What ideas can I share about language acquisition?

This is part four of a real life interview with someone who learned a language as an adult to the fluency level:

How to learn a language – Interview

What other ideas can you share about learning Polish and languages in general?

A language can be learnt in the spare moments of the day.  I always tell people who are learning English that my absolute favorite method for increasing my vocabulary in Polish was simple flash cards.  I would use these for example while waiting for or riding in a tram around Krakow or any other time I had a few moments to kill.  The 10, 15 minutes here and there throughout your day are just ripe to be used for learning a language and boosting vocabulary.

I would keep a stack of flash cards in my shirt or jacket pocket and would cycle through them.  As I got comfortable with them I would rotate them out and put new ones in the pile.  I found this a fast, effective way to get you confident and feeling like you are learning.  If we know the names of things and can identify verbs, even if we are not totally sure how to put the sentences together or how to conjugate the verb, we still feel a sort of growing power over the language as we continue to file away vocabulary in the memory bank.

Not only that, but I found that flash cards were a great conversation starter.  People are naturally curious when they see you filing through a pack of cards and mouthing words to yourself.  I found them to be fun at social get-togethers, pulling them out and making a game of it even.

The old saying that it’s best to live in a country of course is very true.  But of course not everyone can make such a large life move.  I was fortunate as I did it shortly after graduating from college, and I was fortunate enough to be able to transfer my work from the States to Europe.

When you are in a foreign country you are just constantly exposed to the language.  Even in a place like Krakow, where there are a lot of students and a tourist orientation, and thus a comparatively high level of English.  At the same time, living in larger and more cosmopolitan cities (depending on the country) can be an obstacle, as more people are likely to know English and you are not forced to learn.  If you live in a foreign country you have to be careful not to slip into the trap of only spending time with other foreigners, or with natives who speak your tongue very well.  Cultivating friendships with people who do not speak your language as well is a good way to force you to use the tongue of the country you are living in.

So just going to live in a foreign country doesn’t mean it is automatic, as it really depends on your immediate environment (which you of course have a large measure of control over).  I see a number of people here that have lived here a long time but don’t ever get past a rudimentary level of language, which is not what you’d expect, but makes sense when you look at the social circles they operate in.  It is easy to be lazy about learning when the people around you already know your language.  It may be one reason that in America we generally don’t have the language skills that Europeans do.

Language is a great ice-breaker and a lot of humor and fun can come from language as well.  When I worked selling books in Amish communities, I was always sure to try to meet and use some basic words and phrases in Pennsylvania Dutch.  It was a great ice breaker and I think learning a bit in someone else’s language (even if they can speak your own) is a sign of respect.

I’ll never forget the sight of Amish kids looking up shocked when I slipped in a line or two of my rudimentary Pennsylvania Dutch.  They just don’t expect us “English people” (Amish term for non-Amish) to know PA Dutch, so using it out of the blue like that it often gets a laugh.  A lot of fun and again a great way to make a connection.  I would often teach some basic Polish in return—fun things that fit the environment—the word for cow, horse, etc.  Language differences, perhaps counter-intuitively, often bring people together.

People enjoy seeing you make the effort, and even if you struggle a bit, people tend to be on your side and want to help you because they see you are trying.  The more obscure the language, the more true this is, I find.  For example, someone learning English, since there are already many foreign speakers of English, is less of a novelty.  Not that you won’t get sympathy and help as an English learner, but people are less fascinated by someone speaking English with a foreign accent (versus, say, someone speaking Polish or Estonian or Thai with a foreign accent) since there are so many foreign-accented speakers of English already.

But the key thing in this is not to be afraid to make mistakes.  The only mistake is not opening your mouth.  We train our minds and tongues by using them.  Everyone will make mistakes but the vast majority of the time people are very forgiving when they see you are trying.  Just try to avoid the swear words.  Come to think of it, perhaps this is why swear words are among the first thing language learners are taught;  for amusement, but also to prevent you saying something that you really wouldn’t want to!

Post comments or go back to the start here: How to learn any foreign language you study..

How did I learn a language and why?

This is part two of a four part series on how to learn a language:

How I learned a language interview

How did you learn Polish—and why?

I originally became interested in Polish after visiting the country as a child.  My grandparents lived in Warsaw and I still have a grandmother there today.  Mom was born and lived her first 20+ years in Warsaw, and Dad was technically full Polish too, his family having originated from near Lwow (or rather L’viv as it is now a part of Ukraine).  But my father, immigrating to the states at age 4, did not have the strong Polish foundation and began to lose it in American society.  He met my mother when they were in their 20’s and she was visiting on a trip from then-communist Poland.  Since his Polish wasn’t strong and her English was excellent, English was the language spoken at home (with a few Polish words thrown in here and there).  Occasionally I would hear Polish when relatives would call and I’d hear one side of the conversation, with my mom talking, but little of it stuck.

