Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Spanish’ Category

Glossika looks very interesting for language learners

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Check it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2020 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Education, Spanish

Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair

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Marianna Pogosyan, a lecturer in cultural psychology at the IES Abroad in Amsterdam and at the University of Amsterdam’s Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE) college in The Netherlands, writes in Aeon:

Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or as a consequence of a lifelong odyssey, some languages will lead you to the brink of love.

Those are the languages that will consume you – all of you – as you do everything to make them yours. You dissect syntax structures. You recite conjugations. You fill notebooks with rivers of new letters. You run your pen over their curves and cusps again and again, like you would trace your fingers over a lover’s face. The words bloom on paper. The phonemes interlace into melodies. The sentences taste fragrant, even as they tumble awkwardly from your mouth like bricks built of foreign symbols. You memorise prose and lyrics and newspaper headlines, just to have them at your lips after the sun dips and when it dawns again.

Verbs after adverbs, nouns after pronouns, your relations deepen. Yet, the closer you get, the more aware you become of the mirage-like void between you. It’s vast, this void of knowledge, and you need a lifetime to traverse it. But you have no fear, since the path to your beloved gleams with curiosity and wonder that is almost urgent. What truths will you uncover amid the new letters and the new sounds? About the world? About yourself?

As with all relationships, the euphoria wears off eventually. With your wits regained, you keep dissecting and memorising, listening and speaking. Your accent is incorrigible. Your mistakes are inescapable. The rules are endless, as are the exceptions. The words – gracebless youonce upon a time – have lost their magic. But your devotion to them, your need for them is more earnest than ever. You have wandered too far from home to turn back now. You feel committed and vulnerable, trusting of their benevolence. On the occasion of your renewed vows, the language comes bearing gifts of inspiration and connection – not only to new others, but to a new you.

Many renowned writers have revelled in the gifts of their non-native tongues. Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, had been living in the United States for only a few years before he wrote Lolita (1955): a work that has been hailed as ‘a polyglot’s love letter to language’ and had him called a ‘master of English prose’. The Irishman Samuel Beckett wrote in French to escape the clutter of English. The Canadian Yann Martel found success writing not in his native French, but in English – a language that he says provides him with ‘a sufficient distance to write’. This distance, observes the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak of writing in her non-native English, leads her closer to home.

When Haruki Murakami sat at his kitchen table to write his first novel, he felt like his native Japanese was getting in the way. His thoughts would rush out of him like out of a ‘barn crammed with livestock’, as he put it in 2015. Then he tried writing in English, with limited vocabulary and simple syntax at his hands. As he translated (‘transplanted’, he calls it) his compact English sentences ‘stripped of all extraneous fat’ into Japanese, a distinctly unadorned style was born that decades later became synonymous with his worldwide success. When the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri started writing in Italian – a language she had been loving and learning for years – she felt like she was writing with her weaker hand. She was ‘exposed’, ‘uncertain’ and ‘poorly equipped’. Yet, she writes in 2015, she felt light and free, protected and reborn. Italian made her rediscover why she writes – ‘the joy as well as the need’.

But affairs of the heart rarely leave any witnesses untouched. Including our mother tongues. My grandmother has a collection of letters that I wrote to her after I left Armenia for Japan. Once in a while, she takes out the stack of envelopes with Japanese stamps that she keeps next to her passport, and reads through them. She knows all the words by heart, she insists with pride. One day, as we sit across each other with a screen and a continent between us, grandma shakes her head.

Something changed, she tells me ominously, skimming my sentences through her oversized glasses. With each letter, something kept changing, she says.

Of course something changed, grandma, I tell her. I moved to Japan. I hit puberty. I…

No, she laments with teacher’s remorse, your writing changed. First, it was the odd spelling mistake here and there. Then, the verbs and the nouns would pop up in wrong places.

Silence settles between us. I keep my eyes on the procession of English letters on my keyboard.

