Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brushing Up on Languages

One of the things I am doing this summer is brushing up on languages. Something I came across that has turned out to be quite useful is Duolingo, which is free and actually quite effective. Each Duolingo course aims to cover roughly the same ground as about a year at the college-level, and does so mostly by drilling dressed up as a game. It's especially good for a refresher. I started the French course on June 1, and am about two-thirds of the way done, and have found it reasonably good at stitching up patches in my memory. I liked it enough that I've also been taking the Bokmal (Norwegian) course, to see how useful it would be for learning a language almost from scratch (I knew a few words and phrases of Norwegian, but that's about it), and while this is obviously a much slower process than simply using it to review, it seems to be reasonably effective. I started the Bokmal at the same time as the French and I am about ten percent of the way through; but already can handle basic and generic sentences, at least, like Mange lærere leser bøker, "Many teachers read books". I'll be starting the Spanish tree a little later this month, also for a review, and the German tree (my German proficiency would be somewhere between my Norwegian and my French proficiency, since it's more advanced than nothing, but very patchy) a little later.

The languages they currently have are: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Esperanto, Turkish, Norwegian, Ukrainian. There are several others that are in the process of being developed. There will eventually be a Vietnamese course available, so probably this fall I'll start using it for my on-again-off-again Vietnamese study. The courses are all crowdsourced, which means you occasionally run into odd translations, but this hasn't been a serious issue.

To brush up on Latin, I've been using some of Evan der Millner's YouTube videos, particularly his Latin in Latin course (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV). He summarizes his approach here.

There are other online resources, of course, like this Norwegian mini-course that I'll be starting next week, as well as standard offline book approaches (e.g., I'm currently reading through Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata), but I've found these to be both reasonably accessible and useful. So what online language resources have you found useful?


  1. Ye Olde Statistician7:53 AM

    Mange lærere leser bøker!

    I actually understood that from the German!

  2. branemrys9:37 AM

    There is definitely a lot in common with German -- Old Norse was a language very closely related to Anglo-Saxon, and the Bokmal version of Norse is also heavily influenced by Danish, which had a long period of interaction with Low German, which I imagine links Norwegian and German even further in terms of vocabulary.

    The grammar is remarkably similar to those of both English and German, too, but simpler than either. Anyone who knows English and/or German will find at least the basics of Norwegian fairly easy to pick up. I've done maybe ten minutes a day for two weeks, without any struggling at all, and have definitely progressed at a rapid rate.

  3. MrsDarwin9:44 AM

    I'd love to brush up on my 14-years-rusty French by reading some contemporary writing, to get a feel for how French is actually spoken today, but I'm not sure where to look for a blog or a site that has a good style. I get the feeling that French is not as flexible a language as English, though.

    I keep trying to learn Latin through various sources, but I always fall down when it comes to the part where I have to do some serious memorization and clear brain space for the various forms. I wish I'd learned it when I was younger, but then, I'm not doing a great job of making my kids buckle down to it.

    Right now I'm reading Le Ton Beau de Marot, a tome about translations, anchored by a lovely little poem by Clement Marot called Ma Mignonne. A friend lent it to me, inspired by our Cyrano translations. It's very long, and his style can get a bit thick at times, but I'm enjoying seeing the many translations of Marot's little poem, and I'm working on my own.

  4. branemrys10:36 AM

    You might like Evan der Millner's oral and serial course: it deliberately avoids usual memorization of forms (although they get covered) simply by incremental exposure to spoken Latin. And if you haven't tried to the Lingua Latina book, which does the same thing with written Latin, I can recommend it.

    I don't know about the best sources of contemporary French style myself

  5. Enbrethiliel9:17 PM


    I have a new job that requires me to sit around a lot and wait for something to do. And since surfing the Internet is out of the question, I've been using the time to do "extra credit" work for German and to learn Italian from scratch. Hours and hours of drilling, first in one language, then another! It's incredibly effective for committing the grammar rules to heart!

    But while I get a lot of reading done, I can't do any listening. =( Personal electronic devices aren't allowed on the production floor.

    What you say about Norwegian, I can say about Italian. I'm zipping through the grammar so quickly that I understand Italian pop songs and find them easy to sing in the shower! (Contrast that to the German pop songs: after nearly two years, I still need "cheat sheets" for my favourite ones.) I have no idea if it's because I've taken Latin and French before, or because I have better concentration now, or because Italian simply is that much easier. =P I'm bursting with such confidence now that I want to tackle Russian next! LOL!

  6. branemrys11:15 PM

    I hadn't really thought of trying out Norwegian pop songs, but that seems like a good idea. (I do occasionally analyze Finnish pop songs, but my Norwegian is already more advanced than my Finnish, which I've only been able to learn piecemeal.)

    I was thinking of doing Italian at some point; I've wanted to learn Italian since I was in elementary school. I've picked up a bit along the way, but nothing very systematic. So I might do the Duolingo Italian course toward the end of summer, and see if I find it as easy as you have.

  7. Enbrethiliel12:14 AM


    I think that learning songs in another language is generally a good tactic, but I do so much more of it for Italian because I'm learning for the love of the singing group Il Volo. *blush*

    On the other hand, I wanted to learn German so that I could read the novels of Michael Ende and Cornelia Funke. And I guess that's why the German syllabus I've put together for myself has been so reading-heavy.

  8. Itinérante4:21 AM

    I am taking Swedish with my colleague this summer! From zero! I am going to use that website to start with! Thanks for the suggestion!
    I was thinking what will I do this summer to make it as good as doing Plato's dialogues last year and I thought to learn a new language! (I am happy you thought the same hehe I sort of feel smarter even if it is not true ^^)

  9. branemrys8:32 AM

    That sounds great!

  10. Enbrethiliel6:28 PM


    You're SO lucky to have a buddy taking the language learning journey with you! I tried to interest my friends in German two years ago . . . even offering to switch to Italian if they preferred it. But apparently, I'm the only one in my circle who really likes studying languages. =(

    But now I'm curious: why Swedish?

  11. branemrys7:14 PM

    Now that you mention it, it is a bit of an unexpected first choice in a language; I'm curious as to the answer, too.

  12. Another suggestion: Lingua Latina. I wish there was a similar aid for Greek!


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