Tag Archives: conversation

How Japanese People Learn English…And Why it Isn’t Working

The golden rule of English teaching pedagogy in Japan: The more blond your hair and pointy your nose, the better you are at teaching English. Also, and saying "OH" in English is hilarious.

As the Asia Times has previously reported, Japanese people aren’t so hot at learning English compared to their East Asian peers:

Indeed, the average score of Japanese candidates sitting for the Test of English as a Foreign language (TOEFL) ranks lowest among all Asian nations except North Korea. In fact, Japan ranks just below Myanmar.

Now that’s pretty bad, but perhaps just using the TOEFL isn’t a good measure of English ability? What about using the results form another test by Education First where Japan scores fairly high (ranked 14 out of 44) rather than bottom of the pack? But at the same time, the Education First test apparently does little to test speaking and listening skills.

Obviously, then, what the people of Japan need to work on is English communication. Talking with Westerners. Speaking both with and like other native English speakers. Learning about western culture. Making that Western culture a real part of their lives. You get the picture. If they want to speak like us, they need to be like us.

Clearly.

So I decided to do some research of English learning resources targeted at Japanese speakers. And while I had originally planned on doing some real, serious research that would uncover the dark conspiracy that is keeping Japanese people from learning English, that quickly ended when I found a certain DVD on “Dangerous English” by American-born gaijin talent Dave Spector:

DVD cover to "Dave Spector's Dangerous English" 「デーブ・スペクターの使うとヤバ~イ英会話」

You might be wondering what in the world the Japanese would consider “Dangerous English.” Luckily, there’s a wonderful trailer available on Youtube. Enjoy.

If you don’t know Japanese, the premise of the entire DVD is pretty simple: it’s nothing but a bunch of puns from either Japanese words that sound like dirty English words (or occasionally, from terrible mispronunciations of English words that the Japanese speaker can’t say correctly). For example, all the men in the restaurant in the video around 3:30 start dropping their pants after the girl makes a certain, unfortunate pronunciation error on the word “cook.”

And putting aside the issue of a large number of men dropping their pants in a public restaurant around a Japanese girl, the over-the-top stereotypes of American are also pretty hilarious. Suffice to say, I wanted to find the whole video—I couldn’t let my research on English learning material for Japanese people end with a infomercial! Since Amazon doesn’t ship the DVD outside of Japan, I managed to find a great solution—online video rentals.

Enter, Videx.

Unlike some other video rental sites online, Videx doesn’t seem to be super-restrictive on what country you’re from—at the very least, non-Japanese IPs are able to access and purchase content—which is better that most Japanese-targeted sites. So making one of the strangest rental purchases of my life, I downloaded and watched the full “Dangerous English” video.

It was… interesting. Basically, the same stuff as on the trailer, but more of it. I didn’t feel totally satisfied in my purchase until the end of the video, though, when we the viewers are treated to “Top 5” lists of curse words in English for both men and women. Here’s the list for women:

Top 5 curse words for women. The bubble reads, "Say it out loud!"

Gotta love that flawless proofreading that only those suns of bitches down in Japan can so consistently provide.

And, the list for men:

Top 5 for men. Which one of these words is not like the other...?

I can’t say I use “cock titty balls sucker” as much as the other words on the list, but perhaps I’ll have to make an effort lest I be labeled as un-American.

The takeaway from the video was a dual message, one about American culture, and one about the English language in America. First, that all Americans carry guns, and therefore talking with an American is dangerous, as you’ll be at a high risk for murder should you choose to do so. The gun stereotype sounds pretty over-the-top, but you’d be surprised. I once had a conversation with a Japanese girl:

GIRL: So do you have a gun?

ME: Uh, no?

GIRL: Really?? I thought everyone in America had one…

ME: Um, I think you’re mistaken.

GIRL: Is your gun locked up somewhere?

ME: I don’t own one at all.

GIRL: But your parents own guns, right?

ME: No! In fact, I don’t know anyone who owns a gun at all.

GIRL: Wow, no way! *Insert stereotypical Japanese-sounding OOOOooh sound here*

In the end, she seemed pretty disappointed. I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe I was actually American after that. I didn’t have an American flag hanging up in my room either after all!

The second message in the vide about language was that adding the word “fuck” every 2-3 words is a proper, American tradition. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, I can’t exactly disagree with that, though.

Although I have gotten offtrack after writing this post, one possible conclusion is: I would hesitate to recommend Dave Spector’s DVD for the serious learning of English.

Hope that helps!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, Language

Using Pimsleur to Jumpstart your Language Learning

Alternate Title: Why Repeating “I am going to eat” 40 times in 30 minutes will help you learn Japanese.

About two months into my Japanese 101 class in college, I had made it a habit of going to office hours to practice my Japanese. I was a bright-eyed freshman, and I was eager to show off the breadth of my Japanese vocabulary—all 10 words or so. Nonetheless, I dutifully showed up every week, and I recall at one point in conversation I used the phrase けっこうです (kekko-desu / That’s fine) in response to something my teacher said—a phrase we had not yet explicitly covered in class, but something I had picked up using Pimsleur.

Now, this is nothing to write home about, but my teacher responded positively, telling me she was impressed at how even with my limited vocabulary, I was able to effectively communicate my thoughts in Japanese compared to some of my peers. This turned out to be a very good thing in the end, as I was able to score a very good recommendation letter from this same teacher for an intensive Japanese program that summer—which I got into!

I attribute a lot of my success in Japanese 101 to having used Pimsleur outside of class, so it’s worth going over.

What is Pimsleur, and how does it work?

Pimsleur is a well-known audi0-based language learning course for beginners that’s available in a variety of languages, and I know I’m not the first person to write about it. Nonetheless, for Japanese consists of the following:

  • Three levels with 30 audio-lessons in each level (for a total of 90 lessons). Each lesson is an audio track about 30 minutes long.
  • When the lesson beings you listen to a dialogue. Then you repeat the words from the dialogue after a native speaker multiple times.
  • Once you have the word down, the narrator will prompt you in English to either repeat a word, or use the correct phrase in response to some scenario.
  • Do one lesson a day, making sure you successfully repeat about 80% of the time.

All of this takes place over the course of 30 minutes, and by the end of the lesson, you should be able to understand and use the phrases from the dialogue from the beginning of the lesson.

Pimsleur seems to offer free sample lessons on its website, so if you’re curious, I’d give one a try in the language of your choice. If you’re interested in what the Japanese lessons specifically will offer you, you can find unofficial transcripts for all 3 levels right here.

Why Pimsleur is worth your time

For the absolute beginner, this is a great program. You won’t be fluent by the end—after all, 90 lessons amounts to only 45 hours, less than amount of time you’ll spend on your average Final Fantasy game—and you may not be using the most natural Japanese either, but you’ll be able to communicate. In other words, you’ll have formed a powerful knowledge-base for future study.

By being forced to repeat certain tricky grammar constructions or particularly difficult-to-pronounce words over and over, you smooth out any language problems you might have had. Furthermore, actually speaking puts your language ability to the test: it’s all too easy to read over some Japanese and believe you understand it, but then when it comes to say it out loud, you get tongue-tied and confused.

I have seen people point out that Pimsleur is boring, but I’ve never found this to be the case for me. Figuring out the syntax and construction of sentences from pure audio is difficult, especially when the built-in pauses during the audio are short enough to keep you on your toes. Remember, you want resistance when you study, and as a complete language beginner, you will be challenged when using Pimsleur from scratch.

Plus, unlike shadowing, there are no prerequisites to using Pimsleur: it’s a self-contained course for the pure beginner, and can be used alone or in conjunction with your basic-level college course or textbook. With Pimsleur, you will memorize the heck out of a small number of words and sentences, and you will see a difference in your language ability.

Why this works over other study methods

Beyond the usual marketing-sounding stuff you’ll find about the “Pimsleur method” on the official website, it works because you spend 30 minutes a day, every day. That takes some serious commitment—I know I have trouble sticking to a daily schedule with regards to most things. When you self-study, it’s easy to put off for later; with Pimsleur, you’re forced to keep at it, and that’s what makes the difference.

In a future post I’ll be going over some ideas for reading and writing Japanese.

1 Comment

Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language, pimsleur, Self-studying

In-Depth: How to use Shadowing to Study Japanese

Alternate title: Good language learners copy; great ones steal.

In a comment on my last post about incorporating resistance into your studying, Peke Penguin (author of a bilingual Japanese-English story about the (mis)adventures of Peke) points out that well-known fact that immersion is the best way to really learn a language fluently.

Of course, for many language learners the chance to visit our target country—in this case Japan—is not always a simple feat. Visiting is costly, and without sufficient preparation or basic understanding of Japanese, going abroad could just as easily be unhelpful as well. Thus, today let’s consider one of the best ways to practice real and useful Japanese right from our very homes.

What is Shadowing, and how does it work?

C&B Comic

Your shadowing goal: be that human echo!

Prerequisites:

  1. Know Kana and some basic Kanji.
  2. Have a decent grasp of basic Japanese grammar.

Shadowing means repeating. You hear something in Japanese, and you repeat it. That’s it! Of course, this is easier said than done.

By repeating something, you demonstrate you have some knowledge of what was just spoken. Otherwise, you would just be repeating a series of random sounds, which would be much harder, if not impossible. When you repeat, you’re practicing both your listening and speaking skills at the same time.

Furthermore, you can take your repeating one-step further by repeating not when the audio you want to repeat is finished, but while the audio is being spoken you begin to repeat. This is the key part of shadowing that makes it difficult and useful when learning the language; remember, you’re aiming for resistance. Let’s use an example:

Say you’re practicing the following conversation:

A: 何、これ。食べ終わったら片付けなさい!

B: あー、それまだ食べかけなんだから、おいといてよ。

[audio https://sites.google.com/site/coldfrost/files/ShadowingExample.mp3]

To shadow this conversation, follow these steps:

1. Understand the conversation. Once you do, never look at the English text again.

A: What’s this? If you’ve finished eating then clean everything up!
B: Ah, but I haven’t finished yet; just leave it.
2. Listen to the conversation.
3. Listen to the conversation, and repeat after it has finished.
4. Listen to the conversation, and repeat after person A has finished speaking (yes, you will be repeating while the conversation is still going on) while looking at the Japanese text.
5. Listen to the conversation, and repeat after person A has finished speaking without looking at the Japanese text.
6. Repeat this process until you can complete step 5 fluently and easily.

And that’s how shadowing works.

Why use shadowing to study Japanese

Shadowing is not as easy as it may seem, especially if you’re going to be shadowing more complicated or longer dialogues. The point is to find dialogues that contain just a few words at most that you don’t know; you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with something too difficult for your level.

However, by repeating to the point where you can repeat the dialogue with ease without needing to look at any text, you will have effectively internalized the dialogue and you will find yourself using it in actual conversation without even realizing it. Effective shadowing does not require memorization, but does require enough practice to force the structures and vocabulary used in the sentences into your head.

Since these are authentic Japanese-sounding conversations, you won’t have to worry about wrestling with which grammar rule to use or word to chose when speaking; you’ll have already internalized a sentence or structure that expresses exactly what you need to say. Remember, good language learners copy, but great ones steal.

So where do I get good material for shadowing?

An excellent question—I realize I’ve been going on about real Japanese, but have failed to actually say where this material is located.

Good shadowing material can come from anywhere. Listen to your favorite anime—maybe just a line or two of dialogue—write down the dialogue, and start repeating it. Or maybe the lyrics from your favorite Japanese song are worth shadowing if they seem useful enough; you can use shadowing with any authentic Japanese spoken material.

If you’re looking for a little more guidance, however, I’d recommend the following books, available from the White Rabbit Press:

I own both of these books, and I find the dialogues in them to be incredibly useful. Plus, these are made for shadowing specifically, so you should have no trouble getting started if you decide to purchase them. The conversation example in this post was taken from the beginner-level book.

I hope this helps you! Next up I will discuss my feelings on the ever-popular Pimsleur series, and how you can use it effectively in your studies.

C&H Comic 2

Just don't try and go too quickly!

6 Comments

Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying, Shadowing