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#1 2008-11-23 12:51:32

ViolaGirl
Member

Article about learning languages

I'm not sure if any of you have read this or not. Doing a search of the URL brought nothing up... so I don't think it's been mentioned here. But it was just fascinating to me and I suggest it.
http://www.english-learning.co.uk/voc.html
It's actually an excerpt from a book, called The Art and Science of Learning Languages. I might just get it just to read it, after reading this.
A few passages I found interesting a lot of people might disagree with:

Millions of language students are trapped in vicious circles. They complain that they cannot understand what they read in the foreign language because they do not know enough words. So they do not read and they do not increase their vocabulary, and so they continue not to be able to understand. Then perhaps someone tells them how important reading is and persuades them to try again. So they sit down with their dictionaries, and they look up every single word that is new to them, and very often many words that are not new, but that they "want to be quite sure about". At the end of three hours they have got through half a page in a book, or half a column in a newspaper. They do this for three or four days, and then give up in despair; oppressed by the tediousness of it all. They are convinced - quite correctly - that they do not know enough words to understand ordinary books and newspapers. As a result their vocabularies stay more or less the same size as they were, and they complain that they are making no progress. They either become permanently frustrated and depressed, or just give in and give up. And it all happens because they have spent more time with the dictionary than with the language itself.
I have personally known hundreds of students who have had this problem; many of them probably still have it. It is not possible to make exact measurements of something like this, but it is a fair bet that at least three quarters of all students of foreign languages suffer to some extent from this difficulty. Many believe that every time they come to a new word they must know "exactly what it means", and so they turn constantly to the dictionary to find out. This is doubly sad, because it not only slows them up so terribly that they cannot do a tenth of the reading they ought to do; it also in fact prevents them finding out "exactly what the word means". There is the added danger for some that they are not satisfied till they can think of the translation of the word in their own language. This makes them waste even more time with the dictionary.

If you persevere, read the foreign language for three hours a day, on average look up no more than two or three words a day (fewer if possible), and don't worry about the bits you don't understand, you will find that in a few weeks you have increased your vocabulary enormously. At the beginning of those few weeks you will sometimes feel that you understand almost nothing, and despair of ever understanding any more. At the end you may be puzzled how you have done it, and feel you have learned a large number of words without really noticing it - which is exactly what we did as children, except that we took far longer. We must repeat the simple principle: if people do not read or listen to lots of words, they will not learn lots of words.

It has been the orthodox view for a very long time now that more advanced students of foreign languages should only use monolingual dictionaries in the language concerned (i.e. if you study English you should use an English-English dictionary, if Russian, a Russian-Russian dictionary, and so on). Indeed, it is customary in language teaching circles to go even further and insist that one should begin to use monolingual dictionaries as soon as possible; from then on they are preferable to bilingual dictionaries. Thus, for example, according to this view, a dictionary which contains only French is better than a one- or two-volume dictionary with French-English and English-French.

To try to learn foreign words by learning definitions (in the foreign language) is as big a mistake as to try to learn them by learning 'synonyms'. We do not in effect learn the words of our own or any other language through explanations and definitions. We understand a word and master its use when we can make a direct association with the 'reality' it refers to, whether that reality is a thing or action or quality or an abstract idea or anything else. In a sense the word is the association; there is no interpreting link between the word and what it means.
When we hear a word in our own language we do not stop and ask ourselves what the definition of that word is, in order to understand it. Nor; when we want to use a word, do we find the right one by deciding on a definition and then remembering the word attached to that definition.
It is worth considering here that when we judge that a definition of a word, in a dictionary or elsewhere, is a good one, we can only do so because we already know the meaning in a quite different, precise way that has nothing to do with definition. We do not tell ourselves that a definition is a good one because it is similar to a definition we have heard before. Equally, one can only produce one's own definition of a word if one first knows it in some other way.
But a foreign student cannot possibly be led by a definition to a proper apprehension of a word she does not know. A definition, far from being a quick path to mastery of a word, is a barrier between the word and the reality it belongs to. It is an extra and misleading burden on the memory, and goes right against the psychology of the way we experience words in practice. Mastery of a word is a matter of apprehending it - directly, in a flash.

