Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

European Day of Languages 2013

Just a reminder – the European day of Languages / Journée européenne des langues is tomorrow, September 26!

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From the official website:

Throughout Europe, 800 million Europeans represented in the Council of Europe’s 47 member states are encouraged to learn more languages, at any age, in and out of school. Being convinced that linguistic diversity is a tool for achieving greater intercultural understanding and a key element in the rich cultural heritage of our continent, the Council of Europe promotes plurilingualism in the whole of Europe.

The Great Language Game

The Great Language Game: How many languages can you identify?

The Great Language Game

Here’s a fun new game to get addicted to: The Great Language Game

Data scientist Lars Yencken has created a neat game where you listen to an audio clip and choose which language it is. All of the clips are from Australia’s SBS (which you should listen to anyway since so many languages are available).

The number of possible responses increases the longer you play to make it more challenging. So far the highest score is 4,050. Can you beat that?

Dutch Heritage in the US: Holland, Michigan

I am currently in the US visiting family and I stopped by Holland, Michigan, since I hadn’t been there in 20 years. It was founded by Dutch settlers in the mid 19th century and a large majority of Dutch Americans still live in Michigan. There is also a city called Zeeland nearby. Holland is often ranked as one of the happiest cities in the US and one of the best places to retire.

I did not go to Nelis’ Dutch Village this time (where I bought my klompen – wooden shoes – when I was 10) but I did go to Windmill Island to tour the last windmill that the Dutch government allowed to leave the Netherlands, called De Zwaan. Ninety percent of the windmills in the Netherlands were destroyed during WWII so the remaining windmills are protected by the government and cannot leave the country. De Zwaan is still a working windmill and you can buy the flour that is ground there in the shops.

De Zwaan

Unfortunately it was too late to see the tulips, but there is a Tulip Time Festival in Holland every May (as well as a Dutch Winterfest every winter to celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas). Windmill Island Gardens is still pretty cute without the tulips:

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The tour of the windmill also includes a short Dutch folk dancing performance:

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There are plenty of wooden shoes around:

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And signs written in Dutch, of course:

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Many of the street signs in Holland have a tulip on them as well:

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Admission to Windmill Island is $7.50 and admission to Nelis’ Dutch Village theme park is $10 though you do not need to enter the park in order to visit the shops and cafes.

Trilingual Books (English-Spanish-French) for Children

I am constantly looking for trilingual book (English-Spanish-French) for my young niece and nephew. So far I have found two series on Amazon.com:

Little Pim, which has 4 books of numbers, colors, feelings and animals as well as tabs for little fingers to pull

I love to sleep and I love to eat, which are also touch and feel books

Do you know of other trilingual books?

How Adaptation to Culture Affects Motivation in Language Learning

How Adaptation to Culture Affects Motivation in Language Learning

How Adaptation to Culture Affects Motivation in Language Learning

Learning languages while studying abroad isn’t usually a breeze

An article on sociolinguistic competence (Dewaele, 2007) introduced me to research on language learners’ ideological beliefs and conflicts with the target culture that can hinder language acquisition. Dewaele provides two examples from Kinginger (2004) and Kinginger & Farrell’s (2005) research on Americans studying abroad in France which illustrate the importance of intercultural understanding and how adaptation to the target culture affects motivation in language learning.

One student was annoyed that her French friend would not let her NOT have an opinion on politics and openly criticized the American government. She didn’t care much for politics and did not want to talk about it because she did not feel that it was an appropriate topic for discussion. Yet her friend would not let her change the subject. She consciously chose not to adapt to the French concept of “you must have an opinion” and decided to say nothing on the topic which created tension with her friend.

Another student purposely resisted French gender patterns because she found it “ridiculous” that French women were “obsessed” with their looks. She expressed frustration at the sexism and harassment of women she saw on a daily basis which made her “hate to go outside.” She refused to conform to what she believed to be stereotypical French standards of what it means to be woman (i.e. overly concerned about appearance) and thought it perfectly acceptable to attend class in sweatpants or pajamas, as she often saw at her university in the US. Because of this, she made little effort to spend time with French speakers and spent most of her time abroad speaking English with other students or friends and family in the US via the internet.

There have been many studies on the perception of sexism by American learners in study abroad contexts, especially in countries such as Russia or Japan. But the perceptions and ideologies of the learner needs to be understood in the context of how they help or hinder language acquisition for that individual. It is not enough to be motivated to learn a language – one must also be motivated to learn and experience the culture associated with the language. However, if cultural practices are considered undesirable by the learner, opportunities to use the language with native speakers will diminish as the learner resists or even rejects the target culture.

This is perhaps why the rate of language acquisition for students doing study abroad varies so widely. In fact, Kinginger & Farrell maintain that “systematic research has yet to demonstrate universal effectiveness of study abroad for language learning.” Living in a country where the language is spoken is not enough. There are many, many factors to consider including gender, personality, level of language competence before study abroad, time spent using the native language, etc.

de Nooy and Hanna (2003) also point out that “mere contact with other cultures may simply reinforce stereotypes and encourage hostility rather than fostering comprehension and mutual respect.” Spending time abroad in the target culture could (and unfortunately, does) cause learners to lose motivation and interest in learning the language if there are too many conflicts between the native and target cultures. Obviously, there will always be conflicts and differences between native and target cultures, but intercultural comprehension allows learners to occupy a third place between the native and target cultures with understanding and tolerance for both. Instead of judging the target culture based on how different (or better or worse) it is from the native culture, learners avoid falling back on their native culture to interpret the target culture and understand the value systems underlying the cultural differences between them.

Sources:

de Nooy, J., & Hanna, B. E. (2003). Cultural Information Gathering by Australian Students in France. Language and Intercultural Communication, 3(1), 64-80.

Dewaele, J.-M. (2007). Diachronic and/or synchronic variation? The acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in L2 French. In D. Ayoun (Ed.), Handbook of French Applied Linguistics (Vol. Language Learning & Language Teaching 16, pp. 208-236). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Kinginger, C. 2004. “Alice doesn’t live here anymore: Foreign language learning and identity reconstruction”. In Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts, A. Pavlenko and A. Blackledge (eds.), 219–42. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Kinginger, C. and Farrell Whitworth, K. 2005. “Gender and emotional investment in language learning during study abroad”. CALPER Working Papers Series 2, 1-12. The Pennsylvania State University,Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research.

Basic Phrases with Pronunciation: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Swedish Available

If you’d like to study basic phrases for French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, or Swedish, I’ve created new pages with the list of phrases and mp3s for each phrase (instead of one mp3 for all the phrases together). Now you can listen to each phrase individually before trying out the audio flashcards to test yourself.

Basic Phrases with Pronunciation: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Swedish Available

 

 

Dutch and Danish will be coming next, and eventually I’d like to have audio on the Romance Languages Phrases and Germanic Languages Phrases pages as well.

So Much for the Asian Century: Loss of Language Programs at Australian Universities

The University of Canberra and Curtin University both recently announced that they would be cutting their language programs. At Canberra, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish will disappear while at Curtin, Japanese, Mandarin and a major in Asian Studies may be abandoned. These cuts are very unfortunate since it leaves these universities with no language classes or majors at all. It is also surprising considering the government’s push for a focus on Asian cultures and languages. Indonesian programs have also been closing in Australia, though luckily the programs at La Trobe and University of New South Wales have been saved (for now). The University of Western Sydney is keeping their Chinese and Japanese programs, but doing away with Arabic, Italian and Spanish.

Low enrollment is always the excuse for cutting programs, and universities claim that students can just take the classes at neighboring institutions and that it will actually strengthen those programs. Brisbane Universities Languages Alliance exists for this purpose and students enrolled at any of the three universities in Brisbane can take language classes at another and have the credits count toward their degree. The University of Canberra suggests that students simply take classes cross-institutionally at ANU, while students of Curtin can take language classes at the University of Western Australia. However, this rarely actually happens as David Hill points out and “it is a myth the closure of a language department at one university strengthens those of rivals.” It is much more likely that students will just stop taking language classes altogether. Trying to attend language classes at a different university (which most likely aren’t even required since no Australian university requires a foreign language for a BA) is too much of a hassle when factoring in the time for the commute and conflicting timetables among universities. Even students at my university who are based at the city campuses are less likely to travel 20-30 minutes to the humanities campus to take a foreign language.Open-Universities-Australia-OUA_large

Even though online class enrollments have been increasing, very few Australian universities offer language classes online. The University of New England is “the only [university] in Australia to offer a full programme of French by distance education.” My university offers first year Italian as an online course through Open Universities Australia, but you cannot obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Italian or any other language from OU. Perhaps if Australian universities invested in online education, enrollments would increase in certain subjects? With so many rural students and working students, I’m always surprised that distance education is not more of a priority in Australia.

Australian universities will be hit hard with a $2.8 billion cut next year in the most ridiculous decision ever made on education funding as the money will be used to pay for K-12 school reforms instead. Australian universities could save a lot of money by decreasing the astronomical pay of vice chancellors and putting their money towards academics instead of rugby. VCs should really be paid the same amount as casual staff so they know what it’s like to be overworked and underpaid rather than the opposite. Luckily most Australian universities do not have any involvement in sports teams so academics tends to be the focus, yet most of the money still goes to a few at the top rather than the teaching and research staff who do the most work for the university. Cutting language programs should be a last resort since universities are supposed to provide students with an “international and intercultural educational experience” but I suppose we can do that in English since all seven billion humans speak English natively and belong to the same Anglophone culture, right?

iTunes U Materials and MOOCs Available in Languages Other than English

I recently noticed that iTunes U now lets you browse the courses by language. Finally! Previously you had to go to the list of universities and look for a certain institution, which may or may not have had any real content. Now you can simply select Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Catalan, Portuguese, Korean or Turkish and universities that offer content in that language will appear.

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The  MOOC provider Coursera also now offers 27 courses in other languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, German and Italian). You simply choose which language to browse when looking at the list of courses.

Miríada X and UNED are Spanish-language MOOC providers, though I can’t seem to find any French-language providers. Usually individual universities will offer open online courses, such as Universidad de Granada or EDUlib HEC Montréal, but the number and range of courses is very limited.

Does anyone know of other non-English-language MOOC providers?

Readlang

Readlang and Podclub – Latest Language Learning Obsession

Learning Languages with Readlang and Podclub

Readlang by Steve Ridout is a free site which helps you learn foreign languages by reading and translating words you don’t know. You simply import text from any website, click on words you don’t know in order to translate them into another language, and save these words so you can review them later. It  uses a “spaced repetition flashcard system to make sure you remember the words” that you’ve clicked on and has a feature to open a dictionary in a side panel if you want to look up more information on the word(s). You can read the blog to see the latest updates, such as export word lists to Anki and translations of phrases rather than just individual words.

Lately I’ve been using the transcripts from Podclub podcasts since I always prefer to have text plus audio. I imported the text of the latest episode of the Spanish podcast A mi aire, and I’m translating words into English. Readlang now lets you synchronize Youtube videos with transcriptions so you can listen and read at the same time. Finally, there is a Chrome extension called Web Reader that will translate any word you click on directly on the page rather than importing text into your account. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for someone to create this!

Check out Readlang’s current features and send your feedback to Steve so he knows what new features to add.

Free Children’s Books Apps in Foreign Languages

There are a lot of free language apps available nowadays but many of them are not very good or extensive. They tend to include some basic words or tourist phrases in flashcard format, but very few offer connected text (such as stories) in addition to pronunciation. Lately I’ve been looking for apps that include both text and audio in foreign languages, and I’ve mostly found apps that provide one or the other, i.e. ebooks or audiobooks but not synced together so that you can read and listen at the same time. I have found a few apps designed for children, however, that mostly include fairy tales but some include original stories. Many have a “read to me” and autoplay option so you don’t have to keep swiping the screen.

Free Children's Books Apps in Foreign Languages

Both Apple and Android

PlayTales Gold : download books for free, but ad-supported and internet connection needed. Stories available in 8 different languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin), and Japanese. [ Apple version is only a seven day trial so not quite as useful]

Luca Lashes : Original story available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian.

Hao-Ming Yeh /QLL Inc. : Apple version seems to only include English and Chinese but Android also has Spanish. Two languages can be displayed on screen instead of just one.

Verlag Friedrich Oetinger : German and English stories (but in different apps)

 

Apple

Tri-Software : Lots of classic children’s books (in different apps) available in at least two languages. Most are available in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian and some even have Portuguese and Chinese. The free versions only include the beginning of the story.

Readalong Spanish : Only in Spanish but you have the option of including the English text on the same screen.

 

Android

Vienom Kids Books : Two stories available in French & German and two stories available in French, German, and Spanish. Four different apps though, and the free versions only include seven pages of the stories.

 

Any other useful (and free) apps to add to the list?

 

I didn’t include any “free” apps that make you pay for every book.