Saturday, September 23, 2006

Shopping and Learning - and Lojban!

Polyglottery notes that when it comes to language learning, you can have too many materials, as well as too few. This is exactly where I've found myself of late. I am finishing Mandarin, in a manner of speaking. I'm far from fluent, but am at a stage where I can self-talk comfortably and can even talk to real Mandarin speakers (much less comfortably) about at least some very basic day to day stuff. And a glance at my pile of Mandarin materials could prompt one to reasonably ask if I'm a language addict or a shopping addict who hangs out in the language section.

In recent times, I've found myself fantasizing about finding a language for which there were three good books, one decent audio course and absolutely nothing else, that way I could tackle those four things and know that aside from surfing the net for real life usage, I was done, nothing left to do with the language but enjoy it. This isn't a good attitude for a language addict or someone trying to maintain polyglot status, but when the bookshelves start to sag with books that had one useful chapter tucked within hundreds of pages of lousy grammar explanations, this desire for compactness, if not conciseness, can arise.

This weekend, therefore, instead of purchasing another language book, I picked up Barry Farber's How to Learn Any Language - my old copy is in one of the boxes of foreign language books I'm done with for the moment. I also picked up Ron Hale-Evans Mind Performance Hacks. The first, obviously, is to get me back on track as far as language study is concerned. The second is for thinking in general, and is nice for some of its stuff on memorization and creativity, as well as for a simpler approach to self-hypnosis that should help with attaining a receptive state of mind for learning.

The problem with the Hale-Evans book is that it is perfectly suited to a reader like me: It wanders in a dozen directions, takes tangential interest in everything and is on to the next deep subject worth serious investigation within pages of starting! One place it sent me is Lojban is an artificial language created to investigate how people use language. It professes to be very logical and able to explore a virtually unlimited array of subjects. It works, though, like those math majors who write out symbolic propositions the way Hugo wrote poetry. While lojban may be able to rationally express any sentiment natural language can, there are elements that don't quite feel natural, which leaves one yearning for the stupidities of Esperanto (why have an accusative? if there's no unnecessary grammar, how would you know it's a human language?...). That said, it is an interesting proposition if you're into that sort of thing.

In working through the Lojban site, I ran across a neat little program for learning it, however. Click on the learning page and you'll find a program called something like "parallel". It comes with a module for lojban, but if you can use Notepad and Audacity and follow a template, you can create your own lists for any language you wish. I'm a big fan of byki, but if you're looking for something more rudimentary and better suited to working through phrases, it's not a bad program to use. That's what I'm doing with a small vocabulary of Mandarin to make sure the language sticks with me when I move to my next projects.

All of which brings us back to a point I think I've made earlier: While you should push forward with your studies as best you can, when you start to burn out or lose excitement over a language you're working on, it's time to take a step back, rest a little and work on solidifying what you know, rather than wearing yourself out entirely. That's what I've done with Mandarin today, relearning some very familiar stuff with some new tools while deciding what to do next. And while this required having one or two new books around, it didn't require buying up the Mandarin section at the local bookstore in case there was a book I didn't have yet. So while I wouldn't advocate the nose to the grindstone, finish one program before starting the next, I'd definitely recommend - à la Farber - having a few good books around and working with them as appropriate to what you're doing now, which is not the same thing as buying every book on the shelf and wondering which one you won't read next.

Next plans: Finish Michel Thomas Advanced German. It's helped a lot and when I think in German, I feel a lot less intellectually stymied - okay, just plain stupid - than I have in the past, but I needed a break from the importance of Handles. And for my next language, I'm wavering between Uzbek and Malay/Indonesian. I'd resolved upon Indonesian because I wanted something easy to recharge my batteries. But then, at an Omniglot post, I stumbled upon the Uzbek for "Once upon a time..." and found the wisdom in this survey because if level of interest is a factor, the mystery of the old silk road still trumps Jakarta for me. So it looks like next week we're back to the Turkic family.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Language Dabbling

