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Guide to Learning Languages, part 2

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies (Topic Closed Topic Closed) Post Reply
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Iversen
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 Message 1 of 10
15 September 2009 at 9:49pm | IP Logged 
The use of translations as nutcrackers

This thread is part of a series of guides to language learning, and no. 1 thread in this series is found HERE. The necessary caveats can be seen there.

The general theme here is 'Translations' - and how to use them to get through the first stages of learning a new language.


(quote from Difficulty of Learning Languages, 18 April 2009)

Reading something in Basque or Finnish is close to impossible if you haven't learnt those languages, - but you may have a guess concerning a few scattered loanwords, Making sense of this meager information IS hard work, at least for me. On the other hand reading Chinese is not merely hard, but impossible if you don't know those pretty Chinese signs. Which actually makes it less hard because you just have to give up.

Reading something in a language where you have to look up several words in each sentence feels frustrating, and doing something that makes you feel frustrated also makes you feel tired, and then it is 'hard' in my book. But I still do it in order to 'crack the code' in a new language.

If it's a matter of missing a few words here and here in order to get the meaning then it isn't too bad, and only then I would use the term "comprehensible input". And if I can read all of it without having any doubts then it isn't hard at all - even if I haven't really learnt the language or the dialect in question - but then I also wouldn't learn much from it.
(end of quote)

The idea of using bilingual texts to overcome this problem is not new, but with the advent of the internet it has become much easier to find short bilingual texts to use in intensive reading (finding transcripts/translations of texts is not quite as easy, but still better than in the evil old days). I haven't mentioned the modern electronic 'pop-up' dictionaries, but they exist and will become more and more userfriendly and inevitable in the near future. So far I prefer doing all my intensive work on paper versions of the texts, and I also use oldfashioned paper dictionaries and grammars. But at some point even I may decide to switch to purely electronic materials.


Edited by Iversen on 15 September 2009 at 10:21pm

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Iversen
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 Message 2 of 10
15 September 2009 at 9:50pm | IP Logged 
Different kinds of multilingualism?

To prepare for the following entries about translation I would like to quote Wikipedia:   
Even if someone is highly proficient in two or more languages, his or her so-called communicative competence or ability may not be as balanced. Linguists have distinguished various types of multilingual competence, which can roughly be put into two categories:

For compound bilinguals, words and phrases in different languages are the same concepts. …
For coordinate bilinguals, words and phrases in the speaker's mind are all related to their own unique concepts. Thus a bilingual speaker of this type has different associations for 'chien' and for 'dog'. In these individuals, one language, usually the first language, is more dominant than the other…
A sub-group of the latter is the subordinate bilingual, which is typical of beginning second language learners.

The distinction between compound and coordinate bilingualism has come under scrutiny. When studies are done of multilinguals, most are found to show behavior intermediate between compound and coordinate bilingualism. Some authors have suggested that the distinction should only be made at the level of grammar rather than vocabulary, others use "coordinate bilingual" as a synonym for one who has learned two languages from birth, and others have proposed dropping the distinction altogether
(end of quote)

If this is correct then it has some consequences for the way different language learners use translations and relations between languages in general. For me these things are quite innocuous while you are trying to conquer a new language, and I can drop at least the use of translations without problems when I don't need them any more. I'm as negative as everybody else about the idea of formulating every single thought in your native language and translating it before speaking - almost as if you were reading a speech from a piece of paper. It won't function, you haven't got time for that while speaking (and it is a bad habit even when writing). However I have never had problems dropping the umbilic chord when the newborn doesn't need it any more, so I don't understand why some people are so very much against using translations at all. But the difference in brain organization suggested above might explain it.

I have in a few cases been writing in languages or dialects which are clearly outside my scope, such as March 15 2009 where I had been listening to something in Scots and decided to make an entry in my Multiconfused log. How did I do that? Well, first I sketched in plain English what I wanted to write, and then I delved further into whatever Scots I could find on the internet, written or spoken, with those formulations in the back of my head that I wanted for my post. I found enough to make a fair travesty, though in some cases I hade to drop an intended formulation because I didn't stumble over a suitable translation I could use. This took a lot of time and I haven't tried it again (with Scots), but it represents one possible way to use concrete translation tasks to learn a target language.

