Tuesday, March 31, 2009

learn homophones by ear

The picture above is one of the new DVD boxes that I bought to store my TV dramas in. The disc you see on the left side is on a hinged panel. It swings around and the first disc is on the other side. What's interesting is the way the discs overlap on the right side. This box is the same size as a regular DVD case but holds 4 discs. It's 19 cm tall and 1.5 cm thick.

You can see a picture in my previous posts that shows the Heroic Legend packaging. It has 1 disc per box. So I have 12 DVD boxes for that series. An unfortunate waste of space.

As promised, (did I make a promise?) I finished the Last Agent series by the last day of the month. This is the 2nd time I have watched the 15 hour series, and I still don't know who the last agent is. I'm not sure which character the title refers to. Maybe "agent" has a different meaning than the one I'm thinking of.

There are so many words in English that have multiple meanings. You don't even realize it until you search in a dictionary to try to find the right word. On Sunday, at work I had to translate some English to Japanese. What a pain that was.

Chinese can be said to have a lot of homophones. English has a lot too, but we don't recognize it so easily because given a certain word we may think of one basic meaning. But for many words there are other uses that are actually different meanings. One of the things about being a native speaker is that when a word is encountered in context, the other meanings of the word never come to mind.

If I say I'm going to break a board, or I need to take a break because I'm bored, you would never stop to think about which meaning I intended for the words break and board/bored. And to us the word "break" might seem like the same word because in both instances something is being divided. But a coffee break is fundamentally different than a board break and a learner of English might see them as totally different. I can say I'm breaking a board, but I can't use the -ing for the other kind of break.

So I think that saying a language has a lot of homophones is not a good criterion for a language being difficult to learn. When you know the language well, the context is so specific that you never get the wrong idea, nor do you have to stop and think about the meaning because of all the homophones. Just try this one on for size: A competition to learn how to tie a tie in Thai ended in a tie.

With the TV method, I'm learning by listening. I don't know if this is the same as learning to play an instrument by ear or not. I haven't learned to play the piano, although I did take a piano class in college. But I was thinking the other day that if I was learning to play the piano, it would be a good idea to actually listen to the song that I was learning. If I knew the song well I would be able to recognize if I hit the wrong key in practice. If I didn't know the song well, I could be practicing an unnatural pace and I wouldn't even notice if I got some keys wrong.

When I was in band class around 5th grade, at first I was on drums. I was so bad at keeping the beat that I had to change instruments after a while. I changed to the slide trombone then. I found it difficult to learn to read the music sheet. So I was a pretty bad music student back then too. In fact, I remember a music class where we each had to sing something individually so the teacher could grade us once. I was so off tune that the music teacher didn't seem to believe it. In fact, she seemed disgusted by my awful performance. I'm still bad at singing.

Even though the TV method is a 'learn by ear' method, it won't be a problem learning different meanings for words that sound the same. The brain figures these things out. Just like when you were growing up, before you ever learned to read, you never had a problem with there, they're, and their.

1 comment:

  1. You're right on target with the music thing. I took saxophone lessons for a number of years, and most of the time my teacher would have us listen to the song over and over, and then we'd have to sing part of it first to show that we knew which notes were happening, and THEN we would attempt it on the saxophone. That way, what was happening was purely saxophone skill development instead of fumbling around because we didn't know the actual song.

    to develop a better sense of pitch, i recommend putting on headphones and using a microphone, and sing along to a song. Then you'll be able to hear your voice clearly in the headphones overtop of the song and you'll hear when you're the same and different.

    I guess this mirrors what Prof. Arguelles says about his "shadowing" technique, where he speaks simultaneously overtop of some native speaker, using his ipod or whatever.


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