When we feel we are not making any progress in our language learning….

We all have the feeling, at times, that we are not progressing, despite our efforts. I often feel this way, but I don’t mind since I enjoy interacting with the language while learning, while reading, or listening or whatever I am able to do in the language. I know that I understand books, and movies, and radio interviews much better than before.Yet I still make the same mistakes when I speak, and still struggle to find the right word. I am not as fluent as I would like.

Sometimes I think we are all too hard on ourselves. Here is a discussion with one of our LingQ learners, Angela, on this subject.

Academic English

I have never bought into the idea that we can teach or study academic English, or business English or any other kind of English as a special subject. English is English. ??

If we are interested in a subject, we will read on it, listen to audio content about it, perhaps even talk about it and write about it, and in this way we will acquire the vocabulary and turns of phrase that we need. We will acquire these skills incidentally, as we pursue a subject of interest. As Krahen says “students acquire an enormous amount of academic language through extensive reading, probably the most powerful tool for reaching advanced levels of English competence.”

Read the original education expert’s article on the??Education Week blog??and then read Stephen Krashen’s common sense rebuttal in the comments section.

Language and culture

Language and culture are at the core of education, or should be. With all the debate about language learning methods, the definition of “linguist”, input versus output versus grammar, the role of the Internet etc. it is sometimes useful to take step back.

What is the most useful thing we learn at school and in life? Language and culture. If we have a deep understanding of our own language and culture we feel secure. If we read well, and are good listeners, with a wide range of vocabulary and general knowledge, and if we express ourselves confidenty, in our own language, we will do well in the tasks that we face as life long learners.

If we can do the same in one or more foreign language and culture, we expand our range of experience,?? increase our knowledge of the human condition, and make friends of people from many more backgrounds and origins.

So it is not a matter of technology or method. It is a matter of acquiring advanced skills in language and culture. Like so many other things, this boils down to interest and motivation.

I have never been that interested in learning Arabic, or learning about Arab history. I mean we can only do so many things. I have acquired skills in the language and culture of China, Japan, Russia and various European countries. But I have just finished a very interesting book called The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy. Fascinating. I had a sense of the Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, the development of China, the modern history of Europe, but I had little exposure to the storied saga of Arab expansion and the development of this international cultural space. Now I have a start. Can the language be far behind?


Mark Frobose , the language guy

Has anyone heard of Mark Frobose, the language guy and his method. In his video at his website, he claims to be fluent in 5 languages. He seems to be an effective simplifier. “If you can say SOS, you can speak Spanish” he says.

Anything that simplifies language learning is a good thing. I think that he might be the American Michel Thomas.

I am always wary of methods that have you speaking right away. I think it is misleading to think that you can do any more than order a beer or find the bathroom. Once I grab?? a hold of a language I want to be able to read, understand, and communicate in a number of situations. But maybe most people just want a smattering of the language for that next trip to Paris or Mexico.

The best thing about studying on your own

I suddenly said to my wife over breakfast this morning. “You know the best thing about studying anything on your own?”

My wife has recently developed a keen interest in piano but refuses to take a teacher. She just plays what she wants when she wants. She replied. “The best thing is that you go at your own pace and do what you want.”

“Exactly”, I said. I have been at Russian for close to two weeks, getting in a few hours here and there and listening in my car and while jogging. I am undoubtedly much further ahead than if I were on some teacher’s schedule. And I am referring to a one on one teacher. If it were a classroom with 15 or 20 students I would be nowhere. I would be waiting for the teacher to tell me what to do.

Learning Korean

Kangmi asks when we will add Korean to The Linguist. The answer is that I do not know. We hope to have our new version available by the summer. It will be easier to start with other European languages because there are no issues related to the writing system. We would hope to bring in Asian languages within months of that. So maybe the fall of 2006 is a possible date. Please do not hold me to it.

In addition to us developing the system to handle Asian languages we will need good Asian language content, not only for Korean, but for other languages as well. We are hoping people will get in the spirit of the new Linguist system. If people create good authentic content in their language, they will be able to earn points that they can spend on learning other languages. But all of that is for later in the year.

Stephen asks about the difficulty of Korean versus Japanese. I did not go far enough into Korean to really have an opinion. The Hangul is easier to deal with than Kanji or Chinese characters. On the other hand since I know the Chinese characters I would have preferred to see more Hanja or Kanji characters in my Korean reading. It would have helped me learn Korean.

Korean has a great variety of endings on words with subtle differences of meaning in a way that I have not met in other languages, but once you get used to them they are no more difficult than the complications you find in other languages. Every language has its difficulties. The strangeness needs to be overcome through exposure and discovery and an open mind.

On balance I learned Korean faster than I learned either Japanese or Korean if I think back to the first few months of study of those languages. Part of the reason is my existing experience with Japanese and Chinese. But perhaps an even bigger reason is that I now know how to learn, and am absolutely confident that I can learn if I put in the effort and do it the right way.

In the end I stopped my Korean studies because there was not enough interesting content in a form that could help me learn and keep my interest level up. I got tired of reading about Chusok, New Year, North American born Koreans learning Korean, traffic in Seoul and all the other “cultural things” that Koreans who write text books think Korean language learners should be interested in.

In The Linguist version of Korean we hope to have a corpus of over 100 hours of MP3 files and transcripts of interesting things so that learners can choose what interests them. Our technology will help learners go to content that maximizes words that they are already trying to learn, and minimizes unknown words. But let’s discuss all that in the fall.

The Linguist and Grammar

Click here to hear the podcast of this article.

Learning grammar is not natural. Learning grammar is not fun for most people.

Learning grammar will not make you fluent in a new language.

If you want to become fluent in a new language you need to slowly get used to the language, naturally.

You need to get used to how words are used.

You need to learn how words come together to form phrases and sentences.

If you learn naturally you will speak naturally.

The Linguist can help you learn naturally.

At The Linguist you choose content that you like. You enjoy listening and reading as much as you want.

The Linguist system will teach you to notice how the words are used.

As you listen and read you will save words and phrases to your personal database.

When you save words and phrases to your personal database at The Linguist you will also save the whole sentence.

Soon you will notice which words naturally go together and how they are used.

After a while you will be able to use these words and phrases naturally yourself.

Many people who study grammar for a long time do not learn to speak naturally. They are afraid to make mistakes.

At The Linguist we do not want you to think so much about grammar. We want you to learn naturally.

If you really want to buy a grammar book buy the smallest one you can find.??

At The Linguist you will learn how to express your thoughts well and create clear sentences.

You will learn many new words and phrases.

The way words are used will be different from your own language.

When you first meet new words you may refer to your own language for the meaning.

As soon as possible you should try to notice how the words are used in the new language and forget how these words are used in your own language.

If you have questions you may ask your tutor or post on The Linguist Forum.

I hope you will ask ???What does this mean???? or ???How do you say this???? and not ???Why is it written this way????.

It is the not the rules of grammar, but lots of listening and reading and studying of words and phrases that will train you to become fluent

Most language courses teach grammar.