Language Study Index  - Thor May

[a note on fonts: some pages in this section use Korean, Japanese and Chinese fonts (UTF8, Arial Unicode MS). Your computer may need to have an East Asian font pack (free from Microsoft) installed to view such material]

1. Particular languages now of interest to Thor. Besides language, the pages on Chinese and Korean can give you further links to blogs about China and Korea. There are also links to my China and Korea diaries which contain many stories and articles I wrote while working in those countries. In addition, I will shortly post a large number of independent articles and news stories which I have collected about those countries over several years.

a) Chinese

b) Korean

c) German - occasional study at present

d) Not in active study (2011): Japanese; Spanish

e) A short bio of Thor in English, Chinese, Korean, German, Japanese (Spanish* => translation help needed)

f) Brisbane language meetup notes etc.


2. Record Your Own Voice for language study - This is a really good idea. Go here to see how and why.


3. Languages Study Links - This is a big current list (2011) of Internet sites related to the study of languages in general, and also of particular languages, especially Chinese. It includes links for learning English as a second language. It is a straight, unedited paste from my Firefox bookmarks.


4. International news sources: Here is my collection of Firefox links to newspapers in many countries.


5. A few comments on language learning:

I have been a professional language teacher (of English) since 1976, with about twelve years of formally lecturing linguistics addditionally stacked into that. Along the way I've also picked up an Australian doctorate in language teaching productivity. I began as a pretty bad teacher (too interested in my own agenda) and have finished up as a pretty good teacher (according to my students). Most people therefore assume that I'm also a rather good language learner. That just isn't so. With the passing of time, I'm slowly learning to learn, which really means learning how my own mental machine learns. My own learning incompetence has not only given me great sympathy for the millions of students trapped in "language classrooms" who struggle to learn anything useful. It has piqued my curiousity, and prompted me to search out how to turn a bad language learning experience into something like success. Along the way, I have noticed something disturbing about large numbers of professional language teachers (armies of amateur foreign teachers in countries like China are a different species). Most truly professional language teachers are reasonably good at learning other languages. That is why they are in the trade. Mostly they assume that their students either have the same aptitudes that they, the teachers have, or that the students are stupid. Well, I may be stupid, but I have learned that very large numbers of "failed" language students are not stupid at all. There are many reasons for their failures. Here are just a few of them:

Reasons for language learning success and failure

a) CULTURE. In the majority of human cultures multilingualism is normal. It always has been, even long before there were schools. In these multilingual cultures people assume that learning other languages is part of the process of becoming a normal adult. Stumbling around in non-mother tongue languages is included in the fabric of daily life. Such people are fairly tolerant of "errors", and understand that language learning is not an instant process. Nowadays there are often many resources for learning other languages in multilingual countries. Monolingual cultures usually have little tolerance or understanding in the popular culture for second language learning. English speaking cultures are the most handicapped and prejudiced because English is a "world language". Native English speakers as a group not only lack motivation to learn other languages. They tend to be extremely ignorant about what is involved in language learning, and reward language skills poorly in the job market.

b) TIME. Language learning is really about building a whole new mental machine, a sort of biological computer robot that can hum along producing the new language to order. This is not the place to go into cognitive linguistics. Enough to say here that getting a complex new mental machine up and rolling is much slower than growing grass. It also needs lots and lots of loving care and attention - like years of your life. If your mind is busy with other things, it is hard to cram this project into your day. There have been some good arguments that real success needs a total takeover of your life for a while (e.g. see the method "All Japanese all the time").

c) METHOD. At twenty I was absolutely clueless about how to learn other languages, and it has taken me decades to gain some competence. In Australia language learning isn't a fashionable thing to do, and certainly none of my teachers gave worthwhile advice (maybe they didn't know either). Learning to learn is a complicated topic - there are many strands to it. It is not only about understanding how memories are made and retrieved (though that is critical). The first step is to "know yourself", not your illusions, dreams and wishes, but how to feed your own brain and have it working efficiently. Where can you seek self-knowledge? Now on the Internet, there is endless junk advice, but also some really insightful guidance (for example, see Greg Thomson, "Language learning in the real world for non-beginners"). If you are a teacher, helping your students to discover themselves is the most wonderful help that you can offer. Before you can give however, you need to experience (seriously study a language yourself) and you need to receive: listen to each student's story at length!

d) PERSONALITY. i) Most of the language we make never comes out of our mouths. It is personal mental chatter (did you ever try to meditate by telling your brain to shut up? It's hard). However, we are social creatures. The main drive and encouragement for most people (not everyone) to learn another language is to communicate with friends, for a job ... and so on. If you are an outgoing, sociable person you will thrive on social language learning. You may fail if there is only "book learning" available. I used to be terribly shy, and that was a huge handicap for language learning. Now I'm too old to care ^_^, but even now I find it difficult to start social relationships, so my natural learning pattern is somewhat different from an extrovert.

ii) Different cultures are sympathetic to different kinds of personalities. As a teacher in in Wuhan (central China), I noticed that many Chinese people there almost shouted in normal conversation. In some other parts of China they are much quieter. I understand that in Japan, using silences can be an important part of successful communication. Look at your own habits in your home culture: do you modulate your voice level for different social situations? Study how this happens in the new language-culture, or you might find that few people are really comfortable talking to you.

d) CHEMISTRY and GENETIC POTENTIAL. There is no question that language learning uses many different parts of your brain. That has consequences!

i) If you are good at analysing things, like me, then understanding grammars should be easy. For me it's a snack, which is why I majored in linguistics. (Put me in a marketplace though, and I'm useless). If grammar is not your thing, don't worry too much. Let your clever subconscious brain look after that stuff and concentrate on social communication.

ii) If you find it really tough to remember new words, like me, then the memory work of language learning is going to be a big job. If memory is your main problem, then you need to find the best way to put new memories into your brain (hint: maximum attention and associations!). You need to learn how to keep the memories in your brain (hint: the secret is to relearn just before you forget. Find out about spaced learning, and maybe use a computer program like Anki). You need to learn how to retrieve the memories when you need them (hint: learn each item while you are in the kitchen, in bed, on the street, in a coffee shop. Not just in one place, or you may only remember it there).

However, even when we use every known memory trick skillfully, some lucky people still find it much easier to remember stuff than less memory-gifted people. The lucky people have bodies that make certain memory chemicals efficiently. I have NEVER been one of these lucky people, even as a child. Most professional language teachers do have efficient memory chemical factories (and they think everyone else does too). What can you do about bad luck with your memory chemicals? Diet, sleep and exercise can all help. In the end though, if you are like me with a very ordinary supply of memory chemicals, you just have to run on one leg and be smart in other ways. After all, we all learned at least one language before we were five years old.


6. Language Teaching (as distinct from Language Learning)

a) Thor's Language Teaching Notes is a new Wordpress blog with some advice and information which teachers may find useful (I have been a teacher trainer).

b) The Teaching Methodology section of this website ( contains a series of articles. The website also has a section on Technical Linguistics.

c) At Pusan University of Foreign Studies in 2004, I gave a series of lectures for graduate Korean students :

Lectures on Second Language Acquisition
[teacher training given by Thor to graduate students]
Powerpoint slides : These work in Internet Explorer, but maybe not in Firefox

Lectures on Grammar in EFL : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Burt & Kiparsky (cycle 1: teacher training given by Thor to graduate students)
Powerpoint slides : These work in Internet Explorer, but maybe not in Firefox

Error types : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 => scans from the table of contents of The Gooficon by Marina K. Burt & Carol Kiparsky, Heinle & Heinle Publishers1998 [ sadly out of print; hence these scans - but try to obtain the book itself]

Lectures on Grammar in EFL (cycle 2: changed text book)
[teacher training given by Thor to graduate students]
Powerpoint slides : These work in Internet Explorer, but maybe not in Firefox

Links to Online Resources for Teachers

d) Over the years I have prepared quite a lot of material for students learning English as a Second Language. Some is reserved for commercial publication. However quite a lot is online:

Thor's ESL Everything Index ; The Barebones Index - EFL stuff from Korea & China ; Thor's Other Stuff for learning English


7. Private language teaching

According to governments and colleges, I'm supposed to be "retired" (even though I run 7km a day). Nowadays I don't hustle for work, but I do enjoy teaching. If anyone does want some professional English language coaching (34 years of experience), here are my rates in Australia:

Cost for each student per one hour:

1 student $50

2 students $30

3 students $25

4+ students $20


Dr Thor May,
Brisbane , Australia

(c) Thor May 2011 material on this page is essentially for Thor's private study return to homepage contact: thormay AT

Website: The Passionate Skeptic


Thor's language teaching notes http:// thorslanguageandteachingnotes.
Thor's new China diary ChinaDiary2/
Thor's unwise ideas http://thorsunwiseideas.
Thor's videos & recordings
Thor's Australian spaces http://thorsaustralianspaces.
Thor's short cuts http://thorshortcuts.byeways. net/

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