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LEARNING LANGUAGES
Blog, Material and Philosophy

This is a 2016-2020 online diary of my journey to the fascinating world of languages. It started in 2016 with a Farsi blog. Now in 2023, some of the items are outsourced to pages of their own, see Toki Pona, Wörterkiste and Somali. I sometimes go through the entries and update them to make them more useful for you. The diary entries refer to intensive activities, but I am not in the position to brag about my languages, really not. I am fluent in three, if at all. I simply love languages a lot.

Contents: General Resources – Lingq, Arabic Rediscovered, French Etymology, Slowness, Diary – Focus Periods, Babel Confusion Debunked, Levels, Steps and Lateral Moves – Music as a Dictionary + Nine Levels of Knowing a Word – TED Talks, a Language Resource – Learning French – How You Can Improve a Language You Don't Even Use – Learning Languages

21 General Resources

(February 2024): There are several free web resources for the acquisition of not one, but multiple languages. Some of them are mentioned in the blog entries below, here is a concise overview:

Book 2 (50 Languages): 100 chapters, each with 20 or so sentences in your mother tongue and your target language with audios. You can download the whole course in each language, be it monolingual or combined with a second language of your choice. A very good first step into a language. I currently use it for ital, span, port, turk, fars, rus, nl.
Easy Languages: This growing YouTube channel has many branches and thousands of videos with bilingual subtitles and transcription for non-Latin scripts. The subtitles are integrated into the video, so you cannot extract them except if you copy them by hand. It has Kurdish and spoken Arabic, for example, and many rare languages. In most of the videos, people on the street are interviewed on different topics. This is by no means easy (unlike what the title of the enterprise suggests), but it is authentic and very interesting. Some producers even add podcasts and lessons. When I use it, I usually pause the video every five seconds and let the sounds sink in, before listening to the piece a second time. When I work on a video like that, I sometimes convert it to an audio and listen to it some more times while talking a stroll.
LanguagePod101: A large video course with bilingual sentences plus many extras in 34 languages. By innovativelanguage.com. You can sign up for free or search on YouTube "pod101 Turkish" etc.
TED Talks: Talks in over 100 languages, mostly with subtitles. See the long entry on TED below.
MediaHuman YouTube to MP3 Converter: With this freeware you can transform videos to mp3s. I use it often after having analyzed a video in one of my target languages on YouTube. Usually I have audios in five or eight languages on my mobile, and I change them often. On YouTube, I choose channels with subtitles, preferably nonintegrated, so that they can be extracted and pasted into a Word document.
languageplayer.io: Material in 217 languages, including videos. This is the only site on the list which needs registration. Guest registration possible. A pro-account opens all subtitles and gimmicks for you. I am thinking about taking the 119-dollar for lifetime subscription because there is so much stuff on there.
Free Language Magazine: Discover learning apps, videos, podcasts, courses, games, methods and more for 100 languages
Polyglossic: Entertaining polyglott articles
Ethnologue: Scientific encyclopedia of all languages in the world
Omniglott: The Online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. A fun site with a lot to discover and many links
Wiktionary:Frequency lists: Lists for the most frequent words in 190 languages
context.reverso: This website has several functions, I mostly use the context translator, especially when I want to translate idioms and expressions. The conjugator is also super. Languages: arab dt en sp fr it jap kor nl pl pt rum rus sv tü ukr chin. It also has a multilingual translator, but I did not test it yet, because I use DeepL and apart from Farsi it has everything I need right now.
Glosbe Dictionary: All languages. Probably the biggest online dictionary in the world.
Lexilogos: Dictionary for 250 languages. Links to thousands of dictionaries and resources.
WordReference: Dictionary for 18 languages.
Cooljugator: Conjugations in 42 languages
Google translate: This translator in now 133 languages is known. What is less known is that it has improved considerably over the years.
Flashcardo: Flashcards for 52 languages with quizzes, games and more.
CRAM Language Flashcards: Flashcards for 130 languages, with download options.
Numbers to Words Converter: How often does it happen that you come across a number, but you cannot say the word or write it in letters? This tool gives you the right words for all the numbers in 53 languages.
Online OCR Conversion: With this tool you can extract texts from a PDF file, e.g. Russian texts. Supports 35 languages.

Lingq, Arabic Rediscovered, French Etymology, Slowness, Diary

(May 13, 2020): Lingq is a useful website and concept and I tried it out for two years. On Lingq you can create your own playlist for a language and add texts with audios. You can mark new and unknown vocabulary so that you can always check the meaning by clicking on it. If you e.g. mark the French word "sinécure" you will find the mark automatically generated when "sinécure" appears anew in another text. When you have seen the word a couple of times and get acquainted with it you can make the mark fade in four grades, from dark to light. The second advantage with Lingq is the quite huge library where you stumble upon interesting items that you can add to your list. You can also import subtitled videos from e.g. YouTube directly, and the subtitles will appear as a text in your Lingq file. Of course you can edit it, too. It was all this and the variety of offered languages that in the end convinced me to use it and pay some money for it.

For some intense weeks I used Lingq for nine languages (nl, fr, it, esp, port, turk, arab, farsi, greek) to explore the system. After that I used it more sporadically and lost sight for a while. Then, instead of expanding my Lingq playlists, I saw myself returning to my own playlists (word documents like the samples in the earlier entries of this blog), refining and developing them instead. I analyzed the reasons and found that I enjoy using my own formatting. I like huge pages, for example, and have Camus' "L'Étranger" on only 34 pages. Also, I like to have my stuff available without going online. The editing is easier, and I enjoy the process of formatting texts. I realized that when I turned to the second book of "Kaamelott", 6 of 36 hours of comedy by Alexandre Astier in tidbits. So, loading everything up to Lingq was, in a way, double work. Also, I am not interested in "streaks", a prominent feature of Lingq, that goes with a perpetual reminder of using your language(s) on a daily basis. And I like to online-hunt for new material, like yesterday when I discovered Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as a text with modern translation at the Harvard University website and a man called Thor who read the first half of the Knight's Tale in Middle English on YouTube. Still, the Lingq library is really good and recommendable.

Last winter I rediscovered Arabic and spent a month with it, inspired by the new horizon opened up through Lingq. What a wonderful language Arabic really is! On YouTube there are several audio books, among them series I used to listen to in 1989 in Alexandria, like the one the pic to the right refers to, "Qutuuf al-adab min kalaam al-3arab" ("Literary picks from what the Arabs said", a half-hour radio show with commented anthologies on topics like "cleverness; humbleness; lauding dogs; Juha stories" from classical Arabic literature; I also rediscovered Fu'ad al-Muhandis' "Kalimateen wa-bas" (Just a word with you!), a vintage five-minute radio program from Cairo in the Egyptian dialect. I read the new novel of a friend, Akram Musallam, and reread the classic "Season of Migration to the North" (1967) by the Sudanese author Tayeb Salih with text and audio – at least the first two hours. After university, I did not learn any more Arabic until 2015, when I worked in refugee aid, talking a lot in Arabic. English is different, I hear it every day in the news, in films and articles/books. The thing with Arabic is: You can be on a high level and still be lost with certain texts and dialects. It is always a challenge. On the other hand, medieval texts are far closer to the modern language than in European languages. For example: While German has an orthography since the Grimm Brothers (1854), Arabic has one since the advent of the Quran (610) or, at the latest, with the grammarian Sibaweih (died ca. 796) whose large grammar book is valid and quoted until today. The language of Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi in his eleventh century essays is quite easy to understand for a modern Arab, for example.

The blog remained silent for nine months ... My last station was Italian, three weeks. I analyzed Sciascia's police story "Una storia semplice" (1989) and a learners' story called "Mistero all'Abbazia" (Mystery at the Abbey), also produced a verb chart with the different conjugations and some irregular verbs. Subsequently I enhanced my French verb charts and created two parallel ones for Spanish and Portuguese for comparison – the latter two have two more conjugations. Again I turned to the French textbook "L'Italien sans peine", which is a lovely book. It isn't confusing, on the contrary, it is a resorce that helps distinguishing French and Italian. "Un 'autobus affollato' n'est pas un autobus affolé!". Or this enlightening remark: "L'italien utilise comme forme de politesse la 3e personne du singulier et le pronom féminin Lei (à peu près comme, dans la France de la monarchie, on s'addressait aux rois : Sa Majesté recreva-t-Elle Ses conseillers dans Son appartement ?)". This is why I plan to use an Italian textbook for Spanish at one point.

For learning some particular French words that simply won't stick in my head, like "écraser" and "affolé" I found a good new method: etymology. In these two and other words there is an overlap of meanings which makes it hard to get the hang of them. In "affolé", there are two roots involved: Old French "foler" (oppress, mistreat, maim, mutilate) from vulgar Latin "fullare" and the word "fol" (crazy; bad, mean). One of the interesting early uses since 1690 was or has been "aiguille affolée" (crazy needle) for non-functioning compasses. Concerning the verb "écraser" I never understood when it means "to flatten, press", e.g. pressing one's nose against a window pane, and when it means "to run someone over (with a car etc.)". The etymology says that the verb appeared in 1560 in the sense of "to flatten, to deform through pressure", followed a hundred years later by the reflexive "s'écraser" (to get killed through a pressing force) plus some lateral meanings that are not important here. The root is Middle English "to crasen" (to break into pieces, flatten) and English "to craze" in the sense of "to crush, scrunch, squelch" with a probable Scandinavian origin.

Of course, you cannot scrutinize the origin of every word like that, but you might be familiar with the phenomenon of simply not being able to memorize the meaning of a particular word, especially when it has different overlapping or hard to combine meanings. Tracing original meanings can provide memory hooks.

When you know that the French word "récif" (reef) comes from the Arabic رصيف ("rasiif": today = pavement; platform of a train station), it will surely help to learn the word, in particular when it comes with an epiphany – in this case I was watching a documentary on corals, heard the word, had a hunch, looked it up, studied the etymology, and yes!

My last point for today is the pain of being so slow in understanding and learning while spending so much time with it. I had a full year of extensive French, like five hours per day and more on average, and OK, I do understand a lot more than before, but I am still so far away of being fluent or even good. Sigh. Sometimes I think my Arabic is insufficient and even my English is crap. Well, crappish. Sometimes. Of course, as long as I don't speak and don't write it is like watching chess games without playing: You don't learn about your own limits and development. But still. I am not a fast learner, that's for certain. Sigh again. There is a Chinese proverb I read in one of Agadmator's chess videos. It is about chess, but it also relates to language learning: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." So we got to involve ourselves in one way or another. I know this, of course, and wrote about it in this blog, too, but in this condensed formulation I find a new point of departure.

PS one day later: An outstanding multi-lingual news site is voltairenet, it comes in unbelievable 18 languages: arab, czech, germ, greek, engl esp, farsi, finn, franç, ital, nl, norw, pol, port, romanian, russ, turk, chin. This means you can use it when you are a Russian learning Polish or a Turk learning Farsi, for example. Not every article is translated into all of these languages, but the material is quite enormous and the translation standard is high.

Focus Periods, Babel Confusion Debunked, Levels, Steps and Lateral Moves

(September 1, 2019): This is a Spanish weekend. On a focus day or weekend like this I sometimes resume the
Wörterkiste, sometimes create a grammar overview from a book or two out of my language material PDF stock. At other times I learn letters and the pronunciations of Russian, Hindi/Urdu, Hebrew or Greek. This weekend I spend solely with Spanish TED talks (and this blog entry). There are four Spanish TED texts prepared and analyzed and six more prepared, but not yet analyzed. By "prepared" I mean the extraction of text and translation – from TED itself or DeepL –, the formatting and finally the conversion of the video into an mp3. By "analyzed" I mean the comparison with the translation word for word, sentence by sentence, so that for one time I can deeply understand each sentence, even though I will certainly not always understand the same sentence later. Important is the precedent and also the routine. Sometimes there are bright moments where you understand far more than usual for some minutes or even only seconds. These intervals will eventually become longer and happen more often.

Is it not too much or in some way detrimental to learn ten languages at the same time? Actually, when I count there are twenty-four languages I am dealing with, plus some lateral turns to some other interesting languages. And no, for me, at least, it makes perfect sense, particularly as there is no pressure whatsoever, no tests, no necessities. Besides, it is interesting to tackle the meta level, i.e. the learning process. How do we acquire language skills? I think one can focus on things better with several languages because one does not want to lose time or to repeat inefficient methods. Reversely, efficient methods and materials can be taken over. For example, if you like the program "Easy French" on YouTube, you can smoothly switch over to "Easy Italian" and a dozen more languages. When you google "pronouns portuguese" You will discover useful websites that also provide grammars of other languages. TED talks I use in eight languages, see below. Or: When you find out that YouTube gives you the opportunity to listen at 3/4 speed and at half speed and that your mobile allows at least half speed – which sounds as if the speaker was on barbiturates, but it's quite effective for distinguishing the words in fast speech which Spanish often is – you can use this information for all your languages and try it out. Recently, I came across the number to words converter/translator from HTMLStrip which is an amazing tool. You type in a number like 135 and select one of a hundred and thirty-five (yes, 135) languages, say, German, you'll get: einhundertfünfunddreißig. Immediately, I checked all of my nl, fr, it, es, po TED talks and replaced all the (useless) numbers, but put them above as a reminder, like this: einhundertfünfunddreißig135. – To sum it up: With a new language you will know straight away how to start, what to look for and how to accumulate a stock of sufficient material in no-time.

What about mixing up languages and getting confused like Babel? I do have this nagging doubt, too, and thus monitor my learning in this respect. Like, when I do Spanish and then Portuguese and Italian shortly afterwards. So far it is OK, but I do not mix Spanish and Portuguese on the same day, that would be too much. Also, in focus weeks I will not look at a similar language, but maybe at a very different one for an evening or an hour. Normally, when I am in a particular language I do not think of the others, but focus on the material at hand. Maybe the trouble will start later, I don't know. – It is different when I talk. When I collect my Farsi for a short sentence to some acquaintance in the street there might be Turkish words surfacing in my mind instead. But this happens when you hardly talk your languages. However, an activation of this passive knowledge will be much much easier than starting from scratch.

Steps. It is about steps and then levels, for each language. Small steps, smallest steps. A six-hour day with Spanish is a step. I can feel how my Italian is much better than my Spanish. In Spanish I still chew on the easiest words, and the pronunciation is more complex and deviating from the written version. Following a written text with translation is relatively easy, though, even in Portuguese. At one point, the need to see the conjugations of verbs and other grammar things will appear. At another point one will feel the need to go through grammar systematically, or one reads some grammar without the need and rediscovers many things one has just experienced in the texts, like preposition-pronoun-compounds or the like. This can be huge fun with unexpected déjà vus because it is like a subsequent structuring of the chaos in the head without much effort.

Once we understand that we are limited by the time of our terrestrial presence and that we will never know as much as we want, it becomes easier to relax and spend an hour or two with a language we never had any relation with. I think I did this about ten times now, things like Irish (a Celtic language), Armenian (an independent branch of Indo-European, saw it on "Easy Armenian"), Old Egyptian, Old English/German, Sorat, Pashto ... It is like trying out a new restaurant.

PS on Dec. 20, 2020: There is an article called 30 Expert Tips for Learning Any Language Fast and Easily, written by Ben on the website "Learn Medical Spanish". It is worth while comparing the 30 tips with your own experience.

Music as a Dictionary + Nine Levels of Knowing a Word

(August 14, 2019) Reading the following sentence in the article 24 Polyglot Experts Reveal 2 Most Useful Tips To Learn A New Language [middleburyinteractive.com/blog/language-learning, link expired, 2023]: "It's best to listen to dialogues than songs, unless you want to learn to sing, because if you want to be able to talk, then learn how people talk", I startled. Teddy Nee in Taiwan wrote that, and he has a point, of course. But I had to laugh because Teddy ran over music with a lawn mower. He speaks and learns several languages, among them Medan Hokkien in the "speaks" section. Yes I know, I had to look it up, too. So, let's see what the the magic of music can give to language acquisition!

The gentleman on the left is responsible for my fluent English. Voilà. At the age of eleven I became first interested in Elvis' music, and ten years later I was pretty fluent in English. In retrospective I would say the main reason was love for his voice and his music. That's the love factor, immensely important in language learning. Love is the most powerful resource and bursts all measures if necessary. Also straight-forward is the repetition factor: You listen to a song until you know every aspect of it by heart, and then you still listen on. And it is not that you want to learn anything, you just want to listen to this – whoever the artist may be in your case. Factor three is more specific, it is about the glue between word and music. The two melt into something new, something much easier to remember than mere vocabulary, even poetry. Because it is so pleasant, rich and evocative in the combination.

Elvis recorded about 710 songs of which I know about 500 really well. Each song contains from 40 to maybe 200 words, including difficult, poetic ones. The Beatles recorded 213 songs (+ 100 live releases etc. after break-up) and my whole musical world at 21 may have included 2500 English songs, mostly 50s and 60s music. And now comes the dictionary bit. As early as in school I started to use it. When the English teacher asked: What is the preposition after the verb to cling? ... a program would start running, rattling in my brain box, flashing through the internal lyrics dictionary, cling ... cling ... "It's not clinging to the rocks and ivy planted on their columns now that bind me", ah, OK, Gentle On My Mind. Three seconds, reasonable result. (I made this example up, but it went something like this.)

So when I had I real go at French not so long ago, one of the first things to do was to find as many Jacques Brel songs as possible (172), translate/analyze them and listen to them often because I love his music and voice. The rest of my music-based French dictionary is fragmentary: some Yves Montand and Edith Piaf, didn't get round to delve into Léo Ferré's vast oevre yet, and I love Fernandel's "La Bouillabaisse" from 1963. Then there is something in the same category which is non-musical, namely sound effect audio literature like Cyprien's "Épopée temporelle" and even "L'Histoire raconté par les chaussettes". And here, at the latest, Teddy will fully agree again because it is about dialogues and speech. So I admit there is an overlap between the music-based dictionary and the audio dialogue (maybe even monologue) based mental dictionary. I still hold that music has a deeper extra layer.

There is this aspect of vobabulary knowledge. How well do we know words? How well do you know the word "litter"? Did you know that it can refer to a bunch of puppies? My reason for the question is the effect of the mental dictionary on how we learn words and how well we know them. When, for example, I know an Elvis song, then I usually know the lyrics really well. Not like in these cases when you do know the word, but you still look it up, just to make sure. Really knowing means: Even when your best friend insists that you cannot "throw" a party, that this must be the wrong word, you have no doubt about your Jailhouse Rock that starts with "Warden threw a party in the county jail". No further discussion needed. Except maybe for colloquial developments in the past 60 years.

Stages of Vobabulary Knowledge

So let's try to grasp this phenomenon by inventing a scale of vocabulary knowledge from zero to nine:

0. This is the easiest one: You never heard the word and cannot relate to it in any way. You couldn't say which language it is taken from, if it is a noun, a verb or what, and you understand nothing about it.

1. You had some sort of contact with the word and can say something about it. You cannot confidently give a meaning, except for easiest cases like "yes" or "and" or "we".

2. Now you know that "Stein" (pronounce: shtain) means "stone". You have no idea what a "Steinmetz" is, a "Bordsteinschwalbe" or a "Nierenstein" and you cannot deduce an adjective or a verb or a diminutive. On this level you have a fair understanding of the word if it is a spatial preposition or adverb like "in, from, up, down", and if it is a most basic verb or adjective. It corresponds with an A1 language knowledge.

3. You can actively use the word. If it is a simple word you can claim to know it on this level. If it is a complex word you will know more than one of its meanings. When you conjugate a verb or declinate a noun you will still make mistakes and thinking pauses. If it is a verb: You still don't know all the tenses. (A2 language knowledge).

4. On this level, the word is part of your repertoir. When you look it up you recognize it. You have heard and understood the word in different contexts. You have used it several times, maybe only in one specific sense. You might still forget the word in active usage and have to be reminded of it. If it is a simple word you will have a knowledge corresponding to level 7 of complex words.

5. You are firm in the general usage of the word and can give a definition. In complex words like "put" with its dozens of meanings you can estimate the scope of expressions that you still might have problems with. (B1)

6. You know the word, usually including spelling. In more complex cases you might look it up just to make sure. You have seen it in many contexts and shapes. You might not know every usage of a complex word, but you can confidently use it in speech and script with rare cases of mistakes. When you hear the word you do not have to think about its meaning. When someone uses it wrongly you will notice. You have an understanding about when and where to use the word, i.e. style and register. (B2)

7. This is level of an educated and advanced average understanding of the word in the mother-tongue. In case of verbs it contains the effortless ability of conjugation in all tenses and the correct usage of all prepositions in everyday speech and media language. In nouns, too, you know common rarer meanings and exceptional uses if there are some. (C1)

8. Here, you have a deep knowledge of the word, not only a daily usage understanding. If there are rare cases of prepositions with a special meaning, you will know it. You have seen the word in creative literary usage and you are (theoretically) able to use it nicely in a literary text yourself. If it is a rare word you will still probably know it. (C2)

9. You also know the history of the word, some earlier meanings maybe, dialect versions and some cognates in other languages. You are able to modify the word in a pun and to design a derivation, a new word.

TED Talks, a Language Resource

(August 7, 2019) In the last four months I slid over to TED talks, Technology, Entertainment, Design. This popular nonprofit global thinktank with millions of views and millions of translations in subtitles is a fine resource.

TED talks bring you live monologues of about a quarter of an hour (8-20 mins). The length is a plus as it is neither too short nor too long. The subtitles are a plus because most talks have subtitles at least in the language in which they are presented. I saw a Finnish one, though, with only an English translation, without Finnish subs; basically useless for learners. Further on the plus side are the authenticity of the pieces and the interesting topics. There are very few talks that are boring. So you will want to understand what you hear. Also, there are immediate reactions from the audience. This is not to be underestimated, as you, the learner, want to be among this happy crowd of understanders every time the audience laughs or applauds.

What else? You can copy the subtitles as a whole when you see the talks on YouTube. There is this function on the bottom right, when you click on the three dots (...). There you can open the transcript, switch off the time code, and copy all of it. Next you can paste it into a HTML document and open it in a browser to eliminate the paragraphs. After that, I copy it into a Word document named "TED in Farsi" or whatever the language, underneath the previous texts. Sometimes there are translations to English or German, then I also copy them. If not and if it's a European language, I use Google Translate plus [PS in 2023: DeepL] one or two dictionaries (e.g. Langenscheidt + Leo), for some expressions Reverso is a good translator.

Here are two samples of how I organize texts for studying, like TED talks. There is this "x2" function in Word next to the functions bold, italics, font size etc. Once translated, I listen and read at the same time, checking if I missed a word or if there is something difficult. This checking while reading helps to concentrate and focus.

In the sample on the right it was a particular pleasure to find this black humor and the dry way it was presented in the finale of the sentence: "Según parece, el consumo de droga en el ejército americano en Vietnam alcanzaba unos niveles tan astronómicos que formaba parte de la vida y de la cultura de allídort, igual que el rock and roll o disparar a la gente pobre".

Talks in Farsi can also be analyzed this way. There often are formatting problems with Farsi and Arabic texts because of the writing direction. I don't collect Arabic talks – there is the additional problem of standard versus spoken language: Sometimes the subtitles deviate considerably from the original, be it in word choice, word order or grammar. This is a challenge, but in a way it also is an advantage, as you can learn two things at once – given you know the language well enough. The few Farsi TED talks are really difficult to understand for non-natives. However, considering that the amount of free Persian resources on the Internet is rather limited, compared e.g. to Russian, we can be happy about everything we find.

In this manner, I have by now collected and analyzed several talks in several languages: Dutch (3), Italian (3), Spanish (4), Portuguese (2), French (40), Farsi (2), Turkish (1), Greek (1). There is a freeware for converting YouTube videos into mp3s. Below you can see my personal TED book with all the texts I analyzed so far. I spent some time ornamenting it with pics :-)

Can you find all languages in TED? No. Actually, it is not so obvious which languages are available because you cannot filter talks in specific languages. On this page you can see all the languages, some of which have more than 3000 contributions. For my purposes, I am particularly happy with the four Romance languages fr, it, es, pt and with Dutch. I did not find anything in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Icelandic, but one in Finnish with both Finnish and English subs. For Farsi and Turkish I need translations (Google is not enough here), which restricts the choice. There are some Turkish talks with Arabic subs, that's OK for me. All in all, there are more than 1000 talks or translations in the following languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.

Now, those texts are not in the first place meant for language learners, and most speakers will have no idea that their talks are used for that purpose. So it is not easy to understand. When I translated/analyzed Spanish and Portuguese, for example, I seemed to understand a lot, but when I listened to it without the text there was almost nada left. The idea really is to listen very often, maybe ten times. Each time you will understand a little more, particularly when you return to the written text every now and then.

Of course, the TED-based language learner will watch out for speakers with clear articulation, without mumbling and muttering. Maybe even more important is to choose voices you like. Remember the child who loves mummy, including her voice. Her voice calms the child, gives it confidence. And so the child learns, it wants to come closer to the mother (and father etc.). This is significant! For example: Etienne Chouard's French piece "Chercher la cause des causes" is quite difficult because he is getting faster and faster, but I like him, his ideas, approach and his whole presence. So instead of discarding the piece, which at first I wanted to do, I on the contrary focussed on it successfully. (For the same reason, I watch the YouTube channel "Tev – Ici Japon")

Learning French

(Jan 08, 2019) It's been a long time and a lot of things happened. I couldn't keep up with this blog as it would have distracted me from the things I actually wanted to do. So what has happened on the language front since April 2017? Well, I delved into chess and go for a while and found myself affirmed when I heard ex-chess world champion Anand in his Hawaii interview on YouTube, where he stated that chess is like a language. Later I started with Dutch and followed the cute series "Heb je zin?" (Are you up to?). I also began learning Italian on a mild scale, just to get used to the sounds and most frequent words. I went back to the Goethe 2 (Fifty Languages) site and made myself new audio copies: French with Turkish translation, Italian with Dutch, Spanish with Danish.

In 2018 I started thinking about a general vocabulary inventory that can be used for learning all kinds of languages. I developed "Die Wörterkiste" (word box), a book with now around 7000 German words, ordered according to context (e.g. animals, colors, science words). I also created association chains like "In the House", there you walk through the individual rooms and look at the inventory and some verbs. Or "Travel" with travel words ordered partly like a story. For months I had been shifting words and clusters from here to there, reconsidering, enlarging things, melting things together etc. In April I started translating parts of the Word Box into nine languages to check its validity and usefulness. I had time because in my bread job that year there was nothing much to do.

At first, I was going to publish the book as a tool for language learners like myself: You acquaint yourself with the book and then start to fill in the words in your target language as a game or an exercise, according to your personal approach. But then I was not content and felt the need to know more languages before finalizing the Word Box. I should have at least a forth fluent language at my disposal before resuming the box. So I chose French because I had one year in school, then an intense phase in 1993 and at least two more intense phases, all in all with little success.

Thus from May until the end of the year I had an intense French course with at least five daily hours on average. I translated all 172 Brel songs into German and listened to them often. I collected texts with audios, inserted vocabulary where needed and read while listening. Le Petit Prince (5x), Monsieur Ibrahim (4x), Boule de Suif (5x) and many others. Cyprien, L'Histoire racontée par des chaussettes, TED en Français ... I listened to Stendhal, Le Rouge et le Noir, and to Jule Verne's long novel "Les enfants de Capitaine Grant". I watched documentaries, with and without subtitles, arte, c'est pas sorcier, RT France, comedy, grammar videos and what not. I did not talk, though, and hardly wrote anything. But that's OK, as long as I feel I am learning a lot. I don't need French in my daily life. I just want to understand EVERYTHING about it, that's all.

Toward the very end of the year I slowed down the gallop. This was when I re-discovered citybooks and understood its true value. I took the half-hour text by Cees Nooteboom about Venice and ordered the languages next to each other: English, Dutch, French and Italian. There are high quality audios in all four languages. Here is the top bit of 25 pages:


So this is where I stood on January 4, 2019, when I came across Toki Pona ...

How You Can Improve a Language You Don't Even Use

(April 24, 2017) My French got better. How can that be, as I don't do French, at all? I did, though. Once. Twice. Some intense phases. In one of them I developed a distinctive French identity to boost the learning procedure. You kind of pretend you forgot your home tongue and try to get it back quickly, mais je suis français, alors! Ecoutez, je vous en pris :-)

I just started two languages from scratch, you see. That's why I got more confident in the languages I already dealt with, like good ole French. Or Turkish, for that matter. I relearned to listen better. And to understand foreign words. Better threshold management. Interesting phenomenon, discovered by chance when some French and Tunesian and Maghribi Facebook friends posted videos and news items I followed. How easy to understand! A more than 60% rate. So it is about self-confidence. (Oh, and I almost forgot that by now I got used to teach at length in Arabic in front of my class – I usually have a translator among the students for Farsi -, as complicated subjects as German history, traffic rules or grammatical phenomenons. I don't even think about it anymore, I just do it.)

There is a secret why children between 2 and 5 can learn their language so quickly. It has to do with the identity theme above. Other techniques are better suited for adults, like literature and grammar books. I want to get a bit deeper into the art of learning languages because all of my clients at work are confronted with learning German as one of their three priorities in life right now. So how can I assist them? By sharing, OK, checked, I learn a language, too. By providing them materials for learning, OK, checked, I collected a good pool of materials for refugees on the Flücht-Links page. In some people I see that they need motivation rather than language material itself. So the 'new identity theme' and the confidence experience are useful hints.

Learning Languages

(April 15, 2017) In the video I linked here, polyglot Alexander Arguelles opens a horizon for people who love learning languages. One of his example arguments is that in the world of sports the world record for running 100 meters had for a long time been stable. But as soon as the record was broken, it was broken several times in a row. Arguelles compares this to language acquisition: Once it becomes normal to know several languages one realizes that the human limitations are not as narrow as one had thought they were. Arguelles, for example, is learning languages by clusters, not just one at a time.

For me, after a first in-depth study of Somali I got back to Farsi and am entering a new level because I use my Farsi almost every day when I talk to people from Afghanistan and Iran. There is a guy in the camp, where my office is, and we knew each other before I started learning Farsi last June. When we sit together now, the situation is much different. We can talk in full sentences :-)

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