Category Archive for 'Languages'

Is “Chinese” a complicated/difficult language? (And how does it compare to Russian?)

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

When someone mentions the language “Chinese”, nowadays they are usually referring to the current standard promoted by the Chinese government. That standard is currently Mandarin using simplified characters. However, there are other varieties of spoken Chinese such as Cantonese (considered to be a lingua franca), Taishanese (formerly considered to be a lingua franca; it was the most common variety of Chinese spoken in the Chinatowns of North America – this might be why, in the 1960s, the U.S. Defense Language Institute offered a course teaching it), Shanghainese (also once considered a lingua franca), and Hakka. It is estimated that there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese. For political reasons, some may claim these are all just dialects, even though the varieties are not necessarily mutually intelligible. Based on my own knowledge of the following languages, I’d say Taishanese and Cantonese are closely related like Spanish and Italian, but Mandarin is to Taishanese as French is to Spanish.

When learning a Chinese language, we are really learning two languages – the written language and the spoken language. By that, I mean that the written language does not indicate what the spoken language sounds like phonetically. Even though there are “sound-loan” characters and “sound-meaning compound” characters, we still need to learn the sound associated with the original “loaned” character. Written Chinese is “logosyllabic” and each character represents a syllable. Each character can also represent a word, but other words may be made up of more than one character/syllable. Technically, there is only one writing system for Chinese. However, there are two different sets of characters in the system – simplified and traditional. The simplified characters are so named because they were “simplified” from their traditional, more complex forms. Not all characters were simplified though, which means that some characters are the same across both the simplified and traditional sets. Some examples include 我 (“I”), 你 (“you”), 女 (“female”), 男 (“male”), 水 (“water”), and 火 (“fire”). As mentioned, the standard by the Chinese government is to use the simplified characters. However, traditional characters are used in other varieties of Chinese such as Cantonese and Taishanese. Additionally, even though Mandarin is spoken in places like Taiwan and Macau, traditional characters are used.

When comparing “Chinese” to another language, we should first compare the writing systems.

As mentioned, written Chinese is logosyllabic. Russian uses an alphabet, which consists of 33 letters. That’s only seven more letters than in the English alphabet. Some of the Russian letters look like English letters and are pronounced like in English (e.g. “а”, “о”). Others only look like English letters, but have different pronunciations (e.g. “е”, “р”). If someone has learned a bit of Greek, then some of the Russian letters simply look like Greek letters (e.g., “г”, “ф”, “п”). Once someone manages to learn these 33 letters, he/she can read and write Russian.

For written Chinese, learning about 2000 characters is considered the most basic level. Learning about 4500 is considered to be a decent foundation for reading most contemporary Chinese materials. That is significantly a lot more to remember compared to an alphabet of 33 letters. This is also assuming that we are only learning one set of characters (either the simplified or the traditional; if we are learning both sets, obviously the number of characters would increase). Granted, Chinese characters can be broken down into individual smaller characters, but we still have to pay attention to how the character is composed. Then there are also similar looking characters where the type of stroke makes all the difference. For example, compare the traditional characters 貝 and 見. Both these characters are fairly simple, but both can also be used as components in other, more complex characters. Generally, for written Chinese, we need to be quite discerning when reading and writing.

However, written Chinese is becoming easier to learn because of technology. With pinyin for Mandarin and jyutping for Cantonese, typing Chinese characters is pretty easy because all that is required is the ability to recognize the characters that appear in a table after typing the romanization of the Chinese words (for Mandarin, pinyin romanization is used). Additionally, an English speaker who is learning the Chinese writing system nowadays may not ever need to learn to _handwrite every character perfectly in the correct stroke order_ as was the case before modern computing. Basically, written Chinese _can_ be relatively easy to learn for an English speaker who does not need to be concerned with being able to handwrite Chinese characters from memory.

