The Importance of Doing

In the run-up to the holiday season, I’ve managed to get a week off. I’ve been devoting my time to two languages: Old English and Elixir. For Old English, I’ve been working through Learn Old English with Leofwin, which includes audio on the website. Rather than simply memorizing forms, you read sentences and form your own sentences from the beginning, including exercises like talking about yourself and your family. It makes the language meaningful, and learnable. I can now announce that “Ic hate Geoff and ic haebbe ane sweostor” as naturally as I speak German, at least. Language is not something you know. It’s something that you use. The words – the vocabulary – make nice tools for specifying meaning, but the construction of grammatically correct sentences is done on the fly and can be done even with nonsense words by native speakers.

For Elixir, I’ve been using Programming Elixir: Functional |> Concurrent |> Pragmatic |> Fun, by Dave Thomas. Thomas’ so-called Pickaxe book is the bible of Ruby for many, documenting the ins and outs of the language in detail. Programming Elixir, on the other hand, is more of a tour of the language and with lots of exercises that mimic the examples and get you used to writing Elixir as well as reading it. Since Elixir is just a language for giving instructions to a computer, this nicely introduces how to communicate with Elixir.

The key in both cases is that using a language will do more for you than learning it. So if you’re learning a human language, keep earbuds and your mouth handy. And keep your laptop open to learn a computer language. But either way, keep talking and see what captures your message.

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About G Barto

I've been learning languages more than 20 years and teaching them for at least 15. Here I share the joys and frustrations of teaching yourself new languages.
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