Beginning steps in Swedish

A few weeks ago, I received my copy of Schwedisch ohne Mühe. This was very much a spur of the moment purchase, based largely on this train of thought: I’ve long been interested in Viking history; I’m interested in Old Norse; I should check out a modern North Germanic language; Swedish looks good. And so I leapt to my favorite line of courses. 

Wanderlust strikes again, but I’m okay with it.

I’m only up to lesson 5 so far, but it’s going well and I’m enjoying it. Some of it seems fairly transparent due to my English and German skills (besök -> Besuch, flytande -> fließend, not to mention things like syster -> sister).

My biggest hurdle right now is pronunciation. There are a few obstacles here: one, my brain keeps trying to read ‘ä’ as it’s pronounced in German. Two, there seem to be some tricky instances of letters being silent, and at least as far as I’ve seen so far, there aren’t hard and fast rules for when that happens. And three, for some words, it seems the voice actors just have different ideas about the pronunciation. For example, in ‘det,’ the ‘t’ seems to be silent sometimes, but other times it is clearly pronounced, depending on which voice actor is speaking the line. I’m sure (much) more exposure will help me sort this out.

One last note for now: for some awful reason, this particular Assimil book doesn’t have a glossary in the back. I was very disappointed to find this when I received the book. For now, I’ve bought a Berlitz pocket dictionary, but I’ll have to upgrade at some point or another. Sadly, a cursory search shows there aren’t a great deal of high quality Swedish-English / English-Swedish dictionaries. Who would have guessed that?

Advice for the Assimil Active Wave

I’ve been working through Assimil’s Russian course, and am now in the midst of both finishing the passive wave and digging into the active wave. Shortly after I started the active wave, I recalled a great post from the HTLAL forums about the active wave, and how to approach it. The post is by user lingoleng, and all credit goes to him; also bear in mind that lingoleng’s native language is German. Ah, if only my German were as good as his English! Here’s his post (original is right here):

I can only give some hints, but what you do should really depend on your own needs, not on anything else.

Second wave wants two things, both are very easy to understand:
– repetition
After two or three months, however long it took you to get to lesson 50, you have forgotten many words and phrases of the previous lessons. So you have to refresh them by going through the old lessons again. Very simple, no problem here.
– activation
After the reading and listening of the first wave you start producing sentences, speaking and probably writing. Again, very simple concept.

How to do it?

Everything is allowed and possible, it depends entirely on you and your needs.
Look at the English text of the first lesson. Try to translate it without looking at the German text. A piece of cake? Not as easy as you expected? Oh man, I don’t remember anything at all? Well, whatever, no problem at all.

Of course you use the written text in the book as a tool for correcting your translation, what else? You can use the audio just as well, but this is not as easy, and not necessary. (Just listen to the audio on another day, never a bad idea.) But you have to check if your sentences are right. That’s the most important thing, of course.

What if you’ve made a mistake, or two, or it is all nonsense? No problem again, that’s why you do the repetition, look what is wrong, say the correct version several times, and go on. Next sentence a complete failure? Well, who cares, you are learning the language, that’s why you do it.

If you write your first try and make a mistake, or several, no problem, but in this case you write the correct version twice, or three times, now you’ll know it. For a while 🙂

Assimil says you can listen to the audio before starting your active work, so you can do this. Or you try to get it right without a previous short time reactivation, but as repetition is one of your primary goals it is not so important whether you get it right without listening before, these are all minor details.

What is important to remember, what not? hard to say, it is a course for beginners, so you want to know the very most of it, of course. But there may be rare words, occasionally, something like “Kronleuchter” or “Chrysantheme”, words which were needed for the dialog only and won’t be too important for your further life. I tend to ignore such words if they are difficult to remember, others want it all, probably not really a matter of importance.
A tiny example: “Are you hungry?” and the German translation is “Haben Sie Hunger?”.
If your first try is “Bist du hungrig”, you’ve found an acceptable answer by accident, (or know this as an alternative from somewhere else,) but if you made a word by word translation, you missed several points. You say “to be”, we say “haben”. hungry is an adjective, Hunger is a noun. You should notice that there is quite a difference, German does it in a different way, it is an important phrase, often used, so you want to know it. The formal or informal problem is not really a problem, it becomes easy, and it depends, so if you thought that the persons in question “duzen einander” you have not made a mistake, no problem. But you want to know both forms anyway: “Hast du Hunger?” and “Haben Sie Hunger?”. Did you get the question right? Haben Sie? Inversion of the word order, you may want to think about it for a second while looking at this little example. Do you know haben, ich habe, du hast, er hat, wir …, if you do, it is great, if you’ve got it wrong, you may want to think about it, for a minute.

