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Continuing my Japanese studies by learning the plain form of verbs, plus the Hiragana and Katakana writing systems

September 20, 2017

Earlier this year, I started learning Japanese with various courses such as the Michel Thomas Method Japanese (both the Foundation and Advanced Courses), Linkword Japanese, and a method called Earworms Japanese which involves learning via music.

Whilst all these course were really good, one thing that was not taught was the plain form of the Japanese verbs, nor any of the writing systems used in Japanese. You see, there are two main levels of Japanese - the polite form, which is used when talking to people of higher status than you or to those in positions of power etc, and the plain/casual form, which is used only when talking to friends and family and those close to you. The Michel Thomas Method Japanese concentrates only on teaching the polite form, which is ok but a bit limiting if you wish to become fully fluent in Japanese. So I decided to read/watch some tutorials about the plain/casual form of the language, and how to conjugate the verbs etc. 

It was really difficult to find a decent tutorial that explained everything in a clear and easy to follow way. It seems to me that many websites that teach Japanese grammar do so in a very formal, dry sort of way that makes it like reading a scientific manual, thus just leaving the reader even more confused!

Anyway, I eventually found a gem of a site called www.kanji-link.com, which has some really amazing and easy to follow video tutorials about the verb structures of Japanese, including the plain/casual form of the language. I have been going through these videos recently and it's all starting to click for me. I've also started building up my vocabulary of common everyday verbs used in Japanese, and I will learn 200 to 300 of these in the next month or 2 so I can express myself in most situations.

And now onto the writing systems: Japanese has 3 different writing systems (4 if you include Romaji, a way of writing Japanese using roman writing) - Hiragana, Katakana, and then the Kanji characters. In recent weeks, I have been concentraing on Hiragana and Katakana via some excellent tutorials I found. The easiest way to learn to pronounce the Hiragana and Katakana characters (know as 'Kana) is to use mnemonics by thinking of something that the letter looks like that is also linked to how the character is pronounced - it could look like an object, and animal, a person, etc. Then you use that as a 'memory hook' in order to etch the pronunciation into your brain. For example there is one character that is pronounced 'Ya' that looks a bit like a Yak's head. The tutorials I have been going through give a mnemonic hook for every letter, then some exercises so that you can practice what you've learned. 

I have found it invaluable to start learning the Japanese writing systems, because a lot of grammar tutorials teach Japanese grammar with Hiragana, so it makes sense to learn these. Plus, there's just something really cool about being about to read in Japanese. To me, their writing systems look like a work of art. I will get to Kanji soon, which will be another big challenge as well, and I will write more on that soon.

The 'look and observe' method of learning vocabulary - the blindingly obvious method most language learners overlook

August 12, 2017

When learning vocabulary, I see a lot of language learners looking at lists of 'the top 100/200/500/1000 etc words in (whatever language they're learning)' as a source of inspiration for vocabulary they should focus on learning. Although this is a good method and certainly does have its merits, I would like to point out a much simpler, and blindingly obvious, method of figuring out what vocabulary is worth learning in order to reach fluency.

And what is that, I hear you ask? It's simple - just look all around you. Look and observe your life, and ask yourself:

1) which actions you perform on a daily basis (this will give you an idea of which verbs you need to learn)

2) what everyday objects/places etc do you use and/or encounter (both in and outside your house) on a daily basis (this will give you an idea of the nouns you need to learn to become fluent)

3) what are the most common emotions you feel during any given day, and what other ways do you describe nouns you use/encounter? (This will give you an idea of which adjectives you need to focus on learning in order to be able to express yourself properly).

As blindingly obvious as this is, it is a great starting point for deciding what vocabulary you need to learn in the language you're studying. See, a language is a communication system and to reach fluency in it, you need to be to able to navigate most everyday life situations within that language. Therefore by looking at and observing your life in the way I have just suggested, you will easily be able to notice the vocabulary you need to know in order to get to this level.

For example, when looking at which actions you perform each day, well the first thing we do is to wake up, then get up, then get dressed, then perhaps comb our hair, wash, brush our teeth, make some breakfast, wash the dishes. Then we might leave the house, lock the door, drive a car or take a form of public transport in order to go to work. We all eat and drink every day, and cook/prepare food. You might have to visit a supermarket and buy something, or go to the bank and deposit or withdraw money. You will definitely have to charge/recharge your mobile phone or computer during the day too. You will have to do things. You will go somewhere. You will come back. You will enter and exit buildings. No doubt you will telephone or text somebody. You will read and write something. You will speak, talk and say things to people. You will walk. You may run. You will visit someone. You probably use everyday items. No doubt you like to listen to music or watch tv, and plug and unplug things, as well as switch things on and off. You will stand up and sit down. And unless you're superhuman, you will need to sleep at the end of your day too.

The point being, is that all everyday actions, if consciously observed, are indicative of the verbs you should be learning in whatever language you're working on. The list above is simply SOME of the actions most people perform in a typical day, so I would suggest you get a piece of paper (or open a blank word document on your computer), and jot down the actions you do each day, and keep adding to it as you notice more. Make each of these into a verb in the 'to' form, such as 'to eat', 'to drink', then go to a quality dictionary such as wordreference.com and find the translations of each verb in whatever language you're learning, and write these down in your list. Then go about gradually memorisising each them.

Do the above not only with verbs, but look all around you at whatever everyday items you use and encounter, for example a knife, fork, plate, cup, cooker, door, window, car, bus, train, supermarket, bank, house etc. Then do the same with emotions such as happy, sad, content, frustrated, bored, excited, pleased, etc, and then common adjectives such as big, small, thick, thin, tall, short, fat, slim, high, low etc.

Before long you will have a good vocabulary that will allow you to communicate in pretty much any everyday situation. Whenever you notice a gap in your knowledge, something everyday that you just don't know how to say or describe, add that to your list of what you need to learn next.

Then once you've done this, you can go back to those lists of 'the 100/200/500/1000 etc' most common words/verbs etc in the language you're learning and consolidate what you've learned by learning these too. There will of course be a lot of overlap with what you already know, but that doesn't matter. 

An update on my language learning journey

August 11, 2017

Hi all, it's been a while since I wrote a blog post here, so I just thought I would write about how my language learning journey is going! In addition to Spanish, Japanese and Scottish Gaelic, I started learning German in April this year too.

Since I completed the Linkword Spanish course, I have also gone through the Michel Thomas Spanish courses (foundation, advanced and the language builder) and Earwords Spanish (Volumes 1, 2 and 3) and I have been building up my vocabulary by learning the most popular everyday verbs for most life situations. I have a Spanish contact in Colombia who has been really helpful with this. In addition to this, I've been using a Spanish flashcard website to further increase my vocabulary of nouns and other everyday vocabulary.

I joined some language exchange websites too, to practice writing in Spanish with native speakers (in exchange for helping them with their English). I regularly read articles on the Spanish website marca.com too. I am delighted with my progress in Spanish, and am well on the way to a high level of fluency.

For Scottish Gaelic, I have mostly been learning with a BBC Alba programme called 'Speaking Our Language', which I watch on Youtube. There are 4 series, 72 episodes in total. I am currently about 2 thirds of the way through series 3, and am very happy with my progress. Although I have a lot of work to do, I feel I'm getting there with Scottish Gaelic. A lot of my family speaks Gaelic, as do some people I know around Inverness, and I sometimes get a bit of Gaelic conversation practice in with them. I look forward to completing all 4 series of 'Speaking Our Language' within the next few months, and then I will move on to learning in more detail the grammar of Gaelic.

For Japanese, I completed the Michel Thomas Method Advanced Japanese course and this has helped expand my knowledge of the verb structures of Japanese, and has given me more scope for expressing myself in a wide variety of situations. I have also gradually been going through the Earworms Japanese course (volumes 1 and 2), and from time to time I revise the vocabilary I learned in Linkword Japanese. I'm definitely improving my Japanese all the time, however I still have not learned the writing systems, and I still need to learn the verb structure for the plain/non-formal form of the language. These are my next steps in Japanese.

For German, I've been going through several courses. I have completed the Paul Noble German and Michel Thomas German (foundation and advanced) courses, as well as been going through Linkword German too. I have currently finished level 3 of Linkword German, and will start level 4 soon. Once I have completed the Linkword course, I will move on to Earworms German to further consolidate what I know, then boost up my verb vocabulary etc to get more fluent. I am really happy with how I'm doing with German - it is definitely a trickier language than Spanish and Japanese, mainly because of the genders of nouns and other grammar points. I will do a review of Linkword German once I complete it, and will discuss in more depth the complexities of German and how Linkword deals with them.

So my polyglot journey is still very much alive and I am really enjoying it! I still have plans to learn French, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and more, but my current priority is to reach fluency in the languages I've been studying this year and then I will move on to more languages.

I will write some more blog posts soon on different aspects of language learning, so stay tuned!

A polyglot's worst nightmare - time management!

May 19, 2017

Well, I should start this post by stating that 'biggest challenge' might be a better phrase than 'worst nightmare' here. And what is the biggest challange facing a budding polyglot? 

Is it memorising words? Is it learning the grammar of a language? Is it speaking, reading, writing or comprehending the spoken language? Although all these things can be taxing and require hard work, I've personally found there's one thing that's even more demanding than all of these, and that is time management!

Yes...there are only so many hours in a day, and when a language learner has to juggle several languages, while trying to move forward and learn new things in each, but also revising and maintaining what he/she has previously learned, it can very quickly eat up large chunks of time. It gets even more challenging when one has to fit all this around the rest of their life too!

