Category Archives: Answers to your questions
Based on real questions from the viewers and readers not only here but all over the places I write. Some of these were also answered elsewhere, but especially YouTube doesn’t give enough space for a decent answer to most good questions.
Please don’t ask me private questions unless it is on something really private, as otherwise I will probably not answer unless I’m allowed to share it wider. That doesn’t apply to people I know in real life or to people seeking spiritual guidance.
This morning I received a question about how the present perfect tense works in English:
Is the following sentence correct in terms of grammar ‘Yet ongoing political stabilization has been beneficial for further political and legal development of the country’? I am a little bit embarrassed by the use of present perfect tense for the event which has not been completed yet but is progressing, so it is impossible so far to predict for sure an outcome of it.
Here is my reply.
The “has been” refers not to the state of completion of the stabilization, nor even that the benefits are already palpable and therefore contain some complete benefits. The use of this tense is predicated by the fact that we are still in the time period the writer has in mind. It does not really equate to perfective aspect, but to cut-off or periodization of times.
This is the difference between tense and aspect, in a nutshell.
Read the rest of this entry
Today’s article is a continuation of the topic we started yesterday, namely the use of listening at graded speeds in order to improve our listening fluency.
There are two times during a large linguistic project when I recommend the use of audio-only all audio-primary approaches. The first of these is right at the beginning, in order to make sure that when we do open the books and start reading words and writing them out in our Goldlists, we already have an idea hhow the language sounds and how these words and phrases are pronounced. If we take a course such as Michel Thomas series, Pimsleur, Paul Noble, Innovative Language Learning, or something else of that kind, we equip ourselves with all that we need to end into a Goldlist project of possibly 100, 200, 500 etc hours having done our first maybe 50 hours of language learning without setting pen to paper, and without really reading anything much in the given language. I’m convinced that this is a natural approach – after all, little kids get to listen before they ever get to read and write, we learned our native language that way. At least in that order. Of course, babies get to listen for thousands and thousands of hours of speech before they develop the skills that we can develop in a more structured way, we would want to return to the experience of a newborn in the course of our language learning. Such a “Nicodemus Method”, would have certain drawbacks in terms of cost and also patience on the part of the host family.
However it is entirely unnecessary, since in most cases 50 hours of audio time at the outset is really all you need in order to progress confidently with the reading-and-writing approach that the Goldlist Method is, as long as you have access to quality materials.
These materials need to be some kind of structured course, whereas when you get to the end of the language project on Goldlist and you’re looking at the second time in which I’m recommending using audio-primary materials, namely to induce listening fluency based on an existing passive vocabulary, then you don’t really need to have materials in a structured course. As I said yesterday, you need to have a book – which may be a novel, a business book, a history book, a Christian book – even the Bible.
In the best situation you will be choosing a book which exists in your target language as the original, especially If we are talking about something like a novel or some other cultural artefact. I don’t really recommend poetry in most cases this, not at the outset in any case. Poetry is something to graduate to only at the truly advanced level of command of a foreign language on pain of simply sabotaging your chance to appreciate the fullness of the verse by becoming familiar with it when you do not yet have the apparatus to appreciate it. don’t get me wrong there certainly is a place for using poetry but I think here it would be wise to look at the range of poems available very carefully and to grade you’re reading so that first reading poets who use a language which is more similar to everyday speech. And by that I mean standard everyday speech. I am not recommending for example learners of English to kick-off with James Joyce’s Ulysses, even though there are some excellent recordings of that and some excellent translations into other languages. This is a novel which requires careful study even from native speakers, although that having been said, I did have the pleasure of being acquainted with the person who translated Finnegan’s Wake into Brazilian Portuguese, and that was a Russian lady from Harbin, believe it or not.
Such genii are few and far between, but I like to think that in as much as they are out there, they do read my things, and therefore I would want to put you off ploughing straight into poetry if that’s your thing, however most of us I would go prose first, then drama, then poetry.
So at this stage you need to select your book, being one in clear language of the sort that you would like to understood when it is spoken and let’s say that you found an accurate translation into your own language. If that’s not possible and you have to take a book which is either in its original in your language or where the original is in a third language and you’re dealing with translations into both your own language and the language you’re learning, then even though that is not normally the best thing to do, there are circumstances where it’s actually preferable – for instance if you’re setting out to become familiar with the Bible in the language of your study, or if you are going to be working in a field which is simply more developed in your native language and therefore the originals are all in your language but there are good translations into the study of language. Because you have a utility from simply reading a better book, there are times when it becomes preferable to accept that the translation should be in the learned language. Then there is also Glossika Method, named for Mike Campbell, in which he simply uses his own favourite English-language novels which he knows so well he could almost recite them verbatim from memory, and he collect them in a language as he wishes to study and simply reads them. Personally I would be bored by such an approach as I like a larger variety of reading, and to get into the particular literature and culture of the country concerned. In this I have exactly the same view as Steve Kaufman who also has been doing videos about this topic recently. Nevertheless, I can see that a certain languages you simply could run up against a lack of the preferred materials, and then you really have to see what there is and try to adapt that.
