Tag Archives: learning

#JALT2016. Notes on the highlights.

Sarah Mercer and Relational Pedagogy

  • Sarah Mercer feels passionate about the importance of the teacher. I feel passionate about it, too.  She also says our well-being comes first. I believe in this, too.
  • When we praise some students in front of the whole class, what are the implicit messages for all other students of that class?
  • Sarah shared the VIA classification of character strengths and I am most thankful to her for that. For one thing, I’m glad the classification, the list already exists. And then this:

Each one of us possess all 24 of the VIA character strengths in varying degrees making up our own unique profiles.

That means all of our students possess those strengths. That said, my most challenging class this semester, which also happens to be the main subject of my journaling, gets another angle to look at. What makes each of those 8 students special? How can I build up on their particular strengths? And then we could start feeling better about our time together in class, maybe.

  • Sarah shared some research which showed that teacher-student relationship is 11th out of 138 most influential factors for learning. Isn’t it quite important, then? Doesn’t it mean that we should invest in this relationship more – notice it, care about it, talk about it, work on it?…
  • Then there was this idea. Just as being around positive, happy people might make you feel happier and more positive, the opposite is also true. The vicious cycle of disengagement:

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And since WE are the adults in our relationships with students (well, when we are), it is up to US to take the effort to start the positive relationship. Ultimately, it is good for US as what we do, the way we do it, will travel that loop and come back amplified.

  • Offer choice no matter how limited.
  • What qualities are important for people in relationships? she asked us. The one that immediately came to my mind was reciprocity. Sarah’s list included that, and also appreciation, equality, empathy, mutual respect, trust, feeling comfortble together, and more… So logic suggests these same qualities should be nurtured between students and teachers, too, as ours is a social relationship just as important, as we’ve seen.

 

John Fanselow and iTDi

  • How many people you know and/or communicate with who are NOT teachers or former students? Talk to non-educators about what is important in their jobs and lives. Take in what they say and relate.
  • “I don’t consider what I do my work,” he said. I share the feeling.
  • Ask your students – What would be great to have in your class and in your classroom? What could make the class better? Quite possibly they have some ideas.
  • Ask them also  – What annoys you about this class? And makes it a pleasant experience?
  • Question everything – How is what you’re doing good? How is it not good? What are the alternative options? Along the same lines… I might think, “it’s a good idea!”… But what if it’s not?…
  • And finally, this: Textbooks leave out the one important skill, which is emotional development.

 

There was much more about JALT, and as usual the most important and memorable was about the people. About our emotional relationships. That’s what stays for me, conference after conference, and likely class after class for our learners, too.

 

Thinking of all the people this past weekend… we hugged, talked, laughed, took pictures, worked in pairs in workshops, shared meals and drinks, shared plans, presented together, tweeted together, learnt together, got tired, felt ignorant and/or knowledgeable together, played games like young learners do, helped each other out… Then we were sad to said goodbye. And now we’re here, at the end of this blogpost.

If you’ve never been to a conference, I hope you do go. I hope you’ll keep an open mind and welcome connections that will flow your way, and then I hope you’ll feel the way I do.

 

As ever, thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

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Drafted to be written

***** Abrupt beginning *****

Time dragged on … And then I had an idea. If I ever come to actually realize one of my deeply held aspirations to become a contributor to a magazine or a columnist, I need to learn to write on demand. So here’s an unnecessary test, consciously self-inflicted pressure: below are the original, unedited titles of my 44 (!) drafts currently saved on this blog, with a few words of an explanation of what I initially had in mind for this or that idea. As it goes for drafts for me personally, they largely hang out in the “Drafts” section. To change that, I appeal to you to choose one blog post idea that you might be interested in reading about and leave it in a comment below. In my turn, I will do my best to write up those posts, which otherwise might just stay neglected, and thus lost forever.
Game on.

1. going, going, gone – reactions of others to my decision to go to Japan and my own emotional storms regarding the same thing

2. in japan, notes – more random culture observations (part I to be found here)

3. Look at my food – lesson plan on Instagram

4. about Peter – what I have to/ want to say about my boss (brave post))

5. answering Sandy’s questions – responding to the questions Sandy Millin left for me in her comment to one of my recent posts

6. read an essay, give it a thought – there’s a quote copied and pasted from somewhere, which obviously sparked an idea in my mind back then but was never followed up on

7. 4 months in Japan. Classroom challenges. – a post based on my presentation at EFL Teachers’ Journeys conference in June 2015

8. things I learnt from my students today – a focused day reflection, an idea which might have been inspired by one of Anne Hendler’s posts

9. Why and how English teachers Instagram – just letting the word out

10. A post-training listicle, or … things I thought about – notes I took during my training days at school

11. TTT (and not what you think) – on my first experience team teaching

12. classes gone wrong – really terrible classes that I whined about on Facebook in May, I guess

13. A paragraph letter to my older teacher self – an inverted response to a popular blog challenge

14. message to students – about how I don’t want to play games in class

15. things my colleagues taught me this week – results of a conscious, focused reflection

16. things my students taught me this week – read above

17. Fanselow training notes – first training in my current job and my thoughts on it

18. 9 towns of Russia – a video my students took for me to share with Japanese students (shame on me for not sharing it months ago!!..)

19. on losing it – on losing confidence and motivation for teaching (after my Asian trip of 2014)

20. Let’s forget it is a lesson. – trying to formulate my belief for this type of class when students study/ learn but don’t feel they are being taught

21. teach travel write about it – my desire to continue travelling, teaching online, visiting classrooms, writing about it

22. Ridiculous vocabulary for EFL learners – examples of such vocabulary items I encountered in textbooks and materials (are now still sparse, collection in progress)

23. something else – about teachers writing something other than ELT-related things

24. 2 countries, 8 classrooms, 8+ teaching ideas – pretty much covered in this post for iTDi, but there could be more to say

25. intro into any post – a template! But it might have already been partially used))

26. challenges ahead analysed when over – challenges I had outlined for myself before going to Asia in the fall of 2014, analysed upon return

27. how Skype classes fail – based on experiences from that same Asia trip

28. learning from spam – classes we could teach using junk mail as material

29. communicative aptitude and emphatic listening – contemplating on my personality flaws in those areas

30. random thought post-holland trip – culture and laguage related notes I took on a trip to the Netherlands in the summer of 2014

31. teacher face – on how I sometimes struggle to maintain a “serious” teacher face and behavior

32. Japanese 9 months – should be born and breathing now – much outdated idea, but there is still a post I could write on my studies and progress in Japanese, or rather a devastating lack of such

33. Focus – rambles on how I sometimes find it hard to keep the focus on, and what it leads to

34. Google doc for building up syllabus – this is one area that can’t already fit into one post since it’s become a prevalent part of my teaching … anyway, this blog post was promised to be written for a joint project with a wonderful lady you all know but the promise came at a wrong time (for me) and was, to my big regret and shame, never fulfilled… With conference presentations on this topic approaching, it just makes sense to finally do it.

35. Camp memoirs – notes I made during the three days I spent in the forest near Ryazan, doing workshops for kids in UP!Camp (June 2014)

36. creativity – paragraphs that did not go into this post for iTDi

37. As teachers, we need/ should/ must… – supposedly my thoughts on these, but the draft is merely a blank page..)

38. superficial elt – another blank draft page! But sounds so promising

39. blog about reflection (possibly doing challenge) – I was honestly determined to participate fully in the reflective practice blogging challenge.

40. withdrawing self – learning to be less of an “I!” kind of blogger and teacher.. failing miserably!

41. annoying words in elt – buzz words that at some point started to seem almost empty to me

42. good school stories – trying to remember bright moments from my two years of working in a school in Moscow (to balance out the blue feelings brought about by this post)

43. making excuses for my expertise – musings on the way I seem to make excuses for expressing personal opinion in my posts, provoked by a discussion of my most recent post with my boss

44. excerpts from tips on writing – processing and summing up the multiple tips and advice from writers

***** Abrupt ending *****

Thanks for reading (and participating, if you choose to). AND for believing I will have enough will power to pursue this! If …

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Paragraph 2. A year on, still writing.

This paragraph blogging style is liberating and infectuous. It’s just my hunch that it might help me turn my many drafts into actual paragraphs some day. For now, here’s this sequel to the post from a year ago. I recommend you read it first, it’s short, light and will entertain you with three images.

 

 

 

*****

In this year that has passed by only too fast, we’ve talked about any number of topics a teenager could be interested in and could have something to say about. If you’re interested in particulars, we’ve talked about our families and relationships within these families; about our personal dreams and why they were these particular dreams; about my work and her school life; about friends; about how I became a teacher. We’ve talked about movies, literature, traveling, reading, writing, music, talents, and goals. I have been trying my best to keep the flames of the conversation burning, always noting something she could pick upon and develop. I asked questions not because I was a teacher who wanted to see her use of Complex Object or target language. I opened up myself and welcomed her to do the same, as much as she’d feel comfortable to. Emotions filled the pages, displaying sincerety, pointed out by exclamation marks. ……… “I shall never cease to marvel…” As my eyes stared at this turn of a sentence she used in one of her recent letters for a good couple of minutes , something clicked. Last week I asked the girl in my regular letter in the journal to sift through all of her *12* letters to me and notice any kind of progress. That’s what I got to read in response (note: this is an unedited, genuine piece of teenage writing): “I think my writing has improved a little bit. … Because earlier I always sat with an interpreter and tried to translate your letter and then sat and looked for many words to write a response to you. Now it became much easier. I translate from your letters up to 5-7 words and when I wrote too I looked in the dictionary very little.”

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She sometimes excuses herself for writing too little, a mere page. Just keep writing, I say. Some people blog no more than a mere paragraph and are not in the least ashamed of it.

 

Thanks for reading.

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Korea impressions

Last year was unique for me for several reasons, one of which being that it was the first time in my life I stayed, well lived more like,  in a foreign country for more than an ordinary vacation-taker’s 14 days. 5 weeks spent in Korea are certainly worth a lot more than a handful of posts about the classes I visited (those were precious and invaluable in every single way!).

 

I lived a life and that life did not remind me of a life of a tourist. There was no rushing in the mornings to make it to a breakfast in a hotel. There was no hotel, in fact. I had my pet. There were no excursion buses to hop on/off for cookie-cutter excursions “to get the best of the city”. There was me and the whole of Seoul to explore, at my own pace, at my own time, with my spontaneous choices oftentimes made right there at an exit of a station I’d picked to go to, on the spur of the moment.

 

There were things I wanted to do – walk up and down the hills, wander around neighbourhoods, take turns left and right without knowing where I’d end up. I stared at people who almost never looked up to meet the eyes of a stranger. I stopped in front of tiny workshops with doors ever open and businesses being done right there on the pavement. I bought several bags of tangerines from an elderly man in the street, because it was a discount but I didn’t quite realize what he was saying to me and actually only needed one of those bags (also never learnt the numbers and counting in Korean). I learnt to pick, taste and like street food. I enjoyed fresh pastry and I hunted for tea only to find that “tea” in a coffeeshop can be anything BUT tea, for what I know tea to be. I struggled with metal chopsticks when eating noodles. I loved, loved my Korean meals.

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I learnt so many things about the places and the people that it’d take tens of thousands words to write about them. All the notes you’ll now see below were made in Korea and have now just been elaborated with extra commentary. Somehow it’s all still painfully fresh in the mind. “Painfully” because I took to Korea in a very special way which I’ll only be able to analyze and comprehend fully after a longer while. For the moment, it feels like this experience was grand, different, spicy, probably life-changing, certainly unforgettable. I’m running out of adjectives that would do their job well, so here are the notes and some pictures. Enjoy.

Warning: if you’re based in Korea, you’re likely not going to be taken aback by any of these notes. They were taken by a tourist, even if an observant one with plenty of time on her hands, after all.

 

***** Notes and opinions about Korea, in no particular order, on all areas at once *****

1. Seoul subway cars have a colour marking on the floor, a wide stripe of the same colour as is the metro line itself. Clearly, such a simple thing to do and so nice for passengers. The cars themselves are also much wider, let alone cleaner, than in Moscow.

2. In the metro, as the train approaches, people do not rush closer to the glass doors preparing to get in. But as soon as the doors open, people at the station and those getting out of the car *imo very rudely* ignore one another and simply push their respective ways in and out. Moreover, if you are inside the car and need to get off at the next station, it’s your problem how you’re going to manage that. People won’t make way for you. It’s not common practice to ask people in front of you if they’re going to get off (like it is in Moscow). Fight your way through to the doors all by yourself, you and your elbows, I’m afraid, you’ll have to. The doors, by the way,  can be quite entertaining. There’s also music announcing the approaching train, and melodies in different cities are different.

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3. In many cases public restrooms are not to be found inside cafes or restaurants but for the whole of a building, which could, naturally, house several various places on its floors. You’ll have to ask staff – and hope they will explain it in English.

4. There was something that completely blew my mind, and please don’t make the trite comment that Russians shouldn’t be afraid of cold weather. Girls in Korea in the chilly, sometimes windy weather of the second half of October were not noticed to be wearing tights while strolling around in super mini skirts and shorts. Similar thing was noted in November (!) in Japan. My granny would tell them all off right there in the street when she spotted one.

5. Square shaped leather bags of a rucksack style are popular for both girls and boys. I won’t mention couple clothing, as it was already mentioned here.

6. In your local neighbourhoods, just off the noisy, busy main street, there would be a man in a van. He would be slowly driving around the area in his van full of vegetables. He would have a megaphone. He would offer cabbages, potatoes and what not in a monotonous mullah-like voice, stopping here and there. I’d never seen anything like it, or felt like wishing to buy a sack of carrots in a street.

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7. Koreans don’t care (or don’t show they care or notice) you are different. Let’s face it, I am plenty different by my looks. Maybe it is Seoul but in fact I never felt “alien”, or weird, or stared at, let alone treated badly (with a few minor exceptions, which might actually prove the general trend and were more funny than unpleasant)).

8. I spent a lot of time commuting around the city on the subway, so that’s where I made a great deal of my notes, watching people. Koreans on the subway sometimes seemed pretty much like Russians by behavior to me – pushing, not saying sorry for stepping on your feet, or for anything, for that matter. And yet they somehow didn’t leave a strong impression of being rude. They might not have looked or made a recognizable impression of being friendly either… but they did get nice. =) Like once two old ladies invited me to take a seat near them (those reserved for the elderly). It was a sudden and pleasant gesture, even if I refused.

9. As I’ve already mentioned it above, it struck me to see the life of small businesses out there in the street. Tailor shops, car repairs, toy makers, sellers of all possible useful and useless things, old ladies’ eating places – in tiny, not necessarily clean rooms, with doors wide open, these were always tempting me to sneak a look inside. The city life is out. That’s such a different Seoul than that of Gangnam, and the feel it has is warm and welcoming.

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10. What feels so unmistakenly mine in Korea is the combination of green mountains, pine trees of their sprawling shape, and Asian architecture forms and colours. The simplicity of wood and stone and gravel wrapped up in the green of those pines blew my mind, no less. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a few times I actually caught myself holding my breath. The nature aesthetics of Korea brought peace to my mind even when I was not feeling exactly peaceful.

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11. Korean girls use lipstick (a lot) and apply it in a special style which is called “gradient lips”.

12. Despite expectations, I didn’t notice Koreans to be emotionally reserved. On the contrary, I saw people (younger ones, to be fair and precise) expressing their feelings affectionately in public.

13. People do not interact with strangers either verbally or with eye contact. It was so unusual for me especially, since I was constantly staring at everything around me, including people. I wonder if that behaviour came across as impolite or embarrassing.

14. Koreans love hats. And cats.

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15. It’s fine or a cultural habit (norm?) to brush teeth in public places (restrooms, naturally). I’d never seen anything like it.

16. Sooo many Koreans wear trainers! I realize it’s the trendy thing to do now but I found it almost obsessive. In this way, I can’t help drawing another comparison with young people here in Moscow – so many of them look the same, from season to season, in similar outfits “inspired” by all similar glossy mag pictures. It was far more exciting to watch people in Tokyo =)

 

 

That’s about all for now. I wish I could sum it all up in a beautiful paragraph. Is it really possible to piece together these fragments of culture and impressions they made on me? I won’t even start doing that. The bits and pieces of scattered observations are part of my Korea, the first country I got to look at from within and took to pieces so scrupulously.

*****

My time in Korea would’ve been completely different had it not been for the amazing people there who took care of me in so many ways. I owe my discoveries to the time I spent and conversations I had with Josette LeBlanc and her husband, Anne Hendler, Michael Griffin, Michael Chesnut, Nina Iscovitz, Ran Kim, David Harbinson, dozens of students and teachers I had the pleasure and luck to meet. You all made a big, big difference, bigger than you realize for sure. More on that maybe in future posts. Thank you!

And thanks for reading.

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What happened to my Korean in Korea, and a little more.

I’m in Thailand now, with my face freshly burnt red and with my mind both relaxed and agitated just the right amount for catching up on my multiple drafts from Korea. Let’s see what comes out of it. This post will be the updated and seriously revised version of a thing I almost published two weeks ago. But what does it matter, here it goes.

 

 

 

Roughly n weeks ago I wrote the following paragraph for the “Teachers as Students” issue of iTDi Blog:

“On October 1st I’ll arrive in South Korea and will be staying there for over a month. In  view of that, I thought it respectful, good manners, and actually practically useful to study Korean. I don’t set objectives for myself higher than merely being able to read hangul, the Korean script. Ideally, I’d also learn to say a few touristy basics, realizing all the time that saying something in a foreign language is just part of a communication situation, and not even half of it.” (all 15 paragraphs I wrote can be found here).

 

So that was a scene set. It’s been 2 weeks I’m in South Korea (UPD: I’ve left Korea now). One of the most amazing and useful (for me) features of blogging, or writing of any form, for that matter, is that it allows you to read into your own mind of weeks ago. Moreover, it prompts asking yourself questions, such as:

– Can you read hangul?

– Was/ is it useful?

– Have you learnt a few touristy basics? How many is “a few”? What are they?

– Do your few touristy basics help you in your touristy communicative situations?

 

These are the questions you can ask me. In this post I want to speculate about my hangul’s worth, describe my encounters with the language, and in general share my thoughts about the languages that surround(ed) me in Korea..

 

*****

My prep for visiting Korea did include attempts to learn the script, and I can say that I diligently and enthusiastically managed about 2 weeks of self-study using apps and videos (which have been very helpful and I still aim to continue watching the lessons, mostly for the nerdy fun of it). As a result, I am not frightened of the look of most street signs. I am, though, feeling quite insecure when I see this:

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I consider myself very lucky to have rarely needed to face this on my own. When on my own, though, I resorted to choose places with pictures and/or English menus.

What’s wrong with this one if you claim to be able to read the script? – I ask myself. Here’s when I’ll get to write about skills and competences and the mess they make.

 

On reading.

So yes, with the exception of uncomfortable vowel combinations, 4-letter blocks (닭), numerous (luckily not endless) pronunciation rules when sounds of separate letters blend together to make something totally different from what I’m seeing – with the exception of those, I can read hangul, the Korean script. In practice, that means I can try to give the sticks and circles a sound equivalent. If that word happens to be of an English origin, I’ve nailed it. I can figure out that 커피 is “keopi” (coffee) and 오렌지 is “oraenji” (orange). At this point I start feeling masterful and very linguistically talented. In this fashion, I can read = pronounce metro stations, names of attractions, separate words on product labels, anything Korean which makes it no more than a line of lexical items at a time. How useful that is without knowing what the words actually mean, I have little clue. In that menu above, once I regain confidence after first-minute shock of looking at the paper, I might recognize rice rolls, ramen and soup, because I know those words. Otherwise I’m lost and being able to pronounce the stuff doesn’t guarantee ordering the stuff I’ll feel like eating.

Bottomline on reading: it feels very nice to be able to associate symbols with sounds. Reading practice itself is hard when we’re talking beyond  word/ collocation level.

 

On writing.

I was not at all surprised to find that the skill I’m so fervently preaching to be particularly effective in learning a language (as it’s proven to be that to me in my own experiences) is actually worth all the fuss in Korean, too. If I don’t write it, or type it, odds are high I’ll forget it the next minute. So that’s what I’ve been doing:

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For a little while I also played with writing hashtags for my Instagram pics in hangul. That’s one of those little, seemingly unimportant and unimpressive things that, in my opinion, assist quite a bit in getting your confidence when dealing with a foreign language. Tiny steps made up of no more than words, repetition, playful use and no rules – it works for me.

Bottomline on writing: it is key for me, be it English, Japanese, Korean or other. I suppose there must be scientific evidence (and published papers) that language produced by/ registered with the help of fingertips has better retention. The little data I have speaks in the favour of this statement.

 

On speaking.

As it happens, I can only say (1) what I’ve previously written down; (2) what I’ve written down and read to myself and aloud several times; (3) what I’ve written down, read aloud and practised saying to myself. The saying-it-to-myself part is as necessary to me as it’d look ridiculous: I must feel at ease with myself pronouncing the foreign sounds, hearing myself uttering them, first shyly and quitely, then possibly louder. In the end, I might finally feel brave enough to try sound the “goodbye” out at an appropriate moment. I’ve noticed, though, as there’s hardly ever any reaction following my “goodbye”(since I’m saying it when going or almost gone), I’m not motivated to keep saying it. I suppose if I were to stay in Korea for a while longer, I’d have braced myself for learning more meaningful vocabulary and actual expressions I could use in a variety of situations. Otherwise, it’s just words alone, and even then I’m not sure how well I’m managing. Last week at a bus station in Gangneung I tried to ask for tea at a cafe. I thought the Korean for tea is “cha”, which it is. I tried both “cha” and “tea” and gesticulation. The lady’s face was blank on all occasions and I felt quite dumb for a second there.

Bottomline on speaking: it’s thrilling to find yourself able to express yourself, however limited the way is, in a foreign language. It’s painful, too. I believe I’m very forceful as a teacher.

 

On listening.

Well, this paragraph will be really short. It’s just terrible.

It’s just terrible. It’s impossible for me to break down the Korean I hear into any intelligible parts, something I would be able to write down. As soon as I arrived, I had this idea in mind to ask every person I talk to to teach me a word/ phrase in Korean that’d be interesting, useful for me. Not even once could I catch what they were saying from merely listening to these good people! Not even when I asked them to repeat, not when I stared into their mouths trying to grasp the sounds from the movements of their lips and identify the corresponding letters to spell the things out. In the end, it was always the same – I asked the person to type it for me in my phone notes (which you can see above).

Bottomline on listening: it is a sad realization that my ear is so unresponsive to the language I hear around me for whole 30 days. It made me think about the ways I teach listening and also promise to myself to do more (and regular!) listening for my Japanese.

 

*****

These are my thoughts on my *progress in* Korean this past month. I’m going to be back to Seoul for a week soon, but frankly speaking I don’t expect myself to learn much more in that time. Besides, I really miss studying and focusing on Japanese, which I’ve neglected for 2 months. I enjoyed tackling Korean as I love the look of it and I still believe my decision was right, however little the progress. I had fun and I’m happy to officially announce my viewpoint that learning languages is exciting, and could be an especially great experience if in your learning you open up to people speaking the language in question.

 

As usual, I’ve got some random notes to share at the end of my post plus a little treat at the very bottom.

1) During my visit to one of Seoul palaces, the following conversation happened:

– Hello!

– Hello!

(silence, hiding behind the statue of a dragon)

– Here Korean king (pointing to the palace).

– Oh! Korean king lived here?! (smiling and overly enthusiastic about the fact shared)

– Goodbye.

– Goodbye.

 

My conversation partner hiding behind the statue of a dragon, then staring at me  and taking the time to formulate his 3-word *almost* sentence, was a five/six-year-old boy. I found this interaction beyond cute, and especially so when I tried to imagine a Russian kid of the same age approach a foreigner with a travel guide type comment in English. I just don’t see it happen.

 

2) Nobody I asked to teach me some Korean found it an easy task. Nobody ever taught me how to say YES or NO.))) I would still like to know how to say “I like it”.

 

3) ㅋㅋㅋ (“k k k”) standing for “hahaha” is fantastic and weird. From the little Korean laughter I heard here and there, their real laughing is pretty normal.

 

***** The Treat *****

Thanks for reading my post. Now I invite you to lean back in whatever furniture item it is you’re sitting on and enjoy the hilarious linguistic landscapes of Korea. I’d heard of them before I came to Seoul but I could hardly have imagined the immensity of the scale. They’re one of a kind, if you ask me. I don’t offer any analysis (though I’m very much interested in that and I have formed some opinion on that) or ideas how to use that in class. You can check the links shared at the very very bottom of this post to learn more about linguistic landscapes, which seem to have grown to be a thing in online ELT world. Otherwise, just enjoy the hilarity.

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(there’s some school bag..)

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I hope that was somewhat enjoyable. You can read more about linguistic landscapes here, here, here, and also here. You can rummage twitter for #LinguisticLandscapes. You can join this Facebook group. You can look around and see how the linguistic landscape in your country cannot compare compares to the one in Korea. Russian certainly does not!

 

Thank you for reading.

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Am I learning Japanese?

I am in the process. More accurately, a couple of days ago I pulled myself out of the 2-month stagnation process, thanks to this post of Sandy Millin about how she actually is learning Russian. Thanks again, Sandy, for this unintended nudge, which I’m just hopeful will mean effort on my part for more than a few days after this post is out.

Over to the more detailed answer to the question in the title. I am learning, of course. Am I enjoying Japanese? Very much. Am I progressing? Well, I believe I am. Am I happy with my progress (and myself learning)? Not at all. The funniest thing for me here was to look back and track out my post of Dec 3, 2013, the moment when, having studied Japanese for a whole one long week, I came up with morals and lessons, both for myself, for students, and for the community. Little did I know then what months ahead had in store.

 

I’m writing this post to:

(1) display the viewable fruit of my effort and tell about my studies. Explain, comment.

(2) ask myself questions resulting from (1). Wonder, speculate…

(3) .. and not despair.

*****

Even though pictures in the posts here in this emerging space of a blog is not much my style (the serene black&white somehow appeals to me), I’ll insert some images here. I was blown away by Sandy’s, to be honest. It is also past my understanding why I, a teacher who keeps telling students to surround their living space with as much English as possible, have failed to do so. Anyway, what’s on display here in (1)? Here’s what one could find in my room and suppose I’m studying Japanese:

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Most basic Kanji characters taped to the wall in front of my desk. That really means I look at these every day. I can recognize, draw and pronounce the highlighted ones. My confession, one I never imagined myself making, is that I love kanji. I’m also quite keen on hiragana symbols and think they look attractive (maybe that’s why I managed to learn them easily), but katakana syllabary just won’t settle in and really causes frustration at times.

photo1 2

The three owls are staring at me daily with the easiest of conversational Japanese. One of these days I will be giving them neighbours, there are a lot lined up waiting. I’ve found these owls have truly done their job well – I can assure you I know these phrases.

photo1 4

Next up – the box. Old-style cards with random Japanese words and phrases I pick up from here and there (written in kana and where possible in kanji lately) and the English for them on the other side. No context for them as yet. I hope you now have at least one question on the tip of your tongue finger about this box contents. Save it for (2), please.

photo 3

I have no course book. This picture book is the only book for Japanese studies I have, and this is now maybe a shame, already. While being openly a let’s-stay-away-from-coursebook teacher, as a learner I have ironically started wishing for a nice glossy-paged thin volume of something with exercises I could mechanically complete. I would then see the pages covered as an achievement and would likely brag about that now. However, in my one episode of a Japanese coursebook hunt, the books I found were offering me to learn Japanese through Russian AND through the methodology of the 60s. I politely refused.

Apart from the book I have a whole file for kanji writing practice. From this website I downloaded all kinds of seemingly relevant files, one of which was the first 103 kanji with stroke order and space to practise. I’m taking my time, going through them at my own *snail slow* pace.

photo 15One of my two notebooks for studies is the one for random, or all, kind of notes. There’s no structure there at all. The pages at the back of the notebook would reveal my attempt at keeping vocabulary lists but it didn’t work out for me, I see no reason/use in having words listed like that. That is, at this particular moment, for myself.

The other notebook was just started a few days ago and is for recording and practising grammar and vocabulary from this app. The app is great for me since its materials are accessible offline and that’s what I need, since I spend hours in Moscow metro where wifi is still a promise. The initial Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese looks to be a comprehensive resource in itself and I just wish I had time or whatever it is I need to check back there once in a while. Plus I’ve just now joined the corresponding FB group, whatever that means for my future studies.

While speaking of apps, here’s the last picture for this post.

photo

Phone and iPad screenshots for this folder would be about the same. I have only used Sketches app on the phone to practise drawing hiragana, but I now think maybe I could get back to it for kanji as well. My point is having/writing the same things (characters, words, phrases) in different places around me: in pen&paper notes, in phone or tablet notes, in apps, on sticky notes. There are two more apps in this folder I haven’t found a way to make real use of, so they’re waiting for their turn. One app I’m totally not getting is… Quizlet. I created sets, I played with them, I tested myself. It’s not interesting for me and I’m not impressed or convinced, or unhappy about it either, for that matter.

I am happy though that I found this blog by Matthew Ellman. Matthew recommended me to try out Memrise for myself, which I did. You can see there were 47 notifications from the app at the moment of taking the screenshot, and that should prove I’m studying but somehow lagging behind the app) Actually, Memrise is surely in top 3 useful resources for my Japanese vocabulary, so thanks very much, Matthew.

Busuu is pretty great and I used it quite consistently and successfully for two months last summer to pick up some basic Italian before my holidays there. What I like(d) about it best was that there’s this community part of every unit you go through, where you’re asked to produce some language based on questions they ask or commenting on pictures, etc. It did work for my super basic Italian, and is yet to be seen for my ultra basic Japanese.

 

What are other “materials” I turn to in my relaxed/ lax approach to self-studying Japanese?

* Video and audio podcast from JapanesePod101.com. They’ve got plenty of collections aimed at different levels and for various purposes. Only from one introductory audio I learnt (and remembered) when and why to say いただきます (itadakimasu), おいしい (oishii), まあまあ (maa maa) and ごちそうさま (gochisousama).

* Being an Instagram addict user (frequent but sensible), I follow several accounts which post pictures for learners of Japanese, or accounts of learners of Japanese. I find it useful and interesting to study hashtags in particular, even if かわいい (kawaii) seems to be the all-around favourite.

* Every day there’s at least one status update in Japanese in my Facebook feed. When it doesn’t look too daunting, I copy it out (especially so if it’s just one line) and break it down with the help of the dictionary.

* There are occasional blog findings that refer to the language or culture that I go through (like, for example, recently this post about the blood types of Japan, or RocketNews24).

* In the Facebook group for students I have written about there are enough active members from Japan, and I sometimes learn from them as well (またね- matane, for instance).

* I try to read every product label in Japanese that I happen to see. That’s difficult, as they’re mostly written in katakana (which as I said I’m still struggling with). Besides, it becomes impossible as soon as I see a row of kanji characters.

* I watched “My Neighbour Totoro” for the 4th time with my niece this weekend, and while we understandably were watching it in Russian, I was happy to note that I could catch and understand some bits of original Japanese there. Or catch, type in a dictionary and learn a new word (まって- matte).

*****

(2) Thoughts and questions now:

– My decision to go for self-studying is a conscious choice. Is it the right track? Am I losing much? A week ago I wrote a post on how/IF teachers can motivate students to learn a language outside of class. My case is *formally* no class. Who motivates me? Am I motivated? What’s responsible for that? Would classes help motivation and/or progress?

– I’ve mentioned “here and there” above. Well, this is exactly the essence of “my method”, which I still almost believe should work one day. Sporadic, spontaneous nature of learning… is it the nature of learning a language, especially when you’re thousands of miles away from the target culture? My biggest concern about the success of my studies comes out of my most grounded belief that I don’t need a rigid system to reach a certain language level. I’m ready to reconsider.

– It’s true that the only person I speak to in Japanese outloud (introducing myself, asking for chopsticks, greeting, encouraging for studies, etc)) is me. This is one big problem with opting for self-studying Japanese in Moscow.

I invite you to ask me more questions.

I am making an effort to surround myself with Japanese. Am I learning it? Some learning is happening, but because it’s unsystematic, or because it’s been a while since I last diligently spent 15 minutes per day for 7 days in a row doing something, the current feeling is that of self-doubt. I have a very vague idea of how sentences are structured. Though, of course, I have a big picture and know a lot more than I did 5 months ago, and I’d now come up with several very simple “can do” statements for myself. If need be, that is.

*****

(3) This morning I’m excited again. One result of a tweet exchange around the topic of teachers learning languages was the discovery of Kimchi Bites blog where Martin Sketchley shares his experience self-studying Korean (this particular post with the comment thread was key for inspiring me make an action). My immediate plan is to put this present excitement into practical solutions. Realistically, I won’t be able to run yet another blog, so I’m going to blog about how my Japanese is going here. The regularity cannot be promised, but is hypothetically a post once a week/fortnight.

Another result is this realistic challenge from Matthew. Looks like the next post in the Japanese series is round the corner! Community support, nudge and competition is fun and exciting.

 

This post, however, is over now. You have read 1800+ words. Arigatou.

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Sake, sushi and a kiss

The title of the post can make you think I will be writing about a recent visit to a Japanese restaurant. Or a poem. Or a movie script.
Well, I might. Bear with me and read on.

さけ
すし
ちゅ

A week ago I started to learn Japanese. There’s nothing to feel extremely proud of yet, I haven’t learnt even half of Hiragana syllabary. But I can read something, I can draw some symbols, and I remember these three words very well.
I learnt German at the university – and gave it up. I started to learn Italian, twice – and gave it up. It’s not much of statistics but could probably lead to a thought that I still have chances to fail. Indeed, perseverance without a distinct, articulate, Big Thing purpose is not my story. That is why I like to hope that this time I’ll do better, and not only because I’ve got the Purpose and I’ve exposed my baby-learner status. I am not alone, and I am aware.
More findings of this last week below:

(1) Having the Purpose is helpful but in the long run it can be a little intimidating. When I started to study German my aim sounded something like “I want to read Remarque in original”. This is a bit of a delusion for a beginner in any language. Aspiration, yes, but not too good a goal. At the moment my micro-goals in Japanese include having a decent 15-minute daily lesson and being focused on what I’m learning. That means sitting down at the desk and writing. During the day I try to liven up my long metro commute and study more with the help of two or three apps.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: little aim is a useful aim. Be realistic about what you can do, then do it and stay pleased with yourself, not frustrated at your inability to come up to your own expectations.

(2) During this week I have come to see very clearly one truth about learning a language that I have always known (and it’s nothing revolutionary, you all know it, it’s just nice to think of it from another angle). Language learning does not happen in a linear way. Getting pieces of a language system together comes as a gradual consequence of a chain of tiny discoveries of every single learning moment, of every given (and taken) learning opportunity. My examples:
– I downloaded several apps both for iPhone and iPad and try to use them occasionally, on both devices. One of the apps constitutes my basic “syllabus” of learning to write, pronounce and read hiragana syllables. A couple of others work on different levels (a basic grammar guide, busuu, dictionary, study cards from that hiragana app).
– There is a notebook to practise writing kana (symbols) and simple examples, all coming from the app.
– There is a notebook to record vocabulary I come across (which for now is all mostly passive). In the same notebook I started a Week Recap section, where I basically sum up all I’ve learnt about Japanese from different sources during the week of study.
– I printed out Hiragana syllabary and look at it. (Very useful, give it a try, looking at something)
– I created a photo album in my iPhone for all pics and screenshots connected with studying Japanese. Look at them)
– I downloaded an app which enables me to “sketch” on the phone. So I practise writing on my way. Then I may post a screenshot of some word I like in my Instagram account as my #wordoftheday. I am sure followers, especially the majority of my Russian friends, think I’m nuts.)
– I visited my sister at the weekend and stayed with my 7-year old niece. We practiced learning together. For example, I drew a symbol (like き) and pronounced it (ki), she had to write it in Russian. That was fun.
– There is this good friend (thank you!), who can sometimes be seen online wearing a hat, following newly-born movements (see P.S.) and writing excellent posts, who is not bothered (or is bothered but too kind to say so) to throw in some really tough but real life examples, that is words for me to read. Or I’d say lines of symbols to decipher. These are then supplied with comments of how/ why/ what for that happens in the language. This is all terribly exciting and challenging, too. (Tip for the students – have somebody teach you, who is not formally your teacher, and who will supply you with bits of information about the language in a (yes! Again) non-linear way.)

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: think 360 degrees, 24 hours and other dimensions. Use your imagination.

(3) First time in the two years of my geeky teacher life I’ve started to use Quizlet. I don’t know most vocabulary items I’ve put there. Words out of context and out of a bigger scheme of understanding of how the language works don’t sink in. Obviously except for those, which are either beautiful, or short, or are sake, sushi and kiss.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: before suggesting to your students some method or tool for learning a language, try it out for yourself. It’s interesting that last week I showed Quizlet to three of my students. One of them got off it immediately, the other two are still holding to it. The teenage girl went crazy about it, needed no explanation at all how to manage the sets, how to add words and study and play games. Fun!

Whether I fail or make a little progress is not a question. At the moment I perceive these studies as a process I enjoy. Every day I rush home imagining how I will take the pen and start writing these beautiful kana, line after line, like my niece is doing with the Russian letters and syllables. How I’ll combine them, try to give them their sound. Try again.
And there’s more to come.

Here’s a picture with the only aim to be shown as a thumbnail image of this post.

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P.S. The Glorious #FlashmobELT Movement.

P.P.S. Here are links to the three blogs of teachers/ teacher trainers learning a language, writing about their journeys. Their journeys have been much more exciting (and longer) than mine, they’re definitely worth a read.

Vicky Loras on opening her eyes and starting to study German.
Ken Wilson and his series “Diary of a language learner”
Scott Thornbury’s “(De-)Fossilization Diaries

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Remembering JALT2013. Part 1, not too practical.

A week after the conference began I’m in a different place with a different view outside my window. It’s also a different me inside my room. She’s kinder but sadder than she used to be before she left for Japan. She’s more determined but oddly less happy in certain ways. She’s had the unique time that no other time can beat.

can’t repeat the past
but can try to catch the subsiding notes of excitement
capture the scenes and faces
shape thoughts and moments into broken sentences
and move on

And here’s a small part of what I’m taking with me

– I challenged myself a big deal and as a result proved I’m tougher than I’d imagined; comfort zone is elastic; you have no idea what you are really capable of;
– I learnt there are people who happen to be your kind of people and you don’t even need to take any time to realize that; it’s obvious, non-negotiable truth which you’ll know as soon as you get lucky to meet your own kind of people; it’s instant, deep and difficult to handle, so better step back and watch it happen;
– I saw selfless, helpful, grateful, sensitive people who fill the room with goodness so that even tough ones like me give in; made me become a little bit better myself, even if for a short while;
– I experienced insights; think, talk, write;
– I had a clear understanding of things; every minute spent in the workshop was a minute spent with awareness;
– I know how belonging feels and how much it means;
– I know now your way to live your life is not the only possible option and quite likely not the best one either; change is not just a word, it can actually happen; you make things happen, not the other way around;
– I didn’t judge, for a change, and it feels liberating;
– I know there’s bento with no rice.

I started with Jay Gatsby, I’d like to finish quoting somebody else:
“I didn’t like myself. Now I like myself a little bit.”
My point exactly.

See you in my next post, which I promise will be less bizarre, more relevant and interesting on the whole.

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