tmcg: (googlewilly)
Just before it came out of beta, I got an invitation and signed up at Duolingo. I picked German, since I'd already studied Spanish, and French wasn't quite ready yet. Over the summer (also working with Michel Thomas recordings, which I can't recommend highly enough--but more on that another time) I climbed my way module by module and (painstaking) translation by translation up to Level 15.

I'm still happily plugging away at German, but recently I got itchy to find out what happens once you've mastered all the modules in the skill tree. (When you've done all the lessons, you've finished the module; you can then, either by accumulating skill points through translations or by testing out of the skill module, acquire Mastery, at which point the module's colored rectangle in the skill tree turns gold and displays a golden trophy.) So I switched to Spanish and set out to turn all the modules gold, in the process also brushing up my Spanish, which needs it.

A couple of nights ago, testing out of Determiners, my last remaining ungilded Spanish module, I turned the whole tree gold! Since you get a fullscreen trophy when you master a skill and a sprightly trumpet flourish when you level up, I expected something cool. Animated fireworks? The sound of a cheering crowd?

But there was nothing! All that happened was that the Duolingo-recommends-you-do-this-lesson-next star appeared on a mastered module about halfway back up. An understandable continuation, since Duolingo trades language lessons for translation services, and they want you to keep translating, especially as you get better at the language...and there's a virtue-is-its-own-reward pleasure in seeing all those gilded, betrophied rectangles...but still. There should be cheers and fireworks before the crushing realization that you have embarked on a Sisyphean task.

Ah, well. In case anyone who sees this wants to connect over there, I'm TMcG there.

Update, October 2nd: They've redone the lessons page and separated translations out entirely. Much controversy has ensued! So far I like the new setup, and it clarifies a lot of what I was scratching my head over in this post.
tmcg: (leafy starry)
Rosetta Stone has finally added Irish Gaelic as one of the languages it offers instruction in, and at all three levels, which is great. I did Italian Levels 1 and 2 online and Japanese Level 1 with the old-version CD-ROM, and it's a terrific and effective way to learn a new language.

Read more... )


Oct. 18th, 2006 12:27 pm
tmcg: (aw)
I've been cramming Italian in preparation for going to Tuscany, Florence, and Venice, and yesterday I had the coolest experience: I listened to an aria I downloaded (so my monthly emusic allotment wouldn't go to waste) and understood fifty percent of what I was hearing. When I looked at a transcription of the Italian, my comprehension went up to eighty percent. (I forgave myself for not knowing the verb for "to dissolve"; it doesn't appear on a whole lot of "most frequently used verbs" lists.) Understanding what they're singing, directly and without resorting to summaries or paraphrasings or having to follow along the English side of the libretto line by line--what a concept!

It was Jussi Bjoerling singing "Nessun Dorma," which by the way is like a shot of heroin directly into the aesthetic pleasure center of the brain. Or maybe adrenaline and soma? Was that the stuff Vila drank on Blake's 7?

I now fully appreciate the beauty of the line Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia ("And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine"). And thanks to this translation (by Mark D. Lew, from back in 1997...god I love the Internet), the verb "to set" now gives me a most pleasurable hit of etymology-as-poetry.

My plan was to crowbar into my head as much Italian as I could, just to help us get around while we're there, and then let it go and try to regain my onetime fluency in Spanish. But I'm really kind of loving the language, and when I get back I think I'd like to finish Level 2 of the Rosetta Stone course I've been doing, and enjoy this newly unfiltered experience of Italian opera for a little longer.

tmcg: (Default)
Up to Lesson 5-06 of the Rosetta Stone Japanese Level I software. Spent a couple of days going back over previous lessons. Was surprised how much I forgot, but happy with how much easier it is to say the sentences. Much is clarified in earlier lessons when you have examples and context from later lessons to draw on. I'm starting to get vague intuitive intimations of the workings of "wa" and "ga."

Learned katakana. Hah! I read them slower than Hiragana, but I can read them now. I can write them in the right stroke order (writing them is the only way to learn them, IMO), but I need a Japanese person to look at my writing and tell me whether it's legible or too American to live.

I still can't easily make sense of stories for first graders. The ones about real things like rabbits are easier than the ones about fantasy creatures. I have enough trouble with words for real things. Ogres throw me for a loop. Since I'm a fantasy writer, this is ironic.

I'm swimming in kanji flash cards and practicing with kanji quizzes online. Starting to learn the readings now. I do not know how anyone keeps all the readings straight. Verbs and nouns and adjectives, fine--but the monosyllabic combining forms blend into one another and are a pain to memorize. Examples help.

And: I hate RealAudio. I freaking hate it. A lot of sites offer RA files so you can hear the story you're trying to read, but right now I don't have it installed, because I got tired of battling it for control of my computer.

tmcg: (quill)
The Kanji SITE speaks for me regarding kanji compounds.

I get lost in the kanji dictionary. I thought I was bad with Webster's Third Unabridged and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Dip in for a second and two hours go by. One thing leads to another.

Some compounds have annoying cultural implications: "woman" and "child" makes another word for "woman." Some are sad: "dog" plus "die" means "die in vain" ("die a dog's death"). Some are intriguing: "hemp/flax" plus "be intoxicated" is "anaesthesia." (Reminds me of a 1950s Irish Gaelic tape I used. Trip to the dentist. "Will it hurt, Doctor?" "No, cocaine makes it painless." Those were the days.) Yet what a thrill to realize that with two kanji I know, "nose" and "water," I can write "nasal mucus." Mmm mmm good.

tmcg: (quill)
Midway through Lesson 4-06 in Rosetta Stone Japanese Level I. I started on December 13th (it logs your test results with dates), so I'm pretty happy with that speed. I can write a few kanji without aides to show me stroke order and direction. I can write complete simple sentences using kanji and hiragana. I can't read or write katakana, and I'm finally going to have to crack and learn to do that. I think my hiragana are solid enough now that learning (the similar but not directly analogous) katakana won't mess with my head too much. I'm not sure how many kanji I know. More than a hundred to say the meaning of in English; a much smaller number to associate a Japanese word I know with, so that I could actually use them in a sentence; and only a handful of simple ones with all their On, Kun, and Nanori readings.

