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geoffw
Triglot
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United States
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 Message 457 of 1317
15 February 2013 at 6:16pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
Or fix your Google.com language settings so it
gives you real results in your target languages
.


I don't think I really understand how these preferences are handled. I seem to get different results depending on
which computer I use and which web browser I use, even though in theory my settings are all set remotely in the
Google software (set to primary language = German, additional language English, btw).
1 person has voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
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United States
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 Message 458 of 1317
15 February 2013 at 7:43pm | IP Logged 
The game of Go

Some number of years ago, I spent some time playing Go, a remarkable Chinese game that has long been a favorite in Japan and Korea. Go is one of the truly great games, easily on the same level as chess, and far more likely to give AI software a nervous breakdown.

To play Go well requires you to be something of an artist, and something of a mathematician. At one moment, you need to feel the weakness of a few scattered stones. At another moment, you need to peer ahead through a dozen closely-fought moves to know whether a group of stones will live or die.

Go famously takes 5 minutes to explain and a lifetime to master. And any student of foreign languages will appreciate the advice traditionally given to beginners: "The first thing you need to do is lose 100 games. Then you'll be ready to start learning."

Kyu and dan ranks

Go is also blessed with an excellent handicapping system. If you know your rank and your opponent's rank, then you can both have an enjoyable game, even if your skill levels differ by 9 ranks. In Go, your rank is measured in handicap stones. So if your rank differs from another player's by 5 stones, then the weaker player places 5 stones on the board at the start of the game.

After you lose your first 100 games or so, your rank will probably be somewhere between 15 and 25 kyu. Smaller numbers are better. Of course, at these low ranks, the numbers don't mean much. But if you play a lot, you'll eventually reach 10 or 12 kyu. And if you spend a good 10 years of your life playing Go seriously, your rank will keep doing down, to 5 kyu, to 1 kyu, and then—with enough work—you will eventually leave the kyu ranks and achieve 1 dan. From there, ranks count upwards to about 7 dan. There is a separate 1 to 9 dan scale for professional Go players, which starts somewhere near the very upper end of the amateur scale.

You might know 1st dan, or "shodan" by another name: a black belt. Several martial arts have adopted the kyu & dan ranking system. The idea is the same: If you put in an enormous amount of work, you may someday earn a black belt. But even if you're a first-degree black belt, 25 years old and in your physical prime, there's still a grey-haired 7th-degree black belt somewhere out there who can throw you across the room.

That's the essential paradox of 1st dan. From one perspective, it's a terribly impressive accomplishment, the result of a decade of obsession. From another perspective, it's a beginner rank, a recognition that you're finally ready to begin learning for real.

Language

Lately, I've been thinking about this paradox, this idea of investing a huge amount of work and time, and yet still somehow feeling like a beginner. From one perspective, my French is actually pretty decent. I can carry on a fast conversation with university French teachers, read a million words 10 months, and watch French TV series for fun. But from another perspective, I'm almost ready to start learning French. Just let me fix a few problems here and there, and get in some more practice, and I'll finally be a novice for real. :-)


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geoffw
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2850 days ago

1134 posts - 1865 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Yiddish
Studies: Modern Hebrew, French, Dutch, Italian, Russian

 
 Message 459 of 1317
15 February 2013 at 7:59pm | IP Logged 
We seem to be on the same wavelength recently! As it turns out, I have some limited Go experience myself (I still
have a Go board that I made in my grandfather's workshop for a school art project). I also was, to a much greater
degree, a tournament chess player. My highest achieved chess rating probably put me in the top half or so of
tournament players, which is to say that I was slightly better than mediocre...but which also predictably meant that
I was so good compared to the population as a whole that it would be a complete waste of everyone's time for me
to play against 99% of (non-Russian) people, because the skill gap would be so large.

I've pondered this idea a good bit as well, and generally I conclude that the lesson is not to think of my foreign
language skill in terms of absolute abilities as much as in terms of opening doors and unlocking secrets. What CAN
I do now that I couldn't do before? What social situations can I now survive? What literature and pop culture can I
now enjoy? How much has my window onto the world opened? How do my new experiences change who I am and
my personal identity, as well as my personal perspective on life?

That's something that you don't really get by climbing the Kyu/Dan ladder or improving your chess rating--access
to a broader slice of the human experience. You can already appreciate the subtleties of world champion play as a
seasoned amateur with access to a good match commentary. You gain the ability to defeat a great percentage of
the population, but you don't have more fun beating someone who is way below you than someone who is your
level (or above)--quite the opposite! In fact, once the gap is wide enough, it's no fun at all. Obviously, I'm not
trying to knock Go (or Chess), because I love them both!
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emk
Diglot
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United States
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 Message 460 of 1317
17 February 2013 at 4:51am | IP Logged 
geoffw wrote:
What CAN
I do now that I couldn't do before? What social situations can I now survive? What literature and pop culture can I
now enjoy? How much has my window onto the world opened?


