Friday, August 30, 2013

Is Learning a Second Language Like Learning Math?

Recently I've been thinking that the skills necessary for learning a new language are similar to the skills needed for math. Not to make anyone panic who happens to love language and hate math...

Not that Japanese has a one-to-one correlation with English. Of course not. That's as weird as saying algebra has a one-to-one correspondence to English. I guess in your own language you don't have to worry so much about the rules, but in a different one you're always conscious of the rules.

I made the connection after I started writing cards to help me remember grammar. And they sort of ended up looking like equations.

plain verb + you ni + suru (This sentence means you're trying to do something.)

Actually in both math and language you have to learn some new terms and how to change simple concepts into more difficult ones. When you add all these different terms together in the right order you can get some important information as a result. In math it's some number. In language it's a sentence you need in everyday life.

The tricky part is when everything begins affecting everything else--when it's not just one operation going on but a series of operations all going on at the same time, and you have to balance them. And in both math and language, forgetting even one step can change the result!

When I learned something new in math I usually had to start by memorizing a formula. And just doing it lots of times until the steps stuck in my head. And then once I had it, I could start playing around and seeing its nuances. It's the same with new grammar. First, I just have to remember the rules and the general meaning. But after I'm used to it, I can see interesting things and unusual ways to use it.

What's also similar is "If you don't use it you lose it."  So practice is important!

Saturday, August 24, 2013


So I didn't go anywhere very exotic for my summer vacation this year, but I did make it to the Shimane prefecture and saw the Japan sea for the first time, something I've wanted to do for a while. The water is really clear, and you can look out straight to the horizon without having your view blocked by islands, which is unusual for Japan.

I don't really know what the clock tower was for, but it looked really cool.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beyond Selfish and Unselfish?

One thing I have trouble with is thinking of relationships as a zero-sum game. (Maybe it's being too much a fan of Adam Smith and leaning too far towards capitalism in general, I dunno...) I.E. a zero-sum game being: "Somebody has to be the loser. Either it's good for me or good for you. Never both."

Of course I read enough C.S. Lewis in high school to know that this sounds a bit like the philosophy of hell from the Screwtape Letters.

I think a lot of people get around the zero-sum game by turning it on its head, and trying to be less selfish instead of more. While selfish people would say, "Our interests are in conflict so I have to do what's best for me first," an unselfish person would say, "I will always put you first." So the best person is the one enduring the most unpleasantness to make others happy.

Now, "unselfishness" is obviously a loaded word, especially after bringing up C.S. Lewis. It's easy to remember some critiques he made in Mere Christianity and The Four Loves. Essentially, that it can turn into a game of one-up-manship that leaves everybody miserable.

So even though it's common to say "die to yourself" and so on, sometimes I don't really agree with that. One of the strangest stories in the Bible to me is the one about "Unless a seed falleth into the ground and die.." Because it seems that the only result of the seed's death is to produce....more seeds. Who will go on to produce more seeds and so on into infinity. It's definitely a sustainable pattern, but singularly pointless. Why do we want more seeds? Do the seeds ever do anything with their lives besides reproduce mindlessly?

Essentially, it's the story that tells us the group is worth everything and the individual nothing. Did you think you had personal value? Think again! You're just a tool to produce more exactly like you!

Sometimes I want to be a little Nietzsche-ish. Why not go beyond selfishness and unselfishness? Not just lions over lambs or lambs over lions.

Why do we assume that the joy of self and the joy of others are mutually exclusive? Is it possible that showing kindness can produce sincere, lasting, happiness? Without us having to double-think ourselves into it?

Maybe personal suffering is only a side-effect of virtue and not it's true measure. I think a truly kind person can be measured by joy.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Peace Park

I did make it to the Peace Park on August 6 this year. It was rather hot, but a lot of people visited to pay their respects.

The entrance and the conference center.

 People lighting incense sticks at this monument for prayer.

The atomic bomb dome.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Monsters University Nitpicks

So just for fun, I'm going to add all my nitpicks of the movie Monsters University, after seeing it twice.

1. Teacher counts 20 students, but Mike is still left without a partner. Did the kids hate him so much they formed a group of three?

2. 6 year old Mike talks exactly like adult Mike.

3. Number of times Professor Hardscabble appears out of nowhere to spout exposition: at least 3.

4. Orientation worker pretty much says Scaring is the only major worth anything on campus.

5. Character wears glasses for no other reason than to remove them and look cooler. Look! A pair of contacts floating in midair!

6. There is no way Mike could have perfectly timed that trashcan fall to trap the pig.

7. Sorority only admits identical clones.

8. Pointless Lord of the Rings reference with the name "Brandywine."

9.  Sully's family--supposedly a huge influence on his character--is never shown and mentioned only in passing.

10. Mike isn't scary. But honestly neither are the other members of Ouzma Kappa.

11. Mike overlooks obviously scary talents.

12. University students never attend classes. Studies?? For losers. What matters is how well you do in some artificial game!

13. A few weeks of training turns losers into professionals. (But Mike still sucks.)

14. Randall apparently passes his exam with flying colors, actually earns his way into social prestige, and makes new friends after Mike cuts him. And he's a bad guy?

15. No one explains how a machine can be programmed with the complex human emotions to detect a concept like "scariness."

16. Sleeping children are always shown in the same position.

17. A branch weak enough for Mike to bend can still support Sully's weight.

18. Forced romantic subplot between characters who barely interact.

19. The only  scary moment in a movie about monsters comes during a tender moment of friendship. WAZOWSKI!!

20. The reason Mike fails to be scary is not because he's undersized and goofy but because he lacks any personal creativity. The entire movie he's always copying either Sully or that monster we saw in the beginning who's name I've forgotten. Why doesn't he roll into the room as a giant eyeball and suddenly sprout limbs? That would be pretty freaky. Why doesn't he ever use the advice he gives other monsters on himself?

21. Oh, and the hiding places chosen by HSS are at least as good as the ones chosen by OK.

And to be fair, Lessons Learned from This Movie:

1. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

2. In real life, no one cares about your degree.