Saturday, June 3, 2017

Finished Learning French Dictionary

Hi everyone,

I'm glad to announce that as of yesterday, I have finished learning the French-English dictionary that I had been studying since this past January. 

Collins Essential French to English One-Way Dictionary

This dictionary contains more than 14,000 headwords and 28,000 translations.  It took me exactly 144 days to study it from cover to cover. I spent roughly 2 hours a day, so it adds up to a total of about 300 hours of studying.

Naturally, my French vocabulary has grown substantially as I worked my way through this dictionary, and the improvement has been most evident in the level of comfort I feel in reading French books. Granted, there are still lots of words that I do not know when I read a French novel, but my level of comprehension is now good enough that I can read on and follow the story without feeling the need to stop to look up those unknown words.

Le Robert & Collins - Dictionnaire français-anglais - Niveau avancé

I've decided to continue with my studying of French vocabulary, and purchased this dictionary from Amazon France.

Like my previous dictionary, this one also comes in an E-book format.  However, it contains far more words and phrases, so it will take me much longer to finish. 

As I've just begun studying the first few pages, I don't know how long it will take me to go through the entire dictionary.  Nevertheless, I no longer feel daunted by a big learning project like this, not least because my recent learning experience has taught me that, far from being monotonous and boring, studying words from a dictionary is actually quite pleasurable and intellectually stimulating.

I will keep updating on my progress in French here in this blog going forward.

Wish you all a nice and enjoyable weekend! :-)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Began to Learn a French Grammar Book

Hi everyone,

This is just a quick post to let you know that I have begun to learn a French grammar book that I bought in Japan.

The book is titled これならわかるフランス語文法 入門から上級まで, authored by Yutaka Rokushika, published by NHK Publishing Co., Ltd.  Evidently, this is intended for Japanese learners of the French language like myself.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been learning French vocabulary from a French-English dictionary since this past January. While I think it's important to learn the vocabulary, I also deem it critical to have correct knowledge of grammar if I want to become truly fluent in French, hence my decision to learn this grammar book.

(Above photo from my Japanese blog post dated August 14, 2008)

Actually, this is not the first time that I have seriously studied French grammar.  Back in 2008 when I was preparing for a French proficiency exam administered in Japan, I studied a whole bunch of grammar books, all of which were published by McGraw-Hill Education. They certainly helped me acquire a basic foundation in French grammar and I did pass the exam on my first attempt.  However, as I haven't studied any grammar ever since, my grammar knowledge has gotten somewhat rusty over the years.  

I could re-learn those same books by McGraw-Hill Education if I wanted to, but I find the sheer volume of these books rather intimidating, so I've decided to take a short cut and study a new grammar book written in Japanese instead. There are some good reviews given to this book on Amazon Japan, so I expect it to be decent in quality.

I've studied the first few pages of this book today. As I have only just begun I don't know how long it will take me to go through the entire book, but I hope to finish it within a month or so.

I will update you on my progress going forward in this blog.

Wish you all a nice new week ahead! :-)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Method For Learning New Words

Hi everyone,

As of today, I've reached the three-quarter mark in the study of my French dictionary.  In today's post I would like to write about how I actually go about studying new words from this dictionary and share my thoughts on memorizing and forgetting new words.

It might come as a surprise to some of you, but I don't use flashcards to memorize new words.

What I do is to simply highlight the words that I want to learn, look at their meanings, and if the explanations are unclear or ambiguous, consult my other dictionaries until the meanings become clear to me. Afterward I glance through the highlighted words page by page on my Kindle.

As simple as it may be, that's all I do in my daily learning routine.

(Above photo from my Japanese blog post dated August 12, 2008)

I used to be a huge fan of flashcards and created tens of thousands of them before, but I discontinued making flashcards (both physical ones and virtual ones using the Anki software) for the following reasons:

  • They are too time-consuming to create, easily taking up 1 to 2 hours if not more to create 40 to 50 cards per day, and that doesn't even include the time required for actual memorization;
  • They give you a sense of obligation and urgency in such a way that, when you see a stack of cards in front of you, you kind of feel obligated to memorize each and every one of them perfectly before moving on to a new set of cards, leaving you feeling sated and exhausted at the end of each study session. 
With my current learning method, I simply glance through the highlighted words without forcing myself to memorize them. I make a point of going through all the words that I have learned during the past three days. Learning new words and reviewing the past three days' worth of highlighted words takes me roughly 90 minutes per day.

A few years ago I would have regarded this method with deep suspicion as being unreliable, but now I find it to be just as effective in terms of committing the words to memory.

The inevitable fact is that I forget tons of words that I learn every single day, but this occurs regardless of whether I create flashcards or not. The important thing is that nowadays I hold a more zen attitude regarding the words that I forget, in the sense that I do not fret about the forgetting per se, but instead view it as a natural and necessary occurrence in the learning process.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I try to retain my newly acquired knowledge of French vocabulary by reading French novels. If I come across a newly-learned word in a novel, it can help me consolidate my knowledge of that word, but those words that seldom appear in books will eventually pass into oblivion.

