Blog Archives

What to do if audio materials are rare or non-existent?


Audiobooks Rock

Audiobooks Rock (Photo credit: Lester Public Library)

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.

Final Thoughts (for now) on the Four Function Diagram


langfunc2

I don’t really like the term “final thoughts” as it sounds as if I am planning to stop thinking afterwards, or maybe stop existing altogether, which I am certainly not considering if I can help it, however I do need, as Victor Berrjod kindly reminds me, to round this off, hence the title.

Let me just get a coffee, this could be a longish article, maybe you would like one as well?

Right, let’s continue. The story so far is that we’ve divided the things or activities that you can do in a language, be it counting, swearing, praying, reading the paper, watching TV, learning the songs of the language or filling in a visa form or a job application into four basic types or functions, as shown in the above table:

1. Reading
2. Writing
3. Listening
4. Speaking

Just about anything you can do in a language bases on one or more of these four functions.

Take a moment if you like to see of you can think of any activity involving language that is an exception, and by all means tell me in the comments. Personally I could not think of any exceptions.

We’ve also considered that for one pair of these functions, listening and reading, the learner is on the receiving end of polished language and therefore is able to use his or her passive knowledge to engage in the function and its related activities. Listening is more challenging than reading because the user has less ability to control the speed, although there are instruments available based on developing listening skills where you can control the pace of listening. We talked about audio courses where you have your pause button, and another good one is Audible where you can buy audiobooks in other languages and set a slower narrator speed, or a higher one in order to develop ‘listening fluency’. However, in the main, for the passive pair as long as a word is known passively the learner will not be put off his or her stride by reading or hearing it as they will be able to recall its meaning when it is given in the language much easier than when he or she needs to generate the expression and knows it passively, but is not in an active state, and the mind goes blank.

Conversely, we’ve recognised that the other pair of functions, speaking and writing, are ones in which we the learner are called upon to generate the learned language and not just fluently recognise meaning and stay with the flow of the presented foreign language material. This represents an additional challenge but one essential to get to grips with sooner or later if you want to SPEAK the language. We are always hearing the term “what languages do you speak?” rather than which can you read, listen to with understanding or even write in. Now more than ever nobody seem to be all that impressed by the ability to write in a foreign language – unless they actually watch you forming calligraphic kanjis with your hand – because things like Google Translate are available. And even though in the main the Google Translate users do give themselves away pretty quickly, seeing that the quality of that service is not yet all one might be led to expect, nevertheless sometimes quite convincing written language comes at you over the internet from people who don’t really know the language in question at all. They are having fun, but it also serves to undermine the value placed by the online community on written foreign language skills and so now, more than ever, the gold standard is really what you can speak. Read the rest of this entry

Further Thoughts on the Four Function Diagram


langfunc2

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. 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

More answers to questions on the Goldlist method


Hangeul placement and the Romanization of Kore...

Hangeul in a Nutsheul.

Loyal viewer Kahnkanter (but unfortunately not yet subscriber, hint hint) in Youtube has had to wait nearly two weeks for the answer to his last questions. Sorry about that but it is that time of year for accountants!
Here goes, and they are excellent questions, as ever:

Hi again :)
As you may remember I asked about the goldlist method for learning Korean. I am at a very casual start, about to do D1 for a batch of 200 initial words.

OK, not a very rapid pace, but there’s no rules about that. When you get the taste for it I think you will speed up naturally.

I still have some questions, and I would appreciate your insights on these:

1. What exactly happens in activation – just be in that zone where you need to speak? What about for languages no longer spoken, or when you cannot go to a place for 3 days + to activate? Is it enough just to hear snippets of real-life dialogue day by day? Does it count enough if you skype with someone of that target language for 3 hours a day for a week?

I think that it may differ from person to person, but it will either be having with you a guest with whom you can only speak that language and who wants to be spending time with you at the rate of like 6 hours or more a day. The realisation that you’re needing the language will tell your brain that it needs to bring that set of knowledge to the fore. I’m not the person to say how that works in terms of synapses and electrical pathways and all that brain surgeon stuff, I don’t even make pronouncements on what parts of the brain are involved in language learning as I see it as of little relevance to me – the fact is it’s a phenomenon that many people have observed and you can try it yourself and see it.

The easiest of course is to go there, but if you go to the country and you are accompanied by people who will not let you spend about 6 hours a day with the language, then you may need longer to activate or in extreme cases you might not activate at all.

If as you say you cannot go there, either because the language is dead or because the place is not open politically, then either you need to find a community or if there is none then you have to fall back on reading literature. A good book in the language could do it, if you spent 6 hours a day reading it for a few days. When I was reading War and Peace in Russian I had a dream in which I was looking for Pierre Bezukhov and speaking Russian. The question is, though, is there any actual point at all in being activated in a language which is dead or beyond the pale? You only really need passive knowledge in that case.

2. I have noticed a password only section to your website for the future goldlist book – I would like to know what is required to be involved with reading the draft or pre-order copy of the book? It would be an honour to be involved in any way, and if I may have your email I can attach some files for you to browse, such as charts or graphics that may help with delivering the book’s message.

I’d be delighted to have your collaboration, and I’ll get back to you when the book is that far on. As it is your questions here are already helping.

3. My current approach is (hopefully) still congruent to what you’ve prescribed – interested, not rushed, uses writing, doesn’t force through with this or that technique. I am starting with learning maybe 1000 words in different categories – people, actions, feelings, and then do some more grammar-focussed headlists. I’m doing this as I’m not too sure how to integrate grammar early on and not feel rushed (within the 20 minutes) and to stay interested.

You’re still talking about Korean and I don’t know enough Korean to even know at which point it could become prejudicial to leave grammar out, but as the language is from what I understand not an inflected language, you should be OK learning a thousand words without focussing much on grammar. You need to get the pronunciation right, that seems tougher in Korean than in Japanese. If I were going to learn Korean I would have done the Pimsleur before ever putting pen to paper on the Goldlist. Not that Pimsleur is brilliant, but there’s no Michel Thomas in it as far as I know – and a pity that is.

As an update, I have learnt the sounds of Hangeul and with words in Hangeul on the left side, I put the English and the Chinese (which I’m capable of) on the right column. I only put the chinese in if it’s a direct word loaned from the Chinese language. E.g. Gwa Bu is 寡婦widow. I had wondered if that was too much work in one go, but I guess I’ll see! The moment I read a chinese-loan word in Korean I can make good guesses on what it’s referring to.

Thank you :) I look forward to distilling my first batch of words and hearing from you!

If you know Chinese characters and speak Chinese well, then it will not be too much at once. It sounds like a good plan. However, in due course you might want to know which character goes with which word in Korean hanza even if they are not loanwords. It depends on how far you plan to take Korean.

All the best, and please keep me posted!

Diary of a New Decade #3 – 10th January 2011 – Mummers and Pappers


Mummers in Exeter, Devon, UK, 1994.

Mummers in Exeter, Devon, UK, 1994. Image via Wikipedia

Well it’s been a week since I did a post in this particular series, the DND series. Not much has transpired in that time. I went to Tczew and came back again, and there was a holiday on Thursday 6th January for Epiphany. That may be the best thing to talk about. The other thing probably worth talking about is the controversy around the large scale die offs of blackbirds and drumfish and turtledoves, which I looked into a bit at the weekend.

Language-wise I did some Czech and some Japanese, and I finished the Michel Thomas Advanced Japanese course, which I can recommend well enough as a course, but I have to say that calling it advanced is nothing short of laughable. There are a heap of structures that still need to be learned. The neutral forms of the verb and the bases were not even touched upon and the past tense and negative pasts of -i adjectives were not used. Moreover, the difference between na adjectives and -i adjectives before a noun were not looked at at all. I can only hope that there will be a so-called vocabulary course – the way the new Michel Thomas language series describes the third lot of rather dear CDs.