Perhaps it did help a bit for knowing what Polish should ‘sound’ like on some subconscious level, but other than some rudimentary vocabulary like the word for “ice cream”, and being able to count to 10, I really had zero Polish knowledge when I signed up for a Polish language course at age 20 while a student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

After 2 years of studies, I was definitely the weakest in my class of 7, though I was able to pass the courses and move on.  At this point I really did not have more than a functional command of the language, still struggled greatly with conjugations and declensions, and to be frank, lacked a burning desire to learn more.  Though I wanted to return to Poland for a period of time, there was just not an immediate need to be good in Polish, and thus I lacked the level of motivation to really throw myself into it.

But I did have a strong desire to return to Poland for awhile, and I will say that I really began to learn when I arrived in the country.   And it turned out my 2 years spent learning I the States was really a good investment, as though I did not have a strong active command of the language, I had acquired a good bit of latent knowledge and when I began learning in Poland my mind was able to fill in some gaps and begin to build on what I had learned at studies.

After about six months of self-study as well as attending a further Polish course in Krakow, I hit a point where I remember things began to click.  Like a switch had been turned in my brain.  I still remember it well;  perhaps this is when I began to “think” in Polish.  Responses and words just seemed to flow better, the words I was looking for and struggled to find before began to appear, and life got sunnier.  I continued to build from there over the next few years with continuing self-study, reading newspapers and articles, and so on.  I did not do too many more courses, in total I took perhaps 2 or 3 semesters worth when in Poland.

So I think there is a definite place for language courses, but they function best by providing a foundation, and then when you are in the environment you have to swim or sink with the language.  That gives you the motivation that you may lack otherwise.

Continue reading here to find out: What prevents language learning?

How I learned a language

The purpose of this post is to tell a story;  a personal real life experience of how someone learned a language. This is a story that deserves to be told and is 100% of what you need if you want to learn a foreign language.

At this point I recommend you jump right into the interview above. The rest of this post below is just my rants about language learning; which I have a passion for, but might not be as interesting. So go to the second part above called ‘how to learn a language and why’.

My rants about this language interview

Why is it good? It is specific, instructional and authentic and not written by a linguist, but by a man on the street.

It is not written in some broad abstract ivory tower way; rather, it a very concrete interview with someone  who learned a language to the fluency level. It asks the three most relevant questions for language learners.

This person started studying his language with no knowledge of his target language as a adult.  The result is this:

  • He now communicates perfectly, almost as a native speaker, in fact,  native speakers have told me they hear absolutely no mistakes, with the exception of sometimes a very light but nice American accent.

Note: When I am in a club with him and the music is playing, people do not hear an accent.

His own modesty would prevent him from saying he is at this level so I would rather convey what native speakers have told me.

I think this will be of  a great value to readers, because probability the most frequent question I get is ‘how do I learn any language?’.

Most people feel  intimidated and feel that languages are either acquired as a child though a bilingual education or learned by the gifted.

This is not true. Please read on.

For ease of reading I have divided this narrative into three additional parts. Each part answers a question.

An interview with a language learner

I chose the interview format as it is the most interesting and readable.

The language he learned was Polish. It is one of the   hardest languages to learn for an English native speaker. This is because of the grammar and pronunciation which is foreign to Western European languages.  However, I think it is the best language to hear a story about because it is so challenging. It is not something relatively easy like Spanish or Italian.

I felt it better to have someone else tell their story, rather than my own experience with language learning here. This is because I might lose some of my objectivity and show partiality towards my method of how to learn a language.

How to learn a language feedback

If you have any comments or feedback or personal experiences with you or someone you know who has studied a foreign language with success,  please let me know. I think it is a story worth being read, for any one who wants to know how to learn any language.

Read part two of this series here and find out: why and how I learned a language.

Mistakes in learning English

I teach English to foreigners.  The purpose of this post is to tell you some common mistakes I’ve seen with students learning English.

Mistake number 1 in learning English

There is only really one mistake in learning English, that is studying things that are not important.  People study text book English not real English.  This post will outline some common examples of studying textbook or school English rather than real English.  I will pick on the perfect tense.

The typically student who studied English as a foreign language in school spent many years studying English verb tenses and conditionals.  They study one tense at a time, then move to the next one.

This is the wrong approach, a mistake.  The primary tense in the English language is the simple tense. Sometimes you might use the continuous tense.  However, most Americans including myself don’t know the perfect tense and if they do they use it incorrectly. British English goes overboard with rules.  English is changing and not like that anymore. It is a flexible universal language.

Further, 80% of the world speaks American English, sorry.  All films, music, business comes mostly from the USA. Sorry again but this is a fact.  English is evolving into an international English based on simplified American English without old fashion Cambridge English rules from the last century.

Think about how your own language, has changed from the past? Do people speak the same way they did in the last century? Then why study outdated English?  Studying the wrong things is the biggest mistake in learning English as a foreign language.

In fact, when I first came to Poland, even though I graduated first in my class and have a master’s degree and was an honors English I didn’t know what the ‘perfect tense was.  It was Polish people that told me about the perfect tense.  They told me this is very important, you must know the perfect tense.  I said really why?

My nephew who grew up in London and went to the best private school in London and studied English when he came to Poland he heard there was something called the perfect tense, but did not know what it was.

The mistakes in English is studying textbook grammar not real world English.

The sixteen English tenses are important only in text books and on some stupid Cambridge exam. This type of grammar is not important if you want to speak to a native speaker. If fact if you over use this formal grammar to a native speaker you might sound ridiculous.   The simple tense is the primary tense in the English language.  If I want to sound really elegant or old-fashioned, you could use the perfect tense, I guess.

And what about conditionals. How often do we use conditionals?  Maybe if I say something like ‘if I had been born in England I would have spoken English as a child ‘. But do we really talk like that? To talk that formal is a mistake ESL. Learn the language that is spoken now with people on the street.

Learning English grammar is about prepositions and articles

In my opinion the most important thing after you learn the simple and continuous tense in the English language is to learn propositions and articles.  That is the basis of English grammar.  Not reported speech and the other stuff they teach you in text books or language schools.

Every English sentence has at least one proposition or one noun article. many Polish or Russian people think, because they do not have noun articles in their language, articles are not important.  What I tell them is it is like a foreigner who speaks your language without noun cases. It is all wrong.

Many people learning English think they speak ESL fine, but they make mistakes and in every single sentence with articles and propositions.  English native speakers have learned to tolerate this but it is very intermediate English.

On the other hand, they may be able to tell you about the perfect tense and conditionals and about reported speech, however, what good is that if they can’t speak English.

What about phrasal verbs? They are simple verbs with two words, that is all.
Idioms? They change all the time, learn them with practicing speaking to a native speaker or reading.

Avoid mistakes and learn real English

The therefore if you want to speak real English my recommendation is on the grammar side learn articles and propositions perfectly.  Also learn the simple and continuous tense.

Next, read a lot.  Read a lot of books things that you really love to read. Not the Internet, its not radical enough.  Try not to read children’s books in English unless that’s really what you are into because often times these are too juvenile in fame to keep your attention. Do not read English classics, they are too old-fashioned language. Read Stephen King rather.

Vocabulary learned from lists you will not use, you need to activate them. Or speak with a native speaker. Activate vocabulary with this method of learning English vocabulary. Basically you take a hat and with that hat you, draw vocab words out of a flashcard. The person who is working with you needs to guess the word you drew out, only by describing it. The act of description in a foreign language engages more areas of your brain. I call this the hat trick for learning. If the descriptions are sensory focused even better as it connects to deeper areas of the brain. Dr. Win Wenger writes about this on his image streaming site.

Next practice with a native speaker. Do not learn with some foreign language teacher that is going to teach you about conditionals and tenses and speak to you in an accent that you will understand. Learning from someone speaking your own language will not teach you real English too well, unless you are a beginner.  In this case, it is very OK to learn from someone from your own country.

Summary of how to learn English

  • Learn the simple tense and continuous really well
  • Learn prepositions and noun articles perfectly.
  • Read books every night in the English language, books you love and speak to native speakers

Because what good is it if you can understand someone from your own country speaking with your accent in English from your own country, but then you go to new York city and you don’t understand anybody?

What do you think of my post about learning English?

Best language to learn

This post sets out to answer the question, what is the best language to learn? It will answer it clearly and objectively and I hope to open your mind when it comes to language learning.

Polish is the best language in the world to learn. I write this seriously as a professional  linguist.

CW and the best language to learn

English is both a European language and a universal language.

Conventional wisdom programs most American to think you should learn Spanish for example. In Europe the mantra might be to study the German or French language.

Wrong.  The best language to learn is not German or French or Spanish etc.  Ignore conventional wisdom and the herd mentality.

Best language to learn

The best language to learn is not the answer you might think.  Lets say you are a native English speaker, therefore, lets rule out English.  If you are not a native speaker of English, of course the answer is English, do not waste your time learning French for example.  Great language mind you but not the best language to learn.   To learn German or French it is only useful if you are really into those cultures.

The best language to learn if you live in Europe:

  1. The Polish language – You can not even compare languages for both usefulness and uniqueness.
  2. Chinese (no explanation necessary, but in 100 years or so everyone will look like future people from south park.)

The best language to learn if you live in the USA:

  1. Your ethnic roots, Polish or Italian or Greek, for example.
  2. Chinese

This goes against conventional wisdom but is very important to understand my rational.

Why is Polish the best language to learn

Why do I recommend Polish as the most useful language?  The whole world speaks English.  This is the universal language for business.  I have traveled the world to pretty remote place and never had a problem with English.  Thank you MTV and Hollywood.

Therefore, why learn another universal European  language like French or German or even Spanish, if it does not get you anywhere that English can not already do.

People that speak English as a native language and Polish as a second earn 38% more in the UK than those in IT and finance than those who know English alone. This is according to a EU based think tank. The reason are obvious, with the millions of Poles working in the UK there is a great demand on all level for this language.

Further, KPMG has asserted that Poland is one of the best places to develop and invest a business.

John Markman and Jim Jubak from MSN money, two top US investment managers as well as Templeton”s  Mark Mobius recommends to explore emerging markets as this is where the real opportunities are in the future.

Go to Egypt or Greece for vacation,  everyone is learning Polish or Russian as a foreign language, not Spanish for example. Go to the Austrian Alps skiing and signs are in Polish in the hotels. Forget Croatia in the summer it is a Polish tourist colony.

