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emk
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United States
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 Message 793 of 1317
25 November 2013 at 2:47am | IP Logged 
I just started my online probability class from Coursera and l'École polytechnique ! My first reactions:

- The lectures are available in MP4 format with *.srt subtitles files! I could quite literally feed these into subs2srs and automatically generate listening comprehension cards. It's so tempting to add a video player to SRS Collector that allows me to occasionally grab a few seconds of audio out of a larger presentation. :-)

- As expected, there's a lively forum attached to the course.

- With subtitles off, I can follow a solid 90% of the lectures, despite slightly dodgy audio quality and a certain amount of mumbling.

- The actual content of the course looks quite promising.

It feels really good to do something challenging where my French is only a secondary focus.

Edited by emk on 25 November 2013 at 4:36am

3 persons have voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3576 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 794 of 1317
28 November 2013 at 5:51pm | IP Logged 
I've just completed all the lectures and homework for the first week!

The material itself is fairly challenging, at least for people who decide to do all the homework problems and otherwise dig into the details. (Which is always a wise approach in any real math course. Not doing the problem sets and not yourself asking questions is a bit like trying to learn a language without doing lots of extensive reading and listening: you never develop any "intuition" for the material, and you get overwhelmed after a month or so.)

I'm really glad the lectures come with a rewind button and subtitles. My French listening comprehension may be good enough to watch most TV shows for pleasure, or to listen to the news. But it's still not strong enough to understand all the videos in this course the first time through. One of the professors talks quite fast and he has a bit of an accent, and I find myself juggling several tasks at once:

1. Decoding the accent.
2. Decoding French mathematical terminology, and trying to establish that une suite is what Anglophone mathematicians call "a sequence". Similarly, I need to figure out how French speakers read complex equations.
3. Actually trying to understand the math presented, especially when it takes a brief detour into various corners of set theory, or something else I haven't seen before.
4. Figuring out why we're discussing those corners of set theory at this point in the course.

And when I try to juggle all these tasks, some of them inevitably get neglected. It's as if I have a certain amount of mental "bandwidth", and each task takes a certain fraction of it. When my available bandwidth is exhausted, something has to give. (This is one of the reasons background listening is much less effective than avidly following a TV series—if you don't give French TV your full attention, there's not much bandwidth available for learning.)

The homework questions fall into three categories:

Quote:
Ils sont classés par niveau de difficulté : ceux qui sont marqués avec une * sont des applications directes du cours, ceux marqués avec deux * nécessitent plus de travail et ceux marqués avec trois * sont nettement plus difficiles.

There are four questions this week: Two one-star questions, and two two-star questions. The one-star questions took me anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. The two-star questions were solid challenges: A proof by induction with a double summation, and a rather clever problem using the answer from the previous problem. But I'm finding it very easy to miss a critical insight and spend hours going down false trails.

Once I do the exercises, the professors have posted videos which explain the correct answers in detail. So we correct our own homework. :-) You can see my answers to the problems online, as usual for my French math experiments. But the videos provided by the professors have slightly cleaner solutions in several cases.

Once my problem sets are done for the week, I can help other students in the forums.

I'm glad I signed up for this course. The math is hard enough to teach me something, and it's nice to have a concrete challenge that forces me out of my comfort zone. This past year and half, I've been able to function independently in a French speaking environment, but I've rarely needed to operate a university/professional level, or interact with busy groups of native speakers. When I try to do these things, I rapidly run up against various irritating limits—once the conversation steps up from "slow native conversational speed" to "fast native conversational speed", I can no longer make complicated arguments or use words with as much precision as I'd like. But it always feels like I simply need the right environment and more practice to improve fairly rapidly.

Edited by emk on 28 November 2013 at 5:53pm

1 person has voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3576 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 795 of 1317
29 November 2013 at 12:36am | IP Logged 
I had a few hours this afternoon to work on SRS Collector. It now supports Spanish and English, too!



A big thank you to everyone on HTLAL who suggested French dictionaries. If you'd like to help me support your favorite language, please feel free to PM me.

Notice also the "Translate" button, which automatically runs the selected text through Google's Translate API. This particular feature actually costs me money every time somebody hits the button, so it's reserved for people who support the site in some way, such as by sending me especially useful feedback. :-)

I'll be officially introducing SRS Collector to HTLAL soon. I'm pretty busy with my clients and my math class, but there's only a few more features to add before it's ready for a larger audience.
1 person has voted this message useful





emk
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Joined 3576 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
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 Message 796 of 1317
06 December 2013 at 1:46pm | IP Logged 
I've finished all this week's lectures and most of the homework for my statistics class in French. One of the three lecturers has abandoned all pretense that even a native French speaker should be able to follow his presentations without using pause and rewind: too much material, presented far too quickly, and touching on subjects that are just too advanced.

The lecturers have also decided to put their definition of probability on a firm footing, diving straight into measure theory. We had one ultra-dense lecture explaining tribus, or sigma-algebras, which I had considerable trouble following—lots of proofs, not enough motivating examples. So far none of the harder bits have showed up on the homework, which suggests that it might be one of those "fundamentals" lectures that students are expected to forget. If it's not, and we'll actually be using this material later, I'll need to do a lot of remedial measure theory very quickly. :-(

Anyway, despite my kvetching, I'm actually enjoying the course. This is a genuinely challenging math course, even by US "ivy league" standards (at least for people who aren't math majors, engineers or physicists, from whom it would be actual work but not exceptionally difficult). So far, I'm impressed by the École polytechnique—and glad I signed up for the course.

