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‘No Best Method’ Hypothesis April 28, 2008

Posted by Edwin in Forums.

Nowadays, I seldom visit the How-To forums, though I still pop in once in a while. The forums do have many helpful advises, only that these pearls are usually buried under an overwhelming number of useless advises. Many people indulged in the forums for days arguing which study method is the best. Last week, I saw a very interesting thread. It has already generated more than 140 posts within a week.

The creator of the thread proposed that there is no best method in language learning. The most important factor is TIME and LOVE devoted to the target language. He was not talking about different people might have different best methods. He was simply saying that even for the same individual, there is no such thing as ‘best method’ in language learning. Provided he is spending time with the language and keeps himself motivated, no matter what method he uses, he will get there one day.

Within a very short time, many forum members replied and argued against this hypothesis. Of course methods are important, they said. You wouldn’t want to waste you time in some inefficient methods. In fact, the thread creator made his claim based on his own observation of the forums!

I have been reading in this forum for two years. People were writing about Pimsleur, FSI, Michael Thomas, Assimil, Liguaphone, Tell me more, Rosetta stone, Teach your self, Vocabulearn, Learn in your car, Rocket Languages, FIA and so on.

It’s interesting, because some people think some of this methods are the BEST and some of them think the same methods are useless, boring …or the WORST. Thinking about that, how is it possible such a level of contradictions between people who have succeed learning languages. Well, I ask you:

What’s the COMMON denominator between them? I can only think about one factor: TIME spent WITH the target language. They listen, read, write and speak in the target language A LOT OF TIME and every day.

I think I can see why this hypothesis would stir up such a great reaction in the forums. If it is true, then there is no need to discuss about which method is the best, and probably a great portion of the forum posts can be removed. People can get back to their own language studies instead of arguing among themselves. But then to some, language studying is boring. They’d rather spend their time arguing how to study a language!

Perhaps learning a language is like building up a personal relationship. People might have different tactics to ‘befriend’ your target person. But eventually if you want to build up a true relationship, you have to spend time, a lot of time. And you have to keep yourself motivated in the process.

Are tactics irrelevant? Absolutely not. Is there a best tactic for each individual person? May be. But they are not the key to build up a true lasting relationship.


The Ziad’s Thread is Finally Closed October 8, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Forums.

The Ziad’s thread is one of the longest-lasting threads in the forums. It is probably the most intriguing, controversial, and dramatic thread by far. Today, an administrator decided to close it for good.

Ziad Fazah is the living legendary polyglot who claimed to be able to speak 58 languages, and he claimed to have learnt most of them before he was 20!

The thread was started by one of the administrators of the forums back in March 2005 and it contains 377 posts as of today. The administrator was wondering if Ziad Fazah really existed, and if so, how true his legend was. Apparently, there was not a lot of information about this polyglot on the Internet, and this made a lot of people puzzled. I knew about the thread from Simon the Omniglot who blogged about this thread more than a year ago. I have been following the thread since then.

In the beginning of the thread, people debated if such a person really existed. The first dramatic point came about when someone popped up and claimed to know Ziad personally. Apparently, Ziad is now in his 50’s and has been living in Brazil as a language tutor for many years.

This acquaintance of Ziad claimed to be a student of him and was seeing him more than once a week. When people asked the guy for evidents that he really knew Ziad, he came up with all sorts of reasons to keep everyone suspended. Just as people began to call him a liar, the guy posted the polyglot’s contact number. Some people tried to call Ziad and were indeed able to reach him! Still, it seemed to be impossible to get Ziad to join the discussion.

The thread went dormant for a few months until about a week ago, when a video clip of Ziad surfaced on YouTube. It was from a Spanish TV channel showing Ziad being tested back in 1997. He failed some simple tests on several languages he claimed to be fluent in. Many of us were disappointed after seeing the clip.

Today, the administrator who started the thread 2 and a half years ago decided to close it. With the absence of Ziad himself, he saw no point of continuing the discussion. I think he was feeling that some people began to get personal. The administrator left us with his final comment:

The man exists, but the legend does not. Who is really surprised at this?

Computer Flashcard Nazi October 5, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Forums, French, LingQ, Vocabulary.