My suggestion is, to look first at what’s available as an audio book in the language of your choice. That’s where the bottleneck is likely to be, if there is a bottleneck. You can look up audio books in different languages using Google. You can refer to the Wikipedia article about audio books written in the language you are studying. Even if you’re not sure how to say audio book in the language you are studying you can go to the English Wikipedia article about them and then choose one of the 36 other languages which at the time of writing this article is being translated into – hopefully this may include the language you’re looking for. Quite a few languages mirroring that article do contain very helpful Web links to repositories of audio books, including free ones.
My first port of call is always to check Audible, but in cases where audible doesn’t have audio for the language concerned, there is still Amazon. Amazon sells audio on physical media while its subsidiary Audible has its own format which as I said in the above article is a very helpful format for our purposes. Audible itself contains quite a lot of novels read in the original in such languages as Spanish, Italian and Russian, and there are also French and German entire sites of Audible. Still it is a problem when we come to a minority languages, but still I would always check there first.
If googling the net in search of novels or other books which are read out in an audio format in the language of your choice does draw a blank, your next option is to select the book of your choice where there is both language versions and where you are motivated to read it in the language you are studying. Once you have selected it and determined that there is no audio version available, you have various options as to how to obtain the audio. There are cases where the author himself might be willing to go to the studio with you and produce the audio version. In many cases that will be a question to settle with his publisher. This might sound as though you’re getting into quite sizeable cash investments in order to get your audio, but you might be surprised at what can be achieved simply by asking people and giving them ideas, showing that there is demand, and being willing to volunteer at least some corporation and work on the project even if you cannot put cash into it.
Failing the ability to obtain official audio in the way mentioned above, the means of last resort is simply to get friends to read it.
If you are not in the country where the language is spoken then there is one more idea and that is to go to the Embassy (if it’s a national language) and ask to talk to the cultural attache and see if the Embassy is able to help you put such a project together.
in the case of the audio that you need right at the beginning, just going back to that topic before we close, usually there is not such an issue with this given that there tends to be a lot of beginners courses, and if you can’t find one which is pure audio in the Pimsleur mould then there are always the likes of Teach Yourself and Colloquial. This means that you’d be doing the audio while already Goldlisting a course, which is of course not ideal, but in these cases – I’m talking about languages like Maltese or Bulgarian which don’t even have a Pimsleur (Pimsleur does about 50 languages – not all at the full 30 lessons it seems – but Maltese, Welsh, Bulgarian and some other surprising ones are not covered when two separate forms of Armenian and languages like Twi and Ojibwe or Swiss German are) – you can either look on their local market and their bookshops if you go there, or try internet bookstores if they have them, or it’s a question of abandoning the audio-only 30 hours at the start of a whole new language and then it’s Goldlisting from the word Go.
- Calling an audible: An indie author’s audiobook adventure (headfirstintothedeepend.typepad.com)
- Audio Books (bookmajor.wordpress.com)
- Rediscovering Audio Books (camas.typepad.com)
- Audible.com (coolstuffmikeloves.wordpress.com)
I’m grateful for this question. It surely affects most learners at some stage – especially when learning a language for the first time, or doing it on your own for the first time/taking it seriously for the first time, as opposed to school learning.
It’s not really a question of time but of the presence of certain ingredients in your brain. If you have done at some stage a Pimsleur or some audio course so that you know what the words and phrases you are goldlisting are supposed to sound like in a pretty standard version of the language you are learning, and you have goldlisted about 10,000 words or more and taken them through to the end of silver if not gold levels, then you can do the following activity with a much higher assurance of success.
You need to get hold of an audio book for a book you can read in that language, and where there is a translation in English. The best place for this is Audible, where the app allows you also graded speeds of listening to the same material – and you can start off with a slower speed and build up. Listen to the same piece of 10 minutes long with short, ten minute breaks about three times over. This is not a long-term memory exercise it is an ear exercise and so you are perfectly OK using short-term memory techniques for this, they are quite appropriate. This is not the point at which you learn the words, you should have learned most of them before. This is where you push your ear and get it to go “aha”.
Once you have done this, you are likely to find that some parts of the spoken text have become a tad clearer and some still baffle you. You then open the book and read the text, which you should not have done before this point.
Having read the text, if there are any words that you do not know, please mark them and find them in the English text, please also make sure that anything you get from the English text which you didn’t get from the original – work out if that’s the fault of your lack of nuancing or too much freedom on the part of the translator. Add any missing knowledge back into your headlist and put it through the Goldlist system in due course.