SRS Collector

Since I'm spending a lot of time watching class videos, I've decided it's time to start experimenting with adding a video-player to SRS Collector. This feature is very much incomplete, and I won't roll it out to my testers until it matures. But here's a screenshot of some work in progress:



The idea is that you can give the URL for a video, and one or more subtitle files in SRT format. Then you can watch your video normally until you have a "huh, what did they just say?" moment, at which point you can rewind, use subs, make audio-based SRS cards, etc. The details will be very much subject to experimentation, but the idea is to replace the excellent but arcane subs2srs with a friendlier tool that allows you to watch videos and make cards selectively. It might also be fun to support split subs: L2 on bottom and L1 on top.

But who knows when or if I'll finish this feature and release it to testers. As a general rule, I don't put stuff into SRS Collector until I've used it extensively myself, and I've seen concrete benefits to my French.

Some of these features cost me money :-/

The following SRS Collector features are quite cheap for me to provide:

1. Importing sentences from Kindle highlights or text files.
2. Adding definitions to cards (now in multiple languages!).
3. Exporting cards to Anki using the plugin.
4. Cloze cards.
5. Storing small numbers of cards on the server.

But some of the cool features cost me a tiny sum of money every time somebody uses them:

6. Adding images or sounds to cards. (I have to host the media files, at least temporarily.)
7. Machine translation. (The Google Translate API charges by the character.)
8. Anything which involves transcoding audio/video, which will be necessary to make the video player truly useful.

For features (1–5), I can support a moderately large number of users out of my own pocket. But for features (6–8), I can only support a few testers, etc., out of pocket before the costs start eating into my BD budget. And if I subsidized these features personally, any kind of serious popularity would be a financial disaster.

But some people will probably want these features anyway, so I think the fair thing to do is to have two types of accounts: free (with access to the features I can provide cheaply), and paid (with access to the features which cost me money). And I'll still hand out free access as a "Thank you" to people who help out in major ways.

Of course, since the SRS Collector code is in the public domain, anyone who wants to can run their own copy. But that involves giving your credit card to Amazon Web Services, Google and (very soon) ZenCoder and Heroku, so it's not going to be free either way.

Fatigue is a killer

When I'm sleep deprived, preoccupied, and coming off many hours of English with no time to warm up, I have fairly fluent social/home French, but anything more intellectual is just a wreck—there are still days when I wouldn't want to retake my B2 oral exam on zero notice.

But when I'm well-rested, gorged on French media, and in a French speaking environment, my speaking ability tends to run much higher—a very solid B2, and on my best days, I feel like a C1 level of "professional" fluency is very much within reach.

I need to sleep more, and find a lot more opportunities to speak French in challenging circumstances. But in general, the quality of my French depends heavily on whether my brain feels like giving me French words quickly and almost correctly, or whether it can't be bothered. It feels very much like an organic process that's mostly out of my control, even if I can influence it by changing my environment.

I'm not even sure I'd notice this problem if I only spoke French at Meetups. Because when I go to a Meetup, I always have time to get my brain into the right mode, and overcome any fatigue with a touch of manic attitude. But that's not available if I need to discuss family finances with my wife right after a long day of English, and so I struggle.
3 persons have voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3576 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
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 Message 797 of 1317
06 December 2013 at 4:19pm | IP Logged 
Oh, one more thing. My wife and I watched the first episode of Le legende de Korra last night. This is the sequel to L'Avatar, le dernier maître de l'air, which was excellent: well-written, well-drawn, enjoyable by a wide range of ages. And Korra looks like it will be at least as good. And the French dubs of both series are very well done. So if you're ready to try a series without subs, I recommend these two heartily.

Also good:

- The French dub of Castle.
- I have the French Tara Duncan cartoon running in the background while I work. That's not in the same league as Avatar, but if you're looking for an older kid's / young adult fantasy series with a female lead, it's certainly a reasonable enough example of the genre.
- The animated Tintin series. It's quite faithful to the books, though it's often cut for length.
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Ninibo
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Groupie
Germany
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88 posts - 116 votes 
Speaks: German*, English
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 798 of 1317
06 December 2013 at 4:35pm | IP Logged 
I just watched the first episode of L'Avatar, le dernier maître de l'air. Thank you for that suggestion! The dubbing is really good, so I guess I'll stick with this series, even if it's still a little bit difficult.

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emk
Diglot
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United States
Joined 3576 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 799 of 1317
06 December 2013 at 5:15pm | IP Logged 
Ninibo wrote:
I just watched the first episode of L'Avatar, le dernier maître de l'air. Thank you for that suggestion! The dubbing is really good, so I guess I'll stick with this series, even if it's still a little bit difficult.

You're welcome! And, yes, it's an excellent dub: unobtrusive, with very natural French.

In general, if a series is "a little bit difficult", it should get a lot easier by the end of the first season or two, once you pick up any specialized vocabulary and get used to the voices. And if you repeat this process with a couple different series (and keep reading books), you'll probably find that you can soon watch most series with reasonable comprehension.
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garyb
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ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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1468 posts - 2411 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
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 Message 800 of 1317
06 December 2013 at 5:58pm | IP Logged 
I can relate to everything you wrote under "Fatigue is a killer", particularly recently as I've been tired and not completely healthy. I often wonder if it ever really goes away, or if the lower limit of ability at least increases.


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