Thursday, December 27, 2012

Explanation Of Labels Used On Blog Posts

I have just added tags, or "labels" to each blog post that I have done so far, so you can search for posts that relate to different themes that one might want to search for.  Also I will probably edit and update this post every time I add a new label.  If you would find any labels useful, let me know and I'll consider whether to add a suggested label.


free_site refers to either web sites, software or any other useful language learning resource that is completely free (I'm mostly focusing on Polish but there may be other languages at the site as well).  I haven't yet added sites that have a free component or demo but charge for most resources, but may do so if people find that useful.

genealogy refers to a post that talks about Polish genealogy.

language_theory will refer to theoretical language learning concepts in general, and not just necessarily in Polish, but possibly applicable to any language learning.

language_trivia will include meaningless blatherings about language that are interesting (or not), or my personal experiences which directly or tangentially involve language, but might not be particularly instructive.

polish_adjectives talks about Polish adjectives.

polish_adverbs has to do with Polish adverbs.

polish_diaspora refers to historical information about Polish emigrants to other parts of the world.

polish_grammar refers to a post that talks about grammatical construction in the Polish language.  These will also have the polish_lesson tag.

polish_lesson refers to a post that has some instruction in the Polish language.

polish_nouns will refer to posts that talk about nouns in Polish, including declension, gender, number, and any related issues.

polish_prepositions will refer to posts that talk about prepositions and their usage in the Polish language.

polish_verbs will encompass any posts that talk about verbs in Polish, including conjugation, tenses, aspects, etc.

polish_vocabulary refers to a post that talks about vocabulary in the Polish language.  These will also have the polish_lesson tag.

site_review refers to a post where I review a web site, language software or other language resource.  If the site is (completely) free, it will also have the free_site tag.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Internet Polyglot: More Free Language Learning

Another pretty good site for completely free language learning is Internet Polyglot.  They have lists of words from different categories that you can learn (e.g., animals, colors, numbers, and more esoteric categories).  They have sound on the words, but you have to click on them to hear them.  They have a series of games you can play.  But as a caveat, all you get here is vocabulary.  There are no narratives, there is no grammar, there is no interplay with a human, just words applied in different games.

First off, there is the "slide show" which is just a series of slides where they play a word in one language and then wait for a while before they play the translation.  This is the closest to traditional flash cards as you can guess the answer.  You can check or uncheck a box that will "autoplay" each slide, or play the next one automatically after a short interval without you having to click anything.

The easiest, once you have some knowledge of the words, are the "matching game" and the "guessing game."  In the matching game, you have eight words on one side in  the target language, and eight in the source language, and you have to move them around until they match up with each other.  In the guessing game, it's basically a multiple choice test.

There's also the "typing game"--but you have to be able to type the diacritical marks for the language to get these to match.  They give you a word in one language and you have to type it in the other language.

Here you get points for playing each game, and you get to compete against others.  But don't bother trying to get the high scores.  Those are all taken by freaks who must use some computer program to score rather than doing it manually (if you play for several hours and do the math, you will see that even going your fastest for 24 hours, it is impossible to match the high score for a day.  But really, what is the point of not doing it yourself?).  They have scores by the day, the week, the month, etc.  You don't have to log in to use the site, but you do if you want to score.  As I've said, I've given up on scoring due to the pointless cheating.

The coolest thing that I find about this site is that you can easily study one language in another language.  You can study Turkish in Spanish, or Polish in French (I've done this, as well as studying Polish in Spanish, and Polish in Dutch), or, as I've been doing lately, Romanian in Polish.  And it is really easy to keep switching around both target and source languages.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Polish Genealogy Quest

My babcia (grandmother) and her family came here from Poland near the beginning of the 20th century.  I still don't know why they came here, but there were a lot of Polish emigrants coming around the time.  Probably, like many of the others, they lived in very poor and rural conditions, with large families and high child mortality, with whatever government that happened to be running or occupying the area at the time seriously messing with them.   They might have heard that there were opportunities for work as the United States became more entrenched as an industrial society.

I talked with my babcia a little bit about her roots when I was a small child.  Of course, I wish we had talked more about it, because now she and all her brothers and sisters are long gone.  I never tried to learn Polish except for knowing a few words that she would use around me (mostly Polish cuss words).  I remember her telling me that her grandmother's last name was Czop (and she made a "chopping" motion with her hand to reinforce the pronunciation). I went to visit her once when I was a teenager and she introduced me to all of her brothers and sisters (and she had a lot!) except for one sister, and I met her on a later visit.

So a few years ago, I tried to find out more about my Polish roots.  Of course, I started with family, and asked them everything they knew.  Anyone who had actually come from Poland was long gone.  There were some first-generation Polish-Americans born in the US, some of whom spoke Polish as they were raised in Polish communities.  That seemed to be the norm at the time; nowadays it seems like most Polish immigrants I meet integrate themselves into more "Americanized" communities.

I found a scrap of paper that had my grandmother's birth town listed on it.  So now I had a location.  Of course I started on for as much info as I could find on there.  But they don't have a lot of information from Poland.  I have posted an extensive family tree on Ancestry so if you are family or have some interest, I can invite people to my tree by email.

I found my grandmother's family on The Ellis Island Foundation website and found that my grandmother arrived with her siblings and her parents at Ellis Island in 1913 (so this coming year will be the hundredth anniversary of my family's arrival).  They departed from Liverpool, England on the ship "Carmania" but I have no idea how they got to England.  I had seen in a newspaper clipping from a Polish language newspaper from the 1940s that my grandmother and her siblings had a cousin in England; maybe somehow this is related, but maybe not.  I think that since I had found this on the Ellis Island site, Ancestry also acquired some records that included this information because now I have seen it there too.

I found the book Polish Roots and read through it to find resources for finding family information.  At the time, I did not speak any Polish at all.  So I typed out some boilerplate letters in Polish included in the back of the book to various Polish civil and church authorities and was able to get some information that way.  This book is an excellent guide to how to research your Polish roots.

Next, I started researching through the Family History Library Catalog to see if I could find any information on the microfilms that have been collected by the LDS Church.  The way this works is that you can look up microfilms to be ordered through your local Family History Center.  You can search for microfilms by area but you have to have some information about the area that your ancestor came from.  You will mostly find records on births (akta urodzin), marriages (akta małżeństwa), and deaths (akta zgonów).  They will be delivered there within a week or two and then will be there for a fixed amount of time.  Sometimes the microfilm viewers to be used are limited so you might have to wait your turn but if it is busy the people there are pretty cooperative about taking turns.  You might find that this process is hit-and-miss, but I was able to find a lot of good information on some of the microfilms.  It is a slow and tedious process and not as immediately satisfying as when you can look information up online.  Also, the records I looked at were in Latin, often with very poor handwriting, and some of the images are poor also, which can lead to some headache-inducing close scrutiny of the documents to try to figure out what they say.  Some of the documents might be in Polish rather than Latin, but I have not encountered any yet for my family.

Most of the documents that LDS has are not yet online.  However, there is a push to put them online, and they call for volunteers to look at documents and type transcriptions of them into databases that can be searched online.  You can assist with this endeavor as a volunteer if you wish, through FamilySearch Indexing.  I helped transcribe a lot of documents when the 1940 Census was released as part of this effort.  You simply download a program to your desktop and pick images that you want to assist with transcribing; there are documents from all over the world.  Once you become an experienced indexer, you can also become an arbitrator as well (I have also done this).  What this entails is arbitrating contradictory results from indexers.  Usually two separate indexers will transcribe an image, so there will be an "A" index and a "B" index.  The arbitrator will look at any results that differ, compare them to the image, and either pick the one that looks most correct or enter a new value if neither looks right.

The last place I got a substantial amount of stuff was on my trip to Poland in 2010.  I visited several church dioceses there, which were the custodians of records for most of Polish history, and was able to photograph some vital records there.  At the time, my language skills were very poor, so I was not able to communicate very well (I was still at the "stroke victim" level that I discussed in this post).  Therefore, I was mostly limited to the sources that I found in the Polish Roots book and anything that I otherwise discovered serendipitously.  I took several pictures of my visit to Poland and posted them on my Facebook page.  I have been able to trace some branches of my family back to the 1700s and hope that someday I will be able to find records that go back even farther.

Most of the records I have found for my family indicate that they lived in several small towns clustered between Nowy Sącz and Tarnów in Małopolska.  This area is about 80 km southeast of Kraków.  When they moved to the US, they settled around Chicopee, Massachusetts.  There is a really good historical book about the Polish families that immigrated to this area called The Polish Community of Chicopee.  They also lived in Holyoke, MA and Enfield, CT, as well as other towns around that area.

When my babcia lived in Massachusetts, she hooked up with a French-Canadian guy, my grand-père (grandfather). This inter-ethnic relationship was absolutely scandalous at the time and roiled both of their families.  On top of that, there seems to be some question as to whether they were even actually married, and the only marriage record I have found for them was several years after their last child (my mother) was born.

A free resource is RootsWeb, which has a lot of family trees that people have posted online.  I have posted a descendancy tree there from one of my ancestors at this link: Descendants of Wojciech Sobczyk.  There is also a PolishGenWeb site on RootsWeb that has a number of resources, including some Polish Vital Records online, though this list of vital records is hit-or-miss and not very comprehensive.

One more book that has been helpful to me is A Translation Guide to 19th Century Polish-Language Civil-Registration Documents, available through the PGSA, which I bring up further on in this article.  This book has a number of terms that were commonly used in civil and church vital documents, and explanations of how they were used, as well as examples of sample documents.

PolishGenWeb also has a list of Polish Terms commonly used in genealogical research. Other sites with Polish genealogy terms and phrases include: Family Tree MagazineThe Polish Genealogy ProjectLDSLDS again, and yet more from LDS,

There are a number of Polish genealogy societies in the US.  One of the biggest is the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA), which has a good resource center with useful links for genealogical information.  Mostly this centers on Polish immigrants to the Midwest, particularly to Chicago, but a lot of their info is applicable to Polish immigrants to all areas of the United States.  They also have a lot of good books on Polish Genealogy in their store.  There are lists of other Polish genealogical societies at PolishGenWeb, most of which serve specific regions.

And here are a few more miscellaneous links.  There is more info on translating documents at  There are more links to genealogical resources at Genealogy Links, and another resource is Polish Roots.

I hope to talk some more about my Polish genealogy quest in further posts, but I have covered a good deal of what you would need to know and where you would have to go if you wanted to explore your own Polish roots in this blog post.  I would be happy to answer any questions if I can help lead you in the right direction in finding your Polish ancestors.

University Of Pittsburgh Polish Course Is Awesome

In my last post, I indicated that I wanted to talk about some free Polish resources on the Web.  One of the most super-awesome courses for free that I could imagine is the University of Pittsburgh Polish Course.  There is a plethora of resources there for learning the Polish language.

First of all, they have a Polish Dictionary.  Now this is a great resource, but, personally, I don't use it.  It's not that it isn't useful, and you might find that it can be your go-to resource.  But I'm so tied in to the Anki flash card program that I simply use the deck browser on my Polish flash card deck as my dictionary (I've talked about Anki here and here a little bit but eventually I'll have to have a more detailed description of it in a separate post because it is definitely my favorite flash card resource for multiple languages).

The Polish Dictionary at University of Pittsburgh is only searchable, as far as I can can't actually browse it.  I may be wrong about that as I've only taken a cursory look at it.  If you know otherwise, feel free to comment.  But there are many more useful features on this site.

First of all, there are a couple of very good reference grammar ebooks on there for free.  The most accessible one is Polish Grammar In A Nutshell.  This is a short summary of some of the most frequently used points of grammar, and is the one that I run to most often to answer quick questions without a huge amount of depth.  But there is also a very comprehensive grammar that is nearly five hundred pages long at this link: A Grammar Of Contemporary Polish.

OK, those are the reference materials that are available on the site.  There are also a series of lessons.  Lessons 1-6 also appear to be contained in Volume One.  There are a couple of other volumes referenced in Volume One but I haven't found them yet.  There appears to be a .pdf dictionary mentioned so it may be on the site somewhere.

There are also a lot of audio files on this site.  I used to come here for some audio files that were in print and audio, but I can't seem to find them any more, and the links to them on the site map don't seem to be currently active.  I'm sure that what they have on there currently is really great.

Also, there are some computer drills that indicate that you have to utilize some program to use.  I'm not sure if you have to install it or if it is on the web.  I haven't really used them or explored through them, but they look very useful.

Keep in mind that this whole site appears to be a work in progress, and changes around.  Things have moved around a lot since I first started going here, so some of the links may change.  You might want to poke around the site some to see how it is organized, but I'm sure you will find some fantastic resources here for learning Polish.

But what I like about this site the most is that it appears to just totally be a labor of giving.  There is no commercial component to it at all.  No ads, no entreaties to buy anything, just rock-solid, useful information.  This is classic 1995 Internet, when we thought the Web would be a big open-source sharing resource, before the bulk of the whole thing became a series of exploitative advertisements/data mining device/malware delivery system/porn site.  See, you can still find the love out there somewhere.

Feel free to comment if you want to add more info about the University of Pittsburgh's site, talk about anything I've left out here, or if things move around and you want to update info.  Or just to ruminate, blather, or say hi.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Too Busy, And Checking Out Innovative Language's Thing

I've been meaning to write another post for a few days, but I've been awfully busy.  If you've noticed the widgets I placed on the right side of my blog a few days ago--the ones that give a "word of the day" for Polish, Dutch and Romanian--they click through to some language learning sites run by Innovative Learning.

Anyway, I not only took advantage of the 7-day free trial for the Polish site, but also paid five bucks on a flash deal that was available for 24 hours to sign up for any language site for a month.  So I picked Dutch, plunked down my five bucks, and now I have access to the site for a month.

I have to say that having experienced a lot of modes of learning languages, I like their methods, for the most part.  With Polish, I have been going through the beginning lessons kind of randomly but find that I know almost all the vocabulary words and can translate the Polish in the lessons relatively easily, for the most part.  The advanced lessons, though, have been really helpful, and fairly interesting.  Each of the advanced audio lessons is a very brief essay on a topic of Polish life.  There is a series on different Polish cities, and one on different regions in Poland, than on Polish movies and Polish musicians.  In each series there is an essay of about five hundred words for each lesson in Polish, and then the translation in English.  On the premium level, you also get the essay broken down in audio segments sentence by sentence.  It's hard for me to see yet what you get for free because you automatically get the 7-day free trial of the premium level.  So I've been furiously trying to pack as much in to the 7-day trial as I can get.  I probably won't pay for more unless I get addicted like it was crack, which I could easily see happening.  But I'm a cheap bastard, so probably not.  Maybe if it pops up with some super-cheap deal for a month or three, I'll bite.

The prices are just a little too high for me. It's twenty-five bucks a month, but the prices drop drastically if you buy in for a year or two.  The rub there is that you don't want to pay for a year not knowing if you would maintain use of it, or get tired of their system and need to change it around.  But the five-bucks-for-a-month Dutch deal was a good offer, so I took that.  I'll see how much I can get out of that.  I'm not as proficient at Dutch, so the beginner lessons are more helpful to me and I have to go through them slower.

Now I would maybe be more likely to bite if they offered me the chance to check out all the languages they offer for the prices, so I could jump around from language to language.  I'd maybe even lock in for a year.  But each language is separate and has its own site, and you have to pay for each one separately.  They don't seem to group them together in any way for a better deal, and even if they did, you can only study so much in one day, so paying twice as much for two languages or eight times as much for eight languages doesn't do you a lot of good.

For Polish the link is, for Dutch it is, etc.  Some languages have "class" instead of "pod" in their names (I guess the domain was taken?).

The flash cards are cool because you can customize them in different ways to study from the lessons you are looking at, or from words you have added to a "wordbank", and they automatically come with audio, which I don't have in any of my current flash cards on Anki (though Anki does have the capability to add audio, and I think there is also a plug-in for it that will send the text on your flash card to Google text-to-speech or another TTS app; I just haven't had the time to check it out and figure out how to configure it).

Anyway, like I said, I've been working my ass off trying to get the most out of my 7-day free trial in Polish and 30-day five-buck deal in Dutch in the allotted time, so more later.  I do like the system they have.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ohboyka, It's A Trójka (and Other News)

Polish, in addition to ordinal numbers, cardinal numbers, and collective numbers, has noun names for numbers as well.  The easiest thing to picture for English speakers is the troika. (trojka, trójka).  These numerical designations are pretty common throughout many Slavic languages and are fairly similar; Some of the spellings are different in the different slavic languages, so I have included some of the most common spellings you will encounter.

Let's talk about the trójka (now I'm spelling it in the Polish fashion, with the accent on the o that gives it a "u" sound, and the "j" instead of the "i".  Congratulations.  You are now in Polish world.

A polish noun word describes some identity or group that occurs in the number stated, and usually performs some type of action.  Maybe there's a trójka of bullies over there waiting to argue the finer points of Brownian motion with you.  Or maybe they just want to contain you in the basement for an indefinite period.

But maybe our trójka wants to stop fiddling with your civil liberties and wands to just fiddle in cadence and harmonies and let people listen.  But after playing the oboe for a while, you realize that you might be late to take the trójka (bus) across town to buy costumes for your szóstka which the same (or at least close to the same) is performing across town.

So let's review the different ways that you can come up for a group, or a spy cell, a committee, or something else you can express with a finite group of people all working to do something dangerous or innocuous.

If you have only one, it would be a jedynka.  You have separated yourself into a unit of one, away from everybody else on the earth, for whatever devious scheme you have on hand.  Personally, I hope it involves a banjo.  Those things are insidiously revolutionary.

But then old Piotr shows up with a washboard to play with the banjo.  Now you're a dwójka.  Add another member, you've got a trójka.  See how fun this can be?

Hopefully your trójka is forming for music rather than vigilante justice (although there are definitely times when the two concepts are indistinguishable).

So the rest of the numbers that you are going to use, as more folks show up, are:


We can even go farther.  If we want to make some really wild music, we'll throw some bizarre instruments into the mix and have


...and so forth.

In other news for the day, I've added widgets that will give you a Polish word of the day and a Dutch word of the day.  Maybe I'll eventually add more languages.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Confusing Languages?

I've been asked if I ever confuse languages, with all the study I'm doing in different languages.  The short answer is, for the most part, no, not at all (with a few caveats).  I can keep different languages all compartmentalized in the right places, for the most part.  And I think most people who have knowledge of different languages don't have that trouble in general.  Let me ask you you try to play guitar chords on the piano but then get confused because there are no strings readily available (although I have tried to find techniques of piano playing that involve plucking the harp, but that's a totally different thing)?  Do you ever accidentally cook using a sponge instead of a spatula? Can you tell your parents apart?