For there being so few Polish people they have had such a huge impact on history from the beginning in 966 to bringing down communism to disproportional number of Nobel prize winners.  There is not way this nation is not the future. It is a great language to learn if you can get past the crazy grammar.

You say well I will double the number of people I can speak to if I learn Spanish. In my mind it serves no point unless you are passionate about this language. Why? I have traveled through South America and the Caribbeans and never had a problem with English. I am also from the US where large parts of the population is Spanish.

But I have never used Spanish.  I study Spanish now because I like it, but not because it is useful. In fact, I have a Spanish website and really love this language, but it is not my first choice or the best choice if you were going to learn one more language. But to compare it is one of the easiest languages to learn.

Do not learn Spanish because you think it is some golden ticket, it is not.

Here is my rational, Polish is the top language because with Polish you will be an amazingly different. No other language can compare.

Polish is a unique language. It also the hardest language to learn. However, it will make you unique as is Ukrainian, Norwegian or even Romanian.  It is also very useful as Polish people are everywhere, especially the UK, Brazil (1 million) Australia, US Poles are pretty much everywhere.

Polish people love to explore the world, not only for work, but like Wojciech Cejrowski, they are passionate all things cultural.  I have been in the most remote places and met Polish speaking people, from South American jungles to Mississippi (now that is really remote).

Warsaw Opera house 1938 – Best language to learn for literature and rich culture.

Many businesses are outsourcing to Poland.  Investment opportunities are in the new and emerging markets. Poland will be a net recipient of globalization for at least the next 15 years.

Poles are progressive. Do you think you can study French for a few years and be accepted by the French?  No way.  But Poland is a very progressive country and if you learn Polish, Poles will be more open then the French.

The best combination of languages to learn is – one universal language and one unique language

How do I know this and can go against conventional wisdom with confidence? I am an American and have been teaching languages in Europe for many years. My friends that have studied English and French or English and German get yawns from people on their CV when looking for a job or new opportunity. This combination of languages is nothing special. It is a generalist.  However, my friends that know English and Polish or English and Norwegian, have doors open to them. They are experts and specialists.

Indian linguistic map – learn a unique language – this is the best langauge to learn.

One universal language like English and one unique language like Polish makes you stand out and shine if you are an English native speaker.

Language learning  and relationships

Lets be honest and cut through the BS, countries like Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Romania and Iceland have the most beautiful women.  If you were to learn one of these languages things might happen in terms of relationships.

If you are back in the USA checking your match.com account when you get home from the office hoping something will happen, guess again.  If you are living in some exotic European country and speak their language, you might be surprised.

Best language to learn if you are a guy -A lot of my friends have made this comment: ‘there is no way I would marry a French or German or American woman’ . However, Polish women are the most beautiful women in the world.  Hmm, I am living in Poland and I do not know if I want the rest of the world finding out about Polish women and then moving here, but it is true.

18th century Polish lady – learn Polish the best language to learn if you have an eye for beauty.

Disclaimer, I am also Polish in ancestry of course so perhaps I am partial.

Best language to learn if you are a girl – If you are a women, many women like Italian or Spanish guys, so these languages you might find more exciting.

I met an American girl in South America. She said she was 35 not married, a lawyer living in NYC.  She said scr_w it and moved to South America, learned Spanish and got married.  I do not know if she is still with this Latin musician but at least she had guts and dared to be different.

Should with languages is boring

My point is do not study a language that is common or you think you should.  Have you ever noticed the word should sounds like the word S_ _ t.  Never base your life on shoulds, especially other people’s conceptions.  That is, do not listen to conventional wisdom as to what language you should speak.

Learn the language you have a connection to (ancestral), that is interesting for you.  I think the less spoken languages will make you more unique and more interesting as a person, as a human. This is why I recommend you ignore conventional wisdom about the best language to learn in the world and consider what am conveying.

Best language to learn – I need your feedback

What languages have you studied and how has it affected your life?  That is, what experience has this language brought you. Do you agree with my thesis that Polish (or some linguistically equivalent language) is the best language in the world to learn?

Russian language in Ukraine

What is the percentage of Ukrainian citizens in Ukraine who speak the Russian language? About 30% of the Ukrainians speak Russian as their primary language.

This was because it was a conscious effort to stamp our Ukrainian identity. Russian imperialism tried to flex over the democratic and free people of Ukraine. They tried to brainwash the people like they had propagandized their people.

However, most Russian-speaking Ukrainians are in the autonomous region of Crimea. About 50% of the people in this area are ethnic Russians, and about 75% speak Russian.  However, this is only one region.  The rest of Ukraine does not have these percentages. This is only because of the Russians moved people in there to skew the numbers.

In New Mexico Spanish speakers are about 50% and in Puerto Rico 95% percent of the people speak Spanish,  does that mean the USA should go Spanish?

Most everyone in Ukraine speaks Ukrainian, not Russian.  A minority speaks Russian, but many people in the UK speak Arabic; therefore, should the UK have Arabic as the official language?

Ukrainian should remain the official language of Ukraine.  If people want to speak Russian, they can, but Ukraine is Ukraine, not a state of Russia. Therefore, The Russian language should not be official in Ukraine.

