Archive for August, 2009

Priming: an appetizer for the mind

Posted on August 29, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

First I please let me apologize to everyone who has been waiting for a new post. I had some computer troubles but maybe it’s OK now.

Next, I want to say thank you very much to everyone who joined the first English workshop in Harajuku. Everybody was very nice, and good at sharing their opinions and asking good questions.

For me one of the most interesting parts of the workshop was the discussion about “topic”. I said that my feeling was that English changed subjects more quickly and easily than Japanese, and someone quickly pointed out that it probably depends on the person. I agreed, and we decided to try an experiment.

We sat in a circle and tried to have a very free ranging conversation. I mentioned the phrase “that reminds me”, and asked everyone to just say anything that came to mind. Everyone did a very good job of keeping the conversation moving, with very little common topic. I was impressed. The conversation felt a little bit different than a conversation between native speakers though. I think there was more respectful space than native speakers usually have. People politely waited for the speaker to finish speaking and then introduced their own topic. I thought everyone in the group showed that they could enjoy using the skill of “that reminds me” thinking comfortably.

Now I want to share a small secret. The secret is about something called priming.

In the workshop there was one clear example of priming. We moved our chairs into a circle, and at first we were a little too close together. I noticed people become nervous so I asked to move the chairs a little bit closer (of course that was VERY uncomfortable) then we opened up the circle a little wider. But the energy (atmosphere? feeling?) in the circle was still uncomfortable so I tried an exercise in priming…

An appetizer is a small dish served before a main course. The purpose of the small dish is to prepare your palate, to get your body ready for the food that is coming next.

Priming is a way of preparing someone’s mind for something.

For example, when students in an experiment smelled cleaning liquid they were much more likely to clean up after eating a cookie than students who didn’t smell the cleaning liquid.

In the circle in the workshop I asked a question like “What is the most relaxing place you have been?” and the atmosphere changed very quickly.

For the first half of the workshop I read some ideas about cultural differences and we talked about them. I was hoping to prime the participants to think about language and culture in a certain way. My goal was to create an atmosphere where people could become more comfortable and confident thinking like native speakers.

I don’t know how successful I was with my goals, but I was very happy about the conversation, participation and flexibility of the participants.

I hope you will come next time when we explore rapport, building a bridge between you and the person you want to share your feelings, opinions or information with.

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cultural differences in Japanese and English

Posted on August 7, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Some people say there are some very interesting differences between English and Japanese which can be felt deep into the culture.
For the past few years I have had the opportunity to teach, coach and work with many very intelligent people in many fields. Many of my Japanese students and clients say interesting things about English and culture. One thing that many people notice is that English likes to be systematic and “logical” where Japanese is more fuzzy and less clear.
English likes sentences to have a clear subject, verb and object, and the sentence is supposed to contain the whole meaning of the communication. Japanese, on the other hand, often doesn’t clearly state subjects or objects at all.
In English the speaker is responsible for making the listener understand what the speaker means. In Japanese the listener is responsible for trying to feel out what the speaker wants to say.
In English the result of the communication is the most important part of the communication, but in Japanese the process of sharing communication is often very important.
In English speakers are expected to have strong opinions which they can support through arguing. In Japanese everyone is supposed to share an opinion.
In English intonation can change the meaning of a sentence completely. In Japanese the social situation influences the meaning of the words.

In Japanese people usually share a topic, which is clear. In English speakers are free to jump from topic to topic.

English is a language of persuasion, arguement, power and personal opinion. Japanese is a language of harmony, sharing and deep sensation.
Many Japanese people tell me that they feel much more free to express their own opinion in English. On the other hand many non Japanese people often learn a few words of Japanese very quickly because English isn’t good at expressing certain feelings the way Japanese is.

My opinion is that Japanese and English are very different in some very basic ways. And maybe, to become fluent in English means to learn how it feels to be an English speaker.

My goal is to help people understand how to feel the flow, power and beauty of English and maybe even appreciate the beauty of their native language even more.

If you have any feelings, opinions or intuitions about this topic, or any other topics please feel free to share.
Or you are welcome to send me an e-mail at benjamin.uhc@gmail.com

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