Duolingo opens Mandarin

Quick interview from Duolingo VP Gina Gotthilf about their new Mandarin course—- as someone who has put in the time with Chinese, I can only say “It’s SO WORTH IT”. Coming from English, there’s a bit of a learning curve for sure, but it’s definitely doable.

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Bruce Lee on the ‘hard part’ of language learning

 

What’s the hard part of language learning?

I’m often moved to quote my Japanese teacher’s opening comments in my first-ever Japanese class: “Learning Japanese is not difficult; it will just be a little challenging for your spirit, and you’ll need to work hard!”.  As the years go by, and I continue to explore other languages and cultures, the wisdom of her words continues to ring true.

You may have never imagined that the great Martial Artist, Actor (and Dancer!) Bruce Lee also expressed a philosophy of language learning.  Just like my Japanese teacher’s brevity, Bruce Lee captured an essential truth about language learning in just 30 seconds during this TV interview (an old Canadian talk show btw)–before you hit play, take a moment to imagine the one thing you think is the ‘hard part’ of language learning.

On a similar note, I read a wonderful book many years ago by Kevin Carroll, entitled “Rules of the Red Rubber Ball“.  One of the themes that he talked about was the “lonely” work that is part of positive growth in any domain.  He doesn’t take the word lonely in the sad sense of the word; rather, he talks about the significant personal work (i.e. at home work) that we must invest, and how we really should pursue that time, effort and attention with a sense of Joy.

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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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Friendship through Google Translate

This story is wonderful— the boy had moved from Mexico to the U.S. with his family, and hadn’t made many (any?) friends at school.

It seems this girl’s family often hosts international students, and they’ve used Google Translate to help with communication. When she decided to reach out to this boy, she hatched the idea to use Google Translate to help her write a letter in Spanish.

 

Language learning, like a marriage, takes work: Chinglish within bilingual Couples

I just read an interesting article/interview about someone who is doing a study about semantic language use within couples coming from mixed-language (Mandarin/other) backgrounds. Does this sound like you? If so, Susanna Wickes is hoping that you’ll take a minute to complete her online survey (in either English or Chinese).  [The article ran in the Beijinger as: Scholarly Chinglish: Scottish Masters Student Studies the Semantics of Interracial Couples]

From what I’ve seen, most couples gradually shift into one language; the unfortunate reality (at least in my thinking) is that language is usually English. Chinese people as a whole have studied more of the fundamentals of English at school so, even though many don’t feel fully satisfied with their language abilities, the language barometer will more often end up shifting the equilibrium toward English.  I don’t want to speak in absolutes— I’m sure this trend is definitely better for couples living in China, but I think it’s a fair observation to say that fewer bilingual households end up primarily speaking Chinese at home.

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Reading the article actually brought up some fun memories for me; when my wife and I got together, we very quickly settled into a comfortable pidgin-mix of both languages that made us feel like I was speaking amazing Mandarin and she was speaking amazing English. The only trouble was that my expat friends (we were living in China at the time) couldn’t always understand her English; similarly, I was still feeling the daily sting of having Chinese friends and coworkers around me not understand me once the conversation moved beyond superficial pleasantries, and my pronunciation wasn’t really that clear.

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ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ : peyak isko mitâtaht (Cree:1-10)

Learning to count to ten in Cree

I found Brian MacDonald’s cd (Onion Lake, SK) in the Edmonton Public Library (epl.ca).  The music cd “For the Generations” and lyric booklet is part of their Cree Family Language kit; this song is called “The Number Song” and my son and I listened to it to learn the Nêhiyawêwin Cree numbers from 1-10.  This was a fun way for us to spend a Saturday when my wife was called in to work.  The syllabics below were generated using the Maskwacis Plains Cree Syllabic Converter on the Online Cree Dictionary site.

I don’t know how many mistakes (spelling, etc.) we made, but that’s how it works, doesn’t it? We gave it a go and now it’s now a song that we can sing sometimes to try and keep it fresh, and we can revisit it at some point in the future.

  1. peyak  ᐯᔭᐠ
  2. nîso  ᓃᓱ
  3. nisto  ᓂᐢᑐ
  4. newo  ᓀᐅᐧ
  5. nîyânan  ᓃᔮᓇᐣ
  6. nikotwâsik  ᓂᑯᑖᐧᓯᐠ 
  7. (ekwa) têpakohp  (ᐁᑲᐧ) ᑌᐸᑯᐦᑊ  
  8. ayinânew  ᐊᔨᓈᓀᐤ
  9. kêkâ-mitâtaht  ᑫᑳ ᒥᑖᑕᐦᐟ
  10. (mina) mitataht  (ᒥᓇ) ᒥᑕᑕᐦᐟ

êkota isko nitakihcikān  ᐁᑯᑕ ᐃᐢᑯ ᓂᑕᑭᐦᒋᑳᐣ  (“this is how far I’m counting”—thanks to RQ for translation!)

Fingerpaint Karaoke–“夜空中最亮的星“ by 逃跑计划

It’s father’s day today, so I indulged myself with some hobby time and finally finished this video.  I had the idea for “Fingerpaint Karaoke” ages ago– in another iteration, I called it “Whiteboard Karaoke”, which is a lot cleaner, but certainly not as fun:)   This is was also an idea that gained momentum when I was thinking of ways to introduce my son to language learning in light/fun ways.

When it comes to Mandarin, what I need most is practice with writing, so I thought this might be a fun way to do something different.  Most of the strategies using music for language study are driven toward the speaking/singing part of things, so the idea of using music to fuel writing practice might not be an intuitive one.  I tried to find other examples of this online, but I don’t think I’m using the right keywords– if anyone knows of something, can you leave a comment with a link?

Through this project, I learned the correct stroke order for several characters; however, like regular karaoke, step one is “learning the song”, and then continuing to practice and have fun with it— the nice part about fingerpaint/whiteboard/doodle karaoke is I can really do it anywhere: just try and recall the lyrics and see if I can recall the characters.

As for the song— wow!  as soon as I heard “夜空中最亮的星“, I knew it would be a great campfire song and wanted to learn how to play it. I can’t sing as high as the original version, so my guitar is tuned down a step. 逃跑计划 (Escape Plan) have got quite a few good songs that are worth checking out!

 

Language Learning with your children

I was reading a blog article the other day about encouraging your child’s language learning through active encouragement of their progress, and the post definitely struck a chord with me. When I thought back to the children’s language school where I worked in China, you could definitely tell a difference in the enthusiasm and proficiency on the faces of the children who had parents who also liked to make English small talk with the teachers and staff.

As most working adults can sympathize, there never seems to be enough time to do everything you want (or need!) to do.  With limited time to spend on language learning, it’s always great when you can combine it with other passions—- for me, spending time with my son watching Chinese cartoons has been a fantastic experience that enriches both of us. On that note, we’ve been working on singing the theme song to 熊出没 (Boonie Bears) and this video shows where we’re at now, including our practice writing out the lyrics.

I’m very proud of the progress that my son has made with Mandarin– it wasn’t something he was really interested in until we discovered this cartoon.  It’s not our intention to ‘force’ him to learn Chinese, but watching this show has been solid source of inspiration on which to build.