I am fortunate enough to hang around with friends who are all at different levels of learning the same foreign language, and who are all fairly keen to speak it to each other. The people who are at a lower level learn a lot from the people who speak it really well. Me being somewhere in the middle, I am able to both learn and teach and it’s very satisfying. I find that when I listen to a non-native person speaking a foreign language, I understand more readily than when a native speaker is speaking it (provided, of course, that they have a certain level of language knowledge). I think it’s a combination of them speaking slower and more clearly, and being more likely to choose words that I know. Even when foreigners have very good language skills and speak quite quickly, I understand a lot more than when native speakers are talking.
I have a friend who also uses some foreign verbs in English ways (e.g. adding -ing, -ed), which is done in a joking way, but has also helped me learn some new words!
I know that ideally you would be talking to the most native of native speakers, but sometimes speed, accents, contractions, and slang get in the way. Especially for elementary and intermediate students, it might be advantageous to speak with more advanced non-native speakers. It’s a good way to consolidate your existing knowledge, as well as pick up a few new language along the way.
Have you found that speaking to other non-native speakers helps you?
I’m a fan of word games, especially ones like Scrabble and Boggle (both trademarked, of course), and anagram games like Text Twist. So I was pretty happy to try out a version of the anagram game where you have to find as many words as you can from the given letters, and the words power a cute little train. This game is called Text Express 2, if you want to try it. I feel like I should warn you that you may find it slightly frustrating, as I did. Usually I’m very good at these games, so when I got the letters H U L E N E, and I tried to find the 6-letter word, I was stumped. This was the very first word in the game. It got to the point where I actually had to look up the letters in an anagram finder to work out that the only 6-letter word possible was the 16th century word unhele. This is an obviously obsolete word, meaning to uncover or reveal something. It is also the same as the obsolete word unheal, which means misfortune, not to re-sicken someone.
So I guessed that this game was somehow using the broadest English dictionary possible (there were a lot of other words I simply supposed might be words from the logical arrangement of letters). Then, I wasn’t allowed to submit gay, tit, fag, or faggot, but I was allowed to submit faggoty, which as far as I can tell isn’t even a real word! At least the former mean happy, a type of bird, cigarette (coll), and bundle of sticks.
In conclusion, I am not happy with this game. It allows obsolete words no normal person would know, but it doesn’t allow potentially offensive words which also have mundane meanings. It is pretty fun making the little train chug along, though. Give it a go and let me know what you think!
May 25, 2011 at 10:00 am
· Filed under Writing · Posted by Wendy
Having been an on and off blogger and generally outspoken person for many years, I can’t imagine the concept of having no right to free speech at all. Even though I’ve lived in countries where you have to keep a lid on your opinions to some extent (Turkey, China), I’ve never felt in danger of being reprimanded, hurt, or imprisoned.
So when I heard about the amazing Afghan Women’s Writing Project, I had to stop and think for a while. The project helps Afghan women write and publish pieces in English about their real lives and experiences. These women often have to publish work anonymously, and sometimes put their personal safety at risk by secretly accessing computers to submit their work for editing and publishing. They are helped directly and remotely by volunteer editors and mentors.
Some of the pieces of writing are general, and some are extremely personal. Writers have often hidden their participation from all of their friends and family.
To read more, have a look a the Highlights section of the AWWP site.
May 21, 2011 at 2:00 am
· Filed under Observations · Posted by Wendy
I have a few colleagues and acquaintances who are currently labouring under the impression that my foreign language skills are better than they are (and I don’t really have a problem with that). Why? Because most of our communications are done in text format, and that makes it much easier for me to make sure that I understand them, and that they understand me.
Besides being able to take my time a little bit more, working via instant messages or email allows me to check both directions of communication using an online translator. Obviously, Google Translate won’t give me perfect sentences, but it will help make sure I’m not getting totally the wrong idea.
The downside of this is that whenever I speak to these colleagues in person, I have to get them to slow down or repeat themselves so I can understand. Nevertheless, working partly in another language is a good step towards fluency. Also, I find that if people don’t dumb their language down for me it motivates me to learn faster!
Do you have any people in your life who are overestimating your talents? How does it make you feel?
May 17, 2011 at 10:00 am
· Filed under Uncategorized · Posted by Wendy
The cast of reality TV show Jersey Shore doesn’t really have a reputation for being particularly scholarly, but some of the cast members are ensuring that they will be able to speak some Italian for the upcoming season. The fourth season will be filmed in Florence, where apparently officials aren’t exactly welcoming them with open arms (too much chaos in the first three seasons).
Some of the cast members have Italian backgrounds, but none of them speak the language. In order to be able to “know how to order grilled chicken”, cast members have requested that they be furnished with copies of popular computer course Rosetta Stone for Italian.
No matter what the reason, I do admire these people for really wanting to start learning. It makes them rise in my esteem just a little bit. Now, if any of you are Jersey Shore viewers, you’ll have to let me know how their language skills seem in the next season!
One of the things I find fascinating about languages is connotations. Even if some languages (or even cities or countries) share the same words, the common meanings may be completely different.
Today I learned that in China, you can use the term 爱人 (àiren, literally love person) to mean your husband, wife, partner, sweetheart. A man can introduce his wife to people as his àiren, and the wife can do the same. I find this quite sweet and, as a person who severely dislikes most terms for ‘significant other’ in English (including partner, other half, better half), I think it does the job quite well. There’s also the added bonus of not having to define your relationship to strangers (yes, there’s a stigma about not being married in a lot of places).
Unfortunately, the same phrase in Japan translates to the English meaning of lover. This conveys a somewhat illicit meaning, a mistress, affair, or some other kind of secret relationship. Imagine the staid Japanese coming to China and seeing people introducing their lovers in such a casual way!
Do you know of any other interesting differences in connotation?
May 4, 2011 at 10:00 am
· Filed under Uncategorized · Posted by Wendy
Sometimes it’s difficult to write posts about learning from e-book readers or mobile devices because there are so many different devices, formats, and applications out there to use. What I find useful might not be what you find useful, and in many cases, may not be available to you on the gadgets you prefer. I also want to steer away from promoting any one application or service.
In spite of all of this, I wanted to talk about how my e-reader (a Kindle 3 wifi version, if anyone’s interested) has really helped me with making my learning more portable (along with my MP3 player, of course). Initially, I didn’t think I would use it that much, since I like to scribble notes all over the place, but there are definitely some advantages to the electronic format.
I can send my language texts to the device and make notes on them if I want to. I can carry a whole library of books with me without having to choose before I leave the house, and without having to worry that I’m straining my back to carry it all. I can change the font size to make things more readable (especially handy when reading Chinese!). As long as I am not distracted by all of the other books I want to read, my e-reader is a great way to revise documents, books, pictures, and PDFs.
The only thing I’m really waiting for is a way to install dictionaries besides the native English ones.