The Study of Language by George Yule. Eighth Edition, Cambridge University Press.

The Study of Language, 8th Edition [Review]

New year, new books. Well, we have to live by some adage don’t we? And perhaps it’s the time of year, but shiny new tomes in the postbox do have their appeal. Appropriately, this week’s doormat delight was George Yule‘s essential Linguistics primer The Study of Language, refreshed and updated in its 8th iteration.

It’s a text with some measure of nostalgia for me, appearing on a preliminary reader list ahead of my own MSc. And it has doubtless done so for many other courses, having become something of a modern classic; it offers a solid and systematic overview of all branches of the field, from historical linguistics to second language acquisition. If your university offers a course on it, there’s probably an introductory chapter on it in The Study of Language. It’s as comprehensive as it is reliable.

An Interactive Text

It’s been a good two years since the last edition, so what’s changed? One key enhancement is a considerable expansion of the end-of-unit study questions and tasks. It’s something that always made the volume perfect for working in tandem with programme instructors, now even more so. Activities range from simple questions to more exploratory project-based tasks, providing ample independent learning opportunities.

An example from one of the sections of study questions in The Study of Language by George Yule (8th Edition, Cambridge University Press).

Extensive study questions cap each of the concise, snappy chapters.

There is additional online support on the Cambridge website, too, which has seen a refresh along with the core text. This includes a substantial, 152-page PDF study guide for students, adding a good deal of value to the course.

Keeping It Current

The commitment of Cambridge University Press to keeping this key text up-to-date is impressive. Several of the chapters have gone through major rewrites to reflect current research. This is immediately evident in the further reading lists, replete with pointers to fresh, new sources.

The chapter on Second Language Acquisition is a case in point. Clearly it’s quite a dear topic to my own heart, and (predictably) one of my first stop-offs. But even I spotted some interesting new references to follow up in the mix, in the form of recent papers and monographs. It’s great to see the last couple of years represented in the lists of publications like this, underscoring the fact that this is a bang up-to-date edition.

The Study of Language is a broad, engaging and highly readable introduction to language sciences. It equips the reader with a robust roadmap to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed by unfamiliar buzzwords and jargon on starting out on a formal Linguistics course. This eighth edition is a very welcome continuation of that, ensuring that students get the very best and most up-to-date start possible.

Polyglotised Products

I keep coming across what you might call polyglotised products lately. You know the kind of thing: emblazoned with motivational or humorous snippets in a number of languages, usually achingly corny and twee, and all too often containing a few errors to create some associated unintended comedy. From the welcome to… artwork at airports to that multilingual Christmas cross-stitch that comes out once a year, you can find multilingual cheesiness in all sorts of places.

As naff as they can be, there is something snugly positive about these chintzy embellishments. For the wistful polyglots, they’re a nod to the world beyond. For the philosophical, they acknowledge that despite language differences, humans tend to express the same kinds of everyday thoughts the world over. And for the rest of us, they’re just plain fun. I think they deserve to be celebrated whenever we see them in our otherwise blandly monolingual societies.

Corny polyglot fun

I spotted a corker of one recently: a polyglot ashtray, sitting incongruously outside a café pub in the city centre. It’s all the sweeter for the fact that it looks homemade, and well-loved, judging by the wear around the edges. There’s that folk irony there too, a hint of sarcasm, with the – ahem – hilarious decision to adorn an ashtray with “I will quit tomorrow”. Firmly in the “my other car’s a Lamborghini” tradition. Just glorious.

In any case, these things bring a dash of light-hearted silliness to a sometimes dark world, not to mention a smile to the face of those that understand a snatch of their target language in them.

Three polyglot cheers for cheese!

Have you come across any nice specimens on your travels? What are your favourites? Let us know in the comments!

Close-up of daydreaming eye, full of wistfulness. Image from FreeImages.com

The Power of Wistfulness : Misty-Eyed Language Learning

Sometimes, a distant goal can exert a greater pull than an immediate one. It’s all down to the mysterious power of wistfulness.

I’ve been learning Gaelic for a few years now. It’s always been at a fairly steady, casual pace, never rushed or urgent. That’s probably because it’s always felt like a sociable endeavour rather than an academic one; classes and chat clubs are a chance to catch up with friends as much as learn a language.

It’s when I’m away from that environment that the nature of that changes dramatically. And it’s particularly strong when I’m very far away.

I clocked it this week, at the tail-end of the post-August grind-back-into-gear. For many of us, there’s been a big break from classes over summer, and Gaelic was no exception out of term-time. Chat groups have been quiet too, what with folk off on their hols and such like. That’s a whole month and beyond without any structured language learning.

The result? I’ve started kicking off each day with “Alexa, play BBC Radio nan Gàidheal“. I’ve plunged into some proper reading at last, giving a new translation of Animal Farm a go (even though it’s a wee bit tough for my level). BBC Alba is my current go-to on iPlayer of an evening. And I’ve been dipping into an Old Irish primer to fill in the historical gaps. Distance has been like a lightning rod to my motivation!

The Power of Wistfulness

What’s happened? Well, I’d call it the power of wistfulness. When something treasured or important becomes distant, people tend to grow wistful and nostalgic for it. And that, in turn, multiplies the joy that comes from immersing yourself in it, from revelling in it, even, as a source of comfort. It explains in part why a (formal) learning break can sometimes work wonders.

It’s similar to the effect you get after coming back from a trip to your target language country. You just know you’ll get a mini boost to your learning for a good few weeks after your return. It’s because absence really can make the heart grow fonder, as you crave anything that restores that warm connection. There’s almost an irony there, of course; after returning from a trip, I’ll sometimes study the language more than in the lead-up to it!

So, here I am, listening to solemn choral music on Gaelic radio, feeling all sorts of longing for roves around the Scottish Highlands. Twee, I know, and I’m sure I’ll return to lazy ways when the calendar ramps up again. But who’s complaining when it’s driving some progress? I’ve probably immersed myself more in past couple of weeks than I have since I started Gaelic. And that morning radio in the target language is fast becoming a healthy language-learning habit I hope to continue.

The power of wistfulness can do funny things.

 

Learning Places : Banff and Macduff Bay

Learning Places

Do you ever find yourself learning the same things in the same places? Not intentionally, but somehow drifting into the same languages, the same subjects, according to where you are?

I’ve been on a well overdue parental visit on the north-east coast again this week after a hectic few months. And I’ve noticed that something of a pattern has emerged. Despite having a gloriously diverse language library to pick and choose from, and well-made general dabbling intentions, I always go for a Gaelic book while I’m staying here.

Ambient Inspiration

Maybe it’s seeing the mountains of East Sutherland far across the water, near which Nancy Dorian researched the sadly moribund local dialects of Gaelic, that prompts me. Or perhaps it’s just that quintessentially Scottish coastal mix of sea, sky and moorland that gets me in the mood. Whatever it is, I’m more likely to settle down with Gaelic here than in any of my other favourite reading places.

Places for learning: Banff and Macduff Bay

Banff and Macduff Bay, across from which the hills of Sutherland can just be made out

There’s a potential downside to that, according to some educational psychologists. Research into context-dependent memory suggests that material learnt exclusively in one environment may be harder to recall in others.

But the flip-side of that is the use of wider memories as triggers for learnt material. In my case, think of home, remember your Gaelic.

The choice of book says a lot, too. As if to match the homely nostalgia, on each trip home I’ve been working my way further into Roderick Mackinnon’s original Teach Yourself Gaelic, 1971 (1992 reissue). A treasure of an old language book, if ever there was one.

Learning places : A copy of Teach Yourself Gaelic in front of a seaside view

An unashamedly posed shot of Teach Yourself Gaelic

 

What languages, books and places go together for you? Do you have a preferred nook or corner of the world to settle down to some study in? Let us know!