This is actually one of the reasons I really respect what Europe has been trying to do with the CEFR scale: They've tried to move away from questions like, "Do you know the subjunctive?" (or even worse, "Do you sound exactly like a native?"), and to replace them with questions like, "Can you function as a tourist? Can you can defend an opinion? Can you understand virtually everything you hear?" I appreciate the pragmatic viewpoint based on things that people might actually want to do out there in the world.

Super Challenge

Books: 48.4% (159 pages and 12 days to go for end of month goal)
Films: 81.5% (end of month goal greatly exceeded)

I spent November through early February reading extensively. Now I'm trying to convert that reading fluency into better listening skills.

For now, I'm not even worrying about the stuff I don't understand. I'm trying to take the French I do understand, when I'm 100% focused, and get so used to it that I could understand it anywhere with no particular effort.

I've been watching Buffy and Angel very intensely for the last couple of weeks. Two days ago, my comprehension was pretty solid. Yesterday, it crashed, and I was suddenly missing 40% of the dialog unless I focused very intently.

But tonight, for about half an episode, my comprehension was suddenly about 98%—almost all the dialog was clear, with a few words I didn't know, and one or two difficult lines. Towards the end, my comprehension went back down a little. But it was still quite comfortable.

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emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 3694 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
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 Message 461 of 1317
18 February 2013 at 11:00pm | IP Logged 
Super Challenge

Books: 50% (yay!)
Films: 82.8%

I've read 5000 pages since the start of the Super Challenge. I read 1137 of those pages in the last 18 days, for an average of just over 63 pages/day. We still have 10 days to go before reaching the half-way mark.

In order to read 1137 pages in 18 days, I used every underhanded trick in the book: I read books written for 8-year-olds. I re-read old favorites. I read translations of books that I've read plenty of times in English. And I even read 89 pages of Les trois mousquetaires on the Kindle with a popup dictionary. I read fast, and I rarely used a dictionary.

Looking back, I heartily recommend all these approaches for their own sake. The faster I read, the more fluent my reading becomes, and the more opportunities I have to learn new vocabulary in context. If you ever find yourself stuck on a train with an easy French book and no dictionary, throw caution to the wind and just read it. :-)

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Cavesa
Triglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
Joined 3171 days ago

3277 posts - 6778 votes 
Speaks: Czech*, FrenchC2, EnglishC1
Studies: Spanish, German, Italian

 
 Message 462 of 1317
18 February 2013 at 11:21pm | IP Logged 
Your Super Challenge looks great, congrats on having half of the books!

And thanks for the Go information, it's really interesting. I'll probably google the 5
minutes of explanation to satisfy my curiosity but I'm afraid I don't have those ten
years :-)

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songlines
Pro Member
Canada
flickr.com/photos/cp
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729 posts - 1056 votes 
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Studies: French
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 Message 463 of 1317
19 February 2013 at 1:49am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

That's the essential paradox of 1st dan. From one perspective, it's a terribly impressive accomplishment, the
result of a decade of obsession. From another perspective, it's a beginner rank, a recognition that you're finally
ready to begin learning for real.

....thinking about this paradox, this idea of investing a huge amount of work and time, and yet still somehow
feeling like a beginner... Just let me fix a few problems here and there, and get in some more practice, and I'll
finally be a novice for real. :-)



Great post. It reminds me of something my friend who's a first dan black belt told me: At their karate school,
the highest dan black belts revert to wearing white belts again, to signify exactly this philosophy.


Edited by songlines on 19 February 2013 at 2:01am

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emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 3694 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
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 Message 464 of 1317
19 February 2013 at 8:26pm | IP Logged 
sans-serif wrote:
Oh wow. That was a pretty sweet theme song! Now I really want to watch Cobra in French.

I just tracked down an episode of of Cobra OAV, which appears to be the latest remake of Cobra. If you liked the old French theme song, you'll probably enjoy the new episodes, too. They feature way too many skimpy outfits for my taste, but aside from that, the French is clear, the art is well-done, and the main character has a certain smirking charisma.

Cavesa wrote:
Your Super Challenge looks great, congrats on having half of the books!

Thank you! It's been a lot of work, but the improvement is really noticeable. If anybody here hasn't signed up for the Super Challenge yet, strongly consider a half challenge. It's a lot of time and a lot work, but it's helped me tremendously.

songlines wrote:
It reminds me of something my friend who's a first dan black belt told me: At their karate school,
the highest dan black belts revert to wearing white belts again, to signify exactly this philosophy.

I've been trying to pin down exactly why I feel like I'm almost a beginner. I think it has something to do with the fact that if somebody throws arbitrary French at me, I have a 50% chance of understanding almost everything. Maybe a few scattered words and lines will escape me, but that's it. (The other 50% of the time I can't quite keep up, and I may lose big chunks.) But there's something weirdly liberating about understanding almost everything, even if it's not consistent.

On some level, until I can understand French media and take that fact for granted, I'm just laying the groundwork. As long as my listening comprehension is dodgy, there's a thousand little things that I can't easily acquire, because I can't even hear them accurately. But when I can listen for fun and actually hear almost everything, well, then it gets fun.

I'm not there yet. But on a good day, with the right materials, I can see what it's going to be like when I can understand almost everything.


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