2009年1月30日金曜日

I believe in Khatzumoto

No matter what the guy does, he just can't get a break. Khatzumoto posts in very good Japanese on his site, and people doubt him. He posts a video of himself, and yet people still give him shit. He gets comments like this one:
"I'm glad something else said this - I was afraid to. (I fear I'm becoming the resident grouch :)).The fellow still isn't "fluent" after 5 years, so hopefully this 18 month stuff can be put to rest and people won't be frustrated by unrealizable expectations. The amusing thing is...his grammar could use some improvement. Khatz recommends acting like you're Japanese. But without lines, not all actors can adlib eloquently."
or this:
"Impressive, but not proof of fluency in other fields - he's a computer guy who studied his computers using japanese textbooks - so he could probably converse about that quite well, and with good computer skills then landing a job is not so surprising. That's a long haul from what most of us would consider fluent - not to diminish what he did, and certainly his blog and ideas have inspired lots of us here to try new methods, and often successfully at that. Not a shot at the guy, just a dash of realism."

And I am sick and tired of this bullshit. We can argue over his politeness level, we can present all the analyses we want, we can squabble over what fluency means. But I'm not going to. I simply can't stomach it anymore. There's a difference between skepticism and being so blindly negative about everything it becomes impossible to find merit in anything.

I say that Japanese is learned when you're deep in a story, from experience. I, along with Khatzumoto, advocate a method of enjoyment over learning the rules of grammar. And yet, they won't have it. I'm just "learning utterances" and such. I try again to tell them, it's more than that. I tell them that's not true and I won't have it. Bollocks, they say, it's obvious that my method must be slower then theirs. Yet here I am, at JLPT2 level after four months. Where does it end?

And I can't stand it, this negativity. It's a pile of fucking negativity that only holds us back.
Right here, right now I declare that I believe in Khatzumoto. I don't care what people say. I believe that he's fluent, and I believe that I can be fluent too. I won't have anybody tell me otherwise. I encourage everybody else to do the same. Don't let people put you down.

I believe in Khatzumoto. Do you?

2009年1月28日水曜日

How do we get self-discipline?

When you look at my Japanese, you could say that it requires a lot of self-discipline to avoid English or to do my reps everyday. In college I take several very difficult classes that require a lot of hard work, it could be said that it takes self-discipline to do the homework and study on my own time everyday.

I personally don't like to believe that self-discipline is a skill that you train. From what I've read of people who actively try to improve their self-discipline, they make it seem like it's is a skill in beating yourself up. Why would you want to train yourself in self-mutilation?

The most common path to building self-discipline seems to be pain. No pain no gain. But that's not what I believe. In my experience I've built up my self-discipline through a different way entirely. The way I've done this is based on two things: goals and positivity.

Goals
Let me tell you about my classmate who sits near me in biology. She's an average girl who finished high school, went to college, got a job. She thinks she might to go cosmetic school and get a license soon with the vague idea of starting a cosmetics business. She's taking biology because it's a required class, but decided to take the higher level biology because she might decide to be a nurse someday. She thinks the class is hard and honestly doesn't give a crap why hydrogen bonds in water allow certain bugs to walk on water, but it's a required course. She's doing terribly.

When people float through life aimlessly without any real tangible goals, they stagnate. Why should they go the extra mile when it won't pay off? Making tangible goals lays the groundwork for self-discipline. It's your reason for taking the extra time to study. It's the life of everything you do.

Throwing yourself to something higher, something better than what you have is what gives your life meaning. It's in this meaning that you gain the motivation and will to carry out your goals.

The first thing you must do is define a long term goal and the short steps needed to propel you in that direction. For me, this is going to a college in Japan. It's a tangible goal where going to this biology class is a step, even if it's a small step. Every time I go to the class or pick up the textbook I think about how it's getting me slowly closer to Japan.

For this girl, it could be her cosmetics. If she really wanted to create a business around cosmetics, she would have to seriously define specifically what she wanted to do. Spend everyday learning and using cosmetics. Learn the chemistry behind it, and study the business aspects of it. She would probably have to find a different school to attend. And all of this would lead down to the first step she would have to take. Take these courses next semester, submit an application for cosmetic school, etc.

Positivity
A while ago I had joined a study group for a different class. I met a guy through it and he asked me what I was using to take notes on my computer, so I explained what Anki was. The second time we met, he told me that he had tried Anki but didn't like it. That it wasn't "his thing". I asked why, to which he responded he didn't think it was worth the effort, he didn't care about the subject the class was teaching.

A few minutes later we both took a practice test. I scored 100%, he scored 80%.

Positivity plays a big role in self-discipline. It means instead of fighting what you have to do, you should learn to take part and find the enjoyment in what you do. Take pride in your work and find the best in your situation. I like to think that I have exceptionally good discipline in school largely because I can develop an interest in any subject. From the most boring math class to the sleeping pill of world history, I will see the positive in everything and be able to develop an interest in it.

If goal setting is the life in what you do, positivity is the blood that sustains.

In Japanese staying to the positive means developing interest. Instead of thinking of Japanese as a task to overcome as fast as possible, it means finding the positive and fun in the journey. Every English temptation you pull yourself away from means an awesome Japanese temptation to reward you.

Staying to the positive in doing my reps meant looking at it as a way to revisit what I've learned. By extension, this meant limiting what I put in to things I would want to revisit. It means that when I look at Anki, I think about how I get to review that really awesome kanji I learned the other day.

I imagine people who are successful with diets or vegetarianism are people who didn't train themselves to eat food they hated, but instead looked and found things they liked.

So in short
Goals without positivity leads to burnout and dwelling on the future instead of the present. Positivity without a goal ends with mediocrity and stagnation. Learn to apply both equally in your life and you will gain tremendous self-discipline.

Check out Attitude Is Everything for more on positivity. Here's some stuff on goals: How To Will Yourself To Success Goal Setting for Dummies.

2009年1月20日火曜日

Starting out? Suck really bad? Here's some advice.

After four months I spit at JLPT grammar points and read books like a mad man. I can read an entire manga series without once opening a dictionary and understand the entire thing. But I wasn't always this awesome, when I started out I sucked. I sucked really bad.

Why'd I get so good? Because I busted tale and exposed myself to more Japanese than English everyday. But what I consider unique about my experience, is that I didn't know I was busting tale. I didn't 'study', I didn't think "I want to learn Japanese, better break out the flashcards, dictionary, and get the best guide to grammar I can and slog through it". In my day we didn't even know what an 'iknow' was!

But even then, there was a time before when I thought textbooks were the answer. That you had to get the right sentences in to Anki and study everyday. And for a month after completing the Movie Method, that's exactly what I did. For that month, I sucked badly. I didn't learn shit about Japanese during my first month, everything confused me.

But eventually, I began to realize that didn't work. I began to change my approach. When I finally stopped being a sucky beginner who didn't know anything and started to put things together was when I dropped the mindset of 'study'. I threw away the sentence spreadsheets I had collected from the forum and found some manga that I really enjoyed. And you know what? I STILL SUCKED. I didn't know shit about Japanese, of course I wasn't going to understand crap from what I was reading. For all the Japanese I had 'studied', I still sucked badly. Because study does not equal real life.

But that was the best decision I made. I was no longer 'slogging' or 'plowing' or 'mining' my way through something, I was reading! And it wasn't boring crap, it was fun. (In fact, I hate those words. I hate it when people say they're going to 'mine' a game or something for sentences. It's like saying "I'm going to mine sentences from 'cool game x'" translates to "I'm going to take away the fun from 'cool game x'".) I learned more from a week of reading a manga I got totally addicted to then in my entire month of 'study'.

But still, people tell me I'm a 'genius', or that I have a unique 'mindset'. The only unique thing about me is that I rejected perfectionism. I didn't assume that I had to 'slog' my way through something to learn from it.

To go back to Stephen Krashen, when the learner focuses on what they can understand, and not fight with what they don't understand, in communicative input, i+1 items will be found in little bits and knowledge will expand, and expand in a natural, predictable order.

So that's my advice to you beginners out there. Dump the 'study', get on board with the play and exploration. Trust me, it's so much better.

2009年1月18日日曜日

Listening and watching tips

It's only been recently that I've really started watching Japanese for enjoyment. Motivated by other people's efforts on learning through listening, I've begun to watch more Japanese stuff. The following are some helpful tips based on my experiences so far.

Tip #1 - Listen to a lot of Japanese to get good at listening to Japanese
Tobberoth's problem with listening to Japanese. From here:
"My first problem: I simply can't hear what they are saying. They say a line and I hear the Japanese sounds and I hear the particles, I hear some words... but some words just jump into a rumble which I can't really make out. This is probably based a lot on my second problem...
My second problem: I don't know tons of the words used! One could say "that's no problem, just listen to the word and look it up". The problem is, when I don't know a word, I get the above problem: They jumble together. Sometimes I can't tell if it's one or two words. Sometimes I can't tell if it's a long or a short o sound. Usually, I can listen to the sentence a few times and look it up, but then we have the other problem: Japanese is filled with homonyms! Which one did they say? Did they actually say one of them or did I make a mistake on one of the kana??"

My response in this thread was basically "focus on what you do understand and watch a lot". But this idea doesn't seem to be popular with a lot of people. People don't think that listening to raw Japanese without trying to lookup and understand things (dictionary/script) will help your Japanese. I disagree completely.

If you expose yourself to hours of spoken Japanese, things repeat. Words, patterns, accents, all will show up again and again given enough time, common words especially. Words will begin to differentiate simply because hearing them over and over will accustom you to the differences.

Thus, because you have to listen a lot, you can't be worried about trying to understand everything the first time. You have to get used to the idea that you're not going to understand everything. In fact, you'll probably understand very little. But does that mean you should give up and wait until you're better? No. That means listen more. Which leads me to the next tip:

Tip #2 Do not worry about perfection. Perfection is your enemy.
Do not put off watching/listening to something in Japanese because you want to parse it carefully looking up words and wearing out your rewind button.

This is a problem I was having recently. I have a series that I really like. But it turned out that because I really liked it, I avoided watching it. I wanted to try and go through it perfectly really carefully looking up words for understanding.

So don't do what I did and put off watching something cool. Watch it anyway.

Tip #3 Loop Japanese audio, but only interesting audio.
Listening passively to Japanese throughout your day is a great way to get audio input. I look at it as trying to push Japanese into active listening all the time. I'll listen to Japanese all day and try to listen carefully when I have free time or when I hear a certain part coming up. The repetition helps a lot here. Throughout the day you'll hear people say certain phrases or patterns and you basically get to the point where you memorize them, even if it's gibberish. Then you encounter the words somewhere else and make the connection and it's unforgettable.

One thing though, only listen to what you enjoyed listening to the first time. Things that were interesting that you liked. That means don't just download a bunch of audio or rip streams of Japanese and listen to it. There's no point when you haven't listened to it before, you'll just push it out and won't pay attention. But things you enjoyed you'll want to listen to and will naturally actively listen to more.

Tip #4 Use KeyHoleTV for the win.
KeyHoleTV(don't you dare push that English button) is awesome. It's a program that streams live TV to your computer for free. Like I set my favorite Japanese page (read=something I'll actually read) to be my homepage, I set the drama streams going and leave it on my computer all day. Even when I'm not watching it or listening to something else, the program is still on my computer really easy to just hit 'play' to watch. It's become a temptation.

Also, check out this article on how listening a lot, even if you don't understand it, helps.

2009年1月15日木曜日

Learning a language? Here's Stephen Krashen.

Stephen Krashen is a well known and respected linguist who's theories have influenced All Japanese All The Time and Antimoon.

Stephen Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition:

Acquisition-Learning hypothesis
The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis basically states that there's a difference between learning a language and acquiring a language. Learning a language is to learn about the language, to be aware of grammar rules and consciously think about the language. Whereas language acquisition is a subconscious process similar to the way children learn and requires learning in the form of meaningful communication. Krashen argues that acquisition is more important that learning.

Monitor hypothesis
The Monitor hypothesis tells us that what is learned 'about' the language will only be useful when the learner has time to carefully edit and parse what they've said or written. In a sense, what's learned because they're 'monitor' when it can. Krashen notes two different types of learners, those who are "under-users" and those who are "over-users".

Natural Order hypothesis
The Natural Order hypothesis states that there is a 'natural' order in which grammar structures are acquired. That means despite how grammar is introduced to the learner, they're only going to be acquired in their 'natural' order (remember that there is a difference between acquisition and learning).

Input hypothesis
The Input hypothesis concerns itself purely with the acquisition process. It states that the learner will only learn 'i+1'. That is, if the learner is at level 'i', they will only learn when they are exposed to comprehensible input that is slightly beyond they're level.

Affective Filter hypothesis
The Affective Filter basically says that negative emotions such as self-doubt, anxiety, boredom, all serve to get between the learner and the language. When the learner is plagued with negative feelings, they tend to either prevent effective learning, or prevent time spent with the language.

These five hypotheses make up Krashen's theory on second language acquisition. Most of my conclusions about acquiring Japanese are drawn from his theories.

I believe reaching fluency is only going to be accomplished when the language has been acquired. Because of this I try to acquire the language as much as possible through meaningful communication and experience. (See: Getting addicted to reading, Role models in language learning, An English explanation)

I believe that grammar will be acquired in a natural order (which I've experienced myself here: Grammar points? Don't make me laugh.) and as such don't bother trying to learn grammar and focus on exposure.

And through exposure, I try and focus on what I do know and go from there. (See: Read and watch anyway) Because when you focus on what you do know and maintain constant exposure you're going to inevitably encounter i+1 items that will expand your knowledge. Little bits of understanding will become larger chucks, which will become whole paragraphs, which will be whole pages, which will become whole books. There's always i+1 material to be found in everything.

But why not stick to i+1 material in the first place? Stick to books that are at your level? Well, for one it's very hard to find reading and listening material that's at the level to give you +1. Life and language is not organized in to neat little steps. Second, any method that relies on the learner's level is eventually going to run against the interest of the learner, which is not conducive to language acquisition. You will always learn more when you are engaged and interested. (Also, I'm not learning Japanese)

Everything else is just icing. I use an SRS+sentences because it's the most effective way to maintain what I've acquired. I use a monolingual dictionary because removing the English makes me feel closer to the language and boosted my understanding of the language significantly.

Sources and further reading:
http://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash.html
http://www.languageimpact.com/articles/rw/krashenbk.htm

2009年1月14日水曜日

Learning how to type - 4

I'm getting much better at typing, even with typing normal English. My fingers are moving much, much faster while making fewer mistakes. For my Japanese typing, I'm seeing much improvement. I no longer feel like a helpless kid who has to finger type everything.

