Language Links: Lingua.ly web app, easy Thai videos and how to talk nonsense

EasyThai German Greetings and talking nonsense in a foreign language

Every Sunday, I publish a list of articles about foreign language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

Lingua.ly announced the launch of their web app this week. Lingua.ly is a cloud-based language learning technology that is mostly based on vocabulary building. Simply put, you install their Chrome extension, choose the language that you want to learn, and go about your business browsing the web. When you come across a word that you’d like to remember, you click on it. Lingua.ly translates it into your target language and saves it. You can then review your list of visual and audio flash cards. Their new platform also recommends content based on your level, creates personalized exercises and draws from gamification theory.

Do you think that you’re talking nonsense when you speak in a foreign language? If you don’t, but you’d like to, there’s an app for that. MuchPhrases equips you with the weird sentences to impress your quirky friends in Spanish, Norwegian and French. I always thought you should aim for foreign language phrases that make sense, but then again it might be easier to break the ice with gibberish. On that note, “I bought these shoes from a wizard.” Here is the story behind the app.

Take advantage of a slow summer and advance your language skills. Here are 15 ways to practice a foreign language this summer via the Transparent Language blog.

Want to know how to say “hi” and “bye” in German? Here are 22 ways to greet someone in German.

Learn Thai through easy YouTube videos via the WomenLearnThai blog.

 

Image: The Golden Bend in Herengracht, Amsterdam by Gerrit Berckheyde (1671 – 1672) from Rijksmuseum.

P.S. Language Links: French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics through language learning

Learning a language is like traveling

Traveling and language, Norfolk Virginia

As summer closes in, this morning I was thinking about traveling.

I love the anticipation of traveling somewhere. Even the planning. I don’t like being on the road, but I like that sense of possibility when you get out of the car in a new place and you try to take everything in: the sights, the smells, the air, the way the wind blows.

Then I noticed this quote staring at me from the spine of an AFAR magazine:

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Isn’t this what we’re doing when we’re learning a new language? The anticipation of finding out a new way to express a thought or a desire; the way the mind races to see what you can do with a new word; the feeling that it will reveal a world unknown.

I like the planning of language learning too. The laying down of pencils if you’re old school – red is for feminine nouns, green is for masculine, purple is for neuter. The logging into the app. The points, the lingots, the levels.

That feeling when you get out of the car and take in a new place. That feeling at the end of the session when you know three more words. What can you do with three more words in a foreign language? The possibilities are endless.

 

* I took the picture on the waterfront of Norfolk, Virginia.

French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics

Language Links: French habits, English countryside MOOCs and sustainable economics

Each Monday, I publish a list of articles about language and language learning. Let’s keep it fresh!

5 Things for Adults who Learn a Foreign Language – “Older brains are like the Library of Congress” so we must train ourselves to retrieve information.

5 French Habits that Scare Foreigners – Why you should still speak bad French and how to deal with arguments, weird food and la bise.

Literature of the English Country House – a Downton Abbey kind of MOOC. Be ready to embark on a historical journey through literature and notable country houses through FutureLearn.com, a new MOOC provider based in the UK.

Forbes published an interview with Duolingo CEO, Luis von Ahn. Here are two takeaways from the article:

I believe that to have sustainable impact, you have to have a model that generates sustainable economics. For me the important thing is getting capabilities to large numbers of people who need them—for free—and having a sustainable business model behind that whose monetization strategy is neither exploitive nor is it charity.

We looked at the different theories of language pedagogy when we started out, and we discovered that they’re like diets: There are thousands of them, they’re not well supported by data, and they all contradict one another. But working at the scale of millions gives us the advantage of being able to engineer better teaching methods quickly. For example, we might look at our data and see that a lot of people are having trouble learning how adjectives work. So we posit that maybe we should teach adverbs before we teach adjectives.

 Image: View of the Gardens of Villa Medici by Michel-Martin Drolling (1811 – 1816) from Rijksmuseum.

Should you be fluent or accurate?