OK, those are extreme examples.  But I think you get the point.  You get used to using a tool in a certain context, and you associate it with that context.  Vocabulary, grammar and speech are tools of communication, and they happen in boxes that are confined to a certain linguistic context.

But there are caveats to that general rule.  Sometimes I find that I can't think of the word in the right language, and the only word that will pop into the forefront of my mind is the word in a different language.  And I want to use that word, or sometimes even will in frustration, but I'm pretty aware that my target audience may not understand it.

Or sometimes there are similar words in languages from the same linguistic families.  Like "ancora" in Italian and "encore" in French (again, yet, still).  Or "donde" in Spanish and "dove" in Italian (where).  "Hablar" in Spanish and "falar" in Portuguese; "parler" in French and "parlar" in Catalan (to speak).  I could possibly wrongly throw in a Spanish cognate when I'm speaking (or, really, butchering) Italian.  But I'm not going to confuse French with Mandarin.

When I was first learning Polish, for some reason, I kept wanting to say, "wo ist" instead of "gdzie jest" (where is...).  But I knew that tossing German into the mix was not the right thing to do.  My brain just kept wanting to pick that as the first choice, even though I knew it was not right.

Unusual Word Constructions

There are a number of word constructions in Polish that are fairly unusual to me, as a native English speaker.  Obviously every different culture sees things from a different perspective, but so far, of all the languages that I have looked at (and, granted, most of those languages have been either Germanic or Romantic), Polish seems to come up with some thought processes that seem especially foreign to me, or that would seem askew in English.

A street name that is common in Polish cities is "Ulica Piękna" which means "Beautiful Street."  I passed through a town in Poland called "Niedźwiedź," or "Bear."

The word for "shallow" is "płytki," which appears to mean "plate-y." "Greedy" is "chciwy," or, literally, "want-y."  "Torrential" (as in torrential rain), is "gwałtowny" or "rape-y." "Oznaka" means "indication" or "symptom." but "oznakowany" means "labeled" or "tagged."

And then there's the way meanings are grouped together within a word.  "Zawodowy" means either "professional" or "disappointment."  "Doświadczenie" means either "experience" or "experiment." "Kostka" has the meanings of "cube, bar, block, lump," which are all relatively easily conceptualized together, but can also mean "die" (as in the singular of "dice"), or "ankle", "wrist" or "knuckle."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rosetta Stone Is Overpriced Garbage

There, I said it.  Rosetta Stone is overpriced garbage.

Obviously, I'm not a shill for Rosetta Stone.  Obviously I'm not paid to tell you how friggin' wonderful it is, and how it's the best thing since the invention of the wheel.

I mean, what the hell?  This crap costs, like, four hundred dollars.  And the price is always three hundred dollars off from some imaginary "actual retail" that nobody ever truly pays (god, at least I really hope not).  A reasonable price for what you get would be about fifty dollars.  I'd maybe pay that, despite its shortcomings, which I'll most certainly let you know about.  It doesn't give you ANY translations, just pictures of stuff and people yapping in a foreign language you don't know yet. Often the pictures are confusing and ambiguous, and they are never in any way associated with the culture that goes with the language you are learning.

And for this exorbitant price, they give you TWO installs.  Here's the story of my first and probably only experience with it.  I got suckered in for nearly five hundred bucks for Polish 1,2 and 3 (so is it telling that it's already gone down about a hundred bucks since I bought it?).  I installed it on my desktop at the time, and the hard disk promptly fried.  So I spent a half an hour on the phone with a tech support person whose native language did not seem to be English (but wouldn't let on what it was), and seemed to have an IQ of about eighty.  I begged for another install, but instead, they insisted that I should install my second and final install.  Once I got another machine, I installed the second install.  Of course, the motherboard fried on this computer.  Now I'm completely shit out of luck.  I haven't bothered to call tech support because, frankly, I'm just disgusted with myself for getting fleeced on this product in the first place.  Also I've read online that they just blow you off if you are beyond the initial six-month guarantee period (which I am).

A while back, they ran these commercials with Michael Phelps, talking about what a wonderful experience he had learning Chinese with Rosetta Stone.  I was dumbstruck by the fact that in the commercials, he utters NOT A SINGLE WORD of the language.  C'mon, people, at least fake a few lines for that too much to ask?  So it's making me think that it's just another case of an overpaid lying celebrity selling garbage as gold.  If you're going to pay some shiny face a gazillion dollars to invade everybody's livingroom to baffle them with bullshit so you can switch on the cash vacuum, at least toss in a couple of fucking token dance steps.  Also, for the cost they probably paid Michael Phelps to dance this jig, they conceivably could have cut the price in half (and undoubtedly would have sold more units as a result) But, of course, long before this time, I've already purchased this trash.

OK, I will admit it has some actual educational value.  There is a smidgen of lipstick on this pig somewhere (but nowhere near the lips).  And that's why I'd consider paying fifty bucks for some Rosetta Stone in some other language at some point.  Maybe.  But not until I've gotten my dead Polish software that I paid through the nose for to work again.

Learning Walks, And Extreme Thicketing

Often I go on "learning walks." That is, I'll take a long walk with either my Polish flash cards, or my little Android tablet on which I have installed Anki (actually, the program on the tablet is AnkiDroid, the Android version...I'm using the latest beta apk version from here).  Tonight I walked around for about two hours and knocked out about 400 flash cards in that time on Anki.  I pretty much just use the tablet for language study and that's the only reason I got it.

The other night I tried something different.  I took a list of the hardest words that have been plaguing me lately, and went for an arduous slog through waist-high brush and thick grass for about half an hour.  I was fighting my way through a thicket of both words and flora.  I figured that this would be a somewhat homeopathic approach.  Maybe it was effective.  But it was highly unpleasant.  I ended up back at home with all kinds of sticks and burrs embedded in my shoes, socks and pants.   Then I spent the next half hour picking them all out. Maybe I'd really learn a lot if I dragged myself through a huge patch of nettle and poison ivy.  Guess I'm just all in for education...who knows--maybe I'll go thicketing again at some point.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Here are the three fects of my current linguistic odyssey:

Fect #1:

I've started studying Romanian in Polish.  Not only is it a good sideswipe from the unhappy accident that is studying-Polish-burnout, but it also helps with "running interference,", or, as I put it in a previous post, "practicing for diversion."  Why Romanian? It seems vaguely exotic, maybe even ethereal and otherwordly.  It's a Romance language, but it's been fellated by Slavic influence for centuries.  And it belongs to the Eastern Romance language family that ends its plurals in -i instead of -s.  Now that's just hot. If only I could find a good beginning Romanian text in Polish at a used bookstore (dream on...not in THIS country).

