Practice is the best way to learn a language. But of course. You don't need a school to practice, but still, my school English got me started. Now I'm starting at zero with Spanish, and I wonder how to do that. So here, I explore the best available tools. As usual for an open source enthusiast, I try to find free and open tools for it. Where unavailable, I'm content with just gratis tools for now 😀

As for learning style, I like self-study for the very basics and daily real-world practice beyond. I abhor educational course materials with conversations … the slow speaking makes me feel even more dumb than not understanding a word. So below, I focus on basics to learn by heart for bootstrapping and on real-world content beyond.

Goal Definition

Let's start with my modest set of goals for now:

  • Pronunciation.
  • Basic everyday conversations. Means, about everything that is not philosophy, rocket science or otherwise highly technical or complex.
  • Following conversations. Getting the meaning when following native speakers' conversations and talks in normal speed.
  • Computer aided reading. Understanding plain every text when reading it in the foreign languge, but it's ok to do so with software support at word level.
  • No focus on writing, though. It's the least required skill for cultural immersion. In my case I have English as my default language for writing, and need to keep it up or I would unlearn it.

Bootstrapping Toolkit

An intensive self-taught course to get you started with Spanish from scratch. This bootstrapping phase should not consume more than 150 hours, that's half way of what would make you reasonably fluent in Spanish for example [source]. In contrast to the "practice and refining phase" which is about learning alongside use, the bootstrapping is really work. Let's get used to the fact 😉 And see this Guide to learn languages [by yourself] for a successful training style and motivation management.

  1. Complete course. Choose according to your taste:
    1. ProSpanish course. Taste differs, and I found this one to be highly effective and relevant from the first word on to achieve fast results for speaking Spanish, as it teaches you basic sentence structure by example. (While the FSI courses below are a more traditional / school type version going through situations etc.). Also I found the ProSpanish course to be very "friendly" and patient, I really like to listen to it. It is however way shorter than the FSI course (about 3 hours compared to 30-40 hours), but might teach you enough for this "bootstrapping level" already.
    2. FSI Spanish Courses. Public domain and available online as both text and audio. This is esp. awesome as these are recommended as the best material in the "How to Learn Any Language" site [source], and they know what they're talking. Following a course is very convenient and you will not need most of the other things in this list. But some folks, including me, do not like courses (feels too much like school …). For these, the other items in this list are sufficient: learn some words and phrases, look up some grammar, then start consuming easy real-world content.
  2. Pronunciation. Spanish is said to be among the world's most phonetic languages: If you have the spelling, you can pronounce the word. How to learn the rules for that?
    • Spanish for Dummies: Vowels and Consonants. Two videos with the most concise and understandable presentation of Spanish pronunciation that I could find. Keep listening to them, and you'll know …
    • WordsGalore audio vocabulary. The best way to learn Spanish pronunciation that I could find so far. WordsGalore is a gratis (yet not free) vocabulary trainer software with the special feature that you can just scroll through its word list very fast, and it will speak the selected Spanish word. This way, I was able to infer the pronunciation rules from the examples in half an hour, while at the same time training pronunciation and memorizing the rules by example rather than in abstract form. See also my post on the WordsGalore installation instructions for Linux.
    • 123teachme.com: Spanish Pronunciation Lessons.
