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Finding Good Learning Material, Part 3

One other aspect of finding good learning material that I wasn't able to touch on in my last post is the issue of variety.

Let's say that you've found a great, convenient study method for building vocabulary and reading comprehension. You've found a good news site that provides video clips and an accompanying transcript.  You watch the clips, read along, and use an online dictionary or some Firefox plugin to look up the meaning of words that you don't understand. Then you copy those words to your notes or enter them into an SRS program.  You repeat this for 30 minutes a day for 6 months.

At the end of that 6 months, you will undoubtedly be much better at reading and watching clips of current news. But you will probably not be much better at describing the problem you're having...

Narau yori Nareru - Learning Grammar

There's a phrase in Japanese that I love: narau yori nareru (習うより慣れる).  You'll sometimes see this translated as "practice makes perfect", but what I like about this is the way that it's phrased. Narau (習う) means "to learn".  Yori (より) is "rather than".  And nareru (慣れる) means to accustom oneself to something. Given the backwards nature of Japanese grammar, this comes out to mean "to get used to something rather than learning it."

Moreso than the phrase "practice makes perfect", this emphasizes that some things can't be learned by learning.  Some things you have to accustom yourself to.  Laguage is one of those things. 

I used to teach an English Grammar course for Japanese "returnee" high school students.  These were kids who had lived abroad when they...

The importance of collocation

One of the most-overlooked aspects of language learning is collocation.  Collocation is the pattern of co-occurrence of words. In other words, it's which words tend to appear together.

Take a word like “cease”: there are certain set phrases that we associate with the word, such as “cease fire,” “cease and desist”, “wonders never cease”, “cease production”, “cease to exist”, etc.  For a word like “cease”, it’s actually quite rare that someone uses the word at all outside of these well-established phrases. 

It's extremely important to know what words pair with each other. In the past, not many people knew about the idea of collocation. Teachers and textbooks did’t usually provide...

Japanese on tape - my fortuitous beginning

I think that I started learning Japanese in the best possible way.

I started in the 2-3 months just prior to moving to Japan. Without any really good reason or any idea what I was getting myself into, I had applied and gotten hired for a job with the now-defunct NOVA chain of English conversation schools.  I thought I should get started learning Japanese, but with no real idea where to get started, I went down to the local Barnes & Noble and looked through the slim offerings available there.

What I ended up buying was a tape set entitled “Learn in Your Car Japanese”.  The course followed a simple formula: a reader would say something in Japanese, stop, and then another voice would read the translation.  It started out with simple words: “ginkou...

Welcome to PhraseMix!

PhraseMix is a way to learn languages.  It is based on the idea that memorizing phrases is the fastest way to learn.  Here's why:

  • Learning words leaves out so much information.  Some words are used in polite conversation, others only at a bar.  Lots of words occur in pairs or triplets.  Verbs can be transitive or intransitive; nouns can be countable or uncountable.  It's impossible to absorb all of this by learning the "meaning" of a word.
  • Phrases are grammatical.  But unlike explicit grammar study, learning through phrases taps into the mind's natural pattern-detecting capabilities.  As you remember more and more phrases that are built similarly to each other, you will begin to develop a feel for how sentences are formed in the language.
  • ...

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