Tag Archives: Language

Learn it by Heart

“The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital.” – George Steiner

Questions:
What are the differences between learning by heart and learning by brain?
How do those differences (heart vs. brain) shift or enhance the learning experience?
How can we develop the competencies which would enable us to deepen our learning?
How can we develop the competencies which would increase our capacity for vitalized expression?
Why is the expression “vital?”

Fragments on an Unknown Language: Perplexed on a Sunday Morning

Listening to an unknown language, we are confronted with the limits of our imagination. Understanding nothing at all about a foreign language, yet listening closely, only results in a better understanding of not-knowing. In this case, we must ask questions. It is only through asking questions (learning how to ask the right questions) that we might be able to grow in shifting the limit of non-understanding.

If we are socially competent enough, we may be able to use our imagination to take account of the situation and come to some understanding (again, absolutely limiting) about what is being talked about.

We forget the wonder of being able to understand the language of another when we are always immersed in the language that we understand (that we speak). Thrust into a situation where absolutely nothing makes sense, we come face-to-face with awesome connecting power of language. As it connects, it can utterly disconnect. It is up to you to develop those capacities in yourself that will lead you to understanding it.

So, what is language for? And, how is it that we can understand or grow with another who shares none of our language? Is “real” talk only a function of spoken language? What is it that comes out from behind and through our language that makes us understandable to the other?

There are no short cuts

Eric Hoffer, in his book “Reflections on the Human Condition,” writes, “People who cannot grow want to leap: they want short cuts to fame, fortune, and happiness (47).” For Hoffer, life lies in the ability to grow, that is, in the ability to learn and continue learning. The less attuned you are to the importance of the growth-process, the more you will struggle with outcomes that aren’t to your liking.

No great undertaking that you embark on will be easy. There are no real short cuts. If you take a hard look at how you were able to achieve something great, you will probably find that it was not an easy process.

Eight years ago I began learning the Japanese language and now, eight years later, I am still a perpetual beginner. My use of the language how gotten me to great places (at least great in terms of where I wanted to go). Nonetheless, it has never been easy. Mistakes were made and plenty of embarrassing moments happened. The fear of not knowing how to “go on” in conversation or getting caught up in assignments or conversations that suddenly hurtle out of my comprehensive range happen all the time. I’m perpetually struggling to catch-up and tune-in. I know, from this first hand experience, this first-hand struggle, that anyone who speaks, reads, or writes Japanese “fluently,” went through countless hours of preparation and struggle. There is no way to short cut yourself to fluency in a second-language.

Developing your capacity to grow and learn is necessary if you want to change who are. An adult attitude of “I know it all” will constrain and limit your vision. Again, think about learning a foreign language. There will always be things that you don’t know and there will always be situations that you are not 100% equipped to deal with. You must stay in the learning-mode as much as your capacity allows. The paradox here is that the more you learn, the more you grow and the more your thinking changes. Steer your learning so that it benefits where you want to end up and devote yourself to it wholeheartedly and you’ll be in the stream of growth, the stream of recognizing that if you truly want to achieve something, you’ll have to recognize that there are no short cuts. The more difficult it seems, the more you are growing.

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10 Articles for Improving Your Mental Hygiene (Vol. 2.0)

Here are ten articles that I want to share with you. These articles deal with the following themes among other things: work, play, society, living, writing, poetry, language, effort, dance, spirituality, imagination, mindfulness, education and learning.

I hope that you will find something of value.

1. Alan Watts: Work as Play
2. Georg Simmel: The Stranger
3. Bill Knott: Path out of View
4. Neojaponisme: Missives on Outlander Japanese
5. Elbert Hubbard: A Message to Garcia
6. Kenneth Goldsmith (editor): Publishing the Unpublishable
7. Rudolf Steiner: On Eurythmy
8. Simone Weil: 5 Flashes of Weil
9. Thich Nhat Hanh: Mindfulness of Ourselves, Mindfulness of Others
10. Ivan Illich: Deschooling Society

Here is the first in this series: 10 Articles for Improving Your Mental Hygiene (Vol 1.0)

50 Ways to Increase Your Japanese Language Ability (Study Techniques)

I have been studying Japanese for eight years. The first three years I studied at a university in the United States (studying and working for the university as a Japanese tutor). One year was spent working in South Korea and studying Japanese every morning with Korean adults (I was the only non-Korean student in the class). The latter four years have been me living and working in Japan, using Japanese on a daily basis and, for the most part, getting by quite well with the skills I have developed. I have experience in academic translation work, language consultation, education and interpretation.

I’m not sure how relevant this will be to those learning a language other than Japanese, but if they are of use, then great, I’m happy to have helped contribute to your gain in competency.

The following list is in no particular order. You decide which of these is more useful than the other and above all, use them. Thank you.

1. Start with reading and writing as this will help you in the long run.
2. Learn the hiragana syllabry perfectly and be able to write and recall it from memory.
3. Learn the katakana syllabry perfectly and be able to write and recall it from memory.
4. Learn a set number of kanji per day by writing them over and over and over again.
5. Memorize at least 10 particles. If possible, buy a book specifically dealing with particles and learn as many as possible. You will thank yourself later.
6. Increase and review your vocabulary on a daily basis.
7. Practice pronunciation with native Japanese speakers.
8. Have conversations with native Japanese speakers as much as possible.
9. Learn how to say: “How do you say _______ in Japanese?” in Japanese.
10. Watch Japanese movies with English subtitles and take notes.
11. Watch English movies with Japanese subtitles and take notes.
12. Watch Japanese movies with Japanese subtitles and take notes.
13. Listen to Japanese music and pay attention to pronunciation.
14. If possible, go to karaoke with Japanese friends and sing Japanese songs.
15. Find articles written in Japanese about things that you are interested in. Read them even if you don’t understand every single kanji. Try to grasp the subject matter and explain it to someone else in Japanese.
16. Buy a reliable paper dictionary. Spend an afternoon exploring it.
17. Go to Japan by yourself for two weeks and interact as much as you can.
18. When in Japan, ask random people for directions and listen carefully.
19. Write your own paragraphs in Japanese and have a native speaker check them for you.
20. Learn the difference between casual and formal Japanese.
21. Learn “keigo” and learn how and when to use it.
22. Listen to podcasts or radio broadcasts in Japanese.
23. Listen to a Japanese speaker or celebrity whom you admire and mimic the way they talk. I recommend Ryuichi Sakamoto’s podcast.
24. Learn about Japanese dialects and how they differ from each other.
25. Learn how to read and write. I say this again as it will set you apart from other foreigners who can only speak. Plus, you will understand much more of what is happening around you.
26. Learn about “aimai” and observe how people around you talk to one another.
27. Write messages on your cellphone in Japanese. Learn the Japanese emoticon system.
28. Study more kanji. Buy kanji flashcards and study the hell out of them.
29. Take the JLPT tests or buy the study books and simply learn from them.
30. Participate in a speech contest and practice your speech AT LEAST 500 times.
31. Videotape yourself speaking Japanese and observe your pronunciation.
32. Record your Japanese teacher’s lecture and listen closely.
33. Record your own voice speaking Japanese and observe your own pronunciation.
34. Speak to your Japanese friends on the telephone and observe how challenging it is when you cannot see the other person’s mouth.
35. Pay attention to body language and mimic those around you (do this respectfully and subtly).
36. Learn how to bow properly.
37. Learn how to count things properly.
38. If you come across a word that you don’t understand, ask someone.
39. Organize a study group and meet weekly. Don’t just complain or watch anime, but STUDY together. Challenge each other.
40. If you want to excel in a certain kind of career, learn as many words about that career as you can.
41. Start a translation project of a book or article that you like.
42. Once a month, go back and review ALL of the basics (grammar patterns, vocabulary, kanji, etc.).
43. Become a master at asking questions.
44. Enlist the help of a tutor or mentor, someone who can help you develop your skills.
45. Re-read articles that you have read and note how your understanding has changed or how you have forgotten kanji that you were certain you already knew.
46. Study Japanese “reiho,” or manners.
47. Start teaching Japanese to others who are just beginning. Explaining the concepts will help give you a better grasp on them.
48. Practice your reading and writing as much as possible.
49. Listen to Japanese audio and speak along with it (again, imitation).
50. Put yourself in reasonable situations where you MUST speak Japanese.