Saturday, January 31, 2009
I just like to have things wrapped up so that it's easy to calculate numbers. This month, I watched about 106 hours of Chinese. That's 2 viewings of this drama and almost 2 viewings of the other one. Shall we say that's too too much? Even though I watch one whole drama in between each, it feels like there is no time between viewings of the same drama.
I've ordered 2 more Chinese dramas online that I'm waiting for. I don't think either of them is as long as one of these two because they don't have as many discs. But we'll see when they arrive. Neither will have Japanese subtitles. Yaay! They both have Simplified Chinese subtitles, but I hope they can be turned off. It's easy to get the wrong idea when seeing subtitles, especially since I know Japanese Kanji. But also, I'd be likely to think of the meaning of the words if I see their characters.
I've been trying to not think about the meaning of the words I hear and I believe I'm making some progress in that area. You can hear more too, when you don't think about the meaning. It's encouraging for me to hear sentences that I can understand but never picked up on in previous viewings.
I believe the most basic words in a language are the ones that are constantly repeated and that those are the words you should firmly know and easily be able to hear before expecting to add more vocabulary to your knowledge. I also think that natural acquisition is the only way to accomplish this correctly. Any kind of deliberate study would force too many words on you too quickly. Through natural language acquisition, you do more reinforcement than addition. You understand new words when you are ready. Could I have done 106 hours of study in one month? Never! But I did get 106 hours of input. Even though natural methods seems to require a lot of hours, they require less toil than traditional study methods. It's just a matter of priorities.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Foreign Language Doctor has found this article that was published just today.
Sound patterns boost language learning - study
4:00AM Wednesday Jan 28, 2009
Exposure to the sound patterns of another language, even if it is initially meaningless, could hold the key to quickly picking up a foreign tongue, says a researcher.
Victoria University PhD graduate Paul Sulzberger made his discovery while trying to find out why many students dropped out in the early days of trying to learn a new language.
He believed his findings could revolutionise language teaching.
Listening to a language's sound patterns was critical as it set up structures in the brain required to learn the words, he found.
"Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words," he said. "Neural tissue required to learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the language - which is how babies learn their first language."
He was interested in what made it so difficult to learn foreign words when we were constantly learning new ones in our native language. He found the answer in the way the brain developed neural structures when hearing new combinations of sounds.
"When we are trying to learn new foreign words we are faced with sounds for which we may have absolutely no neural representation.
"A student trying to learn a foreign language may have few pre-existing neural structures to build on in order to remember the words."
Extending exposure to foreign languages had been made easier by globalisation and new technology.
Listening to songs, movies and even foreign news reports on the internet were all easy ways to expose the brain to foreign language sounds, Dr Sulzberger said.
Copyright ©2009, APN Holdings NZ Limited
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Perhaps I'll watch a movie in Chinese before I start watching the other drama. I still need to place an order for a new drama.
I've added a display of the number of hours I have put into the TV method. It is visible on the right side of the blog page. Looking at it now, you can see I've put in 223 hours. I can only imagine what a big difference another 200 hours will make. And another 200 after that. The number of hours I have now seems so small. It's like I haven't even done anything yet.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I do all of the above in Japanese. However, I don't consider myself to have reached fluency. I always run into things I don't know how to express. Every time that happens, it reconfirms to me that my knowledge is lacking. I can surely fix that with a lot of input just by watching TV. But since my focus is on Chinese now, the Japanese can wait.
I bring this up because I recently had a conversation with a Japanese tutor at LingQ. I signed up for a 15-minute 1-on-1 conversation that lasted 25 minutes. At 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the conversation, she stated that I was fluent in Japanese. While I wouldn't say it about myself, I guess she has every right to say it. I've made a lot of improvement in the last 1½ years in my ability to speak.
Here is a small mp3 file of the statement the tutor made. It is about 4 seconds long, in Japanese.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Next, but not today, I'm going to produce a series of finger-spelling videos for reading practice. Every week at the JSL Circle, we start off with practice reading 10 words spelled out. Following that format, I'm going to make each video have ten words. Reading sign language is like listening in spoken languages. It takes practice.
So if you too are working on your Japanese Sign Language skills, you ought to subscribe to my YouTube channel. I've searched YouTube several times and have never found a good series of JSL to practice reading finger-spelling.
I made my video with a digital camera, not a movie camera. I then edited it with iMovie. I was surprised to find that I cannot add text to the movie except for a title which was not very formattable. I couldn't move the placement of the text in the title to where I wanted it. Because I could not just throw text on the movie in places that I wanted to, and I could not have more than one title per clip, I did not add kana for each sign. The good things about iMovie are that it made the movie widescreen automatically by selecting the correct project type and iMovie also has transition effects. I haven't used any other movie editing software so I can't compare it with anything else.
If you watch the video on YouTube, it looks better in high resolution, so be sure to click the link for that right away.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A man without feet walks funnily,This proverb, authored by me, is about language learning vs. language acquisition. I've learned Japanese through studying, not through input. Consequently, speaking Japanese does not come naturally to me. It does not feel natural. My ability to speak Japanese is probably like the man without feet. I stumble around and sometimes fall flat on my face. I have to think too much which is as bad as thinking about how to walk. Have you ever thought about the way you are walking while you walk? Suddenly walking feels odd. Your feet don't reach the floor when you expect them to. I've experienced this when I was a teenager walking in the mall while being self-conscious. I thought, "oh girls are probably looking at me. How's my walk?" Suddenly I wouldn't be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. I knew my rhythm was off just because I was focusing attention on it. If I didn't think about walking I'd be fine.
but a man who has feet can run.
Now let's turn that last statement into one related to languages. If I didn't think about talking, I'd be fine. Just like walking is something we shouldn't have to think about, so is talking. Language study puts too much attention on the language. Speaking a language is a natural thing. We do it naturally after receiving an extremely large amount of input.
But we must take care to not try running too early. If you need to think about the language, then you don't have enough input yet. Remember, thinking about the language is like thinking about walking. How could you expect to run when you would still need to think about walking?
There are many simple things that we learn to do and then later are able to do them without thinking. They become second nature to us. But language is not a simple thing. Computer programmers are able to write very complex programs that do wonderful things. Those complex computer programs are actually broken down into very simple instructions. If human language were so simple we would have translation programs that produce high-quality translations from Japanese to English. Unfortunately, the programs we have today do not recognize how awful their results are. How can you create a program that can get a feel for the language? That is what is needed. People have to get a feel for the language. That is why most of us cannot explain why some sentence in our native language is correct or incorrect but we just know it.
Once you have that feel for the language, you'll be running. Thinking about the language does not give you that feel for the language. As long as you keep thinking about the language, you'll never get the feel. The longer you think about the language, the more ingrained the habit of thinking becomes.
I'm going to trust my brain's natural ability to acquire human languages and I'm going to stop thinking about Chinese while I'm watching dramas and listening to it. I don't care what the words mean. Dr. Brown wrote:
"The words don't carry the meaning -- the meaning carries the words."So from now on I'm not going to be able to tell you if I learned any new words or not. I want to do this the right way; the natural way. I'll try my best to clear the English language out of my head. I'll see if I can adapt a relaxed state of mind.
In summary, the act of language study is like cutting off your feet. If you don't speak naturally then you are just practicing a funny walk and you'll never be able to run. Thinking about pronunciation and how to say something is not natural. Studying a language is not natural. Receiving input and just letting the language into your brain is natural.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
In the beginning, you'll be oblivious to most words. (Why are "obvious" and "oblivious" so similar-looking when the meanings are almost opposites?) Eventually, of course, the words start making themselves known to you. They have a funny way of doing that. And through exposure, the new words will become old words.
The natural approach advocates that you don't speak at all in the beginning. Which makes sense because, really, what kind of conversation are you going to have when you only know 10 words? So you won't have any problem refraining from using new words in the early stages. But how about the later stages when you've acquired enough of the language to speak it? Should you try to use new words right away? If you've read the title of this post, my answer should be obvious.
When words are still new to you, you're not ready to use them. You need time to get to the point where you know how the word sounds. You may also need more time to redefine your understanding of the new words. And last but not least, words should come out of your mouth without you having to think about them. A new word is not ready to do that. With new words, you would have to stop and think, and remember.
Like old friends, old words are your friend. They're comfortable. You know what they mean. You can use them without even thinking. Give your new words time to grow and when they become old you'll be using them too without so much as a thought.
So it's not new words you want to acquire. It's old words! That's why study and memorization should have no place in language acquisition. 5,000 new words and only a few hundred old words won't do you much good. Spend your time getting exposure to the language instead of thinking about words. You take care of the language input and the words will take care of themselves.
Monday, January 12, 2009
The thing I like about Chinese is that the words have only one form. Whether it is a command or a statement of the future, past or present, the word itself is always the same. In English, verbs may have up to 3 forms, for example, see, saw and seen. In Romance languages there are more conjugations. In Japanese, there are tons of forms. I posted an example of this when I counted 31 forms of the verb "speak" in Japanese.
Well, that's another 25 hours down. How many more to go? Lots for sure. It seems like I can do about 100 hours a month. I do need to get some more dramas though. Since my 3rd one is not suitable for repeated viewing, I only have 2 dramas. I did find what looks to be a great site online for ordering videos. I will let you know about it after I have tried it out.
It has been 3 months since I started on the TV method. Not every month has been the same number of hours. In the beginning I used only online TV but found myself spending too much time searching for stations that were airing something good. Then I bought a Chinese drama on DVD. I watched it the first time in a week, but the second viewing took 3 weeks. Then I bought a 2nd drama and then a 3rd. I also bought a portable DVD player. I like to call it a language acquisition device. Now I feel like I'm going at full speed. The next 3 months should yield some big improvements.
Friday, January 09, 2009
Language acquisition is a process that takes time. If you want to finish the race sooner, you have to put in more time each day. There aren't any good shortcuts. Studying and memorization seem like shortcuts but the end results only prove to slow you down.
Let's take a look at how going faster is bad and why slow and steady wins the race.
Every student of language learning would like to learn quickly. In doing so, they learn many words and grammar rules and pile on so much information that it overwhelms them. They push themselves beyond what they are ready for. They set the pace of learning but they do not get the massive amount of input and exposure to the language that is required for the brain to absorb the language. Instead, all they have is words and rules that they force themselves to think about so they can construct the language and get to the conversational level as quickly as they can.
The fast learner's model of the language in their head is incomplete. There are holes in their picture of the language which means they have holes in their head. They constantly search for the right words and ways of expressing themselves in the new language. The connections to that language in the brain are still weak because of the lack of exposure.
Whenever you learn something new, such as the name of a new person, it takes time to develop a strong connection in your brain. Whenever people can't quite remember my name, they always come up with a guess of Kevin. I think there are many more Kevins than there are Keiths. The fact that they both start with the same K sound and the same first 2 letters proves that they at least made a weak connection in their brain. If they had made a strong connection, they would have gotten my name right. If the connection was weaker, they wouldn't have even come up with the name Kevin. So there is such a thing as this connection strength.
How much more difficult it must be to make connections for a foreign language whose sounds are very different from what you are used to!
When I studied Japanese in school we used a textbook. We first learned the -masu form which is the middle of the road in terms of formality. Before I could get used to that form, then they added the dictionary form which can be used for informal situations. While I still hadn't mastered the -masu form and the dictionary form was still new to me, then the textbook added the honorific forms. Next we learned how to speak to the in-group and the out-group members which includes the humble forms of speech registers. I had so much information in my head without a chance to get used to and master any of it, is it any wonder why I couldn't speak Japanese naturally?
As Steve Kaufmann points out in his posts, the brain learns when it is ready. Read point number 2 of the post that I linked to there.
When you take a slow approach such as the TV method, you acquire the language as you go along and when you are ready. The part of the language that you have acquired will constantly get reinforced as you keep watching and listening to the language. What happens to the rest of the language that you are hearing but don't yet understand? Does it just get wasted? Is it wasted time? The answer is: NO. It is not wasted. It gets stored and your brain tries to organize it and tie it in with what it already has. When there is a new phrase or word that you keep hearing and noticing, that is because the storage is getting stronger. You are paying more attention to this new phrase because your brain is working on it.
If words you didn't understand were just discarded by your brain then you would never have learned anything because in the beginning you didn't understand anything. When you were born all you could do was hear and feel and see. You didn't come preprogrammed for English. If every word you heard was discarded because you couldn't understand it, then every time you heard a word it would be like the first time you ever heard it and you would keep discarding it. You wouldn't get anywhere.
Memory is still not completely understood by researchers. Sometimes you can't remember something. Does that mean it's gone? No. Later on you remember it. So just the simple problem of recall does not mean the memory is not there. It just means your connection or path to that memory is a little weak. You may hear something in a language you don't understand. You have no chance of recalling what was said but does that imply that your brain threw it away? If your brain threw away everything you didn't understand then you'd have no chance of learning a foreign language. So recall and storage are not the same thing. Just because you cannot recall does not mean it is not stored. I think everything gets stored. So while you are listening to language that you do not understand, it is all being stored. The more you hear it, the more important it becomes and the more your brain will work on it.
And all the while, that language which you have already acquired will get stronger and stronger. What you want is for the language to feel natural to you. If it is foreign to you then you will not be comfortable using it. So one of the benefits of natural language acquisition is that you will feel comfortable using the language. If you are like me, your recall works better when you are comfortable.
I can't tell you the exact figure but something like 80% of the words used in a spoken language are the same set of words. Whether it is 2,000 words or 5,000 words, I don't know. If most of the time you are hearing the same set of words, you are going to acquire them pretty quickly. When you acquire words, you don't have to think about them at all. When you study words, then you are constantly thinking about those words. Even after you feel you know the words quite well, you have already created a habit of thinking about them. Habits are hard to break.
But natural acquisition frees you from those habits and allows you to pass up those people who studied the language. Acquisition allows you to relax and lets your brain work more effectively. It also gives you a broader exposure to the language. While the students are studying a limited set of words, you will have heard expressions that the students never encountered before. You will be ready for it. Once you acquire the meaning you will be way ahead of those students who will be trying to recall the meaning. While the students are trying to remember the meaning, they are missing the next sentence in the conversation. You will be hearing it. They will be frustrated. You will be relaxed and getting more input that will be easily processed.
In summary, trying to go fast and forcing a pace that is not natural and that creates bad habits of thinking will only get you so far. That is the ceiling. Going at the natural pace using a natural approach is very complimentary. It relaxes you which allows your brain to work more efficiently. You only use language that you are completely comfortable with. You are not thinking about grammar or wondering if what you say sounds natural. You know it is natural and you know the grammar is correct because you've heard it a thousand times. You don't need to think about words. The words just come to you.
Even now, I've got words that just come to me. A lot of English sentences start with "You." It is natural for us English speakers to start our thoughts with "You." "You" is rarely used in Japanese. I never use "You" in Japanese. So when the Chinese word for "You" pops into my head, which it often does now, I know that the thought I was about to think was my natural tendency to use "You" to begin a sentence and because I am watching the Chinese dramas so much, it just wants to come out in Chinese. I don't have the knowledge yet to complete my thoughts in Chinese so I have to stop and then I realize that Chinese is coming to me. I didn't choose it. I didn't make a decision. It just came.
I look forward to when I've acquired enough of the language to be able to converse in it. I think it will be pleasant and feel natural which is in contrast to how I feel about Japanese.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
This time around, I had the advantage of already having watched 2 other drama series and I noticed that the words I picked up from those 2 dramas showed up in this drama quite often as well. I hadn't been able to notice those words from my first 2 viewings of this series. This illustrates the value of multiple sources of input. The meaning of certain words may be better illustrated in another drama or TV show than the one you are currently viewing. And then when you go back to watching what you have already seen before, you are able to understand it better.
The more I watch the same series, the better I am able to learn the characters names or titles. In a previous post, I illustrated a point about the learning process by using the example of a piece of fruit. First you may think a word means apple but then you find that the word is also applied to a banana and so you adjust your understanding of that word. This exact thing has already happened to me. In the 2nd drama series, I thought the name of a character was a certain 3 words. Then later, I noticed that the last 2 words were applied to another person and so I realized it was a title. Based on the rank of those two people, I thought the word meant 'princess.' Then in one of the other dramas, I saw the same title being applied to a man who was a son of the emperor so I realized that it was not just for females like the word 'princess.' I thought it could mean prince or princess. And then I see the title still being used to address this man even after he became emperor. So again I adjusted my understanding of this word.
You see, without knowing the exact translation of this word, I have to learn to disregard such translations. In fact, I don't need them. Why would I need a translation? I have experienced how this word is used and to whom it is applied. I have an understanding that works for me and one in which I can adjust as needed. I don't need to be tied to translations. I know from my studies of Japanese that words do not have a one-to-one relationship between languages. So I know it is important to understand the word and not to just know a translation.
So, yes, definitely my understanding has increased. While my new understanding increases little by little, my old understanding gets reinforced. My listening ability also improves each time. I am not yet able to concentrate on everything I hear. Sometimes I get caught thinking about a word I just heard and then miss the next thing being said. But even so, I enjoy my small gains. Over time, it will add up to big gains. In my next post I want to discuss why small gains are good.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
And then Steve has written a follow-up post. In that post he states,
I learned Mandarin by listening and reading and focusing on phrases, and ignoring grammar explanation. After 8 months I passed the British Foreign Service Exam in Mandarin.So if it took Steve just 8 months to reach a respectable level of Mandarin his way, I think the TV method will work much faster. With the TV method, I am not spending time looking up words or pronunciation. My time is spent receiving a nearly constant flow of the language into my brain. And it is not my pronunciation that I am hearing. It is the pronunciation of native speakers. Also, I am not getting in the way of my brain's natural abilities by trying to remember what words mean for every sentence. I am not constantly interfering with the natural process. Constant interference will only become a natural habit. A habit of second nature. Avoiding the formation of this habit is one of the main objectives of my approach.
It is interesting, or maybe sad, that none of the people who comment, seem to know about ALG World. One person there wrote:
I am sorry, but the intuitive approach has been disastrous wherever it has been applied. You end up with people who cannot be described as knowing a language, who can parrot a few sentences, but cannot analyze what they do, and will never be able to go beyond a very basic and simplistic understanding.That statement is completely false. At ALG World, students who complete the necessary time are able to understand the language in exactly the same way as a native. The reason why is because they don't speak from the beginning, they don't take notes, they don't get in the way of the natural acquisition process.
The same person also wrote:
Try mastering Mandarin without being able to understand how grammar and syntax work!I say to him, I am trying this. I will never study Mandarin grammar.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Please update your links or subscriptions.
I moved to blogger hosting so I can have the features not available when hosted as before. Now the blog can be easily browsed via the archives. You can see the post titles for each month. Another feature new to this blog is the list of labels. And finally, anyone who publicly follows this blog will be listed in the blog followers section. There are hundreds of other add-ons available from blogger. I may add one or two more in the future.
Maybe next year I'll get a domain name for this blog, but for now I don't feel like paying for that. I prefer the free blogspot hosting.
I updated the old location with automatic redirects. I think I have the redirect working properly. If you find any problems, please let me know.