Thursday, August 31, 2006


Just got a note from the folks at Bolchazy-Carducci, who publish a lot of classical language stuff, as well as some Slovak (including an extremely thorough compilation of old Slovak folk tales). They are updating their blog ( with Latin quotations (as well as notes on new publications, of course). If you're in the market for Latin wisdom, be sure to drop by. And if you're interested in reading Latin, check out their catalog, which includes some nice stuff for working through Horace, among other things. You can find some reviews for their Latin stuff here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Getting the Most out of YouTube

for your foreign language study

In the olden days - 10 or 15 years ago - if you wanted to learn an exotic foreign language, you could maybe order an obscure title on the language found in Books in Print and procured by way of a STOP order placed at your local bookseller. Now Amazon and others do great things to bring other languages and other worlds home to you. But better even than books and CDs, you can find a wealth of videos from YouTube, among others. But for language study, you're probably going to watch the same video more than once, probably many times. And YouTube doesn't let you save files. What to do? Here's a very short guide for saving and using those YouTube videos.

1. this is, for obvious reasons, the best place to find and view videos. Run searches for, eg, Turkish music, and you'll have a wealth of stuff to look at.

2. if you find a video you like, go back to the search page you found it on, right click on the link, and select "copy link location" (or its equivalent for your browser). Then, paste the URL (the link location you just copied) into the blank on YouTubeX and click download. The video will be downloaded to your computer. This works 95% of the time.

While YouTubeX downloads the video, it may give it the wrong format. Follow the instructions on YouTubeX, but be aware that the file you're looking for may be "get_video..." Use the same instructions for renaming and making the file an ".flv" file (by the way, you can rename the file anything you want, just so it has an ".flv" file extension (the part at the end, like ".doc").

3. Temporary Internet Files: If YouTubeX can't snag a video, but you can play it with YouTube - and you're in Internet Explorer - go to Tools>Internet Options>Settings>[General] tab>Settings>View Files. Look for FLV files and files labeled "get_video..." Right-click on these, select copy, and paste them on your desktop. Rename them as FLVs and with any luck you'll have the videos in your cache.

4. FLV player: This is a player for FlashVideo. The most common one is found here. And it's free. Which means that once you've installed it and gotten familiar with either using YouTubeX or pulling files from your IE cache, you can watch videos as often as you want without downloading or being connected to the net.

5. Bulrak's Metadata injector: To use all the functions (particularly video resizing) on the FLV player, the FLV file must have accurate metadata. Go here and download the converter (FLVMDI) and interface (FLVMDIGUI) (under Downloads), extract them in to the same directory and run FLVMDIGUI on any files that don't resize. Before messing with this one, be sure to read the page you're downloading from. You don't need to understand the technical parts, but you should be sure you understand the warnings so that if something doesn't work you don't get caught by surprise.

A final note: Please do not use the (ridiculously) limited information found here to redistribute copyrighted material, profit from the works of others, yada yada yada. But do enjoy the video distributed at YouTube to get an ear for your language and a picture of the culture in which that language is spoken.

Getting Organized for Language Learning

The best books on language learning always give you a nice long list of tools for language study. Then they tell you that it's better to study in your spare moments but every day than for extended periods but only once or twice a week. The result for me, too often, is to spend those spare moments wishing I had brought, eg, my Turkish dictionary with me. Being organized, for its part, consists in tossing notes, flashcards and dictionary for the same language into my briefcase before heading into the office.

Item 1 on this language learning technique page addresses the problem quite nicely. And gives me an excuse to go to Office Max a little later. One folder per language, I would think, would be great for getting out the door with a sense that "Today I shall work on..."

By the way, thanks to Rebecka at the technique page for letting me know my comments weren't working. And apologies to LinguaFrank for not updating his comments till now - I wasn't receiving notice when comments came in for moderation. Hopefully all will work properly now.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Whenever I try to decide which languages to keep working on and which ones to drop, for some reason German always winds up on the list I'm not giving up on. For some of my languages, I've got a lot of enthusiasm for the language itself. Certainly, for example, I study French because I like speaking French. I enjoy the language, I enjoy the attitudes that come with speaking it, I enjoy its sound. German, by contrast, does not really please my ear, and when I took it in college, though my marks were good, the professor would regularly inform me that it wasn't appropriate to speak German with a French accent, so please speak more distinctly, enunciate all the sounds and speak up!

