Friday, December 21, 2007

Speak Easy

I have a question for you. Would it be easy or difficult for you to speak to another person in your target language if that person has the same native language as you? As for me, I find it impossible to speak to someone in Japanese if they can speak English well. They don't even have to be a native English speaker.

I think what that means is, that I'm not at the level where I can comfortably speak Japanese. Why would I want to struggle here and stumble there when I could just say it in English? Speaking my target language, when I don't need to be, feels very artificial. It's very limiting.

I'll only be able to speak Japanese to another English speaker when I can do it without thinking and when the words just come to mind and come out of my mouth without me really realizing that I could be speaking English. Unless of course we have some kind of agreement to speak Japanese. That would make it a bit easier.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Language Learning without translation

Today, I would like to write a post about a conundrum I have. That is, is it possible to learn a language without looking up any words at all? Is it better to just stay in the target language? Would you learn better that way?

In today's world, everybody wants the answer NOW. "What does it mean? Tell me now!" Let's look at what happens when you get the answer right away. You look up the L2 word and get an L1 word. The same L2 word shows up again and you've trained yourself to recall the corresponding L1 word. In your book you've got L2, in your mind you've got L1. In this manner you will not be able to think in L2 because you will concentrate more on that which is familiar to you, which is L1. This has two more side effects. When you see the L2 word, you cannot remember the L1 word. Why? Because previously you only thought about the L1 word. So now you still don't know what the L2 word means and you have to look it up again. The symptom: constantly looking up the same words over and over again. The other side effect is that you can't recall the L2 word. You remember looking up an L2 word that had the meaning of the L1 word, but you can't remember what that L2 word was. Therefor, you haven't learned it yet.

Based on my preceding examples, I question whether or not we are learning any faster by using translations. In the beginning, the translation method feels faster. We feel like we are understanding and we feel like we are learning. Sure enough, it slowly starts to sink in and we can recall some of what we thought we had learned. Through some hard work and solid effort, we force ourselves to be able to use some of the language. Unfortunately however, going through the intermediate and advanced stages is just as much work and just as painfully slow as the beginner stages.

Next, I look at a hypothetical example of a learner who doesn't translate. In the beginning, he doesn't feel like he is learning anything at all (and this is where most people would give up and quit.) He hears the language and reads the language but he has absolutely no idea of what is going on. The advantage, however, is that he can concentrate on the sound of the language. With audio and transcribed text, he can match the sound to the writing system. He learns to read the language before he even understands a word of it. He attains a perfect ear for the language. Next he moves on to video, something like dramas or maybe just preschool shows. He hears every word that is spoken. He catches on quickly to what is going on and suddenly words have meanings and things are making sense. The language is alive and exciting! His attention is drawn to every little detail and he doesn't miss a beat because his brain is already tuned to the sounds of the language. His learning explodes and he is moving through the stages of progression faster than a rocket to the moon. And since he has never used L1, at this point he has nothing to slow him down. When he begins speaking, at first he is a little tongue tied because he knows what he wants to say but his mouth cannot keep up with his brain. But shortly thereafter, he is speaking without a hindrance. He does not slow down or stop to think about how to say something. He uses what he knows and it comes to him quickly and naturally.

So what do you think? Would it work? Does it work? I will have to give it a try. It will be fun.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Refreshing Languages

There seems to be, at least sometimes, a lot of talk on the internet about refreshing or reactivating a language. What that means is, for example, once upon a time you learned a language to fluency. Oh, you were good at it. Real good. You were fluent! In fact, when you were in country, if the police ever stopped you on the street for questioning, you could make up a story on the fly and the policemen would be so impressed by your fluency that they would enjoy your fabricated story with a little laughter and then let you go. But now, you have half-forgotten the language. You are rusty. You've just been invited by the local Elk's Club to give a presentation in your foreign language to the members who are recent immigrants to the country and afterwards you will be expected to answer questions in that language as part of an open forum. So what do you do? How should you bring back your language skills? How long does it take? Here is my opinion on the subject:

If you were ever really as good as you say, why did you abandon the language? One should not work so hard to accomplish great skill and then just abandon it. Languages are not just picked up and then tossed aside like... (I'll let you finish that sentence.) Spend just once a week to read an article in the language. That will be enough to keep the language at the tip of your tongue.

I've noticed how easy it is to forget the names of teachers I've had. It takes me about 3 months and after that I won't be able to recall the teacher's name. Other people remember the names of all their teachers they've ever had. Whichever category you fall into, a little bit of activity in your foreign language once a week shouldn't be any trouble at all. It will keep the language fresh in your mind and is a natural method of review. No need to go abandoning a language.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I'm contradicting myself!

I just noticed that I'm contradicting myself on this website. At the top it says, "another day, another language." But my profile says, "Conquering the world one language at a time."

So which is it?

"Another day, another language" sounds like I can learn a language in one day. Or it sounds like I change languages frequently. Or maybe it sounds like I start studying a new language everyday and that I concurrently study multiple languages. What does it sound like to you?

"Conquering the world one language at a time" sounds like I only study one language and I master it before going onto the next one. As if one day I will be able to speak all the languages in the world and the earth shall be mine. Will I become the ruler of this planet? Well, if I want to be, I had better be able to speak to all the people around the globe.


Monday, October 22, 2007

How many words?

How many words do you know in your native language? Not really sure, are you? A coworker of mine had a dictionary of the 20,000 most common words in English. I thought this sounded like way too many words and I thought that surely there would be some obscure words in there. Being at work, I couldn't take much time to look, but I did a quick flip-through figuring I could quickly spot some words that he wouldn't need to learn. However, all the words I laid my eyes on were really common. I did not find any strange words so easily.

There is a test to determine how many words you know in Japanese. It is intended for native speakers, so you will not find any English on the page. I took the test sometime last year. It said I knew 8,000 words. There are actually 3 tests, but I only did the first one. The interesting thing is on the results page, it says how many words a Japanese student knows, and it is divided by schools. It looks like this:

Elementary School (grades 1~6): 5,000 to 20,000 words
Middle School (grades 7~9): 20,000 to 40,000 words
High School (grades 10~12): 40,000 to 45,000 words
University/College level: 45,000 to 50,000 words

Now compare this to how many words you need to know for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
Level 4: 800 words
Level 3: 1,500 words
Level 2: 6,000 words
Level 1: 10,000 words

In Steve's Oct. 9th post, he mentions that kids learn 1,000 words per year. I can't imagine learning a thousand words a year. That is about 90 a month. If this is true, I think it must be that kids are exposed to 1,000 new words a year, and they learn some right away but others take more exposure to really learn them. I'll tell you, there are a lot of words in English that I'm familiar with and have seen many times but I still don't really know what they mean. I know the kind of situation they are used in, but not knowing the precise meaning does not hinder my understanding the rest of the story. But I just cannot figure out the actual meaning.

Lately, I've noticed a few new words (to me) in news articles on Yahoo! News. And I think to myself, "What is this word? I have never seen it before!" Why on earth do journalists have to use uncommon words? They should be making their reports clear and easy to understand. I've also noticed editing errors! Why do they have errors? That is unacceptable and unprofessional. Can they not read over their work carefully before releasing it? Are they working alone? There should be another person who can proof-read it.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Japanese Time Capsule 02

Here is my second recording speaking Japanese. But can we really call this speaking?!! I'm not very good at speaking in Japanese. I used to think my Japanese pronunciation was really good, but now I know it's not. At least I never fooled myself into thinking that I could speak Japanese.

Maybe I will do this more often since I need the practice. The problem is that I don't know what to talk about and even if I do want to say something I don't know the best way to say it. But I think I might be getting better!

I'm not afraid of making mistakes! I am afraid about ingraining them. But mostly, I just don't know how to speak. Oh well, someday, someday I'll get there.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Milestone: first 1000 plays

I have finally hit the 1000 mark on the first dialogue of Chinese with Ease. Today marks the half-way point of this "listening ony" step. Here is a screen capture to show the play count in iTunes.

Total hours to date: 386.5 hours

Monday, October 08, 2007

Japanese makes Mandarin Chinese look easy

People tend to think that Japanese and Chinese are at about the same difficulty when it comes to English speakers learning them. I disagree. English and Chinese word order are more similar to each other than Japanese word order. Chinese grammar is much easier than either English or Japanese. Chinese words, such as verbs, never change shape. Japanese verbs are like transformers! Japanese characteristics are more round about, but Chinese are more straight forward like English. Since Japanese borrowed the Chinese characters, they also borrowed Chinese words. So there are many duplicate words in Japanese and the writing system is a mess. The only thing that is easier in Japanese is pronunciation. For everything else, you will need tons upon tons of exposure to get used to Japanese.

I am not yet an expert in Chinese, so I like to cite this article which clearly shows a difference. Keep in mind that the author learned both languages at DLI. That is the Defense Language Institute. He studied Mandarin before Japanese, so he was an experienced language learner when he studied Japanese. He was put through an intensive course and he didn't find that to be particularly difficult. Then he spent over 7 years in Japan and still didn't feel comfortable with the language. And he was not the only one who felt that way.

Japanese is hard to get used to. People keep changing their speech so you don't get enough exposure to it. The writing system can write things in different ways, so again you are robbed of exposure. You always stop to think about the verb form even though the meaning doesn't change. Well, you don't always stop to think, and then you end up not saying it the way that you know is better.

Anway, I'm going to paste that article in here because I'm afraid that one day it will no longer be available through the link. Please read the whole article. It is quite interesting. So, here it is:

Chinese Mandarin is Easy

Comparing Its Difficulty with Japanese, German, and Spanish

by Mike Wright

"The biggest impediment to learning Mandarin seems to be fear--sometimes caused by the teachers. I've studied quite a few languages, and none of them were as easy for me as Mandarin."

What I came to believe is that Mandarin is pretty easy for native English speakers, while Japanese is one of the most difficult. Mandarin syntax is easy to teach using pattern drills. Furthermore, Mandarin sentence order is similar to English--but simpler, having no inflections (thus no irregularities) and with gender, number, tense, etc. being optional, whereas they are obligatory for most of the world's languages. The only difficult part of spoken Mandarin is the tone system. Even that isn't a big problem for practical use. I know that my tones have always been weak, but when I was using the language regularly, I had no problem communicating. What turned out to be more important was to adapt to the basic pronunciation and vocabulary used by the average Hokkien speaker when speaking Mandarin. Of course, I never got to go to China. I do remember how wonderful it was to run across a native of Beijing or Tianjin in Taiwan--it was so clear.

The biggest impediment to learning Mandarin seems to be fear--sometimes caused by the teachers. I've studied quite a few languages, and none of them were as easy for me as Mandarin.

Mandarin was my first serious language, after some Spanish and German in high school and college, and it was the easiest by far.

Comparison with Japanese

I didn't find Japanese too difficult while studying it at Defense Language Institute, but when I arrived in Japan, I found that I had a lot of trouble communicating. This was very different from my experience with Mandarin. When I arrived in Taiwan, I could pretty much discuss any topic. On the other hand, I spent a total of 7.5 years in Japan, much of it associating with people who spoke little or no English, yet I never felt confident in the language. It's not so much the syntax--the conjugation of verbs and adjectives is quite regular--but the way the language is used. In many respects, it seems to be as much a problem of culture as of language per se.

Japanese syntax, as usually taught in schools, covers about 25 percent of the syntax. Even Defense Language Institute probably wasn't able to cover more than about 60 percent. It's not that it's so difficult--there's just so much of it. Compared with conversational Mandarin, there seem to be many more common ways of expressing any particular idea. The Japanese seem to be more fond of synonyms, too, leading to the need for more vocabulary items. Japanese culture adds to the burden. The Japanese don't like to just come right out and make blunt statements. They talk around the subject. By comparison, Chinese speakers and English speakers are very much alike. They tend to be direct and precise. Although this is a matter of culture, it has a big impact on the ease or difficulty of learning the language of a particular culture.

So, I'd say that what made Japanese difficult for me (and for all of my fellow Defense Language Institute graduates) is that there seems to be so much of it, and that it's spoken by people who are living in the Japanese culture.

Many of my friends had similar experiences, including one who graduated from the Japanese course with a 98 average--the highest on record. He was quite angry when he arrived in Japan and found that he couldn't get around in the language as he had been able to do with Mandarin in Taiwan.

Comparison with German and Spanish

In comparison, German and Spanish are difficult because of inflection and gender. Although many people consider these languages easy because of the large number of English cognates, my personal experience is that vocabulary is nothing. You will pick up as much as you need--as you need it. The really tricky part is the syntax. If you don't have that down, no amount of vocabulary will save you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quiz me

To study for the Kanji test, I have made myself a couple of quizzes. I have about 200 words that could show up on the 8th level (8級) test and I'd better be able to read and write them. I put these words into a text file.

My php program will read in the file, shuffle the list, and then output a javascript array. Then I have a little javascript code to display the quiz info.

The first quiz I made is for reading practice. It shows the word and I need to type in the kana into the box. Then I press return and it checks it. If I get it right, I get a point and move on to the next word. If I get it wrong, I can try again but I won't get any more points. I can click the question mark to see the answer and I can click the triangle to go to the next word.

The second quiz is for writing practice. It shows the kana reading and the English meaning. Then I just need to write the Kanji on a piece o' paper. When I've done that, I then click the question mark to display the Kanji. I score myself by clicking on one of the three icons that display. I use the green one for right answers, the red one for wrong answers, and the pink one to skip.

Let me tell ya, it's not easy going through 200 words. Just 100 is tiring enough. But I can quit and when I do it again later, I'll get a new order. So I don't really need to do them all at once.

Here is what the quiz looks like:

Monday, September 24, 2007

How to prepare for the Kanji test

I would like to get prepared for the Kanji test (日本漢字能力検定). I was thinking the registration deadline was Oct. 1st, but just now I checked again and it is actually September 26th. Well, I won't register for it this time then. After the second time I failed the 8th level, I decided not to register for it again until I was prepared. And so I thought I would have this whole week to see if I can get prepared but now I realize the application cut-off is much sooner.

So now I need to get prepared by December 26th so that I can take the test next year on February 3rd.

The hardest thing about the test is not the Kanji, but the vocabulary. If you don't know the vocabulary, you cannot write the Kanji. So you need to be able to write any word that they throw at you.

I need to feel like my study method is effective or else I just can't study. So I'm trying to think of an effective method before I start studying. I have a book I bought from a used book store, that has the 3 tests given about 5 years ago. But I would like to use that after I have studied so I can check my preparedness.

But what can I do to prepare?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Language Plateau

This post is dedicated to Art. He asked me to write about handling language plateaus.

Plateau is a word that comes to us via the French language. If we check the dictionary, we can find this definition:
a period or state of little or no growth or decline

In language learning, I believe, and you should also believe, that a plateau is just a mirage. It feels like you're not making progress and that you are not advancing. However, to what is it being compared? When we first set out to learn a new language, we learn a lot. Before you start, you may know nothing. Then the next day you know something! After a month you can review your notes and see all the words you have learned.

But somewhere on the journey, you feel like you have not been making progress lately. Now, if you think about walking up a hill, a hill's steepness is graded. A 10% grade is not as steep as a 45% grade. In the beginning, you face a very steep grade, but you are enthusiastic and you charge up the hill. You look back after a short time and you can see just how high you have climbed. So you continue forward. Things get a little easier for you because now you can talk a bit and understand things. Here, the hill is not so steep. You look back and think, "Hmm, I am not much higher than before."

Again, you continue on. Your hill is getting flatter. Maybe you don't notice the steepness at all. You think, "I am not making any progress. I've hit a plateau!" This is when it is important to realize that you are not on a plateau. You are still walking up and maybe it's only a 5% grade. As long as you keep walking, you will be making progress and your level will increase. This is what we call, "slowly, but surely." Your progress is slower, but if you keep going, you are sure to get there. You are sure to improve.

If you want to make progress faster, what do you have to do? You have to run instead of walk. You have to pick up the pace. I have to admit, I don't do a lot of running. You don't see a lot of posts from me in languages other than English. If you do more than you can handle, you can get burned out. You'll be tired of it and won't want to do any more, even when you've had sufficient rest.

Think about your favorite food. If you eat your favorite food 3 times a day, everyday, I guarantee you it won't be long before it doesn't taste so good. If you do that long enough, you will reach a point where you never want to eat it again.

So, you just have to realize that you are not on a language plateau. You are still making progress and every year you can be sure that you are higher than the year before. This is why I want to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test every year. I can't see my improvements, but a test can show me that I have improved. I can't expect a big jump, but a steady increase is reassuring.


Monday, September 03, 2007


In English, we have countable and uncountable nouns. With countable nouns, we can put a number directly in front of the word to count. Such as, 1 printer, 2 printers, 1 box, 2 boxes, 1 rainbow, 2 rainbows. With uncountable nouns, we need to use a counter. Like 1 glass of beer, 2 glasses of beer, 1 carton of milk, 2 cartons of milk.

There are some countable words in English which have no plural form. Or you could say the plural form is the same as the singular form. For example, deer and sheep. 1 deer, 2 deer, 1 sheep, 2 sheep.

Now of course, you do hear native English speakers who accept and speak using incorrect grammar. So, just because some natives will tell you that it is OK or acceptable, you do not have to start using incorrect grammar. One widely accepted incorrect usage of grammar is when people put an 's' on 'beer.' They'll say, "I drank two beers last night." What they should say is, "I drank two bottles of beer," or two cans of beer, or two mugs of beer. Beer is a liquid. Liquids have neither shape nor size. You must put them into something in order to determine just how much you're talking about. Or you can be more exact and use a unit of measurement for liquids, such as ounces.

Another one is 'content.' Now, there are two words, 'content' and 'contents.' Contrary to some dictionaries, I argue that 'contents' is not the plural form of 'content.' I use the simple reasoning that we do not put a number in front of the word to count. It is uncountable. We do not say, "I have six contents in my purse." It is not a counter. Instead you would say, "I have six items" or "six things in my purse." You can say, "Let me see the contents of your purse," or you can say, "Let me see the content of your purse." There is no difference that I am aware of, however, the one with 's' sounds better to me in that sentence.

There are lots of things which cannot be explained by grammar rules. We call them "exceptions to the rules" in English. One thing which I cannot explain, is when a word uses the singular form or the plural form after the word 'no.' Such as,
  • "I have no clue what you are talking about."
  • "We have no clues in this investigation."
  • "I had no idea what you were doing."
  • "I had no ideas for the project."
  • "I have no idea."
  • "I haven't a clue."
  • "I have no good ideas."
  • "I have no clues."
  • "I have no excuse for my actions."
  • "I make no excuses for my actions."
  • "There is no excuse for this kind of behavior."
  • "There are no excuses for this kind of behavior."


Saturday, September 01, 2007

One more month

OK, how many of you guessed that I would be used for one more month at my new job? Well, the first one-month contract has been renewed for one more month. This leads me to believe that I will be replaced once a more qualified person is hired. I believe I am just a filler. I am filling in until someone better comes along.

At any rate, I am still learning a lot of Japanese. I believe that one can learn a lot of new words during the first two months of a new job. After that, you know most of the words used in that environment and you occasionally learn a few new words.

For the immersed language learner, it is ideal to switch jobs every 2 or 3 months. You get new coworkers who don't know anything about you and that gives you the opportunity to talk about yourself again. New coworkers use different words too. It never fails to happen. There is also new documentation to read. Plus, you get training again on the privacy laws and security. You can possibly reinforce those obscure words that you're never going to learn.

But if you are learning something new on the new job, you will come across some new words that will be used again and again. You really do learn new words.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


LingQ has been launched! (If it's new to you, I should inform you that it is pronounced "link")

I signed up for the new LingQ system a few or more hours ago. I forget exactly what time it was.

So what is it?

If you haven't heard, it's the new The Linguist. If you don't know about that either, then where have you been?
LingQ is a website to learn languages. It supports Japanese already! Other Asian languages will be coming.

OK, there is not a lot of Japanese content yet, but hey, it will be coming. And you can contribute too! And besides that, you can use it for free. So you've got nothing to lose! And everything to gain!

I'm enjoying building up my vocabulary storage. At some point, I'll get to where I've entered most of the words that I know in Japanese, into LingQ and then I'll have an accurate measurement of how many words I know in Japanese. But along the way, I'll learn a bunch of new words as well. As I read a text item, (audio is available with it) I am putting all the words into my vocabulary. I mark the known words as Known. I'm also tagging the words with parts of speech so that I'll know how many nouns, adjectives, verbs and so forth, that I know. LingQ has a super efficient dictionary look-up.

I've found it pretty easy to use. At first I tried it with my Mozilla 1.7 browser, which is not supported by LingQ, and then I decided to get Firefox 2.0, which is supported by LingQ, and things have gone smoothly ever since. Firefox seems much faster too.

I like the design of LingQ. It is simple and pleasant. And there is a cool characature of Steve on the site too.

Well, I can't do justice trying to explain what LingQ is and how it works and all. So, you might as well see it directly by signing up. Or just find another description of it at Steve's blog.

LingQ <- click to go

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New challenges

As I mentioned in my June post, work-related things for me have changed. Soon it will be August and I will be on trial for one month. I will go to work at a data support center. I will not be programming. Instead, I will be a computer operator. One part of the job will be communication with people in the US. Another part will be reading instructions in Japanese and following them to perform the maintenance or fix of the computer system. I think that part won't be hard at all, however the interviewer is the one who is not fully confident in my ability to read Japanese. I am not yet advanced but certainly won't have much trouble with computer related text. A novel type of book is very difficult, but before I got the two Japanese books in my book section, I had started reading a book on Unix in Japanese. The percentage that I can understand is vastly different. I find the Unix book much easier to read.

Actually, I hate the Japanese language. There are too many forms of the same verbs or that have the same meaning and the change only marks the politeness of the sentence. The meaning doesn't change at all. This complexity means that the learner is exposed to the same language less often which makes it take longer to acquire.

I am just slow by nature. I've always moved slowly, do things slowly, and I don't talk quickly. Japanese is a kind of language that people can speak quickly because it usually has a vowel after every consonant. Out of about 50 syllables in Japanese, only 1 is not followed by a vowel sound. I do not think quickly, I do not read quickly. I do not like to be pressured to do anything quickly.

In English, a lot of actions are expressed by using a few simple words put together. In Japanese, there is usually one word that can be used. So it seems that English learners can learn fewer words and learn how to use them correctly. Japanese learners need to learn a lot of words.

Japanese writing is probably the most difficult aspect to master. An English learner can learn a few thousand words in English and by then, I believe, should be used to the rules of how words are pronounced, there by giving them the ability to read anything in English. Japanese, however, can be very difficult to read, even for an intermediate learner. The pronunciation of each new written word needs to be verified to be sure that it is really pronounced that way. There is no "sounding out the word" in Japanese like can be done in English. Some common words are usually written in hiragana, but can show up in Kanji. Just because you can't read the word, doesn't mean you don't know that word.

Another bit of common knowledge just to illustrate my last point: There are many Japanese people who can read English but can't speak or converse in it. On the flipside, there are many English speakers who can speak Japanese but can't read it.

In the English language, I speak the same way at work or at home. I talk the same way to my friends or to my colleagues. In Japanese it is totally different. People speak in a completely different manner at home. At work it is a little bit mixed. On the telephone at work, it is completely and absurdly polite. To me, this is a society of unequality. The language was developed in a manner to show who is at a higher social status. It is manipulation. I'm sure in all of history in all societies, there have been powerful people willing to take advantage of others for the benefit of personal gain. It's not uncommon.

Back to my original theme for this post. I am entering a work environment where I am already considered not good enough. However, it's a new operation and so about 10 people are needed. It's difficult to find that many people who are at such a high level in two languages, all at once. So I have been reluctantly put on the team. The third part of the job is talking to clients in Japanese on the phone. It sounds like I will be allowed to dodge that part when possible.

It may only be a month or by the end of the month I might be deemed worthy enough to continue. Or, quite likely, they still won't have enough team members anyway.

The operation is supposed to have 3 rotating shifts in order to provide support 24x7. That is not exacltly the most ideal work schedule, if you know what I mean. Since there are not enough members, it will likely be 2 shifts. I though, fail to see how that would make any difference in being able to support a 24x7 operation.

It's more than likely that if there are any problems, I will be blamed for them. It's very easy to point out that my Japanese is not good enough and nobody can argue with that. Nobody will ever say the other person was unclear. Though I have seen times where Japanese could not understand what some other Japanese person was explaining. When the subject and the context is already understood, it is easy to confer the meaning of what is being said in Japanese. So if a person were to expain to anther person the situation and then what was said, that other person would understand it easily. And then they could both blame me for not understanding what was said. They would never think that the context was unclear in the first place. No. There is a foreigner involved, so it is automatically his fault. Enough thinking.

