I took part in a free seminar today about learning from mistakes in language learning. I’m sorry to say, I wasn’t wildly impressed. It was given by a teacher who is also a member of the online polyglot scene; a great advocate for the joy of languages who has leveraged her videos and general social media charisma to build her brand and gain new customers at a higher premium. In short, someone I admire in many ways.
I realise of course that a free seminar is bound to include some element of sales pitch but in this case it really swamped the actual educational content which was reduced to a five or ten minute slice between the intro and the epic build up of the self study course. I couldn’t help feeling I’d have been better off reading or writing something.
Ah well, I guess in future I’ll just treat these free things with a bit more skepticism…
I’ve recently been using Linguee. It’s pretty good. I never really saw the point until recently when I had a couple fo duff translations from Google translate. Linguee puts the words into context so you can see how real human translators have translated them as part of wider sentences. It’s excellent although you do need to be a bit sneaky to know how to ask it the right questions.
Full disclosure:I got a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is that review.
Guides to how to acquire languages seem to be quite in vogue at the moment, and I daresay if you’ve read one you’ll probably not want to spend time reading another. I must admit to only having filleted this one for tips rather than read it cover to cover. It’s short and dense with information so that wasn’t hard. Like most books of its type it starts by reassuring you that learning a language – while it takes time and effort – is not out of the reach of the average mortal; that nobody is “bad” at languages (although we all have days where we bloody well feel like it!) and that acquiring one doesn’t necessarily mean going back to reciting verb tables by rote. All standard stuff.
So why pick it over – say – Benny Lewis’s book, or Gabriel Wyner’s or… (insert polyglot guru of choice)? I think a large part of your reason for choosing a text is likely to be governed by the personality of the writer and whether you feel like you can spend a few hours in their company. Some are blokish, some self-absorbed, some cerebral. This one seems to be very practical in its focus and aimed at conveying tips rather than bigging up the author. Obviously she tells her own story at the start (a vital part of the formula of a polyglot book: I’m an ordinary person like you) but I didn’t get the sense of this being a vanity project or anything – she just gets on with it.
OK, so to come back to those practical examples I mentioned: there are a lot of pictures in the book showing lists and diagrams. This is really useful if you want to be able to bootstrap your way into a language without having to make it all up yourself or jumping in at the deep end with a language exchange on day 1. Many polyglot guides will be careful to avoid references to specific languages as a way of showing how universally-applicable the ideas are, but I think most newbies will appreciate something more concrete. This book has that in spades. I guess the only drawback is that the examples, of necessity, are of a specific language. If you happen to be studying one of the languages chosen (Korean, Spanish and French all feature heavily) that’ll be a blessing but I can imagine if not you might feel they weren’t speaking to you in quite the same way. At the end, there are tons of links and books mentioned but again only for specific languages. One of those languages is “Brazilian Portuguese”. Boo hiss.
So, getting right down to it, this is a good, practical guide for the new learner, more user-friendly than most, not flashy, and maybe not as “windswept and interesting” as some of the more fashionable ones either but well worth a look if you just want to get started quickly and with as little fuss as possible.
I haven’t been as careful as I should be lately about giving credit for the corrections on my Portuguese texts. I get a few corrections on each notebook entry on iTalki but the person doing most of the work on providing actual, proper Portuguese grammar to counteract all the Brazilian opinions is still professional Portuguese teacher Sophia who I pay for an hour of text-corrections per week. She has her blog here and he iTalki profile here if you would like to ask her to do the same for you.
Thanks Sophia for all your hard work. I’ll get the hang of it one day.
The Practice Portuguese Podcast is really blossoming now that Joel is doing it full-time. There are some new videos on the site along with the usual podcast episodes, a pronunciation chart and new stuff being promised for the future. You can see
the first two all three videos free on the site – 5000 Words You Already Know Open and Closed Vowels and Tools for learning European Portuguese (including the big reveal of their secret weapon in their war to make the world speak European Portuguese). Each one is a very specific examination of an aspect of the language that can help you move forward in vocabulary (first one) or pronunciation (second) and to get more Portuguese into your life in general (third). Actually, to tell the truth, the second one blew my mind a bit because I tried to listen without paying much attention and maybe I need to sit down again with it and put the effort in.
Some news about learning resources I have endorsed on here and some new ones I haven’t:
If you’ve tried the podcast “Practice Portuguese” but didn’t get into it, now might be a time to have another look. Joel is now on it full-time and quit his day-job, so there are longer episodes with a lot more explanation and new features coming out.
Say It in Portuguese has been unavailable to download for a while now but they are expecting to be back online in a few days, so it’s worth checking iTunes if you haven’t already.
A couple of teachers I know have new websites: a good friend of mine, Joana, has started teaching Portuguese face-to-face along with various other things she does, so if you live in West London and are looking for someone to help you sort out your linguistic problems – or even if you know a criança who needs a professora for some out-of-school tuition, you might want to have a look at her site, The Kew Tutor. If you don’t live in West London, Ana, a very reliable and professional iTalki tutor I have been working with on spoken portuguese has a brand new blog which you can find here.
I signed up for iTalki’s Olympic Language Challenge. I’m doing OK. I’ve already hit “Power-Lifting” (3 hours of teaching in a day) and when I have finished my current booked lessons that will get me javelin (5 consecutive days). Then all I need is to do another 5 hours in July to hit marathon (20 hours total in the period). I quite fancied doing the fourth activity, Archery, which would mean taking a lesson each in three other languages, which I think would be a good laugh but I wanted to do at least one of them with my daughter and she wasn’t up for it. I haven’t completely given up though. I need to think about how to make it fun and also let her choose a teacher. iTalki lets you see the person in a video first so you can make sure they aren’t scarily strict. That’s reassuring.
Mini-challenges like this are a pretty good way of motivating yourself if you need a kick-start, and I definitely did. I question their value as a long-term way of keeping motivation alive though, because they encourage a stop-start attitude, where you reach the end of the time and decide to just not bother any more. It’s already underway, but if you fancy signing up a little late you can have a look here.
This story in Atlas Obscura is amazing and illustrates perfectly the importance of choosing the right resources to help you learn a language.
I spotted a blog on Twitter today that has some really nice online resources for language learners. Unlike most blogs, it doesn’t just tell you things, it actually has some online test exercises too, which is nice. Here’s a link to the DIPLE/B2 page, which is the next level up for me, but if you look at the menu on the right-hand side you can see they have pages for all different levels.
The Blog is called Nós Falamos Português and you can find it here!
This post from Lady of the Cakes is good fun if you’re tired of trying to implement someone else’s great ideas. No, it’s not just you, and no, there are no shortcuts.