You then should read the text while listening to it at normal speed. You can do this a couple of times if you feel it needed.
You should be able to speak along with the recording now, while reading the text. If this is hard at first, use the pause button and precede each recorded sentence with your own attempt.
Then finally you can go back to just listening but use higher speeds, like 1,25 or 1,5* normal.
You then move on to the next chunk of text, rinse and repeat.
But every so often you go back and listen to what you heard before.
Not only will this improve listening comprehension, but also accent.
Nevertheless, it is not a way of learning to the long term memory, it’s an aural fitness routine. You therefore, like I said at the beginning, should only start to do this once you are really nearing your goldlist target.
It is a way of getting to speaking fluency as well around the “listening” route described in my articles here on my Four Function Diagram.
This activity will increase the time to fluency but you need to vary the voices you hear. In due course listening to DVDs in the language which have subtitles will be useful, and then gradually listening to news reports. Start with TV ones, and then move out to radio ones where you do not have the crutch of the image.
Many thanks again for the question.
- Pimsleur Approach (mariarevilla.wordpress.com)
- Vocabulary (hardshipsunnumbered.wordpress.com)
- Keep Your Memory Problems Minimal With These Quick Health Tips (quickhealthtips.connectpdq.com)
Reader Jarad Mayers wrote the following very good question:
I want to learn Mandarin. I am not sure how to go about it. This is the very first language I am attempting to learn. I have not done anything yet. I am on very tight budget and currently not employed. I tried to access the free material on Mandarin (http://fsi-language-courses.org/ )but it is no longer accessible . I was wondering if I could use your experince and if possible sort of outline the steps I need to follow.
BTW, I am not sure where to post my question. I am sorry if this the wrong place for posting it.
I’ve prepared the answer as a table – it is a whole programme to 80% of Chinese that you’d need to get your degree, read newspapers, live an everyday life in China. The rest after that comes down to vocabulary building for which I’d recommend the goldlisting of dictionaries or of bilingual literature. You could spend four times as much time getting from 80% Chinese to 100% Chinese (ask Vilf “the Gilf” Pareto, he’ll tell you why, or might have done, until 1923 – now you’ll have to look up what he thought in order to know why, or simply accept it).
Real Chinese philologists like Victor Berrjod might give you other useful sources better than the ones I have listed. All of the ones I have listed are available on Amazon. The audio courses are expensive so it will pay you to shop around a bit.
Dzień dobry, Panie James!
Właśnie obejrzałem oba filmy wideo na temat Gold List i jestem pod ogromnym wrażeniem! Moje zeszyty są już gotowe do użycia, ale pojawiło mi się kilka pytań.
1. Metoda opiera się na krótkiej pamięci, która zanika po 2 tygodniach. Jak to możliwe, że potrafię zapomnieć, co przed chwilą komuś napisałem, a te słówka będę (w jakiejś części) pamiętać tak długi czas?
2. Czy jest to dopuszczalne, bym podczas zapisywania, tworzył pierwsze lepsze skojarzenia czy to już jest ta nauka, której w tej metodzie należy unikać?
3. Załóżmy, że wpiszę dzisiaj słowo. Po jakim czasie, średnio, zniknie ono człowiekowi z zeszytu? Pytam, ponieważ czeka mnie matura w tym roku i zastanawiam się, czy zdążę po prostu tą metodą się uczyć słówek.
Z góry dziękuję za odpowiedź, będę bardzo wdzięczny!
Drogi Panie Jakubie,
Oto odpowiedź na panskie trzy pytania:
1. Metoda Goldlist opiera sie na ideę, potwierzdoną praktycznym doświadczeniem już setek ludzi, że pamięć używana świadomie jest krótkofalowa, lecz istnieje też pamięć długofalowa, do której nieświadoma częsc mózgu przypisuje próbkowo wybraną część informacji, która jest mu przedstawiona.
Skoro długofalowa pamięć jest funkcją nieświadomą, nie wiemy od razu co na prawdę zostało jej przypisano, a co nie. Ale skoro krótkofalowa pamięć trwa tylko dwa tygodnia, musimy po prostu odczekać ten srok aby dowiedzieć się ex post, czego na prawdę dlugofalowo uczyliśmy się a co jednak zapomnięlismy.
Na ideach w tych zdań leży cały klucz do zrozumienia tej metody. W tym jest zawarte jej podstawa “fiziologiczna”.
Pamiętajmy jednak, że zawsze pamięc długofalowa polega na probkowaniu we własnej, nieświadomej nam gestii. Ale wielkość bądź częstotliwość tego próbkowania może być różna – jeżeli próbujemy sie uczyć na siłę, lub przez zbyteczne powtórzenia, lub bez robienia adekwatnych przerw, lub kiedy jestesmy chorzy, piani, lub przy muzyce itp, pamięć długofalowa staje się dużo mniej aktywną, i wtedy oddawa gros roboty krótkofalowej pamięci, co chcemy unikać.
