Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Language Goals

When I started entries in this blog, my intent was and still is to track my progress with the three languages I'm taking on. I've started them at different times, so they're all at different levels, but my goal, of course, is to get them all up to a good, speakable level.

I'm not big on testing, per se, but in the past I've taken a couple exams to prove my proficiency in languages. I had to take a proficiency exam just to gain admittance to the Italian university system. I also took the same proficiency exam for Spanish to prove my competency in that language for work purposes, albeit indirectly. I later took another, more suitable exam for Spanish to work as an interpreter.

Really, when I say I took the same proficiency test for both Italian and Spanish, I mean that the grading and proficiency assessment were done in the same way, to the same standard. This assessment is referred to as the CEFR, or Common European Framework of Reference, and I believe it to be a fairly accurate measure of a person's language proficiency. So I've been measuring and will continue to measure my progress by these levels, even if I don't actually sit an exam. I'm including them here for reference:

A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

OK, now that I've established the levels, here are my very brief reasons for choosing the languages I've chosen, along with what I believe to be my current level of each language.

I initially chose Norwegian because I have relatives that came over from Norway, and I figured if I was going to study a Scandinavian language, Norwegian was the most neutral. I could easily move to another if I wanted, I reasoned. I can indeed read Danish and a fair bit of Swedish with no trouble. I've half-heartedly studied it for a couple years. It wasn't until this last summer that I truly got interested. It was due to finding a lot of old family paperwork in Norwegian after inheriting a piece of property. And it brought up old family pride. I currently see myself at a B1 level.

Polish became an interest when I moved to Chicago. Chicago has a pretty large Polish population (in fact, it's the largest concentration of Polish/Polish ancestry outside of Poland). My first job in Chicago was in the Loop and all I ever heard from any of the building maintenance people was Polish. How could I not be curious? So I started to study it. I became discouraged pretty quickly with its seemingly advanced grammar, and slowed my studying to a crawl, almost losing interest in the language. For whatever reason I was able to get through that phase and realize the grammar's not hard, just different. So I'm back to improving Polish. I current rate myself at an A2 level.

And lastly, there's Turkish. I became interested in the language because people told me to! OK, that's not really true. It's convoluted, but here's the reason: A couple years ago, I took a trip to Morocco and was absolutely blown away by the cuisine. By far the healthiest food I'd ever eaten in my life. When I would tell people about it, nearly everyone said “Oh, if you like Moroccan, you've GOT to try authentic Turkish”. When I say nearly everyone told me that, I really mean that. So I started digging. It led me to Turkish culture. That led me to the language, with all its reforms, political or not, in th early 20th century. If that weren't interesting enough for me, I became fascinated with the structure and grammar of the language. I jokingly tell my friends that Turkish seems to have been designed and created by a bunch of linguists with nothing but a case of beer. It's incredibly logical. And very different than anything else I've taken on. I currently have a little less than 2 months with this language, and I would place my knowledge at A1.

So that was a long ramble to get to the part where I state my goals.

For 2011, I want to take my Norwegian up to a C1 level. I believe that's a very doable goal. I'd like to get my Polish up to a B2 level, with the goal of traveling to Krakow. I'm over the grammatical hurdle, so I don't see that being a problem, as long as I stay the course. And finally, I'd like to get my Turkish up to a B1 level. Because I'm still fresh with this language, I have no real reference to judge whether that's practical or not, but I think I can get there based on these last few weeks. The language is so different from anything else I've studied, and there's a real passion to learn it, to delve as deep as I can.

On December 31, 2011 I'll compare notes and with luck, I'll have matched my goals.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's all about movies

This last week, I've become somewhat fixated on Norwegian cinema. I have access to a lot of movies I wouldn't normally find in Chicago, so I've been taking in all I can while I have the chance.

I should note right off the bat that I've still not watched "Kill Buljo" and probably won't for a while. I've got too many others I want to get to first.

So, I watched "Den Brysomme Mannen" (The Bothersome Man). Very quirky, very strange. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked the lead actor, Trond Fausa Aurvaag. He's in a couple other films I've got my hands on, notably "Tatt av Kvinnen" and "Budbringeren", although I've not watched those two yet. I'm looking forward to them. They both look like they'll be every bit as off-beat as the first film. I'm trying to stay with films made within the last 20 years or so. Once I feel more comfortable with movies in general, I'll start looking for older films. I have to say, though, that my comprehension level has already noticeably increased just with the few movies I've managed to watch so far. And at this rate, I'm going to become an expert on Norwegian Cinema!

I really wish I could get my hands on more Polish films. Maybe once I'm back in Chicago. In one of the HTLAL forum threads, someone had mentioned a program called IPLA, which would have allowed me to watch many Polish TV programs. Unfortunately, I would need to have an IP address originating from Poland for it to work - and Polish proxies are slow, at least the ones I've found. And to make matters worse, the program only runs on Windows - something I no longer use. I'd also like to find some sort of graded reader in Polish, since trying to read Linia Czasu turned out to be a bad idea, but I've not been able to find anything yet. Again, maybe once I get back to Chicago.

