Sunday, 29 July 2007

Charles Ogden and the main 850 words to learn

One of the things that used to confuse me when trying to learn languages at school was the really small words with vague meanings. I remember, well actually I don't, something like "q'est que ce que ca", French obviously. Was that the phrase that meant "what is it that it is"? I mean, even if you translate that, do you really get to its meaning?

Now, I know this isn't a solution to that particular problem, but I got interested in why I didn't know obvious and common words like 'but' after maybe six months of learning the language. Yet I do remember learning, and can almost still remember the word in German, for a water desalination facility. And I got to thinking that there must be a list somewhere of words in order of their frequency of use. I've kept my eyes open ever since, and I left school almost thirty years ago, and I've never seen it.

So, I planned, and still do, to make one.

However, as I expected, someone did work on something similar, Charles Ogden. Back in 1930 he published a book in which he'd basically worked out that 90% of the concepts in an English dictionary could be communicated using just 850 words.

I haven't found a Spanish equivalent, but it seems to me that we could learn the Spanish word for each of the English words provided here, and that would give a basic vocabulary. If you learned five a day you'd be done in six months.

Clearly that doesn't come close to giving you everything you need to communicate in Spanish, but it is very interesting indeed. I wonder how many of the language courses use this. Certainly I feel the learn Spanish fast course I've been working through covers the basics really well .. that's its strength I think. But there are other courses that hint at this sort of approach more strongly, maybe this one.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Russian learns French by reading Harry Potter

Well here's an interesting article. A few things have been coming up recently about how long it actually takes to learn a foreign language. This chap would say a year of reasonable effort, there's another story about students learning English in Arizona will have to spend four hours a day learning English in the hope that they'll become fluent in one or two years.

I read, too, a book which I've subsequently lost which talked about learning to read a language before trying to speak it, which seems to be the way Ryabitsev approached it. I think, too, that book talked about reading kids books.

Compared to all that, my favourite Learn Spanish Fast course seems rather small somehow. It takes a lot to get proficient in a language, and 12 days doesn't really cut it. But I absolutely stand by the course. Where Ryabitsev looked for a grammar primer to help him with his first steps, I'd say something like Learn Spanish Fast course would give an even better primer because it gives you really solid foundations. And no-one's saying in 12 days you'll be able to make a living as a Spanish language after dinner speaker.

But, you know, I do have some doubts about Ryabitsev's strategy. Doesn't it make sense that a course, designed to teach and help you learn, will be the most effective and efficient way to learn a language? What Ryabitsev has done is designed his favourite way to learn a language. It may very well not suit you. He's clearly used to learning and has the time and space to read Harry Potter in French. A well designed course will suit everyone. If Ryabitsev's methods work for you too, they'll work better than any course. But I think it's very likely 99% of people wouldn't like to study that way, wouldn't be as determined as he obviously was, and wouldn't be happy to self direct the way he did. So a course that's aimed at satisfying the majority of students, that's more likely to work.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Spanish learning books

One of the language learning techniques I read, can't remember where, was to trawl the secondhand bookshops to buy lots of learn Spanish books, and then work through the first chapter of each one, then chapter two, etc.

I think there are a couple of good points to this strategy. First is that, in a sense, if you get ten cheap secondhand books and work through the first chapter, you're probably going to find by the end of it you know how to say "Hello, I'm Les and I'm from Jupiter" and in one sense that's the book's vote on what's the most important thing. Whether it is or not is the subject for another blog I think.

The second is, if you want to understand something, it's always good to get two or more books to explain it to you. Then you don't just have one view, you have a few different styles.

I guess also if the books have tapes or CDs where you can listen to native Spanish speakers saying the phrases, perhaps that gives you a few different accents to experience.

So take a wander to your local secondhand book shop and buy all the learn Spanish books. It's probably not worth doing it with Amazon or eBay, just think of the book miles required and support your local bookstore :-)

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

What's the most common language in the world?

Well here's a surprising thing. I think we all probably know that Chinese is the most popular language on earth. 873 million speakers. Probably after English it's the most important one to learn, particularly for younger people who want to be part of the global economy in some way.

But we also all know it looks rather daunting, and it's not the sort of thing we English speakers are taught in school so typically we have absolutely no grounding in it at all. Do we even know how to say yes or no in Chinese? Don't think so. I only think I might know the first four numbers from a Kraftwerk song, but maybe that was Japanese.

Anyway. Take a look at the Wikipedia language rank. Next up, big surprise for me, the second most common language worldwide is Spanish, even more than English.

But take a closer look at the table, and maybe these figures are counting native speakers, in other words, mother tongues, the language people were born with.

Many people learn English as a second language, so if you start to count how many people can speak English (from the 'other estimates' column), then English is second with 980 million speakers.

And if we are playing that game, then it looks like Hindi is next, with 181 million native speakers but 948 million people who can speak it.

So one way or another Spanish is either the second most popular mother tongue in the world, or it's the fourth most spoken language. Either way, for an English speaker, Spanish is probably the first foreign language to learn both because it's not too far from English (they have common roots) and you are perhaps more likely to encounter Spanish speakers either at work or on holiday.


Friday, 6 July 2007

Everyone's busy

Everyone's busy nowadays, so who has the time to commit to a nightschool class, even less a week or longer overseas?

Few people work 9-5 M-F either.

A home study course allows you to work when you want. In a difficult week you can do nothing, in an easier week, you can catch up. 3am can't sleep? Early mornings. Late nights after the kids have gone to bed. Even in your commute or your lunchbreak. Or in an evening while your partner watches a tv program you don't want to.

So that's why I went for something like this learn Spanish home study course when I decided to learn Spanish. Sure, I've not done 12 straight days of work on it, but for me that works, it's given time for the lessons to sink in.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Learning Spanish and gynaecology

I don't know about you, but I wasn't good at languages at school. In fact I boycotted it. I felt my school had conned me into taking a language. Actually I'll tell you the story .. this is absolutely true.

When I was, oh, so high, I'd wanted to be a doctor and then I decided I wanted to be a gynaecologist. I was a bit of a late developer and I'm sure I'd never seen the relevant body part when I decided this, but, this was when I was choosing my options, and I asked the biology teacher and she said that the international language for gynaecologists was German. So I opted for that.

I wrote to a gynaecologist and asked if that was true. He wrote back and said it wasn't. I'll bet he was laughing all day, can you imagine?

So from that day on, actually, I just messed about in that class and disrupted the whole thing. They'd lied to me.

Anyway, enough from the soul. My point is, I was never very good at languages, and learning to speak another one has always seemed like a distant dream.

Intellectually, I'm good, though. I feel like I should be able to do this .. 400 million people speak Spanish, how hard can it be?

So I bought books and so on and they are OK, but there's a lot of talk about luggage and how to wonder if your room has a shower or not and I wanted something more real than that.

So that's why I'm recommending this course to everyone. It's really helped me. It's Spanish in 12 days, but I don't think that's the main advantage. The key thing for me is how good a grounding it gives you. Upon these foundations you can build forever. On luggage and bathrooms, there's no future. For people learning Spanish for their work (which I seem to be hearing a lot about), this is great. Take a look for yourself.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Get a little Latin spirit

What is it about the Latin spirit that we love so much? The food? For sure. The dancing? Oh yes. Alcohol related fun? Certainly. The festivals? Definitely.

Wouldn't knowing some of the language turn this to the max? Sure.

So here's a thing. I've found a course you can download right now, that only takes 12 days, and it teaches you a really solid Spanish foundation. A foundation so solid you won't be struggling for words any more, you'll be able to say what you want, in Spanish, easily and fluently. Try it, learn a little Spanish.