Monday, November 29, 2010

Pavlovian bowing

I had a bit of a strange experience when walking to work last week. I was passing some guy on my left when he bowed at a person who must have been right behind me and said "あ、どうも、おはようございます" ("Oh! Good morning!"). I was looking forward and, out of the corner of my eye, it kind of looked like he was bowing at me. Before I had time to even consciously register what I was doing, I was already leaning in to bow back. It was only then that I turned my eyes towards him to see him looking towards someone behind me, and thought how odd my reflexive action was.

I think that was the body language equivalent of the automatic reply of "Hi!" when someone says "Hi!" to you. You often don't even think about it before it comes out.

In learning a foreign language, it's exactly that kind of thing that you should be striving for—in both spoken and body language (which of course is an integral part of learning a language); common social communications should ultimately be coming out so naturally that it's almost Pavlovian. And it's no less true if it means that you end up half bowing to random people on the street.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Double your learning with practice + exposure as compared to practice alone

ScienceDaily is reporting a finding that seems to show how to learn more with less effort:
Beverly Wright, first author of a study in the Sept. 22 Journal of Neuroscience and communication sciences and disorders professor at Northwestern [says] "Our work suggests that you can have the same gain in learning with substantially less pain." … [The findings] hold potential for members of the general population with an interest in enhancing perceptual abilities -- for musicians seeking to sharpen their sensitivity to sound, people studying a second language or physicians learning to tell the difference between regular and irregular heartbeats.
People studying a second language, you say? So what is this learning sweet spot exactly?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Dad Is Li Gang!

About a month ago in China, a drunk driver struck two people, injuring one and killing the other. The incident would have been just another tragic tale of drunk driving but for what happened when the driver was apprehended. The New York Times:
The 22-year-old driver, who was intoxicated, tried to speed away. Security guards intercepted him, but he was undeterred. He warned them, “My father is Li Gang!”
The driver was Li Qiming, whose father, Li Gang, is a deputy police chief. The incident now has its own Wikipedia page and is known as the "Li Gang" incident.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chinese Christmas music

I may be jumping the gun a bit here this year, but if you've ever been in the market for Chinese Christmas songs, you've probably run across Sinosplice's collection that John put together a few years back here. I came across his mix today as a compromise solution when my wife wanted to listen to Christmas music and my daughter wanted to listen to Chinese music.

My daughter has become particularly fond of track 3, a Chinese rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and has been singing it all day (and listening to it all day, in the way that only kids can seem to listen to the same track over and over again). In any case, it's providing a good dose of Chinese exposure that she wouldn't otherwise be getting.

I did a precursory look around the internet for more Chinese Christmas songs, but wasn't able to turn up anything with ease, and I wasn't able to easily track down the lyrics either, so if anyone can turn up either more Chinese Christmas songs or the lyrics to the songs that John has up there, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autonomy, mastery, purpose

Dan Pink's insights about motivation, as found in the two videos below, are focused on how to improve business productivity, and they seem applicable to language learning as well.

His basic argument is that productivity goes down for activities requiring even a rudimentary amount of cognitive ability (e.g., language learning) when the primary motivators are extrinsic (e.g., a monetary bonus) as opposed to intrinsic. And this all appears to be backed by some 40 years of research.

So what are the intrinsic factors that increase productivity? Autonomy, mastery and purpose. As Dan's puts it, "autonomy is our desire to be self-directed" and "mastery is our urge to get better at stuff". Having a purpose means some kind of transcendent purpose our actions our working towards.

Applying this to language learning? Autonomy as a motivator seems to jive quite well with my inclination to avoid classes; very few classes could ever be called "autonomous". It also jives quite well with lots of people's advice to get exposure to the language however you want (e.g., through comics or movies, as opposed to through some rigid curriculum).

Mastery is a no-brainer when you're talking about language learning or simply learning in general; you should by the nature of the activity be getting better.

Applying Dan's idea of purpose might be a little harder. Grades, as an extrinsic motivator, would run afoul of Dan's ideas about motivation and I imagine that he wouldn't be surprised in that it doesn't lead to great productivity in language learning.

On the other hand, I look at what my own purpose has been in language learning, and it's primarily been economic; I learned the languages I learned because I thought they would be economically useful for me. Perhaps that's part of a more transcendent purpose of providing for my family or the like, or perhaps I was actually just motivated by wanting to communicate with people. The latter would make sense given that I've only ever gotten good at the languages in the countries I've been in.

The videos, after the jump.