Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How I learned German while watching TV

While I was able to learn Italian "completely" through passive exposure to (seemingly) incomprehensible input, German is still a work in progress. Although I don't advocate "input only," that's exactly what I practice. I have enough experience with passive learning to know that a massive amount of passive input considerably accelerates the road to fluency.

My timeline:

German TV hours (1990-2002): difficult to estimate. I initially wrote 2,000 hours but this is a very rough estimate. It is possible I spent less time on it, German TV was an occasional pastime. I never planned to learn anything. I wasn't trying to learn German - I was simply watching German TV in my free time and only when there wasn't anything interesting on other channels. I took very long breaks, at least 7-8 months every year during several years.

In 1993 I attempted to read my first German book - I personally scribbled the date on the book. I quickly lost interest.

2002-2006 - absolutely nothing

In 2007 I listened through Takeoff in German in two days. I didn't know a couple of words. I read a few pages in German here and there and I watched a couple of movies and TV shows.

2008 - a few movies

January 2009 -Jan. 2011 I managed to stick with German for two years. During this time I listened to over a dozen audiobooks and I saw a couple of hundred hours of TV shows. I only read maybe 20 medium-sized books.

2011-2012 some audiobooks, a few movies, TV shows, documentaries etc. No substantial reading of any sort.

2012 -2015 Occasional audiobook.

I can follow any German TV program, reading feels a little tiresome but I can read advanced texts without the aid of a dictionary. Older literature is a bit of a pain - however considering that I still have to finish a "real" 19th ct novel I can read surprisingly well and without the aid of a dictionary. Legal texts and other specialized areas I never paid much attention to are tiresome but I still managed to use German professionally sifting through financial information. I have recently tested myself on Dialang: listening comprehension C2, vocabulary 820. I intend to also do the other tests while I am still a grammar virgin. I used German dictionaries maybe a dozen times in my life. I am not anti-grammar, anti-dictionary etc. I simply did not care. Most of my German experience involved turning on the TV.

I never attempted to communicate with anyone. I never wrote a sentence in German. My "silent period" was ridiculously long. My brain has been pickling in native German brine but when I attempt to pronounce words and sentences aloud I am not always very pleased with the result.

EDIT: My experience at the local German cultural institute (in 2009?) has taught me that I am judging myself too harshly. Speaking is still my weak point, though. Perhaps I pulled my brain out of the German brine too early or I am simply too old to really shine in a foreign language.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US trade and US-bound FDI by country and by language

US total trade with linguistic groups, countries and regions (percent of total trade). Based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2007:

Europe 22.24%
European Union 19.3%
Spanish-speaking countries 16.7%
Chinese 16.7% (China, HK, Taiwan, Singapore)
China 12.4%
Mexico 11.1%
Japanese 6.7%
French 6.2% (Canada: Quebec only)
German 5.84%
Korean 2.63%
Portuguese 1.86%
Eastern Europe 1.8% (Russia included)
Dutch 1.76%
Italian 1.61%
India 1.33%
Russian 1.15%
Thai 1%
Indonesia 0.60%
Swedish 0.58%
Vietnamese 0.40%
Turkish 0.36%
Finnish 0.27%
Polish 0.17%

Foreign Direct Investment

These ten countries represented 88 percent of all foreign direct investment in the United States in 2007:

1 Canada
2 United Kingdom
3 Japan
4 Switzerland
5 France
6 Spain
7 Sweden
8 Netherlands
9 Germany
10 Italy

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. International Transactions Accounts

U.S. assets in Germany are greater than total U.S. assets in all of South America. The countries with the most assets in the United States are the United Kingdom, followed by Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland.

Foreign Direct Investment Position in the United States on a Historical-Cost Basis at Year-End 2007 (in millions of U.S. dollars)

All countries 2,093,049
Europe 1,482,978

United Kingdom 410,787
Japan 233,148
Canada 213,224
Netherlands 209,449
Germany 202,648
France 168,576
Switzerland 155,696
Luxembourg 134,310
Latin America 62,955
Australia 49,100
Sweden 31,857
Belgium 19,520
Italy 15,482
OPEC 13,589
Middle East 12,937
Austria 2,512
Africa 1,124

Source: Ibarra, Marilyn, and Jennifer Koncz, Direct Investment Positions for 2007: Country and Industry Detail. Survey of Current Business, July, 2008. p. 35.

Foreign direct investment trends in 2007

Number of deals:

Europe 5,384
Asia-Pacific 3,402
North America 935
Latin America 777
Middle East 486
Africa 380

Total 11,574

Global FDI recipients

Foreign direct investment in 2007 by top 20 countries
Number of projects and US$ billion invested

China 1,171 projects $90.4
USA 783 $46.8
India 676 $52.5
UK 622 $18.7
France 556 $17.1
Germany 432 $22.8
Spain 379 $17.8
Romania 364 $20.2
Russia 361 $45.1
Poland 330 $20.5
UAE 271 $16.1
Vietnam 260 $40.2
Singapore 239 $23.1
Hungary 217 $10
Mexico 206 $15.3
Belgium 206 $25.8
Italy 166 $9.9
Japan 166 $6.8
Malaysia 162 $10
Australia 154 $22.1

Based on Greenfield FDI projects tracked by OCO Global Ltd.

Green Field Investments

"A form of foreign direct investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up. In addition to building new facilities, most parent companies also create new long-term jobs in the foreign country by hiring new employees."

Gross National Income by language here

Monday, January 19, 2009

World book production by country and by language

In 1957 according to Bowker and UNESCO nearly 22 percent of the world's new titles were in the English language. According to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences five languages (English, Russian, Spanish, German, and French) accounted for 75 percent of the world's book production and 40 percent of the readers in the 1960’s. In the mid-90's Graddol estimates that 58 percent of the world's new books were in these five languages (28 percent in English).

In 2004 and 2005 English-speaking countries produced around 375,000 books. According to a 2005 Bowker press release some 375,000 English books equal 40 percent of all new book content in the world. English-speaking countries published 14,440 new translations in 2004, accounting for about 3% of all books available for sale. In 2005, of the 172,000 new titles published in the U.S., fewer than 1,000 were literary works in translation. Around one half of all translated books worldwide are based on English-language originals. (Unesco, 2002).


new publications: 94,716 new titles published in 2006. (2004: 86,543; 2005: 89,869). One in ten books published in the world today is in German.


11,875 new publications of which 6,797 titles are in German, 2,374 titles in French, 367 in Italian and 40 in Rhaeto-Romance.


Title production 2005: 95,489 titles
New publications 2005: 82,273 titles
9,652 translated titles were published in Russia in 2003.


60,376 new titles were published in 2007 (first editions and new editions).

Title production rose by 4.6 per cent and has more than doubled over the past ten years. Production is growing in almost all categories.

1. Novels: 8,334 new releases
2. Social sciences: 8,824 new releases
3. Children’s and teenage literature: 7,713 new releases

Translations as part of French book production 2007:
8,549 translations were published in France in 2007, equivalent to 14.2 per cent of total title production (new titles and reprints).
3,441 novels were translations, making up 40.3 per cent of all novels published.

Proportion of translations per category:
1. Novels: 40 %
2. Social sciences, philosophy, religion, history, biographies: 15 %
4. Children’s and teenage books: 14 %
4. Comics: 10 %

Languages of origin for translations into French in 2007 (total production):
1. English (5,137 titles, + 3 %)
2. Japanese (642 titles, + 30 %)
3. German (606 titles, + 4 %)
2007 was the first time that Japanese “overtook” German.

Languages of origin for translations into French in 2007 (novels only):
1. English (2,565 titles, + 2 %)
2. Spanish (146 titles, + 10 %)
3. German (116 titles, - 13 %)


Title production 2005: 69,598 (2004: 67,822).
New publications 2005: 35,046

Fiction (14,208 titles)
Non-fiction (14,879 titles)
Children’s and teenager literature (11,756)

77.9 % of titles published in 2005 were in Castilian, 15.6 % in Catalan, 2.5 % in Galician and 2.2 % in Basque.

19,426 new titles (2007) 2005: 17,359

In 2005, 27.1 % of all Latin American titles were produced in Argentina, making it the country with the strongest book production in Spanish-speaking Latin America.
By comparison 2005: Mexico: 19 % and Colombia: 16.3 %

Produced “titles”: 15.233 (2003)

Brazil: 35,590 titles published in 2003, 11% of which were translations (65% from English, 10% from French and 7% from Spanish). Textbooks accounted for approximately 45.2% of total book sales.


Title production: 59,743 (2005)
New publications: 33,641 (2005)
Fiction titles: 32,975 (2007)
School textbook titles: 2,275 (2007)
Children’s & teenage literature titles: 2,444 (2007)

Out of 49,767 titles in 2007, 6,684 were translated from English and 1,095 from German. Of the 50 biggest publishing groups worldwide, seven are Italian.


Title production 2007: 39,867 (2006: 34,195)
New publications 2007: 4,671 (2006: 4,183)



Number titles produced per annum: 140,000
Number new publications per annum: 89,950

Textbooks account for nearly half of all purchases. Around 6% of China’s book production consists of translations. Since 1998, German publishing companies have sold more licences to Chinese-speaking countries than to any other country.

Number new publications per annum: 38,000 titles (2000: of which 8,000 translations)


Title production per annum: 397,890
New publications per annum: 77,031 (2004)
According to the Publishers Weekly, 40% of Japan’s publishing revenues comes from the manga market.


Approx. 70,000 titles per annum (new publications/new editions/reprints)
Only 40 % of these books have ISBN numbers. 25 -30% in English language.
Fiction & illustrated books 35%
Children’s & teen books 7%

Official languages: 21 English is spoken by 3–5 % of the Indian population
Titles produced in India in English: 45 % (31,000 titles)
Titles produced in India in Indian languages: 55 % (approx. 3,788 titles)
The rest: in other languages Of which in Hindi: 25 % (approx. 7,750 titles)


Number of new publications per annum:
2003: 35,371
2002: 36,186 (roughly the number of new publications in 1998)

Comics account for approx. 25 % of sales, fiction 13.5 %, non-fiction 13.5 %, science & technology 11 % and children’s books 11 %. Around 29% of Korea’s book production consists of translations. Some 26% of translations are comics and 21.8% are children’s books.

Arab countries:

7,600 "titles" in 2004
31 % religion
19% literature
9% History and Geography

1,070 titles in 2004

1,383 titles in 2003, of which children’s books and textbooks for use in the classroom make up a significant proportion.

Source: Frankfurter Buchmesse (except for Brazil and where noted)

More about historical book production here

Top languages that offer most translations from other languages can be found here

Monday, January 12, 2009

brain, grammar and vocabulary

“Our use of language depends upon two capacities: a mental lexicon of memorized words and a mental grammar of rules that underlie the sequential and hierarchical composition of lexical forms into predictably structured larger words, phrases, and sentences.”

Michael T. Ullman: The Declarative/Procedural Model of Lexicon and Grammar
Journal of Psycholinguistic Research
Volume 30, Number 1 / January, 2001

According to Mr. Ullman the lexical knowledge (the association of meaning and sound into morphemes, irregular word forms etc) is linked with the declarative, temporal-lobe system. Declarative learning deals with learning active facts that can be recalled and used with great flexibility. Declarative memory is memory for facts. It is associated with the temporal lobe.

He links grammatical knowledge to the procedural memory system:

“In contrast, the acquisition and use of grammatical rules that underlie symbol manipulation is subserved by frontal/basal-ganglia circuits previously implicated in the implicit (nonconscious) learning and expression of motor and cognitive skills and habits (e.g., from simple motor acts to skilled game playing). Morphological transformations that are (largely) unproductive (e.g., in go—went, solemn—solemnity) are hypothesized to depend upon declarative memory. These have been contrasted with morphological transformations that are fully productive (e.g., in walk—walked, happy—happiness), whose computation is posited to be solely dependent upon grammatical rules subserved by the procedural system.”

The procedural memory system specializes in non-conscious learning and control of motor and cognitive skills (habit learning). It is associated with the striatum and frontal/basal-ganglia. Procedural memory is memory for skills (riding bicycle, dancing). There is convincing scientific evidence that highly automatized language skills are processed at this level.

The old saying that learning a language is like learning to ride a bicycle seems to be supported by a scientific explanation. They also say that learning to dance is very much like learning a new language.

From the above one could extrapolate that excessive rote memorization of grammatical rules is completely unnecessary and counterproductive. On the other hand language is a lot more complicated than a bicycle (or a dance). With a bicycle one at least needs to know where are the pedals, seat and handlebars. Dance manuals exist for a reason. The parts of speech and their use are not always immediately recognizable in a foreign language. Nor is it easy to understand how they dance or interact together. A good rule of the thumb is that the more complicated a piece of equipment or a skill that needs to be learned, the thicker will be the manual (and more pressing the need to consult it). Research (Erlam 2003) comparing learners who receive deductive (rule presentation and metalinguistic information) or inductive (focus on form with no explicit grammar) instruction "shows that learners receiving deductive instruction perform better on both listening and reading comprehension and written and oral production tasks". From the "Handbook of Educational Psychology" by Patricia A. Alexander and Philip H. Winne

In addition one could also conclude from the above that extensive and intensive use of dictionaries and word lists is a good way towards language proficiency.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Blu-ray might still rock

Yesterday I went through about 50 Blu-ray discs at the local store. It was a "test" to see what additional language tracks they carry. To my pleasant surprise I saw 6-7 titles with both Castillian and Latin American Spanish, Parisian French and the dreaded Quebecois, German, Italian, and Japanese. I saw several movies with Thai language tracks. I even saw a movie with a Czech and Polish audio track. Subtitles galore, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean etc. DRM still sucks but I am mollified about this new format. A "cheap" region A player can be bought for about $200.

The majority of the releases however continue with the old format of adding only the French and Spanish audio tracks or nothing at all except a few subtitles. A few releases in addition to the ubiquitous French and Spanish audio tracks contained Portuguese and a few also had Thai and Japanese tracks (Region A markets). One had only 2 Thai audio tracks.

One problem - Amazon and other online retailers don't correctly list all the available audio tracks.

The new Blu-ray region codes are

A: North America, South America, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.

B: Europe, French territories, Middle East, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and all of Oceania.

C: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mainland China, Pakistan, Russia, Central, and South Asia.

About one third of region A releases are region-coded. Most region B and region C releases are region free.

More about region coding with a list of movies that are region-free can be found here

Friday, January 2, 2009

Foreign language IPTV

KylinTV Chinese

The premium package incudes dozens of TV channels and access to hundreds of on-demand moves, dramas, children's programming etc. The on-demand offering is excellent and included in the "premium" package. Dramas are indexed and the player can pause and rewind. It will also remember where you left off.

Outside of the US it is available in Paris, Tokyo and Taiwan.

Zattoo offers access to dozens of European channels. The service will become available in the US in 2009. This is sort of lame - the company was founded in the US in 2005. I hope they won't do something as silly as only offer US channels. Unfortunately this is a very strong possibility because of copyright issues etc.

Shift TV - German

I will update this post with all IPTV oferings I am able to find. I would welcome any contributions.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A lifetime of achievements

Over a lifetime we’ll eat 4 head of cattle, 21 sheep, 15 pigs, 12000 chickens and 13,345 eggs. Sounds…little. National Geographic facts. The numbers are based on British statistics. Everyone knows Americans like things big and consume more of just about everything. Except culture. Hahahaha!

Let's continue

10,000 chocolate bars.

30,000 tablets (!)

A person from Northern Europe will consume 16,000 pints of milk. If someone from the Far East tried to drink this much milk it would cause explosive diarrhea. Go Europe!

NB: explosive diarrhea - A liquid defecation so forceful you have to hold onto the toilet seat to avoid liftoff.

From the urban dictionary

This will result in

3 tons of poop (Toilet rolls- 4239)

35,815 litres of gas (farting)

five buckets of vomit

We’ll shed 61.5 liters of tears

"We" will on average know 1700 people in our life and have sex some 4300 times - with 10 partners. So don’t fret about the number of native speakers.

The average Brit will own some 15 PCs.

"Making the average PC requires at least 240 kg of fossil fuels , along with 22 kg of assorted chemicals. Add to that 1.5 tonnes of water used in production, and your desktop system has used up the weight of a large car in materials before it even leaves the factory."

Brits will make 59 foreign holidays. Germans travel more but Brits are among the world's most active globetrotters.

Language- average vocabulary is 25,000 words, only 4% of the English Oxford Dictionary.

Brits speak on average 4,300 words a day, more for women, less for men. 123,205,740 words in a lifetime.

Television: 148 minutes a day, 900 hours a year, 2944 days in a lifetime.

The average Briton will read 533 books and 2,455 newspapers during their lifetime. This will consume some 24 trees.

Some 3% can't read in the U.K., 40% choose not to read, more households own two cars than two novels!

Brits read about 8 books per year. These figures vary.

One newspaper headline: “3 out of 4 Americans read books each year”
Another: “One in four Americans read no books last year”.