October 31, 2008


I just looked at the titles of my October posts. That has got to be the most eclectic mix ever. 面白い! Oh and Beyoncé was just on TV here in Japan. Even funnier, there's this recent group that's become somewhat popular. It's a joke kind of. I think. You never know. But it's three Japanese guys dressed up Dream Girls style in matching sequin dresses with big wigs and big makeup. They pretend that they are American girls from a Las Vegas act (I think). It was just funny to see them getting introduced after Beyoncé. But they actually sing an actual song on the show and are treated basically like all the other acts. I bet you can find it at karaoke by now.



最近とても疲れた。よく寝られないからだね。ちょっと病気な気持ち最近は。昨晩も2,3時まで寝られなかった。それから頭もお腹も痛くて学校へ行った。JTEと英語の授業が二回教えた。そうでも、本当に大変だった。給食の後で小学校の授業ある。あのハロウィーンのものをかばんに置いて自転車に乗っていった。小の先生僕を迎えた。今日は二年生だった。すごい準備できた。みんな変装して本当のジャッコランターンがあってハロウィーンの言葉も覚えた。びっくりした。一緒にtrick or treatingの会話を練習した。その後で子供たちが回ってキャンディーをもらった。それからフルーツバスケットした。楽しかった。でもその後で本当に疲れた。普通の時間に仕事から帰った。ついでにレデイで薬を買って西村ジョイで植物をかった。


PS. To English speakers. Sometimes I'm going to start posting here in Japanese to give me a place to practice. Sometimes I'll translate what I wrote or give a synopsis. Today I wrote about feeling a bit sick and tired this week and not have a great day until I went to elementary school and had a great Halloween lesson. But afterwards I was even more tired. So now I'm home relaxing. ;)

October 27, 2008

Language is more than copying

I've been attempting to follow the self-study method described throughout the website alljapaneseallthetime.com. The creator of the site, Khatzumoto, is currently living in Japan and working on acquiring Cantonese. He continues to post his thoughts and ideas related to language learning, motivation, and general self-improvement. I like to comment occasionally.

Recently, he posted a video that he participated in. I disagreed with part of it and left a comment about it and someone else disagreed with me. You can find this below the video. I wrote a response but it ended up being 2 pages long. So I only posted part of it there and said I would put the rest here. So it may be boring for some of you. But this is the kind of stuff I get passionate about. Hence the 2 page response.

I think you missed my point. Yes, it was an ad hoc video. Yes, his answers were off the cuff. But I figured the fact that he stuck with the copying/mimicking connection long enough to leave an impression on me was enough for me to post as I did. If you take a better look, you'll see that I too agreed with his general point and I simply took issue with calling it copying/mimicking. Language is much more complicated than that.

I thought maybe I should have rewatched the video before posting, but I gave listening to Japanese priority to watching another 30 minutes of an English interview. I also figured it would be unfair to rewatch to nitpick it given that it was unrehearsed, unplanned, and unedited. Given your comments I decided to rewatch it to see if I was off base, and I actually found I disagree in whole with Khatz’s relating language acquisition with copying in the way he did. Language is not copying. It is actually highly creative.

(It's not really fair to Khatz to analyze what he said too closely considering it was an unexpected interview and he might not have stated everything he wanted to just as he wanted to. So the rest can just be taken as my take on language acquisition vs. copying rather than a criticism of what he said. That's all it is after all. Just me expanding on my previous comment which I still agree with.)

If we're looking to somewhat recreate a child's experience acquiring their first language through input, then let's look at their baby step's towards fluency.

"Want ball"

If that's not creativity, I don't know what is. And it's not copying. It seems redundant to say so, but I think it's important considering Khatz's statements about mixing and matching the copied parts creatively. Statements I agreed with above but, after thinking about them, have come to disagree with now.

If you are copying, then you are trying to be conscious about your language use (this is different from being conscious about the content of your language). If you are being conscious about your language use, then you are not speaking with fluency. The definition of fluency is not thinking about the language when you are using it. It simply falls out of your mouth and sounds natural/good/correct to native speakers while expressing the ideas you want to express.

If we look at what someone has said, we probably will be able to see how the different parts of the sentence have come from this or that source of input, and maybe this grammatical structure was "copied" but used with this other "copied" structure and used with different vocabulary, etc, etc. But it's actually not copying. This is descriptive linguistics. This is looking at language after the fact and analyzing it and describing it. Language looks like a bunch copied and interchanged parts. But this is not how language works in the brain. And this is not how language is created in a given utterance.

I do understand Khatz's warning about not producing on your own or being creative with the language. It's because you're not a native speaker and you'll like create unnatural phrases. This is at the beginning of your acquisition phase. Eventually, you'll hopefully have had enough input to trust your brain's ability to put together the language in natural sounding ways that correctly represent your ideas.

And I think I just got what perhaps went unsaid or was implied but I didn't catch in the interview. Maybe Khatz can clarify. At the beginning of your acquisition process, you should resist being "too creative" with the language. You're not a native and you haven't had enough input to just produce the language. If you want to talk, try copying what you've heard. If you have to use Japanese in your life, this maybe this is a good idea. But if you don't, then it's probably a better idea to not speak until the words fall effortlessly from your mouth. (Just like your native language.) Until that point, you might have fun or get by using copied phrases. By copying correct phrases you won't be risking the fossilization of incorrect grammar or unnatural wording. But eventually you shouldn't be copying. And you should be able to use the language creatively. That's what being native or near-native is.

Speaking to your nash equilibrium (I had to look that up... I'm not a gamer) time and today's political boundaries and high mobility have created language barriers where they once rarely existed if at all. We have identifiable, distinct languages. Take a look at all the dictionaries and grammars. They're so tangible. But language is not tangible. The fact is, even with something as tangible as a spoon, your spoon is not the same as my spoon. Language, after all, is the imperfect representation of one's ideas. And my mental image and definition of a spoon are not the same as yours. We use the same word and can get along in a conversation about a spoon because our mental images and definitions overlap enough to have mutual comprehension. But if you were at my house and you heard "get the spoon" you might be confused since no soup is in sight, but I would know that one of my siblings was talking about getting a whooping like when we were kids. We got the cooking spoon at my house. To sum up, depending on how you define it, every person speaks a different language from everyone else. It's just that there's enough of an overlap for almost 100% comprehension for everyone who lives within a certain community that we recognize what they're speaking as a single, distinct language. If the meanings of words were copied from person to person, then there would be no difference in meaning at all from person to person and there would be no change in meaning over time and space. This is not so.

"A building site" vs. "A building place". Good example of grammatically correct and dictionary-ly correct, but dead wrong. Again, to come to a level of ability to make the correct word choice here you need to have lots of input. It's not copying. If it was copying, then it means you've memorized this phrase. And unless your willing to memorize a million other such phrases to sound natural, copying won't work for competence in the whole language. Input, input, input.

In a movie, you may consciously take note of a certain phrasing. You hear it later in a conversation. You make a mental note to use that phrase just the same way next time you need it. A week later you have a natural opportunity in a conversation and you think to use the phrase. Great! Good for you. That's one phrase. Assuming that the rest of your conversation went smoothly and wasn't entirely made up of copied phrases, you can thank your input for your ability to get by in the conversation and not your ability to copy.

Sorry, I'm a big old dork and I like linguistics and feel strongly about good methodologies in language teaching/study. Basically, I took issue with calling language acquisition copying. I don't comment all that often here. Sometimes, to agree, sometimes to say thanks, sometimes to expand on a point with my own point of view, and sometimes to disagree. The reason I comment, even when disagreeing, is to keep an intellectual dialog going or to create one. Khatz asks us to comment, after all.

October 21, 2008

Octopus Fishing!!

Well, I never thought I would do it. Well, to be honest, I don't think any of us Americans ever really have it cross our minds. But I went octopus fishing on Sunday! We took a boat from Tadotsu, a town not too far from me, out into the Setonaikai (inland sea) and dropped our hooks in the water and snagged up some of those eight-legged creatures.

Pretty fun day in all. We left around 10 30 in the morning and stayed out until 2 or so. I would have thought that you catch octopuses with traps at the bottom of the ocean. But nope. We all were given rod and reel to catch them. We didn't even need bait. Apparently, fall is the season for fishing for them. And they must be just crawling along the bottom in the thousands upon thousands. Seriously.

The hook is weighted and has several upward pointing hooks. (It actually looks like an octopus itself, but not so much to fool octopuses but probably because it's cute and actually effective.) And once it hits bottom, the octopuses will crawl on it and get snagged. Then you yank it up and reel it in. I think there's a certain feel to it. I caught 6 or 7, but some of the more experienced people caught at least 40 each. And seriously there were more than a hundred boats in our area each with 3 or more people fishing for octopuses. So tons of octopuses. Or tako, as they say in Japanese, pronounced like the mexican food.

And when we were done, all the octopuses were put together and divvied out. So I came home with 25 of the little buggers. We were given a quick demo of how to remove the ink sac by driving your thumb in and ripping it out. (By the way, the demo was done with a live octopus.) So, I had to do this 25 times. At least mine were dead by the time I got home. At least I think so. Some of them were still changing color, like they do. Then I boiled them up and invited my friend Matthew over to enjoy some tako tacos. Yes, I'm even corny with my food.

Here you can see just how easy it was to catch them. These three guys all snag them up in this minute long video. Crazy.

This video is after about 15 or 20 minutes of trying to take the ink sacs out. It was really hard and you can hear me getting frustrated. I would have posted all the videos but it takes so long to get them uploaded. I just chose a few to give you the idea of the whole process. WARNING: Gross video! If you don't like dead things or are squeamish, you might not want to watch this!

Here you can see me finally done de-inking them and boiling them. WARNING: Again dead things. General ickiness. Beware.

And here is the result of boiling them for 20 minutes. They look pretty cute. Like little dancing octopuses.

And voila! The tako tacos! Well not really tacos, but best I could manage in Japan. Even though they look like Pringles, they are corn chips and have the right taste. See if you can spot some tentacles!!

It was quite delicious. I did cheat and mix in some beef, but I didn't think just octopus meat would be enough or have quite the right flavor.

October 15, 2008


Well. It's already time to start thinking about my plans for the future. My original thoughts were to come here for 2 years. When the decision to re-sign or return home came last year, I had some trouble, but ended up staying, obviously. The truth is I'm not so certain about where my life is heading at this point. But I've started making some preparations for returning home. One of them is taking the GRE to have the option of returning home and starting graduate school.

About two and a half weeks ago, I talked with another JET at a party who I knew was planning on taking the test and she said that it she was taking it in a week (so, last Saturday in September). This got me thinking about the application process timeline. And I realized deadlines are already approaching. I think many schools are already accepting applications with deadlines sometime in the winter. I've got to think about having my test scores ready as well as all the accompanying application materials. My friend Alana who lives in Osaka where one can take the GRE was already asking me to come up for the weekend of the 11th (this past Saturday) since another friend of hers was coming to visit. So I decided to check if I could manage a test appointment and luckily there was a spot on Saturday morning, so I could get it out of the way early and enjoy the weekend with Alana and her friend.

I had bought a book for preparing for the GRE back in March I think. But of course I hadn't really started studying with it other than taking a practice test and starting to look at the strategies they suggest for a couple days before getting distracted and putting it aside. But I figured if I waited to sign up for the test until after I'd prepared, I would never get it done. So, I gave myself two weeks to prepare and that was it.

I think I did ok. I'm pretty happy with the score the computer showed for the verbal and math sections. The official scores will come in a few weeks and will include a score for the essay portion. That section was a bit of a mess. There are two parts. The first is an essay in which you analyze a quote of some sort and explain your position related to it giving support with details from your knowledge of the world, literature, history, current events, etc. etc. The second part is an analysis of a brief paragraph usually describing someone's idea for a plan of action or a change in a given situation. You must analyze the quality of the reasoning behind the idea. You have to point out the faults while explaining what sort of information would strengthen the argument.

I think I did fine on the second essay. You have less time, but you're just working with information that's provided. The only stuff you have to come up with is how to make it better. But the first essay, I was stumped. They have two quotes to choose from and I made myself choose quickly. A good step. But then I spent 15 minutes staring at the quote and making a few notes on paper and then typing a few ideas on the screen. Not a good step. Finally with only 2/3 of the time left, 30 minutes, I started really typing. But unfortunately, I only got 2 full paragraphs done and a sad excuse for a third clearly unfinished paragraph. Later when I was thinking about what I wrote, it seems that I had been making a connection in my head (a connection between what I was writing and the original quote) that I don't think I very clearly defined. They say that it's not just about great writing given the short time. But I really don't know if I showed enough of the kind of analytical and academic thinking that they're also looking for in my writing. We'll see.

Anyway, this is the first step to graduate school. But I'm not sure that's where I'll be, come next August. The possibility of staying in Japan a 3rd year has crossed my mind more than once. Right now I'm trying to keep my options open. I don't know if that's good. I think I'd do best to make a definite decision soon and work to accomplish whatever goal I set, rather than half-heartedly go through the motions just to "keep my options open". Being wishy-washy will just have wishy-washy results.

October 5, 2008

A hair.

Did I tell you? The other day I was at school. I was washing my hands after a messy lunch, you know, picking bones out of fish with chopsticks which doesn't really work so I end up using my fingers. Anyway, I look in the mirror and there's something on my ear. So I wipe it off. But it's still there.

It's a hair. On my earlobe. Just one hair. But it's a peachfuzz hair. So it's light blondish. But it's freaking an inch long! Sticking straight out from my ear. I only saw it cause the light hit it just right.

Of course I plucked it. And of course I was wondering just how long it had been growing to such a grotesque length. Thought you might like to know.

That and I went to my second bonsai lesson. I didn't really learn anymore. Just finished up clipping the tree I started last week. And then I started a new tree. Well it's Matt 1's tree. He couldn't take it home with him.

Then I met Hashizume-sensei for dinner. She's the music teacher who retired. But guess what, she's working again! I knew she would find something to get her out and working. She likes being busy. She is filling in for an elementary music teacher on maternity leave. She'll be there for a year she said. But she also has to teach math. So she wakes up at 4 in the morning.

I know, she's crazy. She spends the time getting dressed and then studying the math assignments since she isn't good at them. (Even though, she co-teaches math and the other teacher is the one who takes the lead.) Then at 5 she prepares her and her husbands breakfasts/lunches. I think at 5 30 is her 1st year NHK radio English lesson for a half hour followed at 6 by the 2nd year lesson. Then, she finishes up and heads to school. She cooks 4 nights of dinners and freezes them on Sundays, so when she gets home (maybe around 7 30 or 8) she only has to defrost them. Her husband has taken over some of the cleaning and laundry that she had been taking care of. And she goes to bed at 10 30.

I would say this isn't an uncommon schedule for many Japanese people. They work a LOT. I often hear about teachers who are trying to finish this or that and stay up until 2 in the morning only to get up at the normal time. And there isn't really any sleeping-in ever. That's why there's so much sleeping on the train, I guess. And for the women, it's perhaps a bit tougher, because even they've moved into the workplace as much as in the states, they still are VERY much the person in charge of the kitchen and many inside household duties. And even if some of the responsibilities are shared, it's almost universal that they are expected to get up early to cook breakfast and make dinner when they get home after work. The kitchen is the woman's place. Men here in general have no interest in cooking and never cook (unless they are in the restaurant business).

Well, I guess that post grew longer than I meant to. But yeah. A freaking inch-long hair! Sticking straight out of the side of my ear lobe.