Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keith speaks with Steve Kaufmann

I had a conversation with Steve Kaufmann in Japanese. This is the first time I have ever spoken directly to Steve and we did it face-to-face. Well, it was through the help of our webcams and Skype. For those of you who don't know, Steve Kaufmann is a super-polyglot.

I mentioned in my previous post that I was going to record myself speaking Japanese as a record of my Japanese level before the up and coming self-improvements. This is that video of me speaking Japanese. I will make some more but I don't know if anybody wants to be alerted to them. If you do, you could just subscribe to my YouTube channel.

The video is in 2 parts. The total time is 16 minutes. You can watch the video below if you want and when it finishes I'm sure you will be able to choose the 2nd part. Else, you may go to my YouTube channel. Oh, and I must say. The microphone on my headset is really bad. Sorry about that, but the sound on my side is not clear. Steve's side is very clear. I'm going to have to breakdown and buy a microphone if I can find one or else buy a new headset.

A few comments about my Japanese speaking ability. As you will be able to see in the video, I almost always need to think about how I want to complete a sentence. So many options come to mind while I'm speaking that I just get overwhelmed with what I should do to finish my sentence. I just want to get to where I know what I want to say and I just say it straight through without stopping or pausing. Another critique about my Japanese is that I do not know how to say everything that I need to say. I don't know all of the grammar. I think I will be able to discover a lot by watching TV.

And last but not least, I do want to improve my pronunciation. This has mostly to do with vowel sounds but also with intonation as well. I would like to sound the same as a Japanese person. I want to be indistinguishable. And why not? I live in Japan so it would be to my advantage. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to improve my pronunciation or not but we'll see.

I would like to speak with some more people in Japanese and record it and put it on YouTube. Even if you don't have a webcam, but you have a microphone and Skype and a good connection, we can still record me in the picture with our conversation. If we have a noisey connection then it won't be worth recording and putting up on YouTube. Anybody who can speak Japanese. You don't have to be a native speaker. Just contact me via email. You can find my address in my blogger profile.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

need your help to decide!

In continuation of the previous post, I have to decide what to do about my Chinese acquisition during this period of concentration on Japanese. What do you think I should do? Here are the options that I am able to come up with right now.

Option A) Stop watching Chinese TV completely. We don't know how long it will be until I will be able to return my focus to Chinese acquisition. Until then, I could forget about the Chinese language and we'll use it as an experiment to see what happens. Will the Chinese language continue to grow inside my head during a period of non-contact? Or will it remain about the same? If my absence from the language is 3 months or more then this could become a significant test. If I don't choose this option, am I being negligent in my responsibility to find a new job which will most likely require good Japanese language ability?

Option B) Watch Chinese TV only when I can't watch Japanese TV. Because I don't have any DVDs or video files in the Japanese language, I could choose to watch Chinese when I am not at home by bringing my portable DVD player (PLAID) with me wherever I go. I do not have a one-seg capable mobile phone either. If I did have such a phone, then I could watch Japanese on the go. But I don't know if I'll be getting one or not. So this option is to keep in contact with the Chinese language but not at the expense of the Japanese language. This is the option one would choose if worried about language atrophy.

Option C) Forget about Japanese and just watch Chinese. Should I get a job where Japanese isn't required so I can focus on Chinese? Maybe I could find an ALT job where I could help students continue the wrong way to learn a language. If I am unemployed long enough, I'll have to consider just about anything.

If you have any other options for me to consider, please let me know. Otherwise, please leave a comment telling me which one to choose. I will have to spend a lot of time job searching and exhausting all avenues of possible employment. But usually there comes a point when you don't know where else to look or what else to do. Then I will have a lot of time available. Time which could be spent on language acquisition!

Friday, April 17, 2009

TV method switching channels

Here's big news from the TV method blog.

As you know, I have watched 549 hours of TV in Chinese. Lately I have been able to maintain a pace of 120+ viewing hours per month. Unfortunately, this has to change, starting now. I have to change focus from Chinese to Japanese and I won't likely break 100 hours per month.

Why the sudden switch?

I have to begin an employment acquisition campaign immediately. I found out 2 days ago that the company I am employed by is folding up. The company was founded eleven years ago and will cease to exist at the end of next month. Since I live in Japan and need an income, I had better boost my Japanese language ability in a hurry. The only way I know to do that is to start watching Japanese TV. I mentioned three weeks ago about my coworker who improved his Japanese speaking ability by watching TV. After I posted that, I asked him about it again. I asked him, "How long did it take?" He replied, "3 months."