    • Mightyverse. Thousands of native speaker videos for pronouncing words, phrases and short texts. Indeed, watching people speak is another thing than just knowing the rules.
  3. Grammar cheatsheet. What I want is just a 2 page A4 grammar to fix above your monitor when instant messaging, e-mailing or writing in Spanish, and to learn by heart that way. I have not found a good free one, so I created this open content Spanish Grammar Cheatsheet (source here). Corrections to me, please!
  4. 1000 words. Learning the 1000 most frequent words makes you understand 88% of oral Spanish [source]. However: It's no good to learn more than these in list style (it does not work that way). Instead, start learning by example after that – see the other toolkit below. I also found that it makes the most sense to only learn the "production" direction: see the English word, say the Spanish one. It's the difficult direction, but you need it to speak, and it implies the other one. Options where to get the word list, by adequacy:
  5. 250 conversation phrases. Modules of daily conversation, to learn by heart and construct sentences with. Because grammar and single words do not help to create real-life sentences (want a funny illustration? see message 64).
    • Create your own list. I did not find a list that's really about the most useful phrases and sentence modules, so I'm compiling my own and will publish it here.
    • SpanishDict Phrasebook. 8000 phrases already – but the problem is, there's no help narrowing this down to the 250 most relevant ones.
    • WordsGalore: 1100 Spanish-English Phrases. Great list of short sentence building blocks. Gratis but not free.
  6. Desktop vocabulary and phrases trainer. There are several options of course. Here is my list of desktop vocabulary software for Linux, ordered by my own subjective evaluation (the best first):
    • Mnemosyne. Very very nice, free and open source software. You can add sound, images, videos etc. to question and answer sections, and it has a sophisticated algorithm to not waste your time on words you know. There's even an Android application for training; see below. See also my post on installation instructions for Ubuntu 12.04. Vocabulary card files for Spanish words and phrases are available via its old site; I propose to use the following:
    • Parley.A sophisticated vocabulary trainer application for KDE4, free and open source. Includes the option of playing sound files for the pronunciation when doing the flash card testing. Available in the Ubuntu archives. What got on my nerves however was the inefficient way it asked me for words I knew, so I chose Mnemosyne over it. Recommendations of word lists for it:
    • WordsGalore. A gratis (yet not free) software that comes with a vocabulary of the 1000 most frequent Spanish words (it's CC licensed now, see above). I missed a "ask the Spanish word" mode in this. For installation on Linux, see my instructions.
    • KWordQuiz. Also nice. Shares the same XML format with Parley, with a bit less featured interface (like, no lesson grouping for words).
    • granule. Quite nice and usable, including sound file support for pronunciation. However, unlike Parley it seems to be no longer in active development. Version 1.3.0 is available in the Ubuntu archives, but version 1.4.0 is already out.
    • OpenTeacher. I did not test this; yet it seems to have no support for attaching audio files for the word pronunciations.
    • KVocTrain. Vocabulary trainer application for KDE3. I used it in 2000 and contributed the first vocabulary file to it 🙂 Now it is superseded by Parley or KWordQuiz for KDE4.
    • Even more options. A German article listing even more Linux vocabulary trainer applications.
  7. Smartphone vocabulary and phrases trainer. I'd like to have an Android application that I can feed these 1000 words and 250 phrases into, for training in them whenever there's a spot of free time to do so. Proposals, as per my own evaluation:
    1. Mnemogogo and Mnemododo. An Android application and plugin for Mnemosyne (recommended above) to learn the vocabulary and phrases on the phone.
  8. Language basics material. Something to help learn and combine the above pieces. By adequacy:

Practice and Refining Toolkit

Once beyond the basics, I like to learn a language "effortlessly" while using it rather than as a dedicated activity. Here are tools to help with real-world content while refining pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar:

  1. Talk to a native speaker. The most fun and awesome way to learn a language. Either you are really lucky and have a patient native speaker friend. If not, you could go straight for an immersion experience. Or to fiverr.com, where nice native speakers are up for video-teaching you for $5 (for Spanish: uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete … and many more).
  2. Content for practice. Not using a language in daily life makes you forget it again. In my case, I practice English by writing everything in it, but could consume content in Spanish. Just some stuff that I find interesting; only real-world content, no educational resources any more:
    1. Textual content. For example, read Google News in Spanish.
    2. Audio content.
    3. Video content. When using subtitled video content, I found it a good idea to progress from videos with English audio / Spanish subs to those with Spanish audio / English subs to those with Spanish audio / Spanish subs (the latter at first when watching a second time).
      • Of course there are thousands of videos on YouTube, with and without subtitles. You can download the videos for offline use with an open source tool like youtube-dl, and you can download the subtitles with various open source tools.
      • You can watch full movies online with added subtitles, at universalsubtitles.org. You can watch English full movies with Spanish subs and vice versaThey use their free & open source Amara software. It is not clear to me so far if the subtitles themselves are open content (see here vs. here). For offline use, again download the video with youtube-dl and the subtitles from universalsubtitles.org by clicking on the required language in the left-hand list ad selecting the "Download" button. Then play both together, for example in VLC: with the subtitles in SRT, SSA or TTML format, go to "Media -> Open (advanced) …", select your video, and and use the "Use a subtitles file" additional option to add the subtitles.
      • You can download free & open subtitles for movies you own at opensubtitles.org and watch both together (see last paragraph for instructions).
  3. Translator browser plugin. It has to be high-usability. I would suggest it has a mouse over mode that is active when pressing a dedicated modifier (like the Windows key, sitting quite lonely on the Linux machine keyboard here). The translator also should be capable of interlinear translation, displaying the translated words above the original ones in a separate line; that's even more comfortable for texts with lots of new words. By adequacy:
    • Hyper Translate Plugin for Firefox. It translates selected text in a tooltip, whether single words or whole phrases. The most comfortable tool I could find, if you configure it so that it translates single words on double clicks and phrases when selecting them and pressing "Ctrl". Also, this works really fast. However, it seems to me that this plugin (in the version from mid 2012-08) has a huge memory leak, so I have to re-start Firefox from time to time to not run out of RAM. But I have to investigate further if it's really this plugin …
    • Wiktionary and Google Translate Plugin for Firefox. Double-click a word (or for hyperlinked words, use the context menu) to translate it. Also can be configured to use a mouse over mode (using a modifier key), but that mode is not really usable for switching between words to lookup, as the lookup itself is quite slow and the popup closes only when configured so and when the mouse is at least ca. 3 cm from it. Also, this cannot inline-translate whole phrases, so takes more work when not understanding a complete sentence (and you don't want to go for whole-page translation by Google, which is available from this). And what's really a nuisance: it always presents you the translation in the first language in which the word is found in on Wiktionary, with no way to configure lookup priorities. On the upside, the word lookup relies on free & open Wiktionary, the translation tooltip contains much information and is freely styleable.
    • Inline Translator Plugin for Firefox. It translates selected text in a tooltip, whether single words or whole phrases. This relies on the proprietary Bing Translate API, and at least it stopped working because the author's account balance for that service ran out.
    • Easy Google Translate Plugin for Firefox. To be tested.
  4. Audio slowdown browser plugin. Something that can speed down the audio or audiovisual playback by a configurable amount, while keeping the pitch of the voice intact. This should enable you to follow regular speed native speakers' material. There's a speed setting on youtube.com (behind the gear button on all videos), and there's a way to play back with VLC in slower speed in two steps (using the "Arrow Left" key). But this will not keep the voice pitch intact. [TODO – Still to be found.]
  5. Writing assistant. A desktop application both for interactive and non-interactive writing. It should include a grammar checker, spelling checker, accent auto-correction and in-text commands for translating words (like typing "es:occupy", and it converts it to "ocupar").
    • LanguageTool. Open source software for style and grammar checking that is both available as stand-alone and LibreOffice plugin.
    • LibreOffice. For spell checking in non-interactive writing.
  6. Mobile phone dictionary. For Android, as we're about free and open here.
    • QuickDic [here on Google Play]. My current favorite: free and open source, fast, and independent of any Internet connection by offline storage of the dictionaries. It uses Wiktionary data, so has about 40 000 entries.
    • English Spanish Dict.FREE. Gratis but not free; ad-supported with an ad-less pro version available. Also offline, and with the advantage of having 86 000 words.
  7. Extensive online dictionary. Including all the really special and technical words. Should also include pronunciations of the words.
    • SpanishDict Translate. Phrase and word translator, including one million words with very informative output. Gratis but not free.
    • Wiktionary for Spanish. Upside: Free and open. It has ca. 40 000 entries as of 2012-07. Not that many, but a good start.
    • linguee.com. Not to be missed in this context, because it's very useful for exact translation of really special words and phrases. It's based on automatic evaluation of professionally translated texts, like EU laws.
  8. Spanish verb conjugation tool. Options:
  9. Grammar essentials. A ten-page or so short grammar to learn by heart over time. It's not meant to construct sentences (it does not work that way) but to have the basic rules in mind for recognizing them again in real-world examples, thus making the most of the examples you encounter. By adequacy:
  10. Extensive grammar reference. Word of caution on grammars first: open your grammar book only after having made good progress with learning by reading and listening — it will make no sense to you before [source]. There are several out-of-copyright grammars available; you might learn some funny ancient Spanish, but then that's what free and open Spanish sounds like 😉 The following recommendations are mostly from Google Books; they are available as downloadable PDF, but then lack the searchable text from Google's online version. But since it's public domain material, we could add it and re-publish. By adequacy:

 Background Tools and Resources

So now that we’ve grown up, and started to work for money, we finally start to ask ourselves: Wherefore should we live then? We see most people choose to live for children, and some choose to live for themselves instead. The former have children and no money, the latter have money to spend and no children.

Now, these both ways to live life could not stop the deterioration of Western societies, which started in (say) the mid 1990’s and is in good full swing as of 2011. It’s not the technichal challenges of more scarce resources that we face, or the dangers of unregulated greed (in the financial markets and at home). The real, real problem is that in a land of Cockaigne like this, parents can never succeed to transfer their builder mindset (of postponed consumption, investment, hope, betterment) to their children and grandchildren. These will find out that near everything can be had without work, and will get too comfortable to even be interested, to desire to learn, and to be creative. It’s bad with the children and worse with the grandchildren. Call it decadence.

Now what? Let’s doubt that taking part in decadence is never a life lived for what’s adequate, whether you have children more decadent than you, or no children, being decadent yourself. Instead, there has to be a life to be lived against decadence. Successfully. What do we need for that?

The new, new frontier. The US could only start to become decadent where the frontier for settlement had passed, leaving civilization, but without vision and without tasks. Of course, people found something to improve and to do during some of the following generations, but finally even that faded. There was something like a last try to remedy this by calling the race for the moon the “new frontier”. Nice try, but itself influenced by decadence: Is space travelling really the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “task” and “vision”?

What we need is the new, new frontiere. And then the new, new, new one. And so on. We need eternal pioneering. Look around and see that the world is in nearly no place as it should be. Sahara is a desert, the Congo struck by malaria, all of Africa by Aids, and much of the world by wrong belief systems. Just for the start. And we Westerners dare to say we see no tasks at hand, when questioning ourselves how to recreate vision and zeal in our society, or when questioning ourselves what to do with the >20% jobless in southern Europe? And then people dare to get on the idea that adding another child or two or three to already 7 000 000 000 people on Earth is a proper reason to live for, even though its more-than-apparent that even more people will even intensify the problems and resource conflicts on this planet?

Let’s get practical: we know how to do military operations, with respect to human resources. People get “deployed” in groups of several hundreds to some battlefield overseas, for some 6-8 months maybe. Then they are exchanged by a new group, and themselves go back to their home country to refresh and prepare again for their next deployment in another 6-8 months. Let’s take this over to all kinds of development aid. Because this is attributing the right role to civilization and homes: a place of refreshment and preparation for your “mission”.

Specifically, I propose to create settlements of ca. 4000 people, who travel to overseas development assistance deployments in groups of 1000. As this is no military operation, this can and should include the whole families (children can get schooled underway). The people at home would work to support them, from logistics to medical care etc.. As in military deployments, there will have to be like 4-5 (minimum) immediate support people behind everybody on a mission, and even more so working for money for these missions. But in any case, everybody’s goal should be to go on deployment (and if only for 6 in 36 months), being the reward for year-long support work.

Some ideas for specific missions:

  • Re-afforest the whole of Sahara. Yea, we had that above. Just plant the trees, it’s good for the planet 🙂
  • Build some big islands, or enlarge others. Having more land in nice climate is always a good thing. Why, for heaven’s sake, would people want to live in Siberia while there’s an island waiting for them?
  • Eradicate AIDS.
  • Eradicate malaria.
  • Eradicate hemorrhagic fevers. And all those other infection sicknesses.
  • We want the rain forest back where it was!
  • We want whales back, and the Indian elephant in big numbers, and all these other lovely creatures. Isn’t it somewhat … heavily self-conceited, that we allow 7 billion humans on Earth and reduced many of the other  creatures to just some thousands per species?
  • Yea and finally, once we repaired and tidied up the Earth, there are other planets to travel to. Yet, first things first!

Remember what the Lord God said after the deluge: spread and multiply and fill the Earth. But Josephus says, the people wanted to stay together in one location, building Babylon and its towever as their central collection point. Yet God wanted them to go and colonize the Earth, he wanted them to pioneer – maybe because of the danger of rapid decadence, should they stay together in all their civilization? So he had to mix up their language …

Pioneering never ends. It must not end, as it’s a crucial ingredient for human mental health.