I read some rather negative reviews of the Advanced Japanese course on the UK Amazon – more pleasant ones on the US Amazon including one by a friend of mine whom it was a pleasure to bump into by chance reading Amazon reviews. My own view is that I can see where some of the negative comments were coming from but they are exaggerated. It is very good material, and a lot is packed into the hours you can physically get onto 4 audio CDs, if that has to be the constraint. Only don’t go calling it Advanced Japanese, especially bearing in mind not one single kanji and not one single kana has been explained and not even the issues surrounding syllabification and also the series and how shi, chi, tsu and fu appear instead of what you might expect in the sounds tables.

These are really basic things needed if you want to get at real Japanese. The person finishing the Michel Thomas course will discover they will have to go right back to the start again if ever they want to be anything more than functionally illiterate in Japanese. I’ve started now the Michel Thomas Greek course and that is really making strides at a faster pace. Again, nothing really about the alphabet, so a person relying on that won’t be able to read anything, but maybe in Greek that is easier to overcome.

I also have major misgivings about a few things in the Michel Thomas method. I do think that it has advantages over a lot of other methods, even Pimsleur, as far as being an audio-only course goes. But I do feel as if it is building so much in a short time that it rely pushes the short term memory. I wonder whether the students who did those course on the recordings actually retained it all for more than two weeks afterwards. I should say not more than 30% of it. But you can get round that as a learner by doing the course and then coming back to it again after letting the knowledge lie fallow for more than 2 weeks, and reactivating it all again. Rinse and repeat a few more times.

I was going to talk about Epiphany or Twelfth Night as a holiday. I noticed that people were regarding it as a Church holiday even though the Bible does not say which day this ‘showing’ of Jesus Christ was, whether it was the eighth day (which was traditional for the circumcision) or the twelfth day, who can say? But what we can say is that in pre-Christian Europe there were two twelve day long festivals, one around the winter solstice and the other around the Summer solstice. In the older calendar the final or twelfth night in the winter one of these fell on New Years and was a general party and carousal, with people dressing up.  This was simply carried over into the Church by an act of syncretism.

Generally speaking Roman Catholicism is happy to soak up and “christianise” just about anything the Pagans threw at them. It was so with turning men into saints, it was so with the goddess worship with Mary being placed into the role of Gaia/Isis/Diana, it was the same with the placing of the date of Christmas (at least there was more guidance over the celebration of His death and resurrection because the Jews still celebrate Peshach, but why did they give this time the entirely Pagan name of Easter?) So this is just another example of the way Polish Roman Catholics are ready to place religious holidays at every single one of the Pagan dates that have been syncretised into the so-called church calendar (including the non-biblical Assumption of Mary on 15th August – the date which coincides with many Pagan devil-worshipping dates worldwide such as O-Bon, the time when the Japanese believe that for 33 years (notice the significance?) after a person’s death, they come and spend three days (August 13th to August 16th) with their old families. This strange reversal of some of the beliefs about Jesus Christ’s life and death almost appears to be diabolical mockery. Doesn’t stop Roman Catholics from revelling in it, though, and choosing it as their time of year to go on Hajj to their various mariolatric meccas, trudging sometimes hundreds of miles in the searing heat to please God doing something He never once commands in scripture, whilst many of the explicit commands are overlooked, like not having graven images, like calling no man father, like not forbidding to marry, and many more.

And how the Devil, who manipulates people to do these things, laughs.

There’s nothing intrinsically Christian about 6th January. There is something intrinsically pagan about twelfth night, and there is some astrological thing that goes on that I don’t even want to remember or understand, but which you can look up if you like. The carry over of the baccanalia from that time into the mumming of the Christian era is clear even from the traditional costumes worn by the mummers, which follow those used in the pre-Christian era.

Anyway, we’ve all been forced by the Catholic Church to participate in this pagan holiday.

