My Favorite Polyglot Bloggers to Follow

#1 Fluent in 3 Months 

I am not a fan of this blog’s title (more on that in another post), but am a fan of the blog itself. It’s written by a plucky Irish fellowBlog1 who travels the world every three months taking on a new language or language project. It’s the kind of exhausting endeavor I would never take on myself, but makes for a super entertaining read, all while providing morsels of language-learning tips and advice.

Good place to start: Language Hacks 

 

 

#2 The Linguist  http://blog.thelinguist.com/

The polyglot behind this blog, Steve Kaufman, is the real deal. No inflated claims or snake oil here; he offers up rock solid blog steveadvice on how to learn a language to mastery, something he has done with 9+ languages. He also created a language learning site called Lingq that has loads of authentic content with audio. You can also find lots of advice from him on YouTube.

Good place to start:  Home page 

 

#3 Speaking Fluently

Like Kaufman, this blogger (Richard Simcott) is a language tour-de-force. He is not quite as prolific as Kaufman in the blogging Blog polyglotdepartment, but still offers up great advice as he tackles yet another language. He sets realistic goals and lets the readers in on the nitty-gritty of how he is learning. He hasn’t written much lately on his website but continues to post on Speaking Fluently’s Facebook page.

Good place to start:  Language Learning Tips 

 

#4 I Will Teach You a Language  

This blog is about how to take control of your own language 28cab4631ecdcb1c5a17771894525a84_olly_main_photolearning and get results. Olly Richards is a polyglot, currently living in Cairo and learning Egyptian Arabic. The best thing about this site is its specificity. He breaks down the learning process, learning tools, online resources and other approaches to study in great detail so learners can benefit from what he has tried and seen that works.

Good place to start: Home Page

 

#5 Language Tsar

Conor Clyne is a polyglot who lives and works all around theblog tsar world picking up new languages as he goes. He is useful to follow since he is always testing out and reviewing online learning resources and handing out advice on what has worked for him. He frequently posts videos of himself interviewing popular online polyglots to get their advice and tips.

Good place to start: Learning Tips from Polyglots  

 

#6 Lingoholic 

This site is chock-full of great language learning resources and blog lingoholicadvice. Everything from “How to Turn your Facebook Feed into a Language Learning Machine” to “The Top Five Free Tools to Help You Learn a Foreign Language”. Each post is well researched with an eye on providing the reader with solid, practical resources.

Good place to start: Home Page 

 

#7 Polyglot Dream 

Luca seems to be everywhere in the polyglot blogosphere. He is widely admired for his Blog lucalanguage skills (9+ languages) and offers up lots of practical advice. This is a good site to go to for inspiration and to find out how someone takes so many languages to mastery.

Good place to start: Archives 

 

 

 #8 Learnlangs 

All right, I will admit it: I actually don’t follow this blogger. But I will.  It took some real digging around to find just one female polyglot who blogs. And this is the only one on my list so far. I gave her site a gander and it blog8looks like she has lot of interesting resources to share on general language learning and on the specific languages she studies. She also has an online learning Mandarin program in the works called, LearnYu, that looks great.

Good place to start: Online resources

So why are there so few female polyglots in the blogosphere? More on that in my next post…

Paralysis by Analysis

Well it has been a long, long time Chit-Chat followers (years in fact). And I am moving toward a more general blog on language learning. I hope you can join me there. I will also post Chinese-specific posts on Chit-Chat from time to time as well, so keep an eye out. You can find my new blog here:

www.speakalanguagenow.com

And here is my second post – also useful for Mandarin Chinese learners:

young man pulling funny face on white background

Paralysis by Analysis

Something dawned on me one day while saying goodbye back-to-back with one our particularly fussy students (who was having trouble learning) and then saying goodbye to a completely unfussy student (who was making great strides in her learning). I turned to our school director and said: “Have you ever noticed how the people who fuss around the least with their learning are the ones who are the most successful at actually learning?” It got me thinking about the habits involved that lead to success with language learning and those that don’t. It’s not what you would expect. Doesn’t it seem like the people who are detail oriented, careful and meticulous would be the good learners? They are the ones, after all, crossing all their t’s and dotting all their i’s. So what’s the deal?

It could be that the successful learners just do it; they don’t fuss around worrying about if their teacher is the best, if their books have the latest pedagogical methods, or what exactly is going to happen next in their program. They just show up for class, and do some studying outside of class. It’s that simple. They are not more intelligent, they are not better educated, nor do they naturally have some kind of gift for learning languages. They come in every shape and size, age, ethnicity and share just one thing in common: They don’t fuss around. So what is the rub with those prone to such a thing?