First, head over here and have a look at the picture. Now: can you tell – Hipster or Hobo?

Last Wednesday, I have been to Klassikstadt Frankfurt, in a mobile.de car seller seminar. Well, kind of. It turned out to be more of a sales promotion event for a new type of seller account. But I have been to this Klassikstadt thing anyway – which is a highly stylish blend of an old, red brick manufacturing building, oldtimer cars, oldtimer workshops and companies, catering and event and conference room options for diverse customers.For example, Deutsche Telekom had a little conference or meeting in one of these rooms.

Snacks were served in small white porcelain and glas dishes. Inner walls were unplastered red bricks. Most things looked trendy. Some people looked like nerds in a suit, wearing a stylish edition of hornrims. They had also hired pretty girls to wear the microphones and hand out the name tag. An in-crowd gathering: the whole setting, and many of the people there, contributed to a yuppie atmosphere.

So what is a yuppi, anyway? That’s what I’m talking about, as this event inspired a simple definition in me. A yuppi is a geek with money. Or a nerd with money, does not matter here. These people make their work fun, ideally by choosing what they want to work for (entrepeneurship), and / or by enjoying their work by spending money for a luxury and trendy setting. And, more importantly: while a geek or nerd is laughed at because of his or her strange passions and ideas, yuppies are admired for that. The difference between awkward and trendy is often just the resources available for investing into it. Without money, your individualistic or creative project makes you a nerd, geek, freak or (at best) a poor artist. With money, spent for polishing the project’s outward appearance and outsourcing the actual work, it makes you a trendy person. For example, oldtimers: the poor hobby mechanic who loves his oldtimer but lacks the money to get it into shape is a freak; but the suit-clothed entrepeneur who just buys a car that others worked for, and spends ~180 EUR a month just to store and showcase his car in one of the Klassikstadt glas garages, he is considered trendy. Why?

Now I don’t have something against the yuppies: I like that there are truly individualistic people and passionate people among them. But I dislike our (the society’s) short-sighted judgment over people. Having or not having money is mostly a matter of luck and chance, so should not be allowed to transform a  freak into a yuppie, or vice versa.

Democracy is surely not a system that allows government by the people, because in (nearly) all current implementations, government is a very small part of the people and thus separate from it. So what makes democracy “better” than other systems, if anything? The fact that it allows the people to at least choose their government (normally, from a limited amount of options, however).

A regime change in states with dictatorship or similar authoritarian systems is called a revolution (latest example: Tunisia). But not so in democracy. Why not? In my understanding, democracy is a system of permanent revolution1. Just, that these revolutions are formalized, scheduled and intentionally peaceful. Then of course, I would even better like to see democracy as a system of government by the people, concretely, Internet-mediated direct democracy in a network of agile micro-societies that together form one whole nation-state society.

Interesting side note: Karl Popper wrote something about the kind of society in which such “permanent revolution” is possible: in his two-volume book “The Open Society and Its Enemies”, he defines an “open society” as one which ensures that political leaders can be overthrown without the need for bloodshed.” [source]

1 Note: Permanent revolution is a term first coined by Marx, then extended by Leon Trotsky and applied by Mao Zedong. I use this word in a new, democratic sense and claim to have re-conquered it.

I found an interesting quote. I put it here, translated from German by myself:

So, capitalism never works out, because it constantly produces more than can be bought. That it can be maintained that long and produces a relative wealth for a small part of the human population is just because of perusing global differences and because of employing robbery and fraud. But even this wealth has its price and can only be seen as a relative wealth; because, one has to take into account the physical and mental degeneration and dissatisfaction of the wealthy citizens, in contrast to the often happy people of these plundered countries, even though they are often called “poor people”. [source]

Now what does this mean, it always produces more than people can buy? It works like this: the capitalists are those who, for any reason whatsoever, were able to accumulate some money. Now if they would use up that money for consumption, we would not have any problem, but: they do not want to lose that money again, they want it to make more money instead, to live from the interests (they are capitalists after all). So they invest it into companies (or states, which get it from companies by taxes), as this is the only way to “make gain”. Now if companies would spend all that money on their employees which again would spend it all on consumption, there would be no problem again. But the largest part of the money is spent for production technology, which then is used to produce goods for which there are no buyers. Because the employees did not get much …
In short: capitalism dies from deflation in the consumer class. Because too much money went into creating production facilties as a way to make more gain, neglecting that by cutting employee wages, they will (on large scale) lack the ability to consume. Making the production facilities run idle.

And shorter: capitalism dies because investing in production facilities is a bubble.

Addition: if we define consumption as an “irrevocable assignment of money to material goods”, then creating production facilities is of course production, too. But, if people cannot afford the goods, it is a form of consumption that does not increase the wealth in society, a useless assignement of money. Races around the moon would be just as useless.

Of course one could also argue that, if there is more supply than demand, then the prices will fall. Which would solve the problem if the capitalists would do that by waiving a part of their gain; but they always try to do it first by cutting employee wages. Which then reinforces the whole problem (on society scale).

After all, this leads to the following insight: an economy is healthy only the price sum of all consumer products produced and the sum of all employee wages is the same! Which is an objetive indicator for how much work time is worth: as much as needed to buy everything that is produced. The problem is, it seems that this condition will leave no gain at all to be made by capital investment! If somebody saved up capital, he or she might invest it as a tool (“lever”: allows to do move bigger things), but can not expect to make gain with the capital, but by using his / her own work time. The hourly wages of course can differ, and can make up the lack of capital interest (at least partially).

So as a solution, we would need this (and only this) element of a controlled economy: nobody is allowed to increase production capabilities (like founding another company, or optimizing current capabilities) if the wage sum of the whole society does not allow the society members to buy all the expected new products. This will make capitalists increase the wages of their employees to get allowed to found new enterprises. And that way, the employees get a fair share of the capitalists’ income (where fair means, enough to buy what gets produced).

How about this: to counter conditions like in Iraq and Afghanistan, one should re-invent the historic practice of razing (tearing down) whole cities, and extend this if necessary also to whole countries, but all in humanitarian acceptable manner. For example, one could tear down Bagdad, and distribute the 5 million people to all the other countries of the world.

And how about this (even better): War (as in, all violent conflicts) is always a conflict of interest, and in nearly all cases there are people who actively want to fight that war, and those who do not but are harmed by the war. Those who are harmed would want to emigrate to asylum; and by providing an easily accessible option for such permanent asylum, one solves the problem of war. Because what’s left are people who want to be in the war, and may they do so, as they do not want any help. So what’s needed is a state with the sole task to provide permanent asylum, in the sense of finding a new home. That state would actively search for new people to take in, and extract them from their current conflict zones by all means. The people would then be educated to take part in their new state, including learning English as their new language, learning a new profession etc.. That new state would be a resource-oriented economy, kind of a planned economy in the digital age, also including digitized peer-observation to counter corruption. What’s still needed is a place for that state; any place would do, including a part of the Sahara, a specially licenced ground from another state (“temporary state” on foreign ground) etc..

A basic insight has to be this: war is the most explicit way to destroy resources (wealth). (Entertainment is another way, but we discuss war here.) Because in war, both parties try to harm (destroy) each other, and protect themselves from this artificial (man made, not nature made) harm produced by the other party. The most idiotic war of course is the war for economc resources: it is destroying resources to gain resources.

Ok, so maybe wanting to found ones own state is somewhat far off. But then, at least I want the state to let me live the way I want to. Which means, it must be a minimal state: caring for outer (military) and inner (police) security, and perhaps caring to prohibit corporate monopolies. And, because much freedom must be granted to inhabitants, the state has to severely limit the number of its inhabitants. Also, the state should build infrastructure, but only what people cannot build themselves: streets, bridges, phone and Internet lines, tubes for an automated logistics system. And that is it.

I do not want the state to: regulate where I am allowed to build what; that and how I must do health insurance; what to do on the street; how to build a vehicle; what to write on a website; if I am allowed to have a weapon; etc..
As a minimal state would not have the government to collect taxes, it should perform its tasks rather by people doing state service for a time.

It is however true that a minimal state cannot be a welfare state at the same time; except if granting an unconditinal basic income while still  staying away from regulating other areas of life.

In addition to the minimal state, we need of course other instiutions to care for disadvantaged people etc.. But these would be totally decentralized (like intentional commuities), so not granting the state additional mandatory power over peoples lives as in a central welfare state.

See: