Category Archives: Languages and Linguistics
All language and linguistics related matters, including the Huliganov Russian Course and the Gold List Methodology can be found in here.
I am now returning, having received a moment ago a timely reminder from Victor Berrjod, to the discussion on the above diagram, and what it can show us of use to the learners of language.
In the earlier article, I wrote about how in reading and in listening the language user is passive – not having to generate his own grammatically correct language or have the right word at hand. Therefore reading and listening are intrinsically less challenging than writing or speaking. For someone not in an active state with his command of a foreign language, reading and listening creates less of a problem than writing or speaking. If he, or she, knows the word in their passive memory then it should be that they can deal with reading it or listening to it. In order to be able to speak or writing a person must find that word for themselves.
So we have compared the two rows in the diagram. Let us now compare the two columns.
In the leftmost column, the one containing reading as the passive skill or function and writing as the active skill, we can say that the learner is able to exercise more control over timing when reading and writing than when speaking and listening.
It is clear that listening with a pause button enables a similar control of timing as reading and speaking into a recording device that enables pauses, repetitions, breaks and then a later edit allows a similar control as in writing, and the use of recordings – making them as well as listening to them in that way – certain makes for an excellent bridge between the skills where we have all the time we need – reading and writing, and those skills where we don’t have all the time we need, such as conversing with someone who is not particularly inclined to wait around while we find the words we need.
In reading and writing there are also scenarios where we don’t control the time, for example reading subtitles in a foreign language cinema when an English language film is shown undubbed, or certain chatroom scenarios where if we are not careful we will not keep up with the flow and our contribution to the chat will look lame. These therefore are also bridging scenarios.
However, in the main if you are on your own and reading and writing for yourself, reading a book or writing the goldlist, you can control how fast you want to do it, therefore you can be relaxed and therefore you can more easily get into a state where the subconscious, long-term memory is the default information pantry and not the conscious memory, which switches on in states of nerves or stress and which remembers in a short-term way, recycling its hastily constructed synaptic pathways after only two weeks.
The unconscious memory may only sample 20-30% of what you cover and place in the short-term memory if it is activated, but then it will keep it for decades whereas the short term memory loses pretty much everything after two weeks. 100% of 2 is much less of course than 20% of 1,000, so a preference to use the long-term memory methods and avoid the short term memory methods should be a no-brainer for all of us.
The problem is of course that people want to be able to speak and listen, they want to be able to rely on their language knowledge in real life situations, and so people want to get to the point where they can speak at will. And language classes seem geared around the getting of students to speak phrases and be able to engage in conversations, as well as getting the students to repeat a lot and rote learn. All of these ways are short-term memory ways, they encourage the learner to feel as though he or she is making faster progress but it will prove to be an uphill struggle as the learner is always fighting against his two-week barrier, and later on blaming himself and not the teacher’s method for the fact that not much gets retained after class.
Now you can ask any polyglot you know, and even though some of them seem to take a delight in the act of activating their languages, and make no mistake about it, it is an extremely pleasant sensation to activate a language and to really start speaking and thinking in it for the first time, you will still learn from them that they do a lot of reading and writing and they take their time over it and do it alone at home. They don’t rely on the classes. If they use classes at all it would be for them just an adjunct, a social dimension to the real learning which they do alone, reading in the main and writing.
When reading and writing you can be as relaxed as you like and so the unconscious memory works nicely. It will work less nicely on listening if you feel stressed, but that is why good audio course such as Michel Thomas, Paul Noble, Pimsleur, all emphasise the use of the pause button. You have to have the feel that you are in control of the timing at which the language is coming at you and can repeat any part of the recording ad nauseam if necessary. However actually repeating things over and over is also something that calls forth the conscious memory because while doing that we are TRYING to remember. The long-term memory works when we are not trying to memorise.
The short-term memory methods used by language schools of course are in their interests as the teachers of languages are paid for their time and if they can feed you with an illusion that either you are progressing quickly or if you are not progressing it’s not their fault, then people carry on for much much longer than they would need to learning alone, and all the time paying for lessons. Paying for lessons is not bad if there is a language which needs a lot of explanations which the books are confusing you on, and you stay in control and ask the questions. If you have a teacher who lets you do that, then they deserve their money. If you have a teacher who coaches you in the proper use of your brain and in the selection of good materials and clear explanations, then again you have a teacher who deserves their money. The other 80% are ripping you off either consciously or unconsciously.
