2008年12月31日水曜日

Time - Reading log 3

I wonder, sometimes, how this will all turn out. Yesterday I read manga for practically all day, and looked up probably five words. Today was only about fifteen. I know because each lookup ended in a sentence added to Rotten Potatoes (Anki deck). Doing the math, I would only have to only maintain 18 sentences a day to reach the goal of 10,000 sentences by the end of 18 months (Started on September 1st, four months in as of now).

I have to wonder, do the sentences really matter? Maybe the real skill is learned not from the amount of study and sentences, but in the amount of time spent. Maybe our brains need to have a large amount of time spent actively parsing Japanese for it to "click".

Yesterday I was wondering if it was bad that I only got 5 sentences. But I realized that I had spent all day reading a manga catching pretty much all of the story anyway. I decided I was happier reading hours of Japanese than if I had spent a small amount of time collecting a lot of sentences.

Insomnia

It's now 2:16am here in Arizona. Lately, I dread going to bed. I have a growing resentment of sleep. Not to mention that sleep comes with difficultly. I always find that when it's time to turn off my computer, I feel a tinge of anger. I feel angry that I have to resign myself to sleep. I feel like I have so much to do and I don't want to interrupt it for something as stupid as sleep.

Lately all of my free time as been devoted to reading. I digest manga, read through novels, and yet, there's always more I want to read. There's always more to learn. There's so much I want to and expand upon. So many articles I want to write. There simply isn't enough time to do it all, and when I have to sleep, I have to resign for the day. It's a surrender, almost.

When I do lay down in bed, sleep doesn't come easy. I lay there for hours, and I can't stop thinking. I'm still wondering how I can read better, how I can use the SRS more efficiently, how to refine what I do even more. I even had a notepad by my bed for a while, it's endless.

For as long as I can remember, even in my earliest memories, I hated sleep. I often wished I could have insomnia. I wonder if this is just the manifestation of my wish after years of my disgust.

2008年12月30日火曜日

How I write articles

Blogger's article management is kinda nifty in letting me create a bunch of drafts. What I'll do is whenever I'm doing something if I get an idea of a stray thought that I think would be something I could expand upon, I'll create a draft. Then I'll put in whatever I was thinking or what I think I should write the article about in it. Usually I'll let it sit, and a while later, maybe a few days later or an hour later, I'll have another thought about it or run into something that sparks a muse.

For example, I have another article I started on Japanese monolingual dictionaries. Something gave me an idea to write about monolingual dictionaries, so I opened a new article and wrote:

Daijirin is awesome. Sanseido sucks.

It's practically nothing, but it that was what sparked the thought process. Later, I had looked up a word in a monolingual dictionary and saw it listed a couple synonyms as the definitions. This led me to append to the draft:

Daijirin is awesome. Sanseido sucks. There are no synonyms.

This led me to think about why I think the one dictionary is bad:

Sanseido generally gives one word definitions. If a learner sticks exclusively to this type of one word definitions, it will lead them to thinking many words are the exact same, which is not true. There are different words because they are different.

I decided to leave it at that for now. But later I might look at it again and feel compelled to write more.

I don't actually finish articles this way, just start them. When I do want to write an article, I'll open up my articles and look through the drafts. When I find one that I think is ready to be written that I have enough ideas to write a whole article, then I'll sit down and write the whole thing. I've found that it's best to write the entire article in one sitting straight through without bothering to make it perfect. This is because perfectionism generally paralyzes me to where I can't write anything.

When I've written everything I wanted to write about, then I'll proofread it, move sections around, etc. It's after I've written the article that I'll make it nice and neat. It's better to have a crappy article you can fix than no article at all, after all.

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

Read and watch anyway

Let's say that you have a very limited vocabulary, and because of this you can't read a book, a manga, or website in Japanese. There's no point, how can you understand it if you don't know all the words? So after looking up a bunch of words for an hour you get a little discouraged, tired, bored, or frustrated and decide to stop for now. You think "I should do something in Japanese, but I don't feel like doing it right now".

This is a big problem that has plagued language learners. The result is they avoid reading and doing things in the language and instead spend all their time trying to learn how to do things in the language. They feel content to think the progress they make in audio courses, textbooks, or whatever the new fad is translates to actual language ability. I think it's amusing that people are trying to learn a language by doing everything but the language itself.

Why is this? In my opinion the reason is ego and perfectionism. Adults think they need to know what every word means and have a perfect understanding. They think that because they're adults, they need to learn to use the language like they're used to in their native language. That the ability to suffer through the drudgery of "learning" the language what must be done.

But this thinking is the opposite of the truth. In reality, people who learn languages need to be completely humble and open minded when it comes to the language. They need to understand that in some sense, they are babies in the second language. Babies who need to grow up, go to kindergarten, experience acne, their first kiss (or not), piercings, tattoos, etc.

Language learners need to let go of the need to understand everything at first and need to spend massive amounts of time in the language "growing up". Pick up a drama series, movie, or book series and get lost in it. Don't think about what you don't understand, what grammar you need to know the sentences, or what vocab the movie has, think about the story. Be thinking "Holy crap, is he going to ask her out or wimp out?" not "Ok, so 付き合って is two verbs with one being the い form and the other being the って form..., ok what was the next word?".

If you are interested in the content and maintain an open mind, you will learn no matter what. Even if it doesn't involve a study, dictionaries, grammar guides, etc. When the interest comes first, the the study will come easier (later) without you having to force it.

Don't sit around trying to learn how to understand Japanese, learn Japanese by doing it.

2008年12月26日金曜日

How I've worked to develop left handedness

I'm ambidextrous, but I wasn't actually born that way. I was born a normally right handed guy. But about a few months ago (around the same time I started Japanese) I decided I wanted to be able to use my left hand as well as my right. I'm now able use my left hand to do pretty much whatever I want. Even if I'm not very good, it still feels as natural to use my left hand as it does my right.

How it began
Learning to use my left hand as been an off and on project for a while. For a while I had switched my computer mouse to left handed, but that was it. Getting good at using the mouse, however, was a good confidence booster. Soon I decided to switch everything I do to left handed. The real trick was to do take all the little things I did throughout the day and do it with my left handed. For example, holding a soda can, pouring juice, using a fork/spoon, brushing my teeth, opening doors. All of these little things I do throughout the day accumulated to where it now feels completely natural to use my left hand for something.

Writing
I'll admit, my writing probably looks like a teenager's handwriting, which is actually pretty good since I never actually practiced it until a couple of days ago. Just getting used to my left hand and building up dexterity in other areas has made it easier to write, even without practice. But if I do try write a sentence, I actually feel the muscles in my arm start to hurt. This tells me the only reason I can't write very well is because I never practice it. If I practiced it everyday, I'd probably get better.

I also write in mirror text. I find it much, much more natural to write this way then normal left to right. I'll have to take a sample picture of my writing tomorrow.

Chopsticks
Amazingly, since I started Japanese (and eating Japanese food) around the same time I started my left handed project, I can use chopsticks better with my left hand then I can with my right hand. I guess this means we aren't born with an innate dexterity imbued into a single hand, it's simply a matter of practice.

Reading Japanese the smart way 2

In another post I wrote my main method for reading Japanese. But that's not the only way there is. A completely different method that I'll use is instead to look at each sentence or phrase and try and extract what information I can from it. I use this more when I have text I can't select from or when the details matter in a story. It's another style I can switch to if I want.

Again, selectivity is needed. I'll generally break sentences up between commas or verbs and look up one or two key words per segment. Nouns and verbs are usually the the best candidates for lookups.

Only stop when you can't follow the story or want more info. I'll only use this method when I can't follow the story or need more details. The idea is to look up words not for the sake of your Japanese, kanji count or to get sentences, but for the sake of the story. Why are you reading what you're reading in the first place?

