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15.10.14

Brainstorming: Digital vs. Paper


I struggle with maintaining a system to handle my projects and to-dos.  I use Trello and a modified Kanban system for Not So Lost in Translation, and I use Evernote to handle some of my daily notes. I still prefer paper for my language progress notebook, mindmapping, and making notes about books that I am reading.  I have been debating how to optimize my system so that I can have my information easily available to me.

How does my system breakdown? 

Digital:
  • Trello with a modified Kanban system-Not So Lost in Translation editorial calendar
  • Evernote- daily notepages with IFTTT integrated Captain's Log (using E.C. Chang's recipes) including:
    • weather forecast for the day
    • any tweets that I send out
    • my Foursquare check-ins
    I also append a daily journal page which includes:
    • Three project goals for the day
    • Three project goals for the week
    • My "If I'm Bored" section*
* In order to keep myself from wasting too much time on the internet, I have a list of reminders on books that I want to read, ideas that I want to research, blog post ideas, TED talks, and the current foreign language texts that I am working on. In addition, Evernote also houses drafts of upcoming blog posts. I use an adapted version of Michael Hyatt's template.

 In addition to Evernote, I also maintain a OneNote notebook.  The notebook houses my notes on Polyglot

Paper:
  • Language progress notebook
  • Notes and important quotes from books that I am reading 
  • Mindmaps
  • Monthly assessment on where I am going in terms of my long-term goals
What are gaps and areas that need improvement?
  • I find it unwieldy to use both Evernote and OneNote but I like OneNote's screen clipper so I that I can clip parts of a PDF and take notes on the clipping.  I have considered upgrading to Evernote premium so that I can have the same feature integrated into my Evernote account.
  • I don't want to make my language progress notebook digital since I learn better by writing.  Could I add a summary to Evernote so I can include it in my progress tracking?

8.10.14

Polyglot: Textbooks and Conversation


Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.

Conversation is my weakness when it comes to language learning.  In this week's Polyglot summary, Dr. Lomb addresses one of my main frustrations when it comes to language learning:  Why is it easy to translate a technical document but hard to talk to someone on the phone? So naturally I was very interested in this week's chapters of Polyglot.  I am going to discuss three chapters from Dr. Lomb's book: chapters 17-19.

Chapter 17 is one of the shorter chapters in Polyglot.  The topic of the chapter is textbooks. Although Dr. Lomb was a language instructor, she doesn't focus too much on the topic of textbooks since Polyglot is designed to supplement language learning in the classroom rather than replace it.  However, she does have two suggestions in this chapter:
  • Use textbooks prepared by speakers of your native language.  Speakers of other languages won't be familiar with the unique set of differences between your native language and your target language.
  • Don't use elementary school books in your target language.  They will teach simplified and unnatural language for an adult.
In my own experience, I have found that using elementary school textbooks to learn grammar is not helpful.  However, reading Japanese children's short stories has improved my reading skills and confidence in my reading ability.  Dr. Lomb's point is that the constructions used in children's textbooks wouldn't be used by adults.  I would agree that every language learner should be aware of social differences.

Chapters 18 and 19 are titled How We Converse in a Foreign Language and How We Should Converse in a Foreign Language.  The first chapter discusses how we start the process of adapting thoughts to a new language and how this differs from children learning a first language.  Children learn grammar organically by years of exposure to sentence constructions. As adults, our tendency is translate word for word into our target language while maintaining the grammar of our native language.  Unlike children, we can grasp the fundamentals of grammar in a new language when exposed since we already understand the concept of "past tense" and "direct object."  Dr. Lomb's observation explains why adults tend to write in a new language better than speaking it- we have time to think through the grammar.  In conversation, our natural instinct is to default back to what is familiar.  Dr. Lomb's suggestion is to fix the new grammar rules in our minds by contrasting to what is familiar.  For example:

In English, direct and indirect objects are indicated by word order.  However, in German direct and indirect objects are indicated by changes in the definite/indefinite article and adjective endings.

Another interesting observation is that colloquial language is harder to translate than academic language.  The reason?  Collequial language has more irregularities.  Today's image has several phrases for asking "what time is it?"  Dr. Lomb observed that it was easier to translate complex biology than to figure out the correct way to ask the time!

