Have I learned anything?

I recently had a rather frustrating experience:

In the middle of July, I was in Florida with a couple of people to see the last shuttle launch. While we were in Florida, we also visited Universal Studies for two days. Somewhat surprisingly to me, Universal Studios was absolutely flooded with people from foreign countries. I would probably estimate that out of 10 people, perhaps 2 were speaking English.

It just so happened that there was a German family behind us when we were in line for the Harry Potter ride. We were in this line for nearly an hour and a half, so I had plenty of time to covertly listen in on their conversations. (You know you’ve done it before, so don’t act like you haven’t.) The frustrating bit, however, was that despite untold hours of learning German, listening to German, reading German, I could understand nearly nothing of what they said. I’d occasionally catch a word here and there, but mostly it was like listening to a language I’d never studied at all. Their accent was one I wasn’t entirely accustomed to, but even with that in mind, I found the experience to be really, really frustrating. Living in southern Ohio, it’s not often that I get to hear German spoken on the fly by people in “real life” (okay, so it basically never happens). Hitting a brick wall while in Florida has me thinking that I need to be listening to less “news” type materials and more stuff similar to how people really talk, like in movies and T.V. shows.

Have you had any similar experiences where you thought, alright, have I learned anything in all this time? The whole thing had me seriously considering throwing my hands up in the air and calling it quits. But I’m far too stubborn for that.

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.

Video-Thema from Deutsche Welle

Yesterday I learned about a new offering from Deutsche Welle, Video-Thema. Every week they put up a new video complete with exercises, transcript, and glossary. Apparently, they started this up at the beginning of the year; I’ve no idea how I missed it.

Thanks to Cornelia from the Deutsch als Fremdsprache Blog for posting about it.

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.

Free Hörspiel for German Learners

I came across a neat resource for German learners recently, Detektei Suni & Partner. It’s a Hörspiel, or radio play, in podcast format. Other than some brief encounters with radio plays as a child (which I had to listen to on cassette tape, not actually on the radio), this is the first one I’ve ever listened to. I like it as a format; I find it much more engaging than listening to an audiobook. The various sound effects help you get a feel for the environment, and the multiple voices (rather than one voice of an audiobook reader) also makes things more interesting. You also obviously get to hear a number of accents.

I’m not sure if they’re still making new episodes – the last one appeared in July – but even if they’re not, there are 7 episodes to listen to, and you can also get the full transcripts for each one.

Does anyone here listen to German Hörspiele? If so, could you recommend any? I’d like to explore the format more.

WordReference.com Now Has German and Russian Dictionaries

WordReference.com used to have a German dictionary, but for whatever reason, they had to take it down. If I remember correctly, the publisher of the dictionary decided they didn’t want WordReference.com to offer it for free.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I went to the site yesterday to look up a French word, and saw that they have a German dictionary again, as well as a new Russian one. This makes it so that the site now offers translations for:

Pretty cool.

For those wondering, the new German dictionary being offered is the Pocket Oxford-Duden German Dictionary (2008 version), and the Russian is the Pocket Oxford Russian Dictionary (2006 version).