Language Juggling

I’m going to have to change my methods a bit, specifically in how I approach dealing with all of my target languages. For the record, currently I’m studying:

  • German
  • French
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Dutch

German is still more or less a task of vocabulary learning. The others, however, still involve a lot more, and trying to balance them all out is proving to be more difficult than I expected it to be.

When I first threw Dutch onto the pile, I figured I could just do a bit with each language each day. But even if I only put in 30 minutes a day with each one – which I wouldn’t be overly happy with – it would still be 2.5 hours a day, which sometimes, I just don’t have. The end result has been that while I hit a few languages each day, the others are often ignored almost entirely.

Rather than giving any up completely, however, I’m considering making a schedule of some sort, like having set days for certain languages. If I put in the time with those for the day and still have more time, I’ll “allow” myself to study something else. Or perhaps I’ll just keep better track of which languages I’ve been studying on what days, and just make sure that I make contact with all of them on a regular basis. I think this may be a better idea than a strict schedule, as I fear I wouldn’t stick to a set schedule very well.

For those of you who have tackled numerous languages at once, how have you handled this dilemma?

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.

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 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.

Cyrillic Handwriting – Take Three!

After reading the comments on my last post, along with Geoff’s blog post response, I wanted to clarify my position a bit on Cyrillic handwriting. I think learning the cursive form of Cyrillic is useful for the foreign learner – up to a point, depending on the personality of the learner. As many people pointed out, it only takes an hour or two to learn the cursive forms once you know the Cyrillic alphabet, and so to not gain at least a passive recognition of it would be silly. The passive recognition, though, is where I have stopped with my usage of it. The reasons are fairly simple:

  1. I have no real plans at this point of ever living in Russia, nor of having a snail-mail Russian penpal. That latter point isn’t me being a snob; I just know my personality. I’ve had many German penpals during my studies, and they’ve all been on the internet. It’s infinitely faster, and assuming each person already has an internet connection, email is free. It’s nice to get corrections the next day, rather than two or three weeks later.
  2. It’s faster for me to print. I know many people find that their cursive writing is faster than their printing, but mine is not. I long ago abandoned my English handwriting (excluding my signature) in favor of my printing. While the handwriting is different for Cyrillic and the Roman alphabets, there are many similarities between them in handwritten form, and so it would seem my slowness in writing English handwriting has crossed the bridge to Russian. I have to write it at a real crawl to make it legible, which brings me to my last point:
  3. I can read my printing much easier than my handwriting, whether it be English or Russian. The slowness and relative illegibility of my handwriting are the exact reasons which caused me to abandon it so long ago. While I can now quickly read my English handwriting (when I use it, which is practically never), due to the Russian words still being rather unfamiliar to me, I really struggle to read many of them when I write them in cursive. When I print them with block letters, if I know the word, there’s no struggle. I see it and I recognize the word; there’s no 5 minute process of peering at it, saying “is that 2 И’s, or a Ш?” I can actually see such peering and wondering as detrimental to my acquisition of the language, and Russian has enough hurdles without me adding more! 🙂

In short, for me, using the cursive form of the writing has no practical use for me, and I don’t gain any particular buzz of “Russian-ness” from making myself use it; on the contrary, I actually find it a bit uncomfortable, just as I find writing in cursive English uncomfortable these days.

Having said that, if you’re learning Russian, do learn the cursive, at least to a passive recognition stage; and furthermore, if you find it faster, more legible, or just plain more fun to use cursive over block letters – by all means, do so!

Cyrillic Handwriting – Should You Learn It?

I saw a forum post at How To Learn Any Language which caught my interest. Namely, Iversen (who’s word list method I’m still using, by the way) said:

I disagree with Chelovek on one point – his recommandation of cursive writing. You have to learn the printed version of cursive because it pops up in many places, not least in magazines where it serves to emphasize a section of the text. Some dictionaries also use the printed version of cursive for certain purposes. However you will see very little handwritten Russian unless you live in Russia (or certain other places in the former USSR), and there is absolutely no reason that you should care about it. Virtually everything you will ever see is printed stuff, and most printed stuff isn’t written in cursive.

He has a good point, I think. Before seeing it in my language books, guess how many times I’d seen cursive Cyrillic handwriting? Never, actually. Everything in Cyrillic I’d ever seen had been in block letters, as everything I’d ever seen in Cyrillic had been printed.

I think gaining at least a familiarity with the handwritten cursive is worth doing, simply because it doesn’t take much time – you can learn how the letters are made and joined together in an hour or so, two at the most. But after reading Iversen’s post, I question the usefulness of forcing oneself to use cursive Cyrillic in your studies, simply because you’re most likely practicing a skill that you’re not going to use. Now, if you live in Russia or somewhere in the former USSR, then it would be a different matter altogether. But for those of us who don’t live there, is there really any benefit to be had by using cursive Cyrillic handwriting as opposed to just writing with block letters?

Cyrillic Handwriting, Take Two

I posted back in March of ’07 about some videos that Natasha at Spoonful of Russian had made, showing how to write each Cyrillic letter. These videos are still available, but if you’re wanting something a bit quicker, Brown University has a page with all of the Cyrillic letters; hover your mouse over each letter to see how it’s written. The “videos” are actually animated GIFs, so they’re much quicker to load than the QuickTime movies on Natasha’s site. They automatically loop, so you can quickly verify if you’re making the letters correctly or not.