Yabla – Foreign Language Videos With Subtitles and Translations

I recently learned about a website called Yabla, which offers Spanish and French videos complete with transcripts and translations:

Only Yabla language immersion sites give you authentic television, music videos, drama, interviews, travel, and Yabla exclusive shoots from throughout the world. Our unique player technology is designed with language learners in mind: Slow Play, Integrated Dictionaries, Listening Game, Dual Language Subtitles, and more.

I took their player for a spin, and quite liked it. The transcript isn’t just a big block of text, but instead, is integrated into the player. Each sentence or phrase appears as it’s spoken, and pressing back takes you to the beginning of the sentence. The Slow Play feature is also nice, slowing the video and audio down to perhaps 1/2 to 3/4 regular speed. The audio sounds slightly robotic after being treated this way, but it’s still quite usable. I’m usually wary of language “games”, finding most of them useless, but the Listening Game at Yabla actually seems useful. What it does is removes a random word from the transcript; you listen and watch, and try to fill in the missing word. I can certainly see where playing this occasionally could help one’s listening comprehension.

Hopefully, the amount of French videos catches up with the Spanish; as of right now, there’s around 5 hours of video at Yabla French, and nearly 20 hours at LoMasTv. Still, though, 5 hours of French video with transcripts and translations is a treasure trove for the French learner, so I won’t complain. 🙂 Do check it out, just bear in mind that their is a subscription fee of $9.95 a month. If you sign up for longer periods of time (6 months, a year), you get a discount.

Language Geek New Year Intentions

I know, I know – you expected to see “resolutions” in the title. I decided to copy Geoff’s lead, by using intentions rather than resolutions. Every New Year resolution I’ve ever made, I’ve failed miserably at; and as Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The empirical evidence I have on hand (that is, my memory of years gone by) says that if I make a language resolution, it’ll fail, so I’m going to avoid stepping into the quicksand altogether, and just not make any resolutions. It’s intentions this year.

So, the intentions:

  • In general, I intend to continue working on my three current languages, German, French, and Russian. This may seem silly, but I think it’s important to have that base intention. I suppose giving up language learning altogether would be a possibility, so…
  • For German, I intend to continue increasing my vocabulary, and reading native materials. I also intend to work more intensively using Hammer’s German Grammar and the associated Exercise book; I’ve neglected them too long.
  • For French, I intend to finish up working with Assimil’s New French with Ease, and start on Assimil’s Using French. I also intend to continue getting a basic vocabulary under my belt, using Mastering French Vocabulary as my primary source. While I’m not going to do so just yet, as I don’t think I’m far enough along, I intend on getting a French language exchange partner sometime during 2009.
  • For Russian, I have two specific intentions: finish working through New Penguin’s Russian Course, and finish working through Assimil’s Russisch ohne Mühe. I’d like to make it through at least one of them by mid-2009, and both of them by the end of the year. Even with regular university courses and my other language pursuits, I think this should be achievable, with a bit of focus on my part.
  • And finally, I intend to display my utter madness, by perhaps starting a new language in 2009. I won’t be doing it right now, as with Russian, I still feel like I’m floating in a vast, turbulent sea, with no life jacket. Once I feel like I’m in said ocean with a sad little boat, then I may start a new language. If I do start a new language this year, it will be Spanish.

What are your language learning intentions / resolutions / plans for the year?

And of course – happy new year! I hope you all had nice holidays.

Assimil French with Ease Progress

I’m now up to lesson 56 in Assimil’s French with Ease, and, having done about a week’s worth of the “active wave”, I wanted to comment on it.

As I’ve mentioned before, Assimil’s approach consists of a passive wave and an active wave. The passive wave consists of listening to the dialogue, reading over the transcripts and the translations, as well as the notes. The active wave, which starts when you reach lesson 50 in the passive wave, has you go back to lesson 1 and translate from English to French. Before doing so you’re supposed to listen to the lesson.

I’ve had no trouble at all in doing these, but I must say – I think the second wave needs to consist of more than just translating from English to French, and doing a few exercises like filling in the genders of nouns or putting the right ending on adjectives. For an “active wave”, it seems too cursory, a mere add-on to the passive wave rather than a stand-alone part of the course.

That’s not to say that Assimil is bad; on the contrary, I still love the course, and intend to keep using it as my primary material for French. However, I think I may end up altering their prescribed approach rather drastically. I may add all of the sentences to Anki to strengthen my vocabulary, as well as write them all out by hand (which I’m finding helps me remember things much easier). I may also start working through The Ultimate French Review and Practice, a book I received recently. In short, now that I’m in the “active phase” of Assimil, I think I need to dig into things a little more; my passive understanding of the French lessons I’ve done is excellent, but my production skills are more-or-less nonexistent, and I’m not sure Assimil’s official “active phase” approach is going to change that much.

