11 December 2007

My annual comparison of language learning tools.

Periodically I am asked about my opinions of various self-paced language learning tools, but I am sometimes reluctant to comment on this topic.

I am an independent user of language learning tools and I have lots of opinions based solely on my personal experience of purchasing and/or using them for learning Russian.

I previously gave a comparison of Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone on this blog
. I did not, however, recommend one over the other because I feel that they should be used with different purposes in mind. Pimsleur focuses primarily on conversational skills and you get nearly immediate satisfaction from using it; Rosetta Stone offers instructions in reading comprehension, spelling, listening to vocabulary words and phrases, speaking with speech analysis tools. It has lots of bells and whistles and does not use the speaker's native language as part of the instruction process.

Before choosing your tools, I think that you need to understand what your ultimate language learning goal is. Do you want to travel to that country and be a tourist? Do you want to read a novel in that target language? Do you want to correspond with people in the target language? Do you plan to study abroad? If you need to learn conversational skills, then Pimsleur is the best way to work on this goal in your home. (The very best way is immersion, of course.) If your goal is more for reading and writing, then you can choose from several options including Rosetta Stone or Mango Languages.

Since Mango Languages is currently free, I think that everybody should at least check it out once. It is in beta test, so you may find bugs and it may not have as many bells and whistles as Rosetta Stone. The one thing that I dislike about Mango Languages is that it does use your native language as the instructional language. However, it is online 24-7, free, easy to use, and fun.

I have used several other language learning packages that I don't talk about much on this blog because I wasn't impressed with them. They will remain nameless here, but they are mostly comprised of textbooks with accompanying audio dialogs. I have never been able to learn much from these methods when used in a self-paced setting. I did begin learning French by using a textbook, audio dialogs, and classroom instruction when I was very young... but I ultimately became fluent in French by living in France. When you have to eat salad with no salad dressing for 8 weeks because you don't know the word for salad dressing, this makes a lasting impression....
(It's called "la sauce" in French. How stupid did I feel when I finally figured that out?!?)

As a side note, I have had some problems running Rosetta Stone on my Mac (v 10.4.11). I plan to call the Rosetta Stone people in Virgina this week for technical assistance. One problem with the Rosetta Stone format is that the lessons are on discs and you MUST use the disc each time you access your lessons; if the disc get scratched, you're in trouble. I've had great past experiences with their customer service, so I'll keep you posted.


29 November 2007

Review of Mango Languages Beta Software

xopowoToday I decided to try out the Mango Languages software. It's an online language learning software for self-paced, self-acquired, second language. There are lots of languages to choose from, most are geared towards English speakers.

After registering, I started out by trying the Use Mango tab and selecting Russian for English speakers. It uses Flash Player 9 to show slides with the lessons. Your progress is charted by showing the number of slides you've completed. The first Russian lesson has 71 slides- that was a bit daunting to me.

Instructions are given by an English speaker. Russian phrases are spoken by a native Russian speaker with accompanying Russian text on the screen.

The first few slides were easy, since they are a repeat of what I've learned in Pimsleur. However, since Pimsleur is only listening and speaking, it was a bit strange to see the written text on the screen.

After the first few slides, I was in uncharted waters. The Russian speakers don't pronounce the phrases with long pauses, so I had trouble understanding the onslaught of foreign phonemes in my ears. Nevertheless, I did like being able to see the text; this aided my comprehension of the sounds. Some "phonetic transcriptions" are provided for the Russian words with a mouse roll-over, but because the phonetic spellings did not use IPA, I found them confusing.

The English instruction is mixed in with a different Russian speaker pronouncing certain words. However, the English and Russian sound bytes aren't clipped together too well and there are annoying pauses in between different speakers in the middle of sentences.

Here is a visual example of one of these stitched together bi-lingual sentences:


I did like these interesting and helpful cultural notes.

I plan to continue to use the software and see what enhancements are added as the software progresses. Overall, I am very pleased with it: It functions well technically, the sound quality is good, it is self-paced and free! I encourage you to check it out. I'd like to hear your comments on the software.


