Abraham Lincoln and language learning

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Abraham Lincoln

The same can be said for language learning.

“Most folks are as happy learning languages as they make up their minds to be” which equates to

“Most folks learn languages as well as they make up their minds to.”

The brain learns all the time – a couple of thoughts from Manfred Spitzer

The brain learns all the time, and not only when instructed, and for that reason it makes a big difference if one enjoys interacting with something or is bored.

Whenever we learn something we change our brain, and this process goes on throughout our life time.

Manfred Spitzer et al. Braintertainment

We do not need more language courses. We need courses on how to learn languages.

I hear more and more stories about people who study a certain language for years and never get anywhere. I see the high cost of these courses, whether Wall Street Institute or, as recently in St. Gallen, the Migros courses, I am struck by one evident (to me at least) truth.

The most powerful resource in language learning is the learner.?? Most people can become effective independent language learners. They just need to be shown how.

We do not need more language courses, language labs, language teaching certificate courses, or textbooks. We just need to help learners understand how to learn and take advantage of the language that surrounds them, in media, on the Internet and elsewhere.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all to language learning.

In a comment to a previous post, Melissa spelled out what I think happens to a lot of language learners.

To comment on the original post, I spent a significant amount of time in the beginning of my language learning journey focusing on the “work” (grammar, sentence structure, memorizing vocabulary) rather than on natural discourse. Eventually I learned to pull back on the former and increase the latter, which has led to far better results. It would make sense to me if this was a route that most language-learners take. “

I am convinced that there are millions of people who would like to become comfortable in another language. They often expect the task of learning another language to consist of a lot of “ “work” (grammar, sentence structure, memorizing vocabulary) “, and this thought often holds them back. But what is worse, if they do start to try to learn a language, they often seem to want this structured, “”work” (grammar, sentence structure, memorizing vocabulary) ” approach, and resist more natural, more enjoyable and more effective approaches. It seems almost masochistic, or maybe it is the result of conditioning in school. But this attitude is a major obstacle to language learning.

In language learning, a little practice goes a long way

A recent study seems to show that a lot of exposure and a little practice can be as effective as a lot of practice in learning languages and music. This was reported on the Street-Smart Language Learning blog.

These kinds of studies are always subject to interpretation.What I take from this is that a lot of the deliberate learning “work” that language learners do, like grammar exercizes, or even flash card review, should not be overdone. A small amount of these activities, or even better, natural output activities like speaking and writing, when accompanied by lots of listening and reading (exposure), can go a long way.

It should be noted, furthermore, that listening to or reading meaningful content involves a more focused and interactive process than just listening to something in the background as the subjects of this study did.I tend to use my speaking and writing , or flash card review, as an opportunity to discover gaps, and to make me attentive to certain types of phrases or words, that I then notice more when I listen and read. But a little speaking and writing and word review seems to go a long way. Maybe this study explains why.


Sicily, languages and multiculturalism.

In Belgium, Canada, Spain and other places, sparks fly over language politics.

Here in Sicily, if I got the history figured out right, there were, in pre-historice times, some early settlers who spoke Indo-European and maybe other languages. Then a large number of Greek colonialists arrived and set up competing and flourishing colonies, and pretty soon the whole island was speaking Greek, with pockets of Phoenican.

The Carthaginians attacked from time to time,?? and so did the Romans, who eventually made Sicily a colony, and then, especially with the spread of Christianity, and the Roman church, most Sicilians spoke Latin until the Roman Empire collapsed, and the Byzantine Greeks took over the place, and their Eastern variety of Christianity took over and the locals spoke mostly Greek again.

Then the Arabs invaded, and immigrated in large numbers, and the island became Arab speaking. Finally the Normans showed up, took power from the Arabs, brought in Italian and French people to run the place, and within a hundred years or so everyone spoke Italian.

There was also immigration from Greece and Albania after that. On top of that, the Spanish ruled for 500 years until the unity of Italy in the 19th century, with minor interludes of Austrians, Piemontese and Napolitan rule, but this but had no impact on the language.

