Isaac Watts on Learning Languages




The first thing required in reading an author, or in hearing lectures of a tutor, is, that you well understand the language in which they write or speak. Living languages, or such as are the native tongue of any nation in the present age, are more easily learned and taught by a few rules and much familiar converse, joined to the reading some proper authors.

The dead languages are such as cease to be spoken in any nation; and even these are more easy to be taught (as far as may be) in that method wherein living languages are best learned, i. e. partly by rule, and partly by rote or custom. And it may not be improper in this place to mention a very few directions for that purpose.

I. Begin with the most necessary and most general observations and rules which belong to that language, compiled in the form of a grammar; and these are but few in most languages. The regular declensions and variations of nouns and verbs should be early and thoroughly learned by heart, together with twenty or thirty of the plainest and most necessary rules of syntax.


But let it be observed that, in almost all languages, some of the very commonest nouns and verbs have many irregularities in them; such are the common auxiliary verbs — to be, and to have — to do, and to be done, &c. The comparatives and superlatives of the words — good, bad, great, small, much, little, &c.; and these should be learned among the first rules and variations, because they continually occur. But as to other words, which are less frequent, let but few of the anomalies or irregularities of the tongue be taught among the general rules to young beginners. These will come in afterwards to be learned by advanced scholars in a way of notes on the rules, as in the Latin Grammar, called the Oxford Grammar, or in Ruddiman’s notes on his Rudiments, &c.

Or they may be learned by examples alone, when they do occur; or by a larger and more complete system of grammar, which descends to the more particular forms of speech; so the heteroclite nouns of the Latin tongue, which are taught in the school-book called Qucb Genus, should not be touched in the first learning of the rudiments of the tongue.

II. As the grammar by which you learn any tongue should be very short at first, so it must be written in a tongue with which you are well acquainted, and which is very familiar to you. Therefore I much prefer even the common English accidence (as it is called) to any grammar whatsoever written in Latin for this end. The English accidence has, doubtless, many faults; but those editions of it which were printed since the year 1728, under the correction of a learned professor, are the best; or the English rudiments of the Latin tongue, by that learned North Briton, Mr. Ruddiman, which are perhaps the most useful books of this kind I am acquainted with; especially because I would not depart too far from the ancient and common forms of teaching, which several good grammarians have done, to the great detriment of such lads as have been removed to other schools.

The tiresome and unreasonable method of learning the Latin tongue by a grammar, with Latin rules, would appear, even to those masters who teach it so, in its proper colours of absurdity and ridicule, if those very masters would attempt to learn the Chinese or Arabic tongue, by a grammar written in the Chinese or Arabic language.

Mr. Clarke, of Hull, has said enough in a few pages of the preface to his new grammar, 1723, to make that practice appear very irrational and improper; though he has said it in so warm and angry a manner, that it has kindled Mr. Ruddiman to write against him, and to say what can be said to vindicate a practice, which, I think, is utterly indefensible.



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Euphorbia Mili, or Crown of Thorns, houseplant in US, landscaping plant in Philippines


This little beauty is called Euphorbia milii:

Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns, Christ plant, Christ thorn) is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family Euphorbiaciae, native to Madagascar. The species name commemorates Baron Milius, once Governor of Réunion, who introduced the species to France in 1821

Why is this pretty flower called Crown of Thorns or Christ thorn?
You can just see the stem above, if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s a closer view:

That’s why. It’s a tropical cactus.

This is also grown as a houseplant in the US, and it grows freely outside here (more of a landscaping plant in the Philippines, I think. It is native to Madagascar.)
If you get one, be careful. Its defenses are formidable. Not only are there those brutal looking thorns, there is an irritating, tumour causing sap connected with the flowers, which is insoluble in water once it dries. Use gloves and touch as little as possible.

If you can find a real specimen, look very, very closely at the flowers. The flower is actually the small, fleshier looking center. The things that look like petals are actually bracts. More about the flowers (called cyathia) here.

genus euphorbia has 2,000 species.

According to this website: Linnaeus established the genus Euphorbia and he named it after a Greek surgeon called Euphorbus. He was the physician of Juba II, about 50 BC to 19 AD, the Roman king of a of Numidia, present day Algeria.
King Juba II was the first person to find a succulent-type Euphorbia, and he named it after his physician. Euphorbus used the milky sap as an ingredient for his potions.
The name “milii” is for Baron Milius, once governor of the island of Bourbon, who introduced the species into cultivation in France in 1821.
“Splendens” means splendid.
The legend says that the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the time of his crucifixion was made from the stems of this plant. Interestingly, the stems of this plant are pliable and can be intertwined into a circle and there are substantial evidence that the species had been brought to the Middle East before the time of Christ.
(From Dr. T. Ombrello Notes, Union County College, NJ.)

(Information for this species compiled and recorded by Camelia Cirnaru, NTBG Consultant.)

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Effective Studying

I started reading Fluent Forever: How to Read any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner.

I have quite a ways to go, yet, but what he says so far really makes sense to me.

He talks about the importance of not thinking of your learning in translation- you don’t think, ‘lalaki, boy or man, you try and put a picture in your head to match lalaki. You don’t think ‘pina is pineapple,’ you think pina and see that fruit in your head.

He talks about the right kind of repetition for study, basically what Duolingo does, or apps like Quizmo and Anki.

He talks about studying being more successful when you go over things and then just write down as much as you can remember shortly afterwards, rather than just reviewing, reviewing, reviewing. Writing down helps you remember.

He mentions flash cards, with the words on one side and the image you choose to represent the word on the other, and how much more effective it is to make your own flashcards. Even though you think it saves time to use somebody else’s- actually, it does not, in the long run, because the act of creating your own cards actually helps really paint the learning to the walls of your mind.

