Monthly Archives: March 2013
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
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 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.
This one’s been doing the rounds on emails. Hope you like it.
1. Two blondes walk into a building — you’d think at least one of them would have seen it.
2. Phone answering machine message: ‘If you want to buy marijuana, press the hash key.’
3. A guy walks into the psychiatrist wearing only clingfilm for shorts. The shrink says, ‘Well, I can clearly see you’re nuts.’
4. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day — but I couldn’t find any.
5. My friend drowned in a bowl of muesli — a strong currant pulled him in.
6. A man recovered in hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, ‘Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs!’ The doctor replied, ‘I know, I’ve cut off your hands’.
7. I went to a Seafood Disco last week, and pulled a muscle.
8. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly so they lit a fire in the craft. It sank, proving once and for all that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.
9. Our ice cream man was found lying on the floor of his van covered with hundreds and thousands. Police say that he topped himself.
10 Man goes to the doctor with a strawberry growing out of his head. Doc says, ‘I’ll give you some cream to put on that.’
11. ‘Doc, I can’t stop singing: ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home.’
Doc says, ‘That sounds like the Tom Jones Syndrome. ‘
‘Is it common, doc?’
‘Well, it’s not unusual.’
12. A man takes his Rottweiller to the vet. ‘My dog is cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?’
‘Well,’ says the vet, ‘let’s have a look at him.’ and he picks up the dog and examines his eyes, then he checks his teeth. Finally, he says, ‘I’m going to have to put him down.’
‘What? — because he’s cross-eyed?’
‘No, because he’s really, really, heavy’
14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? — a fsh.
15. So I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me ‘Can you give me a lift?’ I said ‘Sure, you look great, the world’s your oyster, go for it.’
16. Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world is Chinese. There are 5 people in my family so one of them must be Chinese. It’s either my mum or my Dad — or my older brother Colin — or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu — but I think it’s Colin.
17. Two fat blokes in a pub, one says to the other ‘Your round.’ The second one replies, ‘So are you, you fat bastard!’
18. Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, and the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one off.
19. ‘You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, ‘Parking Fine.’ So that was nice.’
20 . A man walked into the doctor’s, he said, ‘I’ve hurt my arm in several places’
The doctor said, ‘Well don’t go there any more’
21. Ireland ‘s worst air disaster occurred early this morning when a small two-seater Cessna plane crashed into a cemetery. Irish search and rescue workers have recovered 2826 bodies so far and expect that number to climb as digging continues into the night.
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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.
Sometimes people ask me, “Uncle Davey, do you support the idea of freedom of the press?” And then I reply; “Certainly, I think the press should be free, in fact, I’ll go further; they should pay us to read that guff”.
The point at issue is that journalists, who are among the most powerful members of our society, because they create opinions, are not voted into place at all. They say that they are voted for every day, that every time one of their articles is paid for by the punter who buys a newspaper, that’s a vote, and that everyone who disagrees doesn’t have to buy them. To counter this, it seems very clear to me that people simply buy what is put in front of them, like sheep, and that there seems to be little choice in the matter of which paper to buy, as they are all a mix of what I call the three kinds of journalism, which as I mentioned in an earlier article are true journalism, jumbalism and junkalism.
True journalism investigates, reveals facts accurately and adequately and as the Dutch say “bijtijds”, which means in a timely way, and then comments on them in a thought-provoking, literate and justifiable way. Jumbalism looks like journalism but is a lazy man’s version of it, where people who don’t really know what they are talking about talk about it anyway, knowing that all but a few specialists will be taken in by what they say and getting hold of the wrong end of the stick. Or they give away the fact that they barely know the culture they are making “expert” comments on.
Recently both the BBC and the Guardian have been commenting on Polish affairs, for example, and going into villages so rural that they probably represent less than 5% of the population and this is identified as being how almost half the Poles live. On two occasions recently I have seen men referred to in their surnames as “-ska” because the jumbalist must have spoken to their wife or mother, taken her name and assumed that must be the same for the man. This shows the most extreme ignorance of any Slavic culture and ought to debar a person from commenting on it in any intelligent news framework. Anecdotes from people’s travels off the beaten track are treated as if they were news. The BBC “Whirled service” radio and television, the apex of high style journalistic reporting as they claim, can barely speak English properly and no longer seem to take any pains over proper pronunciation. (See Tristana Moore’s party piece rendition of ‘Zgorzelec’. One can hardly believe she was standing in the middle of the place and couldn’t be bothered to ask anyone how to actually say it. Was she flown in for, like, five minutes, just to stand in front of the cameras, spout some meaningless drivel, which her report certainly was, and then leave again as quickly as possible?) Read the rest of this entry
This is fresh off the press of my video camera, filmed less than one hour before publication, which is good for me as may play out backlog has been at times slightly over one year and right now is about 8 months long, but still I think (and in this I have been guided by some of the regular viewers on YT and some of my dear subbers on here who told me so in comments) that it’s good to let topical stuff jump to the front of the queue. I don’t say the best stuff – that would mean I would have a lot of less good stuff waiting to come and that would end up being a bit demotivating for me and you also, but thankfully there’s a lot of my best ever stuff in the backlog waiting its turn patiently, however topical stuff deserves to come to the front of the line regardless of quality.
In the past I have done St David’s Day videos and the best of them in the mind of the viewer, assuming that comments and ratings are an accurate reflection, is the first I did, which is:
A number of viewers stated that they were even in tears or a family member was in tears listening to it. I don’t know what better compliment can be paid to a rendition. Assuming they were the right kind of tears, of course…
The Myfanwy one was from 2007 and since then I had an almost unbroken track record of St David’s Day videos.
Here’s Huli again doing the 2008 one:
And as you can see, facial fungus appears on this one.
The beard, which for some years I wore from Christmas to Easter, also appears in the 2009 one:
being not the best ever rendition of Hopcyn’s “Bugeilio’r gwenith gwyn“.
The fungus is still in evidence in the 2010 video:
However in the 2011 video there is none. That is not only because I didn’t grow a beard in winter that year, but also because I didn’t do a St David’s day video – I was busy and forgot about it.
However, in 2012, last year (again no beard at all last winter) I made up for lost time by putting up a rendition of music that you won’t hear anywhere else on the internet, and which I may possess the last copy of in sheet music, namely Cartref. Like most of the St David’s Day videos, this is sung “a capulco” as Huli puts it.
Here it is:
Which brings us back to the current one, the sixth one, in the course seven years.
Why is it important to me to do a St David’s Day video? Do I believe in Saints in the Roman Catholic sense of the word? Absolutely not. Do I regard myself as linked in some way, being called David, with that David? Well in fact that is what I was told I was named for – the name had been in my family and various grandparents in the male line were Dafydd and you didn’t need to go far back before you got to people in that line who never knew a word of English. But I really know very little about him and much prefer to identify with the Old Testament David who wrote Psalms, played music, admired women, killed Philistines, put up with Saul’s persecution, built cities and was a man after God’s own heart. He doesn’t get aday in the calendar though, which smacks of anti-semitism to me.
No, the reason why I think is this – partly to take the opportunity to celebrate Welshness and being part Welsh, and the other part is that it’s a bit like an anniversary. I joined YT and started to put up my first faltering videos in February 2006 but the beginning was so faltering you could say it was a couple of months before it got off the ground and so treating the end rather than the middle of February as the Anniversary of being on YT seems fairer. It’s now 1st March 2013, that’s 7 years of me being active on YT, and active I am as I have over 1500 videos, on average 200 a year although one year I went over 300 in that year.
I have found that doing video and sharing experiences with a kindly (and sometimes unkindly, but never mind) audience adds an extra dimension to the experience of anything. On the one hand I take the video to have a memory of my own, but the impetus to keep going and keep it organised is better when it is going to be published and others enjoy it.
Before video, I used to travel like I do now but when I think back and see the difference between the things I did before YT and after YT – I simply remember the post YT stuff better, much better, and the experiences don’t all blur into one in my mind. Also it makes me want to get out there and make the film, rather than do the airport-taxi-hotel-office-hotel-taxi-airport cycle of work without seeing anything. There are so many well-travelled businessmen who have nothing to show for all the places they have been. They have been to major capitals of the world but they haven’t even walked around on the streets and heard the language or tasted the local food or seen the individual sights. Just international looking hotels, airports and offices. I was one such person and decided it was a waste, I wasn’t gonna do it anymore, and that even if my own descendants don’t watch to find out what great grandaddy’s life was like (I don’t see why they should) at least I have the record for my own satisfaction. The surprise was, however, that so many more people liked it and were ready to subscribe and follow the travels time after time, such that I now feel that I know so many of these online friends and carry them with me, in a sense, on journeys, feeling them there (albeit with a time delay) when I walk with the camera switched on.
And that’s something which is definitely worth celebrating to me. So hopefully you’ve enjoyed the above mini-Eisteddfod and HSDD!
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