Greek microblog content from Instagram (screenshot).

The Way of the Microblog : Kitchen Sink Inspiration and Language Learning

It’s all about the foreign language microblog for me lately. Short, snappy snippets of target language piped directly to your social media streams: what’s not to love?

In fact, I’m practically drowning in them at the moment. That’s thanks to the notorious and mysterious algorithm (TM), of course, which is a fact of life these days; like one thing, and you get a ton more of the same thrown at you, for better or for worse.

Happily, in the case of us language learners, it’s generally for the better. Take my Instagram feed; its AI wisdom has decided to channel reams of Greek pop psych, heartwarming quotes and concise self help my way. It’s twee and a wee bit naff, granted. But every one of those posts is a 30-second language lesson.

This latest bite-sized adventure all started with a single Greek account, gnwmika.gr. It exclusively posts what you might call ‘fridge magnet’ content: folk wisdom and kitchen sink inspiration.

The great lesson imparted here, in true, lofty microblog style, is:

“Beautiful things will make you love life. Difficult ones will teach you to appreciate and respect the beautiful ones.”

I know – deep, eh.

Anyway, I hit follow and thought little else of it… Until things escalated. Next thing, I’m being shepherded to not only more of the same, but anything and everything Greek. Poetry, history, celebs, TV… the lot. It’s become a rabbit hole leading to some well obscure (but fascinating) places. And, crucially:

…my Greek is so much better for it!

Fill Your Little (Microblog) World Right Up

It all plays in marvellously to the fill your world with target language strategy. Since our worlds are ever more digital, one of the easiest ways to do that is to follow the monkeys out of accounts we find fun and engaging. Add one or two, and let the system start popping more and more into your suggested follows.

Now, the only catch is that the algorithm (TM) is smothering me in Greek. I’d love a bit of Gaelic, Icelandic, Norwegian or Polish (and the rest). So, if you’re reading this and have some good microblog recommendations to kick the cycle off again…

…please let me know!

A group of toy gorillas - possibly singing cartoon themes? Image from freeimages.com.

Animated Language Learning with Cartoon Themes

There’s an underexploited, rich seam of fun, bite-sized authentic materials out there. Especially if you find yourself reminiscing wistfully on your childhood television memories. Bring on the cartoon themes – in translation!

Now, I’m not talking about the big, blockbusting Disney feature animations. Those are, of course, a different subtype of this genre (and no less handy for language learning).

Instead, this is about pure nostalgia of the small-time kids’ shows of yesteryear as an engine for language learning. It’s about reliving those half-forgotten, often very modest-budget productions with some of the catchiest tunes composed for TV. Many a bored moment I’ve spent idly browsing YouTube, wondering along the lines of “what did ‘Dogtanian and the Muskahounds’ sound like in Polish?”. And yes, YouTube really does have almost everything in its cartoon themes annals. As obscure as you care you conjure up, it’s probably there.

And go on then… While we’re at it, let’s throw Disney back into the mix. Just not the big cinema headliners, but the cartoon series of decades past with some of the biggest earworms of all.

Ah, the soundtracks to our childhoods.

It’s not just a trip down memory lane, of course. It’s the geekiest (and most satisfying) of language learning party tricks to memorise the lyrics to these wee jingles, ready to reel off and impress friends and family at the slightest cue. And, like all automatic, rote memorisation tasks (like the mass sentence technique), it’s a brilliant exercise for phonetic finessing of pronunciation, accent and prosody. That’s not to mention the extra vocab you’ll pick up along the way.

Cartuneful Lyrics

Remarkably for non-pop songs, some lyrics sites even include entries for these childhood gems, like this entry for Spanish Duck Tales (or Patolandia!). Failing that, some helpful native speakers have occasionally added them in the video comments themselves, as with this upload of Gummi Bears in Greek.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to transcribe them as you hear them first, of course. They just help with some of the more magical vocabulary. No way was I going to get that “περιπέτεια συγκλονιστική” meant “astounding adventure” without help!