Finally, I'm continuing with Teach Yourself Turkish. I've gone through two more chapters. I'm still quite happy with the vocabulary increase this course is giving me. I also found what I think is a decent graded reader, originally published in 1948 and reissued in 1987. But I'm nowhere near ready for that yet. But it's there waiting for me when I am. I may use that after I complete the Teach Yourself course.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays

Christmas time makes me think of all my childhood memories of the holidays with my family. For whatever reason, we always ended up spending the holidays with my Mom's side of the family, and as such, got to eat all sorts of good Norwegian cookies and treats. There's a heavy psychological link between Christmas and and all things Norwegian for me. As a child I never bothered to learn the language, though. So now I'm trying to rectify that as an adult. And the holidays seem to make me want to concentrate on just Norwegian and let Polish and Turkish wait their turn until after the new year. I'm sure they'll all have their place, regardless, but right now I've got Norwegian on the brain so...

Finding good Norwegian media to watch or listen to online isn't the easiest thing to do. Norwegian media, at least audio, is saturated with English music. I've been able to find some video on NRK's site, though. But the thing about NRK's website is that it's pretty hard to stumble around trying to find something. Their site is visually busy (to be fair, I've noticed this about pretty much any TV/Radio website.)

Being somewhat of a nerd, I also try to keep up with certain technologies, and media center software is one of them. Last weekend, XBMC released their latest version. I downloaded and installed it, then, as usual, went to look at all the plugins to see what was new. I noticed there was an updated plugin for NRK, so I installed that too. After playing around with it, I spent the whole day watching Norwegian content! Good Norwegian content! Documentaries, Series, News, Foodie shows. Pretty much whatever I could think of, I found through the plugin.

It's enough to keep me busy for a long time, and I probably won't directly visit NRK's site often anymore.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lots and lots of music

This week has mostly been about music, at least for two of the three languages I'm taking on.

Norwegian music is pretty hard to come by through internet radio stations. It seems most streaming stations prefer to play hits in English, mostly American. Every once in a while though, I get a chance to really listen to some good Norwegian pop. P4 has been playing some decent pop lately, and I've recently discovered a singer I really like: Kari Bremnes. First off, her music overall is pretty fantastic. Second, her lyrics are interesting. And very clear. She's very easy to listen to. So I headed over to to see if her music was available for download. It is! I downloaded Fantastisk Allerede. It's a two CD set (which really means nothing when you're buying MP3s) and I've been enjoying it a lot. There are some other artists I've been enjoying too, such as Trang Fødsel, Áge Aleksanderse, CC Cowboys (I really have to be in the mood to listen to them), etc., but I've spent much off my music listening time with Kari Bremnes.

I also have another movie to watch, although I'm reluctant to watch it right now. I think it might be beyond me, In fact, I know it'll be beyond me. It's called Kill Buljo - a Norwegian parody of Kill Bill. And it takes place in Sami country. Maybe in a couple weeks. I'm just not up for it yet.

I would really like to start writing more in Norwegian. I'm feeling more comfortable with it and can to a certain extent express myself in writing, so I may also start to post short writings to Lang-8.

I'm doing pretty much the same thing for Polish, listening to lots of pop music and news via internet radio. Polish, in contrast with Norwegian, offers a lot of listening options. I already have a sizable collection of Polish pop music, so I continue to listen to that.

Since I've dropped reading Linia Czasu for now, I feel like I should be reading more in Polish. But I don't want to get too bogged down in just reading, since that's the bulk of what I'm now doing with Turkish. So I've decided to do some exercises from one of my workbooks - Intermediate Polish. The exercises are frankly really dry. I have another book - Colloquial Polish - that has other exercises which are much more fun, but I've already gone through them and they're a bit too elementary for me by now. I wish I could find some exercises that weren't so dry.

And finally, I'm continuing with Teach Yourself Turkish. I'm on the 4th chapter. I'm really liking it. It's throwing lots of useful vocabulary my way.

Overall, I feel like I've covered a lot with each language this week. I'm pretty happy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Michel Thomas Advanced Polish

When I first started to study Polish, I used the Michel Thomas Polish Foundation audio course. I liked it. Very easy to follow, and I was able to easily retain everything that was taught. Not only that, it taught me valuable tricks to be able to construct somewhat complex sentences, considering I was only using basic present, past and future tenses. It taught common verbs that I would need in everyday situations, as well as all the question words (who, what, why, where, how, etc.) and a good assortment of linking words (yet, because, also, too, etc. ) There was also a really useful trick teaching how to take advantage of many latin-based words ending in "-tion" and adverbs ending in "-ly" that immediately increased my useful vocabulary by more than 200 words, as well as taking those same words and turning them into verbs (Seriously! It's a very useful trick.)

When I finished the course, I still felt like I needed a lot more insight into the language. There was only one case covered out of a possible seven. So I got a couple of text books and muddled my way through those. Eventually, cases sunk in. But it was a long, tough road to travel to get there. Textbooks are an absolutely horrible was to learn cases. Every single one that I've seen gets too bogged down in academic language.

The Michel Thomas Advanced Polish course was not yet available. It's now available (I think it's been out for around 6 months or so by now). I bought the course. I sure wish I had this course when I was struggling with cases. It deals with all of them in noun, adjective and adverb forms. And it does so effortlessly.

Because there was such a gap between my use of the Foundation course and the Advanced course, I had by this time already learned most of what was covered through other materials. There was still probably around 20% that was new to me, though (in fact, I did all four CDs in one sitting.) In any case, it was a good addition to my learning materials and is an excellent reference.

So in short, for anyone considering learning Polish; do yourself a favor and get both the Foundation and Advanced courses. You'll save yourself a lot of headache.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A long week

OK, truth be told, it's not been any more hectic than any other week I've had to work a lot. I have procrastinated on writing my progress, though.

This week's Norwegian has been fun! I found a Norwegian DVD copy of the Peanuts Christmas specials in a bargain bin. I snatched it up. I loved the Peanuts when i was a kid. I raced home and watched all three specials. These were the specials created in late 60s, and the cultural references show. In New Year's Eve special, Charile Brown (Baltus Brun) was studying, and subsequently quoting, "War and Peace". I had an ear-to-ear grin throughout the entire DVD.

I also watched another, dramatic Norwegian film called "Reprise". A LOT of dialog. But a really good film. Like "Sammen", I'll go back and watch that film again.

On the Polish side, I'm still slugging it out with "Linia Czasu". It's slow going with the novel. I think part of it is that because I've read the book a couple different times in a couple different languages, I just don't feel a desire to rush through it. It may have been a mistake to chose a story with which I'm so familiar. So I may scrap that for now. I'm still undecided. There are a couple things that will probably help the decision to drop the novel. First, I recently got the advanced Michel Thomas Polish course. When I started studying Polish, the advanced course wasn't available. I successfully completed the foundation course and found it to be really good. So I'll probably take up going through the advanced course before too long. The other factor that's going to soon play into it is my Turkish studies. I don't want to do too much reading in more than one of the languages I'm studying.


I'm just about to finish the Pimsleur Turkish course. I've been able to complete it in the amount of time I gave myself, a month. I'll be continuing with the Teach Yourself series for Turkish. In fact, I've already gone through the first two chapters. The Pimsleur course gave me a really good feel of basic Turkish construction and pronunciation, whereas Teach Yourself is giving me a lot of vocabulary. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. In the first two chapters it's thrown about 200 words at me, and of those 200 words, a little more than half are new. So I'm pleased with that. That's exactly what I need right now.

That's the week, condensed.

Oh yeah, I had a lot of work, too :-)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An empty film, and a child's story

So I got around to watching Tomme Tønner (Empty Barrels). I actually watched it twice. The first time, I watched it without subtitles, the second I watched it with Norwegian subtitles (I was surprised that was even an option). The reason I ended up watching the movie with subtitles is because I was hearing what I thought was an awful lot of English, or English-like words. In reality, most were some form of vulgarity and easy enough to figure out, since they were based on American curse words, adapted to the language. Really. I don't know how else to describe the movie other than "a Norwegian Guy Ritchie film." Glad I saw it. I will admit to liking pulp film.

I also got another movie to watch - at the other end of the spectrum - Julenatt i Blåfjell. It's based on a children's show shown in the late 90s - early 2000s, appropriately named Jul i Blåfjell. The language was probably the easiest to follow that I've ever heard, either in film or any other audio. And the language, of course, was geared toward kids and dealt with family, etc. I normally don't care for kid stories much, particularly stories with value lessons, but I actually liked it. Maybe that's just where I'm at language-wise with Norwegian.

I haven't decided what to watch next, but movies are turning out to be a great resource for me, so I'll continue on that path.

I continue to be really happy with how Turkish is progressing. I'm really developing a passion for this particular language. I've not felt that toward any other language I've learned since my Italian learning days. It's such an amazingly logical language to me. I'm continuing with Pimsleur with a lesson a day. In about a week, I'll have finished the entire 30 lesson course. I will probably continue with the FSI printed material after that. I'm also looking at the Teach Yourself Turkish course. It looks like it'll be a good continuation of the Pimsleur course, particularly with vocabulary. The Teach Yourself Turkish course packs a lot of it in every lesson I've looked at. And toward the end of the course, it looks like it goes much deeper into some of the more complex tenses, such as hypothetical.

My workload has been pretty heavy this week, so I've let Polish slip. That's OK, considering I'm reading Linia Czasu. It's been slow going. Even though I've read the book and seen the movie, I still feel pretty lost with the Polish translation. So I am probably only going to be going through a chapter a week, at most.