Sunday, December 21, 2008

雍正王朝 2

This morning, on the train home from work, I watched the last episode of the Chinese drama. That completes the second viewing of my first Chinese drama. It looks like it took me 3 weeks for this second round. That's about 3 times as long as the first viewing. I guess some days I was a little busy and some days I didn't feel like watching as much.

I just now discovered their is a discrepancy. The packaging says it is 2200 minutes, but 45 minutes X 44 episodes is only 1980 minutes. Only if the episodes were 50 minutes each would it make 2200 minutes. I wonder if there are some bonus episodes hidden on the disc somewhere.

Well then it only takes 33 hours to view the whole series and so that averages to about 11 hours a week for this second viewing. That's too few hours so I'm disappointed in myself. I want to spend 20 or more hours a week. With my new language acquisition device, I'll make that happen.

When I started on the second viewing, I noticed right away that I was hearing some sentences that I hadn't heard the first time. There was no huge improvement, but just a few here and there. I noticed that there is more that I could have understood the first time around if my brain had been in tune with the language because I had already studied those words but I'm just not processing them automatically. That's when I realized that my brain is being slowly tuned to the language.

When you think about it, this is an important step that any language learner must go through. Most learners do lots of studying and learning before they ever tune in to the language. They may know a vast amount of words and grammar, but the first time they encounter the language in a natural setting, they complain that their hearing is not good. The words and sentences fly right past them and they can't catch much in the beginning.

I feel that I'm coming from the opposite direction. I'm tuning my brain to the language before I know lots of words. Over a period of time, I should come to being able to hear the language quite easily. Once is it easy to hear, then I expect it will be easier to figure out what is being said. As I posted not too long ago, the brain learns on its own. And you would have to agree that there are many words where the meaning is quite obvious from the context, such as crying or laughing. People do say, "what are you laughing at?" or "what are you crying about?" People also say, "what are you doing?" And then people answer, "I'm doing such and such..." And then there are commands of course. "Eat!" "Don't eat!" "Stop whining!"

It amazes me how much language is repeated. The same sentences, words, and phrases are used over and over. Your brain will figure it out. It's not usually obvious the first time you hear it. And no amount of thinking will give you the logical answer. But mysteriously, the meaning suddenly becomes clear. Maybe that's after the fifth exposure or the 50th exposure. And then the next time you will be able to confirm it. And then you keep watching for it and you keep thinking to yourself, "I'm right! I'm right." A while after that, it just becomes one of those words you've known for so long that it feels natural to know what it means.

This highly repetitive language is what I want to learn first. I want to know the obvious and basic language first. Course books don't spend enough time on it. They want to advance you as quickly as possible and so the books start teaching you difficult words that are hard to grasp. I have never seen a course that has a smooth transition. They all go from "hello" to "I'm an electrical engineer specializing in mechanical solar distributions of the sub microscopic level." And so you have to sit there and pull out from memory the meaning of every word in that sentence even though you still are not even used to saying hello.

I feel I'd rather take a natural method with a natural progression and just naturally pick up what I can while naturally building the natural language in my brain. It's just natural. It's also effortless. There's nothing forced with this method. You take as much time as you need.

I'm really enjoying getting the sound of the language into my brain. Hearing the language so much really gives me this natural feeling for it. I guess I've always liked the sound of Chinese. I know that by hearing the words over and over, I am creating a model soundtrack in my brain that I will use subconsciously when I begin to speak. I can use it consciously now for that little amount of the language which I know, but I want to avoid creating a habit of having to think and needing to play my internal sound bites before speaking. When I read the words of other Chinese language learners who have been learning Chinese for quite a number of years and they say that they still make tone mistakes or say in some way that they need to be more careful when speaking, I just feel so bad that everyone falls into the same trap of studying the language. I know what it feels like to have to think about how you can express what you feel. That's why this massive exposure is necessary. In order to make the language natural to you, you need a wide variety of exposure and lots and lots of it. I know I'm not comfortable saying something unless I know and feel that I'm saying it the natural way. And it does take time for a new phrase to feel natural to me. I'm not going to be comfortable with something that was just taught to me which I had never heard before. Given some time and some more exposure I will become comfortable with it. That's why the natural method feels right to me.

What are the objections to the natural method that I always see? Some people seem to think you have to learn everything, that you can't figure things out for yourself. Hmm, thinking about it now, it seems there is this progression of beliefs. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who believe you have to have a teacher who will teach you the language. Next, there are those who will learn on there own from books and audio. And at the other end of the spectrum, people like me who think the language will just form in your brain given enough exposure.

Another objection is that it can be done but would take way too long to make it practical. This objection is a feeling of the objector. They have not come to a conclusion from a full trial but rather it comes from a worry that a lot of time would be wasted if they were not successful at natural language acquisition. While there are examples that natural language acquisition works quite well for adults, and I have written posts on what I have found, there are no examples where natural language acquisition has failed. If you have links to such failures, feel free to post them here.

I plan to progress from my current ultra-low understanding of Chinese to an ultra-high level of acquisition through my TV method. By ultra-high, I don't necessarily mean that I will be able to understand more than the average layman. I just hope and expect that I will have a fully functional vocabulary and native-like ability in the language. And if I should ask other Chinese people what such-and-such means, I will be able to learn that way until I get to the point where most of them don't even know what it means and they refer me to someone who is more educated or specialized. And then I will get a sense for what the average person is going to be able to tell me and I'll know when I need to ask an educated person. I expect to sound like a native speaker of the language at some point and to get different reactions or no reaction at all. I imagine some people will do a double-take and some will try to pinch themselves to see if they wake up from a dream. I don't know how long it will take me to get to that level, and maybe by the time I do get there, it will already be quite normal to see non-Chinese speaking Chinese so well.

Why do I have such high expectations? Frankly, I see no reason why I can't reach that level. As long as I don't stop doing what I'm doing, I expect to keep progressing. In 2011, I will switch from watching Chinese TV to watching Japanese TV and try to overcome my bad habit of thinking about the Japanese language. I will give Japanese TV 2 years and then I will go back to Chinese if I feel I need more Chinese exposure. I will keep blogging about what I'm doing and what obstacles I run into. I will refrain from trying to persuade anyone to use the TV method until I have found it to be successful. Until then, I just want to document my progress.

In the middle of writing this post, I had to go out and buy my next drama. The next one is the same genre as the first one. It says it is number 4 in this series of Chin Dynasty China. The first one was number 2 in the series. Next time, I will buy number 3. This new one has 10 discs with 3 episodes per disc. It says it is 1500 minutes all together. I think I will be able to finish watching it in 6 days. I will let you know when I've completed my first viewing of it.

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