How Many People Should We Talk To?

I’ve been learning Chinese for about two years now. It’s been a long two years. While I can understand a good amount of what is being said around me, there is still difficulty. Same goes for my speaking. Usually I can get my idea across to whomever I’m talking to, but there are still a lot of times that I have really weird sentence structure. Now I’ve noticed something about my learning and I’m curious to see if anyone else has noticed this in their own language learning.


I think that having the same conversation partners for a long period of time can actually slow down my progress. Of course, this all depends on if my conversation partner will correct most mistakes I make. In my experience, most of my Taiwanese friends don’t correct my Chinese unless I say something that sounds really weird, meaning I get very little feedback on my Chinese. This can create the illusion for me that what I’m saying makes sense, only to be misunderstood when I talk to a stranger.


See, when talking to the same person for a long time, they get used to how you speak. Especially with a tonal language such as Chinese, pronunciation is vital in order to be understand. A lot of my friends have gotten used to my weird grammar and pronunciation, so I can say a sentence to them and they will understand. However, when I say the exact same sentence to someone else, they have no idea what I’m saying.


I witnessed this several times when I was dating a Taiwanese girl. I’d hang out with her and her friends. We’d talk. Now I’d say something only to be given a weird look by the Taiwanese friend, but my girlfriend understood what I meant. So then my girlfriend would translate my weird Chinese into normal Chinese and then her friend would understand. If I was by myself, I’d have to find other ways of explaining my ideas in order to be understood.


This also works in terms of listening. I would be able to understand most things my girlfriend said, but when someone else on the street would talk to me, I would have no idea what they were saying. The way they talked differed from what I was used to. I had to listen to a variety of people talking in order to get used to different accents and pronunciations. If kids talked to me, I had difficulty understanding because of the way they slurred words. Same thing with elderly people, but they slurred their words in a different way. Let’s not even talk about trying to listen to a mainland Chinese accent.


Over time working at a cram school, I’ve heard a lot of my coworkers speak Chinese, students speaking Chinese, and parents speaking Chinese. All these things helped contribute to my listening. Where before when students talked in Chinese I would  be completely lost, now I know what students are saying when they decide to make fun of me (much to their chagrin).


Maybe I’m the only one with this problem. Either way, it’s good to take note of it because it might pop up in your language learning quest at some point. I can note just even in Taiwan, you’ll find a lot of people requesting for a teacher with a specific accent because they either need to train that accent or they like that accent more. So don’t be afraid to find several conversation partners. It can only help you in the end.


Has anyone else had a similar experience to this?

