Why are languages being taught like math?

Within the past century there have been many great developments in language teaching, especially from American educators. And yet, the majority of foreign language courses taught in America and around the world are very much your standard grammar/translation course mixed in with “communicative” learning. While this is a very valuable method the major drawback is that it needs to be intensive in order to achieve good results. Your 50 minute high school Spanish class 3 times a week doesn’t count as intensive. Even with all of the worksheets assigned for homework.

So now I must ask the question; Why are languages being taught like math? And more importantly why are they being tested and graded like math?

Let’s do a little thought experiment.

Imagine you are in math class. Nothing too crazy, it’s just your typical fourth grade elementary school arithmetic.

Now like any good student you’ve been studying hard and doing a ton of practice problems on worksheets and from your textbook. Every problem is beautifully solved step by step. And like the perfect student you show each step of your work written out in your best penmanship.

You are well prepared for what’s about to come next. The math test. What’s on the test? Long division and multiplication. The test is an hour long with 100 questions.

But, unfortunately the copier in the teacher’s room is broken. So the teacher decides to give the exam orally. And you can’t write anything down. In fact, you have to do all of the math in your head and have to speak your answers aloud. You still have an hour and 100 questions.

Can you do it?

I imagine you won’t do very well unless you’ve been working with a private tutor or teaching yourself on how to do long division in your head.

That’s how many language classes work to prepare the learner for conversation. Most grammar focused courses are very good, but they rarely give the students the skills to do any real work in the language. Communicative classes try to address this issue but usually put the cart before the horse and miss the fine parts of understanding the language. Students say things without understanding.

Why are grammar classes good? Well, if you take a look at Chomsky’s recent works about languages, you’ll understand something very important. Language developed first as a method for thinking not communication. That came afterwards as a result.

However, it’s very hard to think in another language without acquiring the grammar. Grammar courses are focus on making you aware how the language works and how the forms change. Thinking only happens naturally when the brain acquires the grammar patterns and meaning with sounds.

Are they good at helping you acquire that internally? Depends on the class. If the class is heavy in comprehension, it’ll have stronger results. If it’s taught like a series of math puzzles, once the puzzle is solved there is less reason for the brain to retain the pieces of the puzzle.

Now let’s move back to our thought experiment. Acquiring a language is like acquiring another way to do mental math. You can’t simply understand the rules and apply them when in mid conversation. You must have it already internalized. Your brain must be trained to hold the capacity. The brain must process meaning and take mental notes in the language.

Many language courses are taught focused on reading and writing. And it’s done through the scope of  the mother tongue. Very little attention is given to understanding. Dialogue and conversation is stressed. Thinking is glanced over.  It is presented as a set of grammar rules to decode messages. And remembering all of these rules before the brain has fully acquired them causes too much strain on the mental capacities. Especially during an unrehearsed conversation.

Should we teach grammar? Absolutely.

Should languages be taught and tested like math?

What is the end goal?

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?


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 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.


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!


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.

Updates and Things I’ve Learned from My Mother-in-Law

What’ve I been up to?

I’ve been off of Extensive reading for quite some time now.

It’s been quite hard. I’ve done a little bit of intensive/extensive reading here and there in Japanese, but I’ve mostly been focused on other things. I got really caught up in playing Magic the Gathering over the past few months, and I did extremely well considering jumping back into it after such a long time of not playing. There are quite a few Korean and foreign players here in Ulsan and Busan. We meet up almost every Saturday and play Commander.

I picked up the special Japanese edition Chandra vs. Jace duel decks. And I’ve learned quite a bit of Japanese by reading through the cards/translating and playing in Japanese. In Japanese I feel the language is much more logical. It’s very similar to Korean Magic cards, but even more logical/step by step.

I’ll do some more postings on MTG here and there on the blog.

Other updates:

I started the Kanji book and Grammar book almost over a year ago, and I haven’t touched them much since the summer. I’ve been mainly trying to keep up with Anki. I don’t know how else I can progress with this unless I just keep on tracking it here on the blog. Those have been the times when I’ve seen the most gains.

Hangeul Type Attack

A few of you have been asking about Hangeul Type Attack, and it’s down for now. I know those of you who’ve been asking for it and who’ve been really sad to see it gone. I’ve been working on learning more Javascript and recently Python. There are plans to make a downloadable cross-platform python version with updated graphics and videos. As I’m still teaching in Korea, I can’t sell this software or have advertising to fund development. So this is just a hobby/project where I can’t sink much money into it. I’ll post progress on this item as well. It could very well be an open source project which could help further development.


A few years back I tried to do a learning Korean Vlog where I said I’d be fluent in a year. This was mainly to keep me in check so that I could learn Korean with some motivation. But it was hard work keeping up a channel and I was starting to realize that it would take more than a year without significant help from other people and study time. In other words, I just burnt out and spun my wheels. Nowadays I still use Korean in daily life for simple functional things and sometimes in the workplace. I have barely any accent, which is tough because the native speaker thinks I know more vocabulary than I actually do.

I’ve decided to give video making a try again. Over the years, I’ve gotten more confident in my voice and presentation working as a teacher. I have a lot of ideas to share, and I might as well share them on YouTube.

Studying for the JLPT

I’m planning on taking it next December instead of July, but I should aim for being ready by July. That means more vocabulary and grammar drilling with Anki.

I know, this is the opposite of Extensive Reading. Studying vocab involves a lot of translation and takes a lot of time and processing power in my mind. But I’ve seen great gains in my ability by doing this for extended periods of time. I noticed a dramatic increase in my proficiency last spring and summer going to Japan and speaking with my in-laws, and people around in Japan.

Also, I could read a lot more Kanji. The meaning and reading would come up in my head, and I didn’t know how I knew it! Obviously I had studied it (but I didn’t remember explicitly studying it).

That’s what it’s like to progress. You go through so much that you don’t even know that you’re acquiring language. That may also be why I’ve been off and on for so long. I’m just not feeling the fruits of my labor as much. I think it also might be due to the fact that I’ve been involved in other activities and not been into Japanese media as much as I used to be. (but I really want to get back into it!!!)

Back to Basics Extensive Reading

I had a realization the other day while talking to my dear mother-in-law. I talk with her once a week in English so she can get some English conversation practice. She’s been recently following an NHK radio program (or TV program? I don’t remember). It comes with a magazine that you can buy for the program to follow along and study at home.

And you know what? It’s quite difficult!

It’s almost native material with big words and so-called “real” English. Which is fine. But… she takes a long time to read through these things. She said to me (in Japanese) that she knows what each individual word means, and sometimes what each sentence means, but the whole paragraph or article is much harder to understand.

And I said, “Yeah, you studied many words individually in school and in other places using the dictionary. You have a great proficiency. But you don’t know the language deeply.”

My father-in-law (who speaks pretty good ‘Business English’) said to me, “Maybe she is a 5 year old in English? Or 4 year old in English?”

And that struck me as being just plain wrong. My mother-in-law is not a 4-year old or 5-year old. If you listen to the speech of a 4 or 5 year old. It’s very fast. It flows. They are fluent. But they don’t use big words like the ones in the NHK English program.

Not only do they not use these words, they don’t understand complex concepts. They don’t even know about the concept of GRAVITY! They are still trying to count to 100 and tie their shoes the right way. I remember when I was very young, I thought that things fell down because they had nothing to support them. I didn’t think there was an invisible force pulling things toward each other. The concept hadn’t even occurred to me at 5 years old.

And yet, they are fluent. Kindergarteners can talk to each other and play house. Some can even read picture books! They know the language deeply and they can process simple language fast. They even make up language! Sure they make mistakes in grammar and understanding, but boy do they quickly learn and grow out of those ‘little kid mistakes.’

My mother-in-law is not fluent. It takes her time to process words and for words to come up in her head. But she knows lots of words and their meaning. She doesn’t always know how to use them. When she comes across a bunch of big words, she still has to process them and translate them in her head. That all takes time and mental effort. By the time she’s done reading and understanding a page of text in English she is exhausted! And she has the right to be! She worked hard!

A little kid will be processing language much faster and simple language at that. They will socialize with adults and peers as well as receive input from media. (usually children’s media).

So I told my mother-in-law all of this. She wants to improve her listening comprehension. And in order to do this, she needs to improve her processing speed. How can we do this?

Simply through extensive reading. Getting a lot of understandable English that is interesting and engaging is crucial to growing the mind. All the stress and hard work by going through these NHK English programs isn’t harmful, but it’s far from optimal. Those are designed for those with a decent ‘business’ fluency who can pick up an English teen novel and read it within a week or two without much use of the dictionary. It’s not suitable for my mother-in-law.

Which is why I did a little more reading up on the research that supports Extensive reading and decided to start and track it here again. Starting over from 1 isn’t a bad idea, either. Also, I’ve acquired many simple readers that I can safely jump into after all of the extensive readers are run through.

That’s the update for now. Check back here soon for more updates.

Why Ajatt is Half Wrong

For those of you who don’t know, there is a wonderful glorious site that I found when I was searching for exactly how to study Japanese. This was way back in 2010 when I figured that I needed to somehow get the perfect path to fluency in Japanese.

It’s a great site with great articles. I suggest you go and read some of them. It really helped me stay motivated and push through RTK1. It also helped me think differently about learning a language.

However, there are a lot of misguided views. These views have good intentions and they will work fine for someone who doesn’t really need to learn Japanese seriously. But, let me just address a few views from Khatzumoto’s (the author) writings:

 1.   “Learn from Anime and whatever you like and you’ll be fine.”

This is all well and good, but how much are you understanding? Sure you will be more motivated to learn from things that you like, but more likely than not it will be frustrating and painful. Unless you are absolutely brainwashed and strong-willed, I don’t see this working much for you by starting with only native materials that you like.

In fact, I tried it myself. Especially with photography books and magazines. And admittedly It’s great! It’s wonderful! I was one of those strong-willed people who could push through the pain. But only up to a certain point. I realized that I was slowly slowly plowing through the vocabulary trying to understand meaning. It was like hiking in shoes that were much too big for me. Sure I could do it, but it took time to climb up the mountain. And it wasn’t the best way.

Learning from native materials really disregards the main point about comprehensible input. You can’t acquire much language without understanding. You can’t stand without a foundation.

An anime that I used to watch almost every day when I was first learning was very hard to understand at first. This is even after I watched it with English dubs. But after a few months of studying I could understand bits and pieces here and there. And I said, “Hey! It’s working! It’s working!” All of that studying had paid off. The textbooks, and the language exchanges, and the sentence-mining. It wasn’t watching just the anime over and over again that was working, though. Did it help? Yeah it did, but it didn’t help that much compared to the other things I was doing. Mostly because I had no foundation to stand on.

Because I was doing things I liked, it made the language that I was learning more important to me. But because it was mostly incomprehensible, I didn’t learn much from it. Only after I learned those bits of Japanese from other places did I begin to understand and acquire the language.

You need learner materials to get up to an intermediate-advanced level before you can really advance onto native materials. Sorry, Khatz. You have to crawl before you can run in a marathon.

2. “Textbooks and classes suck. The real world is your classroom/textbook.”

This goes along with number one. A few hours studying from a textbook will give you better results than a few hours watching a Japanese drama without subtitles (or even with subtitles.)

When I was working in Boston, I belonged to a Japanese-English language exchange club. This is a great place to meet people and truly learn things. When we talked to each other we used simple language. Learner language. The way your mother would talk to you when you were 3. This isn’t full native language from a newscaster. This is CI. Comprehensible input.

It’s hard to get CI as an adult because most people don’t have the time or patience for you. Who does have the time and patience? Teachers, tutors, and also some people at language exchanges. 🙂

On some weeks I wouldn’t go to the language exchange, because I knew that I could gain more by going home and studying so I would have something to say at the meetups.

Sometimes I would go to the meetup with questions and books that I was trying to translate. But you can only ask for help so many times. Not everyone wants to be a free tutor.  And you just have to respect that. That’s why, often times the langauge exchange turns into free talking. And unless you’re better at Japanese than they are at English, it’s going to turn into a free talking English meet-up.

Here’s the thing. Ajatt is half right about learning from the real world. The real world tells the brain it’s more important to know and retain. So when  you’re learning from people or the real world, it may be slower, but it will be stronger. That’s why I think classes are still great. It’s people that you learn from.

And again, most language classes are taught poorly with little to no regard for CI techniques. Mostly, you’ll see some form of grammar translation, or even worse, a communicative approach based “learn this dialog and practice with your partner.” What nonsense.

It’s also hard to find good textbooks to learn from on your own. Even with a good textbook it’s far better to have a tutor or teacher helping you. Otherwise you’ll likely morph things like pronunciation, or grammatical things to fit your own English grammar.

So classes and textbooks don’t suck. Bad classes and bad textbooks suck.

If you find a good class and good textbook, then it will help you understand and learn from the real world much better. A good class and good textbook helps you tear down that wall of the outside world.

How do I know all this?

Because that’s what’s been happening to me. I started out watching things without subs, and just reading things without understanding anything and doing whatever I wanted all Ajatt style. But you know what? It sucked. It was slow and painful. It was like running a marathon without training.

And now, I’ve been training with learner materials. Drilling vocabulary and soon drilling grammar.

I’ll also read easy graded things for myself too. I have a huge set of graded readers. And lots of manga and other books.

And also, I talk to people. In Japanese.

Even though I’m here in Korea, I’ve built up my ability to hold a conversation for a few hours in Japanese with very little help. I can’t say the same for my Korean, though. My Korean is barely functional at best.

Other Suggestions?

During my time here in Korea, I have learned some excellent methods for learning languages.

1. German Volume Method.

Do a Youtube search for it. It’s very intensive and takes a while, but it’s great for studying with a tutor or by yourself. It focuses on really building a strong foundation. It is very “left-brained” and based on over-learning, but there are ways to add “right-brained” learning.

2. TPRS. Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling

It’s great if you can find a class or a tutor who can do this with you. It really focuses on being fluent first. I had the pleasure of taking 12 Mandarin Chinese classes with an excellent tutor. You start out with simple grammar and words, and build a foundation piece by piece with compelling stories that the teacher/tutor creates with you.

3. WAYK/Langauge Hunting.

This was developed to help revitalize endangered languages. It’s not really taught as much as it is “played”. I want to say it’s almost how a mother plays with a baby and teaches it language.  It’s very good for learning functional language. And there is very little translation so it is very “right-brained.”

Final thoughts

Now just to be clear, occasionally I’ll watch YouTube videos that are semi-comprehensible and fun to watch. I’m not saying don’t watch anime, or if you watch funny YouTube videos in Japanese you’re doing it wrong. Not at all. Enjoy Japanese. But if you do serious study, you give yourself the opportunity to enjoy those funny videos even more. And I can tell you that’s the truth of it from my first hand experience.

You remember that anime that I mentioned? The one that I watched everyday for months over and over again? Well, after going through vocab books, tutoring, textbooks, and other learner materials, I can say that I understand a whole lot more. There are many little phrases in the anime here and there that I don’t understand.

But that’s okay. The thing is I didn’t realize I didn’t understand it. Before when I was first learning Japanese I just kind of blocked those things out. But now I know what I don’t understand. And I know those things will come to me with more studying from learner materials, tutoring and talking to people in Japanese.

Okay, time for some more studying.

More Awesome books for extensive reading! 韓国に見つけた日本語多読の本だ!

이책은 일본어 많이 읽이의에서 대박!


Japanese Extensive Reading books

I found an awesome set of books for extensive reading And guess what? You can use it for Korean extensive reading too! It has graded levels, and It has both the Japanese and Korean.

I found these little guys at the book store next to the other English graded readers. These readers are for beginners (초급) which is perfect. Remember extensive reading works great reading below your level. At your level and a little bit above get a little harder, of course.

Best of all they come with CD’s so I can also listen.

If you’re in Korea, search around in the language department next to the other graded readers. There are also intermediate and advanced levels too!

Extensive Reading Japanese Extensive Reading Japanese Extensive Reading Japanese Extensive Reading Japanese Extensive Reading Japanese Extensive Reading Japanese

How to learn a language when your life depends on it.

1. Decide if it’s just gonna be a hobby, or if you need the language to survive or make a living.

No seriously. It’s cool to learn Korean from Dramas and Kpop as a hobby. But if you actually need the language you don’t have time to mess around with that stuff yet. Cuz you need to build a functioning foundation first if you need it for survival. I’m talking about a serious need. I’m talking about “Pass me the drill so I can relieve pressure from the patient’s skull!” rather than “Baby come back to me, oh don’t you see what you mean to me? ooooh no no no no no no~~~~~”

2. Understand language acquisition theory.

Go read Krashen’s work. Seriously. So you can talk about it with other people.

Read through all of the research and papers on his website. You need to do that. Don’t be a lazy pseudo-intellectual.

For the lazy, here are some main points from his books and papers:

a. We acquire languages by one way only; through understanding messages.

b. Grammar is useful. But only as a monitor.

That is, something in your head that can edit what you were about to say, or what you’ve written. Conscious use of the monitor is very taxing on the brain.

c. Grammatical structures are naturally acquired in a certain predictable order.

This is GOOD. This means that using materials such as programmed textbooks and graded readers will help tremendously.

d. Having background knowledge on a topic in your L1 (native language) will help you in acquiring language in your L2 (target language) about the same topic.

This is the reason why bilingual education is so important. It helps younger students grow. This has been a hot topic in the States and here in Korea in regards to Universities such as KAIST that offer English only courses. I believe that a bilingual education is a great benefit to everyone. And that’s scientifically proven. That’s not just me being an internationally multicultural hippie dude. Cuz, I’m totally not like that yo.

There’s lots more you can learn from Krashen’s work. The more people know and understand the better.

3. If you seriously need the language, take a language course. But not just any!

Since most of you won’t be able to take a course at DFI and many aren’t religious enough to take a course made for missionaries, I will give you another suggestion.

The best thing is to take an intensive language course that focuses on Comprehensible Input teaching methods. Such methods include TPR and TPRS. (Yes, I realize Asher doesn’t like us to refer to TPR as a method because teaching is an art, not a science.)

If you can’t find a class like this, try to get a traditional intensive course. But even better, get a tutor and teach them to do TPRS with you. This should be done daily. I used to do this for Korean on a weekly basis. It worked well. But it would have worked so much better if I had done it 2 hours every day for a month.

As for other experience with TPRS, I have had a few lessons in Mandarin Chinese on Skype from a woman very experienced in TPRS and for the little Mandarin I know, it is quick and I rarely make grammar mistakes. When I do, It’s because I haven’t fully acquired the grammar. TPRS is like magic. It works. It’s interesting. And there are videos online that show you how it’s done.

I suggest you read up on TPRS and order the big green book. It takes some time to read. It doesn’t read like the Davinci Code, unless you’re a language nerd like me. If you are a teacher, it will show you why your students are struggling so much and what it takes to help them acquire the target language. Pick up the book. Stop making excuses.

Even in your typical language class. Let’s say Spanish. The teacher get’s upset when you don’t know a word or you can’t answer back in Spanish. Guess what? It’s not your fault. Krashen and the big green TPRS book will explain why.

4. Use graded readers to supplement the classroom experience.

Graded readers are AMAZING! Much better than native material for learners.

There’s two types of reading in foreign languages. Reading above your level and reading at or below your level.

Reading above is painful and slow. It’s good for learning lots of vocabulary, but it sucks for developing fluency. This is called intensive reading.

Reading below your level is called extensive reading. Guess what? When you read like this, you understand the messages. You are therefore acquiring language. Duh! You are also developing your reading fluency and fluency in general. Amen.

5. Use easy native material if you can, but not as a main staple at first.

Harder is more intensive and slower to acquire. If you are interested in the subject and have good background knowledge of it in your mother tongue, go for it.

However, I would say getting exposed to the people who speak the language, the culture, the sounds, and the taboos are vital experiences for learning the language. Yes, go make friends. Get your hands on as much Native material as possible, if for nothing other than pure motivation. Get some music that you might like to play in the background. Just remember that this is for acquiring the culture. Your level of the language is still far to low and will be for quite some time before you can enjoy the native materials.

This should be sprinkles on the ice-cream sundae. The brunt of your acquisition should be from a teacher or tutor who gives you messages that you can understand. Next comes your own reading.

6. Use flashcards.

Let’s face it. Most people (even teachers, believe it or not!) won’t give adults like us enough comprehensible input. They won’t dumb down their adult language so you can easily acquire and understand what’s going on.

You either have to force them to do it, or you can go out and use other materials on your own like flashcards for sentences and vocabulary.

Not a bad idea. If you seriously need to learn the stuff, flashcards is a good way to help supplement a good class. Just remember language needs to be repeated vigorously in order to use it reflexively.

7. If you’re doing this as a hobby, do whatever you want.

No seriously.

Who am I to tell you how to do your hobby?

It’s fun. Japanese and Korean were good hobbies of mine. I’ll admit that. I had no real need for Japanese or Korean other than cultural interest at the time. I didn’t need Korean or Japanese to make money or survive.

Yes, I do know a bit of survival Korean to function here in Korea. But I’ll admit, it’s a hobby.

8. Make a commitment. Change your life.

My plans are to learn Japanese to a functional business level for next year. This is for survival and making a living. YES! Therefore, I’ll be relying on tutors, and extensive reading mostly, with sprinkles of native materials. This also must be intensively done. That means tracking activities, and setting priorities. That also means saying no to a lot of things that I used to like to do. It means changing my life and making a commitment.

Programmed Learning and Beginning French

I had forgotten how hard it is to learn a language and just how much Korean and Japanese I actually know.

You see when I’m writing to you here in English, I’m not thinking in Japanese, and no Korean words are popping up in my head either. It’s only the reflexes of English that have been trained into my head since I was born that spew out onto this blog post.

If you were to acquire a new language how would you do it? Let me reiterate this again. It can’t be stated enough. You have to get this concept in your head:

Is Translation Bad?

I will say this. Understanding through translation counts. If you were to review a bunch of vocabulary through flashcards with translation or pictures, you would understand the message. That will work. And sometimes that’s a necessity. Especially for higher concept words. It’s also the quickest way to understanding. You can reinforce the responses through experience later, right?

For example, you might need a strong foundation of Japanese before you could understand the word “悪循環” (vicious circle). Although with Japanese if you understand the meaning of those Kanji, you could probably figure it out. However, if you heard it “あくじゅんかん” you might have a harder time understanding without a dictionary. You’d need a lot of good context.

The point is, sometimes translation is the quickest way to understanding messages for most adult learners.

Building a strong base of working vocabulary first however, it much better than trying to reach out to those fancy newspaper words all the time. Why? Because if you know the word “あくじゅんかん” try using it in conversation. I’m not talking about “それは悪循環です” (That is a vicious circle). I’m talking about all of the context the precedes it. All of the stuff you should understand before you get to use that expression.

You can build a base through programmed learning.

Programmed Learning

Some people might call this “Deep Learning” as opposed to “Wide Learning.” Though that’s not necessarily true.

Programmed learning is training yourself for responses.

The way it works is, you start from very basic words and phrases and build yourself up through repetition and training. You get positive or negative feedback depending on your response. Just like as you were a kid, you got positive or negative responses from your parents if you said something good or bad. You train your responses with questions and practice. As long as you understand the phrases and what’s being said, you are on your way to fluency.

You can do this with computers too. There are some software programs that do this fairly well.

Pimsleur is good too. Notice how if you train your mind with Pimsleur Audio the native speakers will think you know a lot more (vocabulary) than you actually do. There are limitations. Eventually you’ll need to acquire vocabulary through narrow listening and extensive reading.

But I think the personal attention you might get with a Tutor on Skype is better.

There are many ways of learning that I’ve mentioned in previous posts that all do this “Deep learning.”

Here are some of my favorites:

Extensive Reading
Narrow listening
Watching Kid’s shows

Learning French

I started learning French on Thursday when I discovered a video from Christophe Clugston about the best way to learn French. He recommends getting the whole package and attending a class to get the full benefit, but I am just watching the videos that were shown on PBS.

It’s a really cool immersion program put on by a professor of French at Yale University filmed in the late 1980’s. So far so good. There are 52 episodes. I plan on watching one or two of them a day. They are 30 minute long episodes. You can find them here: French in Action