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Anniversary December 15, 2007

Posted by Edwin in General, Motivation.

Today marks the 1st anniversary of this blog. Exactly one year ago, I decided to create a blog to share my thoughts on language learning and multiculturalism.

During this period, I have learned a lot about language learning, and most importantly, I have met many language enthusiasts in the blogosphere. I am delighted to see so many new language blogs created, but then I am sad to see many have since stopped or become dormant.

When I started my blog, I set a goal to make this an inspirational blog to language learners and lovers. I am not sure how far I am from reaching this goal. Perhaps I will share a story here about a truly inspirational language blog.

Kelly started the Aspiring Polyglot on March 2006. Not long after I started this blog, she decided to close off hers (and created a few language-specific blogs). At some point in time (I believe it was after the closing of the Aspiring Polyglot blog), a person named JP discovered it. He loved the blog so much that he even wrote Kelly some fan mail.

JP worked as a language teacher in the States for many years. It was from the Aspiring Polyglot where he learned about ChinesePod and SpanishSense. A few months ago, he decided to quit his job and packed his bag for Shanghai, China. He decided to take up a much more challenging language-related job there. He became the new host of SpanishPod, the reincarnated SpanishSense.

Here is a comment JP left on Kelly’s blog:

It’s all because of you and your review! I quit my teaching job, moved to Shanghai (we share the studio with ChinesePod) and look at me now! All thanks to you!

This is absolutely inspiring and live-changing!

I hope all the language bloggers out there have this similar goal. Let’s have more sharing and support. Let’s inspire each other.


For the Sake of Conversation November 20, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, Motivation, Speaking.

Keith left me a comment on my previous post, asking why I would join so many language-exchange networks. In fact, I am not quite sure if I know the answer. May be they are free, or perhaps I keep joining new ones simply because none of them has met my expectations.

When I look back at all my attempts to establish a language exchange relationship in the past, I have never talked to the same person more than 3 times. The relationship just does not last long. For example, I have talked with the legendary Ziad Fazah 3 times so far, but we have not been talking since 2 weeks ago. May be Steve was right. Here is the quote again from his recent podcast:

“It is very difficult to have a conversation just for the sake of having a conversation with someone that you aren’t necessarily interested in having a conversation with.”

I have a friend whose English is always poor despite living in Canada for a decade or so. Over the years, I have suggested her to work on her English by watching more TV, reading more books, or less preferably attending boring classes. None of my suggestions interested her. She just did not have the motivation.

Recently, I noticed her English has improved, not drastically but noticeably. I found out that she had joined an MLM network. She was on calls all the times, may be 2 hours every other day. She had to speak to a few native English speakers. They were her trainers. In her case, she did not arrange the conversations just for the sake of having them. She was highly motivated to speak with those people. She had a real purpose behind those conversations.

I hope she will not lose too much on her adventurous business. Even if she does, she might as well consider the money was well spent on improving her English skills.

Conversation with Ziad Fazah October 20, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Motivation, Skype.

Today, I had the honour to talk with Ziad Fazah. Yes, the person who claimed to have learnt 59 languages in his youth.

Thanks, Keith, for the inspiration. At last, I decided to talk to the legendary linguist. I sent an email to Ziad yesterday, and was surprised to receive his reply on the same day. He asked me to call him today.

I felt so mad at myself when I found out that I messed up the time zone. I was an hour late. It seemed to be an inconvenient time for him, so we only talked for a few minutes.

We spoke English most of the time, but then we had a short exchange in Mandarin. He admitted that his Mandarin was rusted since he has not spoken it for 20 years. But he claimed that he could pick up any language again if he wanted. It would probably take him 2 days to 2 weeks depending on his available time.

As soon as I heard him speaking Mandarin, I thought the coming conversation was going to be valuable. So I started my Skype recording!

“Your call is now being recorded…”

The program was new to me, and I later found out the above message could be heard from both ends! I did not ask his permission to record the call, so I felt very embarrassed afterwards. But he seemed to be alright with that.

He indicated to me, as to other people in the past, that there was simply no significant financial benefit for knowing to speak so many languages. I kind of agree with him.

I have arranged another time to speak with him next week. I am hoping to get more inspiration from him on language learning.

A Negative Comment May 4, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Mandarin, Motivation, Speaking.
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I was walking down the Las Vegas Boulevard last week with 2 colleagues, both were native Mandarin speakers. We have known each other for years, well before the time I picked up Mandarin. So we usually communicate in English. Imagine how inconvenient they were not being able to speak their native languages because of my presence. So I started to communication in Mandarin with them.

One colleague gave me a comment, in English, “It would be better for me to understand you if you speak in English, or even Cantonese”.

