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Monday, 1 September 2014

September 2014

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My random thoughts on language learning and language teaching in September 2014:

#11. Ten Secrets to Learning (a Foreign Language) Like Crazy

Click here to read the Ten Secrets article. The author stresses on the importance of imitating native speakers and repeating this pattern: listening, speaking, listening, speaking, on and on... It's a good read, however, it is written for American audience learning Spanish. The author mentions TV and radio stations he recommends to tune to which may not be doable in some countries, and talks about The U.S. educational system some of us are not familiar with. You can take advantage of this article if you look on the bright side, tho'.

Secret #9 (Get a Native Speaker Amor) is proven, I am a living proof and I'd testify for the author's point of view. It worked on me when I learned English. Talking with a native speaker in 'close' proximity improves your mastery in at least 12 areas of listening skills: prosody, stress, pitch, tone, intonation, suprasegmentals, assimilation, dissimilation, deletion, juncture, intrusive consonant and linking sound. Plus, if you are a great imitator of native speakers' speech style, you will make quick progress with your pronunciation and lexical choice, which includes collocation, language use and usage, the appropriatenes and the comprehensibility of your utterances. Those benefits can double, or triple, if you add intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to your efforts in learning the language.

Interesting eh?  Secret #9 sounds like the most sought-after task....
As for me, with 10 languages to learn at the same time, do I need to get 10 native speaker amors too?    :o)

#10. Missing My First Language

After several weeks of immersing in foreign languages, I found myself looking for Indonesian songs on YouTube today. I downloaded the songs and sang them all. I did the same thing when I lived abroad. Maybe I was just missing the sounds of Indonesian language or meaningful sentences in the song lyrics.

#9. A multitasking brain? Cool!!!

How about fast and loud music + reading comprehension, will that work?
A study by Thompson, Schellenberg and Letnic (2011), involving 44 undergraduate student research participants and two pilot studies, reveals  that    listening   to   background   instrumental   music   is   most  likely   to disrupt    reading   comprehension   when   the   music   is   fast   and   loud.   Read more here.

#8. Whoa! Waking Up from A Coma and Speaking A Different Language

I just read these miraculous stories about people who lose their first language speaking abilities after horrific car crash/accidents, but in exchange, they speak a foreign language. A Queensland Brain Institute neuroscientist, Dr Pankaj Sah, said the brain was made up of different circuits - which assist in language, breathing, speaking and thinking - similar to electronic circuits. According to him, what possibly happened to [these people] was that the parts of the brain that recalled [their first language] were damaged in the crash and those that retained [the second language learned] were activated when the [the person] woke up from his/her coma. Read more in 
Girl Loses Native Language After Coma, Picks up German
The Australian man who woke up from a coma speaking fluent Chinese

The 22 year-old Australian man studied Chinese at school but he was never fluent at it. Only after the car crash and the coma was he able to speak it fluently.   To me, it means:

(A) He thought he was not fluent in Mandarin, but the fact that he was able to speak it after the coma proves that he had received enough input of Chinese language.  However his knowledge of Chinese language remained dormant because he did not use the language as much as he used his first language, English.
(B) The dormant knowledge is still there, somewhere in his brain, and ready to be activated anytime.
(C) The dormant knowledge, when activated, is powerful enough to take over the entire thinking process.
Everyone has dormant knowledge somewhere in their brain. Can you imagine how much more advanced our society would be if we all activate and make the best use of our dormant knowledge?

#7. A Catchy Way to Study Russian Cases
Yes, we do need textbooks, but they can be boring sometimes. That's why we need another source material like a colorful website with pictures and emoticons......something eye-catching to explain difficult grammar tidbids. In my case, our Russian class has got a long way to go before we get to the chapters about Russian Cases, but I am already hungry for grammar! I am a big-picture type of thinker, see what I mean, right? as opposed to detail-oriented thinker. I need to see the grammar of a foreign language as a whole big picture before I dive deep scrutinizing each grammar tidbid.  Knowing the route in your language learning map enables you to plan learning strategies and move faster toward your goal, i.e. able to recognize sentence constituents when you translate an Advanced-level piece of text, eventhough you're still a Beginner.
If you also find grammar as appetizing as I do, and you cannot wait to jump at the lessons about Cases, a supplementary source material that summarizes all the Cases might help you feel relieved. As you may already know, there are six Cases in Russian grammar: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental and prepositional. I hope you'll enjoy these pages Master Russian and Russian for Free better than your textbooks ..hehe3

#6. Getting Ready for The Next Term

I have learned a great deal about my learning styles and strategies from the First term of my language course and I want to make some improvement in the Second term. I learned the importance of recording lesson materials in the books into audio files, so that I can practice my pronunciation and listen to the lessons in situations where reading is difficult to do (in a moving vehicle, for example). Also, in order to better memorize Mandarin hanze characters and the Japanese kanji characters, I must make a special effort to spend at least 10 minutes to study the radicals that constitute one or two Chinese/Japanese characters, everyday. Here's the  summary of next term's learning strategy.
Receptive Skills (INPUT):
1. Play the recordings often.
2. Translate every unamiliar word or phrase in the books.
3. Practice Hanze and Kanji writings (*only for Mandarin and Japanese)
Productive Skills (OUTPUT)
1. Do exercises in the books.
Aim: One bite at a time everyday. This helps lower anxiety prior to taking the mid-term exam and the final exam. Cramming for an exam proved to be damaging to my health.
2. Repeat after (= imitate) native speaker teachers.
Aim: learn sentences in foreign languages by heart. 
3. Record lessons, key sentences, texts in the target languages in mp3 format.
Aims: practice pronunciation and produce audio summaries of lessons.

#5. Short Audio Stories in Russian As I was looking for audio files of Aesop's Fables (narrated in Russian), I found two websites suitable for learning Russian pronunciation:  (this comes with audioscripts)  and (without audioscripts).

#4. The end of the 1st Term

Finally, my final exam week is over! The new quarter starts on September 22nd. It's now time for me to relax for a week and update this blog a little bit.

#3. Listening Practice From Early On

If you are in the beginning stage of learning or thinking about starting to learn a foreign language, you'd want to make sure that you get off on the right foot.  Like a toddler acquiring his first language, the first skill he learns is listening skill. It is important for a young human to learn to imitate sounds from authoritative figures around him (parents, older siblings, babysitter, etc.) before he can produce his first word 'mama' or 'dada'. 

Adopting this natural method of acquiring (or learning) a language, we should learn the pronunciation of the target language before we learn other aspects of the language. Another reason to prioritize listening practice above all else is to avoid fossilization. In Linguistics, fossilization means language errors that are difficult to 'kill' no matter how hard or often one learns the correct forms. If, at the beginning stage of your German language learning, you were taught that Z is pronounced [ch]--when in fact the correct pronunciation is [ts]-- it will be difficult for you to change this habit later on. The first millisecond you read the letter Z in a German word, your mind's spontaneous reaction would be to pronounce it [ch]. This is fatal as it can lead to fossilization.

After 3 months of learning Korean by books and from local Indonesian teachers I was shocked recently to find that my Korean pronunciation was not at all similar to Korean native speakers'. What I assumed to be Korean phonemes are actually Indonesian tongue version of Korean phonemes. The second thing I found, fortunately, is that in the last 3 months I have skipped so many Korean classes in my language course. So, thanks to my laziness, this wrong pronunciation habit has not sticked to my mind yet. From the links in the previous post below, I learned that a lot of Korean consonant sounds are aspirated, just like in Mandarin Pinyin. For example, 'P' is pronounced [Ph],  but not [F] as in 'Philippines'. Of course, my statement that Korean consonants are aspirated is based on my language experience as a native speaker of Indonesian. In my first language, the letter P is pronounced unaspirated, [P]. A Korean native speaker might argue that their P is also pronounced unaspirated as [P], but that's not how the rest of the world see it. This is a matter of perspective.

#2. FREE Korean Grammar and Audio Lessons
I just found these awesome links
1. Talk To Me In Korean
That is my favorite link. You can download their audio files and PDF lessons to accompany the recordings.
2. Korean Grammar Plus
3. Luke's Korean Grammar & Audio Blog

Before I found those links, I had visited other cool links but they are money-oriented. Soon I lost my interest in reading the rest of the websites. Now if you are thinking about purchasing Korean lessons online, hold on! Why should you pay if you can get them for free? All it takes is a little bit of patience in searching for free online lessons. It is worth the wait, anyway.

#1. Test-taking Strategies and Exam Anxiety Strategies

My language course will have the First Semester final exam next week. The exam will take six days and the students have the freedom to choose when to take their exam.
I am confident that my comprehension of the ten language grammars are pretty good. What I am not sure of, is my capability to memorize all new vocabulary of the ten languages. I don't know about you, but during my formal education, no one has every taught me test-taking strategies. This is one of the flaws in the education system in Indonesia. My best attempt to handle my Exam Week Anxiety is to do language exercises as much as possible to familiarize myself with the question types and common vocabulary wihich may appear in the real exam.

About the author

Hening is a laid-back ENTP (by upbringing) and a solar-Scorpio-and-lunar-Sagittarius (by birth). She believes that thrifting is an art form that helps rewire our brain circuits for the better.


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