Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Text method of learning languages

My English sucks :-D I have so thick an accent it's funny. And it changes as I speak :-D One sentence is American, another British, third Finnish and the next one is Scottish. Or Canadian. Or something. Really funny.

So - language learning. I have Asperger's. It's a form of Autism. Before anyone starts talking about Savants and "difference" in Autist brain... I mean... we are not wild. Our mind might work differently, but it's not a difference that matters. The difference is in focus. A person with Autism is going to focus 100% in the subject of interest.
When it's languages, it's languages 24/7, and as you talk with anyone studying in languages, that's the key. If you do All English All The Time, you'll get really good in English. If you do AFATT you'll get really good in Finnish.

Judith said, it took her some 20 hours to learn to read Spanish fluently. I believe her. Because whether it took a day, a week, a month, depends on how she spread those 20 hours. If she studied 4 hours a day, it took her 5 days to get fluent in reading Spanish. I believe that. It doesn't take you more than a week to learn to read a language you haven't even looked at before. If you do your 4 hours a day.

Let's look at what you do those 4 hours.

Before you do anything, learn the IPA. Yes, really. Learn to use it fluently. Learn all the phonemes sign by sign, and get fluent with it, so that you can use it to record how words and phrases sound to you. I tried to transcribe a Sámi text from scratch, without using IPA, and it was really hard and frustrating and made me want to cry. So - write down what you hear, and if it's not correct, it doesn't much matter. You are training your ear to hear the sound of the language, to begin with. But, that's a totally different matter... learn IPA, so that you actually understand the pronunciation rules given.

Why pronounce anything when you are learning to read?
When people learn to read anything, the sound the words in their head. When you get fluent in reading, you don't sound the words anymore.
Now, as you are learning a passive understanding of a language, it's just as easy to you to learn bonjour as bɔ̃ʒuʁ as boh(n)-ZHURE.
The thing is that the correct spelling of the word isn't going to help you to recognize the word when you hear it, so if you ever want to understand spoken French, you will have to learn it again, this time to listen. Also, why would you deprive yourself from one additional aid to your mind? You will learn language by listening to people speaking it, only if you understand how the words sound... also, this will help you with "sentence mining" and "shadowing/choiring"... but that's not important at the moment either.
"Boh(n)-ZHURE" will teach you there's an H in bonjour. Also, bonjour doesn't really rhyme with sure. Of course you can use any way of transcribing the language you hear, any way that helps you with the pronunciation, but why make it more difficult than it is, simply because you don't want to learn another way of writing, or something like that? Stupid.
The phonetic transcription is good because you are not going to mix it with actual French, and you will know exactly how to pronounce the word, how it sounds, etc.

The first thing with any language is to learn the alphabet. Usually the letter IS the sign of the sound you are supposed to make when you read the letter. Of course, English is an exception, a deviation, and it's totally f'd up when it comes to that. Nevertheless, most languages are really that simple.

Take a text, any text. Preferably a book, a story, because then the motivation is really strong. You want to know what happens next. But you can take any text - like now-a-days there are Wikipedias in almost any language. Just pick one text in random. Take a newspaper article.

Copy it on a piece of paper. Yes, copy it by hand, word by word, sign by sign, every comma, accent, cedilla, iroquee mark and umlaut.
Some people would use LingQ or  LWT (Learning With Texts) in stead. Of course, you can, but I wouldn't.
I don't like them much, for several reasons.
1) When you copy and paste a text to either, you won't learn anything but copying and pasting. Sure, it's easy, it's quick, it's comfortable... but if you take a couple of minutes more to do it by hand, you will learn so much more.
2) There are no possibilities to do anything with the text. You can't underline interesting details, you can't circle constructions, you can't write your own notes, you can't point out similarities in words, you can't parse the text. You just have the text and then you can mark words.
3) Neither of these programs separate "base words". To them "be" and "been" are two different words with nothing in common. Stupid. Your brain would like to learn word families in whole. If you learn that "be", "is" and "being" are three different words, you won't realize that "being" is just "be" + "ing" - so you can make a lot of new words by adding -ing to the base form of a verb. Add+ing, sing+ing, laugh+ing... By seing "To be: I am, you are, he/she/it is..." together, you understand that "to be" is a strong verb. "To be" IS a strong verb in most of the languages that make any difference with the verbs.
LingQ and LWT can't understand that "have been" is not two words, but just another form of "to be". "to be" is not two words. One needs to learn these forms, mostly by heart.
But - been there, done that, found it wanting. I'll do it my way in the future. 
Leave plenty of space around the sentences. You are going to do some parsing later... Yes, sentence analysis, parsing... Hated that in school, didn't you. I'm the only person alive who actually did that for fun. Anyway, you are going to do that because it teaches you everything about grammar you will need.  It will also help you to understand the structure of the language. A lot of people are afraid of grammar for no reason. I suppose it was because you were supposed to just learn rules with no explanation to what it's supposed to be good for. It was just something you NEEDED to do to "learn the language", or something. Nope.

