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.

What kind of translation is best for a language learner?

There are people who favour word for word translations for language learners. The Birkenbihl method is an example of this approach. Assimil relies on natural, or native like translations, and so do all the bilingual books on the market. LingQ now makes it easier for our content providers to add translations to help our learners. We have had a discussion on our Forum as to what kind of translation is better, word for word or native-like. Here is my point of view.

To me the translation is a slight help, a momentary crutch. It really does not matter too much if it is word for word or natural, or even has the odd mistake. It is just a temporary crutch. Ultimately the learner has to piece the meaning together from the text in the target language, looking up words, reading and reading again, and then listening and listening again.

It may not be until weeks or months later, when going back over a lesson, that the learner fully understands it. If the translation is taken too seriously, the learner may miss the benefit of working through the text on his or her own.

In my view, any translation will do. But that is only my view.


Gaps in different languages

Speaking of gaps in languages, it is amazing what languages can do without. Gender is certainly not needed, nor even singular and plural, for example. Japanese and Chinese manage quite well without them, and without a lot complicated tenses. Come to think of it, Japanese and Chinese do not really distinguish between hand and arm, or foot and leg, and it does not inhibit comprehension.

I think there is a lot of junk code in languages. We understand quite well anyway.

Sicily – the ultimate melting pot

We are in Giarre, between Taormina and Catania in a wonderful B and B called CasAnsaldo. Our host, Antonio is not only friendly, helpful and full of information about Sicily, his B and B is clean and provides a magnificent view of Etna. I will take some pictures and post them later.

Sicily is a mixture of Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, Albanian, Spanish and I don’t know what else. Very interesting. We are starting our journey of exploration. I just downloaded some Sicilian music from iTunes for the car, just to put us in the mood.