Sunday, 31 October 2010

Unusual language equals video goodies

Coming up with a title for this little post was difficult, regardless of any arguments about relative hardness some languages are more unusual to learn, some languages stand out more. An English person speaking French or German or Spanish doesn't stand out as much as one learning Arabic, Chinese, Japanese etc. etc. Learning one of the more unusual languages sticks in the memory of people you meet and it is well worth telling them when you have the opportunity.

A long time ago on my Chinese learning blog I posted about telling everybody that you learn Mandarin (warning as usual, hastily written with the odd spelling mistake etc.) I have had enough surprise presents, introductions etc. to be sure that this is good advice.

This works for Thai as well as of course. A recent happy example, I told a Chinese friend I had met a couple of times that I was learning Thai also, when she left Bristol to move elsewhere she couldn't take a lot of videos that she had accumulated, including the videos of a Thai friend who was also leaving etc. To cut a long story short I became the happy recipient of a couple of bags of mostly Thai videos (mainly VCDs). This little archive has resulted in me not renewing my subscription to the excellent DOOTV service.

Apart from lots and lots of films etc. I have 55 hours of Conan cartoon videos, DVDs of Thai stand-up comedians and when I start reading (or learning Korean) a bunch of Korean series subtitled in Thai.

If you are learning something slightly unusual people remember, they pick up things for you from second-hand shops or car boot sales, they divert things to you that are otherwise going to be thrown away and occasionally they arrange introductions to native speakers. It is an advantage of learning this kind of language you may as well use it.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Language Spikes


I recently use the word spike to describe the Pimsleur approach whilst commenting on a post at Randy picked up on the term spike as a good term and I realised that although I use this term myself it doesn't seem to be used very much in language learning (as far as I can tell). I am used to hearing the term applied to software development, a definition from here is quite appropriate: A spike is a narrow but deep coding experiment that allows the developers to see how various functions might work and to better estimate both system performance and the difficulty of the coding. The key concepts here are "narrow" and "deep".

The spike

Right from the first time I started learning languages I have seen most learning material as various types of spike. Inevitability learning materials want to give learners a feeling that they are making progress and this often entails build up a conversational exchange and penetrating the language to some depth, without the time to develop related vocabulary, alternative ways of saying things etc. this also inevitably leads to a narrow understanding of single area of the language.

Self learners can also make their own spikes, concentrating on the vocabulary required for a discrete task, a daily chore, a certain interaction with a single person can also involve raising a deep and narrow spike into the language.

Advantages and disadvantages

Spikes generally work better for output, as a speaker you can get away with knowing only one way to say something, even if there is a more eloquent way to say what you want, your spike will give you perfectly acceptable ways to say it. As long as the conversation progresses roughly in the expected direction spikes can give you an opportunity to have a conversation early on and they can introduce elements of the language like grammar that you wouldn't meet at first.

Spikes can rapidly collapse, the more potential variability that is introduced the more chance that the spike will fail you. The biggest problem of course is that there are many ways of saying the same thing, if talking with someone who is helping you learn a language or in a very formulaic situation, then they will probably stick to the scripts but perfect strangers may wander in any direction.

The more spikes you have raised the greater the opportunity to jump from one to the other and the more vocabulary you pick up the broader the base. Eventually everything should hopefully start to join up.

The basic spikes

The most basic spikes that people may acquire first are usually to do with ritualised politeness, food and drink and perhaps interaction with people they may interested in on a romantic level.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Women Learning Thai

Not just because I got a brief mention, but because it is great site, I want to put in a strong recommendation for the site Women Learning Thai. There are a lot less Thai learning resources on the Web than Mandarin resources (although enough to be highly useful), however Women Learning Thai is about as good as they come in either language. A lot of posts covering reviews, other resources, instructional material, culture, guest writers etc. etc. etc.

What is most pleasing is that the site is pretty much approach neutral, although Catherine Wentworth is happy to present her own views on approach to language learning in posts or comments, other views and approaches are equally well represented, the interviews with successful Thai language learners for example. I think this is a key factor to the success of the site as a learning resource.

BTW although I was a little nervous at first, men are welcome :). I can only recommend that new Thai learners start by browsing there, if not I sure that gravitational force will pull them in soon from other parts of the web.

I notice my RSS feed from the site on the left-hand side is obviously the wrong one (I'll fix that).