Monday, December 25, 2006


After my appalling performance in the J.TEST, I need a breakthrough in Japanese. Although, while I was taking the test, I could feel I was doing much better than I had before, the score shows that I have not improved significantly. To say the least, it was not what I had expected. I have been working for 20 months in a Japanese language-only environment, however it is not the type of work that is going to take one to fluency. More must be done! I will not remain content with my current level. In fact, I am almost at the point where reading in Japanese is less burdensome. Now is the time to turn on the intensity. I will search for audio material to listen to intensively and I will acquire the words, phrasings, and way of thinking in the language. I will not study for tests.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

J.TEST results

Today, exactly four weeks after taking the J.TEST, the results were delivered by Yamato black cat delivery. Notice, this is much better than for the JLPT which takes 9 or 10 weeks to get the results. My test score is a mere 83 points better than I scored 2.5 years ago. That is an astonishing 33 point improvement per annum.

AD Level Scores
  • 11/2006 459 points
  • 04/2004 376 points
This is not enough to receive a D level certificate. One thing to note, the score report mentions a "New format from June 2005." I have no idea what that means. Anyway, I got my test booklet back along with a report of my answers and the correct answers. Also, the transcript of the listening dialogues was included. So I can use all of this to study and learn something.

I would really like to listen to and read interesting content intensively and then extensively. I have not yet found such content. Just about anything that is out there is going to be well above my ability to enjoyably understand. Plus, this method has not been developed for learners so what's out there will be in Japanese and not easily found.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Professor Catherine Snow

I found an interesting interview on the internet from The news source of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The interview is with Professor Catherine Snow who has a Ph.D. from McGill University and is "an expert on language and literacy development in children."

In the interview, she states exactly what I have always felt, but she does so with authority. She says, "there is no critical period for second-language learning."

It is a very interesting interview, and I encourage you to read it for yourself.
The interview can be found here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Way of The Linguist

Late Thursday night, I ordered The Way of The Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey from Amazon Japan. It was the last copy in stock. If you live outside of Japan, you can try to get a copy from I had read an excerpt of the book before and have been looking forward to reading the book ever since.

After I read the book, I will post some thoughts on it. There is an E-book version in several languages as well as English. I wish I could get a printed copy of the Japanese version. Oh well, I guess someday when I learn to read Chinese, I can read the printed version of it in Chinese.

Oh, I just realized that I didn't write everything I had intended to write. So, I ordered the book Thursday night, online, of course. Instead of paying with a credit card, I went to the convenience store, used a machine there to print out my purchase order. I took that print-out to the register and paid for the book. The clerk printed out a regular cash register receipt and also a special receipt which was stamped with a date-stamp which also has the store name and store number on it. Then Amazon Japan shipped my book Friday and it arrived today (Saturday). Shipping was free. If I had wanted to pay for shipping, I could have received the book on Friday. But why would I want to do that?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Goal setting

A goal, in my definition, is a specified objective which you will achieve. That's right. You will achieve your goal. There is no doubt about it. No question. If any doubt exists, then you will not reach your objective and therefor it is not a goal.

Is there anyone who disagrees with my definition?

I have decided that once a goal has been set, you must not give up. Obviously, if you quit, you will not reach your objective and therefor it was never a goal. But the important point here is not to give up. You must not suddenly decide that your goal is not worth it. When you realize just how hard what you are doing is, you must never let yourself come to the conclusion that the goal is not worth all the hard work and trouble that you are going through. Before you set your goal, you should determine the value of reaching the objective. If it is not valuable, then why would you set it as a goal?

After you set your goal, you are not allowed to re-evaluate its worthiness. The reason for this is to ensure success. Without this strict "No quitting" rule, you would surely never achieve anything. After you have reached your goal, you may take some time to decide whether it was worth it or not.

The next big question is, how do you set goals? Does anybody have any ideas or experience? I would love to hear your advice.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

JLPT in China

It looks like the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is really popular in China. There's this news article about it which I'll paste here. It says that 200,000 people in China took the Japanese language test this year. That is an increase of 46% over last year.

<日本語試験>中国で20万人超が挑戦 前年比46%増


Speaking of China, now that my supposed study for the JLPT is over, I've resumed my Chinese studies. I'm now using Assimil With Ease. I edited out the exercises so that I just have the dialogue and I removed all the spaces. So I've got the first lesson down to 15 seconds. I loop the audio and start speaking along with the dialogue. I worked on it for one hour in which it looped 250 times. I only spoke the part of one person at a time. Doing both parts was too tiring.

I started on lesson 2 today but my throat quickly became sore. I'll have to build up those muscles for speaking.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


Today I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 2. I'm pretty sure I did a lot better than I did on the practice test yesterday. I think the test this year was designed for Keith. Only the words that Keith knows were put on the test.

Well, we won't know for sure until the results are announced. I will receive my score and certificate in February. I think I'll take level 2 again next year, and the year after that, and every year until I can get a perfect score. I don't want to study for it anymore. I should just be working on reading articles and looking up the things I don't know.

The grammar is really the hardest section on the test. I can't study the grammar for this test. I can't memorize all 173 grammar points and whether they follow a noun or an adjective or a verb. But if I can get a feel for it, I'll be able to get those questions right.

There are usually four choices per question. In the vocabulary section there are words which you have to choose the reading because they are in kanji. I remember one where I didn't know the reading or meaning of it. But out of the four choices, I knew what three of them meant and I was pretty sure that none of them were the correct answer. So I chose the unknown answer. After the test, I looked up the word and when I saw the reading I knew that that was the answer I had chosen.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Study for a test

Today I've been studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験) JLPT. The test is tomorrow. I didn't study at all in November. I studied before that though.

I took the 1999 test today at home. I bought the test about 5 or 6 years ago. I did worse on vocabulary and listening than I did on the 2005 test last year. But I did better on the reading and grammar section. So overall, the score I got on my practice test is not much better than the score I got on the test last year. I got 58% today, while at least 60% will be needed tomorrow to pass.

A whole year has passed since I took the test last year. I guess I haven't learned much since then.


今日、家で平成11年度の試験をやってみた。5、6年前にその試験を買った。去年の実際に受けた試験の結果より、「文字・語彙」と「聴解」はよくなかった が「読解・文法」はよかった。全体として実習試験は去年の試験の得点とほぼ同じです。今日、結果は 58% ながら、明日、合格になれば 60% が必要です。



Friday, December 01, 2006

Why no understand

Today, I tried to say in Japanese something like, "That is the same thing Mr. Kuma said" and was not immediately understood. Afterwards, thinking about it, I thought maybe I was not speaking loudly enough. No, that couldn't be it.

Then I realized that I must not have said it the natural way. That's right! I don't know how that would normally be said. In order to be understood, you need to speak the way people usually speak. Even if it's hard to hear, the mind can process the audio and fill in the _______. But when you speak in an unnatural way, people can't understand you so easily.

So the key to being understood is to speak like a native! :D I mean, you have to use natural expressions and phrasing. Should we study them? No! Instead, we can just expose ourselves to lots of the language. This is what is known as massive input. I first learned about massive input from Steve Kaufmann.

By the way, the title of this article is an example of unnatural phrasing. The difference between, "why no understand" and "why they don't understand" is that one is natural and the other is not.

So the next time someone doesn't understand you, it might not be your accent. It might just be your wording. So now you know... why they don't understand.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Doing hard time

Learning a language is like doing hard time. Why? Because it's really hard and it takes a long time. In fact, it's so hard that I often avoid studying it all together. I mean, who wants to do hard time? I never read. I don't listen. I certainly don't write. And I don't even want to think about talking to someone in a foreign language. I get all nervous and tense and my brow beads up with sweat. I look around for the nearest exit whenever I enter a room so that I can make a quick getaway in case I find myself in a situation where somebody has been tipped off that I speak the local language. Oh yeah... I run, but I can't hide. When foreign words are flying at me, I dodge 'em like bullets. I quickly push the escape button on my emergency wrist-band and I am outta there!

言語学びはおつとめのようです。なぜというと、難しくて長い時間がかかるよ。実は、そんなに難しいからよく勉強をさぼります。誰がお勤めたいかな。私はぜ んぜん読みません。ぜんぜん聞きません。もちろん書きません。誰かと外国語で話すことなんて考えたくない。緊張して、ひたいが汗の玉だらけになります。も し誰か私がローカル言語を話せるかお知りになったら、逃げるため、部屋に入ると出口を探します。そうですよね。逃げても、隠れられない。外国語の言葉が飛 び出したら、銃弾が来ると同じようにひらりと身をかわす。すぐに非常の時のそで口の脱出ボタンを押すとお逃げになります。

*This Japanese article has not been checked for errors which it is sure to be full of.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Short articles

  • Write a short article in your native language.
  • Then translate it to your target language.
  • Record yourself reading the article.
  • Post it to your blog.
  • Attach the recording as well.
  • Let everyone comment on it.
The translation doesn't have to be exactly the same as the original. Just do your best.

  • 母語で短い記事を書いて。
  • そして、目標言語に訳して。
  • 自分が記事を読むのを記録して。
  • ブロッグに掲示して。
  • 記録も添付して。
  • 皆の意見をさせて。

Hey, I just realized my Japanese is really bad!


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Know words

No swords know words like words know swords.

What does it mean to really know a word in your target language? I was thinking about that today and here is what I've come up with.

My criteria for "knowing" words.
  • Listening – You hear the word and you instantly understand it.
  • Reading – You see the word and you instantly know its meaning.
  • Speaking – You can use the word correctly for communication.

At first glance, you look at my list and say to yourself, "all of that is obvious." But there are some things that I didn't list as criteria.

What's not necessary for "knowing" words.
  • Memory – You don't need to be able to remember the word when you want to use it.
  • History – You don't need to know the history of the word or where it came from.
  • Writing – You don't need to remember how to write the word.