I had some time today to update my French vocabulary building progress. I was amazed that I have added nearly 600 words this month!

In fact, I owe this achievement to the LingQ system. When its beta version came out at the beginning of August, I subscribed to it right away. I have been using it for more than 2 months and I have been reading a lot. I think it is a great system for improving my reading skills. As for listening, speaking, writing, and vocabulary learning, I have better tools. I have more to say about the system, but perhaps I will save it for a future post.

Here is a recent story of mine related to vocabulary building which might interest you.

Ok, I could not help it but to peek into the forums again. My dear Tarzan friend is proposing a new vocabulary learning strategy. This time, he encourages people to use paper flashcards instead of software, and he encourages making and updating hundreds of them from time to time. He claims that the method only requires about 30 minutes to an hour everyday. Of course, many of our members spotted right away that this can’t be possible. The process he suggests is in fact a very time-consuming. Someone even estimated that it might take up to 3-6 hours a day.

As usual, after he received many comments against his method, he asked us not to doubt, but to simply try it out first. What makes this story more interesting is that someone has indeed promised to try it out! And he will post his feedback later. Poor soul.

I asked him to describe the advantages of his method over other proven methods, and I got this reply from him:

What are the advantages? Well my friend, if you read threads completely, you will have noticed this method is for people that PREFER to use paper flash-cards. If you’re a computer flashcard nazi, don’t bother reading the thread. It isn’t meant for you.

A computer flashcard Nazi?!

A vital skill of engaging in forum discussions is to know when and how to quit. So I took the opportunity to sign out.

Rebuking the Tarzan Approach September 14, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Forums, Speaking, Vocabulary.

Most language learners out there should have heard about the How-to-learn-any-language forums already. You can find many experienced language learners making valuable contributions and advises there. Unfortunately, the forums are also overwhelmed with ridiculously amateur postings which just make me feel wasting my time even reading the subject lines. Frequently, you will see topics like:

1) Which language should I learn?

2) How do I master this language in a month?

3) How do I learn 5 languages at the same time?

4) I dreamed in a foreign language. Isn’t that cool?

Then there are different theories and methodologies flying around and people debating which ones are the best. I joined the forums many months ago, but I have been trying to avoid being pulled into fierce and pointless arguments. After all, who am I to debate with the experienced learners?

But once in a while, I cannot help it.

This time, it was someone coming out of the blue, and proposing many language learning ideas and approaches. A lot of these ideas already did not make sense at the first glance. Others are just plain obvious, such as work hard, don’t give up, and you will succeed. To make things worse, he used the tone of a language expert. (He later admitted that he was only an expert in education, not language acquisition).

I originally chose to ignore these posts. But there is one idea he proposed that raised my eye-brows. I worried that it could be harmful to other language learners, especially those new to language learning. I could not sit back anymore. I had to rebuke him.

Basically, the person suggested that a language learner should converse with others as early as possible, even if this would mean speaking like Tarzan:

“Me go home”
“Me want food”
“I swim now”

Those with some common sense would wonder right away: how can the learner understand the replies? So this person came up with a hypothetical dialoque, which was supposed to be conducted between a language learner at the beginner’s level (B) and a patient and considerate native speaker (NS). The objective was to use limited vocabulary and don’t worry about the grammatical errors. The native speaker should come down to the level of the beginner, even if this would mean butchering his own language:

B: Hello I here today talk
NS: Hello good see you
B: What do today you
NS: Nothing I eat look tv
B: I look superman movie
NS: Superman movie good
NS: I look superman movie yesterday
B: You like movie
NS: Yes good movie

Not before long, others members joined in and rebuked his approach. They backed their arguments up with their own experiences as well as research from language experts. His reply?

“… a theory such as your ‘prevalent’ theory supported by ‘linguistics experts’ that may have no background in actual education/learning…”

And about his method:

“Consider it, try it yourself (ideally) and discard it if it does not work for you.”

This was just outrageous!

Enough of that. I signed off from the thread. My lesson learned? As I have been stated previously in my blog – stop wasting my time and get on with some language learning. I have already wasted 2 nights!

I have promised myself to try not to fall into the same trap again. In fact, I have made my first move to unsubscribe the forums from my news reader. I will just visited the website from time to time.