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Kató Lomb (wikipedia.org)
145 points by keiferski on Feb 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

Heh. One of her methods for learning a new language sounded very familiar.

> Even she was bored with the fabricated dialogues of coursebooks, so her favourite method was to obtain an original novel in a language completely unknown to her, whose topic she personally found interesting (a detective story, a love story, or even a technical description would do), and that was how she deciphered, unravelled the basics of the language: the essence of the grammar and the most important words. She didn't let herself be set back by rare or complicated expressions: she skipped them, saying: what is important will sooner or later emerge again and will explain itself if necessary.

Certainly sounds like my experience reading some code. Moreover, the more familiar you are with the language itself, the more transparent different dialects become. (Makes me wonder if she could understand Scots)

As well— the growing ability to read and generally understand some code in a language unfamiliar. IE, for a C expert, D or JavaScript is probably intelligible enough to understand what the program is intended to accomplish, even if there are parts of the code or syntax that are less intelligible. I'm sure that's been written about enough by now.

edit: grammar

This seems very much consistent with the Input Hypothesis of language acquisition.

Here's a good introduction to the idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_EQDtpYSNM

Edit: Just realized that the originator of that theory, Stephen Krashen, actually got to meet her. Fascinating!

It's interesting you draw this parallel; I've pondered the same for a while now. After programming for several years, I wonder how I would fare trying to pick up a second spoken language using similar tactics to learning a programming language.

I've wondered that as well but approach the subject with much more apprehension. With programming languages I just get it set up and blow things up until I get something to work, and carry on. Largely out of impatience and moxy. No fear! Then again I don't just hop into writing memory allocators. Similarly I suppose her first experience with a language isn't to attempt to translate at the UN. It's also more fun that way.

It sounds like she had a similar attitude with written languages.

I’m in the middle of this process right now, actually. My programming background has helped a lot with the written language— using dictionaries and grammar references to write sentences is very similar to writing code in a new language by referring to its manual. The transfer to speaking and listening is much less pronounced, as my brain hasn’t fully realized that the spoken and written languages are the same.

The barrier I've noticed when switching from reading to listening, is adapting to native accents.

I suppose real-time vs. at my own pace is another aspect that comes into play.

Reading is always easier than listening because you can control the rate while reading. With a live conversation partner, you cannot do that yet, until we have accurate, real-time subtitling, perhaps with AR.

The hack is to find video material that has exact or near exact subtitles in your target language. By using a short, repeatable video, you will be able to associate sounds with the words, not the other way around. Since spoken language is sounds, you have to start with the sounds. It can be easy to get frustrated as it is a process of repeated listening. For that reason, choose something you like.

The only carry-over I've had is a faster understanding of concepts like noun phrases acting similarly to parsing expressions.

There's a formula in there that reads:

  Invested Time x Motivation
  --------------------------  = Results
As an engineer without formal education, this rings very true. When people ask "how'd you get into this?" typically my answer includes the phrase "interest times time." The inclusion of inhibition in the formula crystalizes something I've been feeling for a long time.

This resonated with me too. In particular, one of the things that's always made software approachable to me is that my failures are hidden on my machine where no one can see them, so I have almost no inhibition.

Learning any skill that requires social interaction is much harder for me because then all of my social anxieties and fear of failure kick in. I would love to learn a second language, and this is the main thing holding me back. I think I have the right mental skills to put the time in and wrap my head around it, I just break out in a cold sweat when I imagine horribly mispronouncing something in front of a native speaker.

Mispronunciation is no big deal! That is just one dimension in a language and one which gets better over time and immersion.

If you wish to avoid the social aspects completely, how about starting with practising to only read a language? There are plenty of newspapers and other material to study and it helps to be able to figure out what is said from the context. It will involve some guesswork but it keeps your brain thinking. With context I mean that any big piece of news is likely to appear also in the news written in a language you already know, so you can cross-reference and figure out unknown words.

> Mispronunciation is no big deal!

I'd argue on the contrary that it is the most important part when starting learning a new language. People easily skip the pronunciation and phonology part of their target language and then hit a barrier while still being at the beginner level because they cannot go further: nobody understand them. Working seriously on that part at the beginning is fundamental not to lost time and waste effort later on. Heck, I've heard people with 3 years of Chinese that still could not make most consonants correctly...

