Mark & Steve – Language Contest

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Mark and Steve talk about the recently launched contest at LingQ to decide which language will be added next on the site.

Mark: Hello and welcome to another edition of the EnglishLingQ podcast.

Mark here with Steve.

Steve: Hello there.

Mark: We thought today we would talk a bit about our language contest, which we’re running at LingQ, which we have been running for the last, I don’t know, week and a half, which will be running through until June 1st.

The contest is to see which language we will add next to LingQ.

Steve: Now it’s been very interesting.

We had five languages there – Cantonese, Dutch, Polish, Czech and Korean — because those were five languages that people had requested.

Mark: Or were the most commonly requested.

Steve: I mean people have asked for Arabic, but it’s just, technically, we aren’t quite yet ready to tackle a language that we can’t read and goes from right to left.

There are a few curve balls there, but we will eventually, hopefully, do Arabic and Hindi and so forth.

But it’s interesting that Cantonese is in first place right now, which is quite surprising.

Mark: Yeah, it is.

Although, you know, it was fairly commonly requested.

We did get a lot of emails asking us, you know, when are you going to have Cantonese?

I mean that’s why it’s in that top five list and you think maybe it wouldn’t be, but it’s a language that people requested so it’s up there on our list; a lot of people asking for Thai as well.

Steve: Thai is quite popular. Korean has been popular.

Mark: Oh yeah.

Steve: Polish has been popular.

I’m kind of keen to learn Czech.

It’s in last place, I think, right now.

Mark: Well, don’t be afraid to try and get the vote out.

Steve: Right.

Mark: Go find some Czech learners forums and get them to vote.

Steve: I know.

I mean it’s amazing how many people are learning different languages around the world.

I have the feeling that there’s more interest and enthusiasm in language learning now then, you know, 10 years ago and I think the Internet is a big reason.

People are just keen to learn languages and there are some great resources, but, as people say, there aren’t good places to find audio and text.

I think one of the reasons why people want, say, Cantonese at our site is that they’re hoping to find lots of content, but, of course, we want them to find us content.

We can’t start a language if people don’t contribute, but I think one of the things that LingQ does is it’s a place where people can come and create content or find content and collect it so that everybody can use it.

Mark: Share it, obviously.

I mean that’s why we say we’re sharing, you’re sharing with others.

So your efforts you can share with others and then you can benefit by sharing their efforts as well and together build up that library of content.

We talk about adding languages, I mean we’re reluctant to add languages because it’s just more work for us and there are so many other things that we need to do, want to do.

Steve: Well, it’s the whole 80-20 rule.

I mean, you know, how many more people are going to come because we add.

Mark: Right.

Steve: We’ve already got 10 languages.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I think Swedish snuck in there because on the lumber side of the house we have an employee who’s in Sweden and we wanted him to learn Swedish; otherwise, it’s obviously not a major.

You know, there’s not a lot of demand, but all the other languages we have like, obviously, English and Spanish and French and Portuguese and Russian and German and I don’t remember what other languages, Italian and so forth, they’re very much in demand

Mark: Right.

Steve: You know, Japanese and so forth.

So now, when we start to get to some of the more esoteric languages, we don’t know how big the demand is going to be and it will be more work.

Mark: Well, it’s the same work.

It’s the same work, but the return probably isn’t there.

At the same time, we do feel that our system will work well with all languages and is easy to set up, relatively easy, compared to other types of learning systems that require, you know, data logs and grammar rules…

Steve: We don’t have to write a course.

Mark: …and write ups and courses and all kinds of overhead.

Ours certainly wouldn’t be like that.

I mean we just need content and dictionaries.

Steve: And the dictionaries, I think, typically are available for most of these languages.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: It’s interesting when it comes to content.

You know, for example, here in Canada there’s a lot of interest in trying to revive the native languages and so typically what happens is a group of people get together.

First, they go to Government, they get millions of dollars so that they can write a grammar book and write courses and stuff like this, all of which we feel is unnecessary.

All we really need to do is to find some people who speak the language.

Now in the case of the native language of Canada, you probably can’t find grammar resources on the Internet, but any of the major languages.

You Google Italian verbs, bingo, you’ve got all the information you need.

So the grammar resources are out there, you don’t need to write a grammar book.

Then the other thing is content.

We’ve found that people will contribute some easy content — 30 seconds long — podcasts, just a variety of stuff and it’s interesting.

