Friday, 7 October 2011

My Spanish Coach - Nintendo DS

The problem with having a lot of gadgets that we seem to these days is that there isn't enough time to use it all. But last weekend, I remembered the existence of my DS, charged it up, and then realised that I had My Spanish Coach.

So for the entire last week, DS replaced Kindle during the bus journeys, while I practices Spanish with My Spanish Coach.

It is totally brilliant. It's not enough by itself to teach the language, but it is a wonderful tool for practising vocabulary, basic sentences etc. and make it fun. It uses interactive lessons, and relies heavily on games like multiple choice, flash cards, word search etc. 

With Michel Thomas structure firmly embedded in my mind, this is really helping with the practical application of the language, and I find myself practising speaking more and more phrases and words. Even attacking unsuspecting colleagues by random Spanish sentences and phrases. 

I also tried Spanish for Everyone on DS, and found it really rubbish. I only tried it for five minutes, but even the beginning and the whole format seemed so lame compared to My Spanish Coach that I decided to stick with My Spanish Coach. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

Language Log


Last week I put in more hours than the previous week, however, there was more passive learning involved by watching TV in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.

29/08 - 04/09 - 12 Hrs 46 Minutes
  • Michel Thomas Foundation Disc 4, 5, 6, and partial 7. All tracks listened to twice.
  • Charmed 2 Episodes in Spanish with Spanish subtitles
  • Stargate Continuum in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, and then in English with Spanish subtitles

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Michel Thomas Method for Learning Languages

If you are into language learning, you may have heard of the Michel Thomas method. If you haven't, welcome to a great secret. Like anything, you will find people who hate this, and others who love it. I'm strictly in the love it camp.

Michel Thomas was a jewish guy from Poland, whose talent for language helped him to take on many identities during World War II. Later, he taught languages to many Hollywood A-listers including Emma Thompson, Sofia Loren and Woody Ellen. 

Now, I'm only advocating original 4 Michel Thomas courses which he recorded himself. They are German, French, Spanish and Italian. The rest of the courses are part of Michel Thomas franchise created after his death. I haven't tried these personally, so I'm not sure if the quality is as good as the four originals. 

I have tried his Spanish, Italian and German courses, and now Michel Thomas foundation course is my very first step while learning these languages. It is a method that is done strictly through audio lessons, does not require any note taking or memorising. As Michel Thomas says in the first track of the course, the responsibility to teach lies strictly with the teacher and not the student. His method is to build layers upon layers of structure so it gets embedded in your mind. With this course, you won't learn tons of vocabulary, but you will understand structure of the language, and basics of forming sentences. Vocabulary can be learned easily enough, this course teaches you how to use it. 

In his courses, he uses two English speaking students, and the recording is made of the students learning the language from Thomas. Don't worry about his accent. You are not using this course for perfect pronunciation (there are better things for that). This course is about learning structure quickly and painlessly. Sometimes, one or both students can get annoying if they take too long in what you get easily, or if they consistently make same mistakes, but it is a realistic learning environment as this is what would happen if you were in a class with other students. But from their mistakes, you learn. 

The original courses are Foundation and Advance, and there were accompanying Language Builder and Vocabulary courses. Now they have all been reissued with new titles and shiny new packaging. If you are planning to learn Spanish, French, Italian or German, I would highly recommend his courses. You can get a free sample from the official website. 

If you have tried Michel Thomas method, I would love to hear your views.

P.S. - I'm not associated with any language companies or any commercial item, so all opinions, reviews etc. are my personal views and shared in the hope it might help others. 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Language Log


My Spanish studies restarted on 20/08, so here is the log: 

20/08 - 12.68 minutes 

  • Michel Thomas Foundation, Disc 1, Track 1 - Twice

But after that one day, I'm keeping weekly logs.

22/08 - 28/08 - 7.48 Hours

  • Michel Thomas Foundation, Disc 1, 2, 3 - Repeated Twice. I repeat a batch of lessons at a time to make sure that I didn't miss anything in the first session
  • Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, Listening and Reading in Spanish


Gujarati - started writing a letter to grandparents
English -  random browsing through Word Nerd for cool facts about words 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Learning Spanish

I have spoken about my life time language goal, but as the cliché goes, every journey begins with a single step. So my current single step is to focus on learning Spanish.

I did little bit of Spanish last year, and I loved it. So now, I'm back at it, and beginning from the beginning again. I will talk about methods and resources I use on this blog, and also what works for me and what doesn't. 

When you are teaching yourself a language, it is a trial and error method until you figure out what works best for you, because there are tons of ways to learn a new language, and different things suit different people. 

I started with Spanish again on August 20.

First thing I'm doing is Michel Thomas Foundation Course. It's 8 discs audio course, and very handy during commuting time. While I'm enjoying the course, I'm getting bit antsy for some variety, and especially to get some visual idea of how words are spelt before I get them embedded incorrectly in my brain, so I'm also going to start reading a book. But currently trying to decide whether to L-R method, or read through bilingual text (I will do posts about both of these separately, as they deserve quite a bit of space). 

