Posts Tagged ‘language learning’

Well the vote is in and it looks like Mandarin Chinese is the winner.  The survey was a bit sparse, but between the actual survey and some offline votes Mandarin was was by far the most favored choice.  So I’m going by  the results and have downloaded the earworms Mandarin 1 package with my second coupon.  As I said in my original post on learning a third language, I’ll hold off on actually trying it until I get a bit more traction on Spanish. Despite the advice from this very interesting post that Maria pointed out, I am only going to try to really learn one language the first time out.

Thanks everyone for all the participation and advice on this one both online and offline.  I think Aaron’s comment about learning Turkish was particularly fun.

I  purchased an Amazon Local deal for two level one earworms courses even before I was certain that I was going to embark on this reboot adventure.  I have already grabbed the Spanish course as my first choice, and listened through it.  It seems at minimum to be a fun way to add some vocabulary and phrases, but since I’m going scatter shot at this by trying a bunch of different things I can’t tell how well this would stand on its own.  So it seems like it would be fun to give a run at a ‘third’ language using this technique.  Probably after I have some traction on Spanish.

In any case, I have to redeem the second coupon by the end of the month and can’t decide which language to choose as my ‘third’ language.

Since t I didn’t do justice to my full list of options for a second language in my last post, I thought I’d take this opportunity to do a quick run through of why those options landed there and then post a poll of the available earworm languages as a poll to get your opinion.   If I get in a minimum number of votes (say 10), I’ll abide by reader’s choice on this and use my coupon for that language lesson.

Here’s the list that I originally used:

  • Spanish: I believe I covered this sufficiently in my last post
  • Mandarin Chinese: One of the most spoken languages in the word and highly represented as a native tongue by people around me.  It’s probably the most useful language for me professionally.  And finally, I tend to the big challenge and given the FSI take on difficulty of languages for a native English speaker to acquire, Mandarin Chinese would certainly be a challenge.
  • Japanese:  The multiple writing systems in Japanese seem like they would be a blast to wrap my head around.  CodeView, The product that I spent the early part of my career working on was translated first into Japanese.
  • French:  I have two years of high school French, perhaps that would give me a head start.  Whilst I feel like I’ve retained nothing from those early lessons, it turns out that when I turn down my filter to search for a Spanish work, sometimes a French once pops out.
  • Latin:  Well, if I’m going to learn any of the Romance languages, maybe I should just start with the root of them all.  Although if I start going that direction, I’ll probably end up trying to learn Proto-Indo-European, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to get there too quickly (it might make a good 20th language to learn, right after I get a doctorate in linguistics in some alternate universe).
  • Gaelic:  You have seen Highlander, right?
  • Ancient Icelandic: I took a syntax course in college that covered Chomsky’s Universal Grammar and the professor frequently held up Ancient Icelandic as the sole known exception to whatever generalization he was trying to make of grammar rules.  My favorite linguistics professor of recent times, however, has stated on a number of occasions that this particular theory has fallen out of favor, so I guess I’ll pass on learning Ancient Icelandic.

And here’s the poll:

And yes, there is not complete overlap between the two sets, feel free to choose any of the earworm options.   I can understand why they don’t have Ancient Icelandic, but come on, no Latin?

Or Curriculum part 2 of N (where N is large.  Did I already mention that?).

As I teased in my “Curriculum part 1” post, one of my ‘big’ goals for this year is to learn a language. I listed Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, Latin, Gaelic, and Ancient Icelandic as possibilities.  How do I go about deciding which of these or of the many other possibilities to choose?  Let’s start with what I want to get out of the experience.  I have two main objectives.  First, the experience of learning a second language is cited as one of the primary ways to create a lasting positive effect on how one learns.  And second, I’d actually like to use the other language.   Both of these are interesting but the act of learning is what I’m really after for this year.  If I can manage some level of competency in a second language as well over the course of the year, I can decide if I want to continue to tune that language or try to knock off other languages in the future.

Here are a couple of fun quotes that add support to my first point.  They are from the lecture series How We Learn that I’ve been listening to recently and ranks as one of the top few lecture series that I’ve listened to from The Great Courses .

Many general learning principles apply to learning languages, such as engaging with the material deeply and using elaborative encoding, which means linking new material to what we already know to enhance our ability to learn and remember the new information.

Research suggests that the capacity to inhibit responses in general gets strengthened when we consistently have to operate in more than one language, and improved inhibition can help our learning much more broadly in many other areas.

But none of the general learning and brain improvement arguments actually help me decide which language to learn, so let’s put that aside for the moment and take a look at usefulness, even though it really is a somewhat distant second.  One way to whittle things down a bit is to take a look at how many people speak candidate languages both globally and locally.   Globally, the internets tell me that Mandarin Chinese and Spanish are the only real contenders on my list. Although perhaps I should add Hindi and Arabic as possibilities from that perspective.  Locally, Chinese and Spanish are pretty high up on the list of languages spoken natively by people that I interact with on a regular basis, so by this measure I’ve pulled myself down to two realist options.

The most important criterion I’m using for this task is that I want to succeed.  Unlike some of the other things on the my list, second language acquisition is something that I’ve tried at various levels on numerous occasions and have never made any real progress.  I took two years of French in high school (completely wasted).  I took a stab at Vietnamese at one point (many hours gone to waste).  Then I’ve done intro series Pimsleur both for Mandarin and Spanish without much luck.  With some other things on my list, a fail fast philosophy is a possibility, but I’m hoping to avoid that for language acquisition.  So I am going to take as easy a path as I can manage to get an initial level of success. Now, I’ve had a number of native English speakers tell me that Mandarin Chinese isn’t all that hard to learn. After one such conversation the person who so strongly contended that point came back the next day (to his credit) with a link to the Foreign Services Institute ranking of language difficulty. I can’t find the original link, but this site has a reasonable reproduction of the list.  This ranking puts Spanish is in Category I (at 24 weeks or 600 hours) and Mandarin (Chinese) is in Category V (at 88 weeks or 2200 hours) to reach “Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3)” and “Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3).”

