Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rosetta Stone

Last month I finally quit Rossetta Stone. I had worked there for eight months. I had become interested in the language software when I found out I could obtain it for free via the military (I'm in the Army National Guard) and it would also count for promotion points.

The software is best for those that are not good with the complex names and formal rules of academic language study. You learn using pictures and hearing the sound, with NO TRANSLATION. This method makes it a bit tricky, and aggravating for some, but the difficulty adds to the enjoyment of mastering a tough concept.

One thing you should know about Rosetta Stone, is that there are two versions. Version 2 came out in the mid 1990's, and Version 3 came out in 2007, with some languages still only in Version 2. As of September 30th, seven new languages have come out in Version 3, which are: Dutch, Greek, Hindi, Korean, Polish, Swedish and... PERSIAN (Farsi). This last one I'm excited about, because I'm studying Farsi/Dari right now and the version 3 is far superior software.

The method is interesting, and the Version 3 is well worth the money, slowly leading you through difficult concepts with animation and sound. Version 2 was more comprehensive, but added useless words and phrases such as "The clown has undressed" and "Elephant".

When I quit, I got Version 3 of both Spanish and French (two languages further down on my to-learn list, and gave them out to friends of mine with the stipulation that they write a report here after each level. Version 3 comes with three levels, with approximately 50 hours of instruction per level.

As they learn, I will reinvigorate my use of the free Version 2 military software and report back with my progress.

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.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Helpful Links for Learning a Language

Today I was looking at a bunch of websites, looking for tips on learning languages. I just posted a good website about the process of deconstructing a language to find out how hard the language learning process is going to be. I've also added the site to the links section to the right.

But these links are helpful for actually learning a language.

My Happy Planet
With MyHappyPlanet, you can practice speaking with a native speaker, learn more about other cultures, and make friends with people anywhere in the world. We’ve built in great features so you can teach and learn from each other through live chat, messaging, videos, and fun lessons.

Wikibooks - How to Learn a Language

This website touches upon the various methods of learning a new language, and gives examples. A great place to check into if you're in a slump, or need a new method to try learning your target language. It also has it's complement website, how to TEACH a language.

How to Learn a Language
How to Teach a Language

Omniglot is a great website with a wealth of information on languages, how to learn languages, and the history of language.

Omniglot Language Learning Page

Pick the Brain - How to Learn a Foreign Language has a good blog post by Steve Kaufmann about learning a foreign language. He just lays down some good rules to follow, and some more advice. It's short and sweet.
1) Spend the time!
2) Listen and read every day!
3) Focus on words and phrases!
4) Take responsibility for your own learning!
5) Relax and enjoy yourself!
At this site, I looked up Steve Kaufmann and found out more about him. He has his own language learning site called, and a language learning blog. - Learn a Foreign Language
LingQ - Language Learning Website
Steve Kaufmann's Language Learning Blog

Mindtools is a website devoted to teaching memory techniques. This is a good article on their website about language, since vocabulary acquisition is just memorizing new strings of syllables and connecting them to meaning. One thing I like is the "100 words" list they post--it's a list of the 100 most used words that account for around 50% of the daily words spoken. Of course it's words spoken in English, but the idea is still a good one. If you can find the most used words in a language, and an effective way to memorize new words quickly, you can learn a language pretty quickly.

Mindtools article

What to think about before learning a language

Today I came across an interesting blog post by a man named Tim Ferriss. He wrote a detailed account about what to think about before choosing a language, and how to assess the language's difficulty. He broke it down into 8 basic sentences. Each sentence tells you something about the target language's use of case, gender, etc.

The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.


I must give it to him.
I want to give it to her.

By looking at how these sentences are said in a language, you can tell a lot of things. You can tell the way the language shows ownership of objects and the use of modals. These might be big words for some people, but they are not that hard to understand once you learn the words of learning words. I suggest you check it out. He is on to something! He de-constructed Arabic in 45 minutes. I've been looking at ways to "cut the fat" of language learning for some time, and this guy has made a career out of doing it for all facets of his life.

Here's a snippet of what he said:
Before you invest (or waste) hundreds and thousands of hours on a language, you should deconstruct it. During my thesis research at Princeton, which focused on neuroscience and unorthodox acquisition of Japanese by native English speakers, as well as when redesigning curricula for Berlitz, this neglected deconstruction step surfaced as one of the distinguishing habits of the fastest language learners

How to learn (but not master) any language in under one hour