Message on the bottle: Mind Game Moments for language learners

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Someone gave me a free (swag) water bottle the other day–looking at the picture on the box, I could see that the design was one that seems to be pretty popular these days. With a somewhat subdued design that wasn’t dominated by a corporate logo splashed everywhere (hidden here), it seemed like a keeper. Before throwing out the box, however, I thought it would be a good idea to check if I was going to be able to wash my water bottle in the dishwasher.

That’s when it happened– I picked up the box and….found myself looking at the French version of the description and instructions.  The language learning mind games had begun.

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As someone who likes to speak French sometimes (still a rusty B2), I was essentially faced with a question: read the French, or take the easy route and flip over to the English?

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French audiobooks at your local library

A while back, I shared a link to a funny Stéphane Guillon video—when I was actively preparing for DELF, I really enjoyed his style of delivery (even if I didn’t understand everything he said).  At the time, watching him read his ‘episodes’ for the radio made me wish it were possible to have a copy of his speaking notes.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago—–while searching my local library for audiobooks for my son, I was playing around with the search filters and ended up looking at children’s audiobooks in different languages.   Through that process, I was pleased to discover that they had a copy of a children’s audiobook read by Stéphane Guillon (honestly, I can’t say enough about the fantastic Edmonton Public Library).

The name of the book is L’atroce monsieur Terroce”, by Nicolas de Hirsching.  As a bonus, they have a copy of the printed version of the book as well. This book appears to have been put out as part of the J’aime Lire series.

For me, being able to have both the audio/visual and a copy of the script/text is ideal— if you want to read along, you can do that; if you want to listen once, and then practice reading aloud on your own, you can do that; if you want to try and transcribe a couple of sentences, and then check how well you did against the original, you can do that too.

All that to say—If you live in a decent-sized city, don’t forget about your local library as a resource!  In the spirit of things you don’t have to spend money on, remember that your local library may well have excellent language learning resources— everything from Pimsleur cd sets to lessons by “language teacher to the stars” Michel Thomas, and even audiobook versions of classics like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.

As for my son, he ended up asking if we could borrow the “Magic School Bus with the CD” again:)

epl l'atroce monsieur terroce stephan guillon

Brazilian Portuguese

I don’t know if it counts as a Bob Dylan New Year’s resolution but, over the last while, I’ve added Brazilian Portuguese into my language learning mix….

As one of the so-called BRIC countries, Brazil has figured more prominently in the news over the last few years.  With Brazil hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014 (in 12 different cities), and then Rio de Janeiro hosting the Olympics in 2016, i’m sure that we’ll all know quite a bit more about the country by the time these events are over in a few years.

Closer to my day-to-day life working on a university campus, it’s also worth noting that the Brazilian government is currently in the middle of an ambitious program called “Science without Borders”; by 2015, the scheme will see 100,000 Brazilian university students (undergraduate through post-doctoral) head overseas–the Canadian government estimates that as many as 12,000 of those students will come to Canada.

I could come up with a few more ‘reasons’ to learn Brazilian Portuguese, but the truth is that it simply sounds cool to my ears.  If I can learn enough to have a decent conversation then I’ll be happy.   I don’t have a particular timeline in mind— just hobby/fun.

I’ve been checking out Brazilian movies and music through my local library, and I’ve enjoyed getting started with Duolingo‘s Brazilian Portuguese beta-offering.  We’ll see how it goes!

Brazilian Portuguese

If you were held to the same standard as English learners….

The other day I got to thinking of the standard to which English language learners in my community are held every day.  I wonder how well I would measure up if the shoe were on the other foot?

Regardless of your performance on standardized tests, If you’ve developed some competency in another language, do all of the following describe your level of comfort in that language?

1. Able to write coherent text, explaining somewhat complicated circumstances? Able to do the same verbally, over the phone.
2. Able to persuade, teach or train?
3. Able to calm a tense situation?
4. Aware when you are being misunderstood, and able to get conversation back on track?
5. Develop professional rapport with someone who initially doubts your abilities?
6. Write a comprehensive report?
7.?
What makes a few of these difficult (I’m sure there are better examples), is the cultural context in which they rest. Added to that, the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ tend to rattle your confidence and, over time, it get’s harder and harder to step out of your comfort zone.
Which part is ‘hardest’ will be different for everyone; however, in terms of being able to think on your feet in a professional context, I think the fourth one is especially valuable— and probably the one over which you have the most control (or at least practice).

Studying French (DELF) in Canada—why aren’t you watching the Charbonneau Commission?

“Two more bureaucrats admit accepting gifts from construction companies”

Reading the headlines about the ongoing Charbonneau Commission in Quebec, it occurred to me that the commission was probably available as a live stream in French.

Much to my surprise, I easily found the public page for the Commission, which not only includes video archives, but also transcriptions of testimony.

Allegations of public servants unabashedly taking bribes for years and years?  Accusations of politicians and mafia in cahoots? It’s almost too much to believe.

But there it is— probably much more engaging than your current French textbook– why not study something like this instead?

Instead of paying money to study, all you have to do is pay *attention*:)

homepage of archive: https://www.ceic.gouv.qc.ca/audiences/repertoire-des-audiences.html

Commission d’enquête sur l’octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l’industrie de la construction – Gouvernement du Québec.

Suspended City of Montreal engineer Yves Themens testifies at the Charbonneau Commission (click for Montreal Gazette story)

What works for you?

So many arguments about ‘the best way to go’ for language learners at different levels…

The tricky part, of course,  is that what works for one person might be totally off-base for you.

Ultimately, we can only really judge ‘what works’ for ourselves—if you find yourself arguing, it’s probably a sign that you should try something different…… conversely, what works for you may not work so well for someone else…..  “learn and let learn” I guess.

The designers of most language tests (DELFJLPTHSK, etc.) are trying harder and harder to make test scores reflect real world communicative ability; are you aiming beyond standard language tests (that really only mark the beginning of the next stage of learning)?

As you consider your goals (however broadly), what works for you?

Duolingo invites to give away

I’ve been beta-testing the new Duolingo crowd-source platform for translation-based language-learning for a couple of months— are you interested in giving it a try?

As far as I’m aware, I don’t stand to gain anything from the exchange, but they just announced that current users could give away 3 (three) invites.

Want one?   (update: all gone! ) Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail (raymond /at/wordsummit/dot/com).

From the TED video description:     Duolingo will be a revolutionary product in which millions of internet users from around the world will work together to translate the internet and learn a new language at the same time. All for free.”

James Earl Jones vs. Shan Tian Fang: the *way* some people can use language

It’s always amazing to listen to people who seem to have a knack for making your native language come to life, even when they’re only saying a few sentences. That was the thought that came to mind when I stumbled upon an old clip of James Earl Jones presenting Sean Connery with an award, while giving eloquent praise to Sean Connery’s voice as one that “inhabits time” .  It’s a great little video (see below) because James Earl Jones, of course, is also a legendary ‘voice’ of the North American entertainment industry.

When I think of interesting voices in languages that I’ve studied, one ‘voice’ that comes to mind is the legendary Chinese storyteller Shan Tian Fang (单田芳).  I remember first hearing him on the radio while riding in taxis when I lived in Xi’an.   I always enjoy trying to imitate voices so, after hearing his unmistakable voice several times, even though I couldn’t speak much Chinese,  I remember asking someone at work “[imitating radio voice] Who’s the guy on the radio that talks like this?” [/imitating]—my colleague was almost in tears laughing at my “Shan Tian Fang” voice speaking in English:)

As I recall, my colleague then wrote down Shan Tian Fang’s name in Chinese so I could ask for a DVD at the video store, and told me what radio station I could tune into if I wanted to listen to more of his epic tales.

Anyway, the point that I wanted to raise was that I think it’s important to find examples of people who can poetically speak the languages we’re trying to study.   Even if you don’t ‘study’ these actors, it’s always a good idea to have a sense of what an eloquent speaker sounds like in your target language. With so much audio and video available online (even for free) these days, it’s never been easier to explore old tv, movies and even commercials in any language.

Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

I don’t count myself as a hyperpolyglot(!), but I can definitely agree that the key to successful language learning is simply finding a way to enjoy the process.  Judging from the book review in The Economist, this seems to be part of the message of Michael Erard’s new book, Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners.

from the review: “Hyperpolyglots may begin with talent, but they aren’t geniuses. They simply enjoy tasks that are drudgery to normal people. The talent and enjoyment drive a virtuous cycle that pushes them to feats others simply shake their heads at, admiration mixed with no small amount of incomprehension.”

If you’re an active language learner, are you on an upward spiral, or are you stuck in the language-learning doldrums?  What kinds of things do you enjoy doing that other people might think of as ‘drudgery’?

[*After reading the review, I submitted a suggestion to my local library and they’ve already agreed to order the book.  I honestly can’t say it often enough: I love the Edmonton Public Library!  (update Jan 16/2012:  the book is now in the epl database]

Duolingo: crowdsource translation meets language learning

I found the TED talk below after listening to a great interview with Luis von Ahn on CBC radio (Spark).

I had previously seen clips of him talking about CAPTCHA / reCAPTCHA; however, in the Spark interview (and the TED talk), he goes on to discuss his latest project, called Duolingo.   It’s hard not to get excited about what the project (still in beta) promises: a marriage between crowdsource translation and language learning.

If you want to skip directly to the part where he talks about the research questions that led to Duolingo, skip to the 8m37s mark.   I wonder how long the waiting list is to participate in the beta?

[update March 24th, 2012: received invitation to participate in Spanish or German Duolingo beta.  I´ve tried the first couple of Spanish lessons, and I can already tell that Duolingo is going to be very addictive!]

From the TED video description:

Duolingo will be a revolutionary product in which millions of internet users from around the world will work together to translate the internet and learn a new language at the same time. All for free.”