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The Language Learning Advisor Newsletter, Issue #003
August 20, 2006
Welcome to Issue #003!

I've been keeping an interested eye on the immigration issue here in the US, and how it affects learning languages. However the politics go won't really change how we learn languages, but all this media attention and talk of a 'national language' just underscores how important it is for everyone (particularly Americans in my point of view) to have at least some knowledge of another language or two. It helps us all out in ways we can't even see sometimes.

For this issue, I've added a page on the site for Modern Greek, as promised in an earlier issue. Several visitors have requested some pages with Greek resources, mostly Ancient Greek, but of course it's high time I added a page on Modern Greek. A page for Ancient Greek will be following shortly.

In What Makes One Language Harder or Easier Than Another? I take a look at what factors come into play when learning a foreign language. Knowing what makes a language easy or difficult can help define how we can learn it more effectively.

I've been looking at ways to expand vocabulary, so in this issue I've tackled this problem from one specific angle. The Language Learning Tip of the Month covers that topic with a look at Blogs and how to use them for learning languages.

The big news this issue is the discovery of a great language resource. See Free FSI below to find out where you can find one of the all-time great language learning methods for free!

Modern Greek

Although Greek was never on my list of languages to learn, I actually have some personal experience with it. Several times I have worked with people who spoke Greek. Once, I worked in a warehouse for a month or two with about a half-dozen Greeks. All but one of them spoke English pretty well, but they mostly spoke in their native language. I managed to pick up a little bit (which I don't remember anymore) even though they weren't actively teaching me and I wasn't really trying to learn.

If I had that experience again, I would squeeze every bit of Greek out of them that I could learn. I regret not learning as much of that language as I could. Never pass up an opportunity to learn a language for free!

Because Greece is a small country and Greek is not a global language, there are few published learning methods to learn Modern Greek. Ancient Greek gets far more attention, it seems. Despite that (or maybe because of it) there are a couple of very good resources on the internet to study Modern Greek.

For some excellent resources to learn Greek free on the internet, visit Learn Greek

Idioms Delight

Speaking of Greek, I came across the saying 'it's Greek to me' and thought I'd do a little research. I wondered what they say in other languages when they don't understand something. Do they say the same thing? Is it Greek to them, too? What do the Greeks say?

In most languages it wasn't Greek, it was usually Chinese. This is understandable considering very few non-Chinese people speak Chinese. Far Eastern languages have long been viewed as exotic and difficult languages in the west.

In French, 'C'est du chinois' (that's Chinese) and Spanish 'Eso es chino para mi' (that's Chinese to me) the sense of our 'it's Greek to me' is the same. I also found variations that referred to Arabic, as in Italians 'Per me arabo' (it's Arabic to me), Hebrew and even Algebra, although there were some sayings that used Greek as English does, but in a slightly different sense.

So what do the Greeks say? To them it's Chinese, too. I'm sure many English speakers have referred to something unintelligible as 'Chinese' on more than one occasion, rather than the traditional Greek. It may not be a common saying, but I know I've heard it. Which only leaves us with one more question - what do the Chinese say?

I suppose it would be a nice neat circle if they said 'that's English to me' or at least acknowledged Greek, but they don't. The chain stops with them. The Chinese merely say - 'it's heavenly script.'

What Makes One Language Harder or Easier Than Another?

What makes one language harder or easier to learn than another? Unfortunately, there is no one simple answer. There are some languages which have a number of characteristics that make them relatively difficult to learn. But it depends much more on what languages you already know, particularly your native language, the one (or ones) you grew up speaking.
Read the rest of the article What Makes One Language Harder or Easier to Learn Than Another?

New Resources

As usual there is a host of new resources on the site since the last issue. I continue to find useful blogs and podcasts. There are a bunch of new ones on the Japanese Language Resources page and the German Language Resources page.

In particular, there is a relatively new site called Language Learning with a nice collection of language articles.

Also, I have added another site for finding penpals - The Penpals Network. If you go through the many penpal and language exchange sites on the Language Penpal Resources page, I'm sure you will find a few that you will like. Use these sites to matchup with other language learners around the world and use your new language with native speakers who are learning English. It's a great way to use what you're learning.

Don't forget that I don't always place links to every possible resource on the site. I try to restrict links to only the best or most appropriate sites. However, I created my Language Resources Directory for this very reason. I can place links to any site in the directory. It is by no means complete but continues to grow. In time, there will be many more links in the directory than on the site. So if you are extra hungry for resources, take a look through the directory as well as search the internet yourself. It's amazing what you can find out there sometimes.

Free FSI

Finally we have one of the best language programs available for free.

The FSI language programs were created by the Foreign Service, a branch of the US government. They were mostly produced during the 1950's and 1960's and in their day were the most comprehensive language programs available.

The FSI language methods were rarely updated, and yet merchants still sell these programs for hundreds of dollars. The methods are excellent, but for that kind of money the publisher should put some effort into it. Several hundred dollars for hissy 1950's audio and photocopied documents? Shameful.

The real crime is that these programs are technically public domain. That means that if anyone wanted to, they could give away these programs for free. Finally, someone has.

The magic of the internet has provided a truly intrepid group of language enthusiasts the medium to distribute downloadable versions of FSI for free. At you can find audio files in mp3 format and matching text files in pdf format. Courses for Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Greek, Serbo-Croatian and Turkish are all available in varying levels of completeness. Ultimately, I'm sure most, if not all, of the FSI courses will be available.

I love free stuff. It's a great day for language learners.

Language Learning Tip of the Month - Blogs

While blogs are all over the place on the internet (everyone seems to have one), we as language learners have several different ways to use them to help ourselves learn our target languages. In particular, blogs are helpful for learning vocabulary.

First of all, try to find blogs aimed at language learners. If you're learning French, look for a blog by a teacher or fellow learner of French who is sharing the learning experience. This way you are learning in your native language, so much of the subtlety of the words and how they are used can be explained carefully.

Another kind of blog to use is a blog in the language you are studying. This is a lot trickier and may require some intermediate or advanced knowledge of the language to really get something out of it. You could simply scan a blog and pick out words you don't know and look them up. You now also have them in context which is very important. If you have some knowledge of the language already and can read well enough, you can really start to pick up some juicy vocabulary - idioms, slang and lots of other things that you generally won't find in a textbook.

Another way to use blogs is by writing them. Keep a journal of your learning experience form the very beginning, if possible. The simple act of documenting what you are learning can help you define what is easy for you and what is difficult, and actually help you focus your efforts where they are needed most. Things can get jumbled up in our heads, but when they are written down, they can sometimes become clearer.

By sharing your language learning experience, you may find others sharing their experience with you as well. They may leave comments or start up a dialogue or friendship with you. Valuable information can be gleaned just by a single comment from someone visiting even once.

Blogs are just one of the great new resources for language learners that have sprung up due to the internet. Explore the blogs of others or create your own to round out your language learning regimen and you may find you can't live or learn without them!

Here are just a few examples of blogs by, about and for language learners :

Recent and Upcoming Additions

One of the key additions to the site in recent weeks is the Survey page and the surveys that can be found there. Since adding them, I've begun to gather some really good information from the many visitors who've taken the time to fill them out - thanks everyone!

I've made some small changes to one or two of the surveys and I will probably be making more changes and certainly adding more surveys. I appreciate the time people have taken to help improve the experiences of those who follow on the language learning path. If you haven't filled any of them out, please take a moment to do so, or add any comments or suggestions you have on the site - I appreciate all feedback.

What's coming up on the horizon? Well, there are pages on the way for languages that haven't received the attention they deserve such as - Farsi, Tagalog, Polish, Vietnamese and Thai, just to name a few. Be on the lookout for new resources and reviews, as I'm always adding something somewhere!


"Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. It has arrested ten thousand lightning flashes of genius, which, unless thus fixed and arrested, might have been as bright, but would have also been as quickly passing and perishing, as the lightning."

- Richard Chevenix Trench

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