Sunday, February 28, 2010

Na'vi and simpler approaches to language learning

Since Tolkien, I've been intrigued by conlangs, though not enough to actually learn one. I'm leaning the same way on Na'vi, the language of the blue people in the movie Avatar. However, I'm impressed by the way the thing is being marketed.

When you search for information on Tolkien's languages, most of it is pretty in depth. I've never had an interest in learning Klingon, but it seems to me to be something for pretty serious hobbyists. Na'vi, though complex and idiosyncratic - infixes and lenition? - is being presented as something fun to learn and chat in. The curious can visit a site,, where there are downloadable guides, and even a workbook. It is suggested that you print out two copies of the workbook, do it once to sort of learn and do it again to review and solidify your learning. And when you open the workbook, it's full of word-searches, crossword puzzles and fill-in-the-blank exercises, not baffling grammar tables.

I bring up the Na'vi matter for two reasons. First of all, if you've always wanted to learn a conlang but weren't sure where to begin, here's what looks to be an easy one to get started in. The second thing that interests me, though, is this workbook approach. Have we been going about language learning all wrong? We know that with Iverson lists, SRSs and Pimsleur's Graduated Interval Recall, learning, forgetting and relearning is key. What if the answer is not to find the perfect course, but to find a good enough course, rush through it to get the main idea and do it again? I recently got Unforgettable Language's Spanish vocab program and that's what they suggested - listen to the program in a weekend, then listen again the next weekend.

I've had out the Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages again, and made myself a simplified version of the vocabulary section to put in for Uzbek. And my thought has been to fill it in once with research, review for a week, then see how much I can fill in from memory and how much I have to look back for. Rinse and repeat till I know 90%. But this has also set me to thinking about how far one might get by, for example, learning the contents of a simple phrasebook, learning enough grammar to see how the phrases work, then relearning those contents. I'm now thinking about better ways to make an Uzbek book - for myself - along the lines of the Na'vi workbook. After all, why spend your time just learning languages when you can spend it looking for easier ways to learn languages, eh? ;)


Blogger Leopejo said...

That is also the Assimil approach, with their passive and active waves.

11:46 PM  
Blogger William said...

Spending time looking for easier ways to learn languages can quickly start to consume all your study time, if you aren't careful. It should be done, but it should be done in moderation.

3:29 AM  
OpenID languagefixation said...

thanks, a thought-provoking post. I think I do a lot of once-over usage of various workbooks or other materials. I rarely go back over it to "solidify" though. I'll elaborate in a full post soon :)

10:55 AM  
Blogger delpino said...


I have seen you have listed some links about learning
Chinese at

Just wondering if you could also add to
the list, which is a fairly new site to learn Chinese.

It has some nice features like your own word lists, mouseover
explanations, a loop flashcard feature, a text analyzer and
we publish a new text (dialog, jokes, news) every week.

I would love to hear your feedback about my site.


4:20 PM  
Anonymous Nathan Cain - said...

I did that with Spanish. I read through “Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish” quickly (I read the example sentences out loud). I really found it useful.

It helps to know where you are going so that you know which road to take to get there.

5:39 AM  

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