All about learning foreign langauges, the benefits of learning a language, and the best ways to go about learning them. A source of aid and comfort for language buffs of all ages, abilities, and nationalities.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

An Outstanding Resource for Learning Chinese

If you are studying Mandarin Chinese, this is a resource you simply have to check out.

Marilyn Shea is a University of Maine at Farmington psychology professor who fell in love with China when she visited the country for the first time 14 years ago. But the books and tapes then available to self-teach the language left her cold, Shea said.
She discovered that the perfect accents and diction on language tapes sounded nothing like the language she heard on the streets of Beijing.

So she set about creating her own database of English and Chinese words and phrases. Today the database has morphed into the Ting Center at Launched in 1997, it was one of the first language sites on the Internet. About 70,000 people per month visit the site. Its popularity is probably partly a result of Shea's insights into how people learn new languages, and to a booming interest in China, which has been steadily climbing the ranks as a destination for American students studying abroad.
Shea had no ambitions to create an online language center when she started her project.

"I just got fascinated with the problems of learning this language," she said.
Part of the problem, she said, is that most foreign language curriculums involve recordings of actors speaking slowly in the most correct form of the language.
"But if you just talk among your friends, you hear people who talk fast, slow, slovenly or mumble," she said.

As she says on her Web site, people put just enough energy into their language to get their point across. So they are prone to contracting or omitting words, slurring, grunting and dropping off the ends of sentences.
On her site, five or six people say the same word or phrase in different accents to give visitors a real feel for how they actually will hear the language in everyday conversation.

Shea collects the words and phrases during mostly annual trips back to China, where she has a legion of friends eager to help her come up with the latest phrases and words and lend their voices to the project.

Source: Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Learning Vocabulary: The Power of Context

When you were learning to talk, you didn’t consult a dictionary or vocabulary lists. You managed to determine the meaning of a word based on how it was used in sentences and how those sentences applied to what was going on around you. The setting in which words are used, whether in a sentence or in the larger sense is called the context. Once your knowledge of a language reaches a certain threshold, seeing a word in context will often give you the clues you need to figure out what it means. This is how your mind is programmed to learn words.

For someone learning a language other than their own, there are two basic phases to learning vocabulary. The first is assembling a basic foundation of words. In traditional teaching methods this means learning dialogues by rote and using flash cards. Flash cards are a useful tool for building that basic foundation of words.

Once you have enough new foreign words and sentence structures, the second phase involves picking up new words in context. The trick here is to find contexts where you will encounter new words and help reinforce their meanings on your mind. To put it another way, you need to experience your new language in ways that approach the way an ordinary native speaker experiences the language. This will be harder at first, but then gradually, even naturally will improve with time and practice.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Foreign Language Learning in Other Countries

Americans take a lot of heat from people in other countries because we aren't real prolific when it comes to learning languages other than English. To be fair, humans as a species tend to prioritize their activities according to what they think it needful, even if they don't always make smart decisions that way.

One reason why Americans don’t usually master a second language is because of geography; Canada to the north is mostly English-speaking, and Spanish, although increasingly encountered, remains largely restricted to regions near the Mexican border. Another reason is related to the first; middle schools and high schools don’t put a premium on foreign language study. English is, after all, about as close as there is to a global language of science, commerce, and diplomacy. Other parts of the world take a different view. In Europe, for instance, it is not unusual for students to learn two, three, or even four languages by the time they finish the equivalent of high school. This is because Europe has many language zones packed into a relatively small space. But Americans can draw an important lesson from the European experience; if their students can routinely learn additional languages, so can you!

The world is changing; geographic borders are less and less meaningful in determining who you interact with most often. The sooner Americans understand that in their gut, the sooner we will see more and more of us learning new languages.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Breaking Out of English-Only Land

Americans are starting to see the need--and the advantages--of learning a second language. This report from the U.S. Department of State web site lists some of many reasons why learning a language is a good idea:

Foreign language study in the United States traditionally has been introduced as an elective at the middle and secondary school levels. But parents increasingly are demanding foreign-language study for their tots in preschool. According to a 2004 article published in Education Week, a newspaper of record for U.S. educators, parents want their children exposed to other cultures and traditions at an early age while maintaining their own ethnic heritages.

Competition for jobs is yet another reason to learn foreign languages. In the same Education Week article, Elizabeth Webb, the program specialist for foreign-language and international education at the state of Georgia's Department of Education, is quoted as saying: "Sooner or later, what I think is going to happen is the realization of how many jobs we are exporting because people abroad speak English very well." The inability of many Americans to speak foreign languages, she said, is becoming "a competitive disadvantage."

Older Americans, too, increasingly are studying -- and successfully learning -- foreign languages. Although some observers believe children have the advantage in mastering a foreign language, other experts disagree.

Joan Rubin and Irene Thomson, authors of How To Be a More Successful Language Learner, wrote: "[T]here is little evidence that children in language classrooms learn foreign languages any better than adults [people over 15] in similar classroom situations."

