Interrogative word posters

You know a Jedi’s training is complete when they fashion their own light sabers. Similarly, I must really be a language teacher now, because I have fashioned my own interrogative word signs and laminated them.

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Some of them are bilingual Spanish/Chinese. Some of them are Spanish on one side, Chinese on the other side. No English nowhere.

The Rubric! It’s alive!

A few months ago, this post dropped the idea all over me to give students a picture of what improving proficiency looks like.

So I copied it exactly. (Teachers share stuff, it’s a thing).

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It’s only been a couple of days, Already my students have a) discovered it and b) started conversations about where they live on the chart.

I always ask them if they like how the arrows rise; they give me a surprised look and tell me they thought I was just really bad at lining up arrows. Then I ask them if I should change it, and they say “no.”

Are you looking at me?

I wasn’t feeling well today, but I still need coffee. So I went down to Zeitgeist with iPad in tow and sipped my tall americano as I poked out a worksheet on definite articles.

A lady with a sunhat and a paper copy of the Stranger (guh, paper) sits two tables away from me. After a while I realize she’s staring at me. I look up to check.

Yes, staring directly at me.

I smile and nod and she keeps staring so I put my head down and keep working.

“I need one of those pens,” she tells me. She’s talking about the stylus I’m using. I tell her it’s a microfiber tip, and it’s a screaming deal at 3 for $7.77 on Amazon.

“Tell me what it’s called?” she asked.

“It’s by the Friendly Swede,” I offer.

“Oh,” she says, “I’m Swedish.”

“… Are you friendly?” Sorry, kids, that’s all I got.

Now is the part where it gets alarming.

“I like to think I’m friendly,” she says, “Seattle is a hard place to get to know people.” She is, of course, referring to the Seattle Freeze, which is real.

“Yes,” I agree. It is indeed a difficult place to get to know people. You can’t just go around insinuating passive aggressively that you want friends and expect people to become your friends. You have to actually make an effort, which out-of-towners hate.

“Maybe that will improve,” she says hopefully, “as more people move here.”

“Maybe so,” I say, as I reach for my panic button. Soon all that I hear is the sound of mechanical motors moving little gears, and titanium clamping securely against titanium as my Seattle Freeze armor deploys automatically from this psychotic person who wants people to move here and change our culture… a person who wants to TALK to me about said atrocity.

I think she feels a chill, because she looks down and starts reading her paper Stranger (guh, paper).

My Seattle Freeze armor has completely sealed me in, and the solid, crystal ice barrier is gleaming and shimmering gloriously around me.

A few minutes later I was finished with my worksheet, so I packed up and hovered my ice fortress out of there, an invulnerable frozen Colossus gliding heroically over the horizon into the sunset.

Hint: if you want to get to know us, you don’t start by insulting us. If you want to find emotional support among other non-Seattlites.. well, then I’m not your guy, am I.

Touch Screen Styli: a product endorsement

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I’ve been using a stylus with my iPad a LOT over the last couple of years.  A LOT.  More than most people.  Here’s my recommendation.  

The kind with the little plastic disk is AWESOME until it breaks after a couple of weeks.  

Any kind with a rubber tip (a.) is AWESOME until the rubber rubs down a little and starts sticking to the screen in the middle of the 漢字 character you’re trying to write.  

I’ve been using the 5 inch micro-fiber mesh tip (b.) for the past two years, and the tip is awesome, but the pocket clip dug into my hand.  Still, it was better than writing 漢字 characters with my fingers.  

Earlier this week I saw on amazon that the micro-fiber tip was available in a 7.3-inch model (c.) and I ordered it so fast my head was spinning.  Today I waited on my front porch with sandwiches and tearfully hugged the delivery person when he finally showed up.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating.  

But I have been geeking out over it for the last few hours.  Order a 3-pack of silver ones for $7.77 from AmazonPrime.  The other color options are more expensive.  

It’s Supposed To Be Fun! and Lingo Interactive

A friend of mine today was telling me about his summer learning project.  He was in Guatemala, learning Kaqchikelone of the dozens of indigenous languages spoken by the Maya.  He’s been at it for a couple of years, and he said this summer he felt a breakthrough.  Of course, ever since he started, he’s been fighting off some pretty unimaginative people who say “Kaqchikel, WHAT are you going to do with THAT?!”  

The answer to that question is always, “I’m gonna talk to some people in that language, dummy.”  I think some people think that there has to be some kind of million dollar business opportunity at the end of it, otherwise it’s not worth the effort.  

Anyway, my friend went on to say that he told himself that it was about the journey, and that he made a decision to enjoy it. So he enjoyed Guatemala, he enjoyed his teachers, He enjoyed the process.  

This is the Way of the Language Learning Jedi.  The satisfaction and gratification don’t come at the end of some long road of suffering and toil  If it’s not fun along the way, you’re doing it wrong. It’s supposed to be fun.  

I’ve been doing language learning for 25 years now, and I hope people don’t think it’s because I have some kind of special talent, or I have some kind of amazing memory, or I somehow enjoy suffering.  None of those things are true.  I’m a serial language learner because I find the process rewarding.  I’m a serial language learner because it’s fun to do. I get to travel and meet people, try new foods and do new things.  Sure, crappy people can be a drag sometimes, but that happens if whether you learn language or not… why not just learn language.  

Sometimes it’s little fun.  Sometimes that “fun” is that tiny spark of self-satisfaction when you remember a vocab word in the wild, or when you meet cool native speakers who are happy to talk to you, and treat you like a person.  Sometimes that “fun” means soaring above the mountain canopy in a sky lift to a tea house, where you drink tea and over eat for hours.  Some times that “fun” means drinking a little bit of beer and then nominating your friends to kiss at a loud, screamingly funny Japanese-themed restaurant so that your table can get free pork.  Sometimes it’s big fun. 

Anyway, I’m glad for my friend, and I love to hear success stories from people that get it.  

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Speaking of loving to hear success stories from people that get it, my friend Frank’s kickstarter campaign for Lingo Interactive dropped earlier today, and I hope he gets funded!  I met Frank seven years ago in Shanghai, and we’ve been good friends ever since.  For as long as I’ve known him, Frank has been passionate about language learning media, and wanting to get it right.  He’s got a few demos made over at the website Lingo Interactive, and they are sharp.  I’m excited to see this project take off, so please support the fundraising effort to get it off the ground!  

#IceBucketChallenge: Behind the Shivers

So the famous ALS #IceBucketChallenge has been a mid-August fad this summer. The fad came and crested, and I was quite relieved that it seemed to be fading away, without my having participated.

And then Senyo tagged me, on the second to the last day of summer break. Guh!

I’ve challenged podcaster and educator Mark Pentleton of Radio Lingua, storm chasing photographer James Reynolds of Earth Uncut TV, and author Markus Zusak.  

I’ll admit I felt a little bold challenging these guys, and if they’re anything like me they’re cursing their challenger right now. Also, a few weeks ago I was pretty convinced that the #IceBucketChallenge was some slacktivism,  Plus, it’s been getting some bad press lately:

But then there’s the good press; a NYT article today said that they’ve raised $41 million; that’s nothing to sneeze at… That’s gotta be the opposite of slacktivism.  

For more info and to donate, please link below….

So why did it take two takes?  I set up my phone to record the video, I did it… and then when I went to press “stop record” it told me I didn’t have sufficient memory.  Heartbreak.  So I changed my shirt and did it again.  Advice to anyone who’s doing it:  take the water straight to your forehead.  I used a lot of ice and did it twice, but it wasn’t that bad.  

UPDATE:  btw, this video represents a personal achievement, as it is my first time working with iMovie for iPad.  Wasn’t that bad!  

What’s In My Carry-On? 2014

“What’s in your carry-on, JP,” asked absolutely nobody.

Well, let me tell you.

Starting at the top left: kindle, because it’s easy on the eyes and has good battery life. US Passport. iPad mini. Sunka (weekly pill organizer… mine broke in my first week in Taipei, so I bought that rainbow number at Daiso. Empty water bottle, which I fill up later at the soda fountain after security. Yellow plastic folding iPad stand.

Bottom left: toothbrush, crumb brush, headphones, iPad charger, floss picks, and Dr. King cigarette holder (which is full of business cards).

Actual Conversation at a Cafe in Seattle

BARISTA
What can I get you?

ME
I’ll have a short iced americano, please.  Also some whole beans.  (turning over several bags of whole beans to check roast dates…)  Whoa!  July 3rd?!

BARISTA
Whoa!  That can’t be right…

ME
(handing the bag to the BARISTA) Maybe the sticker’s wrong?

BARISTA
Maybe.  Do you want to just take it?  You can have it for free (holds out bag to offer it to ME).

ME
(looking at BARISTA) …

BARISTA
(looking at ME) 

ME
(looking at BARISTA) …  No thank you.

End scene.  

It’s Not Writer’s Block

So I haven’t done a journal blog in a week, and I haven’t done a language learning blog in weeks and weeks.

Now that I’m back in Seattle the journal blogs are going to happen less, but I do have a bunch of language learning posts in the pipeline. I have a few that I started writing a few weeks ago, but I didn’t like the direction they were going. Too negative. It was a turn off. So those posts are on hold until I can find a positive voice.

As for my exciting daily adventures… let’s face it; staycation adventures are a bore. I don’t have anything to report except for online shopping and irregular sleep patterns. My goal when I woke up this morning was to buy a milder shampoo, that didn’t dry out my skin.

(I spent all of July in Taipei, where sweat my face off several times a day, used a random shampoo that I bought at the drugstore there, and took up to four showers a day just to cope with the heat. Now I’m back in Seattle, not sweating, down to one shower a day, and my scalp and face are all dry and I blame America).

So what have I been up to in the week that I’ve been back in Seattle? Well, I’ve been reading from my growing collection of Chinese short stories on PDF, trying to get all my quizzes for next year written, drinking oolong tea from my new yixing teapot…

Probably the most interesting thing that I’ve been doing, the thing that’s most affecting my social life, is my current plan to readjust to Pacific Standard Time. I’m currently following a program that’s called “Take Two Weeks Off,” also known as COMPLETE UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER TO THE CRUEL WHIMSEY OF JETLAG. I know it’s bad but it feels so, so right.

I wake up around 7 am every day, feeling bright and refreshed. I eat a big breakfast, go out for coffee, and then a late lunch, usually something light. By 6 pm I’m exhausted and I’m sawing logs by 7 pm. Then, in the middle of the night, I wake up and make myself dinner. At first, I was waking up at 12 am, but last night I didn’t get up until 3:30 am, so that’s progress. At about 5pm, I shut off my computer and go back to bed, and then wake up at 7 am again the next day, feeling bright and refreshed.

The one area of jetlag resistance that I’m maintaining is sunshine: a) I walk in the sunshine every day, and b) I don’t close the drapes to darken my room when I go to bed way before sundown. Please congratulate me.

I report back to work in seven days from tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll write a language learning post that’s not filled with hatred and bitterness. Light and life, people; that’s what we’re after… light and life.

Taipei 2014: Post-game Wrap Up

So I’m back in Seattle now and enjoying the crazy roller-coaster of jetlag.  I’ve got a couple of weeks until I have to be in to work, but plenty of planning and stuff to do before that starts up again.  I’ve had a couple of days to think about my time in Taipei; here are my thoughts.

I had a good experience with Taipei Mandarin Institute (TMI). I got a super convenient room with a private shower, and the kind of lessons I wanted for the price of USD $400 per week.

When I showed up, I made it clear that I didn’t want to be spending any time reading any boring ass insulting useless bullshit dialogs and readings that I’m accustomed to. So my classes were mostly conversation: me talking my face off for hours at a time.  My teachers didn’t expose me to any new grammar, instead they gave me room to practice the grammar I had already been “shown.”

Here’s the deal; a lot of programs show you a bunch of stuff; they say “Look, here’s 了, here’s 才,here’s 把 and 被”… and then they brush the dust off their hands, pat themselves on the back and say that they have taught it to you. They conflate showing with teaching, and when the student doesn’t master it by the Friday quiz, everybody blames the student.  It’s like showing someone how to drive but then not letting them get behind the wheel; or showing someone how to dribble a basketball without letting them actually dribble a basketball.

In my one-on-one conversation classes, they put me behind the wheel; they handed me the ball and let me dribble it.  The teachers and the curriculum were not pushing me into new territory.  I had plenty to say, and the need to communicate made me stumble onto important new grammatical territory myself. My biggest area of growth was in my ability to discuss movies, which is something I did both during and outside of class.

As for reading, I didn’t do a lot of it.  However, my teacher sent me the link to a bunch of stories and fables on PDF, which I’m now reading voraciously.  The link is a little 複雜 hard to navigate, so I’ll post them here as I download them.  The thing about reading them on PDF is that I can zoom in on the characters and see them… my eyes are getting old.

As for my speaking, my Chinese is a lot tighter now.  I think I’m now capable of being interesting to hang out with in Chinese.  I can be charming in Chinese and not have to rely on my good looks or money to keep people’s interest.  I think.  My tones are tighter, my sentences are tighter, and I’m using a lot more vocabulary.

Finally I have to say something about Taiwan.  That country is safe, clean, modern, convenient, friendly, and inexpensive. The food is good, it’s easy to make friends, there’s plenty to do, and plenty to talk about.  I saw a lot of Mandarin learners making some counterproductive learning choices (like over-studying, or defaulting to English), but Taiwan is still a really good place to be.  On “Conducive to Language Learning,” Taiwan scores a 9/10, right below Italy.

If you have questions about my stay in Taiwan, just ask.  Remind me to blog about:  Immersion by Relationship, Overstudying, Default to Target.