My point was that if someone has a severe social anxiety, one can learn to read the language first. This way they can build a model of phrases and how words tie together and so on.

Of course, to actually communicate with people, writing or speaking is required.

Then only with speaking comes the pronunciation. That can be very cognitively demanding in addition to other cognitive loads, so having a vocabulary and phrases ready can help.

I know two foreign languages. The first foreign one I started to learn by accident by listening (English, through kids' movies/cartoons with subtitles) until English formally started in school. At that point it helped a lot to know some phrases and structure "beforehand".

The second foreign one started in school at 14 years old (Swedish), but I did not have a lot of motivation for it back then. Reading felt easier and that is what helped me pick up the language in more detail over ten years later.

I also studied German for two years but never used it afterwards so I can't really speak it. I can mostly figure out stuff I read if it has words I know or can figure out the meaning from the context.

Now, is my lack of German pronunciation skills stopping me from deepening my skills in German? Nope, I can still study vocabulary and reading in general. Of course I cannot talk with anyone in a proper way.

But, at least to me, knowing a language does not imply being able to speak it. Speaking is just one dimension (of reading, writing, listening, speaking).

I don't think they were at all saying it's not important, but rather trying to encourage, to reassure that 'breaking into a cold sweat' isn't necessary.

Also, from what I've heard, Chinese is rather an extreme outlier among languages in terms of difficulty in westerners being understood, isn't it? Everything about it's different. (It works the other way too: by far the worst, opaque, near-indecipherable English-speaking I've experienced online text-chatting with people was by a couple of Chinese people..who told me they were English teachers! I could hardly believe it..)

It's not a barrier if no one understands you, still many years of learning to do. To make a sound you first need to hear it many times and be able to recognize and distinguish it.

You don't need years to produce a phoneme that can be recognized by a native speaker. The important point is two-fold: being close enough to the actual sound, and working on minimal pairs where confusion can occur. It means you don't need to sweat over how you pronounce /r/ in French because however you make it it won't be confused with something else, but one sure should work on making their Chinese /t/ and /tʰ/ correctly. Also for listening given the sheer amount of audio and video that there is on the web it is easy to cram the required hours of listening in a few months.

My point is speaking early on doesn't help with learning the language and isn't a barrier. On the contrary, it slows down progress. You shouldn't try to speak or even attempt to write sentences until you have large enough vocabulary in your brain with all the proper pronunciation and spelling associations and patterns, like to understand 80% of the words in a random article large vocabulary (or more, it takes many years to get to 99% and higher). Otherwise you will learn wrong things and form associations with wrong pronunciations because you had to make assumptions due to broken methodology and those take a long time to get rid of and relearn.

> Mispronunciation is no big deal!

What I know logically to be true and what I'm able to convince my insecurities to believe are sadly not always the same. :)

> If you wish to avoid the social aspects completely, how about starting with practising to only read a language?

I have considered that, but I worry somewhat about ending up with deeply ingrained mental mispronunciations if I go too far learning a language without validating pronunciation along the way.

Either way, it's mostly academic at this point since I definitely don't have the time to take on a project like this right now.

Have you tried 1 drink of beer or wine first? Can reduce your inhibition and keep the other person less judgmental.

Not the parent commenter, but I've tried this, my anecdatum is that I became less sharp and thus had a much harder time staying deeply attentive, which, for me, is critical for social interaction.

You have a hard time with social interaction after 1 drink?

YMMV, for sure. Most people I know seem to get chattier (in whatever language) after 1 drink, but responses are variable and I can imagine some folks clamming up.

I'm one of the ones with variable responses. Sometimes it amplifies anxiety and inhibition, occasionally alleviates it. Stimulants typically do me better.

A couple years ago I got an ADD diagnosis. Should have happened when I was 12, but you work with what you got. I credit the ADD with pushing me to pursue my interests over what was assigned to me. Wasn't really a choice, I would stay up until 3AM+ regularly, trying and failing to do homework. I graduated from high school a semester late, with a 1.2 GPA.

In the meantime I was teaching myself, with basically no guidance, how to build small robots, program bare-metal microcontrollers, generally build things. When I was 18 got me a job at a small tech company (what luck!), which opened up a whole world of opportunity - interesting projects to work on, very talented people to learn from.

That is my default solution for social anxiety, yes. Works surprisingly well.