Has anyone worked through an Assimil course exactly as they recommend? If you have, could you comment on the end results?

Throttling Russian

I’ve recently throttled back on studying Russian, largely because I feel that I just don’t have enough time to continue enlarging my German vocabulary, learn the basics of French with my Assimil course, and learn the basics of Russian. I’ve not ran into any troubles in continuing with German and starting with French, probably because when I started French, I was quite familiar with most, if not all, of the grammar of German, and had a decent sized vocabulary. My German learning now consists of just learning more (and more) vocabulary; there aren’t any new concepts being added.

Trying to learn the basics of two drastically different languages has proven a bit more difficult. For French, I’ve been usually spending 30-45 minutes a day, doing one Assimil lesson a day. I don’t really have enough time in the day to spend a similar amount of time on Russian as well, and doing anything less, I feel like I’m making little to no progress. There’s so much to cover when starting a new language, and with the Russian declension system, it seems even worse. With the limited amount of time I’ve been able to give it, I feel as if I’ve done little more than learn enough to get things mixed up. 🙂

I think my attack plan at this point is going to be to finish the Assimil course, which, if reports from folks online are trustworthy, will give me a very good base in French on which to build. Perhaps at that point I’ll be able to continue with German and French, and start over with Russian. I’m going to continue peeking at my Russian texts, but I’m not going to try and set any real goals for myself with it right now, because I think I’d just be setting myself up for failure.

In short, I believe that, in jumping in with both French and Russian, I bit off more than I could chew.

As an aside (I’ll blog more about this soon), I’m nearing lesson 50 in the Assimil course, at which point I’ll start the second, or “active” wave. I’m looking forward to seeing how my understanding of the language progresses from that point on; thus far I’ve had a blast using the course, and I’m at least passively understanding everything. Most importantly, it’s been fairly painless work – the Assimil course is fun, which is not something I can say of cramming grammar tables. 🙂

A grammar quote from Rivarol

I was rereading through the introduction to New French with Ease earlier this evening, and came across this gem of a quote from Rivarol:

Grammar is the art of lifting the difficulties out of a language; the lever must not be heavier than the burden.

Something to definitely keep in mind when studying a language; I know from experience how easy it is to get bogged down in the grammar, losing sight of what you’re really after: understanding, and the ability to communicate. Grammar is needed, but it’s a piece of the pie, not the whole thing.

By the way, if you’re curious, here’s the original French quote:

La grammaire est l’art de lever les difficultés d’une langue; mais il ne faut pas que le levier soit plus lourd que le fardeau.

What am I doing, language-wise?

I’ve not posted about how my language learning is going for a while now, so here’s the obligatory update.

My German is going extremely well. It’s mostly just an activity of vocabulary acquisition at this point. I’m familiar with all of the grammar, and can read most things with a bit of help from a dictionary. I’m still working on my listening comprehension, by regularly listening to German podcasts and audiobooks. I’m slowly chipping away at the German version of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen.

I’ve shuffled my learning plan around some in regards to Russian. I was initially just working with the texts I have, Russian for Beginners (Duff) and New Penguin Russian Course (Brown). While I was making so-so progress with them, I felt like I wasn’t really learning how to say anything. So, I’ve added in a final element, which comes with a huge amount of audio: the Princeton Russian course. I posted about this previously, and sadly, it appears Princeton has taken the course material down. However, I downloaded it all when it was available. I’m listening to one dialogue a day, repeatedly, until I understand it in full. I’ve already found that I was overpronouncing a lot of things, in particular, the y soft sound on е, ё, etc. Despite my efforts, I’m still finding that my progress with Russian is much, much slower than my progress was when I started learning German. However, I think from listening to the dialogues regularly from the Princeton course, I’m starting to get a better feel for the language.

Finally, I’ve decided to throw another language onto my list: French. I’m using the Assimil course, New French with Ease, and am loving every minute of it. For those not familiar with Assimil, the setup of the course is thus:

You have the audio portion, and the book. The audio is all in the target language. In the book, you have a transcript of each lesson on one side of the page, and the translation on the opposite page. There are also grammar and vocabulary notes for each lesson, but these are generally kept relatively short. You go at the material in two waves: the first passive, the second active. You do the first 50 or so lessons passively, simply listening and repeateding the audio, and making sure you understand all of it. Once you’ve reached lesson 50 or thereabouts, you go back to the beginning of the book, and go through the lessons “actively”, doing the exercises and translating from English to French. While doing this, you obviously continue on with the passive phase until you reach the end of the course. I’m about 10 lessons into the course now, and I really like it. I wish I’d started learning German with the Assimil course. I’d nab the Russian course, but they don’t offer a new version, at least not with English as the base version. I guess there’s not much market right now for English-speaking people wanting to learn Russian.