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Friday, January 23, 2009

A new study set-up



My old study-setup

I'm very much an advocate of taking action to change one's surroundings should they not be conducive to feeling at ease. For example, a friend of mine has been having issues at work involving smoke from an adjoining (smoking) room filling her office, but rather than just complain about it she went out and bought some plastic sheets and a couple of heaters, in order to seal the gap between above the partition wall and deal with the resulting lack of hot air that was blow through by the air conditioner. She is now going to be happier in the short term, and live longer too.

My new getting-up-at-6am routine is going really well - I love it, and manage to get a tonne of stuff done in the 90 minutes extra that I have each day. Studying Japanese is the main activity. This involves me going through my electronic dictionary's history to review words I'd looked up the previous day, and transferring them to Anki and paper flash cards (sometimes an iPhone interface is just too distracting). I've also got a couple of text books to work through, oh, and I've restarted my Japanese blog.

It's appalling how much I've forgotten since I stopped studying, so the entries you'll find on there are more reminiscent of the stuff I was writing at the end of my first year at uni than what you might expect from a graduate. I'm not embarrassed about this. I know I can do better, and I know that given frequent practice I will do better.

I've decided to use my photos as the theme, writing about where / why they were taken. Simple, yet very personal to me. I like that.

It also prevents me from using the excuse that "I have nothing to write about".



Another thing I've done to encourage study is buy myself a proper desk. The Japanese-style coffee table was doing my knees / legs no good at all, and left me in quite a bit of pain if I sat there too long. Thus, I popped down to the local department store and bought a fairly cheap table, and two metres of cloth for a table cloth. I love it!

The storage shelf thing that was in this room has been moved next door, although the two sets of stationary drawers remain close at hand under the two tables.

I've also decided to stop using my MacBook as a laptop at home. By plugging in an external monitor and keyboard it's possible to use Mac laptops when they're closed - I keep it under the desk out of the way.

There are a few reasons I've done this:
  1. It gives me more space on the desk for study materials;
  2. I don't have to look at all the trailing wires emerging from my Macbook;
  3. My mind associates this monitor / keyboard with study / 'work' and not all the stuff I associate my Macbook with.


It really makes a big difference. I'm far more productive now I have a space designed for what I need to do. Kind of no-brainer really.

Anyway, it's bath-time now, then muesli, then off to the office to continue work on the new website for students. I'm using Joomla in order to ensure that the site can be updated for many years to come by people other than myself. As with Wordpress, I am staggered by the improvements Joomla has seen in recent years. A world away from the thing I dabbled with a while back!

Have a productive day!

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Japanese lesson, and cake

Been a funny day today. In some ways a little frustrating, as I spent about 4 hours trying to do the simplest bit of coding in MS Office Access, but failing. I’m hoping I have an early morning breakthrough tomorrow as I have every time I’ve run into a difficult problem with it so far.

Despite the frustration, I didn't really feel all that frustrated. Which I was happy about. Those books work wonders :-p

The view from the office balcony: looking between the neighbours

between buildings_0419

Last night's sloppy blog post did cause me a bit of disappointment, disappointment with myself. However, I’ve decided to take it as one of those precious lessons, and thus something to be grateful for, not regretful of.

Work at the office is starting to pick up now, with my telephone-conversation ‘classes’ (5 minute phone calls on topics such as personal info / directions / social issues in Japan) now taking up about four hours a day. [My job is firstly: taking 5 min conversation calls and marking written essays from my 300 students. Secondly: recruiting teachers for in-company classes throughout Japan]. The lower level calls are pretty easy, allowing me a little brain rest as I go through the routine. I find the higher level students really stimulating though, especially those who have lived abroad or are non-Japanese - being exposed to other cultures makes a huge difference in terms of attitude towards life.

As the departure of my British colleague approaches so I'm being slowly trained in what will be my new job. My core role will be recruiting new teachers, which necessitates a lot of good ole' human interaction, not just with potential employees, but also with many of my Japanese colleagues. This is something I positively look forward to - I really want to improve my Japanese, and this will provide me many opportunities for doing so.

workflow_0518

It will also give me the opportunity to develop a new teacher-recruitment workflow. Whilst the existing system works, it is pretty laborious, requiring far too many tedious stages that could either be automated or scrapped. I've started thinking how I might work this. Ideally, I'd like to be able to use my Mac to get it all sorted as Japanese Windows XP is pretty pants when it comes to automation (and more importantly it lacks the sex appeal of Leopard), but there may be some issues with data security, i.e. carrying a laptop to and from work each day. One way around that could be to keep everything on the shared server, and just use my mac as a portal. Well, we'll see.