Another cogent point that Professor  Pasupathi made in the How We Learn series was that if you look at the number and variety of Europeans who are functional in at least two languages, you realize that even those who may not be naturals at language acquisition can get to some level of functionality.  So I’m going to go for failure isn’t an option on this one.

And as to the actual language – drum roll please – the winner is Spanish.  On top of all of the other reasons listed above, my lovely fiancée has a decent amount of Spanish and is willing to help me out and treat this as an opportunity to brush up on her own Spanish skills.  While we’re not quite ready to move to Spain (or a Latin American country) to get the full immersive experience, maybe we will next month…

Where N is large 🙂

I’m taking the Month of October to unwind, sort out the house and start building my curriculum.   The relaxing and sorting out the house are pretty boring, so I’ll spare you the details on those.  But I’m interested in iterating over the curriculum part of the process.  Every time I have this discussion in person, a new suggestion comes up. So I’m interested to see if the internets will provide more ideas.

Because I am fundamentally a reductionist, I am going to divide my efforts into three broad categories.  One is large goals that I intend to spend something measurable in hours per week over the course of the year to achieve a specific objective.  Another is what I’m thinking of as tools and techniques – experimenting with different methods of learning on small things or specifically aiming at acquiring a particular skill that I believe will help my ability to execute on my larger goals.  The final category is the scatter-shot learning of anything that strikes my fancy.

Well that’s completely amorphous, you say?  Let’s dig a bit deeper.

I’ve already mentioned the top four big things:

  1. Learn a language – there are two major questions to answer here. The first is the language, I’m leaning towards Spanish, but some of the other contenders are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, Latin, Gaelic, and Ancient Icelandic.  This certainly deserves at least one blog post of its own, so stay tuned. The second is technique. I’m not even sure where to start with a discussion on how to learn a language (although I’ve been accumulating ideas from various sources) so again, stay tuned.
  2. Music – While my initial measurable goal is to learn an instrument to some level of mastery, I’d also like to dig more into music theory and develop sight reading skills. Contenders here are piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, harmonica, vocals and upright bass.
  3. Programming – I’m not even going to try to attack this in a small paragraph.
  4. Writing – Well, let’s start with blogging, perhaps more will come of it.  Although I did just notice that nanowrimo is next month. Hmmm…

And some of the skills that I’m hoping to develop:

  • Speed reading
  • Memorization techniques
  • Analysis/Critique – If nothing else I am going to start reviewing books and teaching company courses that I read and listen to.
  • Math – there is certainly room for a ‘big’ learning subject here as well, but my initial interest is in exercising basic math skills to see if that help stretch my brain and make some other activities easier.
  • Physical skills – Keep doing yoga and dance and perhaps re-introduce an eastern martial art of some kind – I am certainly strongly planted in the strong body helps a strong mind camp.
  • Typing?

I’m not sure that the last category is actually a separate thing, but I’m including it as a reminder to myself to  strike a balance between a disciplined approach and making sure that I have a blast in the process.

I’ve always been happiest when I’m learning.  But I’ve never been most effective doing so in a classroom context.  I’ve had a good deal of success  from learning within the context of work.  But there are so many things that I’d like to learn that just don’t fit in that scope that I am not really achieving my learning goals while holding a full time job.

So I am going to take some time to attempt to reboot my brain and become a more effective learner.  This is informed by a lot of things, but two of the primary ideas are that of Neuroplasticity and Flow, both of which seem to show that I should be able to effectively manage a mental reboot if I go about this right.  I’ve also been a fan of MindHacks and LifeHacker but have not taken the concentrated time to put these ideas to work.

All of that is great, and there are loads of ideas packed into (or unpack-able from) those four links and I’ll share others as I encounter them.  But I needed a framework to  drape all of that stuff on or it would just end up as a gooey mess in my head.   I ran across this blog – Skip Graduate School, Save $32,000, Do This Instead a couple of years ago and have been thinking about variations on that idea ever since.

This is perfect.  As a direct translation of the above blog post to my situation, I’m going to spend a minimum of a  year on a self-designed education including a number of things that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time but haven’t had the time or energy to pursue.  This includes learning an instrument, learning a foreign language, building writing skills, and broadening my programming/design skills.  That is a set of what I think of as medium sized goals that I can apply learning techniques to and at least informally measure my progress.

Finally, where does all this lead?  If you missed it, I’m taking a minimum of a year off of full time employment to dive into this experiment, if this ends up being a year of self improvement and self discovery, I’ll count it as a success but not be thrilled with the outcome.  My overall objective is to accomplish the brain reboot and in the process discover my next big thing, which I hope will be a project/career that will both improve the world around me and provide a sustainable living.

As part of the writing project, I’ve started this blog to document the journey, so if you find any of the ideas above interesting I hope to have more here on a regular basis.  My first month following full time employment starts today (October 2nd, 2012) and will consist of getting set up for the remainder of the year.  Some of the things I expect to post soon are what instrument and why, what language and why as well as early experiments in improving my pace of learning and how I figure out scheduling in an unconstrained environment.


P.S. In case it isn’t intuitively obvious, the title of this post is meant to refer to the real mode dos/early windows definition of the three finger salute.