Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thoughts on Method

You can do better than me.

Want to learn a language? Just do it! Seriously; there is no better way than just to hop in. If you are seeking, the right methods will fall into your lap. Those that suit you. Everyone learns differently. Speaking helps everyone though. There are translators who do pretty well translating but still miss the point sometimes because they never speak. Speaking style creeps into writing style; especially editorial style.


Good dictionary
Recorded Material
Recordable Media

Meetups --- go there armed with some earned skill first. It is not the place to learn so much as a place to pratice what you've learned and therefore grab more words. Words stick to more words like when you roll a small snowball and it grows when other snow sticks to it. Trust me on this.

What language do you want to learn? You don't have to have an excuse. Just wanting to is enough. I wouldn't discourage someone from learning Ojibwe or French. There are some 7000 languages in this world. Materials are out there for a great many. Perhaps you'd like to go where nobody except natives have trod. A language without a textbook? Why not?

Well funded libraries have foreign language materials and foreign books and novels free for the borrowing. I've even seen Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone stuff there. It is amazing, really.
One library I am a member of had all of Rosetta Stone's materials free online for their members. Crazy!

The Linguists

I stumbled upon the other day. You should go there. They had a movie there called The Linguists. These people go all over the world and document languages that are near extinction. I mean very near. They showcased an aboriginal Taiwanese language with only five speakers remaining. So sad to see languages disappear. Then they were off to Siberia to catalog yet another with only a handful of speakers and then off to document a Native American language that has one speaker left who speaks to himself so that he does not forget it. They showed efforts involved to bring this language and others back to life. I thought it was fascinating and you might also.

Speaking of "stumbled upon", there is a site called "StumbleUpon". StumbleUpon, brings up random websites based upon your likes and interests. Be careful because you can find yourself losing track of time here. I have found some useful items there such as hasslebot which will email you and remind you to do something like study or whatever you set it to remind you. Give it a try if you haven't already.

Currently I'm really trying to study French. I'm watching French movies on Netflix, watching French news on I'd recommend you combine the two in the language of your choice.

I hope you are practicing speaking your newfound language every day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

1. Pronunciation 2. Japanese Verb Conjugating Mnemonics

1. Learn to pronounce it right! I've run into quite a few language experts who never took the time to even remotely mimic the accent of their target language. It seems such an easy step to take. Have you ever made fun of a foreigner's accent (when that foreigner is not around) when speaking English? If you can do that then you can at least try to mimic a foreigner's accent when speaking their language. When I meet someone who has learned a language but who has not expended any effort to approximate a good accent it is irritating. I have experienced this on many occasions and even by people from amazing institutions. Depending on the language being mispronounced it can be a heavy assault on the ears; so much so that I can not even listen to the person.

2. I ran across this set of mnemonics that are very useful. With them you can conjugate any Japanese verb except the handful (one hand) of irregular verbs. Those irregular verbs thankfully are extremely commonly used so you will get enough exposure to them when speaking to native speakers. By the way, you should definitely be seeking out native speakers to accost (linguistically) when learning a language. There is just no greater joy than seeing that sparkle of understanding on their faces to spur you along on your quest. I have been putting this off because I wanted to cite my source but I can not find it and it has now been many years since having come up with this mnemonic device that I am even deluded into thinking that perhaps I came up with it on my own. If you've seen it before I'll acquiesce. This mnemonic gets you to the simple past form of the verb, from where you can easily craft the other forms.

Verbs ending in mu, nu, bu replace with nda to form the past

Verbs ending in u, tsu, ru replace with tta to form the past

Verbs ending in ku and gu replace and end with ita and ida respectively

Verbs ending in iru and eru replace and end with ita and eta respectively

Verbs ending in su replace with shita to form the past

kuru and kaeru and irregular; they become kita and kaetta respectively

That looks great doesn't it? Well, it would still be difficult to learn with the data thrown at you like that. How about this. It is like a poem:

mu nu bu nda
u tsu ru tta
ku gu ita ida
iru eru ita eta
su shita


Yobu (to call) Yonda (called)
Kaku (to write) Kaita (wrote)
Yaku (to burn) Yaita (burned)
Oyogu (to swim) Oyoida (swam)
Taberu (to eat) Tabeta (ate)
Okasu (to cause to happen) Okashita (caused to happen)
Okosu (to wake someone up) Okoshita (woke someone up)

Get out your dictionary and apply these rules.