I probably don't have to remind anybody about the venerable traditions of this technique. The new thing is that you should be flexible about the text to be translated - the important thing is the chase for good expressions, not whether a certain text was translated with its original meaning preserved, leave that to the professional translators who get paid for their job. But tell this to an old-time school teacher, and you would be slaughtered.

A wellknown/native language interspersed with elements from target language is called an interlanguage, and it is not something that I would recommend in general. But in the phase where you want to get a foothold in a new language it does serve a purpose. When I formulated my plain English text and successively changed sections of it into Scots I learnt quite a lot about Scots, not least because I got some quite concrete needs - certain formulations which I wanted to incorporate. This made me much more attentive to the genuine materials in which I made my searches.

There is another, more general perspective to this: if you have two related languages(or dialects) and you don't know explicitely to formulate something what is then your best bet? Well, it would be to assume that it would be 'the same thing' in the other language. So if I don't know a word in Afrikaans then I would assume that it is the same word as in Dutch, with some minor changes due to another sound system and simpler morphology. The problem is of course that you may forget that this was just a guess, and that you MUST try to check whether your guess really is correct in the target language. Often it isn't (so it was just a 'false friend'), but more often it is correct, especially when we talk about somewhat technical words. The risk of making grave errors is larger when it comes to expressions than it is with single words, but sometimes the odds are on your side.

The compensate for this bit of heresy I would mention that I generally prefer to work on genuine materials - both intensively and extensively - and with time you will develop a sense for what can be said or written in the target language and what can't. And with time you can also scrap the stadium where you need a sketch for your utterances.


Edited by Iversen on 15 September 2009 at 10:59pm

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Iversen
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 Message 3 of 10
15 September 2009 at 9:53pm | IP Logged 
How to make side-by-side parallel texts

This is easy. You make a table with two columns and a few rows on an empty page in your wordprocessor (Word or another program). Then you find a text with a fairly literal translation. Now cut out pieces of the original and put it in the left cell in row no. 1, until it expands to fill almost the whole page. Then take the corresponding part of the translation and paste it into the right cell. You will probably find that the text takes up more space in one of the languages than it does in the other. The trick now is to move the vertical line between the cells until the paragraphs left and right roughly stand side by side. Chances are that this position also will be fairly correct for the following pages, - though you may have to do some minor adjustments. And then just do the same thing for the next pages.

You could also use columns, but at least in Word the text from the left column has a tendency to invade the top of the right column, - you don't have that problem with tables.


Edited by Iversen on 09 August 2012 at 3:32pm

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 Message 4 of 10
15 September 2009 at 9:53pm | IP Logged 
How to make interlaced parallel texts


The following text was written for the learnanylanguage wikia 25 May 2008:

There are two kinds of parallel text: side-by-side and interlaced. The name of side by side is more or less self explaining, though is should be said that it normally are whole paragraphs that are juxtaposed rather than single lines:

language1language1language1language1 . . language2language2language2
language1language1language1language1 . . language2language2language2
language1language1language1 . . . . . . . . . language2language2language2language2

You can make these in a word processor using either 'sheet' columns or columns in a table. To make the sections fit you can put in empty lines, but it looks prettier if you force to the sections to have the same number of lines by regulating the width of the columns.

An interlaced text has one line in the target language, then one line in the base language and so forth. Ideally each line should contain one sentence (or another natural unit), but sometimes you have to cut in the middle of something or you have to leave half a line empty.

They can be produced using a word processor (Word, OpenOffice writer, WordPerfect) plus a spreadsheet (Excel, OO Calc, QuattroPro). You take a text and its translation into a better-known language. Put each of them in its own word processor window and put one window above the other on your screen.

