Category: Language

So, You Want to Learn a Language?

You can learn (but not master) any language in one hour or less. Don’t believe me? Well, that’s what Tim Ferriss says. He says most language learners neglect the most critical first step in learning a new language: deconstruction. He claims that the fastest language learners deconstruct the language they want to learn before they start memorizing lists of vocab words. His reasoning is that for native speakers of a particular language to learn some languages might be very easy, while others might be nearly impossible.

I took an intro to Linguistics course in Southern California and the instructor also happened to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Most of his students were Japanese students who wanted to learn English, so they enrolled in student exchange programs. My Linguistics instructor and Ferriss both point out that Japanese and Mexican Spanish have very similar sets of sounds (phonemes) in their languages. Many students would become frustrated learning English and wound up learning Spanish from other students at the college.

Treat Language like a sport. If you are very short, you might have more work to do to be a successful basketball player. The same holds for languages that are very different from those you already speak. Learn how to deconstruct a language first so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Blow Up or Explode: Does it Matter?

In my grammar explode is an intransative verb. I would never say “He exploded the dynamite.” or “She exploded the bridge.” I would say, “She blew up the bridge, or in other words, the bridge exploded.”

Only recently have I found that I am in the minority, although I think most people use blow up more often than explode in their everyday speech. I seem to hear explode used much more often now than I used to. I suppose it’s to avoid ambiguity. I still don’t like the transitive use of explode.

I think I’ve always had this bias, but I think it was strengthened considerably while I lived in Germany. in German explodieren is intransitive, and translates to mean explode in English. If you want a transitive verb, you would use sprengen which, not surprisingly, means blow up. More research needs to be done to determine if the English transitive usage of explode is new or old.

In any case, I don’t like it.

Update: Transitive usage of explode goes back at least 400 years according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Rock and Suck

In a blog posting at his website,, Jon discusses a scanner that he recently purchased for his computer. He describes its overall quality in the following way:

It’s not rock, but it’s not suck. Apparently, nonsuck is the best the scanner market currently offers.

This is one of the most efficient descriptions of any product’s quality that I’ve ever seen. The verbs to rock and to suck (meaning to be good or to perfom well, and to be bad or to perform poorly respectively) have been “nouned” here. Usually Nouns get “verbed” in English, but here we see the opposite. A more standard rendering of this sentence would be: “It doesn’t rock, but it doesn’t suck.”