Before comparing the spoken languages of Russian and Mandarin, let’s first compare Mandarin with Cantonese. Mandarin and Cantonese are fairly easy to learn _if_ one has a good ear for recognizing change or no change in pitch (i.e., tones). Compared to Cantonese though, Mandarin is easier to learn since it has fewer tones (four, plus a neutral tone). In the traditional analysis of tone contours, Cantonese is said to have nine tones, although effectively, it has six tones (in Hong Kong) and seven tones (in Guangzhou) (see “Cantonese phonology”). Regarding the other aspects of pronunciation, for Mandarin the pinyin system is slightly misleading. Technically, what is romanized as “b”, “d”, “g”, “z”, “zh”, and “j” should be pronounced as unvoiced consonants. A common mistake among English learners is to voice those consonants. The same is true for Cantonese – “b”, “d”, “g”, “j”, and “gw” should be unvoiced. It is kind of assumed that over a period of time, an English speaker will gradually learn to devoice those consonants. However, this may not even happen if the learner isn’t even aware of the subtle difference. Mandarin does have a few consonants that are tricky for both Cantonese and English speakers. These would be the retroflex “zh”, “ch”, “sh”, and “r”. All of these should have the tongue rolled back. To my ears, these consonants sound muffled, as if someone is speaking with a sock in his/her mouth.

Russian does have a few difficult consonants for English speakers. Ш and щ seem to be the most troublesome consonants. Although, ш and the Mandarin “sh” are quite similar (see “Voiceless retroflex sibilant”). Ж is not too troublesome if one is already familiar with the French “j”, as in “je t’aime” (“I love you”). Learning stress in Russian words isn’t that different than learning the stress in English words. English speakers are used to words having different stresses, but they are not used to every word having a tone. English speakers use tone completely differently than how they are used in tonal languages like Mandarin and Cantonese. For example, the rising tone at the end of a sentence turns it into a question in English. It may take an English speaker some time to adjust to the fact that the rising tone over a syllable at the end of a sentence in a language like Mandarin does not indicate a question; but rather, a sentence final particle is used to indicate a question (e.g. 嗎). Fundamentally, an English speaker should find a lot more common ground with Russian than with any Chinese language.

In regards to grammar, the type of grammar found in Mandarin or Cantonese is just fundamentally different than the type of grammar for an Indo-European language like Russian. Both of these types of systems have their own complexities and nuances. There may not be noun cases and verb conjugation classes in Mandarin or Cantonese, but there are different categories such as “classifiers” and “particles”. Leaving out a classifier or using the wrong classifier is considered to be poor grammar just as putting the noun in the wrong case is in Russian. Mandarin and Cantonese are also “topic-prominant languages” meaning that the topic of the sentence is placed first in the sentence followed by the comment on the topic. Native speakers of Chinese languages use this “topic-comment” structure quite easily and readily. I can recall my mother (who speaks both Taishanese and Cantonese) saying things like “This dress, my aunt gave me, I give to you”. This kind of sentence structure serves to place a kind of importance on what is said first. In the example with my mother, “this dress” is the most important part of the sentence. If my mother were to say this sentence in any other way, “this dress” would not have the same importance. By choosing to put “this dress” first in the sentence, my mother is indicating how important “this dress” is to her. In English, this would likely be indicated by using emphasis in the sentence (“I’m giving you _this dress_ that my aunt gave me”). In comparing Russian and a language like Mandarin, I’d say it is simply a trade-off between different types of grammar. Neither kind of grammar is easier or harder. They’re just different, and they might just take about the same amount of time to pick up, or not. I think that depends entirely on the individual learning the language. In a language like Russian, declensions and conjugations are about recognizing the pattern of a word and how that word changes; while in languages like Mandarin and Cantonese, the grammar is more about recognizing syntax – the pattern of the whole sentence.

It is interesting to note that the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has consistently listed both Mandarin and Cantonese, along with Japanese, Arabic, and Korean as some of the toughest languages for English speakers to learn (see Language Difficulty Ranking ). Their ranking is based on the amount of time it should take an English speaker to reach a specific proficiency in speaking and reading the language.

An interesting article to read is Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard. “I would say that it takes about three times as long to reach a level of comfortable fluency in speaking, reading, and writing Chinese as it takes to reach a comparable level in French. An average American could probably become reasonably fluent in two Romance languages in the time it would take them to reach the same level in Chinese.” Indeed!

Я изучаю русский язык (I’m learning Russian)!

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

I reached Level 10 Russian! https://www.duolingo.com

I still have a long way to go though. Since Russian is significantly harder than Spanish, Italian, French, and Dutch (the language trees I’ve already completed on Duolingo), I’ve been doing quite a bit of the “strengthening” for it (at least three a day). While I was able to finish the trees for the other languages (I finished two trees each for Spanish, Italian, and French – there is only one tree for Dutch) somewhere between level 11 and level 13 (doing little to no strengthening), I think I will be aiming to finish the Russian tree by level 20.

