Guyome's log

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Re: Guyome's log

Postby guyome » Tue Sep 21, 2021 3:56 pm

Uzbek
Did lessons 8 and 9 of the course but little else.

Persian
Persian is lurking in the background. I did some reading here and there but not much.

Yiddish
I'm binge listening to yiddish24 podcasts. Right now I'm in the middle of the 10-episode series about Shabbatai Tsvi. Each episode is about 60 minutes long so I generally listen to one half on my way to work and to the other half on my way back.

All this rekindled my interest in the language and I have started to read In vayser farfalnkayt (In White Hopelessness), a novel published in 1969 about life in the Soviet forced labor camps. I'm only about 40 pages in so it's not clear yet who the main characters are and what kind of story will develop. The author, Yekhiel Hofer (1906-1972), was himself "exiled to the distant North".
It's not necessarily the book I would have chosen first but the setting, in the Gulag archipelago, interests me very much and the book has been sitting on my shelf for about a year (it's one of the few Yiddish books I own). At this point, I'm just hoping it won't be a saccharine love story between one of the male inmates and Dina, one of the few females inmates in the camp.


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Re: Guyome's log

Postby DaveAgain » Tue Sep 21, 2021 4:18 pm

guyome wrote: the setting, in the Gulag archipelago, interests me very much
I read Labour and the Gulag last year, the soviet authorities' indifference to the suffering of their fellow citizens is astonishing.
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby guyome » Wed Sep 22, 2021 8:16 am

Thanks for mentioning this book, Dave Again! It looks like an interesting angle on the history of Communism.

I have a few copies of the פאריזער צייטשריפט, a Yiddish literary journal published in Paris during the 1950s/1960s. The first issue(s?) are big about mourning the death of Stalin and lamenting how great a loss it is. To their credit, they later acknowledged this wasn't exactly the most intelligent thing they had done.

Even today in France it's not too hard to find people who hate on capitalism/the West/... so much that they feel it somehow makes it ok to praise China, Russia or Chavez's Venezuela as beacons of light. As if very real problems on one side made it ok to turn a blind eye to no less real problems on the other side...In the immortal words of Sybil Fawlty, "You never learn, do you? You never, ever learn!".
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby cjareck » Thu Sep 23, 2021 8:48 pm

guyome wrote:Even today in France it's not too hard to find people who hate on capitalism/the West/... so much that they feel it somehow makes it ok to praise China, Russia or Chavez's Venezuela as beacons of light.

Don't blame French people for that. We were forced to that side for many years and managed to switch sides, but many still think it was better during communist times... And I don't mean youngsters who don't remember that. I was only 9 when the communist rule was overthrown, but I still remember my parents going to butcher's in the evening to stay in the queue to buy something in the morning and some scenes like that... Sorry for messing in your log. I couldn't resist writing my comment ;)
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby guyome » Sun Oct 03, 2021 9:00 am

Yiddish

I've been swimming in a sea of Yiddish content this week, reading left and right, and also listening to podcasts. I know the tide will recede at some point but right now it's Yiddish, Yiddish, and more Yiddish.

It's mostly about exploring Yiddish24 at the moment. Rather unsurprisingly, a lot of the content has to do with US affairs, which is interesting to listen to because you get a US Hasidic viewpoint on these, but I guess I'll grow weary of it at some point in the near future. So far, it looks like Interviews, History, and a couple of other podcasts are more likely to hold my interest in the long run.

Interviews are the most difficult ones to listen to. Speakers change all the time so you have to get used to a wider variety of accents, etc. There's also the fact that the interviewees may or may not be used to speaking on the radio and it seems to me that many don't really make any effort to speak clearly. Last but not least, these interviews are done on the phone (or on a computer maybe) and not in a studio, so sound quality is not always that good, and sometimes it is outright bad.

I'm still reading through Hofer's In vayser farfalnkayt but things seem to move at a glacial pace, which is, I guess, fitting for a story set in the Russian North. I'm dozens of pages in and there's has been basically no plot so far, no action, but also no dialogues, no inner monologues, no detailed descriptions...Thinking back, I'm a bit at a loss to say what were all these pages filled with. It is as if the reader is given a bit of everything but not enough of it to make any deep impression. It's both tantalising and frustrating.

The utter lack of dialogues (or monologues, for that matter) also led me to realise once more that what I enjoy most in Yiddish is that it is a very lively language (for lack of a better term). It really comes to life in speech. Hofer's narrative prose on the other hand comes out as a little...dull to me. To be fair, that's probably something I could say of a lot of authors and languages. Nothing can come quite close to the thrill of reading Latin sentences in this domain and everything else often feels too...plain? That's why I'd like to see more speech-in-writing in Hofer's book. That's where Yiddish really shines through in my opinion.

But I'm probably unfair towards Hofer's prose and prose in languages other than Latin in general. Someone like Joan Bodon achieves great effects with a simple enough looking Occitan prose (same goes with Simenon in French), so it's not as simple as "outward complexity=better". And in the case of In vayser farfalnkayt, it might be that the total muteness of Shimon (the young doctor we've been following to the camp) and the almost total muteness of people around him is something carefully crafted to evoke his feeling of loneliness, isolation, stupefaction and inability to speak/think clearly after being arrested and sent to the gulag.
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby guyome » Wed Nov 17, 2021 10:29 pm

Carmody wrote:I do not want to appear rude but the follow up question was specifically what was your language learning methodology with English? My guess is that you have already spent a number of years living in an English speaking country...

With hopes of hearing details and doing likewise....
No, you're not rude, not at all! I just fear my answer will be rather disappointing. Nevertheless, here is how I would summarise what learning English was like for me (not that I have stopped learning).

Phase 1 (mid '90s-early '00s)
Seven years of mandatory English classes during collège and lycée. I remember I did rather well but the bar probably wasn't too high. I was lucky to have a string of good teachers (one of them a native speaker), so not only did I learn things but I also liked the subject. Of course, you could say that I learned things precisely because I liked the subject.
Nevertheless, 3 hours a week in a class of 30 students gives your very little opportunity as far as actual practice is concerned. If you were a diligent student and went out of your way to answer questions, you may end the week having spoken a grand total of 5-10 sentences.
Internet wasn't really a thing then and even when my family got it ('98?), you couldn't use it to get your daily dose of English (limited hours, no content online, etc). Apart from school, I just had zero contact with spoken English. Things were only very marginally better as far as written English was concerned. I remember we had a couple of English books/BDs at home but that was probably the extent of it. I think I tried reading the BDs (Tintin) at some point but could not make much of it.

I don't know where this left me in terms of CEFR levels (A2?) but certainly not somewhere I could read actual books and understand spoken English. That's not exactly impressive for 7 years of study but at the same time I credit these years for:
1) giving me the basic knowledge I later built upon
2) making me interested in English (probably even more important than 1 in the long run).

Phase 2 (up to the mid-'00s)
Three years of university, during which I remember having the odd English class (1h/week for half a year or something close). These were probably not very useful. Since I liked English and had a decent foundation, I tried to be an active student but, all in all, I think these years saw my already limited English skills atrophy or stagnate at best. I still had no real contact whatsoever with English.

Phase 3 (mid '00s-early '10s)
Started a MA around 2004 and realised it would be very useful (although not strictly necessary) to have decent English reading skills. At this point I remember distinctly how things went: since I already knew some English, I came up with the idea that reading a book I had enjoyed in French would be a great way to develop my reading skills. I picked a Hercule Poirot mystery, forced myself to read it cover to cover. Sometimes, I was using a dictionary to read intensively but it was mostly just reading without stopping. The whole experience was...painful. I didn't understand much of what was going on and my head was hurting after only a couple of pages.

So I started anew with Harry Potter. My choice then was guided by the fact that:
1) I had just read the first 3 volumes in French (younger family member had been gifted the volumes) and the story was fresh in my mind. Also, while not a fan myself, I had enjoyed it enough to try and read it again
2) used copies could easily be found in the foreign languages section of some bookshops
3) I thought youth literature would be easier than Agatha Christie
4) it was long enough to get used to the author's style and vocab.

Things started very much like they had with Agatha Christie, i. e. reading 2/3 pages every evening was hard and left me exhausted. But I had made a big change in my approach: no extensive reading but no intensive reading either. Instead I settled on a mixed approach, keeping a dictionary at hand but only using it after seeing a word being repeated something like 3 times. Years later, when I started reading language learning forums, I saw that I was only walking along well-beaten tracks but at the time it all felt like my own little experiment.
In retrospect, I think that was the hardest part of the whole Learning-English process, these couple of months of reading, not understanding a lot, looking up words, having your head hurt after a ridiculously low number of pages and doing it again, day after day, when I still had no real need for English in my daily life.
Still, with "my" new technique, I felt like I was really making progress. I was missing stuff obviously but at least I didn't get bogged down looking up words. Steadily, I learned common words and the number of pages I could read before being exhausted rose up slowly. After a month or two, I could read around 10 pages in one sitting and my comprehension was much better (but still far from great).

I probably kept doing this for a couple of years but I can't say what I did exactly. However, I remember that I read the last Harry Potter in one sitting shortly after it was published (so, 2007/2008?). At that point, I could read "normal" stuff well and I spent these years just reading more and more.

The whole time, I still had very little contact with spoken English though, apart from watching the odd film (with French subtitles on). I remember some trips abroad around the year 2005 and my inability to speak anything but very basic English then. In 2009, I spent a few days doing tourist stuff in London but didn't speak much in English.

Phase 4 (early '10s-...)
In 2011/2012, I landed a position where I more or less always had one colleague whose French was either shaky or altogether non-existent, so I just started speaking English. That's when I discovered that all these years of reading and very little listening had taken me up to the point where I could speak and understand tolerably well. As I remember it, there wasn't any unconfortable period. It was like a switch had just been turned on and the passive knowledge I had accumulated during those 6 years was available for active use. That's not to say that I spoke perfectly or anything like that, of course (I still don't).

So, on top of reading a lot, and in contrast with earlier phases, I also spent a lot of time using English (speaking to my colleagues and writing on forums) and working on my listening skills. The latter was done through:
1) listening to my colleagues of course
2) increasing the number of films and TV shows I watched in English
3) repetitive listening of selected materials. I must have watched Eddie Izzard shows and Fawlty Towers episodes more than 20 times each I think. I found these hilarious and I was hungry for understanding them better.

All this watching and listening also led me much more deeply into the cultural aspects of language learning: how do you say things in English? What can('t) you say in English? What do Americans find funny? Cultural references, accents, registers, etc. Basically, anything that makes English English and not French, anything beyond using language to convey basic information, anything that makes people connect emotionaly with what you say.

I remember one of my colleagues (native English speaker, living in a French-speaking city) saying that he could speak English to quite a few people there but that I was the only one he could joke with in English.
Don't get me wrong! I knew I still had a long way to go then, and it still is true today, but it felt great to hear something like that.

Edit. Ok, this has turned into a whole novel and I don't know if you'll find anything of interest in it. But, hey, you asked!
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby Le Baron » Wed Nov 17, 2021 10:38 pm

guyome wrote:no extensive reading but no intensive reading either. Instead I settled on a mixed approach, keeping a dictionary at hand but only using it after seeing a word being repeated something like 3 times.

This is pretty much how I've read any language I've ever learned and how I still read foreign languages I'm learning. It minimises intensity and lets you move through material (which you can re-read). It only needs a tolerance for not wanting to understand every last word.

I find your written English very good and fluent with a varied vocabulary.
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby Carmody » Thu Nov 18, 2021 2:08 am

guyome

Thank you so much for your very comprehensive answer it was very inspiring and empowering. I am just very amazed at the results from your methodology.

My methodology is exactly what you describe when you say:
guyome wrote:
no extensive reading but no intensive reading either. Instead I settled on a mixed approach, keeping a dictionary at hand but only using it after seeing a word being repeated something like 3 times.
I will also add that when the day comes that I actually go to sleep and then wake up speaking and writing French with your level of excellence in English, then, I will surely believe I have died and gone to heaven. I am not shooting to be a polyglot, but rather just become proficient in the French language. You are so far beyond C3 in English that it is embarrassing. For which heartfelt congratulations.

Thank you for sharing.
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby guyome » Fri Dec 03, 2021 10:06 pm

Le Baron wrote:

Carmody wrote:
Many thanks to you both for your (probably too) generous appraisal. I know I still have a long way to go but it's encouraging to get such feedback!
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Re: Guyome's log

Postby guyome » Fri Dec 03, 2021 10:15 pm

Manchu
I have been reading a lot of Manchu as of late. I hadn't done much with this language over the last few months and as a consequence it took me a few pages to get back to a satisfying reading speed. As always, my main problem lies with vocab, especially words I know I have checked many times already in the past but keep forgetting every time I get away from Manchu for a few weeks/months.

One thing I did over the last couple of days is to read a short story rather intensively, looking up every word I was even slightly unsure of in the dictionary. Most of these ended up being common-ish words of the type described above. Having a list of them and carrying it everywhere with me over the next few days should take care of these, at least for the time being. Hopefully I'll learn them well enough this time.

Retention would be helped in no small way by my rereading the short story I culled them from but there are so many new, shiny texts to read! I'll see what I can do...
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