R Blends

“Today, we went through some R blend words”, reported the English tutor. “Do you know what R blends are?”. I replied “No”. One day last summer, my sister-in-law was busy and I was asked to pick up her daughter from a private tutoring lesson. My niece was going to enter grade one in a private […]

Language Learning and Insanity

Yesterday, I came across a post in one of the language learning forums. Someone asked for advice on improving his Russian accent. Despite clearly stating that he had been trying for a long time to listen and repeat but did not improve a lot, he was advised by a few others to keep listening and […]

We Don’t Speak English Here

At my very first dinner in São Paulo, I asked the waiter if he spoke English. He replied ‘não’ with a cold face, as if I was ordering something off the menu. There was nothing wrong with him, just me. Most people in São Paulo don’t speak English, and they are not ashamed of it. […]

Best Way to Improve Writing

The best way to improve writing is … to read more. This morning someone from Taiwan pinged me in Skype. I could not remember why she was on my contact list. I probably added her a few years ago when I was trying to improve my Mandarin. She told me she wanted to improve her […]

Speaking Practice Amongst Learners

Today, I had a chance to speak over Skype with Milan, the die-hard Cantonese learner. It must have been more than 3 years since we last talked. Back then we spoke in English and Cantonese. This time our conversation was purely in French and it lasted for more than an hour! When Milan proposed this […]

Speak Only When Ready – But When Will You be Ready?

There was an interesting exchange between Steve the Linguist and Benny the Irish Polyglot. I downloaded the podcast more than a week ago but only managed to get through it on a red-eye flight back from Seattle yesterday. In brief, Steve thinks that we should first immerse ourselves into a lot of input activities and […]

No More Skypecast

Over the weekend, another free on-line service was gone, not only the “free” part, but also the service itself. Skypecast was launched in 2006 to host public conference calls up to 100 people at a time. It was since being established as a meeting place for many to get to know others and talk about […]

Pronunciation-Wrestling

In my last project at work, we dealt with a US telecommunication company. We had a team consisted of about 6-7 colleagues from the US and 4 of us from Canada, all ‘locked’ in a conference room somewhere in the vicinity of Seattle. Since our client was a telecommunication company, the word ‘Mobile’ came up […]

The Quadriplegic Mayor

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan caught the attention of the international media back in 2006, when he accepted the flag at the closing ceremonies of the Turin Winter Olympics. He is Canada’s first disabled mayor and also the first quadriplegic mayor of a North American city. The mayor was paralysed after a tragic skiing accident when […]

Statistical Machine Translation

Back in last October, Google Translate completely switched to its own home-grown translation software, adopting the Statistical Machine Translation approach. Google Translate had been using SYSTRAN as the underlying translation engine, the same software Babel Fish uses. In the past, I used to get the same translation results from both engines, so I did not […]

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