Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Future of Language Learning Software
I was going to write more about Pakistan today, especially after having my ire aroused by a very biased article in "The Economist". But forget the magazines, their information is always a few days old. The latest is that Musharraf agreed to hold elections in January, as previously planned.

Language learning is one of my hobbies, I guess you could say, but it is very frustrating. I have tried many languages in many different ways, but the only way that has made me fluent is the "sink or swim" school. I have studied Spanish for over 10 years, and I still can't understand Mexicans when they talk fast. But after a year in Austria, with no previous German instruction, I was fluent. The difference was, of course, immersion.

One of the best language learning tools I have seen so far is Rosetta Stone, thanks to its system of helping you to learn a language without using English as a crutch, but it still consists of drills, drills, and drills... which help get the language in your head, but don't deliver the payoffs that are necessary to keep a language learner psychologically motivated.

The 'payoffs' that I'm talking about come from ordering a meal in a restaurant, or getting and understanding directions from someone, or getting a joke in another language in a casual conversation. This is the main reason that immersion works so well. Our brains are wired to learn faster when we perceive something as useful, and when we can put it to use. And I don't know of any language learning software that provides that essential element of learning.

I am also a strong believer that learning a language should be fun. Languages are fascinating, and you can get swept away in the sheer beauty of a language when your understanding of it slips up another notch. It's exhilirating. But it doesn't happen when you are doing grammar exercises. It happens when you read something in a newspaper article, or you overhear something at a bus stop.

Immersion, however, has some serious shortcomings. It is not an organized way to learn. There is no efficient system of building vocabulary, the system most people deal with is bringing a dictionary everywhere and thumbing through it every time they hear a word that they don't understand. Grammar, if not studied separately, usually gets skipped when learning by immersion.

Not only that, but most of the essential conversational learning that takes place with immersion occurs at excruciatingly remote intervals. In a natural environment, people have to have a reason to speak with you. You generally can't count on being able to strike up conversations with random strangers and expect them to bear with you while you struggle with the language. Most people don't have the patience.

Also, a lot of potential learning time is squandered in an immersion environment, because you don't learn anything from hearing a person and not understanding them. Often, seeing what a person is saying in text clarifies the 'shortcuts' that occur when people talk, and that can accelerate learning immensely. So could having unknown words translated without having to flip through the dictionary-- a process which oftentimes discourages a learner from looking up one more word.

The main advantage that immersion has is the 'payoff'. You are using what you learn to get what you want. That is why, in spite of all its inefficiencies, immersion is the fastest way to learn a language. When you see you are making progress, your brain automatically learns faster.

So I had an idea. Tell me if this sounds crazy. We need a video role-playing game, like Final Fantasy XII, for example, in which learning the language, Arabic, for example, would be essential to advancing in the game.

Of course, the game would be tailored and engineered to promote the fastest learning possible, but it would be necessary for it to be every bit as fun as any other popular RPG. It would have to have a built-in grammar reference, dictionary, and other tools, and a structured learning curve, too, but the key advantage it would have is the payoff. Hours of enjoyable gameplay would be transformed into a concentrated immersion session which encompasses the best aspects of both the best learning software and actual immersion.

There are actually video games out there that simulate everyday situations, too, like The Sims. All the essential situations for learning a language, like ordering food, asking directions, or chatting with a friend, could easily be incorporated into a fun game, just like everyday situations are incorporated into The Sims.

I think that this kind of thing could be the future of language learning, and it would bring the world closer together, and help us to understand each other that much better. It would require a wide range of talent, including professional video game designers, writers, programmers, also linguists, native speakers, and language pedagogy experts. It would be exciting.

I would be very interested in cooperating in such a project, and my experience with learning languages would be helpful in streamlining the learning experience provided by the game. But as of now, I am kind of at a loss for how to get it off the ground. Please let me know if you have any ideas.

Enjoy your afternoon!
Geoffrey Taylor


Nova edicion do festisahara, festival benefico que terá lugar o Sábado 20 de xuño no campo e futbol que hai detras do pavillón de Salceda, cun prezo de 5 euros a entrada.


O Festisahara Salceda 09 é organizado pola Asociación de Solidariedade Galega co Pobo Saharaui en colaboración co Concello de Salceda de Caselas e outras administracións co obxetivo de recaudar fondos para o apoio ó Pobo e refuxiados saharauis.


What the heck is Kwanzaa?

