Spanish progress update – June 2011

2011-06-09

Hi all. It’s been a while since I’ve updated, so I thought I should check in.

I’ve been enjoying the nice weather here in Vancouver, and searching for an apartment. I’ve also been researching fitness and nutrition, which has taken some time away from my language learning, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

That said, I’m still working away at Spanish at the moment. Yes, for those who are asking, Polish is on hold while I work on Spanish. I wanted something nice and easy to work on while I relax over the summer, and then I’ll probably resume Polish later in the year.

Right now I’m still in need of a lot of vocab in Spanish, but I’ve started doing a lot more reading in order to remedy that. I recently bought a Kindle ebook reader from Amazon and it’s greatly increased my reading time. I got a built-in Spanish dictionary for it, so I can look up any word just by moving the cursor to it. It’s also much easier to read outside, and I have lots of selection.

I’m comfortably reading some sci-fi and fantasy books at the moment. The general story shines through, even if I miss a lot of words. I just keep going, and I continually try to push my reading speed. I pick only one or two words per page to look up at most, because the more frequent (and therefore more important) words will show up a lot in the future too, so I don’t have to worry if I miss them on one page. As long as I can keep my speed up, the story keeps going…if I slow down and try to look up too many words, then it gets boring fast, because I lose the movement of the plot.

I’ll be reading mostly in Spanish for the next two months while I enjoy the summer, focusing on having fun. I’m not going to worry too much about audio or video at the moment, since I have piles of books to read already, and it’s easy to work reading into my vacation schedule. I’ve got a list of both translated books and original Spanish works by some famous Latin American authors.

So far, I’ve been reading a bunch of Robert J. Sawyer, which I’ve found pretty easy to read in Spanish. A lot of the sciency words are pretty similar in Spanish, so I don’t need a lot of specialty vocab. Sci-fi is good for this. I’ve also been reading Spanish-translated Robert Jordan though, which is a different kettle of fish. There’s a lot of fantasy vocab, particularly anything relating to swords and armor and fighting, or anything in a rural setting. There’s a lot of elaborate description of scenery and characters, so there’s quite a lot of obscure vocab to learn, but I’m still enjoying it and it gets easier the more I read.

We’re just about finished our “6 week challenge” for Spanish, although I didn’t do much work on it for the middle 3 weeks. I’m catching up now, but I’ll just be continuing on Spanish after the end of the contest anyway, so I’m not too worried about being competitive. I like the 6 week challenge idea – it was a fun game to play, and I’d like to do it again some time when I’m not overwhelmed with moving to a different country and finding apartments.

That’s about it for now. I’ll do a self-test for vocab soon and report back so I have some numbers for my progress. Until then, keep reading!


Read More or Die!

2011-04-02

I just signed up for a month-long reading contest called “Read More or Die“, also known as Tadoku. The idea is just to encourage people to read lots and lots in their target language, and to record how many pages they read in a sort of competition with others.

I’ll be reading books in German and Dutch mostly, since that’s easy to fit in with the other stuff I’m doing this month. I’ve been a bit busy lately since I’m preparing to move back to Vancouver, Canada in a couple of weeks. Currently I’m trying to find new homes for my furniture before I have to move out of my apartment.

I’ll be back on the blog soon with some more tips as time permits.


Learning a language through reading feels like reading Jabberwocky

2011-02-07

To take a rest from reading Harry Potter, I went over to wordpress.com and changed the language to Nederlands. This is a great way to find all sorts of blogs in your target language, which means you can sit back and surf the web to your heart’s content while still learning the language.

After some random surfing, I came upon an article about a painter’s interpretation of scenes from Alice in Wonderland (in Dutch, of course). When describing the scene where Alice finds the poem about the Jabberwock, the poem is repeated in English, and then some links were given to the Dutch translation.

This gave me the opportunity to read Jabberwocky again, but to consider it from the viewpoint of language learning. As I read it in English, it gives me a very similar feeling to what I get from reading books in other languages at an intermediate level. I get a good sense of what is happening in the story, but there are all sorts of words that I don’t fully understand. I can tell whether they’re adjectives or nouns, and I feel like I get some sense of them by recognizing the other words around them.