Then you start subdividing the texts in parallel chunks of about 2/3 of the width of the screen, each chunk on its own line. Take care that each chunk in one language as far as possible corresponds to one chunk in the other. It is not as difficult as you might think if the translation is faithful to the original, but in a few rare cases you may have to move something away from its context - do this in the base language version, not in the target language version as there may be some syntactical reason for the changed order of the components.

Then open a spreadsheet (for instance Excel) and put one text in column C, the other in column F. You should fill column A and D with numbers 1,2.... , and afterwards fill column B and E with respectively a's and b's. At this point check that the two versions of the text really correspond line for line to each other. You should also give each language is own color and font for easy recognition later. Then you cut out the content of the three columns D,E,F and place it below the content of columns A.B,C. The idea behind this arrangement is that you now can sort the whole thing according to columns A and B, which gives this result:

1 a blahblah (language 1)
1 b blohblohbloh (language 2)
2 a blahblah (language 1)
2 b blohblohbloh (language 2)
...

The last thing to do is to copy the content of column C (i.e. the interlaced texts) to the word processor, where it appears as a table whose dividing lines can in principle be removed without harming the content of the cells, - but it is not really necessary to do it. That's all.

So far the method. But in practice you probably won't use it often. The problem is that even with this technique it will take a very long time to prepare a whole novel. Personally I only use the interlaced texts for active reading in my 'worst' languages, and then a few pages per session are enough. With a better known language you can understand most of the text and most of the words, and then there is no longer any reason to use interlaced texts, and you can settle for side-by-side texts which are much faster to produce. And eventually they also become irrelevant.


Edited by Iversen on 15 September 2009 at 10:27pm

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 Message 5 of 10
15 September 2009 at 9:54pm | IP Logged 
Hyperliteral translations

The following text was written for the learnanylanguage wikia 4 May 2009:

Hyperliteral translations are translations from language A to language B that try to stick to to the words and the constructions of language A, even when this means that the result in language B isn't grammatical and in some cases not even meaningful when judged with the standards of language B.
It is a known fact that languages aren't parallel. If you say that "cheval" in French is a translation of "horse" in English, then it just means that both refer to a certain fourlegged mammal. However there may be cases where 'cheval' in French doesn't correspond to 'horse' in English. Take for instance the expression "être très à cheval sur quelqu'un" = "to be strict with someone", "be a stickler with someone". Often these derived meanings have some connection with the 'core meaning' (in this case the fourlegged animal, - to be strict with someone is almost as sitting on them as on a horse), but some words don't even have a single dominating core meaning, and then there is no reason to expect that their meaning(s) can be covered by one single word in another language.

This situation is also found with grammatical constructions. For instance many languages have reflexive pronouns, i.e. pronouns that by definition refer back to an explicit or implied subject. In Danish "tage sin hat" means "take the speaker's own hat" (reflexive "sin"), while "tage hendes hat" means "take her hat", i.e. some (other) female person's hat. In English there aren't reflexive pronouns so the context will dictate the meaning in a concrete sentence. (PS: in this case I have decided to write a generic reflexive 'self', just as in Old English)

Ordinary translations systematically try to cover up these problems by reformulating phrases or guessing at the intended meaning and choosing one out of several possible interpretations. Depending on the skill and ambitions of the translator this can mean that the general meaning is preserved, but all direct parallels between the original and the translation are lost. This can be a problem for a language learner who wants to understand the role of each element in the original version. A hyperliteral translation has no literary pretensions at all, but tries to 'imitate' the original version at all levels.

So "être très à cheval sur quelqu'un" would in a hyperliteral translation be something like "(to) be very on horse on someone", and you would add a corresponding idiomatic expression in language B if the meaning can't be guessed ('be a stickler'). However even this version isn't a perfect hyperliteral translation: the 'to' is normally necessary in English, while the French infinitive can stand alone, - therefore the word 'to' is put between parentheses. Even this simple example shows that there is some judgement involved in making a hyperliteral translation, just as in making an ordinary 'literary' translation. When explaining exotic constructions in remote languages you may even have to add morphological markers in some places. This has to be decided in the concrete case.