At the book store where I bought this book on the history of Sicily “Breve storia della Sicilia”, the kindly store owner spent a good deal of time talking to me about Sicily. “If we had all insisted on our identities here, it would have been worse than Yugoslavia”.

Sicily has its problems, but all the people I met here are happy, and extremely proud to be Sicilian. I think this is a fine example of why the modern fad of multiculturalism is very bad policy from the point of view of the long term development of countries that receive immigrants.



The Sicilians

Sicily is wonderful, the architecture, the views, the food, the wine, but more than anything else, the people.?? People are not effusive like the people in Salerno, they are more conservative but just make you feel welcome. They are very proud of Sicily. We have spoken to shopkeepers, street sweepers (there are too few of these but they do exist), hotel and B and B hosts and many others. They are overwhelmingly friendly and hospitable.

Here you will see 1) pictures of our host Antonio at the Casansaldo Band B in Giarre, 2) Sandro at the Rosa dei Venti farm near Enna, and finally a family who were picnicking outside the Greek temple at Selinunte. I said “bongiorno and buon appetito” and was about to drive out of the parking lot, when Francesco there waved at me to stop. I went over and he gave me the most delicious olives from his own farm and a piece of bread. This was our lunch. We then had a most delicious dinner in Trapani where we are now. We feel tremendously at home everywhere.

Actually the second picture is not of Sandro, but of another couple, from Palermo, who were staying at the farm. We all had a great dinner that night. When I took the picture of Sandro I had my camera on video, so I will try loading the mistaken video and see what happens. Sandro is on the left as you look at the video.

Macrobiotics and Il Gastronauta

We had a lovely stay at a farm near Enna in Sicily. I was up early for a run, while listening on my iPod to one of my favourite Italian podcasts, Il Gastronauta, where Davide Paolini discusses all kinds of aspects of food and wine in Italy. The subject this morning was macrobiotics and the importance of eating fruit and vegetables in season. The gist was that it is good for our health to only eat fruit and vegetables in season, and only local produce.

To me this is nonsense. I prefer choice, all year long. I do not think that Scandinavians should be limited to herring and turnips for most of the year. And as for eating locally, let us not forget that most of the staple fruit and vegetables of Italian cuisine are plants that originate elsewhere, like the tomato for example which comes from the American continent.


Southern Italian litterature and two mysteries.

Sicily is amazing. I had no idea there was so much to see, from Greek ruins (we are in Agrigento right now visiting the valley of the temples), to Baroque architecture (Noto, Modica and Ragusa were fascinating and beautiful and yet I had never heard of them) and the food and wine and the climate…the highlight of our European trip for me. I will definitely want to come back.

Two mysteries. Does anyone have any answers?

1) Why is there so much garbage and litter everywhere? I read in the newspapers about politics about the mafia etc. surrounding the garbage problem, but I cannot understand the issue. On the other hand I see people just litter at will. One of the few negatives for me in Sicily (and it was even worse in Campania especially around Caserta).

2) Why are the local autostradas here in Sicily all elevated highways, even over gently rolling hillsides? It must cost a fortune.

Spaced Repetition Systems again

LingQ offers the ability to export vocab lists from LingQ to other SRS systems. This generated a discussion on our LingQ Forum about SRS systems.

My views have not changed.

In my experience, any word that you need an SRS system to remember is probably not that important in the first place. I prefer to focus on the words that reappear in the texts that I am reading, not only the relatively infrequent ones that I have saved before, and are highlighted in yellow ( in LingQ), but even the more common ones, that I have not yet learned to use.

I spend most of my time on content, listening and reading. Very few of the many tens of thousands of words that I have saved at LingQ ever move to status 4, or “known”. I kind of like to see them again, even the familiar ones, highlighted in yellow. I occasionally go into my Vocab section and cull a few hundred of them using the batch function to change status.

But as I say, this is all personal.