Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'm in love.

First: Mark from RadioLingua wanted me to know "they weren't dead, they're just resting" (not his words, Monty Python's). I'm looking forward to their return, of course. I raise a glass of Lagavulin 16 to their good health.

Now... I'm in love. As I noted in yesterday's update, I've had some trouble finding German resources to continue my learning. Until I found Deutsche Welle is a German news service which takes very seriously the concept of teaching the world German. Their site is available in a dozen languages, and their German resources are at multiple levels - news broadcasts spoken in slow german, medium, and fast. Differing levels of complexity for reading.

And best of all, they have a free online "learn German" course. It's tuned around reading, writing, and listening, with some speaking exercises. I spent an hour yesterday, and am impressed!

Oops - Isaacs stirring... Later!
Anyway, the lessons are very well produced, with great voice talent, and a variety of accents so far. I'm admittedly not too far in, but I am realizing that I REALLY needed some more written and read lessons - the verbal approach of Pimsleur is great, and I can converse, but the fact I can barely type a cohesive sentence in German tells me I need this remedial training.

So I'll keep on with the Deutsche Welle program and see where it takes me! Also in the coming week, I'll start doing Language Addict mini-posts in different languages - I'd welcome any corrections and comments as they appear! Probably just French, German, and Spanish for the moment... we'll see... ;->

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 21

Pimsleur Japanese III Lesson 7, Mandarin II Lesson 2 are in the can. Learn Frenchbypodcast mysteriously updated again after my last beratement, and I was about to gripe again, and aha, a new lesson apears. Hugh and Amelie, don't play with my heart this way. And I'm still waiting for my German lessons from them... I just KNOW they'd be fantastic.

I was listening to some JapanesePod101 podcasts today, and it sounded like Natsuko and Peter are perhaps not getting along right now? Natsuko was a bit formal with him... Ah the DRAMA of the podcast world. I might have been reading too much into it, however, since I'm a bit wiped from this week of work.

In other news, RadioLingua seems to have gone a bit dark in the past week: MyDailyPhraseGerman is at 13 days without an update... the last Coffee Break was over 3 weeks ago! Mark said something about a busy work deadline in the message boards... but nothing since. Hope he's doing ok.

Ken Carroll over at ChinesePod and SpanishSense has hit his stride, however. Both sites are firing along with multiple lessons per day: SpanishSense in particular is throwing out a LOT of great lessons... finally I can recommend them wholeheartedly. They're looking for what their next language should be... I thought German, but I'd be curious to know how they'd approach Arabic... I think that the audio-only courses are tough with heavily rule-based languages like German and Russian.... but if anyone could do it Praxis could. (I also think that Hugh Nagle could do it too, but part of the value proposition of LearnFrenchByPodcast is the practical textbook that accompanies every lesson - the praxis method is more about standalone audio modules...)

Finally, I should share that in my adventures I've found some very strange lessons out there too: I won't name names because people are doing this out of love, I know. But there was one German podcast about learning German where the guy spent 10 minutes talking in English, and then gave a couple of simple words as his "lesson".. it was more of an audioblog about his life... which would have been fine IF he had spoken German... but instead, it was his crazily accented English. Not a bad one... but an odd one I can't stop listening to is a German Grammar podcase, which practically sounds like someone reading a textbook - it's quite dry and I think the system described made sense to the speaker, but there's no additional illumination. And there are many attempts that go for 10-15 lessons and then just STOP. A few Korean ones, a Russian one... people just gave up.

It's unfortunate, because I really don't know if there's a living in any of this for people: Coffee Break Spanish is a HUGE hit by podcast standards - millions of downloads. but it's brought offline because the guy's day job has a crunch: It's not making him a living! I read that ChinesePod has over a quarter million regular listeners, but that paying subscribers number only in the thousands...

Let me put out there that I do try to support these sites whenever possible - I love to see their efforts, and I think that quality product DESERVES remuneration. So even if I'm not doing a lesson a day from CPod AND Jpod AND SpanishSense, I'm supporting their existence.

So that's the update... more as it happens!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Surreal Spanish Moment

A week back, I was at an all day meeting, and met up with a guy in charge of enterprise disk architecture for the "New Client" called "E.J.". We bonded on choice of eyewear intially, but also connected because amongst my many conversational gambits, I am quite capable of speaking in the languages of Storage Area Network Architecture - though it's not my area of consulting, I can hum a few bars, and as a project manager it is ALWAYS helpful to have the geeks on your side. The best way to do that is to be able to speak their argot, though never superfluously - they can tell if you just picked up a few words and will try to humble you: No, you need to learn about what they do... and they will work with you.

I found the same about the French in my travels: If you start in English, they will stay in French, but if you start in French, they will help you out, speak in English if you need, and generally be a lot more helpful. But it can't be one or two words, you need to show you've invested time in learning their language and culture. A simple "EXXXKUUSAY MWAH" will not help... but a haltingly delivered "Puis-je vous donner un question?" will get a person to walk you clear across town to show you the way.

