Author Archives: Ivan

italki Learns (about) Esperanto

August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | feature | Motivation | teachers | tips - (Comments Off on italki Learns (about) Esperanto)

Saluton! This week italki is trying out a new language. We decided to focus on esperanto – the constructed language created in 1887. 

Why esperanto, rather than any other conlang?

Well, first of all, we’ve recently sponsored a language meet-up in Germany, based entirely around esperanto: International Youth Congress (IJK). We saw around 300 young people get together in Wiesbaden to practice esperanto, listen to lectures, and get their 100ITC voucher. 

Besides simply showing support to the esperantists of the world, we are involved in the event and are involved in the esperanto community because esperanto learners need support. The fate of the lone esperantist can be difficult.

There are many reasons to learn this language:

… but, it still seems that esperanto is seen as an odd hobby. There are very few native speakers, and this language, though built on a beautiful dream, has not found as much traction as it’s creator probably hoped.

It is, however, a very useful language to learn. We are actively looking for esperanto teachers, and are doing everything we can to support the community. The most important issue that the lone esperantist has is the lack of speakers with whom to practice day-to-day. Though IJK, polyglot gatherings, and other events help to build community, many esperantists get to meet and practice the language in person.

That’s great, but once the language enthusiasts disperse, there is often difficulty in practicing the language in a natural environment. Sure, there is media out there to support esperanto learning.

We feel that practice, one-on-one, is the best way to learn or keep up a language, so we have decided to put some effort behind building the esperanto community online, on italki.

In the spirit of support for the esperanto community, we have decided to take a few esperanto lessons with our teachers.

italki, meet esperanto!

First, esperanto tutor Teddy presented a “Chinese version” for Chinese speakers in the office, and later that week, we gathered again for the “English version” delivered by esperanto teacher Tim.

Teddy Nee, who runs Nee’s Language Blog and the author of two italki Articles on esperanto, described the basics of esperanto grammar, including descriptions of the different parts of speech, plurals, and use of the accusative. 

Tim Morley (mentioned above for his TEDX talk) gave us a fascinating description of worldwide esperanto community events and organizations such as the World Congress, IJK, and Pasporta Servo.

Members of six cultures and speakers of so many languages, tried to get the basics of this cool language while in our office. Sometimes we just like to take a step back and look at how awesome the future is. 

We’re very thankful and glad that we have such cool teachers, and are really proud to support the esperanto community.

What italki Learned From A Lesson In An Endangered Language

August 14th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in event | teachers - (Comments Off on What italki Learned From A Lesson In An Endangered Language)

A couple of weeks ago we have decided to show up to our office 2 hours early. through the streets and public transport of shanghai at 6 am is not the first thing that comes to mind that could be described as “fun” to try out a new language class. We fired up the meeting room projector and started our Skype lesson with one of our newest teachers, Ryan Heavy Head.

If the name strikes you as unusual, it is because Ryan is a teacher of Blackfoot, an Algonquian language (linguistic family containing many North American heritage languages) of the Blackfoot tribe in Northwestern US and Southwestern Canada. His ancestry includes Blackfoot as well.

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This was the first group staff class, bringing italki staff and friends together for a rare glimpse of a language, culture, and worldview that may not exist in only one generation. The lecture served as a great introduction not only to the language itself, but to another worldview embedded in the language.

In discussions and comments about about preservation of language heritage we often see the sentiment of “why bother?”. There is an almost Darwinian argument made here, that assumes that a language is worth learning or saving based somehow on the number of speakers or it’s “usefulness”. It makes sense, too, as many language learners are motivated by practical reasons: passing tests and advancing careers.

Still, we can’t support this argument, not because of a knee-jerk fear of missing out, but because we believe that human experience and knowledge is valuable.

The time we spent speaking with Ryan about Niitsi’powahsin made it very plain to us just how much information can be embedded in conversation about language.The very structure of morphemes (basic units of meaning) in every word is elegantly descriptive in a way that reveals a fascinating amount of cultural context.

 

The name of the language itself can be broken down into several meaningful parts:

  • Niit – “first” or “original”, referring to the Plains Indians traditional way of life before encountering the Europeans.
  • -powahsin – “language”

 

Merging the two then creates the name for the “original language” of Blackfoot: Niitsi’powahsin.

By this logic we can produce more words, for example, adding the name for the non-blackfoot Europeans: –naapi, resulting in the word Naapi’powahsin.

Similar logic is applied to other words, with morpheme -itapi meaning “living being” resulting in the following: niitsitapi (first people, the Blackfoot), naa’pitapi (Europeans), matapi (human), maatomaita’pitapiiya(a mature, fully developed being; a respectable, kind person).

The combinatorial nature of the language makes it very descriptive, and also suggests the internal logic and worldview associated with the language.

 

But, what IS the Beaver Bundle?

We delved further into this worldview by discussing the “bundles” – sacred objects made of multiple animal hides representing the “treaties” between man and nature, which are further narrated in the oral tradition of the Blackfoot. As a people who have lived in a particular territory, the Blackfoot (or Siksikaitsitapi – literally “blackfoot people”) their relationship to the animals, cycles of nature, and social attitudes were reflected in the content of the language and stories, but also in the mechanics and logic of the language.

Exploring a new language is always exciting, but this particular case was especially interesting. The rarity of the language made us feel that we had a unique opportunity to experience language-learning. What’s more, we got to experience an endangered and exotic language in a way that was impossible in a traditional classroom setting.  Any large city will have an abundance of schools and courses for learning English, and any number of speakers and willing tutors of widely-known languages. Finding a professional teacher for a language that has only a few thousand native speakers, on the other hand, is a rare moment. Being able to experience Ryan’s lecture while sitting in our Shanghai office really underscored the advantage of online language learning.

The potential is there, at our fingertips, to dive deeply and personally into a worldview alien from our own. We are able to gain more than just learning vocabulary or grammar. We are able to access the real carriers of culture and knowledge, someone able to explain to us a perspective onto a new world, a human experience impossible to have with a book or a recording of a language.

This is one of the reasons why we are proud of our work, and of our community of teachers and learners. We are able to create a unique, truly human experience and promote understanding and self-reflection. We are creating a way to experience learning inaccessible through more traditional approaches. We hope then, that our community takes up the challenge to learn and explore, and to view language-learning not as a problem to be solved or chore to be done. Instead, we hope that language learning becomes a habit, a way of life, and a lens through which we can understand ourselves and each-other.

 

Ryan’s Profile can be found here.

Ryan’s youtube channel is also a great resource to learn about blackfoot culture and language, and oddly enough, how snake anti-venom is made.

For more information about Ryan and Blackfoot language and history, please check out this documentary.

If you’d like to see other fascinating initiatives about preserving Blackfoot language and heritage, check out this story about preserving the language through Hip-hop.

The Best Place to Practice Your Esperanto Skills in August is…

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Best Place to Practice Your Esperanto Skills in August is…)

On August 2nd, over 300 hundred young people from all corners of the world will assemble in Wiesbaden, Germany for cultural exchange, learning, and most importantly: a celebration. What they will be celebrating is a constructed language, Esperanto, at the 71st Esperanto Youth Congress. italki is proud to sponsor this event, and support the Esperanto community.

 

The Event:

The World Esperanto Youth Organization (Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo) TEJO, has created the Esperanto Youth Congress (Internacia Junulara Kongreso, or just IJK) to encourage the youth involved in the Esperanto movement to share their experience.

Most importantly, this event allows Esperanto speakers to practice speaking the language within a community, reinforcing the international applicability of the language. Many of the participants may still be starting out in the language; being able to reinforce the acquisition socially, through one-on-one communication in a friendly atmosphere helps preserve and encourage the community around this language.

The IJK started in 1938, in the The Netherlands, and is seeing its 71st iteration. The event has been held in multiple countries, and is the largest such event oriented specifically at encouraging younger speakers to improve and perfect their communicative Esperanto ability, and therefore encourage a new generation of practitioners of the language.

The Youth Congress generally sees several hundred Esperantists, approximately 18 – 35 years of age, who share a passion for “the language of hope” and the ideals of open cross-cultural communication.

 

italki Involvement:

italki has sponsored previous events like the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin (http://polyglotberlin.com/) and sees its role in the new language learning environment as that of supporting linguistic diversity, inter-personal learning, and effective, learn-by-doing approaches to education by connecting language learners with fluent or native-speaking teachers of any language, no matter where in the world those students or teachers may be.

Considering that Esperanto is a language without a country, going home after an event can mean leaving the Esperanto community except for online connections. Working together with the event organizers, italki is providing an online community with online teachers, and hopes to encourage enthusiastic new Esperanto speakers to keep practicing what they learned even after the event has finished.

More importantly, the spirit of the Esperanto culture (by nature multi-national, inclusive, and communication-oriented) aligns with the way that italki celebrates language learning and the important human connections that inevitably come with it.

It is italki’s mission to make learning a language an interpersonal, accessible, and affordable experience. Celebrating and supporting the Esperanto community and IJK simply falls within the company’s core beliefs.

 

Follow the Youth Congress on Twitter: @IJK2015

Follow italki on Twitter: @italki

 

The italki June 2015 language challenge has not gone smoothly for me, and that in itself has taught me a great deal about achieving my goals and learning a language. It was an exciting, difficult, but ultimately rewarding journey. There are many things that I have re-asserted to myself throughout the process of the challenge: taking notes, importance of review, fundamental advantages of speaking with a person to learn language. Still, I want to make the emphasis on sharing some of the more unusual insights from the experience:

Lesson 1: My main struggle was caused by poorly picking my goal

The way I formulated my goal was simple: cover HSK 4 Level vocabulary (This is somewhere around C1 level, and combined with the previous levels of the test covers approximately 1200 Chinese words). (more…)

June Language Challenge: Andrey’s First italki lesson for the June 2015 Language Challenge

June 8th, 2015 | Posted by Ivan in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation - (Comments Off on June Language Challenge: Andrey’s First italki lesson for the June 2015 Language Challenge)

Andrey is one of the newest italki employees, a Russian designer who has spent the last three years in Beijing. Here is the story of his very first italki AND very first Chinese language lesson. 

I had my first Chinese class with my italki teacher Sebastian (I picked him because his introduction video looked interesting, and he’s traveled a lot). Even though I’ve already spent several years living in China, it was my first Chinese class ever!

When I lived in Beijing, I hardly ever used Chinese. I mostly used Russian, and later English. I have also picked up some Chinese by being around people (mostly colleagues, friends, locals, and other Russians). Still, despite having a bit of basic vocabulary, I’m very much a beginner.

My first italki Chinese class

Sebastian showed me cards with Chinese characters and pinyin*, which I have not studied before. Maybe it’s because I’ve already lived in China, but I understood the pinyin portion quickly. I found it pretty fun to suddenly be able to name characters that before the lesson seemed just like mute squiggles.

* Pinyin is the “romanization”; the system of “spelling out” the pronunciation of Chinese words using letters of the alphabet.

I have homework.

I will need to learn Chinese characters. I think it will be fun, because characters haven’t really meant anything to me up till now; so far I have thought of them as just drawings. Now, I’d like to take steps to actually understand them, and I already recognize a few: 我, 你, 小, 他, 水, and 心 (because these are quite basic).

Since I already “passed” pinyin in my first class, Sebastian gave me some homework for learning characters. Beginning with the 2nd lesson, we’re going to start reading in Chinese. It’s kind of a challenge for us both, for him as well as for me!

Tones

I have problems with the tones, as many of those learning Chinese, which I’d like to focus on for my next lessons. Though the tones do seem a bit complicated, and I’ve always had trouble with them, I am hopeful I will be able to finally figure them out.

It seems kind of weird to speak this way, using tones, you know? I’m not the kind of person who finds it easy to laugh at themselves, and I don’t want to sound weird. But, at the same time, I want this; it’s part of the challenge.

I think overall I’m quite nervous: I think that to learn all of the characters would take forever! It seems like a lifetime-long project! I’m kind of scared that I don’t have that much time. I don’t mean that I’m going to die anytime soon, but I’m just too busy with work or other stuff. Again, I see this as part of the challenge: forcing myself to start learning something new and making time to do it well.

Overall Impression

I’ve never done anything like this before, it’s very cool!

The feeling is the same as when you’re on a roller coaster: it feels amazing, but you’re still nervous, maybe even scared. I’m looking forward to the ride.