Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping Resolutions, and an update

Making resolutions/setting intentions is easy at New Year's. Especially if you've had enough bubbly and are feeling really good about the world. But the follow-through is harder. The most common resolutions revolve around diets and getting fit. J.D. Johannes and Nita Marquez did a series of posts about just this, but with good advice for all "resolutioneers," starting with this:

It is better to set a lower, attainable and more realistic goal. When you reach it, you can set a new goal or easily maintain it.

Nita, over the years, has found that people who set an un-realistic goal are actually sabotaging themselves. When they ‘discover’ they cannot reach the goal they have a justification to quit.

She has also found that people will work harder to achieve a lesser goal and usually surpass it.

Looking at my intentions and jump-off points, if I simply listen to CDs 8 hours a month for four months, I'll be well over half-way through the jump-off points. I did this on purpose: I wanted easy ways to make a strong start where I could pat myself on the back.

But what if you fall of the wagon? Again from Johannes and Marquez, but here:

“I think the one thing that people have realize is that small changes can lead to big results,” says Dr. Helen Smith, a Knoxville, TN psychologist and exercise enthusiast. “A person should set goals having to do with action.”

Smith says it is better to break it down into individual actions. Small steps, small daily decisions like eating a grilled chicken breast instead of a breaded, fried chicken breast, as noted above, can make a significant difference.

“It is better to break it down and then check off that you did it,” Smith says.
And if you slip once, do not let it snowball. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t throw it all away. A few hours later you will have another decision and try to get it right that time.

Diets don’t work because people make one mistake and decide to quit. Diets don’t work because some people keep making the wrong decisions.
So if you look up and realize you didn't study yesterday, what can you do? Study now! And if you look up and realize you didn't do anything all last week? Do something now! Even if you're doing a really intense self-study program, say 4 hours a day, that's still 20 hours a day that you're not studying. So don't focus on what you're not doing or when you're not doing it. Focus on the things you actually do, and pat yourself on the back for them. A day of studying missed can be followed by another day of not studying because you'll never find time to learn anyway. Or it can be followed by a day when you do study and pat yourself on the back for having the good sense to get back on track.

(By the way, if you want to be a toned, trim, fantastic looking polyglot, check out JD Johannes' site and get the book.)

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Now that I've looked at resolutions in general, how am I doing so far this year?

My intentions and jump-off points, again, are here.

For the month of January, I ran through Michel Thomas Spanish again. So that's one thing I can check off. And I did the first 18 lessons of Assimil Latin. That's not exactly a lesson a day, but it's a start.

And a final update: The other day, I mentioned stumbling into a different approach to using link-learning for vocabulary with a more traditionally formatted textbook. As I've played with this, I've found some new ideas for what you might call "Assimil-ating" an old-style book. My next post will include some ideas on this and a progress update on how that's going.

Sad News for Language Program Junkies

A bit of sad news for language lovers out there. After years in business, AudioForum is shutting down February 10th. Prior to the internet and, the audio-forum catalog was a wonder to behold, offering a surprising range of courses for languages both familiar and unheard of. Unfortunately, excepting the Language/30 courses, most of their offerings were beyond what a hobbyist could reasonably spend on the off-chance that learning Russian, Estonian, Ojibwe or Kannada might one day seem like a good idea.

The only course I ever bought from them was their Colloquial Uzbek pack (sadly not nearly as good as the Routledge Colloquial series) and at the time it was a stretch - $85 for a spiral bound book and 4 CDs for a language I was interested in but had no practical reason to learn. (Still don't, but I'm still studying it, and its sister language, Uyghur.)

Anyway, their inventories are low, but what's left is 65% off. This still leaves a lot of stuff at $100 or so, but it may be the last shot you'll get at some of it. The store is here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reviewing with Michel Thomas; Haitian Creole

Readers of this site know that I've been running through Michel Thomas Spanish for the second time. In fact, I'm halfway through disc 8 now and will finish it tomorrow. I hadn't done Michel Thomas Spanish since 1998 or 1999, however, so while the content wasn't new I didn't have the script running through my head (I'd certainly forgotten how hard he harps on stress placement, for example). However, next month, I'm doing Italian. This promises to be trickier because I ran through the first six or seven discs only two years ago and while I'd like the review, I also want something more interesting. Here's what I came up with:

Oh the joys of technology! Once you put a playlist on your iPod, you can listen to it in order or you can put it on shuffle and it will play the tracks in random order. If you're learning with Michel Thomas (or any other progressive course) for the first time, of course you need to do the lessons in order. But what I'm looking for is a survey to make sure there's nothing I've forgotten. Mixing it up is a plus. So I've created a playlist for the discs I've already listened to. I'll listen on shuffle. That way instead of the five-six minute lesson blocks building up, bit by bit, they'll function more as pop quizzes - if I recognize a track as one where the content was easy, I'll skip it; if I remember getting caught on a point or two (or don't remember it that well), I'll listen. I already did this with the first two discs of Spanish since I had taken a few days off and found the variety made it much less tedious than playing the course straight forward and trying to pick out the best places to skip ahead a little.

If you've got a 30 lesson program, you can also do this with Pimsleur, picking up a language you did a while ago and only doing the lessons where the opening dialog doesn't immediately sound familiar.

Speaking of the shuffling, you can also use this for certain types of vocabulary review. For example, if you go to the DLI field support site, you can download the audio for a lot of their phrasebooks. If you make a playlist for each section, then you can review the same lists without driving yourself bonkers repeating the same things in the same sequence 100 times. (I think I've talked about this before).

The basic lesson for today then: If repetition is the mother of learning and variety is the spice of life, using shuffle and playlists will give you a bit of both.

(By the way, I wrote about some of this here quite some time ago. And for those who are really serious about their playlists, here's an old John Biesnecker article that's well worth reading if you haven't seen it before.)

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One other note: With the sad events in Haiti, Haitian Creole resources are popping up. Whether you're planning to go there, think you might work with Haitian refugees resettled in your area or simply think it would show a little cultural solidarity to have a few words of their language on your tongue, let me point out two resources: First of all, there's the DLI field support site that I linked above. The link on the front page didn't work for me, but if you download the PDF and the Basic LSK from the downloads page, these should work. And, if you go to, you can download the first ten Pimsleur lessons for free (you do have to register for the site if you don't already have an account).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Intentions Update and a new approach for comprehensible input

We're a little over halfway through the month, so why not take a look at whether it's possible to stick to one's intentions for at least two weeks...

This January, I have actually dug into Spanish, which comes as a tremendous surprise to me. Spanish is usually the language I study because I know a bunch of native speakers and feel as though I ought to learn it - not one of the languages I study just for the fun of it. But getting the Spanish for Travelers book I mentioned the other day got me started with it, and so I have subsequently also done discs 1-6 of Michel Thomas Spanish. If I have to PUSH DOWN on the PREsent tense and surface on the ending one more time, I may go over the edge (those who have done the program will know how he goes a bit far in emphasizing stress placement) but I have to confess that my Spanish is flowing more smoothly again.

So I have actually worked fairly solidly on one of the jump off points for my intentions. I'm pleased about that. Next month, I'll be doing Italian.

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The other day, I found this at HTLAL - a short collection of tips for language learning. I put together two of them:
[W]ork your way through [your] lessons as fast as you can manage. Don’t worry about memorising it all at the moment. You are just acquainting yourself with the language for now. Don’t let yourself be bogged down by stuff you don’t understand.

* * *

[U]se the linking method to enable us to learn a useful vocabulary in record time.
Here's how I applied it with a Uyghur textbook (just experimenting). First I used the linking method to memorize the vocabulary list for the chapter. Then I skimmed through the dialogs while the vocabulary was still fresh. Then I read through the main points of the chapter. In the morning, I read through the dialogs again. All the words were still in my memory and the dialogs were easy to understand.

I've never had a lot of luck learning vocabulary from link lists - not for long term memory, anyway. But this is a little different - it's just getting the words into short-term memory long enough you can make use of them. In a sense, using this (or any other memory technique) before working on dialogs or other content in a new language provides a way to turn texts that would otherwise be a struggle into comprehensible input. If you've got one of those textbooks that is based on texts and cumbersome vocabulary lists, you might try this to lighten the load.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Phrasebooks, stock phrases and intermediate language learning

... plus a hypnosis follow-up

A while ago, on HTLAL, I ran across a reference to Spanish for Travelers by Lewis Robins. Apparently, the for Travelers books are just about impossible to find. I got one on Amazon marketplace for $2.50, but the next cheapest one on offer was $25 or $30. Anyway, these books have about 360 phrases on a variety of topics, laid out in a special format for you to give yourself vocabulary tests with them.

