Thursday, July 10, 2008

A little update

I've been busy for the last few days with preparation. I've updated the website a little bit (woo!) and added some graphics. The picture in the title is stitched together from a picture I took in Afghanistan of my flashcard use in a guard tower. Notice they are all separated via type, using the A.G. Hawke book. The pictures to the right of that are flashcards I made when I began learning Persian (Farsi) at PSU. The book I used was written by an old Persian that was horrible at teaching, though I guess had a PhD in Persian studies, so he had the "credentials" according to Persian gravitas standards.

I also added Adsense. I've put ads between the blogs that cater to the interests people share with this website--language learning. I've looked at a few of them, and they seem kinda interesting. is one site advertising heavily, and they have some nice free eFlashcard use. I suggest you come every day to the blog and click the links. I get money that way ;-)

Anyways, I am now in the National Guard, and Friday I leave for my Annual Training (AT) for two weeks. When I return, I'll be getting Spanish (Latin America) 1,2,3 levels, and using it to immerse in Spanish. I'll be doing an hour a day, and will give a review after I complete each level, as to how effective Rosetta Stone software is.

Rosetta Stone uses language recognition and the linguistic method of "First Language Acquisition". It's a bit different from other ways, and it has some positives and negatives that I think I'll find out when I start using it. So look for that!

Also I'm going to put a blog up on the use of IPA - International Phonetic Alphabet. It's the alphabet linguists use to read things as they are pronounced. Sounding out is much easier, and it's great for languages that have sounds not usually written in English that don't always have literate teachers (Dari, for example).

UPDATE: I am holding off on learning Spanish via Rosetta Stone. A friend who is a classmate speaks better Persian than me, and I am now determined to get better than him in a year of solid Persian study.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Method Review: C.K. Ogden's Basic English (1930)

In the early part of the 1900's, a British man by the name of C.K. Ogden devised a method to teach English abroad, which is still taught in some places. This is what had to say:
If one were to take the 25,000 word Oxford Pocket English Dictionary and take away the redundancies of our rich language and eliminate the words that can be made by putting together simpler words, we find that 90% of the concepts in that dictionary can be achieved with 850 words. The shortened list makes simpler the effort to learn spelling and pronunciation irregularities. The rules of usage are identical to full English so that the practitioner communicates in perfectly good, but simple, English. We call this simplified language Basic English, the developer is Charles K. Ogden, and was released in 1930 with the book: Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar. He founded the Orthological Institute to develop the tools for teaching Basic English. His most famous associate, I.A. Richards, led the effort in the Orient, which uses the techniques to this day.

Basically it goes back to word frequency--how to find the most useful words in a given language.

I tried using his method via flashcards (it's an addiction) for learning Spanish. in 2003 when I was a soldier in Alaska, before my deployment to Afghanistan had even come up, I was trying to learn Spanish at the local college, University of Alaska - Anchorage (UAA). I took one semester of Spanish there, as well as multiple other methods simultaneously, trying to learn it from all angles.

One method I tried was "Basic English"; I took the words in his list of 850, and learned their Spanish equivalent. 850 flashcards later, I gave up. His method is based on everyone learning those words to communicate, because they are not the most common words, they are just words that you can use to describe anything. He even rewrote the bible into Basic English. SO the words may have been great to get any point across in 1930's England, they do not work now for comprehending native speakers of any language.

The idea is good, but needs to be updated for modern word usage, and probably change the words completely to whatever country and culture you're looking into. From a Linguistical standpoint, the idea is very interesting, and leads to some prominent Linguistic writing of that time. Winston Churchill even mentions C.K. Ogden's method by name in a speech.

LINKS (also put on links in the right side column)
Wiki - C.K. Ogden

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Method Review: The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages FAST

As a person in the military myself, I was drawn to this book by the short autobiography written about the writer in the back of the book:
Alexander Hawke has been rated in seven languages by the Defense Language Tests using this method. He has served more than a dozen years in the U.S. Army with the cavalry, Rangers, and Special Forces, and has six military occupational skills, three of which are in Special Forces. He is a black belt in Aikido and an avid outdoor enthusiast. He has been featured on MTV and has lectured for the Congress of Solutions for Disasters

This is his book, The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages FAST

I purchased this book a while back, used it, lent it out, then never had it returned. I bought it again, and again lent it out due to my love of this book. When I like a book, I lend it out so that it may be enjoyed by my friends. I am on my third copy of this book, and if I lose this copy, you can be assured I'll be purchasing another.

The book is written as a guide to learning any language, with a breakdown of the most important words you'll need to know in any language. It's broken down by grammatical type (Verb, Noun, Adjective, etc.) and gives a specific type to learn each day. The idea is genius, and if you need to be UNDERSTOOD in a few weeks of study, this is the best method to go about that. It tells you the steps you need to learn a language, and all you have to do is memorize the words and find a good dictionary to find the words.

The book is designed to work for any language, so it doesn't make use of proper word frequency lists (lists of the most frequently used words in a language) to decide which words you should learn first. It also doesn't work perfectly for using the words a native speaker would, because you don't know which of the five ways to say person (bozorgsal - adult, mard - man, shakhs - person, arabic root, adam - being) is used. Also some words are just never used in a regular conversation, and though they might understand what you're saying, you can't converse back and forth unless they adapt their style to yours.

It also doesn't go in depth on verb conjugation, though that might help you out at first (you can always point and say "I cow to eat to eat" and get understood) so you don't over focus on saying the right tense and lose your momentum (as I've done before many times. Grammar always intrigues and baffles me).

But the book is a steal on online book stores for around $15 USD, and the theory is sound. If you are after a rare language, this is a good starting point, and if you want to cut a lot of the useless fat out of language learning, this will get you where you want to go, faster than most other methods out there.

The book is also available through the publisher, Paladin Press:

Learning a Language for free

Depending on the language you want to learn, it is very possible to learn it for free online. But with a few dollars invested, you can make learning a LOT easier.

Most minimalists will concede that you need at least two items: A dictionary, and a grammar or phrase book. A concise dictionary is better, because you can take it with you where you go, and you'll have a higher chance of using it, even though you may not find EVERY word. I have one for Persian which has 8,400 total entries. You can be conversational with 2,000 (if you pick the right ones). A phrase book is good for getting you a few basic phrases to at least start speaking instantly and build your confidence and ability to at least open a conversation with a native speaker. Both of these are in free, less comprehensive online versions, though. So depending on the cost, it might be worth it to you to pick them up, or just keep a computer handy for all your questions.

A rising trend seems to be the abandonment of traditional grammar study. You don't need to know what a particle is, or how to conjugate a verb to past perfect or past continuous, or why. Rosetta Stone makes use of this "organic/natural" method of learning a language, to large success (though their success is mainly due to the verbal feedback via voice recognition). Mr. Kaufmann's website "LingQ" also uses this approach that all you need to do is build some vocabulary, and the grammar will come naturally as you immerse yourself in the sound of the language being spoken.

Also depending on the language you want to learn, there are online resources. The Internet is full of free language learning information, some of which is put out by nations and governments to further spread their culture and language. I think it's a great idea, and it certainly works for learning the basics before going somewhere. There's a reason Google is fast becoming a verb. ;-)

There are online translation and dictionaries to use. I know for Persian, you can install the font via the Microsoft website, and look up Persian words at or other sites. Another place is, and other sites of the same type; sites that you can go to and find online communities of other learners of the language, and language partners who speak as their first language.

Another thing that repeatedly comes up in my attempts and searches is the music and TV of the language. You may not understand what is being said, but you begin to pick up the rhythm and tones of the language. Babies do this with their first language, and even on the day of their birth, prefer the rhythm of their mothers' language over others (and can distinguish between the two, unless they are similar languages), even though they are far from conversational. The more you hear it, the more it becomes natural to you, and you also pick up the sentence structure, so when you do actually learn something, you can tell if it's "supposed to" sound that way. For Persian/Farsi, I use for (Iranian) music, and NoorTV for the Afghan Dialect (Dari) being spoken. BBC has Pashto and Farsi ( and for live reports and written news stories.

So some methods I've found helpful:
Get a dictionary and a phrasebook/grammar book
Online free language teaching sites (Google it!)
Online communities with language partners
Online music and media (TV, radio etc.) sources

If that all seems like too much work for you, maybe you should just find the resolve in your pocketbook and buy a complete program or go to a class. It's all user dependent.