Obsolete sections of old language courses?

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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby David1917 » Wed Feb 03, 2021 3:01 am

Le Baron wrote:That doesn't address anything I mentioned. What you sketched out is a completely different discussion.


Not really. The technological changes don't make the situations any less universal. It's a different shade of the argument that goes like "When am I ever going to say 'I have three red pens'???" No, you might not ever hold three red pens and shout it from the top of a mountain, and you might never go look for a public telephone. It doesn't matter.

You don't have finite space in your head wherein

You really don't want to imprint on your brain things related to working for the 'colonial service' or taking up head space seeing out of date social information (like rules about holidays, work etc that no longer apply, which could be taught more efficiently alongside the language learning in a modern course as you go through).


is an actual concern, and I don't know who would ever spend more time on holiday rules in a target country than focusing on language usage.

I mean entire countries change. Pre-1991 Russian courses all "useless" because you're never going to be in the Soviet Union? Leningrad is St. Petersburg now?

You said you "want to communicate with people in the shortest time possible." Without knowing who you want to communicate with, no course can give you exactly what you want. But as an advanced learner, you've pointed out that you know how to extract what you need from a course and move on. The course has always been a tool, not a one-and-all solution.

It's like music - what one plays alone at home is nothing like what one plays on the stage. But if you never play at home doing dexterity exercises, playing non-musical reading passages (that "nobody would ever play like that in real life"), learning old songs ("nobody plays like that anymore"), your moment on the stage is going to be terrible. And your first songbook isn't going to be Paganini or Allan Holdsworth, it's going to be garbage like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and you're going to suck it up and play it.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby jeffers » Wed Feb 03, 2021 3:02 pm

leosmith wrote:
jeffers wrote:Just this past week I was watching Engrenages and somebody asked somebody else to play tennis.
Are you saying tennis is obsolete? It's pretty popular where I live.


Always check the context, my friend. The immediately preceding sentence:
jeffers wrote:... personally I don't play tennis, so those conversations are "useless" to me. Or are they?



EDIT: if I had a key takeaway point, that I should have made clearer, it is that I don't really believe that any word is obsolete for a language learner.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby einzelne » Wed Feb 03, 2021 11:44 pm

iguanamon wrote:
Le Baron wrote: Still, I would love it if we could have more up to date courses come along. Who wouldn't want to see a newer version of "FSI"; "DLI Basic"; "Destinos" or "French In Action". We would certainly see them...


Or the fabulous "the Nature method" textbooks! There are fantastic and btw some enthusiasts started to record audio for them.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby iguanamon » Wed Feb 03, 2021 11:57 pm

einzelne wrote:Or the fabulous "the Nature method" textbooks! There are fantastic and btw some enthusiasts started to record audio for them.

Yes! I've already downloaded a lot of the Italian audios by converting the youtube links into mp3's! This could be the future for the FSI and DLI courses. The template is good. Volunteers could update the courses with modern situations, modern vocabulary and spellings, while staying true to the template. Some of FSI is already being digitized, but a project for the whole language subset offered would be a vast effort and take a long time. If those courses were digitized and updated, then made app friendly, I could see them becoming very popular for modern beginners perhaps even used in tandem with duolinguo and babbel. Maybe a foundation could provide funding.

Still, even as they are, even outdated and imperfect, the older courses are very useful for language-learning and probably will be for another 15-20 years.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby s_allard » Sun Feb 07, 2021 3:36 am

I find it rather amusing that we are discussing learning materials that are over 50 years old if not more at a time when so much really up-to-date stuff is available for free or for purchase on the Internet. As much as I might like some of the older materials - I fondly remember a hardcover Berlitz Self-teacher German book that I got as a teenager - I really wouldn't buy them today for learning purposes if more modern materials are available.

I know that much of this old material is free or may be out of copyright and those are certainly a valid reasons for trying to squeeze some use out of it. Perhaps it’s material for rarely taught languages. Or maybe it’s a nostalgia thing.

I know that one can always make the argument that grammar doesn’t change very quickly and that some of the old methods, especially all those drills in the FSI materials, are still useful. That’s true but we know so much more about how languages work and how languages can be learned effectively by adults today. We now have a vast range of written and audio-visual resources to choose from, including the ability to actually speak with native speakers without leaving the house.

In my opinion, the problem with old material is not that they are out-of-date ; it’s that they are not up-to-date or contemporary. There is a lot missing. Obviously this applies above all to historical, geographical, technological, social and cultural references. No smartphone, no apps, no computers, no web, no European Union, no euros, etc.

But even the grammar or usage changes as well. In English, pronoun usage has changed a lot and even verb number agreement is changing. In French, rules of grammatical gender are changing before our eyes. For similar reasons, you wouldn’t recommend that someone read a 1980 newspaper to practice their English.

What is true is that the days of the comprehensive method complete with vinyl records, cassettes or cd's are long gone. Everything is online today although there may still be some printed materials in bookstores. We have seen this trend with bilingual and even monolingual dictionaries. I can’t remember the last time I consulted a paper dictionary in my large collection.

