Category Archives: Language Learning Trends

More Language Learning Resources Than Would Have Filled a Tower of Babel Library

Ellen Jovin is my hero.  And that would include being just a little crazy in her absolute devotion to Language Learning Resources Tower of Babelthe study of language as it relates to her Sisyphean project: Words & Worlds of New  York:  Four Years, Seventeen  Languages, One Devoted Language Lover.”    Think Julie & Julia, only substitute  “Poulet au Porto” conquered in one day, with Mandarin Chinese which Ellen began last November and still has on the front burner in April.

[In the full disclosure department, Ellen is a huge fan of Pimsleur, rates us very highly, and we quote her cogent argument for “Why Pimsleur vs. Rosetta Stone” on our site.  No kickbacks, just mutual admiration.]

A totally different dimension was added to Ellen’s site this month, a
Language Learning Resources Review section, “a survey of language-learning tools for the do-it  yourselfer” that cross-references all of the various resources that Ellen explored in learning each of the languages on her journey.  They range from the obvious courses, Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Fluenz, to grammar books and verb-conjugation charts, flash cards, and other media including audio and video resources, and extend to places (shops, museums, markets) she has visited, and to language-packed annual events like Brazilian Day or Steuben Day in New York.

The entries in the Language Learning Resources Review section have the same direct, honest point of view as the Jovin Blog.  This comes from the fact that she’s reporting back personally on each of these resources that she came across.  Some she used, some she rejected, but all are evaluated from the point of view of someone looking for ancillary materials to use in her study of a given language.

I love that many of the photos of the books she uses are not bright and shiny new copies, but the Language Learning Resources Frenchused books she picked up somewhere along the way, yet another way the emphasis is on the usefulness of what she’ s reviewing vs. its marketing budget.

I beg to differ with her comment about Complete French Grammar,  where she says:  “The vocabulary is oddly advanced throughout the book, and a little insecurity-causing … I was told how to say  ‘to caramelize’ (caraméliser), ‘to grind’ (broyer), ‘to braise’ (braiser), ‘to scale fish’ (écailler).   That’s a little too much even for an intermediate student.”   We bought our twin nephews a caramelizing blow torch, and taught them the vocabulary before they could say Bon Appétit.   Of course it now occurs to me that pompiers, extincteur, and amiante might have been added to the list of precocious kitchen vocabulary.  (firemen, extinguisher, and asbestos)

The Language Learning Resources Review is packed with study aids.  I think my favorite is the Mandarin Tone Quiz from About.com of all places.   The differentiation of tones in Mandarin has been what has scared me away from trying to learn Chinese, but if this handy dandy quiz makes a dent in that fear, I may have to think again.

The strengths of Ellen’s Language Learning Resources Review site are, of necessity, its weaknesses on the one hand  — the entries are all over the place, which is great on the other hand casting such a  wide net pulls in some really creative language learning tools many of which you can access for free or little money.  But I did find myself scrolling past entries in Spanish which seemed less useful on the surface.  All of this is likely to be ironed out soon as she is constantly refining the entries and the organization and the  links between them.

ellenThe Librarian of Babel:  It boggles the mind to think that this one woman, albeit a graduate in German from Harvard, who so loves language, could amass this encyclopedic, useful, smart, and, original survey of otherwise hard to find language–learning tools in such a short time, while working at it solo.

“No way! I read a study, and the only foreign language they say to learn is Mandarin.”

This statement was overheard on the subway the other night as a group of four high-school seniors  was discussing what language class they were going to sign up for in their first college semester.   They assured us (their volume and tone loud enough that the whole car couldn’t help but participate) that if they got into a liberal arts college, it was bound to have a decent language program.

The tallest of the group was saying that his goal in life was to become the U.S. Ambassador to France, and for that French was the obvious choice. Learn Mandarin

The loudest of the group informed us all that he’d read a study that concluded hands down that students should learn Mandarin in order to get ahead once they graduated college.   And, interestingly, that if you planned to go into business in the EU that German would remain in the forefront of languages it was important to know.

                A couple of days later I was watching BBC News before work, and there was a segment based on the 10th Annual HSBC/British Council Mandarin Chinese Speaking Competition which had just been held.  They spoke about the tiny number of British students who learn Mandarin vs. those who still take French, and the fact that the Mandarin scholars were fighting off multiple job offers, while the Francophiles were facing a bleak job market.   british council

                In a blog on the state of Mandarin education in the UK, John Worne, The British Council’s head of Strategy, said:

“The Mandarin Chinese language is becoming more and more important for the UK because, quite simply, China is becoming more and more important on the world’s stage. In 2011, China overtook Japan to become the world’s second biggest economy, and many confidently predict that they’ll wrest the top spot from the USA by 2050.            

Some knowledge of Chinese language is the ice breaker which gets you talking culture –              and business – in China.  And our research shows a bit of language and culture goes a long way when you’re looking to trade.”

What I find encouraging and fascinating is that while the whole world is increasingly learning how to speak English – and the Chinese are leading that charge (see great TED video), it is still crucial for Americans (and the British) to put some blood, sweat, and tears into learning new languages to show the sincerity of our commitment  to understanding other cultures and working with other countries on their terms as well as on ours.

The familiar Nelson Mandela quote says it better than I can:

 If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.   If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. –Nelson Mandela

Let’s face it; things might be looking up in the U.S. if a group of high school seniors going out on the town on a Friday night knew that what languages they spoke when they got out of college would have a huge impact on the career choices available to them.