The final chapter, How We Should Converse in a Foreign Language, contains tips for improving your conversation skills:
  • Don't attempt to translate word for word.
  • Learn phrases in your target vocabulary.  They are easier to remember, and you learn words in the correct relationship.
  • However, if you can't think of a phrase, say whatever you think is closest to what you are trying to say.  Foreign language is about compromise.
  • Use antonyms such as "not flexible" if you can't think of the word brittle
  • Be careful of false friends.  False friends are words that you encounter that you assume have the same meaning in both your target language as well as your target language.  An example of this is billion.  In English, the term billion refers to one thousand million.  However, in German the word for billion is Milliard.  Billion refers to a trillion.
My Thoughts:

Each language learner struggles with certain areas of language learning.  For me, reading and translating are much easier than speaking.  As a naturally introverted person, speaking in my native language sometimes makes me nervous.  After reading these two chapters, I have decided to focus more on my phrases deck on Anki as well as remembering to have fun!  Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the reason that you want to learn a language is to communicate with other people!

What are your thoughts?


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

30.9.14

How to Kanban: An Introduction

How do you keep track of multiple projects?  Project management is a topic that comes up over and over again in the personal productivity blogosphere.  Recently, I have been trying to improve my own project management skills.  My background is science and the humanities, and I have never had formal project management training.  Particularly, for my personal projects, I am guilty of following a cyclical pattern where I focus heavily on one project (the most urgent one) and leave the others on the backburner.  For languages, having daily input is valuable. My two main priorities are improving my German fluency and learning the kanji.  However, I have four other languages that are on my learning list (French, Cantonese, Korean, and Latin).

I decided to explore kanban since I had heard that it was a visual method of project management.  Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota.  Originally, kanban was designed to address bottlenecks and inventory management problems in Toyota's assembly line process.  Kanban treats a project as a series of processes both large and small that need to be completed.  By breaking down each process, kanban lets you visualize materials needed for each process for the process to be completed.  

The simplest way to set up Kanban is to take a whiteboard or sheet of paper and break it down into three sections:  Backlog, Doing, and Done.

Backlog

The backlog section contains all of your tasks that you need to finish for your project.  In this section, you list each process as well as any notes needed, materials needed, deadlines, etc.

Doing

The doing section contains the tasks that you are working on right now.  One of the most important aspects of kanban is limiting your work in progress.  When you set up your kanban, analyze how many tasks that you think that you can work on effectively in one day.  Your analysis doesn't have to be perfect- another aspect of kanban is incremental improvement.  In my own experience, I have found that I am much more likely to overestimate instead of underestimate so when in doubt, aim lower rather than higher.

Limiting your work in progress improves your focus.  Kanban emphasizes doing a task right the first time.  By setting strict limits on the number of tasks that you can accomplish in a day, you are more likely to be efficient because your mind focuses much better on one task at a time!

Done

The done section contains the tasks that you have finished.  Seeing in the tasks that you have finished is good for several reasons:

1. Noting what tasks you have completed and what is still in progress can help you find potential bottlenecks. Visualizing and noting inefficiency fits in with another Japanese production philosophy- kaizen or continuous improvement.
2.  For us GTD or Agile fanatics, it integrates well with the weekly review. At the end of the week, you have a list of tasks that you have accomplished.
3. Physically seeing what you have accomplished is a powerful psychological motivator.  It's easy to stress over what you still haven't accomplished while forgetting what you have accomplished.

For my next entry in the series, I am going to talk about how I have integrated my kanban into my own project management.

Resources:

23.9.14

Polyglot: Dictionaries

Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.


Dictionaries are indispensible for language learning but they aren't what I would consider a really exciting tool.  I never gave how I used my dictionary much thought.  If I didn't know a word, I pulled out my German/English or Japanese/English dictionary out and looked the word up.

Dr. Lomb had several suggestions for how to use a dictionary effectively when learning your target language.  Dictionaries are a tool for language learning but they should not become a crutch.  It's easy to abuse a dictionary by automatically looking a word up whenever it doesn't come to mind immediately.

So what should you do when you are reading a text in your target language and you come across a word that you don't know?

  • Try a monolingual dictionary (i.e. a dictionary written in your target language) first.  Obviously, if you are a complete beginner, this approach won't work but Dr. Lomb argues that you should start trying to use a dictionary in your target language as soon as possible.
  • If you are trying to think of a word in your target language and you can think of a synonym, look the synonym up and see if the entry gives you the word that you are searching for.
  • Try to use the reverse dictionary if you can't remember the word but you have an idea of how it starts.  By using the reverse dictionary, you are reinforcing the pathways that you used to learn vocabulary.
What are other ways to use dictionaries?
  • Dictionaries are excellent tools for learning non-romanized alphabets.  Here Dr. Lomb used Cyrillic as an example.  By looking up words in the Russian dictionary and seeing how they were spelled, she was able to deduce some of the differences between the Cyrillic alphabet and alphabets based on Latin script.  Some obvious examples are MOTOP (motor), MOCKBA (Moscow), and CAMOBAP (samovar). (128)
  • Dictionaries provide good sample sentences.  Sentences are useful for learning vocabulary because vocabulary is learned in context.  Expect an entry on sentences soon.  Until then, Antimoon is an excellent resource for reading why learning sentences not vocabulary is important for language learning.
  •  Dictionaries are good treasuries of "isms"- phrases that native speakers often say that will help you sound like a native and learn more about the culture of your target language.
How do you use your dictionary?  Have you found any tricks that have improved your learning? 
Resources


