Back to Back Issues Page
The Language Learning Advisor Newsletter, Issue #001
March 08, 2006
Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Language Learning Advisor Newsletter. Ok, so it's a little later than I planned it for. I had intended it to be out at the end of January, but circumstances got the better of me. The good news is - this issue is now here and I have an abundance of new material, so the newsletters and new additions to the site will be coming fast and furious in upcoming weeks and months.

I recently wrote an article called 7 Language Learning Tips that appeared in a variety of websites around the net. If you've perused the Language Learning Tips and Language Study Tips pages, then there is probably nothing new in that article for you, but if you're interested you can read it here - 7 Language Learning Tips. There you can also find other articles of mine on language learning that are not on the site.

So, what's new in this issue?

Learning Dead Languages is a brief article on the so-called 'dead languages' that presages a series of articles and pages on the site on this subject. I've already got the ball rolling with the page on Sanskrit but there is a lot more to come.

The newsletter will contain a few regular features, one of which will be the Language Learning Tip of the Month. I'll start out this issue with something obvious, but I'm sure I'll get to some real strange ideas before all is said and done. If you have any tips of your own that you would like to share, please send them in to me and maybe I'll post them on the site or in the newsletter.

Life After Pimsleur is an article on what to do after completing the Pimsleur Comprehensive Course. So many people hit a roadblock when that course is finished so I thought I would begin to address that issue. There will be more on this forthcoming as well.

Idioms Delight will be, I think, a regular feature with an idiom or proverb from some foreign language, or perhaps a comparison of a single proverb in different languages. In this issue, however, I have a brief review of the book entitled 'Idioms Delight.' I hope the author won't mind if I 'borrow' her clever title for this section of my newsletter!

There are also sections including new or outstanding resources that I am adding to the site, and upcoming additions.

Now that I have dispensed with the pleasantries, let's get on with it.

Learning Dead Languages

Why learn a dead language? Well, many of the reasons to learn a dead language are the same as for learning a living one - improved vocabulary, better understanding of language structure and grammar, improved memory and communication skills etc. (see Why Learn Languages for more). In fact, several dead languages are often referred to as 'model' languages to study for those interested in several languages or linguistics or philology.

I have a problem with dead languages being called 'dead languages.' Of the ones we traditionally refer to as dead languages, Latin, Classical Greek and Sanskrit, only Classical Greek is really dead, the other two have seen quite a bit of service as religious languages, and Latin in particular has been the language of science in Europe until only very recently. However, I digress. I'll leave my rant on what constitutes a dead language for another time.

Some dead languages to consider - Latin, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Old Norse, Proto-IndoEuropean, Ancient Egyptian
There are a number of dead languages that you can study that can have an impact on the living languages that you study or know. For instance, if you study any of the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian etc) then knowing Latin is an enormous advantage. The grammar and vocabulary in these languages derive from Latin, not to mention the huge amount of vocabulary in English. Classical Greek has also had a big impact on modern English technical vocabulary and on other languages.

One of the other big advantages to studying a dead language is that you usually don't need to worry about speaking, listening and conversation skills. Most dead languages are used for academic purposes and you will generally only need to read and write. This makes it much easier to set goals and achieve them.

It used to be a requirement for a university-bound student to have several years of Latin and even Classical Greek, in addition to several years of a modern living language. Those days are history, at least in the US, and it's a shame. Those students had a much better education and a much better understanding of English and their foreign languages (probably French or German) than students do today.

I briefly studied Latin in junior high as part of a prep course to help sudents pick which language to take in high school. If I could do that again, I'd try to take all four of our choices (Latin, French, German or Spanish) in high school. At the least, I wish I had studied Latin on my own, it would have made a big difference in my study of French then, and Spanish and Italian now. I have tried to get started on my own with Hugos Latin in Three Months, but I never get past the seventh or eighth chapter. Something about the book just makes me lose interest before I really get into it.

Although Latin is an extremely useful language to know and understand, the learning process is far more tedious than a 'living' language. It was sometime after my second or third attempt to study Latin from books alone that I bought Transparent Language Latin Now. Circumstances prevented me from carrying forward at the time, but I still have it waiting in the wings for the day when Latin calls me again. This time I am better prepared with the audio and software portions of my Latin arsenal, as well as more and better books.

