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April 06, 2006

Comments

Kenji

Abiola, this comment doesn't relate directly to your post, but I would be interested in your thoughts on how to raise children to become bilingual or multilingual, given your language skils.

Abiola

I don't see that there's anything to it other than making sure they're regularly exposed to the target languages one has in mind, and that they're given incentives to actively use them (being able to understand and being able to produce sentences aren't the same thing, as I know all too well from some of my cousins). Pretty much nothing short of almost complete cultural isolation of the sort attainable only by living in an enclave can stop children from learning the language of the majority culture in which they reside, so any special efforts one should make ought to be in service of the other languages they won't be getting that all-pervasive exposure to, e.g. parents sticking exclusively to said language when at home and when talking with relatives, and relegating the majority language to dealing with outsiders, or arranging special immersion classes which take place say 5 days a week, and reinforcing these by giving the children an extra hour or two of programming in the language every day.

The long and short of it is that learning multiple languages is something any child will automatically accomplish if given sufficient incentive and exposure, part of which means, say, immigrant parents not being ashamed or hesitant about speaking their language before outsiders, and thereby giving their own children a negative impression. One reads all sorts of nonsense about allowing children to master their own "native" language before being exposed to others, but all that pontificating is nothing more than ignorance driven by xenophobia. The latter one leaves such learning, the harder it gets.

Chuckles

Can one appreciate the Japanese classics without some working knowledge of classical Chinese?

Though I must say, the response of the Slashdotter borders on bizzare. "Bring your yourself down to their level"? "lacking social skills"? "Avoiding complex and deep issues"? "Rude brush offs"? " What planet?
Reminds me of a saying I cooked up sometime ago: Inside the heart of every Japocynic lies the broken heart of a Japanophile.
And I dont mean Japanophile in a derogatory sense here. Though, a certain kind of social immaturity *is* guaranteed to turn Japan (especially) into a nightmare for anyone.

Sometime ago, a famous American Cancer researcher died (Robert W. Miller). He worked in Japan after the war with radiation victims etc. It said in his obituary that when interviewing American researchers for positions in Japan he would ask them if they liked The New Yorker magazine. If Yes, he concluded they were good prospects for the job. Nuff said.

BTW Abiola, what do you consider serious Japanese literature?

Chuckles

And people have to stop spreading this meme that Japanese is a difficult language to learn. It is NOT. I wonder how and where this got started. But it makes no sense whatsoever.

Abiola

"BTW Abiola, what do you consider serious Japanese literature?"

The sort of stuff that gets literary reviews, and wins its writers nominations for the Akutagawa Prize.

"And people have to stop spreading this meme that Japanese is a difficult language to learn. It is NOT. I wonder how and where this got started."

The language itself isn't difficult, but the writing system is fiendishly hard to master, and the fact is that without literacy one can't expand one's vocabulary rapidly enough to engage in meaningful discussions with adults. The 1,066 educational kanji are the bare minimum one needs to break through that barrier, and even then few non-Asian foreigners manage to overcome this hurdle, let alone mastering all 2230 Jinmeiyo kanji in use before the list was radically expanded in 2004. In practical terms one really needs to know about 3,000 kanji to be confident about being able to read most any text put before one, and this is an achievement only a rare few Westerners ever manage.

Jim

Kenji, I can add a couple of observations to the good points Abiola makes.

It is important for any learner to experience the langugae he is learning as a real medium of communication, not juts an object of academic study or some cultural relic. That's crucial> When Abiola mentions immersion, that may be part of what he is saying.

Secod, it is crucial for children learning a langugae to be expeosed to adult speakers of the language having adult conversations in adult language. Kids need to experience the ful range of the language if the language is to compete with the dominant language outside the home. That means academic vaocabulary, discourse mechanisms, etc . For instance Korean immigrant parents here in the Puget Sound area remark that their kids do not learn the full range of the honorific system because they don't interact with enough old poeple often enough to really exercise that part of the grammar.

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