First Steps with Dutch

I’ve been working with Assimil’s Dutch with Ease course the past week and a half or so, and I’m now up to lesson 21. I’ve usually been able to do a few lessons each day instead of the recommended 1 per day, due to how similar Dutch is to German. My knowledge of German, coupled with my native English, is making Dutch seem extremely easy. It almost looks like someone took German, removed almost all of the tricky grammar, and then mixed it with English; the result was Dutch. Often when listening to the lessons, it sounds like someone speaking a mix of German and English with a strange accent. 🙂

The thing I’m having the most trouble with at this point is pronunciation. Some of the dipthongs are still puzzling me, and while I understand the pronunciation of g / ch, I’m having some trouble producing it myself. I’m not too worried about it though, as I’m fairly sure more listening and practice will take care of it. I’m also going to have to be careful about nailing down spellings, as many of them are similar to German words, but not exactly the same. I plan on transcribing the lessons by hand, which should help a lot.

All in all, I’m quite happy I started learning Dutch; I think it’s going to be fairly easy to get a good foundation in it (in comparison to say, Russian, which I’m still battling with). I’d like to find some good Dutch-only podcasts, so if you know of some, drop ’em in the comments.

My Prisma Dutch-English Dictionary – Oops

The two Dutch language learning books I ordered arrived today; one’s a success, the other, not so much. The success is Assimil’s Dutch with Ease; I’ve little to say about it at this point, other than it looks as good as all of the other Assimil stuff I’ve used or am using currently.

The not-so-great success – okay, I’ll be honest, the failure – is a Prisma Nederlands-Engels dictionary. It’s for speakers of Dutch, but I figured as long as it gave the Dutch words with English translations, I’d be okay; I primarily wanted it to do word lists.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take one thing into consideration: I never imagined that just because it’s for native speakers of Dutch, that none of the Dutch noun genders would be listed. So while I can look up words while reading with it, I still won’t know whether they’re de or het nouns.

I requested the New Routledge Dutch Dictionary via OhioLINK at my university, and it came in today. It lists the genders of nouns, and seems like a really nice dictionary. Unless I can find something of similar quality with a similar price, I’ll probably be picking up a copy soon.

Grammar For Decoding

Geoff wrote a post a few weeks ago about the idea of learning a language without grammar, and I quite liked this bit:

I personally favor the use of grammar for decoding, but am more reluctant to use it for encoding. That is, it’s good to find out what’s going on with a language when you’re getting frustrated trying to “just take it in.” But the more I play with Assimil programs, phrasebooks and Pimsleur, the more convinced I am that the way you master grammatical patterns is to say a lot of sentences the right way and let your brain do the grammar processing based on habits formed rather than through deliberate conscious processing.

In learning Russian, I’m experiencing something like this. I’m using Assimil’s Russisch ohne Mühe along with the New Penguin Russian Course; Assimil is more packed with sentences, whereas the Penguin course is rather grammar heavy.

I’m finding it to this to be a nice blend. If I were just using the Assimil course, I really do think that I’d be frustrated due to not fully understanding all of the declensions. On the other hand, if I were just using the Penguin course (which I at first attempted to do, many moons ago), I’d be suffering from grammar overload and not enough real Russian content.

I’m finding that I grasp grammar more fully after learning the grammar points via the Penguin course, and then seeing the grammar in use repeatedly in the Assimil course. The courses are playing off of each other very nicely, and I’m not getting tired of either.

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.

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 Juggling

I must admit defeat – but perhaps not in the way you might be expecting. I have stuck to my New Year intentions, and have been doing a bit with each of “my” languages each day. I failed, however, in holding my language wanderlust at bay for a while – I’ve taken up studying Spanish along with my other three languages. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I found myself becoming more and more interested in Mexican culture (partly through my stomach, admittedly), as well as wishing I could at least say a few things to my Mexican neighbors, who live a mere 100 feet away down the alley.

So, I ordered Assimil’s Spanish with Ease, due to how much I’ve enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) working with their French course. After a recommendation from a friend at the how-to-learn-any-language.com forums, I decided to go through Michel Thomas’s Spanish courses (Basic and Advanced) before getting started with Assimil. It’s the first time I’ve used one of his courses without having had previous exposure to the language being taught, and I must admit: I’m quite impressed. I take some issue with how the courses are marketed, and I think Michel himself was a bit in love with himself, but I can’t argue with results, either – what I’m learning is sticking, and amazingly well.

Of course, adding another language to my list of things to study has made time a bit of an issue, especially when coupled with taking a full load of university courses. I won’t lie and say it’s easy, nor will I lie and say that I hit every language every day. But it does seem doable, at least thus far. With smart time management and a bit of staggering – German today, Russian tomorrow, or whatever – I think I’ll be able to keep it up. Either way, I’ll continue to report on how this goes.

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.