In the Kyiv region, only 7% of the people speak Russian compared to 90% of Ukrainians.

Ukrainian is spoken by 71% percent of Ukrainians in Ukraine.

Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine.  However, Russian was required.  For a people, in this case Ukrainians,  to define themselves as a nation it is important to keep the Ukrainian language not Russian as the official language.

In Western Ukraine, like Ternopil Oblast (where my family is from) and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, the percentage of Russian language speakers is only about 1%.

Why is the Russian language in Ukraine?

Because Russia is an Empire and always has been, this percentage is because Ukraine went under a forced Russification and colonization program by Moscow.  Ukrainian was not a legal language.  Now Ukrainian is the language of Ukraine, however, Moscow is trying to change that and bring Russia back to its official language status.

The whole objective of Moscow is to try to disrupt and weaken Ukraine so it can further extend its empire.

I have studied Russian history, and for 1000 years, they do nothing but try to exploit and extract wealth for the elite in Moscow. The tragedy is, the Russian people suffer the most.  Russian language speakers and Russians in Ukraine and Russia could be wealthy if they simply voted out these pro-Moscow oligarchs. However, it is not as easy as it seems, as Moscow cheats in the Ukrainian elections.

Ukrainian elections

Moscow always tries to buy votes, poison Ukrainian politicians, bribe officials, and rig the Ukrainian elections.  Mean while, the West is too afraid to say anything. Germany needs gas from Russia; the US needs Russia to support its Oil policies in the Middle East.  This is all foolishness.  Ukraine is a rich country in terms of people and potential, and if Ukraine was integrated into the EU and NATO, then Russia’s position would be weakened, and eventually, Russia would be free from its Moscow Oligarchs.

Since the unjust and brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, there is not reason to learn or speak Russian in Ukraine.

Italian language related to Romanian

Italian language and Romanian

What is the connection between Italian and Romanian? It amazes me how many people do not know that Romania comes from the Roman empire’s republic of Dacia.  This means the language of Italian and Romanian are closely related. Modern Italian and Romanian are derivatives of Latin.

Many people believe that Romania is somehow gypsy or that they speak some Slavic language because they are an Eastern European country. The reality is Romanians are like Italians living in Eastern Europe in terms of culture, however, they are Dacian in genes.  Or Italians are Romanians living in Western Europe. It is not only that they are both Romance languages, many languages like Spanish. Portuguese and French can claim this also, but Romania has a close tie with Italian because of the history of their nation. Other Romanic langauges are Catalan, Occitan, Corsican,Friulian, Leonese, Aromanian, Sardinian, Sicilian, Asturian, Galician,Venetian,and Neapolitan. Many people consider these languages as dialects of Italian.  Something that is spoken at home but proper Italian is spoken on TV and in government offices.

Does the Roman Empire still exist

Linguistically yes it does. If you aggregate all the Romantic speaking languages then most of South America, central America, the southern US, Quebec Canada and Southern Europe as well as other places around the world speak languages and have the culture that was derived from Latin and Roman culture. The Romantic languages may in the end dominate the world because of current demographic trends connected with birth rates of Spanish speaking people.

Romantic languages like Italian, Romanian, Spanish and French are all over the world.

Can Romanians understand the Italian language

Yes, Romanians watch Italian language TV. Many Romanians work and live in Italy as both countries are EU countries and this means free movement of labor and capital.

I think for a Romanian to speak the Italian language or the other way around it would take about a month of studying Italian.  However, even if you do not study Italian, a Romanian can understand it and communicate.

If they Study Italian they will be speaking it almost like a native after a brief time.

I think the difference between Spanish and Romanian are further linguistically than Italian to either one respectively.  There are 700 million Romantic language speakers and of those 4% are Romania.

EU Italy and Romania

Italy is setting up clothing manufacturers in Romania.  Italy is a fashion hub and Romania because of its communist experience, has cheap high quality labor.  Therefore it is a good fit for business.

Some day Romania will be rich.  Many people again find this hard to believe but it is true. Being in the Euro zone with free movement of capital and an educated population, you can not stop it from happening.  It is like a valve has been opened up.

Many British investors have moved into Romania to get ahead of the game when it comes to participating in the growth of this country. Unfortunately this speculation bid prices up in the real estate market.

If I had extra cash I would personally invest in Romania.  They have great high tech computer skills at a low price  and the English language is spoken.

Voice to text

What is voice to text

A voice to text program allows you to speak into a microphone so speak, and what you speak will appear in your word document or notepad or where ever.

Think of the possibilities you do not need to type any more. Chat by speaking instead of typing. You can lay in bed and write your blog. No more hands that hurt from typing too much.  Basically you will reduce your reliance on your keyboard and mouse.

I am not fully accustom to it so I use both now, a combination of voice commands (speech recognition) and keyboard is the best for efficiency.

Further you speech faster than you type and you can do more in less time. The accuracy will be about ninety-five percent accuracy if you train the program. It has self training capabilities. I personally do not know if I spell at ninety-five percent accuracy.

Note this is not text to voice, which is something else. Text to voice programs are everywhere and they read to you. This is a diction or voice to text, which means you do not have to type any more.

