Category Archives: Language

My experiences learning new languages.

Many (Language) Loves

Today I want to do in blog form what many people have done on video: introduce the languages I am learning or have spent time learning, as far as possible in those languages.

Since I really don’t focus on output at all, this blog post is intended to be a start in that direction. I think the fact that I am writing this to be read by others is more motivating to me than the idea of keeping a journal. I have never been much of a journal writer – even in English. However, because I am not in the habit of writing in foreign languages, I have struggled with writing the below, and I am certain that it is full of errors. But it’s a first step of hopefully more to come.

Afrikaans

Afrikaans is my ‘eerste’ tweede taal. As Suid Afrikaner, het ek ‘natuurlik’ Afrikaans as tweede taal op skool geleer. Ek dink dit was miskien vanaf die derde graad, toe ek so tien jaar oud was. Maar ek gebruik die taal eintlik nie gereeld nie.

Deutsch

Ich habe Deutsch zwei Jahre auf Universität studiert, und danach das Zertifikat Deutsch besteht. Seid dann, habe ich noch manchmal Nachrichten gelesen usw. Deshalb ist meine Verständnis, ich glaube, nicht zu viel vermindert in die vergangenen Jahren.

Français

J’ai aussi Français en université appris, mais seulement un an. Je trouve Français un peu difficile – de comprendre ce que j’écoute, et aussi le grammaire. Mais, j’ai besoin d’étude!

Italiano

Ho imparato un po’ italiano in una classe di Scuola Italiana. ‘E stato molto lentamente. Ma io sono continuato con il mio studio da solo. Come ho detto, io leggo un libro in italiano al momento.

Español

No habla mucho español, mas lo es similar al italiano, y ese ajuda con comprensión.

Português

Eu ‘falo’ pouco português, mais entende mas que eu posso falar (quando eu leio). I have pretty much only used Duolingo for Portuguese, which was a really helpful start, but it needs a lot of work.

日本語

私夫は大学に1年日本語ならった。 私もひとりでべんきょうしました。アニミからたくさんことばおもいました。 かんじはたいへんむずかしいとおもうけど,がんばります!今はMEMRISEでべんきょうします。

Tiếng Việt

Tôi đang học tiếng Việt. Nó là kho làm. 

Other languages

Other languages I have dabbled in / studied and mostly forgotten, but I fully intend to continue learning in the future, include:

Русский язык: Здравствуйте. Я говорю по русски (So I can lie. In Russian! I think…?)

Ελληνικά: really can’t remember a thing in Greek, sadly, but it’s sitting there on my Duolingo list, waiting to be reactivated. I used the FSI course to learn a little of it a few years ago.

Xhosa. Molo. Igama lam nguKate. Ndisazama ukufunda isiXhosa. I actually had a year or two of Xhosa study in primary school. It’s actually frightening how little one can learn of a languages in a classroom situation in one or two years. Nowadays, I have a Teach Yourself book that I dip into from time to time.

Korean. I was delving into this and Mandarin Chinese a year or two ago. I am not quite ‘fluent’ with the writing system, and I only really remember a few words. My favorite word is from Korean dramas: “jinjja!”. 

Mandarin Chinese. Same story as Korean, only the writing is WAY more of a barrier, especially for someone like me, who focuses more on reading.

Well, it’s been fun. Until next time!

“Summer language learning goals”… or not

…because it’s winter here in the southern hemisphere. Also, my university days, with those amazing 2-month long summer holidays are, sadly, long gone. But I have discovered some new pologlots online lately and have been quite inspired to:

  1. Really try and give this language blogging thing a proper go, and hopefully do some blogging in other languages too – practising that output!
  2. Get more structured with my learning!

You can find the very inspiring Polyglot Progress and DevenirPolygotte on Youtube. They’re also on Twitter and elswehere and DevenirPolyglotte has a WordPress blog, which I have browsed through and plan to keep reading more of. They have both recently done the ‘Summer language goals’ thing. As for me, this is just my ‘general language goals for the interim’.

So, onto my language learning goals for the next while. I do know that goals are supposed to be a bit more specific and mine aren’t really, but anyway…

Vietnamese

This is the main language I am focusing on at the moment. I think I started it this year. I have some Vietnames friends, so I might be able to get a little practice in, once I have got to a reasonable level for trying to talk. So far I am finding the grammar fairly simple, but I need to work on tones! I also struggle to remember which diacritics to apply to each word, but that is probably because I am not properly distinguishing tones and pronunciation.

Japanese

I do have a bit of Japanese vocabulary already, but it needs some grammar study, filling in gaps and, very importantly, learning to read some Kanji! At the moment Memrise is my main tool for attempting to learn Kanji. I’ve chosen a set that teaches kanji and vocabulary built from kanji, alternating kani-english and then kanji-pronunciation, so that each portion is taught twice. I’m feeling positive about it. So I’ll see how that goes!