And keep in mind that most of this learning material is for beginners although I have noticed that because of the CEFR language assessment framework publishers of language materials for French and Spanish, and I imagine all the other EU languages, are targeting specific levels.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby einzelne » Sun Feb 07, 2021 8:23 pm

s_allard wrote:That’s true but we know so much more about how languages work and how languages can be learned effectively by adults today.


The sad fact is that SLA research doesn’t necessarily translates into better textbooks. Here’s just one example:



The results of the frequency analysis of the vocabulary used in three current textbooks for beginners of German are somewhat disheartening. In all three books the percentage of vocabulary less frequent than the frequency rank 4,000 is high (29-44%).

...

It is striking that only 64% and 61 % of the most-frequent 1,000 words are included in Deutsch heute and Neue Horizonte, respectively. Even more noteworthy is the fact that Kontakte teaches only 53% of the most high-frequency words. These figures mean that in a course of 1-2 years non of the students using any of the three books are introduced to the most-frequent 1,000 words of German, despite being exposed to up to 2166 words, as in the case of Kontakte. The results for Kontakte are especially underwhelming in that Kontakte is the only book that points out a vocabulary choise with reference to vocabulary frequencies, such as the Frequency Dictionary of Germany.


Another telling example: Latin and Greek textbooks - contemporary textbooks simply suck in comparison to materials made 100 years ago and earlier. That's why after Google and others started to scan old textbooks, there was a surge of interest in classical languages among language enthusiasts.

Again, as a native Russian speaker I cannot generalize my experience, but after the fall of the USSR the quality of language books dropped significantly so I at the begginer's stage I simply cannot trust to contemporary Russian textbooks. Sure, I use a lot of contemporary learning materials made by native speakers in order to expand my vocabulary, contemporary idioms etc. Yet when it comes to mastering the grammatical structure of the foreign language, the textbooks written with your native language in mind are the simply best. And, again older textbooks are more thorough. Actually, reading this thread, I was quite surprised to see that English speaking learners have the same issue.

So, I wouldn't generalize. Quite often 'recent' doesn't mean the best.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby s_allard » Mon Feb 08, 2021 1:04 am

einzelne wrote:
s_allard wrote:That’s true but we know so much more about how languages work and how languages can be learned effectively by adults today.


The sad fact is that SLA research doesn’t necessarily translates into better textbooks. Here’s just one example:



The results of the frequency analysis of the vocabulary used in three current textbooks for beginners of German are somewhat disheartening. In all three books the percentage of vocabulary less frequent than the frequency rank 4,000 is high (29-44%).

...

It is striking that only 64% and 61 % of the most-frequent 1,000 words are included in Deutsch heute and Neue Horizonte, respectively. Even more noteworthy is the fact that Kontakte teaches only 53% of the most high-frequency words. These figures mean that in a course of 1-2 years non of the students using any of the three books are introduced to the most-frequent 1,000 words of German, despite being exposed to up to 2166 words, as in the case of Kontakte. The results for Kontakte are especially underwhelming in that Kontakte is the only book that points out a vocabulary choise with reference to vocabulary frequencies, such as the Frequency Dictionary of Germany.


...


I don't know where this quote is from but the it displays some ignorance of how word frequency lists work. First of all, one must keep in mind that word frequencies in natural languages are the basis of Zipf's law that, in simplified form, states that:

Zipf's law was originally formulated in terms of quantitative linguistics, stating that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc. For example, in the Brown Corpus of American English text, the word "the" is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). True to Zipf's Law, the second-place word "of" accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), followed by "and" (28,852). Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.[1]
- Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zipf%27s_law

Here we are looking at English of course but let's assume that the statistics are roughly the same for German. A beginner textbook does not have to exactly contain the 1000 most frequent words in the language. Note that in English "Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.". What this means is that very quickly the differences in statistical frequency between words becomes small. A textbook could have just 2000 words with just the top 600 from the 1000 most frequent words and that would not be a problem unless the textbook were to go out of the way to use very rare words, which is certainly not the case.

This same question arises when we see statistics saying you need a vocabulary of 25000 different words to read modern English literature. But remember that a single book may contain 3000 different words and that's all you need to read that book. To read two books you will need more vocabulary because there will be differences between the books. Obviously, the more books you read, the bigger the vocabulary you will need but for any one given book you will only need a relatively small vocabulary.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Axon » Mon Feb 08, 2021 2:11 am

I think it's interesting that several of the thread participants here take it as a given that one doesn't talk to others on the street to find things out anymore. Part of this is probably from the difference between societies where information is readily produced, organized, and published about all kinds of public and private services, and societies where it's much more culturally accepted to ask for these things when you need them.

In Southeast Asia, and I am thinking of Indonesia in particular, you are unlikely to find accurate information online about, well, pretty much anything. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but for everything from university application procedures to bus routes to how to top up a phone card to gym memberships, the information is found at the information desk or over the phone instead of on the website. If I ever stay in an Indonesian hotel again and I want to ask the hours that the gym is open, or if the gym membership covers pool access, checking the website won't even enter my mind. I'm going to ask the receptionist in Indonesian, and they'll give me the answer.

