Thursday, January 31, 2008

How go the Resolutions?

The Cunning Linguist had a nice post on what to do now that January's end draws near if the resolutions aren't in such good shape. Be sure to have a look for some good ideas and some good resources for taking your learning in a new direction.

Here are my resolutions and how they're going (in italics):

1) French: I devoted considerable years to it, my colleagues speak it and so I will be working to maintain and rebuild it through reading, music and conversation. Due to ear problems, I haven't listened to as much music as I'd like, but certainly spoken with colleagues plenty, as well as using French resources to study Breton.

2) Spanish: A lot of colleagues speak it and so I use it a lot. I'd like to speak it correctly. I've been using the Assimil EspaƱol sans peine, and taking a gander at Sci-fi in Spanish translation.

3) Italian: Long term, I would like to better enjoy Calvino and Eco. Short term, I'd like to converse more easily. I've been using Assimil Le Nouvel italien sans peine and listening to Italian music in the car.

4) Mandarin: I'd like to be able to go to the Chinese shops in the area and manage more than the formalities in Mandarin. I've fussed around with a few online sites, but haven't done enough.

5) Breton: This one, I know, is impractical. But I truly loved my time in Bretagne and would like to get in touch with its mythical past. I'm not, by the way, shooting for fluency, just an acquaintance with the language. This has been the focal point of my enthusiasm. I've memorized a bit of Breton verse, reviewed what I'd covered in Assimil Breton sans peine and started working through Colloquial Breton. I've also leafed through a children's dictionary and introductory grammar published by Ouest-France.

6) My language goals are tied to progress and enjoyment in the language, not particular methods or courses. On the one hand, failing to finish a book won't count as failure. On the other hand, completing a program without actually improving my skills won't count as success. For those languages that I have worked on, my focus has been on having fun and finding out new things more than sticking to the methods within particular books. This has my French, Italian and Spanish coming out a little smoother, if not markedly better, and has led to a better understanding of Breton.


All told, I think the resolutions are on a better track this year than last, not because I've made great strides, but because I've made more realistic resolutions. Now we'll see what February brings.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Vary your resources for more effective learning

This week, via Amazon, I got Colloquial Breton. A lot of the material in the opening chapters is familiar from my reading of the Assimil Breton sans peine. But I'm a little clearer on what's going on with the language.

When I took French in high school, the course was very much grammar-translation, and as a result, my speech was far from fluid when I hit university. But I had a core knowledge of French just waiting to be activated, and between university courses and living in France, the French language became a part of me.

With Breton, I've sort of been doing it the other way around - I've seen a bit of what the language looks like on the surface, but with only a limited view of the structure underneath. This works for some people and some languages. It doesn't work so well for me. I've learned a tremendous amount from the Assimil and from working through poems I've found online. Leafing through the dialogs in my new book, I'm astonished at how much is familiar. But I haven't known what to do with that knowledge.

Working in a language school, I often run into people who think they know more than they do. Because they recognize most of the words, they think they are ready to study something else - that they need more challenging comprehensible input. But comprehension doesn't rest in words alone. Knowing what's going on at the structural level (is the verb indicative or subjunctive, past or present, eg) conveys a lot of information about how to evaluate what's going on with the vocabulary elements. And that's been lacking - I've known what was being talked about, but not how it was being talked about. While the Colloquial Breton course is far from perfect, it gives me another window on the language, so that I can see it at another angle.

I might have said this before (eye roll) but... Whatever language you're learning, it's a good idea to have multiple resources, that way when something is giving you trouble, you can go back to something easier with another book, or learn about the concept that's giving you trouble from another perspective. To this longstanding suggestion, I would add that it's a good idea to have at least one grammar focused resource and one everyday usage resource, if possible, so that you can get a sense for how the language is supposed to work, as well as a feel for how it works in practice.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Resolutions, new processes, etc

Following on my resolutions post, here's a look at what a few other people are doing:

Edwin (Tower of Confusion) is trying out some new processes for in-context learning.

Kelly (DragonFruit), the Aspiring Polyglot, is making more use of Mandarin, but steering clear of overly ambitious resolutions.

The Cunning Linguist is going to get a better handle on what she's learned before and make sure to do more listening.

And ChineseQuest is making process resolutions instead of outcome resolutions, which makes a lot of sense since good habits are what make resolutions happen and bad habits unreformed are what gets in their way.

[Update: After a long hiatus, PolyglotToBe is back, with plans to learn 2000 words of French, German, Japanese and Italian, along with references to memory systems for doing so.]

But the Paleoglot seems a bit perplexed by others' interest in calendrical cycles.

Also, a note for language learners that a lot of you probably already thought of: Wikipedia is available in literally hundreds of languages! Scroll to the bottom, look for your language and try out a few keywords of interest. I've been getting a little bit of a feel for Breton working through the entries on Roue Arzhur (King Arthur), An Daol Grenn (The Round Table), Kaledvoulc'h (Excalibur) and Jafrez Menoe (Geoffrey of Monmouth).

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Monday, January 07, 2008

A New Year, New Resolutions

This year's resolutions...

Too often, the setting of goals and the selection of New Year's Resolutions are undertaken with the aim of being a different person or living a different life. That's very nice, but there needs to be a connection between point A and point B. To put it another way, if the point of life is in the journey, not the destination, then personal, professional and educational development need to focus not only on where you want to be, but how you're going to get there.

For a long-term goal to be met, a series of short-term goals must be met that build toward it. The problem with the New Year's Resolution is that we tend to make the long term goal with a whole year before us and don't create the short term goals that will a) help us succeed and b) give us those little successes that motivate us toward the larger goal. So, for the first six months of the year, you postpone since there's plenty of time and for the last six months you let resolutions drop because you ran out of time. That's definitely what happened to me last year: I had some success with the languages I was actively engaged with anyway and let drop the others.

The other killer with the long-term goal is that it has to make sense in terms of who you are and what you want to do with your life. Ideally, a resolution or long term goal should be able to be rephrased thus: If I succeed in doing X, it will allow me to do Y. (And without the formulation being tautological: "If I learn German, I will be able to speak German" is no good. "If I learn Mandarin, I can transfer to our company's Beijing office and get a promotion" is better.)

By having resolutions that are a) "chunkable" - divisible into short term goals and b) in line with larger goals or life improvements, your odds at success are better.

This year's resolutions are oriented toward better communication with colleagues, greater enjoyment of literature, better use of resources in the community and, well, one not so practical goal:

1) French: I devoted considerable years to it, my colleagues speak it and so I will be working to maintain and rebuild it through reading, music and conversation.

2) Spanish: A lot of colleagues speak it and so I use it a lot. I'd like to speak it correctly.

3) Italian: Long term, I would like to better enjoy Calvino and Eco. Short term, I'd like to converse more easily.

4) Mandarin: I'd like to be able to go to the Chinese shops in the area and manage more than the formalities in Mandarin.

5) Breton: This one, I know, is impractical. But I truly loved my time in Bretagne and would like to get in touch with its mythical past. I'm not, by the way, shooting for fluency, just an acquaintance with the language.

6) My language goals are tied to progress and enjoyment in the language, not particular methods or courses. On the one hand, failing to finish a book won't count as failure. On the other hand, completing a program without actually improving my skills won't count as success.

I'll have more to say on the specifics of my language plans, to start, in the near future.

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