2017 International Mother Language Day

February 21st is officially recognized by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day. I didn’t know about this day until 2011, when a couple of international students from Bangladesh introduced me to the origin of the movement to protect Bengali—(they’re the first two students in the video that we put together that year in the International Centre at the University of Alberta).

“Je te parle dans ta langue, et c’est dans mon langage que je te comprends” Édouard Glissant (1928-2011)

As a language learner, this day always reminds me of a quote from the Caribbean Francophone poet Édouard Glissant, which essentially says “I speak to you in your tongue, but I understand you in my language”. On that note, I really appreciated the 2017 message from UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, recognizing the occasion:

“We are beings of language. Cultures, ideas, feelings and even aspirations for a better world come to us first and foremost in a specific language, with specific words. These languages convey values and visions of the world that enrich humanity. Giving value to these languages opens up the range of possible futures, and strengthens the energy needed to achieve them. On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade. The better we understand how to value languages, the more tools we will have to build a future of dignity for all.”

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Star Trek VI: will computers ever emulate the charm of human language learners?

Looks like like two teams are in the final running for the Tricorder Xprize—the idea of this kind of technology coming to the consumer in the near future is awe-inspiring. http://tricorder.xprize.org/teams

I joked about the Universal Translator in this post a few years ago—-somehow I don’t think that technology is much farther away…. technologically, this is an extraordinary time to be alive!!


For some reason, seeing Christopher Plummer in the running for his [now confirmed] Oscar for his role in Beginners, made me remember him playing the role of General Chang in Star Trek VI. I hadn’t watched a Star Trek movie in ages, so I decided to resurrect a golden oldie over the weekend. Star Trek fans may remember that the Klingon-language dialogue figures quite prominently throughout Star Trek VI…

“We must respond personally–the Universal Translator would be recognized”

I’ve actually never been one to get swept up in the idea of learning to speak Klingon, but there was something about the context of a particular scene that I found quite interesting. If you’re not familiar with the world of Star Trek, it’s set in the 23rd century and is full of futuristic gadgets and interplanetary space drama. Whenever there is a conversation between life forms, crossing the language barrier is…

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Super Bowl LI: Winning play, called in 8 languages!


Check out this great video that is up on the NFL.com website–the game-winning touchdown from Super Bowl LI, called in 8 different languages: Chinese, French (Canadian), German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Japanese, Korean and Danish.

Each one is epic in a fresh and fun way, even if you don’t understand what they’re saying!



I’m taking my son to Japan this summer, so some of my recent posts (scroll down) are about getting back into Japanese. If you care to look around, start with my ‘About’ page; outside of Japanese, you’ll find posts about MandarinFrench (writing DELF B2) [proficiency certificates here] and learning a tiny bit of Cree.  Please leave a comment if something interests you–I’d love to check out your blog!

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.

訂正云々 is not Teisei Denden

It looks like Prime Minister Abe misread some of his speaking notes this week.  The Japanese internet is abuzz with his (minor) slip up with a kanji (Japan Times).

I thought it was worth sharing because this is exactly how Japanese learners (obviously just a slip of the tongue for the prime minister) make mistakes with reading.  This is why there is value in the kind of printing and typing practice that I alluded to in a recent post.

For context, here was my comment:

You can do the same kind of practice with your computer (i.e. retyping things); however, beyond improving your typing dexterity, the focus of the practice actually shifts towards reading. This will seem counterintuitive if you don’t understand the way Japanese works, but the reality is that it’s not that hard to recopy an extremely challenging passage by hand, but if you can’t *read* it, retyping it will be almost impossible.

So, using Prime Minister Abe’s mistake as an example, if I gave an intermediate Japanese learner the task of writing “訂正云々” by hand, it wouldn’t be unmanageable. Even if a courageous beginner to Kanji didn’t understand the meaning of 訂正云々, or wasn’t familiar the characters, my guess is that they could produce something legible; these characters aren’t that complex, and don’t present any rare stroke patterns.

Having said that, if you were an intermediate learner trying to type these words and you guessed “Teisei Denden” (ていせいでんでん), your computer wouldn’t easily display “訂正云々”—it would only appear smoothly if you input the correct reading of “Teisei Unnun” (ていせいうんぬん). In my ‘typing practice mode’, this would be an opportunity to stop and figure out the correct reading of the characters before moving on.

All of that to say that typing and printing practice can help to focus our study of written Japanese, BUT CLEARLY, the most important takeaway from this story is that if the Prime Minister of Japan can make a Kanji-reading boo boo, SO CAN YOU!

Take it easy on yourself– reading Japanese is tricky business!

Message on the bottle: Mind Game Moments for language learners


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.


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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Old tunes and textbooks…ナウくない 音楽や大学の教科書

A friend asked me what I’d been doing to try and get back into things with Japanese and I listed off a few things that didn’t surprise him: listening to ナウくない Japanese music on the way to work (Mr. Children, Dreams Come True ), watching one of my favourite Japanese movies (Love Letter) and youtube videos here and there (really neat mini-documentary on棒倒し/ Bo Taoshi, which I had never heard of).  One thing that caught my friend by surprise was my comment about simply practicing lettering and typing.

I don’t know if other people agree, but I’ve always found it quite useful to simply ‘copy’ a passage a few times and note some of the patterns that get used. This was one of the main ways that I practiced when I was in university— yes there was the studying of vocab lists and wrestling with grammar explanations etc., but I always found it useful to simply copy the text a couple of times and try to print/write the characters so that they look presentable.  We were often assigned passages to practice until we could recite them smoothly in class, and I found that being able to recopy the passage smoothly helped me prepare.

For example, I went back to my university library and found another one of my old textbooks (Modern Japanese, A Basic Reader, Harvard University Press); I took a passage (see above) and simply copied it out 2-3 times.  It seems to be an effective way to tap into muscle memory– it didn’t take long to feel comfortable writing again (my characters are nothing to brag about, but I think they’re acceptable).

I still have a couple of pads of 原稿用紙 from my university days– I’d never been able to bring myself to throw them out, so it’s been neat putting them to use.  Lettering practice also has the additional bonus of being very easy to do in small bursts– I can do it for ten minutes and feel like I’ve accomplished something.



You can do the same kind of practice with your computer (i.e. retyping things); however, beyond improving your typing dexterity, the focus of the practice actually shifts towards reading. This will seem counterintuitive if you don’t understand the way Japanese works, but the reality is that it’s not that hard to recopy an extremely challenging passage by hand, but if you can’t *read* it, retyping it will be almost impossible.

Put another way, if you understand the basic mechanics of the way Kanji are put together, you can reasonably reproduce an unfamiliar character by hand; however, if you don’t know how to read a particular kanji, you won’t know what keys to press in order to have it appear on the screen.

Anyway– all that to say that both typing/keyboarding and printing practices can be a challenging in meaningful ways.

As an aside to this post, I also took out the companion grammar guide to (Modern Japanese, A Basic Reader). I’ll have to write a separate post another time because the author of the grammar guide was actually our very own Japanese professor, who was an expert in *English* grammar.  Keeping up with his interpretations/explanations of Japanese was sometimes challenging, in the sense that he had a much more precise understanding of English grammar than we did:)

One exciting bit to note this week– Nicholas and I have our new passports!   I told him that the Pokemon he loves so much are from Japan and he is getting more excited about our trip in the summer.

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.