The same goes for Laos and Vietnam - in 2019 I strongly regretted not learning the alphabet better and mastering my times-of-day so I could understand and ask about long-distance bus schedules. Also, yes I booked my hotel in English by using an app, but when I got there and wanted to stay an extra day, I had to ask in Lao. Even when everything gets booked smoothly, I think it's a rare hotel stay that I've had when I haven't had to inquire about something or make some kind of request, and it's much easier to do that by just picking up the phone and making the request. Last time I was in Vietnam, I wandered for some time up and down a street, many times passing what Google Maps insisted was my hotel but was in fact a cell phone store. I ended up asking a friendly group of teenagers in some of the worst Vietnamese of my life, and one of them put me on his motorbike and drove me to the hotel (he got lost too, by the way).

In much of China (different cities have different amounts of English posted), public transport is cheap and ubiquitous, and Baidu Maps is really good at staying up-to-date with bus schedules. Bus stops on city streets have no English, while metro stations do. When traveling by city bus, I had about a 50-50 split between using my phone to find the best route and asking other passengers if this stop was for the technology mall, or if I'd already missed it. The second option was almost always simply more convenient.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby iguanamon » Mon Feb 08, 2021 8:00 pm

s_allard wrote:I find it rather amusing that we are discussing learning materials that are over 50 years old if not more at a time when so much really up-to-date stuff is available for free or for purchase on the Internet. As much as I might like some of the older materials - I fondly remember a hardcover Berlitz Self-teacher German book that I got as a teenager - I really wouldn't buy them today for learning purposes if more modern materials are available. ...I know that one can always make the argument that grammar doesn’t change very quickly and that some of the old methods, especially all those drills in the FSI materials, are still useful. That’s true but we know so much more about how languages work and how languages can be learned effectively by adults today. We now have a vast range of written and audio-visual resources to choose from, including the ability to actually speak with native speakers without leaving the house. ... What is true is that the days of the comprehensive method complete with vinyl records, cassettes or cd's are long gone. Everything is online today although there may still be some printed materials in bookstores. We have seen this trend with bilingual and even monolingual dictionaries. I can’t remember the last time I consulted a paper dictionary in my large collection. ...

Yes, you are correct. There are many resources available online for learning... and, yes, the days of the traditional textbook with audio course are, for all practical intents and purposes, over. The problem is we have to cobble together all those wonderful resources online. We experienced learners know how to do this and march on. It's those who are new to self-learning languages that I worry about.

Right now, we are in a transitional phase in self-learning languages between where we were and where we will be. The technology exists today to make a self-language learning platform that can incorporate the best of what we cobble together at present in a "one-stop shop".

My idea of such a platform would include text based learning; video lectures (with subtitles); incorporated audio- clickable to slow speed for those who need/want it and also normal speed; built in srs and subs2srs (so you don't have to have linux or be a programmer to use it); public domain/creative commons parallel texts with audio and hoverable definitions or grammar points explained; hoverable clear grammar explanations with examples and drills/exercises. Maybe there could be a modern update to the Capretz method of "French In Action"/Annenberg's "Destinos" for Spanish with new video and audio with all the technology baked in.

It won't be easy and may not even be profitable. A crowd-funded foundation may be needed to make it happen, but this is doable today and it beats having to cobble it together for those who are new to language-learning. It would make it "out of the box" ready. Some outside the box thinking would be needed too. Perhaps, content providers could license their works for language-learners for subs2srs. Anyway, I'm just blue-sky thinking here.

One reason our forum exists is we all have to "cobble this stuff together" ourselves these days. A lot of people just aren't going to do it... if it (to a large extent) were done for them, then I believe there would be more interest in self-learning languages because it has been successful for us.
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Re: Obsolete sections of old language courses?

Postby Ogrim » Tue Feb 09, 2021 6:22 pm

s_allard wrote:What is true is that the days of the comprehensive method complete with vinyl records, cassettes or cd's are long gone. Everything is online today although there may still be some printed materials in bookstores. We have seen this trend with bilingual and even monolingual dictionaries. I can’t remember the last time I consulted a paper dictionary in my large collection.


I agree with a lot of what you say but not really this part, because my local multi-lingual bookstore has a huge section of language courses complete with CDs (or in some cases free mp3 downloads if you buy the book). There is Assimil, Routledge, Langenscheidt, the Teach Yourself series and many other publishers who keep churning out physical books and physical CDs. If they were not selling, I don't think they would continue producing them.

Not everyone is comfortable with studying online all the time, for example an oldie like me ;). I like to study the old-fashioned way, with a course book complemented with audio in whatever form it's offered - and I regularly use my paper dictionaries for e.g. Arabic, Russian, Latin and Romansh because often they provide a lot of useful information you don't always find in on-line dictionaries.

The difference to when I started self-learning languages 30 years ago is that now, I can complement that physical course book with a lot of other material I find online. Obviously I also use course books at the beginner stage, once I am passed that I can find enough material online to progress without the need for a course.

I am all for going paperless, but I don't think the traditional comprehensive method will be gone for quite some time yet.
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