Monthly Archives: October 2012

I think variety is an extremely important concept(is what I’m calling it) or maybe I’ll call it a Rule. It is one of those things, those rules that can be applied to multiple areas of our lives and it seems that Rules like that are important, maybe because it makes remembering to do things a certain way easier when you have a concept you can remember to apply wherever possible instead of seeing every situation as a different thing. Kinda like how in programming you can factor out an argument common to all if statements or somthing. Oh would you look at that, another rule type thing, that’s a whole N’other post right there.

Anyways, the thing that brought me to the idea of variety being worthy of being called a rule is that I was thinking of diet and how the Japanese dietary guidelines say to eat 30 different foods a day. I’v also heard somthing about 120 different foods a week. The japanese are the some of the most (if not the most) healthy people in the world. They have the highest number of centenarians of any country. I’m assuming that last statistic is in proportion to the number of people but  don’t know. And highest life expectancy. Diet combined with their more active lifestlye is probably the cause.

Next Variety is important in getting sources of information. Weather it is lessons about life or lessons on math, varying your sources is important.

MMA fighters wouldn’t do well with just one style.

Ok basically this idea penetrates most areas of our lives and I just think it deserves to be observed and remembered.

This probably applies to language as well. Vary what you learn and your entertainment media to keep things fun. Vary the speakers you listen to, variety the accents you hear, Vary the languages you know which is what you are doing by learning another one. Theres so many applications of the rule of variety out there and they can be of so much help just in general.

This method I am creating as I write this makes use of the immersion and active usage aspect. If you can be constantly using a language, that would be the fastest way to improve in the language. The problem is that done improperly and it will be simply to hard to keep up with. My idea is to make use of the language in your everyday tasks in a way that is efficient enough that there is no sense of work, only usage.

The method: starting with the things you write most frequently, learn the L2 words for those words and then write those words exclusively in your L2. When you do this with the most frequently used words it stays easy to do this.

Examples, or all possible things I can think of that you should incorporate:

Date and time if you write journals or have to date anything

your name which most people have to write often

common words in writing (a, the, you, me, go, ect)

common words you write

(groceries, heating bill, schedule, gym)

So it starts off with words you will need to use multiple times everyday, so lets say your a student sitting down with a laptop to take some notes on a textbook chapter. When you take the notes, there might be some keywords you know you will need to write alot, or just the a, you, me, it, thing. In either case, as you take your notes, start looking up the L2 for common words and then from then on use those instead of the L1 words. Even make a legend for yourself if you need to and look up the L2 translation in the legend of common words and then write it instead. By the time you finished an hour of notes you will have learned some words.

Create an SRS deck and the end of the day and add the words from the legend to the SRS and review them.

This only described words when you are writing by hand but you could do the same thing with computer note taking. For a language like Chinese this will be a bit more involved. You need a pinyin input application or use an online one. After that everythin is the same. Even easier because to make a legend there are programs that can analyze some of your written documents and come up with a list of your most commonly used words ordered by frequency. You can take this and create a rough legend to go by each day. This does’nt take into acount grammar as much, it is mostly to get you touching the language anyway possible. This method is often called codeswitching because you switch between languages. I don’t think this will affect your grammar in the long run as long as you learn the right grammar eventually but this is mostly for languages with an unfamiliar writing system like Chinese where you have alot of memorizing to do and not alot of fun to be had doing so.

This method tries to go for easy/fun/usefulness

usefulness aspect: finding a way to do somthing useful through your L2 studies, this gives a pleasurable feeling so its kinda like fun but not so giddy.

For listening/Speaking

When ever you are doing something that does not require your ears and eyes like eating a meal or washing dishes or walking or waiting in line for something. Anything that on its own is boring, find a way to have L2 video/audio playing at the same time. And it doesn’t have to be the coolest thing ever, it just has to be more interesting that the boring thing you have to do anyway. I noticed that when I got home form studying one day I was eating lunch and didn’t really feel like doing anything at that exact moment. Like I didn’t feel like surfing the net or anything, I was just eating and relaxing so I through on a random Chinese drama and it held my attention for 10 min without being a strain. If I can do this for three meals a day that’s 30min minimum of semi-active listening that took little out of me. If I was at school and was talking a break from studying I would probably get another 10min in at least before getting bored. After a workout when I just want to chill, maybe another 10 -15 min there. These are times in the day, spaced out so the frequency rule from ajatt would apply as well. As long as the video has some kinda story you can follow it should hold your attention for a bit, once it can’t or you feel like doing something else stop watching and just keep it on in the background.

Add to this memorize a few set phrases you can say to any L2 natives you come across or find through skype for some speaking practice that should be kind of fun.

For Reading/Writing

My biggest mistake in learning Chinese may have been to try to do 50 Hanzi per day. It was an awful experience and left my motivation scarred. However I learned from it and now I think I have a better Idea of how to go about this part of the langauge. Someone on the Ajatt website commented that when learning Kanji its best to forget about the number of kanji you need and find a way to enjoy the journey. Sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t like to get the things you really like or need. Learning a language for the soul purpose of liking how it sounds or liking the culture is not one of those times where you should sacrifice present enjoyment. This is because the goal of the language is enjoyment of the language itsself and so its hard to do it in an unenjoyable way for 2 years and then say ok now I can enjoy it. You have to enjoy it from the get go. You have to make small mini winnable games out of it so your always enjoying it and never being discouraged. So I do kinda think RTK can be a good way to learn it IF you do it the way Ajatt describes and use crayons to draw some of them or make some of them rhyme and make the stories outrageous. AND I will add to that, don’t try to do to much to fast. Even the funnest video game will become a pain if you try to play it for hours upon hours. Also most cheesy games are fun if you play them just once. I will try 20 Hanzi per day doing them all in really fun ways and trying to enjoy them for what they are and maybe even doing extra research on each one or taking a look at the calligraphy. I’ll just make sure I enjoy every second I’m doing them.

At the same time I might start getting some Chinese language manga.

Once I have enough Hanzi I will start adding personal development and philosophy quotes translated into Chinese or from Chinese writers into my SRS. This is the usefulness aspect of the method and it is discussed in more detail in AJATT “why the way we read sucks posts” Aswell I will start reading the subtitles on any Chinese video I watch.

Here I will put together a few feasible language learning concepts and see if it works or not. These concepts or methods are designed around ease and speed instead of fun. The are designed to maximize ease because in mandarin, at least at this point in the journey I can’t find anything fun and with enough volume that I can stay with it. I could surf the internet all day looking for diamonds in the ruff but that would be extremely not fun which defeats the purpose of it being fun. I could go and buy all the dvds of mandarin dubbed north american content that \i would find interesting, but that costs money which I don’t have right now.

Method background translation:

My audio immersion environment will consist of my ipod playing sentences, playing the mandarin sentence followed by the english translation right after, for as many sentences as I feel like having in my playlist. I might start with 1-3min of sentences and add 1-3 min on to th playlist per day. Hearing not only the mandarin but also the english should yield better understanding than just the mandarin. I notice I can learn sentences passively by just hearing them repeatedly. apparently the human brain locks onto something it hears repeated enough because maybe it is seen as significant. However I have only tried this with pure mandarin and have learned sentences passively becoming able to repeat them back but without knowing what they meant. IN this method I try to learn the translations passivly as well which is really just a longer string of words to add to somthing to be learned passively. If the playlist is short, say 3min, and is heard constantly for a week the whole track should be memorized in order which would result in the understanding of mandarin-english pairs. This is the main part of the method. Requires 3 min of work for 3 min of audio which would be 50% mandarin and 50% english. in that 1 and a half min there might be 20-30 new vocab words that I would be learning. I estimate that for 1 and a half min of mandarin with that amount of new vocab it might take 2 days of constant passive exposure to learn. That is 15 words a day. for 3 minutes of work.

The second and less easy part of this method is learnig a bit of writing and for this I can either use lazy kanji stlye or sentences and I chose lazy kanji stlye. 10 per day would take from 5 – 10 minutes depending on how many reveiws you have. there for I would learn all 3000 in under a year at 10 minutes a day.

The 3rd part of this method is talking to actually native mandarin speakers in person. This is easy if you live in a country where you can find some to talk to. This part should be easy as long as the people you talk to are nice. The nicer or cooler they are the more fun the talking will be and the faster you will learn.

The first three steps should all be done simultaneusly actually. Then when you know 3000 most common hanzi start reading manga translated into chinese online and talking to chinese poeple on chat online and other stuff that should be fun once you can get the jist of the writing.

As I might have stated earlier, I obsess over finding the fastest way to learn, the easiest way to learn and recently also the funnest way to learn.

RTH has a fast easy trade off, you can finnish in a month at 100 per day and you’ll hate it, or you can finnish in under a year at 10 per day and not even feel it. However the problem with most methods is that they fail to relate to what the users end goal is. RTK teaches meaning and writing of hanzi but it wont feel meaningful to most because most RTK users have the end goal of fluency in japanese. This is like in school when you learn trigonometry with no examples of real life applications. I mean trig may be good as a mental exercise but most students don’t care about that aspect of it either.
I think learning by doing is one of the most useful teaching methods because you are using everything you learn as you learn it so you are always engaged emotionally. This is often enough to give some feeling of autonomy and even fun. Just good emotions because you are getting what you signed up for right away, in the most efficient manner possible. You are doing what you wanted to learn how to do without having to hope through any abstract hoops.

So an idea for learning a language that I want to try is to forget about RTH and go right in with full immersion doing anything I would do in english in Chinese. I hate to have exceptions but for no the OS will stay in english because it is a risk and a hassle to change it right now, therefore making it less fun that I am will to allow this process to be.What I will have in Chinese tho will be the audio and video(my entertainment media basically) and showlo videos and other clips on my ipod when I’m out and whatever other stuff I can find, maybe computergames if I can get them in chinese like SC2 or Diablo 3. The reading and writing, Any usage of the internet which I use a lot and any notes I take on anything. I’ll be doing a lot of dictionary lookups which is only possible with goole translate and the Chinese dictionary firefox app. Any writing I do will have to have an english translation back up somewhere and I might just change main words to chinese while leaving the grammer words in english to keep from starting any bad grammer habits until I learn the grammer through immerision. Also I might start using QQ, Skype and talking to Chinese people in my daily life.
So the reading/writing aspect and the listening/speaking aspect will remain separate meaning I wont search the reading for a writing I just looked up, or vice versa. However I may use an SRS strickly for written words I have memorized through use and in these circumstances I will make cards that have writing on the front and pinyin on the back. This kind of scaffolding process keeps things easy in my opinion although SRS isn’t fun which makes this a big maybe.

I think the risk aspect in games is an extremely important in making them fun. What risk factor do most games have? Well you wont die in real life if you die in world of warcraft, but you may pay a price in time which is a very real price in my opinion because we only have so much time and even if we had unlimited time like we feel we do as kids, we still want to do things sooner rather than later. So with an immersion environment you may spend a lot of time trrying to figure somthing out, you may end up on a webpage you did’nt intend, you may write words wrong or say somthing stupid to some one so everything is more thrilling because there is a risk of messing up. Also with immersion comes unpredictability, another fun aspect of games and good stories. You don’t quite know what things mean so you experiment and find out. You can’t get this from SRS’ing

I am hoping that at some point I can start watching movies and whatever and reading the chinese subtitles and putting together the audio with the written as I learn more audio through reading the subs or vise versa.

I think now that I know the real reason I want to learn this language, I have to gear everything towards that or else I wont be able to sustain the effort. So I need to talk to as many Chinese people as possible. I have to forgo the Hanzi and reading, or at least slow it down immensely, and focus on audio SRS cards, especially the ones I learned and forgot because those are where most of “my Chinese nativity” is right now. Its in all the Show lo , SS and Chinese tools SRS audio cards.

The strategy for right now:

Immerse myself in Chinese areas in town and in mandarin speak with as many Chinese people as possible.

