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Fossilisation

So that’s what happened to my Howard Jones tape… (Image by Christopher Locke)

Two of the topics that come up again and again in the field of Second Language Learning are “interlanguage” and “fossilisation”. I think an understanding of the implications of the theory of interlanguage, and thinking about how we can fight against and even remedy fossilisation, is a crucial step in helping us language learners progress through challenging stages in our development, and I’d like to suggest a 5-step strategy today.

First a little background on the theory. The terms “interlanguage” and “fossilisation” were coined by Larry Selinker back in 1972 to try and offer an alternative explanation to behaviourist accounts at the time of why we continue to make certain errors at different stages in our linguistic development. The notion of interlanguage describes the process of language learning as ongoing and personal, where we intuit and develop our own rules for a new language over time (e.g. grammatical, morphosyntactic, phonological, etc), given all the clues in our environment around us and experiences interacting with other speakers. At each stage in our development of a new language, we look for similarities with other systems we already know well, as well as starker contrasts, and add all the evidence together to form a new emerging system called an interlanguage. This interlanguage contains rules we know well from our native language, new rules we believe are used in the target language, and other more general or logical principles that seem to cover most languages and forms of communication.

This little salad of rules and ideas is constantly being tossed around through metalinguistic introspection, and integration with new experiences and knowledge, depending on the motivation and goals of the learner on each occasion. With each new stage and personal interlanguage that evolves, we ideally move closer to or approximate the target language, removing some rules, and adding or amending others. As Selinker (1972) puts it:

“Successful language-learning, for most learners, is the reorganization of linguistic material from an IL [interlanguage] to identify with a particular TL [target language].

One of the biggest problems is the issue of fossilisation. Sometimes we just hit a hurdle in our grammar or pronunciation on this road to advancing in a language, and don’t seem to progress any further in the direction of approximating a near-native speaker (or have stalled en route to one of our original goals). It’s as though we’ve reached a level where we’re comfortable communicating in our established interlanguage, and as others don’t seem to object too much, it’s good enough for many learners.

Other language learners, however, feel frustrated that they just can’t get over a particular hurdle, or are saddened by the realisation that they don’t even notice the differences between their current speech or writing and that of native speakers anymore. We look for answers to how we can best “fix” these errors, or at least start noticing them again, well aware that we’ve probably practised and reinforced them hundreds if not thousands of times over many years, and now filter out or gloss over much of what we hear and see around us through our established perspectives and personal interlingual set of rules. So what can we do? Is there little or no hope once we reach this stage, for perhaps we’ve walked too long or far down a different path to change now?

The good news is that we do manage to improve all the time, even if it’s too small to notice on a day to day basis, and this progress is testified to by so many second language learners who have moved to their target language country and immersed there for several years. We also learn our first language to a very advanced “native” level, and although this is largely up for debate with innatists and strict advocates of the Critical Period Hypothesis, I think there’s every hope of advancing onwards to near-native levels as an adult too, as long as it’s accompanied by the right approach, attitude, and some serious investment of time and effort.

I’ve tried several different techniques on myself over the years, as well as tried to help others who have come to me to improve an aspect of their English as a second language. I can initially tell you what hasn’t worked particularly well but I thought should have worked at the time (of course, others may have had more positive experiences here): constructive criticism, explanations, drills, massive comprehensible input, and recasting (i.e. repeating the phrase correctly in a more subtle non-corrective manner afterwards as part of the dialogue).

I know one person for example who keeps making slips in the dative case, and even though they know exactly what they’re doing wrong each time they say it, they continue to make the same errors. Like a child who has been corrected or received subtle recasting hundreds of times in conversation, in addition to hearing the correct grammatical constructions said all around them across thousands of hours, the errors still seem stuck in their interlanguage for some of the trickier items, much like little fossils preserved forever in stone. Something else is missing, and these cases are not an exception in my experience. So here is what I suggest and have found works exceptionally well:

How to beat fossilisation

1. Independently notice the error.

Simply being told isn’t enough; you need to see or hear it for yourself and make it personal.

2. Really believe it is an error.

Perhaps the person who told you this is misinformed, or maybe there are other occasions when you’re interlingual rule could be right. You won’t be able to get to the next stage until you really believe that everyone else around you is saying or writing your construction in a different way than you.

3. Want to change.

Is it really that important to change your interlanguage at this stage? There’s no denying that it will take time and effort to fix what could be a small and insignificant error, and perhaps the return on investment is too low to worth bothering after 20 years of comfortable immersion. If you’re going to change, you need to see that it’s relevant and useful in your life, and then really commit to this goal to change.

