Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chinese and Spanish in Philly

Back in high school, I did an internship down in Center City, Philadelphia. Every day I'd walk from Market East Station to my internship a few blocks away towards the waterfront. On one of my first days down there, I noticed that free, Spanish-language newspapers were available along the street on the way to the internship. Having had five years of Spanish under my belt at that point but having little access to Spanish-language materials (the internet in 1997 wasn't quite what it is today), I'd always grab those papers and try to read them during my commutes, marking them up with my notes. I was down in Philly earlier this week, saw the same newspapers, and had to restrain myself from picking one up, if only because I can get much more (and likely exactly the same) content online.

The other interesting thing related to language learning about my excursion to Center City earlier this week was the foreign languages I heard: Mandarin, Spanish, and some other Chinese language (not sure which it was; I could pick out some words and phrases, but it clearly wasn't Mandarin). Mandarin was the one I heard the most, which might have just been a function of where I was; I was basically walking parallel to Chinatown a block or two to the south on Market Street. And Spanish was hardly in short order.

So although no one really thinks of Philly as a great place to go learn Mandarin or Spanish, it is (and long has been) easy to get exposure to both languages there (and to others as well, I'm sure). Just a few of the many of the ways you can increase your exposure to a target language without needing to go abroad.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Donate to the disaster relief effort in Japan

Even while language learning continues in the midst of a disaster (e.g., I just learned how to say "aftershock" in multiple languages while assuring friends from around the world that all is well for me and my family), the focus is of course on the lives of the people most affected, so if you'd like to chip in to help them out, click here to donate via the American Red Cross, or Google around for any of the numerous ways to contribute that are popping up across the web.

While the experience here in Tokyo has been more about inconvenience than injury, I can't say the same for other parts of Japan, and my thoughts are with those who've been affected more seriously than we have.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dirty mind = better memory?

That's what we're getting from the New York Times:
The basis of memory techniques is that the brain remembers visual imagery better than numbers, and erotic, exotic and exciting imagery best. … “When forming images, it helps to have a dirty mind,” [Joshua Foer, author of “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,”] writes. “Evolution has programmed our brains to find two things particularly interesting, and therefore memorable: jokes and sex — and especially, it seems, jokes about sex.”
So if you were ever wondering why you never had any trouble learning dirty words in a foreign language, this is probably it.

But the tactic has you using it for any words at all:
[Memory grand master Ed Cooke] coaches [Foer] in a system of memorizing a deck of cards in under two minutes that uses both familiar old memories and thrilling new pictures. Foer said his images devolved into “a handful of titillating acts that are still illegal in a few Southern states, and a handful of others that probably ought to be.”
However effective it may be, I'll venture that we're not going to see this tactic widely deployed any time soon.