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The Language Learning Advisor Newsletter, Issue #002
April 06, 2006
Welcome to Issue #002! The material for the site continues to pile up, but I'm trying to stay with it all. There are many new pages, reviews, resources, articles and other features on the way. April and May look to be extremely active months for the site, so stay tuned!

On my own front, I mentioned in Issue #001 that I've begun to learn Italian. It was part of my New Years Resolution and a foolish one at that. I have enough languages to study but I came across an older copy of Pimsleurs Comprehensive Italian and I couldn't resist starting to use it. I'm contemplating starting a blog to log my efforts.

I probably should have waited until my Spanish was more comfortable and I brushed up my rusty French to a more respectable level, which I planned to do later this year. I've already seen some odd results as I tend to spit out Italian phrases with bits of Spanish, French and even Esperanto thrown in. Luckily, the Pimsleur narrator hasn't realized it yet.

What's new in issue #002?

Learning Multiple Languages is a not-so-brief article on some tips and pitfalls with learning several languages. Many people who learn a second language really catch the bug and want to go further and study more languages. Others don't realize that it's very possible to learn a third, fourth or more languages. Look for this article to be expanded into a full page or two on the site in the future as well.

This issue, in the Language Learning Tip of the Month section, I take a look at memory techniques. There are websites, books, audio courses and simple study methods which can be used to improve our memory and our ability to learn languages.

One feature I've been looking forward to adding was the interview. There are many people out there with a wealth of knowledge about learning languages and I for one would like to pick their brains a little. We can all learn from each others experiences, and there are some people we can learn a lot from. I'm pleased to report that I'm adding this feature in this issue.

Impariamo is a forum for people speaking and learning Italian. Mindy Prian, who is the administrator of the site was kind enough to answer my many questions in an email interview. She has some great insights into studying languages and this is a must-read if you are studying Italian.

Sprinkled throughout the issue are some new resources, new additions to the site and Idioms Delight.

Learning Multiple Langs

Many people who learn a second language mistakenly believe that they can't learn anymore languages beyond this. In fact the opposite is true - learning languages becomes easier.

The first language you learn - your mother tongue, or native language - is the hardest. You learn by trial and error for the first years of your life, and you learn out of necessity - a pretty good motivator. Some people are born into multiple language environments, but most learn additional languages by attending school or self-study later in life.

We assume that because of the time and effort required to learn a second language, we won't really have the ability to learn more languages later. We learn languages differently later in life than we did as a child, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As we begin to study our second language, we begin to learn and sharpen a set of skills that we don't use completely in the other aspects of our life. As we get better at our second language, those learning skills improve. The phrase I like is - "we can learn to learn languages."

Remember that learning a language is a lifetime process - no one ever really finishes learning. So, if you begin learning another language, you may not be actively studying your previous ones, but you are still learning them if you expose yourself to their use, or 'maintain' them.
Which brings us to learning multiple languages. There are a few tricks to learning several languages, whether you are learning them at the same time, or one at a time in succession.

Cognates - There is often some vocabulary in a language you are learning that has words in common with English or another language that you know. This is because languages are related to each other or at least borrow from each other. Use that to your advantage. When you begin to study a language, look for a list or collection of cognates. This will not only get you started on expanding your vocabulary, you will begin to recognize patterns of spelling and pronunciation that are peculiar to this language. A neat bonus is the fact that your list of potential cognates grows with each language. For instance, when I learned 'ayer' in Spanish, I didn't recognize any cognate in English, but the French word for 'yesterday' is 'hier.' It's almost identical when you account for the slight difference in pronunciation.

Language Families - Remember that many languages are related to other languages and share many features in common. If you already know some Spanish, learning Italian or French is much easier. You already worked hard learning many of the grammar features that don't occur in English when you studied Spanish, like gender, agreement between nouns and adjectives, and more complex verb conjugations. Now when you begin to study French, let's say, those features are second nature and won't require nearly as much study time and effort to learn. In addition, much of the vocabulary will be similar like in the cognate example above. Learning a related language really cuts down learning time.

Grammar - Even when you are learning a language unrelated to one you already know, you may begin to recognize how languages behave. This is partly what I mean by "learning to learn languages." You begin to understand how languages 'handle' different things. You may not know the grammatical terms for parts of speech (although I recommend you begin to learn them, it will help you) but you will recognize patterns both within one language, and from one language to another. Fundamentally, all human languages operate on the same principles. With each language you learn, you will pick up on more and more of those principles.

Time - This is your biggest advantage when learning a language. Unless you need it right away, you can spend all the time you want on it, for years and years. The greatest leaps in learning will occur at first. After that the curve will slow down, but that core knowledge that you worked on at first becomes fully entrenched. The longer you have it and continue to use it, the more it sinks in. Now, when you learn another language, you may find some interference between the languages, especially if they are related, but as long as you maintain your other language, that core understanding will always be there and it will grow in time. You won't replace one language with another. When you need to go back to that other language, it's still there and it comes back quickly.

