Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Progress report re: español

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My Spanish learning is going well. I’m starting to realize the benefits of having learned Esperanto.

Let me tell you a story about Finland. The standard practice in Finland was (and still may be) that students take 3 years of German. As an experiment, they had one group of students (the experimental group) take a year of Esperanto, followed by 2 years of German with their Esperanto continuing to be used as the instructional language for a geography course.

Because they didn’t want students in the experimental group to be moving away before they completed the three years, they selected the experimental group from families that were more or less rooted in the community. Generally speaking, this meant that children of professional families (who they thought were more likely to move at some point in the next three years) were not included, though these children were on average more academically able (due to home environment, I presume).

The result: In the first year, after a few weeks, the students in the Esperanto class were chattering away on the playground in Esperanto, having fun with their “secret” language (and, of course, getting in lots of practice). Because Esperanto was specifically designed to be easy to learn (it was designed to be a universal second language), it’s … well, easy to learn: no irregular verbs, easy way to form new words using a system of affixes, and so on.

The students learning German did no playground conversations in German.

At the end of the three years, they found that the students with 1 year of Esperanto and 2 years of German were much more fluent in German and had better comprehension.

And it makes sense. The second foreign language is almost always easier to learn than the first: you know more what you’re doing, you know how to build your vocabulary, you understand that you might as well memorize the prepositions, you know if you’re trying to say something in the language not to get hung up by not knowing a word but to paraphrase, using words you do know, and so on. Moreover, the students who began with Esperanto had an extremely positive first-foreign-language experience so when they started a second foreign language they optimistic and ready to buckle down. (Did I mention that it was easy? And, of course, it’s fun to talk in front of your friends in a secret language. Smile )

The experiment was run by the United Nations (specifically, UNESCO, as I recall), which has an obvious interest in finding a common second language, given the billions they burn through printing everything 5 times over (in all the official language), paying the translators for that and also the simultaneous interpreters—and maintaining the technology to support that effort. It would obviously save enormous sums of money, not to mention time, if all the representatives were to learn Esperanto (designed for ease of learning) and use that as their common second language. (The fact that Esperanto is not native to any country is a benefit here: there would undoubtedly be strong political objections to using a language that would favor some particular country: English, French, German, Chinese, Russian—you can see the objections that would be raised. But Esperanto is neutral.)

Well, Esperanto was really my first foreign language: the first I learned well enough to speak. And now that I’m hitting my stride in Spanish, I see all the old tricks coming back to me. E.g., make your own flash cards (I use these Vis-Ed blank cards): You start learning the word simply from making the card. Then carry the cards with you and review them constantly.

I generally keep the card in three decks, held with rubber bands:

Green rubber band – I know these words pretty well. I review every 2-3 days. If I even hesitate over a word, much less get it wrong, it goes back to the yellow pack. If I have no idea, it goes directly into red pack.

Yellow rubber band – These words are still tricky, so I review them 3-4 times a day. Once I seem to know one cold, it moves to the green pack. If I get really stuck with one, it moves to the red pack.

Red rubber band – These are new or else problem words. I review these more or less constantly—like once or twice an hour. They move into the yellow pack as soon as I think I know them, and that usually doesn’t take long at that rate of review.

I’m following many of the suggestions in the wonderful book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, by Kató Lomb:

KATÓ LOMB (1909–2003) was one of the great polyglots of the 20th century. A translator and one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world, Lomb worked in 16 languages for state and business concerns in her native Hungary. She achieved further fame by writing books on languages, interpreting, and polyglots. Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, first published in 1970, is a collection of anecdotes and reflections on language learning. Because Dr. Lomb learned her languages as an adult, after getting a PhD in chemistry, the methods she used will thus be of particular interest to adult learners who want to master a foreign language.

I’m following many of her selections: watching movies in the target language, listening to audiobooks and the radio in the target language, using a dictionary that’s totally in the target language (rather than English-Target, Target-English, which keeps you thinking in English), reading magazines and newspapers in the target language, and so on. It’s a very interesting book even if you’re not yet learning another language.

I should also mention a very handy little piece of software for Windows (don’t know yet whether it’s available on the Mac, which indeed may not need it): Diacrit. It’s quite wonderful and supports a host of languages (including Esperanto, which is why I originally got it). UPDATE: Here’s how the Mac does it.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2011 at 2:16 pm

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