Monthly Archives: February 2012

From an exchange today in the comments in the Daily Telegraph


English: Richard Dawkins giving a lecture base...

Image via Wikipedia

One Daily Telegraph reader wrote under the article about Richard Dawkins actually being only 6/7 sure in his mind about atheism, despite his mockery of the religious and outrageous atheistic dogmatism in most of his lectures and books:

No just God would ever judge a man by his beliefs rather than his actions.

So a believer believes and does bad things and evil things and can still be admitted to heaven whereas an unbeliever can spend a lifetime of doing good things and deeds and is still consigned to eternal torment because of his unbelief. A paedophile catholic priest who has committed the most henious of all crimes can still enter the kingdom of heaven if he believes

My answer:

You say “no just God would ever judge a man by his beliefs rather than his actions”.

You could actually not be more wrong. There is no more just way of judging those whose actions could never make the grade. The only difference between the worst sinner and the greatest saint is often only opportunity. Or fear. Or pride.

Therefore God in his justice made faith the yardstick by which he would measure a soul’s readiness to be with Christ in eternity, and that is whether that person believes that Christ died for his sins, and that he was so sinful that no other way would have saved him.

Please dwell on this with an open and prayerful mind.

I passed my JLPT N5 exam.


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In case you can’t make out the image of the score report, I got 112 out of 180. The pass mark is only 80 out of 180 as there is so much in it that even more fluent readers are pressed for time. The “grades” amounted to A for vocabulary , A for grammar and B for reading. In the listening part I got 35 out of 60. The sectional pass mark for that bit is 19 out of 60 so my fears that I might not make it in that section (which is my weakest) turned out to be unfounded.

So it’s full steam ahead to do the next level next December.

Iain Lee Show 18th August 2008


I’m putting the audio here of the video that is on YT of the same, only WMG decided that they were going to sabotage 4 hours of radio comedy for which they had already been paid for the few minutes of whatever it was on here – far beyond the numbers who have seen it. And it is not like the talk radio fans who watch Iain Lee are even all that interested in the music that is put on while he takes a breather. But such is the arrogance of the music companies, especially WMG, that they feel they have a moral right to sabotage these talk radio shows because their silly music is more important than what the rest of the world has to say.

Stop press: as the fellow fan who asked for this has now asked for a downloadable version, I am in a quandary: I do like people coming here to listen as it improves my stats, but I also do understand his health motivations for wanting it on something that can be placed on an ipod or similar and walked around with. I do the same myself.

So for those people, the way to go is to copy and paste this

to a new browser window. Play it, and then right click on the mp3 bar that comes up. Select your save option and the mp3 with end up downloaded to your hard drive, from which point you can handle it like any other podcast. HTH.

Answering a person who is not attracted to the Goldlist system.


I’m reposting here my response to the article about why the Owner of the blog Polyglot Posturings isn’t attracted to using the Goldlist system. Please first read her objections here:

http://kaetslanguages.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/initial-thoughts-on-a-long-term-vocab-learning-system/

OK, first off, I don’t think that flash cards focus on the short term memory. It all depends on how they are used. If you cram them, then you’ll switch on the short term memory. If you take them at a measured pace and make a sort of SRS for yourself from them, you’ll be OK. I have one major problem with flashcards, namely where am I going to keep 16,000 cards? And why bother to waste card for each word when some words will be learned the very first time we see them?

Having cleared up that I am not anti flash card (and I use readthekanji.com as well as goldlisting Japanese, and that’s a flash card approach, only on line) let me take your objections in order.

1. It was twenty minutes, but it doesn’t have to be twenty uninterrupted minutes. It is not necessary to do 25 words at once. I am saying don’t do too much in one go because the long-term memory is an unconscious function so you can’t tell when it’s got tired. You have to anticipate that instead, by having breaks. If you were to do 5 or 10 minutes a go that would also be fine. Only not to be stressed about it.

2. Once you get the system going then you develop a batching system and when you get to the end of the new batch of the headlist, then you simply automatically go back to the beginning again. You remember about it because the book is with you. It’s not necessarily a big book. Oonce you get into it it is relaxing and even addictive, and you don’t have to be in front of a screen or playing with scissors, cards and envelopes. The tools are very simple.

3. I found this argument the most surprising, and I would politely take issue with what fluency means and if it’s really the most important thing. If speaking is the most important skill, moreso than listening, reading or even writing, then I understand why people focus on keeping their smaller vocabularies actuve. It gives them the impression that they have really gone somewhere in a language, even if all they have is 1000 or 2000 words on the tip of their tongue. You cannot watch a film and understand it properly with that, you cannot really read a newspaper, you cannot delve into the literature of the culture you are looking at. You can get by like a glorified tourist, and that’s that. If all the vocab you need in a language is the vocab you’ll use all the time, then you’ll be on a par with the thickoes of that language, able to talk nineteen to the dozen but not being able to formulate very precise thoughts and limiting themselves always to a small pool of words. Your written work will not be interesting to read, anything beyond ordering food or buying shopping will be tough as you will struggle with nuances on only the words you have when you stop being a beginner. If you want to have a decent vocabulary, then it’s a question of building it up to 10,000 or maybe 15,000 words or more. Certainly that is the level that professionals using English in their work as a non-native language are attaining to and if you want to speak their language to them rather than have them simply override your attempts and slip into English with you, that’s what you’ll have to achieve. And that task takes time. Much much longer than the time spent learning just the basic grammar and the main irregular points of grammar,

Let me give you an example from real life of how I once countered the argument against the amassing of vocabulary: I was in a car with someone who said his university lecturer in English said to concentrate on grammar and not vocabulary as if you didn’t know the odd word you’d be able to guess from context what the meaning is. So I said “I see your teacher is an imbecile”, to which he said “is that good or bad?” I rested my case.

