Category Archives: Learning Other Languages

Variation and Standardization: Romansh in Switzerland

An article about Romansh in the latest Weekend Australian is very interesting and relevant to my PhD research on the teaching of variation in language. Romansh has been the fourth official language of Switzerland since 1996, but there are five main dialects of the language among its 60,000 speakers, and none of the dialects are the official form (called Romansh Grischun or RG) that is taught in schools and published in books. Instead of unifying the speakers of the various dialects in an attempt to save the language from dying out, the standardized form has only brought about resentment and anger among students who do not want to learn from books written in a language that no one actually speaks.

My PhD research is on variation in the lexicon (vocabulary) of French, and if the variants are included in textbooks so that students can learn all forms of the French language as well as the cultures that are inseparable from it. The types of variation I am investigating are geographic and stylistic, or the various dialects of French throughout the world and formal vs. informal variants of words. Variation occurs at all levels of language, but I am focusing on the lexicon instead of the grammar because it the most salient feature of variation and the largest obstacle to comprehension for learners of French.

A lot of researchers argue against the standardized form of French that is taught in textbooks because it is actually no one’s native spoken language and students cannot acquire communicative competence by learning it, nor can they possibly learn the cultures of the various Francophone regions that are reflected in the varieties of language. Overcoming prescriptivism and language purism has always been difficult with regards to French, and the textbook publishing industry’s resistance to change because it could potentially lead to loss of profit have also contributed to the clone-like effect of language textbooks. Luckily some lexical variation has made its way into a few textbooks, though it seems mostly limited to Quebecois vocabulary of formal variants.

All variants of a language should be considered equal to each other, rather than one standardized (or even mother country) form being seen as superior to the others. American, Australian, and British English are all equal just as Canadian, Hexagonal, and Swiss French are all equal. Variation is a natural and inherent part of language; standardization is not.

Opponents of Romansh Grischun believe that it will only lead to the native dialects, as well as their cultures, dying out quickly. Proponents believe that it will allow Romansh to survive longer and prevent it from becoming a language only spoken by the elderly, though their justification for this is unclear. Standardization of a language may increase critical mass for statistical purposes and cut down on translation costs, but it does not prevent language death.

Even if Romansh Grischun becomes the native language of future generations (which is rather unlikely), the current dialects and cultures of the Romansh community will have died in the meantime. This unified Romansh language of the future would not be the same as the Romansh language of today (i.e. the collection of dialects with similar yet distinct properties), so could it really be considered as saved? Or should it be considered revitalized in another form? And what happens when variation inevitably starts to occur in the future Romansh?

Pronunciator: Free Vocabulary & Phrases in 60 Languages

Time flies when you’re having fun! It’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted and my only excuse is that I love working on my PhD so much that I spend all my time with my books and articles instead of my computer. I’m barely keeping up with updating the site and responding to e-mails, but I did receive a very nice e-mail yesterday that I wanted to share.

My review of some language learning websites that I posted 18 months ago in which I said “I just wanted to learn some vocabulary (and how to pronounce the words) online since my main focus on learning languages in the beginning stages is to simply understand what people are saying, and to be able to say a few phrases to get around while traveling. I don’t worry so much about forming grammatically correct sentences or having long conversations just yet.” inspired Robert to create a company and website to do just that.

Pronunciator launched on September 1st and it contains basic vocabulary, verbs, phrases, and conversation in 60 languages. There are 421 units of multiple lessons and 3 million pages for you to explore, all completely free. (Not all of the content is up yet, but it’s coming.) In addition to the audio flashcards, there are listening and reading exercises plus playback and vocal recognition modes where you can compare your pronunciation to the native speaker. Check out the site and thank Robert for putting so much work into it and helping others to learn languages for free!

Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

One of the many reasons why I love Australia: an official Multicultural Policy

Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

From the government’s Multicultural Policy released in February of this year:

“Australia is a multicultural nation. In all, since 1945, seven million people have migrated to Australia. Today, one in four of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44 per cent were born overseas or have a parent who was and four million speak a language other than English. We speak over 260 languages and identify with more than 270 ancestries. Australia is and will remain a multicultural society.”

Multiculturalism in Australia produced the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), which offers television and radio programs in 68 languages. Luckily they have a free to air channel (as well as an FM channel) so I don’t have to pay extra to watch France 2 news every morning. They also have several podcasts available through iTunes (which is how I discovered them while still living in France.)

Australia is also the most multilingual of the English-speaking countries, and was the first to create a multilingual language policy. The most commonly spoken foreign languages are Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese. Most bilinguals or multilinguals in Australia are either Aborigines or immigrants who speak English as a second language. The majority of native English speakers do not speak another language, similar to the situation in the US and UK.

Though some states and territories do require the study of a foreign language at primary/secondary level, by the final years of secondary school, only about 10% continue their studies (Years 6-8 have the highest percentage of students). The main languages studied are (followed by enrollment figures for 2006):

1. Japanese 332,943
2. Italian 322,023
3. Indonesian 209,939
4. French 207,235
5. German 126,920
6. Chinese (Mandarin) 81,358
7. Arabic 25,449
8. Spanish 20,518
9. Greek 18,584
10. Vietnamese 11,014
11. Other 45,567

The situation at the tertiary level is a bit sad. Unlike the US, no Australian university requires the study of a foreign language and many language departments have been incorporated into schools of other disciplines. For example, my particular school is called Communication, International Studies and Languages. Only 10% of first-year university students are taking a foreign language, and less than a quarter continue language studies through the third and final year of a Bachelor’s degree. Thirty-one languages are taught at universities, though 12 are taught in only one jurisdiction while 8 are taught in all states (Chinese, French, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin and Spanish).

For more information on languages in Australian schools, download the PDF of Second Languages and Australian Schooling from the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Multiculturalism Links:

Multicultural Australia (government site)

Australian Multicultural Foundation

Making Multicultural Australia

Comparative Grammar of the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Languages

Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Available as PDF

Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Available as PDF

I have finally finished scanning the 1868 book Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Languages by Edwin A. Notley that I first mentioned in April. It is 412 pages total and available to download in PDF format.

The original 19 x 13 cm book is set up with two columns on the left page for French and Italian and two columns on the right page for Spanish and Portuguese. If you want to print a section, I would advise experimenting with multiple page or booklet printing first. I tried to clean up the pages the best that I could considering the age of the book, and some of the pages are not as straight as I would like them to be, but I wanted to share this book sooner rather than later.

You can download the file from one of the following links. The file size is about 69.1 MB, so please be patient.

 

UPDATE: @MmeCaspari has uploaded the PDF to FlipSnack if you’d like to flip through the book online before downloading. (Also works on iPad/iPhone/iPod.)

 

Disclaimer: This book is in the public domain in the US since it was published before 1922. Please check your country’s copyright laws before downloading if you are not in the US.

New Language Tutorial on ielanguages.com: Latin

Thanks to Brandon, Latin is now featured on ielanguages.com!

The Romance languages derived from Vulgar Latin, the major spoken language(s) of the Roman Empire. Classical Latin is what is taught at universities and written in books today since most of Vulgar Latin was never written down. The Appendix Probi is an interesting list from the 3rd/4th century CE that shows the changes between the two (and encourages people to use the Classical Latin words instead of the more common Vulgar counterparts.)

The greatest extent of the Roman Empire:

If you’re not interested in Latin for religious purposes and don’t ever plan to visit Vatican City, where it is the official language, you can still read plenty of Latin at the Latin Wikipedia, which does include 20th century topics.

Latin I Tutorial

Latin II Tutorial

Enter the Brainscape Spanish Mobile App Twitter Giveaway

I previously reviewed Brainscape’s website and mobile apps and gave away promo codes for their French Vocab Genius app. Now I’m offering another free product giveaway, but this time it is for Spanish learners: the Brainscape Spanish app!

Brainscape Spanish for iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad is a new app that uses the Intelligent Cumulative Exposure (ICE) technique to help you learn Spanish using confidence-based repetition with real sentences instead of isolated words. Grammatical concepts are also explained throughout the flashcards in plain English. If you are looking for more than just a dictionary app or simple machine translation tool, I recommend Brainscape because they go beyond the extent of normal flashcards and include sentences that are not usually included in books/apps which are mostly geared towards travelers.

Here are some screenshots:

Brainscape Spanish includes four subjects with a total of 8,857 cards:

  • Spanish Sentence Builder: 19 lessons of sentences and grammar explanations, with audio
  • Spanish Vocabulary: 15 decks of mixed Vocab Enrichment (with audio) plus Food & Restaurant, Medical, Transportation, Technology, Mechanical, and Countries & Nationalities
  • Spanish Verbs: 9 decks of verb conjugations (present, preterite, imperfect, present perfect, plurperfect, future, conditional, present subjunctive and imperfect subjunctive)
  • Business Spanish: 7 decks of vocabulary

You can choose one of the subjects or study using the Smart Mix, which chooses cards at random and repeats them based on your confidence level. Browse and Search functions also lets you find a particular word among the cards. Lastly, you can sync to the website to study the flashcards online and keep all of your progress synchronized. Don’t forget to read the description at the iTunes store.

THE TWITTER GIVEAWAY

I have FIVE promo codes for the Brainscape Spanish mobile app to give away for FREE (a value of $39.99!)

To participate in this Twitter giveaway, follow these instructions:

1. Either comment on this post or send me an e-mail at ielanguages [at] gmail [dot] com with your Twitter name and e-mail address.

2. Follow both @ielanguages and @Brainscape on Twitter, if you have not already done so.

3. Click the blue Tweet button at the beginning of this post before Monday, June 13, 2011, at 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time to share this post on Twitter. (Or click here if the Tweet button is not showing.)

4. I will choose five entries at random on Monday and contact the lucky winners through e-mail.

Thanks for participating and thanks to Brainscape for making the giveaway possible!

Top 100 Language Lovers Blogs: Voting Starts Today at Lexiophiles

Lexiophiles’ Language Lovers 2011 competition is now open for voting. This year the four categories are:

– Language Learning Blogs

– Language Professionals Blogs

– Language Facebook Pages

– Language Twitterers

Since I won 3rd place overall last year (in the Top 100 Language Blogs) and 2nd place in the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs, my blog was automatically nominated again for this year’s competition. If you’d like to vote for me, click here and choose Jennie in France. Thank you!

Voting ends May 29th at 11:59 PM (French/German time) or 5:59 PM EST.

Sorry the blog/site hasn’t been updated much lately. I’ve been a little overwhelmed with the funeral, finishing my translation work before my upcoming annual trip, and the big move to Australia in a few months.

Comparative Grammar of the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Languages

Comparative Grammar of the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Languages

Comparative Grammar of the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Languages

My new favorite book: Comparative Grammar of the French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Languages by Edwin A. Notley

Published in 1868!

400 pages of comparative goodness.

Verb conjugations (we really should bring back thou hadst and the T-V distinction in English!)

There’s even vocabulary at the end, though the words are not grouped thematically like they are in The Loom of Language.

I’ve also ordered A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Italian and Spanish by Oliver Heatwole (1949) as well as Comprendre les langues romaines: Du français à l’espagnol, au portugais, à l’italien & au roumain by Paul Teyssier (2004), but I haven’t yet found a book like this for the Germanic languages.

Female Polyglots and Language Learners – Where Are You?

The lovely Susanna, author of Language is Music, and I were talking about the lack of female polyglots online even though most language classes have higher enrollment of women than men and many language teachers are female rather than male.

Most polyglots online – especially on YouTube – are men and we can’t seem to find many blogs dedicated to learning languages written by women. I imagine it has more to do with certain personality traits (bragging has come up often in forum discussions) and who uses the internet and for what purposes rather than anything else, so I would like to hear from female polyglots on why or why not they have a blog/website. I certainly know a ton of female expat and travel bloggers, but I’d like to know more female polyglots, so if you’re reading this, let me know!

Language learning blogs by women (some no longer updated):

See and Speak with the World (Susanna’s blog)

Judith’s Language Learning Blog

Diary of an Eternal Student (formerly Aspiring Polyglot)

ich estudio langues

Baby-Steps to Fluency

These are just a few personal blogs that I’ve been following over the past year or two, but of course there are many female contributors to larger sites such as Lexiophiles, Multilingual Mania, Transparent Language blogs, etc. Can you recommend other blogs by female authors?

Recent Foreign Language and Traveling News

Some interesting articles and websites on foreign languages and traveling that I’ve come across in the past week or two:

Lastly, Brainscape has just updated their French Vocab Genius mobile app to include web synching to your online account, so if you haven’t already downloaded the app, it is free for a while!