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Language learning series video reviews

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 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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 Message 41 of 64
30 September 2008 at 7:56pm | IP Logged 
Greetings! I apologize for my long absence, during which I made and posted two other videos for this series: Berlitz2 and L'Harmattan et L'Asiathèque.

I am planning on concluding this series soon with several summary videos, as I recently did the Germanic series. I am happy to note that all of these foreign language series reviews have been viewed hundreds if not thousands of times, and to report that a few of them have even come to the attention of the publishers themselves. However, I cannot but notice that the videos I have made in the other series for specific languages are obviously more interesting for the audience based on number of views - and yet, the first one here, for Assimil, is my most viewed of all - why should that be?

Alexander Arguelles
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 Message 42 of 64
03 October 2008 at 8:23pm | IP Logged 
Assimil enjoys a much greater popularity and consequently the keyword "assimil" receives many more hits than other language-learning series. In fact, if you type in "assimil", the professor's video is the first hit. Unfortunately the same cannot be said by merely typing in languages such as "German" or "Swedish".

For (the) L'Harmattan series, I have been able to get "Parlons slovène" and "Parlons hongrois". They are very pleasing to read. It's almost like receiving condensed history lessons and cultural notes once in a while as you progress through. They are also small grammar references, a bilingual glossary, and (at least the Slovene book) they do have bilingual texts.

Thank you for making me discover this arcane series!
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 Message 43 of 64
29 October 2008 at 6:59pm | IP Logged 
Dear Professor,

I have recently watched your videos about different language learning products and really enjoyed them! I have started a search to find some of those courses and apply them to my lessons very soon!

My one question is,concerning the Living Language products, what do you think of today's Living Language products. Example would be from the Random House Company, Mainly with the Ultimate series because I have been thinking about purchasing one of these to add to my list of language learning products. I noticed, or maybe I missed it, that you did not mention the more new versions in your' video. I was wondering if you have bought any of these new products and what is your' opinion about them.

These were my first language baised products that I started with back when I was in 4th grade and was facinated by German. In the end I bought the Living language All-Audio German CDs and started right in them. I loved how they went through the lessons; each lesson was split into eight parts with pt.1 vocab, pt.2 a conversation, 3.vocab, 4.practice using the vocab where the native speaker says something in the target language and you must answer, 5.grammer, 6.practice using that grammer, 7. culture, 8.another conversation where you are involved. Now today that I have been wanting to get more serious about my language learning( I am from the U.S and learning German,Spanish, and Modern Standard Arabic at the moment) I would like to have a bit better program(s) to work with plus the addition of some of your' recomended courses.

I know this probably should be in the language product section but I wanted to ask a question about your' thoughts on this topic directly.

Thnak you!


Edited by delta910 on 30 October 2008 at 5:29pm

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 Message 44 of 64
17 November 2008 at 7:39am | IP Logged 
Dear Prof.Arguelles,

I'm a Chinese, native Mandarin speaker. So far, I've watched all your reviews of those excellent course books that you listed, and I greatly appreciate your kindly help. Relying on my intuition, perhaps I'm inclined to choose one series between "Teach Yourself" and "Colloquial", I know clearly that, both of them are good enough for non-English learners. If you were I, and if the nuances between them are taken into consideration, if one had more advantages than the other, then which one would you like to choose as your preferred series, maybe it's not such a wise question, but I'm still longing to know the answer. I would be grateful if you could give me your personal opinions.Thank you very much!

Best regards,

Jeffrey Tso

Edited by TKK on 17 November 2008 at 11:18pm

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 Message 45 of 64
27 November 2008 at 11:27am | IP Logged 
Some thoughts on paradigms of language learning:

In the video you mentioned that the preferred method was using a manual and taped recordings. I think it can reasonably be said that all serious language programs, the ones where you teach yourself, teach the same concepts with the manuals and taped recordings; and the only major difference is that they present language concepts in different sequences.

Some courses fail to clarify and contrast grammar points, thus making the course inadequate for teaching yourself. And some courses don't even cover the said grammar points under the pretense of "assimilating" it for a future explanation, which could be weeks ahead in the program. But at the end of the course I think most of the different methods end up covering the same grammar points.

Professor, when it comes to sequencing grammar points in language programs do you find them to be out of order? Does each language family/group or individual language have an ideal sequencing pattern? If so, what are they?

In studying paintings there is said to be the golden ratio in the beauty of human proportions. Is there such a universal ratio or mathematical formula for the sequencing of teaching grammar points? Have there been language learning journals exploring this topic? Does language learning need more mathematical rigor(something like Dr. Pimsleur's programs) and less unfounded theory?     