It is also clear that hyperliteral translations only should be used in the early stages of learning a new language. They are much better than ordinary translations to convey the structure of the phrases in the original language, but as soon as you can understand the general meaning of spoken and written texts in language A the best strategy would normally be not to make or use translations at all, except when you look up unknown words or idiomatic phrases in dictionaries and other sources. From that moment on translations would primarily be done for the benefit of others, and then it is logical to try to make translations from language A that are exquisite even in language B.

Hyperliteral translations in combination with 'normal' translations have been used in some language guides, such as the German series Kauderwälsch and the small guides from Lonely Planet.

The following is a quote from Translation direction, 05 March 2012

On example more: a sentence from Irish Gaelic (from Kauderwelsch, which has pronunciations, word for word AND ordinary translations - I give the English equivalents in my own notation below):

Is fuath le hEilís caife
Is! hated with [h]Eilis coffee
Eilis hates coffee

The exclamation sign is my own invention. It helps me to avoid the nagging feeling that the sentence ought to be a question because of the inversion. The [h] (a variant of the system of consonant changes known as aspiration or lenition) reminds me that there is aspiration/lenition in this context ([h] is used with initial vowels after certain 'grammar words' - here the preposition "le" - while a h is put after most consonants in the writing: d -> dh etc.).

Maybe you don't need this kind of procedure, but for me such a hyperliteral translation has (or rather had) a mnemotechnic function akin to the translations of isolated words - I so to say formulate a translation af the Irish construction rather than a direct translation of the words. Which is one reason for using the term "hyperliteral" instead of "word for word".

It is fairly evident that the 'ordinary' meaning oriented translation into English not only doesn't tell you anything about how the Irish language functions - it is simply misleading because it tempts you to make a gross translation error if you trust it. You may like hyperliteral translations or not, I don't mind, but free translations are something any language learner should avoid like the plague.


Edited by Iversen on 06 March 2012 at 1:19pm

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 Message 6 of 10
15 September 2009 at 10:03pm | IP Logged 
Hyperliteral translations as a means to learn expressions and proverbs

Quote from my profile thread, written 03 July 2009:

I have written a lot about memorization of single words and word combinations through word lists. I have written very little about stylistics because I find that it only can be learned through reading, listening, thinking, writing and speaking. There are books with advice about style, but they can only tell you how to deal with genuine language, apart from a few tips and tricks that have more to do with psychology than with language. But in between there is the dark uncharted land of the idiomatic expressions.

I have read some of the pages in a French Dictionary of Idiomatic Expressions (in the series Livre de Poche), and it struck me that it was very amusing, but I didn't learn much. So I started to speculate about what the problem was. And I found at least one thing that irritated me, namely that both examples and explanations were in the same language. The problem is that the two expressions compete, - I let the original expression slip away because the explanation takes its place.

OK, one logical reaction to this would be to point out an equivalent expression in another language. This is a very relevant technique, but from the other side: I may use a certain expression frequently in Danish or English ... so what would a Frenchman say in the same situation (probably with totally different words)? I should long ago have started a collection of such expressions, preferably on my computer so that I could make full text searches, but nobody is perfect. The material is in principle not too difficult to find in ordinary good dictionaries, which are full of idiomatic (or at least fixed) expressions. But I would probably need to do it on a PDA or something like that, because my time at the PC generally is spent on other projects, and I would prefer collecting those expression while reading.

But today I got an idea which might be worth exploring, namely using hyperliteral translations. The point is that if I just could remember those pesky expressions I would probably also remember their unexpected meaning (it is the unexpectedness that makes an expression idiomatic, otherwise it would just be a fixed expression). By having a hyperliteral translation I so to say point out its weirdness, and that seems to function as an effective memory crutch and the worse the translation is, the more effective it is probably going to be.

