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emk
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 Message 841 of 1317
22 December 2013 at 6:23pm | IP Logged 
How I'm spending my Sunday afternoon:



Coursera is actually a very nice platform for studying advanced subjects in a second language. I obviously don't get speaking practice, but I do get a rewind button and optional subtitles. And it's a nice way to remind my brain that it's not allowed to devote 100% of my mental "bandwidth" to simple decoding, but that it needs to reserve plenty of bandwidth for actually understanding the math.

I can generally do without the subs for 2 of 3 lecturers at this point, provided I'm in a quiet room. The pause button, however, is still essential, because I like to stop and read the slide, and then listen to the explanation. But I'd like to do that in English, too.

The nice thing about being a high-intermediate / low-advanced student of a Romance language it's easy to get up to speed on new subjects. Even after a month, I find that listening to these lectures is getting a lot easier.
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tastyonions
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 Message 842 of 1317
22 December 2013 at 8:09pm | IP Logged 
That's awesome.

I need to learn something in depth using French. :-)
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emk
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 Message 843 of 1317
23 December 2013 at 9:45pm | IP Logged 
tastyonions wrote:
I need to learn something in depth using French. :-)

Go for it! It's a nice challenge. And then you can have all the fun of knowing the French words for stuff that you can't explain in English. :-)

French

OK, time to shake things up. I've done a nice big stack of SRS cards over the last few months, learning between 500 and 750 words of new vocabulary, and I've gotten good results with my half-word cloze cards. But it's getting a little monotonous, so it's time for a French SRS "vacation", where I only rep existing cards for a while.

My new focuses will be:

- My statistics course. This is not a particularly easy course, and I'm about half a week behind at the 5 week mark. Time to buckle down. I am, however, enjoying this tremendously.

- A new speaking project, inspired by Khatzumoto: Beating my average. Rather than constantly trying to recreate what I can do when in full immersion, I'm simply going to aim to do better. And maybe it's time to sacrifice a little correctness for fluency; I've been working on correctness for a long time.

- Anything else which amuses me.

Egyptian

Now that I've dusted off my skills and resumed my Assimil course, I'm remember just how much I love this language with its quirky verbs, adverbial sentences, and strange clitic pronouns. Plus, hey, pretty pictures and ancient royal propaganda!

My tools are a lot sharper this time: Using image MCDs, I can make cards much more quickly than I could before. And MCDs allow me to blow off the harder, rarer vocabulary while going much deeper on the stuff I care about.

I'll be averaging a single Assimil lesson per week, give or take, until the stats course is done. This is basically just a hair more than nothing, but as the saying goes, Trois fois rien, c'est déjà quelque chose. Lesson 31 and 32 have some nice new stuff, but lesson 33 goes off a weird tangent: Some "Song of Solomon"-style love poetry that's mostly descriptive vocabulary. Fun to read, but it's so not going into Anki at this stage.

Anyway, that's the plan for now: statistics, speaking and a tiny touch of Egyptian.

Edited by emk on 23 December 2013 at 9:50pm

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emk
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 Message 844 of 1317
27 December 2013 at 4:46pm | IP Logged 
rapp's log is awesome

For those of you who have any interest whatsoever in AJATT or Neutrino, I highly recommend Rapp’s Neutrino Log. In fact, everybody should go read it. :-) It's full of great observations like:

rapp wrote:
The critical thing is to do something in Spanish frequently. But no particular "something" is important enough to suffer through. There's always a different "something" I could do that would be fun. So I just go do that instead. Easy peasy.

A mathematical metaphor for listening comprehension

For those who like the occasional mathematical metaphor, I posted the following in JC_Identity's log:

emk wrote:
JC_Identity wrote:
I have been thinking that my improvement in my reading comprehension should have spilled over more to my listening comprehension than it has. And the more I think about it, the more it is clear to me that there is no great reason for why it should have.

I strongly suspect you will see spillover, but it takes a while. There are several problems which block the spillover at first. Since you're a programmer, I'm going to get a little mathematical here. Please forgive me. :-)

Problem 1: Symbol-to-sound mapping. Assume we have a string of French letters L, and its phonetic realization P(L). In French, P is basically one-way function: you can go from L to P(L), but not from P(L) back to L, except via brute-force memorization. (In France, going from P(L) back to L is a pass-time called la dictée. They hold competitions on TV.) Your problem is that you've been training yourself to recognize L by reading, but you're hearing P(L), and you can't completely invert the function yet.

Problem 2: Speed. When you're reading, you're decoding L relatively slowly, and you can take time to think if you need it. This allows you to stop and re-read, and to bring your puzzle-solving skills to bear. But P(L) comes too fast, and you don't have time to decipher more than a fraction.

There's a couple of different ways to crack this problem. Here's what I did:

Solution 1A: Keep chipping away at P(L) with lots of listening. Fortunately, P^{-1}(P(L)) is only partially opaque, especially if I have enough context. So I watched lots and lots of French TV series, and I would puzzle out lots of little pieces of P^{-1} as I watched. TV series are useful, because they eliminate several complicating factors: (a) I hear the same voices from episode to episode, (b) the underlying vocabulary is typically a small subset of the language, and (c) the visual images and story line give me very strong context for figuring out pieces of P^{-1}. Plus, TV is a pleasant and laid-back form of studying, and I can do it even when my brain is fried.

Solution 2A: Build a fast, robust statistical model of L. The better I could characterize the probability of any text L, the easier time I had puzzling out P^{-1}, because my brain could predict L, calculate P(L), and compare it to what I just heard. This allowed efficient hypothesis testing, which seems to occur at both subconscious and fully-conscious levels. And of course, the best way to improve my model of L was to read a lot. And to keep reading until I could understand French text faster than most people talk.

So as far as I can tell, lots of TV series and books will eventually cause your reading comprehension to spill over into listening comprehension. Of course, there are quite a few other ways to tackle this problem.

Mathematics and French

My stats course got hard this week, thanks to a rather technical lecture on fonctions génératrices. This rests on a clever analogy between the center of balance of an object and the expected value of a random variable, and it allows me to replace pages of tedious, simple calculations with a few lines of tricky calculus. Nice!

One thing that's nice about listening to these lectures in French is that it says, "Hey, brain. You have no time to figure out the French. You need to worry about the math. So it's time to get your French comprehension tucked away into a tiny corner somewhere and free up some mental bandwidth for important stuff."

I also find that listening to these lectures and doing the homework forces my brain into French mode with a vengeance. And after 5 weeks, it's actually easier to deal with this material in French than to translate everything back to English to explain it to English-speakers.

On the other hand, the work load is getting brutal, and I have other responsibilities. But my new rule is simple: I can't quit long-term activities this week, but may only decide to quit them a week in advance. So I'll hang on for now and hope this last lecture was just a freak challenge, and not a sign of things to come.

Speaking French

I had a nice talk in French the other night with a woman who had once lived in Paris for 3 years with a French boyfriend. She was definitely still "fluent," but I kept having to consciously slow down, hold back and simplify my French to avoid losing her.

It's things like that that really drive home that (a) beginner/intermediate Meetups are now pretty much useless for me as speaking practice, and (b) despite my griping, my spoken French really isn't that bad—at least on good days.

Every time I get frustrated speaking, I remind myself, "My goal is not to have an excellent day. My goal is to have a better-than-average day." And I've been doing that a lot lately, to my great pleasure.

Egyptian

What a fun language! I have my MCD cards and my Assimil lessons, and I'm strolling slowly through the book. Here's a half-word cloze card for sKbb "refresh":



These are all made using the Anki image occlusion addon, which is a bit weird and clunky, but still massively useful. I find that these cards are much easier than my old Egyptian sentence cards, but that I actually get more out of them. So I'm really becoming a big fan of MCDs. And many thanks to Khatzumoto for pushing this idea aggressively enough that I eventually decided to try it.
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sctroyenne
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 Message 845 of 1317
27 December 2013 at 6:21pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
Speaking French

I had a nice talk in French the other night with a woman who had once lived in Paris for 3 years with a French boyfriend. She was definitely still "fluent," but I kept having to consciously slow down, hold back and simplify my French to avoid losing her.

It's things like that that really drive home that (a) beginner/intermediate Meetups are now pretty much useless for me as speaking practice, and (b) despite my griping, my spoken French really isn't that bad—at least on good days.