You see, what I propose is a little bit different than only remembering the phrase by heart. Learning by heart is not a bad thing, really not, but only if you understand what you remember. So if you have the automatic reaction: Oh, I remember very well what was written on this page, it was the strange and very queer expression “Haben Sie Hunger”, no idea why and how, but this is it,- you get a point in a multiple choice test but not as many language points, I guess.

To make a long post short: You want repetition, and you’ get it. You want active skills, and you have to work for them. And the exact procedure is not a law, do what you want to do, or have to do. A third wave, or even a forth one, may be what makes the difference between a successful language learner and a less successful one, but I would never confess that I ever needed a fifth wave, not me.

I really love the advice. As a learner who typically beats himself up over every mistake (seriously, I’ve got scars), it’s a nice reminder that mistakes aren’t the end of the world. Mess up? No big deal. Do it again. Mess up again? Well, keep doing it. Eventually you’ll get better at not messing up.

It’s also easy to miss the forest for the trees. If you get too obsessed with reproducing the target language sentences, you miss the whole point – activating the language for yourself. The overall goal of the course is to let you create your own sentences in the language, not parrot back their sentences with 100% accuracy.

It’s really quite simple, but I, at least, still need reminders.

Back on the horse

Over these past few weeks, I’ve busied myself with Assimil Russian and a fair bit of German reading and writing. With Russian, I’ve been doing a mix of the standard Assimil plan with some of Luca’s ideas mixed in (specifically, writing out translations, going from Russian to English and then back the other way). It’s going well; after many false starts (and stops) with the book over the past few years, I’m now about halfway through it. Provided I keep up the pace, I should be “finished” with it in a little over three months.

There were a few interesting German articles that I read, but one in particular amused me: Studentent brauchen mehr Geld zum Leben. It caught my interest because it seems fairly different from how things work in the states. We receive financial aid, but for me, at least, it was expected that the bulk of that financial aid was going towards your actual schooling costs, not living expenses; if your parents couldn’t cover your living expenses, you were going to be working. The article discusses the potential raising of monthly financial aid up to 570 – 1100 Euros per month. At the higher end of that rate, I’d consider quitting my full time job and go back to school. 😉

Also recently, I watched Anthony Lauder’s talk from the Polyglot Conference from last year. It’s an hour, but it’s worth your time. He makes some excellent points, and is hilarious, to boot. Here you go:

Lastly, I’m pretty excited about something for next year: I’ll be getting married this June, and my fiancée has agreed for our honeymoon to be in… Germany! We’ve got a lot of planning to do, but provided that all goes well, it should be a blast. I’ve been chipping away at die deutsche Sprache for years, and this will be my first time setting foot in the country. “Excited” doesn’t even come close to describing how I feel about this. 🙂

Language Log #1 – active Russian translating, French word lists

The refreshing of neglected languages continues. Russian, French, I’m looking at you two, and you’re lovely; and I’m sorry for ignoring you so.


When I first started with Russian years ago, I used a few different books. My first book on the language was The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners. I made decent headway with it, but eventually quit using it; nothing wrong with it at all, I just have language wanderlust to a horrible degree. This was my first primary course, though.

Later on, when my Assimil obsession set in, I picked up a copy of Russisch ohne Mühe (the older version, not Russisch ohne Mühe Heute, which, by all accounts, is pretty horrendous). I worked through all of the passive wave phase, and started on the active wave, but then… dropped that course, too. I have a serious issue with sticking to one method, eh?

Since then, my Russian has kind of been at a very wobbly beginner’s level, at least in the passive regard. Active ability, however, was and is largely nonexistent, something I’ve desperately wanted to fix. Wanting to focus on active learning, I’ve started worked through Assimil’s new Russian course (with an English base), but not with their usual methodology (do first 50 lessons passively, start active phase with lesson 1, continue with rest of book passively). Instead, I’ve been using Luca’s method (Luca’s personal language blog is here). Definitely check out the pair of articles about the method, but distilled, it’s basically: read / listen to a few lessons; in a few days, translate the lesson(s) to your native language; a bit later, translate from your native language back to your target language.

The translating from native to target language is what intrigued me, as it’s not something I’ve ever really done very much. My methods have always been more passively focused, like with Assimil – “just read and listen a lot, and you’ll get it eventually.” Which is true, I think, but forcing oneself to actively start producing the language really kickstarts things. (I also think the whole notion of early errors “fossilizing,” at which point you’ll never be able to fix them, is more or less nonsense, so I’m not worried about mistakes.)

This active translating has helped quite a bit, especially in one area that I’ve long had trouble with when it comes to Russian: vocabulary. I’d learn words, and promptly forget them. Actively translating from English to Russian has helped cement the words a bit better in my mind. It’s also helped my Russian spelling. It’s one thing to recognize Здравствуйте; it’s quite another to spell it correctly, especially when how it’s pronounced doesn’t entirely match how it’s written.

One other note about this. Some people may wonder, why did you get the new Assimil Russian couse, if you already had the excellent Russisch ohne Mühe? Good question. I did it largely because 1) I’m addicted to buying books and 😉 and 2) while working through the passive wave of Russisch ohne Mühe was doable, the active wave was a great deal more difficult. While my German is decent, I think trying to learn Russian through German was just slowing me down. Particularly in the later parts of the book, I’d sometimes hit areas where I’d have to look up a German word / grammar construction before I could even attempt to understand the Russian. Not ideal.


My French reached a more respectable level, as I actually worked through most of the active wave of New French with Ease. My refreshing of this has focused on basically one thing so far: words, words, words. I’ve been working through lots of word lists (Iversen style), to nail down lots of basic vocabulary. I’ve been using Mastering French Vocabulary, which I’d heartily recommend to any French learners.

While that’s largely been my focus, I’ve also been bringing in a few texts into Learning with Texts. It’s a bit of work to get it set up, but worth the effort. It’s basically LingQ without the subscription fee. 🙂 I’ve mostly been grabbing transcripts from One thing in a French day.

July 13th, 2010

Over the past few days, I’ve been focusing some more on Dutch. I’m up to lesson 31 of Dutch with Ease. I realize I’ve said it many times before, but: I love how Dutch vocabulary corresponds so clearly to English and German vocabulary. We in Dutch; we in English. Eenvoudig in Dutch; einfach in German. I’m getting better at understanding the spoken language (at least the Assimil version of the spoken language…), but reading is still much, much easier.

I’ve also done a tiny bit of Russian recently, working a bit on lesson 54 of Russian without Toil, as well as on some of the exercises in chapter 12 of the New Penguin Russian Course. Nothing overly exciting about either, however. I want to sit down for a few hours and plow through a bit of my Russian history book soon.

And, finally, I’ve been trying to decide on how I want to rearrange my language learning schedule. While I’m making progress, certainly, I’m not entirely happy with my haphazard way of hopping from one language to another. Some languages tend to get lost in the mess, and as of late, French has been suffering quite a lot – not to mention poor Spanish, which seems to have wholly vanished from my studies. I’m not frustrated enough to slash any more from my current list, but I’m going to have to put my current list into some sort of overall structure to please myself. I’m just not entirely sure how I’m going to do that. I know some people insist on sticking to one or two languages until they’re mastered them (whatever that means), but I don’t see myself doing that. I’ve also read of some people spending a few months on a couple of languages, then switching to other languages for a few months, etc. Again, I’m not sure I could do this.

Hrm. I’ll figure something out.

July 8th, 2010

Today was largely a Dutch day. In Dutch with Ease, I reviewed lesson 24, then went ahead and did the passive wave for lessons 25 and 26. I’ve decided that, seeing as I’ve not exactly had much trouble with Dutch, I’m going to try and push through the passive wave of Assimil fairly quickly, rather than going slowly and meticulously. Once I’ve gotten through the first pass I’ll go through it again most likely, in a slower manner.

Later in the evening, I took my copy of Russisch ohne Mühe to bed with me, and reviewed lesson 24. I’m not sure why, but my bookmark was on that lesson, so it seemed as good a lesson as any to review.