I recommend to any student of languages to take stock of what languages you know and are interested in, and see if learning a dead language could help you achieve your language learning goals. It may be tedious for some, but the long-term rewards come from our increased understanding of the living languages we know and study.

I'll leave this subject with this quote:

"It is worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours, if you learn only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and provocations. It is not in vain that the farmer remembers and repeats the few Latin words which he has heard."

- Henry David Thoreau

Language Learning Tip of the Month

Perhaps the simplest language learning trick and the easiest to use - daily contact. Do something with your new language everyday. Even just a quick vocabulary review (naming things as you walk around the house etc) can be enough. You may not be learning anything new today, but at least you're not losing ground.

Procrastination and days off when learning a language can be deadly. There's no better way to forget what you've learned and grow a layer of rust on what you know. It's like two steps forward and one step back - all that walking without really going very far can tire you out.

Sure, life is demanding and you're busy. But two minutes of your time (especially during those times when you're doing something else like driving or laundry etc) can keep that thread going so you don't lose any ground in your study. Daily contact is the bridge between those days when you are actually studying and learning something new. If procrastination is the language killer, then daily contact is the procrastination killer!

Make this your absolute minimum requirement for study each and every day. That's a goal easily achieved. There are days when my only contact with Spanish is listening to a few songs on my car cd player and singing along (badly, I may add - not so much the Spanish but the singing!)

Give yourself an opportunity to fill in those days when you can't really study. Get flashcards, audio language cds, music cds or find some internet music or news radio stations and programs. Use the vocabulary you know and talk to yourself or your cat if you have to!

Some New Resources

I've been in contact with Italian language schools (in Italy, that is) in recent weeks, so it seemed like a good time to post a page with some of the most popular schools for studying Italian in Italy. Now of course I have to do similar pages for all the other languages! There are also new resources for Hebrew, Spanish, Cornish and some general resources. Some of the standouts are :

Not just some common French word each day, but a blog with interesting vocabulary and a glimpse into life in southern France.
Free text files with accompanying audio for beginning, intermediate and advanced students in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Greek.
Free grammar tutorials and vocabulary (with audio) for French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic.

Life After Pimsleur

As I approached the end of Pimsleurs Spanish Comprehensive level 3 I began to feel a wee bit of sadness. I enjoyed using the system so much, I didn't want it to end. I have heard from many people who felt exactly the same way. It's so easy to use that going to a different method at that intermediate point feels too much like work.

In my Pimsleur review I point out how I would have done things differently had I understood the Pimsleur system before going into it. I heartily recommend to anyone using Pimsleur Comprehensive (for any language) that you also supplement that with an inexpensive written method with lots of vocabulary and some grammar, like Living Language or an old Teach Yourself book.

But, what if, like myself, you didn't? And you get to the end of the program, as I did, asking yourself "ok, now what?" The obvious answer is to go out into the world and start using that language. But, if you do that you will quickly realize a drawback of the Pimsleur method.

Yes, you have a good grasp of the structure of the language.
Yes, you understand how to have a conversation with complete sentences.
Yes, you have a better accent than you would get with any other method.

So, why do your conversations seem to go nowhere when you actually begin to engage people in conversation? Simple - a lack of vocabulary. Pimsleur necessarily focuses on the most common function words in the language and only uses other context vocabulary as representative of how to use vocabulary in the language. There are the most common and useful verbs and a few representative verbs of each type or conjugation, but other than those two dozen or so, that's all you have. It's enough to get by, of course, and pretty well, but you won't have many meaningful conversations.

Now that I understand the Pimsleur system better, I'm putting that to work in my attempt to learn Italian. I'm using Pimsleur as my core method, but I'm also using some internet resources and inexpensive but key supplements at the same time : Italian dictionary, 201 Italian Verbs, Berlitz First Reader, old copy of Teach Yourself Italian - total price in used bookstores $17, lifetime of accelerated Italian learning - priceless!
Unfortunately, people make the mistake of assuming that for the hefty price of Pimsleur they will be fluent by the time the program is done. That's not the case for any language method. Which means that you must continue to learn vocabulary on your own after the Pimsleur course is done, or as I prefer, during the course with a text-based method.

There are two products that I have found that work well as an after-Pimsleur product. Particularly for those who are accustomed to the ease of use of the Pimsleur system.

