Posts tagged: Japanese

“元素” (Elements) Lyrics and Translation

So recently there was an article on boingboing titled “The Elements Song (Tom Lehrer tune), Super Cute Japanese Version,” which featured two 13-year-old girls singing “元素” [genso]*, meaning “element” (Japanese doesn’t have articles or plural forms of nouns), a Japanese rendition of the well-known tune “The Elements” by Tom Lehrer. Because it is awesome, I’ve decided to transcribe the lyrics and translate them (obviously, for most of the song, the translation is fairly obvious) here. First, I’ve made a table of the elements in the order that they are sung — unlike Tom Lehrer’s version, there are no extra words like “also”, etc, so these are the lyrics to most of the song — with chemical symbol in the left column, Japanese name (as written in the youtube video — there are alternate ways to write some of the names, which I’ll talk about later) in the middle column, and Hepburn romanization in the rightmost column, followed by the final sentence in the song….

Sb アンチモン anchimon
As ヒ素 hiso
Al アルミニウム aruminiumu
Se セレン seren
H 水素 suiso
O 酸素 sanso
N 窒素 chisso
Re レニウム reniumu
Ni ニッケル nikkeru
Nd ネオジム neojimu
Np ネプツニウム neputsuniumu
Ge ゲルマニウム gerumaniumu
Fe tetsu
Am アメリシウム amerishiumu
Ru ルテニウム ruteniumu
U ウラン uran
Eu ユウロピウム yuuropiumu
Zr ジルコニウム jirukoniumu
Lu ルテチウム rutechiumu
V バナジウム banajiumu
La ランタン rantan
Os オスミウム osumiumu
At アスタチン asutachin
Ra ラジウム rajiumu
Au kin
Pa プロトアクチニウム purotoakuchiniumu
In インジウム injiumu
Ga ガリウム gariumu
I ヨウ素 youso
Th トリウム toriumu
Tm ツリウム tsuriumu
Tl タリウム tariumu
Y イットリウム ittoriumu
Yb イッテルビウム itterubiumu
Ac アクチニウム akuchiniumu
Rb ルビジウム rubijiumu
B ホウ素 houso
Gd ガドリニウム gadoriniumu
Nb ニオブ niobu
Ir イリジウム irijiumu
Sr ストロンチウム sutoronchiumu
Si ケイ素 keiso
Ag gin
Sm サマリウム samariumu
Bi ビスマス bisumasu
Br 臭素 shuuso
Li リチウム richiumu
Be ベリリウム beririumu
Ba バリウム barium
Ho ホルミウム horumiumu
He ヘリウム heriumu
Hf ハフニウム hafuniumu
Er エルビウム erubiumu
P リン rin
Fr フランシウム furanshiumu
F フッ素 fusso
Tb テルビウム terubiumu
Mn マンガン mangan
Hg 水銀 suigin
Mo モリブデン moribuden
Mg マグネシウム maguneshiumu
Dy ジスプロシウム jisupuroshiumu
Sc スカンジウム sukanjiumu
Ce セリウム seriumu
Cs セシウム seshiumu
Pb namari
Pr プラセオジウム puraseojiumu
Pt 白金 hakkin
Pu プルトニウム purutoniumu
Pd パラジウム parajiumu
Pm プロメチウム puromechiumu
K カリウム kariumu
Po ポロニウム poroniumu
Ta タンタル tantaru
Tc テクネチウム tekunechiumu
Ti チタン chitan
Te テルル teruru
Cd カドミウム kadomiumu
Ca カルシウム karushiumu
Cr クロム kuromu
Cm キュリウム kyuriumu
S 硫黄 iou
Cf カリホルニウム karihoruniumu
Fm フェルミウム ferumiumu
Bk バークリウム baakuriumu
Md メンデレビウム menderebiumu
Es アインスタイニウム ainsutainiumu
No ノーベリウム nooberiumu
Ar アルゴン arugon
Kr クリプトン kuriputon
Ne ネオン neon
Rn ラドン radon
Xe キセノン kisenon
Zn 亜鉛 aen
Rh ロジウム rojiumu
Cl 塩素 enso
C 炭素 tanso
Co コバルト kobaruto
Cu dou
W タングステン tangusuten
Sn スズ suzu
Na ナトリウム natoriumu
Lr ローレンシウム roorenshiumu
Rf ラザホージウム razahoojiumu
Db ドブニウム dobuniumu
Sg シーボーギウム shiiboogiumu
Bh ボーリウム booriumu
Hs ハッシウム hasshiumu
Mt マイトネリウム maitoneriumu
Ds ダームスタチウム daamusutachiumu
Rg レントゲニウム rentogeniumu
Cn コペルニシウム koperunishiumu

The final line of the song is “これが今ま派遣された全てな元素の集まりです” [kore ga ima made haken sareta subete na genso no atsumari desu], which roughly translates to “this is all of the elements collection that have been sent up ’til now.”

Here comes the random spew of notes about the song, transcription process, translation process, etc: the order of the elements is the same as in the original, but there are more of them, which have been tacked on to the end of the song. In fact, the last element in the song is new enough that when I was going through and checking my transcription/romanization using WWWJDIC, I found that the dictionary didn’t have it. And in checking the transcription/romanization, I ended up finding two mistakes. I’m also considering giving this mass of katakana to my Japanese-Learners students for practice. How about it, guys?

Anyway, to the last line: it’s hard to get the number of syllables exactly right for everything, so some of the vowels are stretched out when sung. The problem is, in Japanese, the length of the vowel is a differentiating trait between words. The final line is sung with extra elongated vowels (so that it sounds like “haaken saareta”), but given that we’re probably trying to approximate the last part of the original “The Elements” song, I settled on the word 派遣 [haken] (defined in WWWJDIC as dispatch/send) as the noun to form the compound verb “send” when combined with された [sareta], the perfect/past form of the potential form of する [suru], meaning “do.” Thus, the combination “派遣された” [hakensareta] roughly means “was sent,” and it modifies the noun phrase “全てな元素の集まり” [subete na genso no atsumari], where 全て [subete] means “all”, な [na] is a nominal-connecting particle, 元素 [genso] means “element” (or, as pointed at near the beginning of the post, could be interpreted as “the elements” because of the lack of articles and plural noun forms in Japanese), の [no] is the other nominal-connecting particle, and 集まり [atsumari], derived from the verb 集まる [atsumaru], which means “gather up” or “collect”, means “collection.” Thus, the noun phrase can be translated as “all of the elements collection,” and since it is modified by “派遣された” [hakensareta], I translated that chunk of the sentence as “all of the elements collection that have been sent.”

As for the rest of the sentence, これ [kore] is a demonstrative that means “this” (and here refers to the aforementioned elements, of course), が [ga] is a subject marker that indicates that “これ” [kore] is the subject of the imperfect, distal copula, です [desu], at the end of the sentence. And the “今まで” [ima made] component of the sentence can be broken into 今 [ima], meaning “now,” and まで [made], a particle meaning “until.”

So now, some comments about the names of the elements, because I find them somewhat intriguing: most of the element names are from English, German, or Chinese, as exemplified in アルミニウム [aruminiumu], アンチモン [anchimon] (from “Antimon”), and ヒ素 [hiso], respectively. Okay, so the completely katakana names have origins that are fairly obvious — they’re nipponizations of either English or German, mostly (I’d say all, but some are potentially ambiguous, and superlatives are difficult to support). A handful of elements share the exact same kanji as their Chinese counterparts: Fe/鉄 [tetsu], Au/金 [kin], Ag/銀 [gin], Pb/鉛 [namari], and Cu/銅 [dou]. Another handful of elements are derived from the Chinese: As/ヒ素/砒素 [hiso], I/ヨウ素/沃素 [youso], B/ホウ素/硼素 [houso], Si/ケイ素/珪素/硅素 [keiso], and F/フッ素/弗素 [fusso]. (All of the non-素 [so] 漢字 [kanji] are not considered common kanji, according to WWWJDIC.) Going down the list one at a time, then: 砒 is pronounced pī​ and means “arsenic” in Chinese, which is where the Japanese pronunciation derives from. The Chinese word 沃 is pronounced wò​ and means fertile/rich/irrigate; again, Japanese pronunciation derives from the kanji and is thus written with katakana because it’s a loan word of sorts. Oddly, the Chinese 硼, which does mean “boron,” is pronounced péng​, so this nipponization is beyond me…. Both 珪 and 硅 mean “silicon,” though the first character has a radical that is generally used with precious materials and can refer to a “jade tablet” (according to MDBG), while the second character refers specifically to the chemical element and is the character used in the Chinese periodic table; both characters are pronounced guī​, for which the nipponization makes sense again. Finally, we have 弗, pronounced fú​ and meaning “not” in Chinese (according to MDBG), though the meaning of the 漢字 [kanji] in Japanese is “dollar” (according to WWWJDIC); the pronunciation makes sense, but I’m unsure as to the rationale behind the meaning….

Of course, some of the names are original to Japanese: H/水素 [suiso] meaning “water element,” O/酸素 [sanso] meaning “sour/acidic element,” N/窒素 [chisso] meaning “plug-up/obstruct element,” Br/臭素 [shuuso] meaning “stinky element,” Hg/水銀 [suigin] meaning “liquid silver,” Pt/白金 [hakkin] meaning “white gold,” S/硫黄 [iou] meaning “yellow sulfur” (the first character is the same as the Chinese character for elemental sulfur, while the second character means “yellow”), Zn/亜鉛 [aen] meaning “come-after lead,” Cl/塩素 [enso] meaning “salt element,” and C/炭素 [tanso] meaning “charcoal/coal element.” The hypotheses for nitrogen and zinc that Ben came up with on zephyr follow:

[Nitrogen] blocks oxidation and/or breathing.
Traditional early experiments in such things involved burning metal in a confined volume of air, allowing one to measure that 30% of the air’s mass was added to the metal and 70% was left unreacted. Isolation and further study of that remaining portion shows that it obstructs breathing, etc..

I think it has to do with the refining process — if you have mixed zinc and lead ore, the lead will reduce out first, but if you go to higher temperature (???) then the zinc will come off.

So there you have it. “The Elements” song in Japanese!!

* Japanese in this post is followed by the Hepburn romanization in brackets, as it is through most of the blog.

Language Classes Update #5

For the last class and the upcoming class (which is over a week from now), we’re going over homework worksheets in class. Last time, there were just a few exercises, but I still managed to make a mistake or two (one was debatable, because we did manage to come up with an explanation for the slightly unexpected sentence).

While writing up the homework assignment for the next class, I tried to maintain a balance of grammatical forms, to keep them equally fresh in the students’ minds. Some of the sentences are to be translated from Japanese, some into Japanese; some of them use the distal form, some the direct form; the vocabulary words used are picked from as many different sets of vocabulary as possible: some are colors, some have to do with shopping, some have to do with the weather; some time expressions refer to the date, some refer to the day of the week, some refer to the time of day, etc; so on and so forth. Where possible, I tended towards the more frequently used or irregular vocabulary or measure words, to really emphasize those.

It’s an interesting process, writing worksheets like this, because I get to think about the sizable amount of knowledge that we’ve covered. And yet at the same time, I did have to revise the sentences that came to mind every now and then because they did, in fact, contain grammatical structures or vocabulary that we haven’t covered yet.

Both last time and this time, I threw in a katakana loan word that we hadn’t covered in class, that the students get to sound out and figure out on their own, which I hope adds some entertainment value and a sense of accomplishment in figuring out vocabulary words without having to be taught them or look them up.

Last class session, the students said that going over the worksheet was very useful, and possibly more useful than just the class sessions we’ve had so far where we’ve covered conversations and the grammar and vocabulary contained within, probably because we get to really think about the structure of the sentences instead of just going along with precomposed constructs. If anyone has more suggestions or feedback on what else might be useful to really solidify concepts that students have previously been exposed to, I’d be glad to hear it.

Translation Musings

I was re-watching a Japanese movie recently, and because the last time I saw it, my Japanese was still the self-taught variety, I paid more attention to the translation of the dialogue into the subtitles this time. Considering how ubiquitous this version of the subtitles was, one would normally assume that they had won out over the other crappy translations floating around, but with translations of Japanese material, it was entirely possible that this was simply the most widespread translation that got floated around more than other ones did. Turns out, the latter case seems more applicable. (I will also be making random comments about amusing lines and other thoughts I had during the movie, and not just about translations, in this post.)

One of the amusing lines was “耳落ちるぞ” [mimi ochiru zo], which was delivered in such a deadpan, indifferent tone that the subtitles just didn’t convey. Personally, I think it would’ve sounded ridiculous if it had been said in English.

I should point out to my Japanese classes that “どうしたの?” [doushita no] is a useful phrase: “what’s up?” or “what’s the matter?”, loosely. I should also point out to them two interesting sentence endings that I noticed and didn’t realize were usable. The first was when a girl used the sentence final particle “ぞ” [zo], which was explained to me, by a guy who lived in Japan until the age of 16, that it was the brutish-guy equivalent of “よ” [yo]. Karl likes to refer to it as the “yakuza particle,” but after hearing it in this context, I am really not-confident in the truth of that moniker. The second unexpected sentence ending was when the hospital security guard was speaking to the dark, empty room and said “誰がいます?” [dare ga imasu] with the inflection on “す” [su] that indicated a question. I had always thought that such a usage was fairly girly (and my Japanese 先生 [sensei] may have said as much, too), but maybe not? The guard did not seem particularly effeminate, at any rate.

One scene seemed particularly rife with interesting translations (or maybe I was just managing to pay closer attention, which seems likely). After saying that some previous situation was messed up, the detective then said “今こそ” [ima koso], which I would literally translate as “now too,” meaning that the current situation was also messed up; personally, I find this perfectly comprehensible in context as a translation. The subtitles, though, read “all of it.” Later in the same scene, one guy picks up the phone, hears the voice ask for another guy in the room, and hands the phone to him, at which point the guy who just received the phone says “変わりました” [kawarimashita], which is the distal perfective form of the verb “change,” to indicate that the speaker has changed. The subtitles, though, have been translated as “Hello?” (At some later point in the movie, the new speaker says “今変わりました” [ima kawarimashita] — literally, “now changed” — which gets translated as “Hi, there.”) Finally, in this scene, the verb “消える” [kieru] is translated as “lose,” while it should be more accurately translated as “disappear.” I think “does your connection disappear” makes just as much sense as “do you lose your connection,” and kind of fail to see why this particular choice in translation was made.

I’m also fairly certain that some of the numbers in the movie are mistranslated. A few times when the characters say “50″ the subtitles read “54,” and so on and so forth. And about ninety minutes in, a boy clearly says “あなたとあなたは” [anata to anata wa] which doesn’t get translated at all — the subtitles entirely skip this item in the boy’s list.

Last thing in this mini-rant/examination: when a computer screen displays “明日…のライブ会場に集まれ” [ raibu kaijou ni atsumare] it is translated as “…concert tomorrow” as opposed to “come to the concert venue tomorrow.” I … disapprove.

Language Classes Update #4

(I realized that I was starting to ramble to the ether of my zephyr class, so I’m writing here instead; after all, that’s what we started iron-blogger for, right?)

I’ve updated the website tonight so that it’s all-inclusive of conversations, audio, and vocabulary through last weekend’s class, minus the vocabulary list for last weekend’s class, which I’m not going to worry about posting right away because I want everyone to be studying the vocabulary from the previous classes. Once you start buckling down the vocab, I will try to come up with written homework in the form of grammar exercises, which won’t be as effective if you don’t know the vocabulary that you’re applying the grammar rules to. So learn the vocabulary, and we’ll progress to worksheets in the near future.

This upcoming class, I’m planning on plowing through and finishing up the lesson on time words, and then we will have 1-2 classes to review what we’re covered so far, which is a lot! Seriously, guys, we’ve made it through a lot of material so far. You just need to study it, learn it, and keep it fresh. (Hey, I could recruit TAs for “Introduction to Japanese” for IAP…anyone interested?)

Anyway, I just want to say that we are going to reach the conclusion of a substantial amount of material soon, so just hold on! You’ve made it this far, which is awesome — give yourselves a pat on the back.

Study, study, study, and I’ll see everyone on Sunday.

Thoughts on Language Learning (Part 4 of ?)

I realized this a little while ago, but am only getting around to writing it down now: the reason why people are so confused about this idea of Chinese grammar is because there isn’t any. At least, not in the conventional expected sense as with other languages. You know those rules that you have to learn in other languages about conjugating verbs, so on and so forth? Chinese doesn’t have rules like that. It’s so simple, especially if you’re coming from another SVO-language, which, fortunately, English is. Actually, a significant portion of the day-to-day stuff that gets picked up in language classes are subtler (less widespread, and thus less explicitly taught) grammar patterns that involve very specific vocabulary. For example, how do you use words like “ぜんぜん” or” はず”/”つもり” in Japanese, or words like “because” or “not only…but also” in English, or words like “lo” or “estar”/”ser” in Spanish, or words like “ni” or “manquer” in French. The broadness of applicability varies among these terms, but the point is that the grammar points fall between the extremes: between applicability across the language (e.g. “this is how you conjugate all verbs ending in…”) and very narrow applicability (e.g. “蜻蜓 means ‘dragonfly’ [in Chinese]“).

Indeed, Chinese is full of such grammar points. Most of what is usefully learned in Chinese classes, besides vocabulary, are what I will refer to as “common/useful phrase constructions.” As the examples in the preceding paragraph demonstrate, most languages have these kinds of grammar points, but most other languages also have more widely applicable and necessary grammar points, including, but not limited to, things like verb conjugations, rules for noun-adjective gender/count agreement, etc.

So all this while, I’ve been slightly mystified as to why all I seem to be able to teach are these sorts of “common/useful phrase constructions” in my Chinese class sessions and worrying slightly that information is being imparted more slowly because there’s not more widely applicable grammar information that I can provide. But now that I’ve realized that all languages have this type of information (and in fact, Japanese has both vast tracts of widely applicable stuff to keep in mind and lots of these applicable-to-a-mid-range-of-the-language grammar points, which does make it slightly more annoying to teach), I will continue to teach Chinese as I have been, because this is, in fact, the way to teach this language, in my humble opinion.

Thoughts on Language Learning (Part 3 of ?); Language Classes Update #3

*takes a deep breath* Okay. Here comes a stream of consciousness dump, but I will try to keep it semi-organized and emphasize the main points as I go or else summarize some things at the end.

The stream of consciousness starts with an idea that I’ve been turning over in my head for some time now: holding “office hours” once every week or every other week. Students would have the opportunity to ask questions that they’ve had, or get additional speaking/listening practice. To take this one step further, I could turn these into sessions of interesting lectures (e.g. the lecture on pronouns, which is more FYI and not strictly immediately practically useful). This last approach, however, has the downside of making office hours semi-required in a highly-recommended sort of way.

One student offered the response that I can always be asked random questions over zephyr, and additionally that it would be nice to have more conversation practice during class or after class, if class time might be better spent purely as a information delivery period. The thing is, I’m not really sure that practicing the conversations that we currently go over in class would be all that useful (except in terms of pronunciation, which can, of course, only be improved by practice), and I would much rather have time dedicated to free conversation so that people can talk about whatever their heart desires. (I am, however, still interested in hearing people’s opinions on how useful practicing the provided conversations is for getting material into your heads, or whatever other use y’all might find them useful for.) The problem with free conversation time, though, is that people either don’t or don’t think that they have enough vocabulary/grammar to pull such free conversation off for any length of conversation greater than two or three back-and-forth exchanges.

A response that was offered to this problem was to post a giant vocabulary list that people could study on their own time. Which brings me to my main point, I think….

The exact origin of these language classes has not been widely known until now: during this past IAP, I was talking about my language classes (”Learn Asian!” and “Introduction to Japanese”) with someone in the SIPB office, and she expressed an interest in learning one or more Asian languages, but couldn’t make it to my IAP sessions. Also, there was the point that my IAP sessions were meant to be a primer for learning on your own, and you weren’t expected to come out of them being able to say much, but rather you should’ve come out of them with pages upon pages of grammar notes that would hopefully bring grammar patterns to your attention that your textbook might have otherwise not explicitly mentioned or explained. So my response was that I would be delighted to teach a group of some minimum size (a group too small would feel like not enough results to show for time invested), provided that the group did not expect me to be super-organized about it (i.e. that I could ramble to my heart’s content in a semi-organized/coherent manner about interesting and useful grammar points). The idea was that we would all have an understanding that the class was meant to be low time-commitment and more for everyone’s enjoyment than necessarily really serious, where the teacher (mostly me) would be expected to have solid lessons prepared and the students were expected to have done the preparation and/or homework asked of them.

Well, the classes have evolved since then. And now we’re on the cusp of a decision, because I can’t realistically keep the classes up in their current state. In the spring, I mostly rambled about grammar topics, people took notes and asked questions, and while a low percentage of the material stuck, I think we had fun. This term, I’ve been trying a more steady approach, where I prepare some lesson plans and we slow down a lot in order to give people time to absorb vocabulary and be exposed to actual sentences/conversation during class time. As a result, I’ve had less time to information-dump about things like pronouns, which are not really explicitly discussed in the JSL curriculum, which is what I’ve been taking material from. It feels very slow to me, and yet I still feel as though I am pushing the limits on the expectation level of the students, because I, personally, have been spending more time on the classes, and it does kind of suck to not feel okay asking more of the students.

So my question is really this: how serious are all of you (my students) about the language classes? Would you guys be interested in having any or all of the following:

  • mandatory attendance or a requirement to make it up by scheduling an appointment with me during the following week (people missing classes has caused us to do a little repeating/backtracking when it comes to information-dumping);
  • more class time;
  • more-or-less-required free conversation time before/after class or at some other time during the week, possibly on a rotating schedule so that everyone can make it at least once every other week;
  • office hours, which would be different from semi-required free conversation time in that attendance would not be more/less mandatory;
  • more homework that you are actually expected to complete (mostly vocabulary memorization);
  • in-class vocabulary quizzes;
  • (other ideas?)

Reminder: these are not rhetorical questions that I’ve posed here. I really would appreciate any and all feedback (the main parts of the most important questions that would like responses are bolded).

More thoughts (added 7/22/2010, ~1400h): Basically, the question this all boils down to is this: how serious are you guys about learning this (there) language(s), and how much time are you willing to put in as a consequence of that? We’ve run into what I call “the time problem”: in the end, learning a language requires time, whether on your own or in-class. With the spring term curriculum, you got a lot of information but had to spend copious amounts of time at home studying things that we didn’t explicitly cover in class (such as vocabulary) if you wanted to develop useful speaking skills; if you don’t want to do independent work/studying, you have to commit to more class time; under this current curriculum, we’re spending more time in class per topic than we did in the spring but at-home studying is still highly recommended, if not essentially required. All of these possibilities, of course, assume that you guys are actually interested in acquiring some amount of conversational skill; if you are not interested in such, I am totally willing to back off in terms of seriousness and return to babbling about grammar. On the other hand, if you are interested in actually getting usable conversation skill out of this, I am totally willing and excited to help make that happen. We just need to all be on the same page about what our expectations of this endeavor are.

Language Groups Update #2

I’m going to be lame this week and kind of cop-out of a “more hardcore” post because I’ve been busy dealing with the weather, work, and language groups, which I’ve been investing a lot of time in over the last week and a half or so because of the new website. The new website, which is located in my www, currently features transcripts of the conversations that we’ve practiced in class, to varying degrees of annotation as I have deemed reasonable, audio files corresponding to those conversations, and vocabulary (although I have been slow about getting the Chinese vocabulary list up on the website). I’m planning to add links to youtube videos of the songs that I’ve translated in this blog and link back to my translations, for additional listening exposure. So here’s my new question for y’all: what else do you think you would find useful? Would it be useful for me to link youtube videos and accurate but not word-for-word translations that other people have done?

Language Classes Update

So far, we’ve had the first two weekends of Japanese/Chinese classes for the summer.

In Japanese, the first session actually covered somewhat more advanced material than the second session, owing to a much smaller group the first session who were of at least advanced-beginner level. Thus, the first session we covered the three main categories of words (nominals, adjectivals, and verbals — yes yes I know I’m totally missing particles and other things, hush) and useful verb conjugations, while in the second session, we went over the writing system and a little basic grammar, including particles. Next week I think I’ll bring in my textbooks and we’ll start with basic conversations and vocab-building, so we’ll be following the curriculum here to a degree except for the part where I will randomly throw in more advanced and useful grammar where it makes sense to.

The first Chinese session was mostly an overview of phonemes and introduction to pinyin, although I mostly expect people to pick up pinyin with repeated exposure. (It’s somewhat more lacking in rules than is terribly useful.) During the second session, with a much better showing (just like Japanese-Learners, I guess), we covered tones and learned some basic vocab and grammar, with a practice conversation that I made up on the spot! As Greg Price pointed out, what you want to start learning for conversational purposes doesn’t match what you want to start learning for literacy purposes (e.g. why would you start out with the moderate-to-quite-complicated character for “I”?), so we’re going to be trying to stay more focused on conversational skills, and while I write as many relevant characters as I know on the board during class, it’s mostly for the purposes of exposure and students are not really expected to remember them (except for the two characters that make up “Chinese”: 中文). Thus, for this weekend’s session, we should have more practice conversations, and hopefully we’ll have a workable ratio of actual beginners and people who have some familiarity with the phonemes and/or tones so that partnering up for conversation practice will work well. For Chinese, as opposed to Japanese, I don’t really have a curriculum to follow, so I’m going to be making these conversations up, and I will probably try to theme them, as is frequently the case in language classes. So far I’ve come up with at least two sessions worth of food-related vocab and one session’s worth of weather-related vocab. Help me out here: what other vocab themes and/or useful conversational phrases might y’all be interested in learning?

Private Lessons and Other Classes

So recently I’ve been in talks with another, intermediate-level, Chinese learners group, investigating whether we might merge our groups. On Thursday, we met with a potential teacher for their continuing studies in the fall, and I began to more seriously consider the thought that had occurred to me on Monday, about teaching $language (or $instrument) to small groups of students, more formally (similarly to a piano teacher, getting paid), because the people in our conversation group seem to be primarily those who grew up with Chinese spoken in their households, and then some people with a moderate amount of experience and some with almost none, and the people with almost no experience might benefit from some introductory material, after which they could join the more intermediate group’s lessons.

I’m wondering how much interest there might be in such language/instrument teachers. Certainly there would probably be interest in piano/violin teachers, but I don’t really know how much people might expect to get out of private language instruction, nor how well that would work. Should I join a preexisting educational/tutoring organization and teach classes through an infrastructure that is already set up? Should I consider organizing a group of people experienced in something, and mostly act to pair up interested learners with experienced teachers (while being in the pool of experienced teachers myself)? Should I try to do this as a private instructor, as piano/violin/voice/etc teachers do?

I guess I haven’t really figured out why I want to do this. If it’s purely an interest thing, it might be somewhat fleeting, as with “Learn Asian!” Sure, I taught it for two years, but towards the end of the second instance of the class, I began to realize that I had lost some interest in it. Perhaps I lost interest because people expected things from the class that I wasn’t ready to offer. Perhaps I lost interest because I kept wanting to tie it into cultural observations of the languages, but I didn’t feel like it was really my place to inject my opinions (nor did I really want to express my opinions to a bunch of random people); this last possibility really only occurred to me last night. I’m not sure where I want to take “Learn Asian!” from here. I don’t know if I want to teach it again in an altered form next IAP, or stop teaching it altogether. I’m not sure whether I want to continue teaching or expand my “Introduction To Japanese” class for next IAP, either.

So many questions. Fortunately, there is totally time to figure things out. I would also be interested in hearing from people who might be interested in the IAP class or private lessons what your thoughts might be.

Thoughts on Language Learning (Part 2 of ?)

I was writing an email today, to an alum who is part of a group of Chinese-learners, and it occurred to me that practicing a language conversationally not only helps one keep the phonemes/grammar/vocabulary in shape and readily accessible, it also helps to focus the direction of further acquisition in the language. Back in the day, MIT Medical organized a “cultural language exchange” program: you filled out a form indicating which language(s) you were proficient in and which language(s) you wanted to practice, and they paired you up with someone who was reasonably proficient in the language(s) you wanted to practice. My first pairing was with a native French speaker. As we talked, I realized what sorts of things I liked to talk about, what sorts of things I wanted to say about myself in casual conversation with a new acquaintance, and so on. As I realized what these topics were, I found myself wanting to learn richer vocabulary to talk about them, and thus, where I had been confused and overwhelmed by the vast body of French there was left to learn, I began to develop an idea of the direction for further studies in French (whenever I chose to continue them).

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