Goal-Setting - Set your goals carefully for each language. You may find that adding another language is much easier if you know you that you don't really need to be fluent in it. Maybe you just want to read that language. Then, you don't need to focus on speaking and listening skills. Or maybe you just want to know a few greetings and basic conversation. Forget about heavy grammar. Focus on a few conversation skills and study accordingly.

Maintenance - To me, this is the real trick to learning several languages. By trick, I mean it is essential for your long-term success, and I also mean that it is hard to accomplish. Once you've learned a language, at least its basics, you need to maintain it. Use or lose it, they say. It's true here, too. When you are learning a new language, you still need to expose yourself to the other languages that you know. As a general rule, I like to say 15 minutes a day. Read something, write an email or two to penpals, watch a movie or tv show once in a while, listen to some music etc. Then, when you need that language for something substantial, the vocabulary and grammar and pronunciation is not so far away from you. If you hadn't used it at all for 6 months or 6 years, I can assure you that it wouldn't come back so easily.

Of course, the problem with this is, for each language you know, that's 15 minutes less time for studying your new one. I think ultimately, this is what puts an upper limit on how many languages we can effectively learn. There's nothing stopping us from learning more, but without using that knowlege on a regular basis, keeping it fresh, it tends to get away from us. Then we are 'replacing' one language with a fresher one. I don't think that's what we have in mind when we learn a language.

For myself, I have a short list of Priority 1 languages that I focus on. I expect this to be a lifetime hobby, so I'm not rushing. I also have a much longer list of languages, each with different goals. I doubt that I'll ever hit my goals in all of these languages, but I'm sure I will hit my goals in at least some of them.

If you really enjoy learning a second language, then maybe consider a third or fourth or more. You may already be thinking ahead and wondering if you could do it. Come up with a list of priorities, set some goals and go to it.

Language Learning Tip of the Month

Barry Farber refers to Harry Loraynes memory techniques in his book How to Learn Any Language. I read that chapter with interest, but never followed up and explored that kind of technique until just recently when I got hold of a copy of Dominic O'Briens Quantum Memory Power.

As I understand it, all memory improvement systems use the same basic techniques in one form or another. The few websites I checked out reinforced that and Dominic O'Brien says as much in his audiobook. He refers to Roman and Greek memory techniques that are still used today.

I won't go into detail here about the methods used but I will be adding pages to the site on this subject as I explore the techniques more and I'll post an in-depth review of Quantum Memory Power within the next few weeks. For now, try experimenting with some of these techniques explained on these free and excellent websites :

The Memory Page

Mind Tools

I can only say that with Dominic O'Briens system, the initial results with non-language related material have been outstanding. I haven't really begun to apply these techniques specifically for learning languages yet but it looks very promising. Every system, book, audiobook or website on memory techniques that I have seen has a section on learning foreign languages. Check out the websites above or buy a book or audiobook on memory techniques and try applying some of the techniques to your learning routine. You may find something that works for you that could change your life.

Recent Additions

Building further on the dead languages article of Issue #001, I've added a page on Latin. Also, I've begun a series of articles that will be appearing off-site. The first is called Cornish Never Died which can be found here. More articles and pages on this topic will be coming in the upcoming weeks and months.

Ever heard of an 'educational vacation'? This is the kind of vacation where you book a course or tour while on a vacation - a wine tasting tour, a literary tour where you discuss a great work in the locations where the author wrote it or wrote about etc. It's kind of like an 'adventure vacation' only a little more cerebral. Another twist on this is the language vacation. You can study a language before you go on vacation, but you can also study while you are on vacation, in the country where the language is spoken. Read a little bit about resources for language learning vacations here.

New Resources

langmedia.fivecolleges This site is an extensive collection of videos for language learners. The audio is accompanied by transcripts and translations. The videos are arranged by practical topics like renting a bicycle, shopping or using the telephone. Not only are there collections for the usual languages, like Italian, Japanese or German, but even different dialects of French, Spanish and Portuguese. There are also videos for less common languages like Bulgarian and even a number of African and Asian languages. Overall, this is a fantastic resource to see some real life vocabulary in action.

Language Exchanges Here is another language exchange and penpal resource. It is hosted by Dickinson College but is open to anyone. The most common method of communication is Skype, but others like email and text chat are also used.

The Princeton Dante Projectis an interesting site that contains the works of Dante with the transcriptions, translations and audio. Like the above site, this one contains El Cid with transcriptions, translations and audio in Old Spanish.

Interview With Mindy Prian

As I've mentioned, I'm beginning to study Italian. The first product I'm using is Pimsleur Italian Comprehensive, and the first website I thought to visit was Impariamo.