Penton's Vocabulearn is an all-audio product simply for learning vocabulary and the most common and useful 2 or 3 word phrases that are used daily. Each level contains 4 cd's of spoken vocabulary with a brief pause after each word and before the translation. You can use this like Pimsleur where you try to say the word before the translation. It's a bit like an audio flashcard. Each level contains 1500-2500 words and phrases. Some languages, like Spanish, have 3 levels, but other less popular languages have 2 or just 1 level. Still, it's a great way to add vocabulary and continue on in the language learning routine that you grew accustomed to with Pimsleur. This product would also work well during the Pimsleur course, as long as you don't feel like you are overdoing it with audio-only products.

Another great product that you could work with is a very different approach but I feel works well for the intermediate level learner you become at the end of the Pimsleur course. Champs-Elysées make an audio magazine for intermediate level learners for French (Champs-Elysées) Spanish (Puerta Del Sol) German(Schau ins Land) and Italian(Acquerello Italiano).

Each issue is a full cd produced like a radio program with an accompanying booklet with the complete transcript, translation, glossary of hundreds of important words and phrases and cultural notes on the subject matter. The audio is beautifully produced with music from popular artists, interviews and stories on life, politics and culture in countries where the language is spoken. The material is challenging, but an intermediate student armed with a dictionary and perhaps a verb book would make great strides. The complacency you may fall into with Pimsleur would soon be replaced with a newfound excitement, and your knowlege of the language will improve by leaps and bounds!

Cheers to the BBC

While I was researching resources for the Celtic languages, I remembered to check the BBC where I found some excellent material. But I also noticed that there were some resources for other languages there as well and made a note to check them out some day. I'm disappointed in myself for not following up on that soon enough.

A recent exploration of the BBC (prompted by a mention from a website visitor) turned up some excellent resources for Spanish, French, Italian, German and other languages. There are tutorials, monthly audio magazines and lots of high-protein language learning tools like interviews, audio and video.

The audio magazines for Spanish and French are excellent and there are also sections on learning for the work environment and travel. Cheers to the BBC for providing free high-quality resources for language learners.

Idioms Delight

Idioms are those odd little sayings that don't translate well word for word from one language to another. For instance, phrases like 'it's a piece of cake' or 'I smell something fishy' don't exactly mean that literally, but try explaining it to someone just learning English. It can result in some funny conversations.

The reverse is also true. Learning idioms in another language can be a real eye-opener. For me, once you know what's happening in a language you're learning, nothing is more interesting than idioms. It gives you a real look into the culture and sense of humor of the people who speak that language.

I found this neat little book while creeping about my favorite used bookstore. Idioms Delight by Suzanne Brock is a feast of idioms from Spanish, French, Italian and Latin. It's a light-hearted book. The author has a lot of fun with pointing out the similarities between English and the Romance languages, and the many differences.

For example :

"Tengo un gallo en la garganta" is Spanish which literally means "I have a rooster in my throat."

The author points out - "To an American, it's a frog. To a Frenchman, it's a cat. Whatever it is, it seems to be alive."

It's not a dictionary of idioms or an exhaustive collection, but rather a carefully selected sampling from each language that shows the nature of these languages and of language in general. Arranged in themed sections like 'Italian idioms about the countryside' or 'French idioms about the body inside and out,' plus assorted idioms that are just plain powerful or interesting make this unique book a welcome addition to my collection. Make sure you have a good source of idioms in the languages that you are learning.

I'll leave this subject with this Italian proverb from the book :

Chi non fa, non falla - "He who does nothing makes no mistakes"

Upcoming Additions to the Site

As I look back at the development of the site, I come to the conclusion that it's a decent 'skeleton' but now it needs some 'flesh' and maybe even some 'muscle.' I have lots of flesh planned in the upcoming months, maybe some day I'll figure out how to add some muscle!

Looming on the horizon I have a more in-depth review of Champs-Elysées audio magazines and Pentons Vocabulearn. Also, reviews for Fredrick Bodmers 'The Loom of Language' as well as other books on language learning are in the works. There is always a need for more resources, so I will continue to add the best ones as I find them. I have been asked to do a French Cognates page much like the existing Spanish version which I am still adding to and probably will be for a long time. And my long-awaited transcription of the Esperanto movie Incubus is actually nearly complete but will take some time to edit and type out.

I'm sure I will be adding other pages that I am not even aware of at the moment, but that will do for now. That's all for this issue. Look for the next issue in the next few weeks as I have lots of new material on the way!

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart"

- Nelson Mandela

Back to Back Issues Page