Becoming Bilingual and Organizing Practice

Becoming Bilingual, Larson, Smalley 1972As I’m here in Japan, I decided to dust off the old book of “Becoming Bilingual” by Larson and Smalley. I’ve read through a lot of the chapters and skimmed through others.

There wasn’t too much to take away that was new to me on the second reading. But I know that after being here in Japan for more than a month I must organize some sort of learning schedule.

The book has some recommendations and then goes over various types of practice and activities from texts to translations to practicing for vocabulary and pronunciation.

Let’s face it. Japanese is has a big learning curve coming from an English mother tongue.

What are the big hurdles to overcome?

Handwriting

Being here in Japan, I learned that writing is still very much appreciated here. Handwritten things are everywhere. Most people have to fill out forms and write resumes by hand.If I want to send something by post, I’ll need to know how to write out things myself.

Not too many things are computerized. Only when technology calls for it the most are things computerized. Though, I’m pretty well practiced in computer input with Japanese.

This is an ability that I will need to develop and keep here in Japan. For this, I will have to organize practice around it.

Reading

Reading is another ability I need. Now I know why many people are very Kanji focused in their studies. And I also know why Japanese don’t expect foreigners to know much Kanji at all. Most Japanese will recognize everything they see. Many will have a hard time remembering some kanji. Also reading some kanji can occasionally be difficult if it’s rarely used. Knowing kanji is also a form of social status to some extent. Some do daily practice of Kanji as a hobby and not just calligraphy.

Kanji can really slow me down at times. Sometimes the kanji that I know very well will speed things up when I read as compared to pure hiragana/katakana. Signs in Kanji are everywhere. Handwritten things in Kanji are the hardest thing for me.

Also reading speed is a big factor. A native will fly through a comic book at the convenience store. I have trouble reading through articles online.

Vocabulary.

There’s not much to say here other than, I need to build my vocabulary. And this is a huge reason why my reading is so slow and dead. I can’t process much if I don’t have enough practice/experience with the words. Even if I’ve seen them or heard them in context before, it takes a while to acquire some words.

Proper context Phrases.

Sometimes I want to express something in Japanese, but I can’t. This must be due to lack of pattern practices. Sometimes I’m unsure of myself of the proper conditional, and the proper words to say. This is due to lack of reading too. Lack of experiences in general. Occasionally the a word here and there will trip me up. This word is used for polite language, and I don’t really know it so my mind goes blank on the word. And when that happens, I’ve lost track of what was being asked or said. YAY!

Fluency.

Eventually all of these things build up to a fluency. That is,  I can run through trains of thought without tripping over my words or my uncertainty. I know the words through and through. I’ve seen them many times. I’ve heard them used in many different context. I’ve explicitly practiced and used them in context. I can organize ideas in my head and communicate them all in Japanese.  This is the ideal. I can also translate them with full command into my mother tongue. I will convey the full sense of the stories and words and phrases. This is Bilingualism.

 The Practice System

The book has a chart explaining hours of practice and how to spend it in a good learning system.

In the first 4-6 months 15 minutes would be focused on pronunciation. 45 minutes would be focused on frozen phrases. And then, patterns would take up 2 hours. Using these patterns to say new things are set for another 2 hours. Reading for only 20 minutes.  Then an hour is dedicated to using the language out in the environment.

In the other book, “Barefoot Language Learning” by Larson, he goes over another way to learn Languages based off of language helpers and slowly getting more involved in the communities.

I’ll only have a few hours a day to practice. Maybe 4 hours at the maximum for full on practice.

It’s weird because I feel that I’m at a very different stage as I’m a “False beginner” as they call it. I really hate that term, but it’s suitable. I never had a proper intensive class, other than a casual tutor. Most of my learning has been very casual with a few sprints here and there with drill books and the RTK.

So, how should I organize my practice?

I need to have 20 minute sessions with a 10 minute activity break.

This seems to be the magic number to avoid burnout and to increase long term memory retention. Check out this study here http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00589/full

The break activity will be drawing and focusing on my drawing skills. I love to sketch things out on paper, and I think this will really help to engage other parts of my brain.

The Plan
  • 1 hour of extensive reading (2 20 minute sessions with a 10 minute activity break each)
  • 1 hour of of Kanji (1 20 min session of learning, 1 20 minute session of reviewing)
  • 1 hour of vocabulary drilling. 2 20 minute sessions. This is something that I need to actively do. It’s hard to comprehend what I’m listening to if I’ve never been exposed to words in the first place. I have a few drill books and a grammar book as well. After I finish the vocab book, I’ll move onto grammar drills. Right now, the vocab base is still very weak.
  • 1 hour of Glossika Mass sentences. Same 2 20 minute drills apply here. I got these a while ago, and I feel that they will work great for active pattern drilling. I just need to dust them off and use them.
  • Tracking: I’ll keep notes of my sessions.

This is only 4 hours and it doesn’t seem like enough. But I know that it adds up to a lot when done every day.