I study German for two reasons: 1) It reminds me of Anglo-Saxon, which fascinates me, but which lacks native speakers to ever chat up and 2) There are actually things I would like to read in German. For most languages, I've come to feel that for want of true understanding of the language, it's better to read literature in translation than mess with the muddle you'll make of the language if you try to read it on your own. My exceptions - for an English speaker - are: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and possibly the Norse tongues because there are cultural and linguistic affinities enabling you to tune in. On my own list, this narrows to French, German, Italian and Spanish.

The biggest reason for me for learning German is curiosity about certain texts that I would love to have read in the originals. Note the grammatical distinction: Douglas Adams said he didn't particularly like writing novels but greatly enjoyed having written them. There are languages I prefer to have learned and books I prefer to have read. I actually do enjoy slogging through Wittgenstein in the original. His focus on language, meaning, how we create meaning, etc, makes for added value in deciphering the original. I've also always wanted to read Herman Hesse in the original, perhaps because the simplicity of style would lend itself to having read some German without being completely baffled. Kant, by contrast, it would be nice to have read. The same goes for Hegel and Freud.

My secondary reason for knowing a little German is that I am half German - My maternal grandparents were Ayers and Gingrich, and the family archives include letters, documents, certificates and a few old miniature leather books. My sister (who does French, Italian, Spanish, German and Lao) and I are the only ones in the family who can even say what they are, never mind what they say.

Since I have my reasons for studying German, this weekend I did. On Friday night, I did the first CD of the German with Michel Thomas set, and Saturday I listened to CDs 2-4. Also on Friday, I ordered Michel Thomas Advanced German. These sets aren't the best for tourist vocabulary or slapdash conversation, but they're good for getting comfortable with the structure of the language and how it works. I wish he'd learnt then made one for Turkish!

The other day the Aspiring Polyglot asked about phrase book usage. If they're all I've got for a language, there's little I can do with it, but I love them for languages where I've learned a few structures but need something to talk about. In that case, I can find phrases with patterns I know for reinforcement and find words to plug into the patterns to start making meaningful phrases of my own, which is both what language is for and the point, I believe, at which you can start to count yourself at least a little bit capable with a language.

Having spent a couple hours on structure with Michel Thomas, last night I decided it was time for some conversational stuff. I dug out my Rick Steves' German Phrase Book and Dictionary (I like the "Chatting" sections in his phrasebooks), flipped through at random and built bigger phrases from those in the book. For example, the short phrase "Das gefällt mir" (I like that) is a building block for "Es tut mir Leid, aber das gefält mir nicht, weil es zu schwer ist" - I'm sorry, but I don't like that because it is too difficult.

One other note: I don't know that many people read this. In fact, I've seen the numbers and not many do. However, for those who don't have language journals, I highly recommend them. Even if there's only one person reading this - me - it provides for a certain measure of accountability. Online is nice, because the possibility someone else will read means that you want to keep it updated, and that means motivating yourself to do a little something every week, if only so that you'll have something to write about at least once a week. On that note, I'm off to CD 5 to find out what the phrase I built above isn't quite right. See you next week if not before.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Prepare for two steps forward - take one step back

The hardest part of learning a foreign language isn't the learning. It's continuing to learn. If on your first day you learn 10 words, mathematically speaking you have increased your vocabulary infinitely. If you keep adding ten words, your vocabulary doubles, then goes up 50%, then up 1/3... but ever diminishing.

With Mandarin, I have reached the point where the distance I have to go looms large and the distance I have come no longer seems so exciting. And so it was time for a boost. This afternoon I got up to the City (San Francisco) and looked at the four languages I'm working with right now:

1. Spanish - because it's all around me and I can't help it, though I'm not especially motivated to learn a language I speak every day.

2. German - because I've sworn I'm going to actually learn it for 12 or 14 years now, but never gotten to it.

3. Mandarin - because it's the first language I've seriously applied myself to in a while, as opposed to dabbling.

4. Turkish - because it's on my list and I've felt inspired about it lately.

Not being made of money, I decided to settle on two. Spanish almost got a slot because I found a reader that was easy enough for me to think in Spanish while thumbing through. But the enthusiasm wasn't there. As usual, there wasn't much for German. Nichts for German.

