I have always had a fascination about learning languages. This lead me to become a polyglot and to travel the world. I look to connect with language lovers everywhere!
Several months back I wrote a blog post about how I use Google Reader to help me get my comprehensive input on language learning and upkeep. Well, now we have shocking news that Google Reader is done for on July 1st, 2013, of this year. For all of you who might have taken my advice on this (and those who might have discovered for yourselves the usefulness of Google Reader) I just want to let you know what I’m doing with it…
I have had Feedly pretty much since they opened for business, but because I don’t like the way they keep my folders I also took a subscription to NewsBlur. One other thing that I really, really like about NewsBlur is that I can have the entire story on my computer, iPhone, iPad and Samsung Galaxy.
Now I can access all of the newsfeeds I have in one app. I can read the news items in foreign languages, the foreign languages blogs and blogs about languages in general, pretty much anywhere I go at all.
Let me know your experience with using readers for language acquisition. I’m always interested!
Near to my home is a Lebanese restaurant called Nadimos. The waiters and waitresses there all look to be Indian and as I speak a few words of Hindi one day I tried it out on a waitress, who looked at me like I was a bit insane. I switched back to English explaining that my Hindi was bad. (I know that Indians don’t all speak Hindi, but most Indians, especially northern Indians, do speak some - and these people resembled northern Indians more than anything else.) The young lady informed me that she wasn’t Indian. In fact none of the waiters and waitresses there are Indian. They are Nepali.
Some weeks later the same waitress waited my table. I asked her how things were in Nepal to which she informed me that she hadn’t any clue. She was from Myanmar, as were all of the others there working with her!
Yes, all from Mandalay. Apparently there is a fairly large amount of Nepali who live in Myanmar. None of the Nepali crew were from Nepal. In fact, this girl reckoned none had even ever been to Nepal. They were born and raised in Myanmar (Burma at the time).
So I judged a book by the cover twice and was wrong. But guess what? If I never tried Hindi with her in the first place I’d know nothing about the Nepali community in Mandalay. So in the end I win.
There are no stupid questions. And if you use your language you’ve learned you will eventually and ultimately gain from it!
Most of the voices on Google Translate only have female voices. What gives? Why not allow the user to choose? And why does Russian have two languages?
Can anyone fill me in on this? I’d be really happy to know!
One tool that I use that greatly enhances my language learning is Google Reader. Google Reader? Yes, Google Reader!
The premise is easy enough. You can use an RSS reader to get a steady stream of comprehensible input from the internet and if you have a smart phone and / or computer tablet such as an iPad, you can study languages at any time, anywhere. And this is not only easy but it is also free. You don’t have to spend a dime if you have already a computer and internet connection. But how would you go about it? Where should we start?
Newspapers & Tabloids
If I was a beginner or intermediate level learner of a language I would start with general news outlets and tabloids. Why? Because in most cases the vocabulary would be more familiar because of the subject matter. And if you were up on your news in your mother language you also would be able to make out new words without having to look them up. Another advantage is that news items are almost always shorter reading and written in simpler grammar.
Tabloid stories, or ‘non-news’ as I consider them, tend to be written in more colloquial style and have more of a contemporary form of writing. And it is generally very easy to infer meaning in tabloid articles, which is really good in building up a working knowledge of new words. And tabloids also tend to be loaded with photos so the inference is even more likely to help your to acquire new words. So if tabloids are a guilty pleasure for you, shed the guilt! You aren’t wasting your day on gossip. You are learning your target language using a very efficient source of information.
For absolute beginners you might also look for RSS feeds for images and cartoons if the are available in your target language. These are quite good.
Blogs & Magazine articles
Though I wouldn’t ever tell beginners and early intermediates not to use serious blogs and magazines (you should use whatever interests you) I would just like to point out that the vocabulary tends to be at a higher level than with newspapers and definitely a higher level than with tabloids. So sometimes people who are in the earlier stages in their language learning can find themselves frustrated trying to get through magazine articles and many blog postings. That being said, the upside is that with blogs and magazines you can really target for content that you are interest in or that fits vocabulary that you can use in your daily life. For example, if you love to cook then follow rss feeds from culinary magazines and chefs, restaurant owners. If you happen to be in the medical profession you can do the same for interests in that field. This works with any area you would like to have a specialized vocabulary.
Audio & Video
Whether you realize it or not, it is not just YouTube out there. There are loads of podcasts you can get RSS feeds for as well as video channels, etc. This is all good input. Again, it might be better to start with news items and tabloids, but this is entirely up to you. Go for what will keep your interests stoked.
RSS feeds of searches
Whenever you search for news, blogs, videos, etc., you can get a RSS URL’s for these searches and use them in your reader. There are two reasons that I use RSS feeds of searches:
1) Like blogs and magazines, you can target this to information that you are keenly interested in, but at the same time that you might have missed if it wasn’t covered in the blogs and magazines that you have already subscribed to; and
2) For languages that don’t have many newsources online, for instance, Malagasy, you can take target words and get plenty of feeds out there. This goes for auxiliary languages such as Esperanto as well. The search RSS’s find the content that you cannot easily access. A plethora of new sources will open up to you over time.
