This crazy new addiction

I continue to learn Esperanto. Esperanto is truly a ton of fun to learn and to speak. Learning Esperanto introduces you to language concepts such as cases in a structured and fun way. It also introduces you to suffixes and prefixes that may not be present in your native language.

So while I continue to improve Esperanto, I decided to begin learning German. Learning German now seems like a very doable thing. I joined Benny Lewis’ Speak in One Week project. I am amazed how much German one can learn in one week if one is motivated and one follows the advice generously given by Benny.

This is my fourth day in the project and I have successfully engaged a German native in a language exchange in iTalki.com. I hope to benefit from this exchange and to be able to help my partner with their Spanish.

In addition, I will seek German speakers locally, as there are many German speakers around here. In fact, last Saturday, I spoke a little German with the nice Mennonite ladies at the farmer’s market. While walking around the stalls, I heard at least two more people speaking German, so that could be a good place to find speaking partners as well.

Ich bin sehr aufgeregt!

 

Talking to yourself: It’s not just for crazy people anymore.

I am now staring at the barrel of the 6 week Esperanto Challenge gun. I have only 3 weeks left. Yikes! So I have to find a way to improve my spoken Esperanto fast. The problem is, although Esperanto has up to two million speakers worldwide, there are none to be found in my area. So what is an aspiring Esperantista  to do? Talk to himself of course!

I know that what I should really do is get on Skype and find a willing victim…er…partner with whom to practice Esperanto. I just cannot seem to pull it off however. So the next best thing is to talk to myself. This is most efficient if you record yourself. Second to that is talking to yourself in the mirror. Take a subject. Any subject will do; lettuce, mice, red paint. It doesn’t matter. Chances are that whatever subject you choose will have you running to the dictionary to acquire the vocabulary necessary to talk about the subject. That is one part of the magic. The other of course, is to get your brain and your mouth to pronounce the words. I find that after repeating a paragraph ten to twenty times, my brain begins to get it.

So there you have it.Talking to yourself is a simple, always available technique to improve your foreign language skills.

Some thoughts

When I began learning Japanese my plan was to study Japanese and nothing else. In fact, I had very low expectations for my success. I thought I may be able to learn a few phrases and nothing else. Well, all that has changed in a big way. Now I am messing around with a bunch of languages at one time. They include:
Japanese
Portuguese
Russian
Egyptian Arabic
Indonesian
French
Swahili
Mandarin
Turkish
Romanian, etc

For a while I began to feel a bit like a fake because I wasn’t giving any one language all my time. But now, I’ve come to realize that studying all those languages at one time, make for a much richer language learning experience even if it completely slows down progress in all of them.
Actually, I would say that I give Japanese about 60% of my study time and the rest of the time is divided among the other languages.

Another thing I’ve come to realize lately is that I am settling into a method that works for me. I really like the Colloquial Language series. I also like Teach Yourself and I would really like to try an Assimil course. What I’ve found is that instead of going crazy collecting resources as I did with Japanese and Egyptian Arabic, I can simply go through the Colloquial (or TY) course and learn all that I can from it before bothering with any other resource.

Which brings me to YouTube. YouTube is hands down the best resource we have for language learning. Not only do we have a ton of experienced polyglots sharing their secrets on YouTube, but there are millions of videos in every imaginable language in YouTube as well. That’s what I use for the audio portion of my studies.

I am really excited for the future. I see many young people taking to learning a new language and I hope this trend continues to grow.

Thank you for stopping by!

The power of persistence

When I began studying Japanese on my own, I found a number of resources that I knew were good at an instinctive level. They made no sense to me at the time but I made a note of them for future reference. Once in a while, I would revisit them and and they still didn’t make sense.

One of these resources is Kira Teachings. I found kira sensei on YouTube a while ago.  I just began reviewing his lessons again and wow! they are clear as a bell! I attribute this new found understanding to the fact that I stuck to the process. I’ve learned a lot since the first time I encountered kira sensei. Now his lessons are bearing fruit and expanding my knowledge of the Japanese language by leaps and bounds.

Kira sensei teaches in Spanish and Japanese so unless you speak Spanish, you won’t be able to benefit from the lessons. But if you do speak Spanish, I highly recommend this resource.

Japanese collocations

Until I watched the most excellent video by Anthony Lauder on YouTube, I had never heard of collocations in language. Turns out they are super important in language learning. Collocations are groups of words that often go together in a language. As an example, Anthony gives the phrase ‘fast food’. We, in the United States say fast food, not ‘quick food’ or ‘rapid food’. Fast food is the collocation of the words fast and food to describe food you get at a counter at a restaurant such as Wendy’s.

An English learner could describe the concept using more language than ‘fast food’, but to sound like a natural English speaker, at least in the U.S., fast food is the way to go.