Remember, too, that these shows touched the hearts of so many around the world. As such, they make a lovely way to make a native speaker smile. And probably think you quite odd, too, but there’s no shame in that!

Which cartoon theme tunes are you particularly fond of? And do they exist in your target languages? Let us know in the comments!

Headphones - great for listening to a podcast or ten!

Honest Podcast Pruning

Foreign language podcast episodes are fantastic language learning tools. But if you’re anything like me, you end up following far too many programmes to manage.

It’s great, of course, to have lots of choice. But what’s not so great is to get resource overwhelm when you have too many to count. Where to start?

It became pretty much do or die with my podcast list lately. I felt bogged down when I checked my podcast app. It seemed like there were just too many to catch up on. The crux of it: I just wasn’t listening to them any more.

Some pruning was in order.

Podcast Pruning

There’s a little self-honesty strategy you can try to prune your podcasts. Most podcast programmes have a ‘latest podcast’ list, which lists all episodes in order of recency. In iOS it looks like this:

A screenshot of podcasts listed by decency in iOS

The latest podcasts view on iOS

Now, go to play them from the top. No cheating. For each one, if your reaction is a reluctant, groaning must I? or can I just skip this one?, then your heart is probably not really in it. Of course, this isn’t a hard-and-fast acid test. There may be times when we are just not in the mood. But in my experience, that reeeeeally? wince is generally a sign that your interest isn’t fully committed.

So if our hearts aren’t really in it, what are these podcasts doing on our lists in the first place?

Well, it comes down to what we think we should be doing and what we want to be doing. There’s quite normative – even moralistic – sense of what ‘worthwhile’ language learning content is. That’s skewed by lots of outside influences that discount our personal interests. And, with learning, an invested, personal interest is key. There’s little point bashing your head against a brick wall with unmotivating content. Always ask will this content spark my interest beyond language learning?

So, the next time you find yourself avoiding your podcast app, or staring, uninspired, at a list of countless foreign language podcasts you have no desire to plough through, consider an honest podcast pruning!

A Capsule Language Learning Library?

Sometimes, it feels like I’m permanently on the road. With family, friends and work spread out across the country,  I travel a lot. Anything that makes that easier is a win in my book, so I’m all for minimalism and streamlining. Lately, I’ve been taken by the idea of the ultra-simple capsule wardrobeit worked for Einstein, Steve Jobs, and a host of others, after all – and in that spirit, I’ve been trying to pare down my togs to a few essentials that I can fit into a travel bag.

But if we can do that with our clothes and feel instantly lighter, why not try it with other things… like our language learning materials, for instance?

Now don’t you worry. I haven’t decided to donate all my language books to charitable causes just yet. But the idea strikes me as a decent one for the language learning traveller: deciding on a core set of books that provide the max learning learning on the go, but don’t weigh down your carry-on. (Obviously a couple for each language project, assuming you just focus on one per trip – I’m not talking polyglot minimalism here, just resource minimalism! )

In any case, it’s a fun exercise to try with your (probable, if you anything like me) heaps of books. As with a capsule wardrobe, it’s good to set a limit on the number of pieces. Because books are a bit heavier and (gulp – forgive me saying this – marginally less essential) than clothes, I think two (only two?!) is a good number to play the game. A good course book and a decent reference volume go pretty well together, I think.

Here are some of my attempts, limiting myself to two (really only two?!) books per language:

Gaelic

You can’t beat a Colloquial for in-depth language tuition. I find they always double as reference works too, so you have a double whammy right there. My other choice is quite a grammar-heavy look at Gaelic verbs, but with lots of side references to other aspects of the language too. Every time I dip into it, I come across something new. Solid.

German

Less of the learning material, more of the reference here, with German being my second language and strongest foreign language. Hammer’s Grammar is the definitive reference on all things Deutsch, and Wort für Wort has kept me in advanced conversation topics since I did my German A-level in the last century.

Greek

Who amongst us doesn’t love a good Routledge? I have a special soft spot for the Essential Grammar series, since they’re almost as comprehensive as the, ahem, Comprehensive series, but a bit less overwhelming. Twin that with a Teach Yourself (and you know I love me a Teach Yourself), and we’re ready for that trip to the islands.

Handy bonus: all of the Teach Yourself audio is available online in the TY library app, too. Or, if you have a Kindle, you can get the book and the audio in a single format.

Polish

Never one to shy away from being predictable, I paired up my Polish outfit to match my Greek one. Well, if it works…

Ready, steady… Capsule!

So there you go. Four of my essential Summer outfits.

Apart from the fun element of challenge to it, capsuling your books makes you think hard about what you already have. It  helps you to take stock of your materials. and decide what your core strategy is. And it keeps you ready to run and learn – whether that’s on holiday, or up the road for some study time in the library!

Which textbooks are your hero items? What would make your desert island cut? Let us know in the comments!

Pop linguistics books

Pop Linguistics Books for Prep or Pleasure

I fulfilled a long-time promise to myself in 2020. I went back to university to do the linguistics masters I never had the chance to do years ago. It’s been a journey (and still is!).

That said, as a long-time language nerd, I wasn’t going in completely blind. Like most linguaphiles, I love reading about languages, as well as learning them. Over the years, I’ve happened across a few pop linguistics titles that prepared the ground (little did I know then) for my return to uni. They’re accessible, fun reads, and nobody needs a formal linguistics background to enjoy them. Just a healthy interest will do. And whether or not you plan to take the same step as I did, they’ll all get you thinking about how languages work, and change, in whole new ways.

Without further ado, here are a few of my favourite pop ling books.

Dying Words

Nicholas Evans

Nicholas Evans is an Australian linguist specialising in endangered languages. Dying Words is first and foremost his empassioned cry to recognise the value of every language to the library of human knowledge. 

To drive the point home, he builds his arguments on solid research and extensive field experience; his expertise on Australian languages is worth the price of the book alone.

But it’s all written so accessibly, with each technical term or methodological aspect so carefully explained, that the book doubles as a kind of gentle introduction to historical linguistics. Linguistics primer gold.

The Unfolding of Language

Guy Deutscher

The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher - one of my top recommended linguistics books

The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher

This book is pretty special to me. It was the one that first got me thinking language change is cool!

In it, Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher tells the most fascinating stories about how words and grammar develop. The most lasting insight from this, for me, was that of the great churn of language change. It’s truly never-ending, as the results of yesterday’s changes provide the material for tomorrow’s. It’s quite the revelation how French has iterated and iterated from Latin hodie (today) to aujourd’hui – tautologically, on the day of this day.

If you like this one, it’s also worth checking out his Through the Language Glass.

The First Word

Christine Kenneally

Author Christine Kenneally takes perhaps the most speculative of linguistics topics – the evolution of language – and provides an exciting and compelling tour of scholarship in the field. A trained linguist herself, she now works as a journalist, and the combination of the two makes this a compelling pleasure to read. Even if you find the concept of language evolution too woolly and conjectural, the book is fantastic for simply prompting thoughts on what language is.

The Adventure of English

Melvyn Bragg

Despite being the only book on this list by a non-linguist (at least professionally), the author of The Adventure of English is nonetheless a sharp tool and very well informed – of course, none other than the legendary broadcaster and cultural commentator Melvyn Bragg. His book on the history of the English language, and the emergence of many different global Englishes, made a decent splash in the right circles, in any case. I’ve seen it recommended as pre-reading for a few different English linguistics courses, including a former Open Uni module. As you’d expect from a broadcast journalist, it’s pacy and entertaining – so much so that you might well finish it in a couple of sittings.

