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Learning languages efficiently.

4 Post author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 03:57PM

I'm not at all sure how this site works yet (I've gone only on traditional forums), so bear with me please if I do something foolish. I'm being drafted to the IDF in a few months and I need to learn Hebrew very quickly if I want to avoid being put into a program for foreign speakers. I currently reside in the US, but I've previously lived in (and have citizenship of) both countries.

After experiencing the government-sponsored Hebrew programs, I totally refuse to accept such a ridiculously inefficient and traumatic method of teaching a language. When I get enlisted, I'll want to focus whatever little time I have left on studying more important things. Something that will damage me psychologically, not to mention take up huge amounts of time and effort, will take away any opportunity I might get.

I can speak a few basic phrases in Hebrew and and can understand a bit more. Immersion is not an option for me currently. My attempts at teaching myself the language have been stunningly misguided (which is to say, like reading Atlas Shrugged to get a proper understanding of Objectivism) and I'm not interested in a lengthy trial and error process. Obviously getting literature on language acquisition is out of the question. I wouldn't even know where to start.

So, I'd just like some methods or heuristics for picking up languages as fast as possible. (I am extremely literate, so there's that.)

Comments (90)

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 02 March 2014 11:01:37PM *  12 points [-]

I've had 6 years of formal spanish classes. When I speak spanish, I need to think of the phrase in english, and then translate each word to spanish, and it's all very awkward with no real fluency or soul. My accent is good, but I think that's just because the Spanish phenomes which are not present in English are present in Hindi.

I've had sporadic contact with Hindi via family members and movies. My Hindi is just as bad as my Spanish in terms of raw communicative power...but the nature of my knowledge is different. I can spontaneously and naturally say entire phrases with all the proper communicative cues (changes in pitch, expression) without any English in my mind. And I can directly understand the meaning of Hindi speech, whereas with Spanish I need to map it to English before grasping meaning.

So, if I said one sentence in Spanish, a Spanish speaker can immediately tell I'm not a native speaker. If I say one sentence in Hindu, for that one sentence I'm reported to sound exactly like a native speaker (but there is very little I can actually say, so I essentially sound like a child who has been speaking sentences for about 6 months. (People find it hilarious)).

So while I can communicate roughly equally poorly in both languages in a pinch, I can do more "natural" stuff like create/appreciate humor in Hindi, which I can never pull off in Spanish.

Given that experience, here are my suggestions:

Immersion substitution: Take a movie which you have seen the English version many times, and watch it in Hebrew. When an unfamiliar phrase appears, pause the movie, say the phrase, and try to figure out what it means (using the dictionary as a last resort). Once you get to the point where you can completely understand one movie in Hebrew, move on to another movie. (Side effects may include: Use of overly dramatic or poetic language in daily talk. This goes double from phrases which you learned from musical pieces). Unless you're totally at a loss, I'd suggest leaving any English subtitles off.

Repeat the phrases aloud. Don't be afraid to babble unfamiliar syllables like a baby. Whenever I go to India, I get a powerful instinctive urge to start babbling, saying random phrases, and repeating what people around me say. This draws weird looks, so I do it under my breathe, but I think it really helps/

Do not mentally translate from one language to another. Try to grab the meaning directly from the words, without going en-route to English. That is, as you think of the phrase, try to not activate the equivalent word in a language you already know, and instead try to strongly activate a non-verbal representation of the concept.

For example, if הַשְּׁקִיעָה means "sunset"...but literally means "the setting", then mentally envision a far-away object going downwards over the horizon. The english word "Sunset" most strongly brings to mind a warm orange glow because of the word sun, but "the setting" may well have a very different connotation to a Hebrew speaker, and might emphasize different aspects (the downward motion, the fact that it's now time to go inside and relax, etc). These small differences will become apparent from taking into consideration the literal translation, the figurative translation, and the context. Actively not translating will help these come clearer, because instead of just memorizing "sunset" you would focus on how close the word is to "שקיעה" (to sink), which you would have previously associated with downwards motions.

To the extent possible, try to do the same when speaking (it's harder because it can be a bit difficult to think in a communicative way without the aid of a language, but it will sound more natural in the end.)

Talk to yourself try to have an internal monologue in the target language, except move your mouth along with it. Movie-immersion is only listening...you need to simulate speaking immersion too, or you'll end up being able to understand but not speak (this has happened to me to some extent with Hindi).

I can't read Hindi, but I felt that reading written Spanish aloud made for a decent "immersion" substitute (in terms of how much I subjectively felt myself learning). You might be able to do that with hebrew if you've got the graphy-phenome mapping down. Writing spanish was much less helpful for me...the slower pace of the writing process had me instinctively using the time to apply the "rules" I had learned rather than doing it instinctively.