2. Uczenie się przy stworzeniu na siłe tych “skojarzeń” jest typowym uczeniem się do krótkofalowej pamięci i da Panu fantastyczne wyniki poprzez 2 tygodnia, potem wielką porażkę i demotywację. Dlatego często metody opierające na tę funkcje skojarzeń oferują pieniedzy spowrotem w ciągu 16 dni, a potem nie. Oni z doświadczenia dobrze wiedzą, że nie dzialają ich metody po dwóch tygodni, ale i tak sprzedają je! Ale proszę zauważyć, ze jest wiele osób które wygrywają na konkursach pamięci, którzy jednak nie znajdują się w gronie prawdziwych poliglotów. Read the rest of this entry
Goldlisting may or may not be from the very beginning of learning a language, but it’ll take you on as far as you like!
Neworldgirl78 wrote on my Goldlist lecture in Moscow film the following question:
I am learning Russian and have been using a variety of means such as Pimsleur, various apps, and your you tube videos of course. Should I narrow my studying to this method or add it to my current methods? Thanks, and love your videos :)
I started to answer this in the comments section but I thought that it needs more space than the comments section there allows.
Here’s the full answer:
I use Michel Thomas and Pimsleur myself, audio only as they are, at the beginning of learning a new language, but they eventually come to an end. You might for example work through MT first and even a very long course with all the available levels in still is only less than 20 hours of material, add on a full Pimsleur course with another 30 hours of material (much of it overlapping with the MT) that gives you 50 hours.
This 50 hours – the maximum currently available of quality audio-only beginners courses – when listened to a few times gives you 150 hours of audio time at the max, and if you use the pause button properly you could stretch that to 250. It’s great to do this at the beginning – use MT first as that method gives you the deep structures of the language and doesn’t shy away from grammatical explanations (which Pimsleur does to the point that it becomes misleading at times) and it gives you a good accent, but that 250 hours of work will only take you so far.
And let’s be clear that for many of the less popular languages there’s still no MT course – Hodder and Stoughton didn’t make much on the ones available so far as the activities of internauts were too impactful on the sales of the material, and so it may well be down to hobbyists rather than businesspeople to take Michel Thomas’ legacy to its full conclusion. So it the best case, something like Russian, you might be lucky and find 250 hours of useful work to do on audio only. If you were looking at Bulgarian you’d be hard pressed to find any – I found some in bookshops in Sofia, from an unknown method and author which I didn’t even start yet, but nothing on Amazon or the net.
So once you have finished with the audio only, or earlier if you are not an auditory learner and feel that you aren’t progressing so well with the audio only methods, you need to progress onto reading and writing. Read the rest of this entry
One of the followers of the video content on YouTube, Dennis, wrote asking about the question of aspects. I answered as I could and also as you will see got his permission to share the conversation so that more language learners would be able to take advantage of the topic.
Conversation started Thursday
Thank you so much of the add. I’m honored!
I’m a very big fan of your youtube videos concerning the Russian language. I use them in addition of my Russian language course and I ust say that they give me a headstart of the rest. So they really help!
I was wondering however if you could tell me which video talks about the time aspect ( поличать vs поличить) if you know what I mean with that. We talked about it yesterday in class and most people (including myself) find it very difficult.
I hope you can help me out with this one.
Thank you so much in advance!
Dennis Meurders Read the rest of this entry
Many thanks to those of you who have subscribed and who come again and again to my humble abode. This milestone is hopefully only the beginning, although in fact I have now been doing this since November 2009, that is three years, and a few days on top. In three years’ time where I’d really like to be is over a million views – that’ll need a lot of work to do pulling over from other places all the resources and creativity that I’ve been doing in different parts of the web and making this the unified place where it’s all easy to find in one place with the various categories and subcategories, and the ability to search by words within this space, as well as the ability to have discussions not hampered by word limits, in which you can thread them properly and include links and media to your hearts’ content – unlike in YT where most of my material currently is and where most of my hits currently occur – in total well over 4 million there so hopefully a million here by the end of a similar six years (the time I’ve been on YT is now closer seven than six) is not too much to hope for.
In the end it depends on you, the viewer. Every bit of interactivity that you do here, discussing with me or with other commentors if you feel the urge, every subscription, every use of the share buttons I’ve put under the articles, it all helps me along, it all encourages me to produce more in the future.
Not everyone will like the blog, or the films and other internet “assets” (sometimes “internet contingent liabilities” might be a better phrase), but for some of you I know it has been and will be a source of interesting ideas and an experience of language learning, travel and other subjects such as faith, politics and others from time to time, and I hope that it will continue to be a place that you subscribe to, that you like to come to from time to time, and that you recommend to like-minded people. Read the rest of this entry