piranha: the word 'language' in a text highlighted in hot pink (language)
2015-06-27 05:43 pm
Entry tags:

duolingo vs memrise

since i am about halfway through the basic french course on memrise, i figured now might be a good time to do another report about my perceptions of the courses.

summary: memrise wins in general; i actually feel like i am making solid progress. duolingo has much better community support, but is letting me down on the learning front. lots of detail under the cut )
piranha: the word 'language' in a text highlighted in hot pink (language)
2015-06-25 02:30 pm
Entry tags:

I like grammar

another recent (to me) development in language teaching seems to be that people are encouraged to not bother learning formal grammar. i understand; grammar is dead boring for many people, and i can only imagine how many people have been discouraged by boring grammar studies in school. that really sucks, and i grok why people want to get away from it. i agree that learning grammar can lead to perfectionism, and as always, perfection is the enemy of good enough.

instead of actively learning grammatical rules, people are now supposed to suck it up by exposure. i'm sure Benny Lewis and his students have loads of fun while speaking their new languages even if they do so badly for a while, and hey, more power to them. at least they're speaking. and it's true that in most countries, the natives don't mind, and will do their best to grapple for understanding, and be happy that you're bothering at all to speak their language.

to experiment with this i started to learn basic spanish on memrise, also because i wanted to look at another course to see whether it was comparable in quality to the basic french course i am taking. i didn't previously know any spanish apart from individual words i've encountered over the years, and i definitely knew absolutely no spanish grammar.

and i couldn't handle it. it drives me batty to not understand basic things. 30 words in and what the heck is it with the accents? they don't seem to change the pronunciation like they do in french, so maybe they're about stress? but how is that determined? single syllable words seem to also sometimes have accents, and some words that seem to me to need accents for stress don't. and why is it "(él) es español" but "(él) está feliz"? i guess they must be different verbs even though they're the same in English -- which is fine, but at the very beginning i don't need extra confusion, I need some certainty -- even if i get it wrong, at least i'll only get one thing wrong instead of swimming in the dark without any clues. confusion does not help me when learning; it hinders me. one big problem here is that this course starts with useful language for travellers, and such useful vocabulary is often highly colloquial and irregular, and you therefore can't derive grammar rules from it.

so it's clear that i need grammar right from the start in order to minimize confusion -- i just don't need all grammar, only some basic guidelines. that learning grammar leads to perfectionism is a slippery slope argument, and as long as i can stop myself from aiming for perfection when trying to speak, i'll be fine.

when one reads the entire article i linked to, one finds out that, surprise, Benny actually also learns grammar, and he expresses a lot more nuance about it (this is why i generally like him, and think he is a better teacher than many). I am definitely more of a technician when it comes to learning.

PS -- I found myself a student grammar for Spanish and now I know about accents, and ser vs estar. I am much happier already. ;)
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2015-06-10 07:11 pm
Entry tags:

mon français est nul

it is embarrassing how hard it sucks. i mean, i knew it was never very good, and i know if you don't use it you lose it (even your native tongue will start to fade some if you don't use it for decades). but i didn't realize it had atrophied to the point of uselessness.

i don't have anyone to blame but myself. sure, my high school teacher was a drill sergeant with the most horrible accent imaginable (i am all with the japanese on wanting native speakers to teach their kids), and that did not endear french to anyone in my class. when i moved to france and was actually looking forward to fix my accent problems, worked pretty hard on that for a few weeks, and then meekly tried it out, the reaction was unfriendly. which, being as i was not only introverted but also shy and socially anxious, shut me right down. furthermore, i worked for a dutch company in geneva, and while i lived across the border in france, and this might scream "yay, immersion", the apartment complex i lived in was full of lower echelon diplomatic folks from all across the world, and for the most part english was the lingua franca. so i managed to live in france and work in french-speaking switzerland and did not improve my french by much. and once i left, well, that was that. i could kick myself for that now.

the next time i used it was when the paramour and i travelled from ontario to the maritimes, which brought us through quebec. we barely managed to inquire about a hotel room in french. but the reception was ever so much more friendly than it had been in france. same when i travelled to montreal to visit jo; everyone was clearly pleased that i tried to speak french, even though i sucked at it.

i'm pretty sure if i lived in quebec i'd be fluent now. *sigh*. i think it's a shame to make my home in canada and not speak both official languages fluently (i know most people wouldn't care, and i'm not saying they should, but i do). so i decided the next language i tackle ought to be french, and this time i want to speak it from the start, since that turned out to be such a stumbling block last time. but to achieve that, i was arguing that i really need to start from scratch. yet part of me was arguing that -- since i can actually read a french newspaper and get the gist of an article -- that would be a waste of time, and who has time to waste.

then i sat down and tried to describe the room i was in, out loud in french.

yeah -- starting from scratch will not be a waste of time.

i still have to look for a primary textbook. i will mostly use anki for spaced repetition of vocabulary. in the meantime i've started to take basic introductory lessons on both memrise and duolingo. detailed comparison pulled from comments under the cut )
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2015-06-04 03:32 pm
Entry tags:

foreign language acquisition for introverts and shy people

lately i've been hanging out on language sites because i'm kinda desperate for things that make me feel at least semi-competent again. and languages have always been an area of strength for me.

seems there is a real upswing of language learning as something really cool and desirable, and there are now a number of sites that tout "fluent in 3 months" and similar slogans, all going against the conventional "wisdom" of languages being difficult to learn, requiring some special talent, etc.

i'm all in favour of it, though the promises are as most promises made by evangelists, somewhat optimistic. but i think helping people lose their fears of language learning, ripping down some of those myths of how incredibly difficult it is to acquire a language once you're not longer a child, that's all a really fabulous trend.

along with that comes a slew of new methods for language acquisition. since i've learned both through formal instruction and by teaching myself, i'm pretty excited about that, because frankly, most formal language instruction in my life has been ineffective in actually teaching me a living language; i've done much better on my own, and will be trying some of the stuff i'm now discovering. one thing i've always known about is that i've been too slow when it came to speaking a language, knowing how to read and write it well long before i could speak it well. that was ok when i was still in high school because it wasn't like i had anyone with whom to speak a new language. and it seemed still ok when i started learning japanese a few years ago because i wanted to learn it to read manga. but i am now reconsidering that approach. primarily because my french still sucks, and i want to pick it back up again. i used to be virtually paralyzed with fear of making mistakes when speaking, and would consequently put it off for as long as possible. and that's held me back in more than one language. so i am in principle all for speaking sooner.

but some of the loudest proponents of the "speak right away" movement are very obviously extraverts, and have -- to me -- some uncomfortable entitlement issues going on.

i’d just come from benny lewis’s fluent in 3 months site. benny is overflowing with "just walk up to some random person and start talking" advice. then i stumbled onto social risk takers are better language learners by donovan nagel. he relayed a story about asking a little, old shopkeep lady in south korea for her name, which was apparently quite the faux pas. and somebody accused him of being rude after he invited himself into a group of strangers in a pub. so he wrote this article while on the defensive, justifying any potential rudeness and offense with the idea that without risk taking you won't learn a language.

i agree that one won't get anywhere without some amount of risk taking, and that one will acquire spoken language faster the sooner and the more frequently one engages with native speakers. but he makes it sound like the only way to get there is to push oneself on people, which in my experience isn't true. as a strong introvert wary of imposing, that's not my way. fortunately there is a huge area between offending somebody, and playing the wallflower, and i believe from experience that people who want to avoid offending can still take plenty of risks. luckily introverts are often excellent observers and researchers, and a bit of research on social mores of a new culture goes a long way. i don't want to be a dolt in a new culture, not because i am afraid to look foolish (way too old to mind that anymore, and it’s basically unavoidable), but because it can come across as disrespectful. just because i am learning their language does not mean i feel in any way entitled to their attention and their forgiveness for my uncouth foreigner mistakes. i think that's what bothered me most about donovan's intrusions on other people -- he seemed to me to act from a position of entitlement, and if they were offended, oh well, he just moved on to other people. *meh*.

one doesn't need to ask a little, old shopkeeper lady for her name to push one's korean, after all; one can introduce oneself and then ask some questions pertinent to shopping that go beyond the phrase book. one can ask one's younger acquaintances (in korean) how one would go about conversing with an elder politely. one doesn’t need to intrude on a random group in a pub, one can ask the barkeep whether he might introduce one to people who'd love to help a newcomer speak gaeilge.

that’s the advice introverts and shy people and those with social anxiety need to hear — there is lots of room for friendly, non-threatening, inoffensive communication with strangers. find a few native speakers on one of the sites that are specifically meant for that purpose. use those for feedback on how to behave in their culture. that will push your language skills way beyond your comfort envelope at the start. go to events where you have something in common with the people there; safe subjects are pretty much a given then. i really liked the challenge at the end of donovan's article: push every conversation just a little further. there is a lot of room before one gets to offensive when one starts with everyday, neutral subjects.

i need to look whether there are any sites not run by extraverts. if not, maybe that's something i could write about myself, since i do have a lot of experience with foreign language acquisition as a shy introvert.
piranha: inui's disgusting red juice dripping out of a glass (penal tea)
2014-02-22 12:49 pm
Entry tags:

on the eradication of ableist terms

from my personal vocabulary.

i'm doing well with "lame"; i don't use it anymore. same with "blind to", "deaf to". "daft" is also gone, and "crazy", as is "derp" (i hadn't even realized the problem with that last one). "retarded", "loony", and "spaz" are almost gone.

i'm not doing well with "stupid", "dumb", and "idiot". i know the etymology, but in my entire lifetime the latter two terms have not been used by anyone around me to refer to people who're deaf or have intellectual disabilities; they're insults only and long divorced from their origins. and my brain keeps hanging onto them stubbornly.

"stupid" is a more mixed bag, and i'd been thinking i myself used the term only when referring to temporary, careless mind-foggery (despite being fully intellectually capable of seeing the consequences and possibly even bringing them up internally), mostly about myself. but no, to my shame i actually use it to refer to people with probable disabilities. *sigh*. i've been watching "justified" because it's highly rated on metacritic, and while it is well-written and very atmospheric, it is one hell of a depressing show. nearly everyone on it seems to act at all times with lack of foresight, in addition to being craven, cruel, egotistical, and valuing other life less than money and power. even the hero, a US marshal, who's quite a bit smarter than most of his foes, does incredibly inane things. every one of his romantic/sexual involvements is reckless. (i had to search for terms to replace "stupid" there). now, the marshal fits with how i generally think i use "stupid". but the kentucky hillbillies depicted on the show are clearly intellectually not up to the tasks they set themselves in their lives of crime.

if i lived in kentucky i'd hate "justified" with a passion. there are maybe 3 decent people on this show, and none of them are hillbillies. and even hose decent people close their eyes to the violations of the law our "hero" marshal engages in as a matter of course.

anyway. so yeah, i use "stupid" to refer to actual (if fictional) people with intellectual disabilities. not good.

for those of you who try to be more mindful of the words you use, do you have any techniques to get rid of the stubborn ones? i can do it in writing, but in casual speech the word comes out before my mind clamps down on it.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2012-08-23 11:09 am
Entry tags:

mraaow

i think of myself as generally observant, but now and then i realize -- yeah, not so much.

this morning persis was pestering me while i wanted to read, and she got quite obnoxiously noisy, and i finally shoved her off my chest and said "oh, go meow at one of the other cats".

and then i stopped and thought. and the more i thought the more examples came to mind (i've taken care of many cats over the years). and none of them ever meow at each other. they make all sorts of other sounds; they purr, chirrup, click, hiss, chirp, growl, scream, shriek, snarl, yowl, caterwaul, but they do not meow.

small kittens make meow-like sounds at their mothers, but even those don't quite sound like what our cats direct at us. and they stop making those sounds as they're weaned.

so have adult domesticated cats developed a specialized language for humans? quite possibly even customized to individual humans? most of ours don't talk a lot, but persis is a good example of a very vocal cat. she uses some of the same meow-style sounds for both, the paramour and myself, but additional different ones for me (probably because i am willing to share my sausage, while the paramour isn't).

(yes, of course i will duckduckgo [*] right after posting this. ;)

[*] when creating a search engine, i don't think it'd be presumptuous for the creator to contemplate how people might be verbing their searching if they used it a lot. "google" works when verbing; "duckduckgo" does most emphatically not.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2009-11-19 11:44 pm
Entry tags:

hanging on

single yellow grape leaf with brown spots hanging from grapevine with empty stalks, in front of faded and cracked brick red wooden siding

bright colours are getting very rare now. we're under a deluge, and everything is dubdued. i rather like it, except that i don't really like to be outside for long when it is pouring.


the crud will not completely leave; it's moving back into my sinuses. it just seems intent on staying the standard 14 days, even if it's just hanging on by a thin thread of phlegm.


dear sarah palin. thank you for describing yourself so aptly:

rogue (\ˈrōg\)
n.
1. An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal.
2. One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.
3. A wandering beggar; a vagrant.
4. A vicious and solitary animal, especially an elephant that has separated itself from its herd.
5. An organism, especially a plant, that shows an undesirable variation from a standard.

adj.
1. Vicious and solitary. Used of an animal, especially an elephant.
2. Large, destructive, and anomalous or unpredictable: a rogue wave; a rogue tornado.
3. Operating outside normal or desirable controls: "How could a single rogue trader bring down an otherwise profitable and well-regarded institution?" (Saul Hansell).

v. rogued, rogu·ing, rogues

v.tr.
1. To defraud.
2. To remove (diseased or abnormal specimens) from a group of plants of the same variety.

v.intr.
To remove diseased or abnormal plants.
[Origin unknown.]


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009.

so, it's pretty much never anything GOOD.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2009-08-16 11:30 pm
Entry tags:

someone was here

pseudo-inuksuit at nanaimo harbour. i've noticed that since the 2010 winter olympics incorporated an inunnguaq in their logo these things have proliferated. i like them in that location, because some people go to great length to construct them well, and at least at the harbour they're not actually misleading as a waymark.

language notes:

"inuksuk" means "substituting for a human" in the inuit language; "inuksuit" is the plural. peoples of the arctic use these monuments of unworked stones for communication and survival. traditionally they indicate a food cache, a reference point, or a navigation marker. they can be constructed from a single upturned stone to large cairns with many stones carefully balanced.

an "inunnguaq" is a subcategory of inuksuit, a structure in a stylized human shape, with legs and arms, which has been coming to mean friendship and welcome, and seems to be mogrifying into an international canadian symbol.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2009-06-20 10:06 pm
Entry tags:

ixnay on ableist language

spurred by a post from the ever-thoughtful [personal profile] coffeeandink i think it's time that i attack my own ableist language. for example, i use terms such as "lame" and "dumb" to disparage myself, and i believe i should stop. not with the disparaging, mind, but with side-swiping disabled people while i am doing it.

i'd never call a person with a disability "lame" or "crippled" to their face (or behind their back, or even just in my mind), and i thought that was good enough. i also used the justification that those terms i liked best were outdated. but i missed the fact that they still carry their history, and that people who're living with a disability are often all too aware of the history and of its remaining echoes, and how that affects their treatment today.

saying "that was a lame excuse", or calling some software "cripple-ware", or using metaphors such as "the government remains deaf and blind to the plight of native peoples" still support society's negative attitudes and often false beliefs about disability. and why in the world should disabled people be designated the go-to folks for us temporarily abled folks expressing the particular suckiness of a situation? that seems quite wrong to me. and it goes deeper than being wrong because it hurts their feelings; it's also wrong because it reduces them to this one sucky thing, and because it gives altogether a false impression of what living with a disability is like.

while it'll take some getting used to (old habits are hard to break), i don't consider it a hardship to do without those terms -- it's not like english has a shortage of colourful words if i really feel moved to insult. heck, it could be a fun challenge to come up with good ones that don't put down an already disadvantaged group.

here's my starting list of words to no longer use to disparage something or somebody: blind, crazy, cretin, crippled, deaf, dumb, idiot, imbecile, insane, lame, moron, paranoid, psycho, retarded, schizo, spaz, stupid, using something as a crutch. please call me on them if you notice a slip-up. and you might consider your own use, at least in my journal. i am not gonna police them, but i appreciate mindfulness and support for a habit change.

i don't doubt there are more words like that; feel free to share any you think are problematic, and why. i am consolidating comments on dreamwidth because i want to keep them all in one place for this.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2007-11-02 04:20 pm
Entry tags:

the betrayal of translation

[livejournal.com profile] papersky has an interesting thread about it here, and i am gonna pull my comment and rewrite it some, since this is the second time i've come across the subject and i don't think i've ever written anything about it.

papersky asked Translations are always inherently reinterpretations of the text. But do they really have to be betrayals?

somebody else linked to this article about jules verne in translation, which reports: She or he was evidently much more anti-Semitic than Verne, and tended to translate what were in the original fairly neutral phrases such as "...said Isaac Hakkabut" with idioms such as "...said the repulsive old Jew." And at one point in the novel she or he simply omitted an entire chapter (number 30) - quite a long one, too - presumably because she or he wasn't interested in, or couldn't be bothered to, turn it into English.

i consider that example to be a betrayal indeed, because it strikes me as conscious, willful distortion.

generally i don't view translations as betrayal, because translators don't generally set out to break an implicit promise to be faithful to the original. i might still feel let down, and i might feel the translator didn't do the work justice. it could be that there is still an element of wrong-doing, even if not on purpose -- if a translator actually did not really understand salient points of the work, that's a serious problem. i think all professional translators should consult with the author of the work, if possible, because that might avoid this kind of thing.

i prefer to read fiction in the original, but there are many languages i don't read well enough, and it would be sad to limit myself to not read books written in those languages at all. but i am worried that a bad translation (where i don't actively know it's bad) will turn me off an author completely. i know this has happened with manga, and i am consciously trying to counteract it now -- but i first needed to have a feel for japanese before i would even notice. i realize very well that Translation Is Hard. languages differ, cultures differ. even cultures speaking the same language differ -- and i don't mean just dutch/flemish/afrikaans, or british/US/canadian english, but a work written in 1850 in canada is embedded in a different culture than a work written in 2007 in canada. i want cultural notes with my fiction. :)

and as a reader, i might want more than one thing from a translation as well -- i might want it to be a thing of similar beauty to the original work, i might want it to have similar resonance, or i might want to get a feel for the different culture. those seem mostly mutually exclusive, and therefore one translation will not serve for all three purposes. i might even want it to be very literal (if i am using it to learn the original's language). is either of them a betrayal though? i don't think so. if you can't serve all masters it's better to pick one and serve zir well.

i decided some years ago to view movies adapted from fiction as "alternate history" of the work, because i was forever getting pissed off that they were "misinterpreting" my favourites. and worse, once i have watched a movie, i can't get its imagery out of my head, it has driven my own out and that feels like a loss because i _liked_ my own interpretation. for example, snape will forever look and sound like alan rickman in my head now. and i am not happy about that. nothing against alan rickman, he's a fine actor and mmmh, hot. but the snape in my head wasn't rickman before i saw the first movie. he wasn't hot. and i prefer my snape over rickman's; he fits better with my own interpretation of the books. i still avoid movies of books i like a great deal because i am too afraid they'll spoil my memories.

this problem isn't as marked with translations because words remain malleable for me, and so i am less likely to feel a translation has ruined the original. but it still helps me to read any translation as an alternate history of the original, and to seek out other interpretations. who knows what the unseen animal really looks like, but reading descriptions from 7 different people who've touched it will likely give a better overall impression than just hearing from one.

whenever i think about this, i shy away from ever sharing my translations of manga. *gah*, how dare i? even if it's just smut; my japanese is so fledgling that i feel very insecure about doing any honour to the original work.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2007-03-20 02:36 pm
Entry tags:

the pattern matcher loves it

teresa's spelling test (which i indeed think is better than the one of the article she refers to in this post):

bazaar, bizarre, accede, precede, desiccated, supersede, accessory, necessary, accommodate, harass, artillery, battalion, guerrilla, iridescent, miscellaneous, millennium, vermilion, parallelism, commitment, committed, committee, counselor, calendar, stratagem, sorcerer, restaurateur, prophesy, pharaoh, eulogy, feud, fluorescent, suede, pseudopod, fuchsia, jodhpurs, frieze, receive, sacrilegious, seize, siege, weird.

yup, i see all of these mispelled frequently. the words on here with which i have trouble are "vermilion" (i want to add another 'l') and "harass" (want to add another 'r'). they're on an internal list for "stop and think about this and possibly check a dictionary" because they don't seem to stick properly in my head.

words about which i have to think for a split second but don't ever actually have to look up again are "stratagem" and "supersede".

"fuchsia", which many people get wrong, isn't hard for me because i know it's named after leonhart fuchs, and as a german speaker, that's a piece of cake. i think that aside from my pattern matcher i have an easy time with this list because i speak french and know a fair bit of latin.

maybe i have a future as a copy editor. :) that brings up a question -- how does one become a copy editor anyway?
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2005-11-11 03:49 pm
Entry tags:

language and thought

comment from [livejournal.com profile] deaf, plus some additional thoughts:

French people don't "think in English or in English but with French grammar" - they think in French everything.

when they do think in language at all, that is. my native mode of thought isn't in language at all; it's in what i call "gestalty" -- concepts; a melange of images, aural allusions (it's not quite like something i would hear; more like a representation thereof), smell memory (again, not quite like actually smelling anything), movement, colour, emotions, symbols -- sometimes it's like a short abstract IMAX movie with additional sense input. when i am aware of it, that is; mostly i am not. i wonder how becoming aware of it changes things; i am certain the act of observation affects the process. i have to "slide" into it when i want to describe it, or it breaks and becomes language.

there are times when i think in language, and it's not like hearing voices, it's that aural allusion i mentioned up there. i do that when i am verbalizing something, like right now. i do it a lot when i am in the middle stages of learning a new language, before i reach some modicum of fluency. once i am past the basic fluency point i no longer translate in my mind; it's more like having another language database, and my "gestalts" form access codes. this is particularly obvious when the language in which i am verbalising doesn't have a good equivalent for a concept; access shifts temporarily to another one to get the word from another language.

i also occasionally think in written language, usually when i am not sure about spelling, or when i experiment with words in art. what little ASL i know as yet falls into that category; new languages always start out that way for me. i see ASL as yet very static, as it is when printed on a page. i am hoping it'll start to become dynamic, change from printed to imaged. (i am not currently studying it, *sigh*.)

dreams can feature any of those modes. some of the dreams that amaze me most are the ones where i dream i am inside a book; there will be really interesting shifts between seeing the actual page in front of me, and having it morph into gestalts.

i've just recently figured out that i might be able to express that through collage and assemblage. yeah, *duh*, eh? why did that never occur to me before? no idea, but it's very exciting.
piranha: red origami crane (Default)
2005-11-08 06:14 pm
Entry tags:

word power

objectgraph instant dictionary displays words as you type. there's also a thesaurus, an english-japanese dictionary, and a couple of other goodies. requires javascript.

fun.