When I researched this forum for learners and speakers of Italian for inclusion as a resource on my site, I noticed right away that the atmosphere in the forum was great. There was a good mix of native and non-native speakers of all different levels, and the users were very helpful and encouraging to newcomers. I realized that when I begin to learn Italian, I have to go here first.

I contacted the administrator of Impariamo, Mindy Prian, and asked if she wouldn't mind answering my (too many) questions. She happily agreed and answered them all with enthusiasm and provided an interesting perspective on language learning with some great insights.

I know what it's like to manage a website, but a forum really must be hands-on everyday. What made you want to run a forum for Italian speakers?

Quite by accident, I discovered I have a real interest in creating, managing and promoting websites. Back in 2003 I launched Impariamo, which was a project that allowed me to apply what I was learning, and combine it with my love for communicating with others in Italian.

One thing I noticed about your forum was how helpful the registered users were. The regular posters are quick to respond in English to anyone who is a little tentative, but also encouraging newcomers to get right into using Italian, no matter how basic. Is it hard work to maintain this kind of positive atmosphere, or does it mostly take care of itself?

You're right - the regular members at Impariamo are incredibly welcoming and friendly to each other and to newcomers. Most of the regulars have been members since the site launched, and the culture on the site developed from the rapport that we built right from the start. I was incredibly lucky to have had such great people find the site early on. I consider many of them to be good friends, and many of our members have even met in person after getting to know one another on the site. That's probably the most rewarding part of having started and grown the community.

Something I discovered from having a website on languages is that you end up in contact with so many people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. You can always learn something new, whether from fluent veterans, native speakers or even from a complete beginner. Have you found the same? How has being an administrator of a website affected how you use and learn Italian?

There are many ways of learning a language. Impariamo gives learners of Italian a chance to read and write the language, and everyone is going to approach this from their own frame of reference. The beauty of leveraging the internet when studying and learning a new language is that you will come into contact with people at different levels of proficiency, with different mother tongues, and with different reasons for even wanting to learn the language in the first place! Being the administrator has not really affected the way I personally use and learn Italian - it has more honed my skills in phrasing things in a way to make myself understood. When I speak Italian, I am accustomed to conversing with native speakers, so I don't think twice about how I'm expressing myself. However on the site, when I am communicating with beginners I am careful to write using simple vocabulary so that they will understand, and when I communicate with advanced or native speakers, I tend to just write like I speak - it may be inelegant, but I can usually get my point across! Another huge benefit of the site is that we have so many native Italian speakers that participate that will correct me if I make mistakes - and this is the best possible way to learn.

Tell me a little about your background in Italian - how you learned originally, how long you've been speaking etc.

I studied Spanish in high school, so when I went to college (Penn State), I figured that Italian would be an "easy" 12 credits to meet the language requirement for graduation. After taking Italian I, II and II from the same Italian language professor, he encouraged me to study abroad for a semester, and I spent the spring semester of my junior year in Florence. This was in 1990. While there, I met Luca (now my husband of nearly 10 years), and I wound up staying in Italy for several more years. I taught English for one year in Genova, and was a secretary in an international law firm in Milan for two years after that. What an incredible experience! (As a side note, I would recommend that every new college graduate take a few years and live in a different country. I learned and grew in ways I wouldn't have otherwise.) In 1994, Luca and I came to the U.S., and we have been living in the Washington, DC area. We speak Italian at home, and we are trying to raise our two children to speak both Italian and English.

What was the hardest thing for you to learn, or skill to master? Did you ever have a moment of complete despair when you thought "I'll never speak Italian!" ? How did you overcome that?

I think almost anyone who studies a new language gets frustrated at their inability to master it quickly. But that's the nature of the skill - it just can't be acquired overnight! It takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and a good sense of humor (I believe that if you can't laugh at your mistakes, you'll be doomed from the get-go). A turning point for me personally was when I had been in Italy for 4 months, and was still struggling to put together a grammatically correct sentence. I thought, "Okay, from now on I'm just going to pretend I'm fluent, and try to express my thoughts as quickly and fluidly as possible." And that's exactly what I did! I know I said a lot of things that didn't make sense, but to my own ears I sounded like a fluent speaker, and this encouraged me to keep improving my spoken Italian.

Is there anything that still gives you difficulty?

I'm from New Jersey, and I still can't pronounce the Italian "o" without a NJ accent!

What about Italian did you find easy to learn?

One thing I like about Italian is that it is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) type of language. I've always found it easy to read Italian out loud, which has contributed a lot to my developing fluency and proficiency.

How long did it take you to feel like you weren't struggling just to follow a conversation or read something, to actually feel comfortable speaking Italian? Did you ever have an aha! moment where you suddenly realized "Hey, I really do speak Italian!" ?