Fluency or pronunciation

When you speak a foreign language, what is more important: fluency or pronunciation?

Imagine this scenario: You are trying to have a conversation with two really interesting people. You’re using your native language, which is a foreign language for your interlocutors. Both of them speak really well, but they differ in a couple of ways.

One of them, let’s call him Alex, pauses unnaturally in the middle of a phrase and repeats the same word until he gets it right.

The other one, Daniel, has a fluent speech pattern, but mispronounces a word every now and then.

At end of the conversation, you will realize that it was harder to keep track of what Alex was saying and you might have missed a few details of his story. However, you understood everything that Daniel had to say, even if some of the words sounded a bit goofy.

This is what researchers at the University of Purdue discovered in a study of the perception native English speakers have about non-native speakers of English. Alexander L. Francis, associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at Purdue, says:

“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.”

“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“These findings may sound counterintuitive, but as the speakers with better fluency in this study also received higher subjective ratings of intelligibility and acceptability and lower ratings of listening effort, it suggests that native listeners are better able to cope with divergent pronunciations if they appear within otherwise fluent speech.”Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp

Fluency is more important than pronunciation.

What does this mean for language learners?

1. Stop sweating the small stuff NOW. It does not matter if you stumble on words. Mispronouncing “warm” as “worm” may trigger some smiles, but it’s really no big deal. You will make yourself understood from the context.

2. Jump right into speaking. There are people who study a language for years and never build up the courage to actually have a conversation in that language. Don’t make that mistake! The sooner you start speaking, the faster you will progress in your language learning.

3. Listen intently. The best way to internalize speech patterns is to listen to native speakers. Movies, podcasts, radio stations and news stations are just a few of ways to expose yourself to the spoken language.

 

Image source: Tour Group with Princess of Biscaris by Louis Ducros (1778) via Rijksmuseum

“These findings may sound counterintuitive, but as the speakers with better fluency in this study also received higher subjective ratings of intelligibility and acceptability and lower ratings of listening effort, it suggests that native listeners are better able to cope with divergent pronunciations if they appear within otherwise fluent speech.”Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“These findings may sound counterintuitive, but as the speakers with better fluency in this study also received higher subjective ratings of intelligibility and acceptability and lower ratings of listening effort, it suggests that native listeners are better able to cope with divergent pronunciations if they appear within otherwise fluent speech.”Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp
“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp

“With more fluent speech, listeners are not working so hard to keep track of what the speaker is trying to say, so they can devote more effort to figuring out sounds the speaker is trying to produce.Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-fluency-outweighs-pronunciation-non-native-english.html#jCp

Are you clear about “the why”?

Like any plan worth pursuing, learning a foreign language has to have a reason behind it. Whether you are motivated by a promotion, a pay increase, a romance with a native speaker or simply wanting to travel, you should find the why behind your desire to learn a language.

Finding the why is easy when the desire is extrinsic, like in the examples mentioned above.

But what if none of these things applies? What if you just want to learn for the sake of learning or because you’re simply attracted to a foreign culture and you’d like to know more about it?

That is perfectly fine, but the motivation is harder to sustain.

What you can do is this:

On the first page of your language journal or notebook, write the reason. For example, I really like Mexican soap operas or I just found out that learning a language can delay the onset of Alzheimer by four years.

Under the reason, give yourself five secondary reasons to fall back on when your motivation starts to wane. Let’s say you also think that maybe you’ll travel to Mexico or Spain some day. Or learning kanji might improve your drawing skills. Maybe you’re a graphic designer and you think Arabic type will spark your visual creativity.

Brainstorm secondary reasons. Don’t stop until you think of at least five.

The point is this: at every stage in the learning process you must have clear reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Here are a few reasons that can drive your language learning journey:

  • get in touch with your roots. Do you have foreign ancestry? What was your Italian grandma’s favorite storybook as a child? Can you read it in its original language?

