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Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

Observations on Chinese TV For Language Learning

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

By Antonio Graceffo


After forcing myself to watch a bunch of Chinese TV, I have made the following observations about language learning. First off, I don’t have to like what I am watching. In fact, I just flip on the TV and whatever is on is good enough. It’s all in Chinese. Next, I leave the TV on all the time. I decided I am at that level of proficiency where I can understand about 50% of pretty much anything I hear, which is enough to start benefiting from TV viewing. Sometimes I actually pick up the whole story or a joke that I can retell. Sometimes, I am just picking up words and sentences, but it is enough that, I know the listening is beneficial.

 

 
As soon as I wake up, the TV goes on, and it stays on pretty much every hour that I am in the room. In fact, now, even while I am doing my Chinese homework, I leave the TV on. It is amazing how much you pick up while you are thinking or mindlessly writing Chinese characters.

I bought a small device, similar to an Iphone, which can play video and audio files. I take it with me on the commute to and from work, every day, and watch episodes of the Chinese dramas I copied from DVDs. I also take it with me to the gym, and I watch it while I am doing cardio, if there is nothing good on the gym TVs that hang over the treadmills. 

Next, I found that dramas, soap operas, are easier and better for learning than the news. The soap operas move slower. They use simpler words, and there is a context created by the fact that it is a soap opera. Any time you lose the thread, you can just make the assumption someone is sleeping with someone out of wedlock, or they have just found out they have cancer. I was watching two dramas that I actually enjoy, but now, whatever drama happens to be on, I simply watch. 

With the news, the context changes every time they switch to the next news item. So, some context only last thirty seconds. A long one lasts about two minutes. By the time your brain catches up, switches, and figures out what’s going on, they have already moved on to the next story. With a drama, once you know what’s going on, it may not change again for several minutes. 

Another advantage to dramas is that they are close captioned, with Chinese subtitles, the news isn’t. By reading the subtitles while watching, I have found that I am learning both listening and reading. One of the issues in learning Chinese reading is that you never read outside of your textbooks. A Taiwanese friend of mine who grew up in South Africa, told me he learned to read Chinese from playing online games and chatting with other players. You need this type of natural usage to actually learn the language. Just doing my school assignments isn’t enough. 

Reading TV and movie subtitles is also brilliant for improving your reading speed. You are forced to read quickly, or to learn to scan. The “site words” concept says that in English, we don’t actually read words phonetically, sounding out the phonemes. Instead, we have subconsciously learned to recognize shapes. And we simply associate a given shape with a certain word. It does make sense, because when I studied speed reading, we were told not to read words, but to scan them. We were also told not to repeat the words with our internal dialogue. The internal dialogue is not necessary for understanding. You simply see a word. Your brain recognizes it, and knows the meaning. Then you move on to the next word. This saves a lot of time. One of the benefits of speed reading is that you eliminate the clutter. An accomplished speed reader should have a higher comprehension than someone who reads “normally”. 

Certainly for Chinese, with a pictographic writing system, it makes sense to scan, rather than read. And once again, you can eliminate the internal monologue. As the same characters could be used to write Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean or Cantonese, we realize it is the meaning, not the sound of the word that matters. 

Tonight, I tried out a new chicken restaurant near my house. While I waited for my food, the chicken lady chatted with me about the show she was watching on a large screen TV. It was a TV show in Shanghai dialect. I assume this was part of the government’s recent efforts to save the dialect from extinction. The woman told me, as everyone else has, that ten years ago, the government pushed for people to speak Mandarin. Apparently, it only takes ten years, one generation of children, to kill a dialect. Now they are trying to save it. 

The show was so strange. There was a host, an old guy, who looked like a Chinese version of Larry King, sitting on a throne. He would speak Shanghai dialect, which I don’t understand. But luckily, I could read the Mandarin subtitles. 

The old guy would give some sort of a life lesson, like, “Be kind to your grandma.” Then they would cut to a scene, where actors portrayed a family, and the grandma was helping the little boy with his homework, all in Shnaghainese, with Mandarin subtitles. The stories were actually not bad, and I was wishing they were in mandarin. But then, after each little vignette, they would cut back to the guy on the throne, who would preach at us, driving home the moral of the story. 

For me, Chinese TV is a vegetable, not desert. So, at the end of the day, I don’t care how much I do or don’t enjoy it. It is a tool for learning. But when I finally get to that point, that I am seeking to be entertained, it will be hard for me to not compare this crap TV show to say The Andy Griffith show, which also taught lots of great morals, but in an entertaining and timeless fashion.