The thing that struck me with Spanish for Travelers is the range of structures in it. For a beginner, I'm not sure what would happen trying to keep some of them straight. You could learn them by rote, but it would be hard to make sense of how they work. However, for me, it was very handy to have a handful of ready sentences with the subjunctive and a number of others with formal imperatives. It occurs to me that phrasebooks pose some of the same problems for people new to a language. But again, the range of structures (Could you please..., Would you be able to..., I would like to have... - a buffet of Michel Thomas "handles") provide a great quick review for someone who knows the basic structures but would like to see them in context. So perhaps an odd exercise is worth considering: Instead of using a phrasebook to learn a language, use it to review and find gaps in your everyday vocabulary after you're at an intermediate level.

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The hypnosis article from last week drew some interesting responses. If you're interested in hypnosis and language learning, check out the comments for different perspectives. And if you've had success with hypnosis and language learning, I'd love to hear about that in the comments.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Hypnosis and Language Learning - A Different Twist

A little while ago, there was a post at HTLAL about hypnosis and language learning called A Relaxing Approach to Language Learning. Notes the author:
[I]t suddenly occurred to me that listening to some hypnosis audios would be a charming way to improve your listening skills while getting some much needed relaxation in.
I think this is a nice idea, but I have one caveat based on both my (limited) knowledge of hypnosis and personal experience: If you're using hypnosis audio to improve your listening skills, you run the risk that the engagement that comes with active listening will interfere with the hypnotic effect you sought.

I've always been dubious of using hypnosis to learn language and still am. It's fine to use to improve behavioral patterns that impact language learning. And I think it can be helpful to get into a frame of mind where you can work with comprehensible input without feeling the need to be consciously analytical. But to put it the way I should have to begin with, hypnosis is for getting in the right state to learn, not for learning per se.

Listening to hypnosis audio in your target language is a different animal. Here, the idea is not to figure out the language, but to let the language carry you away. That means you need to understand enough that you won't be frustrated by the content. The question is: then what? Curious, I downloaded a few hypnosis tracks in French and got a Spanish meditation CD (one I already had in English). Here's what I have found:

I don't know whether the subconscious, on hearing language it doesn't understand, will store it away for later processing or disregard it as it does any other noise that isn't of use for it. I suspect it's the latter. Certainly, if I fail to understand a word while in hypnosis, I have a very hard time remembering what it was to look it up when I come out of hypnosis, and the few I have remembered are words I had seen before or that were simple enough that I had no trouble imagining how they would be spelled. What's more, with Spanish (in which my skills are weaker), I have to listen to the same session a couple times before my brain gets used to the script and I can ignore, rather than fretting about, words that I might have missed. And I get the most benefit from audio with binaural beats, which induce hypnosis whether the words themselves hypnotize you or not. Given my experience, I don't think this is for learning a new language or for taking in "future comprehensible input" that your brain will sort out after you've learned more.

I do think, however, that hypnosis can be very useful for an activity near and dear to language learners: Dreaming in a foreign language. When you're in hypnosis, you're usually in the theta state - half-awake, half-asleep. Contrary to the name, it's the awake part that makes it useful; all the sleep part does is lower your filters. Two of the clear signs that you're in hypnosis are softer breathing and REM - just like with the early stages of dreaming - but as a general rule you still have some awareness of your physical environment, and if something makes you decide you want to leave hypnosis you usually come out of it on your own, unlike with bad dreams. That said, hypnosis feels a lot like dreaming. And I've found that when I'm doing visualization exercises under hypnosis in French, any place where I'm asked for a verbal response (think of a question that has been bothering you...) the response comes in French. Furthermore, when I come out of hypnosis, I feel the way I feel when I wake up from dreaming in a foreign language. My Spanish isn't any better, but it's more fluid. And my French flows more naturally - there's less temptation to switch to English as opposed to paraphrasing if the the word I'm looking for isn't coming. For French, it really feels like I could get back to the same naturalness - if not level - that I'd have if I stayed there a week or two (though nothing comparable to living there, sorry).

So, if you're a beginner in a language and looking for a shortcut or a way to get in touch with your language... sorry, I don't think there's much for you here. But if you're a reasonably advanced speaker - advanced enough to understand the images in visualizations and commands about regulating your breath and concentrating on the sensations in the different parts of the body - then hypnosis audio provides a way to "dream" in your target language any time you want.

For free hypnosis audio, I'd start here:
French: PasseportSanté.net
Spanish: Youtube search - you'll have to strip out the audio or convert them to iPod videos