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.

Teaching your Language Tutor to use TPRS

How did I teach my Korean tutor to TPRS?

I started out with WAYK

Before we did TPRS I introduced my tutor to WAYK (Where Are Your Keys?) which is a game that incorporates sign language and TPR. It’s made to be super adaptable. Basically the game evolves as you learn more and more. Any techniques that speed up the learning process get thrown into the game.

I love WAYK. I learned Kosraean from a good friend of mine by playing WAYK. He previously taught in Kosrae before coming to Korea to teach English.

WAYK is a great tool to have if you are traveling to different countries. The same friend went off to Thailand and then India doing volunteer work. He learned lots of Thai just by playing WAYK.

I also taught my Japanese tutor how to play WAYK. I learned a lot of different things that I hadn’t before. It gave me a completely different perspective on how the language is used.

If you haven’t heard about WAYK, I encourage you to check it out. It’s doing great work in reviving dying languages. The mission was to find out how you can produce lots of teachers of the language quickly. It’s really fascinating and a great way to teach your cousins languages at family gatherings.

WAYK is easy to teach, how about TPRS?

Okay, so WAYK was made to be taught to tutors and Native Speakers (They call them the fluent fools.) How do we teach our tutor TPRS?

We can do a few things here. Hopefully your tutor is proficient in your native language to some degree. Maybe you know another langauge?

In WAYK my two friends and I would go meet with a few native Korean speakers for coffee. We would teach the game by starting out with a language they probably haven’t learned before. My other friend had spent time in Germany and has been learning German through the years. So, we played German to start out!

You can try to learn how to teach TPRS and teach them a language they don’t know, or you can teach them your language by asking a story with TPRS. I had experience teaching TPRS lessons to Korean students, so I taught my tutor with some materials that I had prepared previously.

I didn’t explain too much to my tutor, and she knew a lot of the rules that are important for CI from learning WAYK. In WAYK we go slow and then eventually we speed up. You can gesture vocabulary to make it stick. Most importantly it has to be obvious.

WAYK is strict about being obvious. If we want to learn the word “cat”, we can’t have a picture of a cat. We can’t have a toy cat. We have to have a real breathing cat. We have to be this obvious because translation in WAYK is thought of as killing the magic of learning a langauge.

I understand this completely. Many native speakers you meat won’t be able to translate for you in the game. You are always testing out meanings by using the langauge. This really opened my senses and acquisition abilities.

That being said, in TPRS translations are a great tool. It’s quick and easy. Just use it and get it out of the way so you can go on making your story. It’s also a wonderful comprehension check! Quick and easy and it doesn’t waste time.

Demonstrating TPRS

You have your tutor. You have a piece of paper or a chalk board. Maybe your tutor is over Skype only, so you have a chat window.

Start out simple. Make sure you translate everything. Write a few words on the board or in the chat window:

Nouns 名詞
Cat 猫
Carrot 人参

Verbs 動詞
There is/exists (person or animals) 居る
To eat 食べる

Now ask your tutor to make some gestures for each word.

Then list the question words:

What 何?
Where 何処?
Why 何故/如何して?
Who 誰?
When 何時?
How  如何?

You can also make gestures for these.

And then start to ask the story. Start off simple and build. Build the list of words if the story needs more. Don’t start off with too much vocab. Let the story unfold naturally.

In this case we can start with “There was a cat” 「猫がいました」Make sure you circle with question words.

Then you might notice you’ll need more words. Write them down with the translation. ”Want to eat” 「食べたい」

And keep on slowly building the story that way. You should do some reading on how to ask a story and watch many videos on TPRS just so you can get a feel for what’s supposed to happen.

After your tutor gets a general idea, have them use those same words to build a story with you.

Emphasize the Rules

1. Circling – When you go over it with your tutor, just remind them to first say a statement, and then ask about each part of that statement with questions.

2. Go Slow – You and your tutor will try to race to the end of the story. Remember, it’s about the input and repetition of the questions that make TPRS so powerful. Not just finishing the story.

3. Comprehension – The questions are meant for comprehension as well as acquisition. But also, translate some things that the tutor says. This will tell your tutor if you understand or not. In WAYK we ask the fluent fool to correct all of our mistakes. If the translation is close, it’s no good. You want to be as correct as possible. Example: “She feels like eating.” and “She wants to eat.” Both sentences are very similar but the meaning is slightly different. Accuracy counts.

4. Gestures – Again, you can leave out the gestures or keep them. I like them. Even over Skype they are fun to use. But if I don’t make a gesture for every word, I’m not bent out of shape about it.

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