If you're planning on living in or working with a culture, basic fluency in the language is a must. If you're not, there may be serious questions as to why you would study the language at all. But in a multicultural world, as with the world of leisure known to select members of the upper class in past centuries, language doesn't have to be a tool for survival. It can also be an avenue to enlightenment, a vehicle for connecting with the larger world or just plain entertaining. In the 19th century, nobles of a certain mind read the literature from other countries or picked at language families in an effort to decipher the world and broaden their horizons. In an era of YouTube, mp3 download sites and online newspapers and radio, we all can do this. You don't have to travel the world to find out about other peoples anymore. To the contrary, with google or ask and a little patience, all sort of place, cultures and languages are accessible.

The other day, at How to Learn Any Language, a test (via Polyglottery) was posted for deciding what to study next. The test is a good one. It is in the nature of the would-be polyglot to want to study them all, and a little judgment is called for in making sure you don't wind up knowing nothing at all about everything. The test is an excellent one if your goal is to pick a language you can learn well enough to 1) use effectively and 2) answer, "Yes, I speak it" without risk of a native speaker showing you for an idiot.

The language dabbler speaks a few languages, but if wise will answer about all of them that he or she, alas, only knows the odd phrase. In this case, if you run into a native speaker, you will at worst prove your modesty justified, but more often show that you are more serious than you at first appear. The serious language dabbler always wants to fit the second category. So here's's test for whether you want to get your feet wet in a language, even if only for fun and curiosity and with no long term plans:

1. Are there books or software packages for each of the following categories that are a) less than 20 years old and b) less than $50: Phrasebook (+1), grammar (+1), vocabulary guide (+1), general language guide (+1), CDs (+1)

2. Is there a website that explains verb conjugation (+1), use of nouns and adjectives (+1), common expressions (+1), unusual features of the language (eg lenition for Celtic, agglutination for Altaic, particles for languages like Japanese or Chinese) (+1)

3. Can you locate an internet radio station that is listenable (+1), downloadable music (+1), downloadable movie or video clips (+1), an online newspaper (+1). No points if you think you found a link to the item but couldn't actually make it work.

4. How much time are you willing to spend per day listening to your language? +1 for each half hour up to 1 1/2 hours

5. How much time are you willing to spend reading and navigating web pages, etc in the language? +1 for each half hour up to 1 1/2 hours

6. When you decide you have dabbled enough, you will:
a) think it was a neat experience (+1)
b) keep scanning web sites in the language (+1)
c) keep listening to music/radio in the language (+1)
d) actually try to communicate in the language in forums or language exchanges (+2)
e) exchange a few words in your new language with actual people (+3)

There are a maximum of 27 points possible.

0-8 points: either there's no material or you're not that interested
9-14: have fun; if your language comes up in conversation, you can smile and volunteer that you once knew a few phrases; apologize in advance for your mangling of them before you demonstrate
15-20: it sounds like you could really have fun with the language, and like there are a few resources to back you up; be modest about your skills but know that you're not wasting your time
21-27: take the test linked above; you might want to consider pursuing your language a little more seriously

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Funny how language works...

In England, they shrunk the television to telly, so the "far vision" is just "far". On the other hand, Americans shrink telephone to phone, so you have sound, but not quite so far. And then there is the poor anniversary. Any Latin student knows this is all about "annus," year, but the "annu-" in "annual" isn't so distinctive, while there are darn few "versaries" around. As a result, we celebrate "blogiversaries" - the anniversaries of blogs and now, I learn, a year in China brings you your Chinaversary. Or so reports John Biesnecker, about two weeks ago, on his blog. Originally, I believe, we referred to marriage anniversaries and pretty much everything else got ignored till its decennial, if not its centennial. But time goes faster these days, which makes one wonder what other "versaries" we're going to come up with to mark the semi-permanence of things that were once less transitory or, contrarily, non-existent (how many Americans needed to mark the years they'd spent in China or maintaining websites thirty years ago?).

Coming soon, I should imagine:
The leasiversary: "When I moved in here in '01, I only got a one-year lease, but I just had my fifth leasiversary. I wonder if I'll be here another five years."
The divorciversary: "After my second divorciversary, I realized I wasn't playing the field, I was just lonely, so I started paying more attention to my relationships."
The jobiversary: "I just took this job to pay the rent till something in my field opened up, but since I've passed my fourth jobiversary, I guess this is my field now."

And, more cheerfully:
The housiversary: "Can you believe we've been here 20 years, hon? And every year better."
The retiriversary: "I've just had my fourth retiriversary, and let me tell ya, when I hit the back nine I don't miss the office at all!"

Or not. Fun to see, all the same, where people find the meaning in things and use it to make new meaning.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Self-talk Turkish

If you're learning Turkish, here are 10-12 phrases worth memorizing. The grammar isn't 100%, but it will give you some thoughts to run through your head during your spare moments. For more about self-talk and language learning, see here. The phrases are below:

Bügün… yemek istiyorum. (Today I want to eat…)
Bügün… içmek istiyorum. (Today I want to drink…)
Çok insan var/yok. (There are/are not a lot of people.)
Şimdi bir bardak su getiriyorum. (Now I am getting a glass of water.)
Meşgulüm. (I’m busy.)
Bügün hava sıcak/soĝuk. (Today it is hot/cold.)
Yaĝmur yaĝiyor. (It’s raining.)
Satın almak istiyorum. (I want to make a purchase.)
Ne kadar? (How much?)
Teşekkürler. (Thanks.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

More self-talk!

When I wrote about self-talk the other day, it was in reference to something I've long done but not very formally. But just in case anybody wants a start, I've put up ten phrases for four languages (Indonesian, Spanish, French and German). I'll probably add Turkish and Mandarin (in bad pinyin) over the weekend. If anybody's interested, give it a try and feel free to leave comments on this entry.

Self-Talk Spanish

Even if you're learning a language like Spanish, there may not always be someone to practice with. But you can always practice with yourself. I have a short explanation of what self-talk is about here. Below are some expressions you can review mentally as you go about your daily routine if you're learning Spanish so that it becomes more a part of your life. Where there appears "..." you can fill in with your native language or look up what you're most likely to fill in the blank with.

Quiero comer... (I want to eat...)
Quiero beber... (I want to drink...)
Hay mucha gente/pocos personas. (There are many people/few people.)
Ahora busco un poco de agua. (Now I'm going for a little water.)
Estoy ocupado/a. (I am busy.)
Hace calor/frío hoy. (It is hot/cold today.)
Llueve. (It is raining.)
Compro esto. (I am buying this.)
¿Cuánto es? (How much is it?)
Gracias. (Thanks.)

Self-talk French

If you're learning French, there may not be that many people to practice with. But you can always practice with yourself. I have a short explanation of what self-talk is about here. Below are some expressions you can review mentally as you go about your daily routine if you're learning French so that it becomes more a part of your life. Where there appears "..." you can fill in with your native language or look up what you're most likely to fill in the blank with.

Je veux manger... (I want to eat...)
Je veux boire... (I want to drink...)
Il y a beaucoup/peu de gens. (There are many/few people.)
Maintenant je cherche un verre de l'eau. (Now I'm going for a glass of water.)
Je suis occupé(e). (I am busy.)*
Il fait chaud/froid aujourd'hui. (It is hot/cold today.)
Il pleut. (It is raining.)
J'achète ceci. (I am buying this.)
Combien coûte-t-il ? (How much is it?)
Merci. (Thanks.)
*Add the "e" if you are female. There is no change in pronunciation.

Self-Talk German

If you're learning German, there may not be that many people to practice with. But you can always practice with yourself. I have a short explanation of what self-talk is about here. Below are some expressions you can review mentally as you go about your daily routine if you're learning German so that it becomes more a part of your life. Where there appears "..." you can fill in with your native language or look up what you're most likely to fill in the blank with.

