Thoughts for serious language learners

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Confusing American phonetic transcriptions for “air”, “near” and “sure”

August 20th, 2013 · Pronunciation

Ilian writes:

(…) There are different types of transcriptions for American English (and for British English). All of this is confusing because I am not absolutely sure whether they describe one and the same pronunciation or they describe different pronunciations.
For instance, the word “air” in American dictionaries is transcribed in many ways:
1. /ɛər/ (this transcription is clear: it means that there is a schwa sound and the “r” sound is pronounced)
2. /ɛr/ (this transcription is not very clear to me: is the pronunciation the same as the transcription above or does it mean that the schwa sound is omitted/deleted/?)
I have noticed that a lot of American dictionaries use the /ɛr/ transcription. Do they mean that the schwa sound is omitted or does it mean that /ɛr/ is the same as /ɛər/?
Also, in different dictionaries the word “near” is transcribed as /nɪər/, /nɪr/ and /ni:r/). Do they mean the same thing?
And in different dictionaries the word “sure” is transcribed as /ʃʊər/, /ʃʊr/ and /ʃu:r/. Do they mean the same thing?

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Should you care about phonetic transcrip­tions?

June 26th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Today, nearly all good English dictionaries have audio recordings. If you can listen to any English word as it is pronounced by a native speaker, why should you care about phonetic transcriptions? My latest update gives a few good reasons.

I’ve also added a section that describes why you shouldn’t take phonetic transcriptions too seriously.

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Solving the problem of typing foreign characters and phonetic symbols on a PC

May 14th, 2013 · Uncategorized

typeit icon on desktopˈgʊd ˈnjuːz ˈevriwʌn! I just typed this directly into this blog post, using my new TypeIt App for Windows.

Ever since I started learning foreign languages, typing foreign characters and phonetic symbols has been a problem. When learning German, I had a problem with ä, ö, ü and ß; with English, an even bigger problem with IPA phonetic symbols. In order to use phonetic transcriptions in my SuperMemo collection in DOS, I had to design my own IPA screen font.

Today, of course, we have Unicode and the problem is largely solved on the fonts side: if you use a popular font, you can be sure it will include characters for practically all languages. Even more amazingly, all modern operating systems have at least one good font with a full set of IPA symbols.

But there is also the keyboard side. The characters are available, all right, but typing them comfortably is another matter.

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Cheap way to get the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE)

April 7th, 2013 · Uncategorized

I recently learned that The Book Depository (a British online bookstore recently acquired by Amazon) has the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English for about $24 with free worldwide delivery. This is the lowest price, online or offline, that I’ve seen for this excellent dictionary. Note that for this price you get the DVD only (no paper book). But who has the time to leaf through a huge book, right?

Of course, the first thing you should do after installing the LDOCE is download Taku Fukada’s unbelievable LDOCE5 Viewer which will turn your LDOCE from mediocre to amazing.

If you also need the book version for some reason, The Book Depository has the paperback+DVD for about $44 (free worldwide delivery). Amazon.co.uk has it for £23.79 (about $37) but delivery is not free, so it would probably end up costing more. (However, Amazon.co.uk has free delivery to some European countries if your order comes to more than £25, so you could order something else in addition to the LDOCE in order to qualify for free shipping.)

Thanks to commenter “michau” for the tip about The Book Depository.

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LDOCE5 Viewer is now free!

February 26th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Taku Fukada’s fantastic viewer app for the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) is now available for free. Now even pathological misers who won’t spend five dollars on an awesome app can get one!

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Transcribing modern RP

February 13th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Many of you know that the phonetic transcriptions that you can see in any modern British dictionary represent an accent called Received Pronunciation (RP). RP is, broadly speaking, the kind of accent that you have if your family has a coat of arms and an estate in Kent, or, at the very least, if you went to Oxford or Cambridge.

To describe RP pronunciations of words, dictionaries use a transcription system based on symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The system was developed by Daniel Jones in the early 20th century; the last significant change to this system occurred in 1967 when A. C. Gimson took on the job of editor of the English Pronouncing Dictionary.

Did you catch that date – 1967? That’s 46 years ago. But accents evolve all the time. The British upper classes speak differently than they did in the 1960s. Yet the transcription system has remained virtually unchanged.

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Another learner report

January 6th, 2013 · Uncategorized

Kamil Oleksiak, a second-year student of English, is using the Antimoon Method to learn English. He was nice enough to share his experiences with Antimoon readers.

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The Year of English

December 31st, 2012 · Interesting sites

Aaron Knight (the author of PhraseMix) has launched a new initiative called “Year of English”. You enter your e-mail address to commit yourself to becoming fluent in English in 2013. Every day in 2013, you will receive a newsletter with lessons, advice and assignments.

Of course, I know that it’s hard to start learning English every day. To pull it off, you have to get pretty excited about English – more excited than you are about other things you do, like checking Facebook 50 times a day. Still, sometimes we need a nudge in the right direction; a daily reminder can also help you stay on track.

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How well do Antimoon visitors know the pronunciation of basic English words?

December 10th, 2012 · Uncategorized

In September 2010, I published Test your English pronunciation, a 10-question quiz which tests your knowledge of the basics of English pronunciation. Today, we’re going to look at the results. How well do Antimoon visitors know basic pronunciation?

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What to read when you’re a beginner?

October 2nd, 2012 · Uncategorized

I’ve updated my reading recommendations for beginners with links to some great detective stories and my experiences learning German with simplified books (also known as “learner literature” or “graded readers”).

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Report from a beginner learner

September 22nd, 2012 · Uncategorized

Arkadiusz, who recently asked me a question about listening to two different dialects of English at the same time, has sent me a brief report on his experiences with the Antimoon Method. For a long time, I’ve been thinking about publishing more learner reports on Antimoon – not just reports from successful learners, but also people who are just starting to learn English seriously. It can be quite motivating to read about other people’s progress – perhaps more motivating than reading “you should do this” and “you should do that”…

So, I’ve decided to publish his short report. Hopefully, I’ll be able to publish some other learner feedback that has been lying around in my e-mail archive. Anyway, here’s the report:

Learner reports: Arkadiusz K.

 

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Can listening to American and British English at the same time be harmful?

September 18th, 2012 · Uncategorized

Arkadiusz writes (and I translate):

I’ve started learning English with the Antimoon Method. After a very short time (just two months), I can already see considerable progress, which motivates me to keep working. I have a question about input. I use various sources: some of them American (mostly cartoons and TV series), some of them British (podcasts, radio). Can mixing two different kinds of English be harmful? Should I concentrate on just one dialect of English?

The only risk I can see is that you could pick up a “mid Atlantic” accent (a mixture of British and American pronunciation). This shouldn’t be a problem in any serious sense of the word, but if you’re interested in having a pure RP or GenAm accent, you should learn about the differences between British and American pronunciation (individual sounds and word pronunciations) and pay attention to those differences as you listen to content. This should help your brain keep the two pronunciation models separate.

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Survey for independent English learners

September 14th, 2012 · Uncategorized

Raphey Holmes, a Master’s student at Boise State University, is doing research on the use of technology by independent English learners. If you are teaching yourself English and would like to help, the survey is here.

In order to participate in the survey, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • You are at least 18 years old.
  • You are a non-native English speaker.
  • You are currently working to improve some aspect of your English.
  • You are not currently enrolled in a formal English class and you are not taking private lessons.
  • You believe your overall English abilities are at a high intermediate or advanced level.
  • You use English on a regular basis.

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A few input-related updates

September 10th, 2012 · Uncategorized

I’ve made a few small changes to the input section:

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Updated SRS section

July 31st, 2012 · Uncategorized

The old SuperMemo section of “How to learn English” is now called the “SRS” section. The pages were previously SuperMemo-centric; they now cover the two most popular spaced-repetition systems: SuperMemo and Anki. I’ve rewritten the introduction to SRS (I’ve even drawn a nice graph to demonstrate the idea of spaced repetition), edited “Making SRS items (cards) for learning English” and added some notes on which SRS you should get.

Also added a short page on the advantages of listening over reading.

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Why do so many people master English, but not their second or third foreign language?

July 18th, 2012 · Uncategorized

Brandon writes:

I have been reading about 40 pages a day and watching TV for about 2 hours a day. I have been coming across the new words and the new idioms that I learn over and over again, just like you said in one of your articles. It feels really good to know that I am making progress and to be able to use those new words and idioms in my conversations with native French speakers.

