Monday, August 30, 2010

T-minus 1 week!

In one week the new semester starts! The FINAL semester of graduate studies - woohoo!

On the roster this (final) time around we've got the following:

Psycholinguistics which deals with:
Contemporary issues in the fields of first and second language development and bilingualism will be addressed within the framework of the psychological development of the individual, from early childhood through adolescence. Theories of learning will also be addressed, particularly as they have been used to explain language development, including behaviorism, cognitive psychology, Piagetian constructivist theory, Vygotsky’s Social Interactionism and Freirean critical consciousness and praxis.

Having done most of the reading for this course over the summer, I think it will be rather interesting. It's all about how the mind (a child's and an adult's mind) picks up language and how we learn to learn a new language on top of our native language.

And the Practicum (aka Field Experience).
Basically for this one I will be observing an experienced language teacher - in my case I've picked an instructor that I've had before and she teaches Classical Greek - see how they teach, how they approach materials and methods, analyze their teaching and teach a module yourself. In my case I've decided that I will most likely be doing an eLearning module. The topic is not determined yet (the primary instructor has not gotten back to me yet), but I have been preparing by going over the course text, looking at what's presented, what's covered and what topics the instructor teaches using her PPT slides. I've also gone through and converted her slides from Teknia (yuck!) to a Unicode font :-)

I think my final hand in for this course will be an analysis of how classical (aka "Dead") languages are taught and how technology can be used to improve teaching and learning these languages.

Finally, I have to prepare for a comprehensive exam which covers everything in the applied linguistics MA curriculum that I've taken. In general I hate sit-down exams, especially exams that are four hours long and require your to remember everything from day one of the curriculum - but there is a silver lining here. I am hoping to apply to a PhD program at some point in the future, all of which require both oral and written comprehensive exams before you're allowed to dissertate, so this is a bit of a dry run.

It will be a busy semester, but I am happy that it's finally starting :-)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Translation - random thoughts

A number of years ago I was approached by a firm to do a translation. A one page bureaucratic document that that to do with excise taxes. I was quite excited to be approached for this, although I borked the translation. I spent way too much time sweating the somewhat difficult stuff (like all the crazy acronyms found in the document) that I mistranslated big time units to small time units. Oh well. Live and learn!

Now I've been working on a longer literature translation on my spare time for a friend, and I've learned my lessons, however another thought has come to mind: How close to the original does a translator make his work? The intent of the translation is to not necessarily translate everything verbatim, but convey the meaning of the original into the target language. What I am wondering is how much leeway does a translator have with tenses, active versus passive voice and participial expressions.

For example, you are translating something from a language where the original is in a past tense, but it's a narrative that has a dialogue between two actors. If you translate this into English, you can try to lift as much of the grammar structure as possible, or you could opt to go with the historical present. How does one decide how much leeway they have in translating, especially if they are translating a dead language?


Monday, August 23, 2010

Wave goodbye to Google Wave, say hello to...

OK, this isn't really news, but the news is our all over the interwebs - Google will no longer be developing Wave as a stand-alone product, and will keep the service up and running until the end of the year - it will also provide a way for people to get their data off Google Wave.

I have to say that I really enjoyed messing around with Google Wave. I got an early beta invite, I invited some friends, but the mistake was that I invited people that are gadget geeks like me, but we don't normally collaborate! This Wave was really a bit useless for me because the people that I invited were people whose interactions with me would not push me to use the service!

Google because open for everyone's use this past spring, but by that time I hadn't really thought of uses for Wave. In a recent comment in InsideHigherEd, I saw that people were using Wave as a replacement for the Bulletin Board System within the LMS (learning management system). What a brilliant idea!

I think that Wave was a bit of a fail because it didn't really incorporate well with other Google services (most notably GMail and Buzz), it was all sandboxed in its own environment. This meant that you needed to come out of what you were doing in order to participate in a wave. This is cool, it was a beta service after all, but once it became public there was no additional buzz or functionality added (so why go back - unless all your colleagues joined that is)

Now with Google making inroads into the college environment with GMail, Google Calendar, Contacts and so on being used at the campus level, how far away are we from a Google LMS? Google could take existing properties and tie them into a nice, comprehensive, LMS. You've got Google Groups and Google Wave to provide you with the architecture for discussions, you've got KNOL, the wikipedia competitor that you can use to create course-based wikis, you've got Blogger, which you can use to integrate into a course based blog, Buzz for instant communication, GMail, GCal, Contacts and iGoogle to bring it all together.

OK, this isn't an easy undertaking, but the parts and the technologies are there. Google *could* create a free (or cheap) competitor to Blackboard and create a product that is truly innovative (compared to Blackboard's frankenLMS).

What do you think? Are you onboard with a Social LMS?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Translation procrastination...

A long while back I had translated a government memo from modern Greek to English. It was only one page and I wanted to have it be perfect! I looked up all acronyms (some of which I had no idea existed since I left Greece before being involved too much with governmental BS), but I missed the small things! I had translated "minutes" as "seconds" - bah! What an newbie mistake! I still beat myself up over it! I became blinded by perfection that I missed the obvious!

In any case, I am now back in the translation game, this time translating, for a friend, the life and times of St. Margaret from New Testament Greek to English. It's about 40 pages of New Testament Greek (medieval Greek?) goodness! Luckily all those years as an altar-boy in Greece, and my two semesters of Ancient Greek had prepared me a bit for this under taking. I procrastinated most of the summer but recently I got back in the groove. The biggest problem, again, was perfection. I was expecting to read a sentence and BAM, create a perfect translation into English with one pass - something that is impossible!

This past weekend I came to terms with the fact that it won't be perfect on the first, or second, or third time around, but just like any writing, it requires a rough draft, and tons and tons of polishing. So sure, my first draft might look like something that came our of Google Translate or Babelfish (example off the top of my head: the of the holy apostles ascension into the heaven father's (look up this word). amen" but with subsequent work you can get it into something that both make sense in English and flows like something a native would have said!

The main issue with translating ancient or medieval Greek for me is that I get the gist of what is said. I don't get every single word and construction because the language has evolved, some forms have been dropped, grammar simplified, and new words added, but I get what is said. Of course, what I understand can be boiled down to two letter-sized pieces of paper (1/20th the size of the original), so the time consuming part is the looking up of words and re-familiarizing myself with older grammatical forms that are somewhere in my memory, but not immediately accessible.

Any other translators or interpreters out there? What are your experiences?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Informal Learning in the Workplace

One of the topics that we covered in our Knowledge Management class back in the days of the MBA was this whole concept of informal learning (or water-cooler learning) that happens day-to-day in any given workplace. In those 1 minute interactions at the watering hole you may learn something that impacts your job performance (for better or for worse) and one of the goals of KM was/is to capture such leaky knowledge for the benefit of everyone in the company.

I came across this presentation on informal learning a little while back and I thought it interesting. I think that this is something that learning professionals should be exposed to if they are in a degree or certificate program :-)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Road to the PhD - some thoughts

Last week I spoke to a friend of mine who is already pursuing a PhD - said friend is at the dissertation stage if I am not mistaken.  I let her know that I am considering a PhD - having overcome my fear of writing long research-based passages, and having grown accustomed to the Master's level difficulty, I've decided to up my game since I like learning new things.  I also aspire to one day be a professor, so a PhD is generally a must in these cases.

After many professors, in many different fields, have encouraged me to go for it, I've started compiling a spreadsheet of which schools have what I am interested in, what the requirements for entry and exit are, who the movers and shakers are (i.e. potential advisors), and what other important things are nearby (i.e. centers of research that those schools collaborate with).  Another major consideration is cost: where are the stipends and assistantships? You don't go into a PhD program, or the professoriate for that matter, to make crazy amounts of money - so it makes little sense (as far as I am concerned) to take out a large loan to pay for your PhD education.

There is much more to say on the topic of tenure-trackdom given recent discussion on IHE and the Chronicle (see here, here, and here) - but what do you think of PhDs, professional life after the Masters and continuing education?

Monday, August 9, 2010

How important is encoding?

Here's some non-random stream of consciousness for you as far as language goes. How important is encoding to you? Does encoding really matter? What do I mean by encoding? The alphabet you use, whether you represent words as syllables, as characters, as letters, and how you put all that together.

The impetus for this though process comes from a (pretty silly in my opinion) facebook group that I was invited to a while back. The group is called "save the Greek language," kinda funny if you ask me because I don't think that the Greek language is in any danger of being lost. The details of the group say the following (for the original look at the end of the blog post).

Greek is one of the most beautiful languages. English has a far reach and is...a requirement. Greeklish [emphasis added] on the other hand is nothing. Mixed up, messed up [words] that are convenient. We will forget the Greek we know. Prefer to write in Greek [script]. You will be expressing yourself in a better manner with the most beautiful words, and you will be learning new [words] and not forgetting the ones you already know. Support the Greek language, there is no reason renounce it. At the end of the day it's our own [language]. Select Greek as your facebook language -hey even for a change select English, Italian or French, but [for heaven's sake] pick a pure language.

OK, so this is one large, jumbled mess of a mission statement. In the beginning this group seems to be anti-hegemony of English. Let's pick our language to communicate in as opposed to the lingua franca of trade which has become a behemoth of a language around the globe. OK, no problem, I agree with you. Then the issue seems to shift from language to encoding - how that language is represented, in this case Greeklish - which is using Latin based characters to represent Greek letters, or Greek sounds.

For example Greeklish came out of an era of computing, network computing, when manufacturers did not have an agreed upon standard as to how to represent Greek text on a screen. As a result Apples, IBMs, Windows, and other PC and mainframe manufacturers produced text which was not mutually intelligible. I'm sure you've seen this on the internet every now and again. You type Εμπρός! and the received of the message sees ƒe®,,.!

In those days Greeklish came up as a solution, people were able to communicate again by using a different encoding - instead of Greek characters which were problematic, you used latin ANSI based characters which were not. There is considerable variation in Greeklish. For instance: η, ι, υ, ει and οι are all pronounced as "ee" -, therefore users have the option of typing h, i, u, ei, or oi as visual representations of letters or they can just type i as a phonetic representation. There are many more examples where that came from :-) When I first started reading Greeklish I had a problem, just like anyone learning a new alphabet's rules, but eventually I got the hand of it.

Having read a number of wall posts on this group (sorry, I won't be joining), it seems to be that these are a bunch of zealots that fall in the same camp of people who claim that texting/SMS is ruining our ability to spell or construct coherent thoughts. Give me a break! It's quite obvious where I stand on the issue. What do YOU think? Does it matter if I type:

The Quick Brown Fox

or if I type any one of these variations:

Δε κουικ μπραουν φοξ

де куик браун фох


ðe kuik braun ƒox

Does the encoding of a language matter if people are able to read (i.e. decode what's on paper) despite the encoding?

Original text
Τα ελληνικά είναι από τις ωραιότερες γλώσσες. Τα αγγλικά είναι πολύ διαδεδομένα και ... απαραίτητα. Τα greeκlish όμως δεν είναι τίποτα. Ανακατέματα, μπερδέματα που μας βολεύουν. Θα ξεχάσουμε κι αυτά που ξέρουμε. Προτιμήστε να γράφετε στα ελληνικά. Εκφράζεστε καλύτερα, με τις πιο ωραίες λέξεις και επιπλέον μαθαίνετε νέες και δεν ξεχνάτε όσες ξέρετε. Στηρίξτε την ελληνική γλώσσα, δεν υπάρχει λόγος να την αποποιούμαστε. Δική μας είναι στο κάτω-κάτω. Διαλέξτε τα ελληνικά για το facebook. Άντε και για εναλλαγή τα αγγλικά ή ιταλικά ή ισπανικά. Πάντως... μια γλώσσα γνήσια.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Prezi, revisited

I came across this Prezi course introduction to an "Intro to Learning on The Cloud" course. I have to say that from a teaching and learning perspective the course looks pretty compelling! This introduction was interesting as well, however there is a big caveat. I don't know if this was a self-paced presentation, or if it was used in an in-class presentation. As an in-class presentation I can see this Prezi working, however as a voiceless self-paced presentation it's a major fail. About 40 seconds in, having clicked next-next-next the animations in this prezi made me nauseated - the the point that I needed to stop viewing it!

I wonder if this was a case of flashy-prezi use, or just a good presentation for the wrong medium

Monday, August 2, 2010

Does language influence culture?

Here's an interesting article on the Wall Street Journal about the relationship of language and culture.  If you haven't studies psychology or applied linguistics, it's an interesting thought provoking article to get you primed for further exploration into the topic of language and culture - and if you are not interested in these topics enough to study them further, then it's a nice conversation (or ice breaker) topic for any meetups or cocktail parties that you go to :-) 

The author, a university professor, writes that Chomsky's Universals have not withstood scrutiny.  I am only starting to to immerse myself in psycholinguistics so I don't really know much about the subject (other than the primers on Chomsky's Universal Grammar), but as far as I know, Chomsky keeps refining his hypothesis, so if one version of the hypothesis has some issues, as more knowledge on the subject is gained and as more studies are conducted, we see newer interpretations of this hypothesis.

The interesting thing in this article is that studies show that by using different languages different things rose to importance in what people remembered.  I think that this is interesting, and a reason for immigrant parents to really teach their kids both their native language and the lingua franca of the host country (in the case of the USA - English).  It's also important to point out that we need to resist linguistic imperialism (be it the imperialism of Chinese, English, Russian or any other language) and keep our ties to our ancestral languages so that these modes of though are retained.  With greater diversity we have more opportunities for exploration and knowledge creation (How goes the Vulcan saying? Infinite Diversity Infinite Combinations?)

In any case, back to culture.  I personally don't think that language is the sole influencer of culture.  Language after all is a human construct.  I think that culture influences language and vice versa. It's a circle whereby happenings in our cultures (history, religion, power, human-to-human relations, scientific discovery, etc.) influence what we use in our language and how we use it, and language itself goes back to influence our culture - think of Homer Simpson and the by now infamous "D'oh!" - I am certain that people use D'oh! and have never watched the Simpsons!

This topic is way too big to cover in one blog post, but it's definitely worth a discussion!