Learning a foreign language

Have a textbook or grammar book that you find particularly helpful? What about a learning tip to share with others?
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5313
Joined: Sun 10.09.2005 11:29 am
Native language: English
Gender: Male
Location: Indiana

Learning a foreign language

Post by AJBryant » Sat 04.15.2006 6:43 pm

These two essays are rather long, but they are REALLY full of great advice and information on the language-learning process.

I recommend reading them whether you are new to Japanese study or even an advanced student of the language. Heck, ANYONE studying a foreign language should read these.

Here they are:



I'd love to see some opinions on these.


User avatar
Posts: 696
Joined: Mon 03.28.2005 5:17 pm

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by Shibakoen » Sat 04.15.2006 6:52 pm

3. Prepositions don't fit from one language to another -- Spot on. I think this is one of the biggest difficulties going from English to Japanese and Japanese to English. Our phrasal verbs mess Japanese students up.

Posts: 3061
Joined: Mon 05.30.2005 12:43 am
Native language: 日本語(Japanese)
Location: 東京都

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by coco » Mon 04.17.2006 6:30 am

18 How many words? Being selective is half the secret.
Erik V. Gunnemark さん、45か国語訳したんですか。:o
もっとも頻繁に使われる40語が日常使われる語彙の5割を占めると聞くと、ホッとしますね。(でも実感とはほど遠い)  200語で8割を占めてますか?

User avatar
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat 12.10.2005 10:46 pm

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by TomboyishFF » Mon 04.17.2006 9:59 am

Wow, that felt like opening a door in my brain when I was reading that. I wish I had seen that before starting French.

Thanks for the site.

Why is the japanese language so much more fun than the french language? D:<
Kanji: Crying at how little I know

Posts: 127
Joined: Thu 04.21.2005 12:13 am

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by natemb » Mon 04.17.2006 10:21 am

Wow. I think that was an excellent article (the first). One of it's central points seemed to be this:

You will learn much more by reading (or hearing) a large volume of language and only understanding it roughly than by taking the same time to understand a single sentence perfectly.

I agree with this completely. This is the problem with the way most people (including myself) naturally go about learning a second language. We are not satisfied with a bit of language until we have analyzed it completely and translated it into our own language. This is also the way foreign languages are taught in many places, especially Japan. This is bad because

1. You are constantly switching out of the language you are trying to study and framing things in the way of your native tounge, and because

2. In the time it takes to fully analyze one sentence, you could easily read through 20 sentences more superficially, and get exposed to much more grammar and vocabulary.

If these sentences are the right level for you, you will be picking up a lot of grammar and vocab quite passivley. You will also naturally learn the most important words and constructions first, because you will encounter them the most frequently.

The exception is, of course, if you want to practice your translation skills, like we were doing in the "trial" thread. In that case it is very useful to go through the exercise of analyzing a sentence completely and rendering it in your own language. But, as was said in the article, if you can't understand a sentence, you can't translate it, so for us lower level learners, it's probably better to spend most of time practicing understanding instead of practicing translation. This is why story sites like Tom Ray's are so useful.

I think I will pledge from now on that for every minute I spend posting (in English) about grammar and vocab on this site, I will spend at least 10 just reading stuff in Japanese. Up until now it's been closer to the opposite: read a few sentences in Japanese, come across a new grammar construction, and then talk about it for 30 min. in English.
Last edited by natemb on Mon 04.17.2006 10:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Posts: 133
Joined: Tue 01.17.2006 3:10 am

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by hiraikotsu » Tue 04.18.2006 4:50 am

That was a long essay. only managed to read the first, but it got me thinking about how i've been learning japanese. btw, i only started on it for a few months...

I totally agree with the part about being exposed to a large volume of words and superficially understanding them rather than "completely" understanding a bunch of sentences.
I started learning chinese from the age of six, and spent at least a few years superficially understanding my chinese teachers. Grammar, sentence structures etc were NEVER formally taught. We just listened and applied the language (granted, chinese grammar is pretty similar to english and there are (thankfully!) no verb conjugations etc..)
Now, as an adult trying to learn japanese, somehow, superficially understanding my teacher isn't good enough anymore. Moreover, i realised i've been making the mistake of constantly comparing the language to english (smthg which i never did while learning chinese) .. somehow, i've "forgotten" how to learn a language.

It's a good article, and i will try to put it into practice. Will be going for japanese class later and will sit in "as a child" today ;)

User avatar
Posts: 1656
Joined: Fri 11.18.2005 10:07 am
Native language: English speaking family

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by ss » Tue 04.18.2006 9:02 pm

Yes, those two essays are indeed long, I took almost 4 days to read and now I’m just starting to understand and digest. Every single point is so important. I have so much to write and yet can’t express in a more appropriate way.

When I read point 19 – One has to crawl before one can walk.
I was immediately reminded of with my sensei’s joke when I was asking him to translate some sentences for me one day. After completing his translation, he said in a very soft tone: “You haven’t learned to walk but learned to fly already ........”

I pondered his words for a long time. And eventually came to an understanding :
When we see an elder/senior with a kind and tenderhearted face, this is not someone, somehow can be imitated, that, he has gone through every vivid steps to accumulate.

Leaning a foreign language is not really an easy matter, but not as hard as we think.
If only we set a right attitude and willing to accept great advice and information from the right people. More important, if he could sharply spotted that important advice and information, that’s the person surely we can trust and learn from. ;)

Final advice quoted there :
(d) Never translate into your own language "to be sure you really understand". If you don't already understand you cannot translate.

(e)Never think that a word means the same as another word.

We are grown up in different cultural environment, hence, understanding different cultures from people are extremely essential. Words themselves have so much hidden knowledge that we are ignorant of.

At last but not least, I want to say I have yet so many things to learn from the kind and helpful people here. Very thankful and appreciated.

Machina Maw
Posts: 480
Joined: Sat 01.28.2006 9:39 pm

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by Machina Maw » Thu 04.20.2006 8:40 pm

natemb wrote:
....story sites like Tom Ray's are so useful.
I'm looking at one of these stories, and if it had more kanji I would probably be easier to read. Instead of seeing "所" I am seeing "ところ" and the word is going right over my head. >__<

Posts: 186
Joined: Sun 03.26.2006 8:47 pm

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by queshaw » Sat 04.29.2006 5:12 pm

When I first saw this thread, I looked at the first link read a bit and thought "yup, I agree with that", and went on to reading other things. Now, I've read the two links and it gets a lot less obvious further on.

Even though it seems like there are really only a few points made, reading the stories that illustrate the points relates to experiences I've had while trying to learn languages. There are all sorts of seemingly important ideas in there.

The story about the woman who says she can speak perfect english if she immitates her landlady, but doesn't want to do it because she doesn't want to be affecting a persona, and so then "pidginizing" her language as a result.

The story about the student becoming enamoured of the phrase "salad days" and trying to fit it in all over the place.

The story about the French person saying in English "aliment a debate", and not being corrected because the English speaker isn't sure if it's technically correct or not in English, i.e. using words that are technically correct but weird so no one corrects you and you keep speaking in weird words.

But, I don't agree with the second link's assertion that you should never use a dictionary. I don't even believe that he believes it. I think I should avoid using a dictionary. And it's a little absurd that he presents what he says as disgreeing with the first article, since it's really more complimentary. I don't think he believes that either.

Maybe these should be linked too to refer to ideas for the mini vocabularies and mini phrase books:


And there are other links there I'll have to take a look at.

Posts: 408
Joined: Tue 09.27.2005 4:08 am

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by CajunCoder » Mon 05.01.2006 12:32 pm

I agree and disagree with some of the things he says - particularly the use of dictionaries and learning words by context.
Yes, idealy this is the best route.. However, until you have a fairly large vocabulary and knowledge of kanji, this will not work with japanese. Japanese uses relatively few words, and whenever possible cuts out unnessicary things such as subjects and pronouns. This gives you very little direction, and not understanding one or two words can easily mess you up for the rest of the conversation on the subject. The thing is, the context isnt there to learn from, because the words are what give you the context. In a language like say, spanish, this isnt so much of a problem because of the way the grammar is set up, and how simular (and thus familiar) it is to english.

Of course, when you become relatively advanced - where you can recognise *most* words and nolonger have to even think about grammar, you will learn easily through context. Another problem is that, japanese is very, very different from english. Words are almost always very illusive, with many odd uses and no good english translations. Many of them need explanations because, nomatter how much you try, you're still looking at the language from the perspective of your own, which will horribly mess you up until someone explains just how the word is used. Of course, you can learn that by context sometimes, but that relies on seeing that illusive word *very* often, and always understanding the context.

The best way I have found to learn is by asking people about words, or studying examples (such as the ones found in Jim Breen's Dictionary).

On the subject of dictionaries, they arent horribly useful unless they have a lot of good examples. Very very often they give far too many confusing and even seemingly conflicting definitions, and do not tell you how a word is used. They are however, essential if you want to be able to understand anything before you achieve semi-fluency. Lately I've been making good use of Jim Breen's Dictionary, and all of the examples it provides. The examples also help me to remember the word, because I am reading it within context, not just seeing two-ten english definitions underneath it.

User avatar
Posts: 4137
Joined: Thu 04.06.2006 11:03 am
Native language: English

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by two_heads_talking » Mon 05.01.2006 1:48 pm

nice articles..

i was once told by my japanese instructor that to equate japanese to any other language is like equating citrus.. it has a bumpy peel, makes your eyes water if the peel spray hits you and tastes juicy inside.. other than that there are no similarites..

i always took this to mean, the best way to learn is immersion and that nuance is learned rather than taught..

the article seems to say pretty much the same but with alot more concrete explanations.. good find

Posts: 186
Joined: Sun 03.26.2006 8:47 pm

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by queshaw » Mon 05.01.2006 3:14 pm

Yeah, I generally disagree with all the comments like "never ...", aside from that the ideas seem like they are good.

I think it's going to be a while before I encounter Japanese variants of the mini phrases in the mini phrases link. Anyone want to offer some translations?


User avatar
Posts: 13
Joined: Sat 05.06.2006 7:13 pm

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by KaiserDivus » Sun 05.07.2006 4:08 pm

I like this article it has made me think about some of my learning methods and I think it will greatly help. Thanks a lot for linking it. ^_^

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5313
Joined: Sun 10.09.2005 11:29 am
Native language: English
Gender: Male
Location: Indiana

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by AJBryant » Sun 08.20.2006 10:17 am

Bumping this cause it needs to be seen more.


Posts: 1
Joined: Thu 08.31.2006 2:19 am

RE: Learning a foreign language

Post by bananiel » Mon 09.04.2006 8:32 am

How do these methods work when learning japanese? Anyone seen any material that discusses these methods and theories from the viewpoint of one learning japanese?

A few of you have replied and put forth your own theories on how this would work for us, but I'm wondering if anyone has done any research on the subject.

I read some of Stephen D Krashen's work on Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) and found this:
http://www.sdkrashen.com/handouts/88Gen ... index.html

"11. SSR works for languages other than English: Japanese (Day), Spanish (Rodrigo) as FL "

Hard to find anything when his or her name is "Day"...

Post Reply