From what I have said so far, it is clear that reading is the least challenging function of the four as in reading most of the time you have control over the time, you can relax and make it a pleasant experience and you don’t have to waste time getting yourself into a continued state of activation in the language in order to do it. As a reminder to those who have read me before, or an aside to those who haven’t, activation from a non-active state takes three days.
Recently no less a language learner than the polyglot A-lister Steve Kaufman of Lingq.com, a great believer in the learning power of reading by the way, such that he doesn’t feel the need to keep a record by writing in the way the Goldlist works – he feels it slows him down – which is not necessarily wrong, but doing so has many other advantages we can come on to – wanted to test my three-day activation hypothesis by coming to Prague after learning at home in Canada for I think about a year. However, when he came, he was already very nicely active in less than three days – because he had been spending his time in Canada already on regular Skype calls to his Czech native speaker friends and therefore he didn’t come with a completely passive knowledge and so the results of his experiment were – unfortunately for me – not very conclusive. I would have been fascinated to see his reaction if he had come genuinely passive and seen the remarkable effect of immersion over a few days from a passive state. It really is quite exciting and I can recommend just trusting the Method and trying that one time.
Anyhow, one thing I do agree with Steve on, and this is by far not the only thing, is that reading is a great way to learn languages to a high degree of perfection having a great time and freeing the long-term memory. In my opinion, though, to get to the point where we can just comfortably read away in the literature needs quite a bit of groundwork. In the old UK way of doing things, literature was brought in at A-level, only after a vocabulary of some 2,000 of the most common words had been achieved along with a thorough grasp of all the required grammar, which if we are talking about French literature (the most commonly learned language in that old UK system) requires the subjunctive and the past historic, even though you could live a month in today’s France barely using either and nobody would think any the worse of you for it.
In a similar way both Steve and I love the Jaroslav Hasek classic “Osudy dobreho vojaka Svejka” – but even this, a twentieth century document unlike the works of Voltaire and Goethe, is written in something fairly removed from modern Czech and the idioms we can learn in it, the greatest jewel of the Czech literature, might not stand us in good stead in daily life.
This does still leave reams of modern things worth reading in Czech, and in most of the languages which are available to be learned, some of course more than others.
I would say that if the four functions diagram shows you that the easiest thing to do when learning is to read, but people nevertheless want to progress from reading to speaking, there has to be a route or a choice of routes by which we can get from reading to speaking also encompassing the other two skills or functions. namely the writing and the listening.
And how we do that will be the topic of the next in this series.
- Chinese from scratch – a 1260 hour work Programme optimising your result. (huliganov.tv)
- Mental Spring Cleaning (bar201050.wordpress.com)
- 8 Tips for Improving Your Memory At Work (tymebeatagencyin.wordpress.com)
- Popular myths in psychology (part 1) (gmbcblog.wordpress.com)
- Method (funnyeasyitalian.wordpress.com)
- Question from a Student (“Why Should I Learn to Read and Write Chinese?”) (cityhotpot.wordpress.com)
I would like to give you today some initial thoughts on the diagram, and to do that I’m going back to a simplified form of the diagram without the flows included as yet.
This is just to get a clearer image of the base ideas before we get onto the various conclusions that can be drawn from it, when we will go back to the diagram including the arrows and boxes showing the auditory and the visual routes of progressing from reading to speaking.
For today I would like to offer for your consideration that whatever we do, whatever applications we use language for, for instance counting, swearing, singing, praying, shopping, skyping, reciting poems, selecting food from menus, asking the waiter what he recommends or chatting up Paul Pimsleur‘s native speaker female on the bus (the way all his courses seem to start), all these various applications and whatever others you can think of, are all based on one or more of the above gerunds: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Therefore every linguistic activity can be reduced to these four functions or skills, and the mastering of each of these skills is essential for a full ability to apply the language in all possible situations.
