The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is, in my opinion, one of the greatest contributions to languages and language learning in history. Before you get to asking, I’m talking about the black granite stone you see in the picture, not the app or computer software.

What is the Rosetta Stone and why is it such a big deal? The stone itself is a piece of a ancient stone marker, inscribed with the same text in three different scripts – Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. At the time of its discovery in 1799, no-one could read the hieroglyphs – the Ancient Egyptian language had been forgotten for almost 1,800 years. But by comparing the hieroglyphs with the other inscriptions on the Rosetta stone, modern scholars were able to start deciphering the Ancient Egyptian symbols for the first time. This led the way to reading and understanding the hieroglyphs that had been found on temple walls, pyramids, and papyrus scrolls throughout Egypt.

The stone and its translations opened the world of ancient Egyptian history and culture. We can now read their words, their thoughts, and more. On a personal note, it was in 1978 that I first learned about the Rosetta Stone, and the hieroglyphic top section really caught my attention. Thus my love and passion for learning languages began.

Learning by Comparison

The way these scholars of the early 19th century worked hard to decipher the texts has shown there is a way to learn a foreign language just by comparing a foreign text with one in a known language. Want to try it? First, let me explain a little of how to do it.

There are books and websites out there that have dual texts – one in your own language and another in the language you’re learning. First, read the text in your mother tongue to get an idea of what the information is about. Then look at the foreign language text and see if you can understand anything. Compare words and phrases to see if you can get the meaning right. Use a dictionary to confirm your understanding if you need.

Try it here

This is a piece taken from a British intelligence test (Northumberland No. 1) designed by Professor Godfrey Thomson in the 1920s. take a look at both sides where you’ll see some words in bold type. By comparing the “foreign” text and the English, can you figure out what the foreign equivalents are of the bold type?

Kuch malai. – Some cream.
Kuch puri leoge. – Will you take some cake?
Misri leoge. – Will you take sugar?

It may take a few minutes to get it, but this exercise will help you understand how the translators of the Rosetta Stone worked to figure out the texts and get them right . You can find the answers at the bottom of this post.*

The Rosetta Stone opened up a whole new language to the world and changed the way languages are learned today, and with The Rosetta Stone Challenge and the Speak Up! language series, you can open up your own world to new languages, cultures, and friends.

Challenge Answers: Some= Kuch, cake = puri, Will you take = leoge

Finding a Language Partner

When learning a language on your own, you may find that doing so is a little bit harder than you thought. There are those who can do it successfully, but others may find they need the feedback from someone else to see where improvement can be made. You can look for someone, maybe another student if you’re in a class, to help you with your studies. If you can find a native speaker with whom to practice your language skills, that would be even better.

When you and your language partner are working together on your lessons or other times when you are engaged in language learning activities, the best way your partner can assist you is to guide you through the self–study lessons you create. He or she can help you choose and practice the right words or phrases to accomplish your task in a culturally acceptable way and gain the confidence you will need to go out and actually use it.

Concentrate on learning things that are of real importance to you. This way you’ll be able to keep up your motivation and interest. Do not ask or expect your partner to plan the lessons for you unless you have agreed in advance on the topic and what you are going to do with it. Remember, while you are learning the language, you are also teaching yourself.

When asking for words and phrases, ask your partner how they would be said in a given situation. The answer you’re looking for is what people usually say in real life, not a simplified or overly formal way. Asking your partner what he or she would say usually works better than asking if what you have written or said is right, because they may say “yes” to be polite.

Other Ways to Learn

Ask your language partner questions about the language and culture on a regular, ongoing basis—anytime you are together.

Try having a conversation in which you speak English and your partner speaks their own language. This is a good exercise to practice your listening comprehension without the added stress of having to produce the new language. The conversation will flow more smoothly, and you will understand what you are talking about more easily than if you were speaking only the new language.

Ask your language partner to correct your mistakes, but in a way that is helpful to you. For example, some people prefer to be corrected in private but not in public. You could also ask your partner to point out your mistakes, but give you a chance to correct them yourself before telling you how to say it. Remember – mistakes are a natural part of the learning process, they tell you what you know and where you need to do more work.

Ask if he or she can accompany you on your learning adventures to observe or “coach” you, but only when you need and want help.

In addition to practicing specific parts of the language, pick a topic and talk about it for five or ten minutes. Record the conversation, transcribe it later, and then ask your language partner to look at what you have written. Just talk about whatever comes up, with no particular language purpose in mind.

A Language Course in Your Pocket

If I were to tell you that you can get a language course that will teach you how to communicate in practically any situation in your choice of dozens of languages for less than ten dollars – you might think I’m crazy or you might want to know where to find such courses, right?

The good news is you can find them in any bookstore that has a foreign language or travel section. I’m talking about the humble phrasebook.

Although these books are written with the tourist in mind, they are great tools to begin your language learning journey without spending a ton of money. Think of each phrase as a learning unit. For example, “Where can I find a…?” already has built-in grammar. All you need to do is fill in the blank – be it a hotel, restaurant or gas station. And with the phonetics under (or next to) the phrase, you can immediately communicate your needs. It’s very easy.

Need to find a word? Phrasebooks usually include a dictionary of 500-1000 or more words. It may not seem like much, but it’s enough to give you what you need in most general situations.

Sometimes Small is Good

Another advantage is that phrasebooks are small enough to fit in your pocket. Waiting in line? Waiting for the doctor to see you? Or waiting for your meal? Take it out, learn a “lesson” or two for the situation you’re in and you’re done! Less than five minutes to communication.

The other advantage is you can use phrasebooks to see what a language is like before you go out and spend money on books, CDs, or other course materials. You can see how the language looks, how it’s used, and how it sounds. And when you do decide to go on with a comprehensive course, you’ll recognize some words and phrases, making it even easier to learn.

What Phrasebooks are Not

Despite all the things you can do to communicate with a phrasebook, it cannot replace standard studying. There are nuances of language that are not covered in a phrasebook. So use one until you’re comfortable enough to go on further with another language course. And if you decide not to further pursue your language career just yet, it was just ten dollars.

Feel the Power!

In today’s digital age, you have the choice to carry a phrasebook with you, or find a digital equivalent for your mobile device. Whichever you prefer, you can communicate using the YLCStudents Power Language method to get you communicating in a new language fast and easy. Give it a try and see for yourself.

From Desire Comes Passion

There are times when I like to sit and watch people choose a language book or course at the bookstore. I see those who go through the books, casually looking through them, flipping through the pages, not sure if they will be able to do it. And I see those who are looking for a specific book with an air of determination and purpose – they need to do this. No matter what the person is thinking about the language or how to go about learning it, it’s really not the books or CDs. It’s not the classes you go to or the teacher you choose. The motivation and success in language learning comes down to two things: 1) Desire and 2) Passion

If you say “Oh, yes, I really want to learn this language – I have to!” that’s a good attitude to have. There’s your desire. You are going through like the people I watch at the bookstore. The desire to learn is there so they’re looking for the best and most for their dollar. And now that you have the desire, there’s one more thing you need.

Getting and keeping the passion alive

What are you willing to do to learn another language? If you are truly passionate about learning that language, there are some sacrifices you’ll have to make. You already have the desire by purchasing the books and language courses, or signing up for a class. That’s the first part of learning a language.

The second part is the passion. Do you have what it takes, and can you do what you need to in order to go on with your studies, even after reaching that plateau? To stay with your goal of mastering a language and get to the finish line is going to be a challenge. So how do you keep that passion going? Think of learning a language as a relationship with someone you love.

Spend as much time with it as you can.
If you think you’re too busy and don’t have time to learn, then look for the time to learn. Are you waiting in line for something? Or are you sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office? Those are great times to review the YLCStudents Power Charts, or listen to the audio sections of your lesson books. I like to print out a short, one page summary of a lesson’s main points or what I need to really work on and take it with me. There are lots of missed minutes just waiting to be filled with learning.

Listen to it talk to you.
Talking to you? Yes, a language actually talks to you. It tells you the secrets and shortcuts to make it easier to learn. And I’m not just talking about the cognates; there are lots of spellings, sound changes, prefixes and suffixes that expand your vocabulary without all the tedium of learning a whole new word.

Make plans for it.
No matter what your loved ones say or insist, they love when you make the plans to wine and dine them, showing them how much you care. A language is the same way. Plan a time to learn a lesson and stick to that plan. Also plan a time to do some review later in the day. This way you’re keeping your “date” with the language and letting it know how much you care about learning it.

Another great way to keep your passion for the language going is by learning about the culture of those who learn the language. The culture of a people influences how a language and is used and spoken. Cook something from that country, watch TV programs, or if there’s a sizable community of those language speakers near you, go in and mingle with them. Live their lives, talk their language, no matter how little you speak. Keep that passion going.

Another thing you may want to do is write down your goals and put them where you can see them and check them off once you’ve accomplished them. Talk to people who have learned the same language and ask them how they did it and what advice they can give you.

The success of learning a language is measured only by you. The more passionate you are about the language, the easier it will be for you to learn it and keep going to the end.

Originally Published 27 July, 2012

Don’t Talk Like a Book!

In the beginning of my language teaching and consultation years, I’ve received a lot of criticisms and complaints from professors, educators and language purists that eventually boiled down to one little question – Why not teach a language properly?

Well, the joke’s on them because I do teach a language properly. What I don’t do is teach it traditionally. Try talking to the average person on the street in the proper, book-like manner and see what happens. Language is not a sacred thing that must be used only in its purest form. Nor is it a treasure that must be kept at a safe distance away from the foreigner. The priority of a language is to communicate in a way that is understood by all.

Standard is Okay

For the most part, printed media and websites that are designed to reach a wide audience are written in a standard or formal language to be understood by as many people as possible. If you’re looking to have that knowledge so you can read such publications, then by all means learn what you must; no harm in that. But if you’re going to speak with someone in the shop, at a bus stop or restaurant, then don’t talk like a book.

Learn how to speak like a local.

Languages are constantly on the move, mutating with the times. They borrow foreign words, adjust according to science, technology and changes in society or culture. You use words and phrases to make yourself understood. And to do this, you make changes according to the circumstances you’re in. You learn and use the current slang and idioms. You learn how to form different sentences and questions through transposing verbs or nouns, etc. Find a substitute word if you have to, as long as you can get your message across.

And one more piece of advice

If you are advanced in your language skills, never talk down to someone who is beginning to learn a new language. Do not ever point out mistakes and explain what they did and why they shouldn’t have done that and how it must be “properly” fixed. You will make the learner feel self conscious about their progress; thus slowing them down, or you may get them to believe that they have failed and give up. Keep in mind that you were once like them and knew nothing of the language.