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Learning a Language in the Digital Age 450

UmmRa points out his discussion of four flash-card programs for language learning, excerpting "As someone who has learned three dead languages in the past six years (Latin, Egyptian, and Akkadian) I have had my share of experience with language software....If there is one thing I have learned from the experience, it is that no program is a panacea. Until we all have Matrix-esque jacks at the base of our skulls, learning a language will be a process that requires some amount of work and time. However that does not mean there isn't cheap (or free!) software out there to greatly simplify the process." None of the program compared are free (or Free), though two are shareware; two of them are for Windows only, one is Mac-only, and the other is "Java based, so it can operate on any platform." Update: 03/21 02:34 GMT by T : The actual link got dropped -- my fault -- in editing this post; now fixed.
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Learning a Language in the Digital Age

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  • Forgot something (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:10PM (#11994622) Homepage Journal

    URL please?

  • Is that so? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Cowtard ( 573891 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:11PM (#11994628)
    None of the program compared are free (or Free), though two are shareware; two of them are for Windows only, one is Mac-only, and the other is "Java based, so it can operate on any platform."

    And not a single of them are accessible since there's not a single link to the comparison anywhere in the write-up.

    Great job editors!
  • Akkadian language (Score:4, Informative)

    by spangineer ( 764167 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:12PM (#11994634) Homepage
    Wikipedia has a pretty good, though short, article on the Akkadian language [].
  • maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sometwo ( 53041 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:13PM (#11994643)
    the slashdot editors can use the software to learn english?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:14PM (#11994655)
    Learn 313375P34K []
  • by zapatero ( 68511 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:16PM (#11994677) Journal

    Dead Languages I was once fluent with:

    68000 Assembly
    Countless Application specific scripting languages and APIs
  • more entertaining than badly written software, anyway.

    Subtitles are your friends.
    • Dubbed porn is even better. There's a well-known one from India featuring two babes talking in English with an Indian accent, of course, but then it's dubbed over in an American accent voice (because American accents are cool or something? I don't know). It's probably the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen.
  • Illiteracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:16PM (#11994681) Homepage Journal
    Considering the grammar and spelling travesties on Slashdot, not to mention the execrable comprehension of story headlines, summaries, and TFAs themselves, this pseudoliterate community is the last place to ask that question.
  • Well, I've always wanted to question some of you technically knowledgable guys (pun possibly intended) about how you learn languages! Good thing I jumped on this topic early, or I would never have even had the chance of having this answers (thanks to a weird commenting system, but I'm not complaining.)

    Anyway, let me get to my question. I want to learn Hindi, but what I've tried from Rosetta Stone to Pimsleur seems relatively weak. Well, the Pimsleur stuff is EXTREMLY good for a small introduction, but
    • Along with your elementary Hindi readers and text books, watch Hindi movies! In Bollywood movies they speak excellent Hindi, and it generally isn't corrupted as it is spoken by people who natively speak Gujarati, Marathi or one of the other non-Hindi Indian languages. And you also get entertained.
      • See, when I watch Bollywood movies, which I do (lol, it's not the individual dysfunctional plot elements that count, it's the whole story ;)) -- I don't get a good understanding of the Hindi.

        This is because the english subtitles that even allow me to enjoy the movie, in the slightest way, tend to me a terrible translation of the hindi. I end up half ignoring the hindi and just paying attention to the subtitles.

        Perhaps, I'm watching these movies incorrectly?
        • No, you just have to watch them along with studying. If you just spend 1/2 an hour a day 5 - 7 days per week, open-ended, working with the books, and watching Hindi movies after you build up some vocabulary, then you will start to enjoy them.

          I don't have the link for it, but the Indian Government's Central Hindi Directorate has a very good Hindi correspondence course. And a real human grades you, too!

