Processing the deluge

This is an indirect review of Japanese POd 101 masked under the guise of another concept.

Let’s assume you want to learn Japanese and you have never heard a lick of Japanese, or read any Japanese grammar before. You do a little research, and get excited to learn that there are systems out there that can help you rapidly achieve a functional comprehension of the language. Then as you do more research, you find sites (even like this one) filled with literally hundreds of pages worth of information, insights and explanations on observations and methodologies in language learning approaches. Then you start seeing information database websites, more learning blogs, learning about anki decks and podcasts, music to listen to, then you see all the youtube teachers and the information turns from a trickle into a wave. This is what I call the deluge.

It is the overwhelming amount of data that relates to any subject and the rate at which you can comfortably process it. I find that intimidation (particularly with Japanese) with a language can increase significantly when you dive too quickly into too many resource points. This is why I refreshed my approach and focused on what I call Base and Build. Which I roughly outlined in another post. Anyhoo, I mention this because i’ve been dabbling in Japanese Pod 101 recently.

Japanese Pod 101 basically uses very light and interesting conversations that run for about a minute at a time to explain a grammar point. They are labeled quite incorrectly as “beginner” lessons most of the time, and this is what turned me off the podcast for quite some time. They use people speaking at native speed using complex grammar, usually to explain a very simple grammar point. Personally, I found this method of teaching extremely counterintuitive, simply because you can easily get lost in the sea of vocabulary and expressions in each lesson. I listened to a few lessons, and found it hard to establish a concrete understanding of whatever grammar point they were trying to get across.

This is a problem with the deluge, which is why I’m happy I discovered stuff like the Michel Thomas Method. I prefer a solid and simple way of learning grammar that stays with me then I can add on to it. This I am going to call “Padding” another thing I am practicing. For example, I was listening to a podcast about “intention” and they were talking about using つもり(tsumori) to describe intention when you want to do something.

The grammar pattern was used ONCE in the dialogue which I considered pretty complex. Again, I found this to be a terrible way to introduce a grammar pattern.

But the strength of the Japanese Pod 101 podcast is in the variety of common expressions you learn through the naturally written speech and situations they create. They translate each piece of dialogue (or the most relevant parts) and I find this to be more helpful than the grammar point. However, some of the grammar points they introduce I wasn’t aware of, so I still feel like I learned something. But i’m not a newbie at Japanese. If I was an ABSOLUTE beginner this would make my head hurt, because on top of the vocab and what not, sometimes the people on the podcast themselves are chatting in Japanese, which might confuse the readers.

So I was reading something somewhere, and a person talked about learning a language with a wide versus narrow focus ( I believe it was Tim Ferris). Meaning, if I was to spend all my time reading Sci Fi Manga and watching Sci Fi anime while studying Sci Fi Japanese words, if it is something I am ridiculously interested in, there would be a relative “spillover” effect when talking about normal things. This makes sense, since the point of these systems like Japanese Pod 101 or PImsleur is to provide something that is “interesting enough” to keep you coming back.

But since its SO much information out there, I’ve found there is no point in trying to understand everything all the time. There are thousands of ways to express things in any language, and I’m trying to personally pinpoint say, the 100 most relevant things I must know. So i’ve been looking at a Japanese grammar website that lists the N3 grammar requirements.

(here: http://jgram.org/pages/viewOne.php?tagE=ga+suru)

At a glance I can say there are about 50-70 grammar points there. Many of them I already know (many of them are simply words) but most of them just through reading aren’t difficult to grasp quickly.

I had no idea certain words I already knew were used as grammar points, which is sort of cool meaning I don’t really have to internalize the meaning in a sentence. But how does this factor into processing the deluge?

Well its like lifting weights. After a while you are able to tolerate more data. Presently my stress level in just doing light research is ridiculously low for a few key reasons:

1. I currently have a comfortable understanding of many grammar patterns, and learning new ones doesn’t make me feel as if i’m way behind or lost.

2. Nuance is merely another way to say something you probably already know how to say, but its good to be aware of.

3. I try and tell myself that whatever I learn, I can quickly internalize and mentally practice with simple excercises.

I’m finding that previously I was studying a lot of vocabulary very early and little grammar. This gave me a reasonable ability to “plough through” text I saw and glean meanings, but it wasn’t efficient. Now that i’m doing a light mix of just more grammar, the language is starting to feel a bit different. I still can’t easily follow rapid conversations, but I find that despite me saying Japanese Pod 101 has some failings i fyou are an absolute newbie, I think it is excellent for “situational research”.

SITUATIONAL RESEARCH

The problem with being outside a native environment is a lack of realistic situations where one can encounter scenarios that force you to try and say things you wouldn’t. So imagine someone asking you: “What’s the scariest kind of ghost in Jamaica?” or “What’s popular on youtube in Jamaica right now?”

We gain grammar muscle by getting into these situations, getting stuck and then going back with more strength and plowing through it. It is very difficult to “study” situations simply because the mind doesn’t really work like that. If you aren’t somewhere, it isn’t easy to transport yourself there mentally. This is why people forget a bunch of vocabulary related to things they have no concept of, like hanami, or Japanese winter (if there is no winter where you live). So at the very least, you can do situational research. So a few of the Japanese pod 101 lessons talk about cheaters, married life, sports and literally dozens of regular situations. So it is a good research tool.

From the podcasts I can remember some interesting terms.

so popular is 人気がある and “to cheat” is 浮気する。to be exposed is ”ばれる”

At the end of the day, what this is providing for me (with my level of understanding) is a sort of palatable means of fiddling with some new vocabulary (or refreshing vocab I already know) without too much overwhelm.

This has been different. Listening to the podcast was quite stressful before, but now that I am employing a few tricks (which I will blog about next) it is helping me deal with the “deluge.”

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About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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