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!

 

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Boonie Bears(熊出没): 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.

Talking about big numbers in Chinese and English

I put the chart below together for someone I know who, despite having a strong grasp of English, often seems to get tripped up when talking about large numbers. It may seem like a trivial topic but this particular person works in a financial institution in a sales capacity…… I’m sure you can understand how a slip of the tongue in this kind of context might make someone lose confidence in their abilities.

I figured I could put something together that they could put beside their desk and refer to in a pinch– maybe it will work for you?  Feel free to print/cut it out.

big numbers

As it happens, this can be an issue for English speakers learning Chinese as well— the primary challenge being that English and Chinese (this is actually true of Japanese as well), put breaks at different points in large numbers. While English leaves things in clusters of three digits (thousands, millions, billions, trillions), Chinese groups the digits in clusters of four (i.e. units of 10,000: 万,亿,兆).

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Chinese Reggae Band 中国的雷鬼乐队–龙神道 Long Shen Dao

When I first started studying Chinese, I don’t think I would have even had enough imagination to ask if a Chinese reggae band existed; I mean really— Chinese reggae?  As it happens, I just happened to stumble upon one such band the other day—they’re called Long Shen Dao (龙神道 lóng shén dào).

The whole thing was actually quite accidental—-I was looking for a playlist of Chinese music to play while I was doing some work and one of the youtube thumbnails popped out at me. After checking out the video (not this one), I just copied the name of the band (from the title of the video) and pasted it into the youtube search box and–voila–the song below was in the results.

If you generally like reggae, I think you’ll have to agree that they’ve got a really good handle on the sounds of classic reggae. One interesting touch is that they use a zither (古筝 gǔzhēng) in most of their songs. Definitely worth a listen.

I think many folks would find the meeting of Chinese and Caribbean culture interesting and potentially intriguing; however, as a Canadian of mixed Welsh-Scottish/West-Indian origin, reggae (and to a greater extent, calypso) was what my dad and his friends would play at house parties when I was little.  It was good fun to have such a ‘home culture’ connection moment with this unique corner of the Chinese music scene.  The real kicker will be when I play this song for my dad.

For the record, reggae in Chinese is 雷鬼 (léi guǐ).

If you like the song, the full album is called “Tai Chi Reggae: 拥抱” and you can listen to the whole thing on youtube.

Documentary film – Blue Eyes, Twenty One Days Of China 蓝眼睛,中国二十一天

Video

The last 6 minutes of Ji Yida’s “Blue Eyes, Twenty One Days of China” perfectly encapsulates the experiences of a surprisingly large percentage of travellers that I have seen; here, I mean to include folks crossing the Pacific Ocean from both sides of the east-west paradigm.

If you want to skip to the spot I’m mentioning, this link starts at the 14:00 mark: http://youtu.be/6fjoNZG1Kzw?t=14m

The American in the film is from a community of 60,000 people and the videographer is his Chinese friend who went to High School in that community. They took a trip to China together over one of their summer breaks.

Luke, the subject of the film, is a pretty introverted guy–the videographer describes him as “the most non-American-American-I-know”. Some of his comments in the scene linked above reminded me of the time when I came to the conclusion that my Canadian manners were getting me nowhere in many situations in China that really required me to be a little pushy; it was initially hard to make the adjustment and not feel like I was being rude— and also let go of the judgement that others (i.e. the Chinese people around me) were being rude.

and so it goes….

Contrary to the opinion that many folks often express, I have always thought that cross-cultural experiences (especially longer sojourns) ultimately offer you the opportunity to learn more about *you* and your own culture. It’s not a guarantee though– for non-reflective personalities, the process seems to work in reverse and you sometimes see cynical expats who have lived somewhere for years in seeming misery.

again, this has been true on both ends of my Asian-Canadian experience.

2012 year-end: reading more Chinese, thanks to Lingq

I’ve been reading quite a bit of Mandarin lately–after following Luqiu Luwei’s blog essays (闾丘露薇 ROSE GARDEN) for awhile, I’m starting to feel like I can call myself one of her ‘regular readers’.  Luqiu Luwei is a world-travelled Chinese journalist and one interesting bit of trivia is the fact that she was the first female journalist (from any country) to go to Iraq to cover the war in 2003.

Her essays are always insightful, but after reading one of her recent posts (Why do we care about America?),  it occurred to me that I might have finally (at long last) succeeded in creating a regular Chinese reading habit that is challenging, yet doesn’t necessarily feel like ‘studying’.

As any intermediate/advanced student of Chinese will tell you, reading Chinese can be quite intimidating. Long after you’ve started to feel comfortable reading relatively complex sentences, you still find yourself constantly running into strings of unfamiliar characters that leave you absolutely stumped.  Sure, you can guess at the first few, but soon enough you’re stumbling through prose feeling completely lost.  It’s not hard to understand why it’s hard for some people to ‘keep at it’.

I’ve commented on this before, but because of what I just described, my Chinese study was always completely lopsided, to the point that I could pass an advanced spoken Chinese test but still fail the reading/writing test at the same level.   Looking back on the last year, I can definitely say that I’ve made some meaningful progress after a looooooooooong plateau, and I really have to thank the Lingq platform for helping me through a critical period with Mandarin.

[full disclosure: I have no connection with the folks at Lingq–it profits me nothing to share what I’ve written here; this post does not contain affiliate links]

training_wheels_by_rivulette-d54u2ph (Creative Commons)

Lingq is like putting training wheels on a two-wheel bike

From my perspective, Lingq is basically like putting a pair of training wheels on a bicycle; because the platform allows you to input your own content, you feel supported, and still remain in control of the direction in which you steer your studies.   The different parts of the Lingq platform collectively conspire to help you keep your balance, even if you’re challenging terrain that is a little above your skill level.

For an explanation of how Lingq works, you can click on the screenshot of my avatar below to be taken to a youtube video by the system’s Canadian creator, Steve Kaufmann.

lingq

click to watch a video by the creator of Lingq

You still have to do the work

One caveat I need to throw in—Lingq makes no promises that it will do the work that you need to do.  I had a free account on Lingq for a couple of years (mostly dormant), before I finally gave it an honest effort.  Like so many useful language resources and tools out there, I could have picked it up earlier, but somehow I didn’t.

Beyond the significant boost in the number of characters that I can now recognize, I think the biggest benefit that I’m taking from Lingq is that I can now dive into harder texts, both online and in print, with an increased feeling of ‘forward momentum’.  I definitely feel renewed enthusiasm for reading and I feel like I’m well-prepared to forge ahead as I head into the next language learning plateau.

The starter membership at Lingq is free, so I would recommend taking it for a spin to see if it works for you.  The platform supports the study of at least a dozen different languages.

As a DIY guy, I’m pretty stingy when it comes to spending money on language learning tools, but I think the year that I spent with the basic membership ($10/month) was definitely worthwhile.

Wishing everyone success with their 2013 language learning goals.

If you were held to the same standard as English learners….

The other day I got to thinking of the standard to which English language learners in my community are held every day.  I wonder how well I would measure up if the shoe were on the other foot?

Regardless of your performance on standardized tests, If you’ve developed some competency in another language, do all of the following describe your level of comfort in that language?

1. Able to write coherent text, explaining somewhat complicated circumstances? Able to do the same verbally, over the phone.
2. Able to persuade, teach or train?
3. Able to calm a tense situation?
4. Aware when you are being misunderstood, and able to get conversation back on track?
5. Develop professional rapport with someone who initially doubts your abilities?
6. Write a comprehensive report?
7.?
What makes a few of these difficult (I’m sure there are better examples), is the cultural context in which they rest. Added to that, the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ tend to rattle your confidence and, over time, it get’s harder and harder to step out of your comfort zone.
Which part is ‘hardest’ will be different for everyone; however, in terms of being able to think on your feet in a professional context, I think the fourth one is especially valuable— and probably the one over which you have the most control (or at least practice).

What works for you?

So many arguments about ‘the best way to go’ for language learners at different levels…

The tricky part, of course,  is that what works for one person might be totally off-base for you.

Ultimately, we can only really judge ‘what works’ for ourselves—if you find yourself arguing, it’s probably a sign that you should try something different…… conversely, what works for you may not work so well for someone else…..  “learn and let learn” I guess.

The designers of most language tests (DELFJLPTHSK, etc.) are trying harder and harder to make test scores reflect real world communicative ability; are you aiming beyond standard language tests (that really only mark the beginning of the next stage of learning)?

As you consider your goals (however broadly), what works for you?

International Mother Language Day

Did you know that the United Nations celebrates International Mother Language Day every year on February 21st?

Collected a few clips of students using their own language to say ”  ___ is my mother language” as part of an event that will take place later during reading week.