As much as I'm improving, however, I can't seem to score better than E and D. Even on the easy first level. I suppose that's just a matter of time and practice.

I think the main difference between my ability to type English and Japanese is that the Japanese are just raw keys. The words that I see that I have to type in the game are much easier and much faster to type. It seems that typing is a skill that isn't just in my muscles and nervous system. But that doesn't mean I can't still improve. With the words, there are a limited set of combinations that my fingers just haven't gotten used to with Japanese. There are a lot of these that even when I do know the word, they're hard to type.

2009年1月13日火曜日

Grammar points? Don't make me laugh.

Today for shits and giggles I went online and found the Unicom JLPT 2 grammar points (海賊版) to look through. It definitely looked like a lot of effort. One hundred and ninety one different grammar points. Man, that's a whole 191 different things the learner is going to have to force into their heads. For each grammar point, it has long and complicated example sentences, the meaning in Japanese (if you can understand it), the meaning in English, notes, and usage (conjugations, grammar type stuff). I have to wonder just how long it would take the learner to get through this mess.

For me, if I wanted to do it (which I don't), it would take about an hour.

This is simply because there is not a whole lot of new information. I'm reading through this document most of the information is either completely stupidly obvious from reading the example sentences (限り:学生である限り、勉強を第一にしなければならない。かけだ:作文は、今日中に書かなければならないのに、まだ書きかけだ。ことだ:上手になるためには、繰り返して練習をすることだ。), impossible not to figure out if you've read any Japanese AT ALL (~ように, ~おかげで), or already known. There's very little there which is completely unknown to me.

All I've done for the past four months of Japanese is sit around and do fun Japanese stuff. Manga, books, websites, movies, shows, etc. and stick the interesting sentences in Anki. That's it. As a result when I look at this it's very easy. The example sentences are simple to me, the Japanese explanations are easy to understand, and I already know a good deal of what's in there anyway. I'm not studying grammar points to understand Japanese, I'm understanding Japanese by exposing myself to massive amounts of the language on a daily basis.

But this seems to be a foreign concept to other language learners. They seem to be trapped in the limited thinking that you need to be at a certain level before you can understand things. "Oh I'm not at the level where I can read manga" or "What reading material would you recommend for me? I'm at JLPT3 level grammar". Saying things like this bothers me. It makes me want to tell them to screw the level they're at, do it anyway and you'll get good. Screw the grammar points and the study, you don't need them.

2009年1月12日月曜日

Manga, movie, anime recommendations

I never watch or read any kind of media without a recommendation first, because unfortunately unlike browsing the web, you can't just hop from site to site without any investment. So this post will be my first post where I recommend things to watch or read. I plan to do more of these in the future, but it won't be for a long while because it takes a while to build up enough things where you can write reviews like this.

I will give each a rating based on 6 stars (ten is way too much, five is one too few).
5 and 6 stars are a class of their own.
4 stars are worth the effort.
3 stars are things you watch/read if you're bored.

Manga

ぱられる(パラレル)***
This was an ok manga. It's about a this kid who likes a girl. But when he confesses his love for her, she rejects him. Not only that, but he goes home to find that his dad is remarrying... to the mother of the girl he confessed to. The series is about them living together for a year while their parents leave them to go on a rather long vacation. 4 volumes long. I was bored and this was recommend to me, so I thought, what the hell. I guess it was worth it. A good beginner's manga.
ぱられる cover

スクールデイズ ***
This was actually a very mediocre manga that was very short. It's about a kid who likes a girl, but is too much of a wimp to do anything about it. So he enlists the help of his friend (girl) to get them together and succeeds. The only problem is the friend also likes him. Very simple language, a bit funny, two volumes long. The only reason I mention this manga here is because of the ending. It has probably the best endings I've read in a long time and is completely unexpected for this type of story. Trust me, read this one for the ending, it'll only take you a day or two to finish it.

Also, if you're a sucky beginner to Japanese and you want a good but simple manga to start you off on, I recommend this one.


ラブひな ******
This one is a classic that probably doesn't need an introduction. It's about a guy named 景太郎 who moves into a girls dormitory. He acts like an idiot, then he gets punched into the sky. Actually as the story progresses, it gets a little lighter on the slapstick humor and focuses on the underlying story, which is 東大, archeology, and the relationships. 14 volumes of probably the best manga I've ever read.
ラブひな cover

涼風(すずか) *****
This is actually the first manga I read. Before starting Japanese, I never read manga. But when it was recommended to me I decided to try it, and I was hooked. I have fond memories staying up late and reading this.

It's about a high school transfer student 大和(やまと) going to live in his aunt's apartment building. From there he falls completely for the girl named 涼風 living next door. But because of unforeseen problems/drama, the first half of the series is driven by him trying to get her. The second half of the series is devoted to him trying to keep her as a girlfriend. Neither of these are easy tasks.

This manga has exceptionally good art. Practically every single frame had a well drawn background to it and the character art was extremely good. It's also not a "goofy" manga with the plot maintaining a realistic sense. 18 volumes long.
涼風 cover

あいこら(Love and collage) ****
This one is about a high school kid who has a "parts fetish". He likes specific types of "parts" (such as blue eyes, 新幹線200系オッパイ, a type of legs, etc.) and the story is about him living with girls who all have one type of part he likes. The plot is mostly driven by him getting in trouble over his fetish and him protecting the woman who hold his parts. I'm going to be honest, the chapters where it just got over the top with his fetish I skipped. But outside of that there was a decent plot. But don't read this and expect a very deep story, it's mostly a comedy. 12 volumes.
あいこら cover

Movies

修羅雪姫(しゅらゆきひめ)******
This movie is so over the top with blood and gore, it's where Tarantino got his inspiration for Kill Bill. It's about a woman who is born solely for the purpose of carrying out her mother's vengeance, and oh what a good job she does. This movie, after a bit of back story, is about after she has grown up and goes off to find the people who screwed over her mother. A very entertaining movie that is one of my personal favorites.
修羅雪姫 poster

タンポポ *****
This movie was brilliant in that the plot managed to be entirely about food and still be incredibly entertaining. To say this has a story would be going far, it's mostly a (comedic) documentary about Japan's obsession with food. It was made in 1985, also.

With that said, the basic plot is a woman named タンポポ who after enlisting the help of a cowboy trucker (A Japanese John Wayne look a like trucker) , goes to find the perfect ラメン recipe. Hilarity ensures.

クワイエットルームにようこそ *****
This film was recommended to be by a friend, and I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. But it ended up being a very good film. It's about a normal woman who wakes up strapped to a bed in a mental hospital. The how and why don't come until a little later when her boyfriend comes and tells her she overdosed on pills. From that she's forced to stay in the mental hospital surrounded by crazies until she's released, where we find how just how normal she is.

If you liked One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, you'll like this. It's similar, but without the angst and bad ending. It has a good ending.

転々(てんてん)******
This movie is brilliant. The movie is about these two guys. 福原(ふくはら), who's a debt collector, is offering to pay the failing college student who's in debt 百万円 to go on a 東京散歩 with him. Along the way you find out more about the two guys and how they failed at life.

This movie is so good in that it has so many real life shots of Japan. It really made me feel like what I was watching is what Japan is really like, how people are formal/informal, what the city is like, what people are like, etc. If you love a big, cold city like I do, you'll love this movie.

You can watch the trailer here.


Anime

ラーゼフォン(RahXEphon) ******
This is a mecha anime. It's about a kid named 神名綾人(かみなあやと), which is a pretty badass name. We're told that after a catastrophic something happened, the only habitable place left to live is 東京. But the female protagonist finds him during the chaos of fighting in the first episode and takes him out of 東京 to the outside world where apparently time is years ahead there and 東京 is surrounded by a red barrier. The rest of the story is about him living in the outside word, operating a giant mecha to fight other mechas off, and trying to find out just what the hell is going on and who's pulling the strings. To top it all off, it has a decent love mystery behind it. Very highly recommended, action, romance, drama, robots, I don't think it can get any better.
RahXephon title

ギルガメッシュ(Gilgamesh)****
This anime is something else. It takes place after a major terrorist attack that covered the sky with a mirror and makes normal technology useless. The story follows the two children, a brother and sister, of the man who caused the disaster. With both parents dead and people after them for their mother's huge debt, they're brought to live with a woman who also has adopted several other children. But they're not normal, they have some sort of telekinesis and go around fighting these "Gilgamesh" monster things. It also turns out that the brother has the same abilities. The story is drivin by the mystery of it all. Why they have their powers, why the kid's father did what he did, what the Gilgamesh are, and most of all, which side to take.

This anime was a bit weird, but in a good way. It's something that not everybody would like, but I found it an enjoyable mystery.

Serial Experiments Lain ****
If you like computer "hacker" things, you'll like this. It's about a recluse girl who starts browsing the "Wired", which is a sort of futuristicy internet. Eventually she starts developing multiple personalities, among other things. It's very abstract and very out there. At only 13 episodes, it's definitely worth watching. Japanese beginners can probably enjoy this without too much trouble.
Serial Experiments Lain screenshot
Serial Experiments Lain Screen 2

Witchblade *****
This anime is very exciting to watch. It's also worth seeing. It's about a single mother who lands a job working for the head of a huge super corporation to kill their defunct cyborg killing machines that got loose during a huge earthquake years ago. But what could a single mother do to take care of them? She wields the witchblade. Normally an ordinary bracelet, but when it activates it turns her into a sexy killing machine with blades. Don't let that get in the way, though. I has a decent story with some very likable characters in it, that as the story progresses, the fighting gets less so and the history behind the characters (the single mom's memory is gone) takes hold. Ends up being a very good anime.
Witchblade title

Samurai Champloo *****
Do you like hip hop? Do you like samurai? Well how convenient, this anime has both. From the creator of Cowboy Bebop 渡辺 信一郎 (わたなべしんじろう), this anime does to hip hop what Cowboy Bebop did to Jazz. It's a story about a couple of expert samurai who hate each other traveling with a cute little girl trying to find a samurai who smells like sunflowers. This story doesn't need a deep plot simply because their adventures through Japan are enough to entertain. Very random and off the wall, I love it.

