Wednesday, December 31, 2008


And... no more resolutions

Try to do something useful every day. Or don't. Relax. Or don't. Life is short.

Beyond this,

General goals for 2009 and beyond:

Maintain and improve Italian, French and German.

Spanish: from absolute beginner to intermediate
Russian: from beginner to intermediate
Japanese: Start with Pimsleur and/or vocabulearn? Postpone? I don't know.

Do some reading and serious audiobook listening

P.S. I just love the edit button.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Art of War for Language Learners


1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.


2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.

16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.


2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.

5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.

6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

9. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.

18. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.


1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.

3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

4. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

6. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.

8. To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.

9. Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, "Well done!"

10. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.

11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

17. In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory.

19. A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain.

20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.


5. In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.

6. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

10. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack--the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

12. The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course.

13. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.

14. Therefore the good fighter will be terrible in his onset, and prompt in his decision.

15. Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.

16. Amid the turmoil and tumult of battle, there may be seeming disorder and yet no real disorder at all; amid confusion and chaos, your array may be without head or tail, yet it will be proof against defeat.

21. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.

22. When he utilizes combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.


1. Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.

2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.

7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.

15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.

28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.


3. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult. The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.

5. Maneuvering with an army is advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.

6. If you set a fully equipped army in march in order to snatch an advantage, the chances are that you will be too late. On the other hand, to detach a flying column for the purpose involves the sacrifice of its baggage and stores.

7. Thus, if you order your men to roll up their buff-coats, and make forced marches without halting day or night, covering double the usual distance at a stretch, doing a hundred LI in order to wrest an advantage, the leaders of all your three divisions will fall into the hands of the enemy.

8. The stronger men will be in front, the jaded ones will fall behind, and on this plan only one-tenth of your army will reach its destination.

9. If you march fifty LI in order to outmaneuver the enemy, you will lose the leader of your first division, and only half your force will reach the goal.

10. If you march thirty LI with the same object, two-thirds of your army will arrive.

11. We may take it then that an army without its baggage-train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost.

13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.

14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.

16. Whether to concentrate or to divide your troops, must be decided by circumstances.

17. Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest.

21. Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.

31. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished:--this is the art of husbanding one's strength.

33. It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.

36. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

37. Such is the art of warfare.


2. When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.

3. There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

4. The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.

5. The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.

7. Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together.

8. If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes.

9. If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.

12. There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:
(1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
(4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him
to worry and trouble.

13. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war.

14. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.


2. Camp in high places, facing the sun. Do not climb heights in order to fight. So much for mountain warfare.

3. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it.

15. Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with torrents running between, deep natural hollows, confined places, tangled thickets, quagmires and crevasses, should be left with all possible speed and not approached.

31. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.

37. To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy's numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.

40. If our troops are no more in number than the enemy, that is amply sufficient; it only means that no direct attack can be made. What we can do is simply to concentrate all our available strength, keep a close watch on the enemy, and obtain reinforcements.

41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.

12. If you are situated at a great distance from the enemy, and the strength of the two armies is equal, it is not easy to provoke a battle, and fighting will be to your disadvantage.

19. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout.

21. The natural formation of the country is the soldier's best ally; but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.

22. He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.

23. If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler's bidding.

24. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.

25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

27. If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.

28. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway towards victory.

29. If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.


19. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.

20. The following are the principles to be observed by an invading force: The further you penetrate into a country, the greater will be the solidarity of your troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail against you.

21. Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with food.

22. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans.

23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.

26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.

29. The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the ChUng mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.

42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion.

43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical ground. When there are means of communication on all four sides, the ground is one of intersecting highways.

44. When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground. When you penetrate but a little way, it is facile ground.

45. When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear, and narrow passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place of refuge at all, it is desperate ground.

46. On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between all parts of my army.

48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defenses. On ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances.

49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road.

50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat. On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness of saving their lives.

51. For it is the soldier's disposition to offer an obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he has fallen into danger.

53. To be ignored of any one of the following four or five principles does not befit a warlike prince.

57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know your design. When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing when the situation is gloomy.

