Bruce Lee on the ‘hard part’ of language learning

 

What’s the hard part of language learning?

I’m often moved to quote my Japanese teacher’s opening comments in my first-ever Japanese class: “Learning Japanese is not difficult; it will just be a little challenging for your spirit, and you’ll need to work hard!”.  As the years go by, and I continue to explore other languages and cultures, the wisdom of her words continues to ring true.

You may have never imagined that the great Martial Artist, Actor (and Dancer!) Bruce Lee also expressed a philosophy of language learning.  Just like my Japanese teacher’s brevity, Bruce Lee captured an essential truth about language learning in just 30 seconds during this TV interview (an old Canadian talk show btw)–before you hit play, take a moment to imagine the one thing you think is the ‘hard part’ of language learning.

On a similar note, I read a wonderful book many years ago by Kevin Carroll, entitled “Rules of the Red Rubber Ball“.  One of the themes that he talked about was the “lonely” work that is part of positive growth in any domain.  He doesn’t take the word lonely in the sad sense of the word; rather, he talks about the significant personal work (i.e. at home work) that we must invest, and how we really should pursue that time, effort and attention with a sense of Joy.

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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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LEARNING CHINESE: Q&A FOR BEGINNERS

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This gallery contains 6 photos.

Originally posted on Stories from Shanghai:
Q: Is it difficult to learn Chinese? A: Yeah, they say Chinese is among the most difficult languages to learn (in terms of effort vs. results). Q: What is so difficult about it? A:…

Friendship through Google Translate

This story is wonderful— the boy had moved from Mexico to the U.S. with his family, and hadn’t made many (any?) friends at school.

It seems this girl’s family often hosts international students, and they’ve used Google Translate to help with communication. When she decided to reach out to this boy, she hatched the idea to use Google Translate to help her write a letter in Spanish.

 

Language learning, like a marriage, takes work: Chinglish within bilingual Couples

I just read an interesting article/interview about someone who is doing a study about semantic language use within couples coming from mixed-language (Mandarin/other) backgrounds. Does this sound like you? If so, Susanna Wickes is hoping that you’ll take a minute to complete her online survey (in either English or Chinese).  [The article ran in the Beijinger as: Scholarly Chinglish: Scottish Masters Student Studies the Semantics of Interracial Couples]

From what I’ve seen, most couples gradually shift into one language; the unfortunate reality (at least in my thinking) is that language is usually English. Chinese people as a whole have studied more of the fundamentals of English at school so, even though many don’t feel fully satisfied with their language abilities, the language barometer will more often end up shifting the equilibrium toward English.  I don’t want to speak in absolutes— I’m sure this trend is definitely better for couples living in China, but I think it’s a fair observation to say that fewer bilingual households end up primarily speaking Chinese at home.

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Reading the article actually brought up some fun memories for me; when my wife and I got together, we very quickly settled into a comfortable pidgin-mix of both languages that made us feel like I was speaking amazing Mandarin and she was speaking amazing English. The only trouble was that my expat friends (we were living in China at the time) couldn’t always understand her English; similarly, I was still feeling the daily sting of having Chinese friends and coworkers around me not understand me once the conversation moved beyond superficial pleasantries, and my pronunciation wasn’t really that clear.

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ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ : peyak isko mitâtaht (Cree:1-10)

Learning to count to ten in Cree

I found Brian MacDonald’s cd (Onion Lake, SK) in the Edmonton Public Library (epl.ca).  The music cd “For the Generations” and lyric booklet is part of their Cree Family Language kit; this song is called “The Number Song” and my son and I listened to it to learn the Nêhiyawêwin Cree numbers from 1-10.  This was a fun way for us to spend a Saturday when my wife was called in to work.  The syllabics below were generated using the Maskwacis Plains Cree Syllabic Converter on the Online Cree Dictionary site.

I don’t know how many mistakes (spelling, etc.) we made, but that’s how it works, doesn’t it? We gave it a go and now it’s now a song that we can sing sometimes to try and keep it fresh, and we can revisit it at some point in the future.

  1. peyak  ᐯᔭᐠ
  2. nîso  ᓃᓱ
  3. nisto  ᓂᐢᑐ
  4. newo  ᓀᐅᐧ
  5. nîyânan  ᓃᔮᓇᐣ
  6. nikotwâsik  ᓂᑯᑖᐧᓯᐠ 
  7. (ekwa) têpakohp  (ᐁᑲᐧ) ᑌᐸᑯᐦᑊ  
  8. ayinânew  ᐊᔨᓈᓀᐤ
  9. kêkâ-mitâtaht  ᑫᑳ ᒥᑖᑕᐦᐟ
  10. (mina) mitataht  (ᒥᓇ) ᒥᑕᑕᐦᐟ

êkota isko nitakihcikān  ᐁᑯᑕ ᐃᐢᑯ ᓂᑕᑭᐦᒋᑳᐣ  (“this is how far I’m counting”—thanks to RQ for translation!)

Fingerpaint Karaoke–“夜空中最亮的星“ by 逃跑计划

It’s father’s day today, so I indulged myself with some hobby time and finally finished this video.  I had the idea for “Fingerpaint Karaoke” ages ago– in another iteration, I called it “Whiteboard Karaoke”, which is a lot cleaner, but certainly not as fun:)   This is was also an idea that gained momentum when I was thinking of ways to introduce my son to language learning in light/fun ways.

When it comes to Mandarin, what I need most is practice with writing, so I thought this might be a fun way to do something different.  Most of the strategies using music for language study are driven toward the speaking/singing part of things, so the idea of using music to fuel writing practice might not be an intuitive one.  I tried to find other examples of this online, but I don’t think I’m using the right keywords– if anyone knows of something, can you leave a comment with a link?

Through this project, I learned the correct stroke order for several characters; however, like regular karaoke, step one is “learning the song”, and then continuing to practice and have fun with it— the nice part about fingerpaint/whiteboard/doodle karaoke is I can really do it anywhere: just try and recall the lyrics and see if I can recall the characters.

As for the song— wow!  as soon as I heard “夜空中最亮的星“, I knew it would be a great campfire song and wanted to learn how to play it. I can’t sing as high as the original version, so my guitar is tuned down a step. 逃跑计划 (Escape Plan) have got quite a few good songs that are worth checking out!

 

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.

Use your target language to learn something new

Since the middle of last year, I’ve needed to learn a number of new Excel skills to manipulate and analyze data at work; for the most part, this has meant paying regular attention to youtube videos by Bill Mr. Excel Jelen, and Mike Excelisfun Girvin.  They have both quick and easy “here’s something you might not know about Excel” videos, as well as longer “clear and concise instruction of an Excel function” videos.  In addition to their own ‘shows’, they also get together and share unique approaches to the same excel problem and share their differing answers together, as part of an ongoing series of “Dueling Excel” episodes.  I’ve learned so much from these videos, as well as their books (many available at my local ibrary).

Excel in French?

A while back, I wondered if it would be hard to track down similar Excel videos in other languages.  As it is with most things these days, all I needed to do was turn to Google and ask “comment utiliser index match excel youtube“. Once a youtube video that was remotely close to what I was looking for opened up, I was set— Youtube’s “suggested videos” eventually guided me (as expected) to videos with a decent number of views.  Without trying very hard, I found a short video introducing the =VLOOKUP function, which is evidently called the RECHERCHEV function French– voila!

Other hobbies?

If learning Excel in another language isn’t your thing, what about guitar?  In English, you can have James Taylor teach you how to play Fire and Rain, himself. If happen to enjoy the guitar and also want to learn Brazilian Portuguese, why not try learning how to sing and play a song? Or just sing along…. or just play along.. etc. etc.

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I don’t know how to say “how to play guitar” in Portuguese, so I used Google Translate, and then used copy/paste to put the results, “como tocar guitarra,” into a google/youtube search.  Once you start adding in the names of artists and songs that you like, you may find something.  In my case, I ended up finding a high-quality guitar lesson for Caetano Veloso’s ‘Sozinho’.  The video wasn’t done by Caetano Veloso himself, but this teacher quite cleverly incorporates great on-screen tabs as well as original audio from the song.

 

What if the language level is over your head?

At this point, I don’t understand more than a few words of this video (i.e. I don’t speak Portuguese); however, looking at the guitar instruction, it’s pretty clear that it’s a good video (over 80,000 views at this point).  If I stuck with this video long enough to pick up the song on guitar, I’m confident that at least a few of the phrases from the teacher would stay with me.

Don’t torture yourself

If you don’t feel like learning the whole song, remember you might just want to try learning the chorus before moving on to another song.  I don’t think I would ever encourage people to treat these kinds of videos as something to memorize; however, if you’re not using your target language as a tool for learning something new every once in awhile, then you may find that this kind of exercise is an interesting change of pace.

Again– if Excel and Guitar aren’t your thing, what about French instruction on how to cook?  Are you a student in the Sciences? Why not listen to how a French math teacher explains integral equations?  There’s nothing really revolutionary about anything that I’ve written here, but I think many language learners would benefit from giving it a try.