Almost everyone goes through this. It is especially bad with your friends. The hack is to pay someone to help you practice. iTalki is a great site for finding native speakers who aren’t necessarily language teachers but who have a genuine interest in helping others learn languages. Also, friends may get frustrated with you as you probably will speak grammatically incorrectly starting out and they may not be able to state the correct grammar to use, having internalized it in childhood.

You get that with human languages too. You don't have to talk to other people until you are ready. And almost none of the effort in learning a language goes into practicing speaking either way. I get that traditional approaches of studying languages focus on speaking early on. Just avoid them, they are too broken and crazy inefficient.

This formula is fascinating. Sums up what I've read on expertise by K. Anders Ericsson. Inhibition is what makes this unique and I think traditional education could benefit from acknowledging the role of inhibition in learning.

A friend of mine is a translator, and similarly "earns money with" over a dozen languages. Apparently once you've learned a few it gets a lot easier. It's kinda fascinating that someone can learn so many languages.

My own experience with it is a it more organic and less deliberate, but I find similar things. Once there's a sort of logic to each language that you've acquired it gets easier to learn stuff, the holes kinda fill themselves. I've never reached full confidence -say enough to do a degree in a non-language course- in all my languages but a couple, but there's enough to build on for most of them, and a lot of everyday stuff is okay. I also don't beat myself up over grammatical issues like keeping loads of gender/subject/etc agreements.

On the software side it's maybe similar. You can group languages by various traits like declarative/imperative, GC/manual, static/dynamic types, and a few others. So that allows you to in gross terms translate a program from one language to another, but it's not quite the same as knowing a language inside out so that you fully use all the useful features.

I merely speak English and have been learning Spanish. (Enough so that using capital letters for languages seems soo weird to me now!) In doing so, I've learned at least as much about English and Latin. I wish I'd set out to learn the other Romance languages at the same time[0], as learning one sheds so much light on the others. e.g. in French, most words are recognizable as either similar to their English or Spanish/Latin equivalents. And the verb structure (the hardest thing about learning Spanish, although it almost seems natural to me now) is very similar in all Romance languages. ('Je sais' may look very different to 'yo sé', but (in some spanish-speaking regions at least) they're pronounced almost identically. In spanish you usually don't say 'yo' because the verb endings tells you who, but in French enough of the different endings have become the same that you do always have to say who.) Romanian looks crazy with all the words ending in -u, but all those words ending in -o in spanish came from Latin nouns ending in -um; the -m was gradually dropped, and -u became -o. (I can kind of read Portuguese - it's like Spanish with extremely bad spelling - or vice versa.) I made a page a few years ago comparing common words, verbs etc in those languages http://www.adamponting.com/romance-languages/

[0] Well, maybe not - getting on top of one Romance verb system was enough, it seemed soooo weird and complicated in the beginning. Although I'm still a novice at using the subjunctive.

> 'Je sais' may look very different to 'yo sé', but (in some spanish-speaking regions at least) they're pronounced almost identically.

I speak French natively and Spanish fluently. I also listen to a fair amount of Reggeaton, which is quite often in Spanish spoken with a Puerto Rico accent.

I always find it interesting how the Puerto Rican pronunciation of "Yo soy" sounds so very close to the southern French pronunciation of "Je suis".


"Si tu eres un caballo, je suis el dueño del hipódromo"

Ah, fascinating. They're both surprisingly similar, since I guess the spoken language evolves not just differently but faster than the written. (I don't think I even knew that Latin continuously evolved into today's Romance languages until I read about the history of spanish..) My colombian friends got me into reggaeton - I'd love some more links to your favourites please! Thanks :-)

Check out "Calle 13" ("Residente" nowadays): he moved from reggaeton to rap but the lyrics are decent and slow enough for a Spanish learner.

This immediately brought to mind ”The Atomic Bomb Considered as Hungarian High School Science Fair Project” [1]. Would be interesting to know if Lomb had any Ashkenazi heritage.

[1] https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/26/the-atomic-bomb-consid...

Given her parents' last names (Szilárd and Schwartz) and that she married a Mr. Laub, she was probably of Jewish descent.

Yes, indeed!

Yes, she had.

She also managed to get a phd in chemistry!

bojler eladó


a létige smafu? ;)

mennyibe kerül? :)

egy kormányváltásba

nagyon drága

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