When we talk about “language”, we refer of course to the tongue – the words language and tongue are connected, and people tend to consider that speaking is the gold standard. “How many languages do you speak?” is the question we hear. Only people who are a bit more thoughtful ask how many languages do you read, write, listen well in and speak, however there are CV formats which do ask precisely that format. If you want to submit a CV in World Bank format, for instance (this is one of the industrial standards when tendering for public sector work, in case any readers haven’t come across it) you are supposed to make mention of reading, writing and speaking, not necessarily listening. If you use the Europass format you’ll see from the CV templates available here, that you are expected to give yourself a grade from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which defines what you’re supposed to be able to do to be an A1, an A2, a B1 or a B2, or in the end a C1 or C2. But you have to grade yourself on “Understanding” which covers both reading and listening, on “Speaking” which is divided into spoken interaction and production, but whichever way you look at that it’s still speaking, and finally on writing, which isn’t broken down further, but of course could be when it comes to languages like Chinese and Japanese – whether a person can only write pinyin or kana or if they can go the whole way and know the characters and word combinations which would be known at a certain level of education in the school curricula of the countries involved.
With the above I hope to have introduced the idea that these basic four functions are common to whatever we do with language and underlie everything we do, even though people commonly talk about “speaking” a language.
What are the relations between these four? We already saw above that the EU’s great minds grouped reading and listening together as “Understanding”. Obviously that’s true, but I don’t prefer to regard it that way. One needs understanding in order to speak and write also, so more strictly the distinction should be drawn that when I listen or read I am the passive recipient of language and when I speak or write I am the active generator of the language, unless I am simply copying what I have just read or heard.
Clearly it is easier to be the passive recipient of language that to generate it actively. If you do not have passive knowledge then even reading or listening with understanding will not be possible, but you don’t need to be in a particularly active state to do it. Also some degree of uncertainty as to which registers of words to use or the grammatical niceties may not necessarily block understanding, as context can be the guide and for listening intonation will guide – in the case of face-to-face listening body language also provides a lot of guidance and still as for reading you have context. Listening despite all that can be harder than just reading since you don’t control the speed of input. Not unless you have a recording with a pause button and privacy to listen (maybe with headphones or alone) so that you can repeat or slow down a listening piece all you need. In this case the degree of difficulty between listening and reading is more blurred. Listening presents issues if you have a speaker with an unusual accent or a speech impediment, just as reading presents difficulties when reading the work of someone partially illiterate, but for the purposes of our discussion here let us consider that all the material we would be dealing with is standard language of an adequate quality.
In a sense then we can look at reading as the passive partner of writing, writing being understood as either handwriting or on a keyboard, or on any of the input methods on a mobile device – maybe even voice recognition which blurs the distinction between speaking and writing, but I would class it for our purposes as writing rather than speaking.
Likewise speaking and listening are an active/passive pairing. They have in common that they don’t involve the written word, and that someone with no literacy who is a native speaker of the language could also take part. Normally conversations take place in which people take turns in speaking and listening, or in chatrooms in reading and writing. The very term “chatroom” shows how readily we can transfer the idea of speaking and listening to writing and reading respectively. We think of ourselves as “chatting” to people when not a decibel is heard in terms of auditory noise beyond the clicking of the keys on our keyboards. It’s also not uncommon given today’s technology to find one’sself in conversations with people who are sorting out their microphones where one side is talking and the other writing. This is not unusual in conventional settings either if someone is mute or has lost their voice, but can hear. People proficient in all four skills can naturally feel reading coming in as an automatic substitute for listening and writing for speaking, where the sound-based pair are not available. These days, when someone in an online exchange tells us some bad or good news, we might naturally say “I am sorry/glad to hear that”, even though we only read it, and if the other person were to even raise an eyebrow it would be either taken as an attempt at humour or as an excess of pedantry.
Allow me to bring in one spiritual dimension just for one paragraph – those not liking it can skip to the next one. The Bible (Romans 10:17) says “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” – this clearly shows that the hearing is something that is read. So the Bible itself puts hearing and reading on a parity. When we consider the phrase “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5 v 7) the fact that reading does involve sight rather than the sense of hearing is not conflicting, because the act of reading is like listening or hearing but by using our eyes. The “sight” which the Bible places in apposition to faith in many places is the “seeing” of experimenting. Instead of taking a promise from the Divine revelation on trust needing to probe it and see if it the case by means of experimentation. That’s not the same as testing one scripture against other scriptures, which is generally shown in the Bible itself to be the correct way to understand scriptures.
So we have two active/passive pairs, one involving an aural/oral convention and the other eyes and hands with symbols. However, these things are heavily interconnected, and can cross over. A person reading in a foreign language on their own will usually “hear” what they are saying with a kind of “inner ear” – when we are young we start out by reading aloud and are led gradually to “read in our heads” at which point we are invited to allow our voice to continue in the head, but unuttered by the organs of speech. In due course this may become a voice doing accents or having a quality that we cannot even imitate with our own voice, as we imagine the voice of the speaker. However in the main one is limited to the voices which one might be able to make a fair attempt at imitating oneself, those of us who are at all inclined to do imitations.
In this way, the act of reading and the development of that inner voice can directly influence speaking, although on my diagram I have not drawn or even allowed for a direct route between reading and speaking, as one will never develop this inner voice from listening alone without the opportunity to listen, and I have come more and more to the view that the more one “front loads”the listening aspects in a language learning programme, the better this effect works. That’s one of the reasons I now recommend doing audio-only, listening based courses prior to any of the reading and writing required by the Goldlist method. There may be only 10% of the material you need, but it makes perfect sense to do this part right at the start, and that’s also consistent with the way we learn the first language – we have heard it all before we ever try to write it or read it.
That’s all I’ve prepared for today’s article, but I have more to say and we’ll get onto that during the week. In the meantime your comments are as ever most welcome.
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.
Someone (sic) wrote to me recently suggesting that the Goldlist was not for them as they had tried to do a distillation and only remembered 2 of 25 words.
Now I am someone who has just discovered that there is more than one metabolic type, that a good 45% of people are Matebolism B types as opposed to Metabolism A types, and that’s why the traditional diets based just on calories and not concerned with the whole sugar question don’t do the job but actually made me worse. Given that fact, I’m perfectly open to the idea that just as there is more than one type of metabolism, there may be another type of memory and that really not everyone will benefit from the Goldlist method – yes it is perfectly possible. I have an open mind on that question.
However, given that the Goldlist Method has indeed helped the overwhelming majority of people who have tried it, including some who could never learn languages using other methods and now can, as well as some others who were already successful polyglots with their own tried and tested methods who nevertheless saw enough merit in the Method to add it to their armoury of tools, I would be reluctant to give up on it just after not having a great result on the first distillation. Instead I would look at the reasons why a person could find that they distil a headlist and only manage to throw out 2 of the 25 and not something like 6, 8, 10, 12 or even 14 as is the experience of most people using the method. Read the rest of this entry
I don’t hold with using mnemonics usually in language learning, but with Japanese there is so much going on at once in a word – the various readings, the shape of the kanji, etc, that sometimes odd wordgames and things like that can help. It’s a waste of time to try and do it for every word, but here are some of mine which I already shared (to greater or lesser levels of appreciation) on http://www.readthekanji.com.
Here’s just ten to be going on with. I probably have done about a hundred, but to see them you need to join http://www.readthekanji.com!
1. To Deliver
That square head by the basket is like *Todo the dog with the square head in the Wizard of Oz in Dorothy’s cycle basket. That’s the moment when he jumps out, so he can’t be *delivered to the interfering neighbour.
If you get *sand inside your ear, the *suna you get it out, the better.
(Another, less polite one, is based on the reading of “suna” backwards, given the fact that if you slide along a beach backwards you’ll probably get some sand in there. But I didn’t put that one up, at least not yet.)
If the *circumstances in the company worsen, the boss le-*ts-u-gou..
4. Or less than, not more than
*Ika-rus was NOT able to get HIGHER THAN other people for long. Is the symbol on the left a bit like his broken wings falling with him the spot in the middle tumbling to the ground?
The prisoner warders are issued with new *keysets every *season
“That’s a nice *kuukou clock, where did you buy it?”
“That’s a nice *kuukou clock, where did you buy it?”
“At Geneva *Airport.”
*Fukai didn’t realise it was going to be that *deep!
“Dad, Justin Bieber’s so *famous even *yuu may have heard of him!”
9. Preparation / setup / arrangements
He had made all the *arrangements and *preparations, but, being of a nervous disposition, he was still very *”junbi” (jumpy) before the event…
10. To bring up
Looking at the kanji, you might see the frowning face of a very strict upbringer. He’s a right “sod at err”-ors made by his students.
- Kanji wear it? (ask.metafilter.com)
- How to learn hiragana in one hour or less (boingboing.net)
- Kanji for gold named year’s best (japantimes.co.jp)
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