At this stage, the plan looks like this (to be modified as necessary)

  1. Michel Thomas Foundation Spanish    
  2. Michel Thomas Advance Spanish         
  3. Pimsleur I & Linguaphone OR Assimil  (If you have experience of using these, then I'm happy to hear suggestions as to which order they should be used in). 
  4. Pimsleur II & Linguaphone / Assimil
  5. Pimsleur III & Linguaphone / Assimil
Each step to be combined with some sort of L-R/Bilingual Text + Spanish Word Games or Vocab practice, journaling, Practice Makes Perfect workbook, watch TV in Spanish, listen to audio book, Scriptorium Exericses etc

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Maintaining Languages

Languages, like any other skill follow the principle of snooze you lose. If you don't use them, your ability to use the language deteriorates over time. I have noticed this, and have become aware of it, and really want to do something about it. For me, it's even worse - though not uncommon - that it's happened to my native language. Oh I can still speak, read and write Gujarati, but when I used to use it in daily life my knowledge of the language was advance. But now that my life is lived almost exclusively in English, with the exception of few conversations or letters exchanged with family members, it's very hard to stay in touch with the language.

And even with the languages one constantly uses, there is always more to learn. Therefore, I've decided to make maintaining my languages part of my regular life. Routines and schedules may sound boring to you spontaneous people, but they are the best things I've found for steady progress in anything, and to create and sustain habits. So routines and schedules is what I'm going to be aiming for.

First thing to decide is HOW to maintain the languages, and WHAT do I need to do for each one.

Increase Vocabulary. As I live and breathe English, and I read A LOT, and write in English, I don't need to do much active work with it. But increasing vocabulary ACTIVELY will be a good thing.

Read. Write.

Read more Gujarati books. This is how I developed my skills in the first place, so it makes sense to maintain it. I've books in Gujarati, and it's not too difficult to buy more when I need them. Plus there are always online sources available.

My family and friends love my letters, so that's a good reason to keep writing. But what I want to do is make a conscious effort to write some of my journal entries in Gujarati. Currently, I end up writing occasional entry in another language, but majority of my journals are in English. Because I'm always thinking in English, so it's the speediest way to write my journals. I need to retrain my brain, because once upon a time I used to be able to write journals in Gujarati. Not only that, but I used to write poems and stories, and create instant poems in poem wars. So ability is there...but will need to work hard to regain it.

Read more - this never hurts.

Practice Writing. I haven't used much of Hindi script for a long time, so in this language, this is my biggest weakness. And again, as with Gujarati, I'm going to try and incorporate this into my journal writing.

As I learn more Spanish, I also intend to make this part of my journaling. And again read more books, and another thing to do is type or copy Spanish books. I find that helps a lot with a new language. Typing an actual book makes you aware of sentence structure, new words, and the flow of language. Whether or not I understand, it would give me a better feel for the language architecture.

So that's it for me. What about you? Do you try to maintain your language skills, even if it is your native language? 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Life Time Language Goal

Have you ever wanted to learn new languages? How did you decide which ones? How did you decide how many?

In the previous post, I mentioned that my life time goal is to learn 7 more languages, which would bring my total languages to 10. When deciding this, I sat down and wondered what would be realistic but ambitious, and I figured that 10 is doable, especially because some languages are similar to each other - and though that creates confusion in the beginning, at a later stage, they should be easier to maintain. But in any case, that's the goal I am sticking to.

So what are these languages?


Spanish - This is my current focus. I love the language, and as far as European languages go this is the most practical one to learn, as besides Spain, you have Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, South America, and Mexico that speak Spanish. It's different Spanish sure, but so are American and British English. People may not be impressed with your pronunciation or words, but you can be understood.

Italian - I love this language. I learned little bit before I went to Italy. I love the country, and its food, and I want to learn Italian simply for the love of it. It's beautiful.

Latin - Yes, I know, it's totally impractical. But I LOVE IT. Just the sound of Latin is music to my ears. When I went to a Language Show in London, I bought a Cambridge Latin Book and tried to teach myself some basic Latin. It was great fun, and certainly I will pick it up again one day.

German - I like the country, and have some good German friends. I also like the language, and it's quite useful especially in business settings.

Japanese - I wanted to learn at least one East Asian language. Mandarin is obviously more widely used, but I prefer Japanese. When I think of Japanese, one word comes to mind: "Graceful" not unlike the people of Japan. The calligraphy is beautiful, but even the language itself, the sound is pleasing. Mandarin sounds too harsh to my ear. So I've decided on Japanese.


I don't at the moment have too strong feelings about any other language. There are many I'm interested in learning, but currently don't have any particular reason as to why, so they are all in this random list. Once I get to the five languages above that I REALLY want to learn, I will worry about the remaining two.


I guess ideally it would be nice to learn one Scandinavian and one Eastern European language, just to cover a wide variety.
So that's it. That's my language goal for the rest of my life. Hopefully, I might blog long enough to keep posting about it (unless by that time blogs are replaced by something else)