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!