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: