With the script technology available these days, it’s uncommon for language learners to focus so much on the writing of languages like Japanese and Chinese. All you need to do is recognise a character, and know what it sounds like, to be able to write it on a computer. Even in my own study, I am trying to focus more on reading, listening, and speaking, as it seems like it will take a long time to rote learn individual characters.
On the flip side, learning how to write characters yourself helps make them more concrete in your mind, and can really help you understand them and their relationships to other words and characters. A useful tool I’ve found to help you write Japanese or Chinese (on the computer, no less!) is Skritter. With Skritter, you can practice writing characters on the screen, and the program can help you with stroke order as well as giving useful information about the characters and radicals. It also provides a tracking service so you can see your progress, and focus more on characters that you are having trouble with.
They provide a two week full service trial for learners of Japanese and Chinese (both traditional and simplified), so if you want to improve your writing skills, check it out!
In the kind of news story that you wouldn’t even believe if it were in a Hollywood film, a woman from Devon started speaking in new accents after complaining of severe migraines.
She initially spoke in a Chinese accent for about a week, and then woke up speaking in a more Eastern-European sounding accent (apparent in the video below). Unfortunately there’s no evidence of the Chinese accent; I would have been really interested to see what that sounded like.
Clearly she has had some kind of brain episode affecting her speech areas, as she makes some grammatical errors as well as the perceived accent change. As she mentions in the video, she is unsure how long it will last for. Apparently some people who suffer this kind of change recover after some time.
It’s nice that her mental capacity seems unchanged, although I think it would frustrate me no end to have people think I was a bit simple because of the way I spoke!
I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that English language programs for school students are being removed or seriously cut down in some places in Inner Mongolia. The apparent reasoning for this is that the Chinese government doesn’t want kids there to have the opportunity to learn the language. I can’t find any information to back this up at this point, but the whole concept of removing opportunities from students is just abhorrent to me. I can understand if there are simply no resources to provide education in certain areas, but to actively remove important programs just seems unnecessary and unjust.
The quality and availability of English language teachers in places like Inner Mongolia is low enough as it is, with many English teachers being local people who can barely communicate in the language themselves. This is the case in many populous lower-socioeconomic areas, as there is little funding to support native speaking teachers. Even for locals who are good teachers, other opportunities in richer places are common. There’s an interesting article about this on the Amity newsletter, and they also outline what they are doing to help the situation.
What would you think if your child was going to a school where an important subject’s program was either very poor or completely non-existent?
On the major Chinese television network, CCTV, newscasters have been told to stop using commonly-understood English acronyms in their broadcasts. Instead of using short forms like NBA and WHO, TV presenters have been told they must use the full Chinese translations, which are sometimes very long and might in turn be confusing to viewers. If newscasters accidentally use the abbreviations, they must use the full translation immediately afterwards to establish what they are talking about.
The reasoning behind this move is that government officials do not want the Chinese language to be infiltrated by English and become some sort of mongrel in a few years. I’m not sure how likely that is to happen, but it is somewhat reminiscent of the Académie française’s crusade to keep French pure.
I don’t know if this move will help maintain the grand traditions of the Chinese language, but it definitely won’t be saving the CCTV (err, China Central Television) anchors any time.
I came across a post on English Cafe (check/link) which talked about iPractice Obama English, an English learning service based entirely around Barack Obama’s presidential and senatorial speeches. The post on English Cafe was a little bit incredulous, for the valid reason that the kind of language used in formal speeches like this is probably not what your average English learner will ever need to use in real life.
I thought I’d check it out, though, just to see what it was about. They have a fairly good interface (in a downloadable program) which helps with reading and listening comprehension, as well as speaking practice. They have a speech recognition engine that judges the learner’s speech and gives them a score. Even though the language used might not be that helpful (unless maybe you are really really keen on American history and politics), President Obama has great enunciation and this program is sure to help English students with their listening comprehension. Besides the speaking practice, there are also reading and listening comprehension questions to answer. They seem to have a range of speech excerpts for free subscribers, and also premium services.
Check it out if you’re interested in English learning, politics, or are just an Obama fan. The homepage may inspire you with just the low-angle headshot!
Note: I have tried to publish this and other posts several times, and they keep disappearing. I hope this time the post sticks to the blog!
Recently it was announced that the rules of Scrabble were changing, and players would in future be able to use proper nouns in the game, which has never been allowed before. The change would mean that previously-illegal proper nouns, including celebrity names, brands, and company names would be acceptable. The justification from game company Mattel was that they wanted to attract players from younger generations, and thought that allowing players to use names would achieve this end. I was a little bit unsure of how I felt about this, because I’m sure I’ve had occasions where I wanted to play a proper noun as my word, but there’s definitely a difference between playing ‘Vatican‘ and ‘Beyonce‘.
Just after I read this, I read another article that said that the rules would remain the same, and that the news of the rule change was an exaggeration of the truth, which is that Mattel is planning to release an entirely different game called Scrabble Trickster, where anything goes, including proper nouns and words spelled backwards. I’m not sure if this was just all a big marketing ploy, but I think a sigh of relief may have been heard throughout the Scrabble-playing world.
I’m also not sure if changing rules like this would justify an entirely new game. Surely you could just play different rules with the same equipment? Which reminds me of this cartoon, which made me giggle.
I wrote a recent post about touch screen learning applications, so it’s a little humbling to watch this video. The BBC has reported on classrooms in Kenya that have to move around frequently and use what little they have as learning resources, even goat droppings.
The Kenyan government has launched a mobile school program that allows children in nomadic herding tribes to be educated, despite not having a permanent place to live. The children tend to the goats every day, but have a few hours where they learn in the classroom. The classroom consists of not much more than a blackboard, some books, and the ingenious use of goat droppings to write out numbers and letters on the ground. When the tribe moves on, the classroom moves with them.
It reminded me of when I was doing teacher training, and we were told not to worry too much about materials, because all we really needed to teach a class was a stick and some dirt to write in. Just goes to show that we can use whatever resources are around us to help us learn more.
For the video and more information, click here. The excitement of the children is pretty inspiring, to be honest. Go watch it!
Ever wanted to know what your beloved pet budgie was really trying to tell you? Now, with the help of an Android-compatible phone, you might be able to find out.
Technology giant Google has finally released what animal lovers everywhere have been waiting for – Google Translate for Animals. Using their huge language database and state of the art technology, Google is able to help everyday people understand their pets, and many other animals they might meet. Google Translate for Animals is now available in cat, dog, bird, rabbit, guinea pig, hamster, tortoise, horse, chicken, sheep, donkey, and pig. Unfortunately they are only able to translate to English right now, but other human languages are in the pipeline.
If you’re lucky enough to have an Android phone, you can download the application and start talking to the animals right away!