It’s 4:30am, I’ve been awake for about an hour.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the difference between memory recall (i.e., flashcards, SRS, Anki, etc.) and the language acquisition instinct.  Specifically, I’ve been meaning to do a lot of pontificating about the language acquisition instinct phenomena that we all know about, like “picking up” a language/accent/expression/habit.  Or knowledge that you forgot you knew, all coming back to you… stuff that intuitively doesn’t fit the model of memory recall.

I’ve been meaning to post about it, but this isn’t that post.  Instead, I’m just going to jot down some stuff I acquired in the wild, and some stuff that’s coming back to me.

Stuff that’s coming back to me:

  • 就是這樣子  Precisely, exactly.  I don’t know if those are the right characters, I don’t know if that’s a good English equivalent.  All I know is that my Chinese is leaving a lot of people guessing, and when I manage to get my meaning across, I hear myself saying “對呀,就是這樣子。”  I picked this up from Kiwi Jim.
  • 掉頭  to flip a u-turn  I was sitting in the back of a cab today; the driver flipped around to find the address, and I said 對, 掉頭。I had no idea if the u-turn was necessary in the situation, but seemed like the right thing to say at the time. 
  • 花生米  peanuts  So the thing about flashcard recall is that it’s words to words to words to words.  And you drill, and drill, and drill, and quiz yourself and drill.  I think I was taught this word 花生米 exactly one time, and my brain snapped up that word, tones and all, just immediately. I was offered some sichuan-spicy peanuts today and that word snapped into my brain like a magic trick.  I’ve long been on record as saying that Mainland China peanut snacks are superior to American peanut snacks.  I can happily report that renegade province peanuts are snappy delicious as well.
  • 日記 daily  Skritter Jake said this word to me today, when we were discussing how this blog is more of an old skool journal than the modern theme-oriented blogs that people are writing nowadays.  I say “daily” but the word in my mind is actually the french word “quotidien,”  which is really more like the “day-to-day, run-of-the-mill” sense of “daily.”
  • décalé jet-lagged  There is no reason for French words to be popping into my head, I certainly can’t use them.  I’m pretty sure that the dictionary definition won’t exactly be “jet-lagged” (let’s check:  nope) but that’s exactly how I use it.

There are more words popping into my head; if I remember them, I’ll post them as I go.  It’s funny; acquisition feels like a wild process that happens to me; I feel like a recipient.  In my mind this is in pretty stark contrast to the joyless drill and quantify people, who ink flashcard punishment sessions into their google calendars, studying conjunctions out of context and without any information about register, so that later they can report to you, “I know 70,000 words!”

It’s starting to get light out.  Breakfast buffet starts in 90 minutes; I’m going to try to snooze for a bit.

2 thoughts on “Décalage

  1. nice stuff! Two little things, 就是這樣(子), I feel the 子 is not necessary. You can drop it and your still saying the same thing. Just sounds a bit better (IMO), what with the whole 雙音 thing that Chinese loves.

    Also, 日記 would be daily (日) memory (記), or a journal. Like the stuff you’ve been posting the past few days.

    Oh, and the more I read your damn 日記 the more I want to join the good fight against the “flash card mafia.” I’d rather learn less better than stuff my brain with crap I can’t use (correctly).


    • Thanks for the notes, Jake!

      As for the fight against the flash card mafia, don’t do it, it’s a losing battle. Those people don’t like “research” or “advice.”

      Instead, I’m trying to reformulate my message as gospel, concentrate on the joyfulness of language learning. The “good news” that language learning is faster when you’re enjoying it. Once you’re saved by that good news, you can go forth and flashcard no more. That’s a future post, anyway.

      More words that have come back to me out of the blue:
      題目 topic, composition
      平等 equality
      錄音室 recording studio


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