For example "compter sans son hôte" is explained as "se tromper". But I'm much more likely to remember the expression with the help of the English translation "count without one's host", precisely because it is nonsense. I even doubt that I need to note down 'se tromper', because the problem is remembering the expression, - whenever I just see it from now on I immediately will remember that it means 'se tromper'. Actually the crutch language doesn't have to be your native tongue or even a wellknown language. For instance "heure d'horloge" in French means 'exactly one hour', but the hyperliteral expression in Icelandic is in fact the normal expression for a hour, "klukkustund" - so now these two expressions can support each other. But mostly you are more likely to find a good, funny hyperliteral translation in your native language than in any other language.

There are cases where the classical word list method is relevant, namely where the expression contains at least one unusual word. For example "sous la houlette" means 'sous la conduite de' ('under the control of'). The 'houlette' is the shepherd's crook (or a little garden spade), - if I can learn that word then it will be difficult NOT to remember its use in the expression "sous la houlette". The problem is rather those many expressions that don't have such a 'gimmick word', and that's where I think that a funny hyperliteral translation might help. Or a drawing for the visual thinkers. But definitely NOT an explanation in the original language.


Edited by Iversen on 26 October 2009 at 11:13am

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 Message 7 of 10
15 September 2009 at 10:08pm | IP Logged 
Copying by hand:

One of the techniques proposed by professor Arguelles is the socalled "scriptorium", which he has demonstrated in a video - see more about it in this thread:

ProfArguelles wrote:
:
I have made a short video to demonstrate the proper form for transcribing languages by hand as I do in my “scriptorium” exercise. In order to do this properly, you should:

1.     Read a sentence aloud.
2.     Say each word aloud again as you write it.
3.     Read the sentence aloud as you have written it.

The whole purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down and pay attention to detail. This is the stage at which you should check all unknowns in grammars or dictionaries, although that would have been too tedious to show in the video.


His other famous technique is of course "shadowing", which likewise is illustrated in a video (see this thread. I once described them as follows in a thread called Language learning series video reviews:

I wrote:

As far as I can see the common factor in both your shadowing and your scriptorium methods is that you transform something that normally is done in a purely passive way into something active, namely listening and reading. In your case it is done in a very active way, crf. your recommandation of speaking loudly and walk at a brisk pace. When I do similar things I do them silently and sitting in my chair, which suits me better - the basic idea is the same, but there is a distinct difference in style, which probably can be blamed on temperamental factors.

However there is another, more fundamental difference: apparently you have moved from a more conventional way of using dictionaries and grammars to a position where you actually do produce such books yourself, but essentially you assume that the absorption through shadowing and 'lectoriuming' is the main ingredient of language learning. The main difference between your methods and the so called 'natural learning' is that you don't need somebody to speak to because you use preexisting materials, and that you prefer heavily structured learning instead of relying on the hazardous nature of immersive experiences or even chance encounters with suitable natives.


I am convinced that the two methods work, but as I mentioned they don't quite suit my temperament. I do a lot of copying by hand, but strictly without vocalization.

There are two cases: the one where you don't have a translation and the one where you do have one. In both cases copying is something you do in order to slow down your perception AND to appeal to one more sense. This also means that the use of a keyboard isn't quite as effective.

Case 1:

Let's first take the case where you don't have a translation. I would then first copy a couple of lines, then make a hyperliteral translation of them - and it HAS to be a hyperliteral translation. One of the blunders of classical language teaching is the erroneous idea that the translation has to be in your most exquisite native language. But this not only is irrelevant for the task of learning the target language, it actually is counterproductive because it forces you to think in the structures of your native language, where a hyperliteral translation forces you to consider the structures in the target language. Of course there are cases where you can't guess the real meaning from the hyperliteral translation, and then you can make a note to explain the intended meaning - however my experience with mainly Indoeuropean languages shows that this is the exception, not the rule.

At the right side of the paper or below the translation I make notes of the unknown words or expression I have found. It is not very important to note the precise translation of the words here because I can see it in the translation, if I can't remember it. But making this list is relevant because I'll transfer them to a wordlist for thorough memorization.

The result could look like this (and as usual I fold a A4 sheet once to make it more handy):

OriGiNaltext- OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-
-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-l--OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-
OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext- -OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-..

my-hyperliteral-translation- my-hyperliteral-translation- my-hyperliteral-translation-
my-hyperliteral-translation- my-hyperliteral-translation- hyperliteral-translation-...
my-hyperliteral-translation- my-hyperliteral-translation- my-hyperliteral-translation-

word1    word4=translation word3
word2=translation expression word5=translation

Case 2:

If I do have translation (which I never ever copy) or if I am sufficiently advanced not to need one then I normally reserve a column at the right to these words:

OriGiNaltext-   OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-Ori GiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-... | word1
-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-l--OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext- ................ . | word2=translation
OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext-OriGiNaltext- -OriGiNaltext-.. .|


But why make a copy at all if I'm sufficiently advanced to understand the text wiithout a translation? Answer: because I need to concentrate on the details in the language to absorb them fully. I did this even with Swedish, which I had been watching on TV and reading for many years and could understand without any problems at all. Without doing this I would never have wondered why there was an a-ending here or an article there.

Extensive reading and listening is also very important, but in this post we are dealing with an intensive activity where details matter. Copying is slow, but it is efficient. But max. a page or less in a row, - otherwise even I get bored!


Edited by Iversen on 26 October 2009 at 11:14am

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 Message 8 of 10
15 September 2009 at 10:13pm | IP Logged 
Using Google translations* in language learning:

The main point right now are sources for fairly short texts with translations, which you can use for the kind of detailed study I described in the preceding post.

Translations in bookform can be useful for extensive reading: you sit down in your comfy chair, open a page in the translation and read a paragraph or a page (depending on your level and that of the book). Then you take the original and read the corresponding section, which shouldn't be too difficult given that you have read the translation.

But we were going to talk about intensive reading with a translation, and here it is more practical to make printouts with both the original and the translation on the same page.

Even with a good translation you need easy texts when you are a beginner. You can find many literary texts in translation on the internet and make them into side-by-side bilinguals (se above), - but for reasons of copyright this mostly applies to older literature. Besides they may be too difficult for a true beginner. Many homepages are found in several languages, not least those that belong to international organizations or which cater to tourists.

However I recently found out that even the translations of Google and other automated websystems can be used. I had ordered a travel to the Balkan Peninsula, and I wanted to prepare myself for a bit of Serbian. I had one month and many other things to do, so I had to find a 'quick and dirty' learning method. I tried to find some interesting things in Serbian (or even in Croatian) with a translation, but literature isn't my favorite occupation, and I didn't really find anything.

Then I got the desperate idea of translating some Serbian homepages with the help of translate.google.com. I have often been among those that scorned these automated translations, and it is true that they often are ridiculous or worse (for instance I have noticed a general tendency to ignore negations and trifles like that). However when translating FROM Serbian TO Danish then all the nonsense will be formulated in Danish, where my chances of discovering and dealing with it are much better than in Serbian. So I found some interesting stuff and translated it. When I tried to copy the translation I got a surprise. As you probably know the original of each sentence can be seen in a box by keeping the cursor over it. When I marked and copied an article and pasted it into Word then each sentence came first in the original version and then in translation. That was excellent on the screen, but when I printed this page only the translation was printed. So I had to paste it 'as text only' (which may be a problem with other programs), and then everything was visible, even in the printout. The final step was to paint all the translated parts in another color for clarity, and then I had something just as good as an interlaced bilingual.

The problem with the quality of the translations is not as annoying as you might expect. In fact they are sometimes surprisingly good or at least fully understandable, and when they aren't then the idiocy is mostly so gross that it can be spotted - erroneous translations made by human translators can be much more insiduous! If it is clear that there is an error then you can simply use your dictionaries or some common sense to solve the problem.


* translate.google.com, but there are several others. However the described method to make 'semi-interlaced' pages by copy/pasting the translation of whole internet pages is specific for Google translate

EDIT 2013: I have stopped making interlaced or interspersed bilingual texts. Now I just use two ´columns side by side. It functions just as well, and it is much easier to make the texts in this way.

Edited by Iversen on 28 June 2013 at 2:51pm



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