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Learning Languages Cheaply

Recently, the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler blog addressed the issue of learning a foreign language, looking for the most effective ways to gain foreign language skills without breaking the bank. Here’s a quick summary of what the Frugal Traveler found:

Podcasts on iTunes are a cheap (sometimes free) way to pick up foreign language skills. Chinesepod is especially noteworthy if you are interested in learning Chinese, Spanish, French, or Italian as it also allows you to interact with native speakers who can correct your pronunciation.

CD-based courses like Rosetta Stone may or may not be a thrifty choice-in less expensive countries, you can actually sign up for a travel-based program that lets you immerse yourself in the foreign language you wish to learn for less than you would spend on a course from Rosetta Stone. However, if you’re going to a destination where travel is expensive or you just want to become a proficient speaker in your spare time, these can be good choices. Also, check out your local library. Many libraries offer access to language learning software to patrons for free.

Phrasebook apps for smart phones may seem convenient, but old-fashioned books are often easier to use.

How does the Frugal Traveler suggest you learn a foreign language? Craigslist! That’s right…sandwiched in between all of the other useful and/or weird postings on Craigslist are people who are willing to trade language lessons. Usually, these are native speakers who want help brushing up on their English in exchange for teaching you to speak their native tongue.

Aside from price, trading language lessons over Craigslist has a couple of different advantages. First, you get help with your pronunciation from a native speaker. Second, the “textbook” version of a language can differ from the way people actually speak it in a thousand tiny ways. Learning from a native speaker might leave better prepared for your travels. Who knows? You might even make a new friend.

How Far Would You Go?‎

As babies grow up and develop language skills, they lose the ability to hear and produce sounds that aren’t used in their native language. This typically happens between 8 and 10 months, and it’s one of the things that makes it so difficult to learn a new language as an adult. However, with practice, most people can re-learn how to make these sounds as part of their language lessons.

Unfortunately, for British teenager Rhiannon Brooksbank-Jones, perfection remained elusive even after years of practice in Korean. The problem? She was quite literally “tongue tied.” Rhiannon had a condition called “ankyloglossia,” in which the frenulum that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too short and/or too thick. There aren’t many statistics available on how common it is, but a study done at Southhampton General Hospital found that about 10% of babies born at that hospital were affected. The condition sometimes resolves by itself in early childhood, but at Rhiannon’s age, the only option was surgery. Read more

Baby talk

When Do Babies Start Learning Language?

By now, almost everyone knows that infants begin to learn language long before they utter their first words. But did you know that babies start learning language before they are even born? At least, that’s the conclusion that German researchers from the University of Wurzburg came to in a new study, published in the journal “Current Biology.”

For the study, the researchers recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 different newborn babies. Some of the babies were born to French-speaking parents; others were born to German-speaking parents. You might think that that wouldn’t matter, that all babies sound the same when they cry. However, the babies were only 3 to 5 days old, and they were already crying in “accents” that mimicked the intonations of the adult’s language. So, the French babies’ cries had a rising inflection, and the German babies’ cries had a falling inflection.

According to the researchers, the babies were most likely imitating the speech they had heard while in the womb.  In this article from the BBC, researcher Kathleen Wermke said that  “The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their foetal life. Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”

Wermke also theorized that the babies were trying to bond more closely with their mothers by mimicking them in the only way possible-through the intonation of their cries.

Ojibwe Language Into Modern Day

The Ojibwe language is the fourth most common Native American language spoken in North America, with a total of approximately 56.531 speakers in the US and Canada. Even so, like most native languages, it is in some danger of dying out as most of the speakers are elderly.

However, steps are being taken to preserve the language. One effort, which is being led by University of Minnesota Duluth education professor Mary Hermes, involves creating a series of videos showing Ojibwe being used in casual, everyday situations, as it will have to be spoken if it is to survive and thrive in the future. Read more

Learning a New Language May Delay Alzheimer’s Symptoms

Can learning more than one language help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease?

Not exactly, but if you’re already affected by the illness, being bilingual may buy you some time. According to the Daily Mail, scientists at York University in Toronto found that bilingual individuals affected by Alzheimer’s generally sought treatment for symptoms 3.2 years later than people who spoke only one language. On average, bilingual people were 78.6 years old when they began to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s, compared to 75.4 for people who only spoke one language.

To explain the effect, the Daily Mail went to one of the scientists who conducted the study:

“Speaking two languages isn’t going to do anything to dodge the bullet,’ said Ellen Bialystok…But she added that improved cognitive reserve was ‘the same as the reserve tank in a car: Once the brain runs out of fuel, it can go a little farther’.

Read more

Learn another Language for Free

Would you like to learn another language? Have you spent the past few years talking about how you “really should sign up for a class?” Sometimes, it’s hard to find the time for continuing education.

Software programs like Mango and Rosetta Stone provide flexibility for people with busy schedules, but they are not cheap. However, free, convenient language learning programs are available through the magic of the Internet.

Here’s a round-up of some of the many places online where you can learn a language for free.

Open Culture has a list of free language learning resources on the Internet. These freebies include lessons in Spanish, Arabic, Irish, Hindi and even Luxembourgish. In all, 37 different languages are covered. The resources are mainly podcasts available from I-Tunes. Many of them provide only basic conversational instruction, but some are more in-depth.

