Link Roundup: Five Links on Language Acquisition in Children

The next chapter in Polyglot is on language acquisition in children.  Since I am on vacation this week, this week's summary is postponed until next week.  In preparation of next week's chapter on language and children, here are five links on language acquisition in children:

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: How to Learn Words

Chapter fourteen of Polyglot is the third and last chapter on learning vocabulary.  Continuing from last week's reading, Dr. Lomb talks about learning vocabulary in context.  She starts with the traditional way of learning vocabulary:  writing down a glossary of words and definitions and then memorizing them.

 She argues that the disadvantage of this method is that you only learn one possible meaning of the word and that you are deprived of other meanings of the word or its Hintergrund (background). (113)
The advantage is that you have assembled a glossary yourself.  So the challenge is to learn words in context while keeping language learning personalized.

The next method of learning vocabulary discussed is the dictionary method.  It sounds exactly like its title:  you get a foreign language dictionary and memorize the vocabulary.  Surprisingly, this method has worked for many people.  Dr. Lomb believed that the method works because dictionaries provide example sentences which place the meaning of the word in context.

Her suggestion is to write the sample sentences in your language learning notebook.  Don't limit yourself to just the sentence that you need.  If you find synonyms or antonyms interesting, write down example sentences for those as well.  But only write down sentences that speak to you. The goal is to make your OWN personal glossary.

Here I return to my opinion again, which I have ex-
pressed several times, that the knowledge you obtain at the
expense of some brainwork will be more yours than what
you receive ready-made. If you figure it out from the con-
text, this small incident will be a positive experience. I would
only like to refer to Pavlov’s principle in a primitive form:
if two areas of the brain react at the same time, the effect is
always more lasting. In language learning, the intellectual
sphere can react with the emotional one. If the target lan-
guage can stimulate both, the learning effect is enhanced. (116)
 Some words are easier to learn than others.  Short nouns are easier to learn than longer nouns.  Nouns are easier to learn than adjectives since adjectives are more abstract rather than concrete.  Verbs are the hardest to learn because you have to learn the conjugations for each form of the verb.
The end of the chapter is a discussion on the vocabulary that you need to survive in your target language or the most common words phrases that you need to learn. Here is a link to the most common 625 words in English.

My Thoughts:

My personal homework for the week is to go over Dr. Lomb's list and find example sentences of each vocabulary word in German and Japanese.  I also plan to use  the method described in this source: when you look up the definition of a word, use Google image search to see if the definition agrees with your understanding of the word.  Using image search helps you get an idea of whether or not a word has multiple meanings or a different meaning from your native language.

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: Vocabulary

I am halfway through Polyglot as of today!  Blogging Polyglot has been my first experiment in blogging a book, and I do believe that the experiment has been successful.  By making the chapter summaries for my blog, I have been forced to look back at each chapter and to examine the structure to present it best for Not So Lost in Translation.  In many cases, when I thought I had understood the chapter contents on my first read through, after trying to summarize the chapter, I realized that I needed to go back and examine Dr. Lomb's arguments.

Today's subject is vocabulary.  This week's post will cover two of three chapters on vocabulary:  Language and Vocabulary and Vocabulary and Context.

Language and Vocabulary

When choosing a language, a common concern is the amount of vocabulary needed to become conversational in your target language.  Dr. Lomb's argument is that even languages that are considered "vocabulary poor" such as Hungarian will contain vocabulary that is not present in your native language. Here Dr. Lomb references the Hungarian differentiation between "becoming free"  felszabadulás and "setting something free" felszabadítás (103).  Choosing a target language should not be based on the amount of vocabulary that you have to learn to become conversational in that language.

Vocabulary and Context

How do you learn vocabulary?   Vocabulary should always be learned in context.  For example, "TB" could be an abbreviation for textbook, thoroughbred, tuberculosis, or turbulence depending on context (107).  Learning vocabulary is often the most difficult part of language learning.   For multiple language learners, vocabulary can be even more frustrating since, often, when you are trying to speak one language, you will insert words from another language.  

Of course, it did happen to me once that I couldn't remember the word refrigerator from my own native English.  I could remember Kühlschrank and reizouko but not refrigerator!  I didn't know whether to celebrate or be concerned for my own sanity.

Making associations is one way to remember words.  For example, the word Kühlschrank  is a compound word from "cool" and "closet." 

When speaking, a person's expressions and gestures will also provide context on what they are saying.

Dr. Lomb ends the chapter by discussing the amount of vocabulary needed to become fluent in a language.  I have read several articles that have said that the easiest way to become fluent in a language is to memorize the most common words that make up 80% of spoken vocabulary.

 Dr. Lomb's answer is more honest.  Learning new vocabulary is a lifelong process.  Languages are constantly evolving and borrowing words from other languages.  The good news is that you already have some vocabulary from your target language.  American English speakers are familiar with sayonara, gracias, por favor, merci, and many other words that have filtered into our common vocabulary.

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: What Sort of Languages Do People Study?

Viola reichenbachiana 001.jpg
"Viola reichenbachiana 001" by H. Zell - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

After a discussion on the best way to supplement classroom learning, it makes sense to discuss what language to learn.  Languages and our perception of language is the subject of chapter 11 of Polyglot.  The chapter begins with a UNESCO survey which concluded that people tend to learn the languages of the countries that border them since they are most likely to be useful.  In the U.S., this conclusion is certainly true:  Spanish and French are the most common languages learned by Americans.

In Hungary, however, Dr. Lomb mentioned that the situation was different.  Many Hungarians learn German but fewer learn Slovakian, Ukrainian, Romanian, any variety of Serbo-Croatian, or Slovenian.  The reason is the perceived value of the language.  Germany has the largest economy in Europe, and the German language has long been considered one of the main scientific languages.  Hungarians believe that learning German will improve their career so they learn German.  Other popular languages to learn are English and French: two other global languages.

Aside from proximity and economic utility, a third reason that people choose a particular language to learn is their general perception of a language.  Italian and Spanish are considered passionate and French romantic.  Sadly, German, Russian, Czech, and Serbian are not considered as attractive. 

Here, Dr. Lomb makes the point that acoustics alone is not the sum of perception.  Consider the words violet and violence.  Both words sound similar but violet has peaceful quiet connotations and violence is the exact opposite.

Interestingly, some sounds tend to come up in words with similar meanings.  The short i as in "bit" is also found in mini, little, the German winzig (tiny), the Spanish chiquito, and the Hungarian kicsi (small, little).

Dr. Lomb ends with a few words on the concept of "easy" and "difficult" languages.  Hungarian is often considered a "difficult" languages because of the number of suffixes that can be affixed to a word.  However, English has phrasal verbs which are verbs whose meanings are modified in the presence of certain adverbs:

The phrase "run into" is used to describe meeting someone.

The phrase "run away" is used to describe leaving home usually without the permission/knowledge of parents or a spouse.

My Thoughts:

One of my favorite languages, German, is often considered harsh sounding to non-native speakers.  Honestly, I have never thought the language sounded harsh.  Perhaps this was because my first exposure to German was in musical form?

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: How We Should Read

View of the back garden at Swannanoa Palace

Continuing from last week's argument on the importance of reading, Dr. Lomb next covers how to read a foreign language text in chapter nine of Polyglot.  She breaks reading down into two stages:
  • Stage 1: reading with a "blitheness practically bordering on superficiality"
  • Stage 2: reading with a "conscientious-ness close to distrust" (85)
In the first stage, the goal is to enjoy the story.  The reader should try to learn words based on context and only use a dictionary as a last resort.  In this stage, it is acceptable to skip vocabulary words that you don't  know.  If the word is important, it will come up again later, and you should be able to determine it from context.

Being able to determine words based on context by yourself is central to Dr. Lomb's method of learning languages:

The sense of achievement sweetens the joy of work and makes up for the boredom of effort. It incorporates the most interesting thing in the world even into an indifferent text. You wonder what it is? Our own selves. (86)
The sense of achievement that you gain from determining the meaning of the word provides both motivation and a stronger link to retaining the meaning of the vocabulary word over time.  As a reminder from the previous chapter, Dr. Lomb believed that words that you have determined should be written down in the text so during the review portion of the method, you have a reinforcement of how much progress you have achieved by reading the text.

In the second stage, after you have finished the story, the goal is to reread the text completely with an eye for trying to determine why the writer writes the sentences the way he or she does and if he or she makes any grammar mistakes.

Here Dr. Lomb shares the story of Aussi Brebis by Mikszáth Kálmán.  A father hires a girl to teach his boys French.  The boys have absolutely no interest in learning French and decide that the best way to get out of learning French is to prove that the girl can't speak French.  In the process of proving that she doesn't know French, the boys, by scouring dictionaries to try to trick her, teach themselves French.

Dr. Lomb ends by recommending abridged texts for language learners who are concerned about trying foreign language texts.

My Thoughts:

Giving up my dictionary and learning from context is one of my current struggles.  In some ways, I feel like I am being lazy by not looking up words.  However, if I can get better at determining words by context, I believe that my overall comprehension will improve.

For English learners, the Stepping Stone books such as  Oliver Twist , are adaptations of classic novels designed for young readers.  Of course, you are welcome to go through my blog archives and find my grammar mistakes.  ;)

The Little Prince was one of the first German texts that I read on my own after college.  Here is a link to a page with several free online foreign language editions of  The Little Prince.  The story is beautiful and bittersweet and I really loved to read it.

I am currently working through these classic Japanese stories which have hiragana and a few kanji.

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: Chapters 7-8

Finally, we are arriving at the specifics of Dr. Lomb's language learning technique.  Books are critical for language learning, she argues, because they are portable language partners that we can mark and annotate at will.

Dr. Lomb advocates buying books so that the book can be annotated with notes and markers so that it becomes "a mirror of yourself." (69).  As to what to annotate in the margins,  she recommends only the forms and phrases that you have managed to determine from context. In fact, she argues that consulting a dictionary should only be a last resort.   If you don't know a word and can't figure it out from context, continue on, and if the word is important, it will probably come up again.

She also mentions that her method is designed to supplement teacher-led language learning rather than replace it.  Some methods of language learning (wikimoon's 10,000 sentences for example) argue against learning grammar.  Dr. Lomb, in contrast, argues that learning grammar is an essential albeit unpleasant part of language learning.  However, the process can be made more pleasant by using books to illustrate aspects of grammar.

Moving on into chaper eight, Dr. Lomb introduces the concept of linguistic microclimates:

 As opposed to macroclimate—like the language of the country you live in—I mean the linguistic environment which immediately surrounds  you  in  your  studies  and  which  you  can,  to  an extent, create for yourself, even in your home. (77)
Dr. Lomb suggests creating a microclimate through books and internal monologues.  Here it is important to realize that Dr. Lomb originally wrote Polyglot before the internet became common. In addition to books and internal monologues, we can create a microclimate through news (videos and newspapers), movies and tv shows, podcasts, blogs, and online forums.   

Internal monologues are also helpful in the development of language.  In my own case, I actually understand and read German much more proficiently than I speak and write German.  This is one area where I need to do more work.  It's easy now for me to read German blogs.  In fact, I was actually surprised yesterday when I realized that I had read an entire paragraph in German without needing to consult a dictionary.  However, when it comes to producing German, I am getting better but I still work at making sentences sound right.

Here, Duolingo and Lang-8 have been helpful.  Duolingo because it yells at me when I produce incorrect grammar and Lang-8 because I can write diary entries on any topic that I like and I can receive corrections from native speakers. 

Dr. Lomb makes one suggestion about monologues: they should always be silent to avoid errors in pronunciation and  "to prevent passersby from thinking that your tongue has been loosened by some alcohol." (77)

From here, she talks a little about the importance of monologues in developing and maintaining language. She cites internal monologue as the reason why many expats fail at learning languages (they live in a microclimate of their native language) and why foreigners who live isolated for years in a country where they are the only speaker of their native language in that area can still produce their native language flawlessly.

Dr. Lomb also argues that books help introduce colloquialisms and native speech patterns. Here, I also agree.  Dr. Lomb points out that language text books often teach stilted text that isn't spoken by actual native speakers.  Here books (and blogs especially) can help you develop vocabulary outside of questions such as "Where is the airport?"

My Thoughts:

These two chapters were helpful in introducing concepts that are actually helpful to me in my language learning.  I have two action items that I need to work on based on Dr. Lomb's advice:

1) learn vocabulary out of context rather than looking it up in the dictionary

2) work on adding more internal monologues in German and Japanese to my daily life and continuing with Duolingo and Lang-8 to improve my German in particular

Quantified Life Revisited

After two weeks of working to improve my techniques for tracking my personal data, here is my first report.  After deciding to make Evernote my repository for all of my personal information, my copy of Evernote for Windows crashed.  :/  I searched around for the issue and after removing my database files and reinstalling my database, it is working...sort of.  I am still having issues syncing my database so I need to spend more time on the Evernote help forums.

Areas of My Life That Need Quantifying

  • Fitness
  • Language learning
  • Programming
  • Reading
  • Travel


My goal was to add my most common meals to MyFitnessPal so that I could continue logging my progress on my diet.  Honestly, I still haven't gotten around to doing this.  The majority of the issue is that my life is still pretty crazy and I haven't been able to budget the time to sit down and do the entry.  Also, making meals is somewhat of a pain in the app so I think that issue is part of my reluctance to sit down and do the work.

HOWEVER, tracking my food is even more critical than usual since I have a sprained MCL and have been banned from any exercise involving my legs for two weeks.  So I will try to block off some time this afternoon and start making meals for the app.

EDIT: And done!

Language learning

Since writing the previous post, I have decided that using Evernote and Quantified Awesome is probably the easiest way to track my language learning progress.  Through my continued reading of Polyglot, my main lesson so far is that I need to use my languages in my daily life.  For me that means podcasts, blogs, reading, and watching TV in my target languages.

I am currently interested in learning four languages:  German, Japanese, French, and Cantonese.

For German, I have been busy watching/listening to world cup coverage.  Since my written Japanese is still weak, I have decided to focus on reading and translating and still working through Pimsleur and Human Japanese.  For French, my goal is to work through Duolingo until I can read the language at a 50% rate and then start translating.  I am also working through the FSI course.  For Cantonese, my goal is to listen to a podcast when time permits and start listening to Hong Kong dramas to get a feel for the language. 


I want to get back to programming since I have a few ideas for programs that I need to write and since I don't like losing skills.  However, the weather has been too pretty recently for me to feel comfortable sitting inside.  I do want to continue coding but I think that I am going to push my sprint back to a month when it isn't pretty outside.


After looking at my Goodreads account, I realized that I am very much behind in my goal to read 50 books this year.  Since I can read outside on my porch and enjoy the weather, I decided to cure my cabin fever and get some reading done at the same time by making reading an hour a day my Agile sprint for July.  I am also trying to become better at highlighting and making notes so that I can have more thorough reviews for each of the books that I read.  My current obsession is commonplace books so my goal is to turn my Evernote into a commonplace book.  My goal is synthesis of knowledge and better retension for my reading.


I am now using Camscanner to track my receipts and tickets.  I email either the jpg or the pdf file into Evernote for longterm storage or upload the file to my Flickr account.  I use Foursquare and and IFTTT recipe which sends my Foursquare checkins to my Evernote.  I also use Mynd to better plan my day to day travel.

What's next?

My goal is to do another review on August 1st to see how well I have progressed in tracking my life and to see areas where I still need improvement.

Have you tried tracking your life?  What did you discover?