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January 26, 2007


Spotted this on a webpage today. It's pretty unfortunate considering that it's an ad for a language school:

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2007

The Heisig method as a means, not an end

When we English speakers teach kids to read, we start by teaching them the entire alphabet at once. Instead of beginning with the letter E and then teaching them a bunch of 'E' words, then moving on to T, then A, then O, etc, kids start by learning the alphabet and then learn to read words constructed from that alphabet.

This isn't (or shouldn't be) a time-consuming process: the goal is to teach the alphabet so kids can start using it on real words and real reading as quickly as possible. They don't learn every aspect of the language when they learn the alphabet; they're learning the infrastructure they need so they can begin.

The Heisig method is similar. It doesn't create instant kanji experts, nor does it claim to. Instead, learning the kanji via the Heisig method is akin to learning the alphabet: Heisig learners acquire the ability to recognize and write the kanji, along with a semantic hook for each one. By simplifying the work (limiting the task to one kanji + one meaning), the kanji "alphabet" can be learned quickly--and should be. Once this kanji "alphabet" has been learned, the real work of learning readings and compounds begins, and that work should be easier: the learner is already familiar with the kanji and has an approximate meaning, so the rest is often easier to learn.

Heisig's book points out that it's usually quicker for Chinese to learn to read Japanese than for English-speakers. Why? Because they're already very familiar with the kanji forms and approximate meanings, so they can move right on to the good stuff. The Heisig method seeks to provide that same infrastructure for those who don't have that pre-existing kanji familiarity, and to do so quickly.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

Halfway through Heisig 1

Yesterday I reported that I hit the 1000 kanji mark; today I passed the 1021 mark, which is the halfway point in Remembering the Kanji vol. 1. Plus I finished Lesson 27, the longest one in the book (I think). Heisig says it's downhill from here, but that remains to be seen. I'd certainly like to keep up the 100 kanji/week pace, but don't know if I'll be able to swing it.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2007

1000 Kanji

Yesterday I made flashcard 1000 for Remembering the Kanji 1. That's not quite the halfway point (I'll reach 1021 tomorrow) but it IS the 1/3 mark for the whole series of 3 books. It's also a little weird to be writing 4-digit numbers on my cards now too.

Unfortunately, finances won't allow me to go back to weekly Japanese class for a while. To compensate, I'm going to pick up the pace in Japanese for Everyone and try to knock off 2 lessons per month instead of 1.

And to observe the passing of kanji 1000, today's mail brought 漢字そのままDS楽引辞典 (Kanji Sono Mama DS Rakubiki Jiten), software which turns your Nintendo DS into a Japanese dictionary which allows you to hand-draw kanji on the touchpad. From the description and the video it looks pretty handy. Now I just need a Nintendo DS!

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

Language usefulness

Edwin at The Tower of Confusion raises the interesting question of choosing a language based on its usefulness. Often when people try to choose a language based on general "usefulness", they run the risk of missing the correct answer. I don't think that the question is always "What language is most useful?" I think that a much better question would be, "What language is most useful TO ME?"

Here in the US, people will generally tell you that Spanish is the most useful and important language to learn, because "if you learn another language you can get a better job and make more money." So I started Spanish in high school and ended up taking it for all 4 years. I was top of my class and won the school foreign language award.

But in 25 years I've never used Spanish, never have spoken it with a native and probably never could. Here in western Michigan, what is Spanish useful for? It's useful if you want to get a job in bilingual customer service or become a social worker for migrants. Instead, my first career path took me down the path of learning German, Latin, ancient Greek and Hebrew. In practical and monetary terms, Spanish was useless to me (although it did show me how much fun learning a language could be, and made me actually learn English grammar).

Anyone who wants to learn a language based on its usefulness really needs to consider the "TO ME" aspect of usefulness. Do you need to learn a specific language for your current job? Would a particular language help you in a career you want to pursue? Will a certain language assist you in a hobby or line of research that interests you? Do you want to learn one language over another simply for the fun of it or out of personal interest? I think that it's usually better to choose a language based on your specific needs and interests rather than simply choose a language everyone says is most useful and then hope you'll find a use for it.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:24 AM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2007

Remembering (Some of) The Kanji 2006

This year I'm nailing down those 2000 kanji, or 3000 if I have the strength. But first, I wanted to get an idea of where I stand now.

During the summer I reached 940 or so before I ran out of steam sometime in July. I started my 4th comprehensive review in October and reached 950 (the end of lesson 26) just after Christmas. Now it's new territory again.

Over the last few days I reviewed all 950 kanji and was pleased to remember 93% of them. I split off a stack of about 125 I need to review and/or relearn, but I think it's time to move on.

I hate to say it, but I have to give up on reviewing with the Reviewing the Kanji site. It's a great site and I like the forums, but the system doesn't really work for me. I need to have a stack of cards in my hand and judge for myself how well I know them and how/when to review them.

For that matter, the Heisig system itself doesn't work so well for me as-is either. In the Heisig system you are supposed to visualize an vivid story for each kanji which will stick the kanji in your mind; what works best for me is developing a catchphrase for each kanji and reviewing a lot. I don't want kanji in my head attached to images, I want to know them without any images or hooks at all.

Or something like that.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)