For instance, when the Jabberwock “Came whiffling through the tulgey wood”, it doesn’t really matter exactly what whiffling and tulgey might mean. You basically understand what’s happening in the scene. You can also come up with some ideas of what “tulgey” might mean, because it’s used to describe a forest through which a monster is walking. The next time you see this word, you’ll have another piece of information about it, and it’ll make even more sense.

This is what it’s like to me when I read Dutch or Swedish or whatever other language I happen to be working on. With an intermediate level of knowledge, there are plenty of words you don’t know, but the story still moves along somehow.

So, go out and find something to read! You don’t need perfect understanding to enjoy it, and in fact you’ll never get perfect understanding without reading a lot of books with only intermediate understanding. Exposure comes before knowledge, not after.


January 2011 – 191 language hours

2011-02-01

Well, the first month of the year is over already, and I’m pretty happy with my language-learning results. But first I want to briefly cover my sleep experiment.

This week, I’ve decided to drop off the Everyman schedule and go back to monophasic sleep. I’ve found that polyphasic sleep requires a lot of discipline during the adaptation phase, and that you can expect several weeks of being tired. At this point, I’m tired of being tired, and I don’t really like constantly constraining my sleep. I prefer to just wake up when it feels good to wake up.

I might try polyphasic again some time in the near future, now that I know what to expect. For now I just want to be well-rested for a little while. At the end of my experiment, I was mostly adapted, but there was still a lingering tiredness for 1 or two hours per day on average. If I made any mistakes in the schedule, then this would increase. Some days were better, some days were worse, but it seemed to only be slowly progressing.

When I try it again, I’m going to be much more exact with my sleeping times, and I’ll be sure not to switch programs in the middle. I’ll also make sure to be more vigilant about setting multiple alarms and getting up right away, to prevent oversleeps.

So, now on to language tasks. I’m rather happy with the amount of language work I accomplished this month, although I think it could be improved more. In total, I spent 191 hours on language activities, with 132.5 of that spent on Dutch. The remainder was mostly German reading and TV time. My personal best was January 19th where I reached 10 hours of Dutch time, and in that week I hit 49.5 worth of Dutch time altogether.

I’ve learned a couple important things. One is that the content of your learning material is really important; the more interest you have in the material, the easier it is to do it. Since Harry Potter was the only material I’ve had so far where the audiobook matches exactly with the Dutch ebook, and for which an English ebook was also present, then I felt constrained in my choices for beginner material. Sometimes it was a strain to get back to work. With German, on the other hand, I have DVDs of Star Trek: Voyager with German audio, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to just sit down and watch a couple hours of that with Chani (who’s spending her time learning German these days).

I’ve also found that it can be very tempting to spend too much time on the English half of my parallel texts rather than focusing on the Dutch. There were many moments where I caught myself reading ahead in the English and ignoring the Dutch audio. For this and other reasons, my recognition of printed Dutch is much higher than my ability to listen to it. I’ve had some gains in the past week, but I still need to work on it more.

Another thing I noticed sharply was the Pareto principle, where 20% of my time got me 80% of my comprehension in reading. I was able to get to recognition of more than 80% of the words on each page after less than about 30 hours of work, and ever since then I’ve been trudging through the “long tail”, trying to acquire that very important last 20% of the words. This means that for the first little while, you feel a great sense of progress as you zoom through the most frequent vocabulary, but then it feels like your progress is slowing to a crawl as you struggle to add a few more percent here and there.

The struggle is worth it, though. You’ll get a magnificent feeling of accomplishment once you get up to the high 90s, where you’ll be able to just sit down with a novel in your new language and enjoy reading it for fun. This should happen by the time you’ve already read 1 million words in your target language, which is about 10 regular sized novels, but you might get there with only half of that, depending on what other language activities you’re doing, and how much the language differs from what you know already.

So, ahead of me is the month of February. This is where I’ll be starting the active phase of my Dutch project. I’ve got a lot more work to do in the first week and a half to prepare. Then I’ve invited a couple of Belgian Couchsurfers to come stay with me for a few days, so it’ll be “sink or swim” time. After that, I’ve booked a plane ticket to Belgium to go to Talenfestival Leuven, which is a “language festival” for one day which includes short seminars on many different languages (all conducted in Dutch). Interestingly, the talk on Irish will be given in Esperanto, with Dutch translation.

