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My New Cantonese Blog November 23, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Cantonese, Listening, Reading, Tools.

I always find language learner’s materials artificial and boring. I always want to access real-life contents in the languages I am learning.

There are of course a lot of real-life contents I can find today, especially on the Internet. However, most of them are either in written forms, or only available in audio or video format. Sometimes, I can find audio with someone reading some texts. As far as transcripts of real-life conversations are concerned, there are just not many of them around. At one point in time, I was so frustrated that I wanted to hire someone to transcribe for me. But then I figured out it could be quite expensive to do so.

What can I do? May be I will start by providing transcripts for learners in languages I am fluent in. Perhaps I will start with Cantonese first, which is my mother tongue.

So here it is. Ladies and Gentlemen … my new blog dedicated to all lovers (and potential lovers) of the Cantonese language: Cantophilia.

It could be that I am spawning this new blog out of my own frustration due to the lack of Cantonese transcripts out there. It could be that I am not happy with the fact that no Cantonese speaker is doing it. In fact, I can find only find 2 websites containing Cantonese transcripts, one from Milan and another from Marcelo, both are learners of the language. Where are the native-speakers?! (Besides their Cantonese friends who did the transcripts behind the scene of course).

My main reason of creating the blog though, is that I want to promote my own language. I already have this in mind for a while. Finally, I am putting it into action.

Tower of Confusion is still going to be my primary blog for language learning and multiculturalism. I still have a lot to talk about on these topics.


LingQ Exited Beta October 15, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, LingQ, Reading.

LingQ finally exited its beta last week. Congratulations, Steve, Mark, and your team!

I have been using the LingQ system for my French study since its beta launch in the beginning of August. During the last 2 months, I have been reading a lot. The LingQ system simply facilitates my reading activity, making it something very enjoyable to do. Indeed, I have noticed my French reading comprehension has improved substantially in this period.

What I find most fascinating about the system is its ability to give you a good estimate on the difficulty of the texts you read. It records all the words you have previously read and tells you the number and percentage of the ‘unknown’ words present in the text you are about to read.

The term ‘unknown words’ could be somehow misleading. I prefer to call them ‘un-encountered words’. The number only gives you an estimate, since you might know many words you have not encountered so far. Sometimes you would skip looking up some words you encounter, but they would still be unknown to you.

The most natural and efficient approach to absorb new vocabulary, suggested by Master Steve (and some others), is to pick the materials which are slightly above your current level, but not too much. You would then be able to absorb the new vocabulary with the help of the dictionary, or simply infer their meanings from the contexts.

I have been trying this method in the last 2 months, and honestly, I don’t know how I can do it without the LingQ system. From my experience, everything with less than 10% ‘unknown words’ are no-brainers. Everything with 10%-25% ‘unknown words’ are acceptable, and they are the ones I usually encounter and put my focus on. I should try to avoid everything with more than 25% ‘unknown words’. This is sometimes unavoidable though, as I might be reading a book and certain chapters might go beyond the 25% mark. Note that this percentage guideline is for French. It might be different from language to language.

I don’t need to worry about those texts which go beyond the 25%. As I read more and accumulate more known words on my way, I notice the marks get lowered. This indeed gives me a very satisfactory feeling.

Reading with the LingQ system is also very addicting. When I see some texts with low percentages of ‘unknown words’, I would want to read them right away. Even those with high percentages, I would just watch the the marks get lower and lower as I read other texts. I believe I have read more in the past 2 months than in the past years!

Besides being a valuable aid for reading, I have not yet found comfortable using other parts of the system, such as the vocabulary builder, writing, and speaking sections. I think they still need some improvement. Meanwhile, I am happily using other tools to cover those areas.