The disease of monolingualism

I clicked over to this website, EuroComRom, from a HTLAL thread. The website is about multilingualism in Europe and a strategy for achieving it, but frankly, that’s not what this rather short post is about. What immediately caught my eye (and made me chuckle) was the opening line of the site’s introduction:

Monolingualism is curable.

It made me invision some curious alternate reality in which people who only speak one language are seen as being sick, and are sent to institutes to be “cured” of their ailment.

WordPress Encoding Woes

WordPress is starting to really, really annoy me with its text encoding quirks. I’m not sure why, but I’ll post something that has foreign characters in it, and more or less on its own, the foreign text – whether it is umlauts or Cyrillic – gets garbled into weird characters. I’ve tried changing the text encoding setting in WordPress to UTF-8, which doesn’t seem to help. If I change the text encoding in Firefox to UTF-8, though, the garbled text is fixed, and I see what I actually wrote.

Does anyone know how to go about fixing this permanently? Telling people to use a certain browser and set their text encoding to a particular setting isn’t exactly a “fix” in my book.

Grimm Grammar for German

The Texas Language Technology Center of the University of Texas has a very nice online grammar of German, Grimm Grammar.

A snippet from their about page:

Welcome to Grimm Grammar, an irreverent revival and shameless exploitation of 19th-century Grimm Fairy Tales for honorable pedagogical purposes.  Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, thirty-six characters from these fairy tales have returned to 21st century Germany (their precise location cannot be revealed for privacy reasons) to model all things grammatical … anything the most eager language learner may wish to know about the German language.

This online grammar reference was created for lower-division language courses at the University of Texas, but any beginning or intermediate learner of German may use it completely free of charge, as long as he or she is willing to take a trip to the imaginary world of Grimm Grammar … the characters of which are grumpy and gorgeous, scary and smarmy, witty and wicked!

If you’re getting started in German, check it out; you could probably skip the introductory German grammar book, and instead just wait until you need a copy Hammer’s.

How to use an Assimil course

I’m quite fond of Assimil courses, and I use them for French, Spanish, Russian and Dutch. But in one area, they’re very often lacking: instructions. In many of the courses, the instructions amount to: “during the passive wave, just listen to the audio and read the text, and you’ll slowly start to understand; during the active wave, go back and translate from the base language to the target language.” Considering Assimil uses a methodology that is different from most textbooks, the instructions are rather vague, especially for a person who might be studying their first foreign language. There are also “exercise” sentences at the end of each lesson, but it’s never really clearly stated what you’re supposed to do with them; do you not look at the translation, and translate them on your own after doing the lesson? Do you just treat the exercise sentences exactly like the lesson itself, listening, reading, and understanding?

The Dutch with Ease course, unlike the other courses, actually has very detailed instructions:

1. Listen to the text with the book closed. It does not matter if you do not understand what is said. You will gain a general impression of the sounds, hearing the pronunciation without being influenced by the spelling.

2. Listen to the recording a second time while looking at the English translation.

3. Read the Dutch text aloud (with the aid of the phonetic transcription if necessary). Be sure you understand the meaning of each sentence, comparing it with the translation as required.

4. Now read the Dutch text again, but this time without looking at the translation.

5. Listen to the recording twice, once while looking at the English translation, and once while looking at the Dutch text.

6. Listen to the recording again with the book closed. At this point you should understand what is being said.

7. Listen to the recording once more. Stop the machine after each sentence, and try to repeat it aloud.

8. Carefully read the comments several times. Examine the Dutch sentences being explained. These notes are very important.

9. Read the exercises. Repeat each sentence several times. The exercises review material from the current lesson and from preceding lessons. If you have forgotten certain words, consult the English translation.

10. Examine the examples of sentence structure. They show how words and phrases are combined in Dutch, which is not always the same as in English.

Of course, the Assimil courses can be used in many ways – adding the sentences and translations to a flashcard program, shadowing, writing out the lessons, etc. – but it’s nice to see detailed instructions as to how Assimil thinks their courses should be used.

Language Diary

I’ve made another blog for my daily language learning activities. I’ve kept language learning logs in the past in a variety of formats: plain old notebooks, at the HTLAL forums (my internet home away from home), and in a Google Docs file. I’ve generally found them to be worthwhile, simply because if I don’t keep track of what I’m doing, I quickly find myself not really doing anything; whole days will pass where I’ve accomplished very little in any of my languages. Keeping track of it in a log helps me stay on course, or at least get back on course when I’ve strayed.

When I first made Language Geek, it was supposed to be part language learning journal, part language learning tips. But the journal part never really materialized, partially because I wasn’t sure if people had any great desire to read about my daily “stuff” – a lot of it is fairly mundane. I love reading about others’ language learning exploits, even if it’s about them learning a dozen new words, but perhaps I’m a little strange. 🙂

To avoid driving off what readers I have here, I made Language Diary (because Language Journal was, alas, taken at It will, barring any catastrophes, keep the same format it has right now: one post per day, outlining what I did, along with some remarks about things that I found of particular interest.

What do you all think of merging the two? Totally against it? Think it would be fine? If they were merged, I would be able to provide separate feeds (i.e., a feed with and without the daily diary thing). I’ve made a poll here, but feel free to leave comments about the idea as well.

[poll id=”2″]