It helps to learn the names of the different word groups, like verbs and nouns and so on, so that you know that this word, a verb, behaves differently from this word, a noun, and this word, an adjective, behaves differently from this word, a particle, that doesn't behave at all. It just is :-D ("on" is always "on". It's not "strong" or "feminine" or anything but "on" :-D)
Now, the grammatic names are not valuable in themselves. It's enough for you to understand that there's a group of words that behave this way, and another group that behaves differently, and you can use what ever name you like - or not name them at all - but as the existence of these word groups is a well known fact, and they do have names, it would help to learn those names. Just saying. It's not necessary, just helpful.

Anyway, your parsing is "who is doing things here" and not "find the subject". "What is being done", not "find the predicate". "to what is it being done", "what kind of thing is it", "how is it being done" etc. etc. You do this automatically already, so why not put some intension to it. Never mind the grammatical names of things, even though that too would help.
As far as I know, all the sentences in the world have at least the subject - a doer - and the predicate or verb - the doing, and sometimes an object - the being done to. The rest of the words are just complements. They describe the doer, the doing or the being-done-to. They bind sentences together (con-junctions). Again, you do this automatically. If your brain functions could be slowed down to really, really slow and described action by action, with "proper" names, you would see that you are doing "proper" parsing, exactly like the teacher tried to make you do in school. So - to beging with we intentionally slow down this process, so that you get aware of what is happening.
I repeat this again, you don't NEED to do this. It will help, if you do.

Why? Because as you find out the nouns and verbs and other words like that, you will learn to see the different forms of these words and the rules that govern these words. Most of these rules are not easy, if even possible to catch and put in words, most of them are "intuitional". You will learn to hear what is right and what is wrong, and you will be able to detect the base words of these words, and that is necessary if you are ever going to find out the word in a dictionary. It also works the other way around - as you do this, you get used to the endings and "shape shifting" happening in words as they become something else, and you can take any word from the dictionary and turn it into expressing what you want. Of course there are "false friends" and the nasty strong verbs and other words that don't behave as they should, and obediently follow the rules and allow you to make with them what you want, but - frankly "I be woman" is not too far away from "I am a woman". People will understand what you are trying to say.  "Minä tunten hyvin yksinäinen tänään" isn't too far away from "minä tunnen itseni hyvin yksinäiseksi tänään". ("I feel very lonely today"). Sure, it's not correct, but it's good enough. [I feel myself into very lonely today - by looking at the mistakes foreigners make (I, for example, say every now and then "mistakes I do"... "do" and "make" are the same word in Finnish...) you will see what is going to be problematic in learning the speaker's language...] I'm drifting again...

Anyway, you do parsing anyway. So why not do it conscieously and with intention? Don't call it parsing, if that word makes you cringe.

Read the text and find the base form of the words.

Make notes. Write down the thoughts you get when you look at the text. Note the associations. Note the insights. Slow the process down a little, and record it. I promise you, if you don't record your insights, they will be gone. Not that it's important or so, but it's interesting and, again, might be helpful. Even to others.

Make a flashcard of all the new words. (or not. If you study vocabulary with flashcards, it will speed up the process a little, and build your vocabulary, but again, it's not necessary. Just helpful. You will build up your vocabulary any way.)

I tried Anki. I don't like it at all. I prefer paper flashcards any day. I have mentioned earlier about having folded cards, or adding flaps or pages to them, if you want to write down more information about the words, like when using Anki.
- you don't need to learn to use any program, you don't need to know anything about internet or computers or anything. All you need is to write and read.
- they are easy to carry around - you don't need heavy, expensive or fragile equipment to be able to use them. All you need is paper and pen.
- you get the "SRS" if you want to, by putting the cards you know in another pile, and go through like 50 cards at a time. The words that are harder come automatically up more often. There really is no need of an algorithm.
- you can add "unlimited sides" to a card. You can make it into a folded card, and have 4 sides in stead of 2, and you can add pages to it. Of course it's harder to go through 50 small booklets than 50 two-sided cards, but you will find your optimum by experimenting.
- you can sort them in all kinds of groups. Only your imagination sets limits.
- you can make them in any colors, you can decorate and illustrate them. Your brain likes that :-D You could make verbs pink and adjectives green etc.

"entering vocabulary doesn't take so long"
Might be so, but as you write it all by hand, you also learn as you do it. When someone - or something - else "fills in xxx for you"... the risk is that you don't even bother reading, or that you don't quite understand what is being said. With paper cards you have 100% controll.
Translate the text. You don't need to create a good translation, nor an extensive one. All you really need is to understand what the text says. Again, you don't NEED, but it would HELP. The more you work on this, the better results you get.

Read the text out loud. 

If you want to, you can first translate the text well, write it down in full, understandable and good sentences in your mothertongue, and then read the text in the foreign language. Then you can do the "reading-listening". 
Naturally, it would be better if you can find someone native speaker to read it for you, and perhaps go through your translation, and correct it, but it's not necessary either. Better but not necessary.

Move on to next text.

No comments:

Post a Comment