Ego And How To Control It

Last week I talked about our egos and how they can hold us back if we let them get out of hand. Of course, the solution is to control the ego. But how? That is what we will be talking about today.
When trying to control the ego, most of us struggle. After all, our egos are there for self-preservation, to help us maintain that image of ourselves we hope others will have of us. Following the bidding of our ego makes us feel strong. If something bad happens, it’s not our fault, right? And so we blame others for their mistakes. When we admit to our own faults, we feel weak. It shatters that perfect image we have of ourselves. It makes sense for us to follow our ego then if we want to avoid this pain.
However, following our ego in itself is taking the easy way out. It’s avoiding the problems that need to be fixed. Despite the feeling of self-righteousness we feel after waiting for someone else to apologize or admit their faults, we actually make ourselves weaker. Not only does it make us weak in terms of character, it makes us weak because we miss out on opportunities to grow.
I’m reiterating all this because I want to mention the advice I’m giving seems obvious. It also seems easy, yet in practice it’s hard. Emotions flare up, especially when the ego gets bruised. The point I’m making is we first need to recognize our reactions when facing these situations. Then, despite the difficulty, we need to be willing to do what needs to be done.
Learn More
Learning more about a variety of subjects is interesting. When we first start learning, it can be easy to feel cocky. We think are gaining much more knowledge than other people. While comparatively this may be true, we should not let it get to our heads. Remember, there is always someone that knows more about something than you.
After learning for so long though, there comes a point where we realize there is so much more to learn and that we can’t possibly learn all of it. We become masters in one field and then realize just how much there is to learn for that one field. All the time and energy we spent learning that subject, yet there always seems like something new to learn everyday. This in of itself shows us that a lot of the times, we don’t even know what we don’t know.
But it also brings up another realization. If there’s so much to learn in one field,  imagine all the knowledge spread over all the different fields and subjects that exist. We know that despite the fact that we may be very knowledgeable, there will always be something that we don’t know. But that’s okay. Discovering something new is exciting. Eventually learning no longer becomes a matter of pride, but it becomes something we do just for the sake of learning. Which brings us to our next point.
Recognize That We Make Mistakes
Think of a time where you were thought you were right about something. Right to the point where you would argue with anyone that disagreed with you. You were so sure of yourself and in the end, you were wrong. If you can’t think of a time where this happened, you are probably lying to yourself. Even experts make mistakes. I’ve had my professors draw blanks in the middle of class, needing a few moments to remember what they wanted to say. I’ve had other teachers who accidentally taught something wrong and it took a student to point out the teacher’s mistake.
Nobody is perfect. That means you too. Once you start getting the desire to learn more, you start looking at mistakes as learning opportunities. This actually mitigates the pain from your ego. You become so happy that you learned something new that you don’t even care that you were wrong.
[Edit: I just made a mistake with this post, posting it without a title. It happens to everyone]
Listen To Criticism
I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with criticism. It all depends on who is giving me the criticism. With some people, I can accept their brutal honesty, but others I just take criticism as them insulting me. Why? I’m not sure. But I at least know it’s a problem for me.
If we want to see that we can’t take criticism, we need to pay attention to how we respond to it. Do we usually listen to each point and think about how we can apply the advice? Do we honestly try to think about applying the criticism or do we just come up with excuses as for why it won’t work? If almost every point of advice we are given is followed by us giving excuses as to why they doesn’t apply to us, or how the other person doesn’t understand our struggle, then it’s time face up to the facts: we don’t take criticism very well.
The next time someone gives you advice, don’t tell them why it won’t work. Just try it. Honestly try it. If you have questions about how to make it work, then ask.  But you need to make an honest attempt to see how the advice could work. Try it and if it doesn’t work, then you can go back and say it doesn’t work. If you try it and it does work, then you know that you were wrong, which isn’t that big of a deal.
Forgive And Forget
If we get into stupid arguments, we can sometimes harbor bitter feelings towards another person, waiting indefinitely for the time where they come up to us and apologize for their wrongdoings.
What we don’t realize though is that this mindset is toxic. Think about it: we are allowing a relationship to be destroyed simply because of pride. Are we really going to let that waste time?  When we feel bitter towards someone, sometimes we go out of our way to cause them trouble. Why waste the one life we have one something as trivial as this?
Even if every fiber in your body screams at you not to be nice to that person, walk up to them and apologize. Just say you went overboard with your reaction and apologize.
Now maybe this person will accept your apology and even apologize too. Maybe that person won’t. They might be thinking “about time he admits his mistakes” and maintains their arrogant attitude. That’s fine too. That’s on them. Don’t waste your own life on poisonous feelings. Treat the person with respect even if they don’t deserve it. That way, they can never say you were bad to them.
I personally just had to do this myself. My manager and I got into a big argument over how some processes at our cram school are run, some of which actually hold the students back. Now I knew for what the company was doing was bad for the students because I had consulted with someone holding a PhD in education and decades of experience teaching foreign languages. When mentioning the advice I was given from this person and what would be best for the students, my manager essentially told me off. We were both mad at each other. I was furious that she refused to even consider anything that I was saying nor did she care about the progress of the students, and she was angry that a subordinate wasn’t just obeying orders. Let’s just say the rest of the day we did not talk much at all the rest of the day, and what we did say was said with complete disrespect to the other person.
So the next day, despite any resentment I had for her, I went up to her and apologized. I explained that I get very protective when it comes to the progress of the students thus causing me to get worked up easily. After saying this and explaining that I knew she was just telling me what her manager told her to say and that she had no authority to make changes, she was very happy and took essentially took the whole interaction as me being a dumb foreigner that doesn’t understand the Taiwanese way. Did it hurt my ego? Yes. But now the relationship is fixed, my manager is more willing to help me out now, and I know now who I should contact regarding policy. Making progress.
Again, all this seems obvious, yet it is never done. By paying attention to how we act in these situations, we can recognize that we are allowing our egos to take over and thus can take the necessary steps to not only control our egos, but become a better person. It is difficult at first, but in time, it gets easier.
What helps you put aside your ego?

Use A Foreign Language To Learn It Faster

Anyone learning another language knows the feeling of studying a list of vocab. They have a nice long set of 20-30 words. After studying for an hour, maybe you remember all of them, maybe you don’t. Later on though, when it comes time to speak, or maybe even the next review session, you find out you forgot a good portion of the words. It really sucks to have this happen. What can we do to learn more efficiently?


When I was in college, there were a few semesters I was taking three Chinese courses at a time. I was learning a least 120-150 words a week on average, and that included not just knowing the word, but being able to read and the write the equivalent Chinese character. My classmates would sit there and try to just memorize the words before the test. Of course, that didn’t help them. Especially when it came time to speak in class. No one could get the words out of their mouths. I realized I had to get creative if I wanted to learn so many words and actually be able to use them.


If you are learning a list of vocabulary, try to use them in a conversation with a native speaker. Language is meant to be used. If you learn a list of words and never use them, what’s the point? Words aren’t usually used by themselves out of context. Words have other words surrounding them with a variety of meanings. Taking this into consideration, we then simply need to use what we learn just like we will use it when we talk to someone.


Speak Sentences!

So what I did to help learn the words for my Classes was skype one of my Taiwanese friends, and then have a conversation using the words I needed to learn. I would make sure I used every word in a sentence. Any opportunity I could find to use a vocab word was taken, even if it was making a stupid joke no one laughed at. If I forgot the word I wanted to use, I made a note to myself. Later that day, I’d find the vocab word I forgot, and then repeated the sentence that I originally wanted to say when I first forgot the word. Not only did I learn the words faster, I could also use them when I needed to talk. Having class discussions were easier for me because I had already practiced using the words before whereas my classmates were still struggling to remember which word was which.


Write Sentences!

If you don’t have many opportunities to speak, then try writing a composition using all the words that you want to learn. This way you are still getting used to actively using the vocab. If possible, try to make the sentences related to each other, not just a random jumble of unrelated sentences. If you can’t get it all the words to fit together, see if you can group some of the words together. For example, maybe you can’t find a way to relate a list of 10 vocab words, but maybe you can do two groups of 3 words and one group of four words. It helps because you can use a vocab word in one group to help you remember others (as in what was that sentence I wrote using X word and Y word?). Once you finish writing the composition, have a native speaker correct it for you and then read it out loud.


Listen to Sentences!

If you gather your list of vocab from watching TV shows and reading books, reread and re-listen to the sections that first made you need to look up the words. For example: maybe there’s a two minute argument in a TV show you watch that you cannot understand at all. Use the subtitles (or a native speaker) to help you find out the actual words that are being said in the L2. Then look them up. Voila! Instant vocab list. Now listen to the dialogue several times, looking at the subtitles as needed. Once you get the gist, stop looking at the subtitles and listen a couple of times. You will not only get repeated exposure to the words, but you will also ensure that if you come across the word later on in a conversation or text, you will be able to read/hear it without much difficulty. I personally used this when I first came to Taiwan to amass more vocabulary as well as improve my listening.


Our takeaway is when you study a list of words, don’t study them as just a word. Create sentences using the words. All the words that give me the hardest time to remember are the ones that I haven’t been using.


Make Sentences for Grammar!

Same with grammar. If you are having trouble remembering how to speak in the past tense, then use the past tense more. Talk to someone about what you did yesterday, then about what you did last week. Talk about what you did this morning. Is it easy? Not at first. You might need to look over a list of past participles and the like, but now instead of the past participles being these arbitrary forms, you get to use them in action. As you practice, they become easier and easier until they flow off the tongue. But if you don’t practice it now, you won’t be able to use it when you really need to.


