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  • How Learning a Language is Like Eating Cookies // A Guest Post by JARVIS1000

    This entry originally appeared on my WordPress blog August 4, 2012.

    This month I am honoured to feature a guest post from Jarvis1000 from I Want 2 Speak Thai, a linguist fluent in Thai and English and learning Spanish. I admire Jarvis1000 greatly because he is able to excellently balance his family, a job and language learning (something I one day inspire to do as well!). All this goes without saying that in addition to his already busy schedule, he still finds time to write inspiring posts on learning languages.

    He no longer has a blog, but I really enjoyed his posts when he did!


    How Learning a Language is Like Eating Cookies

    When I was 19 years old, I did like many young men in my church and became a missionary. I spent two years of my early adult life in “AMAZING THAILAND” and came back fluent in Thai. Fast forward 10 years and I am now a 30 something married father of 4 kids. I work 40+ hours a week along with my other responsibilities as a father. On top of all that I am learning Spanish. Though there are many things I learned about language learning in Thailand, learning how to apply them to current situation has been totally different.

    How learning language is like eating cookies | Jarvis1000

    Learning a foreign language is like eating a tim tam slam I am sure most of you know what an Oreo Cookie is. A childhood is not complete without dunking an Oreo cookie in milk every so often. On the other hand, you may or may not have heard of a Tim Tam. I was introduced to Tim Tams by my wife, who is from New Zealand. It’s a cookie (or a ‘biscuit’ as my wife would call it) that is made of too thin chocolate wafers with a chocolate crème filling. The entire thing is then coated in chocolate.

    When my wife introduced Tim Tams to me it wasn’t just, “here’s a Tim Tam.” She introduced them to me as a “Tim Tam Slam.” A Tim Tam Slam is done by first preparing your hot chocolate beverage of your choice. Then, after biting little bites on each side of the Tim Tam, you use the Tim Tam as a straw to suck up the hot chocolate into the biscuit. Once saturated, you tilt your head back and let the warm chocolate goodness fall into your mouth and enjoy. It’s one of the greatest chocolaty pass times I have ever experienced!

    What does that have to do with language learning?

    For me, learning Thai in Thailand was like having a Tim Tam Slam. When you suck up that hot chocolate, you have committed to eating that whole thing with all you have in you. You can’t go back, you NEED to eat that thing or make a horrible mess otherwise. Immersion makes you committed to learning the language. When you do eat it, though it might be a bit overwhelming for a moment, you eventually just sit back and embrace immersion for what it is!

    Right now, I am not learning Spanish in an immersive environment. I don’t NEED to learn Spanish. In fact, it can be difficult to find opportunities in my regular day-to-day life to use it. Learning Spanish is less like a Tim Tam Slam and more like dunking Oreo’s in Milk. No matter how much I want to learn, I will never be able to be as committed to it as if I lived or worked in an immersive environment.

    There is another way I have notice that it is like dunking Oreo’s. If I put it in and out too quickly, it’s basically pointless even dunking it. On the other hand, if I put it in too long the cookie crumbles and falls to the bottom of the milk, ruining the cookie and the milk in the processes. When I learn something, I need to do it in such away as to keep my confidence and motivation going long enough to actually get something done. At the same time, if I try to do too much I lose all confidence and motivation to do anything at all.

    So how does one do that?

    There are many things one can do, but that are a few tips and trick that I have learned on the way.

    Set a plan/system. I have created a system that I follow day in and day out. I use a combination of input and output activities as well as both structured and unstructured activities to help me. The most important thing is that you should never wonder to yourself, “What am I going to do this week?”

    Be Flexible. Nothing will ever go as you plan. Adapt. As you start getting better at certain things, you will find it is no longer useful to practice the language in one way or another. Don’t fret about it; just go with the flow and change.

    Find as many opportunities to talk out loud. Talk to the wall or your steering wheel. Don’t know how to say what you want to say yet? Do what you know and fill in the rest with your native language. Don’t know the past tense yet? Just use the present tense for now and just use a lot of context words like already or yesterday. Some will say that you will “create bad habits.” Let me ask you, have you ever known an adult who was stuck saying “pasgetti” all of their life because they didn’t know how to say it as a kid? Me neither. Just talk!

