Speak Fearlessly – With a Little Help From Your Friends

Posted on 25. May, 2015 by in Language Learning

Itchy Feet: Le Linguistíque Nerves

At the end of April I was fortunate enough to attend the Polyglot Gathering 2015, where I heard talks from many luminaries in the language-learning business, made scores of new multi-lingual friends, and for the first time ever, met fans of Itchy Feet in the flesh. Who knew that this goofy little bug-eyed bean-shaped stick figure was recognizable around the world? Apparently all you commenters out there are not just robots living in my computer, you have actual limbs and hair and teeth and are very friendly.

The best part about the Polyglot Gathering, however, which I imagine applies to any meetup in which learners of languages can get together, is that nobody was afraid.

We’ve all been there—you study, you practice, you take classes, you have tandem partners, you Skype, you practice some more, you drill—but still, sometimes even after years, getting up the nerve to speak to strangers in a foreign language can be so frightening as to be debilitating. It’s sort of like skiing. I’ve always maintained that the hardest part of learning to ski or snowboard is getting over your fear of the mountain. Once you’ve conquered that, learning to ski is a breeze.

Why do we freeze up? Why do we get cold chills or stutter or go beet-red?

I think it comes down to the purpose of language, which is simply to communicate (no points for that one, Malachi). Kids soak up languages like sponges because language is critical for survival, even at an early age. Who wants to get to know someone who can’t talk, write, sign, or communicate? We desperately seek common ground through communication in order to function properly in society. So when we open our mouths and sound like a dopey child, it’s embarrassing. It’s socially painful. We might as well be wearing bear skins, grunting in the wilderness and clubbing one another for all the good we’re doing.

That’s what our brains tell us, anyway, and it leads to fear. Our terror of looking ridiculous in public leads us all to make an astonishing variety of bizarre decisions (following the latest fashion trends is a double-edged sword, people), but with language learning it clogs our throats, plugs our ears and tucks our tails firmly between our legs. I’ve lived abroad for five solid years now, and I still get the jimmies when I open my mouth at the supermarket.

And that, my friends, is what was so wonderful about the Polyglot Gathering: everyone there was fearless about speaking languages. The laws of society and keeping up appearances did not apply. Like lovers of Dungeons & Dragons at a comic convention, free at last to flaunt their twelve-sided die and character sketches without risking mortification by an unforgiving outside world, I was among friends. Better still: I was among allies.

I learned that even the greatest, most prolific polyglots do not speak all their languages fluently (of course! Seems obvious now), they’re at a wide variety of stages with each one. When they spoke, it was rarely perfect, and occasionally it was worse than I can do. But they spoke, and they weren’t afraid. Together, we encouraged one another to avoid English or native tongues and try something stranger. We sought not the easiest language between us but the most difficult, that we both might get better, learn more, and have a good time—stutters, fumbles, and all. It was delightful.

How about you? Have you found a group of people with whom you can practice your languages, without worrying about upsetting the delicate social balance? Or do you not care about that balance, and have the courage to barge into any conversation, linguistic warts and all?

Why We’re Giving Away Our Language Technology

Posted on 20. May, 2015 by in Company News, Language Learning

According to Ethnologue, there are about 7,100 living languages spoken around the world right now. Unfortunately, only 100 or so languages receive any commercial interest. So, what about the other 7,000?7000LP

There are people and organizations out there who care deeply about learning and preserving the other 7,000 languages. We at Transparent Language care deeply about teaching and promoting them. That’s why we launched the 7,000 Languages Project back in 2013. By bringing together their language expertise and our technology, we’re creating compelling language-learning courses in dozens of underserved languages, from Balinese to Ojibwe.

So why are we simply giving away our technology to these partners? Our CEO, Michael Quinlan believes that “losing a language is like pulling out one more thread from the human tapestry. It flattens our cultural landscape.” We trust that saving a language preserves a part of who we’ve been and who we are.

Hear more from Michael and see what happens when we put our technology in the hands of experts and advocates for less common languages in his TEDx Talk given in March 2015 at TEDxTacoma.

To learn more about the 7000 Languages Project, including how to become a partner, please visit: http://www.transparent.com/about/7000-languages-project.html.

The ABCs of Language Learning: Transparent Language Online Alphabet Courses

Posted on 18. May, 2015 by in Company News, Language Learning, Product Announcements

Learning the alphabet of an unfamiliar language can be as easy as A, B, C… literally! In the completely redesigned Transparent Language Online, you can dive right in to a new language, regardless of its writing system, with the help of our alphabet courses. Letters are quite literally the building blocks of a language, so alphabet learning is the most obvious way to build a strong foundation in your new language.

russian alphabet course

Master the Russian alphabet in our new and improved alphabet courses!

Sure, you can learn to speak a language without learning the alphabet, but in this day and age, communication relies just as much on writing as it does on speaking, thanks to e-mails and text messaging. At the earliest stages, familiarizing yourself with a new alphabet allows you to sound out words on road signs or product labels. As you progress in the language, knowledge of the native script gives you an all-access pass to everything from native literature to e-mail communication.

Even learners of Latin-based languages can benefit from studying the alphabet, of course. Sure, the Spanish alphabet looks a lot like the English alphabet, but did you know the Spanish “j” is pronounced like an English “h”? Our alphabet courses are designed to help you master the spelling-to-sound relationship through a suite of activities supported by native speaker audio. You can practice matching the letter to its sounds and vice versa!

japanese alphabet course

Learn both Hiragana and Katakana in our Japanese Alphabet Course!

Before you can transition to learning more advanced concepts, including vocabulary and grammar, you must have a strong grasp on the alphabet. Singing the alphabet song in another language, while super fun, isn’t quite going to cut it. Our full-length courses are designed to help you retain the letters and their sounds in the long run. And according to some of our happy customers, it’s working:

“I felt that [the Alphabet Learner activity] was the first that really challenged my retrieval skills.  I liked how it drilled me more on the letters I got wrong.”

“[The Recognize and Say It activity] was the best exercise for me, as I can usually choose correctly when given a multiple choice, but when I have to come up with the answer from scratch is when I truly know I have learned something.”

Take an assessment at the end of the course to see how well you know the alphabet!

Take an assessment at the end of the course to see how well you know the alphabet!

Believe it or not, Transparent Language Online is the only language-learning program on the market to include full-length courses to introduce you to do the alphabet. Do yourself (and your language skills!) a favor and try out our alphabet courses in the free trial of Transparent Language Online. Courses are currently available in Arabic, Armenian, Chechen, Dari, Farsi, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Iraqi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Mongolian, Punjabi, Pashto, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Urdu, and more, with more on the way!