I’ll give another personal example. When I learned French in high school, I sucked at prepositions. As in describing location. Where is the ball? It is on the box. It is in the box. It is next to the box. Ugh. Brings back repressed memories. It’s not that I couldn’t remember the words, I just couldn’t string them together. Every time I went to describe the location of something, I would pause, and it would take forever for me to think of how to say it. So what did I do? I started describing the location of everything in French.


When I got bored in my other classes, which never happened… cause I’m a good student… except for the classes where I wasn’t, I would look at classroom objects and describe where they were. So I’d pass time saying things like “The boy is next to the girl. The book is on the desk. A pen is under the paper.” Now if you are by yourself, you can do this out loud. Otherwise you might want to say it to yourself lest you want to the person next to you thinking you are possessed or crazy (in college, my roommate used to tell people I would mutter to myself in Chinese when studying). After a day of doing this I had no problem describing where things were. It worked so well that I did the same learning Japanese and Chinese. You just need to think of situations to push your skills. Think of it like doing free throws for basketball. Sometimes you just have to hash it out.


Remember, we learn languages to communicate with others. Not to match a word with a picture, not to do a fill in the blank exercise, but to communicate with others. Study the language just like you are going to use it: in context with other words, usually in the form of sentences. If you can apply this principle to how you approach your language studies, you will greatly speed up your progress.


What often stops you from using your target language?

Ego And Why To Control It

Have you ever had a time where you completely ignore the advice someone gives you because you think you know better? Or maybe you get in an argument which damages your relationship with someone and you wait indefinitely for the other person to apologize to you first? Maybe you refuse to do something you know you should because you are worried you won’t do it well and will look stupid.


These are some examples of how ego can control us. We think our ego is there to protect us, but really it usually serves as more of a hindrance. We overestimate ourselves and ultimately kick ourselves for it later (although we wouldn’t dare admit that to anyone). Why do we need to control it?


Rational Irrationality?

Most of the time when we look at how the ego controls us, it does so in a way that appears so stupid, but while we are under it’s spell, it’s normal to us. The ego contorts our image of reality with one that in any other case would seem ludicrous to us. A simple comment from someone appears to be an insult. Someone doing a normal every day thing becomes someone scheming against us. It’s like paranoia kicks in. Until we get out of our heads we are adding extra meaning to things that we shouldn’t be. In the examples I give, you’ll see how some of this plays out.


We Don’t Know Everything

No one knows everything. Sometimes someone tells us what we should do and we automatically assume the person is an idiot and doesn’t know what they are doing. “They are challenging my knowledge. They think I don’t know what I’m doing but I know more than that ^&%$&” we think to ourselves. This is an unhealthy way of thinking as it prevents us from being open to receiving criticism. When people criticize us, it can hurt. It’s not fun hearing someone tell you how you screwed up. While not all criticism is constructive, it is necessary to keep an open mind when people point out our weaknesses. After all, this is how we can improve. Being open to criticism allows us to see things that we otherwise would be blind to had someone not pointed it out to us.


Ego Gets Between Our Relationships

Ego can prevent us from having healthy relationships. We might come across someone that is a jack of all trades, causing us to feel insecure about our own skills. This can lead us to thinking that person doesn’t like us and just wants to cause problems for us. Often times, we might excel in a skill that the other person is lacking, causing them to feel insecure in front of us, giving them the same impression we have of them. Tension can arise as a result.


Maybe it has nothing to do with being insecure. It could just be a stupid argument that has left both sides refusing to talk to each other. Both sides feel like they have been wronged. Both waiting for the other side to apologize. After all, it was the other person’s fault, right? We want the other person to come up to us and tell us they were wrong because we want to feel like we were right. Apologizing feels like admitting to the other side that we messed up. The reality is often that both parties messed up.


Allowing ego to get in the way for these reasons is just stupid. Yeah, your ego feels threatened by the guy that has all these cool skills and experiences, who cares? Talk to him about them. Let him know you think it’s cool he could do that. Be genuine. Be the bigger person and apologize first to whomever you are mad at. Not only does tension go away, but sometimes this is where real friendships can be built. Maybe the other person will react coldly to you. That’s okay. You can still walk away knowing you tried. You put the ball in their court.