Ich möchte... essen. (I want to eat...)
Ich möchte... trinken. (I want to drink...)
Es gibt viele/wenige Leute. (There are many/few people.)
Jetzt bekomme ich ein Glas Wasser. (Now get I a glass of water.)
Ich habe viel zu tun. (I have a lot to do.)
Heute ist es heiß/kalt. (Today it is hot/cold.)
Es regnet. (It is raining.)
Ich kaufe dieses. (I am buying this.)
Wieviel kostet das? (How much is it?)
Danke. (Thanks.)

Update: Thanks to a commenter below for suggesting a few more natural sounding sentences in place of my phrasebook German. The old phrases can be seen in the first comment, the main entry has been updated.

Indonesian Self-Talk

If you're learning Indonesian, there may not be that many people to practice with. But you can always practice with yourself. I have a short explanation of what self-talk is about here. Below are some expressions you can review mentally as you go about your daily routine if you're learning Indonesian so that it becomes more a part of your life. Where there appears "..." you can fill in with your native language or look up what you're most likely to fill in the blank with.

Hari ini, saya igin ikan... (Today I want to eat...)
Hari ini, saya igin minum... (Today I want to drink...)
Dinisi ada banyak/sedikit orang. (Here exist many/few people.)
Sekarang saya dapat gelas air. (Now I find a glass of water.)
Saya sibuk. (I am busy.)
Panasya/Dinginya hari ini. (It is hot/cold today.)
Hujan. (It's raining.)
Saya akan membeli... (I will buy...)
Berapa harganya ini? (How much is this?)
Terimah kasi. (Thank you.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


The other day, Polyglottery had a nice discussion about self-talk, or having conversations in your head to get used to a language. The best thing about self-talk is that unlike flashcards, dictionaries and all the rest, all you have to bring along is your head! While I've gotten better about keeping track of what I'm bringing along for the language I plan to work on in my spare time, what lacks is the spare time. On the other hand, if you think about waiting for a phone call or wanting to go get a glass of water in Spanish or Mandarin, instead of English, you can strengthen your mental connections and get used to using your new language with just a few core phrases.

Some phrases that I learn for self-talk, so that I know I'll have a little practice every day:
Today I want to eat...
Today I want to drink...
There are many people.
There are few people.
I am eating...
I am drinking...
(That's six phrases at lunchtime!)
I will have a glass of water.
I am talking (on the phone).
I am busy.
(There's three at work.)
The trees are green/brown.
It is hot/cold today.
It is raining.
(For going to and from work.)
I am going to buy...
How much is it?
(For the supermarket.)
Hello and goodbye

That is around 20 things to say where by learning a few forms you can get more comfortable about using your language. At the start, fill in the ... in your native tongue. Then, in spare moments, or if you've got a pocket phrasebook with you, look up what fills in the blanks. After a while these around 20 phrases can turn into 30, then 40 as you add things with which to fill in the blanks. And because you're starting with a base of phrases that are in most phrase books, you can build your vocabulary and usage with a minimum of effort.

By the way, where grammar is concerned, try for halfway proper syntax - word order - and accidence - word endings. But bear in mind that just as a child makes mistakes in the learning process, you will too. Self-talk, when working on a new language, like talking when building for conversationality, is better done often and imperfectly than perfectly but rarely.

One last note: and a small issue with Pimsleur, which I otherwise love - in your self-talk, it's a good idea to not get too hung up on the "I don't speak..." phrase. You don't want your most fluent phrase - and default conversation opener - to be that the conversation won't be going anywhere!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Self-talk and more!

An important part of learning a language is maintaining a positive attitude for study. And a frustrating part of learning is when you get stuck and aren't sure where your progress is. One approach, if extremely new-agey and a little corny, is self-hypnosis. While I am dubious about claims that one can learn a language subliminally in a trance state - it can even be hard to figure out that the repetitive noise in the background is the alarm clock as you waken from a dream - there is no question that it helps to be relaxed and in a positive frame of mind before you study.

What follows is an adaptation of the first half of a self-hypnosis induction script, designed to bring you into a restful state but without the second part, in which the unconscious would be unlocked. Such scripts can either be recorded and listened to, or they can be rewritten in the first person and read aloud. I'm posting the routine for relaxing and coming back a little more to the world first in the hope that someone else might enjoy and second because I'll know where they are that way.


You are standing on a warm sandy beach, looking out across the water. It is a warm, sunny day, and you feel the warmth of the sun on your neck and shoulders. You stretch a moment, then lie back in the sand. The sand has been warmed by the sun, and you feel its warmth on your back as you lie down. And you feel the warmth of the sun on your face and on your body.

The warmth of the sun and the sand relaxes you and you enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face. You feel any tension in your thoughts rising away, and then you feel the warmth spreading to your neck and shoulders and feel all tension going away.

You are so nice and warm, and the warmth you feel in your head and shoulders now radiates through your chest, as your heart slows and you breathe in deeply, inhaling the warmth of the sand and the sun, and exhaling any tension in your body.

You feel your arms and legs loosening, as the warmth of the sun and the sand warm your whole body. And now your hands and feet grow warm and you feel any remaining tension draining out your fingers and toes and floating away with your breath.

You are relaxed. So relaxed.

Feel the warmth radiating through your body, calming you, relaxing you.

You are in a state of perfect peace.

You can grow. You can smile. You can love. You can learn.

Right now, with your mind at peace, you can do anything.

Just to make sure you’re perfectly relaxed, you decide to count down from five to one. You know that when you have done this, you will be a state of peace and harmony with the world where anything you need will come to you, and you will be ready. You will be ready to grow. You will be ready to love. You will be ready to learn.

5… You feel yourself growing calmer.

4… You know that if you need anything, it will be here for you.

3… You know that you are in a perfect state to grow.

2… You know that you are in a perfect state to love… to love growing and loving and learning… and all the people and things that are in your life… for in their company you will grow and love… and learn… and…

1… You know that you are now in a perfect state to learn… and that you will remain in this peaceful state, this light trance, until you count back from 1 to 5. And now, with opened eyes and an open heart and mind, take your time to learn. Your learning will stay with you when you are done. And when you have finished with this session, both you and the world you live in will be better for what you learn, both about what you are learning and about yourself and your capacity to grow and learn and love.

Coming back

Now that you have had the chance to grow, and love, and learn, in a state of calm and peacefulness, it is time to leave your light trance. Before you do, breathe deeply and allow yourself to feel love and warmth and joy for all that you have had the opportunity to do and learn. And know that as you leave this light trance, you can remain calm, remain at peace, and breathe slowly back into a life that’s better for the time you have spent here. And now, you count back to your new and better everyday life.

1. You have had the chance to learn, and are wiser and more peaceful for the experience.

2. You have had the chance to grow, and are a better person for the time you’ve given to develop yourself.

3. You have had the chance to bask in warmth and in love, and are a more loving and understanding person.

4. You are becoming alert to the world around you, but it is a different world, warmer, happier and more peaceful, as you bring your growth, your love and your learning into it.

5. You are now ready to go forth in the world, wiser, calmer and more loving, and ready to enjoy the better world you are creating.

Nice polyglot blog

Polyglottery is another blog inspired by the Aspiring Polyglot. Focused on the author's plans for and experiences with language learning, it's got a lot of ideas worth trying along the language learning journey. Especially of use is this plan for learning to speak, with lots of good ideas for figuring out what you can and can't do and what you need to work on, even if you don't deliberately follow every step.

How do you say "hi" in Deer?

Half a dozen languages rolling around my brain and I still had no idea what to say to this fellow.

(shot through my kitchen window this afternoon)