“Paralysis by analysis” I think is the answer. Maybe some people are so caught up in the “how” of learning that they never roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of actually learning.  Language learning can be scary, out-of-control business. Learning requires throwing oneself in and abandoning one’s ego, feeling like a stumbling toddler who lacks any of the cherub cuteness of an actual toddler. Learning foreign languages requires ceding control and trusting that the bumpy waters of learning eventually lead somewhere. It requires getting going and not overthinking the process. It doesn’t feel like it at some points, but you will get there, if you keep sailing ahead.

Take one of our students named Barbara.  She is a retired woman in San Francisco who had never learned a foreign language in her life (other than a bit of high school French decades ago). She came to our school to learn Mandarin, just for the heck of it. She takes lessons just once a week, she studies consistently outside of class and tries to never, ever miss a class. So, guess what…  three years later, she actually speaks Mandarin, and speaks quite well. She is a success story, from an unlikely demographic and someone with no pressing need to learn.

Now take Juliet, an educated young woman with a high powered job. She is married to a Russian man and has a strong desire and need to learn the language to communicate with his family. She did more than due diligence in vetting us as a school, asking to try two different teachers for her private lessons so she could pick the better of the two, ordering extra materials to be well geared up. But then there came the actual learning part. She cancelled many lessons since she hadn’t done her homework and she felt she wouldn’t “get the most” out of the lesson. She obsessed that the 3rd edition of the university textbook we were using wasn’t good enough because there was a 4th edition out there. She asked to switch teachers. There were many calls to the school to get advice and talk about her progress. But the thing is she never got down to the business of actually learning. Six months later she gave up convinced the conditions were not right for her to learn properly. She blamed the book; she blamed the teacher; she even blamed the husband.

Here is the thing: You can learn from any book, any teacher, any online program, anywhere and anytime. Yes, it’s great if any one or all of those are the “best” out there. But it won’t matter if you get in the way of yourself.

So you want to learn a language? Just do it. Pick a place (virtual is fine), choose a start date (sooner rather than later), attend your sessions religiously, and carve out a determined amount of time each week for studies. Don’t shoot for the stars (unless you have the money and time to become a full-time student in the country). Make a SMART plan: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

What would this look like for language learning? Here is an example:

Specific: I want to learn Spanish

Measurable: I want to become conversational at an upper beginner level

Achievable: 6 months is enough time to reach that goal in a non-immersion environment

Relevant: I choose Spanish because I live in a Spanish speaking neighborhood in San Francisco

Time Bound: I am going to join an online language challenge to make sure I reach my goals in time

How about you? Have you found success with learning? If so, how did you do it? Are you instead stuck and frustrated? What do you think is getting in your way? Post your complaints or success stories. Both are useful.

Big Noses Can’t Really Learn Chinese

" Your Average Big Noser"

Do you ever get the feeling that Chinese people think you can’t really learn to speak their language? There is a Chinese restaurant I have frequented in San Francisco for almost two years now. Each time I go in to get take out, I chat with the staff and laoban (boss) while waiting. They are all native Cantonese speakers, sometimes struggling to find the right word in Mandarin.  Many times I’ve guessed what they were trying to say and helped them with the Mandarin word or phrase. Nevertheless, something humorous and very telling happened last time I went in.

One woman with whom I am very friendly said in Mandarin “Can I ask you something?” I said “sure”. And she replied “I hope you won’t be bothered by what I am going to ask, but, all this time we’ve been speaking with you, have you really understood us or are you just pretending.” Wait a second, I was thinking, I am the one who corrects your Mandarin!  She has heard me having complex conversations with the laoban, who has more fluent Mandarin. Why would she ever imagine I could pull off such a complex hoax, including guessing entire conversations and making up answers in Mandarin, all while having no idea what I am saying? Yet, I think I know why. I think she falls into the category of Chinese people who simply don’t believe it is possible to speak or understand Chinese if you are a “Big Noser” (Chinese slang for the ethnically non-Chinese).