There’s the times when we don’t do something for fear of looking stupid. We have this image of ourselves in our heads that we want everyone else to have about us. Doing something we aren’t good at, especially in front of a bunch of people, can feel embarrassing, can eat away at that image of ourselves we try so hard to protect. Maybe it’s approaching a cute girl or guy. We see that person and worry they won’t think we are good enough. If they reject us, surely others will see and then everyone will laugh at us, and we can’t have that can we?


The thing is, everyone looks stupid at some point. Everyone is human and has their own insecurities. Something that seems normal to you terrifies someone else, and vice versa. Yet we rationalize to ourselves that the hard thing is somehow more difficult for us than it is for others. Our perception and ego betrays us. Are we really going to allow our worry of what other people think about us affect our lives? We only have one life. Why waste it in fear of what others think? The one opportunity we have to do what we want to do and we throw it away because of people we don’t even care about beyond the next two minutes. What is that one opportunity completely changes everything for you? You never know unless you just do it.


There’s lots of ways that ego affects us. Regardless of how it creeps in to our lives, we need to make sure we keep it under control. It’s vital to our success that we do so. We don’t have anything to benefit from by letting it run amok. It just prevents us from having more opportunities. So now that we know we need to control it, how do we? This is something we will look at next time.


When has ego prevented you from growing?


Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Anyone that has talked with a group of native speakers in their L2 probably knows the feeling of being completely lost. All the vocab you don’t understand, weird grammar, slang, etc. Especially if you have been learning the language for a while, this can still be very discouraging. How are we ever going to be able to talk with natives at a decent level?
Maybe you’re reading a book in the L2. You look up every word you don’t know.  After 45 minutes you have read a grand total of… half a page. Great way to kill motivation right? Since it took you so long to finish the page, you already forgot the words you looked up at the beginning of the page. At this rate you will finish the book next year.
Sometimes we forget that we need to make small steps in order to improve. If we take too big of a leap in level, we sometimes end up hindering our progress. We aren’t ready yet for that much or that difficult material. It could be maybe that we don’t have enough time to maintain that kind of schedule needed to learn so much. This is fine. We only need to adjust the materials we use.
Do enough to challenge you. If you stay in your comfort zone, you won’t make any improvements. but make sure you pick a realistic goal.
It’s like when you lift weights: lift the same amount of weight each time and you won’t get stronger. Lift too much, and you’ll hurt yourself and have to spend more time recovering. In language learning, that means get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Going too much out of your depth though won’t allow you to learn effectively, and may cause burn out and lack of motivation, which again is wasted time.
Compare the following.
Person A only speaks one on one with native speakers. So when the natives talk to him, they talk in much simpler words, talk slower and use less slang. After a while person A has little difficulty talking to natives one on one. What’s going to happen now if he meets a group of natives? Most likely not what he had hoped. Probably he will be stunned to see how little he still understands.  All that one on one practice helped him a bit, but it didn’t teach him the slang commonly used, it didn’t challenge his listening by giving him more natural conversation. He essentially jumped from training wheels to a unicycle.
Person B decides to do the opposite: he only hangs out with groups of natives. He knows it will be hard at first, but he thinks he eventually will build up to his friends’ level. So he tries to listen, asks his friends to explain the conversation to him, and keeps listening. Sometimes he says things that make no sense in context, but this is due to his lack of understanding what people are saying. Eventually his friends get tired of stopping the conversation because person B doesn’t understand. They just want to chat, not give a grammar lesson every five minutes. Eventually person B just gives up paying attention.
As you can see, both processes need some work. Person A just sticks with what feels comfortable while person B jumped in the deep zone before he could swim.
Note: both of these processes can work, but are not very efficient. You’ll waste time sticking solely with one of these two methods. Of course, as I’ve stated before,  everyone has their own learning styles, so it is possible that one of these two approaches can help you quickly, but very rarely have I seen that happen.
How can we go in the middle?
Person C decides she wants to start off talking to one native at a time. Eventually went that gets easier, she decides to have two natives talk with her. This way there is a mix between natural conversation between the natives and easier conversation when they talk to her. Each time gets a bit harder, but it’s still easy enough where Person C won’t want to give up. Once person C got used to two natives, she can up the number of natives as she sees fit. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.
Same thing with reading a book. You need a book where you are looking up some words each page, not every other word. The more pages you can read, the more of a sense of accomplishment you have. If you can keep getting that sense of accomplishment, you will want to keep doing more, and thus you will achieve more. But if you can barely get through a page a day, you will give up before you know it.
Is it easy to find this balance? Not always, but after a while, you will get a feel for where you are and what is enough of a challenge for you (note my post on knowing yourself).
Don’t sweat it too much, because either way, you are still learning, and that’s the part that matters the most.
When have you felt out of your depth using your L2?