The BBC website also has a great page with resources for beginner and intermediate-level speakers of several different languages from around the world. If you’d like to learn French, German or Italian, the BBC offers an email correspondence course with an assessment at the end. Audio and video courses are available for French, Spanish, Greek, Italian, German Portuguese and Chinese. You can also learn how to speak Welsh, Gaelic or Irish.

At MIT’s website, you can help yourself to free courses in Chinese, French, German and Spanish. Also, you can put the language you are learning into its cultural context by taking courses about foreign language literature and about different cultures. For the language learning classes, most or all of the reading material has been converted to PDF and is available as a free download. For literature courses, you do have to buy the textbooks.

If you live in the United States, you should also check out your local library’s website. Many public libraries provide free access to language courses from Mango or Rosetta Stone if you have a library card.

Internet access is also free at all United Kingdom libraries where you can research for information on learning languages. Your local librarian will be happy to help you get started.

A Second Language May Delay Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most heart-breaking diseases of the elderly, and one of the  most poorly understood.  The causes are unclear; while scientists believe that genetics are part of the picture, they also believe that environmental factors have a role to play in how and when a person develops the disease.

Also unclear is how to prevent Alzheimer’s, though scientists have known for some time that engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help delay the onset.  Research has also suggested that Alzheimer’s tends to strike (or at least to become clinically apparent) later in life in people who speak two or more languages. Now, a new study offers an additional ray of hope, showing that bilingual people do not start experiencing symptoms until much later on in the course of the disease than people who only speak one language. Read more

CIA Increases Language Requirements for Top Staff

The Central Intelligence Service (CIA) announced on Friday that it is increasing its language requirements for employees looking to be promoted to the top ranks of the agency, the Senior Intelligence Service (SIS).

Agency director Leon Panetta sent out a note to all CIA staff, stating that he expects the high-ranking employees:

“to lead the way in strengthening this critical expertise.”

The agents require language skills anyway bit this announcement is about keeping those language skills fresh and up to date.

Agents who are promoted to SIS will have one year t meet the language requirement. If the language requirements are not met within one year the agent will return to their previous, lower grade.

According to CBS news Panetta said:

“the change will allow the CIA to be better positioned to protect the American nation in the years ahead.”

This new policy is part of a much bigger five year imitative which aims to double the number of analysts and collectors who are proficient in a foreign language, expand the number of agents proficient in ‘mission critical languages’, including Arabic, Pushto and Urdu and make language skills more important in CIA hiring decisions.

5 Secrets to Learning a New Language

Learning a new language is a fairly common goal, but it can be difficult to accomplish. To help you gain proficiency in the language of your choice, we’ve rounded up the following language learning tips and secrets from real people across the web:

Just Do It (Talking, that Is)

Benny Lewis, who speaks 8 languages fluently and runs the “Fluent in 3 Months” blog, offers this simple tip for beginning language learners as the core of his “Speak from Day One” language learning course: “You just need to speak it. Speak it regularly, speak it confidently, and speak it immediately. The more you speak, the quicker you will improve.”

This is easier said than done, of course. You have to be willing to sound like an idiot. That’s why immersing yourself by traveling to a country where that language is primary is so effective: speaking from personal experience, the only thing worse than having a cashier at an Italian market give you the stink-eye while you try to ask to use the telephone is being stranded at said market because you can’t call your ride. Being in another country forces you to get over your awkwardness and social anxiety.

Even if you can’t travel, though, it’s easy to put this tip into practice. Just find a native speaker, and check your dignity at the door.

Actively Watch Movies

When Lifehacker writer John Smith was learning Spanish, he enhanced his skills by actively watching movies in Spanish-at first with English subtitles, then with Spanish subtitles, and finally with no subtitles at all. He explains his process here. The advantage is that it gives you a “chance to hear a more diverse set of voices saying the same things, and all the while it is reinforcing the basics of the language, the bread and butter phrases that are used the most.”

Know Thyself

Michael Erard, the author of a book on “hyperpolyglots” (people who speak many languages), recently told Time Magazine that one thing the hyperpolygots he interviewed had in common was that “they know how they learn, so they don’t waste time with methods that don’t work for them. An example would be knowing that social interaction is a problem and saying, ‘I’m going to spend time with texts.”

Persistence Pays Off

Another common characteristic of hyperpolyglots? Per Michael Erard, “they don’t give up.” Trying to pick up a new language can make your brain ache, especially if it’s not closely related to the language you already use. Keep trying until it “clicks.”

Learn Passively

This tip also comes from Lifehacker: Modify the environment around you so that it helps you learn your new language passively. That means labeling as many of the objects in your house and office as possible, and also changing the settings on your computer and your phone to make them speak the language you’re learning.

Do you have any other tips that make it easier to learn a new language? Share them in the comments!

Image source: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by j3net

Learning Language With a Game

Have you always dreamed of learning a new language? Make a game of it! That’s the idea behind Memrise, a new language learning website that focuses on building your foreign language vocabulary with social games, quizzes and mnemonic devices.

To help you learn new words more quickly, Memrise introduces them with clever pictures or mnemonic phrases to help you associate the word with its meaning. For example, the Mandarin Chinese character for “child” is represented by a picture of a baby in swaddling clothes, in the shape of the symbol.

There’s also social gaming element- each new word you’re presented with becomes a seed in a virtual garden. Players “tend” the plants by practicing the word and taking quizzes. One of Memrises’ co-founders is a neuroscientist, and the quizzes are supposed to be scientifically calibrated to come at just the right time and with just the right level of difficulty to keep the game challenging but not discouraging. Read more