If you are studying a foreign language, you need a way of arriving in your mind at the reality the foreign words refer to as directly, quickly and accurately as possible. If you have to use a dictionary, you should always therefore use a bilingual dictionary. The word in your own language will immediately summon up the idea of a particular reality; there will be no barriers in the way.
But there are two things you must always do, two fundamental principles for using a bilingual dictionary. (Let us assume you are reading, not listening, although the principles remain the same.)
In the dictionary you will nearly always find several meanings in your own language for the one word you are looking up. You should go straight back to the foreign text and first see which meaning fits into the reality the text describes. Note 6
Then you should forget the word in your own language. Instead you should concentrate solely on the context of the foreign language. You have now discovered the reality which that language is talking about; observe - consciously or unconsciously - how it expresses it. In this way you will learn the exact meaning of the foreign words, just as the native speakers have done.
You should never forget that basic truth, that languages are not translations of each other. This means quite often that although the dictionary suggests many words in your own language as an equivalent of the foreign word you have looked up, none of them would be suitable as a translation for the context you have before you. But unless you are making a formal translation for someone, that does not matter at all. What is important is that you should understand the reality which the foreign language is referring to. The dictionary will usually give enough indications for you to be able to do that.
But finally, never forget that the dictionary should always be a last resort. Don't let it dominate you and steal from you the precious time you should be spending with the language itself.

Contrary to the regular view, the author is suggesting using a bilingual dictionary in most circumstances to understand the word quickly and then just simply know it for what it is. I in many ways agree with this. Certainly when you are unCLEAR on the exact meaning of a word and want more clarification, looking it up in the J-J dictionary just makes sense. But trying to do this all the time would drive one mad when they really just want to get its basic idea to then figure it out better from context. I still use a J-E dictionary more than a J-J one and glance at all the meanings given to get a basic grasp on it and then continue on in my conversations, so I don't spend forever just trying to understand one word. HOWEVER, I must admit that when it comes to reading, I fall in that same trap that the author mentioned where I want to look up EVERY word and end up driving myself nuts. I've been trying not to. And I can see in itself how utterly pointless it is to do so. I was particularly struck by this:

A definition, far from being a quick path to mastery of a word, is a barrier between the word and the reality it belongs to. It is an extra and misleading burden on the memory, and goes right against the psychology of the way we experience words in practice. Mastery of a word is a matter of apprehending it - directly, in a flash.

Now, as for his method proposed, I think Japanese brings a new set of challenges to the table. The author says that looking up no more than 3-4 words a day is best and you'll just naturally improve. However, with genuine Japanese reading material that is NOT online, such as novels, there are kanji. Do you guys think this should apply to words that we don't know the reading for as well? Do you think it's okay to look up just to get the reading (like in a kokugo jiten where we're not going to just let our eyes naturally drift to the Japanese like we would with a J-E dictionary) and move on, or do you think even this is not worth it?
When I watch dramas I look basically nothing up. There's no time. I just let the Japanese wash over me, and even discourage myself from looking at the subtitles at all except a few times per episode where I GENUINELY think it would contribute to my understanding of the words used (but rarely). But when I read it's so easy to fall into that trap with wanting to look up every unknown word and driving yourself nuts, thus not reading as much as you could. It's hard to resist when you have the time, right? I'm trying to get over it.
But the main point is, I AGREE with what he said about not JUST using the J-J dictionary. I agree wholeheartedly, and for the very reasons he said. I think that explanations are great for connotation but not always for denotation, and assuming you fully understand a word just because you understood its definition thoroughly is a very dangerous thought.
But what do you guys think? I found the article a pretty good read in general. How do you feel about what he is saying?

Last edited by ViolaGirl (2008-11-23 12:52:44)


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#2 2008-11-23 13:57:48

richvh
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

I think this article (or a similar one) was linked to by Tony Bryant over on The Japanese Page forums a couple years ago.


Richard VanHouten
[url=http://www.citlink.net/~richvh]ゆきの物語[/url]

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#3 2008-11-23 13:58:08

Faumdano
Moderator

Re: Article about learning languages

I don't feel like writing a long, thoughtful response to this at the moment, but I did want to say a little something for the time being smile

I tend to read in two very different ways when it comes to Japanese:

① to deepen my understanding and expand the set of words I can read and understand. This usually involves transcription for me -- if I can't read it, I can't transcribe it. If I can't read it, I have to look it up and at least glance over the Japanese definition to get a hazy understanding of the word and fill in the details based on the current context. Reading like this is 2-4 times slower than it would otherwise be. I do however feel that it has been a huge boon to my reading ability (which currently far outstrips any other aspect of my Japanese).

② read and only look up the occasional wholly unknown and unguessable words. Progress is MUCH faster with this method and things are also more enjoyable. I don't learn quite as much when it comes to new vocabulary, but it does work wonderfully to polish one's instinctual and instantaneous understanding of grammar and sentence structure.

I find a mix of both methods to be best. The first method isn't really something that would make sense for a non character based Language, and the fact that Japanese does rely on 漢字 is the biggest flaw I see in this person's argument. Most of these language learning articles are written from a very narrow viewpoint on what the learner's target language is. 漢字 for better or worse complicates things a bit...

Last edited by Faumdano (2008-11-23 14:04:31)


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#4 2008-11-23 20:20:43

QKlilx
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

I think the author's bit about spending 3-4 hours translating half a page and being frustrated after a few days of work, then going on to say that you should look up only 3-4 words per day over a period of a few WEEKS while trying not to worry about not understanding is ridiculous. Your vocabulary will go up at a snail's pace at that rate, and you might wind up memorizing some words without knowing what they mean.

Get a solid grounding in the language relative to what you're reading and then translate every single word and make no real attempt to memorize the words. Just keep reading and translating and some of those words will show up again in the material and WOW you understand! It can take me 1-2 hours to fill up my maximum daily allottment of 34 words (lines on my paper). No, I don't remember all of them, but I remember some, and some of them show up again a few days later later in the book.

Also, some words force you to either use a monolingual dictionary or get a native speaker to explain it to you the best they can. I couldn't depend on a bilingual dictionary to tell me the difference between these words:

받다
따다
얻다
타다

And there are more which will give "receive" as one of the definition. These four just happen to be the closest in meaning. Context is sometimes hard to decipher.

Also, I find it strange that the author says you should learn the translation in your language, forget it, then understand from context. Not only is that contradictory but he's expecting you to form your own definition in the foreign language itself, when you could just as easily find it in a monolingual dictionary and be done with it.

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#5 2008-11-23 20:38:09

taniwha
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

The article has its merits, but I too think it is too narrow. However, when I advocate using a monolingual dictionary as much as possible, I do not mean one should throw out the bilingual dictionary. I very much agree with the article's assertion that one should combine the use of both dictionaries, pretty much in the same fashion: I look up a word in Japanese and if I don't "get it" quickly enough (or I don't feel like wading through a dozen plus sub-entries), I glance at the English translation for a hint. If that doesn't work (rare these days), I give up and carry on with my reading/listening.

And that might be why my Japanese is... passable*: I gave up looking up words while watching anime, instead relying on context (unless I felt it was an important line, then I might look up the word, but I wouldn't dwell on it).

I do, however, look up every (new or forgotten) word while reading, always in Japanese first. However, for new words, I apply the definitions to the context as best I can, and for forgotten words, I first try to remember without using the dictionary, and failing that, just the first sub-entry of the definition is enough to remind me. However, I don't try to remember the definition, but rather the image the definition painted in my mind (thus why the first sub-entry is usually enough). Context is an amazingly powerful tool. I actually have more trouble remembering the reading than I do the meaning.

Anyway: the article is right in that a language student must spend more time with the language and less with the dictionary. This is why TESOL courses push using realia (photos, props, drawings, etc).

* My understanding is pretty good, but my output still... sucks (by my standards). In fact, when talking with my wife, I can usually guess the meaning of the word, but when I try to confirm the pronunciation of the word, she translates it into English (thinking I didn't understand): 「もう分かってるよ。言葉は何だっけ!」「鬚剃り!つい癖!」(the last is a cross-language joke. she also often wants to "soy sauce" something wink)


Leave others their otherness. -- Aratak
There is no can't. -- Duun

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#6 2008-11-23 21:02:02

ViolaGirl
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

I think a lot of my problem is I understand that exact frustration where I feel I can't stand reading novels because it takes so long, but I REALLY want to read them and improve my Japanese. I've basically managed to stop myself from looking up words I already know just to double-check unless something seems fishy from the context, like perhaps I didn't learn it correctly. However, I still feel like I have to look up the unknown words and unknown kanji, and it takes so long.
When I am watching dramas or having conversations, the only time I ever look up words is when the word the person said is so crucial it is impossible to gather from context (if it's a conversation I usually just ask the speaker what the word means), or if it's output and I don't know how to say it. This doesn't happen TOO much because I've gotten QUITE good at paraphrasing descriptive things overall, saying things in a different way to get my point across, but if it's a concrete thing that definitely can't be talked around (like satellite or something..  you can talk around it but it just sounds AWKWARD) or some descriptive word I just CAN'T figure out how to paraphrase. Then I'll go to the looking up method as a last resort. If it's a concrete thing I need to say I describe the thing to the speaker and they give me the word, and if it's not I just look it up. But overall I don't use a dictionary at all, there simply isn't time. But I don't feel like I learn a lot of new words this way, instead I feel like I merely cement what I already know quite well, making it even more instinctive. I don't feel like it is helping me expand my vocabulary but rather reinforce my past knowledge even better to make my output stronger.
When I do online chats with people (not voice chat, just typing), I tend to look up a lot more of the words I don't know, but it doesn't seem quite so terrible than when I am reading something like a book. I guess maybe because we are having a conversation so I can just merely look up something and then respond and it's not quite so much looking up, but when I'm reading and it's entirely input I just get so FRUSTRATED and keep putting off doing it. I WANT to read, and I don't want to read just online things, I don't want to read manga... I want to read novels. Real novels that don't have furigana next to every word. But at the same time I feel so much frustration having to look up so much I don't know that I want to give up. I feel like I need to strike a balance. I disagree on what he said that you should look up barely anything, but at the same time, if you look up too much you just don't get around to reading enough. And it's frustrating. But with kanji I don't know how to strike a good balance between the two. Because just writing the kanji into my electronic dictionary to get the reading of it takes the same amount of time as looking up the meaning as well, so is there any reason not to do both? And yet it's so time-consuming and so frustrating. This is what kills me, is this reading of novels, though I really want to do it. I just don't know how I should best moderate it. It helps that I have a touchpad to write in the kanji with to look them up, but this DOES still take time, after all.
And QKlilx, I do agree that a monolingual dictionary is important but I don't think using it exclusively is conducive to learning, just extremely time-taking and frustrating. I think there are definitely situations where it should be used to clarify a word in more detail, but not all the time. That'd make reading even the shortest of things take so much longer.
I guess my problem is with reading I don't know how to strike a happy balance where I can both expand my vocabulary and enjoy my reading, in addition to getting actual sizable amounts of reading done instead of just short amounts because it's taking me so long to look up all the unknown things. Until I can figure out how to best do this it isn't going to work well for me. :/

Last edited by ViolaGirl (2008-11-23 21:09:48)


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#7 2008-11-24 01:48:31

QKlilx
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

ViolaGirl wrote:

I guess my problem is with reading I don't know how to strike a happy balance where I can both expand my vocabulary and enjoy my reading, in addition to getting actual sizable amounts of reading done instead of just short amounts because it's taking me so long to look up all the unknown things. Until I can figure out how to best do this it isn't going to work well for me. hmm

Read an easier book, or one on a different topic.

Also I looked through the contents of the book using the link you posted, and it seems that these authors had a rather narrow perspective in writing the book. One of them spoke of knowing English, Spanish, and French to the point that he could read most topics and understand. His Swedish was somewhat close to that point. Notice that the languages he's learned are all Germanic. One should not write a book on language learning until s/he has studied languages from several different families. That's why I'm looking forward to Alexander Arguelles's book when it is finished.

Last edited by QKlilx (2008-11-24 02:07:59)

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#8 2008-11-24 05:00:15

richvh
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

Neither French nor Spanish are Germanic languages.  (They're Romance.)  However, an English speaker will find many cognates in both Romance and Germanic languages.


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[url=http://www.citlink.net/~richvh]ゆきの物語[/url]

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#9 2008-11-24 08:51:46

taniwha
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

ViolaGirl: 上橋・菜穂子's books (精霊の守人 etc) are pretty good. I did look up every new word at least once (sometimes maybe five times), but she used most words often enough that they sank into my skull quickly enough. Also, it has a nice balance of furigana: on words she expects young readers (teens) to have trouble with, but not all the time (eg, no more than once per page for the one character). Oh, and my dictionary doesn't have a touch pad: radical, stroke count, reading, component search only.

I probably spent more time reading my dictionary than I did 精霊の守人. However, fortunately, I enjoy reading my dictionary, so the (initial) frustration was balanced out a bit. Also, of the ~334 pages of story, I probably read the last ~240 pages in the same amount of time as it took me to read the first ~95. My speed went from hours per page to pages per hour smile.

Writing style makes a huge difference: I've pretty much abandoned とある魔術のインデクス out of frustration (the author's writing style doesn't make it worth the effort). 上橋・菜穂子, on the other hand, writes her books with learning 国語 in mind, but also for all ages to enjoy. Mind you, it probably also helps that I watched the anime twice (even though the two editions are quite divergent).

However, I too generally don't use a dictionary in conversation. I even managed to inquire about wall-warts (power pack, for my dictionary) today without using a dictionary (couldn't anyway, its batteries were charging tongue). Unfortunately, with my wife, I keep falling back to English, though I'm getting better at forcing myself to muddle on with Japanese.


Leave others their otherness. -- Aratak
There is no can't. -- Duun

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#10 2008-11-24 09:20:31

ViolaGirl
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

I went to Shirokiya and got a bunch of used Japanese books from the Book Off in the corner (5 books for a buck each and 3 for two bucks each because they were hard cover) and tried to find ones I thought were interesting and such. I can see I misjudged the difficulty of one of them, あひるの靴. The author used the word 軀 several times on the first PAGE (in this context it was むくろ) and iit was like impossible for me to look up. Needless to say, I abandoned that one QUITE quickly and moved onto 七つの恋の物語 by 渡辺淳一. I think I would KILL myself if I had continued trying to read the first one. 軀? Good grief! It would have even been easier to find if the author had used 躯! But I guess maybe I should just keep going there until I find ones that suit me well. At a buck a book I can't complain.

Last edited by ViolaGirl (2008-11-24 09:23:13)


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#11 2008-11-24 09:38:07

taniwha
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

Heh, I still have that kanji in my IME from reading ROD (体軀), however, it had furigana, and I was somehow able to find out that it was equivalent to 体躯. Well, at least you know which authors to avoid smile


Leave others their otherness. -- Aratak
There is no can't. -- Duun

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#12 2008-11-24 23:29:43

QKlilx
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

richvh wrote:

Neither French nor Spanish are Germanic languages.  (They're Romance.)  However, an English speaker will find many cognates in both Romance and Germanic languages.

My mistake (one I can't believe I made), but that doesn't change my point, luckily. The author's experience, from what he has mentioned, is too limited for him to be credible, in my opinion.

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#13 2008-11-25 06:11:19

Re: Article about learning languages

(1) I definitely agree that writing a book about learning languages based only on experiences with Germanic and Romance languages is pretty shallow. BTW, I never understood why there is a distinction between Germanic and Romance languages in the first place (I suppose it's historical; related to the profound friendship of Germany and France).
(2) I would still recommend just reading Japanese texts way beyond your present vocabulary without looking up words (or even kanji) you don't know. Eventually you will start guessing both the readings and meanings of unknown words simply from the context. I started reading novels (some 8 yrs ago or so) while looking up every other word, and eventually just got sick of it and carried on reading without understanding every word. To my surprise, I could get a gist of what the text is about, and also started understanding the individual words.
A good way to cheat is to read translated books that you either already have read in another language, or that are by an author you know very well and can guess what the author wants to say.

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#14 2008-11-25 07:54:44

richvh
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

It's simple, Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, etc.) derive from the Latin spread by the Romans; Germanic languages (German, Dutch, English, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian etc.) are a completely separate branch of the larger Indo-European language family, descended from languages spoken by the erstwhile invaders of the Roman Empire.

English is at base a Germanic language with a huge Romance-derived vocabulary stemming originally from events in 1066, with layers added on from the cultural dominance of Latin and French in subsequent centuries.

You can only guess the readings of unknown jukugo in Japanese if you already have some familiarity with the kanji (and it's quite possible to be wildly off even then); if it's a unfamiliar kunyomi, I defy you to guess it.

Last edited by richvh (2008-11-25 07:58:16)


Richard VanHouten
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#15 2008-11-25 09:16:05

Re: Article about learning languages

If you have heard the word before (even without seeing the kanji) in a similar context, your brain is capable to very complicated pattern matching (involving elements of the kanji), and eventually you may guess a reading. I'm pretty sure that it's not possible without the context though... And of course you need lots and lots of exposure to spoken Japanese, too.
Happens to me all the time at work that, I talk to the secretary about something, and later on I look at some emails related to similar topics, and the pieces simply fall together...

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#16 2008-11-30 09:01:30

mcdreamer
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

With all this talk of reading novels I was wondering how far people were in their studies before they started doing this?

I'd also be intregued to know when people started watching anime / drama without subtitles. I still primarily watch anime (just because getting hold of Dramas with English subtitles seems pretty difficult) and I occasionally understand quite a lot of a particular scene and almost nothing of others...

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#17 2008-11-30 16:10:42

ViolaGirl
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

Both www.mysoju.com and www.crunchyroll.com have a plethora of dramas. I prefer mysoju, as the website does not host the videos but merely links to them (mostly from Veoh), so they never take anything down (if a link is no longer working, you merely report it to them and they find another one). I only watch dramas, never anime, and there is plenty. Not difficult in the least. I, however, cover up the subtitles, since I can't stop myself from looking at them. So I just scroll just enough so that the subs are covered at the bottom of the screen.
Anywho, as for novels... I first started attempting REAL Japanese (Japanese tailored for Japanese, I mean, and not specially made for English speakers) after about 2 years of study. But it was a Pokemon game, because Pokemon is written entirely in hiragana, so it's a lot easier for those who know little kanji. I went to Japan to study abroad after about 2 and a half years of study (I was in the 4th year high school Japanese class at this point) and after being in Japan for about... 6 months I first started attempting novels. However, from the very beginning of being in Japan I obviously has a lot of material I had to read for my high school classes in Japan, so I WAS reading things before that. I haven't read a novel for a long time though, and I'm just finally getting back into them. That's my story, at least. Can't speak for anyone else! smile


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#18 2008-12-02 04:30:30

taniwha
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

I'd been studying Japanese for a year and a half when I started watching anime without subtitles, but I would say that that's when my studies got serious. I found it's the best way to force the brain to parse what it's hearing. It takes so much willpower to not read the subtitles that it's very difficult to focus on what's actually being said.


Leave others their otherness. -- Aratak
There is no can't. -- Duun

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#19 2008-12-04 18:36:14

ViolaGirl
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

Exactly! It's not that you WANT to look at the gosh darn subtitles, but somehow just having them be there makes it so hard to resist. Since I have been unable to find non-subtitled dramas online that you don't have to actually download, I've found no choice but to slide the drama so that the bottom line of the subtitles is cut off. Usually subtitles are only one line, so this almost always works. If there is a two-line subtitle it will  be visible, but I don't want to cover up both lines because then I feel like I would be missing too much of the picture. But it's just so frustrating having to cover them up because I can't find non-subtitled drams. I'd gladly pay just to get the Japanese TV (the TV regular Japanese people in Japan get... I'm in Hawaii so the time difference of 5 hours wouldn't be TOO hindering.... or I could record) but I haven't found any option to do that yet. sad


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#20 2008-12-05 20:40:57

QKlilx
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

Have you tried searaching for the dramas on Japanese websites? The Korean GOM Player makes it really easy to watch Korean programs, and the player is designed for Koreans so for the most part there's no English to be found unless the program puts it on screen themselves.

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#21 2008-12-05 21:29:51

運転者
Member

Re: Article about learning languages

For Media Player Classic at least, running programmes in full screen mode and moving the cursor down to the bottom of the screen pulls up the control bar. As a result, the subtitles are almost always hidden.


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#22 2008-12-06 04:57:37

ViolaGirl
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Re: Article about learning languages

Hm... if one is watching them online, how would he or she have it in another program anyway? Not that this matters much for me, anyway. I doubt it applies, seeing as I'm running Linux.


Currently studying abroad in Korea and having a blast!

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#23 2009-04-08 03:43:11

Duncan
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Re: Article about learning languages

There are some good ideas in this article, but I'd take them with a grain of salt in general, and with several when it comes to Japanese in particular. The big problem with Japanese is that you can't reliably tell how something is read by looking at its written form. Even in Chinese (Mandarin, at least) this isn't much of a problem if you know the characters in an unknown compound (a few characters have more than one reading in Chinese, but that's not the rule.) But in Japanese you don't know for sure how to read even very familiar characters when they show up in unknown compounds- in fact it seems to me that a lot of the most common characters are the ones which have several common on-readings. So I wind up coming up with stupid on-the-fly mnemonics like "力量 signifies the level of your ability to Rickroll someone" because I have a terrible time remembering when "力" is read "riki" and when it is read "ryoku". Of course once you've read something a few times it stops being a problem for that compound, but there's a bit of a chicken and egg problem there.

I find that I don't learn very well from reading if I can't hear what I'm reading in my head. I agree that it's OK (and likely best) to gloss over some words and just guess at their meaning, but for me it is not OK to gloss over the reading. After a while you start to get pretty sure about the readings of a lot of compounds, but the kun-readings remain pretty opaque, at least to me.

So I agree with the article when it comes to languages where you have some knowledge of the roots of the words, and where the alphabet is close to phonetic- I've learned to read one Romance language pretty well by doing nothing but reading it with a parallel English text to help at the start (that's not that hard when you speak another Romance language well), and I have recently started a similar project with a Germanic language (much harder for me, but clearly do-able.)  But with Japanese- you can gloss over compounds you are 90% sure of, but I think that for a lot of things you do need to look them up, if only for the reading.

I think learning to read Japanese is different from learning to read most other languages. I would never suggest that an English speaker specifically study vocab in a Romance language, for instance, but I think it is wise to do so in Japanese, though I still think it is best to study the vocab you've found in what you are watching/listening to/reading, in order to get maximum reinforcement and avoid tedious memorization of words. Also, while I am quite happy to read paper books in European languages I avoid it in Japanese unless I think I know most of the vocab already- looking up words just takes too long if you can't copy-paste.

I do think that once you know the reading of a word and have even some dim recollection of its meaning that you shouldn't bother looking it up again. If it's important you'll see it again if you read enough, and looking up words you already kind of know just means you will read less, and be less likely to triangulate its meaning from a few instances.

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