’s simple, it’s daily, and it’s practical.  Yes, you will run into slang and bad grammar but to be honest, that’s part of learning how to speak and interact like a native speaker.   I’m finding it a fun addition to my language learning routines.

So that’s my current language learning experiment in progress.  I’d love to hear if any of you have any such experiments underway and what the results have been.  Feel free to inbox me with that or any other feedback and suggestions.  Until then, Polyglot out!


Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 06/17/14.

Language Binging- The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly


Hello, my name is Colleen and I’m a language addict.

     Yes, you read that right.  I confess- I’m hopelessly addicted to linguistic play in multiple tongues.  I crave grammar charts and vocabulary lists.  I lose my mind over multi-lingual adaptations of my favorite Disney tunes.  I can’t help but organize the language learning materials every time I visit Barnes & Noble.

Normally, I manage to keep my addiction under control.  I stick to one language at a time and take small sips occasionally throughout the week.  But now and again, I find myself on a language binge.


What is a language binge, you ask?

I define it as the period of time when one goes a bit “language” happy.  For myself, I consume loads of material in a variety of languages in a very short time.  This week for example, I’ve cycled between my Japanese study materials, ASL videos, Spanish telenovelas, and of course, standard English input.  Beyond that, I find myself perusing Italian learning blogs and contemplating French words, and wondering if Swahili is really my best choice for an African language.  In short, I’ve been going overboard in my language studies.

The question I put forth today then is:  Is this a bad thing?


  My loyal followers can probably guess my answer by now… it depends.

     A friend of mine and I were discussing this recently.  He’s been finding himself poking here and there at a variety of new languages, while still focused on learning Mandarin.  Korean and Spanish both have his eye but he hasn’t decided to commit yet.  He wondered whether by spending time looking at new languages if he was hurting his Mandarin study.  After all time spent looking up the Korean writing system or discussing Spanish verb conjugations is time he’s not spending studying his current language, so it’s wasted, right?

Not necessarily.   We talked about it, as I’m in a similar space right now.  And we both came to a conclusion- looking around at other languages was actually helping re-invigorate our interest and appreciation for the languages we were currently working on.  In turn, this meant we not only put in our daily study time on our current languages, but also approached the time with more enthusiasm and drive.  Personally, I get more out of my learning if I’m excited about it.

 image(I mean, look at how excited these two are!  Don’t you just want to join their thirst for knowledge?!?)

    You see, when you’re a linguaphile (someone who adores languages and their structures in and of themselves), you sometimes get bored looking at the same language day after day.  You love your language, you do.  But the verb conjugations just won’t seem to stick or you swear you’ll never draw those ideograms quite correctly.  Taking a break to look at another language can help remind you why you became interested in the first place.

Sometimes it can even lead to random breakthroughs.  Personally I finally learned to roll my “rr”s in Spanish after learning to sing in Italian for a Solo & Ensemble piece.   Comparing the honorifics and social niceties of Korean may help you better grasp the system in Japanese.  Or maybe you’ll just learn a cool new word- libélula is a particular favorite of mine. 😉


So what’s the downside to a language binge?  It can turn into language burnout if you aren’t careful.  You can actually get sick of all that new as quickly as you got excited.  Moreover, you can become overwhelmed.   You can convince yourself that you are going to actively learn all the languages right now!  And then become very frustrated when you realize you probably can’t juggle that many tongues at once.


The key is to use your language binge wisely.  Let it be a source of excitement and wonder but don’t let a few days of exploring turn into obligatory daily web searches.  When the binge stops being fun, it stops being useful.  The same is NOT true of steady language learning.  There will be days when you don’t feel like doing flashcards on your target language, but should recognize that it’s good for you to do them anyway.  But a binge is different- it’s an opportunity to try on a bunch of different linguistic systems but not necessarily buy any of them right then.  And that’s why when the fun is gone, it’s time to go home while you still have your wallet and your dignity.  Your target language will be waiting there, a cup of tea and an understanding smile ready to greet your return.

Hope you all are reaching your Polyglot Potential this summer.  Thanks for reading and never forget- POLYGLOT POWER!


Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 06/09/14.

Live Teacher Revives Dead Language

This is a guest post from my father, who was kind enough to write about his experiences learning Latin back in high school.  Originally posted 6/3/14.

I officially attempted to enter ancient Roma via freshman Latin class in the fall of 1967. I had casually encountered Romulus and Remus the prior year in what would now be referred to as an exploratory eighth grade foreign language experience. Not all experiences are welcoming. My eighth grade encounter was one of discomfort. We paid tuition, one quarter to attempt readings from a textbook which appeared to have been printed on Guttenberg’s press. We also grappled at matching accurate Latin vocabulary with English phrases. This all occurred in a hot classroom, with tweeting birds on a few blue sky spring Saturdays. When a boy’s heart is out the window, his powers of concentration have met their kryptonite.

       It is a safe bet that no reader of this blog has less foreign language expertise than I. Even with that sour milk taste in my mouth, I still signed on to a couple years of Latin in high school. I remember that pair of years fondly. Not due to my expertise but because my instructor was in love. In love with a dead language. At the time, I expected that she was old enough to have once chatted with Romulus and Remus. She had that same face of age that I currently notice in my mirror. However, she had the linguistic soul of a young romantic.

       The language experiences of my youth suggest to me that nothing entices linguistic learning like the enthusiasm of an instructor smitten with their subject. My teacher always expected us to eventually drink the Kool-aid and live to love Latin. She was not entirely successful but nor was she a failure. She tweaked our interest against long odds. She paddled upstream against the negative current that our exploratory class had instilled.

       If there are any morals to this story, I expect that they are the following. In a first language experience, it may be more effective to partner with a child’s sense of play than to attempt to oppose and conquer it. An ugly taste for one’s subject can be washed away with the proper dose of one’s soul-felt enthusiasm. It is possible to follow language failure with language success. Finally, Rome was not built in a day. It just took me two years of an enthusiastic teacher to finally understand that my Latin text was telling me that Romulus and Remus were Roma’s founders.

Many thanks for his comical yet very accurate post.  I hope you all enjoyed!  

What I’ve Learned Coming Back to Language Teaching

So this year I came back to language teaching- Spanish specifically.  It has been four years since I taught language.  In the space in between I had focused on Special Education and getting my Master’s in TESOL.  Those experiences have greatly changed the way I approach my language classroom.  In my opinion, both have made me better at what I do.
So as I wrap up grading the final papers of the year, I am going to selfishly use this blog post as a chance to reflect on what I’ve learned this year as I dove back into this lovely, crazy field.

  1. Kids are never too old for puppets.  I’ve used puppets in every language class I taught and those included students from preschool age to high school.  Here’s the thing- somehow by using a puppet, the kid is less nervous about speaking.  It seems to provide some level of cognitive distance that allows them to feel safer taking risks and making mistakes.  Other teachers are doing similar things with avatars- if you are interested in this idea, check out this blog post.
  2. No matter how much I try, I can’t  understand why some kids will never understand basic formulas for sentence structures.  And no matter how much I can’t understand it, some kids are never going to get those formulas.  I’ve got to use work arounds.
  3. Joining Twitter was the single best decision I’ve made as a language teacher and learner.  That scares me.
  4. Food continues to be a powerful motivator.
  5. Letting go of some control makes my classroom a better place.  It is hard to do and I still require a high level of discipline- but interaction is essential for kids to learn and I’ve seen more students learn from each other this year than ever before.
  6. The best compliments you’ll get while teaching often come from those you least expect.  A student who never seemed to try all that hard said to me “You know for the first time I find myself thinking in Spanish outside of class.  I start taking notes in Spanish in the class after this.”  That is pretty cool.
  7. Some concepts are going to take the time they are going to take. The past couple of years this school’s Spanish program has been majorly disrupted.  Therefore the students are “behind” where I want them to be for their level and I tend to rush through a lot of concepts.  Surprise Surprise- they don’t retain the stuff I rush through.  I’ve got to realize that sometimes a little really well is better than a lot half-arsed.
  8. That said- there is a time to move on and realize exposure is sufficient  We went over commands in Spanish 3 this year.  In my opinion, due to the conglomeration of rules surrounding commands, this can be one of the toughest topics for students to pick up.  It was for this class for sure.  They struggled, they moaned, there was gnashing of teeth.  Finally we moved on to something else.  You know what?  It was fine.  They got the next concept without issue, they could still recognize the pieces of commands they needed, and the world went back to a relative normal acquisition of Spanish.  Sometimes exposure is enough.
  9. Students put a lot of stock in vocabulary and worry about not knowing enough.  I plan to show the video I posted last week in class next year to help combat this.  There are hundreds of thousands of words in most languages- you simply can’t know them all.  But the right 6000 will go a long way.
  10. Times have changed SO much in just four years and it fills my heart with joy.  When I started teaching Spanish right out of college, the #1 obstacle I faced was students saying “Why the heck do we have to learn this?  Everyone speaks English anyway!”  I can proudly say not ONE of my students ever stated that this year.  My students seem to understand that learning languages is valuable to them in both professional and personal development.We’ve come a long way from a principal who suggested it was insane that I made my students speak the language to a principal who reprimanded a student who continuously complained about me speaking Spanish with our foreign exchange student.  (**Important note- I always translated what we were saying so that students did not feel left out or talked about.  Not that I should have to.**)

I can honestly say I fell back in love with language teaching this year.  I love my job in general because it let’s me pursue both my passions- language teaching and special education.  Despite being very ready for a much needed break (yay summer!) I am actually excited about preparing new curriculums and materials for next year.

For now my Polyglot peeps, I must bid you Auf Wiedersehen so that I may grade the 9000 papers waiting for me.  (Only slight exaggeration.)  If any of you teach, I’d love to hear your reflections as well.  Students, feel free to share the best or worst strategies your teachers have used.  Meanwhile, keep that language groove going!

(Who doesn’t love hitting the sample music buttons for these things at Wal-mart and Target? 😉 )
Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 05/26/14.


Linguistic Vocabulary Unleashed

       Okay I may have oversold with the title.  Tonight I’m just going to explain 2 simple Linguistic terms.  These terms however can explain a lot of confusion many people have about what it means to “learn a language.”

Language learning can be looked at as having 2 stages, especially for those who are still in the world of academia.  These two stages are often referred to as BICS and CALP.

BICS- Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

These are your basic social and functional language skills.  Introducing yourself, making a purchase at a local store, even basic dating talk all fall in this category.  These skills tend to be picked up relatively quickly.  They are full of scripted phrases with easily predictable responses.  Most students in an immersion environment master these skills in 1-3 years.

Unfortunately for many ESL students, this leads teachers and peers to the erroneous believe that they “speak English” and therefore should be able to do the same level of work as everyone else.  What they fail to take into account is that while these students have indeed mastered daily life language skills, they have not yet mastered the second stage of language learning which is crucial in the academic arena

CALP- Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

THIS is key.  This is learning all the academic vocabulary necessary for your scholastic endeavors.  This includes both contentvocabulary (specific words by subject area such as allusion in a Literature class or photosynthesis in Biology) as well as structural vocabulary (words like paraphrase, summarize, and compare) which are necessary to complete academic tasks.

Many native speakers struggle with this type of vocabulary.  We often see students who come from homes with less print-rich environments (i.e. less reading and books available) struggle with picking up these new vocabulary terms.  One could argue that they have to learn a new sociolect (think dialect but associated with socioeconomic status).  This type of language is much more difficult for ESL students to pick up, as well as language learners of all tongues.  On average it takes students 5-7years to pick up CALP in their new language.

This why a student may very well be able to shoot the shit about their favorite movies with their peers but not be able to write an effective compare and contrast essay about a book and a film from class.  They may have their BICS but not have fully developed their CALP.

So I think I’ve made it clear why it’s important to understand the difference between these two from a teaching perspective.  But what about as a learner?  Do they matter?

      I think so.  For one thing, understanding the amount of time it takes to pick up each helps one develop a realistic time frame about how long it will take them to do so.  If you want to be able to read scholastic articles in your new language, you are looking at a longer time frame than someone who just wants to order coffee.

For another, I feel like these two can really help someone set their goals in the first place.  Is your goal to be sufficiently sociable in your new language, or do you want to enjoy its literature, history, and other academic contributions?  EITHER IS PERFECTLY OKAY, just one requires a bigger time commitment.  A friend of mine asked me to teach her Spanish.  I asked her what her goals were and she said “I just want to get my BICS.”  Perfect- now I know how to focus your instruction.

In a future post, I’ll talk about the best ways to develop each.  For now, I hope it’s enough to understand the difference and to use this knowledge to help set your goals, pacing, and time frames in realistic ways- enough to challenge, but not so much as to frustrate.

For now, I bid all of you fair followers adieu.  I’m only 1 away from 50- how crazy is that?  Thank you for your support and general linguintastic awesomeness.  Feel free to hit up that message box with your ideas, comments, and tips to share.  Ta Ta For Now!


Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 05/20/14.

My Current Bookmarks

These were my bookmarks as of May 2014.  Things have changed some since then, so perhaps I will update at some point.  But I still think many of these links are useful, so I’m posting it.

Tonight I’m exhausted and so I don’t feel up to explaining Dual Instruction Schools, which was my original plan for a post.  Instead, I’m going to share with you a variety of websites I currently have under my language folder on my bookmarks.  I hope some of these resources will be useful to you.

General Linguistic Info

ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

ACTFL (American Council for Teachers of Foreign Languages) has this guide on ranking students language levels (Novice- Beginner (Low to High)- Intermediate (Low to High) – Advanced (Low to High)).  If you are curious where you stack up, or what is necessary to be considered at different levels, it can be an interesting read, though a bit repetitive in parts.

Living Tongues

This site provides information on endangered languages, a topic near and dear to my heart.  Many languages are being wiped out due to the widespread use of English and other tongues.  (Also as a result of peoples being dispersed due to genocide and commercialization.)  When a language is wiped out, often forms of knowledge and wisdom inherent to the language are wiped out as well.  Please educate yourselves on this topic- as linguists, it is truly a cause to be cognizant of and something to work to change.

Multi-Language Learning Sites


I already gave a product review on this, but it is a still a great beginner site.  It offers several languages in a game like format, with additional opportunities to translate real text.  It primarily offers European languages right now, but they seem to be adding quickly.


I haven’t played with this one yet but it looks promising.  Mostly vocabulary instruction, but it does have several Asian languages, in addition to the European ones. (Small update- I’m a HUGE Memrise user now- so I definitely owe this one a separate article now.)


$$$ Again, one I haven’t used BUT this site hooks you up with one on one tutors for the language of your choice.  It does cost money, but if you are willing to pay (particularly if you are having trouble locating tutors for the language of your choice), what a great find!  It also might be a great choice if you are trying to up your speaking level before a major trip. (Small update- I’ve used the FREE parts of this site now and have looked into tutoring, just haven’t had a need to take the plunge as I currently have a local speaking partner.)




Khatzumoto has been around for a bit but isn’t always easily found by new language learners.  While not a personally a big fan of his method, he does provide a lot of good resources and tips for learning Japanese.  He also shares a lot about how he personally learned Japanese- and who knows?  Maybe his strategies are right for you.  There’s a lot of information there, so pace yourself.  You can also follow him on twitter @ajatt.

Going to admit right now that I am not the best at navigating this site.  However, if you are familiar with video/torrent sites, you probably won’t have lots of trouble.  Basically it is a collection of Japanese videos, both anime and real action J-dramas.  Lots of listening practice!

Lingulift- Top 10 YouTube channels for learning Japanese

Some of these youtube channels are great; others are more culture driven and actually are produced in English.  Still, if you are looking for places to start, a list is always helpful.

Kanji and Kana learning games… need I say more?

Erin’s Challenge

This will be the site I play with FIRST this summer.  Video lessons for beginning Japanese- it looks kickass.  Check it out!



My current FAVORITE site.  Bill Vicars has provided what I’ve searched for over many YEARS- a quality way to learn ASL.  Most local library only offer dictionaries, which fails to expose one to the grammar and structure of ASL.  In addition, I don’t know anyone deaf or hard of hearing in my community to practice with.  This site has given me the tools I need to finally make the progress I’ve wanted for so long.

ASL with Rob Nielson

Some of this site is free, other portions require a fee.  However, quality ASL sites can be hard to find, so here is a good start for your sign language learning endeavors.

Start ASL

Another great starting point, with complimentary workbook.

Described and Captioned Media Program

So what’s this?  Only the motherload of ASL resources.  Consider it a combo of Netflix and Youtube for Deaf culture and media.  There are deaf movies, instructional ASL videos, and documentaries on Deaf culture all available to you.  You do have to sign up- if you are a student or teacher it’s free.


Spanish Proficiency Exercises

Here are some basic Spanish listening opportunities, divided up by level and complete with transcribed copy.  They have a lot of different countries and dialects represented.


This site is geared towards kids.  That said, kids’ materials sometimes jazz up an otherwise monotonous language study routine.  Flashcards can become dull and sometimes you just want something fun.   Why not ignite your inner child with a sing-a-long or storybook read aloud in your new target language?

Well, this is an incredibly long list but I hope you find it useful.  I’d be happy to share any resources any of you find particularly useful- just hit up my mailbox with links and notes so we can share the language love.  And as I’m unable to come up with a clever quote mashup with the words Language or Polyglot, here are some words some cats would like you to learn.


Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 05/13/14.

FL vs. SL: What’s the deal with acronyms?

When one first enters the land of Polyglottia, and particularly if they venture into the forest of Linguistic Lollipops, one tends to find themselves confronted with a lot of acronyms and jargon that are unfamiliar.  Google helps with definitions but these are often lacking in terms of the connotations or extraneous uses of the words in these particular fields.  So it’s our job as long-term Polyglots and Linguists to help newbies learn these new terms.

I’m going to start with a favorite of mine.  I hear people using the terms FL or Foreign Language Education interchangeably with SL or Second Language education on a regular basis.  I completely understand why- on the surface, they appear synonymous.  But as a certified teacher of both forms, I can tell you they most certainly are not.  The difference is all in the environment.

FL (Foreign Language) Education:  This is the type most of us are familiar with.  Foreign Language Education is provided in a location where the target language isn’t a primary language in the area.  For example, when U.S. students take French, Spanish, German, Japanese, or any other language course in high school, this is foreign language education.  The environment does not provide ample opportunities to practice the target language.

SL (Second Language) Education: This is the type of language instruction most immigrant students receive (though not always well).  This is instruction in the majority language of an area (the primary or prestige language), which is used outside of the classroom walls.  Students are getting instruction to help increase the speed at which they learn the language, as well as to assist with grammatical issues.  Students are surrounded by the language in many areas outside of the classroom.  Study abroad situations also provide this to a degree.

Why is it important to understand the difference?

(Forgive me my bad punnery… I get it from my father.)

Well for one, each requires different things from instructors.

FL instruction generally requires some attention to motivation.  Even when a language is likely to help a student with career advancement or other future endeavors, this carrot at the end of a very long stick is seldom sufficient to keep kids learning.  Some will have an intrinsic love of languages and therefore not need their motivation supplemented.  But many will need incentive.  FL language classes require a bit of “edutainment”; that is, striving to make lessons (at least sometimes) fun and innovative.  Games are a big part of a good FL class.  FLclasses also benefit from limited (note: limited, not eliminated) use of the native language.  This is because the FL classroom is the only guaranteed exposure the students have to the language.  It’s also good for an instructor to compile resources (or have their students help compile them) to outside activities where the student CAN practice the language.  This could be youtube channels, ePal websites for e-mail pen pals, conversation clubs, and more.  FL instructors have the tough job of creating a mini world for their target language to exist in, and creating enough incentive for students to want to visit it.

SL instructors have a very different task.  They are helping their student navigate a strange language and often a strange culture.  For this reason, they often don’t have a perfectly set curriculum.  The students’ needs guide instruction far more than any textbook.  In my humble opinion, L1 use should not only exist in the SL classroom, it should be ENCOURAGED as needed.  Now, that doesn’t mean every SL instructor speaks all of their students’ languages.  If you are an ESL teacher in New York City, this is highly unlikely.  But the use of L1 materials can help speed up student learning, decrease stress thus allowing the brain to more rapidly access the L2, and increase students’ general content knowledge, which is key in typical schooling.  (I’m getting on a soapbox here, but it is downright criminal to metaphorically tie a student’s hand behind their back by forbidding use of their native tongue in a second language class.  Students are only being harmed by this process.)  Students have plentiful access to the second language outside of their classroom.  Motivation is seldom an issue- accomplishing daily tasks is generally motivation enough.  In addition, if the classroom is a safe haven for a student, they will be even more motivated to accept the new language and use it more frequently having had opportunities to practice with the teacher.

As a learner, here is what you need to know.  If you are in an FL environment and want to make the most of your language learning, you are going to have make the most of it.  My suggestions are:

  • Try to confine yourself to the L2 as much as possible in this environment, even if your peers aren’t.  If you have a grammar question or such and must ask it in the L1, do so.  But try to speak and write in your L2 as much as possible while there.
  • Seek outside opportunities.  Language clubs are becoming more popular and if your school/university doesn’t have one, there are probably people who would help you start one.  Even setting up a simple conversation hour once a month with a few like-minded friends can help.  I try to set up ASL coffees with friends and Japanese phone calls with a fellow learner once a month.
  • Find outside resources.  Movies are being dubbed in more languages than ever.  Youtube is full of music videos from around the world.  Palabea, LiveMocha, DuoLingo, and more can help you meet people to practice with and provide additional guides to learn from.
  • Set short-term and long-term goals.  Give yourself daily (or at least weekly) reasons to practice.  “I want to understand this anime” or “I want to write a silly note to my friends that my teacher can’t read” are great short-term goals.  (As a teacher, I should strongly discourage you from passing notes in class.  Yet I can’t help but smile as I remember writing notes in Braille to my friends hehe.) Long-term goals might be to take a trip to the country that speaks your language or make a Skype friend with someone from there.  Remember : “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.“ – Zig Ziglar


