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Archive for the ‘Spanish’ Category

The podcasts I listen to and how BusinessWeek got it wrong

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 3, 2006

Is Podcasting revolution over before it began? BusinessWeek seems to think so and quotes Pew Internet & American Life Project’s statistics. The topic is also generating some buzz in the blogosphere, with BusinessWeek’s interpretation being gleefully accepted by some and thoughtfully rejected by others.

I believe into podcasting‘s future because it is here already for me. I have a 40 minute walk to work each day, so I have over six hours of content a week I can consume. And being quite busy during days, nights and weekends, I try to use that walk time constructively as well. I have been listening to the podcasts from before they were called that and, so, had some time to get my bearings. And they are basically aligned with what the concept of Long Tail teaches us.

Strangely enough, BusinessWeek did not even mention any of the concepts that are important for me and my podcast consumption. That’s how I know the article is missing many points. It is not really unexpected, as it takes a while to get past the beginner’s understanding and actually see the real depth of the concept.

My current collection is at 25 podcasts and I have discarded over time probably twice that number. Less than a third of the podcasts on the list would be considered even vaguely popular by normal measures, the rest are plainly hyper-specialized to my needs and interests.

Over time, I had dutifully sampled and eventually discarded Adam Curry, Dave Winer and Gillmor Gang podcasts. They sporadically have some interesting content, but so infrequently that I find myself frustrated with all the filler. Gillmor Gang specifically I have given 3 or 4 tries over years, but I think they were most interesting during their ITConversations’ days.

I also don’t have any popular radio podcasts. I find the latest news to be easiest to consume in an aggregated or RSS format on my computer. That way if a news item is interesting, I can follow up on its references or setup keywords alert for the future notifications. Podcasts, in my mind, are much more suitable for content that has already undergone some thought process by its producer. I know that for some people, the reasoning is different but just as valid (for them).

I break my subscriptions into roughly 5 categories:

  • Technical News – In my industry (IT) it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. Without these podcasts I feel that I would not notice what is coming down the line until it would be too late and I would be stuck maintaining Cobol-equivalent systems forevermore.
  • Trend watching – Many interesting things are happening in the world if one just happens to be in the right place at the right time. These podcasts put me into that place and do it very early in the ideas’ lifecycles: somewhere between a cutting edge and an early adoption stage. I may not have time to participate, but sometimes the knowledge I get allows me to leapfrog the conventional process. For example, I have been on a cheap Voice-over-IP service (Lingo) for nearly two years and saved myself money and hustle of dealing with Verizon and its ilk.
  • Learning new skills in a background – I may not have time to allocate several active hours a week on a useful, but not currently essential skill, but podcasts in these category allow me to learn something through osmosis over time. Later, when I would need those skills, I would have already absorbed enough to be a very quick learner.
  • Language learning – I am studying Spanish now and before that I was learning French and Esperanto and there is always some improvement I could do to my English. These podcasts provide additional learning (or meta-learning) material. Some of them are also good edutainment.
  • Entertainment – Some podcasts are just funny or interesting or have my friends in them. They round up the collection nicely.

My full list is available publically, but here is the breakdown by the categories as I see it:

Are there more podcasts I would have liked to listen to? Certainly. I would love a podcast on computational linguistics. At the moment, even the bloggers on the topics are extremely rare.

I would also love a podcast on Scottish Country Dancing. There is just so much one could do with that. I know that at least one person have thought of it and given up as unsustainable, which is a real pity. I am tempted to start one myself just to prove her wrong.

Finally, I think there is a way to make a better language-learning podcast/video cast than the ones I found so far. I have mentioned some of the ideas to at least one person in a position to do that. Nothing happened yet, but such things take time. I will wait a while and, if nothing happens, will blog it here instead. I don’t mind prividing competitive advantage to a company that deserves it through good service, but will not sit on the ideas forever either.

To summarise the long post, I think that podcasting has legs and will succeed in the content niches that appeal to people based on their individual interests and needs. There is a lot of fluff and junk podcasts on the web at the moment, but it is getting better and, as with blogging, the absolute number of interesting podcasts is growing fast. It takes some time to find good content, but it really pays off in a long run.


Posted in General Education, Language acquisition, RSCDS, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Free spanish e-book for intermediate learners

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 3, 2006

It is quite frustrating how often a good material hides so deep in a random website that it can only be found by total accident.

Such seems to be the case with Suspense, no suspenso. From what I can tell, it is a complete detective story book written in Spanish for an intermediate language learner and even includes some exercises for the teacher’s use. It used to be a real book (with ISBN and all), but has obviously been released to the world at large since.

I cannot read it yet as I am still at the early beginner stage, but to find a text that is free, in plain HTML (for converting to other formats) and targetted specifically at the language reader is a rare delight. I hope someone ahead of me in learning spanish, will find it useful. Leave a comment, if you do.

And if there are enough people interested, maybe we could find some bilingual speakers to add an english translation to the text. Given that the book is clearly there not for commercial gain, I am sure they would not object if somebody offered to improve its value further.

Posted in e-books, Spanish | 2 Comments »

Spanish/English bilingual e-book is available free via Overdrive

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on October 21, 2006

I was listening to the Trying to Learn Spanish podcast and in its 11th episode somebody mentioned an interesting e-book (Thirteen Senses by Victor VillaseƱor) that has parallel English and Spanish text and allows to quickly switch between them.
I like the idea of bilingual books, so I went hunting for it. The book is available for purchase in a couple of places, but I wanted to see an excerpt first to see the quality and ease of use. So I went searching and found something much better.

The book is available as an eBook via Overdrive programme, that many libraries subscribe to. WorldCat site allows to easily find where the book is available and in which format. I confirmed that my library subscribed to the book, so within 15 minutes I had setup the Mobipocket reader and downloaded the e-book to my computer.

It looks quite good and interesting to read. Jumping between translations is with little hyperlinked arrows, so one cannot see both translation at once but it is survivable.

My spanish is not quite up to to the proper reading level yet, but it is good to know it is there and ready for me when
I am ready. And I have 21 days to dip in and out just to see how far I can get.

What’s is interesting is that I could not find any discussion about this dual format and whether it worked for both learners and – commercially – for the publisher. I think this (or similar) format has a lot of promise, but maybe other people disagree.

Posted in e-books, Spanish | 3 Comments »

Spanish are less personally intrusive than French – class experience

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on October 3, 2006

This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I could not avoid noticing the differences in phrases I am learning in Spanish as compared to the ones I was learning in French.

Both language classes spent a first couple of weeks with Name, Surname, Workplace, Street address, Phone number and suchlike. No surprise there, even though I don’t normally rattle out my full details at the first meeting with a stranger.

However, I distinctly remember also having to divulge my marital and parenthood status in the early French classes (e.g. I am married, I am single, I have N children, etc). That was quite embarrassing, if not downright annoying. Especially so for those adults who were single without children and therefore had nothing to discuss at length. The artificial learning conversations were even more artificial for them.
So, when I switched to Spanish, I will steeling myself to this self-inflicted privacy disclosure, just to find it never happening. It has been a couple of weeks already and nobody seems to give a hoot about existance of a wife, partner or descendants.

Though it is a relief, it makes me wonder where the difference came from. Was it just that French study books were older and less politically-correct? Was it that our French teacher was trying to play a full-disclosure cupid? Or was it actually something about French versus Spanish culture that I am not aware of? And who do I ask without looking politically-incorrect myself?

Posted in Language acquisition, Learning French, Spanish | 1 Comment »

Thoughts on a best teacher to learn a language from

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on September 18, 2006

When I was studying French, my teacher liked to measure out the knowledge at her own pace. If you asked about something that in her study plan was a couple of weeks later, she would pretty much tell you to learn what you are supposed to know first.

Being the kind of person who likes to connect the dots and figure out what’s important and what’s not himself, I was somewhat annoyed at this spoon-fed method.

Now that I started Spanish, my new teacher is completely opposite. She would answer any question, go into long – dare I say rambling – discussions of what rules and exceptions apply where and how spanish Spanish would be different from a south-american Spanish. She would even throw in linguistic/phonetic terms (like Alveolar) while trying to explain pronunciation differences.

This does not seem to work too well either. It is probably slightly easier for me, since it is not a first foreign language I am studying (4th ?!?), but other people seem to be rather confused at times. And even for myself, I have to double check online some of the points afterwards.

And that’s just third lesson. I am not looking forward to the second semester, unless Spanish is so much easier than French that everything just falls into place with enough practice.

Still, given a choice, I would probably go for the teacher I have now and supplement it with my own parallel study.

We shall see if this is this opinion will keep all the way to after the exam…..

Posted in Language acquisition, Spanish | Leave a Comment »