It’s nothing dramatic, she tells me, mostly to console herself, but enough for me to hold my breath every time I stumbled on errors that weren’t there before.

She opens another envelope.

Oh, and then, she exclaims, the punctuation! All of a sudden, there were too many commas. Then a single dot at the end of your sentences.

She lifts her glasses on top of her puff of white hair and begins to wrap her treasures back into my late grandfather’s handkerchief.

The last one that you sent me, she says with a defeated simper, that’s when everything changed. You wrote in our letters, you used our words, but it no longer sounded Armenian.

The truth is that entering an intimate relationship with a new language often colours everything. Our eyes expect the new words. Our ears habituate to the new sounds. Our pens memorise the new letters. While the infatuation takes over our senses, the language’s anatomy etches into our brains. Neural pathways are laid, connections are formed. Brain networks integrate. Grey matter becomes denser, white matter gets strengthened. Then, splatters of the new hues begin to show up in letters to grandma.

Linguists call this ‘second language interference’, when the new language interferes with the old language, like a new lover rearranging the furniture of your bedroom, as if to say – this is how things will be done around here from now on. Somehow, writing exposes this interference (this betrayal, as grandma saw it) more than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 8:21 pm

Learning another language should be compulsory in every school

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And I will again point out that learning Esperanto as your first foreign language makes learning other languages easier and faster: see this article.

Daniel Everett, dean of arts and sciences, professor of global studies, and professor of sociology at Bentley University in Massachusetts, writes in Aeon:

In the 1960s, in our public schools in California along the border with Mexico, Spanish language-learning was a requirement, beginning in sixth grade. I couldn’t wait to get to sixth grade to start learning Spanish. Our school was more than 50 per cent Mexican-Americans, and I was keen to understand them as they switched back and forth from fluent English to fluent Spanish (or, as they called it, ‘Mexican’). As I began to learn it, my friends asked if I spoke Spanish at home. No, just in school. I was invited to join a Mexican rock ’n’ roll band based in Tijuana, and we performed at Mexican dances and on Mexican television, where I sang lead on ‘La Bamba’ and other songs. My aunt used to say I looked like a bastard brother among the other members of the group. I loved it. I had two identities, Dan the American and Daniel the Chicano (or so my friends would tell me – ‘You’re an honorary Mexican, cabrón!’)

Learning Spanish changed my life. It taught me more about English, it gave me friendships and connections and respect I never could have otherwise received. Just as learning Portuguese, Pirahã and smatterings of other Amazonian languages continued to transform me during my entire life.

Now, after spending most of my adult life in higher education, researching languages, cultures and cognition, I have become more convinced than ever that nothing teaches us about the world and how to think more effectively better than learning new languages. That is why I advocate for fluency in foreign languages. But for this to happen, language-learning needs to make a comeback as a requirement of both primary and secondary education in the United States. Learning another language benefits each learner in at least three ways – pragmatically, neurologically and culturally.

Pragmatically, consider the benefits of language-learning for the businessperson working alongside speakers of other languages. Although it might be tempting to use English as a lingua franca in new business situations, the investment of learning the language of your colleagues and customers tells them: ‘I respect you.’ It can transform colleagues and customers into friends. Think about it – you appreciate the effort of someone who has learned to speak your language. Their communication in the language of your home helps you to relate better to them, to see them as less ‘other’. In fact, some people feel threatened just hearing a foreign language. Languages have power. Why not partake in that power instead of fearing it?

No matter what you do for a living, language-learning brings practical advantages. Whether you work in a restaurant or are a scholar or a tourist or just a stay-at-home Joe, fluency in other languages is a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of your life. You will understand the world better – imagine being able to watch soccer in Spanish or Italian as well as in English! That alone is a pretty good return. But as we are going to learn directly, beyond the practical benefits, language will expand your knowledge and your very intelligence. If you learn the language in your 20s, you’ll reap benefits for 50 to 60 years, ceteris paribus (all thing being equal, for those who didn’t study Latin). Say it takes you two years of hard work and constant practice to learn a language. To maintain it will require, let’s say, about one hour a week of conversation or foreign-language television. Yet it will benefit you for the rest of your life. If it takes two years to learn another language, and you have the benefit of that language for the rest of an average lifespan, that is roughly a 900 per cent return on investment. Not bad at all.

Beyond the pragmatic benefits to learning languages are humanistic, cultural benefits. It is precisely because not all languages are the same that learning them can expand our understanding of the world. Every language has evolved in a specific geocultural niche, and thus has different ways of talking and codifying the world. But this is precisely why learning them is so beneficial. Take, for example:

John borrowed $10,000 from the bank of Mom and Dad to pay down his college loan.

The Pirahã language of the Amazon has no words for numbers or for “borrow,” “dollars,” “bank,” “mom,” “dad,” “college,” or “loan. So this sentence cannot be translated into Pirahã (it could be if their culture were to change and they learned about the modern economy). On the other hand, consider a common Pirahã phrase:

Piibooxio xigahapaati.

This phrase means ‘go upriver’ in Pirahã. Innocuous enough, until you realise that Pirahãs use this phrase instead of the less precise ‘turn left’ or ‘turn right’ (which depends on where the speaker and hearer are facing) – this is uttered from deep within the jungle or at the river’s edge – all Pirahãs carry a mental map of tens of thousands of acres of jungle in their heads, and thus know where all points of reference are, whether a river or a specific region of the jungle. They use absolute directions, not relative directions as, say, the average American does when he says ‘turn left’ (vs the absolute direction, ‘turn north’). So to use Pirahã phrases intelligibly requires learning about their local geography.

Forty years ago, when I was a Christian (I am now an atheist), I was convinced that Christians should evangelise others with the gospel by learning their language and translating the Bible into all languages. This was because my then-mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators, convinced me that one’s mother tongue is the language in which one feels, one tells one’s secrets in, and expresses one’s spirituality in. The Catholic mass changed from Latin to local languages in the 1960s when the Church realised that people cannot fully embrace their religion emotionally and culturally unless it is expressed in their mother tongue. On a more pedestrian level, why do English speakers, even today, find it more objectionable to say: ‘You are full of shit’ as opposed to: ‘You are full of faeces’? Because the Germanic words of our historical mother tongue still engage us emotionally more than the Latinate words that seeped into our language from Caesar and William the Conqueror. Learning another’s mother tongue opens a doorway into their psyche.

Language-learning induces reflection both on how we ourselves think and communicate, and how others think. Thus it teaches culture implicitly. Languages should be at the very heart of our educational systems. Learning languages disables our easy and common habit of glossing over differences and failing to understand others and ourselves. You cannot achieve fluency in another language without learning its speakers’ perspectives on the world, and thereby enriching your own conceptual arsenal. The actual work of learning new ways of talking – new sounds, grammars, storytelling, understandings of the Universe – stretch and build the mind.

Neurologically, learning another language actually makes us smarter. There is evidence that learning new languages causes growth in our cerebral grey matter, with more synaptic connections formed in our brains. I have often thought of the brain as very similar to a muscle, in that exercise strengthens it. And this is a growing consensus among many researchers. There is even some evidence that language-learning can postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s.

I try to make the case in much of my recent work that humans evolved for greater cognitive flexibility than any other creatures. Learning languages exploits and expands that flexibility. Language-learning is a cognitive workout – it gives us more knowledge and teaches us more ways of using knowledge. It makes us smarter.

Language-learning has been replaced in many schools by more vocational courses. For example, some claim that learning computer codes is equivalent to learning foreign languages. Yet the cultural matrix required for learning human languages makes them quite unlike computer languages, which are mere syntax, supplemented by a growth in knowledge within a narrow domain. So how do we get language back into US schools? Administrators have to re-recognise its benefits – culturally, socially and cognitively. The classical curriculum is often ridiculed for placing Latin at its core. I agree that we should teach live languages too, not just dead ones. But learning languages is vital to a world in which understanding of others is crucial yet handicapped when we try to do it monolingually.

Learning other languages goes beyond textbooks. It requires  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2018 at 10:56 am

The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages

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Judith Thurman writes in the New Yorker:

Last May, Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, flew to Malta for a week to learn Maltese. He had a hefty grammar book in his backpack, but he didn’t plan to open it unless he had to. “We’ll do this as I would in the Amazon,” he told me, referring to his fieldwork as a linguist. Our plan was for me to observe how he went about learning a new language, starting with “hello” and “thank you.”

Rojas-Berscia is a twenty-seven-year-old Peruvian with a baby face and spiky dark hair. A friend had given him a new pair of earrings, which he wore on Malta with funky tank tops and a chain necklace. He looked like any other laid-back young tourist, except for the intense focus—all senses cocked—with which he takes in a new environment. Linguistics is a formidably cerebral discipline. At a conference in Nijmegen that had preceded our trip to Malta, there were papers on “the anatomical similarities in the phonatory apparati of humans and harbor seals” and “hippocampal-dependent declarative memory,” along with a neuropsychological analysis of speech and sound processing in the brains of beatboxers. Rojas-Berscia’s Ph.D. research, with the Shawi people of the Peruvian rain forest, doesn’t involve fMRI data or computer modelling, but it is still arcane to a layperson. “I’m developing a theory of language change called the Flux Approach,” he explained one evening, at a country inn outside the city, over the delicious pannenkoeken (pancakes) that are a local specialty. “A flux is a dynamism that involves a social fact and an impact, either functionally or formally, in linguistic competence.”

Linguistic competence, as it happens, was the subject of my own interest in Rojas-Berscia. He is a hyperpolyglot, with a command of twenty-two living languages (Spanish, Italian, Piedmontese, English, Mandarin, French, Esperanto, Portuguese, Romanian, Quechua, Shawi, Aymara, German, Dutch, Catalan, Russian, Hakka Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Guarani, Farsi, and Serbian), thirteen of which he speaks fluently. He also knows six classical or endangered languages: Latin, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Shiwilu, Muniche, and Selk’nam, an indigenous tongue of Tierra del Fuego, which was the subject of his master’s thesis. We first made contact three years ago, when I was writing about a Chilean youth who called himself the last surviving speaker of Selk’nam. How could such a claim be verified? Pretty much only, it turned out, by Rojas-Berscia.

Superlative feats have always thrilled average mortals, in part, perhaps, because they register as a victory for Team Homo Sapiens: they redefine the humanly possible. If the ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes can run three hundred and fifty miles without sleep, he may inspire you to jog around the block. If Rojas-Berscia can speak twenty-two languages, perhaps you can crank up your high-school Spanish or bat-mitzvah Hebrew, or learn enough of your grandma’s Korean to understand her stories. Such is the promise of online language-learning programs like Pimsleur, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo: in the brain of every monolingual, there’s a dormant polyglot—a genie—who, with some brisk mental friction, can be woken up. I tested that presumption at the start of my research, signing up on Duolingo to learn Vietnamese. (The app is free, and I was curious about the challenges of a tonal language.) It turns out that I’m good at hello—chào—but thank you, cảm ơn, is harder.

The word “hyperpolyglot” was coined two decades ago, by a British linguist, Richard Hudson, who was launching an Internet search for the world’s greatest language learner. But the phenomenon and its mystique are ancient. In Acts 2 of the New Testament, Christ’s disciples receive the Holy Spirit and can suddenly “speak in tongues” (glōssais lalein, in Greek), preaching in the languages of “every nation under heaven.” According to Pliny the Elder, the Greco-Persian king Mithridates VI, who ruled twenty-two nations in the first century B.C., “administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue in each of them.” Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra “very seldom had need of an interpreter,” and was the only monarch of her Greek dynasty fluent in Egyptian. Elizabeth I also allegedly mastered the tongues of her realm—Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, and Irish, plus six others.

With a mere ten languages, Shakespeare’s Queen does not qualify as a hyperpolyglot; the accepted threshold is eleven. The prowess of Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849) is more astounding and better documented. Mezzofanti, an Italian cardinal, was fluent in at least thirty languages and studied another forty-two, including, he claimed, Algonquin. In the decades that he lived in Rome, as the chief custodian of the Vatican Library, notables from around the world dropped by to interrogate him in their mother tongues, and he flitted as nimbly among them as a bee in a rose garden. Lord Byron, who is said to have spoken Greek, French, Italian, German, Latin, and some Armenian, in addition to his immortal English, lost a cursing contest with the Cardinal and afterward, with admiration, called him a “monster.” Other witnesses were less enchanted, comparing him to a parrot. But his gifts were certified by an Irish scholar and a British philologist, Charles William Russell and Thomas Watts, who set a standard for fluency that is still useful in vetting the claims of modern Mezzofantis: Can they speak with an unstilted freedom that transcends rote mimicry?

Mezzofanti, the son of a carpenter, picked up Latin by standing outside a seminary, listening to the boys recite their conjugations. Rojas-Berscia, by contrast, grew up in an educated trilingual household. His father is a Peruvian businessman, and the family lives comfortably in Lima. His mother is a shop manager of Italian origin, and his maternal grandmother, who cared for him as a boy, taught him Piedmontese. He learned English in preschool and speaks it impeccably, with the same slight Latin inflection—a trill of otherness, rather than an accent—that he has in every language I can vouch for. Maltese had been on his wish list for a while, along with Uighur and Sanskrit. “What happens is this,” he said, over dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Nijmegen, where he was chatting in Mandarin with the owner and in Dutch with a server, while alternating between French and Spanish with a fellow-student at the institute. “I’m an amoureux de langues. And, when I fall in love with a language, I have to learn it. There’s no practical motive—it’s a form of play.” An amoureux, one might note, covets his beloved, body and soul.

My own modest competence in foreign languages (I speak three) is nothing to boast of in most parts of the world, where multilingualism is the norm. People who live at a crossroads of cultures—Melanesians, South Asians, Latin-Americans, Central Europeans, sub-Saharan Africans, plus millions of others, including the Maltese and the Shawi—acquire languages without considering it a noteworthy achievement. Leaving New York, on the way to the Netherlands, I overheard a Ghanaian taxi-driver chatting on his cell phone in a tonal language that I didn’t recognize. “It’s Hausa,” he told me. “I speak it with my father, whose family comes from Nigeria. But I speak Twi with my mom, Ga with my friends, some Ewe, and English is our lingua franca. If people in Chelsea spoke one thing and people in SoHo another, New Yorkers would be multilingual, too.”

Linguistically speaking, that taxi-driver is a more typical citizen of the globe than the average American is. Consider Adul Sam-on, one of the teen-age soccer players rescued last July from the cave in Mae Sai, Thailand. Adul grew up in dire poverty on the porous Thai border with Myanmar and Laos, where diverse populations intersect. His family belongs to an ethnic minority, the Wa, who speak an Austroasiatic language that is also widespread in parts of China. In addition to Wa, according to the Times, Adul is “proficient” in Thai, Burmese, Mandarin, and English—which enabled him to interpret for the two British divers who discovered the trapped team.

Nearly two billion people study English as a foreign language—about four times the number of native speakers. And apps like Google Translate make it possible to communicate, almost anywhere, by typing conversations into a smartphone (presuming your interlocutor can read). Ironically, however, as the hegemony of English decreases the need to speak other languages for work or for travel, the cachet attached to acquiring them seems to be growing. There is a thriving online community of ardent linguaphiles who are, or who aspire to become, polyglots; for inspiration, they look to Facebook groups, YouTube videos, chat rooms, and language gurus like Richard Simcott, a charismatic British hyperpolyglot who orchestrates the annual Polyglot Conference. This gathering has been held, on various continents, since 2009, and it attracts hundreds of aficionados. The talks are mostly in English, though participants wear nametags listing the languages they’re prepared to converse in. Simcott’s winkingly says “Try Me.”