What kind of improvement do I expect?

I don't know what to expect, but I hope that I will be able to speak Japanese more smoothly. I want to at least appear to be fluent because no Japanese company is going to hire a foreigner who is not fluent in Japanese during times like these. There are not as many job openings and those that are willing to hire foreigners have raised their standards. So I really need to get used to speaking Japanese. I haven't been speaking it much lately and I still get nervous when going into a situation where I'll be expected to speak Japanese.

So I'm saying I'm not good at Japanese now but I want to get good, like, yesterday. How will you know? I don't expect you to take my word for it, nor do I expect you to trust my self-evaluations, so I want to document it by video. Today I went out and finally bought a webcam. A webcam is one of those little video cameras that sits on top of your computer display and makes you feel self-conscious. What I intend to do with it is to record myself speaking Japanese and put the recordings on YouTube. Then whomsoever desires to judge for himself may do so.

So my TV method for Japanese is going to be like Ramses TV method for Spanish. I already have a high level of comprehension in Japanese. I passed the JLPT Level 2 in December 2006. Every time I look at Level 1, though, I go into shock because of all the vocabulary words it tests on. The majority of the words I do not ever remember seeing before. So I won't be doing only Japanese TV as a method. I'll be speaking as well, at least. Most of my speaking will probably just be for the camera.

To be continued...

Korean TV dramas

I just finished watching Phoenix, a Korean TV drama series. I watched it in Mandarin but also have the Korean audio track as well. I am thinking I would like to build up a collection of Korean TV dramas like this bilingual one. Of course I will be watching them in Chinese, but later when I start on Korean I'll have a whole library of Korean dramas available. Not only would I be saving money but also time as well.

There are many reviews about this particular drama that you can find by searching the web. My blog is not aimed at giving reviews for dramas because that would not interest most of the people reading my blog. But I do like to mention things that might be of interest to my audience.

As you may already be aware, this drama is the item that I bought which the discs were all scratched up due to improper packaging. The final disc of five cannot be viewed correctly, so I have only watched 4/5 (four fifths) of the series and I may never know how it ends. Amazon China's return policy is that they don't do exchanges for items shipped overseas. I think it would cost me as much or more to return the item at my own expense than the purchase price which they would refund so I did not return it.

The other interesting thing to note is that this version, published by a Chinese company, has 40~43 minute episodes. The original is actually about 55~60 minutes for each episode. About 15 minutes into the second episode you can see some opening credits in Korean on the screen as the original episode number 2 is just beginning. I guess the Chinese broadcast required shorter episodes. I think the publishing company should have packaged it correctly when they made it available for purchase on DVD. By that, I mean, they should have kept the original episode length and removed the hard coded subtitles. They should provide proper subtitles which can be turned off.

Another interesting thing about this series is that several of the characters could speak English and were conducting business in English but that was dubbed over in Chinese. I only know that the original was in English because there were Korean subtitles displayed. And then the Chinese company put Chinese subtitles over those Korean subtitles. Both in white letters with black outlines. Who could possibly read it?! It's a good thing I don't use the subtitles anyway.

My next post will come later today or this evening. I have an announcement to make. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

another TV methodist

There is a new entry into the world of the TV method! His name is David and he is going to learn Japanese by watching TV. He emailed me and asked me some questions regarding the TV method and we exchanged a few messages. From his email I can see that he understands the principles of Automatic Language Growth and he knows what to expect.

You can read David's story at Sushi and Sumo. I think we'll be getting some exciting reports from him soon. He's currently at 3 hours with the TV method.

I'd wish him good luck, but luck isn't needed with Automatic Language Growth. He just needs to watch TV. Well, maybe he needs luck finding good dramas to watch.

Good Luck, David!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

old TV dramas and cartoons

In my quest to be the best, I have passed a milestone. That is, the 500-hour mile marker. I now have 530 hours of viewing Chinese TV. I have done the 500 hours in 6 months. I wonder what my ability to understand Chinese will be like after another 500 hours. It's hard to say exactly, but I feel that overall, I am understanding about 25% of the language now. So I miss out on the details of what is being said, but there are so many phrases that are used over and over that I understand, so perhaps it's not surprising to get about 25% comprehension after 500 hours.

Since my last post, I have watched the complete 39 hours of an old TV drama and 19 hours of Doraemon in Mandarin Chinese.

The old TV drama is called The Legend of the Condor Heroes and is based on a novel. This TV series was aired in 1982 and is not the only one that was made from that popular 1957 novel. The drama I watched is actually a Hong Kong drama in Cantonese but I have the Mandarin dubbed version. It says in the Amazon China page as well as is printed on the discs that the product has Chinese subtitles when in fact there were none! I was glad that the subtitles were missing. The only bad thing was that the audio would sound like your speakers were breaking whenever an actor would yell or hit a syllable loudly. But I think it was not my speakers because even adjusting the volume of my speakers did not affect the problem. It was not a big problem though.

The Mandarin dubbed over the the Cantonese speaking actors matches up very well. So well, in fact, that I was able to forget that it is dubbed. And since this was a period drama, there were no English words or phrases used like there was with the modern drama that I watched prior to this one. I've gone through several pages of listings for the HK dramas on Amazon China and apparently they don't sell bilingual Mandarin/Cantonese dramas.

I placed an order yesterday for 1 item and I realized that the shipping is not 80% of the item price. It appears to be a flat 20 RMB per item which is about 294 JPY.

After finishing the 27 year old TV drama, I started watching a Japanese cartoon in Chinese. The cartoon is called Doraemon. This is some kind of 36 year anniversary pack or something. It has 6 discs in all. 3 of the discs each have 2 90-minute Doraemon movies on them was well as old episodes of the cartoon as a bonus.

So far, I have watched the first 5 discs. Not all of the episodes and movies have included the Japanese audio and not all of them can turn off the subtitles. It seems to me, that in the older episodes, Doraemon has the same name as in Japanese. But in other epsisodes, which looked newer, he goes by a different name.

In one of the movies which has both Chinese and Japanese audio, there was a short silent period and then when the sound came back it was out of sync. Then a funny thing happened. The voice of Doraemon changed. I thought it was strange that his voice would change in the middle of a movie. Then I noticed that his new voice was speaking Japanese! I hadn't noticed it right away. And shortly after that it went back to the Chinese audio and everything was back in sync.

Amongst the various episodes and movies of Doraemon, the voice of the characters was not done by the same people. I found that to be really odd. Especially in one of the movies, the Chinese voice for Doraemon does not resemble the high-pitched Japanese voice at all. If Doraemon doesn't have the right voice it just doesn't sound like him.

Most of the cartoon episodes seemed to be about 6.5 minutes. I found this short span to be ideal. You get a lot of different situations which is ideal for language learners. Also, what is happening in those episodes is pretty transparent. I think you don't need to understand the language at all to be entertained by it, which is probably important for toddlers watching them.

I was pretty bored by the Doraemon movies. In a way, they are completely different from the regular Doraemon episodes. You see, in the episodes, Nobita is always trying to take advantage of something that Doraemon has given him. His plans always backfire and get him into trouble which he hadn't considered before getting carried away. But the storyline in the movie is long and drawn out.

I think I will rewatch only the first 2 discs. It will likely be the last couple of days in a month when I don't want to start on a long drama but I want to get a few more hours in. I will just update my spreadsheet but I won't write a post everytime I rewatch Doraemon.

I have one more Doraemon disc to watch which is 8 hours long, but I am going to go onto the next drama first. The next one for me is a Korean drama which I will only be able to watch 78% of because of the problems with the last disc. I put it in my spreadsheet as 19 hours but the real length of the series is longer.

Friday, April 03, 2009

dubbed into your target language

The name's Bond, LOVE BOND.

As it turns out, all 4 items that I bought from Amazon China are not originally Mandarin TV dramas. I knew that for 2 of them. One is Korean and the other is Japanese. But for the other 2 I didn't know that they were Hong Kong Dramas. For the 2 that I knew about, they have both the original and the dubbed audio tracks. I didn't want to buy dubbed shows unless the original track was also included. Looking back at the product pages, the only way to tell that the other two shows were originally Cantonese is to look at the categories which they fall into. At the bottom of the page is the different categories that the product can be found under. I used the search function of the browser to search the page for the word 'Hong Kong' in Chinese characters in order to find this information. Now I'll know where to check. Live and let learn.

So now I have finished watching the first of my four titles from Amazon. The English title of the drama is LOVE BOND. It is 30 episodes and came on 4 discs. The picture quality is not great but the price is cheap, so that's fair enough.

The discs came in disc sleeves with a box sleeve but no box. This makes the packaging very flat. I put the discs into this 4-disc case.

And I took the box sleeve and put it under the plastic outside of the DVD case.

Who is this old man?

One thing I wasn't particularly too fond of is that a few English sentences and words are used. I suppose this could reflect reality in Hong Kong. I don't know, but now I am guessing that most modern-day dramas from Hong Kong will be like this. The first sentence in English that I heard was, "Who is this old man?" It was said by a woman who was apparently annoyed by the old guy and she kept calling him "old man." At one point he says to her in English, "shut up!" The other parts of the dialogue were in Chinese. There were other instances of whole English sentences being used as well. I find that it annoys me. I think I won't order any more Hong Kong dramas unless it is a bilingual version. Of course, when I start learning Cantonese I won't have any choice.

Vocabulary Explosion

There is an article on the web about why toddlers experience a vocabulary explosion. There are two reports of the same research. Here and here. Here is a quote from the article:
"Children are going to get that word spurt guaranteed, mathematically, as long as a couple of conditions hold," McMurray said. "They have to be learning more than one word at a time, and they must be learning a greater number of difficult or moderate words than easy words. Using computer simulations and mathematical analysis, I found that if those two conditions are true, you always get a vocabulary explosion."
I don't know if the research is well conducted or not. Most research conclusions are more theory than fact.

I think I may be at the beginning of my own vocabulary explosion. It could just be that this drama was special, but I had a larger frequency of new words that I picked up on. It happened much more often during this series than anything I've experienced in the past. I mean I could really tell a difference. I can credit the vocabulary explosion to 2 things for sure. One is that my listening ability has risen to what it is now. I couldn't have gotten to that level without the hours and hours that I have put in so far. The other thing is that my understanding of the language has also risen. Both of these allow me to start understanding more new words at an increased rate of acquisition.

If this drama is any indication, I think I've switched into a higher gear. I've gone from 1st gear to 2nd gear. I'm still fighting the translation demons. But my understanding of Chinese is improving.

Targets for daily input hours

I'm going to try my best to get as many hours in as possible in the next 2 months. I'm not satisfied with the averages I've attained in past months. I can't remember if it was last month or if it was in February, but I had the idea to get a minimum of 4 hours in a day. I thought I should shoot for 5 but not accept less than 4. I didn't really aspire to that idea, but I ended up with just under an average of 4 hours a day last month. I did 122 hours. I should have guaranteed myself 124 hours. Basically, a 6 hour day would make up for a 4 hour day and average to 5 hours. With every day having at least 4 hours, and most days having 5 or more hours, I should be able to get 150 hours or more a month. So this month and next I need to keep myself in check.

This may sound like a lot, or it may sound like no fun to have strict targets, but it is necessary in order to keep from wasting so much time. A lot of time is lost due to the world wide internet. If you're not careful, a whole day can slip away. You can't go back for a "do over." Once you've squandered your time, it's gone. And for what? Nothing! It's time wasted. If 150 hours of TV method is doable for me, then I must have wasted 30 hours last month. I probably wasted more than that.

Focusing on the future

Today is a result of the past. I can never get the past back. I am where I am at now because of what I did in the past. I will give up today so that I can have a better future. I would like to enjoy a future where I can understand Chinese. Once I can understand Chinese, I will never lose it. I can lose physical possessions, but a language is not physical. I carry language with me wherever I go. I don't need to remember to bring my language. It is always inside me. So even if I am not expecting to use it that day, I will have it with me.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

ALG Thai

ALG World has uploaded a 3-part video from an advanced class. In the title it says 'Famous People' so I guess that is what the class was on.

I believe the students need to complete 200 hours for each level, so that means the students in the class have put in about 800 or more hours of ALG World Thai and understand 60% or more. The students are also allowed to speak Thai and you can hear some of them answering the teacher. Also, I think in the advanced levels there is only one teacher instead of two, which is what I see in this one.

If you don't understand Thai, the third video is the most interesting one.

Here are the links if you need them:
ALG World's channel