Scoprendo L’italiano! is now free!

Yesterday, I decided to take Scoprendo l’italiano: An Accessible Guide to Learning Italian off of Amazon and Createspace. It’s not so much that it didn’t sell, so that I could give the money to Akshayapatra, but rather that it didn’t really matter to me whether it sold or not, because I already donate with my own money anyway.

So, in the future, I will not be putting up books for sale, and instead will be making them available for download for free on a page called, “Language Guides,” on this blog. By doing so, I can update the file at my leisure if I feel there was something I missed in the document. I hope you all can use the book to learn Italian effectively!

Eventually, I will be posting the documents I made for Hindi and Korean, once I’m able to polish them up in formatting, write exercises and activities, and add cultural notes. There probably won’t be any photographs in the Korean document, as I won’t be going to Korea any time soon, although I have a great number of photos in India for Hindi. Please look forward to it!

Practicing a Foreign Language By Yourself

Even if you’re enrolled in a class for a foreign language at school, chances are it’s mostly grammar drills and writing exercises, in my experience. I’ve started to read Fluent in 3 Months (the book), by Benny Lewis, an Irish polyglot who runs a blog with same name as his book (here’s a link: http://www.fluentin3months.com). In his book, he describes how conventional methods that schools use to teach foreign language might work for some people, but it’s hard to practice outside the classroom. I highly recommend that language learners read his book, by the way. It’s fascinating and really helpful. Thinking about this conundrum, I’ve thought of a couple of my own methods (which may look similar to other methods you’ve seen on the Internet):

1. Talk to yourself. This may sound really strange, but trying to speak the language you’re learning to yourself lets you practice and iron out awkwardness when you talk. If you don’t know a word, say it in English (or whatever your first language may be), and write it down to get the word later from a dictionary.

2. Go electronic with your learning. Take your electronic device (a good example is a smart phone), and go to settings, and change the language of your device. Recently, I changed my phone and computer to be in Italian, to practice my ability to read it. This helps because you begin to correlate words that you’d normally see in English with words in the target language, because they physically replace those words, and your usual instinct is to go to the location, without really looking at the word. Changing Siri on iPhones also helps, because then you can practice speaking a little bit.

3. Write more in the target language. Whether it’s posting on Facebook and/or Twitter, or going old-school with a notebook, write as much as you can in the language you’re learning, because it helps you become more literate in the language, and for kinesthetic (learn by doing) learners like me, it solidifies the foundation in your brain for learning the language. Although when you post on the Internet in your language, you should probably include a translation, so that friends who are fluent speakers can correct your mistakes by seeing what you want to say, and non-learner friends can read your posts without feeling excluded. Italki is a great way to do this with its notebook feature.

4. Get books in the target language. Whether they be children’s books or full-on Michael Crichton novels, reading is a surefire way to build vocabulary, due to the variety of contexts, and the fact the good writers usually use a wide range of vocabulary, allowing for a potentially greater number of words for you to learn to appear. Highlight words or phrases you don’t understand, or write them down. For popular book series such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians or the Harry Potter series, compare your native version and the target language version to see what it might be trying to say. You should also read out loud to practice your speaking.

5. Talk with other learners! You generally have more confidence when speaking with other learners of your language, because you know that you’re both still learning, and can’t be expected to be perfect right off the bat. Besides, it can be more social experience, and they’re more accessible, if you’re good friends with them (as you’ll probably become while learning together). Language is inherently social, so not talking with others is no excuse!

Anyway, thanks for reading! Please leave any thoughts you might have on this!

Glossika Language Training

Glossika Language Training’s YouTube channel was deleted for unjust reasons, most likely someone hitting dislike on the videos excessively. These videos include the last Thao language speaker, which is unimaginably important, so unless you want a precious resource and linguistic treasure to go under, I suggest you support Glossika Language Training! Sites like Lingholic and people like Benny the Irish polyglot (his blog is Fluent in 3 months) are supporting Glossika as well!

“If you want to see the Glossika YouTube back, please send your request to yt-deletedchannel@google.com, and the associated account is: glossika-9835@pages.plusgoogle.com.”

