Bakunin's log

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Bakunin
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Bakunin's log

Postby Bakunin » Wed Jul 22, 2015 5:17 pm

Here’s a summary of my current language learning:

Khmer
My main focus at the moment is Khmer. I’ve started in March 2015 and am planning to go through a silent phase of 1000 hours in the beginning; I’ve just passed the 400 hour mark earlier this week. During those 1000 hours I will only listen to comprehensible input, mostly based on picture descriptions. I’ve established working relationships with a number of Khmers who provide me with a steady inflow of new audio material according to my specifications. The absolute beginner stage was the most exciting in terms of methodology, but now my vocabulary is large enough to understand a wide range of audio provided I have context (= pictures).

I got interested in Khmer because I have a few friends and know several other people from the Khmer-speaking regions of Thailand. There’s also, sadly, a massive language shift going on, driven by institutionalized Thai nationalism, and I’m generally interested in such phenomena. Last but not least, Khmer has influenced Thai on a massive scale, and I’m curious to find out more.

Thai
I’ve been learning Thai for six years already, and I think it’s fair to say I’m proficient in the language in all four skills listening, speaking, reading and writing; obviously, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I try to use the language for a minimum of one hour per day (although I aim for more), and I can’t recall a single day in past years where I didn’t do any Thai at all. These days, I’m mostly using the language with friends, reading books, listening to the news etc., but I also do some dedicated work: I have at least one tutoring session per week, and I’ve started studying some etymology and Thai linguistics.

I have a website* with authentic spoken Thai and accurate transcripts for intermediate learners: Thai Recordings. Users of this site often give me feedback saying that the approach - to have native speakers tell stories and then have the audio transcribed - is pretty unique and quite different from the study of written texts; for me, it was a main technique at the intermediate stage, and a highly entertaining one. This project is finished, but I'm thinking of doing something similar for Khmer at a later point in time.

Second Language Acquisition
Generally, I'm interested in natural language acquisition techniques at all levels of proficiency. I stay as far away as possible from textbooks, translation and grammar study, especially at the beginner and intermediate level, and I'm always interested in creative ways to engage with advanced content.

EDIT: In the meantime, I've started a new web project for Thai and Khmer based on the experiences I've made with picture-supported learning.
Last edited by Bakunin on Sat Jan 16, 2016 3:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Tristano
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Tristano » Wed Jul 22, 2015 8:35 pm

Hi Bakunin, I'll follow this log, interesting as always! The first question that arise is not very idealistic much more practical: where do you find the material and which material are you using?
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Bakunin
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Bakunin » Thu Jul 23, 2015 11:59 am

Tristano wrote:Hi Bakunin, I'll follow this log, interesting as always! The first question that arise is not very idealistic much more practical: where do you find the material and which material are you using?


Hi Tristano, thanks :) I'll also continue to follow your log. Somehow I must have missed the notification of your reply, have to check my settings...

Khmer: I didn't really find any material, unfortunately, so I decided to make it myself. I basically pay people to record picture descriptions. At the moment, it works as follows: I send picture stories by email and give a rough guidance how much I want to get back per week, and the tutors record their stuff and send it back to me. Then I listen a few times, spread over two or three days. Later, I sometimes review old material when I don't have anything new to listen to. I also give regular feedback to tweak and adjust the recordings to my needs. These days, I often ask the tutors to include additional information whenever possible and in particular for new things (for instance, if it's the first time an umbrella shows up and my tutors are in the mood to add extra information, they might not only say what it is and who holds it etc., but also that an umbrella is used when it rains, that people in Cambodia use umbrellas to protect their skin against the sun, that you can open and close it, what an umbrella is made of etc.). I have one tutor who sends an hour or so once a week, and the rest prefer to send something five, six times per week. Without having to manage it much, I get new audio almost every day.

If you want to see a few pictures I'm working with, have a look here; I'm in the process of putting together a list of wordless picture books suitable for language learning activities.

Thai: I'm at a point where I can use almost any native material. I've got a few Thai books on linguistics and on Sanskrit and Pali roots in Thai, I've got novels and non-fiction books and also school books. I've started reading papers which I download from Google Scholar, I'm listening to online radio, I'm listening to podcasts, I read stuff of interest on the internet etc. And I communicate, of course, with friends, mostly on Line and whatsapp, sometimes by email. I also have tutoring sessions on italki; in these, I do a lot of small talk (I know some of my tutors for quite some time now) and also work with picture stories - but this time I'm the one who describes them, together with the tutor, and then we explore whatever comes up, usually vocabulary and usage, but sometimes culture.
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Tristano
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Tristano » Fri Jul 24, 2015 2:41 pm

It's really impressive what you're doing.
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Bakunin
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Bakunin » Mon Jul 27, 2015 9:01 am

With Khmer, I've made the conscious decision to stay illiterate for quite some time: at least during the 1000 hour-long silent phase, and maybe a few more months into speaking. I don't recall ever having read a log of a learner who's decided to stay illiterate for an extended period of time, so either I'm way off my rocker or this possibility just doesn't occur to anybody. All in all, I'll stay illiterate for a good year and maybe more.

