Friday, July 14, 2017

Who Knows What Else Is In There!

You know how sometimes a song you haven't heard in a really long time comes on and you find yourself singing along--or at least knowing what lyrics come next? You might not have even thought of the song in ages, but when prompted, out it pours. I had a similar experience recently when Duolingo launched their Japanese lessons.

I've been playing with Duolingo for a while now, mostly in German, which I had not studied since high school decades ago. It's an interesting approach to language learning in that it's treated like a game and it's fun--at least to a word geek like me. There are grammar lessons on the website for most of the languages, but I use the app on my tablet, which is slightly different. It's the first time I've studied a language outside of an academic setting and as someone who has studied language acquisition and language preservation in the past, I find that aspect of it and my own interaction with the app fascinating as well. It is not the kind of thing that will, on its own, lead to deep fluency, but I've learned a fair bit and I've picked up a few books to use as additional resources--I've even been lucky enough to find some dictionaries at charity shops.

Several months ago, Duolingo announced that they were developing a Japanese course. I signed up to be notified when it launched. Several weeks ago, the announcement came and I added it to my Duolingo profile. Why Japanese?  I started the academic period of my life 30 years ago attending community college to study Japanese. We'd just moved to Oregon and got a course schedule in the mail from Clackamas Community College. Japanese was listed and I commented to Bill that it'd be cool to study that language. He encouraged me to sign up. I had some seriously low self-esteem at the time and was quite sure I could not do it. He was quite sure I could and gently pushed back. He had a lot more belief in me and my abilities than I had in myself, but finally I ended up enrolled. I was terrified. I signed up for other classes too, which met on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so they were the first ones I attended when the term began. They went well and I relaxed a little bit. Japanese was on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was excited when I got to the classroom with my beautiful new textbooks, but my heart sank when the teacher told us we would all, one by one, go to the front of the class to introduce ourselves and say why we'd enrolled in the class. I felt panic rising and thought, 'I have to leave. I can't do that.' I was sitting at a table in the front and next to the wall, so fleeing would have caused a lot of commotion and drawn much attention to myself. I mentally talked myself down while the first person was speaking and then I volunteered to go next to have it over. I lived through it and went on to love the class. I gained an awful lot of confidence in that class, partly because of my own work and partly because the teacher took me under her wing. At one point during the last term of that first year, she rushed into the classroom one day, walked up to me, and said, 'I have a doctor's appointment. Can you teach the class while I'm gone?' 'Uh, but I'm IN this class,' I said. She insisted she'd only be gone a short time and by then I knew that arguing with your sensei is not done, so I said OK, took a deep breath, walked up to the front of the class, and proceeded to give a Japanese language lesson on the fly, with no preparation or advance warning. The class was 2 hours long. She returned after 1 hour 45 minutes. If someone had told me that first day, that I'd be doing something like that in a few months, I might have fled! After that year, she got me hired as her assistant, and for two years I helped her in the classroom, tutored students, graded homework, and substitute taught. It was a great experience for me. When I transferred to university, I discovered anthropology and turned my focus in that direction, but I always had a soft spot in my heart for Japanese, even though I never got back to it--until Duolingo added it to their offerings.

It was funny to see how much I remembered. One thing that I found particularly amusing was when the word enpitsu (in hiragana) came up and I did not even have to think about it before I typed in 'pencil.' You might expect words and phrases like, 'hello, 'thank you,' 'how are you' to be retained, but 'pencil'? Who knows what other obscure bits of information are hidden in my brain (and yours!) just waiting for a chance to come out!

I don't remember nearly all the kanji (the ideograms like the ones in the first and last photo) that I knew years ago. I was surprised at how much hiragana and katakana I did remember--all of the former and most of the latter. These are syllabaries that are used for different things--katakana is used primarily for loan words, names, etc. Hiragana is what you see to the right of the large kanji in the last photo above--it was the first bit of stuff I learned all those years ago. I remember feeling like a kid as I practiced my symbols over and over again the same way I used to practice cursive writing when I was learning that.

So I am playing with words and writing systems and language. It's fun. I like Duolingo a lot and one of these days, will use my library card to sign up for another program called Mango, which also has good reviews. There is a subscription fee for that one, but apparently it is free for people who belong to participating library systems. Donegal is one of them and from what I've read, there are many in the US, too, so if you're into this kind of thing, it might be worth checking into!

I hope that some fun and interesting things come your way today, too! Happy Friday!

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