What Do You Spend Time With?

(On learning math) “If this was a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man, then all of you would want to get to know her/him. And how do we get to know someone better? We spend time with them. Learning math is the same way. If you want to learn more about math, you have to spend time with it. When you’re eating dinner, spend time looking over it; during commercial breaks of your TV show, spend time with math; you have a few free moments, spend more time with it. That’s how you are going to learn math.”

-My math teacher



That quote was from my senior year pre-calculus teacher. Now I’ll admit, I am horrible at math. Geometry was easy for me, but anything algebra or calculus related was not. Usually I would end up getting Cs. If I was lucky, a B. I was determined that year to get better grades in math. But how? Luckily for me, my math teacher gave the class this quote (along with many other quotes) near the beginning of the year. I decided that the advice made sense and so I would try to spend more time with math.


I am not kidding when I say that I spent at least an hour everyday studying math. It wasn’t fun, but how was I going to learn it if I didn’t study? Did I become amazing at math? No, but I was making B’s and A’s, a stellar contrast to the D which I received in math the year before.


We all have things we want to do. Big hopes and dreams for the future. Maybe we want to lose weight. Maybe we want to get better at our finances. Maybe we want to take on a new skill. After making all these plans and getting excited, real life comes our way. After all, who’s going to cook dinner for us? Who’s going to clean up after making dinner? By the time we get through the daily to do’s, we are usually exhausted. The last thing we want to do is try to take on a new task or skill. Besides, we can start tomorrow right?


Too Tired to Do What?

If we don’t start taking time to achieve our goals how will we ever do them? We are tired after a long day, yet no one has any problem going out to a bar with friends and staying out late, even if it makes them feel worse the next day. For some reason this is a much easier choice than doing what we should be doing, even if the next day we are kicking ourselves for staying out so late. Even if you are going to go out, what’s stopping you from first taking 30-60 minutes to work on your goals and then going to the bar? If you’re “tired” but still have the energy to spend time partying with friends, you have the energy to first spend time working on your goals.


Where Are Your Hours Going?

Look at how much time you actually spend each week doing things that don’t allow you to become the best you can be. I’m sure you have a friend that spends so much time watching TV shows each week that they know dozens of shows, look into all the “theory” of why characters do what they do, etc. This friend knows all this because they spend a lot of time with TV shows. Imagine if those 20 hours every week was turned into learning how to design apps or websites. That friend would know all the ins and outs of app/web design just like they know all the ins and outs of a bunch of different TV shows.


Now I’m not saying that you can’t do anything that’s fun and relaxing. I myself have a TV show that I enjoy watching. I watch it while I work out just so that I save time, but still, that’s only one hour a week. So I’m asking: what do you spend the majority of your time with?


Speak Faster With Sentence Patterns

I realize I’m late for this post. I’ve been a little sick recently, so I completely forgot about getting the post out earlier. Here it is now.

When we first start learning a language, we want to be able to speak NOW. We don’t want to have to wait to learn a bunch of boring grammar rules and then try to remember all them when we do go to speak. So how can we quickly and efficiently solve this problem? Sentence patterns!


The idea behind it is very simple: by learning a pattern, you can learn some of the basic grammar, vocab, as well as putting it all together. One of the hardest aspects when starting out learning a language is constructing your own sentences. By learning sentence patterns, you can be sure that the sentences you use are correct each time you go to speak.


Let me give you an example. If we want to learn how to ask where something is in Japanese, we say it like…. “________ wa doko desu ka.” The grammar is literally “____ where is?” So to practice this now, you need to practice asking where things are.


Let me show you how I do it. Start off with the pattern in your mother tongue.