Fect #2:

Also, I'm enveloping myself in reading "Romeo I Julia, Tragedya w 5 aktach--Wiliam Szekspir."  First I had to get the right version off of the Gutenberg Project site.  It took me a couple of tries, but finally I found one that my e-reader would open.  When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way...

Fect #3:

Chinese, anyone?  Nin friggin' hao!  These videos are AWESOME for learning Mandarin.  Sometimes I get the feeling I'm spreading myself too thin.  But what the hell.  You only live once, and you gotta be ready for that moment when these one billion Chinese walk into a bar...  But seriously, it would be cool to speak the language spoken by more people in the world than any other--the language that over 14% of humanity utters natively.

And really, every trifecta should have a...

Bonus Fect:

This one doesn't count because it's only stupid English.  I've started a vocabulary list at called "Haphazard Devilous Munch" that consists of some of the most radically gnarly words that I could find that are "quiz-ready" on the site.  Granted, there are some much more severely sebacious words out there in the English language. For example, check out some of the words in this "Greek Words" list that someone else made.  But a lot of the serious munch in the Greek Words list can't be quizzed on the site because the powers-that-be haven't set up quizzes for them yet, whereas my munch is deliciously munchable.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wikipedia Method

Here is how I do the bulk of my reading and translation as part of my process to learn a foreign language:  I use the Wikipedia method.

My Wikipedia method works this way:  First, I will go to the Wikipedia page of the language that I want to study.  For the Polish language, I go to Wikipedia Polski, and pick an article in a subject that interests me.  Of course, I open it in Google Chrome.  Then I open another tab with the same article, and Chrome will ask me if I want to translate it from Polish to English, and I will translate it.  Then I open another tab with Google Translate, set to translate from Polish to English, so I can translate individual words if needed.  Note also that I have added a link to a random article on Polish Wikipedia at the bottom of my blog.

I'll read through the article, and if I come to word(s) that I don't know, then I'll look at the version translated from the target language into English (this is better than looking at the same article in English Wikipedia, because usually that article is completely different, and the translated version is somewhat word-for-word).  Since the translation is sometimes a little off-kilter, if what I see doesn't make sense to me, then I'll go to Google Translate and enter the words one by one.  I have yet to encounter something that is so idiomatic and peculiar that I can't figure out what it means.

It's not as useful to translate from the source language to the target language (for example, if your native language is English, don't use the Chrome browser to translate from English to Polish [or whatever the target language is]). The reason is that the translation will be weird and your native language skills will be better at understanding a strange translation in your native language than in the language you are trying to learn.  Also, you want to look at grammatical and syntactical constructions (as well as translations) that are correct, and even though humans make mistakes, the version written by the person will be more correct than the version that is translated.

But, really, my Wikipedia method could be used with any source material that is in the Polish language.  I use it with Wikipedia the most because then I can learn about cool and interesting stuff too.  News sites and blogs in Polish on subjects that interest you might be particularly suited to this type of endeavor.  The only things that are really important are: 1) that the source code on the page of the site you are translating is not so whacked-out that it won't allow for a translation, or 2) that the site is not heavily dependent on images that deliver text.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vocabulary Whore

I fully realize that I could probably become conversant faster if I would devote more study to things other than Polish vocabulary.  But the problem is, I'm a vocabulary whore.

There is a lot of time that I should be studying grammar, or listening to audio, or reading. And I realize that.  I do devote some time to those resources, but not nearly enough.  The problem is that I just like learning new words.  After I've studied a bunch, I always find a hundred more words that I would like to know.  So I add them to my flash cards.

Actually, they are usually there in the flash card deck already, so I just unsuspend them.  Sometimes they aren't, and I will add them to the deck.  And then I go back to studying vocabulary compulsively.

Today, I studied about 90% Polish, and 10% other languages (Dutch, German, Catalan, Italian, Czech and advanced Spanish--was there anything else? I forget).

I do devote some time to reading and translation.  I'll talk about the bulk of the reading I do in the next post.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Claims Of Extremely Quick Language Learning, And Studies Of Extraordinary Polyglots

Sometimes I hear claims that one can learn a language and be fluent in it in a matter of weeks or just a few months.  Learning a language is an extremely difficult and complex task, even for those who have mastered several languages.  That having been said, there are probably some individuals who are able to create neural pathways that are optimal for learning and are able to pick up a language in a very short period of time.

There is the well-documented case of Daniel Tammet, who apparently learned Icelandic in a week well enough to speak it on a talk show in Iceland (sidebar: Tammet's case was researched by Simon Baron-Cohen, a cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen, the actor who played "Borat" and "Bruno").  Tammet had apparently learned several languages in a short period of time.  There is also Christopher, who displayed linguistic savant properties as well and could speak numerous languages.  Many such individuals are otherwise afflicted with developmental differences (autism, or some form of brain damage), and have their linguistic prowess as a "splinter skill,"

There are also some polyglots whose talent does not arise as a function of a developmental difference and are considered relatively normal in other ways.  There is a culture of talented polyglots who have been profiled; many of them started learning languages at an early age, but it is not unknown for people to begin learning languages as adults.  There have been some studies of what it takes to become a distinguished polyglot, and it appears that part of it is dedication and work, and part of it may be attributable to brains that are wired a certain way.  But there don't appear to be a lot of answers to whether such brain wiring is inherently innate, or can be achieved through learning.  Here is an interesting series of interviews with polyglots in which they talk about language learning.

There is also the matter of what constitutes a polyglot.  Some who call themselves polyglots may be somewhat faking it by knowing "just enough to be dangerous."  One would probably have to go through a testing regimen to determine exactly how proficient they are in a given language.  There are probably a lot of people who have various levels of proficiency in several languages that might fall short of fluency.

Now, let's get back to learning strategies that claim high levels of proficiency in short periods of time.  There is a book that I had studied from called "Polish in 4 Weeks: An Intensive Course in Basic Polish" (one of several texts that I have studied from, there is also a "Part 2" book for more advanced learners that I am currently going through), but I personally took a lot longer than four weeks to go through it.

