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!

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.

My first Japanese textbook from way back when…


I was wondering where to start with getting back on track with Japanese; instead of being a hero and starting with challenging texts, I thought it might be fun *and useful* to skim through some of the things I remember studying to get back in the swing of things.

I actually have a very clear memory of the very first thing that my teacher said to us: “Learning Japanese is not difficult; it will just be a little challenging for your spirit, and you’ll need to work hard!”.

True to her promise she didn’t let us off easy– it was a challenging but fun class.  I was in the intensive version of this class, so it was the equivalent of doing a year-long 6 unit course in a single semester: we had 10 hours of class time every week, mandated practice time in the language lab (they gave us a *punch card* so we could punch in and out of the lab), as well as in-person lab time with a TA.   The pace of quizzes, vocabulary tests and unit tests was relentless and kept us on our toes!  The next course followed the same pattern so we essentially finished all four volumes of this series over an academic year.  Class was 8-10am, Monday to Friday.

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Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

I don’t count myself as a hyperpolyglot(!), but I can definitely agree that the key to successful language learning is simply finding a way to enjoy the process.  Judging from the book review in The Economist, this seems to be part of the message of Michael Erard’s new book, Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners.

from the review: “Hyperpolyglots may begin with talent, but they aren’t geniuses. They simply enjoy tasks that are drudgery to normal people. The talent and enjoyment drive a virtuous cycle that pushes them to feats others simply shake their heads at, admiration mixed with no small amount of incomprehension.”

If you’re an active language learner, are you on an upward spiral, or are you stuck in the language-learning doldrums?  What kinds of things do you enjoy doing that other people might think of as ‘drudgery’?

[*After reading the review, I submitted a suggestion to my local library and they’ve already agreed to order the book.  I honestly can’t say it often enough: I love the Edmonton Public Library!  (update Jan 16/2012:  the book is now in the epl database]

Glimpses of the mid-range future of language learning

JManga looks interesting!    The instant Japanese/English swap function on the manga will be great for learners (skip to 1:44 of the video)—I could imagine that, in the future, some manga could also include audio of storytellers reading the story.

This is yet another example of the exciting things that computers and digital media make possible for language learning.   The neat thing is that language learning doesn’t necessarily have to be the initial inspiration for innovation— advances in toy design, digital media, voice recognition, mobile technology etc. all promise to come together in really interesting and engaging ways over the next few years.

A textbook to prepare for DELF B2?

cover of Hachette

With the hope of saving a few pennies, I scoured the Edmonton-area public and university libraries in search of DELF preparation/teaching materials–alas, I couldn’t find anything that held much promise.   Before rushing out to spend my hard-earned money on the first book I bumped into, I thought it would be worth it to check in with a friend in France who is somewhat familiar with the publishing industry– perhaps she could recommend something?

True to her style, she responded with a ‘to-the-point’ four word message: ” Of course Hachette FLE”, and included a link to the book cover you see here.

After poking around their website, I called one of their North American distributors in Montréal (Librairie MICHEL FORTIN) to place my order.

I have to be honest, when given the choice, I called the English number—I know, lame, eh? However, when the guy answered the phone in French it felt like the universe was calling my bluff, almost as if to say “You’re serious about improving your French and you can’t even muster the courage to call a bookstore in French?  BOOOOOO”.

So, in the end, I stuck it out in French—I’ll save my rant for another day, but I really do think that fighting *that moment* and resisting the urge to slip back into English is more than half the battle of learning another language.  If I needed to, I probably could have switched to English at any point in that conversation, but the guy on the phone stuck with me until I completed my order (can’t imagine how it would have felt if he had taken pity on me and switched to English).

As I hung up the phone, I thought about all the things that could have gone wrong— did I get my credit card number right?  What about my address and phone number?  Heck, did I even ask for the right book?    When the book finally arrived in the mail the other day, it really was a treat on many levels.

I can’t give any thoughts on the content of the book yet, but when I’m done, I’ll likely donate the book to the Edmonton Public Library so someone else can make use of it.