Monday, February 09, 2009

雍正王朝 5

I finished my 5th viewing of 雍正王朝, a Chinese drama in Mandarin. This time took 9 days to complete the 30 hours. It feels like I've watched it 20 times already. There are still some characters whose names I don't know that I feel like I should know by now. I guess they do not appear as frequently as the ones whose names I do know, and they are probably not addressed by name as often.

I have stated before, my intention to not think about the words I hear and to try not to figure out the meaning or wonder about the meaning of the words. It is actually very difficult to do that. I find myself trying to figure out the meanings quite often. But there are a few words that I know I am not going to try to figure out what they mean. For example, when someone enters the room, kneels and greets the king. I often hear this same greeting. Well I know that it is a greeting. I can see what is going on. It doesn't really matter what the words mean. I just know that when they come in and do this and say that, it's the kind of greeting they use for the king. That's all I need to know.

All these other words that I had studied before starting the TV method, the words that I could translate, I tend to do just that. I'm trying not to, but when there is a pause, I can hear my mind translating. I wish I hadn't studied Chinese. Not even a little bit. For words I have never looked up, I don't automatically translate them. Translations are like an anchor. They slow you down. When you hear a word and you translate it, that's like throwing an anchor overboard. It's easier to throw the anchor overboard than to bring it back up. If you're throwing dozens of anchors overboard while listening, you're never going to be able to keep up.

Just listening attentively, but not thinking and analyzing is difficult to do. It's very difficult to control yourself. Just try listening to Steve Kaufmann talk about how long it takes to become fluent in a language and see if you can sit there and listen without agreeing or disagreeing with what he says. Can you just listen and not react to what he says? Or are you always coming up with something in your head? I find myself disagreeing with a lot of points he makes. When he says something I don't agree with, I think of exceptions or reasons why he is wrong. Even when I tried to stop doing that and just listen, I couldn't!

I studied French in High School. Since French word order is so similar to English, if I translate all of the words as I read a sentence, I can understand what it means. If I just read the sentence and don't translate anything, I don't know what it means. It's exactly like the example Jerry Dai gave.

So I definitely feel that translation is a bad bad thing. Looking up words in a bilingual dictionary is bad. Flashcards are bad. Textbooks are bad. Teachers who speak your language are bad. Study is bad. Being in a hurry is bad. It's all bad bad bad. Speaking early is definitely bad. Slowly spoken language learning material is bad. Grammar is bad.


  1. First of all, I believe translating-all-the-time-especially-word-for-word-and-during-conversations is slowing you down (a lot!).

    "If I just read the sentence and don't translate anything, I don't know what it means."

    I'm not entirely sure what you're saying here. I can't say that you necessarily have to "translate" in order to "understand". Maybe if you're at a very basic level.

    Although my level of, say, Chinese, is still quite low, I can watch TV series and movies featuring sentences that I haven't yet encountered during my studies, but that I understand without having to think at all. Am I translating? I wouldn't say so.

  2. Unconscious automatic translation detected

    Even fluent bilingual speakers of a language acquired beyond adolescence subconsciously resort to their native language, in a sort of 'unconscious instant translation service'.

    "Even while we consciously listen to late-acquired second language words, our brains are automatically also 'listening' in the first language,"

    "The results show that the Chinese-English speakers, who'd describe themselves as fluent English speakers who access meaning directly from English without word-by-word translation in Chinese, are in fact accessing Chinese subconsciously" said Dr Guillaume Thierry.

    I am not sure I agree with Keith (that it's all bad and that he can avoid to do what his brain was programmed for). In any case, determining what "your brain is doing" deep down is very difficult/impossible based on self observation. Even scientists are puzzling their noodles and they're observing others using scientific equipment. I don't "feel" like I'm translating either. Looking at it logically it makes sense that the brain is programmed to "seek" in order to take advantage of all the available bits of information. In this sense learned languages are filters and lenses that allow it to see better. I'm afraid that once the primary OS has been baked in, short of a major trauma, it's there to stay. If you start early, you'll perhaps be lucky and end up with a dual boot. I have also provided some links on my own blog.


  3. hey man, I love your blog and I have a question, I hope u will spend a little precious time of yours to help me out.
    This is my question: "What will you do if you start learning a language now (such as Japanese - yeah, I want to learn it now), and what is your favorite method which you will use and recommend for anyone who's gonna to learn a language.

    I will be much obliged to you for your answer.
    Thanks in advance.
    My email: (If possible, please send your answer to my mail box).


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