2008年12月28日日曜日

Phase transition - Avoid the = in language learning

Today, I ran into the word "相転移(そうてんい)", which I looked up in the jp.wikipedia. The article listed the English word alongside as "Phase transition". Ah, what a rare word...

...the hell? I don't even know what that means in English. Why would I learn a word for a term in thermodynamics for which I have no idea what it means? Let's say I did memorize that 相転移 = phase transition, what good would it possibly do for me? I would see the word again and not think of the the thermodynamic process (as I do not know it), but the English word. Is that what I really want to be thinking of when I see and use Japanese? If I hadn't of looked up the word's meaning for this post, I wouldn't even know it had anything to do with thermodynamics.

So then what's the point of looking up words with English? Sure, one could say that it's safe to say that things like 水 means water, パン means bread, or 木 means tree. But surprisingly you'll run into trouble relatively quickly. Even the most basic seeming words will be problematic. Take for example the word 好き. Looking this word up in the textbook yookoso!(3rd edition, to be clear), it gives the definition of "like, favor". But in reality, this word has the possibility to carry much more weight to it then the simple English idea of "like".

So how to you learn the meanings of words? By exposing yourself to uncountable hours worth of the language. The only way you will learn the real meanings of words will be by seeing the words over and over again in different contexts. For a lot of words, this doesn't even require a dictionary. Take "phase transition" for example. For some reason in English I'm not afraid of that word. Even if I were to read texts that require an understanding of the word "phase transition", it wouldn't be an unknown word, it would be a known "something" even without knowing the exact meaning.

Do not learn words to figure out what a sentence means. Read and listen to massive amounts of content containing thousands of sentences to understand words. When you do need to look up a word, look it up in a monolingual dictionary

3 件のコメント:

  1. Ironically, even the "simple" examples of 水 and 木 aren't that simple. 水 cannot mean "hot water", which is 湯-- Japanese never say something like 暑い水. And 木 can also mean "wooden".

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  2. Ah, very nice catch. These are the kind of things that immersion really helps with. I actually didn't formally know that 水 couldn't be hot water, but if I thought hot water I always thought of 湯. =]

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  3. Another difference in usage is where in English we would drink "hot coffee" but the Japanese are more likely to use the word "warm" to describe the coffee. "Hot" would probably be thought of as too hot to drink.

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