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Originally posted on Stories from Shanghai:
Q: Is it difficult to learn Chinese? A: Yeah, they say Chinese is among the most difficult languages to learn (in terms of effort vs. results). Q: What is so difficult about it? A:…

Use your target language to learn something new

Since the middle of last year, I’ve needed to learn a number of new Excel skills to manipulate and analyze data at work; for the most part, this has meant paying regular attention to youtube videos by Bill Mr. Excel Jelen, and Mike Excelisfun Girvin.  They have both quick and easy “here’s something you might not know about Excel” videos, as well as longer “clear and concise instruction of an Excel function” videos.  In addition to their own ‘shows’, they also get together and share unique approaches to the same excel problem and share their differing answers together, as part of an ongoing series of “Dueling Excel” episodes.  I’ve learned so much from these videos, as well as their books (many available at my local ibrary).

Excel in French?

A while back, I wondered if it would be hard to track down similar Excel videos in other languages.  As it is with most things these days, all I needed to do was turn to Google and ask “comment utiliser index match excel youtube“. Once a youtube video that was remotely close to what I was looking for opened up, I was set— Youtube’s “suggested videos” eventually guided me (as expected) to videos with a decent number of views.  Without trying very hard, I found a short video introducing the =VLOOKUP function, which is evidently called the RECHERCHEV function French– voila!

Other hobbies?

If learning Excel in another language isn’t your thing, what about guitar?  In English, you can have James Taylor teach you how to play Fire and Rain, himself. If happen to enjoy the guitar and also want to learn Brazilian Portuguese, why not try learning how to sing and play a song? Or just sing along…. or just play along.. etc. etc.


I don’t know how to say “how to play guitar” in Portuguese, so I used Google Translate, and then used copy/paste to put the results, “como tocar guitarra,” into a google/youtube search.  Once you start adding in the names of artists and songs that you like, you may find something.  In my case, I ended up finding a high-quality guitar lesson for Caetano Veloso’s ‘Sozinho’.  The video wasn’t done by Caetano Veloso himself, but this teacher quite cleverly incorporates great on-screen tabs as well as original audio from the song.


What if the language level is over your head?

At this point, I don’t understand more than a few words of this video (i.e. I don’t speak Portuguese); however, looking at the guitar instruction, it’s pretty clear that it’s a good video (over 80,000 views at this point).  If I stuck with this video long enough to pick up the song on guitar, I’m confident that at least a few of the phrases from the teacher would stay with me.

Don’t torture yourself

If you don’t feel like learning the whole song, remember you might just want to try learning the chorus before moving on to another song.  I don’t think I would ever encourage people to treat these kinds of videos as something to memorize; however, if you’re not using your target language as a tool for learning something new every once in awhile, then you may find that this kind of exercise is an interesting change of pace.

Again– if Excel and Guitar aren’t your thing, what about French instruction on how to cook?  Are you a student in the Sciences? Why not listen to how a French math teacher explains integral equations?  There’s nothing really revolutionary about anything that I’ve written here, but I think many language learners would benefit from giving it a try.

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.

Glimpses of the mid-range future of language learning

JManga looks interesting!    The instant Japanese/English swap function on the manga will be great for learners (skip to 1:44 of the video)—I could imagine that, in the future, some manga could also include audio of storytellers reading the story.

This is yet another example of the exciting things that computers and digital media make possible for language learning.   The neat thing is that language learning doesn’t necessarily have to be the initial inspiration for innovation— advances in toy design, digital media, voice recognition, mobile technology etc. all promise to come together in really interesting and engaging ways over the next few years.

DELF listening practice: French Podcasts

If you’re looking for French podcasts to throw on your ipod, try a few of these.   I have a number of different podcasts all organized into a smart playlist on my ipod– it all sort of flows together like a multilingual radio station….   Of special note is the United Nations podcast– if you need to follow up with something, often times you’ll find a transcript of their stories at the UN Radio site.

France Inter – L’humeur de Stéphane Guillon
[edit] **Guillon was fired by the station, so the audio archive is gone, but you can still watch lots of his videos here.

Un livre sous le bras [itunes link]
Radio des Nations Unies en français [itunes link]
RTL :  Z comme Zemmour  [itunes link]
RTL : Les livres ont la parole [itunes link

Why not simply browse the podcast directory?

Don’t forget that  you can click on the “Change Country” link at the bottom of the podcast page in itunes—if you select France then why not try out some random ‘picks’ from categories that appeal to you?     If sports is your thing in English, then you should definitely be looking to French sportscasters as an *ideal* learning resource.