Where to get a free voice to text program

I use a free Voice to text program that is available to Windows users called SAPI. SAPI is part of the Microsoft Speech Software Development Kit (SDK).  If you are on XP then you need to install it from here from Microsoft.  Free voice to text program . If you have Vista or Windows 7 you do not need to install this.  Voice to text program is found on your start menu as displayed below.

Voice to text Speech recognition program free from Microsoft

This program will let you write e-mails or your blog or write that book you have been thinking about just by speaking.  When you speak it will write for you.  The set up is easy and Microsoft has a basic dictation program.  You can buy some commercial ones but why?  They have a few more whistles and bells but the one that comes with your computer.

Try blogging in the bath tube.  The bathroom has good acoustics and I just speak away.  However, I have to go back and revise my posts.

The future of voice to text

Skype and many other companies are already starting to come out with applications what you can speak into your phone and it will send an sms.  I think they technology was developed for the disabled in mind, but now, as it progresses it has uses beyond its original intention.  It is your personal dictation security.

The more advanced programs have commands for moving your mouse and scrolling etc.

Language application for speech recognition

Voice to text programs come in various languages of course. If you are trying to learn pronunciation in the Spanish language for example, you could practice with a Spanish voice to speech recognition program and try to improve your accuracy when you are reading Spanish text.

If you have question about the install or use of this speech recognition program please review this site.

Bilingual education

Bilingual education for your child

The best way to raise a bilingual child is to expose them to both languages at the same time. That means,do not favor one language over the other. Simply speak naturally to your child in both languages. After the age of nine months you can actively teach your child the two languages by demonstrating what things are around the house. I found that before nine months, there is no great need to teach them, but rather speak to them naturally. That is bilingualism.

This post is a little long so I added some organization to it. Here are the major topics I will cover.

Why I know about raising a child with two languages

Here are my credentials for writing about bilingualism.

  • I have a daughter who is both American and Polish like me. We live in Krakow, Poland. We are raising her in two languages.
  • My mother was raised bilingual with English and Ukrainian.
  • My father was raised bilingual with English and Polish.
  • I was not raise with a multilingual education but had to learn languages as an adult. I now teach and learn languages in Europe.
  • I teach bilingual children as well as adults.

I do not profess to be the world expert on bilingualism or bilingual education, however, these are my personal experiences with bilingual children both as a father and a teacher.

I do not profess to be the world expert on bilingualism, however, these are my personal experiences with bilingual children both as a father and a teacher.

Real bilingual education mistakes stories

How not to teach children languages

I believe, and linguistic science confirms that people learn from mistakes. If you are an adult language learner, one of the best ways to learn is to make mistakes. It is our mistakes that teach us. Similarly, the Ancient Greeks favored tragedy over comedies. They preferred this because they believed we can learn not only from our mistakes but from other people’s mistakes.

Therefore, read and learn. I will give you five stories or examples of families that do not raise their children bilingual.

Bilingual education story one

I meet a British couple while on vacation in Greece. They were raising their children in Greece. They choose Greek to be their children’s first language. This decision was because the environment they was growing up in. They were given this language advice, that if a child learns two languages they can easily be confused. Therefore, it is better to learn one language at a time. This linguistic advice came from a local linguistic expert. Therefore, their intentions were to teach them English later, in school with the other children. This is wrong thinking. It is wrong because the children will learn their second languages, English, as a non-native speakers. In fact, they will never get those years back, and lose the window of opportunity to make them truly bilingual. For their whole life English will be stored in the second language area of their brain, rather than their primary language area of their brain. They will never master their second language and never truly be bilingual, even if they sound like they are fluent. Brain imagining confirms this and so does my personal experience.

Bilingual education story two

Another mistake in raising a child with two languages is being too passive. For example, I have meet a couple of American fathers in Poland who teach English to foreigners. Yet, amazingly these teachers are very passive about teaching their children English. Their children understand English, but speak Polish. That is the children do not want to use one of their two languages. Why? Children are children.

The children’s fathers are more poets or backpacker type teachers. They love their children very much, but when it comes to playing an active role in teaching them English, they are more passive. They enjoy talking philosophy or watching the football match on TV with their ex-pat friends in a pub than being active in their kids language learning. They wrongly assume, their children will meet English anyway. This is a wrong assumption. Why? Because kids gravitate toward the path of least resistance. Unless you actively guide children with love, patience and time, their learning during these critical years will be less than optimal. The result is they will not be perfectly bilingual.
Bilingual education story three

I also meet a British father who thought it was cool to speak Polish his son. In my opinion this is very selfish as this child will not learn English like his father learned English. I was doing this myself a little. I love speaking in different languages. So I was practicing my Polish sometimes with my daughter sometimes or mixing English with other languages. However, one of my students point this out to me. I was unaware I was doing this. I do not know why I was not aware, it was my fault.

I think most parents’ mistakes are things they are not aware of consciously. If you want your child to be bilingual you have to be proactive. If you and your spouse speak several languages, then each one of your needs to speak in the language(s) that you are the strongest in speaking. Otherwise, your child will speak with an accent. In fact, I met children growing up in multilingual homes with permanent accents because their parents did not teach them in the right way.

On the other hand, another point which might sound like it contradicts some of what I said above, if you live in a country, favor the other languages. Why? Because all the children’s friends, school and TV will give them immersion. To be bilingual children your children need your help with the non local language. If you are not worried about your child’s linguistic development, become worried. Quite your job. Stay at home with your child and work with them. Better than saving for an Ivy league school, is teach and love them when they are young. This goes for fathers and mothers. What would you, yourself rather be a polyglot with multiply passports and experience with many cultures or have a piece of paper that says you have a degree? If I had to choose I would choose the former. However, the irony is if your child is a polyglot then they will have a better chance in getting into a top school. So stay at home if you can and have your kids love languages.

Does this sound like radical advice? It is not. I do not have a cushy life. However, I hope to raise happy children. What is more important to you, your important career and money or your children?

Bilingual education story four

A couple of my neighbors are rich. One is a Lawyer and one is a Doctor. They have both asked me should I teach their children who are around two years old English. I said yes, right now, start today. Get a private tutor, it does not have to be me. Or put them in a class with native speakers. There are English schools for the young. There is an English church in town and an English story time at the American bookstore and many other opportunities for the kids to have immersion even without spending money. Get involved in your child’s language learning. They said, ah they will learn it in high school, and they took a vacation (the third that year) instead or investing in their child. Again, I think this is very selfish.

Bilingual education story five

I was teaching a bilingual native speaker in English and Polish. The girl was ten years old and lived in the USA until she was eight. However, since moving to Poland she was lagging behind in her English language development. This was because since she moved to Poland and attended school her parents and friends spoke only in the Polish language.

Her mother was determined that the way I teach her daughter was with grammar drills. This is because this is the way she learned English as a none native speaker. Her mother wanted this naturally bilingual fluent native speaking child to spend my lessons with her doing a lot of book work. Book work meant learning grammar forms and pen and paper, rather than conversation. For example, practicing the present perfect tense or the difference between passive verse active speech and English grammatical constructions.

The child so disliked languages learning she would not do her homework and complained all the time, and then said she did not like English. This is the wrong way to teach a native speaker bilingual child. A child like that needs to learn vocabulary naturally and just practice and enjoy the language. Read books at her level and have fun with the language. She should read books like Sweet valley high and Nancy Drew or movies like Princess Diaries or learn about animals and the world in English. She should not be punished with boring grammar and book work, while in the presence of a native speaker. These grammar books were made for non-native speakers to learn a language as an adult. A bilingual child’s brain functions totally different. Eventually I taught her my way. That is, lots of natural conversation and just get her using and enjoying being bilingual, watching films using the Internet in English and talking about it during the lessons as well as some vocabulary work. Her mother was from the old school and did not like it and wanted her to return to grammar books. I eventually gracefully gave up as I did not need the stress.

What can we learn from these bilingualism failures above

I think the lessons from the above stories are as follows:

  • Bilingual children should learn both languages simultaneously, with equal development with both languages. Do not worry about measuring their linguistic development with their peers because they are special bilingual children.
  • Do not assume a child will become perfectly bilingual naturally just because one or two parents speak a language. You need to be active and not passive in the teaching process.
  • Put your child’s development before you career and lifestyle and education in school. You, and not your school or any experts are responsible for your child’s development.
  • Do not teach bilingual children in methods made for non-native speakers. Make it fun not work.

Bilingual experts

In my opinion ‘experts’ are often full of ideas and ego. Therefore, they lose their objectively. In the past psychologist were recommending the approach mentioned above, that is teaching a child one language at a time. They were wrong for many reasons.
Children have a window to learn languages in a native way. Once this door is closed it is closed forever. Even if you are fluent in a second language as an adult you will store the information in a different area of the brain and it only mimics real fluency.
Children that learn two or more languages as a child’s brain develops a more flexible structure than non-bilingual children. In fact, these children have a greater protection against senility in older life and mental decline. They are also in general just smarter. How do I know this? Modern studies on the brain confirm this.
A child might initially develop linguistically slower learning multiply languages at once, but this challenges their brain and they develop compensatory strategies for learning a language. Therefore, by the age of ten they are equal or greater in both languages.

My parents did not make my trilingual for this reason. They were advises by experts to only teach English. The experts were wrong. While the experts are trying to give a definition to the word bilingual you and be focusing on teaching your child Spanish or another target language.

Raising child with a bilingual education

How to give your child a bilingual education even if you are not multilingual.
With all children with love and patience. They are only children.I do not believe in the hard way, at least not for the first twenty-five years. From zero to eight is when IQ is determined in a child as the child’s brain prunes unstimulated connections. From eight to eighteen a child’s emotional stability is determined. If you mess it up during these two phases they will spend the next twenty years of their life trying to recover. Therefore, with love and patience try to be good to them.

The first thing to remember is, they are only children. So try not to be goal oriented when working with them. Simply be there and spend time with them and have fun with them.

Concrete ways to raise a bilingual child
That being said here are some concrete ways to raise a child to be bilingual is you do not speak a two languages yourself.