Nobody is saying that you have to achieve 15,000 words if you don’t want to. I would say it is very well worthwhile to achieve that “degree level” knowledge and it does mean a completely different kind of fluency than that pseudofluency of always having the 2000 words on the tip of one’s tongue, which actually isn’t possible for more than a few languages at once at 1000-2000 vocab levels anyway. The the passive acquisition of larger vocabularies is a better way to spend time than to spend it continually activating and reactivating a small and stagnant vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with knowing words for the sake of knowing them. Words are the tools of thought and of ideas, and you never know where they will take you. Words are deeply exciting. So are phrases, for that matter. Knowing words for the sake of knowing them is infinitely preferable to not knowing words for the sake of not knowing them.

Learning 15,000 words in an ineffective way can take so long a person may well never do it. Using Goldlist it should take 600 hours in total, but in small bursts. You can see at every moment and calculate exactly how far along the road you are, and this aids motivation. You know when you pass the half way mark and every other numeric milestone.

Goldlist Method Discussion on LingQ Forums – How to learn languages


Image representing LingQ as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

This is a link to a discussion on the Goldlist Method again by some pretty hardcore polyglots, most of whom seem to like the method, although unsurprisingly there are dissenting voices. After all, the people who have already learned a number of languages successfully will already in the main have their pet methods, and the fact that any people in that category are willing to add the method to their arsenal is a great boon. My main case for it rests however with the people who have written to me getting success for the first time in language learning by applying the method and understanding the underlying truths about language learning – which of course it doesn’t have any kind of monopoly on – which were the reasons they failed before with conventional classroom learning, and not from their own fault.

I don’t think I will join in the discussion on LingQ, one YT friend indicated that the discussion is there, but on previous occasions when this has been discussed and I’ve chimed in it has put the discussion to death a bit. And believe me it is a great pleasure for me to read intelligent, unfettered discussion about the method.

Please go and have a look. You don’t have to be a registered member of LingQ to review the site, although you might want to look around and see if a sub there is for you. I like Steve Kaufman and have no qualms about plugging his place. Most people spend a lot more on Language Learning than they’d need to spend to get a top-level membership on there, and be engaged in studying and teaching languages all day and every day.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes from the discussion, by various people:

The method was first invented by an English guy living in Poland (I believe his name is David James.) He seems to be a little strange…

Heh heh.
Perhaps he is simply living proof that human genius and human madness are very close together!?

Very possibly. Who knows?

Some of this videos are funny, some aren’t.
I cannot possibly comment. None of them are particularly funny to me, I have to say.
I have been using the Goldlist method since last December, and it seems indeed that on average I remember 30% of the words in each list. I have only done the first distillation so far, but it seems to work indeed, and it is faster than an SRS protocol.
It is a kind of SRS protocol, but more drawn out, more trusting of the amazing human unconscience than either Anki or Supermemo, even though they reflect experimental findings about memory more closely than my method does. And of course it doesn’t need a computer. We spend enough time on them and finding diacritics can seriously waste your learning time. On the other hand just clicking between alternatives doesn’t engage you as much in the word as actually writing it.

I didn’t know about Mr James’ contribution to the polyglot book before Sebastian pointed it out in his post yesterday. I spent several hours last night reading most it, and I agree it makes pretty interesting (and unusual) reading.

I liked the way he describes learning Italian in classes at school, while teaching himself Russian at home using Linguaphone and the older version of “Teach Yourself”. The result: he got a top mark in the ‘O Level‘ Russian Exam, and a lower mark in the ‘O Level’ Italian exam – leaving his Italian teacher entirely perplexed! :-0

His recollections of having a little run-in with the KGB while on a student exchange in the old USSR during the 1980s is also quite funny in the telling (although the actual experience of a KGB-third-degree was doubtless anything other than ‘funny’ for a student 19 or 20 years of age!)

Very true.
Those CANNOT be his own eyebrows
It’s a fair cop, I borrowed them from the Eyebrow Library. They are in fact a pair of bookworms, and can often be found hovering over their prey.
I won’t do all of the ones I liked as I would prefer people to go and read the whole discussion in situ.

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Selling my car – because I am trying to lose weight


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It is a Chrysler Grand Voyager diesel registered in 2005 but only used from 2006. Always garaged and well-maintained. Has been very reliable and a pleasure to drive. But now I try to walk to work as much as I can and prefer to avoid driving. I have been so successful at that that I don’t use it enough now to justify the running costs and so we decided we can do without a car altogether. It has under 107,000 km on the clock and I am asking 33,000 PLN which is a quarter of the new price for a car that still has half its life to go.

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