25 June 2007

Font fetish

After searching the web for some fun Cyrillic fonts, I decided to go with eternal fonts. This site has some interesting fonts including several Cyrillic fonts for $14.95 via paypal. Basically you pay the $15 and have access to all of their fonts. It was a quick and simple download to satisfy my font fetish. It says the download for the Mac is a .bin file, but I could only find .zip files. This still worked fine and I have several new Cyrillic fonts installed.
Initially I tried to install all of my new 5000+ fonts... what a bad idea! I think that I will stick with using only the few hundred that I like.


18 June 2007

Russian Yarn Card from taiga yarns


11 June 2007


One of my favorite things about learning another language is figuring out how words are connected. Today I have learning that the words knit and bind are connected. I guess these two words might be cousins on a big family tree of words.

In an attempt to read some of these Russian knitting magazines, I decided to bring out my dictionary, look up words, and make and attempt to remember how to spell them.

I am using the dictionary widget that came with my MacBook. It takes me a really long time to type Russian words because I do not have my Russian keyboard stickers on the MacBook keys, so I spend a lot of time trying to guess which key corresponds to which Russian letter. The MacBook is great to switch keyboard inputs with the click of the mouse, but then you have to know how to use the requested keyboard.

As I slowly typed in the word for knitting, the dictionary widget was translating as I was typing:

and the final Russian word:
I assume that the wording binding is the same as the word knitting. That would make sense. Here's the definition of knit from the Oxford American dictionary:

knit |nit|
verb ( knit•ting ; past and past part. knitted or (esp. in sense 2) knit )
1 [ trans. ] make (a garment, blanket, etc.) by interlocking loops of wool or other yarn with knitting needles or on a machine.
• make (a stitch or row of stitches) in such a way.
• knit with a knit stitch : knit one, purl one.
2 [ intrans. ] become united : disparate regions had begun to knit together under the king | [as adj., with submodifier ] ( knit) a closely knit family.
• (of parts of a broken bone) become joined during healing.
• [ trans. ] cause to unite or combine : he knitted together a squad of players other clubs had disregarded.

Old English cnyttan; related to German dialect knütten, also to knot 1 .
The original sense was [tie in or with a knot,] hence [join, unite] ( sense 2 ); an obsolete Middle English sense [knot string to make a net] gave rise to sense 1.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to pronounce the Russian word and I will be set!


04 June 2007

Russian knitting magazines

I also ordered some Russian knitting magazines. I was thinking that maybe I could learn some new vocabulary while getting to feed my knitting obsession. My Belarussian friend Наташа told me that it would be a bad idea to try to learn some Russian from these magazines, but I did not heed her advice and ordered two magazines.
When they arrived, I realized that the Russian version of Joe Millionaire's Zora was on the cover of one, and Ally McBeal was on the cover of the other.
You may be wondering what Russian Zora is wearing. It looks like a furry-collared coat. At closer inspection,

you will see that it is a knitted halter top, knitted long skirt, with a furry-collared sweater.

Other notable knitting patterns in these magazines:

Clown costumes for children

Long-sleeved sweater with noticeable missing fabric on upper arms

Retro '80s pullover. This pattern is not too extraordinary, but the model looks like the Russian women I see in Hollywood movies.


03 June 2007

Spoonful of Russian

Today I've been listening to Natalia's Spoonful of Russian podcasts. Natalia has a nice voice for podcasting and her relaxed, confident tone makes it seem like Russian is easy to learn. These lessons are easy to listen to while I am knitting and doing housework. As I listen to her podcasts, I realize that I remember more Russian than I had expected. Yay!
Maybe I will find a microphone and actually do some of the homework lessons she assigns (record yourself speaking the dialogues) and post them here. I am not sure that I want to hear my own voice recorded and posted on the web, but we'll have to see.


02 June 2007

Remember me?

Mighty Mouse and notepadOK, so I got a bit disenchanted with both my Russian lessons and with my computer, so I took a long hiatus from both.
I am ready to start back. I have a new MacBook and a renewed interest in my Russian lessons. I plan to review my old Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone lessons and move forward.
During this second phase of the learning process, I plan to focus on writing more. I need to learn to spell and how to properly write Russian with a pen and paper. Before, I wanted to gain some conversational fluency so I wasn't very concerned about minor details like spelling and reading.