Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Choose: Free Spanish, French, Italian or English Course

It's that time of the month once more. The time that we ask Parlo users to vote for what course we should make available free during December. This is a great way to thoroughly try us out as a Holiday gift. Learn vocabulary, idioms, the ins and outs of foreign cultures as well as grammar and listening practice. We have terrific sound files. To cast your votes post a comment here or email to support(at) We plan on choosing two courses by Friday so get your votes in now!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More to Learning Cultures Than Language

When thinking about learning about other cultures we rightly focus on learning the language of that culture, be it French, Spanish, Chinese etc. That's just one aspect of what defines the people of a given culture. An article in the New York Times last week focussed on the differences from culture to culture in people's spacial awareness and need for personal space. Here's a section that I found particularly interesting:

Scientists who say Americans share patterns of movement and behaviors to protect their personal space have recently found new evidence in a cyber game.

Researchers who observed the avatars (digital representations of the humans that control them) of participants in Second Life, a virtual reality universe, found that some of the avatars’ physical behavior was in keeping with studies about how humans protect their personal space.

Isn't that cool??? People behave the same way in a virtual world as they would in the physical world. "Yo buddy, yer crowdin' me. Step back!" applies when you are an online character just as it might in the real world. I thought I'd look around online to see what else has been written on this topic and came up with some interesting stuff. A professor on the West Coast teaches a class called, Gestures: Body Language and Nonverbal Communication and proposed an interesting experiment that makes me uncomfortable just reading about:
Elevator Behavior
Next time you walk on to a crowded elevator, don't turn around and face the door. Instead, just stand there facing the others. If you want to create even more tension, grin. Very likely the other passengers will glare back, surprised, grim, and upset.

Reason? You have broken the rules.
Go here to read more from Gary Imai

Here's something from the U. of California on eye contact, distance between speakers and the dangers of generalizing about these kind of things. It makes a person want to do their research before assuming you know too much. We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this one. - Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

English Pronunciation Help (sort of...)

Here's a fun poem that's been floating around for over 50 years. It's not clear who the author is but here's a link to some good guesses on that question as well as to some other poems on the subject of pronouncing the english language. (Note in the recording how I mangle the word "English" - oh well...)

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I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, through, lough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead--it's said like bed, not bead.
For goodness's sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose--
Just look them up--and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five.

While we're on the subject of studying English please try our terrific English courses at

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Free Bi-lingual Spanish English Tele-Novelas

This stuff is GREAT!!! Because the dialogue alternates between English and Spanish it's pretty easy to get the context. Once you have the context - the visuals help here of course, it's much easier to understand new words and expressions. The plots aren't in competition with "Great Literature" but who cares. This a a really fun way to improve one's language skills.

**Yabla Spanish Language Video Immersion - Dual Captioning lets you choose Spanish and English captions. Play the video in Slow Mode for easier comprehension**

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New English Language Immersion Feature

A great way to practice language is to watch television or movies. Video reinforces and and gives you a visual context for understanding the words and phrases you are listening to. We are very excited here at Parlo to be able to provide our users with streaming video news provided by Reuters. Learn English vocabulary and expressions related to current events by watching these news items. We hope to be able to add additional sources of video in other language. Stay tuned for more!

**Subscribe to TVESL for English Language videos, interviews and film clips***

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Speaking in Tongues - What's Being Said

Last week word came out that researchers at the University of Pennsyvania have completed a study on people who have claimed to "speak in tongues". For those of you not familiar with this term, it refers to the event when people speak unintelligable "patter" or language and partially lose body control, all while in a self described state of being possessed. They claim to have no control of the sounds coming out of their mouths and claim that God is speaking through them.

The research measured blood flow in various parts of the brain associated with volition or freely chosen acts as well those parts of the brain associated with language. They compared data collected while the subjects were "speaking in tongues" and compared it to data collected when the subjects were singing gospel songs. (Why not just ordinary speech?) What the researchers found confirmed the subjective claims of participants in the study who were "speaking in tongues". There was reduced activity in both the part of the brain associated with free choice (the pre-frontal lobes) and the part of the brain associated with language. So just who is at the wheel?

Here's an article from the NY Times on this. Also a link to Penn Medicine's Press release

All of this makes me want to know more about how the brain processes and produces language. This study was not trying to answer any of these questions but would suggest that since both the subject and spectators describe what's coming out of their mouths "language" there must be some characteristics or set of rules that give the appearance of language. Is this revealing something about the way our brains are "wired" for language? It's a fascinating path for this kind of research to explore. I can't wait for more of this kind of research to be done.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Free Spanish and English Courses - November

For November 2006 at we are going to make our English 2 and Travel Spanish available at no charge. That's free language audio, free grammar free vocabulary. All gratis! If you can put in an hour a day you can finish the course in a month. If you do not finish it we're convinced you will want to buy it so you can finish it at your own pace. Here's how to use your free Spanish or free French course. Go to

Interactive English 2
Password: parlo

Travel Spanish
Password: parlo

(Please don't change the passwords or you'll prevent others from using the course until we change it back to "parlo" Thanks!)