For Mandarin, though, I found the Speak-in-a-Week and realized I didn't need something to take me further so much as something to remind me how far I'd come. After reading the first two lessons in less than half an hour, I was more aware of just how much I can say and that I haven't truly wasted the last few months. I feel much better about my Mandarin now and think I may even look at other materials that I've avoided working forward in. But I will definitely read through the next two lessons tomorrow, keeping the language a little fresher and my discouragement down.

For Turkish, I got the Talk Now set. I've been carrying around a notebook and Beginner's Turkish the last few days and have transcribed the dialogues from the first three lessons, as well as stories and poems from These I read through both for practice and to reinforce the idea that I'm capable of reading Turkish, at least at some level. And with the Talk Now set, I quickly racked up perfect scores on the First Words, Colors and Numbers exercises. I'm pumped up about Turkish.

I recommend both my purchases today, but especially for review. And that brings us to today's lesson and tip:

The hardest part of learning a foreign language isn't the learning. It's continuing to learn. To keep yourself going, the best thing to do isn't to push yourself till you burn out, but to come at the language from another angle, reinforcing what you've learned and discovering how much better at it you are than you felt when you hit your most recent plateau.


Ann Althouse is cross about a M. Nerrière's proposal for Globish - a global English simplified for everyday use. Once upon a time, I might have joined Althouse in blustering about someone watering down my language. But for better or worse, there's neither need nor purpose for debate.

I lived in France back when they were trying to get us to listen to balladeurs and all that other nonsense. And I've spent enough time at language study to know that there have been many proposals for simplified languages, from the artificial Esperantoes to Basic English. Althouse should know that Globish was already proposed and years and years ago. It ain't gonna happen.

Here's what will happen: I live in California, outside San Jose. I'm well acquainted with what happens to English when a bunch of non-natives have at it, and while it may be simplified, it's not systematic. Spanish speakers use highfalutin Romance words with the wrong prepositions, Japanese construct sentences perfect save for their absence of articles or properly conjugated verbs and the Chinese make do without verb tenses of any sort. The native speakers, accustomed to this, speak a clear, concise English relatively free of the quainter idioms. When Globish comes, it won't be systematically. Rather, it will pass unnoticed. In fact, it may already have happened.

Zahmenof, in founding Esperanto, thought to combine multiple elements from multiple languages to win people over. No need for the help, though, people can take care of this for themselves and will. The future is an English of simpler construction, sparser vocabulary and less colorful idioms, but in which new metaphors about technology, mass media and the like offer a new and different richness. I don't know whether the idiom will go fully global, but whether or not it does has little to do with either the protestations of purists or the aspirations of simplifiers. It will come, if it comes, all on its own.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Indonesian and Malay

Way back in college, I was looking for exotic languages of interest. A brief glance at Sanskrit had convinced me that was not the way to go. Russian had lost its exoticism since I had Lithuanian roommates. And then I pulled from the shelves a little book, Teach Yourself Malay (an older edition, now out of print). Its opening words:
Malay is an easy language. Bafflingly easy. After ten weeks, you will think you know all there is to know. After ten years, you know you never will.
I'm quoting from memory, and perhaps imperfectly, but there's the gist: a language that's easy to start and impossible to finish. I was hooked by the idea, and took the book home. But then finals week came and Malay was dropped.

In the years since, I have remained fascinated by Malay, and by its sister language, Indonesian, a grown up and independent variant of Pesar Malay (Bazaar Malay - traders' jargon for people who didn't know Malay but spoke it anyway).

Malay and Indonesian are fun for their simplicity of grammar and expression, but they can be as frustrating to read as they are to try at speaking because while the beginning speaker can mumble imperfect phrases that still come to something, the native speaker has at his or her command varieties of expression a beginner will miss out on.

While Malay and Indonesian have a lot in common, they are not the same language. Whenever I am studying, I think I shall do Malay, first because of the Preface to Teach Yourself Malay and second because the resources for it seem to be clearer. But for reasons of practicality, I lean toward Indonesian: It is the second language of an enormous number of people in the most populous predominantly Muslim nation in the world. In reality, I will probably wind up speaking a hodge-podge of the two - not Bazaar Malay but a bizarre Malay that combines the simplified grammar of Indonesian and Malay vocabulary. My long term goals: Newspapers in either language and a shot at deciphering a few pantoum.