65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.

66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear, and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.

67. Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.

68. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.


15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.

16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.

18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique.

19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.

20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content.

21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact.


1. Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor.

2. Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy's condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.

3. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory.

4. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

6. Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New movie production by country and by language

Top 50 movie-producing countries ranked by number of feature films produced 1997, 2003–2007:

Click on the image for an enlarged table or simply scroll down through the spreadsheet:

Source: Screen Digest July 2008 and older

Films produced by country in 2002:

1 India 1200
2 US 543
3 Japan 293
4 France 200
5 Spain 137
6 Italy 130
7 Germany 116
8 China 100
9 Philippines 97
10 Hong Kong 92

It has been estimated that anime accounts for 60 percent of Japanese film production (2002). Manga - 40% of all books and magazines published. Anime accounts for more than 60 percent of all TV cartoons worldwide.

UNESCO yearly averages 1988-99:

India 839
China + Hong Kong SAR 469
Philippines 456
United States of America 385
Japan 238
Thailand 194
France 183
Italy 99
Brazil 86
Myanmar 85
United Kingdom 78
Bangladesh 77
Egypt 72
Pakistan 64
Germany 63
Rep. of Korea 63
Turkey 63
Islamic Rep. of Iran 62
Sri Lanka 58
Argentina 47
Russian Fed 46
Spain 45

For newest figures (2013) click here and search by language.

Movies by language total production accounted by IMDB as of December 2008

IMDB has been around since 1990 and its database is searchable by language (dialogue). It lists movies since the early days of cinema. It’s hardly precise but it's the most comprehensive, easily accessible database that features this sort of information. These foreign titles are also the most likely to be available on DVD.

English 267,023 titles
Spanish 41,201 titles
German 35,150 titles
French 31,358 titles
Japanese 17,888 titles
Italian 17,747 titles
Portuguese 8,314 titles
Hindi 8,278 titles
Russian 7,745 titles
Dutch 6,878 titles
Danish 6,814 titles
Serbo-Croatian 6,414 titles
Tagalog 6,020 titles
Greek 5,601 titles
Turkish 5,423 titles
Mandarin 4,666 titles
Cantonese 4,371 titles
Swedish 4,300 titles
Korean 4,254 titles
Czech 4,083 titles
Polish 3,882 titles
Hungarian 3,676 titles
Malayam 3,491 titles
Finnish 3,484 titles
Arabic 2,759 titles
Telugu 2,149 titles
Norwegian 2,081 titles
Hebrew 1,993 titles
Tamil 1,894 titles
Romanian 1,676 titles
Bulgarian 1,575 titles
Persian 1,570 titles
Bengali 1,155 titles
Catalan 1,060 titles
Albanian 1,026 titles

Source: IMDB December 2008

Brain, memory and language learning

The brain learns in two different ways. One, called declarative learning, involves the medial temporal lobe and deals with learning active facts that can be recalled and used with great flexibility. The second, involving the striatum, is called habit learning. There is convincing scientific evidence that highly automatized language skills are processed at this level.

Overlearning leads to automatization. Repetitio est mater studiorum etc.

Breaking news! Multitasking hinders learning!

The gist of it is that when someone is distracted, habit learning takes over from declarative learning. One learns better particular habitual tasks while declarative learning suffers.

The Zeigarnik effect

Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered the phenomenon after noticing that waiters remembered seemingly endless orders only so long as the order was in the process of being served. They immediately forgot what they had served. The Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks considerably better than completed ones. Adults may remember things even 90% better. Ms Zeigarnik thought that an incomplete task or unfinished business creates a sort of a “psychic tension” which acts as a motivator and drives us toward completing the task.

According to some information obtained "online" since the original study, researchers trying to reproduce the said effect have had varied results. New experiments have not determined the characteristics of tasks (tasks to be performed vs tasks to be recalled verbally, length of task) which best reproduce this effect.

Keith thinks that using a dictionary is not beneficial because of the Zeigarnik effect.

My (easily swayed) opinion is that using the dictionary IS actually the operation that interrupts a very important task (READING, remembering the sentence). While you might not remember the pesky word, you’ll remember the sentence.

Indian scientists Dutta & Kanungo reinterpreted the Zeigarnik effect:

The intensity of emotion (positive or negative) caused by the completed or the interrupted task is the critical factor in memorization. An activity that provokes a strong emotion is remembered better than a (boring) ordinary everyday activity. They called this phenomenon the emotionality effect.

Some characteristics of short-term memory:

• Short-term memory can hold 5-9 chunks of information.

Position Effect:
• Better recall of items at the beginning of the list.
• Most recent items are remembered better than others.

Auditory memory

Short-term auditory memory

Preference for spoken terms
Most recent items are remembered better than others.

Long-term auditory memory

Language “probably” stored in terms of its meaning rather than sound.
Voice recognition:
familiar person: good
stranger: poor

Now, how would a scientifically-minded person go about language learning? They'd learn English - the hard way and spend the rest of their lives stating the obvious? :)

I suppose the answer is that the brain is too complex and both declarative and habit-learning portions are involved in the process.

Language learners could be compared to ants trying to move a mountain of sugar from one place to another. We cannot grasp it or contemplate it in full but simply toil away. As long as we're lugging sugar...

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 recap

Last year, at about this time I opened this blog. The plan was to learn a new language, perhaps Spanish or Japanese. After some meandering by March I settled on Russian. This did not prevent me from daydreaming but by December I managed to finish:

Pimsleur Russian I 1-20 (sad)
Vocabulearn I (woohoo!)
A handful of movies (watched repeatedly, ad nauseam)
Russian pictionary (600 words)
several children's stories
1 whole book
several audiobooks

I am not terribly satisfied but my comprehension of Russian has improved substantially.

On July 14, 2007 during a brief Russian exploratory stint I wrote:

"I also listened to the Russian audiobook channel. I actually understood a thing or two. In reality my comprehension was rather disappointing. Anyway, hopefully next week I will get out of my Russian dilemma (more of a gridlock) and finally settle on my future language lineup. I do not intend to drop anything I "officially" adopt."

I was trying to decide on my next language. I was also trying to figure out a long term list. I distinctly remember that spoken Russian was little more than gibberish. After "sampling" Russian I spent a couple of months on Japanese, learned 200 kanji, lost steam, zoomed through Pimsleur Spanish I in a couple of days, spent hundreds of dollars on learning materials, meandered and daydreamed until December when I made this New Year's Resolution to "learn" a new language. As it turned out that resolution was not broken. I was secretly hoping to really shine - it turned out that I barely managed to keep with my resolution. However, Russian is firmly in the list of languages I intend to keep studying and I managed to achieve a visible breakthrough. I managed to learn Russian to a weak but useable passive level.
I also spent some time on German ad Italian watching movies and TV programs. I neglected French which will need resuscitating in 2009.

Time to make a new resolution. This time I hope to be able to report more substantial results.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Worldcat records by language - easy comparison

Worldcat records by language

Worldcat catalogues holdings from more than 69,000 libraries from all over the world. As of December 2008 the catalogue lists more than 125 million bibliographic records and 1.4 billion individual holdings in over 470 languages and dialects.

Results are based on language codes in MARC records and the form of language name on Library of Congress Subject Headings.

A word of caution. Although new libraries from all over the world are constantly coming online, Worldcat is still heavily oriented towards the English-speaking countries and their foreign language collections. The numbers will fluctuate as library membership becomes more international. It is interesting to note that the list of top Worldcat languages resembles the list of Wikipedia languages ranked by the number of articles (top three: English, German, French). Languages like Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese and Polish rate rather high.