Makeda Dread Cheatom is great for these interviews, because she is never shy when it comes to talking about culture.

Click here to download the Podcast

Kwanzaa has a complicated reputation. Most people don’t know what it is, some people have heard of it and pay it that kind of ‘token recognition’ that applies by default to multicultural holidays in the same month as Christmas. Others have heard of it, but pass it off as a ‘made up’ holiday (other holidays aren’t made up?), or as an anti-Christmas holiday.

Of course, to those that celebrate Kwanzaa, it makes perfect sense that it was ‘made up’ in 1966, during one of the most important times in African American history, and the most productive years of the African American Civil Rights movement.

Not only that, but African Americans have essentially had only the past couple hundred years to form a distinctive culture from scratch. When slaves were brought over from Africa, they were separated from their families and villages. They were sent to work on plantations with other people from many different places in Africa, with different cultures and traditions, speaking different languages, and so much of the original African culture was lost. Makeda said, “We don’t know our real history… we don’t know who we are as a people.” But African Americans began to develop their own culture and identity, from the ground up.

Even after the abolition of slavery, it has been an uphill battle, but the African American people have made great strides since then, some of the greatest of which happened around forty to fifty years ago: Brown v. Board of Education, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, for example. Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 to honor African American Heritage. Placing it directly adjacent to Christmas exposed a pronounced difference between the values of mainstream American culture and the values of those who celebrate Kwanzaa.

When I asked Makeda about Kwanzaa being designed to ‘replace’ Christmas, she said “no”, but her explanation showed that Kwanzaa does pose a direct challenge to the values expressed in the way mainstream America celebrates Christmas—not the religious values, which are not the focus in the mainstream anyway, but the values revealed in the way it is celebrated by the “dominant culture” (to use her words). Kwanzaa shows that many African Americans would rather not simply ‘soak up’ the values of mainstream America, but would rather keep, determine, and develop their own cultural identity and values. And who can blame them?

Makeda emphasized that Kwanzaa is a ‘conscious’ holiday. That is an interesting thing to have to emphasize, and it says something about culture in general. Kwanzaa is not a mainstream holiday, and people who celebrate it (in general) do because they choose to, not ‘just because’. But so many holidays are celebrated just because. How many Americans know why they celebrate Thanksgiving? Or Halloween? How many of us know the history of these holidays? How many of us feel strongly about the principles upon which Thanksgiving or Halloween were founded… if we even know what they are?

So, in closing today, I wish everybody a Merry Christmas today, especially if, like, me, you celebrate it (hopefully consciously, as I do,) and and a Happy Kwanzaa, and definitely a Happy New Year!
Podshow PDN {podshow-93f8d4e5c7f1db5c753904e48505f35d}

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Chegounos o noso blog esta fotografía co testamento do Castriño que nos deixou o sabado no Cruceiro, a imaxe non está moi clara, pinchade sobre a imaxe para poder ampliala e asi leer con claridade.



Dia 1 das Calentas Apriles do 2009, proximos estamos a Semana Santa, as vacacións de moitos, o descanso de poucos. Anos atras a Pascua en Salceda estaba fortemente marcada polo acto de Baixar a Cruz, que consistía na visita do parroco polos barrios da parroquia a bendecir as casas. Acompañabao nesta labor o sancristán o cal traía un crucifixo que ofrecía a todos os inquilinos e persoas que se atopaban na casa para que o bicasen. O párraco bendecía a casa soltando unhas cantas gotas de auga bendita acompañado pola latinoria de "LA PAZ ESTE EN ESTA CASA Y EN TODOS LOS QUE EN ELLA MORAN..." mentras fora da casa escoitábase as notas musicais dun gaita e o repeniqueo dunha caixa. O rematar de bicar a cruz o sancristán encargábase de recoller os cartos con que se lle pagaba por realizar dita bendición, ¿xa sabedes non?... o típico sobre que se lle escondía entre o centro de frores que se poñían na mesita do salón. O parroco dirixíase o Pai de familia da casa e conversaba un pouquiño mentras lle tiraba polas ourellas o mais cativo da casa ou comentaban algo sobre a educacion dos fillos e presuradamente dirixíanse para a próxima casa, a así ata recorrer todas as casas da parroquia.