Beyond RSS (books)
Though books can be found on RSS, you wouldn’t normally read books on RSS feeds. I’m sure with serials it is possible but this is not why I am listing books here. Books are again another level and are available on the internet. I recommend finding two types of ebooks. First, you will need to find novels which will help you with conversational skills. Secondly, find books that, like the blogs and magazines, fit your interest. Books come in many formats from the Gutenberg Project to Amazon.com.
Again, you can use any kind of reader for this. The important thing is that you find content that suits you, you read often and you enjoy what you are reading. If you do this, the RSS reader will be an absolutely powerful tool for you!
Many languages around the world aren’t yet on Google Translate, and though they might have a Wikipedia (though most don’t), how can we get to the point to be able to read the wiki ourselves?
I like a world that would allow me or anyone else who would like to learn whatever language we want to to be able to do so. But right now we are far from it.
Try learning Aymara (Aymar Aru) which is natively spoken by nearly two million speakers in three countries and is an official language in one of them. Or better yet, try learning Malagasy who has several times the speakers of Ayamara. Since I have been trying to learn Malagasy I will focus this post on Malagasy. But almost every time I mention Malagasy I just want you to know that you can replace that language with almost any other under represented language you can think of.
Though I would love to do a bit change this situation I am talking about here, I can’t do so much without being a non-native speaker. As such I would hope that the below will offer some guidance to help others who might like to help foreigners learn their language. I want to give native speakers of these languages who’d like to see the influence of their language grow in the international community three places that they can help out by creating material for those who are serious about learning Malagasy, or even those who are just curious, could go. But before going any further I want to sink one word in:
Yep. Collaboration is how someone who is at home, who is not a teacher, who has a day job (or night job as it may be) will be able to add to the corpus of their language out there for non-natives to use. You can do as much or as little as you want, but every little bit helps. And I can give you some great places to start:
Forvo is a very ambitious project that aims to get every word from every language recorded. It is an excellent platform for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time but would like to help out some. I have tried several languages out of curiosity but the language that I am trying to make a serious stab at quite honestly, Malagasy, as of today is looking very, very weak on Forvo. If you go to Malagasy’s language page you see that there are only a measly 18 Malagasy speakers there who have recorded only 54 words (three per?) and even then at least one of the recorded words I have listened to was not even the same word that was written. This is a place that speakers of lesser known languages could make a great impact on helping foreigners lot learn their language by simply checking the words that are pronounced and voting them up or down or even re-recording them. You can help even more by adding words and recording the yet unrecorded words.
Remember, Forvo is only for individual words. This is not for longer constructs. For those you need…
What Forvo is for the pronunciation of individual words RhinoSpike is spoken sentences, phrases, passages, paragraphs, etc. RhinoSpike is really good for developing listening comprehension skills. How is works is that someone who is a student of a particular language will enter a sentence, phrase, passage, paragraph, etc., that they’d like to be able to download. How it works is that a native of this language will record the request and you will be notified. You can listen to the recording online or download it for use with your iPod, flashcards, etc. It is a great service but, again, for example, there are no Malagasy or Aymar Aru speakers using it. In fact I have requested them to add Malagasy this morning, which I am sure they will do as they have added Volapük on my request in the past.
Tatoeba could be loosely described as a “sentence dictionary”. This project is an attempt to link all languages by meanings from sentences rather than individual words. Lesser known language speakers, Malagasy for instance, can help in a few ways here. Firstly, they can check sentences in other languages they might know, like French, English, Swahili, etc., then translate them into Malagasy there online. Also, Malagasy speakers could actually add the sentences in Malagasy directly. You can also make recordings of the sentences, correct incorrect sentences, etc. But Tatoeba brings the language together in a way that others don’t. It shows you how the language should actually be used, which is something that learners of lesser known languages desperately need. And like RhinoSpike, I have recently made a request for Malagasy to be added here and I expect this will be done very soon.
All three of the above services are collaborative. They are free for their users and they encourage native speakers to help their languages to be known in other communities. I think that the reason that Malagasy, which I have mentioned so often in this post, isn’t used much on these has more to do with the fact that these services are unknown to the general population other than anything else. I say this because as of today, the Malagasy Wikipedia is the 67th largest out of 159 wikipedias with 37,857 articles, which is probably around where it should be and the Malagasy Wiktionary is the third largest wiktionary in the world, with 1,522,499 pages, only smaller than English and French and ahead of Chinese! I know that if Malagasy can build the world’s third largest wiktionary that with a little effort these same collaborators can give some really strong boosts to Forvo, RhinoSpike and Tatoeba. It would do lots for those of us out here looking for online materials to help us learn a language like “teny gasy”!
Recently I’ve been looking through Google Books and Archive.org for language teaching books of the past. Have you ever heard of Ollendorf. Get in there and find out for yourself who he was!
I have a “daily” routine of practicing and studying languages. I have been pretty good at keeping up this routine over the past year, though it has recently suffered. Not to worry though, as I’m getting back in track. Anyway, my routine involves not only keeping up vocabulary I have already acquired but also learning new vocabulary. I sometimes wonder which is more important to do.
Many think that once you’ve learned languages that it is like riding a bicycle to pull them back up from the recesses of your brain. I kind of feel that by stretching your mind with new words I would retrieve old vocabulary. And my language work outs are somewhat built around this idea.
Time will tell.