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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te-shimatta “I couldn’t help myself”

One more point on the Mayor who promised to build the ‘spamusement’ onsen amusement park if their video hit 1 million views— the phrase that got picked up by the news is a handy pattern that shows up pretty often: “yatte shimatta” (top right of image)

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For te-shimatta, I always think of someone who simply couldn’t help themselves and went and….. (insert verb here). So, if you think of someone who meant to bring a box of donuts into the office, but got stuck in traffic and ended up eating the whole box.  Japanese could say (食べて)+しまった

You can do the same thing with virtually any verb (飲んでしまった、等)but you can cover many situations by using やってしまった。

The beauty of the internet being what it is, there is really no shortage of examples of things online– not just using Google News (searching for やってしまった), as I suggested the other day, but you can easily find comments and suggestions from other folks who are learning Japanese.  For example,  I found a page on Quora on this topic: https://www.quora.com/What-does-shimatta-mean-in-Japanese-Does-it-have-more-than-one-meaning.

I couldn’t find a link to someone using Pandora’s Box as an example for this pattern (ie 開けてしまった or  見てしまいました), but I think it would be another good example of this pattern.

*[edit] locksleyu wisely left a comment (see below) to point out that this pattern ( ってしまう) is bigger than the example I’ve raised.   Indeed, this pattern can capture a few different nuances! The challenge for English speakers is that none of the English translations will ever roll off our tongue quite as smoothly as the Japanese.

Thinking of another example, I remember I was once moved to tears (happy tears) after the one and only time I had ever flown in a helicopter—a Japanese colleague, seeing that I was embarrassed, used this form to note the moment: “感動しちゃった”.

Spamusement Park Project lands Beppu Mayor in Hot Water

A couple of weeks ago, this clever and funny video from Beppu, in Ōita Prefecture, appeared on youtube.   The whole thing is pretty tongue-in-cheek, showing a clearly fictitious amusement park that is one big hot spring ‘in motion’– picture roller coasters with a hot tub in each car.  Just the idea of it was funny.

The video takes an interesting turn at the end though– the Mayor of Beppu appears and convincingly promises “if this video gets 1 million views, we will make the Spamusement park a reality!”

After the video hit 1 million views in just four days (not really a stretch for a popular video nowadays), people started asking questions of the mayor– was he serious?  Is this something they can really pull off?  Is it practical?  Even if he’s dreaming of making it a reality, many folks have doubts.

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Rebooting Japanese

For the last year or so, I have been running into things that seem to cue up happy memories of the time I spent in Japan, and it recently donned on me that I actually haven’t lived in Japan since 2001.  It’s hard to believe that much time has passed!

When I first started this blog project in, I took the JLPT N1 test in 2010 to see if I could muster a pass. With some preparation, I was fine; however, I remember feeling like some of my knowledge was slipping.   Fast forward to six years later, there’s no denying I’ve let my proficiency slip quite a bit.

I’m thinking about taking my son to Japan next year in the summer, so I’d like to have my Japanese in reasonable shape in time for the trip.  Thinking back to the way I learned Japanese (basically early days for the internet), I thought it might be fun to take some of the strategies that I most like now, and apply them to rebooting my Japanese study.  I decided that I would employ my trusty whiteboard to log my review.

Mixing the audio and video together also gives an opportunity to add in a few images from my shoebox of stuff from Japan; the pictures in this video are from Hokkaido, Shizuoka and Akita.

 

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:…

Japanese font that shows stroke order

I went looking for a Mandarin font that showed up with the stroke order included as part of the characters.  I went in thinking “Yes, I know this is a bit special, but surely someone must have already done this”.

Unfortunately, I came up empty handed.  Having said that, I did find a Japanese version of what I was after.  I gave it a try and it works as advertised– if you have Japanese text in your document, you can simply highlight and change the font to this one and ‘voila’, it shows up with stroke numbers.  You can then increase the font size and print it out.

font exampleIn my playbook, I would combine this with the idea of making your own tracing sheets. Making something like the image here is completely with in your grasp with a font like this (it shows up as KanjiStrokeOrders in your font book) installed on your machine.

The reality is that, once you’ve mastered the general patterns of stroke orders (i.e. for left-right split characters, start on the top left and finish the left side first), you can largely ‘figure out’ most characters without a tool like this, but it doesn’t take much to make you question your judgement for characters that aren’t totally predictable.

You can download the font  (漢字の筆順のフォント) from http://www.nihilist.org.uk/

If anyone finds a Chinese version, please let me know!

 

Job Hunting: An Endless Cycle

First and foremost, I need to give a hat tip to Ardent Lee, who calls his bilingual (J/E) blog The Sleeping Sun.  He wrote a post last week that struck a chord with me about the painful first steps of trying to get your career started when you don’t have any experience, and the very fact that you don’t have any experience seems to be preventing you from even getting your foot in the door.

It’s graduation season at my university.  In addition to wishing our students well, I’ve recently been having conversations with friends and colleagues about our career aspirations and motivations.  As a result, Ardent Lee’s post, which he called Job Hunting: An Endless Cycle, came at an interesting time, and made me think back to my original plans when I was a student.  I wonder what ‘university-me’ would make of the mid-career life I’m currently living, and my original decision to study Japanese?

So, buckle your seatbelt– it’s story time.

昔々、あるところに。。。。

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Typing/Keyboarding practice

 

When I completed the written section of the French DELF exam a few years ago, one of the things that struck me was how rarely I even did that much handwriting in one sitting, even in English (i.e. an in-class written essay).  My hand/wrist ended up feeling sore, and I left thinking that the next time I prepared to write the test, I should take some time beforehand to simply practice writing by hand more often.  Around the same time, I heard a story about Hunter S. Thompson who, early in his career, sat down and re-typed one of the great American novels, The Great Gatsby; supposedly, he did it because he wanted to experience what it would be like to have the words of a classic novel flow through his fingertips….

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Raising Bilingual Children: what’s your strategy?

After posting about bilingual households, I came across a post about strategies for raising a bilingual child that really resonated with me.  I liked the dad’s honesty about how he originally had plans of being able to talk about his effortlessly bilingual son who could possibly have been starting to learn a third language at some point.  When my son was born I had the very same thought, and I definitely remember relatives fully expecting me to pour all of my language skills into my son’s little noggin. It’s hard to argue with the idea of teaching a child to speak more than one language; however, as someone who grew up in a monolingual household, I was left to ponder the not-so-small question of “how do you actually go about doing that?”.

My wife and I were confident from the beginning that we wanted to raise our son to be bilingual.  We quickly settled into a pattern of her speaking to him in Mandarin, and me speaking to him in English.  Surely, we thought, he would ‘naturally’ pick up both languages and would soon be speaking both languages with fluid ease.

As it turns out, my son had some opinions of his own:) It quickly became apparent that he wasn’t quite that excited about speaking Chinese. Mom would speak to him in Mandarin, but he would respond to in English– if she pretended not to understand, he quickly figured out that he could come to me and say “tell mommy that …….” or some other ploy to get me to interpret for him.

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