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!