          The Indian government has a comprehensive program to practically make Hindi its national language. Offi
    • Re:Hindi! (Score:3, Informative)

      by IANAAC ( 692242 )
      You know, these types of courses do a pretty decent job of teaching the grammar and a fair bit of vocabulary too, but once you've finished any CD/book/internet course, I'd suggest a conversational class. There's nothing like being thrown into a situation where you HAVE to speak, not just read and listen, to get you effectively using the language. And if you can find a teacher that'll give you some of the culture, all the better.
  • Where are the links?
    timothy what are you on?
  • If you're looking for a free and cross-platform way to learn modern or biblical Hebrew, check out FoundationStone: []
  • I'm currently trying to learn Japanese and I really find it helpful that Slashdot has turned into a blog so I now know there are a few programs which will help me, but I don't know what they are..
  • I'm trying to learn German. I decided to learn right after my schools add/drop date. Can anyone point me to a good web resource to learn? I found German for Travellers [] as a good resource, I learned how to pronounce the letters now but that's only the first step. To get to the advanced part of learning on the site, I'd need to subscribe for $16/year.
    • Re:Learning German (Score:5, Informative)

      by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:36PM (#11994844) Homepage Journal
      BBC Languages [] is great for starting out any of the major European langues(they even have a little Chinese in there as well), it's free, and most importantly there is plenty of audio.
      I am moving to Germany in June for 2 years and started learning it using that. Let me impart a bit of advice to you, make sure you learn to listen and speak before you delve deep into grammar and vocab. I made the mistake with learning Japanese purely by book until I took a few classes at my college. Even though I lived there for 6 months, to this day I can still write/read Japanese with ease but I have trouble listening to it.
    • Similar to the BBC language program, Deutsche-Welle radio also has an online language program [] to teach its internet audience German. The course modules are in MP3 format so you can download them to your music player of choice and study where ever you wish.

    • Here you go: []
  • What, exactly, is this... "item" about? Language learning software (in general?) is free, isn't free, works, doesn't work, takes longer than a few seconds to soak into your brain?

    Talk about a slow news day.

  • by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:29PM (#11994776) Homepage
    Nobody can prove you didn't!

    "Why yes, I do know Akkadian. Listen to this: xlsdke didue sdkfjhds dudys dk,d! I just said may your ancestors live a thousand years, thus confusing your family reunions no end. Prove I didn't just say it."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:30PM (#11994781)
    Posted by timothy on Sunday March 20, @09:07PM

    from the my-excuse-is-laziness dept.

    UmmRa points out his discusses of four flash-card programs for language learning, excerpting "As someone who has learned three dead languages in the past six years (Latin, Egyptian, and Akkadian) I have had my share of experience with language software....If there is one thing I have learned from the experience, it is that no program is a panacea. Until we all have Matrix-esque jacks at the base of our skulls, learning a language will be a process that requires some amount of work and time. However that does not mean there isn't cheap (or free!) software out there to greatly simplify the process." None of the program compared are free (or Free), though two are shareware; two of them are for Windows only, one is Mac-only, and the other is "Java based, so it can operate on any platform."


    I think we've all been duped. This isn't a crappily edited post. It's actually an ironic post! Didn't you notice? It's from the my-excuse-is-laziness dept.!! What a clever joke! lol@our expense!!!

    PS - "points out his discusses"!!!

  • by templest ( 705025 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [tslpix]> on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:30PM (#11994790) Homepage Journal
    I learn't basic Japanese with this [] site. Enough to start reading online dictionaries and forums. Combined with countless hours of anime... ;-) I'm about ready for my trip to Japan next year to see how it all paid off.

    In conclusion, there's more than a few references for any language online, learn the basics, then start from the ground up in "Real Life"(tm). Like a kid that's learning his first tongue. Only other advice I can give is to learn the language on its own, use the basics of the language as a catapult to learn the rest with sites that use that actual language and if you don't know the meaning, use a dictionary (don't translate, just define). If you try to learn a language by becoming a walking babel-fish... you'll sound like it when having a conversation. And that ain't a good thing. You get the whole immigrant accent going on. My parents have that... :-\
    • Good luck in Japan. It may be easier with some knowledge of Japanese but be prepared to be wrong - a lot.

      I heard a review of " Wrong About Japan" [] on NPR a while back and the premise is pretty accurate. People from outside of Japan tend to put either too much meaning, the wrong meaning, or totally miss the meaning of many things that are basic in Japan. It isn't something you can prevent but you can be ready for it by keeping an open mind (which you most likely already have.) Just don't let your anime

  • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:31PM (#11994795) Homepage Journal
    • And certainly without a time machine, learning classical languages (which is what the article is about) by immersion is not practical. Even for modern languages immersion isn't that helpful for learning to read serious literature in that language. Many languages have entire tenses that are rarely spoken but play a major role in the literary form of the language.
  • There's a linux program called memaid: []

    Pauker is a java program: []

    I've tried sort of half-heartedly to get memaid to work, but I didn't have a lot of luck. I didn't push, though, and I didn't post any questions on the mail list.
  • by patniemeyer ( 444913 ) * <> on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:46PM (#11994929) Homepage
    I've been studying Chinese for a number of years and here are a few things I've found very useful:

    WenLin chinese editor/dictionary environment:
    It's really helpful to paste some Chinese into the editor and be able to hover the mouse over words to get instant dictionary lookup.

    Pleco Palm Chinese English dictionary:
    Best thing to have on your palm/phone in China.

    Flash Palm chinese flash cards:
    This is free and easy to use... Pleco software also has flashcards.

    As for books: The old standard Practical Chinese Reader series is good, but I like the newer "Integrated Chinese" by Yao and it has CDs available with listening exercises.

    Also, if you have a sat dish check out CCTV9 (now free on Dish network) for their 15 minute daily "Communicate in Chinese" show... I'm encoding these to MP4 and putting them on my Treo650...

    • by cyberon22 ( 456844 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @11:04PM (#11995042)
      >> It's really helpful to paste some Chinese into the editor and be able to hover the mouse over words to get instant dictionary lookup.

      There's an open source project doing exactly this for the simplified character set at:

      Neatest feature is the collaborative backend database, which is also open source and downloadable. The Beijing-based server is a bit slow for trans-Pacific, but there is a language learning news portal using it which loads much faster. I use it as my homepage:

  • live languages (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cafn8ed ( 264155 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:49PM (#11994947) Homepage
    As someone who's studied both dead languages (Latin and Old English) and one live one (French), I can safely say that learning a live language is NOTHING like learning a dead one.

    To learn a live language, no amount of flash cards will teach you, you need live people and live conversation. Otherwise all you can do is read and write.
  • The actual link got dropped -- my fault -- in editing this post; now fixed.
    Hey, um, since this article mentioned Latin, you should've said mea culpa instead of "my fault." =P
  • I use a program called flashkard for KDE, but my biggest gripe is not being able to find many prebuilt datasets. It can get tedious making thousands of your own ones. I'd buy well put together sets of datafiles, but not the programs to display them...
    • Re:Data files (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jonathan ( 5011 )
      Making the datafiles may be tedious, but that actually helps you learn. It's like taking notes in class. I rarely ever looked at my notes afterwards, but the the act of notetaking itself helped me internalize the information.
  • by kongjie ( 639414 ) <> on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:56PM (#11995002)
    Flashcard programs are for vocabulary acquisition.

    So when s/he talks about learning 3 dead languages, s/he learned to read 3 languages, probably also by learning some grammar.

    When I talk about learning a language, I mean learning to speak in a language and being able to understand others speaking...put the two together and you're talking about a conversation. That's not something you learn from flashcard programs. The way you successfully learn languages, meaning speaking and aural comprehension, is by engaging in conversational practice after preparation and study with things like flashcards and audio materials, or computer programs.

    And you do that by living in the country, taking a class, or both. There is a world of difference between studying dead languages and studying living languages.

  • Pimsleurs (Score:4, Informative)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @10:58PM (#11995009) Homepage
    Its the best series of language tapes/CD I've ever heard. I found a torrent on the web luckilly (yep I'm a bad bad boy) but they're probably worth the money. Available for all popular languages. What is really nice is the excellent amount of repetition, its not so much that you're bored out of your skull, but not so little that you can't follow it after 10 minutes or so. And material that was covered in previous lessons is always reviewed.

    I planned on just listening to the MP3's at my desk, but it was erie talking to my computer monitor and I could never find the time. So I've been burning them to CD to listen in my car. Definitely the way to spend a long drive.

  • For Latin, I find that words [] for Linux helps.
  • So in a nutshell what he's really saying is:

    Flash Cards Are The Best Way To Learn A Language.

    and they're what? like .00003USD for a million?
  • by minairia ( 608427 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @11:10PM (#11995083)
    I've spent the last three years teaching myself to read Japanese. I can now pick up a Japanese newspaper and just read 90% of the articles. Sadly, this isn't as good a way to pick up Japanese chicks as one might think. Instead of being the happy go-lucky fun-loving gaijin, you become just another crufty, bog-average business guy in a suit reading about the latest municipal garbage hauling scam in Osaka ...