Quote taken from Glossika’s Facebook page. No copying or infringement intended. Simply to help spread the word.

 

What Makes A Good Language Textbook?

In my experience, I’ve come across different textbooks for different languages, and I think there are some basic criteria that a good textbook needs to follow. These requirements are what I’m going to address in this post. Having written a language learning guide myself, and being a student who uses textbooks frequently, I should be able to cover this topic pretty adequately. Hopefully, you can use this list to assess whether a book is good enough for you, or if you’re writing one yourself!

1) Consider the audience of the book when writing it and assess the language when reading it. If the book in question is an AP or college-level book, chances are that it uses more technical language and goes more in-depth on certain topics. For example, in my Spanish class, we use Encuentros Maravillosos from Prentice Hall, by Abby Kanter, to cover Spanish literature at basic level, before going on to the AP level. The audience here is almost exclusively made up of high school students, as the language of the book is meant to prepare the student for an AP or college-level course. On the other hand, the Realidades series, which I had used in all my Spanish classes up until Spanish III, is oversimplified sometimes. There is a Realidades 4, but it is not considered good enough for a high school honors class. The language aims more at a younger class range, using largely nontechnical language, so as not to confuse learners who may not be able to understand higher level texts. For a non-school example, Complete Catalan: A Teach Yourself Guide, by Anna Poch Gasau and Alan Yates, I feel, is written almost exclusively in technical language. While I understand some amount of the technical language, it seems that this book is aimed at a wide audience, which may not include linguists or language-obsessed people such as me, who know what open and closed vowels are. The commonly used version of the preterite tense is called periphrastic! While this may be true, you can’t expect that the average person will know what that means, as it’s not even relevant for the purposes of the book. I also feel that it is kind of pompous in phrasing anyway, which is not good for helping people learn. Basically, a book can’t be too simple and can’t be too complex, otherwise the average audience isn’t going to get it. This tends to be a matter of preference when it comes to learning, because some people learn more with all the technical talk, but overall, the best approach is the semi-technical form.

2) What is the purpose of the book? Textbooks can vary in purpose from curriculum-based learning to learn new skills, to practicing current ones, to reviewing. A book focused on practice is basically a workbook or collection of readings and/or dialogues to use skills in context. A review textbook is a book that covers all the material that you should have learned to that point, to some standard, and the book may even be written entirely in the target language to facilitate review. Choose the way a book is structured wisely, depending on how you (the writer) want it to be used, or how you (the reader) want to learn, or what you need the book for. For example, Con Fantasia by Marcel Danesi, Michael Lettieri, and Salvatore Bancheri, is an AP-level review book for Italian. The book is written mostly in Italian, because it’s aimed at helping AP-level Italian students review material for the AP Exam, featuring comprehensive reviews of grammar, conventions, vocabulary, and idioms, and also has some readings for the student to use, as well as being accompanied by a workbook.

3) The text is organized meaningfully. When you’re learning a language, you should be learning vocabulary and grammar in a constructive manner, preferably in the way of themes. For example, if you’re learning vocabulary about vacationing and leisure time, that would be a good time to introduce the past tense(s). When you’re discussing purchases and sales, you should include info about structures concerning such things. Vocabulary, especially, needs to be organized in a pertinent way. Vocabulary should be related when given in lists. I can’t express how important this is, especially after starting to use Complete Catalan, which has the most disorganized vocabulary lists I’ve ever seen. They didn’t even bother to group words by topic, part of speech, or anything. So, organization is important!

I may or may not add some more to this post, but for now, this is my piece on this topic. Feel free to leave your comments!

A Commentary on the English Language

Despite the fact that English is my best language, I find that it is incredibly troublesome as a world language. People feel compelled to speak English because nations like America and Britain speak English as the official language, but the fact is the English is damn hard. The only simple tenses are the preterite and present tenses. Pretty much everything else requires a helping or auxiliary verb, such as willhave, or might. Moreover, the most common and useful verbs follow no specific pattern in conjugations. For example, using normal logic to try and fit patterns into English, the verb to tell conjugated in the past would be telled. But no, it is toldEnglish is incredibly irregular and annoying to try to understand if you’re not a native speaker. We have all sorts of weird idioms that don’t really have equivalents in other languages. Sure you can argue that this is the case for every language, but English, I feel, is the worst offender. And personally, English is not even particularly pretty, musical, or rhythmic.

It is for this reason, to improve communication, and simply as a courtesy to other non-English speaking nations, we either adopt a simpler, even a constructed, language to speak for business and trade purposes, much like French in the 13th to 17th centuries, or we further encourage the education of our citizens in foreign language, which I think would be accomplished by extended foreign language requirements even in college or, more easily, high school. One year more, I think would help a lot. But, this is just my opinion. I would love to hear your comments!

Poetry and Language

While technically not related to foreign language, poetry is still a form of language in and of itself. It is the language of the muse, art, beauty, and all the unspeakable wonders of the world. In Robert Hass’ poem, “The Problem of Describing Trees,” he explains that the sensory experience of the tree is unknown to us in reality. The aspen has no vocalized language to explain its actions when a wind comes upon it, and Hass believes that poems about nature are poets’ attempts to describe the experience of the tree in our own language. Similarly, foreign languages communicate all sorts of sentiments and beliefs, which may or may not be universal. For example, Kannada speakers are more than familiar with the word sankocha, which has no equivalent in any language that I know. The best way I know to explain it is as embarrassment when you get some obligation you didn’t really want (getting a really expensive gift or having to stay for dinner when you just came for tea or something like that). The experience of sankocha is unique to Kannada speakers in this way, and translation is the method of interpreting it and rephrasing it in a language one can understand. Poetry is a language to be learned to understand the non-human experiences and conditions of the world. Here are some other poems that I’ve written, if you care to read them. Leave your comments, and tell me what words in your language don’t exist in others!

The Cemetery Shore

I met a stranger on the shore

Outside the overgrown cemetery,

Searching for something lost

 

The stranger’s face was clouded

With strained, pained recollection,

Trying to voice a silent echo of the past

 

This loud silence resounds in me

A memory of that shore of long ago,

Which was once full of life, returns in force

 

Your image was clear in my mind

Like the once clear water of yore,

But is now clouded by the stranger

 

So fleeting is your remembrance,

A beach washed by the ebbing tide

And stripped of its soft white sand.

 

Only as you age and grow wise in time

Do you come to those distant, foreign shores

Where message bottles wash upon the sand.

 

I strove to impress a splendid epithet

To carve my grave in your cemetery

Of long-gone childhoods and adolescence.

 

I was inspired to write a brilliant letter

To fit in my bottle for you to find

So that you might seek me out.

 

Shall I be as a shell upon the strand,

An admirably pretty, precious husk

To decorate that lacking tombstone?

 

Might I be a simple stone buried in the sand,

A detestable pebble uncovered only by force

To find a dream you thought forgotten?

 

 

I can no longer touch your soul like in the past.

My power to fix myself in your graveyard

Is but a shadow, a weak silhouette of a lost star.

 

I see you now, on this shore that we once shared

In our childhood and seasons of our youth,

But you are no longer who you were, nor am I.

 

Your name for my image is no longer mine,

I am unborn until acknowledged by you,

Forever confined to a womb of oblivion.

 

Lightning

 

I am struck by a lightning bolt

Issuing forth from that ominous

Cloud, sent by that cruel gale.

 

At a distance of time, that gale

Was but a smooth, cool zephyr

Carrying hope, love, and dreams.

 

Perhaps this concentrated blade

Is the violent shattering of the zephyr,

Striking me with the full force of life

 

That callous, cloudy vessel drifts

Ubiquitously, bringing its omens

To each and every azure firmament.

 

Yet now, blackened with cruelty,

That tempestuous harbinger

Does away with my optimism.

 

Even so, that swift, wicked strike

Leaves me a small vestige of hope

To store in that fickle, turbid mass