Always Learning!

The world through the prism of my mind

Archive for April, 2006

Fake research paper detector

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on April 25, 2006

If I ever do get to write a PhD, I will have to make sure to run it through this detector (as well covered in the New Scientist). Seriously though, this sounds like a great way to show off the computational linguistics (or more specifically data/text mining) experiments. Hopefully such projects will make the field more visible and more interesting to others.

On the project itself, I wonder how it would deal with papers produced by people for whom English is not their first language. 

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Posted in Computational Linguistics | Leave a Comment »

Link: Myopia in applied linguistics

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on April 24, 2006

Roger Shuy describes the original goals of American Association of Applied Linguistics and progress (or in his opinion) retreat from those goals that happened over the last 30 years.

I started to write a comment on it, but realised that it needs fine-tuning.  So, I will skip my thinking for now, apart from saying that he has a very valid point. Ether way, the article is worth a read.

Posted in General Education | Leave a Comment »

About Esperanto without nonsense

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on April 15, 2006

I am an idealist inside. But I keep that well hidden. 🙂 So, when I look at something that needs to be done, I search for the low hanging fruit. Grand ambitions are fine, but if they are not backed up by the near term useful solutions, everything will stagnate and die.

With Esperanto, the core idea is so great and compelling that many people seem to have difficulties to turn their eyes to identifying more immediate opportunities. This seem to be slowly changing in the last several years with absolutely amazing projects such as lernu.net and RadioArkivo.

Still, it was great to find a free online book(Esperanto: A Language for the Global Village by Sylvan Zaft) that adds in a lot of rational reasoning into the heady original concepts. The Cost-Benefit chapter is particularly interesting, but others are just as good.

I guess on the scale of Esperantists, I would be more close (but not fully aligned) with the Raumists.

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Posted in Esperanto, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Does the grammar matter when learning a language?

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on April 11, 2006

There is a great commercial service out there for those interested in learning English. It is called theLinguist and is run by the polyglot Steve Kaufmann (with 9 languages and more on the way, he more than deserves the label). Steve's approach is very unconventional, but I think in a good way. It is run as a central website, it provides a lot of reading and listening material, it tracks the words/phrases you are learning and it provides tutor services that will look over what you write and suggest better (more standard) ways of saying the same thing. This is a combination not offered by any other provider that I know of.

So, what's the problem? Well, Steve does not believe in grammar. In fact, we are having a bit of heated discussion about it right now (context start). The part I agree with him is that the study of grammar can confuse a person and even scare him/her away from the language study altogether. The part I disagree with him is that (quote):

It is enough to focus on the words and phrases the way we do at The Linguist.

Unfortunately, any single method is never a silver bullet. The grammar-translational approach failed; so did the audiolingual method, the Silent Way and Total Phisical Response (overviews). All of them appealed to some people for some time, but then the problems and holes showed up. This has been proven over and over again with practice and academic studies. Unfortunately, Steve does not believe into academic studies either. It is a little hard to progress the discussion from there.

For myself (and I am only on my 3rd language), I believe that different people need different methods in appropriate proportions.

I like seeing grammar rules because it allows me to compact multiple examples into one structure. For example, in Esperanto, correlatives such as who, where, everywhere etc. are described as a 5 prefixes x 9 suffixes grid creating 45 options alltogether. I only have to learn 5+9 entries to get the benefit of all 45. In English, where such grid is not available (where->there, but any->some->all), I had to memorise the different options individually, each with its own full supplements of examples and contexts. To me, what Steve advocates seems to be not taking the advantage of the grid, even when such grid is available.

Of course, that is just me. Other people prefer feature drills/flashcards (also not part of theLinguist) and having a very large stock of standard phrases to use. Others will not learn anything at all unless they talk (not just listen) to a human over and over again.

So, have I turned around and proved to myself that theLinguist is not a good service? No, I am just saying that it is not a complete one. Which is fine as people can find complimentary material when required if they knew it would help. The last if, is why I take an exception with Steve flogging his approach as the end-all solution over and over again on the blog. I think that the byproduct of the sale message can actually do people some harm in learning progress or even in the self-esteem, if their learning mode does not align with Steve's.

As to our challenge, the game is on. This post just took a bit too long tonight to do it immediately. 🙂

Posted in Language acquisition | 1 Comment »

Petitioning United Nations to recognize Esperanto as the international language

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on April 9, 2006

Every couple of years World Esperanto Association (UEA) makes a statement at United Nations to pay more attention to linguistic inequality and (at least a couple of years ago) to consider teaching Esperanto as per UNESCO's recommendation in 1985. Usually nothing happens out of it. UEA is an NGO registered with United Nations, but there are many NGOs and many things they ask for.

Now, I have just discovered that there is an internet petition to United Nations to recognize Esperanto as the international language. Already, more than 4500 people signed.

It would be interesting to see how far it will get and what will come out of it, even if just as an indication of how many people are actively looking out for Esperanto issues.

I have voted, because I think that in some cases Esperanto is a much better option to teach than English. Or at least as an option before English/French/etc.

For example, if a piecekeeping missing is established in an area where natives don't speak English/French/Spanish/etc. and the local language is difficult as well, teaching Esperanto for communication purposes would be much faster and more effective than trying to teach English or even fight for the limited number of interpreters available. At the moment, I believe these situations are treated as effectively unresolvable and the high costs and slow process caused are taken as granted. Esperanto might be just the right outside-the-square solution for this.

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Posted in Esperanto | 9 Comments »