Adults, they write, have better memories, more efficient ways of organizing information, longer attention spans, better study habits and greater ability to handle complex mental tasks. Children, however, are less afraid of making mistakes and seeming foolish, according to Rubin and Thomson.

Retirees are finding they now have the time to study a language. Many seniors have the financial means to travel to foreign lands and want to be able to order off menus, ask for directions and converse a bit with the locals in their native tongue. Other older Americans, descendants of immigrants, want to renew their ethnic ties and get in touch with the cultural heritage of their family's homeland by learning the language they may have failed to absorb in childhood.

Also spurring the 50-and-older crowd is evidence that learning a foreign language may provide the kind of mental stimulation that staves off mental disabilities such as Alzheimer's disease.

Most important, there are now many more resources for learning new languages, and the methods for teaching them are much more fun. Small children are taught new languages using songs, rhymes, games and television shows. College students can stay in dorms that enforce total language immersion; they practice the language daily in spontaneous and familiar settings without ever getting on a plane.

Affordable computer programs allow students to learn new languages at their own pace. On many of the language-training compact discs, students can record their own voices and compare their pronunciation to that of native speakers. The programs include photos, drills, quizzes and interactive games that make learning a language engaging and enjoyable.

To read the full article, click here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Finding Native Speakers Near You

When it comes to learning a foreign language, there really is not substitute for practicing with someone who is a native speaker. When you've reached a certain point, that is. If you're still trying to put together simple sentences and only have a few dozen words in your vocabulary talking to a native speaker can be intimidating for you, and frustrating for both of you. But once you hit a certain point in your studies, talking to a native speaker can reap huge gains in your studies. One hour with a native speaker can be worth ten spent with tapes and twenty trying to use a book. It's also a great way to learn about the body langauge that can be an important (and often neglected) part of a foreign language.

Many larger metropolitan areas have significant ethnic populations. San Francisco’s Chinatown is probably the best known, but many other cities and towns have smaller pockets of immigrants and the communities they fashioned after coming to America. Organizations from advocacy groups to social clubs can be found all over the U.S. Finding one might be a challenge, but often a call to the reference desk of your local public library will help you find what you need. You can also take matters into your own hands and place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a native speakers or speakers of your language with whom you could practice. Universities and college are a good place to find students from other countries who would not only enjoy a chance to help you master their language, they might also appreciate the opportunity to form some ties in a land far from home.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Your Career and Foreign Languages

As the world becomes more and more interconnected, the need for foreign language skills is becoming more acute than ever. If Americans aren’t careful, they are going to be left behind by those who take the trouble to master new languages. A report by Diane Hirth in the Tallahassee Democrat has this to say about languages and careers:

With globalization on the tip of everyone's tongue, there's also increased interest in becoming bilingual in languages more traditionally attempted by speakers of English, like Spanish and French.

"The business world is changing. It's not just a national market anymore. You need to be bilingual to market yourself to companies," said Raushanah Morgan, 19, a marketing major at Florida A&M University who has studied Spanish.

"This is our dream," said Evelyn Trujillo, a Spanish professor and chairwoman of FAMU's Department of Foreign Languages, of offering more language opportunities to students. FAMU's department is fairly young, offering classes in Spanish, French and Arabic, but the goal is eventually to add languages such as Swahili, Chinese and Japanese. FAMU also is hoping to get legislative funds this year for a foreign-language lab.

Locally, chances to learn languages stretch from German, Latin, French and Spanish at Tallahassee Community College to Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish at FSU. The endowed Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies greatly lifted the scope of language studies at FSU, and offers student scholarships in seven languages.

"My philosophy is it's never too late to learn," Trujillo said.

"If you want to and put in the time, you can learn," agreed Cloonan.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Who Needs a Language Teacher, Anyway?

A remarkable new computer program being developed at British University in Dubai may replace the traditional teacher for teaching foreign languages, reports the website

“The experimental program - 'Intelligent Tutor' - is capable of systematically correcting errors for students studying English as a foreign language, and adapting to their preferred style of learning.

Developed by Dr Marina Dodigovic, it could provide an important tool for students of the future looking to develop their language skills and has been hailed as one of the major 'technologies of the future' by experts in artificial intelligence.

Dr. Marina Dodigovic, Assistant Professor of English and TESOL, the American University of Sharjah, will deliver the lecture, employing her wide knowledge of the field of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).

BUiD supports a number of advanced research projects into information technology and its potential impact on education, and professors at the institution are looking forward to the opportunity to discuss the potential outcomes of this developing field.

'Computer Assisted Language Learning is a fascinating area, which educational institutions within the Middle East could make a significant contribution to,' said Dr. Habib Talhami, Head of the Institute of Informatics and Senior Lecturer at the British University in Dubai.

'The contemporary interest in technology research and development, combined with the classical traditions of language training in the Arab world, make it a very fruitful area of investigation,' he added. “