Anyway, the point was that this EJ and I were enjoying our discussion, and were about to part ways and were shaking hands when he fixed me with a look and said "y si yo puedo ajudarte en alguna maniera, estoy aqui." and without dropping a beat, mid shake I said "gracias senor, creo que podemos trabajar juntos, verdad?"

The room went silent and people turned to stare, and we burst out laughing. It was just a strange sight, a large African American and a tall white geek suddenly bursting into Spanish with no cause, but it just seemed right.

One more reason I'm a language addict - it opens up opportunities.

(Postscript - EJ and I did do some serious disk architecture work later, but kept it in English, mostly because "Dual Channel Gigabit HBA" and "Extendable LUNs" doesn't translate too well.)

Took a break!

Had a little family vacation... had no time for language whatsoever. I might not have even spoken much ENGLISH - it was all a blur.

Some updates:
My "friends" at Learn French By Podcast are suspiciously silent again. Lesson 64 was back on 5/30... Perhaps this is some holiday interval I'm not aware of... But I miss their teachin' ways.

I'm back in the saddle with Pimsleur: Just finished Level 1 Lesson 29 in Mandarin, and Level 3 lesson 4 in Japanese: I'm doing them simultaneously - my few weeks of alternating asian languages by week was sort of a bust - I need to keep all of them in active rotation or there's just too much "where was I?" catching up.

It is very interesting to see where we get to in each language by this "Level 1" point in Pimsleur: In the Spanish and German, there was lots of talk about directions, family members, and dining/social events. The same basic template is used for different languages - the same core subjects - but there are different FOCUSES. I think we were half-way through Level II before any other language addressed a tense other than present, but in Mandarin, we're deep into past, present, and future tenses: Perhaps it's because the verbs require no conjugation, and tenses are constructed like lego blocks with particles... it's easier, so they give it right up front.

In Japanese, as we go we get more formal: While we may be using "kimasu" for "to come" in level 1, by level 2, it was always "irashaimasu", the superpolite form. I love going to JapanesePod because they give you the polite and superpolite forms, but also the informal ones (which I will probably never be able to use without offending someone).

And that's the story of the day.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Birth of a language addict....

Ok - when I started the blog I gave a little history of my life of language. But there was no good indication of really how I became OR why I consider myself now to be a "language addict". Here's that story.

In Spring 2005, on a complete whim, I was invited to spend a week in Tokyo. My good friend's father is a conductor, and had a concert with a symphony orchestra there. So we'd go, see some rehearsals, enjoy the city, see the concert, and go home. It was all planned with under 6 weeks to go, and it was CRAZY.

A friend of mine slipped me a set of MP3s of the intro lessons to Pimsleur Japanese. 7 lessons, covering basic hello goodbye can you speak I would like... and something about this struck a chord with me. Maybe it was the Pimsleur method - the graduated repetition... or maybe I was in the mood for a challenge. But I attacked those 7 30 minute lessons with gusto, listening to each 3-4 times to truly master them.

Of course when I got to Tokyo, the knowledge flew straight out of my head, and I barely squeaked out an "arigato" given the opportunity. But in the safety of my own thoughts, I had a bunch of Japanese phrases that I truly KNEW, and it felt like a wonderful secret, a superpower I could use at some point.

But Japanese was perhaps overwhelming to think about: All the kanji and kana and not being able to READ it... So I decided to redirect my newfound love of language codebreaking to another language that I had secretly loved: German.

Oh, watching Wings of Desire or Run Lola Run, or listening to Propaganda or Nena, that teutonic tongue called to me. I knew I needed to unlock its secrets. So I sprung for the full 90 lesson Pimsleur, and barreled through them. And I looked for people to speak German with... and came up short. My German was fresher than anyone's who had taken it in High School or College, so my conversations were pretty one-sided. Plus, the verbal method isn't the BEST for learning all of the crazy cases and word orders... there's some real study you need to do with that dang language.

But being done with Pimsleur German, I missed my half hours of learning new codes, of decoding new secrets. So I did Pimsleur Spanish - 90 lessons. And now I'm doing Pimsleur Japanese (lesson 60 just finished) and Mandarin (lesson 26 down), and using podcasts to keep learning in ALL languages... I have flash cards, and workbooks...

And the crazy thing is that I'm finding that the more I work on multiple languages simultaneously, the more I'm able to absorb in ALL of them: It's like when the brain is open to new language pathways, why not just keep building them? So far I haven't had many situations where I'm trying to grab a phrase in Chinese and a Japanese one comes to mind - they stay in their compartments.

This fits in with the brain training work I do - is the site - where we preach that the more you exercise your brain, the more limber it is and the more readily you can assimilate new information. Learning languages is FANTASTIC brain exercise, and doing 30-60 minutes of language keeps me sharp to be able to manage multiple roles at multiple clients in my regular jobs, as well as easily turn on the creative juices when our podcasts need some music...

So that's sort of where my "addiction" came from: I readily admit that in terms of language gurus, I'm a novice, only coming at this seriously for over a year... my grasp of these languages is elementary, but improving. But I think I have a true passion for this... and look forward to continuing to share my expedition with anyone who cares to read about it.