Thoughts for serious language learners
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Entries from December 27th, 2008

Full Polish version!

crop of Doom 3 box saying 'Polish version'I’ve started playing computer games after a few years’ break, and I’ve noticed the Polish videogame market has changed a great deal. When you walk around in a videogame store, all you see are boxes that proudly proclaim: Full Polish version! Featuring the voices of <insert names of well-known Polish actors>! It’s almost as bad as in Germany, where every single product of American culture is translated and dubbed by an army of voice actors.

Needless to say, I was appalled when I found that this trend had reached Poland. “Don’t they care about learning English?”, I grumbled. “What about all the inaccuracies and stupid mistakes you get in translations? And what happened to getting the original experience as envisioned by the authors of the game?”

I was looking for a copy of Doom 3, so I asked the sales clerk about an English version. “Nope”, he said, “There was an English version when the game first came out, but once the Polish version appeared, the English version was discontinued”. He looked surprised that anyone would want an English version even though the clearly superior Polish version was available. Those customers, sometimes they want the weirdest things!

In the end, I bought the Polish version and downloaded the English version (God bless the Internet!), which I installed using the Polish version’s CD key. Luckily it worked.

I have since looked around and asked around, and what I’ve found out is that sometimes you get full Polish voices (the aforementioned Doom 3), sometimes you get English voices with Polish subtitles (Company of Heroes), and sometimes you get to choose between English and Polish versions (BioShock). In general, you have to be very careful because information about the English versions is not always shown on the box. Obviously it’s considered unimportant to the majority of customers.

I guess this trend towards “localization” is due to the growing affluence of the Polish consumer and the increasing marketing prowess of Polish game distributors, who are looking for new ways to compete with each other. The sad thing is that Polish gamers are getting used to receiving American and British entertainment that’s stripped of the English language. When Grand Theft Auto IV for the PC came out this month, there was an outcry from many Polish gamers disappointed at the lack of a Polish-language version. The irony is that, in a few years, many of the same people who are now avoiding English like the plague will be paying for expensive language courses in Britain in order to immerse themselves in English.

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Learning English before and after the Internet

After writing the updated story of how I learned English, I started thinking about the differences between my experience and the situation of today’s learners. I was learning English in the Mid-Nineties — a barbaric time without the Internet, downloadable movies, Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, not to mention mobile phones and DVDs. I only had access to two small bookstores and a library with English books, three English-language channels on cable TV, and limited contact with native speakers. (If I had been learning English 10 years earlier, I would not have had even that, so I’m not complaining.)

How about you? You, my friend, can download thousands of movies and TV shows in English using your broadband connection, with or without English subtitles. You can read websites about any topic that interests you, be it politics, computer games, dieting, Harry Potter or Metallica. You can research your shopping with Google and fill in gaps in your knowledge with Wikipedia. If you are interested in something, you can read and watch things that you’re interested in and use them to improve your English skills. If you have no real interests, that’s not a problem, either. You can just entertain yourself on Digg and YouTube, and still pick up a lot of English.

What am I trying to say, you ask? Simply, that if you live in 2008 and your English is still poor, there is obviously something wrong with you. Good day!

Read more on this topic: How I learned English in the pre-Internet age and why you can do it faster

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My story rewritten

This time I tell it all...

This time I tell it all...

Believe it or not, it has been almost 15 years since I began learning English in high school. Give it another 15 years, and the whole experience may become just a blur in my memory. So, I have decided to rewrite my story in the Successful English learners section while I still remember what I did and how it worked out. The result is a longer, more honest, and more detailed account of how I learned English.

In 1993, I got into the best high school in Wroclaw. It was a special program with a lot of English classes and certain classes (like math and physics) taught in English. I owe a lot to the people I met there, both students and teachers. My first two years in high school were very important for my English. At first, I thought I would do well without any serious effort. After all, I had gotten the highest score in class on the initial placement test and, until then, had been the top student in every English class that I had attended.

Read more…

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Two more sources of example sentences

Last month I wrote about VocabUsage.info, a search engine which gives you example sentences for English words. I have since discovered a few other useful sites in this category. The British National Corpus has nice examples from a wide range of sources (both written and spoken). Unfortunately, the free search is a bit slow and only includes British sources. The Corpus of Contemporary American English is a free, large corpus of American sentences, if you don’t mind the complex interface.

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Updated “Learning English with adventure games”

Cropped screenshot from Sam & Max: Season OneI have posted an updated version of my old article “Learning English with adventure games“. I added some information about recent games (not much, since adventure games are almost dead in the 21st century), some information about playing old games, and some screenshots.

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Me and Piotr Wozniak

Graphical portrait of Piotr Wozniak

Illustration by Steven Wilson

No, the man on the left is not Charlie Sheen. It is Piotr Wozniak, inventor of the SuperMemo method, who, after years of relative obscurity, recently became the subject of an extensive article in Wired Magazine.

The article has inspired me to write a short, personal essay about the man behind SuperMemo and how I see him after many years of e-mail correspondence:

The list of Piotr’s optimizations (or, if you prefer, eccentricities) is very long indeed. Even though he lives in Poland, he will speak only English to anyone who can understand it, including his Polish wife and closest friends. At university, he would shock his professors by refusing to speak Polish during oral examinations. His SuperMemo collection contains hundreds of thousands of items and he spends many hours a day reviewing them. His day is divided into “time slots” (SuperMemo, creativity, sports, etc.) to which he sticks religiously.

Read more…

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VocabUsage.info

VocabUsage.info is a new site which wants to help you learn English words. You can type in any English word (including phrasal verbs) and VocabUsage will show you a list of authentic example sentences gathered from the Web.

Are the examples as good as what you’ll find in a learner’s dictionary? Certainly not. Because VocabUsage relies on news sites (rather than, say, discussion forums, which could contain poor English), most examples are written in typical newspaper style, often being more complicated than is necessary to show the usage of a word. By contrast, examples in learner’s dictionaries are hand-picked by editors and usually simplified to remove unnecessary words.

Another issue with VocabUsage is that it sometimes does not give examples for all the major meanings of a word. For example, I couldn’t find any examples for go out in the sense to date someone.

However, VocabUsage excels in the sheer number of sentences (especially for rare words like hirsute or halcyon) and it is certainly better than searching for examples on Google. It wouldn’t be my first choice for learning a new English word, but is a great supplement to a good learner’s dictionary. After all, example sentences program your brain and the more you see, the easier it is for you to write and speak in English.

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Antimoon facelift

phonchart-thumbYou have probably noticed that Antimoon has gotten a facelift. What you may have not noticed is that every page now has a special print stylesheet. You can go to an article (e.g. this one), select File | Print Preview in your browser and you will see a nice printer-friendly version without all the navigation, advertisements, etc. In Firefox, you will even get a two-column layout, which is very easy on the eyes.

I have also updated the printable phonetic alphabets reference sheet. It is now a PDF file that works in all recent versions of Adobe Reader, FoxIt Reader and Sumatra.

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