  • read a recipe in its original language;

  • explore your own country’s ethnic neighborhoods;

  • understand movies and music without the filter of translation;

  • be perceived as knowledgeable by others; yes, showing off is a valid enough reason if it makes you happy;

  • give your brain a workout;

  • improve your memory;

  • increase the network of people you’ll be able to communicate with;

  • gain a better understanding of the world and global politics;

  • understand your own culture from the perspective of an outsider;

  • get better in a debate;

  • become more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

The point is this: at every stage in the learning process you must be clear about the reason you’re doing this. Why are you investing time, energy and possibly money in this? You don’t need to have grandiose goals. You don’t need to read Voltaire in French after just one year of studying French. If you can read Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, then that is a goal worth pursuing.

Photo by Sue Clark

Your language or your morals

Does language influence moral decisions?

Very much so, according to a study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

They posed the question: would you choose to push one person off a bridge in front of a moving train, knowing that his fall (and subsequent death) would stop the train and prevent it from running over 5 people. In other words, is one life less precious than five lives?

The researchers collected data from 725 participants in France, Spain, the U.S., Korea and Israel and found that more participants selected the utilitarian choice when the problem was presented in a foreign language rather than their native language. “Those using a foreign language were twice as likely to respond with the utilitarian approach that is more in the service of the common good of saving more people,” said lead author Albert Costa, according to Science Daily.

“Deliberations at places like the United Nations, the European Union, large international corporations or investment firms can be better explained or made more predictable by this discovery” states Costa.

Why is this important? Because as actors in a globalized world, we rely heavily on interactions in a foreign language. Do our emotions take second place when we think in a foreign language? Are we distancing ourselves from the consequences of our decisions? Is decision-making influenced by the words we use to describe the dilemma, and not by the dilemma itself?

Keysar says decisions appear to be made differently when processed in a foreign language.

“People are less afraid of losses, more willing to take risks and much less emotionally-connected when thinking in a foreign language.”

Co-author Sayuri Hayakawa from the University of Chicago, says that the emotional context in which we learn a language also plays a part in the decision.

“You learn your native language as a child and it is part of your family and your culture,” she says. “You probably learn foreign languages in less emotional settings like a classroom and it takes extra effort. The emotional content of the language is often lost in translation.”

It may be important to ask how well the participants understood the dilemma in a foreign language (not bilingual, but foreign).

Were they focusing on understanding the language or just solving the problem?

Do the words used in the explanation have exact correspondents in the foreign language?

Is the dilemma processed in the same part of the brain when it’s presented in a foreign language?

 

Image source

 

Cats can teach you Spanish

Do you know what the internet loves?

Cats!

Do you know what cats can do?

Pretty much anything they want.

Even teach you a foreign language?

Especially that.

Cat Academy thinks humans are not as dumb as you’d think. Sure, they may have a center in their brain entirely devoted to Facebook, celebrity gossip and smartphone scrolling, but humans could be highly trainable.

Felines have the ultimate goal to educate the human race, and not just in Laser Chasing 101. Felines will first start with Spanish and see if that sticks.

The Cat Academy app uses the theory of visual association and spaced repetition combined with the humor factor and the ubiquity of memes to teach Spanish (for now). They are thinking of expanding into other popular languages, such as French, Italian, German or Korean, so cat your vote on their website. I mean cast.

The basic version of the app is now free on iTunes, but you have to pay to unlock more cats. As if cat lovers don’t pay enough for the privilege.

Learn Spanish with cats

Hey Donny, boss wants to have a word.

Learn Spanish with cats

You’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Learn Spanish with cats

I dare you to say no. I double dare you!

Is wine still wine in Europe?

An interactive European language map, developed by James Trimble of UK Data Explorer, is making the rounds on the Internet lately. Trimble is using Google Translate as a tool to find out translations of a word from English into 30 other languages spoken throughout Europe.

The examples used by the translator are as linguistically flat as “banana”. You guessed it, it’s still a derivation of “banana” no matter what language you’re choosing. So I tried “beer” after being disappointed that “wine” translates just as similar as banana. I guess it’s all about priorities.

EuropeanWordTranslator