ノワール(Noir)******
This anime is brilliant. The music, the characters, the setting, all top notch. It follows the story of Mireille Bouquet, an assasin, after she finds 夕叢霧香(ゆうむらきりか) in the first episode. Both of them are extremely skilled killers, and it follows the story of them trying to find out about an evil kind of organization named Les Soldats who seems to be trying to kill them on occasion.

A very good plot with a lot of very good action scenes set to good music. It also is not bloody or gory at all, but they do kill a lot of people.

Noir poster

2009年1月11日日曜日

Learning how to type - 3

The game as logged me as having 3 hours cumulative play time on the game. Here are my scores:
Chapter 1: D
Chapter 2: D
Chapter 3: E
Chapter 4: E
(No game overs!)

I'm definitely getting better at this. And not just because my scores are slightly better. I'm starting to bust out mad combos and long strings of words without flinching. When I first started, I was terrible at longer words. I'd make mistakes, get lost and forget my place, etc. But now I can regularly kick ass with the long words. I am also no longer afraid of the - for long katakana words. I can just bust that out whenever I want to now using my ring finger.

Another thing I've been enjoying in this game are the "Drill Maniax" games. There are games for durability, speed, accuracy, reflex, and special keys. My biggest weakness? Accuracy.


恋するゾンビ, a game to test your endurance.

Posture
When I sit at my computer to play this game, I maintain a good posture. I sit upright with my back in alignment and my feet on the floor straight down. I also don't lean my body in to look at the screen. I don't know why, but this seems to help.

2009年1月10日土曜日

Finding cool Japanese websites

Evil_Dragon on RevTK asked me this in response to a comment I made on how I found interesting Japanese websites for immersion:
"Could you share some of these? I consider it really hard to find interesting Japanese webpages. So far I'm only reading mixi, 2ch and the Japanese Wikipedia. Which is not all that much for someone who spent hours on the net beforehand. ;)"

I considered giving him some of the sites I have bookmarked, but I didn't think that would be too helpful. Where would that get him? He'd simply end up with a bunch of websites he knows nothing about that would be a hassle to sort through. They're all my websites that I found. I know them all, and I know that I enjoy reading them all. One of the blogs I have bookmarked is a even a Japanese friend's blog.

Simply looking for a super list of cool websites isn't going to cut it. You have to discover things you like on your own. I used to have a bunch of bookmarks that were just website recommendations from the All Japanese All The Time site, but I never looked at them. I didn't know what they were, and I didn't feel trying to read something I had no interest in.

When we try to create a Japanese immersion environment, we tend to think of it as a "task". It's something that must be done to improve our Japanese. We have to read Japanese websites everyday and abscond with the English. But it's hard, and a lot of people don't even try. Going straight from having a bunch of websites you like in your native language that you can waste hours on to having one, maybe two websites that you look at as a challenge to get through.

The problem simply lies in interest. You need to go out and explore the web and find interesting things that you genuinely enjoy reading. Explore like you just discovered the internet.

Ever wonder why you can just waste hours away on Wikipedia? You decide to read up on something, and the article links you to another article, and that links you to another article until you end up reading about Houdini when you only went up to find out what tenpura is.

So do the same thing. I like reading Slashdot, and when I read this article I saw that it was from a website called TechCrunch. I click on it and it seems like a decent site. Bam, I have another bookmarked site to read.

I go up to Tae Kim's blog and see a couple of links for Japanese stuff:
Nihongo day by day
シットコムで笑え!
実録鬼嫁日記
日本語教師日記
眞鍋かをりのポッドキャスト

I look at the first one, Nihongo day by day, and read a post. Read another post, I love it and bookmark it.

I read the second one, doesn't even look worth reading.

Look at the third and read the first post, boring.

Look at the forth, 日本語教師日記, and it looks interesting. A blog about teaching Japanese. But it doesn't look like it has updated for a long time. So I put it on my watched blogs for now. But I decide to peek at the "bookmarks" tab. I look at some, skip most of them, but click on 日本語教師@ブログ. I read a little bit and it looks awesome. I decide to bookmark it to read later.

See where I'm getting at with this? Out of those five pages that Tae Kim likes, I found one, maybe two that were interesting. But just by browsing I found another site that looked really interesting that I'm definitely going to be reading further.

Just go with the flow. Your curiosity and interests will take care of the rest.

Learning how to type - 2

This game, The Typing Of The Dead, is addicting. I literally cannot stop playing it. There are a bunch of different little games to work on all sorts of different typing areas. I remember when I was a kid and my parents gave me Mario Teaches Typing, I thought it was boring as hell. But this game, if I had it as a kid I would have played it all day and learned to type much sooner. I am literally killing zombies between sentences here.