I always get a kick when I hear teachers.

You know I’m on this teacher forum and they’re talking about oh, I like to teach poetry and I like to teach this and they’re always imposing their content on the student.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And then they want to follow up and ask them questions about the symbolism in the poetry and all this other stuff, but we don’t do that.

Mark: No.

Steve: You like poetry, load up poetry; if you don’t, don’t.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And if you read the poetry and you’re not interested in the symbolism and you just like the sound that’s great, nobody is going to ask you questions on it, which some of you may know is kind of our approach to language learning.

Mark: But it’s interesting on this poll or on this contest the comments that we’re getting.

(A) it’s interesting that Cantonese and Korean are so far…

Steve: Korean doesn’t surprise me.

Mark: …in front…

Steve: Yeah?

Mark: …but the numbers of people that are voting.

And, obviously, I know the Cantonese for sure was posted on some Cantonese learner forums and so, you know, here, let’s vote Cantonese up so that it gets added to LingQ so we have a place to go learn Cantonese and that obviously is effective.

I mean, obviously, for Korean to have that many votes someone there has also put it out to get their friends voting in places where Korean learners or potential Korean content providers or tutors gather to get that number of people out and voting.

All I can say to those of you who are supporters of Dutch and Polish and Czech is you’ve got to find similar locations to get the word out because that’s just the nature of the Internet.

Steve: But, you know, it is interesting.

Like if you took a course in something you would know 20 people in your class.

Now, with the Internet, people are reaching out across the world to people and saying let’s get behind getting Cantonese launched on this language-learning site so that they’re involved in actually helping make a course of study available.

I was looking at our forum today and one of the new members, who was studying one of our new sort of introductory lessons, you know, where they can get the free discussion and everything else and they had a problem.

They said I did this and this happened.

What do I do now?

Please help.

And like three people are on there very quickly.

So you’ve got this community of learners helping you when you run into a problem.

In a classroom, yeah, you could ask the person beside you, but here you can ask the world.

Mark: Plus, if you’re not in your class and you’re doing your homework who do you ask.

Steve: Right, it’s extraordinary.

And now that I have my iPod Touch I’m just in seventh heaven.

I mean it’s amazing that I can just carry my little flashcards around with me and take advantage of dead time.

Waiting for my wife at the airport the other day, I’m sitting there working with my flashcards and I got into trouble because she walked through, you know, where all the passengers come out.

And I was making a point of, you know, looking up every 30 seconds just so I wouldn’t miss her.

Mark: Thirty seconds or so, I guess, obviously.

Steve: I thought I saw everybody walking out, but I missed her.

And so she walked through and she’s wandering around and she doesn’t see me.

By the time she found me — 15 minutes later — she was mad and I’m still hearing about it.

Mark: Because I know you were just eagle-eyed there watching.

Steve: Hanging on the rail.

Mark: Oh, I guess I should do my flashcards.

I’m sure you saw her the second time before she saw you.

Steve: No.

Mark: She came up on you as you were happily flash carding.

Steve: I tell ya’, I’ve always said, you know, flash carding no more than five percent of the time.

I’m much more into sort of listening and reading, has always been what I have said, but the new flashcard app on the iPod Touch it’s just addictive.

And now I do it in conjunction with my lessons and it works really effectively.

So I’m doing more and more flash carding and getting me into trouble at the airport.


Mark: That’s good.

Steve: Well, it is good.

I mean, yeah, it is good; I get the feeling, yeah.

Anyway, it’s this whole new world of learning.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: It’s extraordinary.

Mark: Getting back to the vote issue.

I was going to mention that some comments on the blog or on the forum related to the contest have been sort of negative along the lines of, you know, it’s no fair, these guys are just getting all their friends to vote.

We should change the contest or whatever.

But the fact is, they’re getting…okay, there are some people that are figuring out how to vote twice and that’s…

Steve: …unfortunate.

Mark: But, fundamentally, somebody has put the word out to a larger audience who are then chipping in and making it happen for them.

That’s the power of the Internet and it’s interesting, just observing the contest.

We thought it’d be a neat thing to do and so far it’s been a neat experience observing what the reaction is to the contest and it’s generated a lot of response.

Steve: Oh, one should mention, too, that it’s an absolutely spectacular day in Vancouver.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I was driving back here and the mountains here are covered in snow.

And, you know, the snow level is actually quite low on the mountains.

Mark: I know.

Steve: I mean it’s unbelievable, this would have been ideal for the Olympics.

And when we had the Olympics they were trucking snow in from 100 kilometers away.

Mark: Wow.

I mean they’ve had something like 200 centimeters of snow in the last two-three weeks.

Like they had 70 centimeters two nights ago overnight.

Steve: Just 20 minutes from where we are.

Mark: Well, Annie and Kyle are both skiing today.

Their friends wanted to.

Steve: Unreal.

Mark: They phoned them up, let’s go. Up they go.

Steve: We could be playing tennis outside it’s so warm and sunny.

Mark: I know.

Steve: And, yet, you can drive 20 minutes away and go skiing.

Mark: I know.

Steve: It’s pretty amazing, pretty amazing.

Meanwhile, I guess around the world what’s happening… I think the economic news is getting a little better, at least here in North America.

People are a little bit, still, somewhat apprehensive is the recovery for real, but we’re seeing some better employment numbers.

I think the housing situation in Canada has been strong; some modestly-cautious indications in the U.S., which is important for our lumber business.

I’m going off tomorrow.

I’m off to Sweden for a week on lumber and then probably into Germany and Austria.

Mark: So any of you Swedish, German, Austrian members…

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: You should create a few meet ups while you’re there.

Steve: If I have time, yeah.

Mark: Put them on the Facebook Fan Page and then maybe you can meet up with Steve on his travels.

Steve: Yeah, right. And then there was a coup d’état in Kyrgyzstan?

Mark: Oh yeah.

Steve: Right.

Mark: No.

I mean I’ll take your word for it.

I hadn’t heard that.

Steve: And what else is there…anyway.

Oh, there’s the whole Tiger Woods soap opera.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I mean he’s just the best golfer that ever was, so he’ll win or come pretty close.

Mark: Yeah. I mean today I guess he didn’t do as well as he did yesterday.

Steve: Oh, is that right?

Mark: I think I heard that, but we’ll see.

He usually comes on strong the last couple days as opposed to the first couple days.

So, I mean there’s no question that there’s a lot of interest to see him back golfing.

Steve: But, I guess, for most of the world the big issue is going to be the World Cup of Soccer in South Africa.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: When do they start?

Mark: I don’t know.

Steve: In the summer, I think.

Mark: In the summer sometime?

Steve: Yeah.

It would be interesting to see an African team win.

You know it’s always been either the Europeans or the South Americans.

It’s in Africa…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …and they have some strong teams.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I can’t remember now, Nigeria or Senegal or whoever…South Africa.

Mark: I mean it’s fun.

It’s fun.

I must confess to all the soccer aficionados out there, I don’t watch a lot of soccer, but I always do watch the World Cup.

I guess the format and the fact that different countries are playing each other, it’s exciting.

So I’m looking forward to it, whenever it starts.

I’m sure we’ll have lots of warning.

I think it’s in June; middle of June.

Steve: Yeah.

You know the World Cup has moved around.

They had it in Korea and Japan and that was, I think, very successful.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And well-organized.

It was interesting, too, that the Japanese fans were very, very sportsmanlike.

You know, they applauded for all the different teams.

I’m not sure that sort of evenhanded sportsmanship is that widespread in the world.

Mark: No.

Steve: Most places they just cheer for their own.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So they’ve had it out there.

They’ve had in Brazil.

No, they haven’t had the World Cup in Brazil.

Mark: They had it in Mexico.

That was the one year Canada went.

Steve: Oh, okay, they’ve had it in Mexico.

So it’s nice to have it in Africa.

Mark: Yeah.

I mean they tend to move it around.

They had it in the U.S.

Steve: That’s true. Yeah, they had it in the U.S.

Mark: And then, obviously, in Europe.

I don’t remember it being in South America, do you?

Steve: Maybe not.

Have they not had it down in Argentina and Brazil?

Mark: I’m sure they must have.

Steve: Maybe.

Mark: I don’t know.

Steve: I don’t know.

I don’t know.

You know it is amazing how the world has changed.

It’s phenomenal.

I love it.

I remember when I was quite young seeing pictures of the Japanese Bullet Train.

I’d think like wow!

You know, I imagine Japan, this country – like when I was whatever, 15 – this country, all rice patties and stuff and they’ve got this high-tech train.

Mark: Right.

Steve: The next thing you know you’ve got Japanese cars showing up in the North American market, which was, again, amazing.

Wow, they make cars out there.

I was reading in the paper today and, apparently, one of the leading countries in the world for sort of high-speed train technology is China.

And China is now talking to the U.S.

about providing trains and the technology and, apparently, their engineering and their technology is right at the very, you know, cutting edge.

So all of those different development and new technologies and new ideas, a lot of which has tended to come from the U.S.

or Europe, I think increasingly is going to come from other places, which is exciting.

I mean, you know, we’ve got so many issues that need to be addressed, whether it be energy conservation or health and medicine and so forth – technology.

So, if we end up with many centers of this innovation happening, it’s quite exciting.

So I thought that was quiet exciting to see those pictures of those Chinese high-speed trains.

Mark: Well, I guess that would be a place where…

Steve: They’ve got a lot of people to move around.

Mark: They’ve got a lot of people to move around, high-speed trains make a lot of sense.

Steve: Yeah.

Mark: I mean here…

Steve: Canada, no.

Mark: Canada, no. Nobody travels by train at all.

Steve: No. I mean the Chinese should be good at that.

Mark: They should be.

Steve: Because they’ve got such a tremendous number of people.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I heard on the radio that there are 120 cities in China with more than a million people.

Mark: Wow.

Steve: One hundred-twenty cities with more than a million people.

Okay, connect them all with high-speed trains to start with.

Mark: Well and they’re not that far apart either.

Like here, you know, there’s a million people in Calgary, but it would be quite the undertaking to put a high-speed train in from here to Calgary.

It’s…whatever it is…1,000 kilometers or whatever it is.

Steve: Oh, it’s more and it’s across the Rockies, so they’re not going to bother.

Mark: That’s the next closest city.

Steve: But the Chinese, they’re talking, first, initially, of course, they’re building a connection between Beijing and Shanghai, which is all flat.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Okay and there’s a lot, like, whatever, 300 million people, you know?

Mark: Right.

Steve: There’s lots; no shortage.

So then they’re going to go from Shanghai presumably to Guangzhou, but then they’re talking about building a high-speed train from Beijing to Moscow and also a high-speed connection from Shanghai through Burma or Myanmar or whatever it’s called right down to Singapore.

I mean why not, you know?

I mean if they have the technology and there’s certainly the population there.

Mark: Well, the thing is, what would prevent you from doing that and I don’t know how long the high-speed train will take from Beijing to Moscow, but if you can fly there.

Steve: There’s not much population between, yes.

Mark: You know, I mean if it’s going to…

Steve: It can’t make economic sense.

Mark: It can’t make economic sense.

Steve: No.

Mark: If you can fly there, why would you…

Steve: It almost becomes a political thing that the Chinese Governments wants to do, you know?

Mark: Right.

Steve: Now that it has this technology it wants to sort of “demonstrate it” kind of thing.

Mark: Like how long would it take? You have no idea.

Steve: Well, I don’t know.

It must take forever, but the point is that there’s no traffic in between, right?

I mean even in Japan the high-speed train goes in the areas that are or, at least initially, it was only in the areas with…

Mark: …high traffic…

Steve: …high population.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You go travel an hour you’re in Nagoya.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You travel another hour it’s something else.

Mark: In an hour is a good time, but once you’re five hours on the train, if you can get there…

Steve: Five?

Once you left Beijing and you hit Mongolia, until you hit, I don’t know, Irkutsk, it’s a long way.

Mark: That’s what I mean.

Let’s say one hour, two hours even on the high-speed train, that’s better than flying, but once you’re three, four or five, eight, 10…

Steve: I think you’d be 20 hours on the train.

Mark: Twenty hours, what’s the point?

Steve: Yeah, you may as well fly.

Mark: Get in a plane. It can’t be much cheaper.

Steve: No.

Mark: Those high-speed trains, they’re still not cheap.

It’s not cheap in Japan to ride the high-speed train.

Steve: No, they’re not cheaper.

It can’t be cheaper.

Well, the relative cost is going to depend on the cost of building the thing and the traffic.

Mark: That’s right.

Steve: So it can’t possibly be.

Mark: Now maybe in China they won’t make you pay the cost.

Someone is going to eat it, right?

Steve: That’s right, the Government, yeah.

Mark: Anyway, that’s probably long enough.

That’s long enough for most people to finish their workout or finish the dishes, so we’ll finish off with that and we’ll pick it up again next time.

Steve: Okay. Bye for now.

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