Archive for July, 2009

Linguistic Intuitions

Posted on July 28, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Linguistics is the study of language.

Intuition is an interesting word. It means knowing something without learning it.

For example, a mother suddenly gets a feeling her child is in danger, and she rescues her child just in time. In linguistics intuition means how a native speaker knows if a word is used correctly or not. It is the feeling that a word or phrase is comfortable or strange.

My Japanese is often very strange. Sometimes I can feel it. Sometimes I don’t know why people look at me in a strange way after I say something. My intuition is that intuition is the key to being a good second language speaker. Of course first you have to learn some basic vocabulary and grammar, but then you need to be able to feel the difference in nuance between different phrases.

I am always looking for better and better ways to develop better linguistic intuitions.

If you have any feelings, techniques or hints for developing linguistic intuitions why not share them? We are looking forward to sharing our intuitions with you.

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Cultural differences #1: Where is your mind?

Posted on July 28, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Everybody is a human being. We all need water, air, food, a home and a community of people to belong to.

So how can people from different cultures experience the world so differently?

If you ask an American where his or her mind is they will point to their head. For most western people this question is a “no brainer”. Meaning the answer is so clear you don’t even need a brain to know it. Of course mind is in the head. Where else could it be?

Maybe this is because for modern western people thinking = mind. Some people even say brain is the hardware and mind is the software. Other people say mind and brain are the same thing.

So I was very surprised when many of my Japanese friends pointed at their chest when they said “mind”.

I still am not sure exactly what “mind” means in Japanese.

In western culture people often have the feeling of “being torn between their head and their heart”. It means they have to make a decision between what they think is right and what they feel is right. In English we can also “be of two minds” about something, which means that we have very complicated feelings about it.

We can also tell somebody to “mind their own business” which means to leave us alone and stop trying to understand something private. I think that is the same mind as in the idiom “minding the store” which means to watch, or to take care of the store. But if you ask someone “would you mind talking quieter?” and they say “Yes I would mind!” it means they don’t want to speak more quietly.

And sometimes we “change our mind”, which means we change our plan or opinion about something.

Sometimes Japanese people who speak English as a second language make a mistake and use the idiom “I changed my mind” to mean “I had a change of heart”.

I wonder if you wouldn’t mind sharing your feelings and thoughts about mind. Where is your mind? What does it do?

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Why I study English…

Posted on July 25, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

I am a native English speaker, and I teach English as a second language. When new students meet me for the first time they are sometimes surprised to learn that one of my favorite hobbies is studying English.

Me: I enjoy studying English.

Student: No. Really?

Me: Really.

Student: Aren’t you a native speaker?

Me: Yes. Student: Why? Why do you study English?

I guess it sounds funny, but I have always been very interested in communication. As an actor I had to learn that there is sometimes a secret meaning behind words. In English there is also a rich tradition of public speaking, debate and word play. I also coach people in high level communication, where words, grammar and other parts of communication are very important to success.

One important part of the history of English are the ancient tools and techniques of using grammar to move the hearts of your audience. This study has recently started to become popular again, and even here in Japan Barak Obama’s speeches were a best seller. I wonder how many people who bought them understood why they were so good.

For me English is a kind of Martial Art, a little bit like Kendo. I know people who have been studying Kendo for longer than I have been alive. Nobody thinks it is strange for a person to continue to study something traditional for a very long time. But I guess many people study English because they have to study, not because they love to study. I think loving something makes a big difference.

I always enjoy learning something new or surprising about English. Since I am a native English speaker, of course I can understand a wide range of English. There is also a lot of English I can’t understand, and some English I will never be able to understand. I will never speak English the way a Lawyer or a Doctor writes English, for example. And as an English teacher many times students say “may I ask you a simple question?” and then ask a very simple but very difficult question. I love that.

So if you have any simple questions, please feel free to ask me anything.

If I can answer, I will be happy to.

And if I don’t know the answer it will be a great chance for us to learn together.

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