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Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Teach Yourself a Language (or anything else, really[part 1])

When I was gathering my materials for the blog, one of the things I came upon was that for everything language teachers do to try and better their students, they leave typically leave classes with the same level of ability to absorb info as they came in with, which, when someone's trying to better their ability to learn a language and the info is flying at them a mile a minute, is not a good thing. I knew that a student should be able to bolster how they absorb new info, but for the life of me, I couldn't put any method onto the page that didn't require the kind of time sink most people just don't have(e.g. reading and researching book after book until everything suddenly clicks, which is how I got started).

Some time later I came upon some info about how the brain absorbs info, then later how the stages of learning people go through to get it down solid, which I began to organize into the best, most easily connectable and most quickly applicable form my skills would allow. This next series of articles is the result of all that, and is built to help you trim the fat in how much of the grind you'll have to go through, because if there's one thing I know people want to maximize, it's how much they get back from the time and effort they put into what boils down to relearning how to express yourself in every facet of the word. All that said, let's kick it off with some of why someone should improve the way they learn.

Why Learn Better?
One of the most important and least taught skills you'll ever learn is how to learn better, which of course raises the question of “What do you mean 'Learn Better'? Isn't reading and all that crap enough to get something down?” It can be, but when you improve the way you absorb info, all those seemingly impossible tasks you couldn't approach before take several steps back in difficulty, thus letting us grasp and apply what we learn that much faster. I mean would you rather learn the method to cooking rice in a way you understand or the way someone who doesn't know the way you best learn wants you to? It certainly is possible, but I can guarantee that learning it in a way you connect with will make it more fun and make it stick much, much longer. To start building towards learning your way, here are the 4 steps in the basic development process, the process many will naturally go through when they make first contact with something new.

The Process in Brief
The super condensed version of this starts with the Preparatory stage(basically copycatting) , goes to the Play stage (learn by doing), then the Game stage (managing lots of relationships and things we do at once) and goes right to the Generalized Others stage(learning how things are done in a given society). If you, for instance, were amazed by how Michael Jordan handled the rock, you'd probably start by copying the way he plays the game, then getting on the court and getting comfy with how the ball feels in your hand as you run up and down, building your rhythm from dribble to jump to shot.

After a bit of practice with that, you'll probably want to get into a real time game of basketball, where you learn how to apply what you've been practicing when someone's in your face and trying to swat it out of your hands. The more you do that, the more you get to know both what to do and what not to do in certain situations, such as getting used to passing to teammates when you're being doubled teamed and they have an open shot, which starts to bring you from a kid shooting J's at the plastic hoop in their room to a kid shooting J's over hapless defenders. I know that sports isn't everybody's things, so if you need a bit more meat to how this stuff works, then allow me to detail each step, starting with the Preparatory stage

The Preparatory Stage
One thing people often forget when they learn something new is that no matter how talented, rich, sharp, connected or experienced you are, everyone starts at the bottom and has to work their way up from zero. How do you get started when you basically have next to zilch to draw from when you take it on? You could jump right in and learn it step by step by step and get frustrated with every face-plant you make trying to learn it and get it down, or you could look at what the guy with their stuff together is doing and copy them 'til you find your footing.

When you do that, a crucial process takes place: you lay the foundation on which everything else you learn is built, refined and tested by the stresses of how it's applied to the real world; can't think outside the box without a box to think outside of, right? Once you build it, though, you can do any number of things to change its shape and how it's meant to work, even question whether or not you need a box and perhaps would like a circular container, instead. Say, for example, you never got behind the wheel of a car before and wanted to learn how to drive-and the person who taught you the basics also happens to love driving like they're trying out for the next Fast and Furious movie.

After you picked what they have to teach, their style becomes your style, which you then become free to modify however you please to suit your needs(that is, unless you plan to get tickets every time you get behind the wheel), and part of doing that lies in playing around with it, in turn letting it show what it can and can't presently do, so you can find where it needs work; this is where you enter the Play stage of development(coming soon, I promise!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sorry, I Don’t Speak Manglenese: Pronouncing Foreign Terms through Japanese Phonetics (part 11)

Ideally, slang and foreign terms should compose 10% of an average conversation, even where they heavily influence the local culture (e.g. tech stores, skate shops, ranches and so on). On top of that, the nature of these terms is very volatile, which makes them susceptible not only to falling out of use in mere days of their invention, but also weeding out those not in the know and barring them from ever becoming part of the inner circle.

