How to stay motivated in language learning – the mind and the brain.

There was an interesting thread on the LingQ Forum about how to stay motivated in language learning. There are times when not meeting one’s expectations can be discouraging.

Some time ago I posted here about a book by Jeffrey Schwartz called “The Mind and the Brain” which describes a therapy for people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Schwartz helps the patient recognize that the compulsive behaviour is not inherent to the patient, but an independent neural network in the brain. With enough will and determination the brain can be trained to develop a new network which avoids this behaviour.

I remember from childhood that I wanted to train my ears to wiggle, like my father was able to do. I spent hours telling my ears to wiggle, and they eventually did. Similarly, our will to develop a new neural network for a new language can be a powerful factor in our success. If we get success, of course, we are greatly encouraged to study more.

But if we do not achieve the success we want, as quickly as we want, we can become discouraged. What to to? I just started reading Looking for Spinoza, by Antonio Damasio (I am reading it in Portuguese for practice), and in the introduction he has this to say;

“Spinoza recommended that we fight a negative emotion with an even stronger but positive emotion brought about by reasoning and intellectual effort. Central to his thinking was the notion that the subduing of the passions should be accomplished by reason-induced emotion and not by pure reason alone. This is by no means easy to achieve, but Spinoza saw little merit in anything easy. “

Willfully conjuring up positive feelings can overcome negative feelings we may have. We can think of what we are already able to do, or visualize ourselves using the language comfortably in some situation that matters to us.

Does this work? I think so. At least it is a feeling that I often have.



How Do Language and Culture Affect Workplace Success ?

I am involved in an online discussion on how language and culture affect workplace success. The moderator has framed the discussion in there terms;

exploring the more subtle cultural differences of communicative style ??? those rules of communication that we all follow more or less unconsciously, but which change from culture to culture, and thus are frequently implicated in misunderstandings, stereotypes and discrimination in the workplace. It is my belief that workplace success requires more than just language and technical skills. The workplace is an inherently political site, and we need to prepare our students to navigate it successfully. “

The follow is offered as a resource for the participants.

???Interethnic Communication: How to Recognize Negative Stereotypes and Improve Communication between Ethnic Groups.???

My view;

I have worked in France, Hong Kong and Japan, and have always had around 40% immigrants, of a variety of origins, employed at my company. We have not had problems, and we could not possibly get into the cultural differences of each of these employees. We deal with them as individuals.

I am of the view that successful employees soon figure out the dominant culture in the work place and adapt. I do not see much that language teachers have to offer here. What are your views?

In praise of mistakes and incorrect grammar explanations

At LingQ we often have people report errors in our content. These can be typos, misspelled words, incorrect usage by native speakers, strange accents, or whatever. We also occasionally have one native speaker pointing out that grammatical explanations, provided in the target language of course, by another member, are not clear, or are incorrect.

I would just like to say that I find these errors, and confusing grammar explanations quite helpful and certainly not harmful. They help me to notice what is happening in the language.

If it is an error in usage, I often don’t notice the error, and therefore it does not bother me. (I will see most of these words and phrases again in a normal usage pattern so that there is no harm done.) However, if I notice the error, and identify it as an error, this makes me more conscious of the correct form, when I next hear it or see it.

The same is true of grammar explanations. I find it difficult to understand even the best explanations of grammar. If I see even more incomprehensible explanations, or obviously wrong explanations,?? it does not bother me.If the explanations are obviously wrong or particularly confusing, but in the target language, and if there are enough examples, these points of usage really stick in my mind. It is not obvious that what is clearly taught will be clearly learned. Sometimes it is the reverse.??

Ultimately it is only lots of listening and reading that will help me learn, and not some kind of selected diet of perfect language or clear as a bell (to the explainer) grammatical description.


How to find time for listening to languages if you are married.

How do married people find the time to study languages and listen to their MP3 players. This was a discussion on a Forum at LingQ. What are your experiences?

My initial advice was as follows:

“I suggest you try talking to your wife while listening to your language MP3 files on your earphones. This might meet some initial resistance from your wife but you just need to persevere. She’ll get used to it if she really loves you.

Let us know how it goes. “

This was not well received so I added the following additional explanations:

“I am surprised at the negative reaction of others. You do have to work at it. There could be some initial negative reactions. But if she truly loves you…

Here are some tips that work for me.

Learn to say “yes dear” in English or whatever language you happen to be studying, at regular intervals.
Learn to look in her direction every so often, just in case you did not notice that she was speaking to you.
If you are really focused on what you are listening to, learn to hold your finger to your lips to shush her up, without appearing annoyed.

Let me know if you need more tips, and as I said, let me know how you make out. “

This advice is intended for either husbands or wives. Any other suggestions out there?


Warmth in the North


If we just follow the media we think that the only performers are the superstars of this world.

I have been in Manning Alberta for the annual Christmas party of the sawmill that I am associated with. Manning is a town of 1200 people. several hundred?? kilometres from the nearest major town. It was covered in snow and 22 below zero.

Our mill manager and is wife play in a musical group that performs for Seniors in the town. We attend a Christmas dinner for Seniors where they performed. In the picture (taken with my Blackberry) there are four generations of musicians playing together, great grandmother, grandfather, mother and son.

Sorry for the poor quality picture. It was a nice evening.


IPA and language learning

There was a thread at our Forum at LingQ on the usefulness of the International Phonetic Alphabet. I am not a user of the IPA for a variety of reasons.

I prefer to listen. Today there is so much audio language content available on the internet, and online dictionaries with sound, and then there is text to speech, so that I cannot see the purpose in learning the IPA, which was developed over 100 years ago in a different environment.

I am not so hung up about the pronunciation of individual words. I focus on listening to the language in the from of interesting chunks of content, and expect that I will eventually learn to distinguish the sounds, and learn to pronounce adequately.

Where I do try to imitate the sound, it is more the intonation and the whole rhythm of the language that I want to capture. If, as an English speaker, I want to imitate an accent from Northern Ireland or Scotland or Australia I would not use the IPA and suspect most native English speakers would not use it to imitate a regional accent. They would listen and imitate. Well why not do the same in learning to pronounce a foreign language.

Where people have pronunciation difficulties, it is not because they cannot relate a symbol to a sound, but because they cannot consistently make the sound.

But more than anything else, I react negatively to the IPA because I see it as another one of these abstractions, which include complicated linguistics terminology, grammar rules and exercizes, and even SRS systems which seem to say “language learning is complicated, difficult, and unpleasant”. The IPA is not for the average language learner who just wants to learn a language to communicate, have a good time, read the literature, watch films, visit the country, do business etc. ,in other words wants to enjoy the learning process and not turn it into some kind of cult activity.

These are the people, in their millions, who need to be told that they can learn a language without spending a fortune in class, and without learning the IPA and without reading grammar books.