A Conversation for Learning Languages

Lots more useful techniques

Post 1

Tarkadhal (The 'Otter the Better)

1) Web Radio. These days, by the wonders of Windows Media Streaming and/or RealAudio, we have access to radio in just about any living language you might want to learn. Last night I listened to stations in Serbia, Burkina Faso and Tadjikistan. If you go to Google or somewhere and search on "internet radio guide" you can find portals which list lots of stations, sorted by country. This not only gives you a chance to imnprove a language you already know a bit, but also gives you a good feel of how the language "feels" (see next point). One word of warning: Various bits of software exist for listening to RealAudio. However, RealCom nag you to intall their latest, RealOne. It's a wonderful bit of kit that lets you do lots of stuff. Problem is, it crashes your PC. RealCom products are notorious for taking possession of your whole machine and refusing to give it back.

2) Get to know the "feel" of the language. My German improves when I try to talk like a guttural Frankfurter. Germans are notorious for sounding bossy, formal, aggressive, etc. They're not. It's just the feel of their language. Try to impersonate one, and the language will start to flow. Similarly, in French, shrug your shoulders and try to sound as if your mind is on higher things. And in Greek, try to sound like Tom Conti in "Shirley Valentine." Try to sound busy but relaxed. Fiddle with worry beads. Say the word "Endaksi" every other sentence. (tr. "OK") In other words - impersonate. It might feel funny at first, but only to you, not to your interlocutors who are used to it.

3) In some languages, you already know more than you imagine. Loan words and Indo-European roots are your friends. For example, once in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus, I was driving around in circles searching for a church which was said to have a particularly fine painted roof. The only soul in sight was an elderly man with the traditional baggy trousers, cloth cap and luxuriant upper lip hair. I guessed: "Ecclesia?" Almost right: "Eglissia". We can all count in Greek (think polygons). Also, "big" and "small" are "mikro" and "megalo". There. Now, with the simple addtion of the loan word "birra," you can confidently order either a 330cl or 500cl beer. Even the word for "thank you" ("Efkharisto") is the same as "Eucharist", when you see it written down ("eu" is pronounced "ef"). And don't be afraid of the Greek alphabet. It's only Algebra. When I see a Greek word, I never know whether to say it or find its integral. Furthermore - in Eastern Europe, when entering a gentlemen's public convenience, you will be asked by the attendant whether you want a No1 or a No2 (if the latter, the attendant sells you a few squares of scratchy paper.) I'm not sure about the spellings, but in Czech, "Urinal" is "Pissoir" and "Cubicle" is "Kabinetta".

4) Develop an interest in cooking. Food vocabulary travels. In fact, it can be an interesting history lesson to see how the cultural overlaps mirror the patterns of conquest and migration. For example, the word "Sabze" for "vegetable" works everywhere from North Africa to India. The Hindi/Urdu "Achaa" ("spicy pickle") is not too far away from the Turkish for Chilli "Aci Biber". (This last one is very useful for making friends at your local kebab shop).

5) Write down five new words a day on index cards. Carry them around. At every spare moment, take them out and look at them. They can be either random words (which can be fun), words you plan to use in a real-life sentence, or words acquired using the Lucidi method (see main text).

6) You don't have to get it right. You can improvise many useful phrases by learning the verb "to make", plus an assortment of other words. Now you can "make eat" "make beer" "make go house" etc. etc. My big breakthrough in German came when I realised you don't have to get genders and cases right to be understood.

7) Remember - languages are easy. In Britain, we seem to believe that language learning is tricky, something only to be attempted by "the more able pupils." (The less able are to do "vocational" courses in subjects such as tourism. Only the British could think it reasonable to work in the tourist industry without a foreign language!). In fact, most cultures are bilingual. Your average British newsagent does not have a university degree but is conversant in English, Urdu, Punjabi and Arabic. So, try to forget those dreadful experience cowering in "language labs", palms sweating as Big Brother listened in, ready to pounce on your errors. (The person who invented language labs should be made to hold conversations with a brick wall).


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Post 2

Rasa

Brillant tips, thanks.


