I’ve just added speech recognition to Sentence Weaver. Check it out here!
My French friend tried it out–the results were interesting:
(It seems to work much better for native English speakers).
Katharine and I are working on a project this morning, and by way of research I came across this Ted Talk by John McWhorter:
I will follow him anywhere.
Duolingo and I are having a disagreement about whether I’m doing fine or well.
Probably another Midwest thing.
It’s not that you’re unsocial: in some ways, you’re unusually socially sensitive. While you struggle to intuit what’s socially appropriate, you worry about the impression you make and about not hurting people’s feelings. You may have trouble interpreting facial expressions, but not tones of voice. You make eye contact, speak fluently, and tentatively engage one-on-one or in small groups—especially in imaginative play. The broader world out there, however, baffles you, and so you retreat. The more you retreat, the less you sponge up. As you grow older, you fall further and further behind your peers—in worldly knowledge, in vocabulary, in knowledge of social rules. Group conversations and real-world phenomena (everything from politics to pop culture) become increasingly difficult to make sense of. Things snowball.
Your refuge is a private world–of fantasy, of systematizing, of thought experiments, or, at its worst, of brooding and perseverating. Unlike the stereotypical introvert’s retreat to a library to gobble up books, your retreat is more deeply interior. You deviate from the introvert stereotype, but not from introversion in the word’s truest sense.
Except for fantasy and sci fi, age-appropriate texts become as hard to follow as the real world. When others address you directly or give you specific tasks, or you give yourself a task (painting, learning music), you tune in, but when the topics turn worldly and tap into your knowledge deficits, you start losing focus. Keeping your mind turned outwards is exhausting, and once you’re no longer immediately accountable, you relent. While teachers teach, or kids chat, or a show plays on TV, or your parents converse at the dinner table or read to you at bed time, or you yourself try concentrating on a book, you find yourself picking up only snippets and then free-associating back into your head—back to the rivalries between witches, to the phonemic categories of English, to the nature of infinity, to a replay of a plot line from Harry Potter, or to the question of why someone snubbed you at lunch.
Has any diagnostician classified this syndrome?
And why am I talking about it here, on a blog about language and writing?
I plan to spell that out more in the next few weeks, but (spoiler alert!) this post is my lead-in to a discussion about… the reading and writing sections of the new SAT.
Alright, I’ve just watched the Orientation video for the famed French in Action class. I am left with two thoughts:
- Being fatigué (or fatiguée, in my case) is a lot worse than being tired. (see 15:23)
- Also, and related: it may not be possible for a person born and raised in central Illinois to be fatiguée, at least not in public.
Which brings me to my first question: how does one say “Great!” in French?
Pascaline: Hi, Catherine, how are you?
Pascaline: Hi, Catherine, how are you?
(Is it rude to say Great! (or Good!) in French? With the exclamation mark?)
That’s my second question.
Mysteries of the apps
But I’ve hit a snag:
- I’m stuck on the difference between bonne soirée and bonsoir
- I can’t figure out the meaning of Duolingo’s color coding, or its skill charts, or the rules that govern when I get to move on to learning words for food; nor do I know what an ‘xp’ goal is or what “60/20” means in relation to my xp goal, or whether it’s good or bad that I have “6 hours left.” Six hours left till what, exactly?
The plan seems to be for me to carry on learning (or “strengthening“?) Lessons 1, 2, 3, and 4 until a time to be determined, and not by me.
Maybe you have to know when to say bonne soirée before they let you learn the French word for bread.
Is there a Missing Manual for Duolingo?
cartoon tweeted by Dan Willingham
Almost a blooper:
All 330 of them?
This reminds me of my all-time favorite National Enquirer headline:
Do you know the 1,110 reasons marriage makes women sick?
I still remember wandering the grocery store aisles chuckling over that one.
I do not know the 1,110 reasons marriage makes women sick!
Nor will I ever know the 1,110 reasons marriage makes women sick, because: how long would it take me to memorize 1,110 individual reasons marriage makes women sick?
Not as long as it would take me to complete 330 free Ivy League courses online, but still.
As I recall, the Enquirer actually listed all 1,110 reasons inside the paper, but since I didn’t buy a copy to preserve for posterity, I can’t say for sure.
(P.S. I’ve spoofed the headline, but I actually appreciate the post and the effort that went into it…. in fact, I’m reading the entire list of 330 free Ivy League now. Sad to say, I don’t see a course offering on How to Hear in French.)
One of the best writing instructors I ever had gave some advice that, for many years, I took too much to heart. “Wordy,” “repetitive,” “you can reduce this passage by a third”—these were among Mr. C’s most frequent comments in the margins of our English papers. My takeaway: the number one priority in revising your work is to cut out as many words as possible.
To this day, I continue to cut. And even when I’m forced into virtual clear-cutting—say when my first draft is several hundred words over the limit—I’ve generally found what survives to be much improved: denser with active verbs and precise nouns, freer of fillers like “it” and hedges like “seems”.
FWIW, I’ve been working on my German again for some months now and have been pretty happy with Duolingo. It has the virtue of being free and has been reported to me by people who have used both as being about as good as Rosetta Stone.
Which is all very well for the usual sort of classroom language learning (with all its many limitations). For actual conversational language, I’ve found YouTube videos on subjects that I’m already interested in and uploaded by native speakers of the language I’m working on to be quite valuable. The cadences, slang, and vocabulary are similar to those I’ve run into on the streets in a way that more formal products (like newscasts and translated scholarly works) are not.
I’ve always wondered about Duolingo & haven’t quite had the wherewithal to form an opinion.
And I’d never thought of using YouTube videos!
Until recently–more recently than I care to admit–I would have said: “Words.”
Writers use words.
Writers do use words, but that’s not the right answer.
A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, ”Do you think I could be a writer?”
”Well,” the writer said, ”I don’t know. . . . Do you like sentences?”
The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, ”I liked the smell of the paint.”
I’m trying to remember the line C. came up with, when he was little, re: Jimmy, his autistic brother.
It was something like “He can’t listen.”
That’s me with Spanish and French.
I can’t listen.
I’m hoping Gabriel Wyner can give me a shortcut. (Wish I could remember which box his book is stored in . . . . )
Many language textbooks begin with a list of hard-to-hear words—the rocks and locks you can expect to encounter along the way to fluency. With a handful of recordings of those words (freely accessible through Web sites such as Rhinospike.com and Forvo.com) and with testing software such as Anki (ankisrs.net), you can build powerful ear-training tools for yourself. These are tools that, after just a few hours of use, will make foreign words easier to hear and easier to remember, and they may give you the edge you need to finally learn the languages you’ve always wanted to learn.