(By the way, Italian is fairly easy to learn once you already know Spanish and French. ^_^)

Learn Taishanese (aka Hoisanva, Toisanwa) – 學台山話

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

我講台山話,未講普通話。我曉少少廣州話。I speak Taishanese, but I don’t speak Mandarin yet. I know a little bit of Cantonese. It’s taken some time, but I can finally type a bit of Chinese. :-)

Some time ago I mentioned that I had found learning materials for Taishanese. I have finally finished volumes one and two of that material. 😀 The process of going through the DLI Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) material has been slow-going for a few reasons (the material consisted of hand-written characters and I also had to make notes and flash cards by hand since I could not type Chinese characters at first), but now I should be able to make it through the next few volumes in a shorter time frame (there are seven volumes in total, though the last volume appears to consist of mostly military and political vocabulary).

Once I started learning how to type Chinese characters (using the Cangjie input method), I set up an Anki deck. If you use Anki, you may download my Anki deck consisting of characters, vocabulary, and expressions from Volumes One and Two of the DLI Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) material. A permanent link can be found on my LEARN TAISHANESE (台山話) page.

I have also created corresponding courses on Memrise. If you use Memrise, you can search under Taishanese for my courses. The direct links to the courses are:

DLI Toishan-Cantonese Volume 1
DLI Toishan-Cantonese Volume 2

Under the Taishanese courses, you will also see a short course called Beginner’s Chinese Characters (in 台山話). This is based off another Anki deck of mine, which is also available for download (permanent link can be found at LEARN TAISHANESE (台山話)).

Now, I’m ready for Volume 3! :-)

周婉蓮

Immersion, interactive, or rules-based learning? What’s best?

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

The following is copy of what I posted in DuoLingo’s discussion section. (See https://www.duolingo.com/comment/5380893)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every few discussion threads, I keep seeing the topic of how best to learn a foreign language pop up. I think I should post some of my thoughts on this issue.

I think it’s been proven so far that the best way to learn a language is through full immersion. However, even in full immersion programs, they explain grammar rules to the school children. My sister teaches French Immersion to grade school children and they stress grammar rules. I was taught French from grade 4 through high school and also through one year in university (I got placed in the advanced university course). For most of those years, I was learning French in as close to immersion as possible. (The program name was called “Extended French”, “extended” because we also took other classes in French, such as history and geography.) They placed a lot of emphasis on grammar and understanding the structure used for the language (because they wanted the students to be literate as well as able to speak the language).

While it is true that during the earliest stages of life a person picks up their first language via experience, this doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up the grammar rules fairly early, especially once someone reaches school age.

The main reason why some “rule-based learners” would have problems with a language is that they simply have not internalized what they’ve learned yet by repeated exposure to the new material (this is part of why immersion works – repeat exposure). What I’m saying is that it’s good for these types of learners to have some understanding of grammar and structure for the language so that they can stop asking “why?” all the time and then they can sit back and absorb the new material.

I wouldn’t exactly call DuoLingo’s method of teaching languages on here as “immersion” or even close to it, although it is interactive. In immersion, students don’t focus on translation. They focus on understanding the language in context. The only part of DuoLingo that is like immersion is the exercises with pictures. In my opinion, DuoLingo should use more of those exercises, but they might be worried about being too close to Rosetta Stone’s model. In comparison, Rosetta Stone is ideal if you wish to learn a language through context only.

However, the minute a language student starts to ask “Why?”, I think it’s good that the students gets accurate and detailed answers.

There are also other classes of language learners to consider: those with previous experience in learning a foreign language as well as those who have an academic or linguistic interest in a language. I think these classes of language learners will be more than ready for the “rules”.

All this being said, I think that no language learning tool is valueless. If learning a language is mostly about exposure to it, then having more than one learning tool and different methods of learning is better than not having any at all.

