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!

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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.

TOP Secret

So my top secret project is a book. It’s designed to give language learner’s something interesting to read, because I’m bored to death of reading Dorian Grey in every language. (Spoiler, he dies.)

Since I promised something for the month of November and we’re now in December I figured this is better than nothing.

I’ve been working in the French school system, comparing things here to things in the States. I’ve also had the opportunity to compare notes with how things déroule in the Italian school system. All of this experience has lead me to the conclusion that the world of language learner’s needs more than a book and some advice.

This doesn’t just apply to language learning in schools, but rather the foundation of our education system. As far as I can tell it’s broken. And when I say it’s broken I’m not trying to be critical of our teachers or the teachers here in France. There are really some amazing teachers here, but as far as I can see, they’re fighting at best a non-moving battle, because at the core we’re living in the past.

With this in mind I’ve been dedicating myself to creating a plan for a language learning school that won’t resemble traditional schools very much, (if at all). To start things off I’ll be organizing a series of “meet-ups” here ( http://www.meetup.com/Sprout-Language-Group-a-St-Raphael/?scheduleNow=true ) If you’re in France and would like to attend one of our events feel join our group!

Until next time!

Version Française:

Alors mon projet Top Secret est un livre. C’est conçu pour les apprenants de langues pour leur donner quelque chose d’intéressante à lire, parce que de ma part, je suis fatigué de la portrait de Dorian Grey en n’importe quelle langue. (Spoiler, il meurt.)

Puisque je vous ai promis quelque chose par le mois de Novembre et voyant qu’on est en décembre, je pensais ça c’est mieux que rien.

Je travaillais dans les écoles de la France pour faire des comparaisons aux écoles des états unis. En plus j’avais l’opportunité pour voir comment sont les écoles d’Italie, et toutes mes expériences m’ont amené à la conclusion que le monde d’apprenants des langues étrangères ont besoin de plus qu’un livre et du conseils.

Et ce n’est pas seulement en concernant des langues dont on en a besoin de l’aide, mais en générale notre système d’éducation est cassé. Je ne parle pas des profs, car il y a beaucoup des profs qui sont super bons à leur travail. Mais c’est plutôt le système qui est la problème. Les profs luttent, mais la bataille ne bouge pas dans ni l’un direction ni l’autre.

Dans cet esprit je me suis consacré à créer une école pour l’apprentissage de langues. Et pour commencer dans cette direction, je organiserai des rendez-vous dans les cafés ou autres endroits où les gens peuvent rassembler pour apprendre ou améliorer une langue. Si ça vous parle rejoignez nous sur notre page de “meet-ups”:  http://www.meetup.com/Sprout-Language-Group-a-St-Raphael/?scheduleNow=true

à bientôt!

A Work in Progress

I’ll keep this short and potent. This site is a work in progress.

And occasionally redundant. See above.

For those of you who enjoyed any of my posts. I swear on the…?? seven moons of Alkalar?? that interesting things are coming. 

Granted this is the internet, so if someone isn’t dancing with their best friend’s neighbor’s cat who’s tightrope walking while wearing a flaming unicorn leotard and sparkling strobe light devil horns while playing a mini-piano and insulting you in Dothraki every other 15 seconds, it’s unlikely to hold interest.

Well, that’s okay.

Up until now I’ve done a lot of talking about how to learn a new language. Both on screen and off. To myself and others. Currently, I’m putting my hands where my mouth has been and am making something.  

I have a tentative date set for when a proto-type will be ready for unveiling and nitpicking, which should be in early November. But until then I’m all work and some play. 

And while I don’t claim to have the one method to rule them all, I do believe that I have something that no one else does.  And it just might be the piece that’s been missing for so long from the language-learning “WHY YOU NO SOLVE YOURSELF”- puzzle .

 

Anyway, if you like adventure, if you like absurdity and consider yourself different, maybe even a little strange, (because let’s face it, if you’re an american committed to learning a language other than Spanish you’re already a bit strange, )  and you put up with that horribly disjointed and far too many comma’d sentence, then and only then, I’d like to recommend that you stay tuned. 

It’s okay if you don’t. You’ll probably get hit by the massive media storm of ninja marketing that will take place when everything is in place

So until then!

I Retract. Victory in Failure

As it turns out I’ve not died, rather I’m better and worse than ever. The past few months have been rather language intensive. I’ve improved my ability to read Manga, as well as some (probably) 3rd grade level books in Japanese. In addition to that, I’ve been hard at work and occasionally hardly working on my Top Secret Language Learning technique. Which is really not so top secret. Clues about it already exist embedded like fractured teeth in some of my earlier post’s. But basically, I should tell you the truth.

I started with the goal of creating the ultimate language learning software, one that would replace Rosetta Stone as a household name. In the process I realized what I kind of knew all along, and what many of you likely guessed.

There is no ultimate, single solution for learning a new language.

 Before long I fell flat on my face. And took that as a sign to take a sort of break.  I used this time to speak with people, known and unknown, about learning languages, using languages and chasing realistic dreams. All of this, by way of road trips to quiet Southern Jersey fishing bays where we rode Jet skis in Japanese; to Vermont where I befriended a ferocious chicken known only as “Trex” and made mutual physical contact with a timid and human weary cat who I’ll always remember as “Cassiopeia”; a finally to home and “not far from home”, where I’ve had the chance to speak with just the right amount of people about their language learning goals and experiences. 