O domingo de Pascua tocáballe os barrios das Esfarrapada, A Pedra, e Pegullal. O luns de Pascua tocáballe os da Fonte da Pedra e todo o Castro Barreiro e o martes de Pascua a Cruz visitaba a todo o barrio da Feira, neste barrio era costume antigamente realizar unha verbena que se celebraba na Formiga, no torreiro de Martes de Pascua, de ahí lle ben o nome. Anos mais tarde e xa sendo eu un mociño acordome que se celebrou durante uns anos esta festa no torreiro da Feira.

Bailando no Torreiro de Martes de Pascua (A Formiga)

O Baixar a Cruz significaba tanto para nós, que todo xiraba entorno a este ritual, a limpeza do fogar por parte das féminas da casa, o adecentamento do xardín, as entradas as vivendas, aproveitábase tamén para realizar calquera arreglo interior da casa, como pintar paredes e teitos ou mercar algun moble. Os cheiros da Pascua alternábanse entre a lixívia utilizada polas nosas nais e as frores violacias das enrredadeiras que por abril arrecendían o aire, pero o cheiro que mais nos gustaba os mais cativos era ulir esas roscas recen feitas que nos regalaban os nosos padriños, cheiro que invadían toda a casa e que che facía cair na tentación de levar unha rebanada de rosca a boca, tentación que ía minguando cos pasos dos días, aborrecido de comer foses a donde foses rosca. Todos colaborábamos para que a casa recibira coa sua mellor cara o Señor Párroco e os demais veciños. Labores que se realizaban durante esta semana xa que anos atras nadie salía de vacacións por Semana Santa.

A chegada do mes de Abril, era o anunciamento da chegada do verán, nestas datas que coinciden case sempre coa Pascua, eran tamén as datas de mudar as roupas de inverno polas roupas de verán, aproveitábase que se facía limpeza xeral na casa para retirar as mantas da cama, os abrigos dos armarios e outras pesadas prendas para dar paso a roupas mais lixeiras, pero tamén era o tempo de mercar roupa para estrenar o día de Beixar a Cruz. Decadas atras era costume estrenar roupa en datas sinaladas, na Semana Santa, na festa do Concepcion ou na do Cristo, ou na tempada de outono para ir a escola, fora de estas datas era algo inusual mercar roupa.

Para nós que éramos nenos o feito de estrenar roupa era algo do mais esperado da semana santa, pois lémbrome de ir o mercadillo do mercores da Esfarrapada e comprar a roupa para logo estrenar o luns Pascua que era cando a cruz visitaba o meu barrio e presumir diante dos outros nenos do guapo que estaba coa miña roupa nova e con algunha recompensa que ademais da rosca me daban os meus padriños, claro que eles tamen estrenaban e cada un fachendeaba do seu. Outro feito que mais me lembro era ir correndo detras da Cruz, de casa en casa, para coñecer así os fogares dos nosos veciños, como estaban os salón amoblados, a decoración, os cores, etc... sempre me chamaba a atención os enormes reloxios que colgaban da paredes, as lamparas de cristaliños suxeitas do teito, os cadros dos antepasados ou as vitrinas coas vaixelas ornamentadas con motivos frorais ou con algunha dinastía imperial China, o mais cool nos oitenta.... Coa escusa de Baixar a Cruz entrabas nas casas que durante o ano non ías ter a oportunidade de visitar, xa ven sexa porque non tiñan nenos da nosa idade ou porque eran de distinto nivel económico e non se relacionaban cos veciños. Cando fomos medrando e fixémonos mozos, a escusa de Baixar a Cruz, para ir de casa en casa derivou non pola nosa inquietude por observar a decoracion de fogar se non por sentarse o redor dunha mesa unha vez que o párraco marchase, para enchernos de rosca e viño, dando lugar as nosas primeira borracheiras.

Ano tras ano, o ritual de Beixar a Cruz foi dexenerando e praticamente o ritual cristián foi adsorvido polo ritual pagán, que consistía en ir de casa en casa bebendo e comendo, facendolle pouco caso o "LA PAZ SEA EN ESTA CASA Y EN TODOS LOS QUE EN ELLA MOREN". Ademais xuntouse coa explosión demográfica da Esfarrapada, a construción de numerosos edificios fixo imposible que o párroco visitase todalas moradas e as que visitaba, moitos mofandose de el entregábanlle no sobre en vez de cartos, papel hixienico, recortes pornográficos ou diñeiro do monopoly, polo que se decidiu deixar o que para min era a mellor tradición cristiana desta rancia Iglesia Catolica Romana que temos hoxe.




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