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The promised activation article…


Today since I finally have half an hour of free time in peace and quiet, I would like to come back to the very good question posed by Fintan (I won’t say his surname as that would identify him, I’ll leave you guessing which Fintan it is) several weeks ago already (sorry about that), and in particular the second part of his question where he raises the issue of activation and asks what I think about things like “full circle method” by Luca Lampariello.

The first thing I want to say, is far be it from me to detract from what any accomplished polyglot, be that Signor Lampariello (who is a capital fellow on top of being a great polyglot) or any other of the well-known polyglots who do follow some form of activation. I make the assumption that these people know what they’re doing, and that they do what they enjoy and what works for them.

If continually activating during the process of language learning is something that keeps you motivated in which you enjoy doing, then it’s valuable. Anything which keeps you going in the marathon of learning languages, is your friend. Anything which you find demotivating which detracts from the pleasure of doing it, is not your friend.

And in the above I said the most important thing that needed to be said. Having said that, I will now go on to explain the core of my own approach and philosophy with regard to the question of activating language knowledge in the whole course of study. Read the rest of this entry

Response to reader’s question “How long until I understand the language I am learning when spoken?”


''Note that in this diagram, sensory memory is...

Yet another diagram from the net about long-term memory that kind of misses the point and can even be dangerously misleading (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Initial Thoughts on the Four Functions Diagram


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.

langfunc2

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 reading 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.

The Four Basic Linguistic Functions Analysed


langfunc3

Today, I am just uploading this for your perusal. I will start commenting on it and explaining it and drawing conclusions from it during the week, and hopefully what I will have to say will be quite useful for language learners. For today however I just wanted to let you take a look at the picture and you are welcome to give your initial thoughts in the comments.

There is actually so much that I could have to say from this simple diagram that I don’t worry that discussion before I have started to show what it is all about could “steal my thunder”. On the contrary it would be interesting to see what interpretations people would place on the diagram as it stands.

Should you first master your own language before learning another?


English: Belarusian as native language among u...

English: Belarusian as native language among urban population in Belarus according to the 2009 census Українська: Білоруська мова, як рідна серед міського населення Білорусі за даними перепису 2009 року. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning on Facebook someone cleverly asked the question whether one should first master one’s native language before learning another. The person asking the question later in the thread comes out in favour of the answer no, one does not have to first master one’s native language before starting another. Quite right too, but I was negatively surprised to see a number of people siding with the proposition. Do they think that they can even measure what it is to “master” one’s native tongue?

I think it is even actually impossible to master one’s own language without learning another. It is impossible to be properly analytic about one’s own native language without stepping out of it. A common denominator among people who use their native language particularly poorly is that they have never undertaken serious study of a second one.

I had a friend from Australia once who was completely ignorant of whether he was using a word in English as a noun or an adjective or an adverb – in English words don’t necessarily change their form to show you what they are. As a result his reading comprehension was a hoot, he made incorrect inferences the whole time from what people wrote to him. You could see that his whole world view was hemmed in by the fact that he didn’t even have a proper grasp of how his tool for thought, ie language, actually worked. It was not until he started learning other languages that his eyes began to open. This is before we even get to the deepening of thought and the opening of the mind that comes ones we are able to understand word origins better, or start to think in the other language or begin experiencing the world through the linguistic apparatus of another people. 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!


1st edition (publ. Hodder & Stoughton)

1st edition (publ. Hodder & Stoughton) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) –  But will Hodder and Stoughton manage to make Michel Thomas’ method everlasting?

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 :)

Many thanks!

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

Huliganov.TV goes over 100,000 views!


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

A question on the Goldlist Method


Français : A small list of common Louisiana Fr...

Français : A small list of common Louisiana French words different from normative French. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nice to see there are still all the time more and more people discovering the method online and finding out about it. One viewer asked me today:

Hello, in the last few days I’ve spent a few hours watching Your videos about the Goldlist Method. They have answered most of my questions, but one. Which is; as You’ve said, it is not a language course, or language learning method, but a way of learning vocabulary, so to learn a language the student also needs a book about the language. But how to use the course, if I’m using the Goldlist method? I mean, to make sure that the words I’ve learnt, I remember with the long term memory, I should not have contact with them for at least two weeks, but I would have if I were to use the course. Should I actually use the course (the way it’s meant to be used) after I learn all/most of the vocabulary contained in it? That would mean spending quite a few months learning the vocabulary, and not being able to really say anything in the target language. Or should I read enough about the target language’s grammar before? Though, that would mean spending some time learning the grammar, without knowing too much vocabulary to practice it with.

When I choose a language course, I try and find one that has vocabulary given in each lesson (as well as an index at the back, and graded grammatical explanations in each lesson. So I copy over the voicabulary items as single line items, and I copy over the grammatical paradigms as well as the explanations in summarised form as line items, just like noting things out of the book. I don’t need to write out all the dialogues and I don’t then usually need to do the exercises.

The fact that common words will inevitably be met again while I’m working further on the course is not an issue. These are the words which are so common of course you are going to learn them if you learn also the uncommon words, but in fact you shouldn’t panic unduly about seeing the words again, you just shouldn’t revise them again, but press on forward.

Even if you end up writing a word or grammar point more than once because you forgot you met it already, and only discover this on a later distillation, it’s really no big deal. Goldlist is quite a long project even though it’s probably the quickest way to learn in terms of total time spent, and these small inaccuracies will all come out in the wash.

Hope that helps.

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