I’m Not a Teacher, but…

Learning is a huge mountain that has several different peaks. How’s that even possible? A mountain with several different peaks? It’s a fantasy mountain. Voilà. Problem solved.

The thing about Mt. Learning, is that it is enormous. It might even merit the invention of a new word, Gigantuous? But Mt. Learning doesn’t just cover learning a foreign language or some other aspect that one often study’s in school, but all aspects of learning. From learning how to play an instrument to learning how to fly a parachute. It’s all on this massive mountain.

Most teachers and professors tell you, there’s only so many ways up the mountain. Many will often tell you that there’s only one way up the mountain. But really, they’re lying, or they genuinely don’t know that there’s more than one way, because they were deceived by the same system that is trying to deceive you.

I’m not a teacher or a professor. I’m just some dude who loves climbing this mountain. I’ve climbed to a lot of the peaks that have to do with language learning so many times that I happen to know a lot of ways to get there. But I don’t claim that they’re the only ways.

A consequence of climbing around this mountain for years is that I can get to where I want to go pretty quickly and usually without being eaten by bears or skewered by orcs. Regardless of which path you take there will almost always be enemies and obstacles. I’m no Katniss Everdeen, but I can give you tips on how to get rid of some of those enemies and how to get around some of those obstacles.

But you’re always and should always feel like you’re entitled to your choices. If you don’t like the path I’m showing you I can show you the others that I know, or help you find your own.

As a language guide, I’m here to share the information and experience that I have, but I’m not here to make you feel like your ideas or opinions matter less. My style of helping people in their learning may not be for everyone. This is not to say that my style is wishy-washy, kind of like, you know man just sort of like float up the mountain—no. I can give you a map and show you how to get where you want to be. But I think people should know that I do my best to avoid using or conforming to the meanings behind teacher and professor. The currently standing idea of “teaching” is something that bothers me.  But I’ll address this in a separate post, because it’s likely to get lengthy.

What is FRC?

What is FRC?

The acronym FRC stands for “For Real Conversations”. It’s a language learning system that focuses on learning a real language.

What do I mean by, “real language” ?

Short answer:

I mean a language as it’s spoken. A living language.

Long answer:

First we need to understand that a language is not reducible to formulas and rules—unless it’s undergoing linguistic examination.

Second, languages are alive. They are in a sense an extension of the people who speak them, and so they can be said to have a sort of immortality. They’re kind of like vampires, they can live off of people for thousands of years or be killed by other people or overrun by other vampires. The potential life span of a human language is much longer than any other living organism on this planet. And to be more correct, a language like all other species can evolve. So to put it simply human language in general has and will exist so long as there are humans, in the sense that we use the term today.

What makes FRC different from other approaches?

Short answer:

FRC departs from the belief that as humans we adapt to what’s given to us, (within reason). With this in mind FRC gives language learners authentic, unscripted, unedited natural encounters with a language.

Long answer:

Most of the time we study a language, instead of learning a language. We dissect it and say, here are the verbs, here are the nouns, when you want to say this, you follow this formula, when you want to say this and that, you need to combine these two formulas. And don’t forget the rule for combing these two particular formulas! Confusing right? And that’s only the beginning. Imagine this abstract example that sounds more like some version of a math problem, but further complicated by an impressive list of rules, exceptions, formulas and formulas for the exceptions! And yet all of that has very little in common with speaking the language with other humans.

Where did FRC come from?

Short answer:

I wanted to capture authentic language use and interesting topics for all levels of learners.

Long answer:

Upon arriving in France after having studied French for about 2 years, I considered myself nearly fluent, I was able to read books and have conversations with teachers and friends. I could express most of the things that I wanted to say and on the occasion that I couldn’t find the right words I could explain what I meant using other words in the language.

All of this was great. But, I quickly realized that the French I knew and spoke was not the French that was being spoken. And I’m not talking about encountering slang. When I went out to a bar or was in the high school cafeteria, hallways, library. There were words and sounds I’d never heard, phrases that I didn’t have a translation for.

I attributed this gap to the same reason many of my students had trouble understanding me when I spoke quickly or naturally. Oftentimes when we learn a language we learn something like the phrase, “I am going to the store tonight.”

But when you hear this phrase, it sounds more like, “I’mgoinuhthestoretnight” which is, as far as the traditional language learner is concerned, is a different language. So FRC was designed with this in mind, aiming to solve this problem.

Why does FRC work?

Short answer:

I believe that as humans who have endured a variety of conditions on this magnificent and unforgiving planet, we’re pretty great at adapting to what’s given to us.  FRC doesn’t waste your time adapting to hearing a language segmented and slowed down, but believes that with a little help you can dive into the real stuff from the beginning. In addition, FRC attempts to address one of the most important aspects of learning: interesting, non-traditional content.

Long answer:

If you give people textbook language, they’re going to adjust to textbook language and they most likely won’t be able to speak the language. Which I could argue is one of the main points of learning a language, not to mention one of the more interesting aspects. By taking this away from people, you’re eliminating a large percentage of potential language learners. The only ones who will make efforts and eventually do well are those who can see beyond the textbook language and actively go out and try to use the language and be expose themselves to real language.

