JP: 平家物語 Heike Monogatari

Another reading from “声に出して読みたい日本語” (others here and here)– this is 平家物語 from page 22.  If you pay close attention, you can see blips where my phone appears to check the stroke order of a few characters.  I’m sure there are a few apps (both mobile and desktop) that would do the trick, but I’ve been happy with this app called KanjiQ.

I have no connection to the developer, but I think I’m going to pay for the add-free version.

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Typing in Japanese (TJM Yuta)

After commenting on the utility of handwriting practice, and how typing practice can help bring Japanese learners face to face with unfamiliar or misunderstood kanji (i.e. 訂正云々 ), I thought it was timely to see Yuta’s most recent video, explaining how Japanese typing works.  If you’ve ever wondered how you could type thousands of kanji with a regular QWERTY keyboard, then this is a perfect intro.

The video is only 5 minutes long, but he gives a really well-rounded explanation of what is involved with the typical way of inputting Japanese into a computer— I could *totally* relate to his comments about keyboard shortcuts behaving strangely when you are using another keyboard.

If you’re new to Japanese, I can understand how the prospect of typing in this way might seem intimidating; however, I can assure you that it starts to feel quite intuitive with some practice.

I made a video of typing Chinese for a post last year— if you look closely, you can see that the process of converting the input (i.e. following pinyin reading) into Chinese characters is quite similar to what Yuta is describing here for Japanese.

Message on the bottle: Mind Game Moments for language learners

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Someone gave me a free (swag) water bottle the other day–looking at the picture on the box, I could see that the design was one that seems to be pretty popular these days. With a somewhat subdued design that wasn’t dominated by a corporate logo splashed everywhere (hidden here), it seemed like a keeper. Before throwing out the box, however, I thought it would be a good idea to check if I was going to be able to wash my water bottle in the dishwasher.

That’s when it happened– I picked up the box and….found myself looking at the French version of the description and instructions.  The language learning mind games had begun.

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As someone who likes to speak French sometimes (still a rusty B2), I was essentially faced with a question: read the French, or take the easy route and flip over to the English?

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Cantonese is a Living Fossil of Ancient Chinese [粵語是古代漢語的活化石]

This is a really interesting video by Professor Tang Keng Pan from the University of Macau.  I had heard tidbits of this idea before, but he paints a clear picture of the connections between modern Cantonese and ancient Chinese— fascinating to know that ancient poetry (i.e. Li Bai, Du Fu) that is still treasured in modern Mandarin today, sounds even better when read in Cantonese.

The video is subtitled in Chinese and English.   The University of Macao has a Facebook page with some other interesting clips as well.

Kosaka, Akita: Japanese dance pictures and video

A few of years ago I borrowed a flatbed scanner and ‘put in the time’ to scan a few boxes of photos from Japan and China– in order to get through the task, I didn’t spend that much time getting lost in the memories (I got into quite a groove, and did them in 100-picture groups).   Having said that, diving back in to Japanese has inevitably spurred me to take a careful stroll down memory lane.  In digging through files, I also found a video that was taken at the Korakukan in Kosaka, Akita, somewhere around the year 2000.

As you’ll see shortly, I’m not a very elegant dancer:)  That said, I really have to thank the dance group and the teacher that spent so much of their time to welcome me and teach me all of the moves for dances like this one (Kurodabushi).

 

Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT)

A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Star Trek VI: will computers ever emulate the charm of human language learners?“— I was essentially conjuring the vision of the Star Trek “Universal Translator”, and wondered how language learning will look when our future gadgets are smoothly interpreting for us.

I only bring it up this week because I saw the news about the Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT) , and it seemed like another reminder of just how quickly things are moving. Gradually, those ‘future gadgets’ are getting closer and closer to the here and now.

Google Translate launched ten years ago using phrase-based machine translation, and it just keeps getting better— to see that they’re moving to GNMT and starting with a challenging pair of languages (Mandarin to English) shows that they’re really not fooling around.

In addition to releasing this research paper today, we are announcing the launch of GNMT in production on a notoriously difficult language pair: Chinese to English. The Google Translate mobile and web apps are now using GNMT for 100% of machine translations from Chinese to English—about 18 million translations per day.

I wonder what will happen when machine translation starts to surpass human translation for most situations?  Sound far-fetched?  The image below (from Google Research Blog) shows the results after “human raters compare the quality of translations for a given source sentence. Scores range from 0 to 6, with 0 meaning “completely nonsense translation”, and 6 meaning ‘perfect translation.'”. Look at the gains that GNMT made on the old phrase-based technology and how close it is to human translation!

I bet some cool language learning tools will eventually come out of this technology.

 

 

So, what was the show? (汉语大会)

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I posted some pictures while I was in China, but I had a few people asking if I could say a bit more about the competition and what it was all about, and perhaps post some video. I’m #6 in the picture here–it’s a screenshot taken from the video below. The clip is only about a minute long, but it nicely sums up the different parts of the show without boring you:).  In another part of the video, you can see me looking at the host in surprised disbelief, and in another I’m playing my guitar.

To back up a bit, as I understand things, the show (汉语大会) is a cooperation between Chinese Central Television (CCTV4) and another branch of the Chinese government called Hanban.  Hanban is the parent organization of the Confucius Institutes that you see all around the world. Their mission largely focuses on the goal of promoting Chinese culture and language learning; some people call this kind of thing “soft diplomacy”.  In this respect, Hanban’s activities are quite similar to the efforts of other governments around the world (think of Spain’s Cervantes Institute, the German Goethe Institute, the French Alliance Française or The British Council).

With that background, my thinking is that the “star” of the show was the Chinese language.  The principle aim was to celebrate Chinese language learning, show Chinese people that foreigners are indeed trying to learn Mandarin, and perhaps to encourage learners of Mandarin to continue with their studies.

I was one of 72 participants from around the world, and I was part of the “Americas” team with four Americans and a Brazilian.  There were also teams (six people per group) from Africa, Oceana, Europe, Asia, as well as domestic teams from inside China– these teams comprised international students studying at Chinese universities.   Most of the participants were much younger than me, but I actually wasn’t the oldest!

The show basically consisted of three parts: the 6 of us planning/rehearsing/performing a skit to show our understanding of a Chinese idiom; next, the six of us were together as a team in a kind of quiz show to test our knowledge of specific topics in Chinese language and culture; finally, each of us did an individual performance (i.e guitar, singing, martial arts, comedic monologue/tongue twisters).

At the end of the day, I think we did a good job; however, it just wasn’t enough to make it into the semi-finals.  All things considered, it was an amazing experience.  Some of the contestants have truly achieved a level of Chinese fluency and on-camera comfort that is really admirable . I came away from the experience feeling quite inspired to keep going with my studies.

I definitely have to close with a word of renewed thanks to the folks at my local Confucius Institute.  I’m grateful for all the work they do, as well as their continued support and encouragement of all the Chinese learners here in Edmonton!

优酷链接

 

 

 

 

The “Chinee and the Coon”: Airing our own stereotypes and dirty intercultural laundry

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a surge in what I might call ‘holier-than-thou’ indignation over a Chinese laundry detergent ad that made the rounds over social media (black man goes into the washing machine, comes out Asian–see below).  The ad itself was actually a rehash/reversal/remix of an Italian commercial from about eight years ago (Italian man goes into washing machine, comes out black—see below).   The Chinese commercial received a fair amount of mainstream news coverage in the US.

I won’t defend the commercial– it was done in extremely poor taste and deserves to be called out, but some folks are talking about it as if North America doesn’t have an ongoing history of making racist jokes/plays on other cultures.  Growing up. subtle jokes like the “Ancient Chinese Secret” Calgon commercial (see below), or the full-on mocking of Japanese (facial expressions, accent, questionable ethics) in the Flintstones episode featuring Rockimoto Judo’s e-to-se-to-ra, e-to-se-to-ra  (see below) were totally acceptable on mainstream TV.

Yes, those are old examples but, even today, mainstream comedians continue to use race as fodder for jokes—(remember the Jimmy Kimmel fiasco with the “kill all the Chinese so we don’t have any debt” joke?).  If anyone complains about these kinds of jokes, you can count on a healthy chorus of people essentially saying “hey, whatever– it’s just a joke”).

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Language Learning with your children

I was reading a blog article the other day about encouraging your child’s language learning through active encouragement of their progress, and the post definitely struck a chord with me. When I thought back to the children’s language school where I worked in China, you could definitely tell a difference in the enthusiasm and proficiency on the faces of the children who had parents who also liked to make English small talk with the teachers and staff.

As most working adults can sympathize, there never seems to be enough time to do everything you want (or need!) to do.  With limited time to spend on language learning, it’s always great when you can combine it with other passions—- for me, spending time with my son watching Chinese cartoons has been a fantastic experience that enriches both of us. On that note, we’ve been working on singing the theme song to 熊出没 (Boonie Bears) and this video shows where we’re at now, including our practice writing out the lyrics.

I’m very proud of the progress that my son has made with Mandarin– it wasn’t something he was really interested in until we discovered this cartoon.  It’s not our intention to ‘force’ him to learn Chinese, but watching this show has been solid source of inspiration on which to build.