So I invite all of you to cast your bet. How do you think it will turn out? Will I be cut at the end of the month or will I continue? Will I even make it to the end of August? Will I be extended for one extra month, until they find more people, and then cut? What's going to happen?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bone Conduction Headphone Vonia EZ-4200P

I received 2 comments on my last post! Thanks :-)

Have you heard about the new headphones that you listen to through your skull? It's called Bone Conduction Headphone.

I am really interested in trying this out. If it does not make your ears tired, it would probably be good for language learning. I would put one lesson on repeat and listen to it for 10 hours a day. It would be passive listening but it should sink in pretty well.

I like to try before I buy, so I might have to go to Akihabara this weekend to try it out. Although, I'm afraid I might like it and then I'd have to part with my money!

Update (7/21/07): I went to Akihabara to see these headphones.
To sum up my feelings in two words: False-Advertising!
The headphones do produce sound. You can hear it with the headphones not touching your bone. Just hold them away from your head and you can hear it.
Also, I couldn't hear very well at all with it not on my ears. Probably the same as regular headphones. Certainly not very good at all. I was very disappointed. It just seems like a gimmick and completely false claims. I didn't buy the headphones, of course.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not fair

I slept about 6 hours last night. So naturally I was a bit tired today. This evening I listened to my Chinese lessons for an hour. I became pretty sleepy. So I go to bed on time, but then I'm not sleepy anymore. I lied in bed for 45 minutes and decided to get back up.

I just hate that. No energy, tired, go to bed and no sleep. No longer sleepy. Just waste time lying in bed. So tonight I won't get enough sleep again. If only I didn't have to work. Then I could stay up until I'm good and tired and then sleep a good sleep.

Maybe I should count sleeps. 1 sleep. 2 sleep. 3 sleep. Oh, wait. That's supposed to be sheep. 1 sheep. 2 sheep. Red sheep. Black sheep. Blue sheep. Bo Peep. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

Does anybody read my blog anyway?


I didn't think so.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mobile is cool

It's kind of cool to look at my vox blog from my PDA. But it's even cooler
to write in Japanese from my PDA!


Saturday, June 23, 2007

June Post

Well, there is just one week left in June so I guess I'd better write a post. Let's see... what should I write about?

I know. I'll tell you about my work. I have been with my current employer for 27 months. Most of the company's employees are contracted out to other companies to work. Everybody does IT work. Most are programming and some are doing support work.

I have been working for the same client for the whole time, but that will end this month.

I wish I could type more, but my hands, particularily the right one, are in pain. Must stop now.

Sunday, May 27, 2007



じゃあ、続きましょう。会社について、秘密の資料がありますね。あ、ちょっと待って。許可をもらっていない人がまだ読んでいます。その人は記事の最初の文 章をもう一度読みなさい。これは関係者だけが読めます。秘密ってわかりますか。秘密は内緒ということなんです。だから、秘密を読まないでね。ほかのところ を読んで構いませんけれども、この記事の中の秘密を見たら、目を外してくださいますようにお願い致します。じゃ、それが明確に言ったから、今後は問題ない でしょう。問題じゃなければ、続きましょう。


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why I am studying Chinese

Here are some reasons why I finally restarted learning Chinese even though I am not yet fluent in Japanese.

I started last year, after passing the 3 year mark in Japan. I felt that I still had a ways to go in Japanese, and since I will be here forever, I have plenty of time to get there. And when I do get there, it won't be any astonishing feat. If I could have learned Japanese in less than 3 years, then that would have been great. But since it's going to take me 10 years, I might as well get started on something else.

I didn't know any good materials or methods for learning Japanese. All I can find are some textbooks. So I could see the end was nowhere in sight. I felt I might as well move on because Chinese is going to take a lot of time too.

I found a good learning Chinese podcast. And then there was FSI Chinese online. So I thought I could get started with some free materials.

Actually, I had planned to do Korean before Chinese. But since all the Chinese materials appeared, I just launched into Chinese.

I bought Assimil Chinese with Ease and started on it in December (2006) after the JLPT. I have now worked with my Assimil course for 157 hours. I cut the spaces and pauses out of the audio and I just listen to the dialogue. My objective is to listen to every dialogue 1,000 times. I estimate about 500 more hours to do that. I am currently through lesson 64.

I guess I'm in no rush. It's not like I'm going to China or anything. So I'm going to overlearn the Assimil lessons and use that as my foundation to build upon. By the time the Chinese language really does become globally important, I'll be one of the people who can understand it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Japanese Books

Today I have received two books. I received them because I ordered them from Amazon Japan.

It will take me some time to read these two books because, as you can see, they are both in Japanese. Also because most of my time is taken up already.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

How I study Kanji

I've posted how I'm studying Kanji over at the Kanji forum.
If you're a Kanji Master or a Kanji Beginner, why don't you join us over at the forum?
I look forward to hearing how you learn Kanji.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Food and language learning

On page 47, Steve writes:
A Westerner visiting or living in Japan who will only eat "meat and potatoes" and does not enjoy sushi will usually not be successful in learning Japanese.

I had never heard of Steve when this book was published in November 2005. In fact, Steve does not know me. I have only tried a tuna sushi. I liked the soy sauce, but otherwise there was no flavor which I could enjoy or dislike. I don't care for fish. It does not matter whether it is cooked or not. I just don't find it delicious and I have no interest in fish at all. Does that make me a poor language learner?

There are lots of foods I don't eat. Should I just give up on language learning then? I don't drink or smoke. How will I ever be able to socialize with Japanese people?!!

Well, he did say, 'usually.' I guess I will have to be unusual. Anyway, I think I have been unusual my whole life.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

J.TEST results

Today, I got the results of my EF Level J.TEST. I took this to compare with the score I got on this level 3 years earlier. This is the low level of the two J.TEST categories. I see that every question is worth exactly 5 points. I missed 4 questions on the listening portion and 3 questions on the reading portion. The highest achievable score on the EF Level is 500 points. I won't be taking this level again. In 2004, the E Level certificate required a score of 350 points. Now you need 400 points to pass the E Level. The F Level still requires 300 points.

EF Level Scores

  • 02/2007 465 points
  • 02/2004 400 points

Thousand Character Classic

Here is it is! My idea, implemented 1500 years ago. It is called the Thousand Character Classic now. It is a Chinese text written with 4 characters per phrase. Each character is used once and makes a total of 1,000 characters. This is just what I want, except I want one for Japanese, using modern characters and a total of about 2,000.

With something like this, you could practice 8 or 9 lines a day and go through all of it each month, keeping your writing abilities fresh. That wouldn't take up very much time. 9 x 4 = 36. So for 2,000 characters, just 72 a day keeps the Kanji doctor away. That would surely be less than half an hour. I would need a recording of it and then each day I would listen to it and write out the portion for the day.

Here is the Chinese Wikipedia page called 千字文 containing the 1,000 character text. And here is the Japanese page on the subject of 千字文. And here I found the text with a Japanese translation of each line in hiragana 千字文全文.

Introducing: jr_fiction

Allow me to introduce you to jr_fiction. Mr. jr_fiction, a fellow learner of Japanese, is tackling Kanji with his DSlite in an attempt to become a Kanji Master and pass the Kanji Kentei Level 3. This is, by no means, a small objective. It requires mastery of 1600 characters, knowing the ON and KUN readings correctly, synonyms, antonyms, 4-character words, the correct kana to use at the end of verbs, knowing the radicals, and being able to use a Japanese Kanji dictionary.
This is about the level of a 15 year-old Japanese.

Vocabulary is the hardest thing to master. It's difficult to remember what はんさよう means when you never have read it before, never see it anywhere else, and never hear it. And you might need to recognize ひょうてんか as well. If just reading the kana doesn't ring any bells, imagine trying to guess which kanji are needed. The previous two example are for 3rd graders in elementary school, not Level 3 on the Kanji test. There are just so many words to learn to get up to the native level of an 8 year-old.

Remember, this is no multiple-choice test! You don't have a 50 percent chance of getting anything right. There is no luck involved. You have either passed or failed the test before it even starts. So you had better be sure you are ready before even registering for the test.

Let's keep a watch on Mr. jr_fiction and see how he does. It will be interesting.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Learning Chinese characters

In his book on page 27, Steve used a system of repetition to work on the writing of Chinese characters. In the beginning, 10 characters would wear him out, but later he was studying 30 new characters a day.

I wonder if he only did this with individual characters, or if he did it also with 2-character words. One of the difficulties of the writing system is not just being able to recall how to write a particular character, but more so, knowing exactly which characters go with each word. It's the same problem as with spelling because everyone can learn the 26 letters of the English alphabet, but which ones to use and in what order is the difficult part. With Chinese-character words, it's kind of like that. Usually, I just draw a blank!

So, I think it's important to practice writing out words instead of just individual characters. Having already started at the beginning of this year (actually, the end of last year), I am spending approximately 50 minutes a day on writing. Sure, there have been some missed days, but I am developing the habit of writing for 50 minutes a day, every day, for probably the next 2 to 5 years. The number of minutes spent is not so important. It could be 30 minutes a day. Eventually, I will work out a system where I can cover 2,000 different characters every month. I've still got a ways to go on the system, but eventually I will be able to keep all my characters fresh with just a little work each day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A new forum for Kanji learners

Just a short note:

There is a new forum for learners of Kanji or Hanzi or Hanja.
It's new, so the membership is low right now. But don't be afraid to join!

If you can help some learners, please join.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

JLPT results

Here are the results of my JLPT tests. The test is held once a year and always on the first Sunday in December. So the last test was in December 2006. The results always come out in February. This time was my first time to pass. I have only taken the Level 2 tests. I have not taken Level 3 or 4 which are lower than Level 2. The test has 3 big sections, so the total score is the sum of the scores of 3 sections. The Vocabulary and the Listening sections have a maximum of 100 points each. The Reading/Grammar section has a maximum of 200 points. A total of 240 points is needed to pass Level 2.

79 Vocabulary
85 Listening
143 Reading/Grammar
307 Total

79 Vocabulary
67 Listening
81 Reading/Grammar
227 Total

43 Vocabulary
41 Listening
71 Reading/Grammar
155 Total

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My Chinese studies

I am currently studying Mandarin via Assimil Chinese with Ease. First of all, I have removed the pauses and created audio files with just one dialog each. This allows me to repeatedly go over the material 5 to 10 times instead of just once, in the same time span as the original files. I want to chorus with the audio of each lesson hundreds of times. I had intended to do each lesson for one hour each day and then move on to the next lesson the next day.

Well, it turns out that so much speaking is really strenuous on my vocal chords. I have discovered that I can only do this kind of intense activity for 5 minutes at a time. Then I need a couple of hours of rest. So, instead of an hour, I have only been doing about 10 minutes a night. I still want to spend an hour on each lesson, so it is taking 5 or 6 days per lesson now. At this rate, it will take me another 16 months to finish the course. I really do not want to go so slowly.

I think I could get 4~5 sessions done in a day. One before going to work. One during lunch. One as soon as I get home after work. Another one a couple of hours later. And a final one before I go to bed. That would make 20 to 25 minutes a day. But maybe that would still be too much for my throat and mouth. Muscles usually need a day to fully recover. It's like typing. Even though I use a computer all the time, everyday, I don't constantly type every minute. I type a bit and then think for awhile. I don't have any problem from this normal amount of use. But if I do data entry, then I will notice I can only do so much typing.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I have an idea for a dictionary.

All of the foreign language dictionaries that I have seen, such as Japanese/English and English/Japanese dictionaries, are just translations from one language to the other. Anyone who has studied a language which is not related to their native language will know that these dictionaries are often not helpful because they will give you several different words and you have no idea which is the right meaning for the sentence you are studying.

There are 2 kinds of uselessness.
1. Several words/translations which have relatively the same meaning.
2. Several words which some (or all) have different meanings in your native language.

The first one is a problem because if you want to remember (study) the meaning of the foreign word, you might try to remember more than one word. Really, in that situation, you would only need one word. But which one should you choose?

The second one is a problem because you will need to remember the different possible meanings for the word, instead of just associating it to one word. If you only choose one meaning, you won't be able to understand the sentence when the word is used closer to one of the other possible meanings.

Of course, I have heard many people recommend that you should start using a monolingual dictionary as soon as possible. This would mean, for me, looking up a Japanese word in a Japanese dictionary and reading the entry entirely in Japanese as any Japanese would do.

But my idea is for those who are not ready to do that. After all, you need to be at intermediate or higher in your studies.

My idea would apply to the Japanese/English type of dictionary and not the English/Japanese type. When looking up a foreign word in the dictionary, instead of being given several translations, it should have an actual definition. With a definition, you could get a feel for what the word means in the foreign language, but you would read it in your own language so you can completely understand it. I think this would be more effective than just a translation because your brain would process the information more and then you would think about what words that this meaning could apply to in your own language.

Now, to illustrate my point.

Looking up the word 全部 in the goo online dictionary, you find this for the entry:
all; the whole [entire]; total; every; 〔副〕all; wholly; entirely; altogether

This is an example of uselessness number 1. Do I really need four translations to understand the meaning of this one Japanese word? (Actually, this dictionary is solely intended for Japanese speakers.)

So, if I look up this same word in a dictionary intended for English speakers what will I find?
Here's what I find in the Random House dictionary (Seigo Nakao).

zenbu 全部 1. pron. all; everything.
2. adj. all

OK, so this dictionary has used only two words to define the meaning. But which does it really mean? Does it mean all or everything?

Now, looking at the definition in the Japanese only dictionary entry on goo, we get this kind of meaning:
(translated by me)
All of a matter or things. All. The whole body.
The opposite of one part.
Now I get the feeling that this word has to do with parts. Something which is made up of parts and refers to all the parts. So, if I am correct, would you want to use this word to refer to water? If there was a gallon of water and the question was asked, "How much of it should I drink?", I know I wouldn't say in English, "Drink all the parts of it!" Likewise, I think I should avoid using this Japanese word in the same situation. I should use a more appropriate word.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's all about attitude

The right attitude will make you or break you. I know it's difficult sometimes to control your attitude, but it does help to have a good attitude.

That's why I say we should want to be corrected when speaking a foreign language. If you don't want to be corrected, that means you don't want to learn, and that is just not the right attitude. You shouldn't choose when you want to learn and when you want to be corrected. It should be constant. Let's face it. Learning a language takes a lot of time. The less time you are learning, the longer it's going to take. If you learn all the time, you will master the language sooner. It's like this: 1 hour a day is less than 24 hours a day. The person who learns for only 1 hour a day will not progress like the person who learns 24 hours a day.

So, the next time someone unexpectedly corrects you, have the right attitude. Every mistake you make is wrong. People don't want to hear or listen to your mistakes. They want to help you fix those mistakes, but most people won't help. The person who is helping you is your friend. They are giving you a chance to erase that mistake forever! Seize the opportunity and make your friend proud by knocking out that mistake. If you take this kind of attitude to being corrected, you will be better off than those who get irritated.

I will gladly correct anybody who wants to be corrected. I will not be glad for some petty selfish reason. I will be glad because I can help a friend. I will be glad to be useful to someone else. I will not receive anything in return.