My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fortressing against Bad Education

I am informed that a companion to this post caused someone whose opinion I value distress, so I have removed and will be re-evaluating the expression of the contents.

Things That Weren't Shiny

I am informed that the post I originally had here caused someone whose opinion I value distress. I am not sure what distressed her about it, but I have removed it and will be rethinking how to express the contents in a better way.

惣菜 (sōzai): Side Dish vs. Main Dish vs. Japanese Dishes

When translating Japanese into English, sometimes you run into some real puzzles, concepts that just don't map.

One of those is 惣菜、 or sōzai. (Also called おかず, or okazu, especially when you cook them at home.)

Conceptually, it's not hard. In traditional Japanese cuisine, the staple mainstay (主食のご飯 -- shushoku no gohan) of a meal is the grain -- usually rice, but possibly noodles or even bread in present Japan. Sōzai are the dishes that support the mainstay staple, so they should be called "side dishes", right?

That is generally what you'll see sōzai translated as.

Meat is the mainstay of western cuisine, so the parallels are there. It's one of those cultural differences. Problem solved, back to work.

Except, what should we call the shops, and the sections of the local supermarkets, where they specialize in sōzai?

And what if there are nothing but side dishes on the table for a meal?

Way too much is lost in translation.

Western style main course (courtesy of Wikimedia):

Sirloin steak

Would you call this the main dish? Or is the main dish the meat, and are the potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and spring peas or whatever the collective side dishes? Perhaps I'd call it the main meat item with sides of potatoes and vegetables.

You could buy every item in there at a sōzai specialty shop.

(Ahem. Okay. That steak is about twice the size, minimum, of what you'd find in a sōzaiyasan, and it would likely be minced, breaded, and contain soy filler. Soy filler is not evil, by the way, if you aren't allergic to soy. Soy is good protein, and both the meat and the soy improve in nutrition value because of the mix.)

Gohan Shushoku (courtesy of Wikimedia):


If you heard someone say "main dish", would you expect this?

(If you look closely, you will see there is barley cooked into the rice. It's not uncommon in modern households. My wife does it too, and I appreciate it. It doesn't really change anything I'm talking about.)

Western style side dish (courtesy of Wikimedia):

Sunday roast vegetable side dish at The Stag, Little Easton, Essex, England

That looks like some good side items, side servings of side dishes collected in a single dish. Not much disagreement whether you are doing Japanese or western cuisine.

Okazu no Sōzai (courtesy of Wikimedia):

Bento (Kyoto, 2002)

Would you call that a box full of side dishes? How about delicacies? What if, as is not unusual, there were a hamburg steak in that box? How about if there were a side of rice in there, as well?

What if you selected (separately, not collected in a box as above) items like these including croquettes, spaghetti and meatballs, squid, steak, chicken, or pork cutlets, etc., at the supermarket, or at a sōzai specialty shop, to take home and serve for dinner? Does the size of the serving matter? And why does a sōzai shop usually sell servings of rice, as well?

Lately, many supermarkets will label the section where they sell sōzai "delicatessen" or 「デリカテッセン」。 That sort-of almost fits in with current western supermarket practices, really. It seems quite a long time ago that delicatessens specialized in foreign delicacies, if they ever did.

And not a few American or European family meal organizers will sometimes collect the elements of a meal, pre-cooked, at a delicatessen to take it home and serve pretty much as-is.

But it doesn't answer the question of what a Japanese shop should call the items themselves as a group if they want to translate their ads to English and attract English-speaking customers.

I think, although for business reasons I haven't actually done this in my translation work, that, for myself, I would call them meal items or pre-cooked dishes.

Or, hey -- This is Japan. Latinize/Romanize it and call them "sōzai (pre-cooked meal items)" at the top of the page and just "sōzai" everywhere else.

Then the person who sets the table can decide whether they are side attractions or main.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

How I Learned Japanese, What I Recommend

I am sometimes asked how I learned Japanese.
The short summary:

I picked up the basics as a missionary in the Kanto area. Then I tried to continue studying it in America while trying to focus on becoming an engineer. Not having much access to real, modern Japanese, my modes of expression never became natural. (This was in the days before the Internet.)
In fact, after we were married, my wife told me my Japanese was pretty strange when we met. (I was a little disappointed, but not really surprised.)

I did study Japanese when I was a student at Brigham Young University, taking as much as was available at the time.

I don't recommend choosing a spouse just to learn a language. Marriage should be guided by higher things, really. But my companion has been one of my primary teachers. Unfortunately, I have not returned the favor.

After she brought me back to Japan, I was immersed in Japanese all day long, both at work and at home. And Sundays, at Church.

She listens to the radio several hours a day. Her favorite talk show host, Dōjō Yōzō, has essentially become one of my primary sources of patterns. Another is the collection of teachers for the NHK foreign language programs. I picked up a lot of Japanese grammar terms there.

We needed to listen to more English radio programs, for the kids and for her.

We occasionally watch videos. I try to get her and the kids to watch in English, and I find myself watching in Japanese. Newspapers, too. We sometimes take English language newspapers, but mostly it's Japanese. And I sometimes check Japanese novels out at the library.

There's a certain amount of sink-or-swim motivation, but, more than that, there is exposure.
Exposure is important.

You can't develop natural usage patterns without lots of exposure. You need good models, and you need many different models and you need lots of words and expressions from them to model your own language against.

One very useful thing is to read the scriptures in parallel. I have the scriptures in both English and Japanese. One verse in English, same in Japanese. Next verse in Japanese, and then English.

If you don't like scriptures, you can do similar things with Rowling's Harry Potter books, or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.

There are even some books you can buy with the English and Japanese in parallel, the English on one page and the Japanese on the facing page. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince is one that has been available in that format, I'm not sure if it is still in print. 

(One of these days, when I start publishing my novels, I plan on doing that with some of them. Some of my Random Eikaiwa scraps, I've either annotated or translated, and I've translated some of my posts here, as well. I don't guarantee my Japanese in those, however. Japanese to English, I'm good at. English to Japanese, I'm not quite as good at.)

Another thing that is helpful for students of Japanese, but not available for students of English, is books with furigana (振り仮名). This is the kana pronunciation of many of the Kanji in the book printed (as ruby) above the characters or to the right. It's very common in books printed for junior high and upper-elementary grade students, and it's very useful for foreign students of Japanese, as well.

For students of English, I don't know of any books that have such ruby throughout as it is available for Japanese. But it's not as necessary. Looking up Kanji words whose pronunciation you don't know requires dictionaries with stroke-radical indexing, and a modicum of familiarity with the radicals. 

(The Internet can help with that.)

With English, it's all in the spelling. Your ordinary pocket dictionary can carry you quite a distance. But that can be counter-productive, if you look up too many words. Be careful not to do that. That much, books oriented towards a younger audience can still help you in English, as well.

Grammar? Dictionary definitions? How do you know what it all means, so you can remember and use it?

Believe it or not, adults can pick up a lot of meaning from context and non-verbal cues, just like children. Mistakes, too, but dictionaries can also invite mistakes just fine.

Yeah, the bare-bones grammar I got from the Church's Missionary Training Center was important. So were the basics of vocabulary, pronunciation, and the hiragana and katakana. That was easily done in two months. Studying more at college was helpful, when I got there.

Buying a couple of semi-advanced texts to study before I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam was also helpful. But reading a couple of Japanese novels while I was studying the texts was what made sure the grammar stuck with me.

How much writing things down did I do?

There were some things that were important, but I found myself progressing a lot faster when I was not writing everything down. You have to pick things that are important, otherwise writing things down just gives you more ways to forget things.

If you're tempted to worry about losing all the words you spent all that effort learning, believe it or not, being willing to let a lot of it go is important. Being able to do throw-away reading, listening, and watching is important.

Why? It's a bit technical to really get into here, but, first, the things you let go do stick around in your less conscious memories. Second, what you are doing when you let things go, when you throw things away, is selection. Selection means you are dealing with meaning. Meaning is what helps you remember things.

You don't remember things that don't mean that much to you, and you (usually) shouldn't try very hard to remember them. You will, in fact, remember them better for thinking about them just enough to choose to throw them away.

So what about tests?

Well, tests can be useful as tools to motivate yourself to study.

Preparing for tests can be an excellent way to raise your game, as long as you are not studying the test itself.

Fluency building? Skill building? Evaluation? No, not so much.

This is another place where I could get lost in the technical details, but just think about it.

Say there are 1000 vocabulary words on a test. True fluency requires at least 10,000.

Say there are 100 grammar principles on a test. True fluency requires at least 1000.

Fluency requires being able to think about and discuss concepts in the target language. Say a test includes long readings and summary paragraph answers on ten topics. Real fluency requires being able to work with hundreds.

Getting the picture? Even the most torrid of tests can barely cover a narrow, thin, ridiculously one-dimensional piece of the target language.

Tests are a necessary evil. Use them, but do not let them rule you.

If you've taken a test recently, say in the last several years, it's likely to be more beneficial to use your time reading more novels and watching more movies in the target language. 

And don't forget to keep building your fluency with your mother tongue. Learning a foreign language does help your skill with your mother tongue, but only if you let it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Book Review -- Diving for Love by Jenny Flake Rabe

Yeah, it's a quirky title. Not exactly the worst choice for the title, and I'm not sure I could have chosen a better title, but it might make you expect it to be about pearl divers. 

Or about snuba divers.

Oh. Wait. It is about snuba divers.

Or about one part-time snuba diver guide, negotiating deep and dangerous waters of personal and social relationships during one summer of high school. And about her summer job helping her uncle with his snuba business.

You can read the official blurb on Amazon or Goodreads or, say, the Balanced Writer. My summary follows:

Mariana takes us on a tethered dive through a slice of her life that skirts ethnic issues and plows through moral and economic issues as she solves several mysteries in her life, the most important of which is why her best friend doesn't seem to want to be her boyfriend. Most important, that is, until her uncle's busines and her grandmother's house become targets of sabotage and her own life is endangered.

Now, Jenny never took any of my advice when she was writing it. (Well, just once.) And that's actually a good thing. If she had written the first two chapters my way, the story would have been over before it began. The other young lady would never have had a chance with the best friend, and neither would the mysterious other guy with Mariana. And that unscrupulous businessman would have been dead meat within a week of Mariana's arriving at her Grandmother's house and her uncle's snuba outfit, I'm pretty sure.

So we get to enjoy watching Mariana solve her mysteries and untangle that very important tangled relationship, with the help of her grandmother, uncle, uncle's girlfriend, mother, and others close to her. And of course with the help of her best friend. And Abuela's wonderful cooking.

Fun reading.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sad Pictures

This is a kind of sad picture. This poor girl is tired.

I'll show you why.

She needs a boyfriend.
She also needs a better place to lay her eggs.

But we can't afford to get her either.

Really need to do something about this.
(A second tub filled with decently clean dirt
would at least help a little,
but hot days like today, not so much.
She needs some shade, too.)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Book Review: Spinning Silk by Taya Cook

I'm on the train recently, and I have the remarkable fortune of sitting across from a youngish woman who could make the cover of a leading fashion magazine.

Courtesy forbids that I describe her makeup and the style of her costume in too much detail for the same reasons I shouldn't just take a photo and post it without her permission. Perhaps I can say it reminds me of some of the older traditional Japanese styles. Or it makes my think of a mythical Jorogumo spider-woman. I wonder whether she is on her way to some cosplay event.

There are such writing prompts on the train every day, really. But I don't dare use them, at least not directly in my writing. Too much possibility of causing someone harm.

Common courtesy.

But this woman who was sitting across from me that day makes me think of characters from another novel I have recently had the privilege of reading at beta through the LDS Beta Readers group: Spinning Silk.

In Spinning Silk, Taya Cook creates a mashup of the oriental Tanabata/Qixi Festival myths of the cattle-herder and the weaver with the attractive and powerful shape-shifting Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo, whose creature forms are arachnid. What she produces should be considered a love story similar in substance to, and borrowing from the Tanabata myth.

As a child, Furi, the protagonist, is a member of the lower castes of a kingdom that looks like feudal Japan. Think parallel worlds or alternative realities.

Her life is cruel in the way we understand life in those lower castes was; she exists essentially as non-family chattel, spinning and weaving silk for her masters.  And what passes for her daily happiness is constantly subject to the whims of jealous members of the households in which she lives, until a deadly epidemic completely alters the patterns of her life.

Her work is beyond exceptional, and provides her with opportunities for impossible upward social mobility, ultimately into deadly contact with levels of society she never dared dream of.

Her mobility also brings her into contact with a mysterious young man of obscure and dubious origin, and this young man informs her of the truth of her own unbelievable heritage.

Gradually she develops deep feelings for the mysterious young man as she is brought into an intrigue to reform the shogunate from within, bring the military and imperial seats of power together, and bring a new era of peace unknown in the history of our world. And those feelings bring her into conflict with her role in the intrigue.

Equally gradually, she discovers a dark and deadly secret about herself, a secret which both enables her part in the intrigue and threatens the relationship she desires with the mysterious young man, repeating patterns of her own heritage.

Similarly to most fairy tales in their more primitive forms, Spinning Silk contains elements which may not really be appropriate for general audiences.

In her tale, Taya demonstrates typical consequences of a society in which power is accepted as the underlying principle of relationships between sentient beings. Her conclusion defies that acceptance, but the cost of that defiance turns out rather violent.

There is also a sexual element integral to the plot. Taya does not indulge in direct depictions of the sexual element, but she doesn't hide it. And her use of that element could be considered an implicit argument that sex has never been, and should not be considered, a safe form of recreation.

I don't believe in the moral-age-appropriateness rating system, so I won't say you should consider this a PG-13 work, but I do think you should not give it to younger teenagers without reading it first. And it may provide a springboard into discussion of important and meaningful matters, even for adults. Real literature can be difficult to read at points, and many readers will find parts of this story at least somewhat uncomfortable -- and, equally, thought-provoking.

Did I enjoy the book? Mostly.

For me, it hits a little close to home. But the pain I feel reading certain parts of it is evidence, rather, that she has captured something deep, real, and hard-to-capture about the culture.

Well worth reading.