Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Steve Kaufmann and Some Common Sense

Reflecting on my early Chinese learning experiences, I initially felt a little frustrated that so much effort seemed to be expended on activities that were obviously of little use (to me they they were of little use anyway). Assuming (as I did) that the best place for a motivated language learner would be in a country that spoke it, mixing it with the natives. Accepting that this was often not possible (as I had to) why did it seem that so many people we advocating or extending traditional classroom methods that were proven to be ineffective (just look around you for the proof).

Being the language learning newbie that I was (and still am to some extent), I didn't know that there were plenty of people advocating more natural approaches, I had already discovered Chinesepod early on, which presented a refreshing alternative to conventional classroom methods. Then I came across Steve Kaufmann (the Linguist). I think anybody learning languages can get some benefit from Steve's opinions Steve has picked up a fair number and variety of languages and is behind the Lingq language learning site, In my opinion he also talks a lot of sense about language learning. There are plenty of examples of Steve talking various languages and his experiences and advice have the ring of somebody who has put the effort and thought into his language learning. This is a refreshing change from savants or people with extraordinary talents. The stories of savants and people with abnormally wired brains although interesting don't help me (I don't ever expect to be able to "taste sounds" etc.).

The LingQ site seems a good place to practice, I only started using it recently as there is now a reasonable amount of Chinese content with spaces between the words (Chinese is still in Beta and the word parser at LingQ can't separate the word from normal Chinese losing a lot of the useful functionality). The are some interesting Chinese dialogues and you can't do much better than text + audio and some tools to help you work with the words. LingQ appears to be an excellent addition to any language learning program, the only problem being that rather realistically it requires time and motivation so unfortunately it is not likely to cash in like the large quantities of less useful merchandise that promises language learning with little effort (ending in the back of a cupboard with the learner little further enlightened)

You could say (I would at least), that a lot of what Steve says is just common sense (more on this in later posts) but look around you and you will see that common sense is not so common after all.