Monday, September 29, 2008

All I need to do - part 2

I wrote a post one month ago entitled, All I need to do is.... In that post I gave away the secret to becoming fluent in a foreign language. But like I said, it is really hard to do.

What do I need to do to put this secret into action? I thought maybe I need to listen to lots of Japanese and that would make it easier for me to make the switch. But that does not work. Just listening to Japanese does not make me think in Japanese. I can listen to Japanese all day long and still think in English about what is being said. I guess I am using different parts of my brain at the same time.

Also, I realize that in that previous post, I didn't make clear what I meant about thinking in the language. I'm not talking about getting past the translating before being able to speak phase. People talk about that a lot. They probably think that anyone who has difficulty speaking is translating from one language to the other before speaking. But that's not my problem. When I speak Japanese I create only Japanese sentences in my head. Because Japanese word order is almost the reverse of English, it would be impossible for anyone to translate on the fly.

So when I say, think in the language all the time, I mean use the language as your thinking language always. That will give you 10+ hours a day of using the language. So if you can do it, you will become unbelievably good in the language. Obviously because of all that practice of thinking in the language! (Now I'm just repeating myself.)

OK, so we know what we need to do, but HOW? I don't have that figured out yet. I'm sure that listening or watching TV shows a lot would help to give you the phrases and way of saying things that you need to know in order to think natural sentences. But in and by itself, I don't think it will change my habit of thinking in English. Anyway, I don't like watching TV because it just feels like a colossal waste of time. I have better ways to waste my time!

Right now, the only way I can think of to make the change is by force. I would have to force myself to think in Japanese. I would have to keep close tabs on myself. I would have to become a "thought policeman."

It's not easy to do. Especially when I'm spending a lot of time studying Chinese. Japanese has no place in my Chinese studies. Since Japanese uses a subset of the Chinese characters, it would be dangerous to mix the two. When I'm reading Chinese, I don't want to accidentally read a word as a Japanese word, which does happen.

Well anyway, this is just a follow-up report to say that I haven't been able to make the transition yet. There is quite a bit of resistance to it. Doing something that feels artificial is no fun.

Maybe I need to act as if there will be some great penalty if I don't do it. Jimmymac wrote a great post called, Motivating yourself more effectively, where he said:

3)Write down all the negative things that would become of you or that you would miss out on should you fail with your goal. My personal motivator is the fear of failure in the eyes of the people I care about.

And a few people attacked him on this point as well as others. But I think it has merit. When it is difficult to make yourself do something and you know that you don't have to do it, then you are, of course, not going to do it. Like I said, there were others who took the point the wrong way. But sometimes you have to do what it takes. If you give yourself a good reason to do it, then you will be motivated to actually do it. You know you are not going to whip yourself or throw yourself in jail, so something like not letting yourself buy a new computer until you reach your goal is a perfectly legitimate motivator. I'm not sure what that something would be for me since I can't buy anything anyway! But maybe I'll think of something. Something concrete works best.

What are you willing to give up if you don't become fluent in your target language?


  1. interesting suggestion. i'd really like to think in chinese, but it always seems like i'm missing vital things that i want to say. i'm currently trying to expand my vocab and my intuitive sense of how chinese sentences are formed, through reading.

    for your thinking idea, what about having some place that you go to think, and you can think only in japanese when you're at that place? make it some place interesting, and then start by just making up a story in your head about what's going on. once you get going, and you've described what's around you, maybe you can then wander over to the things that are on your mind that day or week.

    i kinda think that it might be just like speaking...if i really want to speak with someone in chinese at a certain time, i make sure to get "warmed up" beforehand with some listening and some speaking or thinking to myself.

  2. If I had a think-only-in-Japanese place, that would have to be the workplace! Maybe I'm like the person on a diet who secretly eats a Snickers bar, but instead, I secretly think in English! For shame! I should be ashamed of myself; thinking in English in a Japanese work environment.

    Just a small update:
    I woke up in the middle of the night (3 nights ago), and as I waited and waited to fall back to sleep, I was able to force myself to think my thoughts in Japanese without all of the resistance that I normally have. Now I just need to continue that somehow. Perhaps I should make thinking in Japanese my thing to do while I wait to fall asleep each night.

  3. Wouldn't learning Chinese in Japanese be a good start?

    Use Japanese material to learn Chinese, I know the Kanji readings may mess you up a little but there won't be any room for English.

    I need to think about thinking some more. Learning Chinese in isolation (although I do meet Chinese speakers from time to time) in the UK presents a lot of resistance to thinking in Chinese.

  4. Chris, if the material was good, then yes. I don't know if you would be thinking in terms of freely available online material or not. There is a lot at the bookstore but there are several issues that keep me from being able to find something that I would buy.

    The first issue is the speed. Unless the material states that the conversations or sentences are recorded at a normal speaking speed, I wouldn't risk buying it. The materials seem to all be targeted at beginners and the recordings are just spoken so slowly.

    The second issue is the Japanese katakana used as a pronunciation guide in the written materials. I can't stand looking at that because it is way off, almost hilariously so. To me, any publisher or author who would provide Japanese phonetics for Chinese materials does not have credibility as they are doing a lot of harm with this.

    The third issue is that in the recordings they will not have only Chinese. They have introductions and titles spoken in Japanese. I only want to listen to the target language.

    The fourth issue is that the materials are only based on vocabulary. I haven't seen any that provide dialogues or monologues.


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