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Why I’ve Switched to 注音符號 Zhuyin Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ

I don’t think anyone has any interest in this post.

When people see my Chinese notes, they notice that I am annotating my new vocabulary words with the Bopomofo phonetic notation: ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, more formally known as 注音符號, which is the system that they use here in Taiwan to give phonetic readings; it’s a system that predates the advent of Pinyin in Mainland China.

And when people notice that my notes are annotated with ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, they always say, “Well, I’m sticking with Pinyin because…” It’s very important to them that I know why they’re sticking with Hanyu Pinyin. I didn’t even ask or bring it up; they just saw my notes and start their testimonial.

When they finish, sometimes I give them some of the reasons that I have switched to ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, but they DON’T CARE. It annoys them to hear my reasons. I will be surprised if any Mandarin learner has made it down this far in the post.

A couple years ago, I tried to get my classes to learn ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, but they were horrible HORRIBLE at it, so I gave up. Since ㄅㄆㄇㄈ and Pinyin are almost exactly parallel, they are horrible at Pinyin as well, but they’re comfortable with it, and honestly, it’s easier for me to see Pinyin mistakes and mark them wrong. So my classes stick with Pinyin and I don’t evangelize ㄅㄆㄇㄈ anymore.

So anyway, nobody asked, but here are the reasons I’ve switched to ㄅㄆㄇㄈ:

  • I already learned it. It took, what, a couple of hours to learn it. I switched my dictionary to show me ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, and zero Pinyin. At first I’d forget a symbol, but then I hit the audio play button and could associate the sound. So now that I know it, and I got familiar with it, why wouldn’t I use it?
  • The Taiwanese are better at it. I’m studying in Taiwan, my teachers prefer it, they don’t mess it up. Incidentally, it’s the 2nd Language speakers and the Mainlanders who send SMS text messages that are really good at Pinyin, but I’ve met more than one Mainlander who will tell me “CH” when I really need a “Q.” I haven’t found that among the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ-using Taiwanese folks.
  • Pinyin looks too much like words. Pinyin is only supposed to be a phonetic guide, and to the Chinese people who use it, it totally is. However, I’m literate in a few languages that use the Roman alphabet, and when I see Pinyin my brain immediately sees a word. And then my brain does something interesting: it TOTALLY DISREGARDS the Chinese character that I’m supposed to be reading. And I mean TOTAL. DISREGARD. When I’m trying to become literate in a language, TOTAL DISREGARD is not my friend. I can force my eyeballs to look at a new character, but then the Pinyin is RIGHT THERE, calling to me. My familiarity with ㄅㄆㄇㄈ is not that automatic; I tend to look at the character first, and only check the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ if I’m not sure how to pronounce it.
  • I can read Taiwanese-produced short stories that have in-line ㄅㄆㄇㄈ annotation. These are often charming, and therefore, readable. As an audience, I actually desire to continue reading until the end. I enjoy reading those short stories! The Pinyin-annotated readings, on the other hand, as a rule tend to be either totally mindless dialogs with everybody agreeing about something everybody already knows; or something horribly boring about the modern infrastructure of some industrial province; or something culturally offensive about how Westerners all collectively and simultaneously invented prostitution and then forced it upon the people of the Middle Kingdom.

So, the Taiwanese like to claim that ㄅㄆㄇㄈ is a more faithful representation of Mandarin phonetics, and I don’t care about that. As someone who is literate in English and French I’m long past the point where I need an alphabet to be completely consistent.

However I have to say that I haven’t totally abandoned Pinyin yet. Besides having to teach it to my students, for now it’s also easier to type characters using Pinyin, since I already know the keyboard.

In any case, there you go, the reasons that I use ㄅㄆㄇㄈ; reasons that no one has ever asked for. We can all now go back to our oyster omelets in peace.




from MandarinPoster.com


Taipei 2014 Days 19 and 20: Typhoon Matmo

I had the early class yesterday so I didn’t get breakfast. I went to class… new teacher again… I’m getting good at telling my story. During our ten minute break, I took 20 to chat with J at the Desk and then get a breakfast burrito to go, as they had sold out of 蘿蔔糕。 I scarfed it down in the hallway and then apologized to the teacher, telling her they deserved longer breaks.