But if you give people the real language, real speed, real conversations, from the start, while holding their hand in way, the results will be better. They’ll be able to dive into the culture and start consuming things that interest them. The other bonus is, unlike learning textbook language and then the real language, if you learn the real language first textbook language will in many cases appear easier. The only hurtle might be new vocabulary, but even this won’t have too negative an impact because overall comprehension will be there.

People don’t want to hear about how Martha got a job interview or how many pairs of pants Jerome tried on, they want things that are really happening, or things that are absurd and funny. I’m probably not just speaking for myself when I say, that I’m ten-times more likely to watch a youtube video of someone talking passionately about an experience or an opinion, than to read an invented dialogue in a language textbook. Most of us spend hours on Facebook or other social media sites, reading, commenting and sharing information. That along with messaging friends having interesting  or silly conversations on Skype, should be among the goals of language learning.

How do I use it?

There is no short answer here.

You start with a language pack. I’ve condensed nearly everything you need to know about any language into roughly 4 pages. You can memorize this, if you’re into that sort of thing, or you can use it as a cheat sheet.

The next step is listening to the self-introductions/podcasts. Look for the patterns, get used to hearing the sounds of the language and then watch the videos that break down the podcasts. Either myself or a native speaker will be “slowing down” what you’re hearing and explaining any phrases that might be difficult. You’ll also have transcripts of the self-introductions, for reference.

Now you can follow that advice and progress onto the “more difficult” podcasts that will go into abstract topics and longer conversations, or you can say F*#&! it and do whatever you want. This is kind of geared for self-motivated individuals. Hand-holding will be minimal.

This is not a method that claims to be, THE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL, (shout out to all my LOTR fans), but rather this is for people who want to start speaking a language and watching youtube videos, movies, or listening to music. I HIGHLY, (and in all caps) recommend finding things that interest you that you can read in the language.

One really great website for just about any level is lingq.com aside from that, something I like doing, is reading a book in a language I know well while at the same time reading it in the target language. Generally you’ll have an easier time reading something that’s geared for children or young adults, but if your a bit of a masochist, feel free to try some literary masterpiece— because at the end of the day, what matters is how motivated and interested you are. I’m a bit lucky because I can find pleasure in reading even the trashiest of fantasy or science fiction, and there’s plenty of pretty decent stuff for kids in that genre.

That’s all for now, the FRC section of this website should be some kind of functional by February, and there will eventually be another website devoted entirely to that. Also coming soon, will be links to my youtube videos. Until next time language learners and polyglods!

What Foreign Languages mean to me

When you pick up a book in a foreign language you’re picking up a magical tome. Its cover is alien and enticing. Just looking at it stirs you, because you know that you hold in your hand something powerful, something transformative, something hidden. Like hints at the location of some buried treasure.

In order to even begin to read it you need to have been initiated. Which means learning the symbols—their significance and pronunciation. Once you’ve gotten past that, you can read the strings of symbols. But that doesn’t make you a mage. Not yet. The symbols form bits of code. That code is bound to formulas and structures. It follows rules. The likes of which you’re unfamiliar with. As you accustom yourself to these structures, and formulas, you begin to see the glimpses. Images, fragments, pieces of power. But the text as a whole is riddled with ciphers. Sometimes even ciphers within ciphers. Some ciphers you can only understand by deepening your knowledge of the rituals and habits connected to the culture or group of mages who wrote this text.

Strangely enough, the deeper you go into the ciphers the more you find universal messages that seem to have been lying there, buried under the code and its alien symbols. The symbols had been a distraction, something to dissuade the uninitiated and those unwilling to put in the effort to attain power.

This power comes in many forms, can be used in many ways and towards many ends. It can be transformative for yourself or it can give you the power to transform others. It can be used for good or evil. Because the messages are eternal they are indifferent to what they cause.  This is the true appeal of the magic tome. The power of freedom or choice. Will you use its contents to benefit others, to do nothing or to do harm? It’s a question for the initiate. Some simply like to touch the power. But where does this power come from?

It all starts with the transmutation of the text into the physical. Once read and understood it moves from a symbolic form bound to a page and a single location and point in time, to a series of electrical impulses in your brain. And so it undergoes transmutation, from a sort of statue to a living, moving, breathing thing.

The symbols and formulas are forgotten, because you read with such speed that the transmutation is instantaneous. The tome begins to wobble as the reality of certainty that surrounded it loses its grip. The images string together into events. The events reveal themselves as moments in a story.

Before long, the story is the only thing that you’re reading, and at that point, the tome disappears. In its place is a portal. Through the portal you see what looks like an ocean. At first you have to move around a lot and hold your head at awkward angles to get a good look. But the more you look through it the bigger it gets. Eventually it’s big enough for you to pass through. And as you do you find yourself swimming in an ocean.

You swim down a bit and you find that you’re not in an ocean at all, but a world much like the one you came from. Except things are different in subtle ways. And the symbols of the book are everywhere. The rituals are happening in the streets. You hear the strange sounds from every person. And in that instant you know that this was the feeling you got when you looked at the cover for the first time. But now it’s so much stronger. Instead of feeling a hint at something hidden you’re in the heart of something hidden, and it’s alive. It’s alive in the movements and the actions and the objects and the sounds and the little gestures and rituals, all of it is alive here.

You close the tome. All of it’s gone. But you look down at the book in your hands. You call call it a book, because everyone around you riding the subway or walking down Amsterdam sees you holding a book. But now you know better. You’ve been initiated.