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Response to previous blog responses

April 11, 2010 at 2:45 AM


sorry. The computer is not uploading comments so I posted as a brand new blog......


> Since kanji is simply Chinese characters, it will be helpful if you learn Chinese as opposed to learning Chinese characters as part of the Japanese language.

Interestingly that is Heisig`s main point.  The Chinese start learning Japanese with a major head start over their western counterparts because they can already write the kanji and attach a meaning to them.   The Heisig system does just that in the first stage of the process when no actual Japanese is used in the work,  although presumably elsewhere one is studying the spoken language like crazy.  I don`t actually use this very restrictive  approach so much because I know many of the kanji from a receptive point of view (not writing ) and automatically say them in Japanese in my head.   But the Heisig approach has makes it incredibly easy to remember how to write any and all of even the most difficult kanji without errors (contrary to my usual posts) and it amazes Japanese people when I show them how a complex kanji such as demolish is simply a pile of earth (rubble) shards of glass like needles shooting into eyes of demolition men unless they wear a top hat with a large brim and a large protective scarf which is wrapped around the body like a sari.  Or dream, in which one simply puts flower petals on ones eyelids to relax into slumber,  crowning a perfect evening.  Put all the components together in a bright visual image and one only needs to write it once for basic fluency practice.  After that it is unforgettable and I can actually recall and write them faster than many Japanese people simple because they have to utilize more abstract processes to pull up an image of the kanji even though they know and can use the actual word it represents far more fluently and idiomatically than me, a non-native.


>I'm always intrigued by the problem of what it means for something to be hard or difficult to learn to work with. A lot of things most people consider hard can be easy for me and vice versa.


My argument is actually with the word itself. I think it should be if not banned, at least castrated.   It has so much negative connotation and is used far too freely.  This has been a bug bear of mine for years in my main field of child language education.  There is a strong cultural tendency to describe things as difficult in Japan  and  teachers of all subjects at all ages use it very freely all the time.  Partly I think it is to do with saving face.  If one describes English as difficult then having spent twelve years failing to learn to say nothing more more than `How are you?` `This is a pen` is rather less embarrassing.    I cannot count the thousands of times I have taught something like a new song in English to young children with te teacher whingeing in the background `difficult,  difficult.` In my more gung ho days I would politely ask the teacher afterwards ot explain to me which aspect of the song they felt was difficult since the children could sing it with gusto even before they had heard it all the way through and showed by gestures that they had clearly understood it.  These days I am more patient....

In the music business we use it far too frequently, creating unconscious redflags in our students minds as they learn pieces with us that can adversely effect performances for many years to come.

Of course there is no question that things lie on a range of simple to difficult and if something is actually beyond someone`s capabilities then it is `too difficult.` However,  modern learning theory concerned with optimizing the process actually uses the word challenge more often and I think this is far more satisfactory.  All learning must contain an element of `challenge@ in the sense of being something the student cannot currently do. Yet it must not be defined as difficult,  simply a new level that the student will be challenged to reach and supplied with the tools to get there.


>Kanji or Chinese characters look intimidating, but the rules are in my opinion much clearer than English grammar.  I tutored Chinese to a number of western adult students, and what I’ve found is once they’ve acquired certain amount of rules (such as radicals for phonetic and semantic functions, number of ways they can be structured into a character, and the order of strokes when you write), adults learn very quickly without using the type of repetitions that the native speakers have to go through when they are little.

Exactly. I take a lot of care with stroke order and the moment I find a kanji slightly off looking I check that first and it is almost always the problem. Its amazing how a minute direction change can effect the whole balance and expressiveness of the kanji.


>Carrying a little dictionary around wherever you are to get regular quick check can be very helpful, like having a 24/7 available tutor. 


It@s amazing how much they have changed.  Th one I bought fifteen years ago used a cartridge and seemed to actually wheeze and whir as it searched when I unearthed ir recently, aside form going through new batteries every two days. The new one i bought is a thirdof the size, twenty times faster and has five or six Chinese and Portuguese dictionaries added as well as texts on classical Japanese.  old sayings,  history and the like.  Its quite astonishing!




 >But some languages - Japanese and chinese, and Hiungarian for that matter - well apart from knowing that they are a language, I have no idea of the bits that make up the whole.  I can't discriminate anything when I hear a native speaker of that language. 


That, to my mind is the significance of the Heisig system which ensures one is writing very quickly.   In a similar vein,  as a language teacher of young children,  I have frequently fallen afoul of the authorities because of my insistence that language learning at elementary school level consists of four skills.  Ever since elementary English has been taught (actually it isn`t officially yet)  everybody from the ministry to the boards of education through head teachers and teachers has always whined `no reading no writing.` Basically they are remembering their experiences of junior high school English study in which one wa forced to write pages and pages of the same word over and over again like Chinese water torture.  The fact that this learning procedure failed miserably has been used to damn reading and writing at a younger age.  I have always written the target sentence(s) on the blackboard without saying anything about them or drawing attention to them in the early grades.  Young children with their natural need to know `setting` quickly learn to decode and as I write more complex stuff on the board in the final grades they read it aloud automatically.  During walkabout type games observers of my classes say they are very puzzled as to why the students are remembering and using small grammatical words such as and,  the,  a ,  an when this does not happen in other classes they visit. he reason is simply that young kids do discern the number of words they are supposed to be saying from the written sentence on the blackboard and that trigger a memory of the sound as it was practice during the preparation of the game (as speaking practice only).

My own experience has been that I have tended to approach my comprehension of Japanese (spoken) by getting the gist and nothing more.   I can do this pretty well but my hearing and processing did become fossilized and much of the input remained fuzz.  For example, for many years I have been listening to students saying`nantokabumfluuffnottyburp wakaranai` with a puzzled look on their face when something is beyond them and because this is the highest level of communication required in class to indicate a problem and work on a solution I never queried intellectually the rest of the sentence although I could have done so quite easily.   Having become so engrossed with the written language recenlty i very son discovered via the kanji cocndrned they were saying `Wake ga wakarani`  ,  essentially `what you are saying is gibberish to me`;)  And from there I quickly built  up schema for that kanji as it isused in many other expressions that I have used for years in conversation without realizing.  By knowing the kanji my ears are very much sharpened to the correct pronunciation.  Surprisingly,  I also discover that young Japanese e often have very sloppy or even incorrect pronunciation (as in the English speaking English I suppose) simply because the context makes the meaning clear and further effort is not felt necessary at some level.



>Can you follow a conversation between native Japanese speakers, even if you can't converse that well? 

Yes,  quite easily although a subject I am unfamiliar with would throw me. I do actually watch Japanese animation in the original. The subtitles are so radically off most of the time it makes a mockery of the movie....

 >And how does a keyboard with Japanese characters work, if they don't use a 26 letter alphabet?

They use three other alphabets,  HiraganaKatakana and the Roman (sort of) so you just punch in those sounds and a selection of kanji flash up on the screen from which you chose the one with the meaning you intended.  You might get a list of twenty kanji combinations,  all with the same sound and it is not uncommon for teachers to call out to a colleague `which one of these is the one I want....` (Sorry, Corwin already covered this.

 >I hadn't made the correlations Brivati-sensei has made with violin playing. 

What has interested me is that by constantly stimulating my imagination to create colorful and often obscene stories on a daily basis the actual sound of my violin playing has changed quite considerably.   That would be a whole new subject of discussion.

>Japanese is easier I think as 100 million plus Japanese people know how to read but some smaller fraction can play the violin. 

The logic is impeccable.

>I'm curious as to how the study of kanji has also made such a huge improvement in Mr. Brivati's fluency in typewritten English!  Not a typo in the whole blog!

was on vacation when I wrote it.....








From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 14, 2010 at 12:09 AM

To me, the problem is not in the word itself but the way it's been used. Call it difficult or challenging, you'll get the same problem if people are using language as a means to convey something beyond the literal meaning of the term. It's a pet peeve of mine. Just look at the trendy things in PC correct language changes, chairman becomes chair person and Ombudsman becomes Ombudsperson. According to this logic, shouldn't woman chair person be called chair per daughter instead?  The lack of insight of language change is everywhere in law and policy making areas, the so called "plain language" movement. But plain language simply doesn't make a comlex technical concept any simpler. People have difficulty understanding an old statute often not because the langauge itself but due to lack of certain legal concepts. They are not likely to do much better when the language of the statute is made plainer. The same is true with using the term difficult or challenging I think.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 15, 2010 at 3:36 AM

Shinichi Suzuki came up with his "mother tongue" approach to teaching violin after struggling to learn the German language while seeing how easy it was for children to learn it. Interesting how studying language tends to relate to studying the violin!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 15, 2010 at 4:15 AM

Buri, I'm glad you posted a second time so that we can continue our discussion.  Your previous blog stimulated so much thinking about learning, music, language, and interpretations of words, like "difficult."

What I find especially interesting about your second post is the yellow highlights which show, I believe, the inadequacy of the computer spell check function.  Thanks for putting the yellow highlights in.  The spell checker made a lot of mistakes based on a large set of rules about acceptable and unacceptable orders of letters.  Human language is very complex, as is the human brain, and current spell checks make a lot of mistakes.  I tried to get my students who were learning English not to use the spell check, just as I try to keep my violin students from using the electronic tuner any more than is absolutely necessary.  The spell checker will accept "sliver" when the intended word is "silver."  The spell checker does not know how to look at the word in its context, discern the word's meaning, and then check the spelling.  Wow, the human brain is really complex.

From Royce Faina
Posted on April 17, 2010 at 6:18 PM

For as long as I can remember music has been referred to as a language. I wonder just how many great string players were multilingual?

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