Level 1: D
Level 2: D
Level 3: E
Level 4: Game Over, E
Level 5: Game Over

"俺様" was actually a word I had to type.

I realized that the way I was typing Japanese was... wrong. Or at least inefficient. I'm noticing there are better ways to type certain things. For example, し can be typed in with one less key then I was using, 'si' over 'shi'. つ can be done with a 'tu', and half width vowels can be typed with a 'l'. The game also teaches 'hu' over 'fu' for ふ, so I guess I'll go with it. I noticing that even my English typing abilities have areas I need to work on. For example, I have trouble hitting 'x' and I never touch type numbers, I have to look at them to be accurate.

But on the positive side I'm not looking at copying sentences over to Anki as drudgery anymore. Now it's an opportunity to practice.

2009年1月9日金曜日

Learning how to type - 1

In the course of Japanese fun stuff, I have to type sentences into Anki. I'm finding that I'm hating it so much, simply because my Japanese typing skills are terrible. It takes me way too much time to type and I make too many mistakes. So what I've decided to do is practice typing as much as possible. It's going to be a project.

I found a game called The Typing Of The Dead II(Wiki). It looks really cool. It's based off of The House Of The Dead, but instead of clicking your mouse to shoot, you type. It judges your ゾンビ killing accuracy based on a 5-point system of juicy goodness.

At this point I had fallen in love. I proceeded to install this game immediately. Nothing could have prepared me for the late 90s awesomeness of this game. Not only did it have a deep plot, it had strongly identifiable characters that moved the story forward!


Nothing could have prepared me for the late 90s awesomeness

I've resolved that I'm going to timebox ten minutes for this game everyday and report my scores and thoughts everyday here on my blog for thirty days. For those of you who don't know what timeboxing is, it's the latest and greatest technology for tricking your fat ass into being productive. For the set time, you go at what your doing full force and you can't stop until the timer goes off. The alarm clock I've been using is here, but to be honest it's not very good.

These are today's scores:
Level 1:
Rank D

Level 2:
Rank E

Yeah, that's pretty pathetic.

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.

2009年1月7日水曜日

An English explanation

Today I received a copy of Mangajin's Basic Japanese Through Comics as a gift. Amused, I flipped through the pages and landed on an explanation of "なん". I had been running into the word on occasion, and so far the meaning had eluded me. But when I read it, I felt disappointed that the answer to what it meant was given to me like that.

Why was I disappointed? Because it was too easy. I just had an explanation handed to me. I had been seeing it a while, and each time I tried to figure out what it meant on my own. I was pretty close, I think, to figuring it out. I read hours of Japanese everyday and there are a lot of things that I run into that I don't understand, but things that I run into multiple times I eventually piece together. These things have the strongest associations to me. Their meanings and usage are impossible to forget when I've figured it out on my own. Possibly because of the Zeigarnik effect, I don't know. But what I've learned on my own is mine, it's becoming my language. An explanation isn't, it's learning somebody else's language.

The process of learning like this was explained very well in this post on Keith's Voice on Extreme Language Learning:
"In a previous post, I illustrated a point about the learning process by using the example of a piece of fruit. First you may think a word means apple but then you find that the word is also applied to a banana and so you adjust your understanding of that word. This exact thing has already happened to me. In the 2nd drama series, I thought the name of a character was a certain 3 words. Then later, I noticed that the last 2 words were applied to another person and so I realized it was a title. Based on the rank of those two people, I thought the word meant 'princess.' Then in one of the other dramas, I saw the same title being applied to a man who was a son of the emperor so I realized that it was not just for females like the word 'princess.' I thought it could mean prince or princess. And then I see the title still being used to address this man even after he became emperor. So again I adjusted my understanding of this word."

This explanation to me was gold. It's exactly how I would have wanted to write it. Learning this way gives you the kind of understanding that native speakers have precisely because it is the same way native speakers learn. Translations give us bias as to what words really mean and hold us back from true understanding. To this day I still have some words I learned before I got serious about Japanese that nag me.

2009年1月5日月曜日

Monolingual dictionaries

Switching to a monolingual dictionary is something that isn't easy. It requires a lot of work, time and effort. However, the outcome is worth it. You're able to learn words without using your native tongue at all, allowing your Japanese to build upon itself. Many say that it takes a high level of vocab and grammar to be able to make the plunge, but I don't believe this. What I've found is that the grammar is incredibly simple and straightforward. I believe that a student of any skill level can use a monolingual dictionary to success as long as they keep their mind open.

First of all, which dictionary to pick?

The best dictionaries you can get are all free, thankfully. They are 大辞林, 大辞泉, 三省堂 web dictionary, and Google image search.

Just off the bat, my favorite is the 大辞林(だいじりん). It has very clearly written definitions with plenty of very good example sentences. The definitions are also ordered by the most common, so the first definition will probably be the one you're looking for (as opposed to the 広辞苑(こうじえん), which uses weird words, is expensive, and orders them based on their historical use).

