Tuesday, December 27, 2011

why you don't need to study grammar

Everybody should read this article on why you don't need to study grammar. It describes how we can learn to do things without knowing how we are doing it. It also tells us that thinking about, or analyzing, is too slow. No one would be able to hit a fast-ball if it had to be consciously processed.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

who's LingQing?

Hello readers of my blog! Long time, no post!

The purpose of today's post is to give away some LingQ points. Are any of you who are reading this post, active members of the aforementioned language learning community? If so, you are probably aware that we can give points to other members now.  Since I am receiving points for my submitted content that is used by other members and I am not so active, I have a lot of points to give away. Why would I give away points instead of keeping them? Because points will expire if they are not used within 90 days. Expired points get redistributed to people like me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Mixed Messages

Natalie Hunter is not Keith, but rather a guest blogger. She grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. As a result she is grateful for the invention of the Internet because it allows her to spend some time outside, rather than just poring through books in a library. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education. She also loves to travel and learn via interaction with other people and cultures.

I've been learning new languages all my life. English is supposedly my native language, but it took me years to learn it well enough to speak it. In the years after becoming better at English I took many other languages in the hopes that I would find one I could more easily express myself in. Several of these languages I took very seriously, never really bothering with things like online school but instead traveling to places where they were the dominant language with hardly a word in my memory bank to assist me once I got there. It took me three months in Taiwan to learn how to ask where the bathroom is!

switching circuits by Ryan Somma
One side effect of this sort of learning I'm sure many people have experienced is mixing up my languages. I have terrible dreams where I'm speaking a mixture of Japanese and Chinese to try and interact with someone speaking some unintelligible mishmash of gibberish interspersed with Mongolian. In daily life I will often catch myself before using the wrong term in whatever language I am speaking, and then spend an awkward moment fumbling for the correct word, even in English. Very rarely I won't catch myself among my monolingual friends, which can be embarrassing although they all say they enjoy learning from me.

This sort of mixed speech, when deliberately done, is called code-switching when spoken and macaronic language when written.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

can't recall where you left your brain?

I can't vouch for the results reported about yet another brain research experiment. I'm sure this one has some faults too, but it does seem to have made some good observations about our success in trying to recall words. The report was here at Science Daily.

Basically, I think it says that you have better recall ability when the theta waves in the brain are high.

To me, this relates to SRS, because I have questioned the effectiveness of Space Repetition. Let's say you're using an SRS to try not to forget the Kanji. If you do your SRS review while the theta waves in your brain are low, your results will not be as good as if you had used the system during high theta wave activity. This will affect the SRS's ability to determine the next optimal time to show you the ones you are failing. So, say you have a bad day and get a lot of them wrong. Now there will be a day in the future where your need-to-review words will be higher.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

the US president speaks Chinese

Did you know? The president of the United States speaks Chinese? And so do his secret service agents. I don't know if it is a secret or not, but you can watch it on YouTube. I've embedded the video in this post below so you can watch it if you're interested in seeing the president speak Chinese. The scene is set in the Oval Office and there is only one bodyguard and the president. It's less than a minute long. If I add more people, they'll all be speaking Chinese! I had fun creating this video and doing the voices. When you record your voice, you can tweak the pitch so you can easily sound different for different characters.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I've got class

Starting tomorrow, I'm taking a class. You read it right. I'm taking a class. And not just any old class, I'm taking a language class. And not just any old language class, it's an intermediate Japanese sign language class.

I took the beginning course in 2008 and haven't found any way to hone my skills, so I'm still not able to hold a conversation in sign language. And my listening skills are just awful. Did I say "listening skills?" I meant, my reading skills. I can't read sign language very well. I have to convert the signs into Japanese words and then wait for my brain to parse the grammar, and by then I'm completely lost.

Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, there actually is NO silent period when learning sign language. You can begin signing right from day one. The human brain can distinguish between all the different signs in the whole world. So jump right in!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

slow or fast?

Which is better? To learn a language slowly or quickly? This may seem like a dumb question to you. If it does, then you've already made up your mind, which means that you're not being open-minded.

If, however, you are one of the people who are interested in hearing my view on this, then please keep reading.

I'm sure most people would say they want to learn a foreign language as quickly as possible. Even if I could convince them that there was a tradeoff, they'd gladly take the tradeoff. I know most language learners, though, wouldn't buy the tradeoff theory. They're the people who say there's no bad way to learn a language.

I'm not writing this post to try to convince anybody that they'll be doomed by using all those shortcuts and other 'bad for your health' techniques. I'm not even trying to convince you that you're better off learning slowly. I'm just here, expressing my thoughts.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

how long does a child take to learn a language?

I think there is a common misconception that learning like a child will take 10 years to sound like a ten-year-old.  I live in Japan and I can tell you that there are not many native English speaking foreigners that can speak Japanese as fluently as a six-year-old, let alone a ten-year-old. While either child may not know some words that a learner knows, the child knows many more words than the foreign learner and can speak with impressive fluency.

Yes, all children learn their first language naturally. Before they can start reading, they learn a vast amount of the language without looking up any words, and without asking questions. They certainly never take notes (because they can't write either.)

Is learning naturally, a slow way to learn? Some say that it takes the child 10 years to reach the level of a ten-year-old (which is actually a really impressive level if an adult finally reaches it) and so we as adults can learn much faster and shouldn't try learning naturally.  I say to you, be aware of these types of arguments. For they are all false!

Let me tell you about a person from Korea who was adopted when he was eight-years-old. His adoptive parents didn't speak Korean, nor did his peers. So how did he learn English? The natural way! He had to experience everything and go through all the stages of natural learning. There simply was no other way. I met him when he was eighteen. By that time he had forgotten all of his Korean long long ago. And how was his English? It had been 10 years, so was he only at the level of a ten-year-old? No, he was way ahead. He was at the level of a young adult on his way to enter university.

I have no idea when he actually caught up to his peers. But it certainly illustrates to me the falseness of the argument above.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

why all the drama?

As detailed in my previous post, after trying several different ways to learn Chinese spread out over a millenia, I settled on and stuck with the TV method. That's right, I stuck with something. Even without having any evidence of whether it would work or not, I enjoyed it and kept going. I made a commitment to watch 2,000 hours of Chinese.

I never set any expectations for what I might achieve in 2,000 hours, so I was certainly not disappointed. One reason for taking up the challenge was just to show that it can be done. Yes, you can learn a language just by watching TV. In fact, I still am! I have a ways to go before I get to understanding 100% and I'll let you know when I get there. In the meantime, I'm slowly accumulating more hours of watching TV in Chinese.

All of my time has been spent on TV dramas. But why? Well, it was not a decision, nor even a focus on dramas. It was just that it was the easiest thing to find. Once I find a drama to watch, I'm all set for 16 to 30 hours. Choosing the next thing to watch takes time. If I had used cable TV, I'd have been spending a lot of time finding a good channel with something good on. There also were not any reliable TV broadcasts on the internet when I started. So that's why I started buying dramas. But nowadays, things are different. There are several good sites for Chinese TV programming, and the streaming is getting better and better all the time. I recommend tv.sohu.com.

Other excellent types of TV content, as Bakunin has shared with us, are instructional videos and children's programming. You would probably need some help to find those, unless you can read Chinese. But if you can read Chinese then you probably aren't looking to learn the language. I can't read Chinese either. I can recognize some characters that are used in Japanese, but I can't read the description of anything. I'm just like a kid. I have to choose what to watch based on the cover picture.

One of the good things about learning from authentic content like this, is that I am never shocked. Classroom learners or those using learner content never get used to watching TV in the target language. It's just too discouraging to realize that you can't understand the real language yet. However, using the TV method, I never noticed a sudden difference in the difficulty level. There's no sudden jump. I just gradually understand more and more. And when I look back, I realize that I am improving.

Now if only I could retire so I could devote more time to watching TV. I mean, learning languages.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

my history of learning the Chinese language

Let me tell you about my Chinese language learning history by starting with the time I requested a college roommate from France. At that point, French was the only foreign language I had ever studied and I knew I wanted to be able to speak French, so on my roommate preferences form I clearly stated that I wanted a roommate from France. Yes, that is how my interest in Chinese began, by asking for a roommate from France. If I hadn't done that I probably would have ended up with a roommate from Minnesota.

I guess the school didn't have many international students from France, so I got the next closest thing to a roommate from France. I got a roommate from Hong Kong. When I found out that I was going to have a roommate from Hong Kong, I did a little research. Right or wrong, I thought that Hong Kong was a city of China, and in China, they speak Chinese. The population of China was about 800 million and it had a long history. I thought, wow, if I knew the Chinese language I would have access to so much information and be able to communicate with so many people!

Friday, February 11, 2011

what this blog is about

The current title of this blog is "Keith's Voice on Extreme Language Learning." Let's take a look at what this means.

We'll start with the obvious. This blog is not entitled, Fluent in 3 months. Fluency is not in the title of my blog. Neither is there a time frame, such as, "pretty good in 2 months." It's also not entitled, Quick Foreign Language Acquisition. Quick is not a keyword that I use. The title is not Secrets of Successful Language Learning. Nor is this blog the How-to-learn-any-language Forum. Those are all good sites to visit, by the way.

The next obvious thing is what I put in bold when I wrote the title of this blog in the first sentence. I like to try out the most extreme and unusual thing you can think of to learn a language. Let me tell you why. I go to extremes because I want to do what very few have ever even attempted to do. I've decided I'm more interested in going past the native-speaker level, while most other learners don't even think about getting to the native-level. I don't want to just learn the language, I want to be the language.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Chinese comprehension challenge

Last night, I took another language test called The Friedemann Chinese Comprehension Challenge. It's a grueling 20-minute test where you watch scenes from a drama and have to catch every technical word and the names of all kitchen cooking equipment. Boy, was I not prepared!

The video below is the result of the previous post where I responded to a challenge from Friedemann.

Actually, Friedemann is not a bad guy. I think from watching the video, you can realize that he is coming from a different perspective than I. We are both learning Chinese but we have a different mindset.

We first tried to do the test mid-day, yesterday but the audio from my side was not transmitting clearly and he could not hear what I was saying. So we met up again late in the evening. At first, I loaded the wrong episode. So, the video you will see below is after a couple of false starts, hence, there is no introduction as I had planned.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

in response to Friedemann's challenge

In this post, I will respond to Friedemann's comments and his challenge.

Friedemann says little kids cannot understand the new because of their intellect. I say, they cannot understand the news because of their lack of words and experience.

Friedemann asked which dramas some words would be considered rare ones? For most of the words he mentions, I would say most dramas do not focus one those things. There are many other phrases that are just constantly repeated in dramas.

Apparently, I wasn't simply asked, "Where do you live?" which is exactly what Friedemann wrote as one of the questions I didn't understand.  The keyword in the actual question I was asked apparently had the word for city or town. I do not know that word.

"What languages do you speak?" This is a very rare question in a drama. Everybody is speaking Chinese. The dramas are not about people speaking foreign languages. Sure, people will ask Friedemann that all the time in China. But they do not make many dramas about polyglots.

"Could you say again please?" Again, another question Friedemann has to use all the time, but in dramas there is no need for this as it's all scripted out. I have heard often in the dramas, "What did you say?!" But not because they couldn't hear what was said. They say it because they can't believe what they heard.

My response to the above questions is not to make excuses. I never pretended like I was going to do great in the first conversation. If someone had thought of those questions which I would likely have been asked and asked me if I would be able to understand or answer them, I would have answered No.

Monday, January 24, 2011

breaking the silence

Here it is! My first time to speak after an extended silent period.
I'll refrain from criticizing myself and let you all criticize me instead.

Of course, I've kept my promise to record the first conversation. I will record more when I can.  This video is what I call a language time capsule. I'd like to thank Rony Gao again for allowing me to record and upload my very first Chinese conversation. You'll be seeing him again. I should also mention he is a tutor at LingQ.

Yes, LingQ saved the day! I could not find many new contacts on Skype. The search function of Skype has become useless for finding new friends, as you cannot limit it to online people only. I sent out a bunch of hellos, and all of them went "pending..." because the people in the results list were not online even though I set my search function to search for people in SkypeMe mode. In fact, I learned that Skype has recently removed SkypeMe from it's PC version.

The reviews are already pouring in on YouTube (sort of.) I look forward to someone bashing me and telling me they aren't impressed. I haven't put this video up to impress anybody. It just says this is where I am on January 24, 2011 with my Chinese. Let's see what the next few months bring. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the TV method answers

The following are answers to the questions from my previous post, two thousand hours. I'm glad to see there are still some people interested in the TV method. Thanks to all my readers, especially those who left a comment or question.

The first set of questions came from William.
  • How well do you feel that you understand dialog in TV shows?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

two thousand hours

I have just completed 2000 hours of watching TV in Chinese. Hip hip hooray!

This completes my 2000 hour silent period, and I now give myself permission to speak Chinese freely. Except for one restriction! I will not speak until I'm ready (haha). That is, not until I am ready to record my first Chinese conversation with a native speaker.  Hopefully that will be sooner than later.  I wouldn't want to cheat anybody by having a warm-up period, that is, getting a little practice off camera. No, I just want to record my very first real conversation.  And hopefully when it's done, we'll be able to call it a conversation too.

I'm curious to see how I sound speaking Chinese and if I've learned any useful words or phrases from all these dramas I've watched.