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The Way of the Blog

September 4, 2010 1 comment

I often feel that the greatest weakness of the blog format is that old content tends to be forgotten and needs to be repeated. Regular readers rarely access old materials for whatever reason.  I am not much different.  On sites in my rss feeds, there are a handful of posts that contain information that I want to go back to and I will usually email them to myself, but aside from that I only go back to most sites when there is new content to read.  While I hope to continue creating good content, I feel that I’m nearly always asked the same questions.  People learning their first 2nd language tend to ask the same questions.  They don’t really know what to do and simply telling them isn’t enough for them to believe it and find the discipline to actually do it.  I completely understand this as I often feel that I spread myself far too thin by always dabbling in a too many languages and could always be spending more time than I actually do.  So in order to streamline the process for newer readers, I’m going to provide links below to older posts that should anticipate and hopefully answer some of those questions that come up while you are climbing the language mountain.

Sometimes people seem to want me to tell them exactly what to do.  I then expend a lot of time and energy creating routines and flashcards for them, but then they don’t do it.  While this can be frustrating, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are doing something.  Chances are there will always be ways to improve on what you are currently doing so it doesn’t hurt to experiment.  If one way up the mountain seems impassable, go back down and find another way.  Master the basics, don’t fly through them.  Don’t just learn them.  Absorb them, conquer them.  Be able to run circles around the bottom of the mountain with ease before trying to make it all the way to the top.  This isn’t a race.

Don’t let anyone discourage you.  They will try.  This is normal as people tend to be pretty lame and rarely actually know what they are talking about.

Basic Tips/Concepts

The Rules of the Game

Be a Cheater

Consistency

Don’t Stop

Remembering Stuff

Spaced Repetition System

Stages of Learning

Thai Tips

Rhythm

De-Farang-ify

Reading Stuff

How to Start

News

Be a Cheater

June 9, 2010 7 comments

Language learning shouldn’t be a competition and you shouldn’t be graded on the rate at which you progress based on someone else’s program or book.  There are no levels in life.  Words like beginner and advanced are relative.

Learning a language isn’t (rather it shouldn’t be) difficult.  It doesn’t take a genius to speak a language.  Really dumb people talk all the time.  The standard problem which stops most people from getting good at something are the preconceived notions about how things are.  You say it’s hard, but you’ve never even tried.
People say silly stuff all the time like
  • Ooh, you must have a special gift because you are good at _________
  • I’m too old/young to start doing that…..
  • I can’t learn tonal languages because I’m tone deaf
  • I like chocolate
  • Oi, that is a really hard language because blahblahblah
  • I can’t read/watch/listen to that because it’s too hard

The bottom line is you can learn to do anything you want.  It takes time and loads of practice and even more than that it takes discipline and dedication.  There is no secret method or hack that is going to make you a master of something overnight.  It’s just like exercise or playing a musical instrument you gotta keep going.  There is no end.

Cheat.  It doesn’t matter what you do to get there.  You don’t have to read those boring ass Manee books.  Read stuff that you like.  Watch movies or tv shows that you like.  If you don’t know what’s good then ask someone else for recommendations.  If you hate Thai movies, then watch Western movies dubbed in Thai (or whatever language).  Keep plugging away.  If you don’t dig it then toss it and find something else.   Just don’t stop and do it every day.  You’ll get better.  I promise.

You will never understand tv/movies/news if you never watch them.

You will never be able to read a book if you don’t actually ever read one.

LTfaWG – Why study with me?

May 20, 2010 2 comments

I realize that while I have created a number of resources here, much of it isn’t very useful for a beginner that doesn’t know where to begin.  So I’m offering myself to you, dear readers.

Reading is ez!  It takes 1-2 weeks to go through the alphabet and all the tone rules, however, it will take a bit of regular practice before you are able to fully master/internalize everything.   From there we start reading the Wimpy kid books. We start easy with captions and go back and forth with that while drilling essential phrases until you can handle longer passages.  Then I keep feeding you useful language bits while you keep reading and working out the class/tone rules until you no longer need to think about them. I supply you with flashcards with audio for everything so you can review it.

Once you are ready for longer passages, we jump around in the Wimpy Kid books with you reading while I create flashcards for the more useful phrases and tell you what things mean. After you have a decent vocab and have begun to figure out how the language works, you can go off on your own or you can cut back your time spent with me and we can go through the whole book together.

It works slightly better in person because the internet in Thailand isn’t what I would call reliable, but via the magic of skype or google voice/vid chat distance really isn’t much of an obstacle.

Key Points/Strategies in my Method –

  • No Textbooks
  • No Phonetics/Transliteration
  • Only Authentic Material that is Interesting (Wimpy Kid books!)
  • SRS Flashcards (So you can’t forget)
  • No Word Lists
  • Fun Super-Useful Phrases (ie – 100 sentence project)
  • No Pressure
  • More Bang  for your Baht

Stages of Learning

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment

In my experience, there are 3 stages involved in going from the stage where you sort of understand to being able to use something in a language.  You don’t have as much control as you might think and schools and teachers usually have even less. 

We could analyze this stuff much deeper, but I find this to be the easy way to break it down.  We progress through these stages by encountering these words/expressions/sentences in real life (read/heard/tried to use).  Spaced repitition will significantly increase the chance of the words in question staying in your short term memory indefinitely so that when you encounter a situation where it is used…you can remember/use/understand it.

  1. Able to understand the underlying meaning of the question and possibly able to offer a simple answer such as in the case of กินข้าวรึยัง – กินแล้ว  or “have you eaten yet?” — “ate already” but unable to reproduce the original question or even work out for certain the words involved. It is still just a string of sounds which one can’t distinguish between or repeat with any accuracy.
  2. Able to understand the entire meaning and can now pick up most of the words in the sentence and answer properly, but still unlikely to be able to produce the actual question correctly.
  3. After having heard the sentence countless times, with varied repetition, we reach a stage where we can completely understand the question in most if not all of its forms and can now reproduce it naturally (or close to it) as we have heard it used naturally repeatedly for some time now.

Tone Up

April 14, 2009 2 comments

Being able to say the correct tone is great and all, but ultimately if you want to speak ชัด-ly, it all comes down to rhythm.  Reading stuff out loud helps.  Having a native speaker correct you is good also.  If this isn’t convienent, then just having the original audio for a body of text is fine as well.   Start easy.  Look for interesting content.   Listen to it a lot.  If you need help finding interesting content, just ask.  

Here are some easy common examples:  

ไป ไหน มา      common-rising-common

ว่า จะ ใด         falling-low-common

ไม่ ว่าง             f – f

ไ ม่ ได้ ไป     f – f- c

วัน นี้  เหรอ   c-high-r

Learning to Read – Again

March 10, 2009 12 comments

Reading in a new language can seem rather daunting, even painful at times. Some people preach that there are ways around this, but after a year and a half of trying to become fluent in Japanese by reading stuff that would be considered difficult, I haven’t found it yet. The truth is that I don’t read much these days. Getting new English books here always seems to be too much of a hassle. And here I’ve been trying to read whatever Japanese books I could get my hands on. Manga, language learning theories, fiction, old literature, etc. What I’ve discovered is that it was a mistake to read manga or old literature or whatever solely because it was manga (or something) and it was in Japanese. I just wasn’t getting into it. So, what the hell can I read?

Because of the enormous amount of time and exposure required, the last thing we want to spend as little time as possible being bored, frustrated, angry or what not.

I started by asking myself a very important question – “What did I used to read back in the day?”
Lots of Stephen King. So, I went to amazon.jp and ja.wikipedia.org and started to read about Stephen King books that I’ve read in the past and know pretty well. Reviews, summaries, character descriptions, etc. And its been great. Even though every single page has plenty of words that I don’t know, I know enough that can skip as many of those words as I want. I mine everything for sentences of things that I want to see again in my SRS. But the two most important things going on here are that I’m enjoying reading, and I am READING. I only read as long as it stays interesting. If I start spacing out or getting bored or frustrated…I do something else, or go look for something else to read. I can always come back to the current one if I feel like it.

So anyways, I’ve devoured a lot of Stephen King stuff in the past few days and tonight I’m poking around summaries of Star Wars and Robocop. I also really wanna get my hands on some of the Jp translations of SK’s books.

Anyways, how does this help you? Well, I’d say Thai is more limited than Japanese as far as I know in regards to translations from English when it comes to books. However, there are loads of movies and tv series to work with. So as I’m writing this, Lost is on tv so I figured that was good enough to start with. If you watch that, or Prison Break, Heroes or what not, we might have some material to work with.

So again, how do we go about reading this stuff when we still suck? And don’t forget we are mining SRS material as we go. Let’s do some a couple quick lines…

First sentence from the Prison Break Wiki
Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์แอ็กชัน ดราม่า ทางโทรทัศน์ ออกอากาศครั้งแรกทางช่องฟ็อกซ์
This one is full of SRS goodness. What have we got?

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์  – PB is a series

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์แอ็กชัน PB is an action series

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์ดราม่า PB is a drama series

Prison Break เป็นซีรีส์ ทางโทรทัศน์  PB is a tv series

PB เป็นซีรีส์ออกอากาศครั้งแรกทางช่องฟ็อกซ์ – PB is a tv series that was first broadcast on/by Fox.  

Get the idea yet?  Let’s look at the the first line from the Lost Wiki.  A bit longer you may notice.  

Lost เป็นดราม่าซีรีส์ที่อเมริกา ที่มีเนื้อหากล่าวถึงผู้รอดชีวิตจากอุบัติเหตุเครื่องบินตก บนเกาะลึกลับ 

See anything from the Prison Break sentence in this one?

Lost เป็นดราม่าซีรีส์ – Lost is a drama series

Lost เป็นดราม่าซีรีส์ที่อเมริกา – Lost is a drama series in America

Lost เป็นซีรีส์ ที่มีผู้รอดชีวิตจากอุบัติเหตุเครื่องบินตก = Lost is a series about survivors of a plane crash

Lost เป็นซีรีส์ ที่มีผู้รอด เครื่องบินตก บนเกาะ – Lost is a series of plane crash survivors on an island

บนเกาะลึกลับ – on a mysterious island 

Tear apart the sentence until its only got 1 thing it in you don’t know.  And if you are still trying to practice reading at a basic level then keep the phrases really short, but don’t waste time with single words.  Words out of context are forgotten too easily.   There isn’t anything wrong with having a few of the same sentence with only one word changed.

Now, go try and skim through a few of those.  Set goals.  Mine 3-5 flashcards/day.  You don’t need to SRS everything and there isn’t much point to try to do too much at once anyways.  Just SRS stuff that you see a lot of and want to remember or anything that jumps out at you. Its always ok to delete sentences later.  And when you get up into the thousands – you will, often.

How to SRS Better – Making Good Flashcards that Stick

January 24, 2009 2 comments

Start simple, but not too much so.  We usually want to learn words in phrases because without them you won’t know how to use the word properly.  We use the SRS to keep those patterns fresh enough in our mind so they stay at the fringes where things are hard to pull back, but just close enough that we can reel them back in when we encounter them.

Don’t put a whole lot of crap you don’t understand into a card.  This won’t help you.  Neither will overloading yourself so much with SRS cards early on that it makes the task too stressful.  One or 2 new points per card.  Build on what you know.  Its ok to build on cards you already have as long as you don’t make them too long.   Trust me on this, I suspend cards all the time because they are boring, too long, or for whatever reason they don’t seem to wanna go into my head.  Whatever the reason, suspend them or get rid of them.  You don’t need it now, that’s all.

As per Bob’s request, here is an example plus clarification in how to go about making good SRS cards.

Here is something I just grabbed from the news…

ตำรวจฮ่องกงจับชายผู้หนึ่งหลังขับรถพุ่งเข้าชนรถแท็กซี่ทำให้มีผุ้เสียชีวิต 6 คน

This sentence is long.  You probably won’t ever want a card this long.  When you can read stuff like the above sentence no problem, you should already be reading books and the news like a normal literate person.

But lets say you struggled through the above sentence and wanted to break it up into managable chunks that you can review in your SRS.  This sentence can be broken up quite nicely actually.

ตำรวจ ฮ่องกง จับ ชาย ผู้ หนึ่ง – police-HK-arrest-male-person-one (HK police arrested one male..)

Its still a bit wordy and a bit strange because its a headline.  Let’s say you kn0w the word for police – ตำรวจ, but this is your first time encountering the word จับ.  Since police are often doing the จับ-ing, we could google that to search for more examples, or we could just fill in the blank if we know any words for bad guys.

For example, if you learned the word pirate from my bad joke post, you could say:

ตำรวจ จับ โจรสลัด – police captured the pirate(s)

Now thats a lot easier to grasp.  3 words.  1 or 2 new words per SRS entry is ok.  Don’t put in a sentence full of stuff you don’t understand.  You need comprehensible input, reviewing a sentence you don’t understand at all won’t help much and will cause frustration later.

And there isn’t anything wrong with reinforcing that card with other cards that are similar.  So you may even have another card that says ตำรวจ ฮ่องกง จับ ผู้ร้าย – (HK police catch crimnal).

Mess around with the cards.  You can always delete cards later if you don’t like them.  Cards that stress you out when you encounter them are cards you aren’t ready for.  The point of the cards is to keep the information accessible in your brain via exposure.

Other parts of the original sentence which are worthy of SRS-ing:

  • รถพุ่งเข้าชน
  • มีผุ้เสียชีวิต 6 คน or ทำให้ มี ผุ้ เสียชีวิต 6 คน (caused the deaths of 6 people)
  • ขับ รถ ชน รถแท็กซี่ (crashed a car into a taxi)

Anyways, I hope that helped.  As with anything else, you will get better at SRS-ing with practice.

Rules to follow:

  1. Reviewing is more important than adding
  2. Its ok to delete or suspend cards that cause you to not want to review
  3. Its gotta be a daily thing – no matter how busy you are, spend 2 min and do 5 cards a day at the very least.  Do more when you can, but don’t ever do none.

If you want to read up more on SRS-ing, check out Antimoon’s site here.