Learning vocabulary is not just about seeing something once. Not only do you need to see the same vocabulary elements repeated within a given text or resource, but you need to see them in multiple locations. This helps our minds cross-reference and form associations. In other words, when we expose ourselves to the same vocabulary elements in various locations, it helps our minds construct a network of meaning that is very strong, as compared to the weakness of single data points.]]>
At the moment, our team is hard at work preparing the first wave of foreign language maps and programs to be released. We're very excited about them and what they will allow people to do (learn languages faster and more effectively). I, personally, am building the program for Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA. As the map begins to come together, I have been met with a number of exciting breakthroughs as well as difficult challenges.
First, when it comes to MSA grammar, native speakers are pretty useless. They all "know" the Qu'ran and therefore "know" MSA and its grammar. They're "native speakers" after all. This is not strictly true for most of them, especially since MSA isn't really a first language for anyone, and the knowledge of grammar falls apart when you start to unravel the realities of the case system and verbal inflection. Personally, I don't care that most people make mistakes all the time â€” I want to know the rules so that I don't make those mistakes. This is not about half-assing it.
Navigating the sea of relatively useless "native speakers" has been one challenge in detailing the language's structure, but a few gems have stood out who have really known the details of the language and have provided excellent support. Nothing, however, beats the tedious process of mining grammar after grammar to make sure that I've scooped up every last detail about how the system works. I'll think I have it, then read something new that will crack open a whole new series of questions that need answering. Following the trail, the rabbit hole is sometimes very deep, indeed; but there is always a bottom.
Last week, I thought I'd grasped the nominal system fully, when I came across an example that didn't quite follow the pattern I'd expected. Two days of digging later, and I was able to isolate the variant pattern and describe the 6-9 different declensions (depending on how you count them â€” I haven't decided yetâ€¦). I haven't yet met any native speakers who could outline these patterns and their applications so distinctly or fully. This was winning.
This afternoon, however, was a bit of a fail. The verbal system of Arabic is particularly complex, but made even moreso by the confusing organizational system used to describe it. I've come up with a large structure that will make the presentation of Arabic verbs very simple. You'll be able to zoom out for the bird's eye view understanding of the system, then zoom in to each variation of person and number for each conjugation. When I went to see how much space these tables would take up on one of our fabric maps, however, I was rather disappointed to discover we would need a sheet of fabric roughly 6ft x 10ft in size. Fiddlesticks.
So, I'm streamlining the tables, breaking them apart into a select group of full conjugations, and then tables of essential patterns â€” from which the other examples can be easily derived â€” for the other forms. It's a laborious process since it effectively means having created a structure 6ft x 10ft in size already, and now needing to scrap it and start over. The end result, though, is going to be awesome.
Our fabric maps remove many of the constraints of space imposed in traditional texts, but they are still not without constraints. While we could make an enormous map of Arabic verbs, it would begin to lose both its practicality and its appeal. We want to produce less content, rather than more.
Enough chit-chat here. I've got to get back to the map of MSA!