Ellen Jovin is my hero. And that would include being just a little crazy in her absolute devotion to the 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 used 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.
The 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.