And to top it off, if one lets the languages slip for a while (and that's easy to do when life gets in the way....), they'll quickly find themselves getting a bit rusty and just not as sharp in each language. So what is the solution?

Good time management, that's what! If you are a serious language learner and want to get to a high level of fluency in whatever language(s) you're learning, you're going to have to be able to control your time properly in order to fit in regular language learning/practice in order to progress. 

For me, that has meant getting up earlier, starting earlier in the day, fitting language studies around other things, and giving myself a set amount of time and/or certain targets to reach in each language (such as finishing a section of a course, etc) before moving on to the next language I'm working on. Fortunately I'm self employed, so can be more flexible with my time, but I dread to think what it would be like for someone holding down a full time job and bringing a family up who is trying to become a polyglot.

I guess it's slightly harder for me given that I am studying several languages at once, and in fact I will be writing a blog post on that very subject soon to giving my thoughts on how to manage just that.

So how do you other budding polyglots manage your time? I'd love to hear back from you if you happen to be reading this post.

Until next time, take care :-)

Linkword Japanese - learning my second language with the Linkword method!

April 25, 2017

After I completed Linkword Spanish (European) course, I decided to give the Linkword Japanese course a try because I really enjoyed this method and was keen see how it would work with other languages besides Spanish. I'd like to write about my experiences here.

An overview of the Japanese course contents

The first point to note is that there is only one level in the Linkword Japanese course, whereas for the Spanish and other languages in the Linkword series there are up to 4 levels (some of the courses have 2 or 3 levels). I would've loved to have had a full 4 levels for the Japanese, but even one level is a good start.

As with the other Linkword courses, you can choose between different formats - audio, software, Android app or iPhone app - and the content is exactly the same for each. I decided to use the audio (mp3) version (more on this later), which is presented by a native Japanese speaker.

Contents wise, the course is split into 10 sections, each of which I'd say take roughly an hour to an hour an a half to complete (depending on how fast you get through them). Vocabulary topics covered include animals, food words, colours, restaurant words, airport words, hotel words, furniture, household items, clothes, family, places around town and in the countryside, time words, numbers, days of the week, business words, car words, transport, parts of the body, doctor/medical/emergency words, months of the year, prepositions, as well as several useful adjectives and a few verbs.

Basic grammar points are taught too, including how to construct sentences with nouns and adjectives (and some verbs) for the present and past tense, using words like 'and', 'but', how to ask questions, the negative form, how to use prepositions in sentences, pronouns, telling the time, etc.

So how did it work for me?

I decided I'd work through the audio mp3 course. Although I went through both the audio and software versions of the Spanish course, with the Japanese I didn't feel I'd gain anything extra by using going through the software course because of the way Japanese is written. You see, the Linkword Japanese software course is written in romaji, which is a way of writing Japanese using the western Latin alphabet. And there's nothing wrong with romaji, but for me I am planning on learning the other Japanese writing systems* so I felt it more useful to simply go through the audio course. That said, it was helpful to look words up in the software courses glossary section to double check the pronunciation of words I found trickier.

(*In Japanese there are effectively 4 different writing systems - the kanji characters (similar to Chinese writing), 2 phonetic alphabets (hirogana and katakana), and one that is used to romanise the words called romaji. However from what I've read, romaji isn't really used much in Japan (with natives, but foreigners do use it. I will write more about this in a future blog post when I start learning the read and write in Japanese).

It took me 10 days to complete the course, as I went through one section per day. I found this to be manageable for me without getting overloaded with too much all at once. Although Japanese has lots of loan words from English, many of the words are also totally different to English, and once again I found the memory hooks to be creative and effective in helping me memorise the words, including the trickier ones.

I am happy with the level of vocabulary I learned during the course, which is in the region of 300 to 400 words, and gives me a broad cross section of vocabulary I'd need to live my everyday life in Japanese, and I can construct a reasonable number of sentences too. From a grammar point of view, this course only gives a basic starting point, so you will need to look beyond this to expand upon what you learn here, particularly for learning how to handle the verbs, different tenses etc. This isn't really a criticism of this course, but more down to the fact that there's only 1 level here. That said, the grammatical points were explained clearly and they do provide a really good starting point for further study.

Additional note: I'd also like to add that I revised the content of the course a week later, and again a week or so after than, and had no problem remembering most of the words. This is testament to the quality of the course.

In conclusion, I'd definitely recommend Linkword Japanese to anyone who wants a great starting point into a language that is often perceived as impossibly difficult to learn for English speakers, particularly for the range of vocabulary you'll learn in such a short space of time and the confidence you will gain as a result.

To find out more about Linkword languages and the courses they offer, please visit www.linkwordlanguages.com

** Linkword languages also have a special spring 2017 offer - get all 15 of their courses for just £24.99 via the link below **

http://www.linkwordlanguages.com/product/all-15-linkword-course-downloads-combined-copy/

 

So I completed all 4 levels of Linkword Spanish. More about my experiences with this amazing method...

