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.