Monthly Archives: January 2014

Je rêve, J’ai fait un rêve, J’ai un rêve aujourd’hui


Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech poses a challenge when translating to other languages (video in original English). As with all powerful language, the act of translation causes us to interpret the words. Marie Walburg Plouviez interpreted and recorded this historic speech: “I have a dream” in French, and in doing so, shared with us some of the implications of a French interpretation.

In English, “I have a dream” in the present tense can only refer to a vision for the future (rather than the more common meaning of dream, “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep”). This phrase is often translated into french “J’ai fait un rêve” using the verb “faire,” which translates literally as “I make a dream” or “I am doing the dream.” Another approach is to use the present tense with the verb “rêver” (“to dream”). “Je rêve” literally “I dream.” Marie uses three different translations to reinforce different connotations. The third creates the feeling of immediacy with the translation “J’ai un rêve aujourd’hui” using the verb “avoir” (“to have”).

We are enthralled by beautiful language. Even more so when the language is rich in meaning and purpose. Part of what makes this speech powerful is the repetition of the word “dream” in multiple contexts. Martin Luther King starts by evoking “the American dream.” Then he repeats the phrase “I have a dream” and “I have a dream today.” These two phrases transform the vision from the almost fantasy of Mississippi as “an oasis of freedom and justice” to a call to action that we make this vision happen within our lifetime. He conveys urgency with a vision that his four little children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Few speeches have captivated the mind and the heart so completely as Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech, from August 28th, 1963. Last year we provided a Spanish translation with English recording, and this year we continue the tradition with French recording and translation of phrases from an excerpt of the speech.

In our interview with Marie, she refers to Le Monde’s interpretation.  Along with their 2013 article, you can watch the full video with French subtitles.

Our mission at Mightyverse is to provide a place where all languages are equal, yet we celebrate their differences and richness of expression. As is so often the case, the translation can take the language into directions not anticipated and through the effort of poetic interpretation can make the language come alive anew.

Being Hyperglot

011513_Hyperglots_largePeople who speak more than 5  languages are often called “hyperglots” (and sometimes “Hyperpolyglots”). Hyperglot seems like one of those transitional words that’s ill defined and not very precise. Nevertheless, it’s useful to mark an emerging phenomenon that appears to be on the rise.

I’ve been interested in hyperglots for awhile, especially as they relate to accelerating language learning. Do hyperglots have some extra cognitive capacity to hold all of that language in their brains, a capacity that us regular mortals don’t? Are there techniques we can learn from them that can be broadly applied in our own efforts?

There are rockstar hyperglots on the web like Timothy Doner, Lindie Botes and Benny the Hyperglot. Their appeal is immediate when you see them speaking in videos on YouTube, promising that humans are capable of much more language diversity than we commonly encounter.

While doing user research at language meetups for Mightyverse, I met a woman named Diana Gruber speaking with another person in flawless Spanish. When we introduced each other, her English was flawless as well, and later in the conversation I learned that also speaks French, Italian and Portuguese at a near native level, as well as quite passable German. She also taught at a language school in Texas and has her own ideas on the best way to start to learn a language and then polish your skills over time. One of her key ideas is that it’s important to gain an effect with your new language as soon as you can, learning phrases that you can put to immediate use (“Un cerveza por favor!” and the like).

I invited Diana to our studio where she graciously consented to a video interview about being a hyperglot (an interview that I hope to link to in a future post). She also recorded a series of Spanish Medical Phrases for Mightyverse.

While we had the camera set up and were on a roll,  we recorded Diana speaking in six languages and it took off on YouTube the day she posted it. Hyperglot Diana Gruber speaks six languages

Effective Learning is Social

It is intuitively true that a social element is essential for language learning.  The purpose of language is communication, which is an inherently social experience.  However, as we design learning experiences, it is helpful to reflect on broader research which illuminates the ways in which learning may be accelerated.

Rob Hutter at Learn Capital wrote about the boom in EdTech in 2012, which I believe is still true today:

The reason that social is so important for the edtech market is less about viral growth and network effects on a first order basis and much more about the simple fact that as humans, we’re wired to learn socially. We evolved that spectacularly complex piece of neuroanatomy called the neocortex to cooperate with each other and increase our propensity for survival, and it’s exquisitely sensitive to social phenomena. At the most basic level, social cues and social emphasis patterns drive the deployment of encoding energy in our brains…social software designs drive learning productivity, pure and simple.

The effects of social situations on learning has long been a subject of research.  Lev Vygotsky, established this social connection in his research on childhood development in the early 20th century.  He isolated a specific social environment which is particularly effective in learning, where a child is collaborating with someone just above his or her level of skill or understanding. It is in this Zone of Proximal Development when the child learns best.  In his book, Mind in Society, he stated that “human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” (p. 88)  He demonstrated through his research that this is true for children.  He went so far as to say that this social interaction is actually a requirement for specific kinds of learning in children:

learning awakens a variety of internal development processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers.  (p. 90)

What of adults?

We’ve all experienced, as adults, that it is possible to learn many skills on our own.  However, many of us have experienced accelerated learning in social situations.  Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger explore this in Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation.  They describe communities of practice where

apprentices gradually assemble a general idea of what constitutes the practice of the community… what other learners are doing; and what learners need to learn to become full practitioners. It includes an increasing understanding of how, when, and about what old-timers collaborate, collude, and collide, and what they enjoy, dislike, respect, and admire. (p. 95)

This context provides an effective learning environment, within which the novice may construct an individual learning path. Lave and Wegner argue that teaching is not central to learning, but that we learn when we actively participate in a community.  The learning path from novice to master is accelerated by social engagement, where observation is an important element, as well as the generative process of active learning.