I used quite a bit of it having a walk with my son, and I also gave him a walk on Saturday and a really big one on Sunday, when we took a taxi to the old town and walked back. Those three times in total gave us about 14 km over those three days worth of walking, and I do feel that it’s done me some good. The good thing about my son is that he walks about the same pace and just enjoys the walk, he doesn’t run off. And then he is well behaved after as he has been able to use his energy up, although generally speaking he is not as tired as me.

As there is not that much conversation going on I can also listen a bit to the Michel Thomas courses during the walk. All in all a good way to spend time, but it was cold on Thursday and only gradually got a bit warmer over the weekend. At about 5-6 degrees Celsius most of the snow started to melt, but there are large puddles everywhere and of course the contributions to society made by the communion of dog-owners comes much to the fore, all melting in the water and mixing in with the sand that is laid down so that you can tell sometimes where the sand starts and the canine detritus finishes.

I was also going to talk about these big die-offs reported in the Internet and a bit in mainstream media. But perhaps it can wait for a later post. I will come to that, though.

Diary for a New Decade #1 – 1st January 2011


Butterbrotes with caviar of trout

They were not unlike these wikipedia ones, but on toast instead of bread and cheese.

So here I am embarking on the first of many posts for this year. I woke up ridiculously late this morning, in fact I’m not sure that morning is actually the correct word to use, and the first thing that I thought about was to make sure that I drank coffee before breakfast because we had planned to use the red caviar that my wife’s sister recently brought from Russia for our first breakfast in the year.

Now I don’t know about you, but personally I don’t like drinking coffee straight after eating red caviar. Or black caviar for that matter with the slight proviso that I don’t buy black caviar. I worry too much about the plight of the sturgeon, and also I don’t even like it as much as I like the red caviar which comes from the salmon, and is not endangered in the way that sturgeon-derived caviar is. It is a little bit endangered but then so is everything little bit endangered. Whereas sturgeons are more than a little bit endangered.

So I took my coffee without sugar, and perceived on my weight loss initiative. I should say that I weighed in last night just before midnight at 131.6 kg.  This means that in 2010 I lost the grand total of 0.4 kgs. Before you laugh and pour scorn upon my weight loss efforts, I have to say this is a bigger success than you might think. I am perfectly capable of adding on 40 kg in the course of a year just be eating what I feel like and not watching what I am about. So all I really need to do is redouble my efforts and there should be a healthy weight loss. Anyhow the target is 101,6 for the year – a loss of 30 kg.

But I decided not to be weighing myself every day or week, I decided to make that a monthly event. For the first month to be on track I need to lose about 4 or 5 kg. It does slow down as a diet progresses, you see. I will not be crash dieting, just burning more by walking instead of using the car (which remains unrepaired while I get my teeth repaired, which appears to be a long-term construction project) and having smaller portions. The key is to avoid the things which are simply empty calories, to eat less at meals so that I still think I probably haven’t eaten enough when I push away from the table, to leave food when given too large portions, to order fewer courses, and to drink water instead of juice or anything with calories in it.

Calories taken in as fluid are a particularly deceptive thing – you don’t feel full but you’ve had some of your food allowance.

Anyway, I did some Czech Goldlist and then went for a walk with my son, George. He is a bit snuffly so it was a short walk. The weather is about plus 2 outside but there’s a bit of a wind so the so-called chill factor was much in evidence. I listened to the Michel Thomas advanced Japanese course a bit while walking. I do think it’s very good despite some of the mean reviews it had on Amazon.co.uk. One person didn’t get on with the presenter’s Irish accent, but I find it quite endearing, so I do. I know Paddy O’Donohue would love it. He would probably be wanting Niamh to be his colleen if he wasn’t already wanting Enya to be. 

And then I came home and had some soup and one of my wife’s ‘kotlyety’ (Russian meatballs) and then it was now!

Hopefully that wasn’t too boring, as there’s plenty more where that came from, so there is…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,401 other followers

%d bloggers like this: