Slave Lake -fishing, swimming and relaxing

My wife and I had to attend a wedding in Slave Lake, Alberta.

We were busy and had a great time. Amongst other memories, we caught 4 pickerel and 1 pike in about 20 minutes of fishing around 10 at night ( full daylight), cleaned the fish and cut it into filets, and then went into the sauna, splashed in the cool waters of the lake, back in the sauna etc.. Slept like babies and then ate the fish for breakfast. Who needs the city?


LingQ launches Korean but there is no content yet.

LingQ launched Korean yesterday. To this point there has been no content provided to the library. Given how many people wanted Korean, and the pressure for us to get going with it, I have to say I am disappointed.

??I hope some of the Korean keeners and their friends will start to get active and load up some content. Or perhaps some of LingQ’s Korean speakers will record themselves and their friends. I am hoping.

I will also put some effort into scaring up some Korean content myself starting tomorrow.

Cultural sensitivity and thought control

I occasionally tune into the teachers’ forum sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy. My comments are regularly disallowed by the moderator. Here is the latest example. My comments in italics. The subject is the need for intercultural training, something that I believe is overblown, and just another excuse for teachers and consultants to try to obtain funding for research and special programs. Most people just get along in my experience, and those who are not going to get along will likely not understand the cultural explanations, or will simply get a very stereotypical impression of people of a different culture.

I said:

We need not be so concerned about offending sensitivities. We need to be ourselves, and accept people as they are. We will find people we get along with in all cultures, and others we do not like, on that very basis, just being ourselves. There is no need for cultural sensitivity training in my view, if we use common sense, good will and respect.


A literacy instructor on this forum said:

I would like to agree with you on the great idea of using common sense, good will and respect, but I can’t.?? The fact is that your statement assumes the premise that what is common sense to you is also common sense to me and, more to the point, to people from other cultures very different from our common “Western” culture.?? But common sense (beyond instinctual self-preservation) is also a cultural construct and it changes from culture to culture.?? The work of cultural anthropologists like Boas and Geertz can be very helpful in illustrating just how cultural common sense can be.


Research in the area of cultural anthropology, anthropological linguistics, ethnography, sociolinguistics, cross-cultural counseling, inter-cultural and crosscultural management, education, religion, sociology, social work, and psychology have shown over and over that there is a need for cultural sensitivity and awareness because the risks of cross and inter-cultural miscommunication are hidden not necessarily in the personal face-to-face communication but in the more impersonal social and public communication arenas.

The fact is that, if you dare look beyond your personal experience, however rich it may be, there is an enormous amount of significant research showing that cultural differences do influence how people interact and how the lack of certain level of cultural awareness causes not just “gaffes” but major communication breakdowns that sometimes have tremendous consequences.?? Of course we are not talking about the relation/communication between a linguist like you and his employees.

You may be a particularly gifted individual, Steve, or rather blinded by your own experience to the realities of intercultural communication where opportunities to commit gaffes are enormous.

The problem, if we??accept Steve’s view that “there is no need for cultural sensitivity training,” is that when people are not aware of cultural differences??the same innocent exchange can lead to frustration, embarrassment or, worse, accusations of being rude, etc.?? And this is just a minor detail in cross-cultural exchanges.

I really related to your story about taking steps back to “restablish your space.”?? The exact same??situation happened to me??except that in my exchange I was the Hispanic and my interlocutor was an Anglo woman who studied linguistics with me; instead of a church??our exchange was at??the English department where she and I were studying our masters degrees in linguistics.????This happened over 20 years ago and I had not learned yet about the different cultural relationship??between people and their personal spaces.?? I have told the story many times over years of doing cross-cultural training because that exchange, to a great degree, influenced my interest in learning the power of paralinguistic information in conveying meaning.??

I replied:

??I think Hispanics should behave like Hispanics, and Anglos like Anglos. I have found that most people accept these cultural differences and even enjoy them.