Language Learning – Working on More Languages

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

My recent study list has been mostly languages – Chinese (Hoisanva aka Taishanese), Korean, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, and Russian. I have yet to add German and Japanese to that.  Technically, I’m bilingual as I’m able to speak and understand English and my dialect of Chinese (which is a weird mix of Taishanese and Cantonese due to my parents’ upbringing). I studied French in the past for ten years (though it’s rusty now). When I get around to studying Japanese, it will be my tenth language! :-)

I’ve resigned myself to learning Mandarin Chinese at some point, which is quite different from my Taishanese dialect. Cantonese is very similar, but there is still enough differences to Taishanese to make Cantonese somewhat challenging. If one counts Cantonese and Mandarin separately as languages and not just dialects, I might be able to speak and understand twelve languages. 😮

Some links:
Learn Taishanese
Studying Korean 한국어을 공부해요 – Some Sources for Beginners

Studying Korean 한국어을 공부해요 – Some Sources for Beginners

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I’ve been studying Korean off and on (with some intervals of intense studying) for a while now, so I thought I should do a quick blog about some of the materials and sources I’ve used and/or am currently using.

I started studying Korean using the Teach Yourself Korean book and audio files.  The book starts easy, but then it throws a lot of vocabulary halfway through. The dialogues are good for getting used to the flow of the language. The dialogues get longer and more comprehensive, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the problem of learning vocabulary in this book is tied to the use of romanization throughout the book.

Although the book spends a bit of time in the introduction teaching you the hangeul, the romanization is prevalent.  The romanization system used is based off of the McCune-Reischauer, but there is now a standard romanization system in South Korea called “Revised Romanization of Korean”. Consequently, the McCune Reischauer will be useless if you obtain Korean language learning materials using the new romanization. The Korean-English vocabulary at the back of the book is organized using romanization as well which is a little annoying once you’ve spent the time to learn the hangeul well. It is best to obtain a Korean-English dictionary that lists the Korean entries using hangeul and not the romanization.  There is no hangeul next to the Korean entries in the vocabulary at the end.

In each unit, the dialogue is given in hangeul with the romanization following the dialogue, while the English translations of dialogues are found at the end of the book.  The list of phrases and expressions in each unit is given in romanization only, which makes it annoying to look up the phrases when you are reading the dialogue using hangeul. It also makes the learner prone to learning the phrase only using romanization which means that when the learner comes across it while reading a later dialogue in Korean, the learner won’t immediately recognize the phrase or expression.

The vocabulary list in each unit does include the hangeul, but second to the romanization. It’s not easy to ignore the romanization when looking at the vocabulary as native English speakers automatically read English where it’s present. The romanization makes it hard to learn the Korean vocabulary when the learner just wants to learn the vocabulary using hangeul, not romanization. Basically, it was helpful at first, but once the learner has a good handle on hangeul, the romanization just turns into a big crutch. Romanization is best used as a pronunciation guide, not what the Korean language learner should be reading.

The book has grammar points throughout, but no grammar summary at the back. Since I’ve decided to learn another language (I studied French in school), I’ve noticed that I will go look at a grammar summary because it gives me an idea of what to expect from the language. Some grammar points could be explained better, but this book does a decent job with the grammar. For a study of grammar indepth, I think it’s better to find a source concentrating on it.

This book provides a decent introduction to Korean language and culture, but once you get used to the hangeul, I’d recommend switching to a book with no romanization (I used Active Korean 1 – see below) as the romanization detracts from practicing reading hangeul. I suppose there are those who don’t care to learn the hangeul, who only want to speak the language and understand what they are hearing, in which case these people will love having the romanization (for them, this book is a good recommendation). However, I don’t see the point in not learning how to read a language. Korean is an Asian language, but it is not Chinese. The Korean writing system is technically phonetic (while the Chinese isn’t), although the words are put in syllable blocks (similar to the Chinese system). The hangeul isn’t that difficult to learn and there is an explanation as to why the language is written the way it is (see “Origin of Hangul”).

This book would be better if either:

a) they include hangeul with the list of phrases and expressions, and in the vocabulary at the end of the book; they put the hangeul first and the romanization second in the vocabulary list; they include hangeul in the grammar sections; they put more exercises in hangeul (I ended up skipping most of the exercises because the answers were in romanization – I wrote them out in Korean); and they drop the romanization at some point (maybe a quarter of the way through; they could keep the romanization after the dialogue as long as it doesn’t interfere with reading the dialogue in hangeul as I’m aware that a learner might use it to check if they are reading the dialogues correctly);

or

b) they put in more exercises to help learn the hangul and replace the romanization throughout the book with hangeul; they could keep the romanization after the dialogue.

This material is not ideal for anyone who knows the hangeul well as the romanization is a hindrance more than an aid at that point. The most anyone with proficiency reading Korean could use this material for is to practice reading and listening to the dialogues. They may want to read the grammar points, but there is romanization in the grammar explanations not hangeul, and there are better grammar books on Korean available (I’ll cover a few of them below).

Since I was a little frustrated with the persistent romanization in the Teach Yourself Korean, I switched to using something with no romanization. Active Korean 1 is a good beginner book that teaches you the hangeul upfront and has a decent amount of vocabulary without having the learner feel overwhelmed. The material is put together by Seoul National University Language Institute. There are grammar points throughout as well as a grammar summary at the end. The exercises are straightforward, and there is some effort to make learning the language fun. This book is great for practising reading Korean. It will be pretty easy to get through if one already knows the hangeul. I highly recommend this for beginners.

After Active Korean 1, I went through Korean Through English 1. This material was also put together by Seoul National University Language Institute. It consists of a little more material than Active Korean 1 and contains good explanations of the dialogues on the audio tracks. It teaches the hangeul first, and there is a good amount of exercises to go through before digging into the dialogues. There is a glossary of the Korean vocabulary at the end. The appendix includes a linguistics essay on the Korean language. Like Active Korean 1, this book is great for practising reading Korean and is pretty easy to get through if one already knows hangeul. I obtained an older version of this material and the audio files. I’m not sure if you can obtain audio files for the book listed on amazon.com, but if you can get the audio to go with the book, I recommend this material for beginners.

Some other beginner sources I have include:

  • My Korean 1 and 2 (text and audio)
  • Integrated Korean (beginner (text and audio), intermediate and advanced (audio only))
  • Colloquial Korean (book and audio)
  • Elementary Korean (book and audio) and Continuing Korean (book and audio)
  • Living Language Korean (book and audio)
  • Beginner’s Korean (book and audio)

I’m thinking of continuing my Korean studies with My Korean 1 and 2 (text and audio), which can be found online (see link just above). My Korean has romanization in the first unit, then the hangeul is taught in the second unit (using the Revised Romanization of Korean). Starting in unit three, romanization is dropped and is only provided for the dialogues after the dialogues along with the English translation. In this respect, My Korean is what Teach Yourself Korean could have been. I will have to see how well it explains grammar.

Of the materials listed above, Living Language Korean and Beginner’s Korean seem to be the least useful for me. Although Living Language Korean teaches the hangeul and does not use romanization after lesson five, I felt that it did not give a good explanation of the grammar points in the first lesson. It doesn’t explain honorifics and speech levels well and confuses honorifics with formal speech level. In the first lesson, one of the exercises is to fill in the topic particle, but one of the answers is a subject particle instead. In terms of amount of vocabulary, Living Language Korean is similar to Teach Yourself Korean, in fact it has quite a bit of vocabulary in the first lesson. If I get a chance to use this material, it will be for practising reading and listening to Korean and for vocabulary build-up. I will probably either ignore the grammar in the text or skim it; and I’m not confident about the exercises being well designed.

As for Beginner’s Korean, it uses romanization (Revised Romanization of Korean) throughout. In fact, it’s more of a nuisance as the romanization is put right below each line of dialogue (Living Language Korean uses this format for the dialogues in the first five lessons). The vocabulary in the lessons and at the end of the material is listed with hangeul first, which is better than in Teach Yourself Korean. As for grammar, it has grammar points throughout and a grammar summary at the end. This might be useful for a review of grammar points. While listening to the dialogues is always good practice, I probably won’t use this material to practice reading Korean since the romanization is right below each line of dialogue.

In regards to listening material for languages, I’ve heard about Pimsleur and have seen it in the bookstores, but as posted in “Pimsleur Language Programs – Save Your Money”, I think the Pimsleur material will be a waste of time for me considering there are other good sources for studying Korean. In fact, I think it’s more likely I’ll use the Korean for Dummies as listening material before I use the Pimsleur material. I almost forgot about Korean for Dummies. It is definitely not recommended for learning Korean if you want to know how to read Korean. It does not teach you hangeul and the book uses only romanization. It’s kind of funny that it puts in a pronunciation guide next to the romanization. That being said, it’s a mite better than the Pimsleur Korean material as it’s cheaper and has more content than the Pimsleur material. In any case, I doubt I’ll use the Korean for Dummies any time soon (although I suppose it could have interesting tidbits about Korean culture throughout).

