Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Foreign Radio

One of the things I cannot stand when I listen to the radio in a different country is the amount of English language music that is played. In Mexico it was Bob Marley, and in Germany it was sixties music like the Beegees. You expect to hear a lot of music in the native tongue but that is not really the case. I guess it has to do with the fact that American culture is an exported good. On the other hand the 2600 Magazine editors have an episode up on their radio show Off The Wall on Norway and Norweigen radio. Throughout the episode they play songs from the radio there, which has a surprising variety of music. Maybe I'm just not going to the right places?

You can usually get away with listening to news radio. Itunes, under "radio" and then "news/talk radio" or "international/world" has a huge amount of foreign radio stations which are streamed to your computer. For some reason though you cannot search the lists, which is kind of a pain in the ass. Hopefully they will update this in the near future.

There are plenty of free language learning podcasts out there. I know a fair amount of German ones. Some of my favorites are put out by Deutsche Welle, which is more or less news site for German language learners. They also put out German news podcasts which are spoken spoken slowly which is great for intermediate learners. Do any of you know of any other good podcasts or news sites for language learners?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Videogame Translation

Growing up, the creators of the website were heroes to the twelve year old version of me. They created and ran a website about a video game I loved, and one of them had taught himself Japanese. Even though I spelled horrendously at the time, and I made the terrible decisions that young people do when their  prefrontal cortexs are not fully developed; the co-founders "reidman" (Reid Young) and "tomato" (Clyde Mandelin) would actually talk to me on the site's forums and IRC channels.

Reidman, incidentally this article is about Tomato, but the only
picture I ever saw of him was on his old site and was of him
and a girl on the floor of his kitchen drinking vodka.

I can vividly remember Reid giving me suggestions on purchasing my first bass guitar on the forums, and Tomato suggesting what books to buy in order to learn Japanese. The set of books he mentioned ended up costing a significant amount of money, and I settled for Japanese picture books from my local library. To this date I only know a handful of Japanese symbols for numbers, meanwhile I was failing Spanish class.

I never knew how Tomato got started learning Japanese, but I knew he was a translator for Funimation. Years later when work started on  translating the sequel to Earthbound, Mother 3 I learned that Tomato had worked on translating other roms.

Many game translators start out as fan translators. Perhaps that's why the translation scene is left alone by the game industry.  Tomato was one of these people, and a lot of that is chronicled in this article.In the article Tomato even talks about translating today:
"Yeah, whenever I'm playing a translation or watching something, I'm always on the lookout for new ways to translate phrases so I can improve my own translation skills. I even used to keep a notebook of neat translations for certain generic Japanese phrases."
"I also often try to imagine what the original text was by working backwards from the translation. It's a fun language game in itself. But unless I've played a game in Japanese already, I can't really say if a certain translation is good or bad."
I think that is great advice to anyone learning a language, but then I realized something else; if there is anything we can take away from this quote it is probably that Tomato is in such a great position not because he has an awesome job, but because he really loves his job and because of that he can put so much energy and effort into it.

One of my favorite sites to read when I was a kid was Tomato's Mother 2 to Earthbound and Back Again (original site here). The site is once again, an example of the love and dedication that goes into doing something you have a passion for. It is about the localization differences between the same video game released by Nintendo in Japan and America. Nintendo has been, and probably still is very strict about self-censorship. This is probably most likely to maintain their family-centric image.

In the American version of PunchOut
"Soda Popskini" would warn you to be
careful because he would be driving
home later. Censorship or no
censorship, he's still an asshole.

Tomato's old site is worth checking out just because it goes to show how much can get lost in translation. For example,characters in the game use certain Japanese written symbols which show they speak in a robotic voice, also the mayor of one of the towns in the Japanese version is named G. H. Pirkle, as well as there being a Bush Hospital. Around this time G. H. Bush was famous in Japan for vomiting on their prime minister. This was removed from the American version, as well as the "robotic" text. One of the charms of Earthbound is it's satire of American culture, which in this case was lost.

Nintendo's history of self-censorship, while completely irrelevant to this site, is a huge interest of mine. In you would like to read more about it, here are some links of interest:

Nintendo of America's Video Game Content Guidelines

The Expurgation of Maniac Mansion for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Wikipedia Article on Videogames Censored by Nintendo of America

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pinker on Games People Play

RSA animate and cognitive media have been making videos since 2009. The videos have been posted everywhere from Boingboing to Facebook. I have even received a few in emails from friends. They are famous for making intricately drawn Youtube videos on fascinating lectures by smart people.
I have posted before about Pinker, he is a really smart linguist. In this RSA video, which is actually a chapter in one of Pinker's books, he talks about how language is a window into social relations. He then uses the film Fargo to explain what an indirect speech act is and why they are important in every day interactions.

I remember reading a post by a goon on the Something Awful forums saying something along the lines of "If you are a girl at a party and a guy ever wants to show you his guitars up in his room NEVER go." The offer to bring someone up to your room is an indirect speech act. You cannot proposition the other person for sex and one must be coy when doing so. What the white knight goon failed to realize, other than the fact that women have more experience handling propositions for sex then he ever will, is that indirect speech is actually an important part of our language. Anyways I digress, here is the video:

Essentially when speaking to someone who is in a relationship where boundaries are not clearly defined (ex. boss & worker, a date), we must use the imperative (a direct order, "do this") without seeming dominate or breaking the appropriate rules of that relationship.
One of the examples used in the book is a scene in Seinfeld where a woman offers George to come up for a cup of coffee, George explains that he really does not like coffee and goes on his way. Only later does he realize that "coffee" doesn't really mean coffee, and George is left kicking himself.
The reason why we resort to indirectness when there is no uncertainty is because the listener can figure out the speaker's intentions and the whole conversation becomes less awkward than a direct proposition for something. Also there arises the paradox of mutual knowledge vs. shared knowledge. In individual knowledge a group of people know something. In mutual knowledge a group of people know something and they know that other people know it too. As the example in the video suggests, this is how governments are overthrown.

Explicit language creates mutual knowledge. Once again citing the video; the emperor wears no clothes, now that the child has explicitly stated that the emperor is naked, everyone now knows that everyone else knows the emperor is naked, thus changing the state of their knowledge, making the whole situation hilarious. Therefore when indirect speech is used, mutual knowledge is avoided and relationships can (hopefully) still be maintained. This is why we need to be careful when speaking, and at times play games with our language. Fascinating stuff!

The book is The Stuff of Thought, and the chapter is Games People Play.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Visual Accessing Cues

One of the most fascinating things I have learned through NLP is that eye movement is a window into our mind. I once read up on the following technique in a PDF file about body language. I did not take the chapter with too much weight because the idea of being able to have an idea of what people are thinking seemed ridiculous to me.

Basically you can tell whether or not someone is lying to you based off of where they look when they are telling you something. These are called "Visual Accessing Cues". I'll let Samuel L. Jackson briefly explain:

Well... he is kind of right. Here is a more detailed chart:

Click for the full, legible image

People look to the right and left when remembering auditory information, and look down when they are reflecting. Pay attention to this the next time you are having a conversation with someone.

Now this is only useful if you are able to remember that chart up there. Things may get confusing considering the eye position changes if someone is standing next to you as opposed to opposite you. On top of that if they are left handed then everything is switched! Ahhhhh!!!!

Fortunately someone actually made an IPhone app where you can practice this. I actually tried it out and the next time someone I was talking to said "My friend once told me that..." I was keen on the fact that she glanced to my left and wrote with her right hand. Try the program out, it is free for the time being and this is a skill that is bound to help you every time you interact with someone.

If you like this article, you might also be interested in Using Visual Accessing Cues for Better Memorization.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Many of these articles come from regurgitating things I have read from books and academic sources. Recently I have taken a break from reading on language and instead reading lots of novels and fiction. I do this because the process of telling other people about something you have just learned cements the information in your mind and helps you better remember it later.

One of the short reads I recently picked up was How to Win Friends and Influence People, the book is one of the most well known "Self-Help" books out there. There are so many copies floating around I am sure you can grab a copy for free somewhere. Unbeknown to me the author also wrote a biography about Abraham Lincoln that my grandmother helped me use for a first-grade project! Cool! Admittedly I read Lenny Bruce's autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People years ago. If your more inclined to be a smart ass I recommend the latter, although Lenny Bruce was also a very intelligent person.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is about communication. It was written in 1936, but a lot of what is in the book is applicable today. One chapter in particular deals with criticism and how nobody gets what they want by criticizing another person. In fact doing so only puts the other person on the defensive and reinforces the stance they have taken.

How does one go about convincing people then? One of the suggestions the author Dale Carnegie makes is to try to see things from the other person's point of view. How can they benefit from the situation? One of the easiest ways to pick up on this is to see how many times you use the personal pronoun "I".  It is an easy indicator of seeing just who's perspective you are taking in the situation.

An example the author gave was when the price to rent out a ballroom in which he gave lectures went up. Tickets had been sold in advance so there was no way to change the venue. Instead of complaining to the management Carnegie went to the manager and heard what he had to say. The manager said that he could get more money for other dances at the ballroom and because there was a demand, the price went up. Carnegie laid out the pros and cons of raising the price of the ballroom. The pro being that the ballroom would be free for other events which could take more money in. The con being the hotel would lose his business and that the many upscale people who came to his lectures (much more people than a ballroom dance) would never go to or see the hotel, free advertising that would be lost. Carnegie later received a letter saying that the rate increase of 300% had been lowered to 50%.

That last paragraph was only a paraphrase of a small part of the book. It is an easy read and I highly suggest checking it out! The book is filled with these things, it is almost like social judo. The author never told the manager what he wanted directly, and he never said "I" or complained and everything he explained was from the managers perspective. Had he screamed at the manager, would anything have changed?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Meeting Forigen Language Speakers Online

It's easy to start a conversation with people on Livemocha
I have mentioned the language learning site Livemocha before. There you can practice learning another language and have other native speakers grade your work. Higher level courses cost money. However, the biggest benefit of the site is the that you can start up a conversation with almost anyone who is trying to learn English, or the language you are trying to learn. People are there to learn and practice so anything from a simple "How are you?" or "What's up?" works! You can message people or even chat in real time. Furthermore the site is always suggesting new "friends", and once you have "friended" someone you can help each other on correcting each other's submissions and so forth. The website seems to have a large Portuguese speaking population from Brazil, so if you are inclined to learn some Portuguese or meet Brazilians under the guise of teaching them English, this site might work for you.

In my attempts to meet new people I tried out using Okcupid as a means to find German speakers. The site actually has a search function that will let you search for people based on what language they speak, among other things. 

From what I have noticed, messaging people in another language that you both speak nets you better results than just messaging them in English. However, searching for people in the particular language where that language is spoken will yield you much fewer results. Perhaps it is because these people have the premonition that they are there to meet other people through the site. But hey, you could do a lot worse with your time online then not socializing.

If you are self conscious about creating a dating site profile because people you know might see you (in the process of looking for partners I found one of my TAs as well as a fellow students who was looking for casual sex) you can always say at the top of your profile page that you're only interested in talking with, or possibly meeting people who speak the language you are trying to learn. Your profile can also say that you are in a relationship or seeing someone. Of course if you are seeing someone, it wouldn't hurt to let your significant other know what your intentions on the site are.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

George Carlin on The Use of Language

George Carlin understood the implication of words. He stressed the fact that if we think in our language, then the quality of our thoughts must be based on our language.This talk given by the late comedian and social critic is primarily on politicians and words:

This video is actually similar to a talk given by Steven Pinker on political rhetoric. He also humorously brushes upon psycholinguistics... well sort of:
"I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with life. I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with life That's an expression we hear a lot these days from people in all walks of life, usually the person in question has committed some unspeakable act..."
Rarely are there videos that can be funny, and informative to some degree. George Carlin really could have been a Linguist as a lot of his work dealt with language and concepts. Check out the video, I hope you enjoy it! If you do, there is an endless supply of his videos on Youtube. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Foreign Language Books

If you have no one to practice with when studying a foreign language, reading is one of the best ways to go. Fortunately the Internet offers us plenty of news sources and public domain books on many different websites. Still as you progress through learning you will eventually encounter and accumulate books in that particular language. This post is essentially me showing off some of my German language books I have that are interesting for one reason or another

When I had time off during a semester in spent in Berlin, I would spend a lot of time on Unter Den Linden, people watching. Not only is Unter Den Linden where the Brandenburg Gate is, it is also part of the city where the Berlin Wall was constructed. Today it is a huge attraction with a lot of shops and has people from all over Europe as well as the world. Humboldt University is there as well, and during certain days they have a used book sale out front.

It is there that I got this book for five euro:
a German copy of All Quiet on the Western Front published in 1929. Other than the fact that it smells like musty cigar, there is nothing unusual about the book. What is interesting is that the Nazis would have burned this book had one of them, or a sympathizer found it. It is only a little ways down Unter Den Linden, at Bebelplatz, that the infamous Nazi book burnings took place in 1933.

Another interesting book I have was actually purchased in a used book store in Massachusetts. The store had purchased all the books of a deceased professor at an estate sale, and now were selling each of the books individually. A great deal of them were in German, or dealt with contemporary issues (at the time of the writing of the books) in German society. Here is one that I purchased: 
Do You Love Germany? Feelings on the Situation of the Country

Published in 1985, each chapter is an essay written by a different person. The very first chapter is aptly entitled "Nein".

I also have a copy of the infamous Struwwelpeter.

While hopefully no one would read this book in a serious context to their children today, I found the last copy in a children's book store in Germany. This copy has all the original illustrations and is intended for children with it's binding and thick pages. I should also note the children's books are a great way to start off reading when you are first learning a language.

Finally the last book I want to show you is the Prager Spukgestalten. It has a bad spine, so I can't hold it open to take pictures, which unfortunately is a shame because every other page has a great illustration to accompany the traditional stories told on each accompanying page.

Sweet monster guy on the back of the book
It is from Prague in the 60's, and in German. I also purchased this from the used book store. Unfortunately I have not read much if it so I can't comment on the contents. A lot of the illustrations are entertaining. It will be interesting to see the context of these stories based on the time and place of their publication. Perhaps in a future update?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Learning Motivation

One of the things I hate is when people say they can't do something. "You're learning a language? Great! I could never do that". Well duh, with that attitude like that you can't do anything. While this post is mostly concerned with language learning, it can be applied to anything. Just replace language learning with exercising, reading, quiting smoking, ________ .

It is tougher for adults to learn a language, we do know that. Once psychologists thought that adults could never learn a second language. We now know that even adults have brain plasticity, not as much as developing children, but it's there. If we did not have plasticity, we would not be able to learn anything new. Once in a while a book on Linguistics will argue that a native speaker can never fully learn a new language. My personal stance on that is that while we do not fully comprehend how children are able to grasp language, other than the fact that their brains are developing at incredible rates during the critical period, we therefore can not fully understand whether or not a non native speaker can fully grasp a new language.

Nevertheless I still struggle learning German, and to learn a new language in adulthood is a pain in the neck. That doesn't mean that someone cannot do it. But telling yourself you cannot do something before even trying will not get you anywhere.

Take for example this study conducted by a graduate student in 1939, completely unethical by today's standards
In 1939, University of Iowa graduate student Mary Tudor began an experiment with local orphans, warning them that they were showing signs of stuttering and lecturing them whenever they repeated a word. The children became acutely self-conscious, and many began to stutter, fulfilling the theory that “the affliction is caused by the diagnosis.”
The article is actually about how one of the subject wrote her a letter years later accusing her of being a monster and how the study ruined his life. Jesus Christ!

Nonetheless the study goes to show that "the affliction is caused by the diagnosis."If you say you cannot do something, you cant. Tell yourself you know you can. Not only that, but use positive thoughts and motivation not only but your self, but others! What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Free FSI Language Courses

The United States Foreign Service Institute is an institution within the United States government that is responsible for training the Department of State in preparation for going abroad. They develop a multitude of courses in almost any language available.

The website, FSI Language Courses, lists all of the courses that have fallen into the public domain. The website is unaffiliated with the government:
This site is dedicated to making these language courses freely available in an electronic format. This site is not affiliated in any way with any government entity; it is an independent, non-profit effort to foster the learning of worldwide languages. Courses here are made available through the private efforts of individuals who are donating their time and resources to provide quality materials for language learning.
 I remember in high school Latin our teacher got the FSI tapes for Italian from the library when a group of students in the class were going on a field trip to Italy. It is possible that the library editions of these materials could be newer, but most likely not considering all of there materials are in the public domain.

I would suggest you keep in mind some of this information is old, cultural terms may be out of date. For example the word "fraulein" ("little Mrs.") is used in the German materials. While it did use to be acceptable to call an unmarried young woman this in Germany, doing it today without the intention to cheesily flirt, will only get you dirty looks (if you're lucky). Results may vary by language, consult your local native speaker for more information.

Nevertheless for the very low price of free, how can you go wrong?

Once again the site's URL:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Learning Languages in Videogames

It is surprising that with the success of "edutainment" games like Oregon Trail, Math Blaster, Where in The Word is Carmen Santiago and the Jumpstart series; that there is not a bigger market for more games like these. I dream of the day someone will create a computer game that teaches calculus. Perhaps in an alternate dimension, where I have mastered calculus and programming, but that would also mean that there may be another alternate dimension in which I suck cock for crack rocks. Not cool man!

One of the things I have started doing is playing games I used to love, but this time they are in German. Most computer games already have a built in language setting to simply switch the language over to whatever you want. One of my favorite games to do this with is Civilization because there are so many different technologies, people, places, and phrases you get to learn while playing the game.

This is also a great thing to do on emulators. I really like playing old games from my childhood because I have an idea of what is being said, and it is easier to make inferences as to what new words might mean. It will make you feel like a genius! Try it out! Who hasn't played A Link To The Past at least thirty times? Any idea what is being said here?

Almost any rom site has the roms in different languages listed in brackets. However the only ones I know of are:
(U) Universal
(E) English
(G) or (D) German

Sometimes the rom with a [!] might be required, but I digress. Of course the only way you will learn anything is if you actually take the time and read the dialogue. If you have played through the particular game before, it is pointless to scroll through everything just because you know where the next dungeon is. On the other hand, if you want to try a new game, I suggest having a dictionary nearby or a translation website. Also I suggest finding games that tend to be text heavy, such as strategy games or RPGs. Good luck and have fun!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Object Names

I only have a picture of Köhler's article,
but trying to read font at this resolution
is strictly reserved for masochists.
One of the most mentioned studies that comes up in pop psychology is that of the the bouba kiki effect, which was the result of a study conducted by the gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Köhler (who while in Germany, and in the possesion of balls of steel, denounced the Nazi party publicly in 1933).This now famous study can be found in almost any psych textbook, as well as more recently Boing Boing.

The test is simple, a subject is presented with two pictures next to each other. One is a bouba and the other is a kiki. Which one is which?

If you said that the left image is a kiki and the right round shape is a bouba then you would be in line with about ninety percent of Spanish and English speakers who took this test. In fact, the only people who are behind the standard bell curve are the autistic. One explanation given for why we do this is that during articulation, a rounded shape of the mouth is needed to say "bouba" and a more angular mouth shape is needed to say "kiki".

However I would be more interested in the names people would come up for these objects on their own. After all, would these rules apply outside the constraint of only two names? After all ks and is are pointy letters, while all the letters in "bouba" are round. Would speakers of languages that uses different alphabets show us different results? Is the shape of our letters based on how we articulate the phoneme or how it sounds?

When I am finally able to return home I am going to print out this picture and see what I an get people to tell me, outside of the constraint of two names.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Part of my old high school, good riddance.

A few days ago a tornado ripped through the city I live in. Although I try to update this site at least five times a week I obviously was not able to for some time. After the tornadoes hit on Wednesday we were told that we would not get electricity back for at least  five days. I am thankful that electricity is the least of my problems and that I am ok. For the time being I am spending some time in Rhode Island with some family.

People think that tornadoes never happen in Massachusetts, but even last year in May a tornado came through the UMASS campus and ripped solar panels off the roof of one of the buildings. Anyways I will have a real update later tonight, I just wanted to give a heads up as to why I have not been updating.