If you are an SL learner, whether by choice or circumstance, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Breathe.  NO ONE learns a language in a day.  Infants take 5 years to reach true fluency, and 8 years to speak “correctly” even in their native tongue.  It is okay that you feel overwhelmed, just don’t let it drown you.  Keep showing up and keep opening yourself to the new language around you.
  • Ask questions.  Most SL teachers are very student-driven.  They want to help you with the problems you are facing.  If a word boggles you or an expression seems odd, try to write it down and ask about it.
  • Practice with your friends.  As tempting as it is to always slip back into your L1 when with friends who speak it, try to allow some time to practice together.  Because you are all learning, you are less likely to make each other nervous and more likely to offer corrections with kindness.  You also may be able to offer quality explanations to each other as you know the specific differences between your native language and the target language.
  • Seek out language partners.  If you fear trying your new language out, see if there is any way to get connected with someone interested in learning your L1.  There usually are people interested, often those taking FL classes in the same school/university.  This levels the playing field for practice and generally, these people are much more understanding of language difficulties.  They know from experience it can be tough.
  • Spend a lot of time listening.  If speaking scares you, find environments where you can LISTEN to a lot of language.  Hang out in a coffee shop, go to a show, be around people without actually being part of the group.  Yes, it’s eavesdropping but let’s be honest, most of the stuff you’ll overhear is pretty mundane.  But it’s a lot of input and a good chance to get your ears comfortable with the language.
  • Start with routine tasks.  Buy a coffee from the same place every day.  Listen to others give their order and strive to perfect your exchange.  Ask directions from different people (even when you know where to go).   Make routine small talk with a neighbor.  These routines let you work on scripted language phrases that are useful in many situations.  They also become less stressful the more you do them.
  • Trust in the good in people.  This is a hard one.  I know it is.  Few of us LIKE to look like an idiot and many of us have experience at least one frustrated person with our language ignorance when we are first learning.  All I can say though is this: MOST people are kind and MOST people do want you to accomplish your task.  That cashier may look irritated, but she does want you to buy that soda.  (And she may not be irritated at you- minimum wage and on your feet all day is no picnic.)  If you are making an honest effort, trust that most people will make an honest effort to understand you.  And for those who don’t?


To hell with them, because well, they’re punks.   (I’d use foul language here, but some of my high school students have started reading this so I’m trying to keep it clean.)

Whatever your language environment, it IS up to you to make the most of it.  Embrace your situation and make it work for you.  Until next time… Polyglot Out!


Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 05/06/14.

What is Comprehensible Input?

I originally had a link to an article on Everyday Language Learner called “25 Ways to Find or Create Comprehensible Input.”  Sadly, that article no longer appears to be available.  As I substitute, I offer a link to a podcast (with show notes) by Olly Richards (of I Will Teach You a Language) that gives 5 suggestions.

Image result for comprehensible input

When you are starting learning a language, one of the most important lessons you will learn is that you need to surround yourself (or at least occasionally dunk yourself into) comprehensible input. What does this fancy linguistic term mean?

       Coined by Krashen, comprehensible input is defined as just slightly above the level at which a listener can fully comprehend.  The formula given for this is often “i + 1”.  “i” represents the learner’s current ability; 1 represents that little bit extra.

In other words, to really up your listening ability, just immersing yourself in language content may not be the best all time strategy.  Yes, you will learn words, but you are also likely to get frustrated because of how little you comprehend. (Note- motivation and other familiarity factors do play a role here.  If you adore an anime and have seen it 1000 times in English, and then watch it in Japanese, even with it being well above a novice language level, you may easily pick up more simply by having the prior context.  These notes are more for brand new material which you do not have any emotional connection to.)

A better strategy is to find material that is just a bit above your level for regular practice.  I still advocate passively listening to the other materials, but give yourself something solid to work with regularly.

So that’s all I’ve got for tonight folks!  As always, thanks for following and reading my random linguistic ramblings.  Please feel free to hit up my inbox with any ideas, suggestions, or questions!

Peace out my Polyglot Peeps!
Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 04/28/14.


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.



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