it’s very convenient, if you decide you need to learn a language within a couple of months, to have a dear friend who happens to be writing a PhD thesis on language acquisition.

last week I write to Tuuli, subject line “faster language acquisition”, explaining my dillemma where everyone tells me I’m going to have to stay away 6 months to a year to become fluent.  She reassures me, ‘absolutely not’, especially with German, which has similar vocab and a completely phonetic pronounciation. Her first recommendation is to use an SRS-  spaced repetition system.  It’s basically a build-your-own flashcards software that then feeds them back to you at appropriate intervals for optimum long-term memory retention. I downloaded Mnemosyne, which is fine for my purposes, though I’d like something I could use on my blackberry as well.

She also recommends a blog called All Japanese All the Time.  It’s a very amusing site by a young man who became fluent in japanese in a relatively short period of time through complete immersion-  but that doesn’t necessarily have to take place in a country speaking the language of your choice.  His strategy is succinctly described in the blog title, but tactically breaks down to (a) listening to the language constantly, even while sleeping (b) SRS (c) making all your recreational activities involve the chosen language.

I’m realizing how much easier it is to learn a language now as opposed to just 7 years ago.  I first tried to learn German when I was 22.  I bought Pimsleur audio CDs, which are essentially an auditory SRS, and quite expensive:  I probably paid $600 at that time.  This time I didn’t want to buy CDs, and I’m using freely available materials.  In 2002/03, while there might have been foreign language podcasts available, searching for them would have been a major chore, and I didn’t have high-speed internet or an ipod at the time.

Now it’s as simple as going into itunes and searching for german language podcasts (of which there are many.) Alternatively, there are plenty of streaming radio stations.

I can’t sleep while listening to talk radio (which has probably has caused more fights in my life than any other ‘deficiency’), but I’m taking up the “All German All the Time” during waking hours. Saturday, during my couple of hours of running, I listened to:

Slow German

Schlaflos in München both Schlaflos and Slow are done by the same woman, Annik, and she has a nice, clear voice. <– I found this through itunes, and thought, wow, free, good-quality, unabridged Harry Potter audiobooks-  how did this happen?  It took me a couple hours of listening to realize that it was fan fiction :)  however, it’s still a nice way to listen, because so many of the proper names are familier already.

despite not understanding more than scattered words, listening to a foreign language while running is no more or less inspiring than listening to music.

The other night I spent about a half hour reading aloud to Jeremiah, who kindly and patiently corrected my pronunciation. reading aloud in a foreign language is exhausting, and I think I’ll use it from now on whenever I have my anxiety-induced insomnia.  My mom gave me these text books from the 1970s, “Deutsch Für Amerikaner”   which actually have a really nice style of short paragraphs using primarily words that sound like english, and gradually introducing new vocabulary. Of course, they also still have east Germany and use the word “Fraülein”, which I guess is old-fashioned.

and today Anna and I started the “all German all the time at work, except when friends come in, or when we need to translate something because Brook doesn’t actually speak the language yet”.  It was great, but of course everytime I answered the phone or the door speaking english again felt off.

Posted by:brook delorme

Languages & Thinking Patterns