Friday, March 30, 2007

Remembering the Kanji: Vol. 1 + Reviewing the Kanji (Review)

I started this book in Oct of last year and finally got through it. But it was worth every second. The system introduced is a bit unorthodox in that it introduces a method that will allow you to write and know the meaning of 2042 Chinese characters ( Specifically, the Japanese government's list of regular use kanji and some change), but not the pronounciations. The nickel tour of the method is to introduce common elements found throughout the wide world of Kanji, assign some meaning, and use your imagination to create stories using those elements to get to the meaning. For example, the meaning of 器 is utensil. When you break it down, you see four 口's (element meaning mouth) and one 大 (element given the meaning of st. bernard). Put it all together and the story you might come up with is a st. bernard tied down to a dinner table with four hungry mouths at each corner holding their UTENSILs and getting ready to eat the poor st. bernard. Ridiculous story, isn't it? But that is exactly why you will remember it. The book will give you the stories in the beginning, but eventually, they will only give the elements and the stories will be up to you. It sure beats writing characters over and over and over again until you think you have it mastered. This really does cut down the time it takes to learn the characters.

The book has its critics, mostly for not teaching in the same order as regular Japanese students need to learn and also for not teaching the pronounciation. According to the author, as adult non-Japanese learners, it would be a mistake to learn as Japanese children when it would be far more effective to learn in the order that best accommodates us. As far as the pronounciation, there is a second volume that attacks the Kanji with a whole other sequence. The author basically stipulates that breaking everything down and tackling it one at a time is far more effective than trying to learn everything about one character at the same time. While it is frustrating to know a character but not know how to write it, in the grand scheme of things, I'm thinking the author is correct.

Reviewing the Kanji is a website designed to help students using this book. It is a Godsend. It really burns the Kanji in the mind by using timed intervals that best help with memory retention. Just input the characters you have studied and you will be quizzed by having the meaning of the word up for you to write the corresponding Kanji. If you get it right, it goes to the next column for which you will be quizzed at a later date. If you get it wrong, you start from the beginning. The more you get it right, the less you are quizzed, etc. And the site is always updating its features. You can input and share your stories, there is a very friendly forum for help and support, you can track your progress, etc. All in all, good stuff. The book claims that a hardcore learner who spends the majority of the day studying and using its method can learn all 2042 kanji in a month. With this site, I believe it. So buy the book and check out the website here.

The Mathematics of Language

This was inspired by Tower of Confusion's article on Pi. In school, I was always very good at math and language classes; the only bad grades I got in these subjects was probably due to me not doing my homework. But while I was good at both, I hated math and enjoyed whatever language class I was taking. What I found interesting about this is that I think my skills in math is what allowed me to do so well with language since, for me, language and math follow the same principles. In other words, language is very mathematical. To illustrate, this is what usually goes through my mind: to get x meaning, I need to add y grammar to z word. Doesn't this look like a function or an algebraic formula? After a while, this becomes intuitive, much like the multiplication table in which you just know the right answer without having to give it much thought.

I think I enjoyed language more than mathematics for the simple reason that language just seems more practical and useful. Beyond basic math skills, there just doesn't seem to be a need for higher mathematics in daily life unless you are a rocket scientists. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, building rockets is not on my list of things to do this week. Even stock traders, finance officers, accountants don't use as many formulas as one would think.

While I doubt the usefulness of higher mathematics in daily life, I firmly believe that math is not only the universal language, but also the framework of any and all languages.

For all of you who speak more than one language, how good is your math?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Words of Encouragement

If 71 million people can speak Cantonese, it can't be that difficult.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Finding the Rhythm

My biggest hurdle with Korean is finding a speaking rhythm. My voice pitch and speed is just all over the place when speaking Korean. I think it is mostly because I tend to speak fast naturally. Normally, it seems most native speakers keep their voice at a pretty constant level and when I speak, a lot of people find it hard to follow sometimes. So my belated new year resolution will be to calm down, take a breath, and slow down when speaking Korean.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Talk Like You Got a Pair

There is a certain rule in language learning that is forever being ignored by the masses. When you are trying to improve your speaking, focus on the people who are the same sex as you. While I'm sure the degree of relevance will differ according to language, in the case of Korean and Japanese, it is the difference between sounding like a man and sounding like a woman in a man's body. It seriously weirds me out seeing a guy refer to himself as あたし like he and the girls went out trying on dresses and getting their nails done. The problem is most guys find some girl to tag along with and start parroting what she is saying. While I very much enjoy the company of the female persuasion, for the sake of language learning, I make sure I have enough guy friends who I can hang out and drink with. With this exposure, I learn to sound more natural. Not just more natural Japanese/Korean. I mean sounding like a man who speaks Japanese/Korean. Frankly speaking, if you are learning your Japanese/Korean from a woman, it is really easy to see and people will not take you seriously. To better illustrate, is there anyone in the western world not on a diet who takes Richard Simmons seriously? Besides, you'll probably get more play sounding like a man. It could be the difference between a great night and being a really nice friend.

The same thing goes for women. Learn your language from other women. Although, to be honest, there is something inherently cute about a girl who talks tough like a man unless the girl sports a butch haircut, has facial hair, and wears fatigues with army boots, in which case, it is kind of intimidating. No offense to any women out there sporting buth haircuts, has facial hair, and wears fatigues with army boots.

Is it sexist? Maybe. Do I care? Not really. Some languages, by nature, have some degree of segregation according to sex and this difference can't be ignored if you want to get good.

In the case of Cantonese, I'm not sure, but to me, it seems that both males and females equally excel at the art of swearing and can make a sailor blush.