Thanks for stopping by to check out another edition of the Olyglot language learning blog!
I appreciate the kind words on Facebook and the Duolingo board. The tardiness of this subsequent post (finalized weeks later than I’d hoped) should be a rarity, as I’m motivated to reach like-minded learners and spread the word about free, effective language learning. The delay was caused in part by a trip to Costa Rica. Whilst in the land of the Ticos much practicing of my rusty Spanish ensued, a process that helped immensely but cut me right down to size and profoundly re-motivated me for the coming months (topics to be unfurled in the upcoming blog numero 3).
It’s easy to see that my website name is a play on the word polyglot. Once a fairly obscure word, embracing polyglotdom has recently become a common trend for anyone plying his or her trade at multiple foreign tongues. It has even taken on a mainstream role–a recent NY Times article headline mentioned “a polyglot of styles” at a music festival. I won’t bother with etymology or debate the term’s relevance in the language sphere. Dictionary entries for polyglot cite a person who speaks several languages–so really a synonym for multilingual–but usually implying the ability to speak three or more fluently. In my eyes, a formidable knowledge of two unique languages is enough to merit bandying the term about. I’d also say the word is a complete crock of mierda, but do with it what you wish (heck, I did). What polyglot has really come to embody is someone with an interest in languages, perhaps with the desire to understand or speak them, maybe just driven by simple curiosity–a hobby with a real-world application. And because Fluency is so hard to define, our planet is littered with these in-betweeners (a weak term in lieu of that popular British TV show). If I speak two languages well and ten terribly, am I less of a polyglot than someone who speaks three “pretty well”? What about a person who speaks only one but knows key terms in 30? Whatever your criteria, I’d argue that by paying attention to a blog such as this, and heeding a modicum of my advice–you, dear reader, are indeed a bonefide Polyglot.
The “big” European languages make sense to hoard. The material is here, out there, everywhere really. Native/fluent speakers abound in the form of tourists, ex-pats, bilinguals, and in the case of Spanish, they’re literally around every corner; so nearby are these Latinos, that you are being a bit rude by not at least learning the basics of their mother tongue. The eternal question–which to choose for long-term study? French? Italian? Those might be the easiest, especially if you’ve already bagged Spanish. Portuguese as well, but the accent and similarities will actually confuse your Spanish. Grammatical complications are plentiful in the German language, with long words, shifting cases, variable articles and general erudition. But don’t be fooled, it’s the accent that’ll get you, as well as foreign (not implicitly from Latin) vocab. I’d argue Scandinavian languages are a decent choice for a novice, through Norwegian or Swedish (though the accents are oh-so-tricky) then Danish in 3rd place (due to its challenging, syllable-ghosting accent). Dutch wouldn’t be so strange to English-speakers, but contains its own accent issues (like their famous flemmy grunts), and just isn’t very applicable in the real world (Dutch meet up groups? Hooray! :-/). Their words are similar to German (as well as French, ENGLISH, etc.) so you could try to learn them in a pair.
That isn’t to say that the best course is to learn European languages when Mandarin Chinese is so influential. And Arabic. These languages seem all but impenetrable from afar. But spend a few weeks in the polyglot game and the esoteric differences inherent in a completely different writing system helps to set these tongues apart, define them uniquely and therefore lead to the possibility if not the probability of quick internalization. Your boss might make you learn Chinese in a year or two, so why not jump the gun? Learn a little of a lot–not a novel concept, one with pitfalls, but also one that seems well-aligned to our attention-lacking modern minds.
Perhaps the best European-based polyglot course going right now on the free-net (but please correct me if you know a better option, please!) is the Memrise course called Easy Polyglot (!!) available in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and German (henceforth referred to as The Big 5). It’s one of the deepest courses on the site (which is excellent–Memrise, sign up now) and features audio translations in the four other big European languages, including mirror translations for the “closest” language (so Spanish yields parallel translations for Portuguese, for example). The user is able to work through one of the courses in order to feature a specific language, or work through several at once (same words, different focus points spread throughout the Big 5). Worth the effort for anyone already toiling away with multiple resources spread around the interweb.
Then there are translator toolbars. My go-to is Lingua.ly. The site/app isn’t perfect, but the software functions well for my needs. Similar sites including LingQ and ReadLang have toolbars and lots of content to translate. However, the former charges a fee to collect the flashcards, and the latter is a bit broader and chunkier in execution, though ambitious and promising. Lingua.ly lacks any audio on its pages, but the flashcard system (providing audio with each successive entry) is cleaner and more functional. (I want to point out that in my last post I wasn’t explicit about obtaining the Lingua.ly toolbar–it has to be downloaded a Google plus application download page) More players seem primed to enter this “collective toolbar” game, using native content on a site and then making the same collection device available on a browser. ReadLang is my second choice. I’ll be sure to keep my eye out and review the latest sites, as I believe this software to be one of the most efficient learning tools, facilitating a ramping up into mass native content immersion with the aid of a translation device.
The best long-term option for a Polyglot is, and I’m repeating myself here–DUOLINGO. My friend Dan recently offered a good point. After a certain period of time one doesn’t seem to be “progressing” with Duolingo (and with lang-learning in general). I agree. Therefore I think the site works better to maintain one’s languages. What better for someone attempting to speak 2-?? of them than to have quick lessons on-demand. If you don’t have enough time, you can focus on the first 4-6 modules of a given language and continue reviewing them to death. It’s better to hammer home the basics then to add words you won’t use or remember. To maintain my Big 5 European languages, I simply review my weak skills with a Duo lesson (glancing over the notes document I’ve been filling with new translations that catch my eye). In this way none of my languages get too rusty. The scope of the impressive Duo site allows one to taste many other languages–three from Scandinavia, or the recently added Turkish, Irish (!), Ukrainian (!) even the useful (in the polyglot sense) conlag (artificial language) Esperanto, which sort of updates Latin (and hints at the big 5 in a big way).
I must admit I’ve taken language learning to the extreme, both in the amount of different languages I’ve been considering–with varying degrees of intensity in study– and in variety of tools I use on a daily basis. Continuing my language progress has swiftly become one of most inspiring parts of my life. But I recently had an anxiety attack that, while not solely based on language learning, was certainly related to the Olympian memory games and learning sessions I’ve engaged in. I keep football (soccer, with native-lang commentary) on during the day and then crank podcasts on iTunes. Lots of Duolingo and Memrise. I love watching movies in different languages at night. When I’m reading, it’s probably literature from another culture or a newspaper penned in another language. So beware. Take a few days off, ramp down. Don’t get too hooked on new letters and sounds or the words might seem to suddenly suffocate you.
I’m going to close with a brief anecdote. The language learning culture is alive and well in NYC. I recently learned of an upcoming “Polyglot Conference,” to be held in the fall. Considering attendance–which would certainly yield a blog or four. The other day, as if by serendipity, I strolled by a bookstore I never knew existed (or perhaps I had walked by or even stopped into the shop before, but wasn’t as taken with languages way back when). IDLEWILD BOOKS. Even though I was late to meet a friend, I had to head up to the second floor store and see what was in stock. Turns out, it isn’t just a book shop, Idlewild is also a language learning school, offering affordable classes–just under 300 bucks for 8 sessions, or about 30 dollars per class. They have a better Spanish and French fiction section then Barnes and Noble and the Strand, a huge travel book selection with crisp copies of the latest editions, and the atmosphere in the book shop is warm, great for browsing. A new haven. Great, like I needed more inspiration… $$$ Ah well, another book won’t hurt.
Until next time… ODE