SRS the old cards I’ve forgot.


Any new SRS should maybe be based on frequency conversation stuff so that I build on conversations I have had or am likely to have.
Or build on the Show lo stuff which has its own vocab set.

As far as Hanzi goes I feel this is almost the same as trying to get fluent where I want to comevout of the chrysalis knowing how to read Chinese. I need to drop that attitude and either learn the Hanzi really slow accepting that I’m not as interested in reading as writing but that may want to read in Chinese one day. learn them only as they relate to things I would need to read in Chinese.
if I learn the writing, reading and meaning of 5 every day for two years starting form the most frequent, actually no,  if I learn the writing, reading meaning of 5 sentences every day for a year, along with all that I learn through speaking and listening, I should be good with little effort on my part. Well effort, but little ASM. That is the way.

Ajatt suggests keeping to you Japanese immersion environment and not worrying about trying to talk to L2 natives until you are completely ready. Here is the thing tho. If you are not a naturally social person, or maybe if you suffer from social anxiety, or maybe if when you try to talk to L2 natives they don’t understand you right away and that bothers you, you may feel like not talking. Even tho u maybe should be talking, you’ll think, ah I’ll just wait until I’m fluent and then start talking to people and they will all think I’m so cool.

Here is the thing tho. In my experience, and I’ve mentioned this before, the human brain will eventually get turned off of doing something if there seems to be no point. So if you are learning a language to talk to people, but then when you learn a word or phrase that you could use, but don’t use. That is one minus point for your brain as far as you really needing to learn the language. Of course you can wait until you are comfortable with the tones or the pronunciation, well at least for me, I didn’t notice a decline in motivation until I knew for a fact that I could be talking to people but still didn’t cause I wanted to be 100%. I wanted it to be cool when I started talking in my L2, not just ok, or cute. At first I was ok with just knowing a few phrases, but then this form of elitism took over where I felt like, anyone can say nihao I have to more than some random guy. Or maybe it was a combination of that and the fear that I would just become satisfied with nihao when Chinese people tell me o wow good for you your so good you can say hi in my language. Whatever it was I slowly became more and more ASM about my language learning so that I wouldn’t talk to L2 native until I was close to fluent.

It might be that the(my) brain doesn’t feel in terms of fluent or not fluent, and so its like not a worth while goal in terms of being a fun goal from start to finish. Or it might be just that my original pure goal was to make Chinese my language and be able to communicate with Chinese people in Chinese as such. Which doesn’t necessarily call for fluency, it just calls for that native feel for the language that even kids have at 500 word vocabularies. Yes that’s what I think it is. Hey I just figured this out while typing it. So for the brain, fluency isn’t having a huge vocabulary, its more about how you feel, and that is what I think alot of people want to get out of language learning. They what to feel that feeling when your used to another language. I’ve felt it with Chinese, it’s like having another soul. That comes from immersion more than anything I think, and immersion using the most frequent vocab, repeatedly is best, so it becomes ingrained and becomes apart of you. kids learn the most common words first and are native with those alone. That is important to know.

I was thinking of swiching languages because it seemed like there was nothing for me to gain anymore in Chinese. Then when I was serving customers at a part time fast food gig, a woman with a young kid come to the counter and she spoke almost no English and she said soothing in another language and made the hand signal for 6 in Chinese and I suddenly realized she was speaking Chinese to me. It had been awhile since I had touched Chinese, and the stress of the environment was wreaking havoc on my memory as well so and I actually had to count in Chinse out loud to six to realize she was asking for 6 and pointing to the chicken wings.

She realized I was counting in Chinese and in Chinese I think she asked if I was Chinese and I said bu shi, which I don’t even look a bit Asian I don’t think. I did my best to struggle through helping her and it was basically like I was in my first week of learning but it felt amazing. Other people behind her in line were watching and that added to the stress even more but I was so in the zone because it was like I needed that conversation so bad. That incident made my night and if I don’t burn out again and if I get to have enough positive experiences in this language which I have control over as well, I should become fluent.