Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Language Learning Got You Down?

In response to my last post, on language learning and blogging, Craig commented:
Does it count if I'm totally unproductive and language study always seems to get pushed to the bottom of the list? At least the blog has some posts I guess...
If you don't have time for language learning, you might use your blog to do some thinking aloud about why. As the now departed Polyglottery noted, if you can give up television, for example, you'll have some serious language learning time on your hands. I'd add that with a good CD program, instead of resenting bad commutes, you'll resent the mornings when traffic is going smoothly because it cuts short your lesson. I'm not saying, of course, that you have to study all the time or squeeze out every moment available. I'm saying that if you've got the motivation, you'll find a lot of them. The more common problem is not that you lack time, but that you're not as motivated to find time for language learning in your busy schedule as you are for other things. I see this at the school where I work all the time, where people whose number one problem is negotiating life in English-speaking America will find a million things they have to do instead of studying English.

When you lack the motivation to learn, the answer is not to beat yourself up about it. Nor is the answer to realize that you have to fold your socks this evening. The answer is to admit to yourself that if you can't find time, you might not want to find time. Which means you've hit a language learning plateau. Which means it's time to lighten things up. You'll never learn if you don't keep the language in your life, so if it's a strain to build up enthusiasm, set aside some time to not learn. Watch Crouching Tiger for the twentieth time if you're learning Chinese. Buy an old Edith Piaf CD and sing along badly from the lyric sheet for French. Get a children's book in Spanish and read it aloud while making no effort to learn or even understand. Do something, in short, that you can have fun with or make fun of. Then, when you're done, you can blog about that and whether it helped. If it didn't, ask the commenters for suggestions.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nederlands Newbie

For those who want to keep up with the continuing adventures of Kelly, the Aspiring Polyglot, there's a new site (and two more promised). The newest is Nederlands Newbie, detailing the fun of learning Dutch.

It's good to see Kelly back and I wish her well. At the same time, I would encourage her not to put too much pressure on herself. Not every post has to be a winner; sometimes it's nice simply to remind oneself that others are still at it, which is why I've enjoyed the Tower of Confusion, with its regular updates, and was glad to see another post from the Language Geek the other day. Language learning tips are fun, but it's also nice just to see that there's a community of language learners out there. If you're learning a language, or struggling with it, and have a blog about your experiences, drop a note in the comments. It's good to know who else is out there and working at this.

Another week with Spanish...

On the hypnosis front, I've found the language self-hypnosis download to be very nice for relaxing into studying after work. Yes, it takes an extra twenty minutes before studying starts, but when you get started it's like getting up in the morning and starting to study afresh with nothing from earlier in the day to worry about.

And what have I been studying? At work, I've gotten access to Tell Me More Spanish, and have been through the first unit. It's a step up from most programs, with games, fill-in-the-blanks and, most impressively, a speech recognition system that allows you to participate in guided conversations - when you answer the question, it figures out what you answered and follows up appropriately. However, I have the beginning version, and there wasn't anything in the first lesson that I didn't know. To that end, I've picked up Topics Entertainment's Instant Immersion Spanish Advanced. It's silly going back and forth between Borges and beginning Spanish books, but I haven't found much of much use for somebody who speaks a lot of bad Spanish and learns to speak correctly, as opposed to someone starting from ground zero. We'll see if this is a better option.

The music listening continues in the meantime, as does the reading. And while I'm not sure about starting with content strictly in the language you're learning, I'm increasingly in agreement with The Linguist about target language materials alone for more advanced students, except that there doesn't seem to be nearly as much available as one would like.

Coming soon: the February resolutions update.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

You are getting very sleepy...

Hypnosis is usually thought of as some trick where you put people under some sort of spell, at which point you're under their control... People in the self-hypnosis game, however, will tell you that a hypnotic state is merely one where you are calm, relaxed and more receptive to suggestion than usual as a result.