    How I did was brute force, using the Breen dictionary site and various on-line Japanese new sites. I'd find an article, and read it. Words I didn't know, I'd look up. Then I'd read another article and do the same thing. Over a year, I had built up a good vocabulary. I was working a Help Desk, so believe me, I had nothing but time to keep looking up the same word over and over until it stuck.

    I wrote my own flashcard programs (one in JavaScript and one in VB) that brought in audio and pictures. Unfortunately, this method (for me) was not long term effective. I'd gain an extra 500 words of vocab that I'd loose just as fast. For me, only words that I saw all the time really stuck. Pictures, audio, etc., although nice, didn't seem to add much to my learning effort. Just straight and constant reading and watching TV and looking up words is what did it for me.

    The hardest challenge is crossing the line to real fluency and reading novels. I can get through the newspaper fine but can't get past page one of a novel yet. The reason is all the words that every Japanese person knows that only show up rarely in written material (English is the same, how often do you say "ermine", "demarcation" or "orbital insertion" in conversation?). I've gone back to the flash cards for words of this type.

    In short, there's no magic to learning a language. It is a grotty, tedious, intense and rather lonely project involving memorization, dictionaries and lots of time.

    • by bratboy ( 649043 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @01:13AM (#11995699) Homepage
      Having been through the process myself (four years of Japanese classes in college, one year of intensive study in Japan), I have definitely felt your pain. And no matter how great your classes, no matter how much you're immersed in the culture, the simple fact is that you have to spend hundreds of hours alone in a room pounding kanji. It's not sexy. It's not cool. But you have to do it if you want to get there.

      Most language programs (whether Pimsleur, Living Language, Rosetta, whatever) focus more on the part that most (i.e., non-serious) students care about - fun little cultural exercises that teach you next to nothing. I wasn't able to find anything that really worked for me, so I ended up writing my own vocabulary drill website [].

      In the end, if you want to learn badly enough, you'll make it. And if you don't, you'll find something else that won't cause you as much heartbreak (French?).

      All I can tell you is that it's worth it.


    • by achurch ( 201270 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @01:54AM (#11995942) Homepage

      In short, there's no magic to learning a language. It is a grotty, tedious, intense and rather lonely project involving memorization, dictionaries and lots of time.

      To be blunt, if your only tools are memorization and dictionaries, then you'll never reach real fluency. Languages are living things, and the only way to comprehend them is to talk with living people who use it.

      Okay, maybe that's overstating it a little. But speaking with natives will help you much, much more than any amount of staring at dead trees or computer monitors. I spent my first year of Japanese study taking university classes and playing Japanese RPGs (with a dictionary at the ready, of course). Then, in my second year, my teacher introduced me to a native Japanese living in the area, with whom I practiced Japanese conversation once a week--later expanded to more people and more days. I don't think it's a coincidence that my Japanese skills skyrocketed during that second year.

      One other thing I might point out is that you can't become fluent in a language as long as you're mentally translating back into English; you have to comprehend the language as-is. (How do you translate the distinction between the first-person pronouns "watakushi", "watashi", "boku", and "ore"? Short answer: you can't.) As long as you stick with reading materials, you'll always have the leeway to stop and think, so unless you have pretty strong willpower, you'll always be thinking in English. With conversation, however, you don't have that opportunity; you have to be able to think in the language to hold your own in a conversation--which in turn means that as your conversation skills improve, so does your overall fluency.

  • by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (45ttam.yrrep)> on Sunday March 20, 2005 @11:19PM (#11995134)
    I've used Pauker [] in the past and found it to be a great flashcard program. Free, opensource, and runs anywhere you have java.
  • by darekana ( 205478 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @11:27PM (#11995183) Homepage
    I blatantly plug POPjisyo [] all the time. It provides pop-up hints for reading Chinese and Japanese and allows you to play a simple matching game over the contents of sites you surf. So you can read something of interest to you and then practice with the same words.
  • Core word list (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ortholattice ( 175065 ) on Sunday March 20, 2005 @11:47PM (#11995281)
    A core list of commonly used words is a useful thing to have for a new language. Most language courses seem to have around 2000 words that they focus on, although these lists are usually proprietary. The only public-domain list (in English) I could find is here [] that could be a starting point for anyone interested in assembling a list for their favorite language.
  • Pauker (Score:4, Informative)

    by KevinIsOwn ( 618900 ) <herrkevin@gmail . c om> on Monday March 21, 2005 @01:07AM (#11995645) Homepage
    There is a great open source flashcard program called Pauker []. I use it to learn German and like it quite a bit.