2008年12月24日水曜日

Getting addicted to reading - Reading log 2

You ever read a book/series or movie series, or TV show that you were completely and utterly addicted to? I mean, to the point where you were so engrossed and emotionally attached to the characters and story that you actually felt a a really bad depression when it was over?

That's happened to me a couple times. Like when you read Harry Potter and found out you had to wait for the next one to be released (don't lie, we've all read it, no need to be ashamed). I remember when I was a kid I got into Harry Potter when only the second book had been released. I read them both three times back to front because I really didn't want to stop reading it. Another example was when I was around 14? my cousin introduced me to file sharing (ah, fond memories staying up late with kazaa lite). I got completely hooked on Neon Genesis and Love Hina over the summer. After finishing one I just felt completely depressed for weeks afterward because it was over.

Anyway, this happened to me again recently. I started reading 涼風(すずか) and got completely addicted again. To the point where I was spending every free moment of my time reading this manga. ("2:30 in the morning? Sure I could be sensible and go to bed, but then I'd have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happens to Yamato when he's trapped with Suzuka in Hiroshima.") I mean, most of the time I totally forgot I was even reading Japanese, I was just focusing on the meaning. Dictionary lookups were strangely easy because I was desperate to find out what was happening.

After finishing 涼風 I had a hard time for about a week liking anything else. I read a few two volume manga before I got over 涼風 enough to start reading something else. Now I'm reading Love Hina, Neon Genesis (this time in Japanese) and Ah! My goddess. I'm spending hours all day reading these, especially since it's the holidays (not like I care, I was raised from childhood as a heathen atheist and I'm not even doing anything for Christmas). I also picked up the anime version of 涼風 and am enjoying the ability to comprehend spoken Japanese.

It really is great to be able to get to where you have a lot of fun doing things in Japanese, where you look forward to it and stay up late. Much better than forcing myself to go through a textbook everyday.


Stats:
Deck created: 6.1ヶ月 ago
Total number of cards: 4394

Card counts
Mature cards: 3346 (76.15%)
Young cards: 1045 (23.78%)
Unseen cards: 3 (0.07%)

Correct answers
Mature cards: 91.7% (4432 of 4832)
Young cards: 85.0% (30170 of 35479)
First-seen cards: 68.5% (1817 of 2653)

Kanji statistics
The 4391 seen cards in this deck contain:
1423 total unique kanji.
Jouyou: 1284 of 1945 (66.0%).
Jinmeiyou: 18 of 287 (6.3%).
121 non-jouyou kanji.

2008年12月21日日曜日

I'm not learning Japanese

When I talk to people who I haven't seen for a while or meet new people and they ask me what I've been up to, I usually say "I'm learning Japanese". Even online, on the forum or in my blog here, I refer to the task as "learning Japanese" and myself as a "Japanese learner". But I've never liked it.

Technically it's correct. It's not that there's anything wrong with the phrase, I guess, but just the sort of mindset attached to it. "Learn these words. Learn these grammar structures. You're only at the level where you can read this type of book", etc. But why am I learning Japanese? To enjoy Japanese media and books; to meet people and experience a different culture. So how about instead of learning Japanese to enjoy these things, you start off by doing these things and learn from them?

So I'm going to go out and say that I'm not learning Japanese, I'm just doing a bunch of stuff I want and like to do and doing it in Japanese instead of English. リング is a book I want to read, so I decided to sit down and read it. And you know what? I'm actually enjoying it. It may be quite a bit above my "level", I may not understand every thing, but it's something I want to do, so I'm doing it.

2008年12月20日土曜日

How would I learn another language?

Glowingfaceman is right now in the middle of his "French revolution" 30 challenge. The goal is to teach himself as much French as he possibly can for 30 days. It made me think a bit about how I would approach the task. Since languages are all different, there are a lot of different ways to approach it. Here are some of the unique points here:

1. First we have to decide what the goal is. There are multiple ways to learn a language depending on what you want to get good at. You can get to a decent conversational level in 30 days, probably, or you can develop a good foundation for understanding and prolonged learning. Or to put it this way, am I going to leave for France at the end of the 30 days?