If you ask me, this is really the way it should be, as frequently used words should be given priority in memorizing over arcane and obscure words that hardly appear in conversations or novels.

So, these are some of my thoughts as regards learning new words in a foreign language. I hope you have found it somewhat useful or intriguing.

Will update you again whenever I get hit with a new idea.

Wish you a good evening. :-)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Learning French Vocabulary Again

Hello again from Singapore!

I was astonished to find that I hadn't updated my blog for 2 years! I'm writing this post to update you on what I have been passionate about lately.

In early January of this year, I decided to study French again in earnest, as it was getting quite rusty due to lack of use.

I've decided to focus on vocabulary this time, and purchased a French-English dictionary to study from cover to cover.

The dictionary that I am studying now is called Collins French to English Essential (One Way) Dictionary (Collins Essential) (French Edition).  I purchased it from Amazon in a Kindle E-book format.

The paper format of the same dictionary comes with 448 pages.  I think it's targeted for intermediate learners like me, and I find it quite suitable for my current level of knowledge in French.

According to my tweet, I began to study this dictionary on January 10 of this year. As of now, I am about 73% done, and I expect to finish learning the entire dictionary around the end of May if I can keep up the current pace of learning.

I am increasingly of the opinion that studying vocabulary is one of the most critical aspects of developing functional skills in a foreign language, along with grammar and pronunciation.  When I finish learning this dictionary I intend to switch to another more comprehensive dictionary to further increase my vocabulary.

In order to retain what I learn from my dictionary, I also make a point of reading a novel in French, although I can only manage a few pages a day.

Just yesterday, I finished reading Affaire de coeur, which is the French translation of a Danielle Steel novel. Given that I study numerous French words from a dictionary every day already, when I was reading this book I didn't stop to look up the words that I didn't know and focused instead on enjoying the story.  This is a very well-written novel and I had fun reading it. I enjoyed the novel so much that I restarted to read it from the beginning today. I believe that reading French novels is an effective way to consolidate my knowledge of French vocabulary.

As for French grammar and pronunciation, I am not focusing on these areas now, but I will need to seriously re-learn these areas eventually. I watch French television news and listen to French podcasts from time to time, but not on a regular basis.  I will set up a more rigorous routine when I get more confident about my knowledge of French vocabulary.

So, that's about it for a quick update on my current learning activities. I don't know when I will be able to post the next update. Hopefully soon.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend! :-)

Monday, August 10, 2015

New Approach to Improve My American Accent

Good Sunday evening from Singapore. It’s been literally ages since my last update on this blog. It feels great to be back!

This is just to give you a quick update on what I have been doing.

I am still doing a lot of language learning day in and day out, but recently I haven’t been living up to my nickname of “Uncle Polyglot,” in the sense that I’ve been focusing on English only, at the expense of the other foreign languages, such as French and Chinese.

In today’s blog post I’ll just write about what I’ve been doing in terms of improving my English pronunciation.

Up until now I have written many blog posts here concerning my quest for a perfect American English accent. Regrettably, I have yet to master a satisfactory accent, despite my intermittent efforts to Americanize my speech over the past few years. To be fair, I think I have made some progress, but I am still far from being able to pass myself off as a native speaker.

Recently, however, I got hugely inspired by a blog by a Japanese guy named George Cooney (国井仗司 in Japanese, not to be mistaken with the erstwhile ER actor) where he uploads his voice recordings of novel passages in English, presumably for the purpose of improving his own English pronunciation.

Here is the link to the blog:

英語で朗読! - 国井仗司 Giving Voice to the Written Word George Cooney's Oral Interpretations of Old and New Literature

As I am not a native speaker of English I cannot assess with utmost certainty the authenticity of his English accent, but to my untrained ear his British accent sounds quite spot on, to the point that I would probably mistake him for an Englishman if I spoke to him on the phone.

According to his self-introduction, he hasn’t received any professional coaching on English pronunciation, which makes it all the more remarkable that he can sound like a native speaker.

What I really found to be intriguing was that, when he recorded his readings of novel passages, he didn’t do it by imitating the audiobooks of these novels. Instead, he reads aloud these passages according to his own idea of what the correct British accent should sound like.

He accomplishes it by listening to his own recording very closely for any deficiencies in pronunciation, thereby fine-tuning his accent bit by bit until he reasonably sounds like a native. It is also worthy to note that regardless of whether the novel is British or American, he invariably reads the passages with his signature British accent.

I’ve found his approach to be unique and interesting, and I’ve decided to give it a try myself. As my personal preference is American English, I will stick to an American accent for now.

I read aloud a passage in English and record my own voice with my IC recorder for analysis. I’ve already done a few voice recording sessions, and so far I've found it a lot of fun to listen to and analyze my own voice.

I agree with him that at my current level of English, it’s no longer necessary to listen to a sample recording by an American voice actor for imitation.