大辞泉(だいじせん) is also decent, but I find it sometimes a bit weird. This could also be a personal preference, both dictionaries were written by the same author. Consider a definition from both dictionaries on a word I looked up recently:

大辞林:
ち かん【痴漢】
① 電車の中や夜道などで,女性にみだらないたずらをする男。

大辞泉:
ち‐かん【痴漢】
女性にみだらないたずらをしかける男。

The main definition tells you the exact same thing in the exact same words (いたずら doing 男 to the 女性, don't ask me to translate), but the 大辞林 gives something extra. In this case, it tells you that this happens in trains, or in night-roads and that sort of thing. I actually find this to be very helpful.

Now when you see this definition and you don't know what 夜道 means and you look it up, you'll probably get something like this:

よ みち【夜道】
夜間に道を行くこと。また,その道。

Which is fine, but wouldn't simple google image search be much clearer and give a stronger association to the word?

Now, let's look at a word with 三省堂(さんせいどう) web dictionary. I looked up the word 憎む and got this definition:

にく・む[憎む]
〈五〉 憎いと思う.

Generally, 三省堂 likes to give one word definitions and oversimplified explanations. If you look up one word, often you will find that the definition is a single synonym. When you look up that word, the definition is yet another synonym. Using a dictionary this way, you would eventually reach a "safe" word which you do know (or the same words over again in a circle, in which case you are no better off then when you started), and learn that all the words you looked up mean the same as your "safe word". But in reality, there are very few true synonyms. The whole point of a word is that it means something different.

However, 三省堂 is not without its uses. When you run into a definition that is an entire mess, looking up the word in 三省堂 can tell you which words are important to a definition.

What do I do with this thing?

Use it a lot. The biggest difference between a person who is good with a monolingual dictionary and somebody who is bad with a monolingual dictionary is the amount of time they have spent using one. The basic vocab tends to repeat, the grammar is simple, and recursive searching gets less necessary over time. Sometimes when I have a very difficult to understand definition that I has many unknowns I'll add sentences for a word in the definition I looked up while skipping the original word. When I come across that word again, I'll have one less word to look up.

I guess all I have to say about using one is, don't be afraid. Know that in time it will be easier. Know that what you don't understand today will be easy tomorrow. When I started out, I took hours to figure out a single word. Where I am now, I understand most definitions immediately. I can honestly say that it was worth it.

Now that you're good with it, stop using it?

One concept I don't think is ever talked about enough is outgrowing the dictionary. I think that after a certain stage, the learner needs to free themselves from the dictionary. You may think it's mad, but quite a few polyglots even learn a different language without using a dictionary at all. After a certain point, reading constantly will give you the meanings from context. I personally have been doing this with success.

"If you know 4 words out of 5, the meaning of the fifth word is generally provided by the context. So, when you get to this point, the trick is to read as much as you can for a while, as swiftly as you can, tolerating the ambiguity of not understanding everything, fighting the impulse to look up every single word that you do not know. If you just read, read, read like this for several hours a day, every day for a few weeks or months depending on the difficulty of the language, you will find that your vocabulary has snowballed and that you have learned many new words from context without ever needing to look them up." - Professor Alexander Arguelles, a Hyperpolyglot who has studied 58 different languages and is an exponent in Polyglottery.

Consider it this way, if you want be fluent, why would you look up words in a dictionary when native speakers don't, and you don't in your native language? In your own language, do you look up every single word you don't know? I know I don't. The meaning is either clear from context, or it doesn't inhibit my understanding.


Tips:

*Keep it in the same dictionary. When you look up a word and have to to some recursive searching to understand the definition, don't use a different dictionary for the other words. I don't know why, but I've found that it's best to stick to one dictionary when recursive searching.

*Google image search nouns and verbs.

*Don't rely on synonyms. Learn how words are different from each other.

*Don't forget to read and watch anyway.

2009年1月2日金曜日

Role models in language learning

Oddly enough, I've never actually talked to a native Japanese guy. I've talked to plenty of girls, even know a couple here in Arizona, but I can't find a native Japanese guy to learn from.

When you get into manga or anime to learn Japanese, people tell you "people don't talk like that in Japan". I've been told that using things like ぞ, ぜ, or 俺(おれ) and お前 are not used and make you sound like a child. People tell you this, and who do you end up learning from? Did you know for a while I actually was in the habit, even though I knew better, of putting わ after everything? I have to wonder if it's not the speech that makes you look like a child or makes you rude, maybe it's just the idea of being a man. After all people don't come from speech, speech comes from people.

Recently I read a manga called "Deep love: Real". It's about a guy named 義之(よしゆき) who goes to work for a host club. Their job is to go out and pick up women, then bring them back to the club where they'll spend money (a great read for people who are familiar with the black arts). The thing I noticed was that the guys who were really good at it spoke differently from the guys who were tools, and 義之 was really awesome at it. I actually started talking like him after a while. In a way I was role modeling him in my language.

Not to try and sound like Tyler Durden, but maybe us guys need to learn from men, not children or women. Maybe we need to find people we can look up to and role model.