Saturday, May 31, 2008

Learning, Understanding and Assimilating

The other day, the Omniglot mentioned MyLanguageNotebook, a free program for keeping language notes in your computer and online. I gave it a try while reading one of my Breton Spot stories. A few observations:
  • The program is fairly easy to use. The interface is pretty clear. And since it's a notebook system, not a flashcard system, it's a little better for noting what you're trying to learn than flash card programs, for example.
  • For me, the drawback with MyLanguageNotebook is with me, not the program. It works as advertised. But it doesn't work the way I work.
  • Neither, unfortunately, do flashcard programs.
  • Michel Thomas says that what you understand, you know and will not forget. Conversely, what you don't understand, you probably will forget.
  • Whenever I set up a flash card program, take notes, etc, what I find is that the information I note divides into two categories: things I already know-and don't need to learn-and things I don't understand whose memorization doesn't help me. Unfortunately, MyLanguageNotebook doesn't remedy this. It just divides into things that I know and don't need to note, and things that confuse me so that I'm not sure what I should note down.
We sometimes hear about the "eureka" moment when what was unknown becomes apparent. When you research these moments, you find out that a lot of prior thought and observation went into preparing the mind for that magic moment when everything fell into place.

What I find, when I'm studying language - or anything else - is that I learn far more from making notes than studying them. The chief benefit, for me, is thinking things through till I've decided what's worth making a note about and what isn't. When I'm done, I can pretty much throw away the notes - they've served their purpose.

Making notes for Spot, I made some nice leaps in recognizing tenses and internalizing the "emphatic" form (he does run vs. he runs). But when I reviewed the notes later, I didn't get nearly as much out of them.

Two points that I'll offer from the mishmash above:
1) If you're looking for a program to store language information that's more free-form than the typical flash card program, try MyLanguageNotebook.

2) Be wary of the idea that you can learn something you don't understand by rote learning; whether you're diligently deciphering with a grammar translation book or absorbing with Assimil, put the emphasis on finding a meaning or logic to what you're learning and the memorizing will follow almost automatically; do it the other way and you'll be like the guy who dreamed in French and wanted to take a course to find out what he was dreaming about.

Update: As I said above, I get more out of taking notes than reviewing them. But re-reading "Spot's Windy Day" with the notes alongside did speed up the process. If you do the re-read, revise thing a lot, this could be a good tool. Incidentally, I heard from Jim of MyLanguageNotebook below. If you've been using this program, he'd appreciate you uploading your notes. I put up my notes on Spot, so if anyone wants to know how to say "it was windy" or "the leaves swirled about" in Breton, today's your lucky day :)

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Jim said...

Hi,if you made a project with MLN, could you upload it to the site? I would be really greatful as I am trying to get people to start uploading projects to the site. Also, I am personally very interested in Breton (as with all celtic languages).
All the best,
Jim

5:22 AM  
Blogger gbarto said...

Jim,
When I've finished my notations for the first story, I'll put them up, though I'm not sure how interested people will be unless they want to read about Spot!

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

He he, that will be great. I'll be interested to see them myself and also I'll see if I can find some Breton forums/sites and let them know that there are Breton projects on my site.
Cheers,
Jim

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Thanks a lot for that Geoff,
Jim

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Hi Geoff, I might be wrong but I think the latest mln file you have uploaded is the same as the first one.
Jim

4:56 PM  
Blogger gbarto said...

Jim,
It's an updated version of the same project. Is there a way to replace/update a project that I've missed?
Thanks,
Geoff

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Oh I see. Its a good point, it would be nice to be able to do that. I'll make a note of it for a possible future version of the site. For the moment though, we can't replace/update a project. Anyway, people can just choose a project based on the notes etc that accompany it I suppose.
Thanks a lot,
Jim

1:58 AM  

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