Bilingualism-a bilingual education for children is fun
  • YouTube is in my opinion the best resource. It has short clips with native speakers which are made for kids.I use YouTube as a create source of multilingual sounds for them to digest. Kids get addicted to this early and can watch three or more hours a day starting at about age one. Next move to kids movies in your target language. Children love to watch the same thing over and over again.
  • I also love books. Reading every night from age 3 months or earlier, in different languages. Even if you are not a native in the language, reading to them with an accent is better than nothing, just my opinion. I think some linguists will cringe at this.
  • Enroll them in a bilingual day care. Or if your target language is Spanish for example, a Spanish day care even if you live in the USA. If they have friends that speak the target language bilingualism will be more natural.
  • Perhaps this is my best advice. Hire a native speaking tutor. Sell your car if you can not afford it. There is nothing more important then loving your child. Use local classified ads that exist in every city. There are always students from other countries that will tutor your child at ten dollars or less. If you spent thirty dollars a week on your child your child would be bilingual for life. If you live in the USA are you telling me you can not afford thirty dollars a week? I live in Poland and I live on only a few hundred dollars a month. Stop making excuses and start investing in your child while they are young, rather than saving for that big high in the sky Ivy league education that in my opinion is not worthy as much as enriched cognitive function of your child’s brain while it is still flexible.

Use your imagination. If you are proactive. Be positive and relaxed about it. Although I make a strong argument that you should make introduce bilingualism to your child, there are no shoulds in life. But why not introduce bilingualism into your child’s life and enrich it.

Here is a series of posts I wrote on languages and bilingualism .  Here another site worthy of consideration on bilingual education.

You are smarter than you think. Look in your town and with multimedia resources to teach your child more than one language. If you have a desire, you can have a bilingual child and it will enrich their lives.

Foreign language conversation

Foreign language conversation

Do you want to learn a language, try foreign language conversation.

Foriegn language conversation class

The best is conversation with a native speaker of your target foreign language. This post will cover:

Foreign language conversation

  1. My reasons why I think conversation is one of the best ways to learn a language
  2. How to use this tutoring to the best of your advantage
  3. Where to find a foreign language tutor

Why conversation with a native speaker is valuable to learn a language

I have taught languages for many years now. I have also been learning languages for many years. I have tried every method under the sun. In my opinion if you are serious about learning a language one of the best methods is to have a tutor in your target language to speak with. It is like the matrix, you can learn on your own and use programs but until you are out of the simulation programs (or text books if you may). You need to practice speaking, not just studying or watching movies in your foreign language. One on one foreign language conversations not in a class.

Foreign language conversations one on one

Maximizes your conversation lessons

Most people just show up to lessons whether it is at a school or a private tutor and expect to learn a language. This does not work. What you need to do is study every day. Day in and day out and let your 1 hour a week with a tutor be cream. Just practice where you can flex what you have learned. I have worked with students that learn words and study everyday and they make progress and others that just show up. If you just show up you will not get worst, you often improve but very slowly. But if you drill with flashcards at home or a language learning program and then practice with native speaker conversation in your foreign language then you will improve.

I recommend flashcards as the best way to learn on your own. I if you want to learn Russian for example I have great visual learning flashcards as well as other languages.

Foreign language conversation resources

For the lessons I recommend 70% pure conversation (where you are corrected and repeated patterns of mistakes are noted by the tutor and worked into the grammar lessons) 20% grammar drills (real drilling – not too much explaining grammar) and 10% other, which could be dictation, reading/pronunciation work etc. This grammar drilling consists of having the native speaker drill over and over verbally different iterations of grammar examples.

Foreign language conversation resources

Where is the best place to find a foreign language conversation tutor for lessons? Look around the Internet and ideas on my site.  I would say classified ads is also a good place to start. If you are in the states craigslist, in the UK gumtree or use the Internet as many tutor have pages. Take your time and write a few teachers as each persons style is different. Language schools are ok but are pricey, better to find lessons on your own.

Picking the right foreign language tutor

English native speakers in Europe are often backpacker hipsters and not very good unless you find someone doing it for a couple of years. The same goes for say a Russian or Polish tutor in the UK or USA. Also I am not a big fan of skype lessons (I have had many people ask if I do these lessons, but I turn them down) as they are really not the same, you need a 3d real person, your brain takes information in differently when its real. Computers are great for learning a language on your own but for conversation you need a 3d person, your brain needs 3d real for languages in addition to other resources like flashcards. If you do not have too much choice in experience, girls are better teachers but if you find a guy who has been teaching for a few years men are better conversation teachers.

Foreign language conversation teacher dating

Dating your language teacher

It is interesting to note some people do wind up dating their conversation teacher. A lot of the teachers are young and beautiful and are in a new country looking for new experiences and you have an interest in their language.
What if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend who is a native speaker is there any value in taking private lessons. Yes, because your partner does not drill you like they should, they are too nice. If you have a partner who is in your target language your lessons should be mostly drilling, not explaining. Explaining which many language teachers, especially none native speakers do are of little value because language is a reflex.

Let me know if you have any other ideas about foreign language conversation or what you think is the best way to learn a foreign language.