I’m still continuing my reading and listening, but I’ll be spending some time practicing output on my own before the couchsurfers get here to put me to the test. I’ve got a phrasebook that I can run through to practice a lot of common phrases, and then I’ll work on some writing exercises to help me with coming up with my own Dutch ideas from scratch.

Just one more month of concentrated Dutch studying, and then I’ll be switching my main project to something else. At that point I hope to have good understanding of spoken and written Dutch, so it should be easy to put it on the backburner and just read the occasional novel or watch the TV news in order to keep things fresh. I’m looking forward to it!


Dealing with doubts about Dutch

2011-01-25

I’ve been having trouble keeping up my motivation in the past few days. My mind has been clouded by negative thoughts such as “I’ll never understand spoken Dutch better than I do now, so there’s no point in trying”.

It’s funny what the mind will come up with in the face of a challenge. I know from my own prior evidence that all I have to do is keep going and I’ll get there, but somehow these thoughts start coming up when I can’t see immediate progress from the activities I’m doing. I find that at these moments, it’s vital for me to have some other pre-defined numerical goals. For instance, I won’t stop reading until I’ve read 1 million words, and I’ll do at least 200 hours of study by the time the 6 week period ends.

These sorts of goals are independent of my current skill in the language, so they’re immune to any negative thoughts that may arise. As Khatsumoto says, the only way to fail is to stop, so I try to keep this in mind and focus purely on my numbers.

I think one of the major factors in this unfortunate mindset is uncertainty. I’m not sure how much spoken ability I’ll have at the end, which makes me want to drop some of my input time and focus on output, but then that makes me then worry that I won’t be able to understand spoken Dutch enough. I solve this by throwing out any new plans that interfere with my satisfaction, and to me the primary satisfaction will come from being able to first understand anything said in Dutch, which means I need to stop worrying about my output and just trust that it’ll come later after my understanding is increased.

Anyway, I’m over half-way to my stated time goal of 200 hours now. I’ve clocked 108 hours of Dutch study time so far this month, which is 54% of my goal, accomplished in 59% of the time…so I’ve still got some work left ahead of me.

Ok, time to get back on the clock. I’ve still got 3 hours left in my day, so it’s time to make them count 🙂


Dutch update: vocab self-test (91 hrs)

2011-01-22

I just did another vocabulary self-test. This time I used a 704-word selection from somewhere in the middle of the 2nd Stieg Larsson book. I chose this book because I know there’s some pretty advanced vocab in it, much more than in Harry Potter.

Out of 704 words, I had good knowledge of 678 words, giving me a score of 96.4%. I also had good comprehension of the text…in fact it felt nice to read, so I might be able to make an attempt at the airplane test” soon, which was one of my stated goals. This somewhat surprised me, since in the past few days it’s felt like I’ve been making zero progress, despite getting dozens of study hours in. The problem is just that the overal percentage recognition is only going up a tiny percent, so it’s hard to notice without computing some statistics like this. Therefore, for further projects I think I’ll administer these self-tests more often, to keep up my motivation.

Another bit of motivation was to write down all the unrecognized words and look them up afterwards. I noticed that there were several “unknown” words that I should have guessed from German, such as “onderzocht” (untersucht), “buik” (Bauch), bestaan (bestand), etc. This means that there’s still plenty of low-hanging fruit left to pluck, if I keep working at it.

Since I’m currently at about 400000 words read, I’m now pretty confident that once I hit 1 million words read, I’ll be at a very satisfactory reading level. This mirrors my experience with German, where I was already at quite a decent level of comprehension by the 400000 word mark, and quite happy with my results after 1 million words.


(eo) legu unu milionon da vortoj

2010-12-20

This post is an experiment in practicing my writing in various languages. I’ve taken an old post from almost 2 years ago, and I’m translating it into Esperanto. I plan to do more posts like this, with other languages.

I heard about an interesting idea last week. It’s sort of a mental game, suggested by someone from Japan who was learning English. The idea is that if you read a million words, then you’ll be quite good at reading that language. simple enough.

