Apr 14, 2014

The Weird Connection Between Chinese and Terrible 90's Rap Music

So I have decided to start learning Mandarin Chinese. Why, you ask? Why not?

But really, I decided to watch a Taiwan drama, Hana Kimi. Then I thought, is there any reason why I shouldn't have knowledge of this language? No! Alright then I'm learning it! I have always had the thought in the back of mind to begin studying it, but everywhere you look there are reasons as to why it is so "hard." There are too many tones, too many dialects, too many characters, etc. So far, I honestly don't think it is that hard.  I am not some language learning genius or anything, but I already recognize a lot of the characters from studying Japanese, and many of the compounds are the same. Plus, the tones don't really seem that difficult either....it just seems like something you would have to get used to, but I don't see why it is in the level of impossibility. In the (paraphrased) words of the great Khatzumoto, there is no such thing as a hard language, just one you have to get used to. Besides, I would be basically be setting myself up for failure by constantly bombarding myself with the thought that it is too difficult to do, which (un)ironically I have been doing all this time, or I would have done this eons ago! People constantly rife about how hard Japanese is, but look at me now! *watches drama without subtitles*

Anyway, to explain the title of this post, the "e" sound (if you can call it that, it really is nowhere close to the e in English) in Mandarin is quite interesting. As adequately described in an app I'm using, it is similar to the sound we English speakers would make when disgusting with something. I have downloaded an Anki deck of basic Chinese grammar, and one of the words is "hungry," 饿." If you copy and paste that character into the dictionary here, you can hear an audio sample of the word. It basically sounds like "uuuh," especially the slowed down pronunciation. Which reminded me of this song:

So thanks to a terrible 90's rap song, that is one word I will never forget.

Basically, I am going to do the same thing I did with Japanese; watch tons of dramas/movies, listen to lots of music in Mandarin, SRS, the whole deal....the future awaits!

Apr 9, 2014

Why Worry About the "Why's"?

We humans are an interesting species. When we are younger, we are continuously told to do things with little explanation, other than simply "Because I said so," or "That's the way it is." For example, don't pick the cat up by the tail and throw it around. Why? Because I said so. We aren't told that kitty might not like that or that it might secretly plan your demise after years of playful abuse....

Other things we are told: "Eat your vegetables," "Do your homework," "You can't do this if you're a girl," "You can't do this if you a boy," etc. We aren't quite told why we should eat our vegetables, do our homework, or why we must follow these strict socially imposed gender roles. We just do these things because of conditioning, and as a result we grow into the adults that we are. Many of use figure out at an early age that we've been duped and lied to, and break free of these social norms, carving out our own identity.

So what does this have to do with how to learn Japanese?

The same way we are taught behaviors and social norms, we are taught language. As children, when we are developing and crafting our infantile speech, we are not going to speak articulately from the beginning. We say things like "I go pee!" and "I no want that" and other grammatical mistakes. These errors are instantly corrected by those people around us almost instinctively. This helps craft our usage of our native language. We never know why we say the things we say, we just know what sound right and what sounds wrong because it has been ingrained in us since an early age.

As I said before, when we get older, this habit of blindly following what we are told to do simply because a grown up says so slowly dissipates. This effects the way we learn languages. Instead of hearing the way something is said and remembering it at face value, we must know "why." Why is the verb at the end of the sentence? Why is that particle used that way in this sentence, but another way in that sentence? Why does this word have two meanings? So on and so forth.

It is commonly mistaken that children have a better capacity for learning languages than adults; this isn't quite true. Children just have a better ability to parrot what's being told to them, without questioning why it is said or the grammatical rules. That is why children swear after hearing adults saying these words, or why they run around spouting the catchphrases of their favorite character. What goes in ear, comes out of mouth.

As adults, there is way to much focus on grammar when learning languages. Remember learning Spanish or French as mandated in school as a kid? It is certain that the teacher didn't waste time explaining to you what the subject, object, indirect object or past participle was. They just told you a phrase, you repeated it. The complexities of grammar are way to difficult for little minds to understand.

So that is why when we take language classes, we are stuck pouring over books with long, unnecessarily complicated grammar explanations that really do little to help us learn the language. What you end learning is pointless grammar rules, and not the language itself. Native speakers of the language most certainly don't know these rules unless they studied them extensively. Think about it, how much about English grammar do you know? The majority of native English speakers don't know the difference between "who" or "whom." Heck, a lot of us don't even know the difference between "its" and "it's" or even "two", "to" or "too." We don't know why thy the plural of "hoof" is "hooves," we just know that it is like that. Why is the plural of "goose" "geese," but the plural of "moose" is not "meese?" Who cares? It does not matter, we just know that more than one moose does not equal meese.

For example, look at this wikipedia page on Japanese grammar.


Now, when it comes to learning Japanese, is learning grammar necessary at times? Yes, because some languages are just so different from English that the nuances need to be explained to be understood. When many people inquire about how to learn Japanese, commonly, they are recommended textbooks, grammar books, software, CDs and tapes (remember those?). Sure, the language learning business is pretty big, and these companies need to make money by convincing you that you need to learn all of these needlessly complex grammatical rules to comprehend a language. However, all you really need to know is how to say something, and when to say it. Knowing why you say it isn't a necessity, unless you plan to become a learned linguistic scholar. Instead of wasting time reading countless textbooks and grammatical explanations in English, it is best to approach the language in its natural habitat, so to speak. The more you expose yourself to the actual language instead English explanations of the language, the more you will learn.

There are better things to ponder about, like why cats are set to take over this planet as we know it.

Edit- Coincidentally, I have come across another blog post that supports this theory! http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/why-is-knowing-the-whys-of-grammar-a-waste-of-your-time

Feb 7, 2014

Remembering the Kanji 3?

Okay over a year and a half since finishing Remembering the Kanji 1, I have decided to move on to Remembering the Kanji 3. There is much debate on whether or not Remembering the Kanji 3 is worth the time. I have read several forums and blog posts on RTK3, and the opinion on whether or not to do it seems split. Some say that the kanji are ones that native Japanese don't even know how to write, while others say that they are worth knowing as you never know when you will come across them. At first, I had no plans to do it. Finishing RTK1 was a grueling process in itself. But, I figure, adding more kanji to the ones that I already know can't possibly hurt. You can never know too much.

So, I have devised a basic plan. I will proceed at 50 kanji a day. There are a little over 900 kanji in the book (which is child's play compared to 2000+ in the first one). At fifty a day, I should finish RTK3 within eighteen days! Woohoo! And since it has been such a long time since finishing Remembering the Kanji 1, I have had more than a sufficient enough break.

Remembering the Kanji 3: