On Comprehensible Input
Aug26

On Comprehensible Input

Hey guys! Sorry it’s been a little longer than usual since my last post – I’ve been extremely busy lately! Aside from being a full-time University student, I’ve also been running my own company (or trying to) and doing a lot of work for an organisation called ACYA (Australia-China Youth Association or 中澳青年联合会) for which I’m a Vice-President of the Monash University Chapter. In fact, I’m writing this post from the plane! I’m on my way home from the ACYA National Conference that was held in Brisbane. I met an amazing bunch of people, including many Chinese people with amazing English and quite a number of Australians with flawless Chinese – it was definitely an eye opener and reassurance that reaching a high level of fluency in Chinese is definitely possible. Anyway, on to it! —————————————————————————————————————— So, comprehensible input. What is it? I believe the term first appeared in the work done by Stephen Krashen on language acquisition (if you haven’t heard of him, look him up). Essentially, he devised a model for language learning based around input (reading and listening) as an alternative to the traditional grammar-based approach favoured in classrooms. More specifically, he contends that in order to maximize efficiency in language learning, the input should be comprehensible: meaning not too hard that you can’t understand, but not too easy that it isn’t challenging. I am a strong believer of the input model, as are other many far more accomplished language learners than me. Input, and listening in particular, makes up about 90% of my Chinese learning. The rest is spent learning characters and speaking. In the past 3 months I’ve been trying to average an hour a day of listening, and in that time I’ve progressed tremendously. Like, seriously, my Chinese is infinitely better. I wrote an article about my first month doing this challenge, which you can read by clicking here.   Why an input based approach is so effective: It’s the way we learn our native language. Have you ever wondered why everyone (pretty much) is able to speak their native language flawlessly and naturally? Or why you rarely make grammatical mistakes despite never touching a grammar textbook? The reason is because from your first day on earth, you are bombarded with an intense dose of input. A baby just sits there all day, absorbing the language being spoken around them. The result is that they have a seemingly ‘natural’ feel for the language. The good news is that you can be baby. You have my permission. Take some time out of your day to turn on your iPod and listen and absorb the...

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Culture: Cultural Identity? Personality? Language? Reality?
Aug14

Culture: Cultural Identity? Personality? Language? Reality?

This is my second culture post! The other one was about dualistic identities coming from being raised in two culturally distinct environments (a guest post by Ian Liu). This one is about my own experiences as the only Australian in a French (and French-speaking) workplace.——————————————————————— Imagine this: you’re the new guy at work, and it’s your first day. Between being ordered around and abused in a foreign language, you are expected to make the restaurant run smoothly. It’s worth mentioning that this restaurant is a French Crepêrie, and that you are the sole Australian. Also, you’re the only staff member who knows how to say more than “ze food was is good?” in English. Unfortunately, even though you are in Australia – in this environment, you are the foreigner, not them. Time to bring out that French you learnt in High School? Good idea, mate, but even if you can speak the language of love, you’re still likely to have some problems. Culture and identity carries as much weight as words when it comes to communication. This said, language and culture are intertwined – organic, ever changing and each unable to exist independently of the other. Ironically, these seem to be the only factors that remain constant between them. An understanding of one does not automatically result in an understanding of the other. For instance – one could, potentially, know all there is to know about the development of the modern French mentality and culture, without ever speaking the language. And, conversely, one could foreseeably become fluent in the French language without speaking to many French people (for instance if they mainly spoke with second-language speakers) and would therefore struggle to build any meaningful relationship with a French person, this time because of the cultural barrier rather than the linguistic one. This dichotomy between language and culture is exemplified by the demand to study a wide range of different languages at school and at University. People will always be motivated to learn what they find engaging, and, seeing as there is arguably no single topic or subject in this world that could be claimed to be ‘universally interesting’, it would be therefore unrealistic to conclude that a certain, single language could possibly be ‘beautiful’ to everyone, either. Take, for example, French, a language that is, despite this, widely perceived as being ‘romantic’, and even ‘beautiful’ – although this stereotype is perhaps the product of the way it is portrayed in popular culture and in the media. Nevertheless, this image is seemingly at contrast with the well-known stereotype of the French people themselves, who are often considered snooty, inhospitable and...

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Speech On Language Learning

Hey guys! So a couple of days ago I had a great privilege of speaking at Suzanne Cory High School, which is a selective entry school form years 9-12. Selective schools are great environments (I went to one myself) and are inspiring places to be in. They seemed like a good group of kids. If you’re interested, give it a listen! Click Here to listen to the speech. Dan P.S. Let me know if that link doesn’t work for some reason, but it should...

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Your accent isn’t important. Your pronunciation is.
Aug02

Your accent isn’t important. Your pronunciation is.

The majority of hard-core, nerdy, nitty-picky language blogs on the net promote having an authentic-sounding or ‘native’ accent as being the ‘holy grail’ of language learning. I’m looking at you, Ramses. I’m not saying having a decent accent isn’t important, or that your accent isn’t worth working on, but it definitely isn’t as important as many of these other language enthusiasts make it out to be. To clarify, the distinction I draw between an ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’ is as follows: Your pronunciation is your ability to pronounce words in a way that makes them intelligible to other speakers of the language. One can have the strongest accent possible, but as long as they are understood, they will usually be pronouncing things properly. An example of incorrect pronunciation would be pronouncing ‘down’ as ‘dawn’. Your accent includes things like your intonation and rhythm of speech. It is anything that makes you sound foreign. The classic ‘accent trap’ is pronouncing things exactly like you would in your native language, rather than actually listening to the way they are pronounced in the language you’re learning, and imitating it. So, as you can see, having good pronunciation is necessary for being understood. Your accent, however, has little bearing on you being understood. You can have the biggest French (or whatever) accent, and people will still understand. People like Ramses are extremely proud of their ‘native’ accents in the second-languages they speak (in his case, Spanish). And rightly so. It’s an impressive feat. However, I think putting too much emphasis on its importance is actually doing language learners a disservice, as it tends to scare them off and instill in them a feeling of helplessness. Ironically, I’m currently in the process of writing a guest post on his new blog, The Language Dojo, about how to acquire a native like accent. If you’re really that intent on pretending to be a native, and on impressing people with your impressive language abilities, then you should probably reconsider your motivation for learning another language. You have to be intrinsically motivated to learn a language, for more profound reasons than mere bragging rights, in order to learn it successfully. He says that you should be working on your accent, and trying to achieve a native-sounding one, from the get-go. Otherwise, he says, you’ll be learning bad habits that are hard to get out of. I actually have a completely opposite point of view about the matter. I was fluent in French before I started developing anything near to a native accent! As many of my readers will know, when I was 15 I spent 5 months in France living...

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