“Memorize the phrase book:” a language learning experiment

22 Dec

I am always interested people’s language learning projects and in new learning techniques. Ziggy’s  blog Memorise the Phrasebook is both and I recommend you take a look. Here is his description:

“I’m conducting an experiment to see if I can learn a language (Spanish) by memorizing a phrasebook.

I’m doing this because I think it is possible for almost anyone to learn a second language and I am looking for the easiest, cheapest, least time-consuming way to do so.

Language learning via immersion (i.e. moving to a society where the language is spoken and forcing yourself to learn it) certainly works, but it is expensive, time-consuming and not really viable for me.

And besides, in my opinion, language learning is not particularly fun. The fun part comes after you’ve reached a certain proficiency and can actually use it.

I have a phrasebook with 1500 phrases and am learning 10 phrases per day.”

I am now in the market for a Japanese phrasebook with mp3 files. Any suggestions?

 

What is the “best” second language?

21 Dec

I am a big advocate of language learning and I think you should whatever language interests you. The  languages I study, Japanese, Esperanto, Sanskrit, and Toki Pona, were all chosen because they interest me. However, you might want to know which languages allow you to communicate with the most people.

This is more than a question of which language has the most native speakers (Mandarin) it also matters how many people speak it as a second language and how often that language is translated. A fascinating piece in Science explores these questions;

“Speak or write in English, and the world will hear you. Speak or write in Tamil or Portuguese, and you may have a harder time getting your message out. Now, a new method for mapping how information flows around the globe identifies the best languages to spread your ideas far and wide. One hint: If you’re considering a second language, try Spanish instead of Chinese.”

“In contrast, some languages with large populations of speakers, such as Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic, are relatively isolated in these networks. This means that fewer communications in those languages reach speakers of other languages. Meanwhile, a language like Dutch—spoken by 27 million people—can be a disproportionately large conduit, compared with a language like Arabic, which has a whopping 530 million native and second-language speakers. This is because the Dutch are very multilingual and very online.”

Crows’ intelligence, new research

21 Dec

jecgenovese:

“This is the strongest evidence yet of analogical reasoning in a nonprimate species”

Originally posted on Dear Kitty. Some blog:

This video says about itself:

Sequential tool use by crow

6 Augustus 2009

New experiments by Oxford University scientists reveal that New Caledonian crows can spontaneously use up to three tools in the correct sequence to achieve a goal, something never before observed in non-human animals without explicit training.

Betty does not attempt to probe for food, but immediately uses the tabletop tool to retrieve a medium-length tool. She then appears to look into the food-tube, without probing, before using the tool to extract the longest tool. Finally, she uses this tool to retrieve the reward from the food-tube. It is noteworthy that she seems to actively dispose of each tool as its role in the sequence is completed, and she also turns the tools around in order to place the cross-piece distal, where it is most effective as a hook-like instrument.

From Current Biology:

Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical…

View original 346 more words

Sharp brain-wave ripples and memory

20 Dec

An interesting piece in Quanta Magazine on sharp-wave ripples, a pattern of brain wave activity that occurs during sleep.

“Over the past few decades, researchers have worked to uncover the details of how the brain organizes memories. Much remains a mystery, but scientists have identified a key event: the formation of an intense brain wave called a “sharp-wave ripple” (SWR). This process is the brain’s version of an instant replay — a sped-up version of the neural activity that occurred during a recent experience. These ripples are a strikingly synchronous neural symphony, the product of tens of thousands of cells firing over just 100 milliseconds. Any more activity than that could trigger a seizure.”

Here is report from the Society for Neuroscience meeting where sharp-wave ripples are explained:

Pyschologists study telomeres

19 Dec

Telomeres are structures at the end of chromosomes that shorten with each cell division. They are restored through the action of an enzyme. Shorter telomeres is a sign of aging and stress.

The Observer, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, reports on the psychological study of telomeres.

“Over the last decade, these scientists and others have investigated how protracted psychological stress lowers telomerase activity, leading to shorter telomeres. This line of research represents the height of integrative science, incorporating disciplines that include psychology, immunology, epidemiology, genetics, and even nutrition.”

The entire piece is worth reading.

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Knowledge builds on knowledge

17 Dec

One of the biggest myths about memory is that your brain only holds so much information and there is no point committing anything to information when you can easily look it up.

It is certainly true, that you can’t remember everything and you must be selective about what you learn, but all our evidence suggests that the more you know the easier it is to learn new material.  Knowing facts about the world, knowing background, history, and context improves memory. Psychologist James Weinland  pointed out;

“Memory is in one respect like money. The more money one has, the more interest it earns, which increases the capital and earns still more money. The more memories one accumulates, the more easily new memories are accumulated, which increases one’s memory capital and earn more memory interest. Memories breed memories.”

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Stay away from “bulletproof coffee”

16 Dec

The New York Times reports on a new dietary fad called bulletproof coffee:

“The recipe — a riff on the yak butter tea Mr. Asprey found restorative while hiking in Tibet — calls for low-mold coffee beans; at least two tablespoons of unsalted butter (grass-fed, which is higher in Omega 3s and vitamins); and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat. Mr. Asprey claims having the 450-plus-calorie cup of coffee instead of breakfast suppresses hunger, promotes weight loss and provides mental clarity.”

There is no doubt that caffeine can enhance certain cognitive functions, but the claim that butter has brain enhancing effects is questionable.  In fact, there is evidence that saturated fats may increase your risk of dementia.

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