J. Barts

Edited by Kugel on 27 November 2008 at 11:29am

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 Message 46 of 64
03 December 2008 at 1:29pm | IP Logged 
I have posted three further lecture-style summary conclusions to this series:
Foreign language learning without a method
Audio-only foreign language methods
Computerized foreign language learning

I most certainly did mention the “Ultimate” living language series in my “Living Language” video review of their various lines – and that quite favorably, as I find that it is the only example of a range of foreign language learning products that are being made more rather than less rigorous in our day and age. I also commented and now reiterate that these courses are better suited for businessmen rather than scholars because of the range of topics covered in the dialogues. On not so much a negative note but as a suggestion for easy improvement, I suggested and again now assert that the 8 CD’s/10 hour recorded potential that these courses offer is not realized very effectively in the current format long vocabulary lists read aloud and an entire set of 4 CD’s devoted to “learning on the go” and consisting only of the dialogues over and again with gaps and English intrusion. They could leave the books as is and record the audio again, reading all of the many example sentences, the answer key exercises as pattern drills, and the few cultural reading passages they do contain so as to easily obtain and offer a far superior and more useful product. This is one of the videos I have made that has actually come to the attention of the publisher, and while I do not know if they will follow through on my suggestions, they did send me a number of sample courses from their other product lines by way of thanks for my positive review. I am particularly intrigued by, but have not yet had the chance to look over, the “complete courses” they sent me for Italian and Chinese.

Mr. Tso,
I find your question truly impossible to answer.

In the first place, in their current incarnations, the TYS and the Colloquial series are so similar that there is no advantage to the one that would make it preferable to the other. I speak here, of course, of the series as a whole – in point of fact, when they both offer a book for the same language, one may indeed be superior to the other, but that must be discerned on a case by case basis, and surprisingly often (as I am sure I mentioned in at least one of the videos) the same person is the author for the books for a given language in both series.

In the second place, unless a particular book for a particular language turns out to be particularly bad (as unfortunately does transpire from time to time), I do not think you should be thinking of choosing between them but rather of using both in tandem. This is particularly necessary in order to obtain a decent enough sample of target language audio for learning and study, but it is also a more effective learning strategy to have a variety of explanations and presentations of the same material than it is to simply try to master the content of any one teaching tome.

I hope this helps?

Mr. Barts,

To follow-up on Mr. Tso’s question, unfortunately I do find that, in their current incarnations, both TYS and Colloquial and other series that, in the past, offered a more logical sequence and exposition of grammar, now do so more and more often without any particular order in so far as their real focus is presenting practical phrasebook-like conversational situations. Even back in their more useful small format as grammar-translation exercise books, some of the older TYS style books also suffered from an illogical presentation that did not facilitate the study of the language in question. However, while in a given case of a specific language, and even of related languages, I think a case can be made for a given order of presentation, in teaching manuals, of more common elements first, versus the purely thematic sequencing of a reference grammar, I do not know that there is any universal ratio or mathematical formula for an ideal sequencing pattern. It would be nice if every language had its Panini, but I do not believe there is any other work quite like his Astadhyayi. That said, while I do not know that language learning needs more “mathematical rigor,” it certainly can always benefit from more discipline, pure and simple, and more actual practice and experience - and what use is there ever, anywhere, for unfounded theory?

Alexander Arguelles

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 Message 47 of 64
08 December 2008 at 4:55pm | IP Logged 
ProfArguelles, I have listened to your videos about different learning methods, and the video about learning without a method is probably the one that comes closest to my own way of studying - but I wouldn't call it studying without a method, but rather studying without a textbook or computer programs. But doing something repeatedly which you have found to work for you is in itself a method, and doing a special sequence of actions in a special way day after day most certainly defines a method.

As far as I can see the common factor in both your shadowing and your scriptorium methods is that you transform something that normally is done in a purely passive way into something active, namely listening and reading. In your case it is done in a very active way, crf. your recommandation of speaking loudly and walk at a brisk pace. When I do similar things I do them silently and sitting in my chair, which suits me better - the basic idea is the same, but there is a distinct difference in style, which probably can be blamed on temperamental factors.

However there is another, more fundamental difference: apparently you have moved from a more conventional way of using dictionaryies and grammars to a position where you actually do produce such books yourself, but essentially you assume that the absorption through shadowing and 'lectoriuming' is the main ingredient of language learning. The main difference between your methods and the so called 'natural learning' is that you don't need somebody to speak to because you use preexisting materials, and that you prefer heavily structured learning instead of relying on the hazardous nature of immersive experiences or even chance encounters with suitable natives. If that hunch is correct then I have the same preference for structured methods using preexisting materials, but without your draconically strict planning of your time weeks ahead.

There is one big difference: in my world preparing for the 'meeting' with the language specimens and - afterwards - culling words and idioms and constructions from them are totally indispensable activities, and I use dictionaries and idioms handbooks and grammars to help me do that. In the beginning of a language study I actually spend more time on preparing for my reading and listening than actually doing these things, and only later a more relaxed attitude can prevail, i.e. when I have dragged myself by the hair up to the level where I can actually understand most of the written and spoken texts at my disposal. And my principal method to get there is doing sophisticated wordlists (as described in posts all over this forum). You do mention wordlists, but only as something that can or should be done by people with good memories, or maybe by the use of mnemonics. Would you be kind enough to elaborate a little on your views on the use of flash cards and word lists (in the more sophisticated form where you don't just repeat a word and its presumed translation X times)? That might give an hopelessly stubborn supporter of the use of wordlists a clue to why you have lost faith in these methods?

Kind regards,
Niels Johs.Legarth Iversen

Edited by Iversen on 08 December 2008 at 5:07pm

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 Message 48 of 64
09 December 2008 at 2:08pm | IP Logged 
Dear Mr. Iversen,

Thank you for your thought-provoking letter – it is very refreshing to have the opportunity to engage in a discussion about language learning rather than solely dispensing advice about it.

First of all, to clarify a point: I had hoped that I had stressed that the title “learning without a method” meant exactly what you rephrased it as doing, i.e., learning without a specifically designed language-learning method, and not learning randomly or chaotically. Learning languages as you yourself do in a regular fashion certainly constitutes a self-made system or “method,” and I have always strongly believed that the more individually tailored any learning style is, the more likely it is to be successful.

I like the way you characterize my shadowing and scriptorium techniques as making active what is usually passive – I had not thought of characterizing it in that way, but it seems particularly apt. That said, I would like to stress openly and loudly that shadowing and scriptorium are NOT the only techniques that I myself use, and also that they are NOT techniques that I would prescribe for all and sundry. They are merely two techniques that have been instrumental in my own learning and so that I tried to share. Honestly, I sometimes regret having done so, for at the same time I seem to be incapable of describing and explaining them once and for all, I also seem to be almost too closely equated with them. Sigh.

Well, you are right, although I myself do produce both grammars and dictionaries, I have in a sense moved beyond the traditional ways of using them, and I do feel that active and conscious absorption and assimilation and analysis of representative chunks of a language in progressively more nuanced and detailed stages similar to the digestive process is the most effective way I have discovered of learning languages, and hence the one that I can best describe and show to others. Yes indeed, I do prefer working in a heavily structured and disciplined fashion, using materials specifically designed to teach, but I freely admit that this approach has its limitations: it can lay an extraordinarily solid foundation in a language, and if all that is desired is to be able to read and/or to do philological analysis, it is perfectly adequate and self-sufficient. However, it cannot bring a language to life, and so if what is desired is to actually speak and use a language, then there is no substitute at all for a period of ‘natural learning’ consisting not only of immersion in the living culture of a language, but also of working with a trained tutor who can point out and work with you to correct weakness and errors that you yourself cannot perceive. To speak in ILR terms, I believe I have innovated and refined an autodidactic means of getting from 0 to 2 in a fashion that compares very favorably to external instruction, but in order to get from 2 to 3 or 4, one must risk, as you put it, not only the hazardous nature of chance encounters with native speakers, but also obtain active correction or guidance at some point.

Now, on to your question about flashcards and wordlists: it is not that I have lost faith in them, but rather that they simply never suited my personal style of learning. I believe they are both very valuable and useful methods for certain kinds of learners, and in my ideal institute for the instruction of language learning skills, I would most certainly want to have them explained, taught, and demonstrated by a polyglot such as yourself who had perfected them so that they would be available for adaptation by those learners to whom they are suited.

I myself have never used flashcards extensively mainly because I have had the great privilege to lead an introverted life that has allowed me a relatively great amount of intellectual leisure. I think that flashcards are ideally suited for stealing back dead time from busy days filled with external intrusions. Carrying a stack of twenty or so cards around with you in your breast pocket and whipping them out to go through them every time you have a spare second, then putting them in a compartmentalized memory box though which you proceed at progressively greater intervals of recall, is one of the most tried and proven methods out there for learning specific bits of information such as vocabulary items, Chinese characters, etc.

Likewise, your method of using wordlists, going through 5-7 pairs of words at a time, thus learning 100 words an hour, sounds the like the best and most highly developed means of learning individual vocabulary items that I have ever heard described. When I think about it, there might indeed be some very real benefit to learning, e.g., the lists of vocabulary contained in a specific reading passage in this fashion ahead of time, and then reading the passage with greater ease and comprehension on the very first go through. However, I have simply always preferred to gain my vocabulary in the context of sentences rather than as individual words, in the beginning stages by assimilating didactic passages by shadowing etc., and in the intermediate stages by judicious use of bilingual texts, readers, and translations, as I have described in great detail in the past here on this forum.

There comes a period, particularly at an intermediate stage in the learning of non-Germanic and non-Romance languages, when I myself have found it very useful to have recourse to books that list individual vocabulary items grouped according to word root, such as the Handbook of Korean Vocabulary: A Resource for Word Recognition and Coprehension by Miho Choo and William O’Grady, or Roots of the Russian Language by George Z. Patrick. However, I have never found it necessary to memorize such books, but have found it to be of enough benefit for me to read quickly through them at the same time I continue reading actual texts broadly and widely so as to notice these roots in real use.

So there you have it, I myself have simply never found a need to memorize vocabulary items and so when I describe learning techniques, I am not in a position to emphasize doing so. Perhaps by avoiding this, I am going through a lexical back door, as it were. There are certainly many people in this world who might articulate a preference or display an inclination to go through the front door, as it were, of direct acquisition. When I encounter such students, I will most respectfully point them in the direction of your writings for eminently sound guidance.

Yours with best wishes,

Alexander Arguelles

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