I sometimes can't recall words in English, my native tongue. Does that mean I don't know the word anymore? No. I don't need to relearn the word. I just haven't used it or heard or seen it being used in a long time. It's the same with people's names. I sometimes can't remember the names of professors that gave lectures and homework to me every week. Just because I can't recall their names doesn't mean that I never really knew that teacher.

Spelling or writing, I've decided, isn't really all that important when it comes to whether or not you "know" the word. After all, spelling is arbitrary. The way you write a word has no fixed value to its meaning. Whether you write 'color' or 'colour' is unimportant. Both are correct and neither will change the meaning or usage of the word.

Even for kanji languages, where a lot of meaning can be determined just by looking at the characters, the way the characters have come to be written is arbitrary and not important to the meaning of the word. If not, then the kanji characters could never have been simplified! Also, the kanji characters used together to form a word do not have a divine meaning. They mean what they mean because they were created for the word. The word was not created from the kanji. For example, in Japanese 見所 means a highlight, promise or good qualities. But reverse the two characters and 所見 means view or opinion. Why is the meaning so different for the same two characters? I think it's just because somebody decided which combination should mean what. One character means see and the other one means place. If they had wanted to, they could have made the meaning of one of the words observatory. In fact there are two characters, that I can think of, that mean place; 所 and 場. So if I replace the one character for place with the other one, I can get 見場 which means appearance. And it looks like the other way around (場見) isn't a word.

Therfore, I think the way a word is written is a different subject matter. What's important is knowing the word when listening or speaking and being able to use the word correctly if you should decide to do so. You can always check the way the word is written. But as for the meaning and usage of words, it's not just a simple matter of checking the dictionary. Wouldn't you agree?


Monday, November 27, 2006

Lack of comments

Today I'd like to try to explain the lack of comments on my articles. First off, in order to comment, you need to be a member of Vox. Even if you don't intend to start a blog with your account, you need the account to post comments. And it's free, by the way.

Next, I would like to complain about the requirement of membership for posting comments. Vox gives the blogger different levels of control over viewing and commenting. Each one has corresponding levels, for example, "friends and family" however for view control, I mark all my published posts with "the world (public)." This means anyone can read my posts. The corresponding level for that in comment control is "everyone" but it is not really everyone. It is only everyone who is a member of Vox. I appreciate the controls, but I think it needs one more which would really be everyone. I should be allowed to decide if the comments are acceptable or not. If this option was available, I would surely already have a few more comments.

Finally, I don't advertise my blog. I don't ask people to come and read it. I don't beg people to become members of Vox so that they can comment on my blog. I'm not trying to be popular. If anybody does decide to post a comment, I'll know that it was genuine and sincere.

Thank you for your comments.


Sunday, November 26, 2006


Today I took the J.Test (実用日本語検定) Test of Practical Japanese. This test has levels A to F. Levels E and F are on one test which has a total of 500 points. Levels A to D are on another test with a total of 1000 points. That means there are two tests and you have to decide if you should take the beginner test (EF Levels) or the more difficult test (AD Levels).

I took this test twice in 2004. In February I took the EF test and scored 400 points. I received a nice certificate for the E level. Then two months later, I took the AD test and scored 376 points. At least 500 points is needed on the AD test to get a certificate for the D level.

So now it's two and a half years later. I'm hoping I get over 600 points. Maybe 625? That would be a nice 100 points a year improvement.

This test, unlike other Japanese tests, has a small writing component. One part of the writing component was just writing the reading of a kanji word. Such as 妹 and I wrote いもと (wrong answer!). There was also 束の間 and I didn't know it either. I wrote ひがしあいだ (wrong answer). And then the other part of it was making sentences. The test problems had three words and you have to make up a sentence. The first one was はさみ 切る 紙 and I wrote このはさみは紙を切ることができない。I hope that sentence is correct. That's probably the only problem I'll get points for in the writing section.


Friday, November 24, 2006


OK, I've finally decided to write something. In my last post, I alluded to a reason for children being able to eventually speak their new language without an accent, whereas those a little older typically get stuck with an accent. Now I will tell you why that is. It is just my idea, though. So take it or leave it.

First of all, I should mention that we are talking about immigrant children. They are brought by their parents to a new country and they have to learn a new language.

What is the difference between the younger children and the older children? It is not physical. It is not that the older children or even the adults are too old to be able to speak without a foreign accent. So what is the difference?

Well, what is expected is what is different! The older you are, the more you are expected to start speaking and using your new language skills. The younger you are, the less that is expected of you. If you are only 8 years old, nobody is going to ask you to explain why the president's plan is doomed from the outset. No, you are just going to go to school, tell people your name and that is about it. You'll come home, watch hours and hours of TV, go to school and listen to your teachers and classmates talking. An 8 year old is not going to jump right in and start hacking away at the language. The younger you are, the more time you have to absorb the sounds of the language.

