Summer Reading: Enjoying books with the AC on!

Lately I’ve taken up some good advice on reading. The advice is to read more and read at your level. I’ve started doing this, and it’s been very rewarding. Off and on I’ve had spurts of extensive reading in Japanese, and each time, I’ve greatly improved my reading and understanding abilities. But I still have a long way to go. I must read more. It must be extensive!

Last year it took me a few months to read through ‘Sayonara Aruma’. It was a few hundred pages long. I was super happy to finish the book. It was great, but I read it off and on all while starting a new job.

But this August, I went down to the bookstore and bought myself the book ‘Hontou no sora iro’ or ‘The Real Sky color.’ It’s fantastic story by Béla Balázs. This one is about 150 pages long.

The short novel takes place in Hungary. A boy makes paint from magical flowers that shows the real color of the sky. But in the real sky color, real sky elements emerge. The sun shines and burns like the real sun. The thunder storms blast and the rain pours from wherever the paint is used. That’s where the story takes an exciting turn!

Now I’m reading a more modern Japanese Children’s novel called “Ame Furu Honya” (雨ふる本屋) or, “The Raining Bookshop.” By Hinata Rieko. (日当理恵子)

I’ll write more on it when I have read a good chunk. Back to reading! 😀

雨ふる本屋

Reading to achieve fluency.

Reading and reading alone is enough to achieve fluency in a language if you’re living in the environment. But when you read, you must do two things. You must understand what you read. And you must read a lot.

I just read up on this case study about a man who read for at least an hour a day for about 6 months and significantly improved his TOEIC score.  He had a 220 point gain. If you don’t know much about the TOEIC test. That’s actually very significant.

As for myself, I have been reading off and on in small spurts. It’s really just pleasure reading with the added benefit of acquiring Japanese.

Right now, I’m at the last chapter of my first chapter book in Japanese. It’s called “Sayonara Aruma.” It’s about a young boy and his sister who raise a dog to train for the war. Their father is a away at war while the children help their mother and raise the dog.

I’ve read a lot and I’ve learned a lot so far. I’ve also gotten tangled up in some sports mangas too. I normally think that sports channels and sports are generally boring to watch (fun to play, of course.) But I really love these sports manga. It’s so much more interesting with a story attached. Sports Manga and Japanese Chapter Book

So, I’m going to have to track my reading here.

I’ll track tonight’s reading later. I usually get very good results when I track myself.

-Zach

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.

Sitting at the kids table

 

During my short trip to Japan, I realized that my Japanese has gotten much stronger. However, I’m still sitting at the kids table.

sitting at the kid's table

The kid’s table is the difference between being fluent and being bi-lingual. It’s also the foreigner speak. It’s the foreigner mistakes. And honestly, it’s the huge chunk of vocabulary and grammar that is missing.

When I arrived in Japan, I felt a strong pull in my head as I engaged with the language community.

Boom! The gears of my rusty brain clicked and clacked as I started to understand what was going on around me. At times I  put the brakes on to think and grab that long lost word that lives in the deep reaches of my memory. And that caused me to skip over what was being said as the Japanese bursted out in waves into the air.

And then I realized that I still have a long way to go. I need to understand the fine details in Japanese so I can leave the kid’s table. But alas, my Japanese is still half-baked.

On my trip, my Japanese was at its strongest. And even so, I was quite humbled.

I knew exactly what I didn’t know. I looked at the newspaper and said… well… there’s something I can’t do effortlessly yet. Reading an article might take me an hour or two.

Eavesdropping and listening to talk radio…

Yep, I can’t do that yet without intense focus. Even if I focus with all of my might, I couldn’t get any fine details out of it. The processing speed of my Japanese is far too slow right now.

A good solution is more reading of things such as kid’s science books. Explanations in Japanese for children have been helping. But I need to keep going.

Also, I need to study intensively from vocab and grammar books. There’s really no way around that. There’s too much to know that I must explicitly learn through constant practice and memorisation. I’ve realized the gains from such study before. But it is very tiring and hard work.

I’ve also been reading more and more these past few weeks in Japanese. It’s been quite a treat, and I’ve felt myself improving. It’s quite exciting to discover new things. Each time, I find a new way to express something. And most importantly I understand people speaking. And I get it faster.

Listening and being engaged in the language community will bring a tremendous change in my abilities.  I have to work hard to become an insider, not an outsider.  That means lots of drilling and proper studying in preparation as well as getting out of the books participating in society. With these experiences, I will reach the adult’s table.

photo credit: birthday party at the gymnasium via photopin (license)

Studying Japanese Grammar

Okay, so what can I learn from the previous book’s study?

  1. I gotta keep track of my studying.
  2. I study better in the morning when my brain has had some rest.
  3. For this grammar, I think I will need a minimal amount of translating. I should only really point out the grammar and the simple explanation if needed.

I’ll keep track of it everyday. In a notebook. And also on the blog. But the blog posts must be kept short and sweet. I can’t spend an hour writing a blog post and another hour editing it. 😛

Also I want to combine it with extensive and semi-intensive reading. I should also keep track of this as well. The reading can be done in the evening. It’s simple and relaxing. My brain doesn’t need to be working that hard at night after a long day of work. 🙂

And again, here’s the book I’ll be using:

どんな時どう使う日本語表現文型辞典

That’s all for now.

Japanese New Plan Tracking: Day 7

Another not so intensive day…

Vocabulary:

30 minutes of studying.

Grammar:

0 hours… might do it before I hit the hay…

Reading:

1 hour.

Read a level 3 book from the graded readers. Extensive reading only.

Skype tutor: 1 hour lesson. We made a story. She said I typed really fast today. I didn’t think I typed any faster… but then I realized, I was thinking faster and more smoothly due to all of the reading and listening and stuff… so that’s pretty cool.

The story was about a monkey with a red butt who lived on an 遠島. (remote island)

Summary:

  • Vocab: 0.5 hours
  • Grammar: 0 hours
  • Reading: 1 hour
  • Real Person: 1 hour

Total: 2.5 hours.

That was a good week. つづく

 

Japanese New Plan Tracking: Day 6

Today was busy,  so I got a late start. 

Reading

2 hours. Extensive reading only.

3 of the level 2 books, and 1 of the level three books. I read a few pages of another level 3 book before the timer went off.

Grammar

Finished Anki. 20 minutes. This was the first thing I did this morning. Then I fell back asleep because it was like 6am.

Vocabulary

Wrote out the vocab words, but I didn’t study any cards cuz… way too late and tired tonight. ZZzz ZZzz

  • Summary
  • Reading: 2 hours
  • Grammar: 20 minutes
  • Vocabulary: 40 minutes

Total 3 hours

Not my best day. It doesn’t matter. Momma said there’d be days like these.

Onto the next day!