I also should not forget about Rosetta Stone. I definitely think it’s worth using, but in conjunction with other learning materials.

That’s about all the beginner Korean material I have to mention for now. I have some other material that I would consider intermediate to advanced, and I have yet to get to that material.

If you’re really into Korean and making your way through whatever material you’re using, you will definitely need a good Korean-English dictionary. This will be difficult as you should get a Korean-English dictionary that lists Korean entries using hangeul and not romanization. The problem that exists is that so far there aren’t many Korean-English dictionaries listing entries in native Korean that have extensive vocabulary on that side of the dictionary. This is the case with the Hippocrene Practical Dictionary Korean-English English-Korean. It just doesn’t have enough Korean entries. The Collins Gem Korean Dictionary is a better option. A Korean dictionary by Samuel E. Martin, Yang Ha Lee, and Sun-Un Chang was published in 1967 by Yale University, and is a must for Korean language studies. It uses the Yale romanization for the pronunciation guide.

If you have to settle for a romanized Korean-English dictionary, I use Berlitz’s Korean Concise Dictionary. As long as you are willing to learn the McCune-Reischauer romanization, it has a good amount of entries. I originally bought this dictionary to help me with Teach Yourself Korean. I use it now when I can’t find an entry in Martin’s A Korean Dictionary or in the Collins Gem one.

For grammar, I’m currently making my way through Basic Korean: A Grammar and Workbook by Andrew Sangpil Byon. Then, I will make my way through Intermediate Korean: A Grammar and Workbook by the same author. I also found 500 Basic Korean Verbs quite useful for explaining speech levels, honorific verb form, along with verb tenses, and a variety of verb endings. It uses the Revised Romanization of Korean instead of listing verbs by native Korean, but this appears to be the only good book out on Korean verbs. A couple of other Korean grammar books to look out for are A Reference Grammar of Korean by Samuel E. Martin and Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar by Jaehoon Yoon and Lucien Brown.

Finally, the last few materials I have are flashcards – Tuttle Korean for Kids Flashcards and Tuttle More Korean for Kids Flashcards. I found these two packages at a used bookstore, so I thought I’d give them a try. They, unfortunately, have romanization on them on the front, but at least the Korean is in larger print than the romanization. The flashcards Korean in a Flash is ideal for anyone who is serious about learning to read Korean and a good addition to your current Korean material. I will have to get these at some point.

안녕히 가세요!
~~~C

Pimsleur Language Programs – Save Your Money

Friday, February 1st, 2013

I finished with a couple of Korean language learning sources recently and am trying to decide on which one to use next.

I decided to listen to a bit of the Pimsleur Korean. The audio track took at least six minutes to teach me one sentence in Korean. That’s right – at least six minutes. (I don’t know exactly how long the audio was going to go on about the one sentence because by about the six minute mark I was extremely bored and wanted much more new material already.) I understand that the method they are using in the material is designed to ensure precise pronunciation of the language and that the learner will sound like a native speaker (though I’m not sure if the pronunciation is that precise or that you will sound like a native speaker when they are teaching you to speak soooo sloooowly), but I’m pretty sure I learned 안녕 하세요 (annyeong haseyo) in a shorter amount of time. It’s not that hard to pick up the pronunciation. Spending six minutes to learn one sentence is definitely a waste of time for me when I could probably learn between five and ten full expressions as well as understand the basics of their grammatical construction, not just intuitively know the grammar rules and constraints. I agree with the amazon reviewer who posted (see the first link above) “promises pie in the sky but delivers very little”. He further says

I agree with the reader from New Zealand: these tapes is for beginners. Most of the material on these tapes I learned my first year in Korea.

The product comes with a brochure, telling the consumer all about how wonderful the product is and what a brilliant scholar Dr. Pimsleur is. According to this brochure, ‘extensive research has shown that we actually need a comparatively limited number of words to be able to communicate effectively in any language.’ That is not true. According to a word frequency chart compiled at Yonsei University in Seoul, it takes 3000 words to read 85% of written Korean. It takes 6000 to raise that to 90%.

In short, the Pimsleur language material is over-priced for the amount of content covered. Other sources cover more material for a lot less cost and probably a lot less time wasted. Teach Yourself books and audio materials are a good starting point for some languages as well as being a lot cheaper than Pimsleur, and you can always shop around amazon.com for more material (or use tpb).

If you really need something to practice pronunciation, I recommend Rosetta Stone. It’s more immersive than the Pimsleur materials since Rosetta Stone is computer program. It does have its drawbacks too. It is expensive as well, but probably more worth it than the Pimsleur material, especially if you are learning more than one language. You can also maybe have someone procure a copy for you (university students may have access to it and might be able to give you a copy for personal use). Rosetta Stone doesn’t teach grammar (at least not Korean grammar) as well as other sources, but it at least provides feedback on how well your pronunciation is. There is occasionally the technical difficulty of your microphone not picking you up well, but that can be resolved by reducing how accurate you need to be for the program to consider your pronunciation as “correct”. (A side note: a funny albeit annoying thing about Rosetta Stone is its tendency to occasionally cut you off and tell you you’re wrong (“beep!”) before you finish speaking. When that happens, maybe just restart the program and do the microphone setup again in the program.) The thing I like about Rosetta stone is the use of pictures. That is how children learn language as well. Remember pointing at something as a child and your mom, dad, or older sibling will tell you what it is? That’s how Rosetta stone works. It shows you pictures, then tells you what it is. Obviously that can turn into a “mix and match” game. It also has the pure listening practice, along with reading and writing practice for the language you’re studying. A plus about Rosetta Stone for Korean is that there is no romanization. 😀 (The Korean writing system is actually phonetic, so continuing to use romanization after you’ve learned the pronunciation is a bad habit. The romanization is a crutch – one needs to start walking and running.)

Luckily for me, I managed to procure the Pimsleur Korean material without dishing out an arm and a leg for it. I happened across it and I wasn’t really looking for it. Now, I just don’t know what to do with it lol. Maybe, if I run out of other Korean material (I don’t think that’s going to happen soon lol), which reminds me that I probably should post a blog about some of the Korean material I have used already.

~~~C

Some Personal Thoughts on Human Rights and Space Travel

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I’ve been reading astronomy all weekend. I’ve kind of missed it since I first took astronomy in university (and with all the changes in spaceflight going on – space tourism, woohoo! – I think I’d better brush up). Somehow I got an A in astronomy (no, not just staring at stars all year long) and nearly flunked accounting (even though I aced accounting in high school – university level accounting and high school accounting are NOT the same). Okay, well, I was under “extenuating circumstances” the year I was studying accounting. Still had to re-do accounting though because less than a C grade was not acceptable for the program. :( (The business school was actually wondering why I didn’t just do a math degree. Lol. I did get accepted into the math program, I just opted for business for some insane reason.)

I’ve been wanting to go back to school (for the third time now), but have been torn between law school overseas (because all the law programs in North America now seem to be business focused, but some law schools in Europe have programs on international human rights law) or maybe astrophysics (if I can hack the science now that I’m older and not lazy like I was in high school). Then again, I’m not keen on going into debt again to pay some institution for subjects I can learn on my own, so I might not go back for anything at all.

Lately though, I’ve been leaning towards studying astronomy and astrophysics because law (particularly human rights law), for the most part, seems too easy in a way. Not to sound conceited or arrogant, but a lot of the issues in human rights seem to have straight-forward, logical, sane solutions. The problem though is that people en masse aren’t sane or logical or straight-forward necessarily. Work in human rights dwindles down to plain and outright politics (which I understand, but don’t love; frankly, I think politics is b/s, and I never even played office politics when I was working). Funny enough, as a teenager my family told me I should probably go into politics because I’m passionate about some issues and I have strong opinions on most things. My response was “Hell no”. 😉 It seems like with human rights, being involved in politics is unavoidable. At some point, you get dragged into it. Human rights work is also terribly emotionally draining and exhausting. Even just reading and writing about it can zap you for a few days. I can only imagine what it’s like if I was dealing directly with a human rights case. As rational as a person can be, some cases will just get to you because you will feel helpless at times and you will feel frustrated because you feel that you just can’t help so-and-so or some group of people.

