Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My New French Learning Method!

Happy Chinese New Year from Singapore!

I'm having two days off from work due to Chinese New Year holidays.

Being a non-Chinese, I don't celebrate CNY, so I'm spending my holidays holed up in my apartment, surfing the net, studying for the CFA Level II exam (which I will be taking this coming June), or otherwise just taking it easy.

The purpose of today's blog post is to share with you my thoughts on how we can boost the efficiency of language learning, with particular reference to growing our vocabulary.

The way I see it, there are two main pillars of what helps us expand our vocabulary in a foreign language, which are:

1) Reinforcement of old knowledge by means of revision and repetition;
2) Integration of new knowledge by means of importing fresh content into my study materials.

Both of the above are vitally important. If you want to achieve optimum results for a given amount of time and effort, you need to incorporate both activities into your daily learning routine, and avoid at all costs neglecting one activity in favor of the other.

Here is one example of how I put into practice the incorporation of the two main pillars mentioned above.

Presently, my daily French learning routine consists of watching French television news podcasts on my iPhone/iPad and learning the new words and phrases that appear in each podcast.

It's an extremely simple process, but it works well so long as I mechanically follow the rules below that I've set for myself:

Rule # 1: I will always keep three consecutive episodes in my library, no more and no less.

Rule # 2: When I actually get down to studying French, I will make sure to watch the three episodes back-to-back, in one sitting, always starting from the oldest episode first. Each episode averages about 15 minutes, adding up to a total of about 45 minutes. Given my busy schedule, this is about the utmost that I can manage per day.

Rule # 3: Upon completing each sitting of three consecutive episodes, I will make sure to download a new episode and delete the oldest one, thereby ensuring that the total number of episodes will remain unchanged, as mandated by Rule # 1.

This methodology works because it systematically ensures that I watch each episode three times before it gets deleted from the iPhone, thereby making certain that enough repetition of the same vocabulary words takes place, in order for them to be etched into memory.

In fact, repetition of the same words also occurs in watching consecutive episodes, because some news stories develop over the course of a few days (e.g. murder investigations, major accidents, natural disasters, etc.) and consequently the same subject matters might appear in the newscast over and over again.

Also, by constantly importing the new episode and deleting the old episode as mentioned in Rule # 3, I make sure that I come into contact with some fresh content everyday, thereby making it possible for new words and phrases to be incorporated into my vocabulary. Otherwise, I will be stuck with the same old content, and my vocabulary will soon stop growing.

The reason why I devised this learning method is because of my lazy personality. I'm a creature of habit, and I detest having to constantly look for some new innovative ways to enlarge my vocabulary. For one thing, it's extremely tiring, and for another, the results can be unstable at best, with no guarantee whatsoever of solid, continuous growth of knowledge.

By comfortably following an established routine, I don't even have to think what to do, and yet my French vocabulary keeps growing in a stable and predictable manner.

By the way, when I watch the podcasts, I take down the new words and phrases on a medium-sized flash card (10cm x 15cm, or approx. 4" x 6"), as shown in this picture. I note them down as and when they appear, and look them up immediately with my pocket electronic dictionary.

In order to save time, I normally write down the vocabulary words only, with no explanations, but as long as I give it a quick glance-over at the end of each podcast, I can remember their meanings anyway, mainly because these vocabulary words can be memorized in connection with a particular news story and its related sounds and images, which is far easier than trying to retain them by rote memory.

I believe that with the learning method mentioned above, I'll be able to make great headway in enlarging my French vocabulary this year. My goal is to acquire enough vocabulary such that I can read contemporary French novels without having to consult the dictionary by the end of May next year, which will mark the tenth anniversary of my French learning. It's a daunting task for sure, but I'm absolutely determined to achieve it at all costs!

For those of you who are language-learning enthusiasts like me, I hope you find the content of this blog post somehow useful for your language studies. Should you have better ideas or suggestions, please make sure to let me know!

Wish you all a magnificent Year of Dragon ahead!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Excellent Books to Improve American Accent!

Happy New Year from Singapore!

This post is to let you know about my latest endeavor to improve my American English accent.

Specifically, I would like to introduce to you the 2 excellent books shown herewith on American English pronunciation, which have radically changed my perception of how I should vocalize when I speak English:

英語喉 50のメソッド
(In 50 Lessons You Get Eigo-nodo, hereinafter referred to as the Eigo-nodo book)

(Understanding English Spoken at Machine-gun Speed)

Both of these books are co-authored by Kazuaki Uekawa and Jeana George. They are intended for Japanese learners of English like myself, who are interested in improving their American English accent.

The title of the first book, 英語喉 (Eigo-nodo), is a Japanese term which literally translates as the English throat. As the name suggests, this book explains in detail how we can improve our American English pronunciation by utilizing the throat.

I came across these books quite by accident. About 2 months ago, I was surfing YouTube and checking out some English pronunciation tutorial videos, and came across a video that was done by Kazuaki Uekawa, one of the co-authors of the Eigo-nodo book.

In this video, Mr Uekawa is demonstrating how Japanese learners of English can improve their pronunciation by vocalizing from the throat.

Check this out:

When I watched this video for the first time, I was flabbergasted because, although Mr Uekawa was born and raised in Japan, his American English accent sounded really natural to me, to such an extent that he can pass off for an American guy if you hear him talking on the phone.

I was equally amazed at the content of this video, because the idea of utilizing the throat to improve vocalization had never occurred to me before. Prior to watching this video, I had been trapped by the misconception that achieving a perfect American accent was all about how I shape my mouth and where I place my tongue such that the correct sound would come out, with no heed whatsoever to how we can make use of the throat to vocalize. Talk about being hit by a revelation!

After watching the video, I immediately Googled his name, and ordered the books on the Internet. As soon as I got the books, I began to study them in earnest, and followed the Eigo-nodo method conscientiously for about a month or so.

I'm really glad that I have done this, because I have made great progress in terms of improving my vocalization when I speak English.

There are a lot of detailed techniques that are mentioned in these books, but the gist of it is that, the essential difference in pronunciation between the Americans and the Japanese arises from the fact that the Americans tend to use their throat much more heavily than the Japanese, and as a result, their voice would come out sounding deep and well rounded.

Japanese people, on the other hand, have a tendency to generate the sounds entirely from the mouth, without using the throat, resulting in their voice sounding relatively flat and extremely high-pitched as compared to the Americans, with not so much vibration or resonance taking place in the throat area.

Up until now, I have been practicing this method for about 2 months, and my speech is presently undergoing a huge transformation. My American English accent is beginning to sound much deeper, more convincing and native-like than ever before.

Granted, making use of the throat is only one element that goes into creating a native-like sound, and I still have a lot of fine-tuning to do, as some of my vowels and consonants are definitely off. However, I feel that mastering a throat-based vocalization method is indeed a good starting point, and will form a solid foundation for acquiring a perfect American accent going forward.

I'm planning to upload another video on my YouTube channel for an update as soon as my vocalization stabilizes and gets rock-solid, so please keep a lookout!

In the mean time, I will continue dotting the i's and crossing the t's to refine my accent.

I hereby declare 2012 to be my American Accent Acquisition Year, and will make achieving a perfect American accent my New Year's resolution!

Here's wishing all of you a very prosperous and happy new year ahead!