En la antaŭa semajno, mi aŭdis interesan ideon. Estas tipo de mensa ludo, kiun japano, kiu lernantis la anglan, proponis. La ideo estas ke se vi legus unu milionon da vortojn en la lingvo, kiun vi studis, do vi legos bone en tiu lingvo. Sufiĉe facila, ĉu ne?

The rules are as follows:

  1. No dictionaries
  2. When you don’t know a word, just keep going
  3. Read a total of a million words.

La reguloj de la ludo estas la jenaj:
1) ne uzu vortaron.
2) se vi vorton ne komprenas, simple kontinuu.
3) legu entute unu milionon da vortoj.

With something as simple as this, it’s hard to go wrong. There are several ideas that I take away from this game. One is that you should read for enjoyment and read for understanding the story, not just for “sentence mining”. Previously I had trouble getting anywhere in my reading because I was always trying to precisely understand every word in every sentence, and always on the first time that I saw it. This kills the natural ability of my brain to figure things out via multiple exposures.

Kun simplaĵoj kiel ĉi tiuj, estas malfacile erari. Mi akceptas diversajn ideojn de tiu ludo. La unua estas ke oni devas legi por ĝui la rakonton kaj por kompreni la rakonton, ne por vortokolektado. Antaŭe mi havis problemojn legi ĉar mi provadis precize unuafoje kompreni ĉiujn vortojn. Tio ĉi malhelpas la naturan kapablecon de via cerbo kompreni per multaj eksponoj.

I used to try and add tons of sentences to anki just because I didn’t know a word in them, and I was always using the dictionary compulsively, but it just slowed me down. What I actually need is better reading speed and more content (ie more input). I don’t need to memorize every word in the order that I see them. If it’s a common word, I’ll see it again soon anyway. No need to worry right now.

Mi antaŭe aldonis multajn frazojn al Anki nur ĉar mi ne komprenis unu vortoj de tiu, kaj mi devige uzadis la vortaro, sed fari tion malrapidigis min. Tio, kion mi vere bezonas, estas plibonigi la legrapideco kaj pli legindaĵoj (pli enigo por mia cerbo). Mi ne bezonas parkeri ĉiujn vortojn laŭ la ordo en kiu mi vidis tion. Se ĝi estas ordinara vorto, mi ĝin baldaŭ vidos denove. ne zorgu pri tio nun.

This way, I can focus on which words are particularly awesome…something I really want to learn. Hopefully I’ve seen it a couple times already so it has partially sunk into my brain via text, and then I can use anki to fully insert it.

Tiel mi povas koncentriĝi je bonegaj vortoj…tiuj, kiujn mi vere volas lerni. Espereble mi jam vidis ĝin kelkfoje dume, do ĝi pro legado ensinkis en mian cerbon, kaj post tio mi povas uzi Anki enigi ĝin.

This method is also supposed to be somewhat of a long-term method. Don’t pretend that you’re going to learn a language super-fast overnight, because you’re not. But I think you can actually read a million words in a reasonable amount of time…like several months. This is the proper length of time for your language learning goals. If you expect to see awesome results on the order of days or weeks, then you’re doing it wrong. You will see the BIG results on the order of months, so I think this game is good for that.

Ĉi tio metodo devas esti longe uzota. pensado ke ĝi rapidege lernigus lingvon estas eraro, sed mi pensas ke vi fakte povas legi unu milionon da vortoj dum modera tempo…eble malmultaj monatoj. Tiom da tempo estas deca tempo por via lingvolerna celoj. Se vi atendus bonegajn rezultatojn post nur tagoj aŭ semajnoj, do vi eraras. Vi vidos rezultategojn post monatoj, do mi pensas ĉi tiu ludo decas por tiu celo.

In the short term, just read and enjoy reading. Reading is fun! In the long term, it’ll make you awesome. If you can just avoid interrupting your reading to make notes or look up things in the dictionary, you’ll actually get more practice reading and become faster and better at it.

Mallongtempe, nur legu kaj ĝuu vian legadon. Legi amuzas! Longtempe, legi bonegiĝos vin. Se vi nur povas eviti interrompi vian legadon por fari komentojn aŭ uzi la vortaron, vi vere ekzercitiĝos pri legado kaj rapidiĝos kaj boniĝos.