I have one more quick question, if you don’t mind. I know Polish is your dominant language, but it appears your English is as good (or nearly as good) as your native language. Do you think your German will ever be as good as your English?

It seems like there are so many people in this world who have mastered English. I have met Germans that could speak English as well as they could speak their native language, but all of the Germans learning French that I have met so far could not speak French very well (even though they learned it for many years). I know people from Japan that have learned English very well, but those learning French or German could not speak those languages very well.

Why do so many people master English, but not their 2nd or 3rd foreign language? Even those who can speak multiple languages, such as the polyglots on YouTube, tend to speak only their native language and English "fluently" and they are only at the advanced or intermediate level in the other languages they claim they speak.

That’s a very interesting question. I don’t have any scientific data on this, but I think my personal experience may be part of the answer.

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Is the Antimoon Method for you?

July 16th, 2012 · Uncategorized

The Antimoon Method is a great, fun way to learn English very well in a few years. But it’s not for everyone. Before you start, ask yourself the following questions:

Read more…

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Making adventure games English-learner-friendly

June 29th, 2012 · Uncategorized

Since I started Antimoon in 2001, I’ve been promoting the idea of learning English with adventure games. I believe adventure games are a great way to learn English, especially for younger learners.

Why do I believe in adventure games so strongly? Because I know that people learn languages most effectively when:

  • they are surrounded by foreign-language sentences (input); and
  • understanding those sentences is personally important to them (it enables them to understand something, or someone, they care about)

Adventure games meet both conditions, as they provide both input (in the form of dialogue) and motivation to understand it. When you’re playing an adventure game, you really want to make progress in it, sometimes to the exclusion of other needs like eating or sleeping. Since solving a puzzle typically requires understanding subtle hints dropped by characters in the game, the player finds himself in a situation where their very well-being depends on how well they understand English vocabulary and grammar. If this is not an ideal learning situation, then I don’t know what is.

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Holy crap! A ninja has just turned LDOCE into the best dictionary ever

May 8th, 2012 · Uncategorized

As many of you know, in my 2009 review of English dictionaries for learners, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) won in every content category. No other dictionary I tested has more example sentences, friendlier definitions, more accurate pronunciations, better coverage of American English or better-quality recordings.

But the dictionary has a fatal flaw: the software is awful. I had to write a cathartic rant about it just to keep myself from sending a mail bomb to the Pearson Longman headquarters. If you think I’m some kind of grouch with unrealistic expectations… well, yes, maybe I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Let me just list the most important problems: the 10-second start-up time, lack of mousewheel or trackpad support, slow and buggy scrolling, and pointless clicking required to do anything. In many ways, LDOCE feels like a university – lots of valuable knowledge, but hopelessly inefficient and full of pointless hurdles.

Enter Taku Fukada, an English learner from Japan. Like many other people, he read my dictionary review, decided to buy the LDOCE, and discovered that he hated using it. But, instead of whining about it like I did, he did what ninjas do: he silently solved the problem.

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Learning ‘everyday English’ without living in an English-speaking country

March 7th, 2012 · Uncategorized

If you’re an English learner living in a non-English-speaking country, your English input will be different from the input of someone who lives in, say, America. A learner in America (assuming he interacts with people on an everyday basis) will get most of his input by listening to everyday, informal conversations between people. A learner in Germany or Brazil will get most of his input from “content” – books, movies, videogames, songs, Web articles, discussion forums, TV shows, podcasts, etc. – things that are printed, recorded and published somewhere.

It’s hard to imagine learning English well without access to English-language content. Reading a book or watching a movie in English is an incredibly motivating and powerful experience that can produce a dramatic growth in the number of words, phrases and grammar structures that you can use.

However, there is a small catch. Relying on content can create a gap in your knowledge of “everyday English”. You can read dozens of books, watch hundreds of movies and read thousands of Web pages, and still not know what to say when you’re handing something to someone (There you go), how to say that your favorite show will be on TV at 5 pm (It’s coming on at 5.), or how to use phrases like Looks like it, Fat chance or Dibs on the cake.

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