Monthly Archives: June 2012

Again an English session with my Persian friend, this time went a little better. We did maybe 40 minutes, and I had thought a bit (a minute :) before what to do, so I had a rough plan on what to cover. That really helped staying within the setting.

Again we used cups, and did some trading. After trading a full and an empty cup, I asked what had happened, and she then told me. Example: »I give you my empty cup, but then you have to give me your full cup.» … »What happened?« »First, I had a full cup, and you had an empty cup. Then you gave me your empty cup, and I gave you my full cup. Now, I have an empty cup and you have a full cup.« We did chunks of this, for example »First, I had a full cup«, until she had it, then the next chunk, and I guided her with signs, so she knew what to say. She’s not easily frustrated when playing, so I just tell her »start again :)« every time she for example says »I had full cup«, until it’s right enough.

Persian does not have articles, so they get lost all the time. I introduced a sign for “to” (eg in “I have to go”, or “I want to go”, which is btw pretty confusing :), so sometimes I don’t do all signs, and just let her talk, but throw in the signs for “to” or “a” when I’m anticipating she’ll forget them. Later at some point, she had the full cup as well as the empty one, so then she said »Now, I have two cups«, where the “have two” sounds exactly like “have to”. I’m still sneaking in meta-information from time to time (eg when I tell her that there are “there”, “their” and “they’re”), but that seems to confuse her, so I try to minimize this.

During a session, we only talk English, and I’m still deflecting her requests of translating from German to English. However, I’m often then talking about something else, and sneak the English equivalent soon after, however she doesn’t notice that and often doesn’t understand what the new word means in the context I set up for this. I guess I’ll have to get better at building context. For example she asked »What does “gleich” mean?« (which btw has some very different meanings in German), and I talked about something else, but after a minute or so told her that »I have to leave soon«.

A very obvious case of why translating can be useless is when she asked »what does “ab” mean?« “ab” can mean a lot of things (apart from Persian آب “water”), so the single word makes no sense. But I recognized that she was trying to define a time range, so I asked her about the course she is about to take next week, and asked her at what time it starts, and when it ends, and then told her, »ah, so it’s from 8am to 3 pm?«.


Today I again started a 90 minute session with my Persian friend, in English. However, after maybe 8 minutes of playing with two cups, I broke out of the limit, asking if she is thirsty, and from there it moved on to a casual conversation, of where I saw now way to get back to the table. So I let it go, and we talked for an hour in English. But I was thinking what it was that kicked me out. I think the main reason was that I was not sure how to proceed much farther than we had come last week, and at the same time I did not feel that I knew how to keep her engaged. So, I will now look at some online material and the LH kit, maybe I can pre-walk a good path for next time.

I played English for an hour with my Persian friend. Before that, we just talked in English, for about ten minutes, and it became obvious that she knows some words, but has almost no correct grammar (For example, she does often say stuff like “she go” or “two dog”). That’s interesting, as in German, which she has now lived in for 25 years, she has a very big vocabulary, but still makes quite many grammatical mistakes. As I found no good way yet to get her to un-learn the bad aspects of her German grammar, I at least wanted to make sure that she learns good English grammar from the start, and Language Hunting is probably the best method for that.

She is now more accepting of not being able to translate, so that she has to stay in the language.

We played with two spoons, one big one small. At first we played some simple want/have/give/take, then we traded spoons (if/then). When i told her, »If you give me your small spoon, then I give you my big spoon«, and she gave me hers, I very proudly said “Now I have two spoons”. I had hoped that she now took the initiative to get her rightful big spoon, but she seemed quite content with the “deal”, so I introduced “must”: »Now I must give you my big spoon«.

Then I asked her “what happened?”, setting everything in the past, which led to irregular vs. regular forms (want/wanted, have/had, give/gave, take/took). We found out that the past of “I must give you” is “I had to give you”, so I told her that “have to” and “must” are very similar, and that “have to” is different from “have”.

I at one point said »I want to take your small spoon«, and when she ok’d it, i took it. But then I said »I want you to take my big spoon«, which gave her a very hard time. At this point I suspected that she kept translating to German in her head, where the “you” makes no sense. I told her that it’s not helpful to translate, because every language is different, and this way she will only learn the parts that are very similar, while missing out on the interesting parts, the ones that are particular to the target language. Then I tried it with doing first »I want that you take my big spoon«, emphasizing the “that you”, then »I want you to take…«, emphasizing the “you”, explaining her in English that they are about the same. But with the “that you” of course the “to” of the “to take” isn’t there, so that was probably a bit too much for her.

I often tried to make her “mirror” my sentence, like in »I want you to take my spoon« – »Oh, you want me to take your spoon?«, but that didn’t work too well, probably also because she had not really slept the night before, so she was quite tired. The “rested” part of “Warm/Rested/Willing/Safe” turns out to be not a minor problem, as people tend to have a full day, and then try to do it (me included) after a full work day. It would probably be much better to just lock a bunch of people up for two weeks to play to fluency in one language. I’m working on that ;)

The signs for “want” and “[you] give [me]” (and also “have”) seem to look pretty similar for some people, she got confused by this quite often. Maybe I’ll switch to the German sign for that.

Earlier today I was sitting in a bar with a Persian friend (the one I learn Persian from, and I sometimes polish her German, sometimes teach her English, which she speaks only very fragmentarily), eating lentil soup. She always tries to translate from/to German, so today for the half hour I lost my ability to understand German, forcing her to describe what she means in English, or non-verbally. I do it in a very friendly way, »Sorry, “Fahrrad”, what’s that?« And then I help her, casually throwing concepts into the conversation that might help her explain it to me. I think that’s really important to get rid of “speaker’s block”, a frequent phenomenon in language students that either want to speak “perfect” or not speak at all, eg out of embarrassment. I come from this “school” too, and am myself only slowly learning to navigate a conversation when many patterns/words are missing.

At one point she tried her translation game on me using French :), asking »what does “voyage” mean in English?«, which was nice as my Grandma suddenly realized that centuries of French occupation of the land of her language ancestors had finally paid off. Grandma understood this word, but explained to her that a “voyage” is quite an undertaking, while what she was describing was merely a “trip”. I guess that is part of my “Etymological Brain” getting the upper hand again, and I’m not sure yet on how to integrate this into Language Hunting. Where does it help, where does it get the wind out of the hair of accelerated learning?

I tried to Limit the conversation to what was on the table (spoon, fork, plate, noodles), but then started to prioritize new words over language structure, which I don’t feel is the best way to spend precious playing time. I did re-incorporate quite a lot, using some phrases in a slightly different context some minutes after using it first, but I could have emphasized the closed game setting more.

What I’m really looking forward is what it will be like to play in English with her once she’s accepted that translating will not help her with me, so that her English brain can get all the light, water and fertilizer of the moment. I’ll try to keep an eye on this development.

I found something interesting: when you’re really sad, »les larmes coulent« down your face. In German it is “die Tränen kullern das Gesicht herunter”. I didn’t think that’s a coincidence, and so looked up “kullern” in Kluge (best German etymological dictionary). There it says it comes from “Kugel”, so “kullern” is what marbles kids play with do. Certainly there is some resemblance to a small marble when a tear makes its way down the face, but interestingly, according to Wiktionary and Le Robert (French etymological dictionary), “couler” comes from Latin “colere” which has to do with filtering. So my hypothesis would be that the “kullern” of Tränen has been influenced by the French “couler”, and thus two words with totally different histories have met and merged. Maybe not like Roy Batty’s “tears in rain“, but fascinating nevertheless :)

I know some French. After taking it for one year in school, all that stuck was “je veux être vigneronne, mais le dos fait très mal”, which a friend of mine did as a joke bad then. Then I did Pimsleur (all 90 lessons), and that helped quite a bit, and when I was in Southern France last year for two weeks, after about a week I felt able to do real conversations with local people; but I wouldn’t consider myself really fluent, I’m not at a point where I can sail around any hole in the road when I’m not immerged in the language for a week or so.

Last week at a party, I talked with three very nice people about my plans to concentrate on Language Hunting now that I’ve quit my day job, and with one of them I played a very short session avec une coupe vide et une coupe complete (we both weren’t sure if “complete” is the right word :). I didn’t know “vide” before.

Now I’m doing quite some duolingo (it has a French beta), and great as it is, I’m feeling like I’m not learning at even 10% the speed I could when doing proper Language Hunting :P

I learned lojban for c. 18 months some years ago. It is a completely constructed language with a grammar that is as unusual as it is regular and unambiguous. Among the many advantages (aside from being a beautiful language) is that this way you can construct a sentence over 20 pages without having to fear that the computer reading it gets confused by the grammar; one of the disadvantages is that there are somewhere around zero really fluent speakers.

Yesterday I was thinking about becoming fluent enough in it again that I can host Language Hunting sessions for beginners for let’s say up to two or three days without struggling. The idea is that I can be pretty sure that when demonstrating the game, there will be nobody around who is already familiar with the language; another is that it can be shown that even very unusual, seemingly complicated languages (in reality lojban is really regular, just different from natural languages) can be easily grasped with this technique. Another valuable point would be that nobody would be tempted to stress themselves out because they are feeling they have to learn this specific language, making it very clear that this is about a technique for hunting any language. On the downside, people may be put off by the geek factor. I guess there’s only one way to find out :)

There is already a (dormant?) project to do WAYK with lojban (the aptly named lo do ckiku ma zvati), I’ll check out if Alan wants to do some online sessions maybe.

I just remembered that I did play a short session lojban/WAYK with an ex-flatmate quite a while ago. It was fun, but I found that I was at that point not firm enough in lojban to go as fast as I would have liked. She remembered “plise” together with the sign some weeks later :)