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 Post subject: Learning through reading
PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2012 10:11 am 
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Thought some here might find this article (first in a series of three) useful:

http://www.bitesizeirishgaelic.com/blog ... ading-one/

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:53 am 
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Learning a language by reading.. that's exactly how I learned English. We had English in school, but the best I can say about what I learned in school is that it was enough to let me start reading. Other than that the school teaching was a poor way of learning English.

As you point out in your article, find something that you enjoy or is familiar with. As a teenager I subscribed to a UK tech magazine and got comfortable reading technical English, and when I much later got my first job I didn't have problems communicating with customers (still technical English). Later I started reading novels on my travels, what I did was simply to read through it all even if there were terms and words I didn't understand. I didn't look anything up. I found that at the end of the book I very often would have figured out what those earlier terms and words meant, from context throughout the book.

The main reason I started reading books in English wasn't to learn English, it was because I was travelling in foreign countries almost all the time and needed something to read to pass the evenings. So I started to look for international/English book sections in shops and airports. And yes, one of those books was The Hobbit (which I didn't find in a shop, it was lent to me by an Italian friend who found it slightly too difficult to read. She had underlined a lot of words on the first pages so I could see it had been a bit troublesome).

To my amazement this turned out to be a great way to learn English. I found that words and terms I learned by getting the meaning from the context tended to stay in memory - in fact I don't think I've ever forgotten any. As opposed to rote learning where it just disappears from memory after a while (for me at least, but I seem to be a specially bad case for rote learning). I still read English books, in fact 99.7% of the books I read are in English (and I read all the time). (And yes, I _did_ calculate that number.. it's not something I made up.)

A side effect of learning English this way is that my English vocabulary and my native vocabulary are distinct in my mind - they are almost completly isolated from each other. It took a while before I realised this, but I don't, in general, use the same association for the same item in English as in my native language. Which means that I'm not really good at translation.. when my mind is in English mode I have problems recalling what a particular word is in my native language, and the other way around. To "translate" I have to think about what something is about in general terms, visually even, and then transcribe that into the other language. A "limitation" I can live with! :)

I later learned Italian the same way. I had taught myself enough to survive Italian hotels and restaurants (I just used Berlitz and other travel handbooks), but at one point during a long-term stay in Italy I rented an apartment which turned out to have a fully equipped library, which included a shelf full of Peanuts cartoon strips. In Italian. So I just kept reading them, and again I found that after seeing terms used in different contexts I started understanding them. From there I progressed to a Calvin&Hobbes book (with author comments, so more than just the cartoons), followed by short novels and newspapers. I never got to read enough Italian to be fluent the way I'm with English, but newspapers are still easy to read, 10-15 years later.

Despite reading the Irish Language forum, I'm not really aspiring to learn Irish.. I read the forum because I'm interested in languages in general. But when in Ireland I can't help reading bits and pieces here and there, trying to figure out what it means.. and sometimes it's possible to do so, for really simple things. And I don't forget what I learn that way, as I mentioned above.

Rote learning: The thing is that I seem to be completely unable to learn anything by rote.. the last thing I remember learning by rote was the small multiplication table (and it's sure useful). I've never been able to learn language that way. When presented with word lists w/translations I can't for the life of me recall anything later. I once tried to learn Italian through a course, and I and a couple of friends worked together on this. One of them would remember everything in the lists, as soon as it was seen she could use it. I can't. Maybe it's a male thing? Actually I don't think so - it must be me. I can't remember lyrics for music either. There are songs I've tried to learn for nearly 40 years, and even when practicing a song every evening for weeks and months so that I believe I finally remember all the verses.. leave it alone for a couple of months, and at best I remember half of it. I simply can't remember anything learned by rote, not since early elementary school anyway (I do remember lyrics for the songs we learned in first and second grade).