Number of bibliographic records:
Number of holdings:

Records with linguistic content:

English 40,180,000
German 8,765,000
French 4,491,000
Spanish 3,038,000
Dutch 2,319,000
Chinese 1,693,000
Japanese 1,560,000
Russian 1,313,000
Italian 1,181,000

Portuguese 772,000
Polish 664,000
Czech 398,000
Arabic 380,000
Hebrew 346,000
Swedish 321,000
Danish 294,000
Korean 259,000
Indonesian 245,000

Turkish 175,000
Hungarian 148,000
Serbian/Croatian 135,000
Greek, Modern 131,000
Norwegian 117,000
Persian 109,000
Thai 107,000
Ukrainian 104,000
Hindi 101,000
Vietnamese 102,000

Tamil 84,000
Croatian: 80,000
Romanian 76,000
Urdu 75,200
Yiddish 61,315
Catalan 58,000
Bengali 56,000
Serbian 53,000

Dead/liturgical languages:

Latin 797,000
Greek, Ancient 32,000
Sanskrit 24,000
Church Slavic 4,919
Middle French 3,313
Middle English 2,773
Pali 1,850
Old French 1,713
Old English 917
Egyptian 643
Old Norse 592
Sumerian 72

Sub-50,000 records:

Slovak 35,000
Armenian 32,100
Malay 30,000
Lithuanian 26,300
Slovenian 25,700
Burmese 23,300
Estonian 19,100

Georgian 12,200
Albanian 11,200
Tagalog 10,140

Mongolian 7,300
Khmer 4,900

Pashto 3,650
Mayan 2,200
Bosnian 2,000

Quechua 773
Ainu 29

African languages:

Swahili 5,800
Amharic 5,033
Yoruba 2,480
Hausa 2,525
Zulu 2034
Xhosa 1,415
Oromo 504
Igbo 472
Bantu (other) 1,100

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A language learner’s portable media player

Review of the Cowon O2 for the benefit of audiobook lovers, media junkies and language learners

For a while I have been looking for an MP3 audiobook player, ebook reader and portable video player.


a large, pocketable screen
native format support (xvid, divx etc)
multiple language tracks
foreign language text support
subtitle support
clear, readable text
flash memory
SDHC card
decent battery life

To cut this short, the requirements have necessarily narrowed the choice to a handful of machines.

Audiobooks - Good audiobook support is a rare feature with many players and they were necessarily immediately eliminated. Autoresume, the ability to turn the player on and off and resume listening is apparently high magic and few players do this right. Microsoft’s Zune has very short memory and does not bookmark MP3’s – only podcasts. Ipods are great at bookmarking Apple book format and audible - they don't do it for mp3 audiobooks. You need to convert to their format, edit tags etc. This can turn into a major pain.

ebooks – Obviously the machine should be able to handle foreign fonts and support a variety of formats. That’s a rare feature.

E-ink is amazing but Sony Reader and the Kindle do not support non-western letters and characters. Sony reader needs to be hacked in order to display Russian. The internal memory is puny (counted in MB) and SD expansion is limited. They’re too bulky. Ipod apparently supports foreign characters (which is great) but the screen is too small for me. Ipod touch is simply not worth it because of the other issues.

Video - Most players will support a few formats (often proprietary ones) and require that all files be prepared at a certain resolution. That’s unreasonable. In the end I’d prepare a few videos and abandon the effort. I need something where I can just drag and drop most popular formats like divx etc. and simply play. Dual language support would be great.

Music – well if it can do all of the above, lol, I doubt that it wouldn’t be able to handle music. A few online reviews stating that it has a decent sound should suffice.

Loudspeaker – this is a desirable extra. It sucks battery but sometimes you want to listen without any earphones.

I settled on the Cowon O2

It will do everything I described. It has a 4.3-inch, 16.7 million color, 480 x 272 TFT LCD touchscreen.

It supports AVI, WMV, ASF, MP4, MATROSKA(MKV), OGM, MPG/MPEG, DAT, MTV video files and MP3/2/1, WMA, ASF, AC3, FLAC, OGG, M4A, MATROSKA(MKA), TTA, APE, MPC, WV, WAV audio formats.

32 GB internal flash drive

SDHC Expansion Slot - fully functional. Memory currently expandable by an extra 32 GB.

Battery Life(Audio Playback) Up to 18 hours
Battery Life(Video Playback) Up to 8 hours
Recharge Time 4.5 hours

It offers open-source SDK for user-developed programs.

The O2 does not have instant autoresume - a bummer. It's slightly on the bulky side when compared with a regular flash mp2 player. It remembers where you left off through a recent file function - which I consider more convenient than regular manual bookmarking. I rarely remember to set manual bookmarks. The seek bar should prove useful for both audio and video files. Audio files and ebooks are both automatically "bookmarked" in the recent files folder along with video files. The player actually “remembers” where you left off in the text file! After some experimenting I was able to display Russian without any problems. I have not tried with Japanese, but I have no doubt it works as advertised. Unfortunately natively it only supports txt files. Pdfs need to be converted with Cowon software. I haven't tried it, but apparently this feature needs some work. SDK support means a third party might come up with a PDF viewer. Videos look lovely, it played everything I threw at it. Some users have complained about navigation through the touchscreen. Remember to calibrate when you first use the unit. I don't use fingers nor the square stylus (which doubles as a stand). Instead I use my laptop's stylus which has a very fine point. I have no issues navigating the icons. The loudspeaker is ok for audiobooks and shows if you're alone and don't feel like wearing earphones. It is not adequate for music.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gross National Income by language

Another chapter in our "choosing a language" series. The numbers are sound but approximate for languages that span many countries (including multilingual ones) and regions. Japan was a cinch to look up. How do you account for Hindi or Arabic?

A good companion piece for this might be a list of countries that are the largest trading partners of a particular country or region. I'll leave that for everyone's own homework.

GNI (Gross national income) by language/area/country

Estimates based on World Bank figures for 2007 and other sources (for regions)
in millions of US dollars

English (US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, SAR) $19,000,000

Japanese $4,813,341

German $4,000,000

Chinese (China, Taiwan, HK) $3,740,000

Spanish $3,300,000

French (France, Quebec, Belgium, Suisse Romande) $3,350,000

Italian $2,000,000

Portuguese (Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Mozambique etc.) $1,400,000

Russian (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan) $1,308,000

India $1,069,427

South Korea $955,802

Arabic below $1 trillion

Economic weight of Spanish-speakers in the US estimated at $800 billion (not included).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chinese and "the language of the future"

"CHINA will be the dominant power in the 21st century and the employment opportunities that speaking Mandarin will give are immense."

Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, at a
conference in 2006 entitled "Why every school should offer Mandarin".

Chinese vs. English

2nd half (of the current century that is): China is rising! China is rising!

The economic factor, business opportunities and visions of world dominance

According to some optimistic economic predictions (Goldman Sachs) China might have a somewhat larger economy than the US in 2050.

Chinese speakers with good English skills are not a rare commodity. The Economist Nov 22nd 2007 article entitled "Reasons not to study Chinese" mentions that there are many Chinese speakers with reasonably good English skills and more importantly they are willing to work for a fraction of what most westerners would be willing to accept. Sorry, the article is subscription only. Some 30 million foreigners are studying Mandarin in the world today and Chinese authorities expect the number to rise to 100 million by 2010. For comparison purposes, some 120 million foreigners are studying French. This adds to the general prestige and image of the language but it also further depresses the market price for a skill, which, at least according to the Economist article, is not yet in terrible demand.

With time the numbers of foreigners fluent in Chinese will increase, but it is unlikely that the numbers will ever reach such a critical mass that functional knowledge of the language would be expected in the marketplace, as is now often the case with English. Half of the world's population are native speakers of Indo-European languages. The other half are heavily influenced by one or more European languages. Some 300 million Chinese are learning English and the numbers are rising. The majority of humanity will therefore find it far easier (and more useful) to learn English followed by another European language. The likelihood is that the rise of India and China will seal the success of English as an international language well into the 21st century.

Chinese will certainly increase in importance, it is a fascinating civilization but Chinese as a "goldmine" phenomenon is terribly overrated. The opportunity cost is too high:

Why Chinese is so damn hard

The article also indirectly exposes the problem of teaching Mandarin (and expecting resuts) in the West. Seriously, does anyone believe that a system that struggles to successfully teach Spanish and French has any hope of succeeding with a language that requires three times as many hours of study?