Languishing in Linguistics

Since the start of the semester I have spent my time tackling an unexpected adversary in the form of Linguistics 1, which is an introduction to linguistics. Having left the mind-boggling world of Japanese, I had thought I’d be on more solid ground with linguistics. I was wrong.

Whilst we do learn linguistics through English, this does not give any advantage to a native english speaker in terms of the IPA, and we didn’t even learn all of the phonemes of the IPA, nor did we learn from any other phonetic alphabets, and there are a lot.

When doing a project for linguistics on phonetic transcription I found myself having to dip into two or three other Phonetic Alphabets, either because I had a mish mash of British English and Irish English, but more likely because I’ve watched enough TV that it’s been thrown into my everyday speech for the fun of it. If I had known that watching TV Marathon’s would make my phonetics project more complicated, I probably would have waited to have started doing my marathoning during the written exams.

Now, at the end of it all, and 11 weeks on in Linguistics, my mind is still boggled. Like any foreign alphabet or writing system you learn, there’s a sad excitement in picking up the dictionary and being able to see the squiggly lines beside the words as actual characters with real and relevant meaning. That doesn’t help much with everything else…

But since it’s time for revision, like all good Language Technology students should, I turn to YouTube and Wikipedia for help with my study. Handy thing the internet.

Using a graphics tablet

Having studied Japanese for the better part of 2 years what I found the most difficult when learning off the writing systems involved. In my experience one of the most tedious and daunting tasks that I came across was finding the meaning of strange Kanji.

There are thousands of Kanji in Japanese, all grouped by radicals, but if you’re just starting with learning about radicals and kanji meanings is a handful. Especially when the differences are a single stroke left of right.

One of the real life savers when learning Kanji, other then our lecturers endless enthusiasm, was the dictionary programme Tagaini Jisho. But even with this brilliant resource it was still hard to search certain words based upon their radicals, this got even more difficult as time progressed and words began to consist of 3-5 kanji without a katakana or hiragana character in sight.

One of the things I found myself searching for was a writing recognition programme for Japanese that I could use with my graphics tablet. It’s only recently that I’ve managed to find such a programme.

Tegaki is an opensource programme that focuses on chinese and Japanese. So far I haven’t had a chance to use it but based upon the video on the site I have to admit to being embarrassingly excited by the prospects of using the programme.



Teaching English as a Foreign language

So far I hadn’t given much consideration to Teaching English as a Foreign Language, because in truth, it feels as though I have plenty of time. But when working on group presentations it’s given me a chance to think about what exactly it must be like to sit in a lecture where a lecturer is speaking at a fast pace in a language that they might not fully understand.

Even I find that in a lecture a certain word or phrase can catch me off guard and I’ll have to scrawl it down to mull over when I’m reading the notes late on.

This got me to trying to find out if there’re any online resources to explain or simplify academic English into more manageable chunks that they can learn and then use themselves. But so far I have had absolutely no success. Hopefully I’ll be able to update with good news, or maybe I can start my own posts for it.

CALL, me? Maybe.

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) may not be a term that is widely known outside of academia but it is definitely a concept people are familiar with, if only vaguely and there are probably only a few who would look at ways to change the way they are using computers to help with what they are learning.

As a student of languages my first reaction to finding a new forum for my learning is trying to figure out how I can mould what I’m using/ playing so that it helps me to pick up a few extra words. This usually means I’ll only go so far as changing the language on Facebook, WordPress or Minecraft.

Minecraft. A simple game developed by Mojang was originally considered virtual Lego but has evolved in a very short period into a complex and multilayered virtual reality that’s been used by players in mindblowing ways.

Teachers and Educators have also seen the potential in minecraft, resulting in the adaptation of minecraft as a teaching tool.

Languages would be a poor way to demonstrate the usefulness of minecraft as a language learning tool due to the fact that languages aren’t greatly involved. Whilst you can get some words out of it, there aren’t going to be many occasions when spider’s eye or blue wool are going to come into your everyday vocabulary, not under normal circumstances anyway.

Its outside of Languages, in areas such as maths, history and science. There are many tutorials available for these on the MinecraftEdu Wiki, which is very helpful if you’re not any good with the redstone circuitry in minecraft, like me.
Here’s an example of a video showing a class on the reaction times of students

If you’ve played minecraft before you should be able to tell how the basic setup works, and if not, I’m sure a tutorial will be up somewhere. The test focuses on testing student dexterity and reaction times (as well as testing their ability to pay attention and follow  instructions). Where Minecraft itself is concerned it shows just how much the game has been adapted by mojang in that the teacher can freeze and teleport students as they need. Science is only one of the applications and you can see more on the minecraftedu wiki.

Mezirow- Learning to think like an adult. (Kitchenam)

To me Mezirow’s theories on transformative learning aren’t simply based on the need for a different approach in adult education but also based around the politics of the use of pre- existing material in the education of adults, and in writing a theory for an established area the need to refer to those who came before you in order to give your theory more credence in your given field.

The focus of this theory is based upon the needs of adult learners when returning to education and their changing needs for their education, whether it be that the subject now needs to be able to be taught in conjunction with practical applications and using real life as an incentive for study.

The theory can be viewed as both daunting and comforting. Daunting as the subject focuses on the need to change the way you teach/ learn, depending on your view point, in order to make the language/ topics more approachable and applicable for adult learners or those that have returned to education after a period of time, however the theory itself includes quite a lot of theoretical jargon that left me stumped and took about five attempts at reading to be able to write this blog, and even at that my grasp of the content is shaky at best.

Kitchenam, in his writing of this article, seems more preoccupied with sounding academic and panders to his academic peers rather then making an informative evaluation of Mezirow’s theory for the average student. The article is very complex in it’s formatting and includes very little in the way of straight forward usable information for someone who is reading the article to gain a different perspective on the work of Mezirow in regard to Transformative Learning.

I scream, you scream, because that’s what tongue twisters tend to do.

When seeing the careers counsellor in 5th year of secondary school I was told that one of my best qualities that would help me in looking for a job in future was the fact that I had a “flat” accent. It was only after seeing the confused smile on my face that he meant this in a complimentary way, that I was easy to understand.

 Since then I’ve been rubbing elbows with some of Limerick’s finest accents both at work and out about resulting in a bizarre accent that has been dubbed “London Bogger” in my home. The london bogger requires a skilled ear or else a large amount of exposure to decipher, which probably isn’t desirable when I’m set on becoming an ELT.

Tongue twisters are like phonetic acrobatics, they require finesse, control and practice, and in the end you sound like a twat. But do them enough and it begins to trickle down into your everyday use of the language.

From studying Japanese, and hearing native Japanese speakers speaking English tongue twisters are an excellent way to work on pronunciation

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! (The full version of the twisted title)

It’s important with tongue twisters to first work on enunciating and then work on speed. Break it down into workable pieces, otherwise, using Japanese as an example again, you could just end up saying:

Isu kurimu, yu sukurimu. wi aru sukirimu fo isu kurimu. 

Man, that doesn’t seem very PC, but that is actually using what I have learned in regards to Japanese pronunciation and sounds, so since I’m not a native japanese speaker speaking english as a foreign language, I’m bound to make mistakes.

Here are three more tongue twisters to help you, say them out loud whenever possible, no matter how crazy you sound. 

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?


The thirty-three thieves thought that they thrilled the throne throughout Thursday.

More tongue twisters can be found easily through searches, but I think as I progress through the blog I’ll include three in each post at the end as a challenge for anyone reading and for me as well

Language Learning Assumptions

For me, the faster and more effective way to learn something in regards to languages or English theory is to write it down.

I have also thought that for me writing something out was always more effective than typing something out or simply reading lecture notes online without writing any of my own, even if it is just to paraphrase what is already written out for me or has been given to me in print form. It can be that I end up writing pages upon pages of notes and then will spend a few weeks “perfecting” them by rewriting them so that I can memorize them.

This could be considered a waste of time/ resources as perfectly good notes may have already been given, or the fact that I have notes available to me online in an easy to search and easy to access format but because I have the resources to make my own notes based upon the work of others. Notes being available online or from lecturer print outs also means I don’t have to spend time on researching the subjects myself, all I have to do is simplify or reformat the works of others.

It’s not necessarily a dislike of online notes that prompts me to write things out by hand but rather the comfort of having tangible, but more importantly, personalised notes that allow me to feel as though I’ll know the material better if I have my own physical copy which differs from others.

Whilst writing notes out by hand I don’t think I am losing out on time or wasting resources, rather I believe that when it comes to an exam situation in which answers must be given within a particular amount of time, I will perhaps have an advantage in that I am used to writing out large amounts of texts, and perhaps the process of writing and rewriting has allowed me to convert some of what I know/ need to know to muscle memory, so that even if I panic I can continue to write out of reflex

Language Learning Blogs that work?

“How to keep the fun in Language Learning!”

Not only deals with how it is learning a language but also discusses pedagogy and the bloggers own experience of being an ELT. A more formal class oriented blog on English Language learning/ English Language Teaching.

“You don’t learn language, you get used to it”

The writer of this blog is trying to promote language learning not through classes, etc. Rather through immersion. It focuses on the learners ability to motivate themselves into learning by immersing themselves in the language rather than focusing on class based learning. An example of someone using language technology in the language learning process.

Great about, 70% aspiration, 30% inspiration. Language technology in motion.

Very approachable for someone learning a new language, doesn’t set goals rather describes personal experiences that could make it more relatable rather than intimidating. Doesn’t come at you as “Oh wow I learned Japanese in 18 months” it’s more I learned this on my own but it was fun and doable. More about the learning experience.

Confusing. If I was reading this blog as a person learning English I would be terrified and confused, especially as this was supposedly from a person learning English themselves. But scroll down past the Cillit Bang style ads for what I assume to be his own brand of an English Teaching Programme and there lies a fairly competent language learning blog. It has everything from phrases to learning tips, as well as a whole host of blog posts regarding those who speak English as a foreign language. Probably the most balanced as far as being approachable and effective.