Why floundering is good.

We tend to learn better if we struggle a bit on our own, according to this article

Trying to figure something out on your own before getting help actually produces better results than having guidance from the beginning” says the byline to the article. I agree, and this has application to language learning. 

I think we learn a language better if we train ourselves to notice what is happening in the language, if we discover the way the language works through struggling to understand. Very often the neat and tidy rules that describe what what should happen in the language go in one ear and out the other. After we have struggled with the language, and perhaps been confounded and confused by some of the structures, and perhaps noticed others, it becomes easier to understand the explanations, most of which are readily available these days in books and on the internet.

Once we have enough words to express our thoughts, we need to speak and write, to confront our weaknesses. As to when we start doing that, I think that depends on our availability of time, and our opportunities, and of course our personal likes and dislikes. I do think I should write more, though. I need to flounder a little more in my Czech, but I cannot resist just going back to reading things that interest me in the language.

How to speak like a native.

Thanks to Susanna Zaraysky who sent me this.  Time reviews a book, in an article called “How to speak like a native”, about achieving native fluency, which basically seems to concur that this is a futile goal, and which debunks the accent reduction industry at the same time. I think we can get close, if we pay attention, but close is all we should aim for. Some will get closer than others. 

I spoke to a lady here in Vancouver, yesterday, who has lived here for 40 years and speaks excellent but heavily accented English. Could she improve? I think so if it really mattered to her. If she really tried to notice the difference between her accent and some model of how she would like to speak. But she has to want to do this, has to choose a model, and has to learn to notice the differences.

Having a model, wanting to speak like that person, listening and repeating, these are all useful activities. Learning the IPA, looking at diagrams of your mouth, and comparing your results to some graph of the sound waves, are, in my view, much much less useful.

Sounding like a native.

Check out this video of an American speaking excellent Spanish, and I mean excellent. His name is Richard Vaughan, of the Vaughan language schools in Spain. (He should plug LingQ for me since I am plugging Vaughan, but then I was just so impressed with his Spanish.-:)

Would his Spanish be more impressive if he sounded just like a native? I don’t think so. He has total mastery. This is the ultimate goal of language learning. Pursuing the goal of actually sounding like a native is unnecessary, a distraction from the real task of language learning, and highly unlikely to succeed. I have seen people pursue this goal and end up sounding like caricatures, while not achieving the language mastery that Vaughan has achieved. Here is a video I just did on the subject.

Fluency in Five Days, sort of.

In October I will in Prague for five days. I hope to have a high degree of mostly passive vocabulary and familiarity with Czech and convert this to active fluency in five days. This is in line with ideas expressed by the great online polyglot Viktor Huliganov, about how quickly passive language knowledge can be converted into active fluency. Here is a video on the subject. There will be the occasional post as I approach the moment of truth.

Five Days to


We need to make mistakes to learn. Although I am mostly an input based learner, I do want to speak, and eventually to speak well. If I am corrected while speaking I tend to forget the correction quite quickly. When I get a report from our tutor a LingQ, I import it and save the key words and phrases that I got wrong.

Listening to the conversation itself also helps, as we notice our mistakes and cringe. On top of that, in Czech, Jarda sends me a recording of the correct version of the phrases that I got wrong in our discussion. So I get a lot of work on these mistakes. I may even learn from Luca and translate these phrases into English and then back into Czech.

This is will all be part of my preparation for my Czech Fluency in Five Days challenge in October.

This recording with Jarda is an indication of how far I have to go in Czech. Right after my discussion with Jarda I had a discussion with a new Russian tutor, and I am adding it for reference. I also may mistakes there, that I notice on listening again. Still, if I can bring my Czech up to that level in Prague, I will be happy.


Polyglot meet up in Toronto

Well I flew down to Toronto, just under five hours in the air. Slept poorly in a stuffy hotel room. Went through a fire drill in the middle of the night, just to keep me on my toes. But then, as is almost always the case, things looked a lot better in the morning.

First of all the sun was shining, which made Toronto look better. I could even make out Lake Ontario in the distance.

Then I had a long brunch with my brother Tom, whose birthday was the day before. Lots of laughs for sure.

Then at 12 noon, I met up with my fellow participants in the television program, Alexandre and Keith. Alexandre is a Quebecois who lives in Winnipeg, and Keith was also from Vancouver. We were driven to the “distillery district” where the studio was located,  comfortable looking, red brick, gentrified warehouse or factory district, with lost of people idling around, basking in the sun and eating lunch or sipping coffee.

In all we were five, two more, Axel and James, were from Toronto. We were all speakers of many languages, and we discussed language learning in front of the cameras for over two hours. I think five minutes will survive in the final program. I guess we agreed on many things, but I think I disagreed with everyone of our participants on at least something. Maybe it is just my nature.

After the program, it was another 5 hours back to Vancouver. The next day I played with my Old Timer’s hockey team and we won our tournament. That evening we celebrated my granddaughter’s birthday. A busy weekend.

The program will air on May 5 at 7 pm in Canada, across the country on Global Television’s 16 x 9 program.

Toronto, lots of concrete.

I just arrived in Toronto, courtesy of Global Television. I had to give up my Easter Weekend, and I had to miss two games in an old-timers’ hockey tournament. I am going to take part in a televions program about people who speak many languages. it will air in May apparently.I fly back tomorrow afternoon, and will play the final game of our hockey tournament if we are in the final. (We lost the first game).

The hotel I am staying here in Toronto, the Delta Chelsea, is sort of like an old coquette with a facelift. The rooms are musty. We just had a fire alarm. The alarm went off for about three minutes before any information was provided on the public address system. People on the three floors above me were told to vacate the hotel by the stairs. Five minutes later everything was all right. They got to go back by the elevators.

I look out the window and see concrete towers and large neon signs. At home I look at the ocean, mountains, and forests.

I checked the door to see where the fire escape is, while te fire alarm was on. I noticed the that official rate for the room is $580 per night. Crazy. I usually pay around $100-150 per night in most places in the world, including Beijing, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland on recent trips. In Shanghai I did not arrange my hotel, the Alberta government did, (I was with a delegation) and that cost me $300 a night. Crazy. I wonder what Global Television is paying.

Anyway, I will try to stay on Vancouver time, so I will read my Russian history book till about one and then turn out the lights.