Books for Prep or Pleasure

So there you go – a handful of tips for some light linguistics reading. That goes for anyone interested in the field, whether for personal interest or uni prep. Also note that there’s not a Language Instinct in sight, although I do love that one, too. It’s just a bit too obvious as it remains ubiquitously recommended here, there and everywhere!

None of these are really academic texts, of course. Most are written in that chipper, journalistic style familiar from that close cousin to the field, pop science. But for that reason, they’re all a bit of a joy to read. I hope you enjoy them too.

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Just for the sake of completion: my (now very battered) copy of The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

 

Teach Yourself enhanced ebooks plus audio for Kindle

Teach Yourself Enhanced eBooks : Bargains Hiding in Plain Sight

I had a bit of Amazon credit to spend this week (from TopCashBack, no less), so I decided to treat myself to a couple of Kindle books I’d had my eye on for a while: the enhanced ebook + audio editions of a couple of Teach Yourself Complete titles.

As Greek and Polish seem to have lodged themselves firmly in my heart as big life language projects (did I choose them, or did they choose me?), it seemed only right to install both of them on my device. Although they’re hardly brand new editions, the ebook + audio range being available since the early 2010s, they’re my first in that format. They’re cheap, too – most are just £3.99 right now, with the odd one, like Cantonese, even cheaper.

Of course, I already have both of these books (in several versions, vintage and otherwise, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my recent compulsion!). But even though I’ve completed them both in other guises, I still love these titles for revision. I’m also stoked by the idea of a one-stop-shop mobile library – a single place for all that content, with no need for app-switching for listening material.

Teach Yourself enhanced ebooks plus audio for Kindle

Teach Yourself Complete Greek and Complete Polish on my Kindle app

Teach Yourself… To Be Compatible?

Confession: I almost didn’t bother with them at all.

The reason was the not insignificant number of negative reviews left for those products on Amazon. The big bad mark against them was the charge of incompatibility, particularly the audio. A number of users frustratedly left their one-star slaps-in-the-face stating that the audio simply didn’t work on their devices.

Thankfully, it seems like an issue on older Kindles, rather than the content itself. I’ve had no problems at all running them on the Kindle app for iOS on my two-year-old iPad. Audio prompts appear as little speaker icons, and a mini player pops up at the bottom of the screen when you tap them. There is full scrub / pause functionality too, so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing from start to finish.

Teach Yourself… to Read Non-Latin Scripts?

That said, there was another frequent review gripe that put me off plumping for them even more than the potential audio issues. Several users mentioned a lack of support for non-Latin characters in the dialogues. Instead of letter characters, some only saw blank boxes – clearly a font fail. Now that would be a deal-breaker for languages like Greek, Hindi and Russian!

Again, it seems to be a case of device support, not product support. Greek characters display perfectly on Kindle for iPad. Not only that, but they’ve used a really nice, readable font for the Greek.

If there’s anything to be said in the way of constructive criticism, it’s just a question of layout. Sometimes, vocab lists can look cramped, for instance, although that’s easily fixed by rotating to landscape. Elsewhere, some exercise tables are obviously images rather than text, with instructions to ‘fill in’ despite not being editable (as the image above illustrates). Nonetheless, they’re tiny quibbles given the convenience of the format.

If In Doubt…

All in all, my experience with the Teach Yourself Complete ebooks has been tiptop. It all goes to show that you can’t always trust reviews out of context.

If in doubt, though, you do have one tool at your disposal for a definitive answer on compatibility: the free sample. There are free samples – usually just the first chapter or so – available for all Amazon Kindle books. I made sure to download both the Greek and Polish samples above before spending my hard-earned (yet still bargainous) £3.99.

If you want trusty Teach Yourself content on your devices, these are a really good punt. They’re not available in all the Teach Yourself Complete languages, but most of the major learning languages are available (French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, for starters).