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.


Learning the language in the country where it is spoken

After a month in Italy, my Italian has improved greatly. Today I was listening again to a favourite audio book, La Provinciale by Alberto Moravia in?? wonderful narration from Il Narratore. ( Moravia strikes me as a modern and Italian version of Balzac in his rich use of language) Whereas I understood about 60-80% of it before, fading in and out in my ability to follow, I now understand most of it, effortlessly. What happened?

I did not speak that much Italian in the month that I was in the country. I was with my wife. Many of the people at the hotels where we stayed spoke English. I listened a lot,?? particularly in the car, as we drove. I read the paper every day. I did some work on LingQ, and I spoke where I could.

But something changed. Italian became familiar to me. I felt more and more a part of it. Hearing it, reading it, and speaking it became more natural. It was part of my daily life.?? I felt more comfortable with Italian, closer to it. Many pleasant and interesting memories are associated with Italian, people, landscapes, food, coffee, wine,?? cities, life etc.. This has changed my emotional relationship to Italian and has turned a switch in my brain, somehow.

I achieved somewhat the same with two weeks in Portugal, but not as much. However, I did not achieve any kind of breakthrough on my first visit?? two week visit to Portugal, two years ago. That is because I did not have enough fluency in the language before going. I believe that if you want to take advantage of a visit to a country to learn the language, you need to develop a certain level of competence in the language before going. Then you can really achieve a breakthrough while there.

There are so many Northern Europeans who visit southern Europe. I cannot understand why more of them don’t learn the local language. But I think a lot of work needs to be done before going there, mostly listening and reading, otherwise there is a danger of just withdrawing into the expat shell and never venturing out of it. And I cannot imagine spending months and months in Southern Europe without speaking the local language. What a waste!

Now I have to plan my next trip, to Russia!