     Why, then, should anyone bother to employ something so fickle and exclusionary?

     Well, for one, it strengthens the bonds between us and those we speak with, as well as encapsulate concepts that'd take paragraphs to describe (such as Salty, the sports term to describe bitterness over an unfavorable situation, typically losing at something); like wise, using foreign terms can help you when you know the word you wanna use, but don't know it in Japanese yet-which will be quite a bit in your initial experiences with the language and long after. Most importantly, there will always be terms the language doesn't have that everything you've learned will help you express. Like what, exactly?

     Names are the area they'll make an immediate impact, specifically if they don't fall in line with traditional Japanese phonetics; same goes for terms tied to certain lifestyles and ways of doing things, terms that come with their own history and weight, terms that tell the listener the speaker thinks they know enough about the culture behind it to embrace all that and use it in a conversation. The best way to discover whether you have enough of that to use terms like Grinding or Mixing is the same way you can get all you've learned-as well as stuff I might've overlooked-down pat: chattin' with folks; that single act can teach you more about slang and how to use it than anything or anyone-myself included-could ever dream of doing.

     Books are static, blogs are static, people aren't and damn sure don't talk that way. As I see it, conversation is a living ocean with its own ebb and flow, never the same way twice and always demanding the focus of those riding it, lest it swallow them whole (though you can always try again, unlike actual ocean travel). Don't think this the only sure shot method to learning it, but since auditory memory sucks when not in use, you'll wanna reinforce what it gives you by pairing it with other methods-taking cell shots of where you parked your ride, for example, decreases the chance you'll need to comb the lot just to find it again.

     It's not guaranteed to make it stick(as guarantees are as real as tasty, hearty and cheap vegan cuisine), but all you've picked up will steady that initial voyage and give you the tools to plot your language learning course, wherever the destination might end up being. Safe travels, and may this info make your journey more like sailing these oceans instead of swimming across them.

Special thanks go out to Tomo Akiyama, who's assist during the planning phase played a major role in setting this thing off proper. Without it, this would've been a research nightmare. Greatly appreciated, Akiyama-san(orz). 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sorry, I Don’t Speak Manglenese: Pronouncing Foreign Terms through Japanese Phonetics (part 10)

If you've caught a glimpse of the ひらがな or カタカナcharts, you'll notice there's nothing for Ye or Yi, primarily because there isn't a way to render the full sound; there is, however, a way to get an approximation of each-which you'll see again for the other sounds in this section.

     Yi sounds, as normally heard, use イ to render them, the harder version heard in Yipe and Yikes using ヤイ; for Ye sounds, the common way is to use イエ, in some instances using イェ to represent the actual sound. If you wondering how often you'll be able to practically use this, so was I when I started doing research and discovered how few words in the dictionary even have these sounds or the onescoming up. At least now you have something to refer back to and thus be less confused over the next time someone lets out a cheer of “イエイ(japanese rendition of "Yay")!” in celebration.

     Now then, on to 'W' sounds, in particular the sounds that either don't exist or are likely to cause a double take,starting with the 'wo', 'we' and 'wi' sounds. 'Wo' sounds come in 3 distinct varieties: medium (like in work and wonder), High (like in Wok and Woe) and low(like in wound and wolf); medium 'wo' sounds are rendered using 「ワ」, high ones, 「ヲ」, and low ones, 「ウ」. Low ones are likely the ones you'll need to spend some time before it really sticks, so don't get to flustered if you don't get it right away, just keep at it(note: the info 'bout low 'wo' sounds also apply when it's written as 'wu').

     Similarly, 'Wi' sounds comes in two types:soft(as in winter and withdraw) and hard(as in Wipe and Wise). Soft 'Wi' sounds are made using 「ウ」mora + イ + appropriate mora, where hard 'Wi' sounds use 「ワイ」 + any appropriate mora to form it.

'We'sounds (such as those in Wet and Well), similarly, also come in two varieties: short(rendered using「ウ」mora+ エ + appropriate mora) and long (extended「ウ」mora+ イ + appropriate mora). All these together will lay a solid foundation and let you grasp for possible words and names these sounds a reconnected to, like when your friend tells the tale of ワイルド・ウエンディー・アヴ・ザ・ウインズ, the girl who lassoed anyone foolish enough to pronounce her family name, 'Whip' as hwip(note about names: in Japanese,foreign names and strings of terms are typically separated with this dot(・), produced with the key that makes this (/) when the keyboard's set to Japanese). Get all that? Alrighty then, time for the next level of 'W' sounds: those using 'Wh' somewhere within them.

     In English, those sounds can be spoken one of two ways: the way normal 'W' sounds would be and the form which gives it a unique sound, e.g. saying 'Whip' as hwip. When this sound is rendered through Japanese phonetics, folks often use the latter way and base how they say it on that, so that's where the next section will be aimed, starting with 'wha'sounds.

     'Wha' sounds-heard in whack and wham-use ホ + 「ア」mora, long 'Wha' sounds using  ホ + extended「エ」mora; should one of your Japanese-speaking friends ask you what 「ホアック・ザ・ホエーラーズ」means, this knowledge will let you understand what they're trying to convey and tell them the implications of such a statement(which, if you can interpret the intended meaning, is very potent). 'Whe' sounds-heard in whet and when-apply the general principles you've picked up with 'E' sounds, utilizing ホ +「エ」mora for short sounds and ホ + extended「イ」mora for long ones, the same going for 'Whi' sounds and what you learned from 'I' sounds; to be more specific, 'Whi' sounds-used in which and the previously whip-use ホ +「イ」mora, while long versions of it use ホ + ア + イ.

     The only 'Wh' sound where previous knowledge won't do you much good is with 'Who' sounds-short versions using just ホ and long versions using フ(bear in mind that the sound associated with フ in either formlies somewhere between the sounds made in words like hula and fool). Now that I've topped off your knowledge of how to say foreign terms through Japanese phonetics, you may still be wondering how much use this all has in the long run, after you've built up your vocab, grammar and other related knowledge. Sit tight, 'cause in the next part, I'll show you a taste of what you do and how all this can let you make the Japanese you pick up yours and yours alone, which is really what you want out of learning to use a language, right?

Key Takeaways!

ñ  Soft 'Yi' sounds →  イ(EX:Yiddish → イヂッシュ)

ñ  Hard 'Yi' sounds →  ヤイ(EX:Yipes → ヤイプス)

ñ  'Ye' sounds → イエ (EX:      Yes → イエス)

ñ  Medium 'Wo' sounds → 「ワ」(EX: One Pattern(word used to say someone/thing does things the same way over and over again and is boring to be around) → ワンパターン)

ñ  High 'Wo' sounds → 「ヲ」(EX: Wozniak →  ヲズニアック)

ñ  Low 'Wo' sounds → 「ウ」(EX: Woozy → ウージ)

ñ  Soft 'Wi' sounds → 「ウ」mora + イ + appropriate mora

(EX:Week → ウイーク)

ñ  Hard 'Wi' sounds → 「ワイ」 +appropriate mora

(EX:Winans → ワイナンス)

ñ  'We' sounds → 「ウ」mora + エ + appropriate mora

(EX: Wedding → ウエディング)

ñ  Short ‘Wha’ sounds → ホ +「ア」mora(EX: What → ホアット)

ñ  Long ‘Wha’ sounds → ホ + extended 「エ」mora

(EX: Whale -> ホエール)

ñ  Short ‘Whe’ sounds → ホ+「エ」mora (EX: Whey -> ホエイ)

ñ  Long ‘Whe’ sounds → ホ+ extended 「イ」mora

(EX: Wheezy ->ホエージ)

ñ  Short ‘Whi’ sounds → ホ+「イ」mora (EX: Whisper -> ホイスパー)

ñ  Long ‘Whi’ sounds → ホ +「ア」mora+イ (EX: White → ホアイト)

ñ  Short ‘Who’ sounds -> ホ (EX: Whole -> ホール)

ñ  Long ‘Who’ sounds -> Extended フ (EX: Whodunit -> フーダニット)

Extra Credit!

Asbest as you can, render the words Yenta, Wolverine, Smartphone, Wheedle and Whimper into Japanese phonetics

As best as you can, render the words イエルプ,ウインナー, ウマン,ホイットル and ホッパーinto English phonetics