As I’ve watched tons of American movies and television shows in my life, I already know what an American accent sounds like, so I shouldn’t waste my time trying to imitate one particular voice actor, whose vocal characteristics might be completely different from mine and therefore impractical to model my speech on. Rather, I should follow my general mental image of what a typical American accent sounds like, such that I can eventually Americanize my speech in a way that best suits my own voice.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense to the readers of this blog, but I hope to be able to prove myself right in the coming months. As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I’ll be uploading my own voice recordings here so you can see it for yourself. :-)

Wish you all a very nice week ahead!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Have a Confession to Make...

Hello again from Singapore!

I've had a crazy week last week workload-wise and couldn't get much studying done, to my great dismay.  As I'm not yet in the study mode I think I'll take it easy for the rest of the weekend.

Anyway, I'm writing this post to make a little confession.

For a self-professed polyglot who has been learning multiple languages for decades, I am not fluent in any of the languages that I speak, including Japanese, my mother tongue.

The primary issue that I'm having is that, for some unknown reason, I just cannot speak continuously for an extended period of time in whatever language I speak, because I always need to stop to think about what to say next when I'm done with my current sentence.

This particular inability in my speech does not affect me negatively at all on most occasions, whether be it in private life or at work, as I can carry a conversation with my colleagues and clients with perfect ease, and I can always get things done with my choppy sentences.  Furthermore, when I write emails at the office, I often get commended on my writing style for its organized structure and clarity. 

However, when I'm required to do a presentation for a few minutes where I have to speak continuously without anybody else cutting in, I always have great difficulty.  I don't have a stuttering problem, but I just cannot talk at length with a smooth continuous flow of speech, so normally what I do is to pre-script my speech and recite it verbatim in front of my audience, rendering it sounding somewhat labored and unnatural.

For the record, all of my YouTube videos that I've uploaded so far had been pre-scripted and rehearsed umpteen times before uploading; there is no way that I could have improvised those speeches.

Frankly, I have no idea as to what is causing this deficiency (I know that "deficiency" might be too strong a word for this, but I don't know how else to put it).  I know that it has nothing to do with the size of my vocabulary, because I've seen children of preschool age expressing themselves far more eloquently than I do with their limited vocabulary.  If you let them be, they can talk their heads off.

Could it be that I have some mental blocks which prevent me from expressing myself freely, by vocalizing whatever that pops into my mind?  I know that I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I feel really uncomfortable every time I say a sentence that is incoherent or grammatically unsound, and I try to avoid it happening on some subconscious level, thereby preventing my speech from flowing in a smooth manner.

Whatever the cause may be, I'd like to overcome it with lots of practice. 

What I have been doing recently is to engage in a lot of self-talk.  I think having monologue sessions is an extremely effective method for building up one's fluency in a foreign language, sometimes even more so than having conversations with native speakers,  as the learner can monopolize the time all to himself, thereby maximizing the opportunity for actually speaking the language. 

Also, as I've already mentioned in my previous post, whenever I do self-talk, I always make a point of listening to my own voice with an IC recorder, in order to objectively assess my voice.  I listen out for places in my speech where I sound different from native English speakers, and I try to rectify these differences on the spot by repeating them again and again.

I wouldn't mind seeking some professional help as regards my difficulty in speech, but I have yet to find a training coach who can give me effective guidance.  In the meantime I will continue to do my own explorations for ways to enhance my speech.

Anyway, there you have it, my very first confession on this blog.  Thank you all for reading.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  Talk to you again soon!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Do I Need Professional Voice Lessons?

I'd like to continue on with the topic of improving my American English accent.

Once again I need to refer to the Eigonodo method which has had a tremendous impact on the way I vocalize when I speak English.

This method has made me realize that, while it's important to learn how to shape the mouth and where to place the tongue to correctly pronounce the vowels and consonants, it's equally important to understand the mechanism whereby native English sounds are generated.
Native speakers of English tend to utilize their throat much more extensively than Japanese people, and their vocalization usually involves a lot of air-flow vis-à-vis the Japanese, rendering their voice relatively deep-sounding and well-rounded.

Having learned this method, I can now say with utmost certainty that, without the right vocalization, one will never be able to sound like a native speaker no matter how he shapes his mouth to imitate the native sounds.

This matter of vocalization has really got me thinking lately.  I've been thinking, if I really want to switch from the Japanese way of vocalizing to the English one, there is no way that I will do this by half measures, lest I end up sounding unnatural and unconvincing.  I'd much rather go the whole hog and get the right vocalization method completely down pat, so that whenever I open my mouth to speak English, I'll be able to vocalize the right way on automatic pilot.

I am even contemplating whether I should seek some professional help to improve my vocalization.  The way things stand now, I have a very muffled voice that doesn't carry well, which I think gives the impression of lacking confidence to some people.  I've seen some YouTube video clips on this subject, and found that quite a few of them mention diaphragmatic breathing as an effective way to improve vocalization.  The problem is, I don't believe that this kind of breathing skill can be self-taught, simply by reading reference books or by watching YouTube videos, etc, hence the need for some private tutoring sessions.

Regardless of whether or not I will take professional voice lessons, I will continue to explore this matter of vocalization for the time being.  I will keep you posted on my new findings as I go along in my quest for perfect American English pronunciation.

Wish you all a nice new week ahead.  Talk to you again soon!