I could not hold a simple conversation in Japanese. There's a written children's story online that I still can't make heads or tails of. And I couldn't figure out what [ profile] akaspeedo 's kanji icon means, although it was an excuse for a fun foray through the kanji dictionary. {g}

The little starbursts of aural comprehension when I'm watching movies in Japanese are really cool.

(It just shows how in denial I am about katakana that I spelled it "katagana" before fixing it just now. Sigh. But I just found out that in addition to borrowed words, katakana are also used to spell rude words, which makes them seem much more fun. And sometimes they're used for emphasis. Interesting. I just watched Kurosawa's Scandal, and there were katakana all over the tabloids and ragsheets and advertising posters. And Western exclamation points!)


Dec. 31st, 2002 11:00 pm
tmcg: (obelisk)
At the beginning of 2002...

I was profoundly happy to see the back of 2001, which was a hard and terrible year in a variety of ways (with the exception of the publication of my first novel, which the rest may have happened in order to cosmically balance).

I didn't yet have a completed second novel in hand.

Because I was writing twenty hours a day and permitting myself anything that would help me get that novel done, I weighed about eight hundred million pounds and was living on Entenmann's doughnuts, Dr Pepper, and mozzarella sticks.

I didn't have a yellow belt in Krav Maga. I hadn't even heard of Krav Maga.

I didn't have an ARMA Workshop 1.0 certificate in longsword, or a longsword waster, or any experience actually using a longsword.

I had only a dim recollection of CPR and no first-aid training.

I had never made an illuminated manuscript from scratch with authentic period materials.

I couldn't read, understand, or speak any Japanese.

I had never played at the Blarney Star. Playing the Blarney Star is to Irish traditional music what playing the Palace was to vaudeville and playing Carnegie Hall is to mainstream musicians.

I was still in my thirties.

I had never grown tomatoes.

I didn't have a Livejournal.

At the end of 2002...that's all changed!

tmcg: (quill)
I've been learning Japanese with the aid of some online sites and the Rosetta Stone Level I software. Rosetta Stone software is really cool. You look at pictures and learn to associate sounds (and, fairly quickly, concepts and sentences) with them, with no English aids at all. It makes you think in the foreign language right from the start. But it has its drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is that it's not always possible to deduce the similarities or differences between two pictures and their assigned phrases. I now know that there are different terms for one and more than one of the following: flowers, dogs, infants/children, eggs, eyes. So, okay--counting differs depending on what's counted. But what am I supposed to intuit here? Flora vs. fauna vs. human fauna vs. objects? But why are eggs different from eyes? Flowers are different from eggs, so it's not animate vs. inanimate, or stationary vs. motile. Without many more examples to work from, this is somewhat flummoxing. Worse, it's possible that the difference is between one egg and four eggs, one eye and two eyes, one dog and three dogs, one kid and five kids, etc. For all I know, the group terms are number-specific. Aiee!

At the magazine where I used to work, we had a set of communal bigass dictionaries in a nook on our shared hallway--"we" being the magazine's copyeditors. When we ran across usage questions we couldn't solve, we'd ask each other's advice. Someone was trying to decide whether it should be "myriad things," "a myriad things," or "a myriad of things." The dictionaries and usage manuals were unenlightening. People started coming out of their offices to join in the discussion. After a while, there were about eight of us there, poring over references and trying to work out the correct usage.

An acerbic editor walked by and asked what all the fuss was about.

We told him, "We're trying to decide if it should be 'myriad things,' 'a myriad things,' or 'a myriad of things.'"

He thought for a moment, replied, "Just say 'a shitload'!," and walked away.

Until further input, I am translating these flummoxing Japanese terms into "one" and "a shitload."

Probably not what the Rosetta Stone developers intended, but it works for me.


Dec. 5th, 2002 12:40 pm
tmcg: (quill)
After a day and a half of studying flashcards at this useful site and practicing writing with the help of this useful site, I can now read Japanese words rendered in Hiragana characters. Very slowly, by sounding them out, but it works, and it's something I couldn't do on Monday or Tuesday.

This is the first time I've tackled a non-European language with a writing system different from the one we use. (I took Spanish through college, Irish Gaelic for a few years after college, and the equivalent of about two years of high-school Latin through my former employer.) It's a thoroughly amazing experience to learn to read all over again. I don't remember learning to sound out words in English; the only memory I have of learning to read was missing the word "penny" on flashcard in first grade and being mad at myself and getting it right the next time, which makes me think that I learned words whole rather than letter by letter.

This whole thing was prompted by my current triumvirate of overlapping film obsessions: Akira Kurosawa movies, samurai movies, and Toshiro Mifune movies. (Netflix is a wonderful thing.) I've heard so many hours of Japanese lately, and seen so many conflicting subtitle translations (Sanjuro to a gaggle of overeager young samurai on his heels: "We're walking like one big centipede! I can't move like this!" as opposed to "This is like being followed by a trail of goldfish dung--how can I get rid of you?"), that I wanted to understand some of the dialogue on my own, so I looked for online instruction--and found some, and found that after Lesson 5 I was going to need to be able to read Hiragana.

I'm inordinately pleased with myself. And my brain feels good.

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