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.