Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 Test Results

Today, I received my score report for the J. Test 実用日本語検定 which I took on November 15th.  I took the A-D level test. There are 7 different levels that can be attained on this test of 1,000 points. The lowest starts at 500 points and is D level. The highest level starts from 930 points and is the Special A level.  The last time I took this test level was 3 years ago. This time, my score is 154 points higher, however I did not receive a level certification because now there is a requirement that your score must not fall below 20% of the allotted score for any of the 8 sections of the test. I failed the written portion of the test as time was running out and I had difficulty thinking up any sentences that could be made with the given words. Next time, I think I'll jump to that section first and do it while my mind is fresh.

Here is my scoring history.

AD Level Scores
  • 11/2009  613 points
  • 11/2006  459 points
  • 04/2004  376 points
This time my annual improvement was about 51 points per year. Before, my reading score was about 10% higher than my listening score.  This time, however, my listening score was 12.8% higher than my reading score. I scored 57.6% on reading/writing. Actually that was all from the reading questions and nothing on the written part. And I scored 65% on the listening portion which makes up half of the test.

I did not expect to get over 600 points. I was expecting to at least get more than 500 points, so I'm pleased with the score but not the fact that I didn't get the certificate, however, that doesn't bother me. I just take the test to see what my real improvement is. I have never prepared before taking the J. Test. I was going to do more reading before this test, but I only read that one book which I finished 2 months before the test. After that, I didn't do any reading. It would have really helped though as I was struggling with all of the articles you have to read to answer the questions on the test. There were 7 articles. Only the first 2 were short ones. The others weren't real long but they were more and more difficult to comprehend.

Last week, I received my results for the Japan Kanji Proficiency Test 日本漢字能力検定. I took and passed level 8 with a score of 144 points which is 96%.  This level tests on the 200 characters that are learned by 3rd grade elementary students in Japan.  Combined with the previous grades' characters, that makes 440 characters. As I told Emma, I missed the readings for 歯車 as well as 画板, and the writing of 究 as well as 発. For that last one, I don't remember what I did to get that one wrong. I probably wrote the last two strokes starting from the bottom horizontal line instead of the line above it. But I really don't recall.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

what does it mean to learn a language without translations?

The conversation still continues over in the channel comments of algworld's YouTube channel. I think part of the reason that some people think languages are always learned through translation is because of a misunderstanding of what it means to learn languages without translations. I had a brief talk with my webcam to explain a point about this, and my computer graciously offered to record it for me. So without further ado, I give you that resulting video!

Please let me know if my speech makes sense, if I get my point across or not. Thank you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

does credible second language acquisition research exist?

There's a bit of a debate going on over at the YouTube algworld channel page. I was trying to post a reply, but I get a processing error when I try to post, so I'll just put my comment here. Normally I would just give up, but I thought some of you might have a response to what I want to say.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pepsi and the flag of South Korea

It may not be official, but Pepsi is a product (of | in) Korea. (Circle the correct answer.)

Just look what happens when you combine the Pepsi logo with...

the flag of the Republic of Korea...

You get this!

Thanks to Hyunwoo Sun for pointing out the resemblence. And may these hotlinked images always appear in this post for future generations.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Koreans learning Japanese

I had a video conversation with Hyunwoo Sun. I asked him about this podcast series on Language Cast that is for Koreans who are learning Japanese. It was very interesting.

brain research and language learning

Can we trust what the brain researchers say about language learning? Steve Kaufmann noted there was some contradiction in the research conclusions. So I decided to create a little video in response.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

natural language learning

I decided to talk about my preferred learning style for languages. I spent 5 hours on this 17 minute video. I had to edit out all the pauses. In the first part, I mostly talked about ALG and Dr. Brown's background teaching Thai.

This is not a prepared presentation, so there are some parts that I should have expanded on and there are some parts I should have clarified better.  Also, I did not conclude the video properly.  I decided to stop talking when I realized I had used almost 3 GB on my hard drive while recording.

My speech goes rather slowly, so I hope you don't fall asleep. It's probably good for those learning English. I created a playlist for the two parts so the second part could start right after the first and be viewed in the same player.

I hope you enjoy the talk.

Link to the playlist.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

book report video

Here's an idea. Read a book in your target language and then give a report on it. That's what I did! I uploaded my report to Youtube.  I read a Japanese book in about 1 week.

I'm planning to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level one. I have only 2 more weeks left to apply for the test. I think reading is the most important thing for me to be able to pass the test. So I want to improve my reading ability. Therefor, you may see more book reports from me!

I encourage you too, to read and create a book report like I did. You can link your video to mine as a response on Youtube. Responses will be accepted automatically.  I'm doing the book reports as a way to keep track of how many books I've read and which ones.  My books will be in Japanese but the reports will be in English.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the TV method!

Here is my first attempt to try to describe the TV method in a video. I want to get better at talking about second language acquisition and language learning like Steve Kaufmann. Some of my thoughts may not be well connected or well said, so please forgive me. This was my first time speaking about the TV method. I was not able to cover everything in 10 minutes. I actually spoke for about 13 minutes, but I cut off the end so I wouldn't need more than one video. I also cut out a few seconds where it took me time to recall the word "unproven" in the beginning of the video. The rest is uncut. I hope you enjoy my very first video about the TV method.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

intensive language courses

After I had been in Japan for 11 months, I was able to take a one-month intensive language class. I had the class 5 days a week for about 3 hours a day. I had to take a train for 50 minutes and then transfer to the subway for a 10 minute ride. There was one other student who also took the class, so I was able to get a group price for the course.

In that one-month class, I studied the entire second volume of Japanese for Busy People. I already knew about half the material so we were able to go through the lessons in the book at a quick pace. I wanted to study from that book because it had some basic grammar that I had never learned and couldn't use or even understand.

The instructor taught us in the Japanese language, and the book was the Kana edition, not the romanized version which uses Romaji to represent Japanese. So every day I was exposed to a Japanese-only environment while being taught Japanese. I had no problem understanding the explanations and lessons in Japanese. It was a very good experience.

There was also another class next to mine and we were divided only by a partition so I could hear the students in the other classes. There was one class going on where I could often hear a couple of the students speaking.  I guess they were the talkative type.  They were not merely answering the teacher but seemed to be able to communicate. However, their accent was not good.

I heard them often and I wondered what book they were using. They could have been studying from a different series. I thought they were pretty much beginners. Even the other guy in my class sounded fine when speaking, unlike those students in the other class, and we were just studying volume 2. So I thought to myself, "They couldn't possibly be using volume 3 of Japanese for Busy People. Maybe they are using volume 1 or even volume 2." As you've probably already guessed, I looked over the partition one day and saw that they were using Japanese for Busy People Volume 3.

For the last week, I was in my class without the other student because he took a trip to Hong Kong. And then, I was able to study for one more month and the language school found another student to join my class. This time we went through Volume 3 at a normal pace, and I completed only half of the book in a month.  However, the other student stopped coming to class sometime after the first week, so I was in a class all by myself.

I couldn't afford to opt for a third month of class, so my experience with intensive language courses is limited to just those 2 months. As you can imagine, at the beginning I was very eager and excited to be going to a Japanese language school. But by the second month, I was not excited at all. I just wanted to get through each day. I wanted to buy a cinamon roll to eat during breaktime. I was watching the clock and wondering how much time was left until class was over.

Language courses are good for lazy students who need someone to help them along, but language courses are not good because the students are lazy and just want to be spoon-fed the material. Language courses are also very expensive.  There are a lot of English language schools in Japan and they ask students to commit to a certain number of lessons when they start. The more lessons the students are willing to buy, the cheaper the per lesson price becomes. The schools know that they had better get the students' money while the students are still excited and motivated to learn English.

In today's world, a person can learn a foreign language from home. We can have everything delivered to us. When we get to the point where it's time to talk with the natives, we can contact them on Skype. I think we no longer need language courses. But we still need motivation.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

what the Heisig method is NOT

There is a series of books for mastering Chinese characters that takes an unusual approach and is often called the Heisig method because the author's name is Heisig. The books were first published as Remembering the Kanji and now there are Hanzi editions for Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

If you are not familiar, you can find some good posts to explain it such as this one. My post is not to explain the method but rather to clarify one of the misconceptions; one which the author himself has led everyone to believe.

The first book in the series is subtitled, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters, and this is where the misconception begins.  The book does not have the meanings of the characters.  What people think are the meanings are called keywords and they are in English.

Chinese characters do not have English meanings. They are not used in the English language. They are only used in Chinese and Japanese, and formerly Korean and Vietnamese too. A word's meaning in one language does not encompass the exact same meaning in another.  Even between the Japanese and Chinese languages, some or many of the same characters have different meanings! In English, the characters have no meanings. Just ask any English speaker at random.

You are not learning the basic meaning or base meaning of each character with the Heisig method. So what are you learning besides writing individual characters? This is the other misconception that I would like to clarify.

Instead of learning a meaning for each character, you are in fact, learning a character for an English keyword until you know 1500, 2042, or 3000 characters.  Let me put it another way: You are not answering the question, "What is the meaning of 通?" Instead, you are answering, "What is the character for 'traffic'?"

What this means is that when you finish volume 1, it is a fallacy to say, "I know the meaning of all the characters." What you can say is, "I know a character for 2042 English words and I can write them too." You still have yet to learn the meanings.

A person saying that he knows the meaning of a character but is only able to give you an English word for that character is analogous to saying you know the meaning of a Japanese word via a translation.

It's OK to be able to write a few thousand Chinese characters assigned to English keywords.  I'm not sure what good that is, however. For a beginner studying the language it is just a distraction. Heisig did it before he started studying Japanese.

A word of caution: If you are thinking about acquiring Chinese through the TV method, don't learn the characters first. Most Chinese programs are subtitled with hard-coded subs and those characters will be a big distraction.  You're better off not understanding a single character so that you can easily ignore those subtitles.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

inference is better than instruction

A Science Daily article from March 2007, Kids Learn Words Best By Working Out Meaning, states that the kids observed in the word-learning experiment could acquire new words better by watching, observing, and guessing on their own than by being told directly the names of new objects.

I wonder who will be the first commenter to tell me, "adults can't learn like children." The subjects of the research were toddlers, 36 to 42 months old. If adults can't do what children can, then it would be a pretty sad world. You'd have a hard time convincing me that adults cannot use the same innate strategies.

Take for instance, the situation where you meet a new person. You meet them, they tell you their name, and you can't recall their name less than a minute later. Why? Because there was no connection made. Even when we try to put that name into memory it often is impossible to recall. And when that person comes from another country that uses a language completely different from our own, it is even harder to remember their name.

If the situation were different and you were not told a certain person's name, but those around you kept talking about that person, your curiosity would grow. First you might not even know that the word is a person's name. Once you realize that it is, you start to wonder who it could be. Every time you hear the name, you try to connect it to what you heard before. You make some guesses. You know the name before you even know who the person is! When you finally figure out who it is, the connections are so strong and so familiar.

Now what adult couldn't do that? Hopefully you can see how the situation creates a powerful connection that wouldn't be easy to disconnect. Even though after awhile, I can't recall the names of people that I used to know, I still know exactly who the person is after someone mentions that person's name. I think the same goes for vocabulary acquisition in foreign languages. Of course, if the connections to the words are weak to begin with, then it's possible to not remember the meaning of words that you haven't heard in a long time. Even though you thought you knew those words, you didn't.

If you study a word beforehand, or look it up in the dictionary right away, what you get is a weak connection that requires you to go through your native language which makes the connection even weaker. Since you've got that weak connection already, there's no wondering, no curiosity, and no need to grow. So don't expect that you can make up for taking shortcuts. In fact, a dictionary shortcut is the long way around.

Say for instance, you are doing some reading in your target language and you come across a word you don't know and you can't figure it out from the limited context you are given. If you look the word up, what you are doing is going through a process. Every time you do that process, you build a habit. Even if you do it in your mind by recalling what you found in the dictionary when you looked the word up, you're repeating the process. Perhaps you will get good at that process and it will become automatic, just a split second for you to recall the meaning of the word. Even so, that is still far slower than native speed. That is the reason why most language students will never reach the ability of natives.

Most language learners will find this limitation to be acceptable. As long as they are speaking the language fluently, they will be happy. That is why they will not aim for higher standards. Others believe it is impossible or that trying to attain native fluency is unrealistic or would take too long. I find that these people have pretty strong opinions or a strong reluctance to take an honest look at what I write about. If they want to achieve lower standards or whatever, it is ok with me. I'm not writing to try to convince everyone to change their ways.

This blog is more of a documentation process. Some day, when I've finished learning Chinese, somebody will ask me how I did it. I am keeping a detailed record here for everyone to see. Then when I go on to learn another language, I will use only what I think works best and then I will hopefully be able to have a language learning experience that is not filled with trial and error.

blog template updated

I found a new template for my blog. I hope you like it. It took a while to edit and arrange. Unfortunately, I lost the list of other bloggers that are using the TV method. So if you are one of them, could you please leave a comment here with your URL again. Thanks. And be sure to use the html tags around your URL to turn it into a link.
The tags look like this <a href=””> </a>

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

how many hours does it take to understand Chinese 100%?

Mr. gbarv has stated in a comment in the last post here:
I'm sure Keith will someday master his languages, with all that zeal and enthusiasm. It is certainly impressive to go from 0 to 25% percent understanding in Mandarin, but to be fair nearly 100% understanding should be attainable in 550 hours.
I'm surprised that nobody has challenged that yet. But then again, not that many people have kept up with the comments I suppose.

I don't know who he or she is or what background he or she has or what methods he or she proposes. So is Mr. gbarv speaking from experience, expectations, or what?

Friday, August 14, 2009

anything not attached to an experience is worthless

The title of this post is a quote from From the Outside In, a book written by Dr. Brown. He says:
Understanding without noticing words—that’s the name of the game. Anything not attached to an experience is worthless. But can we really ignore words?
Several paragraphs later:
The answer I found is best explained with these two words: ‘wonder’ and ‘grow’. Words have to grow—gradually. Experience by experience. And the mechanism of growing in each experience is ‘wondering’. The experience is the cheese. But there’s a hole in it. A fledgling word floats by and you wonder: ‘Might that word fill that hole and take its meaning from it?’ Click! Let me expand the two words to five. Experience, hole, word, wonder, and grow. The word grows a new ring of meaning with each experience. Like an onion.
And a few more examples are given and then:
So the big question as we started the NA course was “What do we do about voca-bulary?” And three years later I got the answer. “Nothing!” Don’t teach words at all. Don’t even call attention to them. Just let the students wonder. Just let the words grow.
So, in order to learn words and grow our vocabulary, we need to be paying attention and wondering. That is to say, thousands of hours of TV or audio on in the background, is not the figure you want to go for. While it does add to the amount of time that you do pay attention, it's not the target. Having the TV on in your target language helps, but only the time actually spent paying attention can count towards the number of hours that you have worked toward your goal.

This is why I've stopped recording my Japanese TV hours. Out of the 300+ hours that I put in, I don't know how many of those were hours spent actually paying attention. It shouldn't matter to anybody here anyway because my Japanese methods have not been one single method that could prove anything. I just need to keep the TV on so that I will increase the number of hours actually watching it. When I get back to Chinese, I will keep those hours purely focused on the content so I can wonder and grow.

What happens when you don't learn naturally?

What happens to all those words that you don't wonder and grow? Where does all that vocabulary go when you use an output-based approach to learn a language? Let's look at a couple of examples.

The first example is Tim Ferriss. He says he's reactivating Chinese. I guess "language reactivation" is necessary when you don't really learn a language in 3 months.
I began reactivation of irretrievable German just over a week ago and can already hold a decent conversation. - September 20th, 2007
This volume covers our trip preparation, Pu-erh tea cakes, and basic Mandarin language reactivation. - July 12th, 2009
Learning new languages and reactivating old ones (in this case, Mandarin Chinese). - August 12th, 2009
At 24:50 in his video from Aug. 12, 2009, he pulls out the Living Language Chinese book. As you know, a book for beginners. He thinks only using Chinese to learn Chinese is ridiculous (27:20).

The second example comes from a well-intended fellow trying to learn Czech to fluency in 3 months. He also uses an output approach. (He probably read too much Tim Ferriss material.) His name is Benny Lewis.
After living in Spain for one year and successfully having reached a pretty good level of Spanish, I moved to Germany for 2 months (to practise the German that I had learned in school), then Italy for 3 months.
To make matters worse I was completely forgetting my Spanish, Italian and German (and in fact, I never did get my German back; that will be another 3-month mission some day!) After all the work I put into speaking these languages, it was depressing that I was back to square one and not even able to piece together basic sentences again!

Why not just translate?

If you translate and then one day stop using the language, you would end up like Tim or Benny. Here's what Dr. Brown said about why you should not use translations:
Because it would then get stacked in the pantry as a memorized unit—instead of glued in the web by wonder to every experience it had ever appeared in. Whenever you wanted to access it for the rest of your life, you would have to go to the pantry. That translation would have killed that word for life. That’s the difference between artificial language (on the shelf) and real (in the web).

What happens when you do learn naturally?

Now let's look at an example of taking a break from natural learning. Another excerpt from Dr. Brown's book:
One day during our second year of operation, a student returned from a three-month break in his native Australia where he hadn’t heard a word of Thai. He said that he had probably forgotten a lot and had better repeat NA 2. I told him that you never forget natural learning. He could take NA 3 and he would find that he was right where he left off. Two days later he came in to see me. “You were wrong, you know. I wasn’t right where I left off. I was way ahead.” I couldn’t explain it. Then a few months later another student reported the same experience. Then another. I was mystified.

Finally it happened to me. After I had studied natural Swatow for 8 months, my teacher took a 5-month trip to the States. When she came back I felt like I was on a whole new level.
This is why I am not worried about the break I am having to take from Chinese. I am not worried about language atrophy. I am interested in seeing if I will be understanding better than before. Although I do not experience the language directly, I feel I do experience it through what I see and hear. On TV you can see and hear a lot too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

thinking about rules

The answer to my last post, what else causes damage?, which was given in the first comment by Thomas, is thinking. Here are some more excerpts from Dr. Brown's book:
And, like the ‘speakers’, none of the ‘dictionary flippers’ or ‘note takers’ ever made it. We had been saying “Don’t speak! Don’t speak! Don’t speak!” We now changed this to “Don’t speak! Don’t look up words! Don’t take notes!” But over the years we found an occasional ‘non-speaker’, ‘non-dictionary-flipper’, and ‘non-note-taker’ who still didn’t make it. What else could be causing the damage?
Dr. Brown discovered the answer when he tried to learn Swatow Chinese by his new method.
What an experience! I had hoped not only to find out what it felt like but also to learn fluent Swatow. I got neither. But I got something even more valuable something I couldn’t have gotten in any other way. I found out what else could have been causing damage— what else besides the terrible four: speaking, questions, dictionaries, and notes. I avoided the terrible four faithfully, but I still failed. I had discovered the terrible fifth.
And then Dr. Brown goes on to answer Reineke's question.
You see I’m a lifetime linguist. I can’t listen to anyone speak in any language without noticing all kinds of things. After two days I had noticed that Swatow had five tones: rising, falling, high, low, and mid; and syllables ending in a sudden stop (like p, t, k, or a glottal stop) could carry only two: high and low. Then after two weeks I had noticed that all these tones turned upside down in weak position: rising changed to falling and falling to rising, high changed to low and low to high. And, of course, mid stayed mid. That was wild. How could a linguist not notice something as wild as that? And not only was I a linguist; I was the best. It would have taken other linguists months to work this out, and I got it in two weeks— without even wanting it. In fact, I was trying not to notice things like this—but I couldn’t help myself.
Sometimes, to be sure, a happening was so overpowering that it drowned out the language, and whenever this happened, I learned right. But more often I had time to notice and think, and I learned wrong. So I soon had a headful both of things that worked (overpowering happenings that drowned out the language) and things that didn’t (anything I was free to notice and think about). As an example of each, I’ll tell you how I learned the word for ‘white’ and the word for ‘hundred’.
Then he goes on to tell you about each way in two examples. In one example the learned word pops into his head whenever "one of those stories about beautiful women popped into" his head. In the other example, "The expression wasn’t tied to any special experience, so it couldn’t pop up— I had to think it up."

A few paragraphs later, he goes on to write:
Now look again at the terrible four. “Don’t speak. Don’t ask. Don’t look up words. Don’t take notes.” I wasn’t doing any of those things. A new prohibition was needed. What? It seemed obvious. Don’t think!

But wait. ‘Don’t think’ covers them all—not just the linguist’s meddling. Obviously you’ve got to think about the language for these three: asking questions, looking up words, and taking notes. But what about speaking? After the language has been built, you don’t have to think it up—it pops. But before the language has been built, it can’t pop—if you want it, you have to think it. “Don’t think about the language” covers all of the terrible four.

The terrible fifth then becomes “don’t analyze”, and the terrible five become one: “Don’t think about the language.” But there’s still something different about the fifth. While we could easily see and hear the students speak, ask questions, look up words, and take notes, we couldn’t see them analyze. I had to experience the terrible fifth myself in order to discover it. And not being able to detect it from the outside makes it all the more insidious. It explains why the occasional student who was avoiding speaking, questions, dictionaries, and notes could fail. We now have the answer to the question posed at the end of the preceding section: “What else could be causing the damage?” It’s “Don’t analyze!”
The above quotes are all in Chapter 7 of From the Outside In.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

what else causes damage?

More from Dr. J. Marvin Brown's book:
Now, 15 years and thousands of students later, we’ve had hundreds of students who went more than a thousand hours with speaking and dozens who went the same distance without. None of the ‘speakers’ ever got close to my mark while some ‘non-speakers’ eventually passed it. But not all. That is, some ‘non-speakers' passed me and some didn’t. It looked like there was something besides speaking that was causing damage.
Let's look at that paragraph again, shall we?
None of the ‘speakers’ ever got close to my mark while some ‘non-speakers’ eventually passed it.
If we zoom in a little closer we can see:
None of the ‘speakers’ ever got close to my mark...

Monday, August 03, 2009

does speaking cause damage?

Here is an excerpt from Dr. J. Marvin Brown's book, From the Outside In
Did speaking really cause damage, or was I being unrealistic? Hard evidence had to wait three years. In July of 1987 we started the first year-long class of more than a thousand hours, and there were four students eager enough to go the distance: Paul, David. Peter, and Charly. Paul and David never spoke; but, in spite of all our warnings, Peter and Charly did right from day one. They finished the course, they all settled down in Thailand, and they all dropped in to see us over the years. After a few years, Peter and Charly were struggling with broken Thai like all long-time foreigners. But Paul and David had passed me up. Me! The original guinea pig of practice and 40 year resident of Thailand!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

language learning occurs even without intervention

I found this extremely interesting article dated December 2000. Brain Research Implications for Second Language Learning

If you don't feel like reading it or just want to know what I found interesting about it, please read the following quotes from the article.

"Language learning is a natural phenomenon; it occurs even without intervention. "

"The studies discussed below reveal the incredible neural flexibility of the developing (and aging) brain."

"it is the input that determines the function of specific areas of the brain "

"the cortical map can change even in adulthood in response to enriched environmental or learning experiences."

"Learning by the brain is about making connections within the brain and between the brain and the outside world."

"Now, there is direct evidence that when learning occurs, neuro-chemical communication between neurons is facilitated, and less input is required to activate established connections over time."

"For example, exposure to unfamiliar speech sounds is initially registered by the brain as undifferentiated neural activity. Neural activity is diffuse, because the brain has not learned the acoustic patterns that distinguish one sound from another. As exposure continues, the listener (and the brain) learns to differentiate among different sounds and even among short sequences of sounds that correspond to words or parts of words. Neural connections that reflect this learning process are formed in the auditory (temporal) cortex of the left hemisphere for most individuals. With further exposure, both the simple and complex circuits (corresponding to simple sounds and sequences of sounds) are activated at virtually the same time and more easily."

"At the same time that the auditory circuit for the word doggie is activated, the visual circuit associated with the sight of a dog is also activated. Simultaneous activation of circuits in different areas of the brain is called parallel processing.

In early stages of learning, neural circuits are activated piecemeal, incompletely, and weakly. It is like getting a glimpse of a partially exposed and very blurry photo. With more experience, practice, and exposure, the picture becomes clearer and more detailed. As exposure is repeated, less input is needed to activate the entire network. With time, activation and recognition are relatively automatic, and the learner can direct her attention to other parts of the task. This also explains why learning takes time. Time is needed to establish new neural networks and connections between networks."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

we learn from successes not failures

It's in the news! Science news. An article has just come out at Science Daily that says brain cells react and learn from successes. "After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain — nor was there any improvement in behavior."

From the article, it seems the research was done on animals, such as monkeys. I wouldn't be surprised if the results were different for humans because humans have more emotional feelings.

Of course, our objective is to learn how to do something correctly, not incorrectly.

Another thing to note is that the animals only knew if they had responded correctly when they were rewarded. So in this study rewards were given. Maybe we learn better if we get rewarded, I'm not sure. But the tests were too simple. Scientists are still studying the very basics and using simple little tests. But at least they are looking at the brain and seeing what does happen. If you read the article, think about how the brain is learning naturally and on its own.

When we study a language, our reward is being able to understand. But what makes a reward rewarding? Is looking up a translation in the dictionary rewarding? When excitement is created, that is rewarding. Using a dictionary is hardly exciting. But understanding on your own is exciting. It's a great reward.

Here's a link to the article: Why We Learn More From Our Successes Than Our Failures

What do you think about the article? Do you have any praises or criticisms? Is the study relevant to language learning?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

more on David Long

Catherine Wentworth posts interviews with successful Thai language learners and her latest post is an interview with David Long, the director of ALG World at AUA.

If you are not aware, David Long is one of the first students to complete the AUA Thai program and reach native-level Thai. I still have yet to see a video of David speaking Thai, but since I don't know the language myself I guess I won't lose any sleep over it.

Although it would be cool if there were a video with David Long speaking Thai with Stu Jay Raj. The two of them would probably make you think that learning Thai should be easy! Of course, if you were to go through the AUA Thai program at ALG World, it would be easy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ALG Thai interview with David Long

Antonio Graceffo has uploaded an interview with David Long, the director of ALG (Automatic Language Growth) Thai. It has 5 parts, and since Antonio hadn't created a playlist for it, I created one myself. It's a very good interview. Thanks Antonio!

I hope to some day get a chance to go to AUA and enter this Thai program. I want to experience it for myself. And I don't mean "just experience it." I would complete the program and come out a native Thai speaker.

Here is a link to my playlist: ALG Thai presented by Antonio Graceffo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

don't believe the lies!

You will hear the lies. You will read the lies. Don't believe the lies!

Let me list the lies in the article, Unraveling how children become bilingual so easily.

  1. The best time to learn a foreign language: Between birth and age 7.
  2. The brain tunes out sounds that don't fit.
  3. babies being raised bilingual — by simply speaking to them in two languages — can learn both in the time it takes most babies to learn one.
  4. While new language learning is easiest by age 7, the ability markedly declines after puberty.
  5. As an adult, "it's a totally different process. You won't learn it in the same way. You won't become (as good as) a native speaker."
  6. "You'll be surprised," Kuhl says. "They do seem to pick it up like sponges."

Why you should not believe what researchers say about language learning

These researchers have no clue as to how people learn languages. They do not really know what language learning is, therefor they cannot create a valid test. All of the researchers tend to test language-learning ability in one way. That way is to test how well individual words are learned in a short period of time. Sometimes as little as one day. First of all, language learning is not just learning words or vocabulary. Second, being able to recall the words the next day does not mean that they have been learned.

In the article above, it refers heavily to recognition of sounds not in your native language. There has been an erroneous conclusion that is often repeated. Sometimes it is stated as such: you cannot hear sounds not in your native language. That would be obviously false. All sounds enter your ears whether or not you've ever heard them before. This article states it in another way, saying that we lose an ability to distinguish sounds by the age of 11 months. This is erroneous. Rather than losing, we actually gain an ability to consolidate sounds and make sense of them. Have you ever thought somebody said one thing when they actually had said another, in your native language?

The brain tries to make sense of what you hear. There is a lot of processing going on to make sense of the language. The article mentions the difficulty of Japanese people being able to distinguish the difference between the words lake and rake. Of course their mind would only bring up the word that they know if they didn't really know both words. If they did know both words but always used the same pronunciation in their mind then they hadn't even established the difference in the words. Most likely, rake would not be a familiar or necessary word for a Japanese person.

Japanese people can hear the difference in pronunciation, but they don't remember which pronunciation had which meaning. That is the actual problem. They may not even know which sound is L and which one is R, but they can hear the difference! Now, if you don't know which sound is which, you will immediately forget which one you heard. The problem then would be that the sound cannot be accurately identified. The problem is not being unable to hear the difference.

I'm sure that my explanation above will be very unclear for many of you. But let me continue. A sentence from the article begins with, "Japanese college students who'd had little exposure to spoken English..." That identifies a big problem, doesn't it?! By college, students have studied English for 6 years. If you spend 6 years not listening to English but studying it, then you will not have made a distinction in your brain between the sounds of words.

The solution is not to teach the difference but to listen a lot. Show me students who had a lot of exposure to spoken English and you will find that they can tell you which sound is being spoken. Even if they start getting that input after puberty or after reaching adulthood, they will be able to do it.

If you start with a false assumption, your research will have false conclusions. There are better ways to research language learning than to base it on tests which don't test what you think they are testing. So please don't believe anything these researchers tell you about language learning! Don't assume that just because they are professional researchers that they are doing anything correctly. If they want to research language learning, why don't they go and actually learn some languages!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

study finds new method needed to achieve lower standards

There was probably somebody famous who said, "when you can't reach your goal, change your goal to what you can reach." Now Wafa Zoghbor wants to add to that so that you also need to change your method. She proposes that aiming for an accent which retains your native language identity could be more desirable than reaching a native accent.

I have never read anything so ridiculous before. If people want to accept not reaching a native accent, that is fine but there is no need to do anything differently. They can just keep doing what they are doing and be assured that they will have a foreign accent. The article says that intelligible pronunciation is all that is necessary because of the fact that there are more non-native speakers of English than native ones.

First of all, if learners don't aim for a native accent, they will not be intelligible. Thanks to some kind of effort to work on pronunciation, learners can be understood by natives and non-natives. But just using the sounds of one's own native-language to speak English or any other foreign language is not going to produce intelligible language output.

Most of us have met somebody who may have just started learning English or only remembers a little of what they studied. Most of that beginner learner's output is not understandable. Can you imagine them just keeping that pronunciation? That's what they will likely have if they don't work on improving it and just use a lower standard as their model.

It takes time to get used to and to be able to understand some of these foreign accents. When I went to college I had a roommate from Hong Kong. When I first met him I really couldn't understand most of what he was saying. I had to learn to listen carefully while he was speaking. I think his pronunciation got better as well as my ability to understand what he was saying. At the end of the first semester (4 months) I could understand him without any problem. After 3 years of school, he went to Vancouver and worked an internship for a year. When he came back I picked him up at the airport, and BAM! I got hit with the same experience as when I first met him. I had trouble understanding what he was saying.

I haven't spoken to him for years and he has been living in Hong Kong. I wonder how his pronunciation is now.

Article link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090720083219.htm

Sunday, July 19, 2009

don't ever study English!

Have you every heard of ADSE? It stands for Absolutely Don't Study English and is also known as DESE, Don't Ever Study English. It's a method created by a Korean who then wrote a book for it. I believe the book was originally written in Korean and later Japanese and Chinese versions were published. Since it is a non-study way to learn a language, I am interested in finding out more about it and the man who wrote the book. Unfortunately, my Google searches don't give me much information.

The DESE process is outlined on this page and here I will quote it:
ADSE/DESE -- A Five-Stage Method of Language Acquisition & Language Learning

Stage 1: Select one audio tape suitable for your English level. Listen to it twice a day (one day off a week) until you can hear all the sounds of it. Don't try to translate and understand, comprehension is not important at this point, catching all the sounds is the goal.

Stage 2: Taking dictation of the whole passage sentence by sentence (not phrase by phrase or word by word). Looking up the English Dictionary (e.g. 'Collins COBUILD English Dictionary for Advanced Learners' or 'Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English') for the spelling of words you are not sure. Imitating the pronunciation and intonation, Reading the transcript aloud (recitation), you try to sound as much like the original as possible.

Stage 3: Writing down the definitions and the example sentences of the words you don't understand in Stage 2, you read them aloud. If there are any more words in Dictionary you still do not understand, you look them up and write them down, reading them aloud until you can understand all.

Stage 4: Select one video tape, VCD or DVD (Movie or TV Drama) without any model transcripts. Repeat the above Stages.

Stage 5: Going through an entire issue of an English newspaper printed in USA. (1) Read an article aloud (repeatedly). (2) Without looking, tell someone (or pretend to be telling someone) about what you have read. (3) Do dictionary work as needed. (4) One by One ...
I have a feeling the above quote does not give us the complete process. First of all, it doesn't really say how much nor how long. How long should the audio be for stage one? How long would this stage last?

In stage 2, for the spelling, what are you supposed to do about homonyms? If you don't understand the words yet, it won't be possible to pick the right homonym. It wouldn't even be possible to find the words in the dictionary either since the spelling patterns of English need to be learned before you can look anything up.

My main critique at this point is that every stage besides the first one looks like STUDY to me. Dictation is a lot of work and looking words up in a dictionary is tiring work. I thought this method was supposed to be based on enjoying the language. I would not enjoy all the work that this method prescribes.

I wonder what the results are like. If anybody can point me to any more info regarding this method, I would appreciate it. The only other description of it I found was written here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the 2009 kanji challenge!

If you've been trying to learn Kanji and need some motivation, why not join us in the 2009 Kanji Challenge? We've got 6 weeks to learn about 2009 characters! Isn't that enough time? Let's see who does it best and what methods are being used. If this interests you, then please join us! You can be a contributor to the blog, which requires a blogger account, so let us know and we can add your email address to send the invitation for you to be able to post. For more details and to see what's going on, visit the blog today! Just click on one of the links above or below.


Friday, July 10, 2009

how to make your own language learning method!

I think we all benefit from reading about various ways to learn languages. Whether we agree with the methods or not, they are interesting to read about and may spark new ideas. So I would like to write down some of my opinions about creating a language learning method.

The meaning of a method

For the purpose of this post, I'm going to try to decide what I'm talking about when I use the word "method." A method for learning languages or language acquisition may involve a series of steps, or a combination of tools that are used to go from point A in the language to point B. Some methods may be good for the beginning stages and other methods may be more appropriate for intermediate learners wanting to make the jump to advanced levels.

The methods that do not cover the full journey are often methods that have no changes in them. You are doing the same activities or using the same tools whether you are just starting to use that method or you are nearly finished with it. There are many examples of this in the commercial language learning arena. Publishers usually target the beginners and make sure their language learning system is not too complicated to understand. Publishing companies know there is a smaller return on making materials for advanced learners so they often don't provide enough content to get you beyond the beginner level.

But that does not mean the one-method-fits-all-levels of language learning could not work. Maybe Pimsleur and Assimil are really great methods. But if they offered a 4,000 lesson package, how many people would actually buy it? Most potential customers would say, "Whoah! I'll never get through that many lessons." And so they would give up before even starting.

Other methods will have the system divided between levels or stages. Activities or tools will be completely different for each phase. Essentially, those methods change focus for each level. There are many ways you could create one of these methods. A multi-tier approach defines what is believed to be important at each level and designs activities around those beliefs.

Creating your own method

Generally speaking, you would create a method that will take a language learner from zero knowledge to advanced fluency. Then, if you realize the limitations of the method, you could modify the method or simply modify the purpose of your language learning method.

But before you can create a method to learn languages, you need to be inspired. After all, methods do not spontaneously appear from thin air. There are two resources, other than pure genius, for obtaining inspiration. The best resources are text and voice.

By reading text, such as books or blogs, you can find many examples of what people are doing or what they think they did when they successfully learned a language. There are articles and journals with studies and research done on language learning and second language acquisition. There are also forums that you can read where many experienced language learners have gathered.

The other resource is the voice of actual people who have become bilingual. Ask everybody you know who has learned a foreign language how they accomplished this feat. When you find some really exceptional people, you should interview them and take notes or record the interview. You might decide to base your language learning method on what these people say.

How to be sure your method is working

You need to know that what you are doing in your method is actually working and completely necessary. It makes no sense to say, "Do A, B and C" when only A and C are necessary and yield the same results. An unnecessary element in your method is not only unhelpful, but it also creates a negative effect on your results! At the very least, the unnecessary activity uses up your energy and quite likely your time as well. At their worst, non-essential elements will unknowingly cause harm!

So if your method combines tactics, you'll need to test them out together, separately and in different configurations. Hopefully you are doing something measurable so that you may record the results and create a chart for comparison.

I do not recommend trying out a potpourri of tools and strategies and then calling that a method. You can obtain results and make some progress in learning a language by doing just about anything, so long as you keep doing it. But if you don't know why you're doing those activities and what kind of effect they are having, then you've just joined the millions of other language learners who don't know what they are doing either.

Remember to keep in mind that your past activities and experiences in learning the language are also having an effect on your current results. You cannot make claims like, "I tried doing method X for months and got nowhere, but after switching to method Y I'm experiencing big gains!" In reality, your time doing X prepared you for the gains you see from Y. So you'll need to try doing method Y on a new language. At least one that you've never done X with before. And then see if the gains automatically appear with the new method.

Is your method reproducible? Can you get the same results every time you use the method with different and new languages? Or do you find you have to make modifications when you run into languages that have features which weren't in your previously successful language learning experiences? Such as learning a new script. Or maybe it was a one-time success and it doesn't work when you try it on other languages or when other people try to use your method.

How to promote your method

The best way to promote your method is to create a blog like this one and document your experience as you go along. You'll want to give a description of your previous background with the language your method is being tested on. The best way to prove your current level is to create a video showing you using the language, speaking the language, or being utterly confused by the language. If you have no knowledge at all of the language, then you might just skip the proof of that. But once you've reached the point where you can show your skill, such as when you begin speaking the language, you should make a recording as evidence. Even just a voice recording would be better than nothing. Then later you'll be able to make recordings when you have made improvements and people will be able to compare and see or hear the difference.

In the meantime, you can go to the language forums and announce your entry into the contest for best language learning method. Whatever way you want, spread the word about your blog and let others follow your blog. If you show that your method is well thought out and based on sound principles, others may like to try it as well. This will help you figure out if your method is reproducible.

Once you've got your language learning method all figured out and have successfully learned or acquired several languages with it, you may want to write a book about it. This will help spread your language learning method around the world and you'll be helping as many people as possible to learn a new language.

How to handle the critics

No doubt, there are going to be a few, if not many, critics who do what they do best. They are going to criticize your method! But not to worry. That's just their job. They've got all kinds of reasons why your method won't succeed or work for them. Just remember, most of them will have never tried doing the very thing that they are saying won't work. So try not to let them bother you. After all, if they haven't attempted to correctly put your method into practice then they have nothing but unfounded arguments.

Even the best, most perfect, one-size-fits-all method won't work for everybody. Why? There will be people who try it and fail simply because they didn't execute the method properly. So for those who do attempt your method and don't get the same results, you need to figure out why. What did they do differently? What did you forget to tell them? There can be a number of factors and you won't likely figure it out except for people that you have face-to-face access to. Going back and forth on a forum or through email doesn't allow you the freedom to ask everything you want and won't guarantee that the responses are adequate.

Thank you for reading

I've probably missed a few points or ideas. But this should give you a lot to think about if you're creating the next must-try method for learning languages. Thank you for reading and feel free to post comments or even to create a link to this article!


Although I have written this article with the intention of it being error-free, I cannot guarantee the grammatical correctness or spelling accuracy of the content. I would, however, be thankful if you point out any problems you found while reading it. Just leave a comment and I will fix the errors and typos right away! Thanks!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hyunwoo Sun

I have a new interview on YouTube. This time, I would like you to meet Hyunwoo Sun. He is a Korean polyglot who excels at learning many languages. The skill which he has achieved in English just awes me. That is how I want to speak Japanese, Chinese or any language I persue. So I interviewed him to find out what he does, because I could not find that information on Hyunwoo's YouTube channel, in all the videos he has. Maybe he talks about it in Korean. I don't know because I don't know Korean at all.

Since he came to Japan on business for 2 weeks, I grabbed the opportunity to interview him. I threatened to kidnap him if he didn't tell me his secrets for language learning. So he agreed to meet me in a public place where I could not use any special tactics to extract information from him. So with the camera rolling, I set up on the streets of Shinjuku and asked him some grueling questions. And then I edited out all of my questions so the video cannot be used against me to press charges.

Of course, the truth is, I'm a tame fellow and there just wasn't room for my babbling in a YouTube video because of the length restrictions. And Hyunwoo is a great guy too whom you can learn Korean from if you are nice to him.

Really, I got a great interview from Hyunwoo Sun and I want to share it with all of you. He is one of the followers of my blog and that is how I first heard his name. So if you have questions and post comments here, he will read them and probably even reply.

Monday, June 22, 2009

an interview with Charith in English

I got the captioning done today for the interview with Charith in English and uploaded it to YouTube. This video is 8 minutes long.

For those who've somehow landed on this page and don't know who Charith is I will give you a simple explanation. Charith is from Sri Lanka and he is fluent in Japanese. I've posted 2 other videos of him speaking Japanese already. So if you are looking for examples of foreigners who are fluent in Japanese, Charith is one such example.

Yes, it is my desire to bring hope and encouragement to those who are studying Japanese or any language. You too can become fluent in Japanese! You can become fluent in English or Chinese too. You can become fluent in whatever language you want and however many languages you want to be fluent in.

And when I say "fluent," I have high standards. So if you needn't worry that Charith might not be as good at Japanese as I say he is. You can see for yourself. Just go to my youtube channel and search for Charith.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

tips for learning Japanese

Here is the second video with Charith. After we had finished the first interview he had some more he wanted to say. At first he starts talking about watching TV even when you don't understand any of it, and about not using a dictionary. He says that the words will enter you and you will acquire them naturally. But then he goes on to give some more tips and advice. At the end of the 5 minute video I have provided a list of the points he makes. I put the list up in Japanese and in English. You can just hit the pause button to read the list.

I have also subtitled this video, in Japanese and in English. Go to the YouTube site to get the subtitle functionality. You can turn it on or off in the lower right corner of the player. It is called 'CC' for closed captioning. I think this will be the last time I try to subtitle a Japanese video. It takes too much time. But since I figured many people here who don't learn Japanese will want to watch the video and know what he says, I subtitled this one. After writing all the Japanese down, creating the English translated subtitle file is easy. It's just the Japanese part that is difficult because I have to keep listening to parts over and over trying to catch the exact words used.

What's interesting about that is that I will have a part already transcribed and I'm trying to hear what is said after that part, and so I rewind and listen to it again but my mind gets stuck on what is being said and when the part I'm supposed to be listening for comes along, I miss it because my mind was preoccupied. That can happen like 3 or 4 times in a row!

Tips for Learning Japanese from Charith

Friday, June 05, 2009

Japanese interview with Charith

I have finally got the first interview with Charith ready. It is late because I decided to create subtitles for the video. I can only do so much typing at once. And then there was that day that I lost 2 hours of work on the subtitles.

This interview is in Japanese. I have made Japanese subtitles and also English subtitles. You may have to turn them on and you may have to select the one you want to appear. That control is in the lower right corner of the video player. If it's not available on the embeded player in this post, then go to youtube to watch it: The Video link.

There will be two more videos to come. I have to make subtitle files for them before I post them. I don't know why, though. I just feel like providing them.

About Charith: He came to Japan 6 months before I arrived. He went to a Japanese language school for 18 months and then to a technical college to study computers. Those classes were, of course, conducted in Japanese.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

beginning to watch Japanese TV

I am beginning to watch TV in Japanese now. I've started with DVDs. I watched over 6 hours on Saturday and I made a new YouTube video in Japanese last night. We'll be able to see how much change there is over time. It depends on just how much watching or listening I do.

If you want to see what I have done since I spoke to Steve, you can look at my Google document here. I will put this link on the right side of the blog as well. This document is formatted differently than my document for the TV method for Chinese. I have added any significant speaking events to it.

I remembered recently that I can go to the library and check out 2 DVDs there. There's not really a very good selection at the library. There are no TV dramas there. They have more foreign films than they do Japanese ones. I would expect there to be more NHK documentaries and such than what is available now. I think the main problem with the library is that they have many branches throughout the town and so the collection is split up.

There is a series called 日本の巨匠, which means Japan's Masters. I think there were 50 discs with about 1 hour each. Each disc has 4 episodes of this series. Each episode is about a master painter, artist, craftsman, etc. It's not dialogue like a usual conversation. There is some narration and there is the master telling his or her story including pictures of their works. It seems they started this series about 30 years ago, or during the 1980s. Each person has something they want to tell to the people of the next century (21st). It's not super exciting, but I'm going to try watching through all of it. I watched the first 2 discs yesterday, and today I checked out the 3rd disc.

There's a 2-disc check out limit at the library. The other disc I checked out today is called bluestockings in English, but the actual title is 自由恋愛 by Masato Harada. It's some kind of love story. It looks like the disc has some extras on it.

The discs from the library have something attached to them that they call an IC tab. I guess it's to make the alarm sound if you try to sneak the disc out of the library. Friday, I put the first one into my Mac Mini before reading the warning not to put the discs into a slot loading DVD player. My computer was OK, but I guess I'd better not take any chances, so I'll just use my portable DVD player to watch these.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

watch a preview!

On March 27th, I wrote a post where I told you about a coworker who used TV to get his Japanese fluent. I will do a full interview with him and put it up on YouTube in 3 weeks.

For now, I have a preview that you can watch. I do an introduction to it in English and also the concluding part is in English as well. I also have painstakingly made sub-titles for the video. It should default to the bilingual one, but there is also an English only one and a Japanese only one. You can turn them off, of course, if you like. The bilingual subtitle is the same as the other two subtitles. There are no translations.

Here is a link for you so you can go watch the preview.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keith speaks with Steve Kaufmann

I had a conversation with Steve Kaufmann in Japanese. This is the first time I have ever spoken directly to Steve and we did it face-to-face. Well, it was through the help of our webcams and Skype. For those of you who don't know, Steve Kaufmann is a super-polyglot.

I mentioned in my previous post that I was going to record myself speaking Japanese as a record of my Japanese level before the up and coming self-improvements. This is that video of me speaking Japanese. I will make some more but I don't know if anybody wants to be alerted to them. If you do, you could just subscribe to my YouTube channel.

The video is in 2 parts. The total time is 16 minutes. You can watch the video below if you want and when it finishes I'm sure you will be able to choose the 2nd part. Else, you may go to my YouTube channel. Oh, and I must say. The microphone on my headset is really bad. Sorry about that, but the sound on my side is not clear. Steve's side is very clear. I'm going to have to breakdown and buy a microphone if I can find one or else buy a new headset.

A few comments about my Japanese speaking ability. As you will be able to see in the video, I almost always need to think about how I want to complete a sentence. So many options come to mind while I'm speaking that I just get overwhelmed with what I should do to finish my sentence. I just want to get to where I know what I want to say and I just say it straight through without stopping or pausing. Another critique about my Japanese is that I do not know how to say everything that I need to say. I don't know all of the grammar. I think I will be able to discover a lot by watching TV.

And last but not least, I do want to improve my pronunciation. This has mostly to do with vowel sounds but also with intonation as well. I would like to sound the same as a Japanese person. I want to be indistinguishable. And why not? I live in Japan so it would be to my advantage. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to improve my pronunciation or not but we'll see.

I would like to speak with some more people in Japanese and record it and put it on YouTube. Even if you don't have a webcam, but you have a microphone and Skype and a good connection, we can still record me in the picture with our conversation. If we have a noisey connection then it won't be worth recording and putting up on YouTube. Anybody who can speak Japanese. You don't have to be a native speaker. Just contact me via email. You can find my address in my blogger profile.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

need your help to decide!

In continuation of the previous post, I have to decide what to do about my Chinese acquisition during this period of concentration on Japanese. What do you think I should do? Here are the options that I am able to come up with right now.

Option A) Stop watching Chinese TV completely. We don't know how long it will be until I will be able to return my focus to Chinese acquisition. Until then, I could forget about the Chinese language and we'll use it as an experiment to see what happens. Will the Chinese language continue to grow inside my head during a period of non-contact? Or will it remain about the same? If my absence from the language is 3 months or more then this could become a significant test. If I don't choose this option, am I being negligent in my responsibility to find a new job which will most likely require good Japanese language ability?

Option B) Watch Chinese TV only when I can't watch Japanese TV. Because I don't have any DVDs or video files in the Japanese language, I could choose to watch Chinese when I am not at home by bringing my portable DVD player (PLAID) with me wherever I go. I do not have a one-seg capable mobile phone either. If I did have such a phone, then I could watch Japanese on the go. But I don't know if I'll be getting one or not. So this option is to keep in contact with the Chinese language but not at the expense of the Japanese language. This is the option one would choose if worried about language atrophy.

Option C) Forget about Japanese and just watch Chinese. Should I get a job where Japanese isn't required so I can focus on Chinese? Maybe I could find an ALT job where I could help students continue the wrong way to learn a language. If I am unemployed long enough, I'll have to consider just about anything.

If you have any other options for me to consider, please let me know. Otherwise, please leave a comment telling me which one to choose. I will have to spend a lot of time job searching and exhausting all avenues of possible employment. But usually there comes a point when you don't know where else to look or what else to do. Then I will have a lot of time available. Time which could be spent on language acquisition!

Friday, April 17, 2009

TV method switching channels

Here's big news from the TV method blog.

As you know, I have watched 549 hours of TV in Chinese. Lately I have been able to maintain a pace of 120+ viewing hours per month. Unfortunately, this has to change, starting now. I have to change focus from Chinese to Japanese and I won't likely break 100 hours per month.

Why the sudden switch?

I have to begin an employment acquisition campaign immediately. I found out 2 days ago that the company I am employed by is folding up. The company was founded eleven years ago and will cease to exist at the end of next month. Since I live in Japan and need an income, I had better boost my Japanese language ability in a hurry. The only way I know to do that is to start watching Japanese TV. I mentioned three weeks ago about my coworker who improved his Japanese speaking ability by watching TV. After I posted that, I asked him about it again. I asked him, "How long did it take?" He replied, "3 months."

What kind of improvement do I expect?

I don't know what to expect, but I hope that I will be able to speak Japanese more smoothly. I want to at least appear to be fluent because no Japanese company is going to hire a foreigner who is not fluent in Japanese during times like these. There are not as many job openings and those that are willing to hire foreigners have raised their standards. So I really need to get used to speaking Japanese. I haven't been speaking it much lately and I still get nervous when going into a situation where I'll be expected to speak Japanese.

So I'm saying I'm not good at Japanese now but I want to get good, like, yesterday. How will you know? I don't expect you to take my word for it, nor do I expect you to trust my self-evaluations, so I want to document it by video. Today I went out and finally bought a webcam. A webcam is one of those little video cameras that sits on top of your computer display and makes you feel self-conscious. What I intend to do with it is to record myself speaking Japanese and put the recordings on YouTube. Then whomsoever desires to judge for himself may do so.

So my TV method for Japanese is going to be like Ramses TV method for Spanish. I already have a high level of comprehension in Japanese. I passed the JLPT Level 2 in December 2006. Every time I look at Level 1, though, I go into shock because of all the vocabulary words it tests on. The majority of the words I do not ever remember seeing before. So I won't be doing only Japanese TV as a method. I'll be speaking as well, at least. Most of my speaking will probably just be for the camera.

To be continued...

Korean TV dramas

I just finished watching Phoenix, a Korean TV drama series. I watched it in Mandarin but also have the Korean audio track as well. I am thinking I would like to build up a collection of Korean TV dramas like this bilingual one. Of course I will be watching them in Chinese, but later when I start on Korean I'll have a whole library of Korean dramas available. Not only would I be saving money but also time as well.

There are many reviews about this particular drama that you can find by searching the web. My blog is not aimed at giving reviews for dramas because that would not interest most of the people reading my blog. But I do like to mention things that might be of interest to my audience.

As you may already be aware, this drama is the item that I bought which the discs were all scratched up due to improper packaging. The final disc of five cannot be viewed correctly, so I have only watched 4/5 (four fifths) of the series and I may never know how it ends. Amazon China's return policy is that they don't do exchanges for items shipped overseas. I think it would cost me as much or more to return the item at my own expense than the purchase price which they would refund so I did not return it.

The other interesting thing to note is that this version, published by a Chinese company, has 40~43 minute episodes. The original is actually about 55~60 minutes for each episode. About 15 minutes into the second episode you can see some opening credits in Korean on the screen as the original episode number 2 is just beginning. I guess the Chinese broadcast required shorter episodes. I think the publishing company should have packaged it correctly when they made it available for purchase on DVD. By that, I mean, they should have kept the original episode length and removed the hard coded subtitles. They should provide proper subtitles which can be turned off.

Another interesting thing about this series is that several of the characters could speak English and were conducting business in English but that was dubbed over in Chinese. I only know that the original was in English because there were Korean subtitles displayed. And then the Chinese company put Chinese subtitles over those Korean subtitles. Both in white letters with black outlines. Who could possibly read it?! It's a good thing I don't use the subtitles anyway.

My next post will come later today or this evening. I have an announcement to make. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

another TV methodist

There is a new entry into the world of the TV method! His name is David and he is going to learn Japanese by watching TV. He emailed me and asked me some questions regarding the TV method and we exchanged a few messages. From his email I can see that he understands the principles of Automatic Language Growth and he knows what to expect.

You can read David's story at Sushi and Sumo. I think we'll be getting some exciting reports from him soon. He's currently at 3 hours with the TV method.

I'd wish him good luck, but luck isn't needed with Automatic Language Growth. He just needs to watch TV. Well, maybe he needs luck finding good dramas to watch.

Good Luck, David!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

old TV dramas and cartoons

In my quest to be the best, I have passed a milestone. That is, the 500-hour mile marker. I now have 530 hours of viewing Chinese TV. I have done the 500 hours in 6 months. I wonder what my ability to understand Chinese will be like after another 500 hours. It's hard to say exactly, but I feel that overall, I am understanding about 25% of the language now. So I miss out on the details of what is being said, but there are so many phrases that are used over and over that I understand, so perhaps it's not surprising to get about 25% comprehension after 500 hours.

Since my last post, I have watched the complete 39 hours of an old TV drama and 19 hours of Doraemon in Mandarin Chinese.

The old TV drama is called The Legend of the Condor Heroes and is based on a novel. This TV series was aired in 1982 and is not the only one that was made from that popular 1957 novel. The drama I watched is actually a Hong Kong drama in Cantonese but I have the Mandarin dubbed version. It says in the Amazon China page as well as is printed on the discs that the product has Chinese subtitles when in fact there were none! I was glad that the subtitles were missing. The only bad thing was that the audio would sound like your speakers were breaking whenever an actor would yell or hit a syllable loudly. But I think it was not my speakers because even adjusting the volume of my speakers did not affect the problem. It was not a big problem though.

The Mandarin dubbed over the the Cantonese speaking actors matches up very well. So well, in fact, that I was able to forget that it is dubbed. And since this was a period drama, there were no English words or phrases used like there was with the modern drama that I watched prior to this one. I've gone through several pages of listings for the HK dramas on Amazon China and apparently they don't sell bilingual Mandarin/Cantonese dramas.

I placed an order yesterday for 1 item and I realized that the shipping is not 80% of the item price. It appears to be a flat 20 RMB per item which is about 294 JPY.

After finishing the 27 year old TV drama, I started watching a Japanese cartoon in Chinese. The cartoon is called Doraemon. This is some kind of 36 year anniversary pack or something. It has 6 discs in all. 3 of the discs each have 2 90-minute Doraemon movies on them was well as old episodes of the cartoon as a bonus.

So far, I have watched the first 5 discs. Not all of the episodes and movies have included the Japanese audio and not all of them can turn off the subtitles. It seems to me, that in the older episodes, Doraemon has the same name as in Japanese. But in other epsisodes, which looked newer, he goes by a different name.

In one of the movies which has both Chinese and Japanese audio, there was a short silent period and then when the sound came back it was out of sync. Then a funny thing happened. The voice of Doraemon changed. I thought it was strange that his voice would change in the middle of a movie. Then I noticed that his new voice was speaking Japanese! I hadn't noticed it right away. And shortly after that it went back to the Chinese audio and everything was back in sync.

Amongst the various episodes and movies of Doraemon, the voice of the characters was not done by the same people. I found that to be really odd. Especially in one of the movies, the Chinese voice for Doraemon does not resemble the high-pitched Japanese voice at all. If Doraemon doesn't have the right voice it just doesn't sound like him.

Most of the cartoon episodes seemed to be about 6.5 minutes. I found this short span to be ideal. You get a lot of different situations which is ideal for language learners. Also, what is happening in those episodes is pretty transparent. I think you don't need to understand the language at all to be entertained by it, which is probably important for toddlers watching them.

I was pretty bored by the Doraemon movies. In a way, they are completely different from the regular Doraemon episodes. You see, in the episodes, Nobita is always trying to take advantage of something that Doraemon has given him. His plans always backfire and get him into trouble which he hadn't considered before getting carried away. But the storyline in the movie is long and drawn out.

I think I will rewatch only the first 2 discs. It will likely be the last couple of days in a month when I don't want to start on a long drama but I want to get a few more hours in. I will just update my spreadsheet but I won't write a post everytime I rewatch Doraemon.

I have one more Doraemon disc to watch which is 8 hours long, but I am going to go onto the next drama first. The next one for me is a Korean drama which I will only be able to watch 78% of because of the problems with the last disc. I put it in my spreadsheet as 19 hours but the real length of the series is longer.

Friday, April 03, 2009

dubbed into your target language

The name's Bond, LOVE BOND.

As it turns out, all 4 items that I bought from Amazon China are not originally Mandarin TV dramas. I knew that for 2 of them. One is Korean and the other is Japanese. But for the other 2 I didn't know that they were Hong Kong Dramas. For the 2 that I knew about, they have both the original and the dubbed audio tracks. I didn't want to buy dubbed shows unless the original track was also included. Looking back at the product pages, the only way to tell that the other two shows were originally Cantonese is to look at the categories which they fall into. At the bottom of the page is the different categories that the product can be found under. I used the search function of the browser to search the page for the word 'Hong Kong' in Chinese characters in order to find this information. Now I'll know where to check. Live and let learn.

So now I have finished watching the first of my four titles from Amazon. The English title of the drama is LOVE BOND. It is 30 episodes and came on 4 discs. The picture quality is not great but the price is cheap, so that's fair enough.

The discs came in disc sleeves with a box sleeve but no box. This makes the packaging very flat. I put the discs into this 4-disc case.

And I took the box sleeve and put it under the plastic outside of the DVD case.

Who is this old man?

One thing I wasn't particularly too fond of is that a few English sentences and words are used. I suppose this could reflect reality in Hong Kong. I don't know, but now I am guessing that most modern-day dramas from Hong Kong will be like this. The first sentence in English that I heard was, "Who is this old man?" It was said by a woman who was apparently annoyed by the old guy and she kept calling him "old man." At one point he says to her in English, "shut up!" The other parts of the dialogue were in Chinese. There were other instances of whole English sentences being used as well. I find that it annoys me. I think I won't order any more Hong Kong dramas unless it is a bilingual version. Of course, when I start learning Cantonese I won't have any choice.

Vocabulary Explosion

There is an article on the web about why toddlers experience a vocabulary explosion. There are two reports of the same research. Here and here. Here is a quote from the article:
"Children are going to get that word spurt guaranteed, mathematically, as long as a couple of conditions hold," McMurray said. "They have to be learning more than one word at a time, and they must be learning a greater number of difficult or moderate words than easy words. Using computer simulations and mathematical analysis, I found that if those two conditions are true, you always get a vocabulary explosion."
I don't know if the research is well conducted or not. Most research conclusions are more theory than fact.

I think I may be at the beginning of my own vocabulary explosion. It could just be that this drama was special, but I had a larger frequency of new words that I picked up on. It happened much more often during this series than anything I've experienced in the past. I mean I could really tell a difference. I can credit the vocabulary explosion to 2 things for sure. One is that my listening ability has risen to what it is now. I couldn't have gotten to that level without the hours and hours that I have put in so far. The other thing is that my understanding of the language has also risen. Both of these allow me to start understanding more new words at an increased rate of acquisition.

If this drama is any indication, I think I've switched into a higher gear. I've gone from 1st gear to 2nd gear. I'm still fighting the translation demons. But my understanding of Chinese is improving.

Targets for daily input hours

I'm going to try my best to get as many hours in as possible in the next 2 months. I'm not satisfied with the averages I've attained in past months. I can't remember if it was last month or if it was in February, but I had the idea to get a minimum of 4 hours in a day. I thought I should shoot for 5 but not accept less than 4. I didn't really aspire to that idea, but I ended up with just under an average of 4 hours a day last month. I did 122 hours. I should have guaranteed myself 124 hours. Basically, a 6 hour day would make up for a 4 hour day and average to 5 hours. With every day having at least 4 hours, and most days having 5 or more hours, I should be able to get 150 hours or more a month. So this month and next I need to keep myself in check.

This may sound like a lot, or it may sound like no fun to have strict targets, but it is necessary in order to keep from wasting so much time. A lot of time is lost due to the world wide internet. If you're not careful, a whole day can slip away. You can't go back for a "do over." Once you've squandered your time, it's gone. And for what? Nothing! It's time wasted. If 150 hours of TV method is doable for me, then I must have wasted 30 hours last month. I probably wasted more than that.

Focusing on the future

Today is a result of the past. I can never get the past back. I am where I am at now because of what I did in the past. I will give up today so that I can have a better future. I would like to enjoy a future where I can understand Chinese. Once I can understand Chinese, I will never lose it. I can lose physical possessions, but a language is not physical. I carry language with me wherever I go. I don't need to remember to bring my language. It is always inside me. So even if I am not expecting to use it that day, I will have it with me.