Why astronomy and astrophysics? For me, it’s clear. It’s time for humans to be able to get off this planet. It’s time to colonize (moon, Mars, Jupiter’s moons, etc.), and I really plan on being one of the first to go. (Leave me to my dreams people!). Sure there’s some politics involved with convincing governments to fund space programs, but those politics are arguably less stressful than the politics in most (probably all) human rights cases.

I’m not saying I’m going to ignore human rights issues. Even if humans do begin to colonize other worlds, inevitably these issues will come along for the ride (get too many people in one small boat and inevitably some will start fighting). It’s important to understand these issues, so we do not make the same mistakes over and over. In some distant future, if we manage to be able to travel “to the stars”, I also think that space travel should be a human right (so long as it is feasible, as under our current economic system, it may not be feasible for a long time). This idea stems from the opinion that travelling today should also be considered a human right. Human rights law as it exists now allows nations/countries to have border controls. I think this is an obsolete idea today. Border controls are tools of nationalism. Nationalism has no place in the today’s world – certainly not in a world where we can communicate all over the world in an instant making friends who live on the other side of the world; and also travel to anywhere in the world in less than a day. People should be able to freely travel with no fear or chance of being unreasonably held in a foreign country; and to properly ensure that, border controls need to be eliminated. World travel should be a human right and, in the distant future, space travel should be a human right.

In my opinion, if humans want to survive and if we want to see our civilization last, it’s important that we look beyond Earth as a place to live. Not saying that everyone has to race to get off the planet. Certainly, there are some people who might want to stay here; and definitely, there should be a population remaining on Earth, but I do think the option to live elsewhere is important for our civilization. As our world population continues to grow, we are more pressed for space to live than when humans first landed on the moon 42 years ago. (You’d think humans would have landed on Mars by now! But well… it was really politics that got us to the moon… another rant, another time.)

Throughout history, humans have proven to be adventurous and there have always been explorers. What happened to this sense of adventure? Where are the explorers now? Are some people (*cough* politicians *cough*) just self-satisfied with life as it is that they don’t want to know more about the universe? Have some people just given up on the idea of space travel? Why don’t we put more pressure on our governments world-wide to emphasize space programs? (Note: has anyone else besides me noticed that there are no political parties devoted to promoting space travel and continued studies and research in the relevant fields? I may not like our political systems, but sadly you have to work within the framework that’s already in place to make the changes you want. I dislike politics and I don’t want to start my own political party, so someone please start a “Space Party” or something like that. “New Millennium Party”, maybe? Something!)

That being said, space programs like NASA’s should be open to everyone, not just U.S. citizens. More accurately, it should be turned into an international program. Failing that, we need to start an international space program. The European Space Agency (ESA) is a good start. Maybe they could merge NASA and ESA and start including other countries. (Note: It looks like they may have started this process. See “International consensus on joint space exploration”.)

There is also commercial spaceflight and space tourism. As pessimistic as I can be about putting the future of human civilization in the hands of a few corporations, I think that commercial ventures in spaceflight will get us into space sooner than government ventures alone. Governments no longer have to contend with other governments, but also with other corporations – corporations that have more money than governments to spend on building spacecrafts. My hope is that the corporations and the governments will be able to co-operate on space ventures in order to bring the reality of space travel to humans sooner. (If you read various articles on space.com, it does look like this process is starting.)

In the meantime, I’m going to refresh my knowledge of basic astronomy and physics. My personal home study curriculum now includes anatomy, physiology, astronomy, physics, some languages (Korean and Spanish; for Chinese, I’ve decided to concentrate on the reading and writing instead of the oral language) and a few other subjects of personal interest. All this on top of taekwondo training right now and my other personal goal of writing at least one novel in the science fiction and fantasy genres (oh yeah, another reason why I should refresh my knowledge of astronomy). Eek! Loads to do.

˜˜˜C
Your local knowledge junkie

Learn Taishanese (台山話 aka Toisanwa aka Hoisanva)

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

For those who are interested in learning Taishanese (台山話 aka Toisanwa aka Hoisanva), I finally got a chance to put up a web page linking to the Taishanese learning material that I found (as mentioned in my previous blog post, ‘Learning Chinese: Cantonese or Mandarin? Or…? Taishanese!’).

You may go to Learn Taishanese (台山話) (alternate link: Learn Taishanese (台山話)) to download the zip files containing the Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’ (Audio Material). The link to the text material is also provided there. Please note the information about copyright regarding this material.

~~~C
周婉蓮