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Language learning: Vocabulary more important than grammar

24 Jul

Polyglot Steve Kaufmann makes this important point:

The importance of a large vocabulary in your target language can’t be overstated. Some are convinced we can converse quite comfortably with just a few hundred words. There are lots of articles on the topic. I don’t agree. You can communicate with a few words, but you can’t say much and you understand even less, and that means a very limited form of communication.

My views have been formed through my own experience of learning 15 languages. I constantly find my lack of words to be the greatest obstacle to enjoying the language more. Why? Because the words I am missing prevent me from understanding things that I hear, read and want to understand. With enough vocabulary and comprehension comes confidence; the confidence that I can defend myself in the language. With this confidence to sustain me, the speaking part develops naturally as I have more and more opportunity to speak.

I get apoplectic when people say that we should de-emphasize memory in education. Language learning is exhibit A in the case for the continuing importance of memory. Fortunately, memorization of vocabulary is made much easier by the availability of tools like Anki and Memrise.

Check out Kaufmann’s YouTube channel here.

 

 

Using a memory palace to learn a chapter of Moby Dick

22 Feb

A good example of how to use a memory palace:

What Mike Boyd learned in a year

4 Jan

Boing-Boing alerted me to Mike Boyd’s Youtube channel. He describes his mission this way:

My name is Mike Boyd and a while ago I made a video documenting my process of learning a new skill in a really short amount of time. That idea seemed to resonate with people, so I decided to learn a bunch of other skills. Every month I pick a new challenge and try to conquer it as quickly as possible. Hopefully this content inspires you to learn something new too. Leave a comment telling me what you think and let me know if you have a suggestion for a new challenge. Enjoy the videos! 🙂

All very much in line with what I preach here at Peakmemory.me. In this video Mike demonstrates the skills he learned in 2016:

I had never heard of the brain bike (and I am supposed to keep track of these things). While I don’t know if it really helps your brain, it does look like it would be an interesting challenge.

How many products come with a disclaimer like this?:

YOU CANNOT RIDE THIS BIKE. Seriously, you’re purchasing an unridable bicycle (at least initially). Part of the fun is figuring out how long it will take you to learn how to ride it. When I only did it for 5 minutes a day it took 8 months. I’ve seen people do nothing but the bike be able to ride it in an hour or so. There seems to be some sort of correlation with sticking with it and “powering through” the hard part. If you decide to give it a shot, I would LOVE to know your age and how long it took you so I can add your data to the mix. Smarter Every Day LLC and Barney are not responsible for any injuries sustained from trying to ride this bike. If you DO decide to attempt it at your own risk, wear a helmet.

Ann Patty on learning Latin

15 Jul

A fascinating Lexicon Valley podcast where linguist  John McWhorter interviews Ann Patty about her efforts to learn Latin. Patty documents her learning project in her book Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin. 

As I have said many times, learning a language is an ideal exercise for your brain. Don’t waste you time with expensive and, probably, ineffective brain training software. Learn a language instead.

“Cognitive Abilities Across the Life Span”

2 Apr

An important paper published in Psychological Science: “When Does Cognitive Functioning Peak? The Asynchronous Rise and Fall of Different Cognitive Abilities Across the Life Span” Here is the abstract (emphasis added):

“Understanding how and when cognitive change occurs over the life span is a prerequisite for understanding normal and abnormal development and aging. Most studies of cognitive change are constrained, however, in their ability to detect subtle, but theoretically informative life-span changes, as they rely on either comparing broad age groups or sparse sampling across the age range. Here, we present convergent evidence from 48,537 online participants and a comprehensive analysis of normative data from standardized IQ and memory tests. Our results reveal considerable heterogeneity in when cognitive abilities peak: Some abilities peak and begin to decline around high school graduation; some abilities plateau in early adulthood, beginning to decline in subjects’ 30s; and still others do not peak until subjects reach their 40s or later. These findings motivate a nuanced theory of maturation and age-related decline, in which multiple, dissociable factors differentially affect different domains of cognition.”

Definitely look at Figure 1 in the pdf.

“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?

 

It’s not too late to start writing: Advice from Janet Asimov

8 Dec

Janet Asimov makes the argument:

“Never assume that you must have a big block of uninterrupted time for writing. The motto for writers should be carpe diem—seize the day. Or the morning or the time sitting on the john or while stirring the stew, or whatever.”

 

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