(Remember the fact that I can't speak Spanish or Hindi well enough to survive on my own in an immersed environment, when weighing my opinion)

Comment author: syllogism 04 March 2014 10:35:43AM 0 points [-]

I'm interested in developing better language learning software.

For the movie case, do you think these would be helpful? Any other ideas?

  • Read in the subtitles file before viewing, so that vocab can be checked and learned via spaced repetition
  • Option to slow down the dialogue, with pitch-shifting to keep it from sounding weird and bassy
Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 04 March 2014 11:15:07PM *  0 points [-]

Slow-down should surely be helpful...I would think that ideally you want the words-per-minute to approximately correspond to the speeds seen in infant-directed-speech.

I'd generally opt to watch a movie that you've seen many times but don't remember word for word, to prevent translation, so I wouldn't personally watch the subtitles before reading - but not everyone is me so maybe you should test a few people first?

In terms of subtitles, I'd say fewer words, more high quality is better. The most useful thing I think would be explanations of idioms, expressions, and other things that can't be understood literally...as well as explanations of un-common words.

For example, if a movie had the line "You're really gonna hand over the Avatar for a stupid piece of parchment?" then the subtitles would say "parchment - a primitive page made out of animal skin", since you couldn't possibly know that from context. (though I suppose one might argue that this type of information is not very important for a speaker starting out)

Comment author: zedzed 02 March 2014 04:22:29PM 12 points [-]

Use spaced repetition software. This is the formal explanation about why it works. The intuitive explanation goes something like:

  1. Spacing effect: the less frequently we review something, the stronger the memory.

  2. We have computer programs that calculate when we forget things, so we only review them when we're about to forget.

  3. This results in less frequent reviews. By (1), this results in a stronger memory, so the computer program calculates that your next review should be later, resulting in a stronger memory, resulting in an even later review...

The best program I'm aware of is anki.

Also, if you read through Gwern's article, you'll find this under External Links. May be helpful.

Comment author: Trevor_Blake 02 March 2014 04:24:17PM 11 points [-]

I am an interpreter. Immersion among native speakers is unbeatable for learning fast. If fast is the priority, stop using any other language but the target language by the end of this sentence.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 02 March 2014 05:47:26PM 8 points [-]

To increase immersion, download some music in given language, so you can listen to it in your free time when you are too tired to learn otherwise.

Comment author: drethelin 02 March 2014 06:08:02PM 5 points [-]

specifically: children's music is very good for beginners. Even when not intended to be actually educational the words are usually clearer and simpler than pop music, and the tunes tend to be catchy and memorable.

Comment author: Emile 02 March 2014 09:59:17PM 5 points [-]

And even more specifically: Disney songs; catchy, memorable, and you may already know what it's talking about (same goes for things like Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc. - movies targeted at a young audience are more likely to have their songs translated instead of subtitled).

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 06:46:38PM 0 points [-]

I listen to Hebrew music all the time. Even when the lyrics are simple and translated, it doesn't stick. I wouldn't understand them put in any other context.

Comment author: ESRogs 02 March 2014 11:33:46PM 3 points [-]

Even when you've independently learned many of the words? I think the idea is for songs to help reinforce and build upon material you've already learned, rather than to get you started from zero.

Comment author: Emile 02 March 2014 09:56:32PM *  6 points [-]

Some stuff that helped me (I speak decent Chinese, some German, and basic Japanese and Esperanto):

  • Immersion, of course, especially if you can insinuate you can't speak English (I'm French, we don't have a reputation for being great at English - so I can just say the equivalent of "me from the France" in the target language and I'm less likely to be answered in English)

  • A high tolerance for embarrassment (not having much of a peer group around probably helps, e.g. shopping alone or talking on the internet)

  • Instant Messaging with young girls of the target language - a good way of getting your brain to notice how valuable stringing basic sentences together is. Video chat would probably be even better, in my days we had to stick to ICQ (you may want to follow a different strategy if, for example, you are more interested in boys than in girls)

  • Anki, or other Spaced Repetition software. Enter everything you learn in it (rather than using pre-constructed decks), and review it daily.

  • Reading comic strips or other light reading in the target language (Ideally: those that talk about daily things (not space dragons - I liked "Detective Conan", because of the frequent and repetitive reference to household items), and that you've already read in your language (in my case, Tintin and Dragon Ball)) (mildly useful, I found it easier to stick to than reading actual books)

  • Listening to songs in the target language (I like some Disney songs - I already know the meaning in English - or other musicals) (I don't know how useful this has actually been, but it has drilled some basic vocabulary in me, and has been enjoyable. Probably not as effective as the other options above)

  • If you can't get any total immersion, organize lunches with people in the same area who either speak that language or want to learn it, with learning as an explicit goal.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 10:24:19PM *  0 points [-]

Why did you learn Esperanto? Has it been useful to you?

Comment author: D_Malik 03 March 2014 02:46:00AM 3 points [-]

From back when I learned Esperanto, I remember talk of a study that showed that learning Esperanto for 1 month and then learning French for (say) 11 months results in better French than just spending the whole 12 months learning French. No link, might be apocryphal.

Comment author: D_Malik 05 March 2014 09:08:56AM *  0 points [-]

On further investigation, it turns out that there's an entire Wikipedia article on this effect, listing 14 different experiments. Many of them seem old, small, and non-rigorous, though.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 03 March 2014 09:09:30PM *  -2 points [-]

I defy the data. I wouldn't care if you did have a citation, but I doubt it's a real study, too.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 03 March 2014 09:25:40PM 3 points [-]

Williams, N. (1965) 'A language teaching experiment', Canadian Modern Language Review 22.1: 26-28

Comment author: gwern 03 March 2014 11:42:50PM 0 points [-]

http://www.essex.ac.uk/langling/documents/elct/2013/esperanto_tool.pdf

The early research that does exist (e.g. Fisher, 1921; Halloran, 1952, Williams, 1965a, 1965b) is reported in brief terms and thus does not pass today’s quality standards

Also explains why there's no copy online.

Comment author: Emile 02 March 2014 10:37:46PM 2 points [-]

Why did you learn Esperanto?

Because it's interesting and easy, and the idea of "let's all speak a common neutral language" is one I can get behind.

Has it been useful to you?

Not very useful, no, but I enjoy learning languages. It made me more confident towards learning other languages (specifically, it's simple grammar rules made me re-evaluate my rejection of memorizing German grammar), was an interesting social activity, and I got to travel with the Pasporta Servo program (free housing for other Esperantists), got to chat with weird people, etc. A bit like LessWrong :D

Comment author: terasinube 02 March 2014 06:16:57PM 6 points [-]

Listen as much audio spoken by native speakers as you can. My guess is that children programs are best. Maybe some Hebrew dubbed cartoons that you are already familiar with. First priority is to get your brain trained on the sounds of the language.

Speak with a native speaker that knows English. You can use http://livemocha.com/ for this.

Speak badly but speak.

From my personal experience, biggest hurdle in learning a new language is actually using it. Getting past the "shame" filter of your brain. If you accept that mistakes are unavoidable and just start speaking, you will get a lot of practice and you will improve. Of course, it's nice having a professional aware of the fact that you are a beginner, giving you clear and precise feedback. :)

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 06:54:04PM 1 point [-]

Both of my parents qualify. We've tried to revert to only Hebrew plenty of times. If we can make it through the day I guarantee you it'll be back to English by the time next morning rolls around.

I disagree. Nevermind mere mistakes. The biggest hurdle is "I can't fucking say what I want to say". Not "say without mistakes" - "say at all".

Amen.

Comment author: Creutzer 02 March 2014 06:24:40PM 0 points [-]

From my personal experience, biggest hurdle in learning a new language is actually using it. Getting past the "shame" filter of your brain. If you accept that mistakes are unavoidable and just start speaking, you will get a lot of practice and you will improve.

I disagree. Nevermind mere mistakes. The biggest hurdle is "I can't fucking say what I want to say". Not "say without mistakes" - "say at all".

Comment author: terasinube 02 March 2014 06:47:41PM *  1 point [-]

Of course you cannot say what you want to say, but maybe you are able to say something else.

You might not be able to express some complex idea from the get go but, would it be that difficult to say: konnichiwa, watashi wa Creutzer desu. Hajimemashite. ? :)

Comment author: Creutzer 03 March 2014 02:04:00AM *  2 points [-]

What good is it to say something that is not what I want to say? I don't get utility from saying arbitrary things. What if someone asks me a question and I know the answer but can't express it in the language? This kind of thing drives me crazy. I wouldn't care if I botched a few verb endings if I could at least have a remotely meaningful conversation in a language. ("Hello, my name is X, nice to meet you" does not qualify.)

Comment author: terasinube 03 March 2014 07:09:18AM 1 point [-]

In my perspective this would be deliberate practice. You would get to practice sentence construction and you would get to practice your sound creation which is quite a difficult thing to do.