The theory is that there are 28 lessons, and if you do one a day, you will have it down in a month.  There may be learners out there that can do that, but I certainly am not one of them.  I would venture a guess that the average learner would not be able to meet that one-month time standard.  You have to consider that the average student who takes two years of a language in high school or college can ordinarily barely speak the language, even if they made very high grades, unless they were extraordinarily motivated to actually learn the language rather than learn for the tests, which is possibly a different skill.  This isn't to say that the subject matter of the book is not good; actually of the numerous textbooks I have on Polish, I have to say that this is one of the better ones.

Enough for now, but I'd like to revisit this topic again at a later time.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Polish Tongue Twisters

It seems like almost everything in the Polish language is a tongue twister to me.  But here is an awesome list of Polish Tongue Twisters.  I know I have trouble pronouncing the words "chrząszcz" and "źdźbło".  And then when you string two or three words together, it puts a whole 'nother dimension on some of these impossible pronunciations (not to mention full sentences and paragraphs).

Drop-Outs And Leeches In Spaced Repetition Learning

Drop-outs are words that suddenly seem to disappear from your memory.  This often happens when you are regularly adding many words to your lexicon on a daily basis.  You will have words that you are certain that you learned, but suddenly when you review them, you have no memory of having ever seen them.  It's like they got squeezed out of your memory by other words, or by other elements of your memory.

Sometimes a word will not be a total drop-out.  You will have some memory of some facet of it, but not retain an important relational structure that you had learned.  For instance, I talked about the situation earlier whereby sometimes I will have a word just suddenly pop clearly into my head, but completely disassociated with any meaning.  Maybe you will remember a word in this fashion, isolated from its meaning, when you had learned it pretty solidly and retrieved it multiple independent times in the past  Or maybe you can only make a connection to a meaning in one direction; for example, from the target language to the source language but not in the other direction (after you thought you had solidly learned it).  In this case, it will only be a partial drop-out.

Leeches are a different matter.  They are the black holes of learning, the words you just can't seem to get embedded in your mind no matter what.  There are several reasons a word may be a leech.  One of the most widely discussed theories is that the material you are studying is poorly designed for that word.  It may ask for too many associations.  For example, sometimes a word has more than one meaning.  Sometimes it has multiple discrete meanings, and those meanings are not grouped in ways that are common associations in your native language.  It may be difficult for you to grasp the meaning.  On occasion when this has been the case, I will make separate flash cards for the primary meaning(s) of the word and the secondary meaning(s) of the word, and then possibly consolidate them after I have learned both cards fairly well (of course, they can always become drop-outs at some point, and then become difficult again).

There is an excellent discussion of how to handle leeches on the Supermemo site, along with strategies for dealing with them.  For those of you who are not familiar with Supermemo, it is one of the first spaced repetition flash card programs, created by Piotr Wozniak, and there is a lot of discussion about how memory works on there.  You can really get lost there looking over the incredible repository of material on memory.

I subscribe to a sort of zen model.  For every component of learning that you need to do something for, there is something that you need to just as strongly NOT do to accomplish the task.  For every period that you spend learning, you need to have periods of rest and/or sleep, and these periods are just as important as the study.  In my model, leeches are words that absorb the negative energy from the other words so that those words can be learned.

There is also more discussion of what to do with leeches on the Anki site.  My thoughts on leeches are that when you are first learning, it is best to suspend leeches, as your learning will become more efficient without them.  Since a small amount of material will occupy a large portion of your time, it is best to move on to learning that will be easier.  Also, once you have moved away from whatever neural pattern you were experiencing due to the passage of time (another example of how NOT doing can enhance your learning), new patterns can arise that allow for easier learning.

However, once you get to the point where you have learned a lot of material and you are getting to more esoteric words, and there is more interference from other material after you have learned a large body of material, it is more difficult to drop leeches/  This is because almost EVERYTHING you will be learning can fall somewhat into the "leech" category, due to the fact that all the easier material selects itself out (because you have solidly learned it), and the fact that you will be working with more difficult concepts at this point.  This phase usually arises after having learned several thousand words.  At this point, you just have to accept that your learning will be harder.  But in some respects, it can also be easier in some ways too, because you will have a greater understanding of roots and syntax in the target language.

Both drop-outs and leeches are probably a function of retrieval, not of storage.  The material is in there somewhere, but the retrieval path has either not yet been completely constructed, or has been disrupted.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Is Fluency?

The best definition of fluency that I have seen is, "the ability to read, speak or write easily, smoothly, and expressively." So you have become fluent when you can pretty much understand what people are saying and offer cogent and quick responses to what they have said to you, and do this back and forth without unnatural pauses.

That isn't to say that it is presumed that you can follow along with, say, a graduate level seminar in quantum physics.  The simplest threshhold of fluency could involve speaking at about a second-grade level.  You could still have large holes in your vocabulary that you are adept at working around; it's just that you can understand and respond without it seeming like you are struggling.

As an aside, though, I think of a grade level as more of an allegory than a precise measuring tool.  An adult will usually not speak on a second-grade level, strictly speaking.  Second-graders, can, for example, describe a lot of household items and know verbs that an adult might hardly ever use, like "to cluck" (gdakać).  How many times as an adult are you going to be called upon to say, "The cow moos?"  But a second-grader could tell you that easily.  Still, since it's not all that useful for you to know how to say that, learning to say things like this should be low on your list of priorities.  And, as an adult, you might know the word for "sociology" (sociologia) or "empathy" (empatia) relatively early on in your studies, especially if the related word is a cognate to the more complex concept that a second-grader might not necessarily know.

So there exists what I call basic fluency on the low end, and then native fluency on the other end.  Native fluency is what you would expect your average person who grew up in the country that speaks the target language to have.  And it can be uneducated native fluency at the low end and highly educated native fluency at the high end.  Most foreign speakers don't get to highly educated native fluency, ever. There are individuals who do, either because they are particularly gifted in language acquisition, or because they work like crazy to eliminate all the little errors in grammar and syntax, and deficiencies in their accents.  Many people who learn another language often have little grammatical errors or stilted modes of speaking in which sentences are constructed like they might be in a different language.  But note that grammatical (or spelling) errors occur even with native fluency.  Some are a part of colloqualism, and some run with a dialect.  And some are just common mistakes that native users of a language make.  Ain't a lotta English natives cain't figger out whut this sentence mean.  You see spelling errors in English all the time whereby some people use the wrong form of [it's or its], or [they're, their or there].  Other languages have little traps like that too.