After class I waited for the next class to let out, and then joined them for some sushi across the street. We each shelled out about $10 USD and the sushi was good. We were a little 隨便 (sloppy? reckless?) with our ordering and got a few two many of the greatest hits. The issue was 1 order = 2 pieces. Rookie mistake. We ate well though and I was satisfied that the eurofabulous guys were more painstaking in researching their order, but ended up getting some rookie sushi. Like the tamago in the case that looked like a snorefest.

Pashan T and I walked around behind 公館 and hung out in Pica Pica for a while, studying. That’s about when Typhoon Matmo started raining on Taipei. When Pashan T left I sent him with the umbrella, because it’s a shame to show up all soaked. I was about to leave too, but then I thought better of it when the rain seemed to quintuple before my eyes. I went back inside and got another iced tea.

About half an hour later, there was a break in the rain, and I made my way back home. At 7pm I went downstairs and bought another umbrella. Then Pashan T showed up and we got pizza at So Free, an outdoor pizza counter with a wood-fire oven. I got Mushroom Asparagus and Pashan T got Banana Almond. Banana Almond pizza was delicious; there was no extra sweetness or sauce beside the banana slices, and somehow the cheese tied it together. Mushroom Asparagus was great too.

Afterward we stopped for a beer at Something Ales in my building. It was a recommendation from Aussie L. The owner was sitting on the patio having a cigarette, but came in to serve us and start working when we showed up. We split a bottle of Elysian Brewery’s Savant IPA, and I could not stop being excited about Seattle ales. I didn’t even know they bottled it; but of course in Seattle I never have to open a bottle of beer.

The owner was a cool guy to talk to, just as Aussie L had reported. He poured us water and some snappy local peanuts that are JUST BETTER than American peanuts. The bottle was 300塊 and worth it.

When I got back to my 6th floor apartment, the typhoon started howling and the rain sounded like a firehose. The building itself seems rock solid, but the windows shook a little in the wind, a wind that went from howling to screaming.

It’s now 9:45 am the next day. Oven Coffee shop opened, so I’m getting breakfast now. Iced coffee and a bacon egg bagel. There’s a lady in here with a 蛋餅 to go, so not everything closed. The gusts are strong now, and people are gasping. I’ve got a load of laundry in the wash; I fear most of it will have to machine tumble dry, as my shower porch is a drippy mess.

Anyway, the best part about breakfast today was that when I sat down, the radio started playing “Blue Skies” (Frank Weiss). I’m sure I’m the only one that knows.

Taipei 2014 Day 18

Did anything happen yesterday?

My breakfast counter ran out of 蘿蔔糕 turnip cakes by the time I got there, so it was 蛋餅 a Taiwanese breakfast burrito with bacon and egg. Lunch at Kiwi Gourmet Burger, practice Chinese with Taiwan Amy

Afterward, I did my evening walk in 公館 Gongguan neighborhood, and stopped at Picnic, a charming cafe which appears to be all whimsical and casual and crafty, but the staff is very professional, silent behind the counter, and the food is immaculately prepared and presented and I spent almost 300塊 on a slice of quiche, a salad, and a little pot of iced tea. Totally worth it. Totally worth it. Plus, it would have been more expensive in the states; and probably less polished and a little bit irritating. The menus were all hand bound, hand illustrated, hand lettered books that my old man eyeballs could barely read, and I didn’t really get any pictures of it except for the wifi password, which is someone’s phone number so I won’t post it. Sorry, Frankalicious.

I got all my homework done there, and then walked home. Had a little chat with my roommates.

What else is going on? There’s a typhoon coming; from the satellite photos it looks like it’s coming STRAIGHT FOR ME. Not worried, but class might be cancelled. Tomorrow is laundry day anyway.

I’ve broken through the two-week headache barrier that I had spoken about before. I’m happy to report that on the other side of that headache barrier is a lazy attitude. I’ve felt this in France, Guatemala, Italy, and the last time I was in Taipei… that the first two weeks I try really hard to speak correctly, and that is accompanied by a headache (I’m not claiming a causal relationship). Now that that period has passed, I’m feeling pretty lazy about making language acquisition happen. Actually I know it’s happening, so I feel like I can just go about my day and talk my face off to people and make mistakes and get misunderstood and corrected and that’s just how it is. I’m not longer feeling like I have to hustle to make myself understood.

You know the scene in The Matrix, when they shove a guitar cable in the back of Keanu Reeves’ head, and he convulses in the chair, and then it stops, and his eyes open wide, and he says “I know Kung Fu.” That’s what the first two weeks feels like; like it’s all flooding in.

I know Kung Fu.

Unlike Neo the One, the information is still coming at me in a torrent. However, it no longer feels overwhelming.

I have, however, started to worry about going home. There are a LOT of social calls I haven’t made yet, and I have less than two weeks to make them all. I also worry about going home and not getting to practice Chinese every day.

Some ideas I have about future posts:

  • Why I’m all about 正體字 Traditional characters now.
  • Why I’m all about 注音符號 Bopomofo phonetics now (i.e., ㄅㄆㄇㄈ…)
  • Some people study too hard; it’s counter productive.
  • I hate the way they use the term 西方 “Western” here.
  • Cute animal! DON’T PET IT, STUPID.
  • Why we don’t go around calling people “Foreigner.”
  • Tagalog next summer? or Japanese? Or Portuguese? Or back to Italian or French? Pros and cons of each.

Finally, the an update on my cockroach friend. I walked into my shower this morning and found Mr. Cockroach halfway up the door, his legs caught in the hinge. When I opened the door, he fell into my room. So I swept him up with the dustpan and brought him to the common room, where there is a motel. He’s now halfway in the hotel, and I don’t think he’s coming out.

I like to think that there was just one cockroach that I kept seeing repeatedly, and that my shower porch was just a spot he was passing through. There’s nothing there for him but dry surfaces and lonely times. Now that he’s checked into the motel, I have a feeling that the rest of my stay in Taipei will be roach free.


Fear of the Non-Standard

Back in the fall of 1993 I was studying in Avignon, France. We’d have classes four days a week, but Wednesdays we’d take day trips throughout Provence. We went to Aix-en-Provence, Nimes, Arles, Les Beaux, Gironde, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Marseilles, Les Saintes-Maries-la-mere, la Camargue, Gourde, l’abbey de Sénanque… I cannot believe I remembered all those Wednesday destinations, but I feel like I’m leaving someplace out.

Our French lit prof was a jolly English prof at the Avignon Fac. He was married to an American woman and had a son, V, who had a French accent, but was nevertheless a native speaker of English. He came with us on one of the Wednesday trips.

He asked me once about how to pronounce the word “aren’t.” Most of us do it all in one syllable, and the syncopated vowel means that the /r/, the /n/ and the /t/ are all crammed together at the end of the syllable. We don’t think about it, but it’s gotta be tough for the folks who don’t like consonant clusters at the end of a syllable. Aren’t, aren’t, aren’t .

So I told V what I could (i.e., you don’t have to release the /t/) but it was tough for him, especially on the first day. So I told him, you know, I don’t really use “aren’t” in regular speech. You aren’t, we aren’t, they aren’t.

I told him, that I, for one, had a strong preference for “You’re not…, we’re not.., they’re not…” It’s an alternative; it doesn’t solve his problem, but it means exactly the same thing, and in this case, my work-around is actually a preferred, at least by me. V was glad about this alternative, but what he really wanted was to feel good about saying “aren’t.”

But you know; you’re not going to feel good about unfamiliar phonology on the first day. If you don’t believe me, watch an American try to pronounce Tagalog words “ngayon” and “ngiti,” Take video, that’s worth a chuckle. Maybe they’ll successfully pronounce it on the first day, but it won’t “feel natural” in their mouths until much later.

Anyway, I offered V the non-standard alternative of saying “ain’t,” which is not anybody’s standard English, but it’s OBVIOUSLY A NATIVE-SPEAKER CONSONANT-CLUSTER SIMPLIFICATION OF “AREN’T.” Look at it with the eyes in your face: aren’t vs. ain’t. Obviously V wasn’t the only one uncomfortable with syllable-final consonant clusters; some native speakers were uncomfortable with it as well!

At this point, the girl with the curly red hair sitting a row behind us in the bus said “NO!” She crossed her forearms in the air and then did a grandiose, slow-motion X-chop while shaking her head emphatically, a Goddess of Dialect Orthodoxy. “DO NOT. SAY “AIN’T; THAT IS NOT. CORRECT. DO NOT. LEARN THAT.” she declared. “IT’S BAD.”

Holy smokes, V, that woman is going to strike you down from the sky if you use “ain’t.” My mistake. Later I slaughtered a dove and laid it before her in sacrifice.

Except I didn’t. “It’s not standard,” I told V, “but people say it in casual situations.”

I know that the girl with the curly red hair wanted to protect V from the filthy habits of the unwashed, uneducated “ain’t” sayers of the English speaking world. She wanted V to take a place beside her, in the pantheon of dialectal orthodoxy, where non-standard variations must not even be KNOWN about.

From my point of view, this was a bilingual kid, a NATIVE SPEAKER of English, who knows all about register and prestige standards, and its smart enough to handle an auxiliary verb. Did she think he was stupid?

Yes, she did. Protect him, he’s too stupid to navigate “ain’t.”

As for me, when I think about the people that say “ain’t” in my life, I’m glad that I know them; they make my life experience richer. Some of them are Americans, some are British… my Grandma Juling who lived in San Diego used “ain’t,” she lived a long life and passed away peacefully, surrounded by family. The “ain’t” persecutors failed to take her joy.

As an addendum, I’d like to mention that this story is DRIPPING with racial subtext, even though I didn’t mention anything directly. I didn’t think it was important to get into that over a pronunciation question. Still, it’s all there. We all saw it.

Taipei 2014 Days 16 and 17

Day 16: Saturday

Yesterday I got all my laundry done, all of it. By 9:30 I was at Benny’s cafe working on a language learning post. I’ll get to it tomorrow.

喬丹 met me at Benny’s and then we took the train up to Shilin and then looked around for the number 30 bus to take us to the National Palace Museum. We looked for about 30 seconds and then I hailed a cab, which ran its red light and slowly and awkwardly pushed its way through oncoming bicycles and pedestrians to get to us.

Once at the museum, we found the secret elevator to take us to the secret tea house on the top floor. There we shared a table with a lady lunching on her own, a mom and two adorable elementary school kids, and a Canadian couple living in Thailand. The food up at the top was pretty ok. The Canadian dude was doing some funny Mainland stuff like calling across the room for the 服務員… precious! The mom was showing her son and daughter how to have afternoon tea, and also helped me order some sticky rice that had special names at that place. The daughter was enthralled with me after I spoke with her mom; she marveled at me, contemplating as she chopsticked her green tea mochi ball.

The stuff in the National Palace Museum was pretty nifty. The quick and dirty story is that the KMT grabbed a bunch of stuff from the Forbidden City as they evacuated, safeguarding it from the Japanese and the PLA. We saw the bronze collection, the jades collection, a couple of calligraphy and painting collections… skipped the furniture gallery because we were getting museum fatigued.

Cabbed back to the metro and then train back to our neighborhood. I got dinner alone later at KGB; a gourmet hamburger that didn’t quite do it for me. The fries were great, and I walked through Gugong to get some overpriced frozen yogurt, and then stroll back through the neighborhood.

Day 16: I Marveled Twice Today.

I had an early breakfast and then met PaShan T at 7am. We trained to the bullet train station, I bought my tickets and then we went back up top to find some coffee and breakfast for him.

After that we found our way back to the bullet train station; the train wasn’t ready for us, but there was free wifi!

We got on the bullet and then we were in Hsinchu before you could say “bless you.” The best part of the ride is of course when the train emerged from underground and you could see country side; towns with rice patties scattered in among the buildings.

Hsinchu M met us at the bullet train station, which was a MARVEL. It felt spacious and simple and futuristic and I thought I might be living in the Jetsons world. We got in his car and he handed us a couple of frozen bottles of water and then we drove for two hours to 日月潭 Sun Moon Lake, which is a National Park. When we got there, we took the sky lifts to the Aboriginal Park, which is this Indigenous People themed crazy fake in a bunch of ways and probably a little insulting but still it was an easy day for us… them park within the national park. The sky lifts were spectacular. We had lunch at the Maya Cafe, underneath a fakey fake Maya pyramid. On the menu for us: Teddy Bear fried porkchop.

After that, PaShan T and I crossed the lake in a boat where a guide was doing some stand-up comedy tour-guiding in Chinese. We met up with Hsinchu M on the other side, and then went to find the Paper Dome, which is a tourist trap. Back in the parking lot, we tailgated a yellow watermelon, and spit our seeds onto the gravel.

Then we drove a couple of hours back to Hsinchu, which was a lot of traffic. Hsinchu M old us we could take a nap so were LIGHTS OUT IN NO TIME FLAT, NOT KIDDING. The man told us to sleep and we SLEPT. Finally we got to a Thai restaurant and ate well: papaya salad, panang curry beef, braised fish, grilled chicken, cabbage, and a shrimp cake.

Freeway>bullet train>metro>home. But not before Hsinchu M could gift us with heavy red mangos.

Taipei 2014 Day 15: Bad News Day

Yesterday the news kept getting worse and worse. Those kids in Gaza getting gunned down at the beach; the plane shot down over Ukraine… When Typhoon James sent me a image of a storm system headed straight for Taiwan in a couple of days, it almost seemed like like good news, since there’s still a chance that storm might veer east and tear up Luzón instead.

I showed up for my 11:30 class and the elevator was out. So I had to walk up 12 flights of stairs. It was silent in the stairwell, so all you could hear was the sound of my sandals on the tile and the sound of my left knee clicking. When I got to the top, J and the Desk told me I had missed my 9 am session. I had totally spaced it out; at 9 I was in the cafe sipping my iced coffee and wishing they’d schedule me for the 9 o’clock sessions. Oh well.

For lunch I went to a cantonese BBQ place with 喬丹 and T. You will all be glad to know that I’m proficient at ordering roast pork on rice. However the veggies they threw in were 苦瓜 ampalaya (bitter mellon). Although I am my mother’s son, I don’t eat the ampalaya. Which is too bad, because my mama gives an indignant speech about people who don’t know what real pinkakbet is.

After lunch, we all went to Benny’s to try to plan some day trips, but we failed. We left around nap time without having decided anything because we are some Hemmingway style-expats who talk, decide nothing, and schedule naps. I had a bowl of chirashi for dinner.

Then I met Aussie L and Lorraine; we got a cab to the train station and stopped at a ramen counter. I told him his new name was 高澳貓, which is not haoting, but it backfired on me because I had written it in simplified. Simplified!

We caught the bus out to Taoyuan, got the man checked in, stopped for a last bottle of water, and then escorted that pirate to security, and he caught his flight back to Brisbane. He cursed me with a clippy koala toy and a 3-pack of snacks.

With Aussie L out of our hair, we went to the bus stand; Lorraine helped me get a ticket to the train station and then ran off to catch a different bus. As for me, I wasn’t clear on where to go or stand, so I bought a bottle of water and sat down for a little bit. When the time seemed right on the big board, I went back outside to get on a bus, and the guy told me I had missed it. After a good five minutes of being baffled and trying to reassess my situation, I bought another bus ticket, this one to a different location, and then found my way home. I wasted USD $4 because I didn’t know how to take a bus!

On the way back my phone died, and I was able to get off a message that I wouldn’t be joining my friends for KTV, due to the bus fiasco. I got off at 古亭站 and walked the rest of the way home. I stopped for a bowl of 乾麵 “dry noodles” at a cart on the street corner, and then I went home and slept.

Today will be better. I already did all my laundry. I’ll be meeting a friend for some 牛肉麵 beef noodle soup up in 新北投 today. I think it’s supposed to be a Spanish lesson.

Taipei 2014 Day 14: Halfway-point Blues

Well, it seem like I’ve hit the two-week point. 17 days left in Taipei.

Yesterday for lunch 喬丹 and I decided to stay in the neighborhood so we got some simple 炸排骨飯 fried pork chop, which is one of the basic meals in Taipei. We went to 龍城什麼什麼.

Tooled around at Benny’s for the afternoon, and then went home and realized there that I had been walking around with a shaving atrocity on my face for the last 48 hours. There was a big swath of my chin that my razor just failed to find the day before. I sent an accusatory text to 喬丹, who had just eaten a pork chop across from it, and he just answered “haha I wasn’t going to say anything.” Guhhhhh

Nap time, and then I met Aussie L for his last night in Taipei. He asked me for recommendations on where to have dinner, which is weird since I’ve been here two weeks and he’s been here two years. So I recommended the spots I’ve been to: German restaurant, mountain side tea house, downtown movie themed tea house… Aussie L chose a German restaurant in 公館 Gongguan called 歌德 “Goethe” and ate some meat.image

Aussie L wanted to make sure his fingers were in the shot.

Aussie L wanted to make sure his fingers were in the shot.

Afterward, L was organizing a night of clubbing and I was like, nah dude, see ya bye… and walked back through the back side of 公館 Gongguan, the same neighborhood I strolled through the other night. Lisa in Toronto gave me a couple of missions to find some places; I found her noodle shop but not Café Trouvé. I’ll look agian.image

Today I woke up at 4am, wondering how to say “although” in French. I was too tired to look it up. My mouth was forming the word “bien” but my mind wasn’t clicking. I went back to sleep and got up a couple hours later. I was bummed out by the shootings in Gaza, the passenger plane shot down over Ukraine, an article about men who think they’re awesome because they’ve decided to validate women (newsflash; they’ve BEEN valid all this time), and a facebook discussion about how white people want to dictate other people’s ethnic labels. I also realized I had a mosquito bite, and that my housing situation is ethnically segregated.

I going to take Aussie L to the airport tonight as he moves back to Oz. Obviously he doesn’t need my help, but when I move, it’s something that I would have others do unto me.

I have four hours of class today. The conjunction “although” in French that I was looking for was “bien que” or “quoique.” If I used to know the word “quoique” I have no memory of it.

17 days left in Taiwan.image

Foreigners only?  Seems kind of sad.

Foreigners only? Seems kind of sad.

Language Learning: Horrible Adult Choices

Aussie L told me the story about how he got a hot tip for an English teaching job here in Taiwan; same job, but better pay. He called them up. The phone call was doing well, until they asked him if he was a native speaker of English; which, of course, he is. They asked him where he was from, and Aussie L said Brisbane, Australia. At that point the man on the other end, who apparently hadn’t noticed Aussie L’s Aussie accent to that point, apologized, and said, sorry, we only hire native English speakers from North America.

“But I’m a native English speaker,” explains Aussie L, but they man on the other end said sorry, sorry, and then *click*.

So the man on the other end must be operating under a bunch of assumptions, all of which are preposterous. First of all, someone must have made an assumption that North American Englishes are more desirable… which is… their bullshit issue, I cannot really address it. Second, they must be operating under the assumption that North American Englishes are somehow uniform, which to me is preposterous. I had misunderstanding problems when I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, due to pronunciation and vocabulary. Not a lot a lot, but it was clearly to me a different variety. The other day I picked out a Canadian accent. I asked the man who was speaking where he was from. I could tell it wasn’t Toronto or Vancouver, and he said “Winnipeg.”

Anyway, the most disturbing assumption that the man on the other end of Aussie L’s phone call was making was that the kids are too stupid to be allowed to hear an Aussie accent. That they had to be protected from it. that discriminatory hiring practices should be employed in order to protect the kids from calling each other “mate.”

Listen to me. Think of any English speaking kid at any age; any variety of English, any stage of acquisition. Go ahead, picture a kid you know in your head. I am telling you right now, that kid is smart enough and mature enough to handle hearing Australian English. That kid will, within a matter of hours, notice the difference in variety and have it figured out. A young kid might ask, why does he talk different? or why does he talk funny? but it won’t be a source of confusion. The kid will not experience any fear or discomfort.

The adults, however, might experience all kinds of fear and anxiety. Some of you reading this right now are probably thinking “but I don’t want MY KID to start suddenly talking like the Crocodile Hunter,” clutching your pearls with one hand, and fanning your necks with the other.

LISTEN TO ME. Children, especially the young ones, have a language learning superpower; they figure stuff out quickly and unconsciously, they soak up vocabulary the first time they hear it. You think they’re going to be taken over by crazy Australian vowels and start screaming CRIKEY, and won’t know any better and you’ll have to punish them or have a carefrontation with them of some kind. But I’m telling you that the kids are WAY. AHEAD. OF YOU.

You think the kids are going to be ruined for life. I’m telling you those kids can handle it, and they can handle better than you can. Don’t tell me it’s because they’re Taiwanese kids and American English is their second language, and that Australian is a legitimate threat. Throw a bucket of ice water over your head and listen to what you’re saying.

Children do everything right as language learners. Think about it: they make friends. They play. They role play. They repeat-experience story books, videos, and spoken stories countless times, and they do it joyfully. they insist upon it. They don’t have any fear of misspeaking; they just speak and keep speaking and by the time they’re five years old, they’ve got all the basic structures down to a degree that they are considered NATIVE SPEAKERS; something that we adults spend tons of time, toil, and treasure just trying to approximate. If someone has a different accent or different variety, THEY SORT IT OUT.

Now look at the choices adults make. Adults memorize. Adults do solitary study. Adults organize language exchanges, and spend the entire time speaking the most comfortable language, rather than the target language. Adults go DAYS without exposure. Adults make horrible language learning decisions.

Check out the first paragraph of this New York Times op-ed by William Alexander, who I’m sure, has a book to sell you:

I used to joke that I spoke French like a 3-year-old. Until I met a French 3-year-old and couldn’t hold up my end of the conversation. This was after a year of intense study, including at least two hours a day with Rosetta Stone, Fluenz and other self-instruction software, Meetup groups, an intensive weekend class and a steady diet of French movies, television and radio, followed by what I’d hoped would be the coup de grâce: two weeks of immersion at one of the top language schools in France.

TWO HOURS A DAY WITH SOFTWARE? Would a child spend two hours a day with multiple-choice memorization software? What the hell is “Intensive weekend class?” That would great for learning ABOUT French, but if a child was only exposed to a language only on the weekend, we would call that abuse.

Meetup groups? Meetup groups are a crapshoot; sometimes you get to practice, sometimes you sit around a big table and hear travel stories, not in the target language. Sometimes you just get hit on.

Movies, television, radio… I hear a lot of inexperienced language learners swearing to me that they’re doing a lot of media. You know, I’m sure that they are getting a lot of cultural information and enjoyment from that, but folks, for lower level learners, they’re just processing sound; they’re not processing meaning. Say it with me: sound without meaning, is called NOISE.

And then the coup de grâce is supposed to be TWO WEEKS of immersion? Sheesh! Two weeks is how long it takes just for the headache to wear off!

The thesis of this man’s article is that even despite his lack of achievement in learning French, the processes of it were a huge benefit to his cognitive abilities. That part is undeniably awesome. He gets all the credit for living out the claim that language study is good for your brain. I like how he was able to present the information about critical period without erroneously jumping to the conclusion that adults can’t learn.

However, as an adult learner of French, he made some horribly, horribly ineffective language learning choices. I wouldn’t recommend repeating any of the choices he made.

But JP, you say, we adults have mortgages to pay, and kids to raise, and we’re stuck with horrible options, and are you trying to discourage us from studying at all? Because that’s all we can handle.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone. I’m trying to encourage you to make the language-learning choices that the kids do. Make friends. Play. Role play in the target language. Repeat-experience story books, videos, and spoken stories countless times, and do it joyfully. Insist upon it. Have no fear of misspeaking; just speak and keep speaking.

Make choices that are about communicating, practicing, and relationships; repeat your media experiences until they are no longer noise. Do it fearlessly, do it joyously.

Once all of that is in place, then you can think about the one thing that we adults are good at: study ABOUT the target language and culture. This is a short-cut that adults have that are not available to kids. We are capable of hearing our own grammar, analyzing it, and analyzing the patterns and sounds of a target language consciously. Kids aren’t great at this… but they don’t have to be; they can suck this information up out of the air. We adults get to study ABOUT it.

But once you study ABOUT your target language, then you have to go and practice it. You can study ABOUT riding a bike, but you don’t really learning to ride a bike until you physically get on the bike and start riding around. You can learn ABOUT the rules of basketball, but no matter how high your score is on a basketball standardized test, you’re not going to learn to play basketball until you actually get into the game. Why should language learning by any different?

Today I talked my face off in with my tutor for about two hours. I’m going to read and re-read the stories I’ve been given; even though I’ve already read them several times; I know I get something new out of it every time. I made a silly mistake on the street today, trying to explain to some workers that I had just taken a selfie, and NOT just snuck a picture of them.

But today I also watched a Weird Al video about foil; got a pork chop with an American friend, and treated Aussie L to dinner at a German restaurant... all of those things, I did in English. In other words, I haven’t given up my adult life and adult choices. However, the choices I DID make for language learning today were deliberately more child-like than the horrible adult choices that William Alexander made for his French.

It’s really a shame; French is worth learning, and worth learning well. I hope he makes better choices when learning Italian.

Taipei 2014 Day 13 What even happened yesterday?

Yesterday there was an early message about emergency contact information; someone wanted to get a spider bite looked at.

I went to class. It’s about two weeks today since I arrived in Taipei, and I think I must have busted through my two-week immersion headache barrier yesterday, because I’m no longer busting ass to speak Chinese; I’m just talking and making the mistakes I have to make. My teacher was a little checked out as well; she neglected to write down important words like 霜淇淋 (soft serve ice cream), which I told a long, involved story about; but managed to write down 抽油煙機, which is the hood above your stove that sucks up all the smoke and vents it to the outside. She’s off to Japan later this week, so new teacher today.

Some other great vocab words from my notes: 猩球崛起 (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), 復仇者聯盟 (The Avengers), and my favorite: 尼古拉斯。凱奇 (Nicholas Cage).

I picked up my new glasses, which are nice. Later I went to lunch at a restaurant that is light on the food but heavy on the AC and ESL humor. It’s called “Joe’s Time” and there were all kinds of silly non-sensical ESL references all over the menu and walls. I ordered a rose iced tea without sugar, and was warned that it would taste bad. It tasted great but I didn’t drink it at all because it was fruit juice. Sigh. Then I ordered a pizza, which was listed as a “PIZZA COOKIE” because “cookie” and “cracker” are the same in Chinese, and this pizza was made on a cracker. It had pre-cooked Italian sausage, canned pineapple and canned corn on it, and took forever. Whatever, it was food.


Not going back there. But I will go back to Pica Pica, which was a nice peaceful cafe. I was there for a while, and then downtime in my room, and then Toko Sakura, and Indonesian grocery and buffet, recommended by Aussie L. I had beef rendang, 喬丹 had rendang and a mackerel. It was spicy and good, but maybe sitting out for a while.

Later there was a 芒果霜淇淋 and then more chilling out until bedtime.






Conversations I’m Bored Of (#37)

A: Oh, JP, you have to try this drink.
B: Mmm, what’s in it?
A: It has apple juice….
B: Oh, I shouldn’t then, thank you anyway.
A: No, it’s good, you have to try it.
B: Thanks, I shouldn’t. I can’t drink sweet drinks.
A: Oh well, this is just a little sweet.
B: Thank you. I have diabetes so I shouldn’t drink any sweet drink.
A: There’s no sugar.
B: If there’s juice, I shouldn’t drink it.
A: But it’s natural!
B: Yes, fruit juice is toxic to me.
A: But it’s natural!
B: Thank you anyway. I wish I could have it.
A: But you’re eating a piece of cheesecake.
B: Yes, this is my sweet thing for the day.
A: But what’s the difference between a piece of cheesecake and a drink with a little juice in it?
B: It’s a DRINK.
A: (incredulous) So it MATTERS if it’s LIQUID or SOLID FORM?
B: Correct.
A: I don’t get it.
B. I can see that. Anyway, one of us is managing my sugar, and one of us is YOU. So thank you anyway. I cannot try your drink.
A: Well, you don’t have to be a dick about it.

–later that day–
A: Aha! You’re drinking a margarita! There’s lime juice in that!
B: Yes. There’s also booze.
B: Booze lowers blood sugar.
B: Hey, before you go playing GOTCHA with what I’m eating and drinking could you please remind yourself that you know NOTHING ABOUT DIABETES?
A: I don’t… it just doesn’t make sense…
A: Dude, you’re kind of a dick.

–end scene–