Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 19: 5 Books

66. The Third Ear by Chris Lonsdale

 This is one of my favorite language learning "psych up" / motivational books. Written by a white New Zealander who initially came to China in the 80s on a college scholarship, hacking spoken Mandarin in a much shorter time than anyone at the university where he was studying could comprehend, The Third Ear is all about an innate ability of all humans to listen (really listen) to the spoken portion of another language that we do not yet understand and use our "inner ears" (in a metaphorical sense) to begin to process incoming information and eventually acquire a new language.

I am not explaining this well, and in the interest of time (many more reviews to type today), I most likely won't be able to, so I won't really try. Chris's exploration of the "audibol" (a sound syllable) and how the human brain processes language is both fascinating and empowering for language learners. This book is a third time re-read; each time, it keeps getting better. I can't recommend it highly enough, especially to students of tonal languages like Chinese -- my own current linguistic focus.

I remember that upon my initial reading of this book 4 years ago, I was most inspired by Lonsdale's suggestions for building an initial functional vocabulary in a new language. In fact, I used his guidelines to create my first major self-study "push" with Cantonese Chinese at the time, and with the help of 2 of my first Cantonese teachers, I was able to jump wayyyyy ahead of the other students in my classes at the time, all based on the suggestions from this particular book!

67. Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis

Though I haven't spent a lot of time watching every single Benny Lewis video online, I have watched a good 8 or 10 of his vlog entries and sales pitches for his "Fluent in 3 Months / Speak from Day One" language learning method. But for the relatively high price point compared to my current budget for individual language learning resources, I would have purchased his kit long ago.

Because of this, I was super 'thused to find his recently published book at The Strand in NYC in their basement foreign language section earlier this year. I have read this book 2 or 3 times now, and my current reread has been very empowering. There are SO many positive points to this book that I can only mention a few:
  • Aspiring to and testing for internationally, academically recognized achievement levels in certain languages (mainly European languages and Chinese)
  • Memorizing short speeches in each language you are studying as vehicles to communicate and improve spoken language ability
  • Shortcut hints for new learners of languages that conjugate verbs, involving the use of helping verbs such as "want to," "can," etc.
  • Studying, speaking, AND MAINTAINING ability in multiple languages
  • Various internet and in-person resources to aid language learning in today's multimedia world

68. How to Learn Any Language Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably, and On Your Own by Barry Farber

I actually met Barry Farber maybe 12 or so years ago when I was working for The Learning Annex in NYC, recording many of their Manhattan seminars for website streaming. During this phase of my resume, Mr. Farber gave a 2-hour presentation on the exact method described in this book. I am sure that he took the opportunity to plug this book as well that evening, but I had not yet caught the language learning bug, so at the time, this was just another evening of freelance income. Skip forward quite a few years...when I saw this book at The Strand Bookstore, I immediately made the connection, and when I got home that same evening, I raided my Learning Annex data archives in my basement, eventually locating the original .WAV files for Farber's lecture.

I have since read this book twice (including this time) and listened to the audio presentation of this material many times on my mp3 player. This is really good stuff!

Farber shows how, armed with a dictionary; a basic grammar textbook; at least one audio resource with accurate pronunciation of the new language; a recorder / listening device to capture and playback real-life audio examples of the target language; some highlighters; and a magazine or newspaper article written in the new language (assuming a script that the learner knows how to phonetically read and pronounce), the serious self-directed language learner can systematically take apart and then acquire an understanding of a foreign language. Great stuff for self-starters!

69. How to Learn a Foreign Language by Paul Pimsleur, PhD

This is a book that I kept seeing on Amazon listed for outrageously high prices -- until it was recently reissued in honor of the 50th anniversary of Pimseur Language Programs' all-audio language courses, the first of which was Greek in 1963.

I recently came across this brand new printing while browsing in a bookstore, waiting to have dinner with a friend in Manhattan's SOHO 2 weeks ago. I immediately ordered it from Amazon that evening, and read it the same day that it arrived.

I am a HUGE fan of the Pimsleur method. It's greatest strength (exclusive focus on pronunciation and listening comprehension) is also its greatest weakness, if the language learner is expecting a "complete" language acquisition process from a single resource. Used in its "proper" and most ideal manner, though, I am firmly of the opinion that for many languages, in particular those without immediately readable scripts or characters for the learner, an all-audio introduction to the language is ideal. In fact, this exact resource -- Pimsleur Cantonese -- is one of 2 main reasons why my pronunciation of my main foreign language that I am currently studying is so accurate 99% of the time! Go Pimsleur!!!

70.The Polyglot Project, ed. Claude Cartaginese

This huge 524 page book is actually a compilation of emails from various members of the Youtube language learning community as of 2011.

Consisting of essays of varying qualities and varying levels of inspiration, this is a really great resource for the language learning for multiple reasons:
  • It contains stories and advice about language learning from many, but not most, of the most "important" and visible amateur and professional linguists on Youtube in recent years
  • Some of the essays mention key resources that really will help the reader with any of a number of language learning processes and sticking points
  • Some of the advice and methods are really well-conceived and work very well, depending on the target language
  • Most of the resources mentioned by the various authors are completely free and available anywhere in the world with an internet connection and the ability to stream audio and video from Youtube.
This book is also available for free as an eBook, which I am considering downloading and viewing on my tablet. This would allow me to click on various links mentioned throughout the text, which would then take me to the Youtube channels of each contributor, as well as to other web resources mentioned throughout.

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