    Pauker helps teach you the words and quiz you on them. I've found it to be the best open-source flash card program available.
  • by Joe Tie. ( 567096 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @01:38AM (#11995852)
    I was a little surprised they didn't mention QuizCards [] , which seems at or above the level of those reviewed. It's open source, and written in Java using swing for the gui.
  • Use real flashcards (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SilentJ_PDX ( 559136 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @05:32AM (#11997057) Homepage
    I'm a die-hard fan of real flashcards.

    While working in Germany, I wrote my own simple Java flashcard program. I found there were many opportunities to study when I couldn't pull out my laptop (on the bus/train, while waiting for a friend, etc.).

    I then wrote a program for J2ME, so I could quiz myself on my mobile. That worked better but it was a bit of a pain to deal with uploading new 'cards' (I'd have to modify a text file, put it in a .jar and upload the whole thing to the phone.

    These days, I can almost always be found with the day's stack of 40 cards (10-15 new words and some 'problem words' from previous days). Writing new cards is easy (especially now that I've moved to Japanese) and dealing with subsets of cards is even easier.

    The benefit of the computer approach is that I could create virtual flashcards: both programs would generate and translate random numbers/times/phrases.
  • by Kopretinka ( 97408 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @06:00AM (#11997160) Homepage
    I have personal experience with Super Memo (for Palm, but that shouldn't matter much) and what makes it really great is the scheduling algorithm - it shows you the cards as often as you need to see them in order to remember them.

    In learning languages, some things are just easy - for example words similar in the new language and in the language(s) you already know, and some things are plain hard, for example words that look/sound similar, but mean different things (like arena meaning sand in Spanish), or similar words with significantly different conotations (phrase verbs in English coming to mind here - make vs. make out).

    In Super Memo (and I don't know about the other programs, but the article mentions the scheduling algorithm as one of the advantages of Super Memo) you'll be shown the easy stuff once a year and the hard stuff once a week, if necessary, and it's all on a personal basis, so hard stuff for me can be easy for somebody else and the program will reflect that.

    My experience with Super Memo was a very positive one and it would have continued, had my Palm not broken. 8-)

  • by johnrpenner ( 40054 ) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:22AM (#11999050) Homepage
    wanting to improve my german, i found some old used berltiz
    tapes from 1958 containing six hours of graduated conversational
    german - digitized these into mp3 files, and i just play them
    on endless repeat on my ipod.

    over the course of three months, for each itteration,
    i find i keep filling in more and more of the words
    as i keep coming back to the same parts on the tape.
    i keep repeating until i catch every single word
    without missing any - the more effort you put into
    trying to say the words you hear also helps.

    for reading - the best thing was peter hagboldt's []
    graduated german reader - they have stories with a
    several hundred word vocabulary, and each chapter
    adds in a dozen new key words, with definitions in
    the footnotes for each new instance. the graduated
    nature of these readers helps a lot, because it uses
    a core grammar, and then introduces the new words
    gradually as you're getting used to using the words
    you already know. --if you can OCR, or find digitized
    versions of one of his texts, you can download it
    into a palm pilot, and practice reading with a text

    there are no shortcuts to learning a language.
    there is no technological solution. but using an ipod
    with endless repeat on some good audio language content,
    or using a palm pilot to read practice texts
    can help facilitate the process. :D

    the next step is to set my google news page to german... :-P

    hab ein guten tag!

  • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <whitroth @ 5 -> on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:34AM (#11999198) Homepage
    Sir Richard Burton - NOT the actor, the one in the 1800s, who was there when they were digging up Troy, and Ur, and the other ancient, pre-Biblical cities of the Middle East, spoke something like 17 languages.

    His dictum was to move to the country, and take a lover who spoke no English.

    Obviously, it worked....


"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan