Sunday, January 28, 2007

My Chinese studies

I am currently studying Mandarin via Assimil Chinese with Ease. First of all, I have removed the pauses and created audio files with just one dialog each. This allows me to repeatedly go over the material 5 to 10 times instead of just once, in the same time span as the original files. I want to chorus with the audio of each lesson hundreds of times. I had intended to do each lesson for one hour each day and then move on to the next lesson the next day.

Well, it turns out that so much speaking is really strenuous on my vocal chords. I have discovered that I can only do this kind of intense activity for 5 minutes at a time. Then I need a couple of hours of rest. So, instead of an hour, I have only been doing about 10 minutes a night. I still want to spend an hour on each lesson, so it is taking 5 or 6 days per lesson now. At this rate, it will take me another 16 months to finish the course. I really do not want to go so slowly.

I think I could get 4~5 sessions done in a day. One before going to work. One during lunch. One as soon as I get home after work. Another one a couple of hours later. And a final one before I go to bed. That would make 20 to 25 minutes a day. But maybe that would still be too much for my throat and mouth. Muscles usually need a day to fully recover. It's like typing. Even though I use a computer all the time, everyday, I don't constantly type every minute. I type a bit and then think for awhile. I don't have any problem from this normal amount of use. But if I do data entry, then I will notice I can only do so much typing.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I have an idea for a dictionary.

All of the foreign language dictionaries that I have seen, such as Japanese/English and English/Japanese dictionaries, are just translations from one language to the other. Anyone who has studied a language which is not related to their native language will know that these dictionaries are often not helpful because they will give you several different words and you have no idea which is the right meaning for the sentence you are studying.

There are 2 kinds of uselessness.
1. Several words/translations which have relatively the same meaning.
2. Several words which some (or all) have different meanings in your native language.

The first one is a problem because if you want to remember (study) the meaning of the foreign word, you might try to remember more than one word. Really, in that situation, you would only need one word. But which one should you choose?

The second one is a problem because you will need to remember the different possible meanings for the word, instead of just associating it to one word. If you only choose one meaning, you won't be able to understand the sentence when the word is used closer to one of the other possible meanings.

Of course, I have heard many people recommend that you should start using a monolingual dictionary as soon as possible. This would mean, for me, looking up a Japanese word in a Japanese dictionary and reading the entry entirely in Japanese as any Japanese would do.

But my idea is for those who are not ready to do that. After all, you need to be at intermediate or higher in your studies.

My idea would apply to the Japanese/English type of dictionary and not the English/Japanese type. When looking up a foreign word in the dictionary, instead of being given several translations, it should have an actual definition. With a definition, you could get a feel for what the word means in the foreign language, but you would read it in your own language so you can completely understand it. I think this would be more effective than just a translation because your brain would process the information more and then you would think about what words that this meaning could apply to in your own language.

Now, to illustrate my point.

Looking up the word 全部 in the goo online dictionary, you find this for the entry:
all; the whole [entire]; total; every; 〔副〕all; wholly; entirely; altogether

This is an example of uselessness number 1. Do I really need four translations to understand the meaning of this one Japanese word? (Actually, this dictionary is solely intended for Japanese speakers.)

So, if I look up this same word in a dictionary intended for English speakers what will I find?
Here's what I find in the Random House dictionary (Seigo Nakao).

zenbu 全部 1. pron. all; everything.
2. adj. all

OK, so this dictionary has used only two words to define the meaning. But which does it really mean? Does it mean all or everything?

Now, looking at the definition in the Japanese only dictionary entry on goo, we get this kind of meaning:
(translated by me)
All of a matter or things. All. The whole body.
The opposite of one part.
Now I get the feeling that this word has to do with parts. Something which is made up of parts and refers to all the parts. So, if I am correct, would you want to use this word to refer to water? If there was a gallon of water and the question was asked, "How much of it should I drink?", I know I wouldn't say in English, "Drink all the parts of it!" Likewise, I think I should avoid using this Japanese word in the same situation. I should use a more appropriate word.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's all about attitude

The right attitude will make you or break you. I know it's difficult sometimes to control your attitude, but it does help to have a good attitude.

That's why I say we should want to be corrected when speaking a foreign language. If you don't want to be corrected, that means you don't want to learn, and that is just not the right attitude. You shouldn't choose when you want to learn and when you want to be corrected. It should be constant. Let's face it. Learning a language takes a lot of time. The less time you are learning, the longer it's going to take. If you learn all the time, you will master the language sooner. It's like this: 1 hour a day is less than 24 hours a day. The person who learns for only 1 hour a day will not progress like the person who learns 24 hours a day.

So, the next time someone unexpectedly corrects you, have the right attitude. Every mistake you make is wrong. People don't want to hear or listen to your mistakes. They want to help you fix those mistakes, but most people won't help. The person who is helping you is your friend. They are giving you a chance to erase that mistake forever! Seize the opportunity and make your friend proud by knocking out that mistake. If you take this kind of attitude to being corrected, you will be better off than those who get irritated.

I will gladly correct anybody who wants to be corrected. I will not be glad for some petty selfish reason. I will be glad because I can help a friend. I will be glad to be useful to someone else. I will not receive anything in return.