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5 Ways to Set Up Your Language Immersion Environment Today

In language learning, the environment around you is just as important as the tools that you have with you. Vice versa, the tools you have with you are just as important to your language learning environment.

Keep reading for 5 ways to get your immersion environment set up today!

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Ask questions for answers you already know

One habit that I’ve picked up is asking questions for answers that you already know. While that sounds a bit silly, it’s really great practice for the variety of answers a question can have. At the same time, it’s good way to lead into other questions.

For example, even if I know how to get to the library/bathroom/7-11/etc. I still like to ask every so often just to practice. Since I already know where they are, I can learn how they would describe getting there in Chinese, and what variations they can use.

MCBs and Anki 2.0

This post is a reflection on my experiences with MCBs, mentioned by Jeff弁 over at his blog. You can read all about them here and in this follow-up post, both worth checking out in their entirety. MCB’s, to quote Jeff are:

The general idea with these cards is that, like MCDs, you have a card with some amount of context and a single element that you test yourself on. However, instead of cloze-deletion it uses bold to bring your attention to the piece of the card you are focusing on.
(emphasis added)

In many ways it is basically a reverse cloze-deletion, where instead of trying to guess what the content is, you’re focused on trying to recall what the content is. I have to say, in my brief experience with it (about a week) that it seems two times more effective that MCDs ever were. I find my retention is much stronger and it is easier to recall the word actively rather than passively. This goes for grammar too, as Jeff mentioned he will mark certain points in blue, which I have done as well:

So, for example, I mark this specific sentence structure with blue so I learn to recognize it.

Now, how does this all play into Anki? After the huge update to Anki 2.0, I decided to give it a go again. Recently all my SRS decks have gone stagnant. So, I went through and deleted all my old decks and have since started fresh. You have no idea how relieving that was! Now I’m off to a fresh start, with MCBs guiding the way. The most useful addition is the ability to create parent and child decks, like so:

This way, I can focus my studying on grammar points, Classical Japanese/Chinese, or, by selecting Japanese or Chinese, the whole thing mixed together. This has really helped a lot. As such, my new method of inputting cards reflects this structure–while also making the most use of each phrase. For example:

After adding this new card into Anki, I can select where I put it. So, perhaps I can focus on grammar (blue) or vocabulary (bolded), then place it in its respective deck. I also will flip the cards around and use the content in other ways:

So here’s the same card, with the term I want to focus on in bold. But the content has been reversed to focus on Chinese with the Japanese below. This way I reinforce what I am learning from both sides. However, I try and keep the information on the back of the card specific to what I want to gain from the front. What this means is that, say I have a sentence I am studying the grammar structure for. I only keep that grammar information on the back–even if there’s terms on the front I cannot 100% read or recall. Like the famous adage KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), I don’t want to clog up my cards with more information than I need to. That is why I make separate vocabulary and grammar cards. Before I tried to jam too much on there, making them very tiring to go through and I often just glossed over most of it anyway.

Also, I make sure to go under “Fields” and activate the “Remember last input when adding” option, so that it retains the content for me to change what I want to bold, color, or where I wish to place it. It’s super helpful.

I definitely suggest giving Jeff’s MCBs a shot, they’re a pretty effective way of doing it. Don’t forget, also, if you have Anki follow this guide posted by Lan for creating filtered decks to make your reviews even more effective!

Blogs in Taiwan (and using them to your advantage)

One thing I have noticed since coming to Taiwan and wasting time online studying for graduate school has been the incredible amount of blogs available to read written by Taiwanese on a wide variety of topics. There was a blog post I had read about a year ago or so, which I can’t find now, but the author had introduced various popular blogs in Taiwan and how the authors of those blogs can actually earn some decent money off of them. The point he had made was that there’s plenty of these blogs that exist. Now, reading as much as possible is an important aspect of language learning–and reading topics of interest even moreso, so let me introduce how I think that can be used to our advantage.

First let me introduce an English one that is written in a similar way to many Taiwanese blogs (but also because I’m quite hungry and I wanted to look at some food options for tonight). It’s “a hungry girl’s guide to taipei“, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for dining in Taiwan and you’re not sure where to start.

Okay, so why the heck am I starting with an English blog in this entry on studying Chinese? Well, English can be the best place to start! For example, the link I placed under “food options” mentions a restaurant called Toasteria. I like what she said, but I am also wondering what Taiwanese think as well. So, I pop on over to Google (localized to Chinese of course) and do a search. Right on top of the list are two different blog entries:

[台北] Toasteria Cafe 師大店 @ 超好吃的土司三明治啦

and

TOASTERiA 土司利亞‧東區‧台北- Double Cheese – 無名小站

While the latter is a bit dated (2008), there’s still plenty more in the search results to try. One quick note, I LOVE the amount and quality of photographs in these entries. So, as you can see there’s plenty of blog entries on a variety of topics, and many exist also on trips abroad to places like Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and more. It’s a really great way to read about people’s experiences and thoughts.

Now, with so many blog entries available to you, what do you do with that? How can they be used to your language learning advantage? Let’s look at a different–by that I mean non-food despite the growling of my stomach–example. Let’s say you’re in the market for a new iPad case with a bluetooth keyboard and you happened to see the one by IPEVO on their official website, Typi iPad 2 藍牙無線鍵盤筆記型保護套. Well, you think, that looks pretty snazzy, but you’re really not sure if it’s actually that good quality. So, you hit up your old pal Google–Chinese localized please–and search the name of the product.

TIP: After a while you’ll learn to recognize popular blog sites like wretch and yahoo, so when you get your search results you can skim directly for those and not get stuck getting on the official product pages or auction sites.

So you find four good blog entries with plenty of pictures and different reviews:

【試用】IPEVO Typi for iPad2。變身成小筆電的皮革保護套+藍芽鍵盤

我的iPad無線鍵盤-IPEVO Typi iPad 2 藍牙無線鍵盤筆記型保護套

C/P 值破表的高- IPEVO Typi iPad 2 藍牙無線鍵盤皮套組

IPEVO Typi IPAD2藍芽鍵盤保護套組

Anyway, so you get these and now you can make SRS entries, MCDs, whatever floats your boat. That’s not the real benefit, though.

You’ll notice I have always added more than one result. In practice, I usually aim for about four in total. The goal is, and aside from looking at product reviews to be smarter in your purchases, is to get a large amount of input on a similar topic. All of these entries talk about the same thing, so there’s plenty carryover of vocabulary and topics. Also, you’ll be more familiar with the topic to really get right into the entries. From there, you can see the different uses of sentences, ways of talking about the topic, and of course their final opinions. This is great not only for reinforcing vocabulary but also to learn how to talk about a topic in different ways. It’s definitely worth a shot and I highly recommend trying it out. If it works for you, feel free to let me know below!

Inverse Timeboxing

Whew, okay, two entries literally right after each other but I had to bring this up as I just finished my Skritter reps for the day and came upon this idea.

Okay, so generally when we talk about timeboxing, it’s usually doing things in decreasing increments (10min-5min-4min-3min-2min-1min etc). I actually find that to be a rather annoying thing to do, because it meant having another clock going that I had to reset all the time. I’m ridiculously lazy so I never really ended up doing that timeboxing thing properly. (Also: I’m sure there’s other methods to timeboxing, but that is the one that I know and attempted to follow).

Anyway, while this is not knocking timeboxing since I know people have had great successes with it, I want to share my way of doing things now. That is, inverse incremental timeboxing! I came across this idea by noticing the timer on the main Skritter study page:

I set a daily goal for myself of doing 30min-1hr worth of Skritter a day. Anyway, I noticed that without fail, once I hit the 30 minute mark I would always find an excuse to continue going. Continue I would, typically I finish out at about 30-40mins/day:

So, because of that, my Character Writings have shot up and my time studied tends to be a lot higher as well. So, I figured, let me try applying this principle to other things too. Now I run a timer that goes up (usually my iPhone or anything that doesn’t require any extra steps) and set myself a rough upper limit of time. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes; all dependent on the task at hand. Once I hit that, I either feel bored and wish to move on, or (typically) I figure “one more can’t hurt” and keep on going. I feel this is better than a timer going down because that always gave me pressure to finish within a certain time. I hate pressure. That’s probably why I’m studying history. Anyway, it was something about a timer going up without any limit that allowed me to feel less pressured about the time and more likely to get more done. Even if I do it in less time, I still feel like I accomplished something, so I never give myself pressure to make sure I do the amount I specify (though I end up doing it anyway).

While this isn’t necessarily groundbreaking by any means, it certainly was “study-altering” for me, so hopefully it is beneficial to others as well. Of course you could split it up during the day–a few minutes here and there–but that seems like extra work to keep track of, and at least for me, doing it in one sitting isn’t such a big deal. But, of course, the material has to be fun and you have to enjoy it, by no means force yourself into it.

Now, I don’t expect, and in fact I quite hope people disagree with me because I strongly believe that is how real magic happens in progressing your studies, but I’m interested in what everyone thinks (for example, how grammatically wrong this sentence is would be a good thing to argue against me about). Feel free to comment below!

Instaconnected

In my rather fanatical devotion to connecting technology with my language learning, I keep trying to find new ways to remain connected even when there is no internet or, say, on a commute. How do you keep yourself reading, even if you don’t have books to carry (or that you want to carry)?

Lately, I’ve been getting into using RSS to save a few websites that I like to read, as much as they offer RSS capabilities. While it’s a short selection, I keep them all organized within Google reader:

There’s still plenty more out there that I have yet to add. I had always wondered if there was a way to connect an RSS reader with Instapaper to automatically load the files into it. While there doesn’t seem to be such an automated system yet (aside from the apps Instapaper lists, but I haven’t had the chance to go through those), you can still go through Google reader and (begrudgingly) manually add the files to Instapaper. To quote the Instapaper blog:

Google’s new Send-to feature includes built-in support for Instapaper. Thanks, Google Reader team, for the inclusion in this handy feature.

Simply invoke the Read Later bookmarklet when you have an item in Google Reader selected, and Instapaper will automatically save that item. This even works on Google Reader’s iPhone version.

With this option you can send your articles from Google Reader to Instapaper to read it later, at your convenience. So, I will typically read articles I save over breakfast, on the MRT or between classes. It’s really quite convenient.

To set things up on the Google Reader end, Google provides some sort of not very clear instructions here. However, since you’re all handsome and smart lads, I’ll link you to a Chinese blog that provides much better instructions. At any rate, you can at least look at the pictures and figure out how to do it. Plus, as a bonus, another article from the same site that describes using Instapaper and Google Reader together.

Once it’s all set up, it’s nice to flip on my iPhone or iPad and have my articles all set up and ready for me to read. Plus, I can organize them in folders by language/subject:

Also, Instapaper provides a bookmarklet feature so you can instantly add any article that you’d like to read later, without having to go through the RSS feed process.

This is, of course, mostly based on iOS devices because I own those, though we know Instapaper works just as well with Android devices, too (though there is no “official” Instapaper app for Android, there are some 3rd party ones available). Plus, it can be exported to ePub, Kindle, HTML, Printable, CSV and other formats, too, while supporting wireless delivery to Kindle devices. All of this makes Instapaper it probably one of the most versatile read it later services available.

Update:

To quote a comment below:

Kendall 阿楓 (@LITMK)

Do you have an e-reader? I use calibre [http://calibre-ebook.com/ ] to instantly convert and sync my e-reader with my Google Reader account. It automatically converts my feeds to epubs and transfers them over!

Try it. Takes some figuring out, but well worth the effort!

I still have to try this out myself, but I wanted to share it with anyone else that might be interested in giving it a shot.

標楷體 on a Mac (Traditional Chinese font)

Apple computers–no matter what your opinion of them–are becoming increasingly popular. While they have excellent language handling (the ability to switch languages in an instant is pretty amazing) there’s still a few drawbacks. One I ran into with Chinese was a missing font–one that is used in many documents in Taiwan, especially academic papers.

The font is called 「標楷體]」. It’s actually quite a nice font and prints well. For some Chinese practice, here is an explanation of why you need the font from a blog that also has it for download (link below):

不管是 Office 2008 for Mac 或是 Office 2004 for Mac 只要指定[標楷體]字形,就會變成四方形的亂碼,遲遲不對應的[標楷體]成為Mac的麻煩 (我想應當是Win與Mac雙方的專利問題),凡是在Mac收到[標楷體],你必須指定英文的[BiauKai]才會出現比較正確的標楷體,網路上有將Window中的標楷體放置到Mac的例子,雖然在安裝時會有警訊,但可供Mac使用者參考。安裝後[標楷體]會取代[BiauKai],如果之前是已經設定成[BiauKai]的話則不會自動取代。

To install it is pretty easy, and you can download a zip of the font from this blog post.

Hope this helps anyone that may have come across this issue!

Note: While running Lion, I noticed I had two instances of this font. Perhaps it is now included.