Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Edamame-- A 'Recipe' for Summer or Beer

枝豆 Edamame... "twig beans", immature soybeans still on the twig

The first time I ate Edamame at a friend's house, I was very rude.

I think I snarfed nearly the entire bowl down all by myself.

Those were some *good* beans--still slightly warm, salty, and my friend's mother gave us all glasses of cold beer to go with.  It doesn't get much better on a hot summer day, let me tell you:-)

See how hairy they are? 
I can buy them still on the branch in the store, or picked off and bagged, or already prepared in the deli section.

If you're fixing them yourself, just pick them off, rinse them well, and throw them into a pot of boiling saltwater for eight or ten minutes (take one out, run it under cold water, and bite out a bean to check whether it's done or not).

We had these for pre-supper munchies while I was making dinner and the kids were working on homework.

All gone!  Gochisousama deshita!  (It was a feast:-))

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SpyShopper-- Taste-Testing New Chip Flavors

My all-time most favorite chip flavor:  UmeShio!  (Pickled Plum Salt)

Everything is seasonal in a Japanese supermarket-- including flavors of chips.  At left, my favorite chip flavor *ever* (even better than Salt & Vinegar).

thank goodness the bags are small...
When the plums ripen in June, it's time to make Umeboshi (dried, pickled plums-- I like the kind, pictured at right, made with honey) and Umeshu (plum liqueur).  It's also time for the Ume flavor chips!  Yay!  You can tell they're meant for summer because that huge kanji in the middle says "SUMMER" (natsu), and the bag is decorated with fireworks and a windchime.

I found two new flavors at Daiei today, though, that I've never even seen before, let alone eaten.

That flavor up there is Asparagus-Bacon, a popular side dish in the summer when the asparagus is in season (just wrap the cut asparagus spears in a piece of bacon and fry--extremely yummy!).

This was not a bad chip flavor at all--very savory, and there actually was a bit of an asparagus taste.

The other flavor I found was "Yakitamanegi"... fried onion.

This flavor *rocked*.  Very onion-y, and it really matched the potato taste well.  Umeboshi is still my favorite, but I would definitely buy this again for a change of pace.

I also gave the two new flavors above to the kids and a couple of friends in a blind taste test.

Teddy--  liked both flavors, but liked the asparagus the best
Teddy's friend-- liked both flavors, but liked the onion best
Koshi-- definitely liked the onion... tasted the asparagus...said it was ok...tried it again... then I told him what  flavor it was... and he said "bleah!"
Koshi's friend-- liked both ok, but like the onion best
Cici-- thought both flavors tasted weird
Me-- I liked both, but liked the onion a little better

Fried Onion:  five 'Yes', two 'OK', one 'bleah'
Asparagus:  one 'Yes', three 'OK', two 'bleah' (of the two 'beahs', one of those was not a decided 'bleah' until the name of the flavor was revealed.  I expect my mom will laugh about that;-))


Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Manglish-- I Want This Hat

"I see the splendid future over... It do not be please smashed."

One of my English students (a fourth grade girl) came in wearing this hat.

I do not have a hat like that...

I wish I had a hat like that...

I plan to look for one and wear it the next time somebody predicts the end of the world;-))

Friday, June 24, 2011

On Bilingualism: Inside-Out

The neighbor's ajisai are the loveliest blue...

Around the time I went to Germany, I used to have a recurring dream that was so vivid I can recall it to this day in its entirety.

I remember standing in a square room with no doors or windows, although it wasn't dark inside.  The entire floor was a sort of jungle gym of square pylons of varying colors and heights--some near the floor, low enough to sit on, others nearly touching the ceiling.  As soon as I noticed these things, I became aware that the floor was covered with water.  Water that was rapidly rising.  To escape the water I climbed the pylons, sure that there must be some exit near the top of the room.  There was no exit.  I sat on the top pylon, flattening myself against the ceiling, as the water swirled around my feet.  At this point in the dream, the fear started.  Just before the water reached my face, I took the biggest breath I could...and held it.  I could swim around the room, but there was still no way out.  The breath began escaping from my mouth. I tried to slow it, to forestall the inevitable moment when I would have to breathe in.

Some part of my brain knew I was holding my breath in my sleep.

My body started to shake from the effort of forcing the flow of air out instead of in... gone.  An involuntary gasping intake of water into my lungs and-- I could breathe.  In. Out.  Normal, easy breaths.  Of water.  The dream always ended with a feeling of  joyous wonder at my ability to breathe underwater.

Years later someone explained that awful, wonderful dream to me.  She said it was my own brain telling me not to worry about going to Germany and speaking German.  The room was Germany, the water was the language—my brain’s very literal way of representing the “immersion” experience of living in another country, speaking another language.  My brain was telling me I would be able to “breathe underwater", that is, I would be able to communicate in German.

I can clearly remember the first night in the Studentenheim on Kaulbach Strasse--I was terrified.  I was the only student from the exchange program in that particular dormitory, so at first I had no one to talk to.  I remember lying on my bed, feeling as though someone was pouring ice water into my veins starting at my feet.

I remember wandering around the second day until I found a supermarket.  I  was hungry, but couldn't cook anything since I had no pots or kitchen things.  I bought a coke and cookies--paying for them without speaking.  The following day I found a stand selling wurst.  I couldn't put words together to ask for what I wanted, but I was hungry since I hadn't eaten anything but cookies and coke the day before.  I pointed, and what came out was "Das!" (that!).   [Mini-moral:  if you are hungry enough, you will speak]

I went back feeling defeated and ashamed-- six years of German, and all I could say was "das".  I thought I must be stupid;  I thought I had no language ability at all.  I wish someone had told me before I went what a Silent Period is--and how normal and even necessary it is.  That *all* language learners--including, especially, babies-- go through it in an immersion situation.  It lasts weeks or months for adults (sometimes longer), one to two years for babies (no such thing as a chatty newborn;-)).  During the silent period, it's your ears that are doing all the work--following the rhythm, the prosody, of the language; picking out words and phrases; accumulating examples of syntax.  And within that expanding balloon of comprehension appears a tiny new balloon for production--speech production *always* lags listening comprehension in immersion.

I struggled when classes started at the Uni Hamburg-- everyone spoke so quickly.  I had to ask so often for people to repeat what they'd said, I thought for sure they must have believed me to be hard of hearing.  I thought there couldn't be anything harder than trying to understand my professors lecturing/gabbling at top speed... until I got Telephone Duty in the dormitory.  The dormitories (this was 1988, mind) had only one phone for incoming calls, and residents took turns acting as "receptionist", answering the phone and buzzing other residents when they had a call.   I discovered, upon picking up a phone for the first time, that it is an order of magnitude more difficult to understand someone whom you cannot see.  You lose an entire layer of facial expressions, lip-reading, hand gestures, and actions that are of signal help in the early stages of language learning.  

It was a good month and a half before I began to feel comfortable speaking in restaurants, stores, and similar situations.  Three or four months into my year abroad, I noticed that words and phrases (from tv, or heard from acquaintances) would seemingly jump out at me--"Ooh!  That's the fourth time in two days I've heard that word!"....and I'd go look it up.  Aha.  So that's what it means.  And then I owned it--I could use it in my own still sometimes halting speech.  Sometimes the way a particular person talked would strike my ear--and I would sit in my room repeating like a toddler phrases and clauses I'd heard.  Grown-up babbling stage:-))   I remember distinctly sitting on my bed saying "Ich mein', dass das eigentlich...." ...over and over, in an effort to say it in the smooth, cool way that Monika (who lived down the hall--different Monika;-)) did.  "I think that it's actually..."--this is the sort of phrase that, usually, you "unhear".  That is, you don't have to listen to every word of it--you can guess what's coming before it's said.  This sort of phrase is really a high-level filler-- an edumacated way of saying "umm".  I remember feeling inordinately pleased with myself the first time I got a whole sentence out with that phrase stuck on the front.

Every step along the way, the experience of learning from the "inside" was much more like learning to sing a song than learning the rules of a game before playing it.  Another language teacher once told me that "language is acoustical, not intellectual".  I largely agree with that.  Gradually, bits and pieces of the language "stick" in your head in the same way a song gets stuck up there.  (Please note that, as a public service,  I did not embed any links to songs that might get stuck in your head.  Am I not nice?:-))

There's actually more I'd like to say--but it's 3am, and I'm ready to pass out.  To be continued...;-))

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Bilingualism: Outside-In

The cherries have nearly disappeared from the trees already...

Wow--the last post on bilingualism prompted loads of *fascinating* comments that made my brain run off in a hundred directions...hence my lateness in replying.  Had to go chase my brain down:-))  (Actually, three sick boys are my excuse for my absence--hopefully that won't happen this week). 

Before I head down some of the *very* interesting rabbit holes brought up in the comments, I'd like to tell you about what my experience with languages (German, French, and Japanese, specifically) is so everybody knows where I'm coming from:-))  Ought probably to have done that first, but...anyway, off we go!

When I learned both German and French, I learned them "Outside-In", as I've come to call it.  That means, I learned them first from the "outside", so to speak, in a foreign language classroom (starting in the ninth grade for German, and the eleventh grade for French, for a total of four years of High School German and one year of French--I had a busy schedule:-).  I learned them using textbooks, memorizing vocabulary and declensions and verb tenses, with a bunch of other students whose L1 was the same as mine.  The L1 (first language) of the teacher was also the same as that of her students.  This kind of language-learning is "outside"--by which I mean "non-immersion".  You are learning it outside the country and culture where the language is spoken (full-immersion schools could also be included here).  Class time is usually spent learning the phrases a traveler would use, and vocabulary is often presented in daunting lists.  A disproportionate amount of time is spent using the students' L1 to talk *about* the language--to explain the past tense...the passive voice...strong and weak adjective endings...count and non-count nouns... 'ser' and 'estar' or 'por' and 'para'... the Preterit versus the Imperfect (I had lots of Spanish teacher-friends, so I picked up all the hard bits in Spanish kind of by osmosis;-))

I don't mean to imply that language classes are a waste of time, or that one doesn't learn anything.

I rocked at that stuff in German.  I was the Grammar Queen.

I certainly learned plenty of vocabulary and grammar--enough to test into 300-level German classes as a college Freshman.

And after six years of studying German (four in High School, and two more at university).... I went to Hamburg, Germany for a year-long study-abroad program. 

Six years.  And when I opened my mouth... no words came out.  I was Scared. To. Death.  Scared to speak--scared of making a "mistake".  Curiously, it was as though all the German I'd learned in 6 years of study wasn't.... real.  As though all the grammar and all the vocabulary I'd learned lived only inside my textbooks ("Wir, die Jugend";-).  As though I couldn't believe that real people really used those words.  Did real Germans actually say "Tschuss"? 

I was about to find out-- and about to start learning German... from the Inside-Out.

Stay tuned-- mata asobou, ne!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Land of Cute-- At the Children's Hospital

The pediactric ophthamologist...

Since my little Teddy Bear has wonky eyes, we pay a visit to the Yokohama Children's Hospital every three or four months for checkups.  He had surgery for strabismus when he was three--just when they opened the new building.  From a crowded, dark, sad old building to a huge, light, bright place that's kind of fun to go to-- especially since the children who go there have chronic conditions and have to spend a *lot* of time in the hospital. 

We've been going for six years now--four years in the new building--and I just noticed that they have a different animal sign for the different departments.  The owl up there is, naturally, for the opthamologist-- eyes, get it?

Here's the sign for the pediatric orthodontist-- Mr. Alligator with his rows of teeth:
Mr. Alligator for the Orthodontist
  Cute for kids, if a little obvious.  I walked around looking at the different signs (a seal for the dermatologist, an Akita-ken dog for the Kensa/lab room). 

Then I got to one that mystified me at first:

Don't forget to wash your hands...;-)
This one is for the Urologist-- any idea why it's a racoon?

I had to think about this one-- and I didn't get it until I sat thinking about the Japanese word for 'racoon' and how it's exactly the same as the German word (English is the odd one out;-). 

Japanese and German call that critter a "Wash Bear" (Araiguma in Japanese, Waschbär in German) because they wash their hands (paws). 

Then it hit me-- the Urologist see patients with bladder or urinary tract problems.  He's the pee-pee doctor, if you will.  And what are you supposed to do after you go to the toilet?  Exactly-- wash your hands.  Just like a Wash Bear;-))

(p.s.-- will be responding to comments forthwith!  Everyone should be off to school tomorrow...)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

School Days-- A Day in the Fifth Grade

O-Soji... The Honorable Cleaning;-)

Once a year the kids have school on Saturday-- an "open house" day when moms and dads can drop in any time during the day to watch their kids' classes.  Fortunately everybody recovered from colds that have plagued us all week (all three of my boys home for the last three days-- Koshi, Teddy, and Papa--in case anybody was wondering where I went;-), so Yokohamapapa and I were able to go watch classes all day.
I always especially like watching the kids during Cleaning Time after lunch and recess (in that order)--it's so different from my experience in school, both as a student and as a teacher.  In Japan, there is no cafeteria--students eat their lunches in the classrooms, waiting for everyone to be served before they put their hands together and say "Itadakima--su!" (I humbly partake).  The students do the serving and, after recess, the cleaning up, too.  One of those things that educators would term an "invisible part of the curriculum".
Kids with rags wait for the Sweepers to get done...

Such a small thing, but one that teaches so much--responsibility, care for one's environment, teamwork to get a job done...

Rooms and halls are swept and cleaned with damp rags (there are sinks out in the hallways for this and for brushing teeth after lunch--another good idea) every day.  At the beginning of the year, the sixth graders go down to the first grade classrooms to teach the new first graders what to do (and make sure things actually get clean;-).  There are several jobs, and the children do them all on a rotating basis.

Buckets of water, all up and down the hallway, which manage not to get kicked over...

The Science room

Koshi wanted us to watch his science class today--interesting because I'd never seen the science room.  Do American elementary schools have science rooms?  I know mine didn't-- I never saw a science room like this until I was in Junior High.  Seventh grade, to be exact.

 This is an actual science classroom, mind-- complete with microscopes, scales, test tubes, voltmeters, and petri dishes.  Science is started right off in first grade (though it isn't called that until third grade)-- and by fourth grade they listen, take notes, do experiments, and take tests from their notes.  Things I know for a fact I wasn't exposed to until seventh grade.
Scales and weights (metric, of course)

Test tubes... petri dishes are on a lower shelf.
All I could do was shake my head and think that if American parents and school boards and educational policy makers could see inside an elementary school here-- the mysterious Asian "advantage" in science would immediately cease to be a mystery.

They start earlier.  Plain and simple.

The experimental results...
Today they were continuing their study of seeds and the conditions necessary for seeds to sprout and grow-- an appropriate activity for kids who have been growing plants from seed every year since first grade (another day I'll put up what Cici's growing).  Now that they're a little older, they can study those cute little seeds in more depth.

Seeds without air (left)... and with air exposure (right)

The window sill in the classroom was crowded with plastic cups--all labeled, some with sprouted seeds, some not sprouted.  The conditions (air, temperature, water) were labeled on the cups and collated on the poster charts on the wall with the results noted.

Aha!  That's what it needs!

Some plants were growing nicely:-))

Back in May, the fifth graders planted rice in a paddy across the street.  They go over from time to time to take care of the rice, weed the paddy (their section of it, anyway), and watch its progress.

Some things just can't be taught via worksheet-- and where your food comes from is one of those things.
rice seedlings...

Plant the seedlings just... so.
They got help from a local farmer who owns the field-- community involvement!  The kids not only plant and cultivate the rice, they also go over from time to time to draw pictures of it and write about the process of cultivation and the growth of the plants.  I *love* the layered approach they take to teaching--  this is science, health, writing, and art all rolled into one memorable experience.

...the fifth graders' section.

Awww...... planted a bit-- willy-nilly, shall we say?  It was loads of fun, though, according to Koshi.

... somehow the farmer's section is *much* straighter;-))

As Papa and I stood surveying the rice paddy during recess, Yokohamapapa decided to rest his arm on a bamboo post marking the corner of the paddy.

He gave a sudden shout...
Amagaeru-- Japanese Tree Frog (Hyla japonica)

...and lo and behold, he'd nearly leaned his arm on the cutest little green frog you've ever seen!

Well-- I knew just what to do.  Camera out of the camera bag and into my purse...catch little frog... put frog into camera bag.  I have a ten-year-old who would just love him:-))

 "Are you sure that's ok?"  Yokohamapapa wanted to know.

I assured him it would be fine, since Koshi's project group ("Ikimonogakari"--the Living Things Group) was already taking care of a turtle...

...a crawdad (one of those big American Zarigani, from the looks of him)... or two or three...

.... ants to watch them build tunnels and nests...

...and a newt, which Koshi bought at a pet store with his own money earned by washing the windows for me...

I figured-- what could it hurt to add a frog?

Sensei didn't mind at all... and Koshi's face was like Christmas:-))

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Little Girls Are Made Of

Two of my three kids bring the Outdoors in... and it's not my boys. It's Big Brother and Little Sister (middle brother Teddy tends not to bring me bugs--he'd rather go fast.  At seven he asked me whether Jr. High was 'grown up', and could he have a motorcycle...).

It's in the washing machine...
Yesterday Cici came bombing in the door shouting that her school hat was stinky.

Why?  ( I even ask?)

Because it was filled with dirt, leaves and Dangomushi.  *Naturally*.

Armidillidium vulgare... terrestrial crustaceans

These little guys-- did you play with these when you were a kid, too?

I did, but the Japanese name for them is so appropriate that  I had to look them up on Wiki to find out what the common English name was-- oh yeah!  Pill bugs.  Roly Polies.

Dango-- the kind you can eat
The Japanese name is "Dango--Mushi"... a Dango Bug, because they roll up into a small sphere like a Dango-- which seems more appropriate than 'pill bug', since pills are usually flat discs and not spheres.  Roly Poly works fine,though, and since it's a cute word, I think I'll use that word instead.  Maybe I'll remember it that way...

Papilio xuthus... Agehachou, Swallowtail butterfly

Aack-- lack of transition!

Here-- look at this butterfly...

*intermission music*

...the other day she came bombing in the door demanding a cucumber.


I hafta feed the snail!!

Ah... of course.  I see. *gets cucumber and knife*

Den den, mushi mushi, Katatsumuri... Mr. Snail

...or Miss Snail... Mrs.?

How in the world does one determine marital status in snails?

You don't suppose I subconsciously encourage this behavior in my children, do you?

Monday Manglish-- I *Had* To Buy It...

[I know it's not actually Monday now-- but this was written on Monday.  Blogger, for some mysterious Blogger-ly reason, wouldn't let me post for two days.  Again.  I also avoided commenting since a friend who comments here said she'd had a bunch of comments lost-- gomen!  Blogger seems to be having quite a few hiccups these days...]

This is what happens when I go to the store without my camera.

I occasionally end up buying things I don't need-- like *another* pencil case.  But since this was the only one of it's kind....

It's not even all that exciting to look at, is it.  Black, normally-shaped pencil case with logo and message.

Let me just zoom in on what it says down there in small letters...

Don't even try to tell me you wouldn't have bought it, too;-))

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Bilingualism: What Is Fluency?

I have so many more experiences with this flower now in Japan (and therefore in Japanese), that "Ajisai" is the first word that comes to mind.  I usually have to think for a minute to pull "Hydrangea" up out of storage...

...And with this post I feel I've jumped into the frigid waters of Lake Superior, bound for the other side, with little confidence in my ability to swim that far.   Ma, yaru shikanai.  Gambarimasu.  (Nothing to do but to do it.  I will do my best:-))

What is 'fluent'?  The first thing that pops into most people's heads, I think, is "like a monolingual native speaker" or "would be taken by other native speakers to be a native speaker".

Well, that's nice, isn't it.  What does it mean? Exactly?  Does it mean that all native speakers are purely fluent?  The process of being raised and educated in a particular language environment confers completely equal fluency on all?  Are all native speakers equally fluent?  Is there any such thing as 'pure fluency' ?  Chris addressed that idea in his comment to the last post  on this topic, which was so nicely expressed that I'll just save myself the trouble and quote him:-))

I think the only concrete thing I'm willing to say is that there is no such thing as pure fluency, that is, fluency meaning absolute, unencumbered communication. I can think of so many times when I've had to clarify something myself (or had to ask someone else to clarify for me) when speaking with a native speaker of the same language and dialect, even of the same general background (age, sex, etc.).

Thanks, Chris--well said!  Clearly, there is wide variation in how well native speakers express themselves, make themselves understood, and how well they understand what others are saying or asking.  As Chris points out, native speakers do not express themselves with equal clarity (ooh-- there's another thing it means!).  Plenty of misunderstandings happen among native speakers, so 'pure fluency', as such, is probably a myth.   Sarah Palin is a good example of what I mean.  Her effusions are often so incomprehensible that, were it not for her accent, one might take her to be a non-native speaker.  Maybe we should demand that she produce her birth certificate...

Accent-- is that part of it?  Well, I think most would agree with me that Henry Kissinger expressed himself more 'fluently' (here meaning 'clearly') than Mrs. Palin, albeit in a heavy German accent that forever marked him as a non-native speaker of English.  No one, though, would accuse the former Secretary of State of lacking fluency in English.  I think most people recognize that accent isn't really the determining factor in fluency, though they might, all other things being equal, call a non-native speaker with a near-native accent (or no accent) more 'fluent' than someone with a heavy accent.

There are those who have "reading knowledge" of a language-- but they tend not to describe themselves as 'fluent'.  'Fluency', in most people's minds, pertains to the speaking and listening modalities.  Fluency in the reading\writing modalities tends to get called 'literacy'.  You can be 'fluent' in a language without necessarily being literate (which applies to native speakers, as well).

I'm having to rein myself in here, by the way, because this topic bleeds into so many others concerning bilingualism (or tri- or multilingualism), that my mind keeps running off in all directions.

Let's go back to "monolingual native speaker" for a minute.  What is it that  they do, or don't do, that makes us call them fluent? 
  • They don't make grammatical mistakes except when they are children--and the mistakes native speaker children make are predictable and often show understanding of grammar, as when they make overgeneralization mistakes (saying "goed" instead of "went", for example, shows that the child understands how to form the past tense of regular verbs... unfortunately, child is more logical than his language;-))  So-called grammar "mistakes" such as saying "he don't " instead of "he doesn't" are recognized by everyone but English teachers as a legitimate part of a dialect where inflections are gradually being dropped.  Of course, it's also perfectly acceptable if you are singin' the blues.  Saying "I doesn't" instead of "I don't", however (unless you are a child) , makes people prick up their ears.  Languages tend to evolve toward regularity and inflection loss, not the other way.  You can think of English as ungrammatical German with a bunch of sound shifts:-))  Making der/die/das mistakes in  German instantly brands an English-speaker as non-native.  Making a/the mistakes in English (using the wrong one, or leaving it out when it should be used, or sticking one in where it doesn't go) instantly marks someone as a speaker of an Asian language like Japanese or Chinese (neither language has articles-- definite or in).  
  • Use filler particles and words-- in English, these are "uh", "um", "actually", "like", "y'know", "basically", and so on.  In Japanese, "eh to", "eh to ne" "nan dake" "nan to iu no" and so on.  It surprises me that more foreign language teachers don't teach students how to pause for thought in the language they're learning.  Being able to use filler words (and sounds) is a major component of sounding "fluent".  It's also easier, ultimately, to stay in one language than to shift mental linguistic gears to say "uh".  Compare:   "I like... eh to.. nan dake... red!"  to "I like...ummm...what's that called... red!"  (this is actually related to the last point made below).
  • Can understand most of what's said to them... at speed.  Native speakers don't really talk that fast-- they just "unhear" most of what's being said when they're listening.  That means, they don't have to listen to every single word being said in order to understand-- just the main bits.  Those lacking fluency are trying to listen. to. every. single. word. and. probably. translate. in. their. heads. to. their. L1. at. the. same. time.  No wonder it sounds fast:-))  (So--give new learners a break. Don't turn up your volume, just slow down--like you do for kids.  And simplify;-)
  • Can understand new words or phrases in the language defined with other words in that language.  The ability to circumlocute (talk around words you don't know) is crucial.  Native speakers do this *all* the time--from the time they are children, in fact.  You know you've gained a significant level of fluency when you can describe something for which you lack the right word... and a native speaker says "oh--you mean (x)!"  Native speakers do this constantly themselves.  "You know that thing, that thing that goes like this (makes noise and flaps hands)".  In fact, if you can say it like that--you'll sound 'fluent', oddly enough;-))
  • Which brings me to the main point:  Native speakers don't translate into or out of anything else in their heads while speaking or listening.  This is exactly the point of a joke my sister and her friend used to tell each other during German class when they were feeling overwhelmed with grammar and floundering in 'conversation' exercises:                                                                    Sis:  Why don't they just speak English?                                                     Friend:  Yeah!  Ya know they're thinkin' it!
    Honest and for true-- native speakers only have one language in their heads while speaking:-)  (Well, apart from what Steven Pinker calls 'mentalese', which isn't technically in *any* language... but I won't get into that in this post).   If you're learning another language, you must pry yourself out of the habit of translating everything you say from your L1 (first language) in your head into the L2 coming out of your mouth.  Fluency in another language is getting a new language stuck in your head in *exactly* the same way you can get a song stuck in your head.  Language is very much like music--each language has it's own prosody, it's own rhythm.  The only way to learn to sing it is to listen to it-- a *lot*.  Factoid:  by a child's third birthday, they've spent roughly 13 thousand hours listening to their first language (assuming they sleep 12 hours and are awake 12 hours).  That's where all that fluency comes from.  Double that figure and add a bit more for a 6-year-old.
So--to sum up-- fluency is speaking more or less grammatically, understanding at speed, being able to make yourself understood by circumlocuting and correct use of fillers, understanding words or phrases defined in the language, and having the same language inside your head as is coming out of your mouth.

Upon reflection, I think a useful way to think about fluency and fluency 'ranking', if you want to call it that, is to speak in terms of Child Level fluency, Elementary (school!) Level fluency, Secondary (school) Level fluency, and Adult Level fluency.  Nobody attains Adult Level fluency after a year or so of language instruction--not even in a language immersion situation.  I'm at Elementary School Level fluency in Japanese-- I routinely tell people I'm in 5th grade, with Koshi, my 10-year-old.  I figure our fluency is roughly equivalent.  Elementary level is, I think, the level from which other people (including native speakers) will call you 'fluent'.  That level includes all those points I mentioned above.  Note that I don't think those levels of fluency that I defined are equivalent to "First Year (Spanish)", "Second Year (French)", or the typical Elementary-Advanced Elementary-Intermediate-Advanced levels of high school and college language courses.  And I will just stop right here before I start ranting about.... before I start ranting.  Lest I not sound...wait for it... fluent;-)

Upcoming topics in this series are "Who is Bilingual?" and "Inside-Out/Outside-In".

Mata asobou, ne! 

p.s.-- just for kicks, 'cause it's so funny.  Daz  found this:-))  Thanks, Daz!


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Japanese Commercials Rock--Kitties

Why are commercials on Japanese TV so much better than commercials on  American TV (I speak generally, of course)?  Their commercials involving animals-- usually cats or dogs-- are just *adorable*. 

"Watashi wa Nyaran"--  "I am Nyaran", the white Japanese bobtail spokeskitty for Jaran travel service (his name is a play on the name of the company and 'nyan', which means 'meow').   Recently, we've seen him featured in a series of 'mu mu mu!' travel shorts shown on Animal Planet at five minutes to seven.  Here he is trying to do Zazen (sitting meditation)... and doing it all Rong.  He comes in and sits on the zabuton cushion...  distracted by first one thing and then another-- "Ducks! Ducks! Cute!"-- Return to position!  Hm.   And then starts thinking about how great it would be to take a nap.....

Finally-- my favorite kitty commercial ever is from YKK AP, an architectural products company (mainly windows, I think--which is what this commercial is about).  A simple commercial demonstrating the power of windows to make a house more livable, as shown by kitties following the light over the course of a day.

The white kitty watching a ladybug progress slowly up the window, eyes crossing, nose nearly touching the glass.  That commercial just slays me every time I see it.  Enjoy:-))

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Sort of Thing I Find in my Sink

Boys are boys, no matter where you go...;-)

Papa got home around seven this evening (*very* early for a Japanese Salaryman).  Put his briefcase down and walked back to the bathroom to wash his hands.

I heard a loud, startled "Ehhhhh!!"

Procambarus clarkii-- the Louisiana crawfish, an invasive species.
Poor Papa-- coming home tired after a long day at work... only to find his sink filled with Zarigani (crawdads).  :-))

Three big ones (and five smaller ones in the bucket)--and although I called them Zarigani, the species endemic to Japan  (Cambaroides japonica) is rapidly losing ground to the introduced "Amerikan Zarigani", as it's called.

It's considered an invasive species (as you can see;-)).  *Boys*... mata asobou, ne!