I think it was meant to be a joke. But I was silent for about 10 seconds, didn’t know how to reply. Recovering from my shock, I began to think about what lessons I could draw from this incident.

1) Never say anything discouraging to the language learners around you
You have to be very careful giving out comments. You may think it is a joke, but it might not be the case for the receiving end. On the other hand, some people are tired of overdosed compliments. But I believe they are way better than negative comments.

2) Take the comment seriously
It could be a joke, but it could be true to some extends. My Mandarin has been going through a set-back in the past few months, mainly due to my concentration on French. I know it is time for me to pick it up seriously again.

3) Choose your practice partners carefully
Practice only with someone who are helpful and eager to see you succeed. My other colleague has been very helpful to me. I practice with her from time to time. She kind of gets used to my broken Mandarin, and would try to guess what I am trying to say. The only problem is that she speaks too fast.

Laughter in the Class April 13, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Mandarin, Motivation, Speaking.
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In any typical language class of reasonable size, there is always someone, or perhaps a few people, who turn our to be natural comedians or clowns. Either involuntarily or acting on purpose, they bring laughter to the class.

About a year or two ago, I went to a Mandarin Pinyin class. Due to the limitation of resources, different levels of learners all cramped into one class. In this class, there were 2 beginner students, adult males with comical looks. Whenever the teacher asked them a question, they always replied in Mandarin with such funny accents that the whole class would burst into tears upon hearing them. Sometimes the laughter would last for 30 seconds or more! Initially, I didn’t feel it was funny. But when the whole class was laughing, I giggled without giving it much of a thought.

At one point, I saw a guy in front of me, who turned to the students next to him with a serious-looking face. He told them not to laugh. Then I realized that he was right. There was nothing funny at all.

We all join a language class because we can’t speak the language well. We all want to improve. We don’t want to speak the language in such a way that people would laugh at us. It does not matter even if our fellow learners don’t mind being laughed at. We have no idea how much damage we can potentially do to them.

Keep the right attitude and respect our fellow learners. Let’s stop laughing at them!

Creating an Environment March 30, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Danish, Motivation, Multiculturalism, Thai.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a YouTube link from a language forum. Stuart Jay Raj claims to be able to speak,read, and write in more than 15 languages, and he is still learning new ones. Here is the first of the 5-part series you can found in YouTube.

Stuart seems to adopt the ‘dictionary approach’ to learn languages. He reads dictionaries! Whenever he begins to tackle a new language, he would spend the first week learning 3000-5000 words. This method, of course, will not work for most of us, who do not have photographic memory.

One interesting point Stuart mentioned which is vitally important for him is to create an environment for language learning:

“The issue of ‘environment’ is so important. Many people when learning a language like to make the excuse ‘I don’t have enough time to learn’. But the secret is that we have to create an environment.”

Stuart recalled how he learned Danish when he was 14. He did not know who in his town could speak the language. So he opened a telephone book and looked up those with Danish-sounded lastnames. By plotting the addresses on a map, he was able to locate the Danish community in the suburb. He then took the initiative to blend with that community.

“… I know how to create an environment around me that will teach me. … I know how to create an environment around me that will spark the learning into taking place.”

We might not be able to memorize 3000-5000 words in a week. But surely, we can create an environment to facilitate our language learning. With modern day’s technologies in communication, this has become an easy task. What excuse do we have left for not doing so?

Learn from the Learners February 23, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Motivation.

A major cause of people giving up language learning is the lack of motivation. I believe one way to constantly get motivated while acquiring a language is to talk to those who have acquired it.

A native speaker speaks the language well, but usually he cannot share with you his experience or struggles in learning that language. Not all native speakers can motivate you either. Some may even discourage you either intentionally or unintentionally (Lingual Bee has more to share on this). On the other hand, you will learn a lot and receive motivation at the same time from learners who have made it through, at least to the advanced level.

I had a chance to talk to 2 language learners on Skype in the past few days. Both are Mandarin native speakers and both are at the advanced levels of their targeted languages. One has been studying in Montreal for 2 and a half years. She has no problem reading, writing, or listening to French, though she told me she still needs to perfect her conversational skill. The other is from Beijing. He has acquired Cantonese in only a year time, and I could tell by conversing with him that his Cantonese is fluent enough.

Not only did they share many valuable tips with me, they have also motivated me a lot just by sharing their own experiences in their language learning journeys. I could feel their tremendous love and passion in the targeted languages. After talking to them, I feel motivated and I am ready to carry on with my own study.

Whenever people want to arrange an English practice session with me, I always inform them in advance that I am not a native English speaker. Apart from one incident, they usually don’t mind that at all. When I converse with them, I usually spend most of the time sharing my own experience in learning English, and resources I have gathered from the Internet. I also want to share my Mandarin learning experience with others, but I have not had anyone approaching me yet.

The bottom line is: you don’t have to be a native speaker or expert in a language to share your learning experience with others. Sharing your learning experience is a wonderful way to contribute back to the language community.

Resume Critique January 15, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Motivation, Spanish.

Unless I know a language well enough that I can communicate in it, I cannot claim to know the language.

A few months ago, my company’s human resource department ran a resume critique session for funding-raising purposes. I decided to dust off my years-old resume and give them a shot. After giving out a few suggestions here and there, the HR guy was near the end of the resume. “No offensive here”, he said, “but I would remove the line concerning French and Spanish”.

He was referring to the lines I put under the language session:

  • Fluent in English and Chinese
  • Rudimental French and Spanish

He went on to explain his opinion, “if I don’t know a language enough that I can communicate in it, I would remove its reference. It does not mean anything to the hirers” So I removed it. Not a big deal to me.

Afterwards, I thought about what he said and it was indeed very true. It does not matter if I am very interested in French and Spanish, got good grades in my high school exams, know how to count, say some basic greetings, or even understand some articles in those languages, if I cannot perform basic communications, I cannot claim to know the languages. “I know a bit of the language” basically means nothing. Nada! Rien du tout!

From then on, I have made up my mind. Some time in the future, I am going to put that line back into my resume, be it 3 years, 5 years, or even 10 years. In fact, I will combine it with the previous line:

  • Fluent in English, Chinese, French and Spanish

My New Month’s Resolution January 1, 2007

Posted by Edwin in English, French, Motivation, Progress, Vocabulary.

How long does a typical New Year’s resolution last? A month?

We often make New Year’s resolutions for the sake of New Year. After failing for so many times, we just stop making them. Is there a way we can overcome this fate?

Say if a typical New Year’s resolution last for only a month, why don’t we try to have the same New Year’s resolution every month? Then it will last!

Personal development guru Steve Pavlina has explained the power of a 30-day trial. It seems that our determinism typically lasts for a month. What we can do is to try something out for a period of 30 days. If you don’t like it, stop doing it. Otherwise, you have the choice to continue doing it, and potentially you could turn it into a new habit.

I have already done my PCL for French, which contains high-level goals and actions. As for down-to-earth commitments, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I am going to make a New Month’s resolution.

An article from Voice of America last year gives some suggestions of New Year’s resolutions for English learners, but the resolutions can be applied to other languages. You may listen to this audio clip here.

In summary, English teacher Lida Baker suggested 5 simple goals:

  1. Listen to the radio
  2. Listen to songs
  3. Read Children’s books
  4. Learn a word everyday (or every other day)
  5. Talk with native speakers when there is a chance

‘Learn a word everyday’ seems attractive to me. But since I am going to try it out for only a month, I might as well make a bolder goal and make it 3 words per day, as suggested by David. So what I am going to commit in January, is that I am going to learn 31 x 3 = 93 new French words.

After 30 days, if I fail, or if I reach the goal but don’t like it, I will change my quota. If I like it, I will do it for another month. If I continue doing it until the end of the year, then it has become my year 2007 resolution.

Happy New Year!

Writing My PLCs December 31, 2006

Posted by Edwin in Motivation, Progress.
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My company has this policy that every employee must fill out a Personal Business Commitment (PBC) form every year. The form contains several goals and at the end of the year, we are to write our own report and see if the goals have been achieved.

I have just spent the entire day last Friday to fill out my own report. It is really tough. Honestly, I hate writing reports, especially my own! But then they say my next year salary and future promotion depend very much on it. Please tell me if everything has not been decided already!

This is the time of the year that people start making new year’s resolutions. As far as language bloggers are concerned, I notice people like Kelly, Geoff, and Tony have already done theirs.

Some language bloggers also write progress reports from time to time. I realize this is a good thing to do for the following benefits:

  1. You have a clearer understanding of what you have achieved so far (if any), and also make plans for future developments
  2. The whole world is holding you accountable, at least you have this impression yourself
  3. You share your own progress with others. If the progress is successful, you motivate people, If it is a failure, some people may be able to offer help to you

I now have the choice of putting everything in one report, or doing each language separately. I have actually tried the former, but the report does not look good. So I’d rather do one report on each language. Currently, I am most concerned with my French progress. Therefore, I will do French first and the rest later (if I still remember).

Here is my Personal Language Commitment (PLC) 2007 for French, which contains both the progress report and goals for next year.