Some of my favorite monolingual dictionaries:
  • Duden- one of the most popular dictionaries in Germany.
  • ALC - ALC is a dictionary designed for translators.  The interface is daunting since it is entirely in Japanese.   Tip:  type in an English word or phrase and Japanese sentences containing the equivalent phrase will pop up.
Bilingual Dictionaries
  • Beolingus- the best online German-English dictionary that I have foundBeolingus is part of my life at this point. 
  • WWWJDIC- the interface takes some time to learn but Jim Breen's dictionary is the dictionary that many other Japanese-English dictionaries are based on including Denshi Jisho.  The word search function is particularly useful if a phrase if giving you a headache.
Dictionary Browser Plugins
  •  LEOS Dictionaries- right click on a German word and the LEOS Dictionaries plugin will open a window containing the English translation
  • Rikaichan- hover over a Japanese word and a detailed view of kanji, pronunciation, and meaning will pop up.  The Chrome equivalent is Rikaikun.
Print Dictionaries




Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

16.9.14

Blog Design Update and Preview of the Rest of the Year

Mabry Mill in Patrick County, Virginia
 

If you are visiting through the website and not through my RSS feed, you may notice that Not So Lost in Translation looks different. I spent this weekend updating the site template which should hopefully ease navigation and make it easier to find things on the site. I have also changed the commenting feature. In the past, you had to register to make a comment. I now allow anonymous comments although I do ask that you leave a name of some sort just so I know how to address you. This also means that I am now moderating comments so that I can control the amount of spam that appears on the blog. If you would like to review my commenting policy, it can be found here.

 Along with updating the site, I also have been working on an editorial calendar so that Not So Lost in Translation continues to be helpful and informative. The primary focus of Not So Lost in Translation is language learning. I have also decided to add more content on personal development and life hacks that can help with language learning and learning in general. I am not planning to go into the personal productivity sphere- there are PLENTY of personal productivity blogs out there. However, language learning is a lifelong project so I think that adding a little about what I am learning about project and information management may be helpful to you as well.

 Here is a snapshot of the upcoming features for the rest of the year:

Finishing Polyglot
Next Tuesday, I will have a new chapter summary from Polyglot.  The next chapter focuses on dictionaries so I will be including some of my favorite dictionaries as well as how to add a foreign language dictionary to your Kindle.  To keep the content from Polyglot from becoming stale and to give myself (and you) more time to read the chapters, I will be alternating topics so that there will be a new Polyglot chapter every other Tuesday. If you want to follow Polyglot updates, here is a link to the RSS.

Personal Updates
To keep from falling into the trap of blogging about language learning techniques instead of actually focusing on my target languages, I will be including entries from my language progress notebook including what seems to work for me and what difficulties that I am having.   


Language Tools and Apps
 Language tools can be books, podcasts, or websites that I have found helpful in learning my target languages.  I will be featuring tools and apps that I think are helpful for learning foreign languages.


Language Learning Techniques
Have you heard about 10,000 sentences, shadowing, Pimsleur or FSI?   The language learning community is full of buzzwords and methods that newbies haven't heard of.  I tend to be skeptical of anyone that says that X technique is the best and will guarantee fluency.  I go through techniques that I have tried or am trying and my opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the each technique.

Using Project Management Tools and Techniques With Language Learning
Coming from a liberal arts/science background, I know next to nothing about project management.   I have become interested in the topic since language learning is a lifelong project and it helps to have definable goals and ways to measure your progress.  I'm also into personal development in general so, as well as learning German, French, and Japanese, I am also working on learning about classical education and reading literature, improving my health, and working on my novel.  I have a lot of projects!  Since most other language learners are also interested in personal development, I have noticed that we tend to have a lot of other outside interests.  Learning about project management can help increase our likelihood of achieving our goals.


 

9.9.14

Five Resources for Teaching Yourself Latin

wheelock's latin

Confession time:  both of my parents are Latin nerds.  Of course they wanted me to learn Latin.  Naturally, I decided to learn German instead.  I don't regret learning German.  However, I do regret not learning Latin as well as German. Due to classical music training, I do have some knowledge of ecclesiastical Latin but my classical Latin skills are sorely lacking.

 Being a language geek, this means that I have added Latin to my growing language list.  However, I am also working on being more focused and not spreading myself to thin.  So latin has to remain on my to-do list until I can read Harry Potter Et le Prisonnier  D'Azkaban which I have made my first target for French study. 

Being a language geek, I still can do research on how to go about learning Latin.  For this week's post, I thought I would share some resources that I have added to my links list for when I am able to officially start my Latin study.

Getting Started With Latin
Getting Started With Latin is an introductory textbook for beginning Latin students.  The textbook is designed specifically for self teaching. A preview of the text book is available on the site.  The author of the textbook also teaches a free introductory Latin class.  A link for the class is also on the Getting Started With Latin website.

Latin & Greek Study Groups
Several Latin and Greek study groups at many different levels are available on the above website.  There a three beginning study groups based on Wheelock's Latin which are already in progress.

First Latin Lessons
Henry Fletcher Scott's textbook is public domain and available for download in multiple formats. The lessons are more concise than Wheelock so students who have found Wheelock difficult may want to check this resource out.
Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster
Fr. Gary Coulter hosts a website containing lessons from two introductory Latin courses from Fr. Reginald Foster.  Fr. Foster is known as the Pope's Latinist and is considered the world's expert on the Latin language.  Fr. Foster has his own website which should be checked out for news of his upcoming book!

The Pope's Latin Twitter Account
The Pope has multiple Twitter accounts in several languages including Latin.    I have subscribed to both the Latin and German accounts so I can compare my Latin translation against the German. His Latin Twitter account has over 278,000 followers which is higher than his German Twitter account!









2.9.14

Polyglot: Age and Language Learning

Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.

The myth that the only way to become fluent in a language is to start learning as a child really annoys me.  Today's post focuses on Chapter 15 of PolyglotAge and Language Learning.  Dr. Lomb begins by addressing the perception that children are excellent language learners.  In brief summary:  they aren't.

Now that we have that out of the way, how many of my readers are from the USA?  What did you do over Labor Day weekend?

Oh, I suppose you want an actual explanation of the above statement.
 
Dr. Lomb separates language learning into two components:  pronunciation and grammar.  To achieve native level pronunciation, you do need to start learning a language in childhood.   HOWEVER, children take longer to learn grammar compared to adults.  The reason is that grammar is abstract, and kids aren't great at getting abstract concepts.  This makes sense, doesn't it?

Consider the following example:

When a child refers to going swimming yesterday, he or she might say, "I swimmed."

Of course, you might correct the child and say, "You swam yesterday?"

Depending on the age of the child and whether or not he or she is actually listening to you, they might accept the correction or not.

 With an adult learner, you can point out that swim is a strong verb and the past tense of swim is swam.  The adult learner is already familiar with the concept of weak versus strong verbs as well as the concept of past tense.

Dr. Lomb's conclusion is that you are able to start learning a language at any age and that retirement is just as good of a time as preschool.

My Thoughts:

One of the most challenging aspects of being an adult language learner is getting people to understand the difference between good pronunciation and native level pronunciationThere are a few situations where native level pronunciation is expected.  Adults returning to the culture of their parents are often expected to have native level pronunciation even when they haven't spoken a language outside of a limited setting since childhood.  Unfortunately, this is a problem with cultural expectations which isn't easily solved.

However, for most visitors navigating a foreign environment, they can expect that they will be instantly recognized as a foreign visitor.  Allowances for "off" pronunciation will be made.  I am by no means saying that working on pronunciation isn't important. Good pronunciation is extremely helpful when navigating a new environment in your target language.  However, native level pronunciation while desirable isn't really necessary.   

What are your thoughts?







Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

26.8.14

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:

19.8.14

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: How to Learn Words

Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.


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.






Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

12.8.14

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: Vocabulary

Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.


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.





Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5.8.14

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

View from Mt. Cheaha, Alabama



Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.


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?





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29.7.14

Polyglot How I Learn Languages: How We Should Read

View of the back garden at Swannanoa Palace
Polyglot is an ongoing series where I am blogging my thoughts and summaries of famous polyglot Kató Lomb's book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages.  Page numbers refer to the 2008 edition translated by Ádám Szegi and Kornelia DeKorne.  Past entries can be accessed through the polyglot label.

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.





Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”