I can never guess who will be a person who eases into a conversation, briefly complimenting my level in Mandarin, but immediately accepting the concept of a Big Noser actually conversing in Mandarin. It is impossible to predict. I have interviewed Mandarin teachers, people whose profession it is to look at big noses and try to get them to learn Mandarin, who cannot accept really speaking in Mandarin with someone sporting a schnoz larger than their own. I had one teacher unable to concentrate, laughing and saying “I just can’t believe it!” while interviewing her in Mandarin for a teaching position. At one point she covered her eyes and said “If I just do this, I will then think you are Chinese and not find it so funny”.  Then there have been others with little to no exposure to Westerners, let alone ones who speak Mandarin, easing right into it and going with the flow.

There have been some posts, including one of my own, about people not speaking Chinese to Westerners. The assumption has been that they prefer to practice their English. This may be true, but I also think some of these people actually don’t believe it can be done. No matter if you have been conversing with the person on a weekly basis for two years. It must be a ruse, smoke and mirrors, a carnival trick. How I wish I could do that, and skip the nearly two decades of study.

Directional Commands: The Answers!

And now for the answers:

“Come in”  进来   jìn lái

“Go out” 出去  chū qù

“Come up” 上来  shàng lái

“Come down” 下来  xià lái

“Go up” 上去  shàng qù

“Go down” 下去  xià qù

“Pick up” 拿起来   náqǐlái

“Put down” 放下去  fàng xià qù

“Put on” (clothes) 穿上  chuān shàng

“Take off” (clothes) 脱下  tuō xià

“Put in” 放进去  fàng jìn qù

“Take out” 拿 来  ná chū lái

Get on (vehicle) 上车  shàng chē

Get off (vehicle) 下车  xià chē

Put on (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear) 戴上  dài shàng

Take off (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear) 脱下 tuō xià

“Come over here” 过来  guò lái

“Go over there” 过去  guò qù

“Get up” 起来  qǐ lái

“Stand up” 站起来  zhàn qǐ lái

“Sit down” 坐下  zuò xià

“come back” 回来  huí lái

“go back” 回去  huí qù

“bring with” (3 ways to say: bring it with you; bring it as you go somewhere; take out) 带来 /带去/带走  dài lái / dài qù / dài zǒu

“bring back to” (like a book you bring back to the library) 带回去  dài huí qù

“bring back with” (like going to the library and bringing the book home with you) 带回来 dài huí lái

(pinyin is getting messed up in WordPress that should be: stand up = zhan4 qi3 lai2 and the second to last one is dai4 zou3)

And now for the answers:

“Come in”  进来   jìn lái

“Go out” 出去  chū qù

“Come up” 上来  shàng lái

“Come down” 下来  xià lái

“Go up” 上去  shàng qù

“Go down” 下去  xià qù

“Pick up” 拿起来   náqǐ lái

“Put down” 放下去  fàng xià qù

“Put on” (clothes) 穿上  chuān shàng

“Take off” (clothes) 脱下  tuō xià

“Put in” 放进去  fàng jìn qù

“Take out” 拿 来  ná chū lái

Get on (vehicle) 上车  shàng chē

Get off (vehicle) 下车  xià chē

Put on (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear) 戴上  dài shàng

Take off (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear) 脱下 tuō xià

“Come over here” 过来  guò lái

“Go over there” 过去  guò qù

“Get up” 起来  qǐ lái

“Stand up” 站起来  zhàn qǐ lái

“Sit down” 坐下  zuò xià

“come back” 回来  huí lái

“go back” 回去  huí qù

“bring with” (3 ways to say: bring it with you; bring it as you go somewhere; take out) 带来 /带去/带走  dài lái / dài qù / dài zǒu

“bring back to” (like a book you bring back to the library) 带回去  dài huí qù

“bring back with” (like going to the library and bringing the book home with you) 带回来 dài huí lái

Directional Commands: First the Quiz

"Mandarin directionals muddle one's mind"

At some point in my Mandarin studies I realized I was completely confused about directional commands (e.g. “come here”, “go there”, “come in”, “go out”, etc.). Finally I sat a teacher down to get it all straight.  Now,  first let’s see if you’ve already got it straight. Here are some directional commands in English. Let’s see if you know the Mandarin equivalent (answers in follow up post in a few days).  Please post in English and ones you think I missed:

“Come in”

“Go out”

“Come up”

“Come down”

“Go up”

“Go down”

“Pick up”

“Put down”

“Put on” (clothes)

“Take off” (clothes)

“Put in”

“Take out”

Get on (vehicle)

Get off (vehicle)

Put off (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear)

Take off (pin, barrett, hat, decoration to wear)

“Come over here”

“Go over there”

“Get up”

“Stand up”

“Sit down”

“come back”

“go back”

“bring with” (2 ways to say, i.e something you take with you, and another thing you take away with you – as you go off somewhere)

“bring back to” (like a book you bring back to the library)

“bring back with” (like going to the library and bringing the book home with you)

Tone Robots (and How Not to Become One)

"Hello - we - are - tone - robots. Take - us - to - your - leader."