Italian

I have a novel in Italian that I found at a second hand book store some years ago. It’s called “Il Romanzo di Ramses: La Battaglia di Qadesh” by Christian Jacq (it’s a translation from French actually). Where I live, you are more likely to find second hand Dutch, German and French books, so this Italian book was a rare find. I have also recently aquired a book of Spanish poetry – equally rare! I think I tried to start reading this novel back then but didn’t get past the first chapter. Now I am five chapters in and managing okay – progress! The chapters are each quite short luckily – nice for one or two sittings per chapter. It is going slowly though, and needless to say, it is going to take a long time to get through the whole 400-odd-page book. But my goal here is to persevere through it.

Well those are my main goals for now. I don’t have much more than an hour or so each workday evening, though the weekends give me a bit more time. So if I want to get serious about the above goals, I will have to try to avoid the tempatation of other languages for now. But I will no doubt dabble from time to time.

Perhaps in another post I will talk about my ‘hit list’, as I have heard it called, and more about myself. But to be honest, it has been so long since I last wrote on this blog, that I actually am not sure what all I have said before. Shocking! And I really would like to do some blogging in my other languages – at least German to start with.

Good-bye for now.

 

Beginning the new year with Korean

Well, it has been a long time since I last posted here. It’s been one of those ‘figure out the meaning of my life’ breaks – a life-long thought process to be sure – but I might be ready to do a bit of blogging again.

Over the christmas holidays, I dabbled a bit in Chinese and Korean, and I think I would like to focus on those two and work more on my patchy Japanese knowledge this year. I hope I can continue to focus on that goal and not have my head turned by the next language that walks by.

Inevitably, it turns out that finding a truly awesome free resource was what got me excited about Korean and so now I am focusing on that first and keeping the Chinese for later…

TalkToMeInKorean is just fantastic. The lessons take the form of an audio file with an accompanying pdf. The people who present it do so in a fun, engaging way (to be honest their reparté reminds me a bit of two deejays who do the afternoon show on a local radio station in my city), the lessons are short and digestible, and I feel they give a nice amount of vocabulary along with the grammatical concepts. They also say sentences slowly as well as at normal talking speed. These are my impressions after completing level one of the lessons.

There is a dialogue based on level 1’s lessons, so I am taking a break from doing more lessons this week to try and review and memorise everything I’ve learned in level one – then I will listen to the dialogue and hopefully understand it! Wish me luck.

TTMIK meosisseoyo!

Language Learning: How many words?

Recently, Benny Lewis tackled the question “How many words do you need before you speak a language ‘fluently’?” And by tackled I mean tackled. To the ground. As if it had looked at him in an insulting manner. Benny approaches at language learning as a motivator, rather than taking a scientific approach. I’m not going to argue with that. I enjoy reading his blog, though his style of language learning is not for me. On the other hand, it is science that leads to the development of better teaching methods, better learning materials, and understanding how we go about learning a language. Without claiming to be an expert on the subject (I am not) I would like to look at the question of “how many words”, because it is something I have done a little bit of reading about recently.

Firstly I don’t think the question “How many words do I need to know to be fluent” is answerable. I would say fluency is not just about how many words you know, as such. Fluency is about the ease with which you speak. Knowing words is part of that. If you don’t know many words, of course you can’t speak fluently.  But simply knowing the words doesn’t necessarily make you fluent. I wouldn’t discount the possibility that many of the processes that go into learning a lot of words might also contribute towards fluency – such as extensive reading and listening. But fluency and knowing a certain number of words are not the same thing.

When do the numbers matter?

So what is a better question to ask about numbers of words? Reading. Reading research, for example, focuses on how many words you know. I believe in the power of reading to increase vocabulary. I think reading a lot as a child improved my English vocabulary, and that the same is true of additional languages. Extensive reading is supposed to be good for developing reading fluency, and becoming more comfortable with the language.

The term extensive reading refers to reading a lot, at a level where you understand most of it – so you can just get on with reading – while presenting a bit of a challenge. The idea is that if you understand most of the vocabulary (the optimal number now seems to be 95-98% of the words) of a text, this is the best situation for incidental vocabulary acquisition. This means that you can probably get a sense of what the new words mean from context. So you don’t sit with a dictionary the whole time just to figure out what you are reading. It also means that the few new words you pick up are more likely to stick in your memory – if they are repeated, so much the better. You learn new words incidentally to what you are doing for your own enjoyment. I believe  Steve Kaufmann of LingQ is right when he says “content is king”. It’s all about motivation. Unlike Steve Kaufmann, most people would not have the motivation to slog through a text that is really way above their level. So 95-98% coverage is optimal.

This article describes a study of students taking English for Academic Purposes.  It suggests knowledge of 6000-8000 word families is recommended for reading authentic academic texts. The numbers may differ depending on what kind of text you want to read, but whatever it is, a few thousand word families will cover, say, 90% of the text. The rest of the words will be specialized to the topic. There are a lot more specialized words because of the number of different fields of knowledge and interest. That is why you can get to that 80-90% coverage quite quickly, and you may spend the rest of your life learning the rest of the language (which will only constitute about 10% or less of any given text).

What to do?

These numbers are useful for people designing language courses, especially a reading course intended to increase vocabulary and ‘reading fluency’. What can the self-taught student do with it? I don’t know. Probably not much. Extensive research exists on learning English, for obvious reasons, but for many languages, nobody has even determined high frequency word lists. It’s a pretty big undertaking.

What I read.

I mostly read news articles online in German, French, Italian and Spanish. I find news articles fit into my life easily. A news article is not a long commitment, you can slot it in anywhere. The style of newspaper writing is usually not too complicated – another bonus. With Google News and Google Alerts, you can always look for news about topics that interest you. For news alerts in other languages,  just change the URL from “.com” to whatever is appropriate for the country: “.it” for Italy, “.fr” for France, “.de” for Germany, etc..

If you are interested in foreign language reading from a scientific perspective,  Reading in a Foreign Language is a journal you can read for free online… Some very interesting stuff.

Word of the Week: Hlonipa

This is the first of a new series of blog posts from me, which I am rather ambitiously calling “Word of the Week”. I intend for it to be something interesting, a word or a phrase, representing some cultural information, or colloquial speech. I don’t intend to present myself as an expert in anyway. These will just be snippets that I pick up on my language learning journey.

Hlonipa is a Xhosa word, a verb. The ‘hl’ is pronounced as the welsh ‘ll’ (according to Teach Yourself Xhosa, I know nothing about Welsh myself). The only way I can describe it is like a combination of the ‘ch’ from loch, and ‘l’.

I had never heard of hlonipa before I read about it recently, and I don’t know how widely it is practised. It refers to a Nguni practice of avoidance of saying certain words because of taboo. For example, when a woman marries, she has to avoid saying the names of her husband’s male family members. As Xhosa names have meaning, this means avoiding saying those words. I belive there is a set of replacement words for this.

The power of words seems to be quite a big aspect of Nguni culture. See this link for some interesting info on the issue of taboo as it relates to HIV/AIDS – http://www.africanvoices.co.za/research/aidsresearch.html

Knowing when to pause

I am nearing the end of Teach Yourself Russian. Well, I have pretty much skipped over all the exercises, but my main goal is understanding. I have been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks focusing on Russian, and it can tell my vocabulary has increased a lot more recently than previously. And now that I am nearing the end of the book, I feel myself already trying to decide what language to move on to next. I keep making a start on various languages, but then I don’t get very far with them.

I think it’s time to stop. Or at least to pause. I have enough languages begun to keep me busy for a long time improving my understanding of them. The only other language I definitely want to make a start on first is Portuguese. It should be fairly easy, since I have a bit of a grounding in French, Italian and (very little, self-taught) Spanish. Portuguese is a pretty widespread language and I would like to include it in the group I go forward with.

So there, a new resolution, to improve on the languages I’ve made a start on until they are as good as my German (B1 level). And, of course, I wouldn’t want to neglect German. Try my best to forget, for now, about Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Swedish, Polish…. oh let me not even continue.  “Jack of all trades, master of none” – much as I hate to admit it (I want absolutely everything, is that too much to ask?).

BBC Active & Russian Stuff

At the moment, I am trying to teach myself Russian. The most useful book I have found so far is a Teach Yourself Russian book borrowed from the library. I also own a BBC Active Russian Phrasebook and Dictionary and the BBC Active Talk Russian book with 2 CDs.  This audio course cost more than twice the price of the phrasebook, and quite frankly, I don’t think it was worth it.

I bought it because I wanted the audio, and in that sense it is useful, but I think it could have been done much better. It seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator. There is not a lot of vocabulary in the book, in fact, there is plenty more vocab in the phrasebook. That is my first problem – you won’t get far with the audio series.

The audio has so much time wasted with the voice saying “if you want to say … in Russian then the word you would use is …”.   Too much of the audio is taken up with english. The book should be doing that job.

What I would have appreciated from this course would have been: a conversation for each chapter, in audio, and the book should make it clear what the conversation means. A little bit more explanation of grammar (though I don’t think too much is necessary). They could have gotten a lot more spoken Russian into the same two CDs, and a lot more vocab into the same size book.

The phrasebook on the other hand, is great. They know how to do a phrasebook. I find the pronunciation guide very logical; each phrase is transcribed into the roman  alphabet, in a way that makes sense to an English speaker. Well, it makes sense to me anyway. There is plenty of vocab, like a list of body part names, list of menu items, list of shopping vocab, etc. You can’t really learn Russian properly from that alone, but it is a great extra resource. And I think it would work really well as a phrasebook if that was all you wanted it for.

A useful resources for Russian is Master Russian. The site doesn’t look like much (I’m ashamed to say a boring looking website can put me off – what can I say I’m a graphic designer for a living), but it does contain some useful stuff.

Then there is a website of a university in Sussex that has some Russian texts online with the translation (prioritizing word-for-word accuracy) and a glossary, as well as exercises (which I have not yet tried) and audio (which I couldn’t get to work). But it’s great because you can start getting into Russian literature, while still learning Russian.

Happy learning!