Khmer silent phase: 415 / 1000

Reading and writing are, of course, incredibly useful in many respects, and they are the base of a large number of techniques for language learners. Nevertheless, I'm finding that being illiterate during the beginner stage helps me to focus on developing key skills:
- a good ear for the sounds of the language and its prosody
- good listening comprehension

Without being able to hear and distinguish the sounds of the new language, good pronunciation is impossible to develop. Without internalizing and emulating native-speaker prosody, the learner will necessarily sound foreign. Without understanding what people say, real communication and participiation in the target culture is impossible.

Furthermore, because I can't rely on dictionaries and note-taking, being illiterate helps me to develop the ability
- to infer meaning from context while remaining focused on the broader picture
- to 'negotiate' meaning (once I'm speaking), i.e., to successfully engage with the native speaker and clarify meaning and intent in a conversation

While learning through listening, I constantly train myself to let go of words and sentences I don't understand yet without loosing sight of the broader picture - in real time! 'Letting go' and 'filling in the blanks' are key skills required in actual communciation with native speakers. Meaning negotiation is another skill which facilitates actual communication, but I will come to it only when I start speaking.

Written language is only an approximation - the real thing is spoken language. Written language isn't always true to spoken language, for instance,
- pronunciation is only approximated
- pronunciation can be systematically out of synch with the language due to conservatism in spelling
- written grammar can be out of synch with the language because of prescriptive rules and conservatism
- written language only allows certain registers and vocabulary
etc. My native language German has all of those features.

Being illiterate while learning to understand and speak Khmer frees me from the limitations and distortions inherent in writing. It may be less efficient (though I would want to see the metrics in which efficiency is measured), but it certainly helps me to focus on the real thing: spoken language. It also helps me to develop skills required for successful interaction with native speakers.

Or am I just rationalizing a wacky and inefficient approach?
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Jar-Ptitsa » Mon Jul 27, 2015 9:36 am

It’s very interesting that you will learn Khmer illiterate in the language!!! It will be very interesting to see how your Khmer is after you’ve learned in comparison with for example Thai.

I can imagine that it would be more difficult to remember new words, or generally to remember. But probably you can remember much, much better than me. I have to write a word, but possibly I think that I must because it’s how I’ve learned my 4 foreign languages, although I don’t read books.

Viel Glück und Spaß!
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Takra jenai
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Takra jenai » Mon Jul 27, 2015 9:47 am

It's very surprising how some people find somewhat unusual ways to learn languages, I'm really stunned. It was a very interesting read.
Thank you.
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Elenia » Mon Jul 27, 2015 12:33 pm

Bakunin wrote:With Khmer, I've made the conscious decision to stay illiterate for quite some time: at least during the 1000 hour-long silent phase, and maybe a few more months into speaking. I don't recall ever having read a log of a learner who's decided to stay illiterate for an extended period of time, so either I'm way off my rocker or this possibility just doesn't occur to anybody. All in all, I'll stay illiterate for a good year and maybe more.


I'm actually in the process of dreaming up a method very much like yours, although I can't yet think of a suitable language. I am also not sure if I will have the funds to pay for as much excellent content as is required for your methods. However, I am thinking of incorporating something like this into my current German/Swedish study. This is, of course, entirely inspired by you through both your Khmer experience and your earlier, terminated experiment with Turkish.

Thanks for having the guts to do this :D

Also, while I've never really been able to learn from listening alone, I can say that I noticed marked improvements in my aural comprehension of French after my year studying abroad. I would have around fifteen hours of lectures per week, if I remember correctly, and these lectures would be blocks of two to three hours at a time. Of course, the situation was very different: I was already literate in French, and studying at a university level. I was also taking notes as I listened, rather then developing the skills you mentioned in your post. However, my aural comprehension improved massively, as did my spelling. I now find it much easier to accurately write down what I hear, even when this includes words I have never heard before. This is just from massive listening, as hardly any of my teachers ever used powerpoints or handouts, and would only ever make a note of some hard-to-spell names.
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Bakunin
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Bakunin » Mon Jul 27, 2015 6:46 pm

vogeltje wrote:It’s very interesting that you will learn Khmer illiterate in the language!!! It will be very interesting to see how your Khmer is after you’ve learned in comparison with for example Thai.

I can imagine that it would be more difficult to remember new words, or generally to remember. But probably you can remember much, much better than me. I have to write a word, but possibly I think that I must because it’s how I’ve learned my 4 foreign languages, although I don’t read books.

Viel Glück und Spaß!


Thanks :) I'm also curious to see how it goes. With Thai, I followed a similar approach but not as systematic. I started out with a very long silent phase as well and took up reading pretty late when I already understood lots. Learning to read a new script is a breeze when you already know the language. Regarding learning new vocabulary, I'm pretty confident that it will work out in the end. I've learned my mother tongue, German, without taking notes during the first 5 or 6 years; I'm rarely taking notes in Swiss-German since there is no established writing system but nevertheless I'm constantly learning new words and expressions. I'm also picking up new words in English and Thai by listening alone, e.g., from podcasts, the radio or my tutoring sessions. It won't be different with Khmer.

Takra jenai wrote:It's very surprising how some people find somewhat unusual ways to learn languages, I'm really stunned. It was a very interesting read.
Thank you.


You're welcome :) The specifics of my approach may be unusual, but don't forget that writing is a relatively new technology and up until recently most people were illiterate. And still, they managed to learn languages just fine. You still see this in countries like PNG with a high density of small languages and a highly multilingual population. These people don't use 'Colloquial X' :) and not all of them learn their languages as kids.

Elenia wrote:
Bakunin wrote:With Khmer, I've made the conscious decision to stay illiterate for quite some time: at least during the 1000 hour-long silent phase, and maybe a few more months into speaking. I don't recall ever having read a log of a learner who's decided to stay illiterate for an extended period of time, so either I'm way off my rocker or this possibility just doesn't occur to anybody. All in all, I'll stay illiterate for a good year and maybe more.


I'm actually in the process of dreaming up a method very much like yours, although I can't yet think of a suitable language. I am also not sure if I will have the funds to pay for as much excellent content as is required for your methods. However, I am thinking of incorporating something like this into my current German/Swedish study. This is, of course, entirely inspired by you through both your Khmer experience and your earlier, terminated experiment with Turkish.

Thanks for having the guts to do this :D

Also, while I've never really been able to learn from listening alone, I can say that I noticed marked improvements in my aural comprehension of French after my year studying abroad. I would have around fifteen hours of lectures per week, if I remember correctly, and these lectures would be blocks of two to three hours at a time. Of course, the situation was very different: I was already literate in French, and studying at a university level. I was also taking notes as I listened, rather then developing the skills you mentioned in your post. However, my aural comprehension improved massively, as did my spelling. I now find it much easier to accurately write down what I hear, even when this includes words I have never heard before. This is just from massive listening, as hardly any of my teachers ever used powerpoints or handouts, and would only ever make a note of some hard-to-spell names.


I'd be thrilled to see someone here on HTLAL trying out these ideas! What exactly are you thinking of? Thanks for sharing your experience with French. Being able to take notes in a lecture in a foreign language speaks to a high level of proficiency! Maybe this could be made into an exercise for advanced learners... being able to condense a talk / lecture / story / monologue into meaningful notes in the target language is a very useful skill. I need to try this in Thai!

I don't really believe people who claim they aren't able to learn from listening alone. See my answers to vogeltje and takra jenai above. I think it's a perception problem. Natural vocabulary learning isn't immediate, it takes time and repeated meaningful encounters, and you don't really notice that you're learning because it's a gradual process. Writing down a new word, looking it up, and 'learning' it (SRS, active use etc.) is immediate, and therefore you notice the progress. Greg Thomson (Growing Participator Approach) calls this the iceberg principle. When we encounter new words through listening (or pleasure reading / extensive reading), we'll feed the iceberg at the bottom. Words will rise at their own pace while quickly loosing their novelty value, therefore we don't notice.

Turkish... I'd still love to learn the language. It would be an excellent candidate for a grammar-free approach; I'm sure it's totally doable. Back then I went a bit overboard with my corpus idea. I realized only this year how to extend a listening approach to the absolute beginner stage, and if I were to do Turkish again, I would apply the approach I'm currently developing for Khmer. I would complement it with specific grammar activities along the lines of the exercises Thomson developed when learning Kazakh.
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Takra jenai
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Re: Bakunin's log

Postby Takra jenai » Tue Jul 28, 2015 8:26 am

Bakunin wrote:
Takra jenai wrote:It's very surprising how some people find somewhat unusual ways to learn languages, I'm really stunned. It was a very interesting read.
Thank you.


You're welcome :) The specifics of my approach may be unusual, but don't forget that writing is a relatively new technology and up until recently most people were illiterate. And still, they managed to learn languages just fine. You still see this in countries like PNG with a high density of small languages and a highly multilingual population. These people don't use 'Colloquial X' :) and not all of them learn their languages as kids.


I learned Polish (my second language) as an illiterate person, but I didn't do it through pictures. I lived among Polish people.
When I started learning English (in Poland, on my own, I didn't go to any schools in my life) I was already literate in Polish, as an adult. I had no English people to talk to.
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