Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 18: 4 Books

62. New Ways to Learn a Foreign Language by Robert A, Hall

At the advice of my good friend Asim Khan, previously mentioned in this blog, I will be incorporating many re-reads of important language learning books into the rest of my reading challenge. This is the first such re-read from my selection of books that made an impact on me over the past few years of my personal explorations into the art and science of foreign language learning.

This book is a bit dated, focusing entirely on European languages commonly taught in the US as of 1966. With a few interesting suggestions about generic, positive language learning habits, the main points that I was able to take away from my reading came from chapters 17, 18 and 19, dealing with real-life language learning resources and experiences (as opposed to textbooks and grammar guides), and regarding a "gestalt" type approach, incorporating many of the prevalent concepts of language teaching and learning as of the 1960s.

63. Authentic: How to Make a Living By Being Yourself by Neil Crofts

What a great, inspiring book!

Though this is not a language-learning book as many of the others that I am about to review will be, this is nevertheless also a re-read, which I came across on my shelf while gathering my language books for this challenge.

This book is a manifesto for authentic living and for creating an authentic career path which adds positive energy and gives back to the community instead of polluting people's lives with media garbage, disposable pop culture and literal disposable plastic and other non-recyclable trash items. After writing at length about many of the social ills, especially pertaining to the educational system (in Britain) today, the author then suggests a 12-step plan involving 4 "preparations" and 8 "actions," the result of which will serve to eliminate the nonsense from an individual's life, allowing more meaningful work and life pursuits to fill the space once the junk is gotten rid of from any one person's work and personal life:
  1. Preparation 1: Telling the truth
  2. Preparation 2: Perception and reality
  3. Preparation 3: Finding your "natural language"
  4. Preparation 4: What is my point in life?
  5. Action 1: Eating your energy
  6. Action 2: Exercise your mind
  7. Action 3: Taking control of your life
  8. Action 4: Avoiding distraction and inspiring change
  9. Action 5: Editing your address book
  10. Action 6: Changing habits
  11. Action 7: Making your plan
  12. Action 8: Coming out and being yourself
Preparation 3 is Crofts's version of the same crux of Kenneth Robinson's book, reviewed earlier in this blog. It, as well as preparation 4 and actions 4, 6, and 7, were most inspiring to me during my reading. I will DEFINITELY come back to this book next month, when I will be intensively journalling on my life's direction and purging all unnecessary emotional and physical garbage from my life.

64. Speak Like a Native: Professional Secrets for Mastering Foreign Languages by Michael D. Janich

Though this is a super short book at around 115 pages, it is actually one of the most practical and valuable of all of my "real life" language learning guides.

Written from a self-directed study point of view, though firmly grounded in the academic world of language learning (the author is an award-winning 2-time graduate of the US Military's prestigious Defense Language Institute, with top marks in both Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese, the latter of which led to him serving as one of the main US Government / Military representatives in Vietnam after the end of the war during the search for remaining MIA soldiers as well as unaccounted-for remains of dead soldiers in need of repatriation and US burial.

Impressive, yet simple and to the point, this book is a top pick for anyone seeking practical language learning results that do not necessary involve taking classes or "formal" language study. Most inspiring to me were descriptions of the progressive incorporation of background noise and poor quality audio recordings into the listening comprehension part of language learning. I have actually incorporated this exact strategy, to a lesser degree, into my own studies of spoken Cantonese Chinese with excellent results.

Also important were suggestions about foreign language radio and television resources, creative ways to use dubbed and native language foreign language DVDs to use visual cues and body language as aids in the language learning process; the importance of eventually practicing speaking the new language on the phone (something I have not yet incorporated into my language learning process for my own languages that I am studying); and a multi-pronged approach of language "bombardment" (my choice of word), which I will explore in more depth either later in this blog or in my own language learning blog,

65. The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey by Steve Kaufmann

I find Steve Kaufmann's various Youtube vlog entries very inspiring, and when I heard about his book that he had published on his own language learning life story, of course I ordered it from Amazon immediately.

This is a great book, which I initially discovered and read maybe 3 years ago. A former Canadian diplomat and international forestry businessman, Steve speaks over 10 languages to varying degrees and, unlike many of the other Youtube language community folks, Steve actually learned and uses or has used most of his functional languages for international government and business purposes. THIS I found very inspiring, and because of this PURPOSE behind Steve's language acquisition efforts, I found myself resonating with his life story on every page of this book.

My personal favorite aspect of this book is Steve's exploration of the limitations of traditional US and Canadian higher education's ideas of "teaching" language. Rather, Steve proposes completely taking away the emphasis from TEACHERS who somehow have a responsibility to put knowledge into the heads of their students and instead shifting almost all responsibility to the STUDENTS, who must instead take charge of their own language learning efforts. At ALESN, the school where I study and teach Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, we have always told our students that none of the teachers can make the students learn the language. Each student must think deeply and make a decision to put in the effort necessary to take the information we provide them with and in turn teach themselves Chinese.

[* I was feeling guilty about calling the last 2 entries separate  "books," due to the 110-125 page length of each, but my friend Amanda, who owns Roots Cafe in South Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I am typing this entry, insisted that I call these separate books for my challenge, particularly since there is one book coming up in the next couple of entries which is 543 pages long. So ok, 2 separate books. That helps my count so far...]

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