Tonight I had my first tandem learning session with my new (qualified) Japanese teacher, who also taught my classmate Phil and whose brother taught another classmate of mine (all 'coincidentally'). Bloomin' marvellous.

As mentioned in previous posts, whilst I do use Japanese at home with *Twinkle* at times, on the whole we're using English so that she doesn't forget what she already knows ...the idea being that I use Japanese everywhere else. Which I do, but not very well. I'm too inclined to fall back on familiar grammar patterns, or simply Japonize English words. At work I tend to give up when I hit unknowns, like today when trying to explain the problem I was having with my database. Everyone speaks at least a little English, so it's only too easy to do.

My new teacher, Nami, gives me the opportunity to take the time I need to recall the vocab I've already learnt (but is buried at the back of my head). She corrects my persistent errors, and explains terms that I hear often but don't quite understand. She teaches me new vocab. Reminds me of kanji meanings. Prompts me to use polite Japanese.

Polite Japanese is possibly my weakest point. Yes, I can use it if I think about it, but I have a bad habit of slipping into casual speech. With Nami, I deliberately stick to polite / formal japanese in order to help develop that habit within me, as I'll need it if I'm going to do business in Japan.

She also took the time to explain to me the 'all new' Japanese Language Proficiency test, being introduced in 2010. I won't go into details here - my ex-classmate from Bristol has done a good job of outlining the changes a here if you'd like to know more - but basically, after 2009 it's going to get a lot harder as previous exam papers will no longer be published.

She'll not only be helping me learn the actual language, but will also be teaching me specific exam techniques that help one to pass JLPT.

I'm inspired by Nami (she also happens to be the first Japanese person I've met whose been as happy as I am to see Obama elected), and thus will be taking JLPT level 1 next July (as of next year the top two levels, 1 and 2 will be biannual). This excites me. She reminded me how much I love the Japanese language, and how much I love getting better at it. It's vital I have a goal to work towards - this is perfect. It would be only too easy to just get by with what Japanese I've got. There's nothing wrong with that as such, but it's not what I want for me.

How stiff are your whites?

eggwhites_0440

Living with *Twinkle* continues to be absolutely bloomin fantastic. We're both getting home pretty late most weekday nights, me with teaching and *Twinkle* with our Amway business. But we get to cuddle up together under a tonne of the warmest wooly blankets at night, and that's nice. The honeymoon period is far from over.

Green Tea and Strawberry Cake

cake making_0483

I've started taking a more active role with our Amway business lately, and am finding it very rewarding. More than anything, it gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded (mostly young) people, all looking for an alternative to the usual diet of graduate jobs (not that there's anything wrong with them if that's what you want to do). It also tends to involve eating a lot of good food, or, as was the case last night, cake. We had a professional cake chef (there must be a proper name for them) come up from Wakayama and teach us how to make various kinds of real simple and quick cakes. Reminded me of home - mum's home-made cakes are one thing I miss.

cakes up close_0449

cakes up close_0459

cakes up close_0502


Anyway anyway, I'd best tidy up and put the hottlebots on. It's getting chilly, and this house has an amazing ability to amplify the outside temperature, Need to be up early too for the second jog of the week :-)

xxx

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's a small, small world

Photographic entertainment is provided by yesterday's Office Halloween party (sorry for the repetition to those of you who have already seen them in my site feed).

obc halloween party_0204

For the past two weeks I've been looking for someone to do tandem learning with. That is, someone who will teach me Japanese in exchange for me teaching them English.

One might think that having just spent 4 years studying Japanese the last thing I'd want (or need) is more Japanese lessons. Not so. I didn't put as much into my course in my final year as I could have done (a conscious decision that I don't regret to split my energy between my course and extra-curricular activities), thus I failed to internalise a lot of the vocab I was learning.