Sometimes you can be so right, you are actually wrong. You’re determined not to speak sloppy Mandarin. You’ve memorized the tone for every word (or character combination) you know. In every word you utter, the tone rings crystal clear and you know it. There is only one problem: You sound like a freaky robot.

You win some and you lose some with each style of learning Mandarin. Some of my students are “loosey goosey” with their tones, hitting on the right ones seemingly only by accident, yet somehow capturing some of the cadence of the language. Then there are some diligent students, with well-memorized tones, who may come off sounding, well, like robots. I’ve seen Mandarin teachers in my school, or native speakers in my San Francisco Mandarin group, giggle uncontrollably when hearing this kind of Mandarin; The kind where each morpheme is separated, thrown out into the air, and violently axed with a 100% accurate tone. Correct? Yes. Funny sounding? Affirmative.

The good news is if you are already speaking this type of Mandarin, you are probably a very good student. Now you’ve just got to smoke some reefer and loosen up. Or, if you’re not into that kind of thing, try this approach: Take some of your study time to focus on the cadence and melody of Mandarin. How does a whole sentence sound put together? When are tones emphasized or de-emphasized? What do native speakers really sound like? You may be surprised to hear tones almost lost in the cadence of speech, while others are clearly executed for emphasis. English is not that different. A learner of English could separately say each word, emphasizing what clear diction he has in the sentence “I – am – going – to – go – to – the – store”. Yet, he would also lose the feel of how an American might more naturally say “I’m gonna go t’the store.”

The best way to avoid becoming a tone robot is to listen to as much Mandarin as you can, and simply try to mimic what you hear. Pretend you are an actor who has to repeat the lines exactly as you hear them. This is the time to shut off your tone-focused brain, and concentrate simply on melody and cadence. If you don’t live in a country that speaks Mandarin, the best way to increase your exposure to the language are podcasts (try Chinesepod.com or do a Google search for others). Download lessons on to an MP3 player and carve out some time in your studies just for listening and absorbing the flow of the language.  Signing – off – now.  I  – do – hope – this – computes.

“Hello, My Name is Have-No-Honor”

shame

Choosing a good Chinese name is a delicate matter and should be handled by the experts only, that is to say only well-educated native speakers. First, allow me to start with a cautionary tale: The story of how I ended up with the name “Have-No-Honor” in Chinese (or something that sounded exactly like that) and how I ran around Taiwan for 6 months introducing myself as a person “without a good reputation”.

I started learning Chinese at the age of 14 in my high school. The teacher asked us if we would like a Chinese name and I said I would like one with the character jade in it. He then gave me the name “míngyù” (明玉) and I was known as “brilliant jade” in Chinese class until my graduation four years later.

Off to college, and the more stuffy atmosphere of Mandarin classes at Georgetown University. The first day of class I was asked my last name in English, which is Meyer.  The teacher then chose the last name “méi” (梅), or Plum Blossom, and I was known as “Classmate  Mei” (梅同学) for the next four years in Chinese class. Then I was off to Taiwan after graduation. I thought, all I had to do was now put my first name with my last name and, voilá, I would have a full Chinese name.

Not so fast! The problem with just throwing together characters is that there are a lot of homophones in Mandarin and the chances of things going seriously wrong abound. In this case my placing of Méi Míngyù together created something that sounded exactly like “without a good reputation” (没名誉), not exactly the image I was trying to give off as a expat sorting her way through socializing in Mandarin.

Finally, one evening lying in my bunk in my dorm room, one of my 3 roommates approached me; she had prepared a little mini-speech in English (clear by the piece of paper she pulled out of her pocket and began to read from). “You name very shameful. It mean… have no honor!  You need new name. Your new name is “Méi Jiérú”, it much better.” And that’s how I got the name I have today, which I am told consistently is a good name. So, do you need a Chinese name and if so how do you get a good one?

You will need a Chinese name if you ever intend to write your name in characters. If you are learning only pinyin and not the writing system, you could get away with saying your name in English, particularly if it is a common one such as David or Nancy. The only problem is that if you really want to speak Chinese with your counterparts, saying your name in English will encourage the conversation to turn to speaking English. Also, if your name is not that common or you are speaking with someone who doesn’t know English, it will be hard for the listener to say or remember your name. It’s the same reason most Chinese expats in the U.S. take on an English name. So here are some tips on choosing a name:

•    If you have a common given name there is usually a set of characters typically associated with your name. You can look this up then have a native speaker help you choose a last name that is close to your surname, or one that goes well with those characters.
•    If you do not have a common name, you should choose a name with a meaning that you like. For example, a person I know with the name “Forever Beautiful” is not a name I would want, just too much pressure. Girls usually are given names that mean ”beautiful”, “white”, “pure”, “clean”, etc. and boys are more likely to be given names with characters such as “brave”, “intelligent”, and “strong”. But names run the full gamut and you can have a native speaker help you choose something meaningful and poetic to you. There are plenty of characters that form beautiful names such as “cloud”, “jasmine”, “poetry”, “dragon”, and many more.
•    ONLY have an educated native speaker help you choose a name. Someone serious about the assignment will not choose one on the spot, but will take some time and talk to other Chinese people to get their feedback. Likewise, before you take on your new name, ask a few native speakers what they think of the name chosen for you.
•    Learn what each character in your name is associated with, this is how you will be expected to tell people your name each and every time you meet someone new.  I, for example, have to say each time when asked which characters are in my name that they are “mei, as in plum blossom mei”, “jie as in clean jie” and “ru as in if ru”. People will often also imaginary write the characters on their own hand for the viewer to see which character they mean.
•    If you just want to play around with choosing a Chinese name, check out this site: http://www.mandarintools.com/chinesename.html – but remember to run the results by a native speaker before adopting the name.
•    Here is a list of English names transliterated into Chinese: http://chineseculture.about.com/library/name/blname.htm – these are not real Chinese names, but instead just the sound of your English name transliterated into Chinese. You know the guys who sit on the sidewalk and tell tourists they will write their English name in Chinese? That’s what they are doing. Just writing out characters to mimic the sound of your English name. So, here a name like “Barbara” becomes “Ba-ba-la”. A real Chinese name would only be one or two characters for the given name and only one for the surname.

Any good stories on how you got your name in Chinese?

How To Say “And” in Chinese: Part Two

Here is part two on how to say “and” in Mandarin. Check out part one for the first half.

Conjunction Concept #5:
Use the word “with” to connect pronouns and nouns
跟                     我跟我妹妹去吃饭。
gēn                 EX:    Wǒ gēn wǒ mèimei qù chīfàn.
with, and                My sister and I are going to eat dinner.
NOTE: “Gēn” is generally used with the adverb “yìqǐ” (together)
跟 …  一起               我跟我妹妹一起去吃饭。
gēn …  yìqǐ            EX:    Wǒ gēn wǒ mèimei yìqǐ qù chīfàn.
together            My sister and I are going to eat dinner
(together).

“Gēn” should be used to to link pronouns or nouns, but not verbs. It should follow this pattern:

(Noun/pronoun) + gēn + (Noun/pronoun) + Verb + Object

Conjunction Concept #6:
Use a sentence pattern as a connector

Here are two common sentence patterns used to connect two adjectives or verbs. It is used to say something or someone is both one thing and another:

Sentence pattern #1
又 … 又 …
yòu … yòu
(both one thing and another)

You should follow this grammatical structure:

Subject + yòu+ adj/verb + yòu + adj/verb.

Examples of the “yòu…yòu…” pattern

他又高又瘦。
Tā yòu gāo yòu shòu.
He is both tall and thin.

她又漂亮又聪明。
Tā yòu piàoliang yòu cōngmíng.
She is both beautiful and intelligent

他又不懂英文又不懂中文。
Tā yòu bù dǒng Yīngwén yòu bù dǒng Zhōngwén.
He neither understands English nor Chinese.

Sentence Pattern #2

Here is another pattern that can be used as a connector

一边…   一边…
yìbiān…  yìbiān…
(to do something while doing something else)

This pattern should follow this structure:

Subject + yìbiān + verb + object +  yìbiān + verb + object.

Examples of the “yì biān…  yì biān…” pattern

他一边吃饭一边看电视。
Tā yìbiān chīfàn yìbiān kàn diànshì.
He eats dinner and watches T.V (at the same time).

我在台湾一边教英文一边学中文。

Wǒ zài Táiwān yìbiān jiāo Yīngwén yìbiān xué Zhōngwén.
While in Taiwan I studied Chinese and taught English.

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