Kanji without Heisig


A bit of a tangent from the usual german content here. I was just reading a post over at Japanese From Zero where akanpanda asks “does anyone know a *non Heisig* way to learn Kanji? Heisig bores me even when I turn it into a game.” For those who are unfamiliar, the Heisig method of learning kanji is to build up from basic characters to complex ones, so that every complex one consists of pieces that are recognizable characters. You have to follow a certain order so that you always get those basic ones before the advanced ones. Here’s my response:

You probably want to find some way to go hardcore on an SRS because that’s the fastest way to fill your brain with reams of data, but it doesn’t have to be through Heisig. The problem i had with Heisig was learning a bunch of boring characters before the ones that i wanted. Instead of that, you could try adding chars as you encounter them in real life. You may not know the parts of them in an awesome way like in the Heisig method, but it’ll be ok. This way each character will mean something to you, and have value, instead of being force-fed.

What i did was go to the library and get an awesome book that i really wanted to read. A good one for me was a book of short sci-fi stories by famous authors like Ray Bradbury and George R.R. Martin, except translated into chinese (which is what i was learning). Then i’d go through one page, and just write down all the chars that i didn’t know. I’d look up each one, and make up an Anki card for it. Then i’d try to read the page, hopefully remembering some of the chars that i just looked up.

Every day i’d do my Anki reps, and add a new page full of the characters i didn’t know. As each day went on, I’d be able to read more and more of the stories, at least by guessing new words according to the Hanzi (aka Kanji) that i encountered. The benefit of this method was that all the characters i added were really valuable to me. They were helping me read more and more pages of the awesome book, instead of just being random boring characters from some predefined method. This way, i kept my motivation up because i wanted to get through more pages of the book, and each progressive page was getting easier and easier.

An important part of motivation is self-direction. The fastest way to hate something is to have someone else force you to do it, or to be spoon-fed. Pick your own direction, and you’ll be able to do it for longer. Also, mix things up a bunch. Never just use one method, or one book. Every time you sit down to work on your project, have a variety of materials in front of you and choose whichever one catches your eye first. When you start to get bored of it, just drop it and look around. Pick up the next one that catches your eye. If you have enough interesting materials in front of you, you can go all day. I did this by getting real books from the library. Sci-fi, or translated novels like “the godfather” (which was funny to try to read in chinese). It’s also good to get something that’s familiar, maybe like Harry Potter if you’re into that.

Good luck!

interview about “ALG” thai language school


I strongly recommend checking out the videos that Keith has posted on his blog.  In the video, ALG “Automatic Language Growth” is described in detail.  The idea is that to learn a language to a native level, you need to be exposed to many hundreds of hours of understandable content, and you don’t need to memorize grammar rules or vocab lists.

The videos contain many interesting insights from the director of the thai language program, about how people learn languages well.  I really liked the part where he talks about the downfalls of having all the students talking to each other, or of individuals practicing speaking.  Input always comes before Output, he says.  Correct Input to our ears cannot come from our mouths.

On that note, i’m off to watch some german star trek 🙂

getting primed for movie watching


i think i may have mentioned this before, but i’m just so astounded by the results that i have to say it again. Today i listened to one of my german audio books while simultaneously reading the dead tree version (“Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen”, for those curious). After doing this for about an hour, my mind started to wander, but instead of falling back to the usual internet-surfing, i decided to put on an episode of german star trek.

What i found was (again) amazing. I understood way more of the episode than usual. I got lots of the intricate plot details, and it was really nice to fully understand a lot of the casual dialog too. What I take away from this experience is that 3hrs of german is way more beneficial than 3x 1hr of german. I hope to see more of this in effect once my other TV shows arrive and i have endless amounts of german stuff to watch.

I wonder how much of this effect is from having a transcript of the audiobook. I think there’s some positive interaction from both reading and listening at the same time, instead of just listening. Perhaps it engages different parts of the brain? I’m not sure. I’m curious whether this listening-reading exercise was specifically the cause of my increased understanding of TV today, or whether i can duplicate it with any german exercise at all. Perhaps just reading could accomplish the same thing? I’m not sure, but it seems worth trying.

anyone else have similar experiences? what works for you?

star trek


One thing i actually have been doing lately is watching some star trek. A while ago, i bought german versions of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and started watching from the beginning. I’ve now completely finished watching season 1, and some of season 2.

The reason i picked star trek was because i’m really familiar with the characters and the setting. I know all of the types of plots that can happen, so everything is very easy to figure out even if i don’t have the specific vocabulary required. On episodes where there’s just a lot of talking over and over in the same room, i tend to get a bit lost. There was one episode where Jadzia was being judged for a crime committed by a previous dax host, so they all sat in the same room for a long time and talked…i barely got any of it. But on episodes where they move around and stuff happens visually, then i understand more of it.

More and more i’m coming to understand Khatsumoto’s concept of “environment”. In order to learn a language, you need to make it hard not to learn it. Surround yourself by it, make it what you do in your “spare time”, what you fall back to when you’re bored, everything. To that end, i’m ordering some more DVDs of shows i like to watch, so that i’ll always have something i want.

Something i haven’t tried yet is creating comfy tv watching environment. I need a cheap dvd player that can play region 2 dvds, and then work tv watching back into my daily habits (except in german). Then i could get home from work and flop down on the couch to watch an hour of tv before dinner. i can’t think of any easier way to learn a language 😉

back in action


Lately i had quite an extended time where i bounced between several hobbies, but i’m somehow back at german now. I took several sailing courses, learned a bit about playing irish-style flute, and read a lot of english fiction, but now i’m motivated to do languages again.

C went on a trip to europe, which generally involved much time either in Germany, or in contact with many Germans, so when she got back she had quite a lot of enthusiasm for learning to speak German. Having someone else interested in doing it too has rekindled my interest.

To get back into it, i’ve tried to find more listening resources. I’ve actually found that Michel Thomas german has been quite helpful in clearing up a few concepts. The amount of english in it is super annoying, as is the horrible pronunciation of the students, but i still find it helpful because of the usefulness of the example sentences. It definitely is catapulting C’s understanding of german, which we then reinforce by watching an episode of german star trek 😉

On my own, I’ve started back with L-R of Harry Potter (german audiobook + dead tree book in german). I also just found a fantastic site called “Slow German“. It has audio podcasts in german, and blog entries with the transcripts. If you highlight any word in the transcripts, it pops up a little definition in english for that word. A fantastic listening+reading resource 🙂