4. Attach a strong emotional memory to some aspect of the error or the scenario in which it usually occcurs.

This for me is a crucial element, which is often left out of the process of change, and something I stumbled on through trial and error one day. It effectively raises a mental warning flag every time you’re about to use a similar construction and helps prevent the learner from making the same mistake again.

For example, I know someone who used to repeat the same mistake time and time again and say, “I need to turn the aircon on *back*“, rather than, “I need to turn the aircon back on“. I can see how the word “aircon” primes the next word in this case, and how the sentence could be perfectly delivered without the addition of the word “back”. However, no amount of recasting or comprehensible input seemed to help.

The big breakthrough came when I suggested that they picture some streaky bacon caught in the aircon and fluttering in the breeze when they switched in “back on” (bac(k)…on…aha…you see what I’m doing here 😉 ). It seemed silly at first and just made them laugh at the time, but I’ve recently spoken to them again, and they say they amazingly never made that error again, and it was all largely down to this amusing image that helped them flag the scenario.

5. Aim to produce the correct version more often than the incorrect version.

If you’ve mispronounced a word a thousand times, I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be a struggle to change it. It’s simply a battle of statistics. You’re effectively going to have two competing paradigms in your head, and the one that is more automatised is going to win each time, that is unless you make a special effort to police your actions and seek out the weaker alternative (this is where the flag in stage [4] above comes in real handy!).

The good news is that this gets easier with time, as one model of production is used more often over an earlier model, and consequently grows in automaticity and strength. For example, I mistakenly pronounced the stress in the Russian word /’надеюсь/ (I hope) for many years without even realising it. When I learnt I was saying it wrong, and made a concerted effort to change thereafter, the new pronunciation still sounded weird for a very long time. Now it’s the other way round, and I can’t imagine pronouncing the word any other way than /на’деюсь/. So it will take time for a new rule or idea to sink in and become established, especially given any former strong competition, but you’ll get there in the end just as I did, and then it will feel quite natural and require little or no effort to reproduce.

I hope this series of 5 steps can help more of you language learners out there with any ongoing difficulties with fossilisation, or at least shed some more light on the issues involved, as I know they’ve really helped me and others several times in the past, and personally continue to provide a positive framework for beating fossilisation in my own studies.

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Lei Day!

Payday...Saturday...Sunday...Lei Day!

Much to my pleasant surprise, I recently discovered that wiki is the Hawaiian word for “quick” (which I imagine is the general philosophy behind wikis and Wikipedia) and that my neighbour’s ukulele is also Hawaiian for “jumping flea”. And it’s great to see some more Polynesian words already in the English language! Up until recently, the only words I knew were “aloha”, “taboo” and…ahem…the big “kahuna”. 😉

So no surpises here…this has got me thinking about learning a bit of Hawaiian on the side for fun sometime, in the pursuit of which I’ve decided to start a little list of resources for anyone who’s interested, with the idea of adding any cool discoveries or recommendations as I go along.

Hawaiian Islands

The exotic Islands of Hawaii...just like Surrey in summer.

First off the bat, I’d like to mention Ahonui’s superb free language lessons on her YouTube channel Learn Hawaiian, which was recommended to me today on HTLAL by Michael K. Her accompanying website Learn Hawaiian Online seems to be in the early stages of development (see also Living the Aloha Spirit), however it looks very promising.

Following one of her links also hooked me up with the College of Hawaiian Language, which offers further bookmarks to excellent Hawaiian resources. Here are some of the interesting free sites they’ve led me to so far:

Hawaiian Online Dictionary

Hawaiian Bible (both Old and New Testaments)

– Various digitised Hawaiian newspapers published from 1834 up to 1980.

– 20 recorded interviews with interlinear transcripts and audio in Hawaiian.

– The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which links to a variety of media channels and sites relating to Hawaiian culture.

– And most impressively, a whole electronic library of books in Hawaiian, ranging from beginner to advanced level, across both fiction and non-fiction. Many of these also include full audio and English translations.

Kipa hou mai (come visit again)!

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I hit the jackpot in Russian recently, courtesy of Vladimir’s excellent blogsite (ещё раз спасибо!). And what was this glittering find, you may ask? – no less than a sizable collection of podcasts by “Радио Эхо Москвы” with complete transcripts (approximately 200K words altogether), and all this in high quality audio with several videos too (I’ve found at least 25 hours’ worth so far).

What makes these podcasts so useful is that they are i) accompanied by printable transcripts (excellent for listening and reading or studying with an online dictionary), ii) they’re much more extensive than anything else I’ve come across so far, usually ranging from 40-50 minutes each, and iii) put altogether, they represent a sizable chunk of real native dialogue as spoken by various guests and presenters across a range of interesting topics.

This combination makes the collection ideal for filling in many of the gaps left behind from listening and reading to novels, or after studying artificial snippets of dialogue in various courses, offering a ready resource for intermediate students who wish to bridge over to real-world dialogue and listening skills, or for advanced learners who’d like to analyse and tease out colloquial speech patterns in more detail later on.

I’ve been looking for something like this for absolutely ages. So now in my excitement, I’m already getting giddy with following thought: if Russian has a resource like this (i.e podcasts of long native dialogues/interviews with transcripts), how about other languages? 🙂

[Any relevant suggestions will be added here to future lists and ordered by language.]


Here’s what we have so far:

PODCASTS + TRANSCRIPTS

Spanish

Español Podcast
(with an excellent collection of quality transcripts available as printable PDFs)
[suggested by cutiepie on HTLAL]

Russian

Радио Эхо Москвы
(an unfathomable repository of high quality audio and conversational transcripts; 30-50 minute interviews with various guests and presenters across a range of interesting topics)
[suggested by Vladimir on Forever a Student]

Turkish

Handcrafted Audio Turkish Podcasts
(19 podcasts so far, 14 with transcripts amounting to approximately 1,700 words).
[suggested by hrhenry on HTLAL]


PODCASTS ONLY (some accompanied by background articles)

French

Europe 1
(very nice interviews on a vast variety of topics)
[suggested by Vlad on HTLAL]

German

WDR – Redezeit
(interviews usually concerning German, European and World politics)
[suggested by Vlad on HTLAL]

WDR – Leonardo
(a wonderful podcast about popular science)
[suggested by Vlad on HTLAL]

Hungarian

InfoRádió
(Hungarian political talk show, updated daily)
[suggested by Vlad on HTLAL]

Irish

An tlmeal
(bright, lively podcasts on contemporary culture, with lots of links)

Italian

La Repubblica
(updated daily; very good debates on a variety of topics)
[suggested by Vlad on HTLAL]

Polish

Polskie Radio
(very good political debates)
[suggested by Vlad on HTLAL]

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A very important issue was raised recently in the thread “What is the best method for blind people?” over on HTLAL. And it certainly got me thinking…how DO you approach learning a new language if you’re blind or visually impaired? What if you’re deaf, experience learning difficulties, or have any other disabilities?

So with this in mind, I’d like to make this post a starting or general reference point for people facing these issues who are interested in learning languages, in the hope that they or their friends and family can find the information and resources they need quickly.

Let me get the ball rolling with a tipsheet I found recently online from Mobility International that offers lots of useful links and information for both students and teachers, and a website that sells large print bilingual books and audiobooks in English, French, Spanish and German:

Foreign Language Learning and Students with Disabilities (MIUSA)

Bilingual Audiobooks and Large Print Bilingual Books (Mutilingualbookstore via Lulu)

And if anyone can think of other good links, please let me know and I’d be delighted to add them to the list. Thanks.

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Irish For anyone who’s interested in learning Irish, I’ve put together a little list of resources, some of which I’d heartily recommend and others that I’ve simply accumulated over the years.

Irish TV, films and DVDs:

TG4 (fantastic programmes – I love this site!)

O tholg go tholg – a brand new series on TG4 about couch surfing! [recommended by Emily232 on HTLAL]

Kings (award-winning recent film, predominantly in Irish with English subtitles)

In the Name of the Fada (from the reality TV series, following the Irish-American comedian Des Bishop as he pursues fluency in Irish whilst immersed in the Connemara Gaeltacht)

Gearrscannáin (a selection of 9 of the best Irish language short films from the Oscailt series, broadcast on TG4)

Turas Teanga (DVDs from the TV series, for intermediate learners of Irish)

Aifric (a fun series for teenagers on TG4)

Cré na Cille (a black comedy set in Connemara, and a well-known literary classic; produced in 2007. The accompanying book and CDs are also available from Litriocht, if you’d like to do a bit of listening and reading in Irish too.)

