Learning language through nonsense – Japanese author of 'unusable English' speaks
Fantastic octopus wiring!
My brother has been observing the slugs since he got divorced.
Let’s start from where we left off yesterday. Get down on all fours.
No, these aren’t the ramblings of a man with concussion; these are genuine excerpts from Twitter feed and study guide “Non-essential English Vocabulary: Words that will never come up in tests”, a language resource for Japanese students of English that presents entirely useless but infinitely memorable phrases.
With more than 40,000 Twitter followers so far, Twitter feed curator and author Nakayama-san (otherise known as @NISE_TOEIC)’s cheeky tweets are clearly resonating English learners here in Japan, but why, when the rest of the nation is busy with earnest study, would someone take the time to create a Twitter account dedicated entirely to unusable English? Japanese website Excite Bit sat down with the Nakayama-san to pick up a few study tips and learn little more about the thinking behind the bizarre project.
A different kind of tweet
Since I began my own personal foray into the Japanese language and bumped my head countless times on grammar, kanji readings and pronunciation, all sticking out in front of me like tree branches in a pitch-black forest, I’ve come to realize that – for me at least – learning whole phrases is infinitely easier than memorizing a list of words that you’ve never met before in your life. With a memorable example sentence pattern to fall back on, coupled with a strong mental image to recall, even complex, technical words or phrases soon find a permanent home in your brain. While author and Twitter user Nakayama may not have originally intended to create a genuinely useful learning resource with “Non essential English Vocabulary”, after scanning just a couple of the tweets, this writer can’t help but feel that the method might actually work- for both English and Japanese language learners alike.
But why bother tweeting this kind of thing in the first place?
“I started back in October, 2011. At the time, I wanted to start a Twitter account, but I decided that if I was going to do it at all, I wanted to offer something a little bit different and original. It was then that I started writing Japanese sentences and translating them into English under the theme of ‘never appearing in tests’ and filling my feed with them.”
It’s certainly an original concept. Browse the study section of virtually any book shop in Japan and you’ll find dozens of near-identical English language study guides, textbooks, test preparation and conversation guides, with new titles appearing all the time as trends change and people start swearing by the latest foolproof method of achieving English language proficiency fast. It’s little wonder, then, that Nakayama-san’s alternative tweets caught the attention of frustrated language learners, and by spring last year the unusual Twitter feed was receiving an average of 100 new followers each day. Just a year after opening the account, the idea was picked up by publisher Asukashinsha, and a book based on the tweets – complete with an audio pronunciation guide recorded by a native English speaker – was published.
Despite being neither a native English speaker nor a qualified teacher, Nakayama-san is certainly fit for the role of English conversation guru. The proud owner of 100 English language reference books, Nakayama-san spent seven years working through the guides and adding new phrases to an already expansive repertoire, and as a result has more than enough lexical ammunition to tweak and tweet. But, as Excite Bit rightly asks, surely all that private study must get boring after a while?
“It certainly does (laughs)! But if you decide from the outset what your learning goals are, you’ll be able to gauge which study resources are right for you. If you find a book that matches your own personal goals, you’ll soon come to experience a feeling of worthwhile study.”
Wading through it
For the average working adult, spending a couple of years abroad to soak up a language simply isn’t a viable option (though this writer would argue that anyone serious about a language should definitely strive to immerse themselves in their target language as much as possible), and they must instead find a way to fit private study into the gaps between work, family and socializing. Study guides and textbooks are often the only resources busy language learners have with which to study, but even with all the best will in the world, lining your bookshelves with titles and spending money on expensive electronic dictionaries alone won’t equate to much. Thankfully, Nakayama has a few tips for us:
“It’s simply not that case that, after working through a single textbook, you’ll be able to understand it all. To a certain degree, you have to spend time wading through a fair amount of material to see a change. After working through tens of books, repeating ones I’d read before time and time again, and building up a small mountain of material behind me, it started to come together. But for me it wasn’t so much ‘study’ as just another one of my hobbies.”
As well as study guides of this kind, Nakayama discusses the importance of becoming acquainted with 生 nama “raw” materials and naturally spoken or native-oriented content. Citing Japan’s national broadcasting association’s own NHK World Service and The Japan Times (who publications catering for English-speaking audiences), Nakayama states that, though it may take years to become familiar with the contents and style of foreign news, it’s important to do so.
While this advice was originally intended for Japanese hoping to master English, it can easily be applied to the study of the Japanese language, too. Manga, comics, websites – these are all perfectly good study aids, and though it may be something of a grind at first, you’ll be surprised how much you absorb over time. So, for those of you out there who are eyes-deep in Japanese textbooks and focused on lists of grammar points and new vocabulary, it may well be worth taking a break from it all and immersing yourself in some “raw” material and visiting some websites intended for Japanese speakers rather than learners.
For now, though, we’ll leave you with a few of our favourite lines from Nakayama’s Twitter feed. We’re sure that students of Japanese and English alike will be able to pick up plenty of useful – or perhaps we out to say “memorable”- phrases!
Nakamura’s book is available now on Amazon JP, priced 1,365 yen (US$15) You can also find hundreds of unusable English phrases on Twitter @NISE_TOEIC
Source: Excite Bit Tweets via @NISE_TOEIC
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