Sunday, June 28, 2009

iSpeak Italian / Language Blogs Competition

The iSpeak Italian course is a pretty good introduction to tourist language for travelers designed for the iPod. The dialogs are (relatively) realistic, the vocabulary covered is fairly good and the grammar presentations are short and practical, focusing on communication objectives. That said, this feels a lot like a Hippocrene or Teach Yourself course transfered to the iPod, rather than something stunningly new and different. This is particularly the case with a regular exercise in which you play the role of one of the characters from an earlier dialog - as conceived it tests your memory of the dialog more than it prompts you to speak naturally in Italian. More innovative is the final section of each lesson, in which you are given a phrase to complete and a picture of what you are to say comes up on the screen. This duplicates the old workbook activities where you use the right words to describe what's in the picture, but it works because of its immediacy and because you are supplying an oral, rather than written, answer.

The best thing about the course is its potential. With the content available, there's a lot of room for making playlists to cycle through. To their credit, the manual includes some tips for the types of playlists you might want to make. This leads to the question, why didn't they create them in the first place? For example, rather than simply telling you that you could make a playlist with all the fill-in-the-blank picture exercises, they could have created a playlist called "Final Exam." With a few built- in playlists ("Mid-term Exam," "Final Exam," "Mid-term Vocabulary Review," for example) they could have created a fair amount more value while giving users a chance to think about what kind of playlist they'd like based on their experience with the included offerings. Still, not bad for twenty bucks. If you want to learn a little Italian before your trip, but you're not the sort to sit with a textbook, skip the TY course and make a point of listening to this whenever you can.

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Lexiophiles is having a contest to determine the top language blogs for 2009. This blog is nominated in the Language Learning Category. For those who are curious, here's a little info, cut and pasted from a comment they left about it:

"Voting will start on July 8, leaving you enough time to prepare your readers for the upcoming voting. Voting will close on July 27 and the winners will be announced on July 30.

"For more information on the 2009 competition and what it is all about visit [http://www.lexiophiles.com/english/top-100-language-blogs-2009-nomination-started]
So now you may ask yourself what you can do. Here are some suggestions

"-Nominations are open until July 6, so feel free to share any blog you like with us."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Notes ahead of the weekend

The other day, I mentioned IKindaLikeLanguages.com. One feature of the site is the ability to make your own mini-courses or try out courses that others have put together. I recommend this Japanese course. Curious about how the create-your-own-course feature worked, I put together a very short, very basic intro to some Uzbek structures. You can find it here. Since 1) I'm not a native speaker and 2) I simplified wherever possible, I would not suggest mistaking it for a reference grammar. If any native speakers of Uzbek happen by and notice excessively egregious errors or oversimplifications, please let me know so I can make corrections. And after that, make an advanced course of your own. Please. I could use it!

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There's always lots of language video on You-Tube. AssociateDegree.Org has posted what, in their estimation, are the 100 best. You can see it here.

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Confession: This is Confessions of a Language Addict, so I might as well confess. Between a passing interest in Tajik and events in Iran, I decided it seemed like the right moment to dabble in Farsi. So I've done the first 7 Pimsleur lessons. No plans to become fluent, but it's been interesting, especially to note the overlaps with Turkish and Uzbek vocabulary. On the other hand, it's a bit maddening and saddening to see Iran fade from the headlines, with Michael Jackson and Governor Sanford overshadowing a people's struggle for freedom and some really unpleasant folks getting closer to having nuclear weapons.

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Coming later this weekend:
A review of the iSpeak Italian Beginner's Course

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Persian Classics

As events unfold in Iran, it's worth taking a moment to think back on some of the free spirits who have written in her language.

Here's some Omar Khayyam in Persian, English and other languages:

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

If you're new to Persian and don't wish to work your way through the Arabic script, why not check out Rumi with transliteration and glossary at this wonderful page:

Persian with Rumi


Or if, like me, you're into Turkic languages, here's a collection of famous Rubaiyat in Uzbek, including translations of Khayyam and Rumi, at the invaluable greylib.net (registration required):

333 Ruboiy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brute Force Memorization

The other day, I was going through my bookshelves and stumbled across an old Berlitz Western European Languages cassette pack and phrasebook. I was curious about whether I could do with audio what I'd done with playing cards. So I moved the Turkish audio to my computer, put it on my MP3 and listened according to this schedule:

Day 1: 5 listenings
Day 2: 4 listenings
Day 3: 3 listenings
Day 4: 2 listenings
Day 5: 1 listening to confirm I knew everything

There were around 75 items. Granted, I knew about half of them anyway. But by the last listening, I was mumbling the next Turkish phrase before the English prompt - the pattern was drilled in.

Is this the way to learn languages? No. Michel Thomas rightly says that what you understand you know and don't forget. But when you're starting in a language, this is a good way to get just enough words and phrases that when you crack a textbook the language doesn't look quite so unfamiliar.

Similarly, if you're reading a short story in a language where you've got a good foundation, it might be useful to make yourself an audio of the words you don't know and their translations, then go back to it when you've learned the unknown words, that way your second reading - your first real reading - will be focused on the text. (Hint: if you need more than 75 words, you are either looking at too long a piece of text to confront at once or too high level a text - break things into manageable chunks.)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Do You Kinda Like Languages?

I ran into an interesting site, IKindaLikeLanguages.com. There's a handful of course for languages from Japanese to Lithuanian (!). I spent about an hour with the Japanese lessons out of curiosity. If you want to get a start in Japanese - or make a course of your own for your favorite language - go have a visit. Also check out the blog for some useful thoughts on language learning.

For me, it's back to Uzbek.