This week I got a language learning self-hypnosis mp3 from hynosisdownloads.com. The basic gist is that you are brought through some nice imagery that calms you down, then has you imagine making use of your new language without getting freaked out about or hung up on what you don't understand, instead allowing yourself to take in what you can and screen out or play with what you can't. After listening to the program, my self-talk in Spanish lasted about half an hour before I got worn out on it and started thinking in English again. Granted, if I start thinking in French, I do so until some outside event intervenes - it's just there - but Spanish has always been something I can call up if I have to, not something automatic. I've been listening, then reading from advanced readers and have found it much easier to plow through unfamiliar territory and come up with new words and phrases later, as well.

I studied French for years, and didn't speak a word till I'd lived there a few weeks. I have studied Spanish off and on for years, but even after several years in California, it's hard shifting gears, even though I speak it all the time. This latest is, simply put, a cheap download compared to what I usually spend on new books or programs for the language I'm studying. And it's made my study more enjoyable, if not more productive. If you're open to it and it sounds like fun, give it a try. If you think it's idiotic, it probably won't work for you.

Whatever approach you take to language, your goal is to get to where you're not thinking about the language so much anymore. Part of that is skill and exposure. But part of that is nerves. From self-talk in the language to prepare yourself for speaking, to listening to music in the language that evokes positive feelings for you to re-reading favorite stories in translation, an essential part of your program should be finding things that will keep you plugged in to the language and treating it less as a chore and more as fun or an opportunity.

I could go on, but if I did, you would find yourself getting very sleepy...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Another week of language learning, sort of...

The Linguist is always talking about exposure to content, and that's what I've been doing with my time the last couple weeks. And it does help. I am now thinking in Spanish more and more easily. I confess that I have not been in any way systematizing or organizing either my study, or my learning, or my review. But just being exposed to content and being exposed to content can really help.

I'm working on another project for the website - or, rather, thinking about working on one. It runs at least halfway contrary to what I've written above, but I'm beginning to think the key to language learning, above all, is to let it sneak up on you when your brain isn't looking so that you can learn the language, instead of getting caught up in learning about it. The new project takes a step or two in that direction. But that's for another day.

Back to the main subject: While I have done very little language study lately, I've been living in Spanish 2-3 hours a day. On the computer and in the car stereo, I've got Laura Pausini playing pretty much constantly. And whenever I have a spare moment, I've got reading from El Poder del Ahora, mentioned earlier. So far, I have just finished Chapter 3, bringing me to page 65 (plus 25 or so introductory pages). Around 20 pages this week read.

While I find Tolle interesting, I have a sense that there might be things to do with Spanish other than evangelizing for a neo-Buddhist mini-movement. To that end, I've been looking for business or economics books in Spanish. Not because I plan to do business, but because economics and business sooner or later point to an awful lot of the things people do and think about. Granted, we do not dream about cash-flow, ROI or six sigma, but the basic ideas of growth, achievement and exchange that these quantify or represent get to the heart of how we live and work. What I would most like to find is, say, an MBA for Dummies book in Spanish. For now, all I've found if Friedman's The World is Flat, which looked as tedious in Spanish as it was in English, and Freakonomics, which was interesting. I got Freakonomics and have read the first section of the Introduction (4 pages).

Wrap-up and advice: The above two paragraphs are just my own thoughts, notes, history or whatever. They're what I like on other people's language blogs, even more than their good advice, because it's nice to know you're in the same boat with other learners. So one bit of advice is to frequent the blogs and anything else you can find that helps you feel like you're involved in something special and worth being involved in. The second is to get your language learning whenever, wherever, however you can. In some cases, the challenge is finding good materials, good explanations, good whatever. But in other cases, the biggest obstacle is finding something that keeps you tuned in. So remembering that there's no one right method, no single best way to learn, and that no method is useful if you're not using it at the moment, I'd suggest that if you're at the point where the beginner's stuff is boring, the review courses wear you out, etc, try living with the language in your life, whether you understand or not.

Picking up from where I've been reading, do not obsess about a past where you did not study enough, or a future where you'll know your language. Be careful in your goal setting that you do not think about what you'll learn tomorrow. But stay focused in doing what seems right for today, knowing that the future is only a later now whose essence will be set by what you do with the present moment and all the present moments that follow, not by planning, but by living.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Do beginners need teachers?