    Don’t just learn a language, live it. Learn how to say and talk about what you already do everyday. If you like Sports, then learn the Sports words you need. I mean everything, so you can listen to a play-by-play announcer and listen to commentator talk about player contracts. Don’t just learn how to say your profession, learn every detail of your profession in your language.

    Don’t worry if you can’t do all you want to do right away. Its baby steps. To paraphrase a bad joke, how do you eat a packet of Oreo cookies? One dunk at a time.

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    October 22, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 121

  • The Linguistic Journey of La Marinière: a guest post on Eurolinguiste

    This entry originally appeared on my WordPress blog July 6, 2012.

    It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Eurolinguiste’s first guest blogger, La Marinière. La Marinière is an American translator fluent in French and English living in France with her husband and son. She very kindly agreed to write a guest post on learning a second language and I am very happy to share her story.

    As a fellow linguist, I always enjoy hearing how others have learned other languages and how they experience them in their day-to-day lives. Here, she will be discussing her linguistic journey and how language plays a role in her life today.

    If you enjoy this article, please take a moment to check out other articles on her excellent blog. La Marinière’s blog features photos, travel essays and advice on being an expatriate in France. I first discovered her blog a few months ago and I have sincerely enjoyed her posts.

    My journey with French actually began with Spanish. Starting in seventh grade, my school offered French, Spanish and Latin. I wanted to take French, but there was a conflict with my schedule, so I opted for Spanish. I had a rough time with Spanish. Maybe it was because I wasn’t totally interested in the language and maybe it was because the teacher wasn’t that great. In either case, I took Spanish for three years, but never really took an interest in the language. However, when I got to tenth grade, I had the option of taking a second language, so I switched to French. The teacher, Mrs. Stephens, was a dear sweet lady about 10 years away from retirement. And while her spoken French was heavily accented and not terribly fluent, she had a passion for the French language and culture that really inspired me. I picked up French with surprising ease and I credit this both to having a basic background in Spanish and a strong desire to learn French.

    When I started college, I had to take a placement exam to see what my level was. I remember having an interview with a professor who asked me what my language goals were. I told her in my very shaky French that I wanted to become fluent. I was placed in a 3rd level French class and feel like I learned more French in one semester of college than I did in three years of high school. I ended up minoring in French.

    While still in high school, as soon as I heard the words “study abroad”, I knew I was going to Paris when I was in college. I spent a year in Paris when I was a junior. This was definitely a turning point for my French. The first few months, anytime I would open my mouth to speak to shop keepers or waiters or ask for directions, the reply would always be in English. But after about four months, people started to respond to me in French. Around the same time I also mastered the pronunciation of the “r” like in être or Louvre. Another hard one is “ou” like in courrier, but that came near the end of my year in Paris. The other thing that helped my French was a boyfriend. He wasn’t a French boyfriend, but French was our common language. Even though we both made mistakes, speaking French outside of classes really eased some of my fear of making errors in front of native speakers. Immersion is definitely the best way to learn a foreign language.

    After I finished college, I was able to return to France for a few years for more studies, work as a nanny, and a different boyfriend, this time a native speaker. As time went on, I moved back to the US for five years where I worked for Swiss and French companies, which allowed me to continue using my French. I also took translation classes and I now work as a translator.

    Photo by La Mariniere These days, I am back in France with my French husband and our franco-american son. Living in France now, I often receive compliments when people realize I am American after having a conversation with them in French. This speaks well of my accent and fluency, but it can also work against me. I still make mistakes. Every day. All of the time. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I have been told that I have practically no accent in French. So when I make a mistake, for example for gender agreement like when using la or le, or try to use a complicated sentence structure, or tripping up on the pronunciation of a new word when everything else is correct, I get some strange looks and leave people very confused. I once asked a woman for directions to le mairie (the city hall) with my nice accent and the lady had no idea what I was talking about since I should have asked for la mairie.

    At this stage, I would consider myself to be more than fluent but less than bilingual since I was born monolingual. To me, someone who is truly bilingual is someone who had equal exposure to two languages starting from birth or a very young age, and who not only speaks both languages perfectly, but also understands all of the nuances and subtleties of both languages. While I will never have “perfect” French, I continue to learn and improve because the different paths I have taken have always led me to places where I could speak French.