Poitín (a classic Irish film made in 1978)

Mise Éire/Saoirse? (2 historical documentaries in 1 box-set about Ireland’s struggle for independence and the civil war years)

Aisling (A recorded stage play set in mythological Ireland, performed in Irish and narrated in English)

*I’ve also heard rumours about some episodes of Ros na Rún and Seacht (also available on BBC iPlayer in the UK) coming out on DVD at some point, which would be really fantastic. So if you hear anything, please let me know! 🙂

Irish Radio:

Raidió Rí-Rá (especially Top 40 Oifigiúil na hÉireann)

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

Radió na Life

Podcasts, blogs, and online magazines or newspapers in Irish

An tlmeall (bright, lively podcasts on contemporary culture and lots of links)

An Líonra Sóisialta (another site full of colourful podcasts on interesting topics, and well worth bookmarking)

Hilary NY (a great little personal Irish blog, good on you Hilary!)

Gaelscéal – an free online Irish language newspaper [recommended by Khublei from HTLAL]

Nós (a fresh and stylish modern Irish magazine)

Beo! and Gaelport (current news and events in this online Irish magazine, with excellent support for reading new vocabulary!)

Forums for learners of Irish

Daltaí na Gaeilge (there are probably several forums out there, but this is the one that seems to come up the most and offers lots of useful advice)

Irish Translation Forum (this is the second site that pops up the most, and I’m happy to report that its scope is much wider than Irish translations)

Teach na nGealt (here’s another forum I found recently, looks interesting)

Irish study materials with accompanying audio:

“Buntús Cainte 1-3” (fun Irish course in 3 parts for beginners, and also available on IPod from TalkIrish now)

“Turas Teanga” (an intermediate multimedia course)

“Gaeilge agus Fáilte” (I wasn’t so keen on this one, as it attempts to address too many intelligences and just ends up all over the place)

“Learning Irish” by Mícheál ó Siadhail (a good ol’ workhorse and favourite with many, it teaches the Cois Fharraige dialect and seems to still be going strong all these years!)

“Irish Linguaphone Starter” course (tapes) – an excellent overall foundation with 30 comprehensive lessons in “standard” Irish (i.e. an artificial mixture of all dialects really). It’s been out of print since the 80s, I think, but I was able to find a course in my local library several years ago, and every now and again I see one pop up on eBay too. [recommended by Professor Arguelles]

“Irish for Beginners” (just a bit of fun with illustrations and basic vocabulary; the later versions are much improved with online links and an accompanying CD)

“Speaking Irish: Take your Language Skills Beyond Basics” by Siuán Ní Mnaonaigh and Antain MacLochlainn (McGraw Hill: 2008) [suggested by ChristopherB from HTLAL and also highly regarded by Professor Arguelles]

Learn Irish with Liam O Maonlai (an introductory course in 24 situation-based lessons with PDFs and accomanying MP3s)

Reference books and grammars for Irish:

“Progress in Irish” (a handy little grammar book with exercises – answer key and MP3s available online)

“New Irish Grammar” (this Christian Brothers classic is not what I’d call new really, but it’s still a stalwart grammar reference used by many all the same)

“Collins Irish Dictionary” (available in most large bookshops)

Novels, stories and transcripts:

“Harry Potter agus an Órchloch” by J.K. Rowling (author), Máire Nic Mhaoláin (translator)

“Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer (author), Máire Nic Mhaoláin (translator)

“Úlla” by Seán Mac Mathúna (a collection of award-winning stories)

“Caint Ros Muc” (transcripts for over 10 hours of authentic Irish conversation made in the 60s, mostly over a drink or two 😉 )

A list of books translated into Irish (available from Litriocht)

A selection of novels for adult learners of Irish, as well as stories in Irish for teenagers (available from An Siopa Geailge)

A collection of Irish/English dual-language books (again from Litriocht)

Some more bi-lingual books (from An Siopa Geailge)

A nice diskful of contemporary Irish e-books, available from Coislife.

You can find various other multilingual anthologies on both the Litriocht and Coislife websites, including 1000 years of Irish love poetry, Irish proverbs translated into English, Spanish and Polish, and even a fine collection of Irish prayers.

Irish audiobooks and audio courses

“Niall Tóíbín ag léamh Gearrscéalta le Seán Mac Mathúna” (to accompany the stories in Úlla)

Gaothán” (an adventure story published by Coislife, includes 2 CDs and the full text narrated by the author Liam Ó Muirthile)

“Cré na Cille” (a classic literary text, which is also available as a DVD or book from Litriocht)

Labharfad le Cách / I will speak to you all” (2 hours of the famous story-teller Peig Sayers, recorded in 1947 and 1954. I’m not sure if the accompanying book, which contains the transcripts and translations for these CDs, is included with the package, or if you’ll need to buy the book separately. Last time I checked the New Island and Amazon websites, you could buy the CD but the book was unfortunately already unavailable.)

“Basic Pimsleur Irish” (8 lessons, just a spoonful of Irish really; nothing substantial. You can get a full transcript of the lessons here)

Free downloadable Irish audio

“Caint Ros Muc” recordings (you can download these for free from the School of Celtic Studies)

Some more recordings of conversation in Irish kindly offered by the School of Celtic Studies, and taken from Brian Ó Curnáin’s book “The Irish of Iorras Aithneach”

Irish language music CDs

“Ceol 07”, “Ceol 08”, “Ceol 09” and “Ceol 10” from Seachtain na Gaeilge (well over 100 artists performing in Irish, and all available from HMV) 😀

*You’ll also find occasional tracks in Irish on albums by members or ex-members of Clannad, as well as other Irish artists like Sinéad O’Connor.

Irish music and video clips on YouTube

An Grá faoi Ghlas (first episode of a Big Brother spoof in Irish, links to the other episodes on the webpage)

A nice collection of Irish music by YouTube user 96cambridge
The Coronas – Heroes and Ghosts
Gemma Hayes – Ran for miles
Des Bishop – Jump around
The Walls – To the Bright and Shining
Mundy – Gallway Girl
Declan O’Rourke – Big bad Beautiful World
Padraig Rushe – Seachracht

This is just a tiny sample of what’s out there. When I bookmarked these last year, there really weren’t that many Irish tracks available on YouTube; but when I checked these today and looked at some of the related links that come up on the right-hand side, it seems that there are absolutely loads now, which is great news! 🙂

Online shopping for Irish resources

I’ve tried out several different companies over the last few years, but the only one that I found consistently helpful was Litriocht. They were very friendly and well-stocked, and I even got 6 free Irish ebooks thrown in with my last purchase – wahey! 🙂

Useful online applications for Irish

Irish speech synthesiser from Trinity College Dublin, which includes a Firefox add-on for synthesising highlighted text whilst reading websites in Irish [suggested by Iversen on HTLAL]

Irish spell-checker (another handy Firefox add-on)

Online verb conjugator for Irish (great for referencing Irish verbs)

Other lists of Irish resources and useful links

Irish Gaelic learners’ material on the Internet (an excellent list of Irish language resources, only eclipsed perhaps by my own (lol) 😉 )

Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge / European Certificate in Irish (you can even certify your language proficiency level and obtain preparatory materials, officially recognised and aligned to CEFR standards)

Listening and reading materials for learning Irish

And I’ve left the very best till last…you can now buy 8 short books by well-known contemporary Irish authors as part of the “Open Doors” collection. And the best part: there are corresponding audiobooks too!

The colourful world of Irish literature

The books are available separately in the original English and Irish translation from New Island Books (and you’ll probably need this link too). Here’s the full list with ISBN codes in case you’d like to look them up or place an order:

Irish: “An Seomra Tobac” by Julie Parsons (ISBN: 9781905494682)
English: “The Smoking Room” (ISBN: 9781904301462)

Irish: “Cailleacha Underbury” by John Connolly (ISBN: 9781905494675)
English: “The Underbury Witches” (ISBN: 9781905494019)

Irish: “Deireadh Seachtaine Craiceáilte” by Roddy Doyle (ISBN: 9781905494637)
English: “Mad Weekend” (ISBN: 9781905494040)

Irish: “Is Gearr…” by Marian Keyes (ISBN: 9781905494644)
English: “No Dress Rehearsal” (ISBN: 9781902602325)

Irish: “Na Tógálaithe” by Maeve Binchy (ISBN: 9781905494651)
English: “The Builders” (ISBN: 9781902602684)

Irish: “Rúin” by Patricia Scanlan (ISBN: 9781905494620)
English: “Secrets” (ISBN: 9781905494026)

Irish: “Tá Jesus agus Billy ag Imeacht go Barcelona” by Deirdre Purcell (ISBN: 9781905494699)
English: “Jesus and Billy are off to Barcelona” (ISBN: 9781902602165)

Irish: “Timpiste Réidh le Tarlú” by Vincent Banville (ISBN: 9781905494668)
English: “An Accident Waiting to Happen” (ISBN: 9781902602721)

And the 8 corresponding Irish audiobooks can be purchased from W F Howes as part of a special project with the “Open Doors” collection to help promote the Irish language.

And if anyone would like to recommend and add to this list (as it’s just what’s sitting on my shelf right now), please feel welcome. It’s only a small fraction of what’s available out there, and I’ve read lots of reviews for other excellent courses and books that would be great to get your input on. I’m particularly interested in getting my hands on more audiobooks in Irish, if you know of any.

Enjoy, and I wish any learners of Irish all the best in their studies! 🙂

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