Steve at The Linguist says that beginning students of a language need lots of exposure and, I gather, some structure, to start on a language. They don't need a teacher, however.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that the primary value of having a teacher is that it ensures you will work on your language a certain number of times a week and a certain number of hours each time. However, a student who is not prepared to do his or her own work oughtn't waste the money on either time or books. For unless you've got a big enough bank account to hire a teacher to follow you around 24 hours a day, making sure you stay in touch with the language is up to you.

A teacher can create circumstances for you to start learning. But a teacher is much more useful for helping you make the connection between the things you've figured out and the things that are still giving you trouble.

If you need to learn a language, sort of, in a month, to go to another country where you'll be speaking the language constantly, by all means, get a teacher. But if you're learning for fun, save you might want to save your pennies till you're further along in the endeavor.

Blogs and blogs

Not long ago, Kelly noted the disappearance of Polyglottery. Now Aspiring Polyglot is going silent. That is to say, the old posts will remain but new ones won't be forthcoming. And they will be missed. Kelly hints a new blog might come one day, or that AP might be revived. We hope so and soon.

People only think blogging is easy. But in fact, every blog requires a mindset that will define how it is to work, after which the poor blogger has to follow through. I started the TurkeyBlog in 2002 and have been posting ever since. It is a jumble of news and center-right-libertarian commentary. At different times it has been updated as much as 4-5 times a day or as few as 4-5 times a week. Since it's not a newspaper, there's no point in updating if there's nothing going on that interests me. Still, if I haven't posted in a day or two, I have a sense that I need to comment about something, so that if someone visits they'll know it's still active.

I also have a blog, Wittgenstein's Bastard, where I blatantly defy his injunction that "That of which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence," by writing long bits on pretty much absolutely nothing. That blog gets updated every 2-3 months, when it occurs to me to write something new for it. I think it's mostly visited by people looking for Wittgenstein quotes. I'm not particularly concerned about keeping it current, since its subject has been dead quite some time.

Then there's this blog. I try to update at least once a week, first so that there will be something new for people to read, and second, because it means I have to do something with my language learning at least once a week so I'll have something to write about. I have to confess it's something of a selfish endeavor. One thing I have learned from writing the TurkeyBlog, however, is that not every blog post has to be new or original. If it's been long enough since I wrote about something, I assume my readers will have to, since they should be far less concerned with my writing than I am. Maybe that's a bit postmodernish or some other ismish. No matter. This is just to inform that this blog might not get any better, but it will continue on.

On that note, Omniglot's got a cool post on Terracotta Bureaucrats. Thanks to Omniglot for the daily post. And to Kelly, thanks for the memories.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Circular Syllabi and more

When I was in graduate school, we had to take a pedagogy class before teaching. One of the most useful concepts we learned about was the circular syllabus. With a circular syllabus, instead of learning the language in a linear, orderly fashion - first nouns, then adjectives, then verbs... - you just keep going around the circle, learning the same things over and over but in a little more depth each time. For French (which I taught), it might go like this:

While this is highly oversimplified, the basic point is there: after the first lesson, one learns variations of and new things about old concepts, rather than learning one part of the language all the way through, then the next, then the next. Ideally, the circular syllabus works out like a circular staircase: while you keep gradually climbing to the next level in your skills, you keep coming back to the same points (along the circle). Unfortunately, a lot of do-it-yourself programs aren't like this (Pimsleur is a happy exception). For this reason, it's extremely helpful to look at a variety of tools for language learning. You make your own circular syllabus by coming back to the old material but from a slightly different angle. In this way, you can learn new things without getting totally bored. One hopes.

This week, I've been looking at Adrienne's Italian in 32 lessons, as well as continuing to look at the Learn In Your Car Spanish. I've also been flipping through the Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook and Berlitz' Shortcut to Italian. As a result, I've learned a few new things, relearned a few old things, and reinforced my skills. If you need a break from language learning, why not try language relearning? Using the ideas of the circular syllabus and varying your materials will enable you to maintain what you know and just maybe learn some new things without even realizing it.