Where is the bathroom? (My car, John, the restaurant)



Now we have to do some translation. Before we worry about the underlined part and the parenthesis, let’s first focus on the sentence and get it into Japanese. (I’m using the Romanized version here the make it simpler, but you would actually want to put it in the Japanese script).


Toire wa doko desu ka?


There we go.

Now you see, I have the bathroom underlined and then a couple words in parenthesis. This is because we will switch out the underlined words with the words in parenthesis to make more sentences.


Where is the bathroom? (My car, John, the restaurant)

Toire wa doko desu ka?

Watashi no kuruma wa doko desu ka?

Jon wa doko desu ka?

Resutoran wa doko desu ka?


In total, we have four sentences to help us practice asking where things are in Japanese. After writing these out, you will want to check with a native speaker to make sure you wrote them out correctly. Afterwards you will want to say the sentences to the native speaker to check your pronunciation. If you can get a recording of how you should say everything, even better. Some languages aren’t spoken like they are written, so it would be helpful go have audio in these cases.  Now you are done with the first part.


The second part is to practice. The end goal is to be able to look only at the English and spit out the sentences quickly and fluently. Doing so will train you to be able to say the sentences instinctively. That means looking at the English sentence and then then saying the Japanese. Next, still looking at the English say the sentence in Japanese subbing out the underlined word in parenthesis. Continue until all the sentences are done.

Now if you get creative with this, you can actually get a lot of variations off this. The example I provided was simple to get the point across, but I have come up with some pretty complicated ways to practice patterns. One thing you can do is turn all the statements into questions and questions into statements. You can also change the verb tenses for all the sentences. Your imagination is the only limit you have.

Happy speaking!

What challenges do you face when trying to speak in another language?

Teaching English In Taiwan: Money

How much money can I make teaching English in Taiwan? How much do things usually cost over there? Would I still be able to save money? These are some common questions that people have when thinking about coming to Taiwan to teach English. A while ago I wrote a basic overview of teaching English in Taiwan. Today, I will go more in depth to talk about the money side of things.


When talking about pay, I have to mention I live in Kaohsiung, which is in the southern part of Taiwan. The rates may be different in Taipei, I’m just not sure of them. I do know that things in general cost a lot more in Taipei.


What You Can Expect For Pay

Alright, so let’s take a look at typical salaries. Since I’m from America, I’m going to compare everything to USD.

So most English teaching jobs in Taiwan for foreigners are paid with an hourly wage. The usual wage for teaching is 600NTD/hour, which at the current moment is about $20USD. Most people work about 20-28 hours a week, so you’ll earn about 48,000NTD-67,000NTD per month. Making about 50,000NTD a month is typically all you need for comfortable living (note: the maximum legal hours foreigners can work in a cram school are 32 hours a week. Most schools do not reach this many hours even if you ask them to. You’ll have to do tutoring on the side if you want to earn more). Now how far does the money go? Let’s break down some common things people might buy.

Now some people might go out and get a TEFL certification and think it will give them a higher starting pay. Just from my own experience, a TEFL is only useful for making yourself look slightly more credible than other teachers, but will not boost your pay. In order for me to get my job with a resident visa, I had to take a pay cut.  I’m still undecided about if a TEFL is actually useful over here.


Apartment rent: 7,500NTD-20,000NTD depending on how big, new, near a metro station, kitchen(less), etc

Street Food meal: 60-150NTD

Beer at a bar: 150NTD-300NTD

Cocktail: 180NTD-500NTD

Three bananas from a grocery store: about 100NTD

Two chicken breasts at grocery store: 70NTD

One way trip on the metro: 25NTD-60NTD (60 is more like traveling from one end to the other)

A sandwich from 7-11: about 45NTD

Minimum taxi fare: 85NTD (a half an hour trip cost me about 300NTD)

One month internet: about 1000NTD

Doctor’s visit with insurance: about 150-300NTD (depending on the type of doctor)

ATM transaction fee: about 15NTD


Don’t Forget Taxes!

Luckily the prices you see in Taiwan already include tax (we don’t include tax in the price in America), but I wasn’t referring to sales tax. I was talking about income tax. In Taiwan, foreigners pay 18% tax. This covers things like healthcare. If you stay in Taiwan longer than 183 days, you only have to pay 5%. Meaning that when tax time comes, you get 13% of the taxes you paid as a refund, which is very nice.


Now for any Americans thinking about coming here, you still have to pay American income tax on everything you earn here. Basically, you have to pay taxes to two different countries. It sucks but you need to prepare for it. I think the only way out is if you haven’t set foot in the US for over 13 months. I’m not entirely sure, so make sure to double check everything before you decide not to pay/file. I’m not sure if people from other countries have to deal with this though.


Odd Scheduling

One thing that’s important to note for people in cram schools is that the schedule is usually not set in stone. I had one school change the schedule on me every week, so I never knew how many hours I would be working. Another school canceled classes without telling me until I was in the cram school. In six months at my current school, my schedule has changed three times. It can be frustrating because you get an apartment thinking you will earn a certain amount of money and then you get your hours cut in half for a month (which happened to me right when I was moving to a new place). The winter time at my current school had most teachers working around 15-20 hours a week, which while livable, it becomes problematic for anyone that lives in a more expensive area. Recently, there have been several teachers with reduced hours the past month. The point being, your hours will be up and down. As long as you save some money for times where you get hours cut, you should be fine.


Overall, if you make 55,000NTD/month after taxes, you can still very easily pay for all your living expenses, have a decent social life, and still put away 20,000NTD each month. Taiwan is very affordable, especially considering opportunities doing subbing work and tutoring.


If anyone has any questions in particular about teaching English in Taiwan, please write them in the comments.


Why Making Mistakes Is Good For Learning A Language

When it comes to people that make progress in language learning and those who don’t, there is one thing that usually determines which side of the fence one falls on: using the language. After tutoring and teaching students foreign languages, I noticed this pattern of usage and progress. Now it sounds obvious right? After all, you can’t learn to play piano by reading books on piano, you actually have to practice playing piano. Language learning must be the same. However, most people don’t stick with this idea in practice.


When I ask people why they don’t use their target language as much as they could, usually the answer I receive is along the lines of “My [insert language] isn’t good enough,” “I’m not ready yet,” “I don’t know how to say what I want to say,” “Others are going to think I sound stupid,” etc. We worry about not looking good in front of others, waiting for the day where we can bust out fluent sentences without any problems at all. After all, isn’t it embarrassing when you trip up speaking a foreign language or forget what word you wanted to use? Guess what? You do it in your native tongue. For some reason, we only care about the mistakes we make speaking a foreign language. I’ve heard Taiwanese speakers trip up Chinese sentences and forget words here and there (I’ve even corrected some of my Taiwanese student’s Chinese before) and I myself makes mistakes speaking English. It’s just natural, yet it prevents us from wanting to try, which hold us back even more.


See, making mistakes is actually a good thing for you. I say there are two main kinds of mistakes: comprehensible and incomprehensible. Sometimes when we talk, we make a slight mistake in grammar, but we are still understood. Again, no reason to fret over it because you still got your point across (which is the whole goal of language in the first place). Perfect grammar? Maybe not, but you at least found the bathroom, museum or managed to order that fried rice or whatever else you were trying to do.


Oddly enough, the mistakes that help us the most are the ones where we aren’t understood. Yeah, like the ones where you say something and everyone looks at you like you have seven heads. That feeling of idiocy is good, so enjoy it. Why? Because you will soon know what not to say. Usually at this point, you keep trying to explain your idea in several ways until someone understands you and then helps you say it the correct way and boom, you just learned how to make a sentence like a native.


Think about it, most comprehensible mistakes usually go uncorrected. So you could be making tons of mistakes without realizing it, yet you don’t feel bad because no one points it out. Unfortunately, this does not help your progress (other than provide speaking practice). Incomprehensible mistakes stop the conversation entirely, so in order to continue, you have to learn how to convey your idea in a comprehensible way, and then can learn the proper way to say the sentence.


So don’t view each mistake you make as a failure. See each mistake as yet another progress point in your goal of learning a language. And who knows, sometimes funny things happen because of mistakes we make.


When has making a mistake ultimately helped you learn more?