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

May Game Dev 006: Walk animations, moving, testing physics

I’ve made a little bit of progress today. Here’s some more of my progress with the animations and physics.

Yesterday, I picked up a book in Japanese on general game design, and one specific to special effects in Unity. I started reading the first chapter of the first book. Pretty good. Some words here and there that I had to look up but overall not an impossible read for me.

 

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

Language is not a writing system!

Okay, so this subject has been on my mind recently.  There’s so many simpletons out there that proclaim that Chinese and Japanese are much harder to learn than Korean. Sorry. You’re wrong. Korean is far harder to learn.

Korean does have the simpler writing system. That’s true.

But the reality is, that the sounds of Korean will set you far back than any writing system. Language is about sound and meaning. If you don’t have that covered first, you’re going to have trouble understanding what you read anyways.

Japanese on the other hand is extremely simple to learn. The sounds of Japanese only have a few real trip ups here and there. The Grammar, however is a lot more complex and is very similar to Korean in many respects.

Also, Japanese has many different registers (how you talk, what words you use depending on your relationship to the person you’re speaking to). Korean also has many registers and some verbs change completely (not just morphed) depending on the register. That’s quite tough.

I got really angry one time in my Korean class when a student said in an example that Japanese is much harder to learn than Korean. And while I agree that it’s hard to learn Japanese in Korea, their reasoning was the writing system.

NOPE! That’s not the language! That’s a representation of the language.

If you learn to pronounce the Hangeul in a week, you still won’t be able to understand Curious George in Korean.

A writing system is not a language! A language is a collection of sounds and meaning. Noam Chomsky would also point out that it actually developed through the evolution of human thought, not just for communication.

But, I didn’t want to seem like an old grump and argue with the class or the teacher who agreed with the student. To no fault of her own, she’s not learned Japanese and therefore doesn’t really know. Also, she doesn’t have a point of view from a native English speaker. And most teachers don’t teach phonics or barely remember how the mouth produces sounds from their university courses.

Japanese only looks hard from the characters. But the characters are not the language. Pick your fights, right? One thing I did learn in Korea was not to embarrass people even if they are dead wrong or simply don’t know better.

Did you know that you can teach without a textbook and through speech and context alone?

So why not use that? Learning just like you learned to speak English first (or your other mother tongue). You didn’t learn to write or read first, did you?

Textbooks are far easier on the teacher, and those methods of speech and heavy CI are very intensive for the teacher. With texts and books, the teacher can just say “Do this page for homework.” Speech and CI take lots of preparation.

Pimsleur CD’s took a lot of hours to make and that’s an audio only method. The method is also quite effective.

Now, where was I?

Ah, Chinese!

Yes, Chinese is even harder than Japanese with many more ideograms than Japanese.The Chinese characters fit together logically. But again we are talking about the writing system.

Also, the sounds of the language are more different from English compared to Korean. So in those respects Chinese is harder.

You know why Chinese is easy for English speakers?

The grammar is quite similar to English. More so than Japanese or Korean. And this is a huge help in getting into the greater depths of the language. However it is also different in many areas, so it’s not like Chinese has no grammar learning curve.

Anyways, that’s my venting for the day. Try to calmly explain to people why Japanese and Chinese aren’t really that hard to learn even though they say you can read Korean “In a morning.” That of course is true of a focused student, but you won’t remember how to read it unless you practice for a good month. And you’ll be slow as beans until after another 3 to 6 months. And even then, you won’t have acquired much vocabulary to make sense of most things you’ll see that are longer than a few sentences outside of a textbook.

 

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)

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.

YouTube. 

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.