Fluency doesn't just take one path; native fluency is just the most ingrained path.  Here is where it branches out.  You can have contextual (usually occupational) fluency.  This, at the low end, is where you might be able to communicate with a co-worker or an owner might be able to communicate with a hired hand using terms that are commonly used associated with the work (usually this type of communication is more faux-fluent that "real" fluent).  At the high end, it could be the specialized vocabulary that is used in, say, the medical or legal fields, or that a geologist or orchestra member might use.

I am fluent in Spanish.  I can communicate easily and freely in that language.  I would come somewhat short of saying, though, that I have native fluency.  I have a lot more than basic fluency.  I can communicate easily in speech or on the phone (speaking on the telephone is often a step up for language learners because they don't have the visual cues any more), with hardly any linguistic work-arounds.  I can understand almost everything I hear on TV, though sometimes I have to concentrate.  I can understand most words in the newspaper, though I would probably have to look up words much more often that I would have to in English.  So I still have room for improvement (but then again, I do even in English).  Have any of us really completely learned any language, even our own native language(s)?

I wrote a follow-up post on fluency here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Phases Of Learning Words, And The Three Steps In The Illness Model

The last post talked about the skills involved in learning words and ways to develop those skills.  Now I want to address the phases of learning words.  All these terms are my own and I have no idea whether there are any similar concepts in the field of linguistics.

The first step is what I call simple recognition.  This is where you could pick out the word on a multiple-choice test among a few other choices.

The next step is isolated recognition.  This is where you can pick out the word on its own and associate it with the meaning.

Then you have reciprocal recognition, whereby you can pick out the word on its own and associate it with the meaning in both directions.

Up to this point, you probably still can't use the word on its own because you have only committed it to memory and not really worked up the retrieval paths in your memory.  Retrieval is one of the most difficult tasks.  You may find that words you think you absolutely knew just can't be called up when you need them.

I use an illness model of learning.  This point is what I call the "stroke victim" level.  You are trying to talk to people, and you know you have used the words, but you struggle to produce them.  Maybe nothing at all comes out.  Communication is frustrating.  The words are in there, somewhere, locked away in your brain, and you don't know how to get to them.  You may resort to pantomime rather than try to use words.  You might be able to muddle through at a basic level using every tool you can think of--writing it down, coming up for a word you know for it in another language, slowing down your speech or getting the person you are communicating with to speak more slowly, etc.  The one people try a lot (but is probably completely useless) is speaking louder and closer in their own language.  This is where you get the slightly annoyed blank stare in response, which is probably universal in meaning, but not where you wanted to go.

To break out of this level, you are going to have to get beyond the recognition phases and get to the recall phases.  And try not to drool.

Simple recall is where you can come up with the word when you need to most of the time.  This is a good thing.  You are getting to the basics of verbal communication.  It will become more fruitful to try to make yourself understood.

So your goal at this point is to graduate from "stroke victim" to "developmentally disabled".  This is where you can communicate, but you sound slow and stupid.  Your speech is halting and tentative, but a little more complete, and you can communicate basic needs and simple commands.  Me need bathroom.  Something smell bad.  Congratulations, you're now an idiot.

The next phase I call complex recall.  You can start placing the word in different contexts.  If it is a verb, you know many of the tenses and their forms.  If it is a noun or adjective, you know how to decline it.  You know how to use prepositions, but you are not perfect.  You are starting to grasp grammatical rules.

The next level in my illness model is what I call "backwards Alzheimer's".  This stage is long and drawn out.  This is where you have good days and bad days.  On the good days, you can understand and speak fairly well.  On the bad days, it's just not happening, and it gets frustrating.  And it's backwards, because your cognitive abilities in the language don't deteriorate more and more, but get better and better with more practice, until you have good days more and more often. Rather than experiencing "the long goodbye", you are in the midst of "the excruciatingly long hello".  Unless you really have a degenerative brain disorder, in which case you probably should get a medical opinion.  Sometimes I wonder.

When you are having mostly good days, you will probably find that for individual words, you have what I call "approaching word fluency".  Before, you were basically learning to count cards at the blackjack table.  Sure, you know how it's done, and you get all the concepts, but it takes practice, practice, and more practice to get it down so you can do it smoothly without any tells so you don't get your legs broken by the pit boss.  You need to just keep working it, and use your mind like a wrench on that recalcitrant bolt that constitutes the word you are grappling with.  Keep doing this until the rusty equipment is dismantled and put back together over and over again.  This is where the elbow grease effect kicks in.

Then you have what I call "word fluency."  This is where you can really work it easily for this particular word.  When you have this with about four thousand words, and you can interconnect them without pauses, you start approaching language fluency, which I want to address later.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Skills Involved in Learning Words

There are a lot of different skills that come into play in learning words.  First, there is learning the word itself.  That is, just placing the sounds of the word in your head.  I can't tell you how many times a random word in a foreign language has just popped into my head suddenly, without any associated meaning.  The word itself is just simple mellifluous cacophony superimposed on my conscious processes, floating without an anchor to any frame of reference.

Then there is the association with a meaning.  Sometimes the memes associated with the words in each language don't mesh up on a one-to-one basis, and sometimes the meaning is slightly off from one language to the other, or there is really no exact correlate in another language.  For example, the word "chciwy" means, literally translated, "want-y" (chęć is "to want").  But the closest translation is "greedy."  Or the word "gwałtowny" means "rape-y" (gwałt means "rape").  But it is translated as violent, torrential and sudden as in a sudden storm.

So you have to work up the association with a meaning between the target language and the source language, and then do it also in the other direction.  You just need to keep working it and working it in your head, and find as many tricks as you can to implant the associations in both directions.

One thing that is often recommended is to try to think of some sort of mnemonic or a word picture that helps you learn it, and the more silly, ridiculous or vulgar the mnemonic can be, the easier you will remember.  For example, I learned the notes of the lines on the bass clef line many years ago with the mnemonic, "Good boys don't fuck animals."  I dare you to get that out of your head.  I read an interview with a memory champion once where he said that some of the images he used to remember items were just really, seriously wrong.  He mentioned things like deviant acts that his grandmother was involved in.

OK, maybe that doesn't work for you.  One trick I use a lot is to look at the patterns of vowels in each word and compare them in as many ways as I can.  Look at the ones they have in common, look at how many vowels are in each word, think about their order, etc.  If that doesn't stick, I'll do the same with the consonants, though that is usually harder.  Sometimes I'll take a walk while I memorize words and try to recall what I was looking at when I thought about that word (sort of a soft version of the "method of loci", which I never really have much taken to in its pure form.

Verbal repetition works for me in some cases.  Often if I take ten minutes to just repeat the English word and the Polish meaning over and over again, working it around in my head, I will know it pretty well.

Sometimes I will be thinking about a Polish word and all of a sudden a root part of the word that is similar to another word that has that root pops into my head as an epiphany.  That almost always helps with learning the word.

It helps to approach the word as a thing of beauty or a piece of art to be appreciated, rather than an obstacle that needs to be overtaken.  Polish is beautiful and intricate in the manner in which its structure is put together.  Polish grammar is like high performance art mixed with some really fucked-up and arbitrary (pseudo) science.  It works better for me to admire rather than memorize.  The memorization will come, but it is better if it comes as an organic, natural process, instead of the pounding of pegs into holes.

Sometimes I encounter difficult words that have lots of lexemes (lots of disparate meanings).  If this is the case, sometimes I will study them in a separate group, because they require a lot of mind-massaging to be remembered fully.  And it is this class of words that reminds me the most that the most difficult part is creating the retrieval paths in the brain.  That stuff all goes IN easily.  It's in there somewhere, rattling around in the brain.  It's finding it and being able to spit it out that requires the most effort.  One proof of that is that when one is learning flashcards, one will learn the meanings of the word pretty easily at first, and be able to retrieve them for the first few days.  But after that flash card has been retired for a while, and one comes back to it, one finds considerable difficulty, and has to recreate some of the pathway of retrieval.  It's usually easy, then hard (but not as hard as originally), then easy, then hard (but less difficult) evens itself out, becoming less difficult in each iteration, until the word is learned, that is, until the retrieval occurs in a consistent fashion.

One visualization technique I use when I'm consistently not able to remember some of the lexemes of a word, is picture the neural connections between where the word is stored and the output of the lexeme that I am trying to retrieve from it.  I picture the place in the brain where the word lies, the nerves with their dentrites and axons as conduit from the place of origination to the destination, and trying to get that lexeme from the dusty, dank place in the brain where is is stored, to the proper output vehicle (I picture the mouth, because one would be speaking the result), utilizing the fanciful neural path that I am imagining.

Maybe I'll revisit this topic later.  I also want to talk later about "leeches" (words that are particularly difficult to memorize) and "push-outs" (words you really thought you had learned but have suddenly disappeared or become difficult). I want to talk about "practicing for diversion", which is a technique I use whereby I will work on learning some new words not necessarily to learn them, but as a diversionary tactic for my brain so I can go back to my original list after wiping my memory to see how well I really learned the words I was trying to learn.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Primer On My Polish Studies

I've decided to start a blog about my Polish Language studies.  I've seen some other blogs out there of this sort and they have been helpful to me, so maybe this will be helpful to others as well.  I've made a few comments about the Polish language on David Morrison's most excellent blog about moving to Poland, No Home But The World, and maybe I'll incorporate and expand on the thoughts I've put there eventually.

I've been studying Polish for a little over two years now.  It's an incredibly difficult and complex language, and I would liken learning it to maybe doing a hundred-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle.  I do have some experience with jigsaw puzzles, because a while back, a large group of people including myself completed a jigsaw puzzle with over ten thousand pieces, and it took us all over a year.  Of course, that was just attacking it sporadically, a few minutes a day.

I've been trying to study about two hours a day on average, which is a pretty large amount when you average out the fact that sometimes I will really bear down and study six hours a day, and sometimes I will burn out and not study for a couple of weeks.  The best and most productive thing I have found to do is to study for about four or five half-hour increments a day that are spaced out from each other.  On flash cards alone, I have averaged 735 cards a day over the life of my flash card deck, but only 470 a day over the last year (I know the exact number because my flash card program spits out all kinds of statistics).  And that's just on Polish...I'm also studying Dutch, German, Italian and Danish, but not with near the ferocity that I am applying to my Polish studies.  I probably spend about ten hours of Polish study for each hour of all the other languages combined.  Still, I had read on another Polish learner's blog that he studies about six hours of Polish for each hour of German and still knows German better because Polish is so complex and arcane.  I can relate.

And I strongly recommend Anki as a flash card program.  It's free and open-source (though donations are strongly encouraged and certainly deserved due to the excellent quality of the program), and there are a huge number of shared decks created by others.  But beware, the decks can vary in quality (since anybody can make them, they might not follow the best principles for learning; e.g., they might include too many facts on a card or just have cards for one direction of translation).  The Polish deck that I am using is excellent.  It was created by Per Ericksson, who really created one of the best language learning decks I have seen.  And I have added my own material to it so my deck is about 150% of the size of his (I have nearly 15000 facts and 30000 cards in mine; there are two cards for each fact because there is one for Polish-English, and one for English-Polish).  I emailed him many changes and corrections I had for a while and he incorporated them, but I guess he has not been maintaining it as diligently lately.  I don't want to put mine in the shared area because I don't want to supercede his, but if you want a copy of mine, let me know in a comment and I can send it to you (actually, I can send you a link to it so you can download it because it is so large it won't send in an email under most circumstances).  Another great thing about this deck is that I use it as a dictionary of first resort as well, by using the search function.

So after two years of study, I am probably at a low B1 level in reading and a mid-A2 level in speaking, and maybe a low A2 in understanding spoken speech (using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).  My speech skills (especially in understanding rapidly spoken speech) lag far behind my reading skills as I haven't been exposed to a lot of spoken language, and as my study methods are probably emphasizing vocabulary at the expense of grammar and verbal skills a lot more than a language course would make me do, mostly because I'm obsessed with knowing words and two- and three-word combinations of words in short phrases or idiomatic constructs.  So I'll probably learn about ten thousand words and idioms pretty well, then slowly start moving to more correctly using them and understanding them in speech.  That is probably not the way most people would learn...most would probably become "fluent" in a hundred words, then move up to a thousand, etc., but learning in a more balanced fashion and emphasizing verbal usage more.  Everybody finds their own path.

Anyway, that is probably enough for now.  I hope to maintain this blog at least sporadically; knowing my history of blogging there may be times when I am idle for a while.  But if somebody bugs me to put up a blog post, or suggests a topic for one, I might be spurred to action.