No one becomes a hyperpolyglot by osmosis, or without sacrifice—it’s a rare, herculean feat. Rojas-Berscia, who gave up a promising tennis career that interfered with his language studies, reckons that there are “about twenty of us in Europe, and we all know, or know of, one another.” He put me in touch with a few of his peers, including Corentin Bourdeau, a young French linguist whose eleven languages include Wolof, Farsi, and Finnish; and Emanuele Marini, a shy Italian in his forties, who runs an export-import business and speaks almost every Slavic and Romance language, plus Arabic, Turkish, and Greek, for a total of nearly thirty. Neither willingly uses English, resenting its status as a global bully language—its prepotenza, as Marini put it to me, in Italian. Ellen Jovin, a dynamic New Yorker who has been described as the “den mother” of the polyglot community, explained that her own avid study of languages—twenty-five, to date—“is almost an apology for the dominance of English. Polyglottery is an antithesis to linguistic chauvinism.”

Much of the data on hyperpolyglots is still sketchy. But, from a small sample of prodigies who have been tested by neurolinguists, responded to online surveys, or shared their experience in forums, a partial profile has emerged. An extreme language learner has a more-than-random chance of being a gay, left-handed male on the autism spectrum, with an autoimmune disorder, such as asthma or allergies. (Endocrine research, still inconclusive, has investigated the hypothesis that these traits may be linked to a spike in testosterone during gestation.) “It’s true that L.G.B.T. people are well represented in our community,” Simcott told me, when we spoke in July. “And a lot identify as being on the spectrum, some mildly, others more so. It was a subject we explored at the conference last year.

Simcott himself is an ambidextrous, heterosexual, and notably outgoing forty-one-year-old. He lives in Macedonia with his wife and daughter, a budding polyglot of eleven, who was, he told me, trilingual at sixteen months. His own parents were monolingual, though he was fascinated, as a boy, “by the different ways people spoke English.” (Like Henry Higgins, Simcott can nail an accent to a precise point on the map, not only in the British Isles but all over Europe.) “I’m mistaken for a native in about six languages,” he told me, even though he started slow, learning French in grade school and Spanish as a teen-ager. At university, he added Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Old Icelandic. His flawless German, acquired post-college, as an au pair, made Dutch a cinch.

As Simcott entered late adolescence, he said, “the Internet was starting up,” so he could practice his languages in chat rooms. He also found a sense of identity that had eluded him. There was, in particular, a mysterious polyglot who haunted the same rooms. “He was the first person who really encouraged me,” Simcott said. “Everyone else either warned me that my brain would burst or saw me as a talking horse. Eventually, I made a video using bits and bobs of sixteen languages, so I wouldn’t have to keep performing.” But the stranger gave Simcott a validation that he still recalls with emotion. He founded the conference partly to pay that debt forward, by creating a clubhouse for the kind of geeky kid he had been, to whom no tongue was foreign but no place was home. . .

Continue reading.

I’ll remind language learners that learning Esperanto as one’s first foreign language seems to help in learning the second language (generally the target language for the learner—e.g., learning Esperanto first in order to learn German better). But the article “Esperanto ne nepre helpas lingvolernadon” (in Libera Folio) says that isn’t necessarily so.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 3:31 pm

I Am Learning Inglés: A Dual-Language Comic

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A very interesting comic and a very interesting program.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2017 at 8:19 am

Want to learn to read a foreign language? Try Readlang.com

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Fluency in another tongue has four components and each is to a great extent learned separately, as if each were controlled by different mental processes, with each being a separate skill: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Readlang.com can offer good help with reading, but to learn speaking, listening, and writing, those must be practiced on their own. (You can help learn speaking by reading aloud, which engages and educates the processes involved in speaking.)

I found Readlang.com to be quite interesting. And it does include Esperanto. (I knew you would be curious.)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2015 at 2:06 pm

Carol Dweck and Mindset

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I mentioned Carol Dweck’s extremely interesting and useful book Mindset in the post on what children should learn by age 18. I just learned of a thorough description at MindsetOnline.com and wanted to point that out.

Also Dweck has instituted an online program based on the book: Brainology.us. And they are now beta-testing Brainology Español.

I’m devoting a post to it because I think it’s an important book for everyone, but especially for those shaping the minds of children.

And, regarding life skills, Lifehacker has come up with this list.

UPDATE: And in this connection check out the Science News article by Bruce Bower: Kids Flex Culture Muscles.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2012 at 7:23 am

Roots of common Spanish verbs

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I’m reading about how to find the root of a verb in Spanish. The infinitive ends in -ar, -er, or -ir, and remove that to find the root.

Thus the root of estar is est-, the root of ser is s-, and the root of ir is -.

That can’t be right. This is the hard part of self study: no one to ask…

Written by LeisureGuy

26 September 2011 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Education, Spanish

Aha! “Age no barrier to language learning”

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Just as I was starting to suspect: Catherine de Lange reports in New Scientist:

It’s never too late to learn another language. Surprisingly, under controlled conditions adults turn out to be better than children at acquiring a new language skill.

It is widely believed that children younger than 7 are good at picking up new languages because their brains rewire themselves more easily, and because they use what is called procedural, or implicit, memory to learn – meaning they pick up a new language without giving it conscious thought. Adults are thought to rely on explicit memory, whereby they actively learn the rules of a language.

But some linguists now question whether this apparent difference in language-learning ability reflects our attitudes to young children and adults rather than differences in the brain. “If adults make a mistake we don’t correct them because we don’t want to insult them,” says Sara Ferman of Tel Aviv University, Israel.

Ferman and Avi Karni from the University of Haifa, Israel, devised an experiment in which 8-year-olds, 12-year-olds and adults were given the chance to learn a new language rule. In the made-up rule, verbs were spelled and pronounced differently depending on whether they referred to an animate or inanimate object.

Participants were not told this, but were asked to listen to a list of correct noun-verb pairs, and then voice the correct verb given further nouns. The researchers had already established that 5-year-olds performed poorly at the task, and so did not include them in the study. All participants were tested again two months later to see what they remembered. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2011 at 3:11 pm

At last! Caught up on Anki

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I got acquainted with the dark side of Anki: when you several days without the morning review, the backlog increases quickly. It took me three days to work through it, but now I’m caught up. “Never again,” I say, knowing that “again” will come only too soon. (I still remember the New Yorker cartoon showing a sailboat on whose transom was painted the name “Never Again II”. That’s me.)

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2011 at 4:56 pm

Invitation to post-hoc reasoning?

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I’m running through the morning vocabulary drill, and I note that the definition for luego is that is an adverb meaning “later (on), afterwards, then, next” and it’s also a conjunction meaning “therefore”.

It strikes me as dangerous to use the same word for “after” and “therefore”—in fact, it strikes me as a glaring example of (and invitation to) post-hoc reasoning. Post hoc (full expression: post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this therefore because of this”) leads to all sorts of errors: “X happened, and then Y happened, so Y must have been caused by X” is not a reliable formula. And to use the same word for “afterwards” and “therefore” not only invites such fallacies, it practically demands them.

Perhaps it is only a lexicographer’s error. When I look up (using the same on-line dictionary WordReference.com) the meaning in Spanish of the English word “therefore”, I see that apparently Spanish lacks a word meaning therefore (Latin: ergo). They do offer a couple of workarounds: “por tanto”, “por eso”. But no actual word for therefore—except, of course, for “afterwards”.

I am dissatisfied.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2011 at 9:54 am

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