Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Softly and Often

"The most important thing about brushing your teeth is to make sure you do it softly and often."

Sitting in the dentists chair, receiving a lecture on oral hygiene, my first thought was "Huh, that kinda sounds like something that Khatzumoto would say!" Maybe: "Japanese is like your molars and your ignorance is the plaque. Brush your Japanese softly and often to fight that ignorance. Have you brushed your Japanese today?"

And then there was this other gem: "Flossing once a week, or a couple times a month, isn't going to do anything. But if you take a couple minutes a day and floss, you'll notice a significantly healthier mouth."

Not only are dentists far less scary than they were in my youth, they seem to have an innate understanding of the effects of steady, consistent progress.

Why brush softly? Apparently intensive brushing can damage your mouth and cause your gums to recede. An ominous fate- unless you're an Emo kid with a hardcore vampire fetish...

How does this apply to learning, do you ask?

When I first wanted to study Japanese (institution style), which was not offered at my high school, I had to wait until college. I was SUPER stoked to go- I'd been obsessed with Japan since visiting the country in 9th grade. I knew how to count to 10 from karate and a few words from all the anime I watched. I was ready to cut my teeth on some Japanese.

And first thing we heard in that class was this: "This is an intensive Japanese course. Not only are there 7 hours of class each week, you'll be responsible for at least 20 hrs of homework per week and time in the language lab. And you should probably find a speaking partner for a few hours a week."

Notice that intensive there?

Its no secret that I'd never been a seriously dedicated scholar in a 'traditional' setting- But the kind of workload sensei was demanding not only seemed unrealistic for wet behind the ears freshman; it felt like punishment.

I made it through the first few weeks alright before the work piled up and that ominous kanji mallet came down upon my head. One of the first characters we were responsible for was the horrible composite 電話- でんわ, 'telephone,' which has 26 strokes and is made up of two individual kanji with four distinct components. Not only that, the demand for output was increasing at a rapid pace.

I'm not sure the exact moment, but know I wrote the task off as impossible.

By the midterm I was hopelessly behind and my interest (both in the language and the culture) waned through extreme frustration. The final oral exam was one of the most embarrassing moments of my academic career.

The gums on my Japanese baby teeth had receded from too much hard brushing!

But that was not the only problem....

...and Often
Everyone knows that brushing often gives you nice things. Like kisses from pretty girls. But if you neglect regular brushing... ever spent a weekend camping and seen how quickly you get grossed out with your OWN mouth? Bad things build up fast- its easy to fall behind!

One of the major hurdles that held me back in my Japanese odyssey was that I stopped inputting popular Japanese media. This arose from Sensei's insistence that you could only learn 'properly' from academically proscribed material. Proscribed material is BORING, which really killed my motivation to study it. Worse, her assertion that anime and manga were a waste of time for language learning drove me away from the things that had attracted me to the language in the first place.

Japanese that I found fun and beautiful was laid aside, replaced with dreary textbooks.

My exposure plummeted. I started avoiding what I liked because it apparently didn't teach what I needed to know. I avoided homework because it was boring. I would halfheartedly study for the quizzes and exams I was dreading- a few hours a week- instead of the frequent doses of 'useless fun' I'd experienced beforehand. My retention sucked, I was getting bogged down with debris from earlier lessons.

I just didn't brush my Japanese teeth often enough!

Fast forward to today. I've learned more in 6 weeks of AJATT than I did in 3 months of intensive classes. I'll be halfway through Remembering the Kanji by the end of the week. My vocabulary is growing at a steady rate. My listening and reading comprehension is still slow, but miles ahead of what I had achieved in class.

Now my learning teeth are clean and sharp. I make sure I brush daily to stay fresh. If it feels like I'm brushing too hard, I ease up and stop trying to force it.

For now, its time for me to sink these incisors back into some Kanji...

So until next time remember this: No matter what you want to accomplish, brush it softly and often. Don't hurt yourself for it. Enjoy the soothing bristles. Play fun brushing games. Just make sure you brush!

Monday, September 20, 2010

So, whos a delinquent?

That delinquent would be me! Its been two weeks since my last update! Unforgivable! Good thing I'm a forgiving kind of guy!

Seriously though, I've put off posting behind a wall of excuses- mostly this one: "Gee, I'd like to have my photo and video content done before I keep blogging." This attitude is extremely unproductive, so it stops now.

Where I HAVEN'T been delinquent, however, is in my studies of Japanese! There is lots to report, so here goes!

I'm up to 853 kanji (as of this writing) and there are Kanji post-its appearing on various objects around the house. Its taken me approximately 6 weeks to get this far and I seem to have settled into an average input of between 30-50 new characters a day, while reviewing 100-200 more on Reviewing the Kanji. The website employs the Spaced Repetition Studying system (SRS), similar to Khatzumoto's Surusu that I use for sentences (there are other SRS programs out there too, this is just my setup). SRS is an AMAZING study tool- there is a great description of how effective over at AJATT. I wish I'd known about it years ago. The SRS makes study sessions painless and entertaining!

I've also discovered that Victoria is a GOLDMINE for learning Japanese. There are several ESL schools or Student Centers catering specifically to Japanese in town to learn English. And there are LOTS of Japanese students here learning English! Victoria seems to be a popular destination for the Japanese! So popular, in fact, that some hotel and restaurant job postings appear with "Ability to speak Japanese an asset."

The language schools and resource centers are an AWESOME way to meet Japanese people without... you know... hiding around the corner with a huge net, or setting live capture traps baited with 茶 (tea) and 和菓子 . I even had my first 'language date' last Friday with Akane, a lovely young lady from Hiroshima. My ability to speak/comprehend Japanese is still in the 'epic fail' stage (I was asking for simple query phrases) but she was impressed at my kanji knowledge!

The University of Victoria also has a ton of resources for learning Japanese. There is even a student club dedicated to Japanese language sharing/cross cultural immersion for exchange students and JSL learners (or just 日本オタク like me). I'll probably go hang out at the Anime club too- get some new shows and instead of hanging around the 洞の狐 (Den for foxes) watching anime, I get to socialize... while watching anime :P.

On the immersion front, everything is going well. I have a playlist on Youtube of Disney movies dubbed into Japanese, as well as Star Wars: A New Hope and Attack of the Clones. Its like reliving my childhood! In Japanese!

My mp3 player is also good to go, with the audio for Princess Mononoke and a couple anime episodes loaded up. I need to get in the habit of carrying a music device around again though! I've also begun expanding my collection of Japanese language music- finding 'alternative' stuff is pretty hard- but Bandcamp has been an awesome resource. Not only have I found some pretty good music- with the lyrics online!- I've been able to add some artists to my twitter who post (in Japanese) about other artists and music events in Japan! I'm compiling a list of different Bandcamp links and have it posted in the near future for your listening pleasure!

I really need to be seeing more written Japanese (I've been dragging my feet on changing over to a Japanese OS) but I've experienced noticeable improvements in my comprehension- mostly thanks to all the Kanji I've learned.

A final note: The thing I love about this immersion method is the constant feedback on my progress. I don't need a test to tell me where I'm at... I just have "Wow, I understand that!" moments more and more frequently. Each one is like an intellectual cookie... and boy are they delicious!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Walls, and When you Hit Them

I had a frustrating weekend.

I tossed down my Kanji notebook Friday evening, lost my pencil and sunk back into an anime-flavoured melancholy. Much of it is exasperation over job-hunting (possibly the most dangerous of all Game...), and dealing with a new roommate moving in, but I definitely began to experience 'Kanji-burnout.' It wasn't so much a 'this Kanji cliff is impossibly high... buff this!' moment. I just couldn't muster the creativity to form a story around the elements I was given. Totally dropped out of the kanji flow, as it were. The game stopped being fun.

The guilt! OH, the guilt! At not learning new stories, or keeping up with my 100+ per day of kanji reviews, or even heading to the dictionary often!

I'd hit the Great Wall of Japanese Language like Wile E. Coyote hits a cliff face.

After I freaked out with my mom on the phone for a while After a manly conversation with my mother, in which I laid out my frustrations and predicament in a mature manner, she gave me some darn good advice. Get the basics out of the way. Do what you can to alleviate the unnecessary stress ("Well, keep applying for jobs. And maybe you want to get your apartment clean"). So I did. I put on an anime (Kenichi, the Worlds Greatest Disciple) for immersion and did my chores.

And in amongst taking care of normal life, I discovered something:

The weekend wasn't a total disaster. Japanese was still fun. The 'wall' was really a nice low retaining wall. Easy to mount, something to play with- a reminder to not let Japanese become 'homework'!

I did a few reviews Saturday, maybe a couple on Sunday. I twiddled around on Live Mocha- got an account set up and started a course. Had a large (see: constant) amount of audio input- except when I went to do my laundry (mp3 player troubles).

I re-organized my SRS to enter sentences rather than vocab and entered a sentence- 私は背が高いです。 (I am tall- more lit "My Stature is Tall"). I started playing a "Spot the Kanji" game in whatever I was watching to see how many I could get before the scene changed. My reading of hiragana and katakana is getting better and I've started 'reading' Japanese websites with small successes.

I also made contacts with one of the Japanese student centers in town, who asked me to come back (heck yah! Tomorrow, after the holiday weekend).

I may have taken a halting stutter-step with Heisig this weekend, but the rest of my progress has been steady. Do I have some catching up to do with Heisig? You betcha- but I'll be back on course by the end of the evening. Making up the stories is fun again.

The wall is behind me.

So when you hit a wall what do you do?

Well, you get over it bub. Jump, climb, fly, back freakin' handspring, I don't care. You just shake the ringing out of your ears and get your ass over that damn wall! You'll feel better for it. Really you will.

There's a fun slide at the end!

Trust me.... I'm cute.