Got to speak Japanese with George Takei!

 

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George Takei came to Edmonton last week to give a talk as part of a speaker series that our public library (EPL) has been running.   The talk itself was primarily a reflection on several chapters of his life, including being sent to a internment camp after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour–this period actually began with his family living in a barnyard horse stall while the camps were being constructed.

He then went on to weave his personal story of challenge and triumph, living most of his life feeling like he had to hide his sexuality, with the larger swaths of American social change, including the eventual recognition of same-sex marriage.

Having said that, he did manage to weave in a several lighter moments of laughter–some of the Q&A also got him into Star Trek trivia, and talking about connecting with people over social media.

Some of the themes were quite timely because the day before George spoke, the Canadian Prime Minister had offered a historic apology to the LGBTQ2 community in Canada.

After the talk was over, I had the good fortune of attending a smaller reception; since the line to speak to him wasn’t too long, I decided that I couldn’t pass up the chance—but what to ask?

As it got closer to my turn, it suddenly dawned on me to ask if he spoke Japanese at all. When I asked my question in English,  he responded in Japanese, asking if I could speak Japanese—- when I did, we had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes.

In an interesting bit of serendipity, the woman behind me had also been to Japan and she too took the opportunity to speak with George in Japanese– when it was over, we got to chatting, and her father said “this is so interesting– I’d only ever really heard my daughter’s Japan story, so it was interesting to hear some of yours as well”.

Afterwards, it struck me that there was something quite poetic about his choice of words: “my Japan story”. But it’s true, though, isn’t it? When we learn another language, we really are penning our own ‘______ story’ in the context of that language and culture.

Anyway– a very neat experience for sure!

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Duolingo does Japanese

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Duolingo Japaneseって、Big Newsですね!

If you’re unfamiliar with Duolingo, it’s definitely worth checking out; it’s a really clever platform that, at the upper levels, actually turns the community of learners into a crowdsourced translation powerhouse.   The app can be downloaded from itunes for free and, to my knowledge, doesn’t ever ask learners to purchase anything.

They have been offering courses for learning a few languages and slowly adding to the list, but they’ve just announced that they’re moving forward with Japanese as a target language for speakers of English.   There’s a great article about the project on the Duolingo website, and I also saw a nice write-up by the Japan Times.

頑張ってください!

礼問答 (レイモンド)

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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.

Japanese reading: Shiranami Gonin Otoko (白浪五人男)

Oh my, this was fun to put together!

お礼の言葉:この”朗読劇”はユーチューブのKIKUNOSUKE81先輩の物真似と言った方が良いです。先輩には会ったこともないし、話したこともないですが、kikunosuke81のビデオ何回も聞いて練習してきました。有り難うございました!

The town where I lived in Japan is home to an amazing wooden theatre house that was constructed in the Meiji-era (Korakukan theatre in Kosaka, Akita).  I can’t remember if it is the oldest of its kind, but it’s certainly a unique treasure for the community.   In addition to the professional performances that went on every year, they also had a wonderful annual tradition of having kids perform kabuki scenes (Kodomo Kabuki).

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At the time, a work colleague suggested that I learn this passage (弁天小僧菊之助たァ!); shortly after that conversation, someone else gave me a copy of 声に出して読みたい日本語 (the book I read from for this video).  Opening the book, the passage that my colleague had recommended was the *very* first item included in this collection of Japanese gems that are truly meant to be read aloud and treasured.  I was inspired to learn the passage, but I never followed through until I recently put my mind to reciting it.

At the time (pre-youtube era), I remember thinking “This book is great, but what I really need is an audio recording of some kind to practice with!”.  Coming back to it now many years later, I was able to find a few examples on Youtube that I could use as a base.

If you want to see the scene this is taken from, check out the second video– the last video (from youtube channel kikunosuke81) is the one that I used (extensively) to practice for this project.

I thought it would be fun to do this as a ‘finger paint karaoke‘ and tried putting myself in front of the camera.

I look forward to sharing this with my old colleague if our paths cross this summer!

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

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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!

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

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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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