Tag: JP


16

Nov 2009

Thinking to Oneself Productively

This is a follow-up to an older post of mine called Talking to Oneself Productively, and the advice this time comes from JP Villanueva. I recommend that you read the full post, but here’s the essence of it (emphasis mine):

> Some functional L2 speakers talk about switching languages like throwing a switch; when they hear a language, they start to ‘think’ in that language, sometimes at the detriment of the other languages. A lot of very highly functional L2 speakers, on the other hand, code switch between L1 and L2 when with peers; both for pragmatic reasons, but also for effect… and for fun; in other words, their switch is pretty loose. In any case, regardless of proficiency, it seems to me that the ability to switch the language of the interior monologue is the mark of a functional L2 speaker. I know plenty of ESL people who say “I mostly think in English now” even if they don’t have superior proficiency.

> So if you’re looking for a language learning tip from me, there it is; try switching your interior monologue to the target language. It will be hard at first, but you’ll make new habits, and it will be come easier, especially if you’re immersed in L2. If you’re not immersed, it won’t hurt either. At the very least, it’s communication practice, even though you’re only communicating with yourself.

> What if you don’t know enough words? Then ask someone for the words, duh. And yes, you should try to ask in the target language. L2 interior monologue might be good practice, but remember that real, target language communication feeds your language instinct, the same instinct that got you from zero to fluent in your L1 in under five years.

Obviously, this is advice that becomes useful at a later stage of development than my “Talking to Oneself Productively” advice. My advice can apply to someone still struggling to form coherent sentences, whereas JP’s “inner monologue” advice will be difficult (or at least frustrating/exhausting) to apply without some degree of fluency already under one’s belt.

Still, this is great advice for someone who can communicate (perhaps haltingly), but finds it difficult to get beyond the need to translate everything mentally. It’s easy to shrug off techniques which are purely mental, but I can tell you from my own experience that these work. They also go a long way toward explaining why some people learn languages much more effectively, even though they seem to be engaged in the exact same activities as other learners.


06

Oct 2009

Slow Chinese

It’s the October holiday in the PRC, and I’m enjoying a slooowww 8-day vacation. Fittingly, I recently also discovered a site called Slow Chinese (via Chinese Forums), and thought I’d share it here.

slow chinese

Slow Chinese, as far as I know, is the first site to do this (and just this) for Chinese. I know that the same “slow” concept has already existed for some time for learners of German (Slow German), and that it is quite popular among that learner community. The idea, of course, is that if learners are exposed to enough slowed-down input, they will not only get better at recognizing the words they know, but will also be able to more easily pick out the words they don’t know, and the gains will gradually transfer to normal-speed input.

The linguistic question, of course, is: does this work? Is it a good idea?

First I’ll quote friend and fellow linguist JP Villanueva on what he once said about slow input:

> Listen to me: slow input does NOT help you learn language. No! NO NO NO. At best, slow input helps you learn SLOW LANGUAGE. […] Whenever you get mad at someone for “talking too fast,” you need to remind yourself that you don’t speak that language, and no amount of SLOW is going to help you understand.

> Counter-intuitive? Remember when you learned to ride a bike, and you found that it was easier to balance when you had a little speed? Remember when you first learned to drive, and you realized you had more control with a little speed?

> Same with language. Slow speech doesn’t help your memory. You don’t need every word in a sentence in sequence in order to understand what someone is saying.

> Besides, that’s not how your brain listens to your own native language, anyway. Your brain listens for semantic landmarks and then fills in the information in between. You need to learn to do that in your second language. Slow speech levels semantic landmarks, and over-emphasizes the non-content words that hold sentences together.

When it comes to Slow Chinese, there are actually two relevant questions:

1. Is slow input valuable?

2. Is slow input for news (or other media intended for native speakers) valuable?

In answer to question #1, I’d say yes. JP knows what he’s talking about, but earlier in the same post he also made a few caveats where confidence is concerned, and with good reason. There is a period when a beginner has a really tough time distinguishing the sounds of the target language. Yes, the purists are right when they say that continued, persistent exposure can overcome this obstacle, but most learners are not so hardcore. They’re emotional and easily discouraged. They want some help beyond “don’t give up,” and slowed-down input can provide that much-wanted crutch. It is a crutch, however, so if used, it should be withdrawn as soon as possible. It is most useful for learning the phonetics of the language as a beginner, in individual words and short phrases.

In answer to #2, I’d say no. If a learner is ready to take on media intended for native speakers, he should already be comfortable with the language at natural speed. If he has the vocabulary to take on the media but can’t handle the speed, it is likely because communication as a learning goal has been neglected. One can’t carry on normal conversation without comprehension of speech at a normal rate (unless one limits one’s conversation partners to slow-talkers only). So it seems to me that one would be tackling slow-speed media instead of tackling normal-speed listening comprehension and communication, which under most circumstances is a big mistake.

So my conclusion is that the learner’s time would best be spent working on simpler normal-speed input to improve listening comprehension (for Chinese, most Elementary and Intermediate ChinesePod dialogues are good for this; users can listen to the dialogue-only audio, all of which also have transcripts), and then later tackling normal-speed media.

Still, enthusiasm for learning is a valuable thing, so if Slow Chinese is what you’ve always wanted, I say go for it. (Plus, it’s free!) Just don’t forget that it’s not likely to help you out with conversational fluency, if that’s your goal.


11

Mar 2008

Three Links for March

Some good things I recently came across:

1. Gladder: an auto-proxy addon for Firefox. Very convenient! Unlike TOR, it’s not either “always on” or “always off.” Just works for the sites you need it to work on. How did I not find out about this sooner?? (Via JP)

2. Olympic Game Piracy. Shameless. The best thing to do about this is to spread the word when it happens and turn up the scorn. (Via Dave)

3. The Deadly Huashan Hiking Trail: a photo journey. Don’t let the use of Comic Sans fool you; this is one hardcore mountain climb. Make sure you see the pictures toward the end…


03

Jan 2008

Eggnog in China: You're on Your Own

This post comes a bit late, I realize, but if you’re in China (or elsewhere) and still suffering from holiday season eggnog withdrawal, it just might help you pull through.

In Shanghai, we foreigners generally depend on Carrefour (a French supermarket chain) and City Shop (formerly City Supermarket) for our hoity-toity imported food expat needs. But for some reason, neither ever carries eggnog.

This year, when I complained to JP about the lack of eggnog, he suggested I make my own. I considered the idea, but the whole “raw egg” and “China” aspects scared me off. Then he sent me a recipe for eggnog. I had extra time on Christmas Eve, and I ended up making my own eggnog for a little Christmas party. It tasted OK, and no one got sick. Sounds like success to me!

Of course, I had to modify the eggnog. Here I’m going to post my “eggnog hack.” Originally the eggnog called for:

> 4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites

Of these ingredients, I skipped the cream and substituted rum for bourbon. I was able to get nutmeg at Carrefour, albeit un-freshly grated (it’s called 肉豆蔻). I found this part of the recipe amusing:

> To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell.

Avoid contact with the shell? The eggs come in the shell! OK, I see… the outside of the shell. To be extra safe I even washed my eggs just in case there was some accidental contact.

Now onto the preparation side. Here in China, I don’t own a mixer or a whisk. (OK, come to think of it, I’ve never owned a mixer or a whisk.) That seems problematic when you get to the part of the recipe that tells you to do this:

> Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.

I didn’t know what “soft peaks” were, and I didn’t have a mixer, so I just beat the eggs for a while with a fork. It still turned into eggnog in the end.

Somehow we managed to cheat salmonella this time. Anyone got any home-made eggnog horror stories to scare me out of doing this again?