2. The fact that the time table is 30 days means that certain things would be different. In my Japanese learning now I've reached a very steady pace where I do things in Japanese for a majority of my day. I feel I've reached a good balance between workload and rest. If you can't find a good balance and look to charge forward with the hope that your starting energy and motivation will drive you forward, then you will most likely end up burnt out. But if the challenge is only for 30 days, then it's possible to maintain an intense environment for the duration.

3. Since French, among other European languages, share the same roots, there are quite a few words that are similar to English. Right now I can open up Le Monde and get an idea of what a random article is talking about because of this.

4. French pronunciation very important and possibly difficult. It also has letters, that you can pronounce.

The "building a foundation" approach:

To start off with I would probably find some way to get as much French audio input as possible. If I could, I would subscribe to French television station. Whenever I didn't want to actively read the language, I would put it on and watch it for long periods of time.

For reading I would probably pick up Harry Potter and the accompanying audio book and start reading it and shadowing it to death. No need for a dictionary or SRS at this stage, I would simply keep the English version and the French version side by side and use the English version to keep track of where I am in the story. I would try to put in +3 hours a day at this.

When I got a good way into the book (probably after a couple weeks, toward the end of the 30 days), I would then find a good monolingual French dictionary and use my current reading method for mining sentences.

The "getting conversational fast" approach:

The first thing I would do would be within the first week build up a good network of friends online through skype, forums, etc. and in real life. Both people who spoke English and French and people who didn't speak English. Learn as much as I can from them and tutors.

I would still pick up the Harry Potter book and shadow it to death, but more for pronunciation. I would try to sound as French as possible and build my pronunciation skills to where I can sound as close to a native speaker as possible.

I would try and build my vocabulary as fast as possible as large as I can. Probably plug news articles into a frequency counter, memorize them using my mnemonic techniques, then read the articles. I would aim to memorize over a hundred new words every day, I don't know if I'd use an SRS for this, though.

When learning it quickly this way, I would probably start mining sentences from Harry Potter using my reading technique and a F-E dictionary sooner than I would with the other way.

Which would you pick?

I personally would go for the foundational approach unless I had an impending reason to do it the fast and dirty way. I don't want to say that either method has an advantage over the other. There are people who learn languages well using both methods. If you follow All Japanese All The Time, the reason for choosing the foundational approach is because of input before output. The belief that getting massive input before speaking gives better output, which I tend to agree with.

Foundational advantages
Sustainable for long term learning, you only have to have yourself to learn
Learn to speak like a native speaker from the beginning, not like a foreigner
Is fun
Disadvantages
Takes a longer period of time (past a year)
Can be introverted

Conversational advantages
Quick, build a base quickly and can learn faster
Useful if you have a timetable or reason
Disadvantages
Can leave the learner making mistakes that won't be corrected for a long time
Harder to sustain for long periods of time, you're limited to the time you can spend with other people

Conclusions

Keep in mind that my methods here are not the only ways to learn. There are many different approaches and they're all different. If it was for 60 days, the approaches would be different. If it was for a year, the approaches would be different. But if you're learning a language, be sure you find something that you can be happy with. It's what you're comfortable and happy doing, not what other people think you should be doing.

How to read Japanese the smart way

I've been getting better and better at reading Japanese. It's so bittersweet. Manga is incredibly easy, and novels are incredibly hard. What to do? I could go out and find graded readers, or something at my supposed level, but since care more about interest and not at all about what level I'm at, I figure I'll just read the novels. Which is more or less how I got good at reading manga, doing it even though I sucked at it.

Recently Mentat turned me on to this light novel called 涼宮ハルヒ, which I have in in Aozora Bunko format now. It's looking pretty interesting. The problem is there's a lot of it I don't understand. If I try and look up every word, I'm screwed and barely get very far for a lot of time. Not to mention it's incredibly boring.

But I've found recently that it's possible to follow along and enjoy a novel even with a lot of unknowns. But at the same time, looking up unknown words and putting them into an SRS is a very efficient way to learn.

So instead of stopping to look up every word, I simply copy and paste the sentences that I'm curious about into a spreadsheet and the paragraph into the column next to it. This lets you look up words you're curious about with the original context to aid in understanding. Even if you don't end up using the sentence and opt for a dictionary sentence, you can still put the original sentence on the answer side of your card to remind you of where you got the word from.

The point of all of this is to maintain the flow, maximize the enjoyment of reading and minimize the drudgery from learning. You need to read thousands of pages of Japanese before you feel like you know anything anyway and it doesn't help to be stuck on page 2 of your book frustrated from looking up every word.

Stopping to do this for every word is still a pain in the butt, so be selective here. Only pick sentences that have words you're genuinely curious about, or have seen multiple times and can't pin down the meaning from context. You can't worry about getting all the words you don't know. If you maintain a Japanese immersion environment and read everyday, then vocabulary acquisition simply becomes a matter of "when" not "which".

If you dig on Aozora Bunko format, I recommend txtmiru as a reader. It's the best reader I've run into that lets you select text. I've also been using a program called "perfect keyboard" that defines a macro where I press a keystroke and it copies the selected text into my spreadsheet instantly. Using this also makes the process more streamlined.

2008年12月19日金曜日

リング - Reading log 1

For about a half hour I read through the first chapter of リング. I started off looking up all the words I didn't know, which didn't work, especially since I was working with the paper version I bought. So I read through it without using the dictionary at all. I was a little surprised to find I could follow along with what was happening in the story even without knowing a lot of the words. Scary book. Completing the Movie Method is very helpful here as I can usually guess unknown compounds with a decent accuracy most of the time. It was really fun being able to sit back on my bed and actually open a book to read without stopping.

There were a couple sentences I could understand fully.
There were a lot of sentences that I could understand otherwise but had only a vague idea or no clue as to what one or two of the words meant.
There were a couple sentences where I understood nothing or close to nothing.

Grammar was not an issue, as it didn't get in the way of my understanding. Japanese grammar is very simple. There was a verb with ぬ at the end of it and I could basically understand what it meant because I've seen it before and the context was clear, but the subtlety was lost to me. It's just a matter of time.

Stats:
Deck Statistics
Deck created: 6.0ヶ月 ago
Total number of cards: 4308 [sentences - 2210, kanji - 2042, other - 55]

Card counts
Mature cards: 3245 (75.32%)
Young cards: 1039 (24.12%)
Unseen cards: 23 (0.53%)

Kanji statistics
The 4284 seen cards in this deck contain:
1353 total unique kanji.
Jouyou: 1229 of 1945 (63.2%).
Jinmeiyou: 18 of 287 (6.3%).
106 non-jouyou kanji. [I'm attracted to weird and rare kanji.]

91.5% retention over a month.

I've been adding consistently more than 25 sentences a day to Anki, often past 30, sometimes past 35. There were only two days where I added less than twenty (on both I added about 18).

"Be happy with what you have."

Today somebody said this to me and I thought it was interesting. You can't make yourself happy with anything, but that doesn't mean there isn't truth to it. I like to think of the phrase as advice on what kind of perspective to have. For example when learning Japanese, there are two different ways to look at your progress:

"I open this book and can understand half of it"
or
"I open this book and can't understand half of it"

It's a matter of perspective. If you focus entirely on your faults, how you're not good enough, then you will always be frustrated (and more than likely get burned out). If you focus on what you do understand and how much progress you've made, even if you only understand half of what you're reading, you'll have a much more enjoyable time. It will be much easier to continue learning.

This isn't just for Japanese. If you're in a situation in life that you hate and focus entirely on how much you don't like it, then you're only going to end up angry, depressed, or both. But if you focus instead on what good there is, however little that may be, overtime you will create more good from your situation.