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.