Later On

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

Archive for May 24th, 2020

Useful Duolingo tactics

leave a comment »

I have gradually discovered some tactics that make Duolingo more effective.

Write-what-you-hear exercises

I listen to the prompt several times before entering my answer. If my answer has an error, I look at the correct answer (which Duolingo provides) and listen to the prompt over and over, following the printed answer, until I can hear clearly what is said. Then when the prompt is given again, later in the lesson, I have no problem understanding it. (Duolingo uses a mastery approach, so it will return to any items you answered incorrectly until you are able to answer them correctly.)

Translate-a-sentence (from Esperanto) exercises

The Esperanto sentence is both displayed and  recited. I make it a practice to not look at the printed sentence but try to understand it simply by listening. I will click the blue loudspeaker button to hear the phrase or sentence repeatedly until I am sure what it is — and only then I look at the phrase to check. If I got it wrong, I listen to it more, reading it while I listen, until I can hear clearly what is said. Only then do I enter the translation. This approach provides more ear training.

When I enter my translation, I hover the mouse over any word I’m unsure of to see the definition. (In fact, Duolingo generally introduces new vocabulary via these exercises, and the hovering lets you learn the new word.

Often, I also make an Anki card for myself for the word, checking’s Esperanto-English dictionary, which usually offers a fuller definition than does Duolingo. As I’ve learned more Esperanto, I’ve also started reading the definitions in La Simpla Vortaro and/or Plena Ilustrita Vortaro.

Once my translation is complete, I do more hovering to make sure my word choices match Duolingo’s. Quite often, a sentence can be correctly phrased in several ways, and since Duolingo is limited in its range of understanding — it’s a computer program, not a human — I find it best to cooperate with its limitations and phrase things as it suggests.

After I press “Check,” I look at any suggestions shown in the green band. Duolingo will often offer a better phrasing (for example, not so literal and awkward), and I learn those for the next time I encounter such a sentence. The key to success with Duolingo is to cooperate with it, not fight it. Learn what it likes, and do that.

Mark-the-correct-meaning exercises

These exercises offer a sentence in English and have you click on the correct translation of three offered. I do not look at the offered options until I have translated the sentence in my head. I then look for the sentence that matches the translation I have done. Again, this provides more practice in working with the language.

Once I have the translation in mind, I look at all three options — not only to pick out the correction, but to see exactly why the other two options are wrong (proofreading practice).

See also: A few observations on Duolingo’s Esperanto course.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2020 at 4:18 pm

‘Saluton!’: the surprise return of Esperanto

leave a comment »

Josh Salisbury writes in the Guardian in December 2017:

In the village of Barlaston, just outside Stoke-on-Trent, a strange language can be heard. It’s not the friendly Potteries dialect, but something that sounds a little like the lovechild of French and German. A Tudor house here is home to the Esperanto Association of Britain (EAB), which encourages people to learn the constructed language.

Esperanto summer schools were first established in Stoke in 1960, and were funded by the council for more than 50 years. The concept of an easy-to-learn, universal second tongue was energetically promoted, drawing prominent speakers to the area. And the city still bears traces of its Esperanto history. In Smallthorne, in the north-east of the city, drinkers can stop off on Esperanto Way to get a pint at the Green Star – the symbol of the Esperantist movement. A row of terraced houses a short walk away are located on Zamenhof Grove, named after the inventor of Esperanto, LL Zamenhof.

The language isn’t a relic; in fact, while exact figures are difficult to pin down, there has been a resurgence in people taking it up. The Esperanto Association has increased the number of beginners’ courses it offers four-fold to keep up with demand, says Viv O’Dunne, the charity’s operations and events director.

The “inner idea” of Esperanto, Zamenhof once said, was to promote world peace. A Jewish-Polish doctor born in 1859 in Białystok, now in Poland, Zamenhof grew up under Russian occupation. Violence between different groups was common – Białystok which was a melting pot of Protestant Germans, Catholic Poles, Orthodox Russians and Jews. While still a child, Zamenhof hit upon the idea that a constructed second language that was easy to learn and understand would allow people to talk as peers, rather than fight. In 1887, after tinkering away for more than 10 years, Zamenhof published his ideas in a pamphlet. By 1905, the fundamental rules of Esperanto had been established by a conference of speakers in France, and Esperantist groups began popping up across the world.

Tim Owen, education director for the EAB, gives me a crash course in what makes it straight-forward. “Probably the main factor is that you can acquire a huge vocabulary without knowing so many words,” he says.

All words ending -o are nouns, an -a ending is for an adjective, while -e denotes an adverb. He shows me that, for instance, “vidi” – meaning to see – can become “vido” for vision, “vida” for visual and “vide” for visually, concepts that require different words in English. If you need to find an opposite, you can add the “mal” prefix: “pura” is clean, “malpura” is dirty. These building blocks can help speakers learn new words very quickly. “It’s like working with a magic multiplier,” says Owen. The spellings are phonetic, there are no grammatical genders, verbs are strictly regular, and the vocabulary is a blend of European languages familiar to many. It’s child’s play to learn compared with my years of torturous high-school language lessons.

