Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Electronic Flash Cards

One of the best language learning resources I've used so far is a computer program called Vocabulary Manager, which can be downloaded for free from SIL's website. In essence, this program allows you to create and practice words and phrases as if they were flashcards on your screen and classify your data in folders and subfolders.

Taking the example of "Food," I could create a subfolder for "Beverages" and make an entry for 'water.' Since I'm learning Garifuna via Spanish, my common language with people here, I would put 'agua' as my reference gloss and 'duna' for the orthographic representation in Garifuna. I can also include additional info in a "Modify Note" option, such as grammatical gender (masculine, in this case) or additional meanings and senses (such as "also means 'river').

Next, I input a sound recording of 'duna,' after editing and selecting it with Speech Analyzer, another SIL program handy for sound editing and phonetic analysis. Finally, I add an image, usually found on Google images or from my own personal photos. Now I have an electronic flashcard for 'water.'

As I build my database, I can add phrases and, wherever applicable, use images that invoke my sense when I hear the word and see how it's written, reinforcing the vocabulary in my mind. I can also select the words I want to review and test for comprehension (hearing the word and clicking on the correct picture). This has been incredibly useful since I don't live in a Garifuna community. When I visited Fernando and his family for the holidays in 2009, his cousin kindly recorded dozens of words for me, which I began learning with Vocabulary Manager in the U.S. before returning to Honduras.

What I like to do now is write down new words I encounter in conversations and songs, and then look them up in the Garifuna dictionary to ensure accurate spelling, as well as grammatical and etymological information (such as if the word was borrowed from English, French, or Spanish). Fernando records the list for me, and I edit individual words and create entries to study on my own. I can listen as many times I need, isolate more difficult words and phrases, without tiring a native speaker. In this way, I've learned many words this past year.

If you know of anyone who is independently/informally learning a language, this program might be a big help to them!

Some things I've learned about using pictures to learn vocab:

1. Include a picture that shows both the inside and outside of objects, such as this pineapple (and think about how it smells, feels, and tastes when listening to the word, 'yéyewa'):
2. For abstract words, use a picture that represents the idea to you personally. This picture is what I think of for the word 'life,' 'ibagari.'

3. If a real picture would be highly unpleasant or inappropriate, use a cartoon:

'wéibayawa' (an animal I dislike!)

'ágawa' (I prefer a funny animal picture or cartoon for 'bathe' rather than a real picture!)

4. Humor goes a long way for memorization! Remembering funny pictures helps bring a word to mind in the moment I need it for communicating in real life.

'magualiti' ('lazy')

'gurasun' ('courage')

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