I never had what you call an "aha!" moment - for me, learning was a very slow and gradual process. It probably took me about a year before I felt like I wasn't struggling to follow and participate in conversations. Even today, I still have to really concentrate to understand the Italian news on tv. (The newscasters talk so fast!)

What would you say is a reasonable amount of time for someone to become conversational in Italian, or even fluent?

Everyone is different when it comes to learning a language. Some will pick it up quickly (for example, if you speak another language already, or have studies other languages in the past), and some won't. I also have a theory about those who study languages that have played a musical instrument at some time in their lives. I believe a well-developed ear is essential in picking up the nuances of pronunciation and cadences in a language, and someone who has played a musical instrument has had the opportunity to develop their ear in this way. I played the piano for many years, and I believe that my ability to sound like a native Italian can be attributed to the fact that my ear is tuned in a particular way.

Although I studied French in high school, most of my experience studying languages has been on my own using commercial products like Pimsleur, Pentons Vocabulearn or Rosetta Stone. Have you ever used or examined these yourself? Are you familiar with Acquerello Italiano? I'd imagine many of your visitors have tried various products or asked for guidance with them. Do you recommend anything in particular?

I have never used any of the commercial products to learn Italian, but I have heard wonderful things about Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone and Acquerello Italiano.

Lately I've relied more upon listening to music as a supplemental source of learning, although I overlooked that for a long time. As a musician, I feel a little ashamed about that - I should've thought of it sooner! Do you listen to music in Italian? I like Laura Pausini but I only know her stuff in Spanish! What are some of your favorites?

Yes, I listen to Italian music all the time. Among my favorite artists are Zucchero, Lucio Battisti, Vasco Rossi, Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini, and Andrea Bocelli. I'm sure there are more I'm forgetting.

How about movies or television shows?

My favorite Italian movie is Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips). I also loved Cinema Paradiso, Mediterraneo, Il Postino (The Postman), and Uomo delle Stelle (Star Maker). There are some fantastic Italian movies out there! Italian television is another story. It's simply awful! We get RAI International (the Italian television station available in the United States), but my husband is the only one who watches, and then it's only for the soccer tournaments on Sunday mornings.

As a beginning learner of Italian, how can I use Impariamo to get the most benefit from it?

Just jump right in! The best way to learn a language is to practice every chance you get - and at Impariamo you will find encouragement and support every step of the way. Introduce yourself. Start a new discussion. Post a reply to an ongoing discussion. Ask a question. Just get started!

Any final comments?

Just that learning a language is a lot like embarking on an adventure. When you start, you have no idea where it is going to lead you! You'll meet new people and perhaps also see new places you have never seen before. It's a wonderful experience. I'll finish with two these two quotes:

A different language is a different vision of life. - Federico Fellini

Learn a new language and get a new soul. - Czech Proverb

It's nice to see Mindy enjoys quotes as much as I do. If you speak Italian, or if you are learning it or plan to learn it, browse the forum at Impariamo and take advantage of all it has to offer. Register to become part of the community. I just did before writing this. I hope to see you all there.

Idioms Delight

The name of this section of the newsletter is taken from the title of Suzanne Brocks book Idioms Delight. I briefly reviewed the book in newsletter issue #001, but a slightly more thorough review is on the way for the site. Most of the idioms (or proverbs, metaphors, sayings or whatever) I refer to in this section will come from elsewhere, but I will refer back to some of her insights from time to time.

I came across a saying in Spanish that wasn't really noteworthy, and then about two minutes later saw an equivalent in French that I thought was hilarious.

In Spanish, "Haz bien y no mires a quien" means - do right and don't look at others. It basically means - mind your own business. Not a particularly memorable way to say that. Two minutes later I saw this:

"Ce ne sont pas vos oignons." It means the same thing - mind your own business. But it means literally - those aren't your onions. I like that.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Nothing. Or if we say the same thing in Spanish "Yo tengo una tía que toca la guitarra." I have an aunt who plays the guitar. I love that one.

Closing Thoughts

Two years ago, after I had begun this site, I couldn't see past doing a few dozen pages, and I wondered in which direction the site was going. Today with 100 pages and 200 more in my notes that I need to do, I realize that there is more ahead for the site than behind. I am a little overwhelmed at times, and there is more work to do everyday, but I seem to get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of it than ever before. I plan to keep on building it and adding to it for as long as I can.

The internet keeps on changing and moving forward and the opportunities for us language learners will only continue to grow. Those of us who are plugged in will be able to benefit from this in life-changing ways. I've been looking to add new features to the site and podcasting keeps coming up as a possibility. But, would anyone listen? Is anyone interested in receiving language tips, let's say, in bite-sized audio form? Let me know what you think. If you have any suggestions or requests along these lines, visit my Contact page and drop me a line. I'd like to hear what you have to say.

"To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery."

- Charles Baudelaire

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