But isn’t a universal constructed language just a hobby for idealistic eccentrics? O’Dunne laughs, and concedes the stereotype might have a grain of truth: “We’ve still got those!” But, he says, there’s been a marked change in the demographic of attendees recently. “Over the last two or three years, there’s been much more interest from younger people who want to use it to travel and correspond … it just feels like it’s been rejuvenated,” she says.

At the charity’s headquarters at Esperanto House, there are rows of old academic tomes on the linguistics of constructed languages, but it’s the colourful translations of bestsellers and bright current affairs magazines that catch the eye. “[Esperanto is] a little bit geeky, but geeky is cool now, right?” says one recent convert.

Nineteen-year-old Sammy Kennedy, an aspiring photographer who works in retail in Manchester, is one of the young Esperantists helping the language shake off its niche image. He has attended events run by the EAB and has noticed more and more people taking an interest. Esperanto groups where he lives were defunct for ages, he tells me. “Now, there’s a new Manchester Esperanto group that meets up monthly,” he says.

Esperanto has become steadily more accessible largely thanks to the language-learning app Duolingo. The Esperanto course recently reached a million learners worldwide, more than are currently learning Hungarian or Czech on the site. There’s a dizzying array of other online options to help would-be learners, too. A few taps on the Amikumu (or “do the friendly thing”) app shows users local Esperantists to chat with, while numerous Facebook groups help beginners with vocab and grammar. Esperanto may have been the brainchild of a Polish doctor in the 19th century, but it has adapted for the 21st.

Simone Davis, a civil servant, began learning Esperanto online to distract her from painful chronic health conditions. She found that even at her most tired or ill, she could manage a lesson on her tablet. “One lesson easily becomes two or three and before I knew it I was hooked,” she says. In just over a year, she learned more Esperanto than she has French, despite taking French classes for five years.

It’s the values underpinning the language, as well as its ease, that drew in Davis. Esperanto is “a symbol of intentional goodwill towards others”, she says. Esperantists place a heavy value on the language being “neutral”, not belonging to one country. Many tell me they were inspired to pick up the books in response to what they see as rising isolationism in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. Learning the language isn’t just a hobby, but a commitment to making connections across borders on a level playing field.

I initially write this off as simply a nice sentiment, but there’s plenty of practise behind the principle. O’Dunne shows me the Pasporta Servo, a pocket-sized directory of Esperantists all around the world. They offer fellow speakers a place to stay in their home country, often completely free of charge. For language enthusiasts under 25, the charity NoJef will pay for travel and accommodation for attendance at Esperanto-themed events.

The Pasporta Servo led 26-year-old James McMurray, a data engineer from Crawley, to make learning Esperanto his New Year’s resolution several years ago. He had first became familiar with the language while leafing through his grandfather’s books – he had become an Esperantist while stationed in India during the second world war. “I remember growing up and seeing his books in Esperanto, without being able to understand it, and his correspondence with people all over the world who may not speak English and be able to communicate,” McMurray says. He has since attended Esperantist music events in France, and met up with fellow learners in Prague and Malaga. His first serious relationship started through a shared interest in Esperanto. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

On a personal note, after completing 12 lessons in the course, I have recently focused solely on the Duolingo course. As of this morning, I’ve done at least one lesson (and always in fact several lessons) a day for 36 days:

For what I learned about how to use Duolingo effectively, see this post.

This morning I also revised my two posts (this one and this one) on using Anki to reflect more discoveries on using it, and in particular to note the Duolingo shared decks and this quite valuable shared deck:

61,907 Esperanto dictionary entries in order of usage frequency in the Esperanto Wikipedia (dumped 2016-10-02). Dictionary entries come from Paul Denisowski’s Esperanto Dictionary Project (ESPDIC). To learn in order of frequency, you should set the options group for the deck in the “New Cards” section to have “Show new cards in order added” selected. Then the first few words to appear should be “la, de, en, kaj, esti”.

I submit that in this socially isolated, lockdown time, learning a language using Duolingo and Anki is a pleasant and useful way to pass some hours. And if you don’t know any foreign language, learning Esperanto first has been shown to greatly facilitate the learning of later languages.

I will say that after just over a month’s study I’m surprised by how much Esperanto I know. — or: Mi diros, ke post nur unu-monata studado mi estas suprizata per kiom da Esperanto mi scias. That I just wrote off the top of my head, using just what I’ve learned to date.


Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2020 at 3:18 pm

Useful checklist for critical thinking

with 2 comments

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2020 at 9:46 am

%d bloggers like this: