Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Belgium and French

I spent a few days in Belgium last week. Most people here speak English and when they hear a foreign accent in French, a lot of times they switch into English. So it is much harder to practice French here than in for example France. Another problem I had, is that I haven't spoken French in a while and had come in fresh off of spending a lot of time in Spain learning Spanish. So at moments I wanted or even was speaking a mixture of Spanish and French. For example when buying a train ticket I almost ended up saying "por favor" instead of "s'il vous plait" and kept on producing big gaps of silence when speaking French as not to say anything in Spanish. I kept wanting to say the word "vale".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ethnic Joke

Accents can be funny! ITALIANS and English!

"One day, imma gonna New York City to bigga hotel. Inna morning, I go to eat breakfast. I tella the waitress, I wanna two pissa toast. She bringa me only one piss. I tella her I wanna two piss. She say go to the toilet. I say no understand, I wanna two piss onna plate. She say you better no piss onna plate, you sonna ma bitch. I donna even know the lady and she call me a sonna ma bitch.
Later I go eat at bigga restaurant. The waitress bring me a spoon and a knife but no fock. I tella her I wanna fock, shee tella me everyone wanna fock. I tella her you dont understand, i wanna fock on the table. She say you better no fock onna table, you sonna ma bitch.
So, I go back to my room inna hotel and there is no shite onna my bed. I call the manager and tella him I wanna shite onna my bed. He say you better no shit onna bed, you sonna ma bitch.
I go check out and the man at the desk say "peasce on you". I say piss onna you too, you sonna ma bitch. I gonna back to Italy

"Two Italians, Luigi and Antonio, met on the street. "Hey, Antonio," said Luigi. "Where you been for the past two weeks? No one seen you around."
"Donna talka to me, Luigi," replied Antonio. "I been inna da jail."
"Jail!" exclaimed Luigi. "What for you been in jail?"
"Wella, Luigi," Antonio said, "I was lying onna da beach, and the cops come, arresta me and throw me inna jail."
"But dey donna throw you in jail just for lying onna da beach!" Luigi countered.
"Yeah, but dissa beach was ascreamin' and akickin' and ayellin'.""

A Really Silly List of Words That Sound Like the English word "fuck"

I am sure everyone has come across words or names that made them chuckle on the inside:

Here's my list of words that remind me of the word "fuck" (list to be updated as I come up with more):

Fokker (type of plane)
Gregor Fucka (Slovenian-Italian basketball player)
Phuket (island in Thailand, with an honoroble mention going to Bangkok)
foca (Spanish word for seal)
fac eu (Romanian for "I do")
Phuc (Vietnamese name)
Fukeer (Bengali name)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Andalusian Accent

The Andalusian accent is a very distinct accent in Spain. People in Andalusia talk really fast and usually don't say the "s" at the end of words. For example "buenos dias" is said "bueno dia" without the "s" at the end. This makes it really hard to understand for learners of Spanish. However southern Spain is also a popular destination for people (especially Europeans) to come and learn Spanish. After a while of being there, you get used to the accent and even start dropping the "s" yourself!

Wikipedia Article on Andalusian Spanish

Saturday, October 17, 2009


An interesting thing is mixed languages, or languages that combine elements of usually two distinct languages. One of these is called Surzhyk, or a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian. I actually did not learn proper Russian first, but instead Surzhyk, although I thought that it was Russian. So later when I realized that what I was speaking was a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian and some of the words that I was using that I thought were Russian words were in fact Ukrainian, did I start separating the two languages. So I had to make a conscious effort to not use the Ukrainian words when speaking and instead focus on using their Russian equivalents instead. In this way I learned how to speak proper Russian (although still with some Ukrainian influences) and lost much of my Ukrainian.

Wikipedia Article on Surzhyk

Another article on Surzhyk:
Surzhyk: The Sociopolitical Significance of Ukrainian-Russian Mixed Language

Language Learning Blogs

I looked on the net and found out there are several blogs dedicated to languages and language learning.

Here is a list of some of the top ones:
Top 10 Language Learning Blogs 2009

Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spanish (from Spain) Native Material on the Net

I try to follow native Spanish material at least a few times during the week to improve my understanding of natives speaking the language.

The Spanish channel TVE has a website where you can view the news and some shows that were broadcast on tv during the week.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More German learning

I am starting to learn German and so far it seems like a pretty hard language to learn. I am starting completely from scratch, only knowing a few basic phrases and sometimes getting a few words from its similarity to Dutch and English. My basic strategy is this. I won't spend too much time drilling myself and memorizing words, but want to follow a more easy going route. I've signed up for a beginners German class, but have to catch up since I joined it late. I also have Pimsleur German, so will try to listen to that as well. I will do this, while trying to keep up my other languages in which I am already fluent by listening to native material such as the news or movies on the internet.

Some German words I've learnt.
wie- how
was- what
wer- who
wo- where
wohin-where (as in where is someone going?)
woher- from where

ich- me
du- you
er/sie/es- he/she/it
wir- we
ihr- you(plural)
sie- they
Sie- you(as in a more formal sense)

The Brain and Language Processing

It's interesting how the brain handles language processing.

This site has some articles on it:
The Brain and Language

"For many years, scientists’ understanding of how the brain processes language was rather simple: they believed that Wernicke’s area interpreted the words that we hear or read, then relayed this information via a dense bundle of fibres to Broca’s area, which generated any words that we spoke in response. But subsequent experiments with brain imaging have revealed the existence of a third region of the brain that is also indispensable for language.

This region is the inferior parietal lobule, also known as “Geschwind’s territory”, in honour of the American neurologist Norman Geschwind, who foresaw its importance as early as the 1960s. Brain imaging studies have now shown that the inferior parietal lobule is connected by large bundles of nerve fibres to both Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Information might therefore travel between these last two areas either directly, via the arcuate fasciculus, or by a second, parallel route that passes through the inferior parietal lobule

Another interesting thing is how the brain processes written and spoken language.

"According to the Geschwind-Wernicke model, when one person hears another speak a word, it is perceived first in the auditory cortex, then passed on to Wernicke’s area.

In contrast, according to this model, when someone reads a word, it reaches the brain via the eyes rather than the ears. Consequently, it is perceived first, as a graphic pattern, by the primary visual cortex, which passes it on to the angular gyrus

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Native-Like Accents

I have a strong interest in learning a language to sound like a native. So anything that talks about acquiring a native-like accent is interesting to me. Here's a paper that proposes on how to go about acquiring a native-like accent.

"Despite a tremendous amount of studies on first language acquisition and second language learning from many aspects, few people seem to have attempted to unify the various pedagogical, psychological, and physiological findings into new and efficient approaches to classroom methodology. However, the globally soaring numbers of immigrant learners with pronunciation problems that hamper interaction with native speakers and with other second language users indeed call for better applied phonetics to improve techniques for pronunciation teaching. This paper offers a method based on prosody and perception in a manner inspired by first language acquisition: Initially concentrating very much on prosody, the learner is guided through perception enhancement techniques and extensive chorus repetitions to imitate native-like pronunciation, to reproduce it robustly, and to hear himself succeed with this so many times that it is his own, now native-like pronunciation, that will be cemented into his auditory memory as a template for future pronunciation in free production. This is regarded as analogous to the native speaker’s goal-based capability of compensatory articulation, which appears to be acquired mainly in the first year or first few years of life, seemingly as a prerequisite for the rest of the first language acquisition. Empirically, this method is astonishingly effective, but experimental evaluation has yet to be performed."

Effects of Prosody on Second Language Learning

Starting to Learn German

Well I've started to learn German. I signed up for a class and paid for it. Still have to buy some of the books though. Went to the first hour of class, but was kinda lost, since I joined a course where the people have already started a month ago, so have some catching up to do. Before starting I knew just how to say "Good day", "Good bye" and count to 10. German seems like a pretty hard language to start with...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Learning languages as adults and hearing native sounds

"Our ability to hear and understand a second language becomes more and more difficult with age, but the adult brain can be retrained to pick up foreign sounds more easily again. This finding, reported by Dr Paul Iverson of the UCL Centre for Human Communication, at the "Plasticity in Speech Perception 2005" workshop - builds on an important new theory that the difficulties we have with learning languages in later life are not biological and that, given the right stimulus, the brain can be retrained."

Adults Can Be Retrained To Learn Second Languages More Easily

Accents and Learning Foreign Languages

Professor Arguelles presents a series of Youtube videos on accents and foreign language learning.





Online Resources

Browsing the internet I found several free online language learning resources.

Here's a ranking of free online foreign language courses from different universities and other places:
Rankings of Foreign Language Sources

Courses from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI): Different people have uploaded these:
FSI Language Courses

Also the Defense Language Institue (DLI) has some courses, but haven't been able to find much on the net:
DLI Learning Materials

And of course to practice you need some native sources as well. Free online internet television from around the world"
Foreign Internet Television

Learning Foreign Languages

So how do you learn a new language?

I just came back from Spain where I spent 3 months learning Spanish. One of the best ways to learn a language is to actually go to a country where they speak it and learn it there. In that way you are going to progress really fast. Of course it helps if you have already learned some basics in your own country before, so that you can start progressing fast. Then once you're taking an intensive course, you will start acquiring the language rapidly.

My method to really solidify the rules of the language (this applies especially to grammar) is to take the material three times. Once just to become familiar with it. The first time you can just breeze through it. It helps if you're in class and the teacher is explaining it, but you can do this on your own. If you want, you can also do exercises at this point, but for me, since I am lazy, I just prefer to listen and try to understand the logic of the grammar structures. Then after a period of time, you should come back to this same topic. Then of course you should do as many exercises as you can. It will be much easier to understand what is happening if you have already seen the material before and it will be learned much more quickly. Then you should let some time pass and come back to the same things later. Now this should stick in your head. I came to Spain after doing some Spanish learning before, I knew most of the basic conjugations of the present tense of the most common verbs and had seen the past tense before (although didn't know it that well). Then at the intensive course I saw it a second time and made really rapid progress. Hopefully I will come back to Spain or another Spanish speaking country soon and go over it a third time to really solidify it.

My Spanish progression went as follows. The first month I was rarely using Spanish to speak with other people. During the month I made a few feeble attempts to speak the language with other foreigners, but usually stuck to English or other languages I speak. During the second month, that's when I started using Spanish much more frequently and became fluent in using it. The problem is that I was always speaking it with other foreigners and rarely did I speak with native speakers. Hopefully I will make some native Spanish speaking friends at some point and practice with them.