Hyperpolyglot help

One of the things that I’ve become increasingly more fascinated with (and have been fascinated with since as long as I can remember) is the question of how fastest (and most efficiently) to learn a language to a basic level.  By basic level I mean well enough so that your next step would be to study intermediate language learning material in that language: you’ve mastered the alphabet, the phonemes (but not all of the conversation speed phonetic change “rules”), all but infrequently used (or especially formal) syntactic patterns, and a vocabulary of at least 500-1000 of the most common words.  You should be able to pick up a newspaper article in that language and say what it’s about (and not be too far off).  You should be able to complete simple everyday tasks that require speaking and listening in that language.

When I was fresh out of grad school (mid ’90s), I remember discovering a company that specialized in quick language learning through reading.  They had a neat program that had translated mouse-overs for words, and ways to save vocabulary lists — something that we take for granted now, but was quite revolutionary back then.  The other day I was wondering if they were still around.


An island on an island

Northeast China is hoary in winter (and the winter lasts at least ten months) and torrid in summer, which means that you have to have a lot of different kinds of clothes, not to mention that you have to wear many layers of them all throughout the winter, which makes it difficult to bathe frequently.

The predominant language there is the northeast topolect of Mandarin, 东北话 (dōngběihuà), and that has some interesting features, which I might from time to time continue to blog about.

But I got sick of having it be 12ºC indoors for five months (and the average outdoor temperature all year is less than 5ºC!) and moved south to an island on an island…. Continue…

shuí yě bù zhīdào

Victor Mair received this message from a former student of his, and sent it in to us:

I just remembered one other question I’d been meaning to ask you. It’s about the character 谁. When I started taking Chinese years ago, my teachers and textbooks all told me to pronounce it “shei.” This spring, I was speaking to a visiting Chinese professor from Dalian who was teaching elementary Chinese, and she and her textbook teach the pronunciation of the same character as “shui.” When I asked her about this, she said that “shui” was more standard, and “shei” was a local variation used mostly around Beijing. Is that right? Among native speakers, who uses “shei,” and who uses “shui”?

This is a very interesting question. Continue…

Bilingual education in Xinjiang

Porfiriy over at New Dominion has translated an article on Mandarin-Uyghur bilingual education. Here’s a snippet:

The so-called “bilingual” education policy, based on forcing Uyghur children to speak Chinese, has aroused intense discontent among Uyghur intellectuals both within and outside the Uyghur homeland. Critics draw attention to the potential of “bilingual” education to threaten the normal development and healthy thinking of immature children and accuse bilingual education of being a planned and deliberate assimilation policy. Continue…

Dear Diary,

As soon as you step into first grade in a Chinese elementary school, you are required to keep a journal for the teacher to check.  This continues until you graduate from high school.

My older son (9) doesn’t like to talk a lot, and hates writing, and can’t see the point in this exercise.  I constantly have to give him ideas, and throughout the two month winter holiday I just let him copy paragraphs from an encyclopedia of the animal world, just to keep his hand moving.  Continue…