Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Downloadable textbooks

The Books section has been updated today. The updates include links to two Kyrgyz textbooks that can be downloaded from the ERIC website.

Downloadable textbooks are wonderful news. However, Kato Lomb, whose book I am now reading, proves that languages can be learned with very few resources at hand.

By the way, I am halfway through Lomb's book on language learning. I will share my impressions in the next post.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Language policy

Here is a recent post from the Golden Road to Samarquand blog on language policy in Kyrgyzstan. Reflecting on other Central Asian countries the author writes that "Kazakhstan seems to be rather unconcerned about the switch [to the Kazakh language]". Although I no longer live there, my impression is that the Kazakh language is quite high on the agenda in the neighboring republic. All official paperwork is soon to be done in Kazakh only, television and radio programs in Kazakh abound, and efforts to encourage people to learn the language are underway.

The good thing is that, unlike in Kyrgyzstan, people wishing to learn the language now have plenty of resources at their disposal. I am not trying to idealize the situation—apparently, there are many downsides to the promotion of the official language—but some of the developments are good indeed.

On a different note, we are in the news again. Some locals call it the post-March syndrome, referring to the events of March 24 this year. It looks like a new tradition: if you don't agree with something, get a couple of hundred of supporters and set up yurts in front of some government building.

Meanwhile, I'm still fighting the bad cold that I got nearly two weeks ago. I had to put in a day of simultaneous interpreting last week, which only made things worse. So I'm staying home, meaning more time to study Kyrgyz, right? :)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Children's Bible and a new online dictionary

On some days I see people selling used books on Sovetskaya right by the intersection with Kievskaya. Something caught my eye as I was passing them by this afternoon. It was a copy of a Children's Bible, just like the one I have in Russian. But this one was in Kyrgyz ! I grabbed it as soon as I saw it, paying only 70 soms ($1.75) for the almost new book.

Since these Bible stories are already familiar to me, I can guess many of the Kyrgyz words without looking them up in the dictionary. The language is very simple, and with colorful illustrations on every other page, I'm in for some very enjoyable reading. The title of the book is "Сүрөттөргө келтирилген Библия". It was published in 1995 by the Institute for Bible Translation in Stockholm. I think the Kyrgyz branch of the Bible Society may have some copies in stock.

Ыйса is the Kyrgyz word for Jesus.

"Мына ошентип, бардыгында адамдар, силерге кандай мамиле кылуусун тилесеңер, силер да аларга ошондой мамиле кылгыла."
This is the Golden Rule as found in Matthew 7:12

My other Kyrgyz language activities of today include building a small English-Kyrgyz dictionary based on Gunnemark's Minilex, which is a fancy word for a collection of basic and, arguably, most useful words in a language.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Kyrgyz Language from Alex Lugovskoy

I am still doing my reading on Kato Lomb. I have downloaded her book in Russian translation ("Как я изучаю языки"), which I want to read before I write my overview of Lomb's methods.

Meanwhile, here is an interesting site I have just discovered. It is called "Киргизский язык от Алекса Луговского", so unfortunately it will be of little use to those of you who don't read Russian.

As I'm browsing this site I am simply overwhelmed by all the information contained there. In addition to extensive background information on the Kyrgyz language, it contains a reference grammar and several online Kyrgyz lessons.

In the introduction, after some laments on the absence of good resources for the study of Kyrgyz, the author writes that he is planning to create an online Kyrgyz course without the shortcomings of the textbooks available to date.

What makes this project even more unusual is the fact that the author is neither Kyrgyz nor a resident of Kyrgyzstan.

Hopefully this much-needed course will grow beyond the two lessons that are currently online.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Self-directed learning

While reading about Ms. Lomb I learned about autodidacticism. Basically meaning self-directed learning, this concept appeals to me very much. I have never really liked the idea of traditional education; I simply do not see it as the most effective form of learning.

Back in ninth grade, after much back-and-forth between my parents and myself, I was allowed to stay home for a semester and study on my own. I don't feel that I've made the most of that period, but it has been an exhilarating experience in many ways.

I did not have any formal training in what I now do for a living—translation—until this year. And the advanced interpreting class that I took at the university this spring has only reinforced my conviction that self-directed reading and hands-on experience are much more effective in teaching me about my trade. Although maybe if this course was taught at MIIS and not at the local liberal arts college I wouldn't be saying this. :)

No wonder I've been going on and on about passion for learning. No wonder my learning efforts have been largely solitary. Perhaps readers of a more conventional bent will find my ideas useless. I won't be trying to convince anyone to take the autodidactic path, but my posts will likely be slanted toward this approach for it is central to my learning experience.

Learning a foreign language

There is a multitude of articles on learning a foreign language out there in cyberspace. Most of these, like 10 Tips for Language Learning Success offer common-sense advice, most of which is applicable to learning in general (e.g. set realistic expectations, identify your learning style, etc.).

Language acquisition is thus often approached from the standpoint of regular, consistent study and memorization. There is nothing wrong with this. However, I have always felt there are more effective and enjoyable ways to learn a language.

I spent much time in early 2004 reading about less traditional language acquisition methods and techniques. I also applied many of them to my study of the foreign language I was attempting to learn at that time. Some of these techniques seemed quite bizarre (Suggestopedia and subliminal learning among them). Some methods I have used all along without giving much thought to them.

For example, when learning French pronunciation in high school I never gave much thought to the rules scrupulously outlined in my textbook. Instead I listened to texts read out loud and followed them in printed form. I noticed patterns and let the rules form themselves in my head without much memorization. It was easy, it was fun, and it was very much intuitive.

I also noticed that once you become passionate about a language (even obsessed with it) many obstacles commonly faced by language learners miraculously disappear. Language learning is not much different from any other human endeavor—love for an activity creates effortless commitment and commitment to learning is what we need most, don't we?

I can relate to much of what Kató Lomb says about language acquisition. Lomb, who was one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world, has mastered many languages—some of them when she was well past middle age. Now that I think of it, she could serve as a good role model for me. Guess who my next entry in this blog will be about?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

On tea and languages

Kyrgyzstan is converting me into a tea-drinker. I've never been too fond of tea. For me the only acceptable form of tea used to be the 'Christmas' variety with spices like cinnamon and cloves and dried orange rind. This was to be consumed during long winter evenings while sitting on the couch wrapped in a warm blanket.

For all other times coffee is my drink of choice. In a place like Bishkek, where black coffee is synonymous with awful-tasting Nescafe (with the exception of a few places like Navigator that offer decent but outrageously expensive coffee that is freshly brewed), I had to make sure that my supply of ground coffee beans was frequently replenished by shipments from Almaty and other, more remote, places.

But after a few trips to Kyrgyz villages and towns, where I was bombarded with endless "чай ичингиз?" and "чай ичкиле" (both of which basically mean "drink tea!"), I am beginning to yield to tea drinking with its pervasiveness in the Kyrgyz culture.

I realize that you cannot assimilate a language without taking in the culture that comes with it. This may not always be a comfortable thing to do. And it makes me wonder whether I will emerge from this learning Kyrgyz endeavor a different person. Whether I will lose a part of my identity and acquire a new personality. Will Kyrgyzstan also cure me of my aversion to red meat?

So many things to reflect on! I better go make myself another cup of tea.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

No language is an island

Ten minutes ago I was reading a Turkish magazine (in English of course :) and found myself staring at a line that said "Atatürk Havalimanı". This, I suppose, is a reference to the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. What fascinated me was the word "airport" – a combination of hava (meaning "air", cf. аба [awa] in Kyrgyz) and liman ("port").

The thing is the latter word was already familiar to me: in Greek λιμάνι (limani) means a port or a harbor. It is sheer delight to seek out new relationships between languages and to see something familiar in the unfamiliar.

If you look carefully, you will find this in any language you study. To use one of the more obvious examples, Kyrgyz has its share of Russian influences. But sometimes these influences are disguised – as with the word "момпосуй".

In his book Erik V. Gunnemark (more on him later) writes about what he calls transparent vocabulary, that is words in a foreign language the meanings of which are clear to you with no or little explanation. He further says that this transparency is different to different people. Often imagination is key to increasing the transparency of a language.
A lovely word that I learned today is торопой meaning piglet.
By the way a pig is чочко – nothing close, huh?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My growing collection of Kyrgyz books

Yesterday I made a trip to the former Akademkniga, which now sells used books. What can be better than spending hours browsing through hundreds of books and then taking a leisurely walk discovering a new part of town with beautiful houses built in the late fifties. Akademkniga also houses a small store selling antiques, so I was completely exhilarated. I also found a set of Greek dictionaries and was jumping for joy until I saw the price… So I bought some printed music (Busoni's Klavierübung, some Debussy, and piano music by Central Asian composers), a book for my research, and four excellent books to help me in my study of Kyrgyz.

Russian-Kyrgyz and Kyrgyz-Russian Dictionary of Antonyms (Muratalieva et al., 1986) – a very useful study tool. It lists pairs of antonyms with their translations. For example:

утро – вечер // эртең менен – кечкурун, кечки

Russian-Kyrgyz Cluster Dictionary (Harakoz and Osmonkulov, 1979). As the name implies words with the same roots are clustered together. Good for discovering relationships between words.

ОСЕНЬ күз; цыплят по осени считают погов. малдын төлүн күзүндө санайт.
Осенью нареч. күзүндө, күз маалында.
Осенний осень-ге т.; күзгү, күзүндөгү, күздүк; осенний дождь күзгү жамгыр.

Methods of Kyrgyz Language Teaching in Russian Schools (2001). Based on books by the leading experts on the Kyrgyz language Igor Batmanov (1936) and Aleksandr Vasilyev.

Learning the Kyrgyz Language (Kasymova et al., 1991). Not to be confused with Кыргыз тилин үйрөнөбүз published in 1997 by Soros Foundation.

Going back to my earlier laments on the absence of Kyrgyz books in local bookstores, things are not as bad as they seemed in the beginning. Through libraries, friends, and now Akademkniga my collection of Kyrgyz language resources in print is growing.