Now I'm learning Japanese.. here the 'learning through reading' method presents some slight problems! But it's all enjoyable. Actually I didn't set out to learn Japanese.. I just wanted to learn to read Hiragana, a Japanese form of writing where each symbol represents a syllable. So if you can read Hiragana you can actually read Japanese out loud, even if you don't understand a word. Well, to help me remember I thought that I should read some actual Hiragana, but then I would have to understand some Japanese too, obviously. So I learned a little. Then it turned out that the Japanese don't write in only one of their three (or four, if you count everything written with Latin letters) writing systems, they in fact mix everything all the time (in the same word, even). Except for small children's books, so I found some cartoon books for children (same strategy, again.. :)). But I couldn't understand enough words and to learn more I had to read other material.. so I had to learn Katakana (another syllable writing form) and Kanji (Chinese symbols. Still much to learn. And no, I don't try to learn them by rote - there is an associative method available). But it works, kind of.. reinforce reading by learning more of the language, reinforce the language by reading, and then practice some of it by speaking and listening, and things happen.

People are different in how they learn best. I'm totally in the 'learning through reading' camp, but I've seen enough to understand that it may not be the same for everyone. But one thing I'm sure of: Make it enjoyable, and it'll work! :)

(Sorrry for the long post - I can see now that it became quite longer than the quick reply I had intended!)

-Tor


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:14 pm 
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Tor wrote:
So if you can read Hiragana you can actually read Japanese out loud, even if you don't understand a word.

One can...if, of course, one knows the general rules. Japanese orthography isn't really as direct as you get with Spanish or Italian pronunciation, despite the common comparison. For example, "kuraku" is actually pronounced more like something not too different from "crock" in general speech. In any case the U is given a very light touch; "whispered" is the term sometimes used to suggest the effect. This also goes for such syllable as su, tsu, and fu, and the same principle applies for such as ki, shi, chi, and hi. So the word "kisetsu" ("season" or, depending on the meaning, "established/existing") would typically be pronounced something close to "k'setz" or, if you want to tackle the issue another way, "k(i)sets(u)".

In reading solely by kana, generally one must know or at least intuit words ahead of time to know when one is presented with certain postparticles, and what their pronunciation will be. For example, the postparticle pronounced "wa" actually uses the kana for "ha". Same with the kana "he" for the postparticle pronounced "e". If you don't know what is actually being said, you may miss this. This is why the kanji are valuable; "kuraku" may either be an adverb (darkly) bearing its own agglutinated form that modifies it in relation the adjective "kurai", or a solid noun in its own right (pleasure and pain; joys and sorrows). "Ha" itself has many meanings, so to know in kana-only reading whether it's a noun pronounced "ha", or the ubiquitous particle pronounced "wa", does require some general contextual sense at least. Colloquial renderings can make things even more confusing, because they often take shortcuts.

Tor wrote:
Then it turned out that the Japanese don't write in only one of their three (or four, if you count everything written with Latin letters) writing systems...

I count five writing systems, citing the use of Arabic numerals. That's probably overstressing the point, but it does make people gape even more when you put it that way. :wink:

Tor wrote:
Later I started reading novels on my travels, what I did was simply to read through it all even if there were terms and words I didn't understand. I didn't look anything up. I found that at the end of the book I very often would have figured out what those earlier terms and words meant, from context throughout the book.

That's pretty much how I did it myself, and I'm a native English speaker. You can grasp a lot through context.

I'm very weak at Irish; poor as I am at it, it's far easier for me to grasp something in that language by reading it than by hearing it.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2012 3:47 pm 
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As I've grown in Irish, I've found the same thing happening by watching television. Things learned in context just seem to stick better.

For example, I was having a lot of trouble remembering the correct usage for "fá dtaobh de" (a largely Northern term meaning something along the lines of "regarding it.") Then, all of a sudden, when I was watching some back episodes of the soap opera Ros na Rún, two of the characters who happened to be from Donegal used the term something like five times during an episode, and that was that...I had it.


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