March 28, 2017

As anyone who reads this blog will know, since mid January I have been working through the Linkwords Spanish course. Well today I finally completed it, and I'd like to write my thoughts on how I feel with my Spanish now that I've reached the end of the course.

In my previous post about my experiences with Level 1 of Linkwords Spanish, I mentioned that there are 4 levels to this course, and it is available in both audio and software versions (and also as apps for Android and Apple systems, which I didn't use), as well as that each level contains 10 to 11 sections, each of which take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to complete.

I would generally do 1 or 2 sections a day, where possible (I'm sure you know that life often gets in the way of things sometimes, though!). It took me a fair bit of time to get through all 4 levels because I wanted to just work through everything gradually and learn all the material thoroughly. The other factor that made things take a bit longer was because, for each section, I first learned the material with the audio course, then I went through the software course in order to learn the reading and writing part.

So what did the whole Linkwords Spanish course cover, and how far can it take a Spanish learner?

With all 4 levels, I have now learned a vocabulary of around 1200 words as well as have a comprehensive knowledge of Spanish grammar.

Vocabulary wise, the course covers pretty much everything a person could need in most aspects of their everyday lives. Names of animals, household items, places in town, types of food and drinks, family members, car words, parts of the body, places in the countryside, hobbies, school subjects, telling the time, talking about the weather, illness/ailment words, and much more. Heck, even how to start and end letters was discussed. In addition to this, most of the common verbs and adjectives you'll need to describe what you do and how you feel as you go about your life are taught too.

Grammar wise, the course teaches most of the essential verb tenses (present, future, past, conditional, imperative, etc), and even some of the more complex ones (such as 'I had...' for the past) that are required in order to express one's thoughts properly and have articulate conversations. I feel I have a good command of these now, and am comfortable in manipulating the verbs to get in and out of the different tenses as and when I need to. Also taught is how to handle adjectives, nouns, plurals, comparatives, superlatives and a whole host of other essential grammatical points required in order to construct sentences properly.

You're also taught some really useful phrases such as basic greetings, asking how people are, asking someone to repeat something or speak slower, etc.

I have to be honest and say that this is an extremely comprehensive amount of knowledge, and considering I've learned it in just over 2 months I'd say that makes the course very impressive (well, either that or I'm just a super genuis!). There's no way even a school student studying Spanish for over 5 years knows as much as what I've learned in these past few months, so that says a lot about how effective Linkword is.

So what level of Spanish am I at now, honestly?

So I guess the question is, where am I at with Spanish now that I've completed the course? I mean, the thing that truly matters is how all this knowledge works for me in the real world, and whether I can actually now speak, read, write and understand Spanish or not. That will be the acid test as to how effective Linkword Spanish is...

Ok, first of all I've noticed I know the name of the noun for most items I'll encounter in a typical day. I look around my room and I realise I can name most things in here in Spanish. I can walk round the city and know the name of most landmarks and types of shops in Spanish. So that's a massive plus point in favour of Linkword. For the words I don't know, I'll gradually add those in as I continue with further study.

I can describe most of my everyday actions (what I have done, am doing or will do later in the day) thanks to the comprehensive list of verbs taught in the course. I can also describe many of my emotions and feelings in Spanish too.

You know how we all have that little voice in our heads where we kind of talk to ourselves througout the day? Like when we will mentally say to ourselves what we have to do, etc (for example, 'I have to go to the shops and buy some bread' etc)? Well, I can think most of my everyday thoughts in Spanish now, so that's pretty cool!

I decided to see if the writing and listening aspects of Linkword had paid off for me and so I started reading news and sports articles on a Spanish media website. To my surpise, I could understand quite a lot of what I read, as well as recognise the different tenses the sentences were written in. Sure, there are still a lot of words I don't know, but for many articles I can more than get the gist of what I'm reading. As for the listening aspect, I started watching kids cartoons in Spanish (since these are more likely to be easier to understand than films etc). Upon doing so, I was able to recognise a lot of the words I was hearing, and understand portions of the script (phrases and sentences). I still have a long way to go before I can totally understand fast spoken Spanish, but I have a good starting point thanks to Linkword.

As for the speaking aspect, I feel reasonably confident in that, but would like to practice with Spanish speakers if I can to further improve my conversation skills.

I almost feel I have enough knowledge to live the bulk of my life through Spanish know, if I had to (obviously there would still be words I'd need to look up, especially for more specialist things, and it would be hard to totally understand tv and radio as of yet) which would be a fun challenge, but since I currently live in an English speaking country I'll have to use Spanish as and when I can :-)

So where do I go from here?

