Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Second day

I got an idea yesterday reading Benny The Irish Polyglot's blog. He was talking about his revolutionary idea which made it possible for him to learn any language in three months, if he only stuck to it, and that was "stop speaking English!"

Now, I'm not after fluency in spoken language, but written. So I need to stop using English, Finnish and Swedish when I'm writing.... The problem here is that I don't think I know one word of Albanian. Pretty hard to write anything :-D
Anyway, I actually used this method when I was a kid. I started writing a book when I was about 11, where the characters were from different countries and all spoke their own language. The Spanish guy used only Spanish, the French guy only French... I also started writing a little history book about the Spanish history in Spanish. It would be fun to know how right or wrong I went with my guessing of the right verb forms and so on :-D
But do this - write a letter to an imaginary friend who only speaks the language you're studying. It really doesn't need to be correct or ever read by anyone, you can throw it in the garbage afterwards, but writing and trying to figure out how to say things is a really effective way of learning.
Some people disagree and warn this teaching you wrong, but it is the way kids learn. Most children don't use the "correct" tense of strong verbs, but the same tense other language learners use... they take the tense they know and adjust the verb to that by the rules they have learned. It takes a couple of times of hearing everyone else using some other form of the verb until they realize their form is "wrong", doesn't "sound" right, and they change it. For an adult language student to keep using their own version in spite of the rest of the world would be extremely stupid and stubborn... and such stupidity and stubborness is very, very rare. It exists, though, but we all know what we think about those people...
So don't worry. You might take a wrong turn, but you will, anyway, at one point or another. People do learn from their mistakes.
I said once "we are going to Finland on May" and my husband was dying of laughter. "Poor May", he said, "who has to swim all the way to Finland". You bet I learned quickly. :-D We still pity May, every time we talk about going to Finland.

I also have imaginary conversations in my mind in the language I'm studying... Well... I am a writer and I always have imaginary conversations and "movies" going on in my head. When I'm studying language I actually "write" the lines in that language. I think it works.
Benny disagrees. He finds the imaginary aspect fake and unrealistic.
So - what ever works for you, use it, and don't use what doesn't work.

Barry Farber says that you need to listen, speak, read and write from the beginning. I agree with him. Even when studying a language you plan to only use when reading, you should speak it, you should imagine discussions and prepare yourself in beforehand... I mean, I do that with the languages I already know before I need to call someone. I go through discussions and what I need to say and how it would be best said to make myself understood, but perhaps that's because of my Asperger's. I don't think so, though. Find as many possible ways of using the language you are studying, and use it. Read it, write it, listen to it, sing it.

I read the negative comments on Barry Farber's "How can you learn any language" and I think they were rather stupid.
One person complaining about how Barry was bragging, just to go on and tell how quickly he learned some or another language using this or that method.
Someone going berserk about USonian arrogance and imperialism, which doesn't have much to do with the book. Just because Barry made the mistake of claiming English is the winner language... he meant that it's the lingua franca of modern world, and he happens to be correct. When this was pointed out to her, she went on rampage over people who write books like that should be able to make themselves understood in English... and I thought, poor girl. All the English speaking people understood what he meant... you didn't... so perhaps it's not Barry who has a weak grip of English? Perhaps?
There were claims that the book was obviously not even written by Barry, many refused to believe that he knows the "thousands of languages" he claims to know and that he was ignorant, stupid, boastful and didn't know anything about the world outside his city... all of which is most definitely wrong, if you know anything about Barry. He might be USonian, conservative old, white guy, but he does know what he speaks about, and he does have a deep love and respect to foreign languages.
Someone getting their pants in twist because Barry said conversation in Japanese and Chinese is easy. It is. I'm sorry, all Japanese, but Japanese is an easy language to speak. It's a hell to read and write, but easy to speak, just like Chinese. It's not like Chinese, of course, and knowing one doesn't give you much of an edge with the other, but Barry didn't say it was either.
I think it's a good book. I enjoyed the anecdotes. I especially loved the Ingrid Bergman being the cause for his learning Norwegian... (He couldn't afford the Swedish course and Norwegian was the closest he could afford :-D)
Grammar in all honor, but kids start learning grammar when they are about 10, and in reality they don't learn any language quicker than adults do. In fact, it's the quite opposite. Believe it or not, adults learn new languages quicker than children learn their mothertongue. You can get fluent in three months, and fluent means the vocabulary of a six years old. In a week you can learn the same amount of language a two years old - or a dog - has. IN A WEEK. Human mind is amazing.

In Finland they still go by this archaic method of learning languages... you get a chunk of text which you are to translate by your best ability with the help of a dictionary. Anyone who has read children's books written in late 19th and early 20th century where studying languages in school know this style. My English teacher told us that "Grammar is the shortcut to learning languages". What it in reality does is to make us too aware of all the mistakes we can make and too afraid to make the mistakes - when in school you'd get a bad grade if you made a grammatical mistake, so we don't dare to speak in public... our grammar is not good enough, our pronunciation isn't good enough... Dear! I know my English isn't perfect. I still make stupid beginner mistakes all the time. I don't know when to use the articles and when not and which article to use, and I hate prepositions. I have apologized for someone, when I thought I was apologizing to someone. No wonder she wasn't happy. :-D Nevertheless, most people have a lot of patience, forgiveness and understanding with people who try to speak their language. It doesn't matter that much if you make mistakes in general communication. Now, if you'd be a translater/interpreter or teacher of that language, then you better know your language VERY WELL, but most people aren't, and it really isn't the world if you make mistakes. After all, native speakers make mistakes too. Just remember when you were at school and tried to get the commas in right place... or something else. Not everyone got straight As in their mothertongue.

I started studying foreign languages when I was 9-10? In the 3rd grade. The language was English, as it was in most schools in Finland.
4 years later I was introduced to the "other domestic language", Swedish, and then the next year, German.
I wanted to study Latin, but there weren't enough kids interested so that they could have had the class. Bummer.
I wanted to study French, but that wasn't even an option in the rural town where I grew up.
I studied Japanese because of Shogun :-D and I think I was 10-11 when I read it.
I devoured my father's language courses; Spanish, German, Russian...
I tried to take in all the courses there were in our local library,
I went to "työväen opisto" to study different languages, among others Japanese and Arabic.
I have binders filled with information of all the languages in the world, I studied linguistics and philology as soon as I found out they existed. :-D
I'm really not very good with anything but Finnish, English and Swedish, but I can say a couple of words with a lot of languages. 

I love the idea of the whole humankind coming from Africa, all speaking the same language, and then this language developing into different dialects and languages because the people were inventing and experiencing new things they needed a name for...
I find the idea of that language influences your way of thinking and your whole nature so that we actually do have national charicatures... all Finns ARE like this, and so on... there is a Slavic folk nature, and Romance characteristics and so on. So of course the language the people developed to match their different lives were different and reflected on the people becoming different as well... having different values and ways and thinking... It's so fascinating!
I love the speculation over the history and origin of languages... how we can see how old the different words and grammatical forms are, and how the languages have influenced each other during the millennia they have existed together.
And I mourn at the death of every language... They say an dying elderly is a burning library... a dying language is an end of a world... we don't only lose the words and language, we lose the unique way of thinking... just as destroying rainforest might kill cure for cancer, a dying language might take with it a scientific insight...

So - adjusting Benny's method and ideas into passive language learning.

Dive straight in. Get a text that looks interesting, and start translating it with the help of a dictionary. Get any text. Buy a newspaper, magazine or a book in the language you are interested in. You can get yourself a translation of your favorite book, assuming it's not written in the language you want to learn... which might actually be the reason to why you want to learn the language. Wade through a paragraf every day. Do it the Barry Farber way, with a underliner and pencil at hands. Underline every word you don't know. Make a wavy pencil line in the margin if there's something in the grammar that catches your eye, like similar endings, the sentence looks almost the same - or is repeated often. That would be your starting point with the grammar.

Get yourself a pile of index cards or empty visit cards and write the words you don't know on them. Write the translation, meaning of the words on the other side of the card. Carry a pile of these cards with you at all times, so that you can use the "dead time" in studying words. Dead time is the time you can't do much anything but wait. Waiting in lines, waiting for the buss to arrive, waiting for the elevator, waiting for the lights to turn, waiting for someone to answer your call...
(And don't forget the time you spent on the loo. Yeah, yeah, one doesn't speak about toilet... but most people do read while they do "their business", and ALL people do "business". There you have a chunk of time, more or less depending on you. Have word lists, alphabet charts, you know those for kids, with the letter made to look like an animal, or something else, that starts with that letter. See that the chart has the name of that animal also written on it. Otherwise it's pretty useless for you. Go through the alphabet as you sit. Like this.

Actually, it is possible for people to read and walk at the same time, so take your pile of cards with you as you walk the dog - or walk yourself, if you don't have a dog. Everyone should, for their own health's sake, take a walk in the middle of the day. It's beneficial in every possible way, it keeps your physics in usable condition, it keeps your stress levels down, it provides you with vitamine D, it keeps you awake and breathing, you'll relax, sleep better at night and fill your soul with beauty, because you cannot walk in the Creation without seeing something beautiful - if nothing else, there's always the sky.
Anyway, have a pile of index cards with you as you walk, and take a look at them every now and then. Use the mnemonic devices. Create strong, ridiculous, absurd images attached to the word to help you remember them. I love the chapter about the miracle memory technique in Barry's book. I still remember the sample words, because of the images created :-D

Learning foreign vocabulary
about mnemonic techniques in learning foreign languages

Also, pick some random 10 words from the dictionary and learn them each day, in addition to the ones you picked from the text. 

The 100 most used words are a good list to start with, and here's a good list with Albanian.

Judith says she learned enough Spanish to be able to read "for pleasure" in 20 hours. I know she didn't start quite from scratch, as she had studied both Latin and Italian before that, but I don't think it was much more than that... So I should be able to read Albanian (and any language) for pleasure in a week.

Here's "listening-reading" method, which I have experimented with, to some extend... I have only had a book in the target language and in a language I know. It's great for the "how do you say this and this in ---sh?", because you don't translate any sentence word by word... or very seldom do. ("How are you" is not translated "kuinka olet sinä" in Finnish nor "hur är du" in Swedish. It's "kuinka voit?" in Finnish (how can you) and "hur mår du" in Swedish (how feel you - sort of)
I wonder where one can find audiobooks in Albanian... There aren't any in our library, and the books in Albanian are rare in the bookstores too...

How to learn the basics of any language in an hour

Learning languages on-line I and II

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