I'd like to emphasise that this is in no way a criticism of our course, which was bloomin marvellous. If anyone wants to learn Japanese in the UK, Sheffield is the place to go, no doubt (n.b. I may be biased). But of course, you only get out what you put in, thus a lot of my course-mates have much better Japanese than me.

obc halloween party_0250

Whatever, I've come such a long way, and am constantly delighted by the fact that I (of all people) have learnt to speak Japanese. However, I do tend to stick to the grammar patterns that I'm really familiar with, avoiding the use of complex structures. It was brought home to me just how far I've gone down this road when the other night *Twinkle* applauded my use of a complex pattern - it should be normal, not praiseworthy.

So I put the thought out there - I need a Japanese teacher - and tonight she presented herself (although I didn't know she was a teacher until after we'd been chatting for a while).

She contacted me having seen my profile on www.findateacher.net, and requested a trial English lesson. We met at a subway station near my office and made our way to a nice little cafe. We chatted a bit more, with her explaining why she wanted to study English.

obc halloween party_0274

Then she stopped, and with a mysterious look on her face said, 'actually, I've got some photos to show you'. Confused, I took the envelope in her hand and took out the photos...

...and blow me down if it wasn't Phil, my coursemate from Sheffield! I was stunned, and naturally clammering for an explanation.

She explained how Phil had been one of her first students shortly after she qualified as a teacher, when he was living in Tokyo a year or so back. It was only after she'd initially contacted me last Friday that she'd mailed Phil to ask if he'd heard of someone called 'Joseph Tame' who'd studied at Sheffield. Seeing that I was quite a bit older she assumed that we wouldn't know each other ...and thus was very surprised when Phil replied that he did indeed know me!

Spot Joseph

obc halloween party_0242

So that's how it went. We've decided to meet on a weekly basis for language exchange - my calls for a teacher have been answered. Thank you Universe!

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Into the recycle bin



Busy bee, spotted on the way back from the exam.

13 hours into freedom

So, I spent much of the afternoon feeling somewhat lost, before deciding that what was called for was assertiveness. I need to move on. No point in lingering in some in-between state. It's too easy to comfort oneself with the idea that change takes a long time. It doesn't. It takes a split second. The time it takes to make the decision.

Thus, I've spent the last few hours sorting through four years of handouts, reams of notes, kanji tests, pink essays, green essays and blue essays, and selecting a few choice morsels to keep. Included in my archive for posterity are select examples of all types of homework from the language course over all years, some classic examples of the handouts we were given, and the results of all the essays I handed in for non-language modules. This means that thousands of pages have been reduced to one folder's worth.

Here's just some of the work that will be going in the recycle skip in a minute.

my degree

You know what though, I am absolutely staggered how much work we've done. The amount of effort that went in to some of those modules (especially in the second year) beggars belief. How did they get me to sign up for all this?!

I'm glad we covered so much though. Not just in terms of language, but history, politics, social issues. I remember when I first went to Japan I didn't have a clue about any of this stuff. It helps, to know one's context. Still a lot to learn though, stuff that can only really be picked up by spending several years living there.

It would be nice to be there now really. Having completed the course it kind of feels natural that I go back to Japan and be reunited with *Twinkle*. No such luck though - 3 more months till that (very) happy day!

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Japanese stage debut

I've never been one for over-dramatisation...



(an extract from a mini-drama staged in our Japanese speaking class today. Sorry about the poor camerawork. That's the problem when one is on the wrong side of the camera - unless one has a psychic link with the camera and tripod it's difficult to get it to zoom in etc.)

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bank Holiday stuff

Every time I come back to my parent's house I make a point of a) eating mum's home-made chocolate cake, and b) sorting through the stuff under my old bed to see what of my belongings can be given away. As time passes so it becomes easier to dispose of stuff, and it's now reached the stage where all that's left is photos, 40 or so diaries (written when I was age 10 ~ 25), Main Lesson books from the Steiner School, and a large collection of letters from friends before the dawning of email. Oh, and the two amazing jumpers which mum knitted for me when I was about 7 years old, which I'm keeping for our girls (they WILL like dragons!). Come July, it'll be a case of packing these up and giving Yamato Kuro Neko (delivery co) a call - Sheffield Japan Society members being eligible for a discount.

When having a look for any boxes I may have missed last night I came across a camera bag: in it, the old Olympus OM10 that got me started in photography way back in the 18th century. I thought it had been chucked, and so was pretty happy to see it again. I was even more pleased to find the old flash unit that went with it, which, it turns out, works with my NIKON D40x DSLR. OK, so it doesn't exactly sync - I have to put the D40x on manual and compensate -but it fires. Can't use it at shutter speeds above 1/250 though as the flash fires too late and you end up with a section blacked out as the shutter closes (see example of various shutter speeds, from 1/1000 to 1/300 to left). But yeah, this is great as I've wanted a flash unit for a while now as the built-in flash tends to result in bland images, and new Speedlights cost a bomb. This one's got the 360/90 degree swivel so it can be bounced off any surface, resulting in a much more natural spread of light.

Just watching my *Twinkle* on skype. She's on the phone to a friend but left the camera on for me to gaze longingly at her. Happy. Haven't been in touch much lately so it's so nice to see her face again. Reassuring to know that I can understand almost everything she says despite feeling that my Japanese has suffered a bit since I left Japan. And reassuring to find that she's even cuter on skype than in my imagination (tee hee). What will she be like in reality I wonder?

You know I said recently that I'd be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test test this year? Well, I've been thinking a bit more about this and decided that really, I'd like to enrol on some language course or have a weekly private class to ensure that I really do continue to improve. Also, I'd like to take some training courses of some kind. Exactly what kind I don't know. Some vocational courses. I feel that if I'm to make the most of this chance then I need some guidance. It's all very well having skills, but if you don't know how to apply them you're no better off than a hedgehog armed with an aluminium foil helmet being approached by the Wheels of Doom.

It's funny really, on the one hand I am sick of studying, but on the other hand, the thought of further study/training really excites me. I guess it's because I associate further training with almost immediate benefits to my family. Must be careful not to hide behind "needing more training" though.

Anyway, I'd best finish off this assignment that's due in tomorrow.

Tarra!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another reason to study Japanese at the School of East Asian Studies

No, Sheffield University's School of East Asian Studies isn't paying my bandwidth bill, nor are my examiners reading the Daily Mumble (that wig and false nose suit you pretty well actually).

However, the department has played a huge part in giving me the best possible uni experience ever - an experience which will shortly be coming to an end. Thus, it's only right that I try and give a little back, by encouraging anyone thinking of studying Japanese in the UK to choose Sheffield.

It's not just me that thinks it's great by the way. Check out this table, taken from the new UCAS web site www.unistats.co.uk. It details overall satisfaction levels in Asian Studies departments at UK universities.

(Click image for a bigger image)

Keywords: Japanese, Japan, language, university, UK, Sheffield, SEAS, School of East Asian Studies, study, BA, Japanese studies, degree, HE.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: Decision made



I have a friend in Bristol with a Japanese wife and a child, who keeps a blog on which he posts updates about his progress in learning Japanese. This week, just like thousands of others around the world, he received the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, held every December.

This time he didn't pass, but he's already looking forward to his next attempt. Reading his blog (which for some reason I can't find now, I've lost it in my jungle of RSS feeds!) has inspired me to make the decision to take the test myself this year.

I don't value JLPT so much for what it certifies, but rather, I value the motivation I believe it will give me to continue to work on my Japanese when I return there in the summer. I know from experience how easy it is to get by in Japan without using Japanese - and this is not necessarily a bad thing, who ever said one should have to speak the language? ...But for me personally, I really want to have good communication skills, as I feel it will have a great impact upon my relations with my immediate family-to-be, and also my in-laws. Additionally, I believe it will give me more opportunities to explore my passions whilst in Japan. Oh, and it keeps my brain ticking over too!

I can imagine that after I leave uni the last thing I will want to do is enroll upon yet another language course, but I think that if I don't set myself some specific goal (such as taking JLPT in December) then as has been the case this year, I will forget much of what I have learnt thus far.

Finally, I'd like to congratulate my classmates who did take it this year, Charlotte, Chris and Jon. I think Jon deserves particular recognition - 76% at Level 1! Amazing stuff, I don't know how they managed it what with everything else they had going on.

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