Having completed Linkword Spanish, I now need to continue further study in order to reach a higher level of fluency. One point made at the end of Level 4 by the presenter was that 'there is no end to learning a language'. That is so very true. I mean, at what point can one say they now 'know enough' in a language and don't need to study it any more? My answer to that question is that one never stops learning a language; you will always be learning new words, phrases, etc as time goes by. Heck, we even do that in our native languages if you think about it.

So with that in mind, I will look to some other Spanish courses and resources to add to what I've learned with Linkword, as well as keep learning new words for nouns, adjectives and verbs I don't know. There is a really good resource online called 'wordreference.com' where you type in an English word and look up Spanish word (as well as for other languages too), so that will be my 'go to' in order to add more vocabulary to my knowdlege. I will use the Linkword memory technique to help me learn further vocabulary too, because it is highly effective.

I will also continue reading in Spanish, perhaps more articles and some books, and look to start watching drama series' and films in Spanish too. I'm sure all this effort will pay off. 

I will also regularly review the content of Linkword Spanish, perhaps every week or so for the next few months, until I really feel it's part of me and I am 100% confident with it all.

I'll say I definitely recommend Linkword Languages method to any other language learners out there. I'd like to thank Dr Michael Gruneberg for allowing me to use his European Spanish course too. I will continue using Linkword courses for other languages I learn in the future. In fact, I purchased their Japanese course today, which I am excited to get started on soon and will blog about for sure.

Further points on the Linkword Languages method

Before I bring this post to a close, I'll add a few interesting points regarding Linkword. The method has been proven to work with dyslexics and poor learners, and there have been some interesting studies done regarding this:

http://www.linkwordlanguages.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Linkword-at-Rugby-School.pdf

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09571730285200231

http://www.linkwordlanguages.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Linkword-in-the-classroom.pdf

To find out more about Linkword method and the courses they offer, please visit www.linkwordlanguages.com

Is It Possible To Learn Languages With Music? A review of Earworms Japanese Volume 1

February 24, 2017

In the last few weeks, I've had the privilege of trying a language learning method from a company called Earworms Learning, which involves learning languages via music. 

I have been using their Japanese course (Volume 1), and in this blog post I'd like to tell you a bit about Earworms Learning as well as document my personal experience using their method.

Who are Earworms Learning and what is their method?

Earworms Learning is a language learning company that specialises in teaching languages via musical 'earworms'. I believe they have courses in around 16 mainstream languages, as well as some in other languages which teach English too.

In case you're wondering what an 'earworm' is, the dictionary definition is 'a catchy song or tune that runs continually through someone's mind'. I'm sure you've had the experience of certain songs you just can't get out of your head....that's an example of an earworm.

The idea behind the methodology is that words, sentences, phrases and grammar points are taught within these earworms as part of the lyrics and melody to simple but catchy music. You listen to these earworms continuously until the information taught within each earworm anchors itself into your mind.  Although much of Earworms Learning courses contain speaking rather than singing, the same basic principle applies, and many of the spoken phrases are deliberately said in time with the music to create an almost hypnotic effect.

Research has proven that this approach is very effective, and works much better than conventional methods, since the mind has a natural capacity to memorise musical  (melodic and rhythmic patterns). Think of it like listening to some of your favourite songs, and how the words and melodies stick in your mind effortlessly without you needing to 'try' or 'strain' in order to memorise them. Learning languages with earworms is a bit like this.

The final point is that music changes one's emotional state; it can evoke different emotions from have a calming effect to being very uplifting, and everything in between, depending on the tempo or the ambience of a song. This can all aid the learning process by putting one in a more resourceful state of mind for the brain to memorise things more easily, as well as helps provide a more interesting learning experience.

An overview of an Earworms course

Each language course is split into volumes - some of the more popular languages such as Spanish have 3 volumes, while others have 1 or 2 volumes. Each volume contains around 11 songs, which are in the region of 5 to 9 minutes in length.

You can buy each volume as an mp3 download or on cd, whichever you prefer.

Each song covers a different topic, e.g. ordering food and drinks in a restaurant, asking if someone has something, asking directions, numbers, days of the week, telling the time, basic greetings, and a whole host of other phrases one needs to know in order to get by in most everyday situations. Volumes 2 and 3 go into more detail and cover more of the grammar and structure than the first volume.

The songs have a British narrator on them, as well as a native speaker of the target language. You are presented with words and sentences, while simultaneously learning the grammar and structure of the language, and it really is very fun and enjoyable.

The courses also come with a pdf booklet so that you can see the correct spelling of the words and phrases, as well as quickly review what you've learned.

In terms of the content taught, Earworms courses follow the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) on language learning, levels A1 to B1.

So how did this work for me?

I started out by listening through all the tracks in the Japanese Volume 1 course to get a basic overview of the songs, and how the Japanese language sounded. After that I listened to each track maybe two to three times a day during the past few weeks, and read the pdf booklet so I could see the correct spellings of everything.

My plan, at first, was not to try too hard but to simply enjoy listening to each song and effortlessly let the words and phrases be absorbed into my mind. I found that even after the first few days, much of what was taught was starting to remain in my mind. For the things that I didn't remember at first, I simply kept on listening to the tracks each day and going through the review booklet, and after a week or so, I could pretty much say most of the the phrases along with the songs from memory, as easily as singing the lyrics along to my favourite songs,

I found the tracks very easy on the ear, very pleasant to listen to, with my foot often tapping along to many of them too. Each song has a different tempo, groove and musical style to it, which takes the listener through a range of different emotions, thus keeping you engaged in the learning process. Often, certain phrases in the songs are repeated numerous times, and in time with the music/in certain rhythms, almost like the 'melodic hook' in the chorus of a catchy song. The British and Japanese presenters also had very soothing tones of voice, which I found quite relaxing to listen to. 

I liked the way the course was structured, so that by the end of the 10 songs one has a solid foundation of phrases they need to get by in a typical day and in a wide variety of situations. The other thing about the Earworms courses is that you are not simply memorising phrases - you are, almost without realising it, learning the grammar and structure of the language as well as a lot of vocabulary (for nouns, adjectives and verbs etc) without having to sit down and consciously memorise it like you would in a classroom.

Overall it's a fun and stimulating way to learn a language, in total contrast to the dull and boring classroom academic methods that the education system is still clinging on to. Perhaps the education system needs to take a leaf out of methods such as Earworms, as it might encourage more kids to learn languages at a young age. But that's a blog post for another time, I think :-)

I'm looking forward to working through Volume 2 of the Japanese course, and I will write another blog post about that in the next few weeks. I've also purchased Volume 1 of their European Spanish course, which I'll likely write about soon too.

In closing, I can say I'm now very intrigued by the whole concept of learning languages via music, and I'll definitely be exploring this method further to see how far it's possible to go in a language with it. It definitely does work and has merit, and I believe it's a wonderful starting point in learning a new language.

So for now, I'd like to say arigatou gozaimasu to Earworms, and to my readers: sayonara, matta kondo!

And for those of you who would like to find out more about Earworms Learning and their courses, please visit www.earwormslearning.com.

Linkword Languages: My thoughts on the Linkword method and my first week of learning Spanish with it

January 27, 2017

I recently became intrigued by a language learning method called Linkword and decided to give it a try. 

The main concept behind the Linkword Language method involves using memory techniques/visualisations to memorise words in foreign languages quickly and easily. Basically, you listen to a word in a foreign language and relate it to a word or phrase that it sounds like in English. You then create a visual image in your mind of this image along with the English word, which makes it quickly and easy to learn and remember lots of words.

For example, the Spanish word for bee is 'aveja'. This is pronounced 'a ve ha' (or, since the Spanish letter 'v' is pronounced more like a 'b', this word would be pronounced closer to 'a be ha), which sounds a bit like the English for 'a baker'. You therefore imagine in your mind a visual image involving a A BAKER and a BEE....so for example, a baker being chased by a bee and running away from it.

Although this memory technique isn't new, the way that it has been applied to language learning via the Linkword Languages courses was, and still is, very unique. This method really does work, and you can learn hundreds of words a day if you put in a bit of time.

However, Linkword isn't merely about memorising hundreds of words. You are also systematically taught grammar - how to actually USE the words you've learned to construct your own sentences and express your thoughts.

The background to Linkword

The founder of this method is a man named Dr Michael Gruneberg, who is a qualified and internationally recognised memory expert with numerous credentials, including authoring/co-authoring books on memory and involvement in various BBC broadcasts on the subject of memory. It appears he put together Linkword in the 1980s in book (and cassette) form, before releasing and expanding to more language courses in audio and software format in more recent years.

Studies have shown that Linkword can teach a language up to 3 times faster than conventional methods, and has even been shown to be be beneficial to people who are dyslexic too. The popularity of Linkword by language learners worldwide seems to further validate these points.

I contacted Dr Gruneberg to ask whether I might be able to try his Spanish course and then write about my experiences of using it, and to my surprise he said he would be delighted to let me do so. He was kind enough to send me the European Spanish course, which I will go into detail about and discuss how I got on during the first week with Level 1.

An overview of a Linkword Language course

The Linkword European Spanish course is split into 4 levels, each of which teaches over 400 words and lots of fundamental grammar. Each level contains 10 to 11 sections, which take around 45 minutes to an hour to complete. The course comes in audio format (as mp3s, or cds), as well as software format. The content is the same for the audio and software version, but the latter allows the learner to learn and practice the reading and writing aspect of the language.

The audio course is presented by a native Spanish speaker, which is good because you get to hear the correct pronunciation of the words. Each section covers a myriad of different topics, such as household items, animals, travel, clothing, types of foods, verbs, adjectives etc.

You are generally given ten words to learn at a time, and for each word you are given a memory visualisation based on the principles I discussed earlier in this post. You are given 10 seconds to visualise this image before moving on to the next word. Sometimes the foreign word will sound close to another word in English, other times it may sound like part of an English word or even a sentence. Either way, the memory hooks given are very clever, and often bizarre and witty (which helps them stick in your mind better).

Immediately after learning the 10 words, the presenter tests you on them, first by saying the words in Spanish (to which you have to answer in English), and then vice versa. 

Then after this, you are given some short grammar lessons followed by being prompted to translate sentences from English to Spanish and vice versa. This is great because it consolidates what you've learned and gets you used using it within the context of making real sentences.

Finally, at the end of each section of the audio course there is a glossary of all the words you've learned. 

Like I said, the software course has exactly the same content as the audio one, but you actually get to see the words written down and you have to answer the questions by writing (typing) them out. 

My personal experience with Linkword

I went through Level 1 during 5 to 6 days last week and found it a fascinating experience.

Mr Gruneberg told me there is no right or wrong way to go through the course, i.e. one can start with the software and then use the audio to revise, or vice versa, or even just choose one format instead of the other. For me personally, I decided to start with the audio lessons, 2 sections at a time, and then move onto the software equivalents of these, so I could consolidate what I'd just learned as well as work on my reading and writing in Spanish. I'm someone who needs to HEAR words before I get onto the reading and writing aspect, but I realise some people might be different.

I could've gone through the first level faster, but decided to stick to a steady 2 sections a day for 5 days, and use the 6th day to revise everything I'd learned.

Overall, I had no problem memorising the words taught in level 1, because the memory hooks were so good. 

I found the grammar points were explained clearly and concisely, and as such I had no problem understanding them.

Making sentences both from English to Spanish and vice versa wasn't too hard. I found that having to translate Spanish sentences back to English was good for developing my listening skills, i.e getting used to hearing the Spanish words spoken in sentences. A couple of times I had to listen again to help my ear 'tune in' to a few words, but I soon got the hang of it.

As for reading, I found this generally no problem at all, since Spanish is a very phonetic language and, unlike in English, each letter is always pronounced the same way. Once you've learned how each letter is pronounced, it's no problem to read Spanish after that.

Spelling some words was a little bit problematic, but I soon got used to how Spanish looks in written format and certain letter combinations. For example, where we might have a double 'l' in English, they generally have one 'l' in Spanish. Or where we use the 'qu' sound, in Spanish this sound is written with 'cu'. I soon got used to these differences after a while, though.

At the end of the level, I found it useful to go through the glossary to test myself on all the words I'd learned.

After the first week, I was amazed by how much I'd learned AND remembered. Because the visual hooks for each word are so strong, they tend to 'stick' in the mind really quickly and for a decent period of time afterwards. Although a few of the visual memory hook images given in the course are not exact replicas of how a word is pronounced, they are close enough to jog your memory, and you will hear the words repeated throughout the course anyway, which helps consolidate the pronunciation of them. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could look around my room and go about my daily routine and know the Spanish word for a lot of everyday things I'd encounter, such as river, path, shop, bed, kitchen, shirt, trousers and a lot of other things such as foods, clothing, and that I could also make sentences too. Of course, I've still got a long way to go before I could live my whole day entirely in Spanish, but this is an amazing start.

I'd like to thank Mr Gruneberg for allowing me to try the course, and at the time of writing this blog post I'm almost through level 2 of the Spanish course, so I'll write another blog post on that soon.

Until then, adiós amigo!

And for anyone who would like to find out more about Linkword, please visit their website, www.linkwordlanguages.com

So I'm learning Spanish And Completed The Paul Noble Course

January 26, 2017

Anyone who follows this blog will know that I'm also learning Spanish. I managed to complete the Paul Noble Spanish course in just over a week, and I'm really happy about this. I now have a basic command of Spanish, which I can build upon with other courses. I'll give you an overview of what the Paul Noble method is all about, and how it helped me rapidly gain confidence in Spanish.

First of all, Paul Noble is a British language teacher who runs the Paul Noble Language Institute. He has released courses in Spanish, German, Italian and French, and teaches these languages, as well as Mandarin Chinese, in person too.

For the first 4 languages, Noble has a 'complete course' which contains 12 cds, and is over 13 hours of learning time in length. I purchased the Complete Spanish course as an audiobook from iTunes, so I didn't have to bother with cds.

Anyway, the course teaches you the structure of the Spanish language, from how the verbs work in all the most common tenses (present, 2 types of past tenses, & 2 future tenses), and how to conjugate the verbs for I, you, he, she, it etc, the structure of sentences, etc. Noble will introduce a concept, and then ask you how to say certain phrases, statements and questions in Spanish so that you immediately get to use what you've just learned in context. On the recordings, there are also 2 native Spanish speakers - one from Latin America, the other from Spain - who will say the answers to every question so that you can hear the correct pronunciation.

In addition to this, the course teaches you to use Spanish in everyday situations such as ordering food and drinks in a restaurant, reserving a table, asking for the bill, how much things cost, asking for a room in a hotel for a certain number of nights and number of people, buying train or coach tickets, asking directions, introducing yourself to people and saying where you're from and what you do for a living, as well as how to tell a doctor or pharmacist about your ailments.

These are taught in little dialogues that you have to get involved with as if you were actually in such a scenario yourself. I found this to be a brilliant addition to the course, because you're not only learning grammar and vocabulary, but you're also learning how to use and apply the Spanish you've learned for everyday situations.

All the concepts you're taught are repeated and revisited at certain intervals throughout the course, so that you consolidate what you've learned, and at the end of the course there is a 20 minute review of most of the major points in the course. This is great because you can go through it every so often so you don't forget what you learned. There is also a 78 page booklet that comes with the course too, which reviews everything and is good starting point for getting into the reading and writing of Spanish.

You will be amazed at how much you'll learn in this course in such a short space of time. Like I said, I completed the course in just over a week, but even if you did a cd a day, maybe 5 a week, you'd still complete the course in under 3 weeks. 

I found Paul Noble to be a gifted language teacher who explains everything clearly and concisely, and at no point did I feel it was hard work at all. Everything was really easy to follow, and was almost 'effortless learning'. In fact, Noble starts the course off by telling you not to TRY to remember anything...just follow the instructions and you will learn the language naturally. 

Were there are negatives to the course? Well, any one course can only take you so far before you have to seek out other learning materials to progress further. That's not really a criticism as such. Noble's course gives the learner a very solid foundation to continue from, and I'm really happy to have gotten this far in such a short space of time.

I've also been working through Linkword Spanish, which I will write about in my next post. 

Learning Japanese With The Michel Thomas Method - Are Oriental Languages REALLY More Difficult To Learn Than Other Languages?

January 18, 2017

So last week I also started learning Japanese. Although I've never been to Japan, I've always found Japanese culture really fascinating and I also like a lot of Japanese music too. It's interesting how rock music, especially 80s style hard rock and metal, is popular over there too. Japan strikes me as a beautiful and unique country....although I am mindful of peoples' tendencies to look at different cultures through rose tinted glasses, as if they're so much more interesting than our own. 

But anyway, I've decided to learn Japanese in addition to Scottish Gaelic and Spanish, and so far I'm really enjoying it.

Conventional wisdom has it that these oriental languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc are extremely difficult to learn and that it's much easier to learn European languages like Spanish or French, for example. However, having gotten through the first 6 parts of the Michel Thomas Japanese foundation course, I've realised that, for the spoken language at least, Japanese is in many ways actually easier to learn than European languages.

For example, in Japanese there are no verb different conjugations for the I, you, he, she, it, we and they forms of verbs. The future tense is the same as the present tense. There are no definite or indefinite articles for nouns (i.e. no words for 'a', 'an' or 'the', and as a result, no genders to learn for every noun you learn), no plural version of nouns. 

Ok, so the catch with wanting to become fluent in Japanese is that there are different forms of the language - the polite form (which I am learning), and the informal (plain) form. There are totally different verb forms for each form. I've read that it makes no sense to start out by learning the polite form of the language, but the Michel Thomas Method Japanese course teaches this form. I'll need to address this soon by finding a course that teaches the plain form.

The other really difficult aspect of Japanese is the 3 writing systems, of which the Kanji appears to be most difficult but in fact there are systematic ways to learn this. One only needs to learn the top 2000 Kanji to be able to read and understand most of the Japanese around them, and there are some very clever people who have developed systematic methods of learning these 2000 Kanji in around 90 days. I'll surely get to that in due course and write a more detailed blog post on it.

Japanese also has a totally different word order in sentences than English, for example the verb always goes at the end, the time expression usually at or near the beginning (although that is somewhat flexible), and you have to use little short 'marker' words between nouns to explain in more detail their meaning within the sentence. In some ways, this is tricky but it's very logical too and I'm starting to get the hang of it.

But anyway, the Micheal Thomas Method Japanese course teaches the structure of the language, from the different tenses to the sentence order, etc as well as goes through the verb endings and provides a lot of useful vocabulary. Despite teaching the polite form of the language, it's still really excellent. My aim is to complete the rest of the foundation and advanced courses then move on to Linkword Japanese to build up my vocabulary fast, and then study the plain form of the language.

I've also downloaded some cool, fun little videos from a site called Genki Japan, which teach everyday phrases and vocabulary via child-like songs. Daft as that sounds, it actually makes the words stick in your head and is quit enjoyable too. So far with these video songs, I've learned the days of the week, numbers 1 to 20, colours, and a few other everyday phrases. I'll keep plugging away with it.

I'll no doubt write more about how my Japanese language learning goes as I progress.

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