Starting from simple things like asking for direction or requesting stuff is a great place to start.

You can't expect fluency from the very beginning but, in order to get there, you'd have to start from somewhere.

If this kind of sentences drive you crazy... it's ok... choose something else. I'm in no way trying to tell you what to do. :) I'm only providing my perspective on things. If it's useful... ok, if not.... still ok. :)

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 06:55:57PM *  0 points [-]

Is there an online transliterator or something? I don't know Japanese.

I can coherently ask my aunt if there's water in the fridge. Or tell someone that they're a son of a whore. That's about as far as it goes.

Comment author: terasinube 02 March 2014 09:02:49PM 1 point [-]

It's just a simple "hello, my name is X, nice to meet you" kind of greeting. All languages have them. They might sound silly for a native speaker but also endearing. They warm the atmosphere.

What would be a simple phrase that you would like to learn?

Asking this question 2 times and adding the answers to the "water in the fridge" & "son of a whore" would effectively double your skill. :)

Comment author: JoshuaFox 02 March 2014 06:45:09PM *  4 points [-]

Memorize songs you like. Best way to learn vocabulary. I brought my Hebrew from weak to strong by learning all the songs of Poogy.

But the only way to really learn a language is immersion, which I have only seen happen at work, army, or university (making sure that you are not around English speakers). It is very rare for people to find immersion opportunities by just seeking to hang out with speakers of another language.

After experiencing the government-sponsored Hebrew programs, I totally refuse to accept such a ridiculously inefficient and traumatic method of teaching a language.

The Ulpan system is famous for rapidly bringing a wide variety of new immigrants up to speed. What did you find lacking?

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 07:02:10PM *  0 points [-]

I'm more of a visual learner. I could do better by reading (and I do know how, but I need the Niqqud since there aren't any vowels in Hebrew).

I've never gone to Ulpan. I've gone to school, and had a government-sponsored Hebrew tutor once a week. That's where I realized just how bad it was. My brother's gone to Ulpan, though, and I've heard bad things about it from him and others.

Comment author: James_Miller 02 March 2014 04:11:53PM 4 points [-]

Look at what LW has on spaced repetition, procrastination, and pomodoros. If you have the money I would suggest hiring a private experienced teacher.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 06:43:07PM 0 points [-]

Yes, I've already seen this this page, but it's really the methodology, not the length, that kills me. And a private experienced teacher might be possible, but I'm not going to commit to anything that dubious. Every time I see a Hebrew textbook I want to vomit.

Comment author: ESRogs 02 March 2014 11:51:16PM *  5 points [-]

Friend, you've asked this community for help, and many people have taken the time to offer suggestions, but every one of your replies is something saying confidently why their suggestion won't work. Perhaps you should be a bit more polite and charitable to people who are trying to help you?

Would it be fair to guess that you are feeling frustrated with this task and not very hopeful that you're going to be successful at it? Reading this thread, it's hard for me not to get the impression that you just think the task is impossible and are looking for confirmation of that, rather than positively seeking for solutions. If you actually want to learn Hebrew (or accomplish any other difficult thing), you have to 1) believe that it really is possible that you could do it, and 2) be willing to try lots of things that might or might not work for you.

Please feel free to correct or ignore me if I'm off base.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 11:55:06PM *  3 points [-]

I did not mean to give that impression. I responded to those whose suggestions wouldn't work and tried (perhaps failing) to make them constructive criticisms. There are plenty of posts which have been massively useful. SoerenMind, westward, Emile, and SWOTN are obvious examples.

Comment author: ESRogs 02 March 2014 11:59:00PM 0 points [-]

Ah, thanks for correcting my impression. Glad to hear that many of the posts have been helpful!

Comment author: SoerenMind 02 March 2014 09:41:06PM 10 points [-]

I've found myself in a very similar situation last year. I had to go from nothing to fluent in Dutch in 7 weeks in order to be able to study there. Already knowing German as a similar language certainly played a role in making this possible.

Here's what worked for me, in order of importance:

  • As you probably guessed, conversation is the key. I traveled to different people I knew in the Netherlands for several days each just to talk to them. They were very willing to help. I don't know if you have this possibility, but it would be hugely beneficial. For most of the time I couldn't do this and had to learn in other ways.

  • Starting with the most common 100 words. These account for 50% of all communication. Then move on to the most common 200 (75%). Work your way up to 500 or more. These lists can be found online. Learning vocabulary lists other than the most common words can be very inefficient.

  • Your most important phrase should be: "How do you say X?" (in Hebrew)

  • On reading: Reading can be quite effective. I borrowed some books, read them, and looked up every word that I didn't know on my laptop. I put all the important ones into spaced repetition software.

  • On spaced repetition: If you have to learn stuff very quickly, you can get the software to ask you earlier than scheduled. I personally used Phase 6, which is a German program, but this should be possible in Anki too.

  • On grammar: I personally spent very little time with it. It just came by itself, although I did spend some time on dutchgrammar.com. Don't necessarily take this as advice, since I may have had a big advantage - German and Dutch grammar are quite similar.

  • If your Hebrew is enough to write something, write texts about anything and get a native speaker to read it and correct it for you. This has been immensely beneficial for me, because this way I could see the specific errors I was repeatedly making.

  • As mentioned in another comment, listening to children's music can help. I personally found listening to children's audio books very useful (Disney stuff), which could be found online. Later I switched to science podcasts.

Basically, spend all of your time with the new language. Always think in Hebrew. When you get stuck thinking, because you miss a word, look it up in a smart phone app or pocket dictionary. After a long day your brain may feel like it has melted. Aim to get that feeling every day.

Here's is a pretty good article on learning a foreign language. It contains some of my tips: http://markmanson.net/foreign-language

Comment author: Emile 02 March 2014 10:40:02PM 2 points [-]

Starting with the most common 100 words. These account for 50% of all communication. Then move on to the most common 200 (75%). Work your way up to 500 or more. These lists can be found online. Learning vocabulary lists other than the most common words can be very inefficient.

Oooh, I forgot that one, right. When learning Chinese I spent a fair amount of time memorizing lists of most common characters and words.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2014 02:11:12PM 0 points [-]

Starting with the most common 100 words. These account for 50% of all communication.

This. I don't get why so many language courses teach you (say) the names of a dozen different foodstuffs before teaching you how to say “one of those”. IMO that's silly.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 11:16:26AM 0 points [-]

On spaced repetition: If you have to learn stuff very quickly, you can get the software to ask you earlier than scheduled. I personally used Phase 6, which is a German program, but this should be possible in Anki too.

I do have brought a copy of Phase 6 ten years ago and it's basically crap that created without much thought into how learning works. I would recommend you to switch to Anki.

Phase 6 does not to good prediction of review dates because as far as I remember it doesn't ask how well the user knows a card. The whole idea that something that has to be reviewed 6 times successfully is permanently in memory is also ridiculous. The whole 6 boxes thing doesn't make any sense when you have a computer.

That said you don't learn faster by reviewing things earlier than scheduled. You are just wasting valuable time that you could use to learn new words.

Comment author: SoerenMind 03 March 2014 07:38:40PM 1 point [-]

It's true that the Anki developers have good reasons for selecting the time intervals the way they do. I'd also agree that for long term language learning Phase 6 is sub-optimal. But there's two ways this particular situation is quite different from the usual situation: Having to learn stuff fast (basically cramming) and the fact that these words need to be in the active vocabulary, not the passive one. That is, being able to use them in conversation, rather than just remembering when asked for. I don't know how strong these points are, but from my subjective impression it was quite useful to have shorter time intervals than usual.

The marginal benefit of learning more words diminishes, which is a reason in favour of learning the important words better.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 10:41:31PM 1 point [-]

One of the core principles of learning is that good learning is deliberate practice. If you review a card to early and it's easy to remember the card you are not getting your full deliberate practice and if Wozniak is right, that leads to worse learning.

There no evidence that reviewing cards before they are due does anything useful. A carrot doesn't grow faster when you pull on it. Cramming before an exam produces memories that are gone after the exam.

If you want stronger memories, mnemonics is a valid tool. It's also possible to get strong memories by making connection between concepts and use emotion.

I recently started to have cards that ask for IPA pronunciation of words (in X-Sampa). That provides more added knowledge than reviewing a card 3 times before it's due.

Comment author: gwern 03 March 2014 11:44:54PM 0 points [-]

Both Anki and Mnemosyne have cramming plugins.

Comment author: jaime2000 03 March 2014 06:59:41AM 3 points [-]

Try Pimsleur. It's an audio-based method of language learning which incorporates spaced repetition.

Also, Rosetta Stone.

Comment author: Emile 03 March 2014 12:44:12PM 1 point [-]

I have heard good things about Pimsleur, from somebody who used it to learn several languages (I was describing spaced repetition to him, he described Pimsleur, we found they looked similar and looked it up and indeed Pimsleur is one of the early users of Spaced Repetition principles).

Comment author: marchdown 03 March 2014 12:02:27AM 3 points [-]

Immersion is not an option for me currently.

Whatever you do, immerse yourself as much as possible in your circumstances. This most likely means having radio blaring in Hebrew most of the time when it's not actively obstructing whatever you're trying to do; plastering your living space with labels, adding Hebrew blogs to your blogroll, seeking social activities outside your comfort zone such as volunteering at a retirement home with lonely seniors or attending insipid school plays at your local center for Hebrew language and culture.

Comment author: drethelin 02 March 2014 06:14:06PM 2 points [-]

Obviously it's too late now but next time you plan a drastic life change with steep prerequisites you should probably make sure to give yourself plenty of time to finish the prerequisites. Planning fallacy and all that.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 06:49:17PM 0 points [-]

I've wanted to learn Hebrew for years. I always planned on staying in Israel, but most of the people speak English, so it's harder to immerse myself.

Comment author: shminux 02 March 2014 07:25:57PM *  1 point [-]

Speaking from experience: there is no substitute for immersion. You can pick up a simple language like Hebrew in a couple of months if you are OK with languages in general. Also, IDF has a lot of experience getting foreigners to speak Hebrew really really fast, ever since the early 1990s. Failing immersion, you can try Rosetta Stone, which is generally considered the best language-learning software out there. Also, Scott Young of "all of MIT CS in one year" fame has been discussing his experience learning Portuguese and now Chinese on a very accelerated time frame on his blog and has a bunch of pointers. Also, what others said: memorize songs, sample conversations, repeatedly watch movies/shows.

Oh, and unrelated, do you really want to serve in IDF? I can't see anyone except a committed zionist doing this voluntarily, given that you are likely to be called on to threaten or shoot at people who hate your guts and would rejoice in having you and your family dead. Is your identity that large?

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 08:23:04PM 2 points [-]

Rosetta Stone? I've heard that the experts don't seem to like it that much. And the fact that it's like $300 doesn't help either.

I am an extremely committed Zionist. But it's hard to get a career in Israel without first doing my three years, anyway.

Comment author: shminux 02 March 2014 09:56:47PM -1 points [-]

I am an extremely committed Zionist.

That doesn't seem to mesh well with rationality, so feel free to elaborate at some point.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 10:15:58PM *  1 point [-]

Ah, but being a True Rationalist of course requires being above nationalism, and shouldn't think it's anything as low as "politics" if he asks like he's reviewing my doctoral dissertation.

What's your definition of Zionism?

Comment author: shminux 03 March 2014 01:14:22AM 0 points [-]

Well, there is the standard definition, that Jews are entitled to a state some place described in the Old Testament. Why are you asking?

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 02:51:42AM *  2 points [-]

That is not the case.

Zionism, in the broadest sense, refers to the concept of creating a Jewish homeland in the region of Palestine. This encompasses everything from Kahanism to Poale Zion. I'm not religious and don't expect to become religious, at least not by living in Israel.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 10:37:10AM 0 points [-]

If you are not religious than why is this a priority?

Three years of your life is a lot of time and it might be worth to spend it on more pressing issues such as defeating aging or preventing the world getting destroyed by an UFAI.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 08:48:31PM 1 point [-]

Well, I'm no fan of death, but (A) I have personal reasons for going as well, and (B) I have zero talent or interest in the topics I would be required to know.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 03 March 2014 11:09:26AM *  1 point [-]

If you are not religious than why is this a priority?

Jews can be considered members of a religion or an ethnic group (obviously). A secular Jew might feel a certain draw towards establishing a homeland in the Palestine just in the same way that a secular American might have felt a certain draw towards Manifest Destiny.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 11:18:07AM 1 point [-]

A secular Jew might feel a certain draw towards establishing a homeland in the Palestine just in the same way that a secular American might have felt a certain draw towards Manifest Destiny.

Yes, but I think when you go down and think about how much utility those projects have you will find that there are things that are more important.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 03 March 2014 11:25:51AM *  3 points [-]

Sorry, I misunderstood your question. I thought it was asking about secularism rather than lack of consequentialism.


I think even conditional on someone posting on LW, questions along the line of "why are you spending resources on X rather than preventing UFAI" are not a great way to spread the message, in my opinion.

Comment author: shminux 03 March 2014 05:25:13AM 0 points [-]

... I don't see how our definitions differ...

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 05:42:49AM *  2 points [-]

Well, for starters, Zionism doesn't have to claim that the Jews are uniquely 'entitled' to land, any more than the Germans have a right to East Prussia. If your claim that Zionism doesn't "mesh well" with rationality isn't grounded in Zionism being religious, then why doesn't it?

Comment author: shminux 03 March 2014 06:08:20AM 0 points [-]

Zionism doesn't have to claim that the Jews are uniquely 'entitled' to land

OK, though this seems like splitting hairs.

If your claim that Zionism doesn't "mesh well" with rationality isn't grounded in Zionism being religious, then why doesn't it?

I was referring to your identity being both too large (include a lot of people most of whom are not like you, don't know you, don't care about you, have different customs and ideas from you, and probably genetically are quite different from you) and too small (why not include the rest of humanity, if you are casting as wide a net?).

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 07:06:34AM *  1 point [-]

OK, though this seems like splitting hairs.

Not at all. I'd say there's a big difference between the two.

As for my identity, I don't see why not. I identify as Jewish more than anything else. Israelis, granted, are genetically diverse, but their customs are very much the way I was brought up, and Jews (for the first time in 2,000 years) have a shared reference that isn't merely mythological. The fact that I'm a product of a Sephardic-Ashkenazi marriage doesn't hurt my ability to understand Israeli society, either.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 03 March 2014 11:33:31AM *  1 point [-]

Also, IDF has a lot of experience getting foreigners to speak Hebrew really really fast, ever since the early 1990s.

A lot longer that that.

Comment author: WingedViper 06 March 2014 08:37:07PM 1 point [-]

There are a lot of good suggestions in the comments already. I'd like to emphasize immersion (films, audio books etc.) and especially lots of practice talking (!). Try to find as many possible ways to increase your talking time in the target language. E.g. by talking over skype, seeking out a local Hebrew club or whatever.

Also I'd like to point to http://www.fluentin3months.com/ because Benny (the blogger) has a lot of good tips for language learning.

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 March 2014 02:53:38AM 1 point [-]

Related question:

Suppose your goal in learning a language was not to acquire conversational fluency, but rather to read untranslated literature in its original language. For example, nobody learns Latin in order to go to a country where Latin is spoken. What might you do differently in this case?

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 06 March 2014 09:59:44AM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure?

Comment author: westward 02 March 2014 10:49:51PM 1 point [-]

1) Remember that there many different techniques for learning language, and only some will work for you. For example, I haven't found 100% immersion useful. I like to ask questions in my native language about the target language. That helps me learn faster.

2) Recognize you're actually learning several skills: Speaking. Aural comprehension. Thinking in your target language. Writing. Reading. I find learning to read in the target language first to be the most helpful for my learning style.

4)This link may be helpful to start: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/11/07/how-to-learn-but-not-master-any-language-in-1-hour-plus-a-favor/

Comment author: topynate 06 March 2014 01:17:46AM 0 points [-]

As someone who moved to Israel at the age of 25 with very minimal Hebrew (almost certainly worse than yours), went to an ulpan for five months and then served in the IDF for 18 months while somehow avoiding the 3 month language course I certainly should have been placed in based on my middle-of-ulpan level of fluency:

Ulpan (not army ulpan, real ulpan) is actually pretty good at doing what it's supposed to. I had a great time - it depends on the ulpan but I haven't heard of a single one that would be psychologically damaging. Perhaps your experience with a less intensive system as a minor has coloured your views? I know that I got put off Hebrew by the quality of teaching I had around the age of 11-13. I'm not sure if you could get benefits to do a free course (it would depend on your status) but that would certainly take off the pressure to learn Hebrew quickly. You'd have to delay your draft date, which is usually possible.

'Army ulpan' is, according to my friends, a bit of a joke, but that's three months you'd be with a bunch of Anglos, being taught by 19 year old girls, and going on semi-regular day trips, which is fun, rather than jumping straight into basic training, which sucks. It's also three months less time being bored to tears at the end of your service doing the same thing you've been doing the last two years.

You can't learn spoken Hebrew by reading. No way. Not only do you need grammatical knowledge to know which vowels should be used, but the spoken and written forms become quite divergent above the most basic level. You need to speak and hear Hebrew for most of the day, every day - which could be a pretty lonely experience in the US. Think Hebrew pop music, armed with a copy of the lyrics and the translation. Learn the songs and what they mean - it's just repetition - and you'll automatically pick up the most common vocabulary. Hebrew grammar isn't that hard for an English speaker, the verb conjugation is traditionally considered the hard part, and that's mostly just memorization. Genders are a pain but not knowing the gender of a word won't impair comprehension if you guess wrongly.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 12:00:39PM 0 points [-]

The language you use to talk about something influences the way you think about it. If the chemistry you’re talking about is truly something new, then a fight over terminology may be quite an important part of getting to understand that chemistry better.

Jay A. Labinger

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 March 2014 12:09:47PM *  0 points [-]

Were this and the other quotes you just posted intended for the quotes thread? (Although the rationality content of the three from "The feeling good handbook" isn't clear to me.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 04:01:05PM 0 points [-]

Thanks, I posted to the wrong thread.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 March 2014 05:17:06AM 0 points [-]

I'm in a foreign country for at least the next three months. It's for work but I've been considering partnering with someone to try teaching them English while they teach me the local tongue. One problem though is I don't know a lot of people here. I may have to make first contact. :) I've also been considering Rosetta Stone for extra practice.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 02 March 2014 11:55:18PM *  0 points [-]

Immersion is not an option for me currently

Are you sure it's not an option? Hebrew's not a particularly obscure language, so if you live in an area which isn't particularly obscure, it should to be possible to set something up without spending money?

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 12:02:23AM *  0 points [-]

What I mean by immersion is interacting with native Israelis who (preferably) don't speak English. To me, this means living or working with them on a daily basis. I live in Georgia.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 03 March 2014 12:17:52AM *  4 points [-]

Oh ok. Just wanted to make sure you weren't ruling out milder forms of immersion, like going to local meetups where Hebrew speakers agree to interact in strictly Hebrew for a few hours.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 12:21:40AM *  3 points [-]

Do you know of any such thing? I'd definitely try that.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 03 March 2014 12:42:43AM *  2 points [-]

I do, but the things I know about are confined to my local campus, which is not in Georgia. There are student-led clubs where speakers of various languages get together and provide immersion experiences to each other. Many are international students seeking to improve English skills, and so it's a "trade" of sorts.

Do you live by a large university? Ask around other language learners / students / front desks which manage lists of student organizations / etc ... if they know any local resources. Unfortunately, many organizations don't have a good online presence, so for something like this you must ask around in person.

There's also online immersion - I just googled up this one, there might be others.

Comment author: Emile 03 March 2014 12:47:35PM 3 points [-]

I'm assuming you mean Georgia on the Atlantic Coast, and not Georgia in the Caucasus, right?

If it's the former, then there's a meetup group in Atlanta: http://www.meetup.com/Atlanta-Hebrew-Language-Meetup/

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 03 March 2014 08:51:11PM 0 points [-]

I have considered going but I'm not really sure how they work.

Comment author: Emile 03 March 2014 10:19:25PM 2 points [-]

Welll - there's only one way of finding that out, right? :)

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 04 March 2014 12:12:46AM 0 points [-]

No, I mean I'm not sure how to get in. Are they open to everyone? Do you need a password or is there a fee?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 March 2014 10:09:20AM 1 point [-]

The site says:

This is an open and welcoming group of individuals who would like to learn and teach Hebrew. This will be an immersion style Meetup, but tamed (fluent speakers will tutor and help novice speakers).

That seems to answer your questions, but if not, there's also a contact button (which requires making an account on Meetup.com, but does not require first joining the group). What more do you need?

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 04 March 2014 11:06:00AM *  0 points [-]

Jesus, I thought he was talking about the Lesswrong meetups. I didn't even glance at the link. :/

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 March 2014 10:19:18AM 2 points [-]

It might be possible that there's a Jewish community in Georgia that speaks Hebrew with each other.

Comment author: ESRogs 02 March 2014 11:28:17PM 0 points [-]

Obviously getting literature on language acquisition is out of the question. I wouldn't even know where to start.

I'm not sure I understood this part. Are you saying that the general advice, "Read stuff about how to learn languages" is not helpful because you wouldn't know what to read? Whereas, if someone had a specific recommendation for something to read, that would be the sort of thing you're looking for?

(Note that I don't actually have a recommendation, I'm just following the somewhat questionable policy of always asking for clarification when I don't understand something someone has written :P)

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 02 March 2014 11:40:16PM *  0 points [-]

Sorry for being opaque. No, I'm definitely not interested. It might be useful to understand how language acquisition works when I've moved on to others, but right now I just need a simple strategy for learning.

Comment author: ESRogs 03 March 2014 12:21:53AM 0 points [-]

Gotcha, you don't want the abstract theory for how to learn languages in general, you want specific tips. Makes sense.

Comment author: pianoforte611 02 March 2014 07:57:33PM *  0 points [-]

A friend of mine used a video chat service that is similar to Chatroulette to talk to people in other countries. She helped them with English, they helped her with French and Italian. It might have been this. Or possibly this.