And the Cantonese language too?

Here is a comment I found on a blog called Justrecently’s blog. about the attempt of the Central government to reduce the use of Cantonese in Guangdong province and some resistance to the idea.

In summer this year, both in mainland China???s Guangdong province, and in Hong Kong, demonstrators had protested against a proposal by Ji Kekuang (?????????, or ?????????, or ???????????? ??? JR), a member of the CPPCC Guangzhou committee, had advocated a reduction of Cantonese language usage in favor of Standard Chinese or putonghua, and Guangzhou???s municipal committee moved along, proposing that Guangzhou TV???s most popular channels start broadcasting in the central government-designated national language of Putonghua, also known as Mandarin, rather than in Cantonese.

Input based language learning, a slow learning curve?

whoI have always stressed the importance of input when learning a language, whether in a language class, or learning a language online. This does not mean that I do not suggest that people review a bit of English grammar, or French grammar or Spanish grammar, or whatever, it is just that I think that it is futile to try to nail down the grammar. Instead I suggest focusing on input, lots of listening and reading.

Now Oscar, at our recent meet up in Barcelona pointed out one of the problems with this approach as opposed to a more traditional approach based on grammar lessons. With an English grammar lesson or a French grammar lesson, the learner has the impression that he or she is learning something. At the end of a French grammar class, you may be able to say a sentence correctly. You feel that something has been taught, and that you are able to do something that you were unable to do before the class.

With input based language learning, you are just listening and reading, and adding to your vocabulary. Much or most of the texts remain fuzzy for quite a while. It can seem as if nothing has been learned.

After a few months however, the input based learner has accumulated lots of words, and can understand more and more of the language. In time this learner will start to speak and be able to describe quite a few things, using the vocabulary he or she has learned.

The learner who focused on grammar has more limited vocabulary, and in many if not most cases, has learned so many grammar rules, that they are largely confused. This leaner has trouble understanding and eve more trouble expressing any but the most limited thoughts.

So the grammar based learner has the satisfaction of early gratification, but achieves less in the long run. The input based learner has to deal with an initial period where it appears that nothing is happening, but very soon speeds past the grammar based learners, and at that time, can always go back and review some grammar to confirm what she or he has already experienced in the language.

Slow and fast recordings, different points in time, all help me notice.

The golden trinity of language learning are your attitude, the time you are prepared to spend with the language, and your ability to notice. Now Alsuvi, one of our Spanish content providers has developed some techniques that help train the ability to notice, at least to judge by my reaction to his Spanish material.

Alsuvi records interesting Spanish content, and some of it like Ciencias en pocas palabras is at normal speed and then at slow speed. There is no question that if you listen once at normal speed, which provides an overview of the meaning, and then listen again at slow speed, you really start to notice a lot of things, vocabulary, tenses, meaning etc.. If you then read the content and save words and phrases, and listen again, you notice even more.

Now Alsuvi has added another twist. He has written and recorded texts in a collection called Puntos de vista that tell the same story from different time perspectives. I saved the different tenses in my lesson page at LingQ. Different forms of the verb show up yellow in different passages, depending on the time perspective. This helps me to notice.?? And now I am going out to buy a few things and will listen to the audio and notice some more.This will help the brain get used to these patterns.

Thanks Alsuvi. Remember to work on your ability to notice, in order to be come a better language learner.


Spanish content at LingQ

Visiting Spain has given me a chance to explore the wonderful Spanish language content created for LingQ by our Spanish members. Yesterday, while driving I listened to Berta y Oscar’s dialogues on anything and everything.

Today I listened to Albert’s (Alsuvi) wonderful content, enjoying his relaxed style in which he share his interests and views of the world, both at normal speed and slow speed. His instructional content, both for beginners and on subjects like the subjunctive, are excellent.

Tomorrow I will delve into Berta’s content. I am looking forward.

And of course I will meet Berta on the 19th at the LingQ meet up, and Oscar and Albert at the Barcelona meet up on the 21st.


Pronunciation at LingQ

One of our members at LingQ suggested that we introduce a system of evaluating members’ pronunciation the way we offer writing correction and speaking opportunities with native speaking tutors. This caused me to reflect on pronunciation work in general and at LingQ in particular. Here is my comment.

Hans’ suggestion is something we have had on our todo list for a long time as part of a full pronunciation section, but there have always been other things that had higher priority.

For what it is worth, here are my views on

A) the relative importance of different pronunciation practice activities, in order of importance, and

B)what we could do at LingQ, now without bothering our programmers.


1) Listen:

Listen to regular content, at normal speed and at slow speed. It is helpful for pronunciation to listen repeatedly to the same content, if you do not find it too boring. Focus as much on intonation as on the sounds themselves.

(The work that Alsuvi is doing in Spanish, creating normal speed and slow speed versions of the same content, is a great example of content that helps with pronunciation, in my view.)

Listen to paragraphs as well as shorter phrases, both at slow speed, and at normal speed.

2) Listen and imitate:

With the various types of content described above, take the opportunity to imitate, under your breath or out loud. Phrases with pauses are especially useful when imitating.

If we spend most of our time listening, we can devote some time to imitating, every now and again, or during focused periods of pronunciation practice.

3) Listen and record yourself:

This need only be done occasionally, to record your progress, in my view. It is better to spend more time listening to the native speaker with the accent of your choice.

4) Submit a recording for evaluation:

I believe this is not so important. If you cannot hear or notice the difference between your own pronunciation and that of the native, it is unlikely that you will be able to pronounce like the native. It is important to train the ability to notice.

However, an occasional analysis may be helpful.

B) What we can do now at LingQ.

1) Members can request native speakers to record content, at normal speed and at slow speed, both with pauses. These should be in a collection called “Pronunciation Practice”

We have no way for members to pay for this so they either ask the native speaker to do this in lieu of a discussion, or let the native speaker own the content in the library, or make other arrangements privately.

2) Members could also submit recordings of their own pronunciation, with the corresponding text, to the library, under a heading like “Member’s Pronunciation Samples”.

These members could then request other members to comment on their submission, via the Notes section, which shows up on the Forum. Other members, especially native speakers, could then make comments in the notes section, pointing out specific problems of intonation and pronunciation.

Members may even make videos to help with pronunciation and attach them to the lessons.

It might be interesting to see if there are common pronunciation problems, in different languages, and for different native speakers. This might guide tutors in creating pronunciation content aimed at particular groups of native speakers.

This all sounds pretty complicated, but I spent the day wandering around Segovia and had a lot of time to think of things.