Mar 26, 2024

Adventures in Language Learning


In 2021, feeling more than a little claustrophobic from the ongoing restrictions of life in pandemic times, I enrolled for a time in an online masters course, Português Lingua Não Materna, at Portugal's Universidade Aberta. The course itself was a mistake, or at least the language acquisition unit was, being taught by an insecure older professor who demanded perfection in writing from the course's students while being unable to write a page herself that I can remember not being full of errors (most, but not all being an inability to come to grips with the current orthographic convention), engaging in bizarre linguistic harassment like forbidding me to use Portuguese adjectives ending with -avel (WTF?) and existing in a state of imperviousness to modern research and theory.

The semester of academic involvement did me a world of good, however, leading me back to reading in a field I greatly enjoyed as a young exchange student in Max Mangold's linguistics and dialect courses at Universität des Saarlandes in the early 1980s. In particular, the work of Stephen Krashen was a welcome discovery, as it put many of Mangold's recommendations for language learning into a more effective context. For example, Prof. Mangold often recommended listening to radio or other audio sources (such as tapes) as a means of acquiring a new language, but when I tried this years later with over 100 hours of French on a long train commute to work, it got me exactly nowhere. I was getting plenty of input in French, but as I had no background whatsoever in languages derived from Latin, none of that was comprehensible input. Things might have gone quite differently with the French language had I bothered to learn Spanish in high school, for example.

The following Spring I was in Lisbon for a Covid superspreader conference of colleagues, when someone introduced me to the Duolingo language app, which he was using to review Russian for keeping up with the news on Russia's criminal aggressions against Ukraine. I tried the app myself to review my mostly forgotten Russian from the 1980s and found that my comprehension returned quickly and I could soon follow commentaries online with some effort. However, after a few months of Russian practice, my companheira announced that she had booked a holiday in Spain for my birthday four months later. So I started using Duolingo to learn Spanish, doing parallel courses for learning Spanish from English, German, Russian and Portuguese. My idea, I suppose, was that connecting the Spanish to my other languages of use might reinforce what I learned better and avoid the kind of interference I would occasionally experience many years ago when trying to speak Japanese and finding only Russian words in my head. It sort of worked.

After several months of practice with Duolingo, I discovered interest groups for that app on Facebook, the most interesting one for me at the time being Duolingo Spanish Learners. I skipped right over the idiotic discussions with fools demanding that the language somehow conform to their flawed concept of its "rules" and found a wealth of interesting recommendations for supplemental and alternative learning resources. These included books, YouTube channels (among the best for comprehensible input at many levels was Dreaming Spanish), tutorials and conversation opportunities and more.

After about a year of Spanish practice, including several months of intense conversation practice on Baselang (referral link here), I actually found myself more comfortable conversing in Spanish than in Portuguese, despite having lived in Portugal for a decade. Access to good quality comprehensible input at the beginning and intermediate levels in Spanish was the key here, and my frustration with the lack of such resources for European Portuguese grew as my proficiency in Spanish increased. I have since found some good options for Portuguese, which I will share in later posts, but since I live in a border town just across the river from Badajoz, the capital of the Spanish state Extremadura, I can usually fall back on Spanish if I'm at a loss for words in Portuguese, and I do most of my major shopping over in Spain anyway.

In the last two years, I have spent a lot of time with language learning apps and other resources not just for Russian, Spanish and Portuguese, but also for other languages I do not know but for which I have had occasion to develop special resources for translation and quality assurance in memoQ. These included Ukrainian, Hebrew, Yiddish and Arabic. Using the apps to learn the alphabets for these languages has made it easier to deal with sample texts in testing and to understand some of the challenges presented by colleagues and clients in need of assistance with regular expressions in languages that most technical gurus can't do anything with.

So henceforth this blog will include information and tips gleaned from my personal and occasionally professional forays into languages and alphabets for any purpose that fits my fancy. And if you, the reader, have interesting things to share in these regards, please do so in the comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Notice to spammers: your locations are being traced and fed to the recreational target list for my new line of chemical weapon drones :-)