Posts tagged: Jay Chou

Thoughts on Language Learning (Part 1 of ?)

People have been mentioning learning Japanese by watching anime. Personally, I never really got into the whole anime/manga craze, but I did learn a lot of Japanese by listening to Japanese pop songs. How effective are these, actually, though?

JPop songs are certainly not an unreasonable place to pick up vocabulary. You listen to enough songs, look up enough translations, notice enough patterns, and you begin to get a feel for a not-small body of vocabulary as well as a little bit of grammar, if you think hard enough. Chinese pop songs, on the other hand, are a different matter: there are no tones to the words when sung, so trying to pick out vocabulary is kind of futile unless you look up lyrics on sites that have both the Chinese characters and their romanization (pinyin). For example, in a song by Jay Chou (周杰倫, zhōu jié lún) called “Shanghai 1943″ (上海一九四三, shàng hǎi yī jǐu sì sān), he uses the phrase 消失的 (xiāo shī de), which means “that which is lost.” Given that he is talking about time, it would not be unreasonable to mistake his lyrics for the phrase 小时的 (xiǎo shí de), which means “of the time when [I] was little,” because the spellings for the two phrases are exactly the same, although in spoken Mandarin, the two phrases have different tones to mark the difference between the two.

Anime/dramas, then: I admit that I don’t watch much anime, but it seems like it uses very stereotypical speech styles. For example, pretty much all the girls talk the same way, instead of having different speech styles that might reflect varying levels of tomboyishness among them (as I understand it). Dramas also seem to have this problem, although perhaps to a lesser degree? (I’m really not sure, myself.) However, anime/dramas do have the advantage of actually being spoken language as people would usually speak (although again, I feel that anime is more stereotypicalized, and people who are excited sound really excited).

I also noted that learning a language from a book or other standardized material, without a real, live, teacher, is somewhat difficult. Such books are written for general consumption (om nom nom?), but a good teacher will draw upon knowledge that the students already have. For example, in the Japanese-learners meetup this weekend, I gave examples in Spanish and in Chinese for the benefit of the people who knew something about either.

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