It may take a minute to memorise but it is a sight better than when I was taking a Japanese course because I needed some quick language credits (I'm self-taught) and saw the teacher using three blackboards to explain Japanese verb forms, not to mention the absolute resignation on the students' faces. I might iterate that you can learn any language on your own and in fact with few exceptions the worst place to learn one is in a school.

Have fun with that and I hope it propels you onward.

Here is a little fun for masochists:

Japanese verb form quiz:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Shared Talk

Here is another spot I've found where you can chat in audio or text with foreigners who's language you are eager to learn. Sometimes the audio can lag and I've been asked if I have Skype because people like to go there because the audio can be clearer.
I don't know how I feel about having a bunch of people calling me on Skype whenever they feel like it though. So, that is something to consider. For the most part the audio is fine for me on Shared Talk, anyway. It does take some courage at first to jump into a chat, especially audio. There are people from all over the world to talk to.

I'm adding a video here that punctuates the usefulness of knowing another language. Some may have already seen it but here goes.

I had a great time on SharedTalk today. I'm gradually losing my mic shyness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lingq and other items

I've found a nice program for learning the popular languages. See what you think: It is called Lingq and it really seems to be a wonderful way to learn.
I have just started on it this morning. I went through all 3 levels of Pimsleur and then Michel Thomas while on the road delivering auto parts. Then I started speaking to people. I am now able to carry on a half-decent conversation in French. I'm now going to French speaking meetings that I found on I recommend those along with Pimsleur and Michel Thomas. You can't go wrong as far as I'm concerned. I actually make a living translating so I would never steer you wrong. Don't forget to check out the free FSI language materials from a previous post. Well,
I'm going to go a little further with French on Lingq.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The French Meetup at La Madeline

Tomorrow evening is once again French Meetup night at La Madeline at 7:00. Looking forward to it much. What a nice group of people. I get so excited when I'm speaking French there. I have no concept of social manners during that time and have to be careful not to interrupt people. I see a few language blogs out there that I'd like to hook up with but I don't know if it is polite to just link without asking. I'll have to ask and see. I must give Tim Ferriss props for making me feel guilty about having lost some of my language learning zeal. I'm ready to be a Zealot! I enjoy listening to French programming right now on my WiFi radio. Many types are available but mine is a Pico by Sabre. I believe that it is manufactured in the UK. The quality of sound is just excellent. If you don't find your target language being spoken among those thousands of free channels I just can't help you.

I do find movies helpful for language learning. I get to hear more of a street version of the textbook language and find it enriching. In fact I guess everything is effective for me except childrens' books. I believe that an adult should just dive in to adult level material. By far my favorite book for rekindling language learning zeal is Barry Farber's How to Learn any Language (9780806512716). Give it a look. I don't have any book in my library that is so full of yellow hilight. Quite a jewel in my book!

Has anyone out there tried shadowing? Do you know what it is? Oh! While I'm at it I should recommend that you go to and see what language meetups there are in your area. Happy Hunting!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Some Free Treats

I am glad to be sharing more information with you all. I just wanted to pop in and tell you where you can find the exact materials used by the US Government to train their language career personnel. You can use your imagination to figure out what that means. Well here they are. They are a very full list of Foreign Service Institute (FSI) language courses.
These same materials have been repackaged and sold countless times and I see them in many bookstores repackaged as "original" material. I was trained by the Government myself using both the Korean and Thai courses from this list. They look so familiar when I look at them. They are a goldmine and they are yours. Have fun guys! Next I'll have some information about using mnemonics to help you learn vocab effortlessly.