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Post 3

Rasa

Actually, have some stuff to add.

You could extend the partial immersion technique by doing the following:

1. Get audio books in the language you want to learn (it's worth checking the local library, makes it much cheaper) and listen to them in the car or maybe when doing housework.*

2. If possible, watch foreign TV channels. I find this very amusing and interesting and frequently watch Turkish and Dutch TV (used to watch Japanese, but we don't have Sky anymore).*

3. Listen to music with lyrics in the foreign language.*

4. Make stickers with foreign-language words on them and stick them around the house. This is especially good if you write only the translations of "vase", "toilet", "glass", "television" and anything else you see around you, then stick them on the item itself.

5. Integrate some foreign words in your daily speech - start saying "thank you", "good bye" and the like in the other language. Make sure you tell people you're going to do this, though.

6. Try a little private cultural immersion by cooking foreign dishes and looking up the ingredients and the dish's name in the language. Knowing what's what on the menu ensures your survival in another country.

*the point is not to understand what is being said, but to get a feel for the language and the pronunciation. I have a friend who is learning Spanish and she has the most terrible pronunciation flaws... you can avoid this by listening to the language a lot.


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Post 4

AlmostaDutchman

Hi You are quite right, I moved over to the Netherlands just over 18 months ago. I speak very little Dutch but can understand a great deal just by listening and having to go to the shops doctors etc. The unfortunate thing here is that when I try to speak Dutch I am immediately recognised as English so virtually all the Dutch switch to English to make it easier for me and to practise their English. I have given up trying to ask them not to.

Another way is to perhaps get a foreign pen-pal, I have a friend in Japan who tries and help me with learning Japanese, obviously it doesn't help with pronunciation, (unless you exchange tapes of course) but you can pick up quite a lot, plus meet some really nice people. smiley - smiley My penfriend came over to visit us in England a couple of years ago and is planning a trip to the Netherlands this year, we are planning to go to Japan next year, so I have to blow the dust off the books. smiley - winkeye

Steve


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Post 5

hypergenki

The one problem with the book reading method described in this article is that it only works with languages that use the same writing system you are used to. I think that every part of learning a new language is really interesting, but memorizing symbols is so boring. What I do for this is just learn it once and get it over with, then start practicing reading to get it set in my memory. Going straight to an actual novel is (I think) just way too hard. Using actual readers from the country whose language you are studying works great, or else getting kid's books, with big text and lots of pictures. This is a process that really takes me back to kindergarten...

Personally, I have learned a lot of Japanese from song lyrics, and I have two methods for this to suggest. The first is to find the lyrics online and read them, then put them in a document side-by-side with a translation. Then, you can figure out (or look up) words you don't know and learn new grammar, too. Once you get to know the language better, you can get new lyrics online, and translate them yourself before looking at an existing translation. This whole process is really necessary if you are learning a language like Japanese, which is extremely different from English.
With languages like German, where the grammar isn't that different, it's possible to read the lyrics once, read a translation once or twice, and figure out new words and grammar every time you listen to the song.

A suggestion for subtitled movies is to rent them on DVD. I like to watch them with subtitles once, then maybe wait a day or two and watch them without subtitles, and see how much I can understand (without being totally lost).

Also, for reading (especially Japanese) comic books work really well. Even if you are not the sort of person who would normally read comic books, they are a great step up from children's books. They have more advanced grammar and vocabulary, and you get more of a feel for the language by learning some slang. Plus, you still have pictures, and the text is broken up so, it's not too overwhelming.


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Post 6

solar penguin

Song lyrics won't work for me, since I can't even hear them clearly in English, never mind foreign languages!


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Post 7

Researcher 168901

Since all languages have a melody to them, Why not sing? Singers from all corners of the world often sing in languages different from their native.

Get the text to a song (for instance french) and try to sing a long with the actual song. The benifites are:
1. You pick up some word (e.i increase your vocabulary)
2. Get a feel for the actual rythm of the language ergo much easier to speak the "melody" of the language
3. Easier to learn pronunciation when you sing (exaggerated but good)


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