Which brings me to this story on myself which solidified or illustrates perfectly what he says about the value of making your own cards.

In highschool I took Spanish for two years. I was to busy partying to take it seriously. One year in particular we also had a really lax teacher. She was so lax that we began to cheat, and cheat badly. Four or five of us had a competition going among us as to who could be the most creative, get away with the most. We took cheat sheets to an unprecedented level- tiny little scrolls hidden beneath a ring band, notes on shoelaces, artistically incorporated into a drawn design so that on first glance they looked like just part of an illustration, not word combinations. I wasn’t the artistic one, btw, but I did master the tiniest script possible.

Once, one of us was caught (the artist, not me). To be fair to him, he wasn’t caught in the act. He just got carried away in his cheating. After spending hours on his lovely cheatsheet drawings (like murals on a notebook cover), he had actually managed to get a copy of the test in advance and had filled it out at home and brought it to school and turned it in, slipping his blank copy into the stack of extra tests on her desk. But he turned in his copy too quickly and the teacher didn’t believe he could possibly have filled out the test so fast without cheating. The teacher threw away his test and gave him a new one and had him write the answers while she stood over him and watched. He finished the test in five minutes and got a perfect score.

He told me afterwards, with some embarrassment, that he guessed he’d been studying while creating his pretty designs and hidden messages. I attempted the next test without reference to my cheat sheets and I passed as well. It was kind of ironic to realize that all our elaborate schemes and creations to avoid studying actually were highly effective study methods(probably more effective than actually studying the old fashioned way, although that did not occur to us then).

All our elaborate creations of cheat sheets had essentially been concentrated studying. I see the practice of making your own cards of words and images as accomplishing the same thing- only, you know, without trying to deceive anybody, so a definite improvement over my high school study methods.

Shocked by the successful, er, test my friend J. and I had made, subsequently we all planned to cheat in the usual way, but tried first to take our test without cheating. We all passed our tests without reference to our perfidiously plotted little notes. We were cheating because we absolutely refused to study, but we ended up studying twice as much and far more efficiently than our most honest classmates. Kind of unfair and more than a little hard on the good kids who studied the regular way and nobly refused to cheat and then didn’t do well on their tests.

The really funny part is I felt kind of indignant and resentful about it! I had intended to avoid studying, and somehow had tricked myself into actually studying, and it was offensive. But I had nobody to blame but myself.

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Interesting Scientific Discoveries in the News

Why the Greenland Vikings vanished– possibly globalization and climate change (brought on by a massive volcano).

“Giant oarfish are the longest known living species of bony fish, reaching a length of 56 feet (17 meters). They can weigh up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms).” National Geographic has more. I’ve been reading about them this week because last week a couple large ones washed up on the shore here in the Philippines. They are said to be omens of coming earthquakes, and it is true that a few days later, we felt a couple large enough to discombobulate our piece of mind during the movement.

Nasa telescope spots seven earthsized planets revolving around a single star in a habitable zone.
“In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.”

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Timetables, Principles, and Brains

Charlotte Mason: brilliant educator in England around the turn of the last century, author of several books, creator of the Parent’s National Education Union promoting her ideas about education (living books, treat children with respect, narration, nature study, include music and pictures and poetry, etc, etc). She also started a teacher training school where she taught future teachers and governesses her methods, which they implemented in the local school Miss Mason established for the practical implantation of her methods and to give her students at the Ambleside House of Education a place to put their learning into practice.

P.U.S. —a rather oozy acronym standing for Parents’ Union Schools

L’Umile Pianta- a little journal put out by graduates of her training program who wrote to discuss how to implement her ideas practically in the schools and homes where they worked.

Mason’s methods are firmly based in certain principles found in the front of each of her six volume set on education. She also had various practices, most of which illustrate the principles but are not, in general, to be mistaken for the principles. One was a requirement, the other an expedient.

One of those tools was a timetable, which was put together for the P.U.S. to follow. But sometimes, they struggled with that:

On the Possibility of Doing P.U.S. Work While Keeping Strictly to the Time-Tables. This was originally published in L’umile Pianta. It is written by a teacher in a PNEU school who has some frustrations with attempting to implement the timetables as written. You really must read it all, it is delicious and everybody who feels like a failure for not keeping perfectly to Mason’s timetables will feel much better.

From the final paragraph:

“I will refrain from enlarging upon the involved state of affairs when there are children working partly in one class and partly in another; nor will I discuss what happens when one has a child of 10 who cannot read. Suffice it to say that one is inclined to wish that either he would go away or else that every other child would vanish into empty air, leading one free to follow absolutely strictly one of the ideal timetables to which have been so cleverly, so thoughtfully, and so comprehensively drawn up.”

Even when Miss Mason was alive, it seems, teachers struggled to make the timetables fit the children they actually had, and it didn’t always work.

It is important to remember that while the timetables are very helpful because they illustrate some principles, they are not the principles.

And if you have not read Brandy’s post on sabotaging your homeschool, which I linked to previously, you really should. It is also very helpful.

In the comments there, somebody shared this quote from the book In Memoriam (a hagiographic little biography published after Miss Mason’s death):

“Perhaps this principle was specially evident during Criticism lessons on Thursday mornings when Miss Mason would criticise a student for doing what was, apparently, precisely the thing another student has been criticised for not doing the previous Thursday, thus reducing us to despair. For what were we to do? and when we asked for the precise recipe we were told to “mix it with brains.” Every lesson needs a special giving and the method is based upon broad principles which leave the teacher all the exercise of her own ingenuity.”

Learn as much as you can, work out your philosophy of education, understand what Miss Mason did, and more importantly why. Once you have established this foundation, all of us have to mix it with brains, dearies. Mix it with brains.

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