Guess Where I Am!

Hello everyone! I know that it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve just been so busy this summer with an internship that I never really found the time to post again. I spent this summer doing a lot of vocabulary review in Mandarin (went up to HSK Level 3), Hindi, Kannada, Italian, and Spanish. Every day on the train back to and from work, or at my lunch break, I did Memrise sessions to improve my vocabulary retention.

And now, I’ve made an even bigger jump than simply going from my small hometown in California to New York City for college. I’m in Shanghai, China for an entire academic year to study abroad! In addition to studying Mandarin Chinese, I’m also taking two classes in comparative politics as well as a class in Chinese bamboo flute.

In the future, I will be trying to use this blog more often, but it will include more stuff about my studying abroad in China. The topics I cover will be mostly about traveling, learning Mandarin, as well as some other things that I see and do in China. Since I’m a vegetarian, I’ll definitely be making quite a few posts about my experiences in China relating to that as well.

Hope you all enjoy this new series of posts!

5 Activities for Foreign Language Teachers

Having been a language student for six years and a language teacher for two years, I have seen both sides of the language learning experience. Even though I haven’t been teaching that long and I don’t exactly have credentials, I think I have an idea or two of what helps language students. Sometimes it just isn’t enough to give grammar drills and give lessons on new concepts every day. You need to change it up a little and give them a way to exercise the concepts they’ve learned. So, in this post, I’m going to elaborate on five classroom activities that I’ve come across and personally created, all of which are included in my book, Scoprendo l’italiano!: An Accessible Guide to Learning Italian. Please note that these assignments can be edited as needed to suit different needs.

1. Personal Discussion Project – For Intermediate Classes and Beyond

The students will work together in groups of three or four. Every group will create their own PowerPoint or Keynote Presentation. The instructor will choose one topic, and each group will base their presentation on that topic. This project can also be made smaller and assigned to individual students.

Classes, School, and Academic Goals

Each student will discuss the reasons they take certain classes and what university they plan to go to and why. Then, they should discuss their plans for study at a university, and what job they plan to take from there.

Foods and Cooking

The students will pick a semi-difficult recipe, talk about it with the class, about its significance, what certain terms mean if new vocabulary from outside the text is learned.

Literature and Reading

Each student picks a novel, and they will discuss them with the class. Summarize the plot, and pick two symbols and explain their meanings (This topic should be expected to take some time).

Culture and Family Traditions

The students will talk about their cultural values, where they come from, and important family traditions. They should explain why those traditions are important.

Talents and Skills

Each student will pick a talent or skill they consider significant to them. They will then discuss how they came to do those things, and why they like doing it so much.

This project should be graded upon accent authenticity, focus on the given topic, how well the project is presented, and if vocabulary and grammar are used properly. For advanced classes, this should be presented in the target language. The instructor may choose to require additional criteria.

2. Novel Report – For Advanced/AP Students

Students will read novels in the target language, and must be at least two-hundred pages in length. A four paragraph essay will be submitted by each student in the target language, discussing theme, plot, and symbolism. A well-constructed thesis should be included. Grade based on use of vocabulary, understanding of grammar and syntax, and comprehension of the book. If assigned to intermediate classes, the use of a dual-language dictionary is highly suggested. If the instructor so desires, shorter books, books originally written in English, or other familiar stories can be assigned, and a shorter essay can be written instead.

3. Writing Poetry – For Upper Beginners and Beyond

Students will write poems in Italian, in order to foster an understanding of Italian poetic language. The students will turn in three one-page poems. Classes of all levels are advised to consult a dual-language dictionary and also poetry in the target language.

Students will then select one of their poems, read it aloud, and then discuss it with the class. For languages in which there are more than simply present, past, and future tenses, in which tense is distinguished differently, with forms such as the aorist, conditional, non-past, or non-future, the students should discuss the relevance and effect of using certain tenses in the poetry. The discussion should be lead by the author of the poem, who will ask questions, and other students should participate.

4. Learning History – All Levels

Consult an article about cities, monuments, traditions, or other things in the nation(s) where the language is spoken. The article should be in the target language. Discuss it with the class in English or in the target language for classes with sufficient knowledge to understand. Afterward, have the students discuss it with each other in the target language. It is recommended that instructor repeat this exercise several times, each time about different topics.

This exercise allows students to use authentic materials to exercise their knowledge and obtain new knowledge from such a source. This gives them an idea of how natives read, understand, and use the written language.

5. Timeline Project

This project will have the students present a timeline made from cardstock, or cardboard, with pictures or photos to represent events they did in the past, and/or those they will do in the future. They will present a script, which is to be followed by an instructor or listener, in order to check that the student has memorized it. Grade based on pronunciation, accent authenticity, fluency, and poise when speaking in front of a group. For advanced classes, permit the audience (including the instructor) to ask questions, which the presenter should answer in the target language.

I hope this helps some of you, and don’t forget to share this on Facebook and Tumblr! Feel free to leave comments and suggestions!

The Method of Immersion: Bogus?

I have many relatives who believe that the only way I would ever learn Hindi is by sticking myself in a place where Hindi is the only language spoken. This way, I would supposedly adapt to the situation and pick up Hindi in pieces. However, this has only worked partially for me. The majority of my learning has come from traditional methods, through grammar, vocabulary, and reading. However, I will not deny the merits of immersion, because it has helped me grasp some concepts of the language in practice, and also some more idiomatic usages.

However, as a method of learning in its entirety, I am against the immersion method, particularly for beginners with no experience in the target language whatsoever. It is for the same reason that I greatly dislike Rosetta Stone. The immersion method exists on the principle of building up from an existing foundation, which assumes that the learner actually has one. However, those who are not familiar with even the trappings of a language or its roots will find it extremely difficult to benefit from this at all. Think about it; Why would you learn anything significant from somebody talking to you in what is, for all intents and purposes, gibberish? Living for six months in Seoul, knowing not a word of Korean or not being familiar with the language at all, will yield absolutely nothing in getting ahead in learning the language. Even a phrasebook would help you more than that.

The immersion method relies greatly on pictures, context, and most importantly, an environment that is dedicated to learning. The last one is the nail in the coffin, so to speak. Living in a place where you do not know the language is not conducive to learning for several reasons. One, the people around you have their own lives and probably won’t stop to help you learn, unless they know that you’re expressly there for that reason. Next is the fact that you don’t even know what you’re supposed to be learning, which is why you need to be familiar with the language’s grammar and vocabulary. It’s as if you were searching for a needle in haystack where there is no needle in the first place. As for pictures and context, those can be found in abundance, but are hardly useful if the script of the language is not the same as one you already know.

Therefore, I believe that is better to have some knowledge of the language on an analytical level, and then expose yourself to immersive situations in increasing degrees. That’s my piece for today, and even though it was relatively short, I hope you found it interesting. Please leave your comments, and feel free to share this on Facebook and Tumblr!

The Process of “Conlanging” – Avreça, My Conlang

Since I joined a group called “Constructed languages” on Facebook, a conlanging side project of mine, called Avreça, has seen significant progress. From a document of a measly six pages, it has become an expansive grammar and vocabulary list of forty-two pages. I must confess that not long ago, I was highly opposed to the entire principle of a conlang. You can see a post from that time right here. I used to think that it was fundamentally pointless to create a language, especially out of existing ones, for use by the international community. You run into a number of important issues, such as: is it equitable to only include some languages and not others? is the range of expression of the constructed language vastly more limited than its constituent sources? is this practical to learn?

To address the first question, there is almost no solution. Actively including only a set category of languages, such as Slavic or Romance, is inherently exclusive. Whether it is difficult to learn is not the question here. This does indeed create the impression of superiority of that language family over others.

Second question: It’s almost a given that the expression in the constructed language won’t be as well developed. To arbitrarily give new meanings and connotations to words that didn’t have any previously is simply not appropriate, because those meanings develop with time and history. There has to be a context for it. However, the reason that Tolkien’s conlangs can do this is because his worldbuilding gives the context for the expression in those languages. If the con-universe gives a history to the language, then the vocabulary ought to reflect that history.

Third issue: The practicality of a language is entirely dependent on how the person chooses to construct the language. However, including certain features of the constituent languages is also a question of expression and equitability, the grammars of each languages have different nuances.

Granted, these things largely apply to conlangs that draw on existing languages for their lexicons and grammars. In the case of Tolkien, he built from the ground up. However, my conlang is the former, because I’m not experienced enough to build the morphology and roots from scratch.

I never intended my conlang to be used by a large community, but they certainly could if they so wished. As such, the issues mentioned above don’t necessarily apply, but I still stress practicality. It is a bit Romance-centric in terms of its general vocabulary and grammar, but its poetic and literary features draw from Dravidian languages, Sanskrit, and Hindi-Urdu. I started my conlang mostly for recreational purposes, but I had also started writing a story into which I wanted to incorporate my conlang. And thus, Avreça was born. You can download a document detailing the conlang here: http://www.mediafire.com/view/92ijw6jx0ii957a/Avreça.pdf.

Avreça’s grammar, as previously mentioned, is primarily Romance-centric. There exists an indicative and subjunctive version of each verb conjugation. Currently, all verbs are regular, but if it were to be used more often by actual people, I’m certain that many verbs would be become irregular. As per the tradition, so to speak, of Romance languages, there are three types of verbs, -ar, -er, and -ir.

A rather curious feature of Avreça is that it actively distinguishes between poetic/literary language and common language, which are nearly always separate. The actual poetic/literary lexicon, as I said, is largely Dravidian, Sanskrit, and Hindi-Urdu in origin. Only two words come from Japanese, al ossache and al hyachia, which are derived from sake and hyakki yagyō. The concept of ossache is similar to the Japanese tea ceremony, whereas hyachia describes any shady or suspicious part of society, usually in an abstract way.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and be sure to share this on Facebook, Google Plus, and Tumblr!

Synonyms: A Good Thing or Just Extra Stuff?

When looking through dictionaries of different languages, you begin to notice that for several languages, there aren’t too many words for the same thing. In Romance languages, there are never more than two or three words for the exact same meaning. If there are more words that translate to that meaning, the extras most likely have a different nuance.

Take the word, “blue.” In English, we have several words that can be this color: “azure,” “cerulean,” “sapphire,” or “cobalt”. While these words do have distinct shades when physically represented, we often use these words interchangeably, often for poetic or literary value. Sure, you could say that the night sky is blue, but that doesn’t provide nearly as much beauty or aesthetic depth as saying that it is sapphire. There are many words with such synonyms and interchangeability. This is not to say that English lacks nuanced vocabulary, because it doesn’t. Much of the nuance in English is implied through context, intonation, and emphasis.

I can’t say for every language, but many Romance languages, Hindi, and Kannada don’t have many synonyms. In literary works, there are a few more for writers to work with, but even those can have other meanings attached to them. But first, let’s define what a synonym is: a word that is identical in meaning and differs little otherwise. If a word has an extra nuance or meaning to it, then it’s a not a synonym.

For example, there are three words in Kannada that can be translated as, “embarrassment.” However, only one, talebaagisu, actually means “embarrassment,” as in, “humiliation,” or, “chagrin.” The other two, sankocha and aumana, are, “embarrassment,” when you receive a service or offer that is overly grand for the occasion and when you receive help when you don’t want it (a blow to your pride). As you can see, the nuance is very heavy, and all three words are very different.

We use synonyms all the time in English, whether it’s just another word or a euphemism. While other languages certainly have euphemisms, the ones that I’ve read and learned about have considerably fewer words of identical meanings used interchangeably. So the question is: What’s the point of having synonyms? Tell me what you think in the comments!

A Challenge!

As the end of the school term and beginning of summer vacation for many draws near, I’ve thought up a challenge for all of you language learners! Even if you’re just starting a language now, this is a great way to get a head-start, especially if you’re planning on taking formal classes. There are three main parts to this challenge:

Part 1: Vocabulary

You’re never going to be able to hold coherent conversations unless you have some amount of varied vocabulary. So, in this part of the challenge, you or another person will assign 5-10 new words every day for you to learn. Having another person do this for you is not only a fun social experience, but that person will also keep you on your toes to study the words. This is a pretty manageable number of words for most people to learn in a day. Make sure to change the themes of the words every two weeks! So, for weeks 1-2, you learn 70-140  words relating to food and cooking. Then, for weeks 3-4, you learn 70-140 words relating to travel. Feel free to change the themes to whatever suits you at that time!

Part 2: Speaking

You’re obviously going to need to practice speaking the language if you want to actually speak to people. This is extremely helpful if you can’t actually find someone to talk to. The solution is… talk to yourself. Try to express yourself in the language you’re learning. It doesn’t matter that no one can hear you and correct you. Eventually, when you can talk to someone, they’ll help you out with pronunciation and accent more. Native speakers obviously think in their own language, so you should too when you speak that language. So, don’t say I have to go to school, when you’re learning Korean. Say 학교에 가야 돼요 (hak-gyo-e gaya dwae-yo)!

Part 3: Reading

Find children’s books or simple literature in the target language, and try to identify the meaning of the sentences. You should definitely try to be literate in the language you’re learning, because you’ll be able to build more vocabulary that way. Obviously, this is going to be harder for languages like Catalán or Basque, but you should definitely try your best to find books. Of course, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to read the I Ching in Chinese right away!

So, I issue this challenge to you, and wish you the best of luck!