2009年1月8日木曜日

Do we know why we use sentences?

From ファッキング日本語
"I've been considering stopping my vocabulary reps, however. The brute force rote memorization is something my subconscious mind simply dreads, and it's just not very effective... at least, not at this stage. I think I'll keep the deck around, and enter iKnow's lists of words on occasion when I have the time (read: someday), but I believe it's far more important to simply stick to sentences."

Not that I don't think he's wrong in anyway, but I have to wonder, do any of us know why we put sentences in our SRS anymore? Or do we just accept it as better without questioning why? I think that if we understood the reasoning behind why we use sentences, we could be better at selecting and learning from sentences.

The context of a sentence
People say you need to learn vocabulary in the context of a sentence, so let's look at this sentence:


正直に言わぬと命は無いぞ

This sentence I got from a manga called あいこら. The context of it is the main character went to see a girl named 鳳(おおとり) after she returned to her hometown for summer vacation, and she's asking him why. Then she picks up a sharp thing, holds it to his neck, and says this.

I'll pretend like 正直(しょうじき) is an unknown word here. If I were to look it up and find out what it means and stick the single word in a flash card, I'd just be memorizing a meaning. But when it's in a sentence you see that 正直 goes with the particle に, you see 言う is a verb that it interacts with and you see how they interact. This is what it means to learn words in the context of a sentence. You see the grammatical usage and common word pairs. Often these word pairs is what non native speakers have trouble with. They are called collocations. Examples could be:

Take the garbage out.
Turn on the TV.
I'm going to wash the dishes.

Learning to internalize these kinds of word pairs is the context that everybody focuses on. People who mine sentences from sources such as iKnow are focusing entirely on getting this kind of context. Which is a good thing. Enough repetition and these things will become natural.

The context of real life
But there is another context that people often forget about, something equally as important. It's called "real life". It's the context of experience that tells us more then just how words are used, but why they're used and what a person means when they use the words. And it can't be learned from individual sentences, it has to be learned when the sentences are said for a purpose, in the context of real life.

Let's go back to our sentence and focus on a different part:

言わぬ

Now let's give the rest of the context. The girl named 鳳 is a sort of ninja girl. She's always speaking with old kanji, uses honorifics, calls the main character (who went to see her) 貴様 whenever he does something stupid (which is often), and uses forceful speech. She's the only one in the manga who talks with such distinct speech, and also happens to be the only one who uses ぬ.

Where I was before, I had pretty much worked out that ぬ meant a negative from seeing it once or twice in context in different books. But it took reading this manga and reading the story of this character and her personality before I began to understand ぬ.

Learn to exploit this type of context also and it will turn Japanese from a set of words, phrases and grammar to a real life language. Words and grammar will not be dry points to learn, but things connected to real things.

To read more, take a look at Learning Vocabulary 1 by Amorey Gethin and Erik V. Gunnemark. Here and here talk more about what I have written here.

2 件のコメント:

  1. Good points all around. Personally, I'm at an early stage in my sentence mining (362 cards in my deck yet), so I'm really trying to figure out what works and what doesn't - at least, for me - and individual vocabulary words just wasn't working out, so I dropped it like a bad habit.

    On the topic of sentences, I've had a reasonable deal of success with iKnow, for sure, but even then... a lot of them feel kind of mechanical and boring, like something you'd see in a textbook. I plan to stick with them to at least establish a more solid foundation of vocabulary and grammar; a necessary evil.

    But certainly, the quality of sentences mined should always be taken into account, especially in the case of colloquial phrases, slang, insults and things you're just not likely to learn from formal sources!
    Perhaps this is something a lot of learners ignore - I can't say so with authority since I'm still quite early in my studies. But I definitely use my own discretion and judgment when deciding whether a sentence is worthwhile, and I'm fascinated to read insightful blog posts such as this so that I get a better of idea of the kind of sentences to add.

    On that note, back to Chrono Trigger DS for more mining!

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  2. It did always strike me as a little fishy that Khatzumoto's "10,000 sentences- why" article never actually addresses the question. It's a fun, entertaining article, but it basically changes the topic and hopes the reader doesn't notice...

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