Naturally, I hit the Web to search for resources on collocations in Japanese. I hit a wall right away. The only resource, and it’s EVERYWHERE, is the book Japanese Collocations by Kakuko Shoji. I could not find an extensive free resource anywhere. So I resigned myself to buying the aforementioned book. Before I did that, I looked for some reviews of the book and what I found was that many people said they could have gotten the same material from a Japanese-English dictionary. Hmmmmm…

I reached into my language bag and pulled out my trusty Random House Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary and perused through its pages and guess what? they were right! Here are some examples of Japanese collocations from the dictionary (in Romaji; sorry)

jitsuwa – true story
Jitsu no haha – biological mother
kono mondaijitai – the problem itself
sei sabetsu – sex discrimination
kodomo-sae – even a child
…ni seihirei shite – in direct proportion to
nomisugiru – drink to excess
mentsu o ushinau – lose face
mi ga naru – bear fruit
kusuri ni natta – (I) learned a good lesson.
hookookankaku – sense of direction
jikan ga arunai – have no time
jikan ga aru – have time
hora o fuku – tell a tall tale
tabehoodai – all you can eat
gozonji no yoo ni – as you already know
fuji no yamai – incurable disease

…and many more.

I guess I will work with the collocations in my dictionary for now.

Thank you for stopping by!

Learn one, learn another!

It seems to me as I travel down the road to multilingualism, that it only makes sense to learn languages in groups.

Take Japanese for example. I am having such a struggle to make it my own. Once I get to fluency in Japanese, why waste all the effort I put into learning it by just learning Japanese? I hear Korean is very close in structure and tonality. I fully plan to tackle Korean once I feel at home with Japanese.

Same thing with the Romance languages. I speak Spanish already and Spanish feels like a second skin to me. Why waste this proficiency with Spanish? No way! I am learning Italian, Portuguese, French, and Romanian as well.

Egyptian Arabic? Again, once I feel I can construct sentences at will and with ease, I am learning Modern Standard Arabic and after that, I plan on learning Farsi and Hebrew. Maybe, after that, I will attempt another colloquial Arabic language; Moroccan perhaps.

It’s amazing that I am considering learning all these languages when a year ago I believed it was impossible to learn one more besides English and Spanish.

Crazy.

Thank you for looking!

Word frequency lists

I found a couple of lists of most frequently used Japanese words. The theory behind using word frequency lists is that by learning say, the first 500 words on the list, you will be able to read 75% of the material out there in the target language.

It’s not a bad idea except that one must not solely rely on the frequency lists. Any list you use will be influenced by the material that was used to compiled the list. Ideally, one should use a mix of sources, like newspapers, novels, etc.

The list I am using now was compiled using novels so some of the words in the list don’t seem to be words one would use in daily conversation. Still, I think using the frequency list will be useful.

By the way, I am still working on memorizing (learning) all the 2100 kanji that are needed to read 99% of all material in Japanese. I just thought it would give me a leg up if I learned the first 500 most used words at the same time.

Thank you for dropping by!

The Road To Multiple Languages

It has been almost a year since I decided to become a polyglot. In case you haven’t read my other posts, I am fully bilingual; I speak Spanish and English fluently and I can also write in those two languages at a college level.

A year ago, I decided to become a polyglot. The whole idea began because I wanted to learn some Japanese. Mostly, I wanted to learn some Japanese because of my karate teacher but also, because I have always wanted to watch and understand samurai movies in Japanese. I remember searching the Web and immediately coming to Benny’s website (www.fluentin3months.com). In his website, Benny claims that it is possible to speak a foreign language in three months of study! Preposterous!…or so I thought. From his website I linked to videos on YouTube and thus I discovered that there was a nascent polyglot community online. The one thing in common among all these polyglots was the assertion that learning a foreign language was all about sweat, blood, and tears and not about native talent.  Wow!

So after a year of striving to learn other languages, I have some insights to give you. As a disclaimer, I say that these are the insights of a new learner of languages and not the insights of a pro:

1. At the beginning, you will spend a lot of time gathering resources and very little time learning anything. I believe this has to do with not having a method you feel comfortable with.

2. At the beginning, you will be very insecure about your ability to learn the language. I highly recommend the Michel Thomas (MT) method to start to chip away at this insecurity. Although the list of languages in the MT methods is somewhat limited, I recommend you try one of them. It is almost magical how this method works. You will speak a foreign language in a week if you do what they instruct on the CDs, which is basically to sit, relax, don’t try to memorize anything (crazy!), and simply repeat the things they want you to repeat when they ask you to. The MT method will give you the confident to grow in the language you chose to learn.

3. There are many methods out there to learn another language. All of them, I am sure, work for some people. Try them all until you find one, or a combination of some, that works for you. After one year of experimenting with various methods, I have returned to the one I used to learn English: Learning with texts.
As of right now, my method is thus: Find various word frequency lists on the Web. Get an English/Other language dictionary and translate the first 500 words on the list(s). Find a book on the target language that is aimed at a general audience, such a romance novel or spy thriller. Memorize the 500 words I translated using mnemonics and begin to read the book. Doing this gives me a clear idea of usage and it teaches me a bunch of phrases that I can then replicate. Eventually, I plan to move on to the first 1000 words on the frequency list and if available, move beyond the 1000 until I can read any material on the target language. When I can read any material on the target language, I will then know the target language.

I cannot stress enough how important dedication is to learning anything, including learning a foreign language. I make great strides whenever I commit an hour to my target language. This hour needs to be an hour of hard work and concentration.

One thing is for sure, you will not succeed if you are only lukewarm to the process. You have to be passionate. You have to use the target language as much as you can in your everyday life. I talk to my children in Japanese. I talk to my dog in Japanese. I try to talk to myself in Japanese. Casual study will not yield success.

Recently, two things happened to forced me to refocus my energy and get busy learning: At a party, I saw a movie poster in Japanese and was able to work out what it said. Excitedly, I told a friend and he was very skeptical that I really read the line. This hurt my feelings and fired me up to be able to read Japanese 100% in a couple of weeks. The other incident, also involved a friend but this friend was excited to find out that I was learning Japanese and he has asked me to translate a pamphlet he brought from overseas that is written in Japanese. He has not brought the pamphlet to me yet but when he does, I intend to be ready.

I hope I have given prospective multi-linguists out there some useful information. I will be more active in this blog from now on.

Thank you for stopping by!

More on the Michel Thomas Total Arabic method

I continue to be impressed with this course. I am starting the fourth CD. I am excited to go through the whole set to see if I can make a video at the end.

One word of advice however, if you purchase any of the courses from the Michel Thomas people, do exactly as they say. Do find a quiet place. Do construct the phrases when asked and do press the pause button when you do.

This method is not effective while driving or while answering emails or while watching TV. Really. You will speak Arabic (or whatever language you choose) in a few hours if you give the material all your attention. It is like magic. It really is.

I got the Arabic course for Christmas as a gift. I have since ordered the Total Japanese course. I sampled the Total Japanese course via my iPhone and I can already tell my Japanese will fly through the roof when I get the CDs! You can download the courses from the iTunes store if you use an iPhone or an iPad. You can buy them one hour at the time. If you go this route, you won’t have to wait for the CDs. I bought the Total Japanese set from Amazon.com.

Invest a little effort and time and you too will be as astonished as I am at the results.

Thank you for stopping by!

Simply Amazing

I began the Michel Thomas (MT) Total Arabic course three days ago. I began slowly and with trepidation because the course requires that you do no writing or memorizing and this just terrified me as I am highly visual and I have been programmed to believe that one has to memorize to learn a language.

I haven’t given the course as much time as I would like and yet, after only a four hours or so, I am able to say some sophisticated sentences in Egyptian Arabic such as “My mother is happy because my brother is coming tomorrow” and “I am going to the caffe because I am thirsty” and “Can you see where my son is?”

And, I want you all to know, I didn’t just memorize the phrases above, I constructed them!!! From the things the instructors in the CD teach!!!!

I never would have thought it possible to construct complex sentences in a foreign language in only a few hours of study without writing anything down and without making a concerted effort to memorize vocabulary! And definitely not in a language such as Arabic!

It is simply amazing. That’s the reason for the all the exclamation marks.

I believe that Michele Thomas found the most efficient way to teach a language. Period.  And this is coming from a person who was utterly afraid of auditory courses. I have told the story before of how I learned English by reading three chapters of a textbook during a weekend by translating the text word by word with the aid of a dictionary. By Monday, I could read about 80% of any English text and after that it was just a matter of leaning to pronounce the words.  I was able to accomplish that because I am heavy visual learner. Both the MT course and the Pimsleur approach use the technique where one repeats a word on a preset time basis to strengthen the recollection of the word. That’s where the similarities end. I listened to the Pimsleur Vietnamese course for about three hours and I still can’t say anything in Vietnamese. I was stymied by the tones mainly and my brain just didn’t absorb much. The MT course does away with that. In the MT course, there is a heavy reliance on using words you already know in English to move you along. The MT course also includes a native Arabic speaker repeating all the material so that you get a good exposure to how the words are said by a native speaker.

I will continue the course. I believe that the Michel Thomas course will deliver as promised. The Total Arabic course takes you from beginner level to intermediate. There another course that takes you from intermediate to advanced. Meanwhile, you can still use any other method as you wish to advanced more rapidly if you desire.

I am stoked!!!

Thank you for stopping by.