 

Antonio Graceffo is self-funded and needs donation to continue his writing and video work. To support the project you can donate through the paypal link on his website, www.speakingadventure.com

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Antonio Graceffo is self-funded and needs donation to continue his writing and video work. To support the project you can donate through the paypal link on his website, www.speakingadventure.com


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.


Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available athttp://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey


See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on  http://www.blackbeltmag.com


website


www.speakingadventure.com


Twitter


http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk


facebook


Brooklyn Monk fan page


Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1


Brooklyn Monk in 3D


Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/


Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)


http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com


Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)


http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com


Brooklyn Monk in 3D


Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/

 

 

You’re an Idiot for Learning my Language

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

You’re an Idiot for Learning my Language

The latest strategy to promote cross-cultural understanding.

By Antonio Graceffo

Last night, in the grocery store in Shanghai, I wanted to by soy sauce. I stopped a friendly looking stranger, as I frequently do, when I need help, and said in Chinese, “Sorry, I can speak Chinese, but I can’t read. Could you please show me which of these bottles is soy sauce?” In Taiwan, I sometimes got answers like “Sorry, I can’t speak English.” Which made no sense, because we were speaking Chinese. But, since coming to Shanghai, I have not had a single person refuse to help me, or almost more importantly, refuse to understand me. Not only did the woman understand me and help me, but she thought my predicament was very interesting.

She stayed and chatted with me for a while, all in Chinese. Finally, she said that she was looking for a private teacher to come and teach a group of people every weekend, and asked how much I would charge.

I politely declined, lying that the university doesn’t allow its teachers to take side work. On the whole, I would have to call this a very positive interaction. Not only was there a pleasant outcome, but if my Chinese reading were good enough, I would never have made this new friend.

Today, I told this story to my private student. She immediately screwed up her face, like there was a horrible smell in the room. “Next time, you could try English. I think many people in Shanghai can speak English.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “But nearly 100% of them speak Chinese. So, the odds were a lot better if I spoke in Chinese.”

Reviewing the events of last night, and now seeing them in written form: I made a new friend, received a job offer, and most importantly, I got my soy sauce. How much better could this exchange have gone? What benefit would there have been to me speaking English to this person? Also, it is an absolute myth that the average person on the street in Shanghai speaks English.

This particular student has a decent level of English, after having spent a year in Seattle. Did she learn English by speaking Chinese to all of the American people she met there?

This isn’t the first time I have had this type of reaction from either a student or a co-worker when I mentioned something about my Chinese studies. I remember one woman in Taiwan almost getting angry, “Why would anyone want to learn Chinese?” She scolded me.

Way to promote multi-cultural understanding. I thought to myself. If you tell an Italian that you speak two words of their language, they will invite you home for dinner and not let you leave till you emerge from a food comma, three days later. But this was the thanks I got for trying to learn Chinese. She practically called me an idiot for trying to learn her mother tongue.

I wasn’t sure where to go with this one. Should I use the logical argument, “China is the number two economy in the world and rising, so it makes sense to learn Chinese.” Or, “Twenty percent of the world’s population already speaks Chinese, and I want to be able to communicate with them.” In the end, I said, “I live in Taiwan. I need to communicate with people on a daily basis, so I need to speak Chinese.” To which, she responded, “Many people can speak some English. When you talk to them, just use simple words.”

Simple words? What if I don’t want to use simple words? What if for the rest of the many years or possibly decades I live over here, I don’t want to express myself at the Tarzan level? Am I wrong in believing I could learn more about the people and the culture by speaking the language fluently?

That incident with the Taiwanese lady happened ten years ago, and I still can’t let it go. Over the years, I have worked as a field translator or researcher, earning a living, largely based on my knowledge of Chinese language. Now in Shanghai, I have been given some excellent side work and contract work, much of which has come to me because I can speak Chinese. There are a lot of English native speakers floating around. Some of them even have teaching qualifications. So, my way of differentiating myself is by speaking Chinese.

I can’t find a single advantage to NOT speaking Chinese.

As an educator, I have to wonder to what extent this attitude influences their learning of the English language. Would this explain why after years and years of study, many students are still at the communication level? I am sure no one ever taught them “Me want cookie.” Does fossilization occur because they have simply decided that simple words are enough?

Antonio Graceffo is self-funded and needs donation to continue his writing and video work. To support the project you can donate through the paypal link on his website, www.speakingadventure.com

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available athttp://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on  http://www.blackbeltmag.com

website

www.speakingadventure.com

Twitter

http://twitter.com/Brooklynmonk

facebook

Brooklyn Monk fan page

Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE

http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1

 

Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)

http://brooklynmonk.podomatic.com

Brooklyn Monk in 3D

Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/