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    September 17, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 187

  • How Long Does It take to Learn a Language?

    Someday | Eurolinguiste

    How long does it take to learn a language enough to be able to use it?

    First, I would like to say that I wrote a post on Sociolinguistics and language learning over at I Want 2 Speak Thai, so I hope you’ll take a moment to head over and check it out! It’s my first guest post on another blog and I am really excited to have had the opportunity. Thank you Travis!

    One of the things that I really enjoy doing is teaching and passing on the things that I’ve learned to others. This passion started when I was still in high school – I tutored other students in English during my lunch hour and started a website that featured advice articles for young musicians (which still exists today). As an undergraduate, I coached music students at two middle schools and in recent years, this love has manifested itself in the form of private tutoring – I teach music lessons and French (and sometimes English to French speakers). Having taught both music and foreign language, I’ve found a lot of similarities in teaching and learning methods. I certainly understand why people say that music is a language.

    A question that I am often asked (for both music and language) is “how long will it take me to speak fluently?” Or in the case of music, “how long will it take me to play ‘fluently’ (to perform well)?” My answer for both is at least three to five years. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t perform in either music or languages until that point – you should be using the skills you are developing in performance and practice everyday. Whether you are learning new words or new notes, use them! The quickest way to improve is by putting what you know into practice. You will never get over your fear of performing or conversing if you never do those activities.

    Three to five years can seem like a significant investment to some, especially today when we have grown so accustomed to immediate gratification. We can download and gain access to pretty much anything immediately and at a low-cost. I still remember when I had to save for weeks to have the $15-20 for an album and then wait again for my parents to drive me to the store to buy it. Now, I can download whatever I want for $9.99 an album and even less for a song. We are so used to having everything now, that making a three to five-year commitment for certain things seems unfathomable. I also have seen first hand with many of my students, that if they don’t see immediate progress, they quickly become discouraged. I could take short cuts with them and teach them “tricks” to improve quickly, but it won’t help them in the long run. It’s like cramming for a test – you can learn a lot of material quickly, but you won’t retain it.

    If you really think about it, three to five years to learn to speak a language (or play an instrument) isn’t that long. For example, a child learning their first language takes five years to become totally fluent (and still that fluency is limited), and even then, they make mistakes in punctuation, with grammar, and with vocabulary choice. In fact, most children spend the better part of their first 18 years learning grammar and new vocabulary in school and will never know the majority of words in their language. The same can be said for music, where grammar and vocabulary are technique and style.

    It is believed that the average person has anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 words in their vocabulary. This being said, you could know 20,000 words in five languages before your vocabulary database is “maxed out.” The average person also only uses about 3,000 to 5,000 words of their vocabulary to communicate on a daily basis, meaning you only need 5,000 words in another language to be “fluent.” The difference between the 5,000 words we actually use and 20,000+ words we know is quite significant. The reason the average vocabulary varies between 5,000 to 20,000 words is because we have what are called “active” and “passive” vocabularies. The active vocabulary includes the 3,000 to 5,000 words we use in everyday communication while the remaining 15,000 to 17,000 (to make 20,000 total) are known as passive. They are words that we understand but do not use regularly in communication. So, for example, we all may know what the word precocious means, but we are unlikely to use it in everyday conversations.

    This difference is known as high frequency versus low frequency words. High frequency words are those that are used often in conversation or text, so an example of a high frequency word in English would be come, one or go while low frequency words would be a word like punctual.

    But all in all, it doesn’t matter if you know 10 or 50,000 thousand words if you can’t use them in a sentence. This being said, The Linguist, or LingQ, speaks ten languages and never focused on grammar. Instead, he focuses on learning languages through listening and reading. In my opinion, this is a much more enjoyable way to learn languages so that you don’t have to labor through grammar books. It also gets you speaking much quicker!

    So what are your thoughts on language learning and the kind of investment it takes?

    For more great articles on the subject:
    1. World Wide Words
    2. Television Learning: Do Foreign Films Really Help You Learn Another Language?

    For more language learning tips like this, check out my collection of articles on Pinterest!

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    August 16, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 471

  • Television Learning: Do Foreign Films Help You Learn Another Language?

    When people first get to know me and they hear about my passion for language learning, I am often asked how I’ve managed to learn ‘so many’ other languages. During these conversations I have heard the argument that watching television and movies in a foreign language accelerates the development of a second (or third) language. As a multilinguist, I am somewhat skeptical of this theory, even if it is how my husband claims to have learned his second language.

    Does watching foreign films help you learn another language?

    First, in establishing my argument against using television to learn a language (unless it is in addition to a variety of other tools and resources), I would like to say that I have, in fact, experimented with this method first hand on more than one occasion.

    While I was in middle and high school, I attempted to watch foreign films and absorb the languages I was learning, but I didn’t really ever feel like I was improving. Of course as a teenager, I always assumed that there was something wrong with me. I had to be the exception because I had so often heard that this method was effective.

    For me, it seemed, the most noticeable improvement I made was when I used the language I was learning in writing but most of all in conversation, not by watching movies. The only time films really worked for me was once I was already quite proficient in a language and could read the subtitles in the original language rather than my native language.

    One might argue that watching foreign-language films is a way to immerse yourself in a language when the real environment is unavailable. This is one area where I might agree, however, if one does not already have the basic tools of another language (some vocabulary and grammar), then this form of immersion won’t work.

    If you think about it, this method is like trying to learn a language through osmosis. How can you expect to absorb a language let alone understand what is happening on a screen without any roots? I would compare it to picking up a novel in a foreign language and trying to learn to speak it using that book without any previous knowledge – it’s an awfully difficult way to go. I wouldn’t say it was impossible, but I wouldn’t say it was easy either.

    One might say that children learn their first language through osmosis, but I’m quite certain that many linguists would argue. Children are born with the natural ability to decipher the complex system of language by picking out repetitive sounds, eventually words and then finally phrases.¹ The total language learning process takes them a total of five years to complete with 24/7 immersion in the language and endless interaction with speakers that are trying to help them learn the language.

    Why don’t movies work as well for language learning as one would hope?

    If you are looking for a shortcut to language learning – a fast way to learn a new language and skip steps, watching foreign films isn’t going to help you. Not without a basic  understanding of the language and a decent vocabulary already built up.

    The reason that television is an ineffective means of language learning is because it is missing one incredibly important element – interaction. It is a form of passive rather than active learning and therefore can be seen as less effective than other means. By watching others’ conversations in films or even by being read to by a computer (yes, there are now books that read themselves to children), one is missing one of the most important learning elements, that of interaction. When a mother reads to her child, they discuss the book, what is happening, what might happen next and what the child thinks, allowing them to become involved with the story and use the language they are developing.

    One could argue, however, that if one is actively engaged with the movie or television program, it could be considered active learning. Instead of merely watching the film, one could repeat expressions or mimic dialogue, and thus, make the activity interactive rather than passive. I myself have done this, but I usually find that using an expression in conversation (or picking one up in conversation) works better for me because I get real-time response from another person.

    On the other hand…

    To argue for television language learning, on the other hand, I’d like to tell you about my niece. My niece lives in a French-speaking household. Her parents are French, but they live in the US so she is frequently exposed to American television. She recently turned two and is just now starting to speak, but she understands both French and English. Her parents don’t really use English with her, so the only way she would have picked it up was by watching television. She is still quite young, so we have yet to see how she’ll progress in the two languages, but so far the scenario makes a pretty strong case for how television can be used as a tool for language learning.

    I also know that there are several techniques that you can use to make films an effective learning tool (shadowing among them). But really, when it comes down to it, films are best for intermediate or advanced learners and not as a standalone learning tool.

    So what do you think about using foreign-language films or television to learn a language?

    PS. There is this really fun tool that translates famous movie quotes into different languages with audio that is super entertaining to play with.

    1. Countless studies have been conducted on the brain activity of infants when hearing different sounds and as early as only a few months it has been demonstrated that they are capable of discerning meaningful sounds as “their” language.

    For more language learning tips like this, check out my collection of articles on Pinterest!

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    July 13, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 322