What I found was not so much surprising as it was enlightening. The people who put in the effort and did strange things, either at the suggestion of some half mad scientist teacher, or the mad hatter archetype who lives in us all, were the ones who had the best results. So it boils down to, if you work hard and are reflective and creative you’ll most likely succeed. This shouldn’t be news to anybody. But it was the first hand experience of this along with a series of late night to early morning conversations with my lead programmer and partner in this project, that lead me to understand what would work. And so, although I in part retract my previous statements about swearing to create the “Next Rosetta Stone” I’m still confident that what I have will meet such things on even ground.

So despite the “failure” I’ve made a lot of progress and continue to work on the software/method, all in the aim of helping people decode and get better at learning other languages. 

 

Human Language Osmosis

So I had this theory, that by hanging around people who speak a language, one somehow magically absorbs language particles through the pores of their skin or the ulna ulterior respiratory tract.

Of course I’m mostly joking. Of course I know that science says ney, that is not how biology and human informatics works. But regardless that passing fancy lead me onto something that’s actually founded in reality.

What happened is, I found while hanging around my Japanese speaking friends, I was almost magically able to understand a very high percentage of the manga I was reading at the time, which is, as you could have guessed from reading my other posts, One Piece.

Now that we’ve ruled out magically absorbing language particles through the skin or respiratory system, let’s look at why this could be. Well honestly a lot of the time it’s just easier, because I can read a sentence I’m struggling with aloud (to someone other than my plush Dalek, who’s frequent response is, “YOU WOULD MAKE A GOOD DAALEK,”) and we can immediately have a conversation about it. Throw it around in a few other sentences, talk about differences in meanings from one language to another, all in all, so much more of an impactful experience than looking up an individual word in a dictionary.

So simply, it’s because they’re there to help me figure stuff out.

At least that’s one theory. And in truth probably a significantly contributing factor.

However, and there is almost always a however. Best used when decapitated by untimely punctuation marks that deviate from standardization.

The other aspect, of this language osmosis feeling is one that everyone of us can benefit from whether or not we happen to have the awesome bonus of hanging out with native speakers of the language we’re learning and talking to them about what we’re reading. And it’s simply: confidence.

I suspect that when I’m sitting in the same room as my friends who speak Japanese and I’m reading in Japanese, I become two things:

4) Certain that I can understand anything I’m reading.

2) Embarrassed to too quickly ask questions before having figured or attempted to figure the answer out for myself.

This in turn accomplishes two other things. Since I’m great at counting numerically, here they are:

1) I’m reading more carefully and digging deeper into my brain space for clues, context, memories, or any abstract impressionist cues that might trigger even a failed guess. But more often than not end in having learned something.

B) I’m thinking in or around the language. Which to be honest at very early beginner levels doesn’t seem like much but as you progress, becomes a powerful tool.

Kind of like:

 

And don’t misinterpret, I’m not saying that confidence = success. In some ways it can be a contributing factor, but also, sometimes so can knowing the real answer, instead of confidently believing your guesses are always correct.

So in summary, be a confident but not foolish reader. Don’t try to read foreign languages in the manner that you do your native language, because you’ll read too fast or too non-paying-attention-to-detaily and probably miss simple things that could have cued you in on unlocking a sentence or word. Which as many of you must know is magical. Also unicorns don’t exist, except on OkCupid or in dive bars.

 

 

(If this post makes little sense, I forgive Benadryl for making such potent hallucinatory drugs. After saying that I decided that I’m unsure whether or not I cited a brand or a drug and refuse to use google to answer that question, so I’ll settle for both until some later date.)

Emerging Grammar

Some of you may have heard of Emergent Grammar, especially if you’re at all familiar with Universal Grammar, since the two are rather at odds. Luckily this has little to do with either. At least as far as the scope of this post is concerned.

Emerging grammar is what I’m using to refer to the effect that reading comprehensible input and having meaningful interactions has on a language learner’s grammaticality.

If you’re reading, watching, experiencing interesting material that’s comprehensible then you’re learning grammar. Or in this case emerging grammar. I know that’s a strange way to talk. But you are.

Grammar in a sense is latent at least for humans, concerning human languages. Supposing of course, that you go along with the Universal Grammar theory and are willing to consider it as being a latent human genetic factor.

The point being that we’re wired for language, in the human way, I wouldn’t want to be so species-ist (basically a racist, but in regard to species,) as to claim that human’s are the only one’s with a capacity for language. Also, I might add, (and someone/everyone feel free to debate this,) that judging a species’ intelligence by whether or not it has a language is judging intelligence by human definitions. But I could digress for pages and pages of blog on this.

Back on the imaginary track that is attention span, being wired for grammar, we can exploit this, by interacting and experiencing a new language in comprehensible doses.

So far, my main problem with this, has been, that the material doesn’t exist or isn’t easy to find. And so part of my massive super secret language learning method project has to do with creating a way for this to happen.

But in the mean time, read, and speak and watch things at or around your level. Keep it simple and push simple when simple is boring. Grammar will emerge, and then you can read all the grammar textbooks you want and say, “Ooh, now that makes sense,” or some generic such thing as that.