A high school student is at a much higher social level than an elementary school kid. The high schooler will be asked many more questions and fellow classmates will be interested in talking and finding out about the new foreign kid on the block. The high school student will be interacting and involved to a much deeper degree, while the younger brother learns how to play tag and yell, "You're it!"

So now you can see that the kids don't have any magic. They just have more time before they need to talk. They listen and learn how the language sounds. In a year, maybe two, the younger child has absorbed much more of the language and done less thinking. The older child has done much more thinking, speaking, and reinforcing bad habits.

It's essential to work on pronunciation before you get used to speaking. Lots of listening helps. At least do 2 weeks of listening before ever attempting to speak. If you really work on pronunciation in the beginning, then I think the maximum listening-only period would be about 2 months. In the beginning of language learning, the only important thing is concentrating on the sounds (pronunciations) of the language. After that, concentrate on reproducing those sounds perfectly.

Once you have pronunciation down perfectly, it will be your second nature. It won't require any extra effort.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The myth factor

I did some searching on the internet and found an article on myths in second language acquisition. You can find this article in many places on the internet, so I will give you two links to it just in case one goes dead. Link 1 and Link 2.

Here are the myths and statements about each one that I found interesting:


The requirements to communicate as a child are quite different from the requirements to communicate as an adult. The child's constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is relatively small when compared with what is necessary for adults to speak at the same level of competence in a second language as they do in their first language. The child does not have to learn as much as an adult to achieve competence in communicating. Hence there is the illusion that the child learns more quickly than the adult, whereas when controlled research is conducted, in both formal and informal learning situations, results typically indicate that adult (and adolescent) learners perform better than young children.


The research suggests that younger children do not necessarily have an advantage over older children and, because of their cognitive and experiential limitations when compared to older children, are actually at a disadvantage in how quickly they learn a second language--other things being equal.


Over the length of the program, children in bilingual classes, where there is exposure to the home language and to English, have been found to acquire English language skills equivalent to those acquired by children who have been in English-only programs.


The Canadian educator, Jim Cummins (1980a), cited research evidence from a study of 1,210 immigrant children in Canada indicating that it takes these children much longer (approximately five to seven years) to master the disembedded cognitive language skills required for the regular English curriculum than to master oral communicative skills. Cummins and others speak of the "linguistic facade,"whereby children appear to be fluent in a language because of their oral skills but have not mastered the more disembedded and decontextualized aspects of the language.


Some children are outgoing and sociable and learn the second language quickly because they want to be like their English-speaking peers. They do not worry about mistakes, but use limited resources to generate input from native speakers. Other children are shy and quiet. They learn by listening and by attending to what is happening and being said around them. They say little, for fear of making a mistake. Nonetheless, research shows that both types of learners can be successful second language learners. In classrooms where group work is stressed, the socially active child is more likely to be successful; in the traditional, teacher-oriented classroom, children who are "active listeners" have been found to be more successful than highly sociable children.

In my next entry, I would like to reveal what I believe is the real reason why children seem to pick up native accents whereas older learners typically have foreign accents.


Friday, October 27, 2006

You are what you practice

There's a saying in English that goes, "You are what you eat." However, I don't write about food here. I write about languages. So I have to modify that saying to, "You are what you practice." There is a saying that goes, "Practice makes perfect" but I didn't coin that one, so that's why I have to make up my own. My saying is, "You are what you practice." Practice is important in language learning. If you want to become an expert, you cannot just stop practicing when you become perfect. You must keep practicing, past perfection. That's what this article says. But the most interesting thing the article says is, experts "attribute their success to practice and to the ability to maintain concentration during long practice sessions (Ericsson, 1996)." So, you can see that concentration is a very valuable skill to develop! I wrote a little about how important concentration is, a month and a half ago. I said I was going to work on my ability to concentrate. Well, I still find my attention wandering quite easily. Concentration is really difficult to sustain! It's hard to not think about something else and to just focus on one sentence for a minute or two. Some other idea or concern will just pop into my head and I find myself thinking about that instead. But I know... I can feel that while I'm concentrating on that one sentence and listening to every word clearly, that it is really sinking into my brain. I just need to keep working on the ability to shut everything else out and stay focused. This is really hard to do in the listening-only stage. I think in the next stage it won't be as difficult. The imitation stage. I'll be very busy imitating the sentence I'm hearing and working on the rythm. I don't think there will be much room for my mind to wander.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

The language not taken

Today, I was inspired by a discussion on how to learn any language dot com where a new member is trying to choose between two difficult languages. I remembered a poem which you can read here and decided to write my own version of the poem. Instead of choosing between two roads, my poem is about choosing between two languages.

The Language Not Taken

Two languages emerged as choices,

And sorry I could not learn both

And be one speaker with two voices.

I listened to one as long as I could

Until my curiosity outlived its growth;

Then listened to the other, just as interesting,

And having perhaps the better sound,

Because it was tonal and lacked complexity;

Though, the writing system was profound

The difficulty was really about the same,

And both languages with equal fame

With few non-native speakers able to master.

Oh, I saved the first for another semester!

But knowing how difficult languages are

I doubted that I could have learned any faster.

I shall be interpreting this with a sigh

Sometime long, long from now:

Two languages emerged as options, and I —

I learned the one more difficult to try,

And that has made all the difference.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How to prepare a speech in a foreign language

I think I'll prepare and practice a speech for next time, even before they tell us.

How to prepare for a speech in a foreign language:

First, read up on what you want to say. Read in the target language to find out how the information is usually presented. Read so much that it becomes very familiar to you.

Second, go over what you want to say. Jot down a few notes. Any ideas you want to present or definitions you need to give should be noted. Every separate idea should have a note.

Third, organize your notes in the best order in which to present them.

Fourth, write out everything you would like to say. This is where you find out what you still need to learn how to say. Learn what you need to and then write it down.

Fifth, take your written speech to a native speaker and have it checked. Is anything incorrect or unclear? Get it fixed.

Sixth, practice your speech. At this point you read it over and over until you have it memorized.

Seventh, stop using your written speech. Go back to your notes and practice presenting your speech only from looking at your notes. Can you remember all the points you want to make? Keep practicing this way until you find yourself not even looking at your notes anymore.

Eighth, record yourself giving the speech. Then listen to your recording while looking at your written speech. How do the two differ? Are you forgetting anything? Did you add more to your speech?

Ninth, go to a public park and stand on a soapbox or something and give your speech outloud to everybody. The more people the better. Were you nervous?

If I follow those nine steps, I should be well prepared for my next speech.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Japanese Time Capsule

This morning, I attended a company meeting. We have a meeting like this twice a year. There are about 30 people in the company and almost everybody showed up. Some of us were told to prepare a speech. Although, we were not given much of an advanced notice. I recorded my speech with my pda.

So, if you are interested in hearing me stumble through a speech in Japanese, then by all means go ahead and listen. I made mistakes. I omitted some words I meant to say. I didn't finish some of my sentences. And I forgot to say a couple of things I wanted to say. The pressure of trying to speak in front of people makes me lose my train of thought.

I'd appreciate any and all feedback on this one. If you have any ideas that might help me, please leave a comment. If you noticed any weakpoints of mine, I'd like to hear about it. Thanks in advance for listening.

The mp3 file is 6.7MB and the audio lasts 5:47. I begin talking on the recording after 15 seconds.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

French too

The first foreign language I ever studied was French in the 8th grade. Prior to that, I had decided I wasn't going to waste time taking a foreign language class because there was obviously no use for it where I lived. But then I found out that taking a foreign language was a requirement for getting into college so I took French. That was probably the first (and only) class I liked in school. I found it exciting to start understanding something that I could not previously understand any of at all. The next year, I was in a different school system. So I started over with French by taking the beginning course because my eighth grade course was probably half a year's worth of a high school's first year course. I remember the teacher contemplating on the first day, that I might be able to take the second year course, but I was too scared to jump into that! I thought I might miss something if I did that.

So I took French in ninth grade and tenth grade. I also took French in eleventh grade, but after the first quarter I went to a different school. I took third-year French there. While I got high grades in French at my previous school, I nearly bombed it in the new school. So I didn't take French for the second half of eleventh grade. In twelfth grade, I went back to my former high school and took French again.

In college, I took French 102 which is second semester French. The class format was pretty easy with lots of quizzes that made up a good part of your class grade. That was a spring semester class and I got an A minus. A year later, I was at a new college and took French 201. I thought it would be easy for me. It wasn't too bad except for the tests which I seemed to always forget were coming up and also the fact that class participation was part of the grade. There were no quizzes to boost my grade. Again, for the second time in my life, I almost bombed another French class. I got a D minus.

That was my last French class, eleven years ago. Two years ago I met a French business man at work here in Japan. I told him that I had once studied French. Business was conducted in English, but on the way out he said something to me in French. I could catch a few of the words but I was totally lost. I could only reply to him in English.

Just this week, I have started watching the series French in Action. It is a program that teaches French and is taught completely in French. It is available on the internet. There is also a textbook and other accompanying material but I am only using the videos. Each episode is 30 minutes long. The first lesson is just an introduction to the course and it is in English but the following 51 lessons are in French. I am going to try to focus on one lesson per week. I will try to watch it every day. There is a page about it on Wikipedia and there is a blog entry with dozens of comments going on even up to this week, however the latter quarter of the comments turn into bickering and fighting. However, in the comments section, the actor who played the main male character of the French in Action course has posted comments as well, so it's very interesting. Oh, he is not one of the people arguing.

Since French in Action is entirely in French, I think it would scare off anyone who has never studied French before. But it can still be used by complete beginners as long as you realize you have to watch each episode many times. The program repeats words that it wants you to learn. You will learn a lot because it is visual and auditory. When you get bored watching one episode, go onto the next one. When you get to episodes which seem impossible, then go back to earlier episodes. There are 25 hours of audio and video rolled into one. And it's all French. Show me any other language course which gives you over 20 hours of exposure to the target language without interruption.

If I watch each episode at least 7 times in the week, after a year I'll have spent over 175 hours immersed in the target language. Then the next time I meet a French business man, I'll be ready to converse with him in his own language.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Money motivates

Do you like to get your money's worth? I know I do. I don't like to waste money. Who does? Which is more valuable to you, a free language course or one you have to pay for? If you are given a free language course, you won't really appreciate it. You won't put any time or effort into it. If you have to pay for your language course, you'll put a lot more time and effort into it. You'll want to get your money's worth out of it.

But then what happens down the road? You forget about all that money you spent. You start to lose your motivation. You're still studying the same course you bought. Now it's getting boring. So, what next?

Remember when you first got that course? Do you remember how excited you were? That excited feeling represented a total interest in learning the language. When you are excited, you are more attentive and more aware. You learn faster and retain information better. That attention is also concentration. This is the real factor in language learning. If we develop our powers of concentration, we can learn languages better and faster.

I'm going to work on my ability to concentrate while I'm listening to language lessons. I'm talking about deep, intense concentration. The key is to break everything down to a single unit. The basic unit is the sentence. Listen to it, concentrate on the meaning and the new words. Loop it for a minute or two. That minute of concentration is more productive than reviewing flashcards over and over. You are not busy trying to figure out the meaning of the next sentence or the next idea. Instead you just concentrate on one unit. And it sinks in.

Well, that is the basis for my studies from now on. It is by no means an easy task. My mind starts to wander after about 10 or 20 seconds. But I think concentration is something that can be developed.

And you thought this post was going to be an info-mercial, didn't you. Hahaha...


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mandarin time capsule

Here is my first time capsule! It is me reading some FSI Chinese sentences. I've been listening to Mandarin for 4 months, but only listening, no speaking. So this is my first attempt to say these sentences out loud. There are 64 sentences and it takes approximately 5 minutes. I listened to them a lot at the end of May, and I may have listened to the FSI lessons and drills a couple of more times after that. I have not listened to any of them for over a month now. In this time capsule, I am just reading the sentences in pinyin with no tone marks at all. I do not think about the tones at all when I say the sentences, except there are a couple of sentences I repeated once or twice because I knew they sounded way off when they first came out of my mouth.

I do not think I am "good" at Chinese. I just wanted to make this time capsule. This is how I sound now speaking Mandarin without any speaking practice, just listening practice. Though, my listening of these sentences is not really fresh. I am just reading the sentences and this is how they come out of my mouth. My study now consists of only listening, not speaking, so my voice is not used to saying any of these words.

If you have any honest comments that you would like to leave, you may certainly do so. I am not looking for any praise. I do not think I deserve any. I am not looking for any encouragement either. I do not need any. But if you want to leave a comment, then go ahead. If you think my Mandarin is really bad, which is probably the case, you may say so if you feel the need to. I will be fine if nobody leaves any comments. That's ok too. So I only ask that if you do leave a comment, please be honest.


Time Capsule

A language time capsule is an idea which I have recently come up with. I want to record myself speaking my target languages. I want to know what I sounded like at the beginning of my language study. And then how did I sound a year later? I want to hear how much I have improved and how much better I can speak. Do I speak more easily? Am I still making the same grammar mistakes or did I take care of those? Has my pronunciation gotten better? Do I sound more natural?

With a language time capsule, I'll be able to go back in time and listen to myself. This will allow me to judge my progress. I will also be able to compare my rate of progression between two different languages, such as Chinese and French. Chinese is supposed to be harder for us English speakers than a European language. So will I be able to learn French much quicker than Chinese? With time capsules, I would be able to actually compare how I sound in two different languages after having studied each one for the same amount of time, even though I may be presently at different levels in each one.

What do you think about my Time Capsule idea? Have you recorded yourself?


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Avoiding fatigue

I've noticed that when I put in a lot of effort and study hard, and keep at it day after day, that I usually end up stopping for a long period of time. I mean, I will keep up my routine for a week or two, and then I won't do any studying for 3 or 4 months. I forced myself to work hard and then suddenly when I can't study one day or two days, I can't get myself back into my routine. The body and the mind just want to keep resting. The work I was doing built up a kind of reluctance to study. It was good while I did it, but my desire and motivation went out the window.

Because of those experiences, I realize that it is best not to make language learning a chore. You are more likely to stick to it as long as it retains its excitement. Therefor, you should definitely have language learning activities that are easy. The more the better, but I have only found listening to fit the requirement of being easy. If you feel like listening to a structured lesson, then by all means do so. Otherwise you can just listen to news, conversations, or monologues. Even if you are too tired from your day of work and don't feel like concentrating, just listen to an internet radio program (not music). Once in a while you will catch some words that you have studied, but the whole time the language will be entering your system through your ears.

I recommend you have some activities like this for those times when you don't feel like doing anything. You know you'll feel guilty if you do nothing for awhile. But if you at least spend some time listening, you can keep your mind fresh with the sounds of the language.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Choosing a learning path

When you embark on a language learning journey, you are taking on a long and enduring effort. So therefor, it is best to choose your learning materials wisely. I would like to give you some insight on what to consider when you plan your route.

First and foremost, for the beginner there are a myriad of language courses you can buy. Beware of the claims made by these courses. They do not take you to a fluent level in the language. They do not even take you to an intermediate level. When you choose one though, you should try to find a comprehensive course that covers all of the grammar constructs in the language. Verb conjugations, lots of vocabulary, and phrases should all be covered. Some people make the mistake of thinking that because they know all the grammar rules that they are at an advanced level. The grammar rules, however, are just part of the basic level. There is a lot of grammar to learn which does not involve any rules and you have to learn these things one by one as you come across them. That is the intermediate level.

It is important to go through all of the language learning material in one series. If the series you are thinking about using does not go as far as another series, you should use the other series. The danger of having to switch series lies in the fact that the new series you start using may have covered some things in the earlier volumes that you never had in your other materials, and so you will miss that entirely. If you have to restart with a different series, you will be bored studying material that you already know, not to mention wasting time. That is why you want to do all of your book-learning from start to finish and not having missed anything or needing to find something that picks up where the other left off.

After you have learned everything you possibly can from textbooks or language courses, you will be at about the intermediate stage. From here, you can begin using materials written for native speakers, such as novels, newspapers, and other published materials. You will need lots of input from these sources to get up to the advanced level in the language.

How do I know the importance of completing an entire course in the language you are trying to learn? Because I wasn't able to. I took Japanese classes for 2 years and used a very good textbook. There were at least 3 volumes to this textbook and we were able to get about half-way through the second volume. So I did not learn all of the grammar that could have been taught while I was taking those courses. But obviously, I did not need to start from the beginning. Yet I couldn't demonstrate how much I knew. So when I came to Japan and went to a Japanese classroom taught once a week by volunteers, they didn't know what to teach me. I was taught like a very beginner about things I already knew. But I couldn't join a higher group because I wasn't that far along. So obviously it just became a waste of time. You can learn more on your own just by finding and tackling the areas you need to work on. Finding them is not easy, though. That's why it's important to work through a language course from the beginning until as far as possible. Then you won't be left with any gaps.

Don't be afraid to use more than one series. If you have the time, learning the same thing again is not all bad. If it does not bore you, you can strengthen what you already know and learn other things better. It might be best to use this approach from the very beginning while the subjects are still rather new to you.

I've just briefly introduced my ideas here, so if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.


Friday, September 01, 2006

A keen sense of awareness

I think I have a keen sense of awareness when I am speaking. I listen to how words come out of my mouth. Even if you do not feel you can hear your own accent when speaking, you should be able to hear it if you record yourself and play it back. Listen to a recording of a native speaker of your target language. Listen to just one sentence. Concentrate on it. Get an audio editor like Audacity and save just that one sentence to a file. Convert it to an MP3 and then import it into iTunes. Then play that file in a loop. Listen to it 25 times at least. Then begin practicing the sentence. Say the sentence at the same time as the recording. Match your speed, intonation and rhythm with the recording. When you think you've got it, note how many times it took for you to get it. Was it another 25 times? If so, continue repeating 25 more times along with the recording. However many times it took for you to "get it" is the number of times you should continue. Then you will have doubled the number of times you have said this sentence. Think you're perfect now? Then record yourself and listen to your recording. Now what do you think? Do you sound like the native speaker you were listening to? If not, how do you differ? Where do you need to concentrate more on? If you follow this kind of training for a while, I believe you will develop a keen sense of awareness. You will be able to hear the way you speak even while you are speaking. From this point, you'll be able to continually improve your accent in the language. It won't take long before people mistake you for a native speaker!

EDIT: I forgot to mention, after you try out this suggestion, come back here and give me a report. I would love to hear how it went for you.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The listening-only period

Today, I would like to tell you about the "listening-only" period of language learning. It is an idea that I first heard about on the forum over at how to learn any language dot com and I think it was Max who first posted the idea.

The idea is, when you begin learning a language, only listen and do not try speaking. You need time to get used to the sounds, rhythm and intonation of the language. If you start speaking before you are familiar with the language then you will make a habit of your poor pronunciation. And everybody knows, bad habits are hard to kick. Once you have a feel for the language and you begin speaking, you should sound pretty good and if you don't, you'll hear it yourself! You'll be able to correct yourself right away. Most likely, you will be able to sound pretty natural since the language has become a part of you.

How long should you wait before you start practicing your voice? I would say, the longer, the better. At least a minimum of 2 months. 3 or 4 months would be ideal in most situations. Right now, I am in a listening-only period for the Chinese language. I have been listening for about 4 months now. I will continue for another 3 months making a total of 7 months. During this period I listen to lessons and to radio podcasts. I try to increase my knowledge and understanding of words in the language. I call it my preparation stage because I am preparing to speak Chinese.

Do you have any comments about the listening-only period?


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Learning word pairs

Most times when learning a foreign language, we get two words at the same time even though the meanings are opposites. Such as left and right, or front and back, or yesterday and tomorrow. However, this is very ineffective. Why? First off, you know you have just learned the two words. And you can easily tell from context that the word is one of the two. But, you must stop and think about which one is which.

Usually when this is forced upon me, I try to make some little connection as to which one is which. Take for example, the characters for left and right, 左 and 右. Even by just looking at these two characters you can see a resemblence. So every time, stop and think. What did I come up with to remember which one was which? Well, I imagine being on a road. For 左, if you are driving on the street that starts from the center and bottom of the character, going North, you need to make a left turn to get to the highway. For 右, going North again, but on the street which is the left side of the box, you can make a right turn and then keep making right turns forever.

In order to avoid the word pair problems that I just mentioned, it would be best to learn just one of the words first. Use that word for two weeks or so. Then introduce the other word. Now what you have is a situation where one of the words is very familiar and the other one is not. You now can distinguish the familiar word easily because you've had it for a period of time, while the other word is still 'new,' so therefor it must be the other meaning. With this approach, you don't need to slow down and think about which is which and what is what. You just say, "Ah! New word, new meaning. Old word, old meaning" and that's that.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Please don't discourage me

It just so happens that Steve has posted a follow-up to his previous letter in Japanese. This time he recorded his thoughts in Japanese. I listened to it and I understood 95~99% of it. He talks about the advantages that adults have over children in language learning. And it's true, of course. Adults have much more life experience and knowledge than children have. That's important for learning anything. The more you can relate to what you are studying, the easier you can learn it.

Today, I just wanted to post my thoughts about how sometimes people try to discourage us when we are learning a language.

One of the worst is when someone tells you that what you are studying or what you just said is not used at all in the real world. They will say something like, "That is textbook language. We don't talk like that." Or they might say, "We never say that." And note, I'm saying that even native speakers will do this! For instance, I remember one teaching all her students that we never use the word "hobbies." I was teaching at that time. That wouldn't have bothered me so much but it seemed to be her theme for the day. Every period I heard her saying, "We don't say, 'What are your hobbies?'"

Well, what is the harm in students using perfectly good language? It doesn't matter if there is another way to say it. If it has been learned already then there is no need to use any negative language. Discouragement is not necessary and could have a negative effect.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Where do you live?

I live in Japan. I have lived here for over 3 years. I will continue to live here. This is where my life is. I live in a new apartment house. I work as a database programmer. When I came to Japan, I had no job and very low language skills.

Now I have a job and intermediate language skills. Today I read Steve's post which was a reply to a Japanese fellow. I had to look up 7 words.

It wasn't until last year that I finally got a job in a Japanese environment. So I have been working in a Japanese-only work environment for 17 months now. In the first few months I had to look up lots of words in email. Now, I usually look up one or two words per email. That does not mean that I know a lot of words now. It means that the words used are always the same ones.

I am better at Japanese than it feels like. I still feel quite inadequate and I am still reluctant to do anything in the language. The problem with learning Japanese is that the levels in the language vary quite widely. It's not easy to stay in the same level and work on it until it is mastered, and then go on to the next level. Basically, it's all real life and sometimes I am swimming and sometimes I am drowning. No wonder I am afraid to go in the water.

But I know I am progressing and I look forward to the time when I no longer find the Japanese language so challenging. At any point, I can compare my language skills to what they were a year ago and I know that I am much better than I was then. That is all that matters.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Introduction and First Post

My name is Keith. I learned of this vox site by way of Steve Kaufmann author of The Way of the Linguist and founder of The Linguist dot com. I learned about Steve from Max of Sweden when Max spoke to him in Chinese. I learned about Max when I visited the forums at How to learn any language dot com. I learned about that website from the owner's original and personal website which I found when I did a search on the web to find the secrets of language learning. And so that is how I came to be here on vox today. Actually, I wanted to post a comment on Steve's vox blog site but I couldn't because I wasn't a member of vox. So I signed up to receive an invitation when room becomes available. It sounds like the marketing department is studying psychology to me. After waiting a week, I finally got my invitation and so now I'm posting my first post.

Who or what am I? I think "who" is a better question. Albeit, not a very important question in relation to the rest of the world. So perhaps you will learn more about me in my 2nd or 3rd post, or a serious of posts.

Why am I posting? I think "why" is a better question. Oh wait. That is the question I asked. I guess I just feel like writing out some of my ideas on language learning and sharing some experiences that I have.

What kind of person am I? Well, I'm not really confrontational even though I am arguementative. But I would certainly rather not bother arguing when I have nothing to gain. I am polite and respectful but I lack good socializing skills. It doesn't seem right to pretend to be friendly or thankful or whatever when that is not how you feel at all. Words should come from your heart and not, absolutely not, be chosen based on what is the right thing to say in the situation. If you say you had a good time when you didn't then you are not being honest. I'm a good actor but a terrible lier.

Well, I hope to spend more time on studying languages and not so much time on blogging so for now I'll have to say, tootle loo.

Here is the recording of this post.