#249 Mark & Steve – The Lake, a Bookstore and Democracy
Steve: Hi Mark.
Mark: Hi Steve.
Steve: Well, here we are again.
Mark: Yes, we are.
Steve: We had a one-week hiatus.
You know what I want to talk about today?
Mark: I was away, actually.
Steve: I know.
Mark: Up the coast. We had some nice weather, so…
Steve: Well, talk a little bit about that. Where exactly did you go?
Mark: Well, we seem to go up to the same area, for the last few years anyway. Just up the coast here north of Vancouver; I guess it's slightly north. It's really not very far; it's a 35-minute boat ride. It's called the Sunshine Coast. You take a ferry about 40 minutes and then we drove up to a lake, which is an hour from the other side of the ferry. Sakinaw Lake, it was called, which was actually great because the weather was so hot. It's always nice to be in a lake where the temperature is a little warmer and fresh water, of course, as opposed to the salt water here in the ocean where we normally do our swimming. So we were at the lake for three or four days and then we stopped at another friend who lived along the coast. These are all summer places that friends have and we like to stop in on our friends that have summer places. It's a very economical way to vacation. Steve: You know it's interesting that it's called the Sunshine Coast; actually, here, it's a rainforest. I mean it's a little less rainy up there. It's not rainy in the summer. In the winter it rains there as much as here, I think.
Mark: I mean it's not very far away, as I said, in kilometers. As the crow flies, as they say, it's even less far, but it's, you know, 40 minutes away by ferry. But, actually, they do get less rain than we do…
Mark: …especially the further north you go. Like Powell River, apparently they get half as much rain as we do.
Steve: Really. Powell River is actually a beautiful location.
I mean that's not to say they don't get rain. I guess that just tells you how much rain we get.
But Powell River, it's beautiful. And you can tell by the vegetation there, more Douglas fir and sort of Arbutus trees and less Cedar and less Hemlock.
Steve: So, ah… But, hey, you know what I want to talk about? You know that I like to go to bookstores.
Mark: Bookstores have a special shrine devoted to you.
And so… I mean I do have a lot of books. I like buying books and I think books are a great value, you know? Fifteen dollars and you've got something that you spend a lot of time with, you go back to and I like looking at books that I've read before. Anyway, one of the sections that I like to go to, of course, is the Language Section. So I went to the Language Section, just to see what people are up to.
Mark: And machine-gun a few LingQ cards.
Steve: Well, I always have some LingQ cards to hand out. But it was interesting to see, people are developing these… I mean the idea is that, really, people (A) they don't want to spend much money and (B) they want to learn it right away. Mark: Right.
Steve: So now there's more and more sort of “Chinese in a Day”, $10. Sure, Chinese? Learn Chinese in a day only $10, why wouldn't I, right? And then they've also got things that work with your iPod. Although, those are things that anyone can do, really. You just fill up things in your iPod that you can then easily see in the menu.
And there was one girl there who was interested in Japanese, so I chatted with her for a while and her boyfriend was Mexican, so I chatted with him -- two LingQ cards handed out. And then this fellow arrives and he's got one of the bookstore assistants with him… Mark: Right, yeah.
Steve: …and he's also looking at Japanese. And so she shows him the Michel Thomas Series, which is like eight CDs, $99.
Steve: And so I can't resist, so I say, “No, you want to buy the cheapest thing you can find.” He said, “Well why?” I said, “First of all, because you may not continue.” You know? Mark: Right.
Steve: And most people buy something and they never do anything with it.
Mark: Or they try it for a week and then it gathers dust in the corner.
Steve: Um-hum. So I said, “First of all for that reason and second of all because you want to really only have this sort of starter-type content for a short while. I would buy…” In fact, my strategy, in the past, has been to buy two starter sets. When I started on Korean about five-six years ago, buy the teach yourself and buy the colloquial and they cover the same ground and I just listen and listen.
And so I said, I said to him, I said, “'Teach Yourself' is quite good. Why don't you get the ‘Teach Yourself Japanese'”? So the lady there said, “Oh no, no, I wouldn't take that because I bought the ‘Teach Yourself Ancient English' and I didn't like how the grammar was organized.” Mark: Well you told me that earlier and thought that, aye, okay, whatever, she wants to learn Ancient English, for whatever reason. Is anyone going to care if her grammar is not bang on? Is anyone going to notice? I mean who knows the grammar of Ancient English?
Steve: Well, exactly. I'm sure the grammar of Ancient English is more complicated than the grammar of Modern English. Mark: Right.
Steve: But, I'm sure, you know… Like Russian grammar is complicated. As long as all I'm doing is reading and listening I don't really have to have that much grammar. I can kind of figure it out.
Steve: And besides which, I pointed out, you know, the order in which you think it should be organized may not be the order in which the brain wants to learn it. You can always go to the Index if you're interesting in, you know, whatever, participles or.... I have no idea what's in Ancient English. But, at any rate, no, I mean you don't want to belittle. I mean that's what she likes to do, so that's fine. Mark: Right.
Steve: But it was interesting because this fellow said…so I said “Yeah, you should come to LingQ, but” I said, “with Japanese, you know, our Japanese Program is only about 80% effective compared to the programs for other languages, because of this issue of the Asian languages not being divided.
Steve: And he said, “Oh, it doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be Japanese.” I said, “Well, why?” “Well,” he said, “I just want to learn any language.” I said, “Well, why?” He said because he had an accident and so he had some brain damage. Mark: Right.
Steve: And he says sometimes he has trouble finding words and he thinks it would be useful for him to learn another language to take his mind of this problem that he has.
Steve: I said, “It's possible that it could.” I mean we do know that the brain, even if it's been damaged, it continues to create neurons. It continues to renew itself, rejuvenate itself. I mean people who all of a sudden become blind develop the neuro networks to read Braille at age 40.
Mark: And, as you say, I mean learning one language very often helps you in another.
Mark: So, obviously, the same should hold true for your native language and learning another language should help your native language.
Steve: That's right…like picking up the garbage next door. So I thought that was interesting, so, of course, I handed him a LingQ card.
Mark: Of course you did.
Steve: So… But it was interesting. So you have the two, I guess, extremes. On the one hand you have the $2-$300… Oh, of course he asked me what I thought of Rosetta Stone.
Mark: Which, I guess, recently Rosetta Stone offered to send you a sample.
Steve: Well, that's right. Because I published sort of a critique of Rosetta Stone on my blog, which I entitled “Seven Reasons Why I Would Not Use Rosetta Stone.”
Steve: Although I pointed out that I have not personally used it, but you've used it. Mark: Yeah.
Steve: I've heard from you and I read a number of reviews on the Internet, many of which…they were all positive. Mark: Right.
Steve: Most of them were written by people who are in some way connected with Rosetta Stone.
Steve: And that doesn't surprise me, Rosetta Stone are tremendous marketers. If you go to Google and put “learn…” any language, “Azerbaijani”, I don't care, “Finnish”, Rosetta Stone will come up top. Mark: I mean everybody has heard of them, more and more. Like when I used Rosetta Stone -- that was maybe seven-eight years ago -- it was nowhere near the household name that it's become. People didn't know about it. It was kind of new, here's this thing Rosetta Stone. But now everybody I talk to, even people who aren't necessarily interested in language learning, when I mention what I do, “Oh, yeah, are you kind of like Rosetta Stone?” They've heard of it. “What's that software, Rosetta Stone? Yeah, that's it.” Steve: And, of course, I mean I think this is good. I don't want to knock Rosetta Stone because what it is, it's good, it promotes the idea that you can learn on your own. And you have to learn on your own and you don't have to go to school, so all of this is good and makes people think of learning languages, it's already good. Mark: Plus, recently, they had their IPO (Initial Public Offering) on the stock market, which just raises awareness…
Steve: It raises awareness.
Mark: …as people hear about it.
Mark: Just in terms of PR value, that, of course, adds to…
Steve: …adds to the buzz.
Mark: …the buzz about Rosetta Stone.
Steve: But, from what I read, you know, they sort of pointed out that you have the sort of multiple choice things where you're picking. You know after going through it once, you know, is this a bird? You know you hear a word and you have to choose whether it's a bird, a car, a tree or an airplane or something. Mark: Right.
Steve: And since this is very easy one argument by one of the supporters of Rosetta Stone was that this makes it, you know, gratifying, you know?
Steve: You know you can immediately see what happened, so you're gratified right away. Mark: Right.
Steve: Whereas, if you're learning a language you often have the impression that you're not making any progress, was one point. Mark: Right.
Steve: But most of the people who commented on my blog just found it boring. And my objection and I put it on my blog is that it's not communicating, it's playing little games. And most of my activity is listening to my iPod.
Steve: If I'm in my car, if I'm wandering through a bookstore, if I'm mowing the lawn, whatever I'm doing I gain all this dead time. Mark: Right.
Steve: If I had to sit chained to a computer playing these games I wouldn't do it. Mark: Yeah.
I mean I don't know if it even qualifies as games; although, when I did it, yeah, it's kind of neat at first and you click all the…it's very easy. Like I sit down and I can just kind of go through it and I hardly ever get any…
Steve: You did it for Japanese when you were living in Japan.
Mark: I did it for Japanese when I was living in Japan. I'd hardly get any wrong. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ten minutes later I've done three units. Okay.
But how long are you going to sit there doing that?
Mark: And the worst part about it is, even if you do sit there and do it and you know it inside and out, at the end of it all you're still not very far. Steve: No.
Mark: You're still not capable of communicating. And I think I had two levels of it before I gave up and I would have been far better off getting into real content, listening to stuff, reading stuff and expanding my vocabulary.
Steve: Well, exactly. And that's where… Somebody else on my blog asked me if I knew about the Birkenbihl Method. And I had never heard of it, but I looked it up on the Web and I came to the site. And there's a lady in Germany who has developed this system which, in many ways, is very similar to what we're doing. Mark: Right.
Steve: She introduced some elements that are kind of complicated and I think unnecessarily confusing, complicated, things that people, in my mind, are not likely to continue doing.
Mark: Exactly. That's the thing I thought when I saw that. Steve: But the principle is, yes, don't learn words in isolation, don't worry too much about grammar -- there Rosetta Stone also agrees -- and a lot of emphasis on listening. But she separates listening from reading and you have to listen to the word-for-word translation. It gets quite complicated.
But, anyway, getting back to this fellow, I think that, yeah, what he's doing is he's going to try to train his brain; stimulate his brain, exercise his brain by learning another language. I think that's a good thing and that's, in fact, how you learn. And so with Rosetta Stone the fact that you could learn the word for the color yellow and never forget it, it just is not going to happen.
Steve: You're going to forget it. And only when you've seen yellow in many different situations are you going to remember it; otherwise… I mean I'm quite good in Portuguese, but colors are difficult. I'm quite good in Russian and Portuguese. I find colors difficult. Was that green or yellow or red? I can't remember. Mark: Right.
Steve: Colors are hard. Colors are hard, so are numbers.
Mark: Numbers are hard, for sure.
Steve: Numbers are very hard.
Mark: Numbers are very hard.
Steve: Very hard. I get a date in Russian; I haven't a clue what date they're talking about. Mark: When I get a date in French I have to start dissecting it now. It takes me about three seconds after I've heard it before I'm, okay, that's what it was. Steve: It's surprising what's hard and what's easy. Mark: Right.
Steve: Things that you think would be easy to remember are often hard. Things that you would think are hard maybe are easy to remember because they're hard. Mark: Right.
Steve: We don't know how the brain is going to grab them. Anyway, so, hopefully, that person will get on our Website, so language learning as brain rehabilitation. Why not?
Mark: Well, yeah. I mean they often recommend that for seniors, that they study languages to keep their brain active and young, so it should work for him.
Steve: By the way, on another subject, President Obama was in Russia and gave speeches to students and gave speeches to the business community or at least met with the business community and opposition parties and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as, of course, meeting with the President of Russia and the Prime Minster of Russia and so forth.
And he stressed this idea that, you know, not all relationships have to be between the President and the President. That there are many things that people in society should get more involved.
Steve: And I read an interesting book about democracy and the democratization of so many things, you know, which is, to some extent, what the Web is about and, to some extent, what we're doing in language learning. The power of the publisher, the newspaper publisher, the power of the book publisher, of the media empire, of the teacher, of the school, of all of these institutions is getting less.
Steve: And, more and more, people can, you know, have a blog or have a podcast, set up a language class online or a language system online. And, similarly, in our society there are probably more things that people can do on their own and get the government out of so much of this stuff.
Steve: I mean we had a bit of a scandal here in Canada over the government providing $1.9 million to the Calgary Stampede, which is annual tourist event…
Steve: …where people rope cattle and charge around and probably the cattle get badly done by, which happens to them all the time on a working ranch anyway.
And then there was a large amount of money donated for the Gay Pride Parade in Toronto. And, of course, since the government is a conservative government and somewhat conservative socially, there was a great human cry that the government spent money on promoting this Gay Pride Parade. And, of course, those who were in favor of the Gay Pride Parade say that this is a great tourist attraction. It's a great big party, all kinds of people come. I mean I don't want to get into the issue of the Gay Pride Parade, but why is the government handing out $400,000 to the Gay Pride Parade, $1.9 million to the Calgary Stampede? You mean those events would not go on if the government didn't hand them money? Mark: I mean it's ridiculous. The government should not be in the business of giving money to anything like that.
Steve: Well, of course. Because then what happens is anybody that's got any kind of event, their major activity now becomes going after government money. Mark: Right.
Steve: It completely distorts everything. It's the same, you know, as in language teaching. Mark: Right.
Steve: We can't get any… Any organization that's helping immigrants to learn English is never going to look at LingQ, because their main modus vivendi, their business model, is extracting more money from government. Mark: Right.
Steve: And, certainly, I mean we hear in Russia where they are one of the more corrupt countries in the world according to some international…apparently they're ranked behind… I don't know, I don't remember the country, but it wasn't high on the list of non… I mean they're corrupt. And a big part of it is that the government's in everything. And the more government has got its fingers in different things the more you get these distortions.
Steve: But this interesting book that I read by a fellow whose name I can't remember… he has a Muslim name, actually, and he writes for Newsweek. But he wrote a bestseller on democracy…you know I can't remember his name anymore…but he made the point that this excess of democracy, though, has caused some problems. And…here we are. His name is…I can't remember…Zachariah? Fareed Zachariah. And it has caused problems. Like in California the people have had plebiscite after plebiscite saying you cannot spend more than this on this, you cannot have a deficit, you cannot do this, you can't spend…forty percent of the budget has to be spent on education. So with the result that their roads are falling apart, they're practically bankrupt… In other words, you get these popular movements where people have a single issue…
Steve: …that they're totally wrapped up about. They have a plebiscite, they win, because a motivated minority of people will always win against the vast majority who are yawning on the issue and pretty soon you restrict what government can do.
Mark: But I guess the problem there is that it's not true democracy, because only a motivated portion of the people voted on the issue. Steve: This is true.
Mark: If everybody voted on the issue then it presumably wouldn't have passed. Or, it may have, but the people would have had to deal with it. And then if you have that for one issue then you kind of have to have that for all issues.
Mark: So, all of a sudden, okay, 40% is going to schools, now we have a problem where our roads are falling apart, should we take some of this money out of school and everybody has to vote again. Presumably, people will say, yeah, that's a good idea, but if you have that publicized in isolation then I don't see how that would work. Steve: Well, that's right. Mark: You can't have a combination you have to open it up. Steve: That's true. Mark: Yeah.
I mean so it's really not an excess of democracy at all, it's just kind of a red herring thrown in there. Steve: Right.
And this book I read by Zachariah, he pointed out…which is an interesting book, by the way, it was a New York Times bestseller back in 2003. You know, we could have another session on it one day, but he points out that there were a lot of undemocratic governments that were, you know, monarchies, but where they had the rule of law…
Steve: …where they had a number of institutions.
Steve: Freedom of speech, rule of law, but the king decided.
Mark: So he's suggesting that democracy is a bad thing? Steve: No.
He's just saying that it's not necessarily the first step. Mark: Right.
Steve: And his biggest thing is land reform
Steve: And that there are many countries where you can't go at them first with democracy if they don't have these other things in place. Mark: Right.
Steve: It's an interesting book. Mark: We'll save it for another time. Steve: We'll save it. We never run out of things to say.
Steve: Look forward to your comments. Thank you.
Mark: Okay, bye-bye.