Moderator said, on disallowing my comment:

I am concerned that your message below will be inflammatory as is sounds highly stereotypical: ???Hispanics should behave like Hispanics and Anglos like Anglos??? It is certain to generate more heat than light, and although that may?? be your purpose, it is not that of the lists: ????? Comments, suggestions, references, and ideas posted to the discussion lists should serve as resources for enhancing the field’s capacity and knowledge base.???

Not for profit, not for loss

I was interviewed yesterday by a government funded language learning organization, which promotes the national language of a certain country, world wide. I was interviewed in that language. I did not mention LingQ, but rather spoke about language learning in general. I was happy to help out.

When it was over, I asked if the organization would consider making some of their language content available, with attribution of course, to our learners at LingQ. They could publicize their activities, which they do very actively on the Internet anyway, and we could get content in a language where we do not have as much content as we would like.

The first question was, “are you for profit?”. I explained that we are, after a fashion, a for profit corporation, since we do not have government funding. This made things more complicated. “Can’t you get a sponsor?”was the follow up question. Well, no, actually that is probably not so easy. But why should it matter. Your organization buys computers, cameras to film me, and do they buy them from not for profit corporations? Do we buy “not for profit” shoes, wine, cars, even apples? It is fine that there are government funded educational institutions, but why boycott private initiatives in education. I come cross this attitude all the time and it always annoys me immensely.

Intercultural communication

Whenever I hear the term intercultural communication, I cringe. It is as if special skills are required to communicate with people from other countries and language groups.

I have lived and worked in several countries in Europe and Asia. I have always found that our opportunities to commit cultural gaffes are quite limited and that intercultural communication is not much of a problem. With good will and sincerity, it is actually quite easy to communicate across cultures. The less fuss we make about our cultural differences, usually, the better.

Yet there is a whole industry devoted to teaching people how to communicate “across cultures”. This industry relies on creating the impression that it is easy to offend people of another culture, and that we need to be constantly on our toes to do the right thing by another culture. I have not necessarily felt closer to those people from another culture who behaved like North Americans. I have usually been able to tell people’s intentions and personalities, despite differences in culture and language. I take people as I find them, and would expect that others treat me the same way.

Learning to listen – university style

In my previous post I talked about the wonders of purposeful listening. Over the last few years I have listened to thousands of hours in various languages and have learned more than I could have learned in more than a few college courses. I did it all using my dead time, washing dishes, jogging, waiting in line etc.

Some people say they cannot do this. Is this a skill that needs to be learned? Or, and I think this is more likely, it is a skill the develops as we do more and more of it. We just need to be motivated enough to get started. It just gets easier and easier, and the rewards are enormous.

I googled “learning to listen” and found the following article from York University, instructing university students on how to listen. It struck me as just another example of academics trying to make something quite simple and personal into something complicated and teachable.

Learning to listen need not be that difficult. Besides, I find it easy to concentrate on what I am listening to when doing the dishes, with no pressure and no goal other than to enjoy what I am listening to. Sitting in a lecture room listening to a often boring professor, with all the surrounding distraction, is much more difficult for me.

What do others think?

The Korean challenge

Next week we will launch Korean at LingQ, I think. If we do, and the chances are high, I intend to spend a fair amount of time on Korean, at least an hour a day, mostly listening for at least the next 6 months. I won’t drop my Russian and Portuguese but I will add Korean. My goal is to see how far I can get in 6 months. In December I will record a skype conversation with a native speaker.

About 4 years ago I put in about 6 months of listening and reading to Korean, using Teach Yourself, Colloquial and some other college text books I was able to find. I abandoned Korean because I got tired of the boring content that was the staple of the books and CDs that I had bought. I am hoping that with Korean available at LingQ, my Korean learning will be rekindled.

At this point I can say a few things in Korean. I can read simple texts with difficulty, and understand hardly anything when native speakers talk to each other. I am hoping to be able to hold a meaningful conversation on a wide range of subjects by December, just using LingQ.

I invite others to also join this Korean challenge, to see who much we can learn or improve in 6 months.