Friday, September 21, 2012


I've spent about a week doing Icelandic, perhaps more.

I'm concentrating on Mandarin for the time being so I'm just doing the minimum for Icelandic to keep it fresh.  I've done at least a couple of minutes each day but understandably it's not really becoming second nature but I will make some progress despite the small amount of time I'm devoting to it.

Is it really as difficult as they say?

So far, the greatest difficulty has been the fact that even in lesson one the declension number and gender and the conjugation number is given for each new noun and verb... and for now at least, they're just arbitrary numbers that go with these random pieces of vocab (I say random but they all occur in the first dialogue so I've seen them in context) and they are really difficult to memorise.  After all, language learning is normally about learning sounds, with the accompanying meaning, but memorising the verb number that goes with certain verbs is memorisation without having anything to hang it on.

Perhaps this will change once I actually learn how verbs conjugate, so I can memorise the past tense with each verb and that will make the verb number obvious. Or perhaps it's the present tense pattern... I don't know yet.

As for progress, I'm still doing lesson one, but I've become familiar with each piece of vocab and all the sentences in the dialogue.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mandarin - number of characters

Besides the other languages I'm doing I'm actually concentrating on Mandarin.

I think a lot of Chinese learners wonder how many characters they know.  There are webpages that will give you a test and make an estimate based on that.

I've found another method.  For iOS devices there's an app called Flashcard Fu.  Once you have the app it's a free download to download the 4,000 most common characters.  Besides being a pretty good way of memorising a few extra characters it also tells you how many characters you've mastered.  As it takes a while before the app believes you have mastered a character it will be a while before my actual knowledge will be reflected by the app.  At the moment it's showing me as having mastered 320 characters but no doubt it's several times that.

I think it will be quite interesting to see how many characters I actually know and how that correlates with how much difficulty I have reading.

I don't really suggest that this app is all you need to learn characters but it does give audio for each character, and it's pretty quick to go from one character to the next so you get some nice audio feed-back which I think helps link tone marks with what you hear.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Persian (Assimil)

Yesterday I made a start on Persian.  Assimil of course.

I patiently waited for several months between the course being listed on the Assimil website as coming soon, and actually being able to buy it. Unfortunately it appears to have exactly the same content as the old pdf file that's available on the internet.  I'd presumed this would be a new version but it looks like they were sold out of the old copies and needed to reprint some copies.  Also annoying is the fact that the .mp3 disk doesn't have the text of the lessons unlike the Hindi course.  Having the text already in the Persian alphabet would have made entering the course into my spaced repetition software a bit quicker.

Like the Arabic course, lesson 1 consists of only two sentences.  I don't know whether they're progressing so slowly because of the language or because of the alphabet. 

Reading the intro it looks like there is some difference between the written and spoken language.  I'm sort of commited to using this course but I'm not even sure what sort of Persian I'm going to end up speaking.

At least the book is printed on nice glossy paper so there's no problem reading the dots in the script. And as the vowels aren't indicated they continue the transliteration right to the last lesson.  That's handy if you can't be bothered with the script.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Another chapter learnt, another chapter input.

Now up to chapter 5.

I don't feel like I've learnt that much but I do already speak a fair bit of a couple of other Slavic languages so everything seems pretty familiar already.

I need to learn some particularly Croatian words before I'll feel that I'm learning much new.

There just doesn't seem to be enough new vocab each chapter.  But perhaps I'm just not noticing it because of what I already know.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


For Bulgarian I'm also using Assimil.  Again, I've got other courses that I've bought in the past but the simplicity of Assimil means that it's a lot easier to write the lessons up for learning with my spaced repetition program.

I've finished the first two lessons.  Written up and learnt.

There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of content in any one lesson but it does seem pretty useful vocab.

I wonder how many people that start an Assimil course actually finish it... (this is something to wonder about any language course of course)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I've just made a start with Icelandic.  I've got a few books on Icelandic but I recently noticed that I have the Linguaphone Icelandic course.  In the past I've done the Norwegian Linguaphone course and it seemed pretty comprehensive so I think Linguaphone will also be good for Icelandic.

The 3 books I've already got lump a lot of the noun declensions together so seem pretty daunting.  Linguaphone has lots of audio and every word introduced is done so in the context of a sentence  so I think new vocab and grammar are easier to deal with.  I suppose Assimil does a similar thing, the main difference though is that Assimil has much shorter dialogues and they (unfortunately) don't provide a vocab list for each new lesson. (Oh, I should point out that Assimil doesn't have an Icelandic course.)

Anyway, I've written up the first chapter, audio, text, new vocab and grammar.  I've made a start learning the first ten items from the audio.  So far so good.  I'm sure that as I work through it I'll be able to understand each text.  The question is, will I be able to produce my own sentences.

We'll see.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mandarin (update)

I've got sick of New Practical Chinese reader.  They even seem to have a sixth volume so they no doubt take the reader up to a very high level.

But in the meantime I've become too discouraged at having so much trouble with spoken Mandarin that I've decided to concentrate on real texts with real audio.

For this reason I'm now using mainly 慢速中文, a free blog that comes with transcription and audio.

I'm also using  They have superb dialogues with great voice actors.  This also comes with transcriptions and on top of it all the dialogues are invariably funny.

With both of these I've decided to extract all new vocab and learn it.  It's quite possible that the trouble I'm having with spoken Mandarin is because my vocabulary simply isn't big enough.

Latin - Lingva Romana + Assimil

I've now given up on Ecce Romani. I found some of the sentences rather strange.

First I switched to the new Assimil.  Nice binding to the book but the audio is bizarre.  I thought the English version of Latin pronunciation was a bit off but the French pronunciation is even weirder.  They seem to have decided to elide some of the final vowels and on top of that they seem to think that if they mumble this will make the language sound more like a living spoken language.

Why do they have people speaking clearly in all the other languages but for Latin, right from the start, it's pretty hard to make out many of the words.

I've reached about chapter nine so I'll keep at it.  In the meantime I've decided to give Lingva Romana a try.  Apparently it just uses Latin and you're supposed to work out the grammar for yourself - if that's possible.

The great thing is that it has audio and all the sentences appear in the audio.  There's heaps of repetition in the text so it's a great way to get a feel for a difficult language that one normally only gets to read rather than hear.  And probably it's hearing a language that's essential for getting a feel for it.

Croatian - Assimil

I've given up on the other courses... they weren't necessarily bad but I like the idea of working right through an Assimil course. Plus the Assimil comes with heaps of audio.

This is the brand-new course that's only been released within the last few months.

I'd made a start on the previous Assimil but it seems to me that it was actually Serbian.

I'm up to about chapter 3. So far so good.  The way they deal with imperfective and perfective verbs will be the big test though.


While playing table tennis in China I came across someone from Madagascar so I've decided to give Malagasy a go.

I wouldn't have bothered but Assimil has a new course out.  I've had it for a few weeks and have finally made a start.  Lesson one's pretty straight-forward of course but the spelling is really weird.  Half of the letters seem to be elided.  This makes it difficult to know how the words are pronounced in isolation.

Looks to be a pretty interesting language with verb object subject word order. I'm in no hurry with this language so I'll keep at the first lesson for a while.