Every time I get frustrated speaking, I remind myself, "My goal is not to have an excellent day. My goal is to have a better-than-average day." And I've been doing that a lot lately, to my great pleasure.


I'm really looking forward to the World Cup this year even though I don't follow soccer/football at all. Why? Because I can seek out bars where they're showing France's matches and find French expats and visitors here in their "natural" habitat rather than the few token ones that show up for language exchange nights. Hopefully France advances far enough in order to give me a few chances. I'm wondering if I could do this for the Olympics as well...
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emk
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 Message 846 of 1317
30 December 2013 at 12:28am | IP Logged 
sctroyenne: That's an excellent idea!

Aléatoire : une Introduction aux Probabilités

I got a 7 of 7 on this week's quiz! The course, however, is getting downright brutal:

- The lectures increasingly consist of very theoretical proofs. Sometimes we get 20 minutes of hairy math, followed by 5 minutes of context. This brings back bad memories of my undergraduate math classes.

- The homework problems often require significant insights. It's not just a matter of regurgitating something from the lectures. Instead, I often have to spend 30 minutes or an hour just to find a path towards the solution. This reminds me of the two or three most difficult classes in my CS degree, classes where the average student was putting in 20-plus hours per week and handing in 12 pages of proofs.

All told, doing this class justice would require at least 20 "high quality" hours per week, which I just don't have. On the other hand, the quizzes are actually pretty straightforward, and they're far easier than either the lectures or the homework. So I've decided to shift to damage-control mode:

- Smile and nod whenever the lectures get technical.
- Do the homework in half-baked fashion, since we never hand it in. When I get stuck, give up after 20 or 30 minutes and watch that part of the solution video.
- Skip some of the nastier parts of the homework questions.

So far, so good: I did get 7 out of 7 on the quiz. But I can't afford to invest 20 high quality hours per week into this course.

One thing that's disconcerting for Americans dealing with the French educational system: Passing grades in the US are typically 70%. Anything below 85% is generally a poor performance, and truly diligent students should be able to score in the mid-90s. In France, however, a passing grade is often 50%. This means that the teachers can put some very hard questions on the exams. For example, good luck trying to score 95/100 on the DELF B2. You'd have to be telepathic. But I can see the same thing in my probability course: The range between "passing" and "actually understood everything in the lectures and the homework" is much wider than I'm used to in the US.

Egyptian

I've finished Assimil lessons 32 and 33. I hope to get some time today or tomorrow to make MCDs of lessons 34 and 35, which will hold me for another week or two.
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Teango
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 Message 847 of 1317
30 December 2013 at 9:07am | IP Logged 
I think this is a great way to fill in some of that academic French vocabulary, as well as dab oil on any rusty maths skills as a happy by-product (or should my priorities be the other way round ;) )! I've written a serious note to my future self to follow suit and try out some courses once I reach a good enough level in French.

Your experience with the French grading system is interesting. I'm currently experiencing it the other way round in the US. The minimum pass mark for many universities in the UK is 40%, whilst achieving 70% is pretty impressive (A+ and publishable) and graduating with this is known as a First Class degree. I recall one crotchety old professor even refusing to give anything beyond 70% (which he contended he only ever did once in his entire career), and most top international companies advertise for graduates with an upper second class degree (60-69%), which is recognised as a high achievement. So imagine my shock (now the shoe's on the other foot) when I'm told to hand out grades in the mid-high 90 percent range for diligent students. Every time I do, my ears grow red from the undoubted malicious whispers of the ghosts of Wittgenstein and Newton berating me from beyond...


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patrickwilken
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 Message 848 of 1317
30 December 2013 at 12:57pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

One thing that's disconcerting for Americans dealing with the French educational system: Passing grades in the US are typically 70%. Anything below 85% is generally a poor performance, and truly diligent students should be able to score in the mid-90s.


When I was studying psychology in Australia all marks were standardized to a Gaussian distribution. I can't remember the mean/SD but it was something like mean=65 and SD=12 or something like that.

I have to say it made marking much easier. You could essentially rank students and then very simply convert the rankings into the required distribution.


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