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)
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
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:
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!
- Learning Tools – Pimsleur, What Is It? (jacobtullos.wordpress.com)
- Learn Chinese by yourself – Beijing, China (travelpod.com)
- 훈민정음/Hunmin Jeongeum/訓民正音 (crazyaboutkorea.wordpress.com)
- Learning Mandarin – A Difficult Language Tha – Xian, China (travelpod.com)
- Five Simple Rules for Learning my Language (asianreview.wordpress.com)
- You Should Learn Chinese language – Xian, China (travelpod.com)
- From Zero to Hero – How I Learned Chinese (teachersherrie.wordpress.com)
- The focus of learning Chinese – Shanghai, China (travelpod.com)
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.
- Mummers divulge secrets to their ‘process of elimination’ (philly.com)
- Mummering flourishes in N.L. homes (cbc.ca)
- Mummers go Hollywood, Bollywood (philly.com)
- Weird Christmas Traditions Around The World (socyberty.com)
- January 6Epiphany (narmer.wordpress.com)
- Epiphany, the Founders, and freedom of religion (redstate.com)
- The God of Christmas (epages.wordpress.com)
- The origin of Christmas – When did it begin? (redantliberationarmy.wordpress.com)
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…
- What makes caviar so expensive? (greenanswers.com)
- Time to democratize caviar, says producer (canada.com)
- Seven Significant Reasons for Weight Loss Failure (womenandweight.com)
- Caviar: the ultimate delicacy, from a farm near you? (canada.com)
- Caviar Served Three Ways (plus a Primal Blini Recipe) (marksdailyapple.com)