Teaching vs. Playing: Classroom Techniques

Everyone is a Teacher, Student.

Everyone is a Teacher, Student.

Several weeks ago I was informed quite to my pleasure that amongst all the teachers and all the classes at my middle school, I had been voted (by the students) as the favorite.  I was, of course, flattered by their kind words and humbled to be so warmly welcomed in such a short amount of time but I could not help but wonder why it was that I was chosen and whether or not it was actually desirable to be so.

Given, there is not much more rewarding and motivating as praise from your peers for your good work.  To me, the worthy and sincere congratulations and appreciation from others is better and more self-satisfying than my paycheck–especially on those sour Mondays or long Wednesdays.  Yet this was something different.  I was not chosen by my peers as the best teacher in Sindorim Middle school, I was chosen by the students.

In college I remember one such professor that all the students admired (and still do) who was formally known as Professor Ackerman (though he preferred to be called simply by his first name) who won similar recognition from us students when I was a senior.  All of the students adored him!  We were positively enthralled to see him anywhere on campus, he was always volunteering and participating in student-let activities, in the classroom he always maintained a high energy level and even managed to remember every single student by name (and he had quite a few students!) Yet, when it comes to what I learned in class I will admit, and not a bit proudly, that my reports and final marks were quite mediocre.  Despite his enthusiasm and personable character, I found it easier to be his buddy so to speak and talk with him as such rather than as a professor.

Then what is the objective of being a teacher? Continue reading

Grafting & Language Etiquette

Grafting: Six Trees to One "Basket"
Grafting: Six Trees to One “Basket”

When native English speakers learn Japanese, they learn the word for “I” and “You”.  In Japan it is uncommon to use “You” but native English speakers use it regularly–in English–and are therefore very likely to use it regularly when speaking Japanese (due to the perpetuation of the habit or simply ignorance of the language etiquette of Japan) As a result, the use of the 2nd person pronoun begins to be absorbed by the Japanese people into the Japanese language.  Soon the usage of “You” will be just as common in Japanese as in English

Similarly in Korea where different levels of respectful language govern the manner of speech in each specific situation (mother-daughter, boss-employee, neighbor-golfing partner, etc.), native-English speakers are likely to carry over their pre-established rules of language etiquette.  Native-English speakers are likely to try to show respect based on the choice of words rather than recognize the importance of the verb ending 요(YO) in Korean speech etiquette.  As a result, Western speech etiquette may become absorbed by the Korean language and respectful verb-endings may become a thing of the past.

It is another case of the classic language vs. culture question: How deep is their connection; and can language be separated from culture, at all? Continue reading

Bilingualism, Cartilage of the Organism

Living in the United States today are millions of people with the capability to speak only one language.  Bilingualism is a very common trait to have though and more than we even may want to believe or deem necessary.  Borders of nations may be clear-cut and divisive but the beauty of language is it knows no boundaries.  Like the river when it meets the ocean, language flows and blends while simultaneously growing, expanding, fading, and eventually dying, becoming one with the rest of the sea.

A World Without Bilinguals
A World Without Bilinguals

Go north from the United States for example, and French-English bilinguals can be found; to the south Spanish-English bilinguals are common; in Korea meet the Japanese-Korean or Chinese-Korean bilinguals; within Europe where nations are as intertwined in language as they are financially, culturally, and historically, it is no longer bilingualism but trilingualism or more.  In my opinion–and to cut to the chase–you could say that these bilinguals are the glue that hold our world together, the cartilage between the bones so to speak that make the entire structure move easy politically, socially, etc.  Can you picture the world as an organism?  In many ways the human race as a whole is becoming more and more like a single organism: the internet connects us like a nervous system, worldwide organizations respond to aid natural disaster victims like white blood cells to a cut, language is tied with our culture as a kind of bone structure holding it all up, and bilinguals work between nations as intermediaries like the connective tissue called cartilage that makes the walking smooth. Continue reading

Language Exchange: Mutually Detrimental

Language Exchange

Language Exchange

Around the world and in almost every city there exist now places of gathering for verbal communication in a foreign language: Language Exchange.  In case you have not had the fortune of attending such a gathering (whether it be in Spanish, English, Japanese, German, French, etc.) allow me a minute to introduce to you the setting and the goals that drive these intercultural communication sessions. A language exchange is a gathering of two kinds of people: Those that can not speak the target language and those that can speak the target language–either because they are more advanced or because they are native speakers of the language. The language in question is not a language readily spoken in that area/country and so therefore the goal is simply to give both parties the chance to improve their speaking skill.

How is this improvement made?

Those with little experience are supposed to speak to those with more experience, through which an increase in confidence should help boost their ability to communicate verbally in the target language. Likewise, the more advanced speakers may speak with native speakers of the language who have come to help.  To consider an alternative, the more advanced speakers may benefit by speaking to the lower-level speakers simply by the act of explaining more complex facets of the language to them: Learning through teaching.  Most of the people that I know that have participated in such events have all come out of it with a positive experience, but “having a good time” vs. “learning to speak” are different, are they not? Continue reading

Words: An Inexhaustable Resource

450,000 unique words.  That’s a low estimate of how many words exist in the English language today.  Spanish has something in the order of 200,000 words; Japanese word count (and this could contain archaic, medieval, and modern/contemporary words) is no less than 450,000 words in its arsenal; and if Korean contains just as many words derived from Chinese as Japanese then we should expect Korean to have a similar word count (roughly 400,000) as well.

A few questions come to mind almost immediately after reviewing these numbers.  First, why is it that every language needs literally hundreds of thousands of words in its dictionaries when, on a day-to-day basis, its users will almost never use more than a couple thousand? (maybe no more than 30,000 in their entire lifetime!) Second, if it is necessary to have so many words, why is it that every language in this day and age has about 300,000 words on average?  Why isn’t there a more diverse and varied range of vocabulary?  Last, if one language has more words in its dictionary than another language, does this mean that speakers of that language can express emotions that others can not? Can they think things that speakers of another language can not even fathom?

The First Folio
The First Folio

As you may already know, I am no expert in this field I am only asking the questions and posing my humble answers with high hopes of getting some feedback from you–the reader–and then standing happily corrected.  That being said, let’s address the first question: why is it that every language needs literally hundreds of thousands of words in its dictionaries when, on a day-to-day basis, its users will almost never use more than a couple thousand? If you want to get any idea for what it takes to have the largest vocabulary of anyone in the English language (and to hold that record for hundreds of years) look no further than to the many plays of William Shakespeare.  Within the pages of those (at least) 37 famous plays so eloquently written, are 31,534 unique words.  That means that we are not counting words like “and” or “or” more than once, ever. To go a bit deeper, statisticians have done a bit of research to try to determine the actual amount of words that Shakespeare knew but never used and have concluded that the Elizabethan playwright probably knew somewhere in the ballpark of 66,500 words.  Let me give you a moment to consider the magnitude of that number…66,500 words.

My point?  Simply this: The person with probably the highest vocabulary of anyone before or after him for hundred of years (who single-handedly invented thousands of words) knew no more than 15% of all the words in the English dictionary today.  If that is the case with the most eloquent man on earth, what is the case for the guy next door?  What about you?  What is the point of having so many words when we only need maybe 2% of them to function in society and 15% of them to be considered the most poignant and potent writer that ever graced the face of the earth? Continue reading

Calligraphy: Eastern and Western

Calligraphy: from Greek κάλλος kallos “Beauty” + γραφή graphẽ “Writing”

Caligrafia: Spanish (similar meaning to English version)

Shodo: Japanese しょ、書 sho-Writing, どう,道 do(pronounced doe)-“Way”

Shufu: Chinese 書 “Writing”、法 “Law”・”Rules”

Seoye: Korean 서 「書」Seo “Writing”, 예 「藝」 Ye “Craft/Skill/Technique”

Think of the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Got it? Good. Now think of one of the most ordinary things on the planet earth: handwriting. Don’t just think about any handwriting though, think of your own. Now superimpose the beauty of the first thing onto your handwriting and what do you end up with? A sunrise. A quiet morning. A rainbow. A smile. What I mean is that you get a writing system that impresses the masses regardless of the content. You don’t need to know who is smiling or over what country the sun is rising to feel joyous. We experience joy simply in knowing that someone is smiling or that the sun is rising. Similarly calligraphy, if it can be separated from its inseparable relationship with the host language, is a language on its own. A universal language that resonates most strongly with art and speaks to the masses much more than the words it makes up.

What is most interesting is the universality of calligraphy. No mater where in the world and no matter what period, there is a system of writing that is considered more beautiful or more correct. For thousands of years the Chinese have developed these rules of correctness into laws governing the writing system. Elsewhere the literate scribes were the sole keepers of language and each had to adhere to strict rules regarding copying. Notably of these are the many glorious and awe-inspiring illuminated texts of the Middle Ages, the work of skilled and dedicated hands. In India too there exist beautiful styles of calligraphic text. Muslim nations will often use calligraphic text for decoration on mosques or tapestries. Around the world and over time beautiful, albeit difficult and painstaking, styles of writing sprang up alongside the development of the society to which they were (and still are) tied.

It is a common denominator, to put it in mathematical terms, that connects all languages. This blog aims to explore ways in which the languages of English, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean are tied together (or split apart) and writing style is one of those ways. On a basic level, these languages have a written form. Check. Within each language though, is there a specific style which is considered most proper or most beautiful? (I realize that the latter term is subjective) To answer this question let’s look very briefly at some possible candidates: Continue reading

Happy Kanji: Positive vs. Negative Japanese


Eternal Kanji Symbol

Hand-Painted Kanji: Eternal

As a way of mediation, contemplation, and preparation for the new year, I decided to write down 400 kanji (the sino-Japanese text).  In an effort to call forth positive energy into my life  this new year, only characters that had some positive connotation were chosen.  The kanji  are chosen from a list of 1,947 kanji that can be found in the reference book “Kanji in Context” The list includes all Joyo kanji.  Joyo simply refers to the set of kanji that have been set up by the Japanese Ministry of education as mandatory for all students up through secondary school.  The Japanese language in total consists of roughly 3,000 separate kanji characters but luckily for us non-native speakers any kanji outside of the list of 1,945 Joyo kanji that is used in Japanese newsprint must be accompanied by corresponding furigana.

So with this in mind I set out to create a list of 400 kanji that have some kind of positive denotation.  Of course it occurrs to me that there will be some subjectivity when it comes to determining what things are positive and what things are not so please do not regard this list as definitive.  There are certain characters which may have positive connotations if not widely then personally and I am sure that we all can agree that certain gray areas are quite acceptable. Also be aware than many kanji can have more than one meaning: 安(AN) for example can mean either safe or cheap.

What becomes clear as the list is being made is that there are relatively few kanji that have positive denotations.  Out of the 1,947 kanji reviewed only a few hundred can really be handpicked as uplifting, positive, soothing, etc.  The final hundred or so come down to things that I would like to consider as positive.  That is to say, these final kanji are no more positive than they are negative but because I have no more positive kanji I simply have to settle for something which is at least not harmful or negative.  You will see that many elements of nature stand in for the final section. Also notice that I chose to include many elements of the body because any and all good feelings must originate and radiate from the body.

The list is as follows:


(If you want to know the meaning: Go to this site->Polarcloud and download Rikaichan for Firefox, Thunderbird, or Seamonkey.  Then download the corresponding dictionary.  Now all that is left is to simply activate Rikaichan and hover your mouse over the kanji you want to know more about and VIOLA! )

That’s it.  That should be 400.  For those of you who can read Japanese (or Chinese as well) it should be easy to tell that some of the characters above are a bit of a stretch;  “Peach Tree” (桃) would be one such case. No matter, my point is not that there are exactly 400 examples of positive kanji but it is that fact that there are really quite fewer than that number.  While the amount of kanji people are required to know in order to read a newspaper in Japan may be roughly 2,000, of those less than 1/5th of them are positive even just slightly!  Let me repeat,  fewer than one-fifth of all the Chinese characters used in Japanese text are positive even slightlyContinue reading