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)

Language Apps are Making us Dumberer

Edtech.

That’s the new buzz word nowadays. And for good reason; There’s big money in it.

And over the years the edtech fever has come and gone. Schools want to look good so they’ll throw technology at the classrooms.

And then people will complain about all of the spending on junk that will be obsolete in a few years, rather than investing in evergreen things like desks and textbooks that were made to last. Also investments in teachers as a whole would be a better use of money rather than spending the budget on iPads for the kids.

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Edtech is not limited to the classroom either.

They are making things for the people who spend 7 – 8 hours on the internet all day. And the big money just flows into these companies because the investors see those people sucking all these new apps up like chocolate pudding! If you can sell your idea to a VC and get funding for your app, you’ve got a tech startup.

But is all of this technology really helping?

 “To what problem is this technology a solution?” – Neil Postman

Now, this is not a rhetorical question. This is an honest question. Many people go on the defensive when this is asked. Mostly because they have a lot of time spent on a particular technology and haven’t asked themselves this question. What happens if we find there is no problem? Has that person wasted countless hours of their lives?

No, I think that every entrepreneur needs to ask this question to become a better problem solver, and technology creator.

So, back to the question. To what problem do educational apps solve?

How about the problem of learning a language? Did we solve that problem with technology? Did DuoLingo solve the problem of learning Spanish? Did Rosetta Stone solve the problem? How about Memrise, or Anki?

Wasn’t this problem already solved?

They were already solved by thousands of textbooks and millions of teachers and tutors across the globe. Those of which have been shown time and time again to be more effective than the latest fad in language learning technology.

Why?

The brain sucks up a foreign language much better when it’s learned from people in a compelling way. That’s why it’s hard for an app to solve the problem of learning a langauge by itself.

What are some other problems with learning languages?

Well, some people don’t have time or money for a language tutor or class. They want to self study. Or they need to brush up on their Spanish before they leave for Mexico next month. These are all problems that phrase books and phrase apps try to solve.

How about text books, and audio? These are things that have existed for a long time before. And they have been used by millions of people.  I would argue that they are much better for beginners and intermediates than most of the new edtech out there.

Many apps have a hard time either being only beginner focused, or thinking they are beginner focused and are actually intermediate level focused. That is not to say that textbooks can’t get this mixed up too. In my experience, that is the case with many of them. But, just look at Duo-lingo or Lingq for examples of getting levels confused.

As a complete beginner I felt that learning Chinese from Lingq was way too hard. All of the beginner material was just not sticking at all. At that time I had zero Chinese in my head. I did however get great use out of Lingq by putting in my own Japanese content. And doing that helped for a little while. I was a high-beginner to intermediate at the time. I didn’t need to learn much extra Kanji.  But months after, I grew tired of it and went back to the pen, paper and Anki.

Some developers and writers do get the target level right. Some get it very wrong. And you know, it’s not always the developer’s fault. It’s usually the method being used. The technology could work great, but the the overall teaching method could be way off. Many of these apps are made by technologist and not educators or linguists. And that’s a big problem. And Linguists that do come on to some projects aren’t necessarily good teachers. Teacher’s don’t always make good presentations with technology. You see where the disconnect can come from?

This disconnect shows in so many language learning apps. These edtech methods that are usually developed by techies who are scratching their own itch  go without much research, and if they are researched, the studies are poorly done and grossly misleading for marketing purposes. Actual results are usually dismissed during research. Research is mostly about how the user feels, not what the outcome of using the technology shows. At least not by any comprehensive metric.

(http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/krashen-does-duolingo-trump.pdf)(http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/rosetta_stone_review_krashen.pdf)

But, hey! It’s the nature of business.

As an entrepreneur you need to make a decision. If your idea doesn’t work as well as you thought, you have to make an assessment. If you spent all of this time and money in this one product idea and it doesn’t work as thought, do you go back to the drawing board and ask for more money? Or do you retell the story of your technology and how it works? Do you focus on selling your brand instead of just dropping your product? Most people will double down and sell you junk and act like it’s gold.

Another big problem with a lot of the edtech is, what happens when your battery dies? Do you have a book, or notes that you can use? Your hard drive dies. Or the cloud server is down. You can’t get wifi or 4G. Your data ran out. You lost your phone. Your phone’s screen got smashed.

Books have problems too, but they are less frequent. You spill coffee all over your book. Your book accidentally catches on fire. The pages fall out because you’ve been using it too much. You left your book at home. You can’t fit your book into your pocket. Yep, all of these things can go wrong too.

The dangers of breaking down the problem

Okay, now let’s ask a different question. What part of language learning do these edtech products solve?

If you ask this question, you will find that many of these apps are doing very similar things.

Vocabulary memorization?

Memrise, Anki, LiveMocha, Busuu, Rosetta Stone, and other flashcard apps

Character memorization?

Skritter, Anki, other kanji, and flash-card apps

Grammar Acquisition?

The Pimsleur Method… and maybe some online textbooks and classes?

Grammar is not sexy so it’s a tough sell as far as apps go. Honestly Pimsleur CD’s and others like it (not an app, I know) are really the only winner here for implicit grammar acquisition.

Survival phrases?

Many companies have websites and apps for teaching these. They are usually reinforced through flashcards and quizzes. You’ve seen this before with learn Mandarin in 30 days phrasebooks. Nothing new under the sun, right?

Learning funny phrases to look cool

There are all sorts of apps like this like “Hot Chinese” and “Dirty Russian” or “Korean in Dramas.”

Again it’s the same thing as the phrase other phrase apps and phrasebooks. The marketing angle is that these are not your boring textbook phrases. Or, if you want to get a hot Swedish girlfriend, you should say this phrase.

You see what happens when we ask these certain questions? We broke down the problem. And actually, we distorted the overall problem. I’ll tell you why it’s distorted later in this article. Let’s get back to these “problems.”

You asked questions about specific parts of the problem, and now you have a niche market.

Ah, now you’re thinking like a marketer! Not necessarily like an educator. You see, it’s easy to sell these ideas to people. Let’s look at just how easy it is! This will help us understand the problem of breaking down the problem into niches. So let’s do a little thought experiment.

Let’s make a commercial for a new Chinese app.

How will we do this?

Imagine, a young French woman in a business suit. She’s on the streets of Shanghai and she’s confused. She can’t figure out the subway map. Then she turns to her phone. She downloads the “Learn Chinese Now Now Now!” app and puts her headphones in her ears.

After that we see three shots of her. The first is her ordering lunch at a restaurant in Chinese.

The next shot is in a room in front of twenty Chinese executives. She’s speaking English for her presentation. But then she makes a joke in Chinese and everyone in the room roars with laughter.

And finally, our last scene is in a fancy sea-side restaurant. She’s having dinner with a Chinese man. You can only see their silhouettes, but you know the night is still young and her success in China has only yet begun.

In reality she’s just an actress who’s been fed lines by a Hollywood language trainer. Tom Cruise doesn’t know much Japanese. Jim Carey didn’t study Korean for 5 years. That Japanese girl on the English school commercial didn’t really study at the school for 6 months. She’s reciting lines that she practiced for weeks.

But marketers know that appealing to logic only works when you appeal to the emotions first. There’s a reason why they only show air brushed models on the juice commercial.

Sure, maybe they’ll talk about the juice as being 100% natural with no artificial additives. Okay, sure… That’s a logical argument right?

Well… it may seem like it at first, but really that’s appealing to the emotions more than logic. What does artificial additive mean? More importantly, what does it mean to not be 100% natural? If it was 60% would you give the drink an F instead of an A+?

If you want to be a good marketer, throw out the facts and the results of the product. Then build a story. And then make the story look really beautiful or funny.

After that, appeal to as many emotions as possible with imagery, sounds and soothing phrases that have been tested thoroughly. Or if you’re product is crap, don’t say much about it, just make pretty pictures. Maybe give it a nice color scheme and a unique font. Sometimes less is more in marketing.

I’m not saying marketing is a bad thing. Infact if you have a product that helps people and does what it really says, you should use all the tactics to get as much of that product out the door as possible. But as a consumer, I’m saying be weary.

Look at the facts, the evidence. Try to break down your initial thought. Your mind is under the pressure of a strong flowing current of marketing messages. Sometimes that current will lead you down a path of disappointment.

And that brings me to why this breaking down the problem into niche solutions is dangerous.

It leads people to believe that real language learning as a whole cannot be done. Only these niche things can be achieved.

I’ve had a few friends who’ve said they’ve used Memrise or Busuu for learning Korean. And when they went out into the real world, they realized that they couldn’t put sentences together or understand what people were saying even after learning the first 1000 words in the app.

That’s the reality. Niche products and tunnel visioned technology will only get you so far.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Vocabulary is good. Studying from vocab books can be useful for further language acquisition if done intensively. The problem comes when these products are marketed saying “Do you want to learn a language? Sign up today! You’ll be able to get an Italian model even if you’re just some farmer from Nebraska.”

Rosetta Stone Ad

Okay, so that just makes the person think that that’s all there is to it. Pay money, get Italian models. Win at life!

You might say that that kind of marketing doesn’t work. But wait a second. These ads aren’t appealing to logic here. They’re appealing to another part of the brain. The part that blinds us. It’s also the part that helps us survive. It’s the part that tells us to stay with the tribe. The part that makes us miss home. The part that craves mom’s homemade cheesecake. The part that makes us drink Coke Zero instead of water. The part that filled up the shopping cart on Amazon.

Many people have dreams of adventure in foreign lands. Marketing departments know this and make ads that appeal to those people. It appeals to me too. I’m not immune. I want to travel the world and experience all of it’s natural beauty. I want to ride my bike across the world taking pictures of all of the beautiful faces across the globe.

The reality is, that people that actually learn a language don’t usually learn from these tech products. If they do, it’s very seldom.

We don’t need another Memrise. We don’t need another Duolingo. We don’t need another SRS such as Anki. Do people make worthy improvements on these apps? Yes. Do these improvements solve problems for some people and create problems for others? Yes.

But we have to be honest. Real innovation in most of these apps is marketing. And, once that snowball of money starts rolling in, the marketing budget blows up. And when that happens you get a horde of users on the app. And after that comes more funding. And again more marketing after that. It’s an unstoppable yes train.

And that’s why you won’t find many dissenting opinions. Too much money is involved. Not enough information about alternatives and how people actually learn languages is being touted by the media.

Why?

That doesn’t sell. Moving products is the number 1 importance. Number 2 is making people think that they are learning something. It’s Edutainment!

What else sells?

Well, don’t forget about the biggest marketing message of all. It’s a free language learning tool! Why pay for tutors and classes? Because usually you pay for what you get. These freemium apps aren’t always created with the best care.

More importantly, be weary of people who say, “You shouldn’t criticize a free product.”

Guess what? That marketing message is flawed. A program such as DuoLingo is not free. It has a cost. Can you guess what it is?

I’ll give you a minute…

It costs time and energy! Free apps are not free!

Also what about the opportunity cost? That is, what about the opportunity of using that time on something more effective? Yes, that’s a cost. Also, some of the content in apps are just plain wrong or slow. Again wasting your time is a cost.

People complain about public schools all the time. Do parents at the PTA meetings sit there around a big table and say, “Well, this education is free, so we can’t really complain about anything?”

Hey, your education was FREE, right? You can’t complain about it, right?

WRONG!

Okay, so what are some free or paid apps that don’t waste your time?

Useful tech for language learning:

  1. Skype. Skype is awesome. Other technologies that are similar and do video chatting are great too such as Google Hangouts. This is how you can talk to tutors and teachers online. Or you can talk to a language exchange partner for free.
  2. Twitter. Depending on the language you are learning, some language cultures don’t use twitter too much. The Japanese use Twitter quite a bit. Some people are touting that it’s a dying technology, but in Japan, Twitter is still very much thriving. You can find people on twitter to talk to. And maybe even Skype with them. It’s a possibility.
  3. Blogs. Blogs are good for keeping track of your studies. I’ve used blogging by tracking some of my studying but it’s mostly fallen appart from time to time. However, writing and reflecting on your studies is an important way to learn and straighten out your mind. Also reading other people’s blogs helps you get other ideas and encouragement.
  4. Anki. Yes, you do need to memorize things to a point. Even with all of the CI techniques that I advocate for, memorization helps. If you work on memorization intensively, then you’ll need something to help you manage all of those flashcards. Anki wonderfully solves the problems of flash-card management and review management.
  5. Google. Google can act as a dictionary. Google images can also help. If a word appears and you can’t find it in a dictionary, take it to google. The word could be new or trendy. or it could be a phrase that the dictionary doesn’t know yet.
  6. Online dictionaries. It helps you get an answer quickly. Not always accurately, but fast and many times with example uses.
  7. Easy learner content. Such sites as News in Levels for English, and NHK News Web Easy for Japanese really help with getting new and compelling comprehensible input. There are even some videos on youtube for learners. These videos are much better than the hard to understand native level content. You’re aiming for comprehension, not native material that you can’t understand. Don’t start with multidimensional calculus. Start with counting and arithmetic first.

Reality: Most language apps that you see advertised suck.

Duolingo is not about teaching people to learn a language. It’s about getting people to work for them for free by translating text. (https://adventureslaura.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/trufax-duolingo-can-both-help-and-hinder-your-ability-to-learn-a-language/)

The Bottom line

Yes, much of this technology is making you dumber.

You could spend your time better with textbooks and tutors. Most affluent and elite people know this and hire tutors for their kids.

You must learn a language from people in the end. Technology can help, but most of the app peddlers out there are selling the same old trash dressed in different shiny bows.

Even if the junk is free, it still costs you time and opportunity. Don’t waste your time. You can’t do everything by yourself in your room.

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photo credit: Broken via photopin (license)

漢字単語のドリル Kanji Vocabulary Drills: After thoughts

Okay, so I’ve finished the 漢字単語のドリル book. Now it’s onto bigger and badder things.

But before that, let’s just take a look back at what I did.

I didn’t keep great records of exactly when I did this, and when I started, so much of it is from memory. I think I started somewhere in the beginning of February and finished this weekend.

日本語単語のドリル 2級

Why did I do this?

I know that I had been aching to improve my vocabulary for quite some time. I had been going over the extensive readers, but I wanted something more to really expand my proficiency in Japanese. My fluency is pretty smooth… until I come across something I don’t know.  This is why expanding my proficiency is so important.

So what did I do? I wanted to look for more ways to increase my proficiency. That meant getting some materials for grammar and vocabulary. So I started looking for how people passed the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test).

Luckily I stumbled upon this great article about how he passed the JLPT 2kyuu using SuperMemo. It’s a good read. I got a few of the books that he used. This includes the one this blog post is about. And now I’m looking at it again for the next step (improving my grammar).

What did I do?

I added all of the vocabulary into Anki. And then I translated and added the example sentences into Anki. And everyday I would review that as well. So a lot of grinding, and translating. In fact, It took me a painstakingly long time to finish the Kanji-Vocab book.

What took me so long?

Why did it take me so long? Good question… Now thinking about it, I would say it had to do with:

  1. Grammar was out of reach for many sentences. Imagine trying to translate long sentences when you haven’t seen the grammar before. You have to translate somehow. And sometimes there’s not a great way to translate. You’re always losing something in the translation, or it comes off as strange and hard to read if you translate everything literally.
  2. There was just a lot of Japanese that I hadn’t been exposed to. It was all new for me.
  3. I translated each one as best I could mostly by myself, with some help from other people. (Thank the stars for my patient fiance).
  4. It was mentally exhausting.
  5. I had no set schedule or anything. I just did as much as I could until I got really tired. And then I burned out.
  6. My schedule didn’t revolve around my studying. It was the other way around for the most part.
  7. I got really behind on my reps and didn’t do them for a few weeks. Maybe three weeks? I didn’t really keep track.
  8. I didn’t really keep track, until the end.
  9. I was doing all sorts of other things. My focus and attention were in other places.

I guess you gotta be honest with yourself in your evaluation. There were times where I just got burnt out and didn’t really add any new ankicards.

I for sure wasn’t consistent. But I made sure to keep up with the reviews, except for that time where I didn’t as mentioned above.

That grammar, though. Sometimes I couldn’t understand the meaning of the sentence at all. Sometimes the example sentences had vocabulary that was not in the book (but still kind of rare to see) or the vocabulary was featured in later chapters in the book. (sometimes much later, near the end of the book!)

Maybe If I had had formal training or taken classes in Japanese at University, I might have gotten through this thing faster. Obviously my Japanese foundation is haphazardly put together. With a formally built up foundation, perhaps thing would have been different.

But it doesn’t matter. I’m just really glad I went through the book and continue to review the cards in the deck. Sometimes, I’ll just forget a word by itself, but in context It’ll be there for my brain to bring it up. Although slowly. Very slowly.

Also much of the vocabulary is very intangible. You can’t point to things like 復習 or  調整 or  次第.   You can describe them well in context, but it still takes time to acquire these, and much more time and experience to really master the meaning of these words out in the wild. When do I use 復習する and when should I use 勉強する? Are they interchangeable? I guess that will have to come with more experience, right?

What did I get out of it?

Okay, I have to say, I’m glad I stayed the course and plowed through this book. It greatly increased my understanding and my vocabulary. And I know that I still have a long way to go. There’s just so many words to learn. And there’s so many ways to use them.

I especially notice in my thinking and my listening skills. I will pick out words that I’ve learned in the book and understand them! Great! It’s working! But I still need to keep up the learning.  These things must be overlearned and over practiced. You need to build stronger experiences in order for it to come to the mind quicker.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to read things online more easily with the vocabulary and the kanji drilling. I’ve been able to read my extensive readers more easily. Anime and songs have been easier to understand. I can actually feel a difference. I can feel my improvement. There is a payoff that is somewhat satisfying.

And again, it only leaves me wanting more. I know that I must know more. The further I go, the longer the road looks to the top. But I know that I’m stronger now.

Onward and upward.

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.

12 days of the German Volume Method with Korean

My hands don’t tire so much from writing, and I’m writing faster now. I’m just filling up pages and pages of notes fast from practice.

One thing that has really helped me realize what I’m doing is more exact tracking. I’m tracking time more precisely now. And I can see how much I have improved thus far. it seems that as I learn new things, I’m slower, and then I get faster as I over learn it. This would seem obvious, but tracking it helps me stay motivated.

It also helps me see what 3 hours feels like and what 1 hour and 2 minutes feels like. Today I’m proud to say I did 3 hours and 4 minutes of korean study. That excludes the little breaks I took in between. So it’s 184 minutes straight!

I know what it feels like, and I know what I need to do to take that to 4 hours. That’s the goal. I want to fill up at least 4 hours of straight study a day.

And yes, it’s hard. It’s extremely intensive to do what I’m doing for 4 hours straight every day. But I can do it. I see myself doing it. I feel the foundation slowly getting stronger. Though I’m only on chapter 3 still. After 12 days, I guess that’s not bad. A chapter every 4 days. But I should admit that everyday was not the same amount of time so a day is not accurate enough. You can’t simply go “Did I study today?” That is terrible.

The one thing I feel great about is that I’ve been keeping it up everyday for at least an hour.

When I get my Japanese books in, I feel confident that I can keep up with the study for both languages. That is as long as I am tracking tightly what I’m doing. I’m learning a lot about myself and my habits lately just by tracking.

And now it’s time to go to sleep as I see myself babbling on and on in circles…