Juggling Work and Photography

That title is an introduction to a rare problem that has entered my life in the last couple of years. Namely – Should I take a photograph in the morning or risk arriving a couple of minutes late to my volunteer job? Now, obviously, arriving on time is important, but I always, always, always! plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early no matter where I go. I am one of those freaks who would rather not show up than arrive a minute late. These last two years, I have had a volunteer job and it is not an issue if I arrive a tad late and stay a couple of minutes later to make it up, … or not. I was raised to arrive early and stay late, so my conscience has never adjusted. I commute 32 miles each way and leave the house at 7 a.m. which means that I usually get to see the sunrise. Over the last two years I have collected quite a few photos of gorgeous sunrises (one is my banner on this blog). I love the cool morning air, (except during the winter when it is freezing), and I adore watching the sun rise.

Thursday morning, the median and roadsides were lined with blue wildflowers and white Queen Anne’s Lace from Harrison to Alpena. The farmers were cutting and bailing the hay in the fields and I could smell the freshly cut hay and the dirt that was kicked up in the process. I made a mental note to take photos on the way home since I didn’t want to arrive late to work.

Between Green Forest and Berryville, the roadwork crew were using huge yellow caterpillar machines to break up the granite bluffs along the sides of the road. They are widening the roadway to four lanes. It has been interesting to watch the work progress and I made another mental note to snap a pic of the machine that was drilling the granite into bite-sized chunks so that I could show people how they did it. I had thought dynamite was used to blast through the rocky bluffs to allow roads to be built. It was a free class in Road Building 101 every morning during my commute.

So, on the way home, I got my iPhone ready to take pictures. What I hadn’t counted on were the hoards of drivers behind me, ready to drive up my tail pipe if I slowed down to pull off onto the side of the road. Usually, my commutes are not that busy, so I wasn’t expecting any problems in capturing the moment.

But, …the road crews had finished demolishing the bluffs and had packed up their gigantic drills and parked them elsewhere.

…The blue wildflowers must have been heat sensitive because there wasn’t a blue flower anywhere to be seen. I made a mental note to leave a little early on Monday and take photos then.

…The round hay bales were ready to be snapped, but the drivers behind me were just waiting to see what the inside of my tail pipe looked like if I slowed down a tad. I settled with snapping a few photos through the window of my truck as I barreled down the highway and edited them later.

hayBale1

Although it isn’t exactly what I wanted, it is better than nothing. Next, I want to take pictures of the cows peacefully grazing in the fields. It tells me that all is right with the world if the farmers and their cows are happy.

hayBale2

That left the Monday morning commute with an item on my “To Do” list.

Bright and early monday morning, I was all ready to take my pictures of the gorgeous blue wildflowers. But guess what? Over the weekend, the road crews had mowed the medians and sides of the road from Harrison to Berryville, the entire 32 miles. There wasn’t a flower to be seen. So, I had to dig out a photo of Queen Anne’s Lace that I had snapped a week prior.

QueenAnneLace2

Yes, I know it is considered an invasive weed now, but a ‘long time ago’ it had other uses. The taproot can be eaten as a substitute for carrots when it is young and the stem smells like a carrot. This helps to differentiate it from the look-alike poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) whose stem smells gross. In addition, the stem of the wild carrot is hairy while the stem of poison hemlock is smooth. Survivalists might want to key in on the difference here when they are out foraging for food.

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Learn To Read Chinese With Chineasy

ChineasyChineasy

is a nice little book that I downloaded from Amazon.com after watching several of ShaoLan’s YouTube videos about her book.

 

I tend to think in pictures and her method of having pictures behind the Chinese characters works perfectly for me.

Chineasy-ShaoLana

The book has a little more than 400 characters to learn with some basic sentences for practice. For comparison, a typical first year college course expects you to learn about 500 characters which includes radicals. Second year also expects you to learn another 500. The book includes pinyin, so you can link the pinyin and characters up in your head and begin typing into your iPhone right away if you preset your keyboard.

It doesn’t go into grammar or things like telling time, but hey, learning the characters seems to be more difficult to me than learning a few grammar rules. You can pick up grammar rules from other sources online and I will list what I have found later.

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Black Smoke on the Horizon

Well, it happened again. As I entered my town, I could see smoke from a fire coming from the direction where my apartment buildings are located. Once more, I had to anxiously wait while I drove the last few miles to reach home in order to see if it was my building that had gone up in smoke. Thank goodness, it wasn’t. This is the third time in the last year that a fire has sent smoke billowing into the air near my place of residence. The last time, it was the muffler shop that went up in flames near my home.

After reading about the massive fires in Alberta, Canada, a couple of months ago, I was once again struck by the “Are You Ready?” bug. The first time the bug struck was right before Y2K. I had stockpiled some stuff to eat and extra toothpaste, but mostly I sat up to see if the lights in New Zealand went out at 12 midnight. When they didn’t, I went to bed.

The second time the bug struck was during my graduate classes in 2009-2010 when I was pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science. I took three classes from the same professor who was very thorough in her research, which in turn made her downright scary. The classes revolved around what a librarian should do during emergency and pandemic scenarios and what information should be provided to public response agencies. Needless to say, the scenarios were reviting and included both real and imagined worse-case scenarios. It was the stuff of nightmares for months afterwards. The government actually has many websites dedicated to such information due to the increase in floods, hurricanes, and other disasters that the U.S. is experiencing in recent years. We had to evaluate all of them. I started stockpiling gallons of water and my kids thought I was nuts. But then, Fukushima happened and the Japanese who had two weeks worth of stockpiled food and water fared better.

So, what would you grab if you were given a thirty minutes evacuation order? That is all the time the Alberta people had and it started the vicious cycle of wondering if-I-could-fit-it-all in-my-truck thoughts. Of course, I was more worried about an apartment fire while I was away. (A co-worker of mine here in town shared her experience of coming home to a pile of ashes instead of an apartment building). So, my thoughts revolved around what I could cram into my fire-proof safes. One already held all my official unopened college transcripts from 8 schools (to be used for future schools and job applications). The other used to hold my Spanish telenovelas before I digitalized them, but now stood empty. I decided to save small stuff that held sentimental value–jewelry making tools, penny whistles, a crocheted square I made with my adopted Basque grandma, my embroidered Hobbitville — you know, the priceless stuff you can’t buy or replace with a Mastercard. I am almost done digitalizing my life, DVDs, CDs, dramas, photos, books, and home (except for foreign language books) and I carry the external hard drives with me, so they are safe unless my truck catches on fire with me in it.

BUT, apparently, not everything burns up in a fire as I thought. Diamonds, gold, and steel, etc., have higher melting points than a normal house fire. But, and here is the caveat that I read about, even if the fire doesn’t reach your stuff and it is only smoked out and slightly crispy around the edges, will it survive the 30k gallons of water used to quench the flames? Mmm, I hadn’t thought of water damage. So, following their advice (whichever survival guru I was reading on the web)– I went and bought ziplock baggies. Now, my documents are safe in ziplock baggies in a fireproof case. All my priceless trinkets are zip-locked and stuffed into the second safe. Too bad the violin and electric keyboard don’t fit. But, I can sleep at night now. Or should I?

I started wondering if the melting point of plastic isn’t rather low. Does that mean I will have gooey plastic melted all over my treasures and documents now? Maybe I should buy tins and stuff my treasures into tins BEFORE I zip them into plastic bags…

 

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Meet the Swedish Guy Who Teaches Mandarin!

Unlike most of the herd, I actually think that there are a lot of positive reasons for learning a foreign language from a non-native speaker. First of all, not all native speakers speak their own language correctly (or should we say free of the street cant, permutations, and outright mistakes that infest the spoken language of many native speakers). If in doubt, consider the difference in scores that educated, academically inclined people can achieve on the verbal parts of the GRE and how those scores differ from those who only have a high school education. I studied Spanish for years and years (OK, decades) and even telenovelas highlight the common mistakes and street cant of the less educated masses as distinct from the more educated elite. The United States has made the mistake of naively believing that any native speaker is qualified to teach Spanish, regardless of their level of education. That being said, the essays and information presented at Hacking Chinese by the Swedish guy, Olle, are well written and easy to understand.

For instance, he explained his rational for the choice of radicals he included in his list of the 100 Most Common Radicals. He compiled his list from the 2000 most common characters which is different from other lists and makes more sense. This is the list that has been such a big help for me in learning parts of characters.

At the local Asian Market, I picked up a newspaper written in Chinese. My first game is going to be circling radicals that I recognize in red pen. Later, I will circle entire characters that I recognize in another color. It is like a massive treasure hunt. I don’t need to ‘read’ them to practice recognizing them and it is instant gratification and a total rush to see how many red circles I can have on the page of a newspaper. (Plus, the newspaper is free). Hey, two months ago, I could only recognize the radical for ‘heart‘ and the character for ‘love.’

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I Got Side-Tracked by Chinese Calligraphy

I meant to come right back and post the same week–I really did. But I found this really cool website that shows you how to write Chinese characters with animation. Of course, I read the rules first and watch the tutorial that they have about correct stroke order. It’s pretty logical.

->Learn to Write Chinese Characters

At work, I have the website drawing Chinese letters in a corner of my computer screen. I like to guess which strokes will be written first and see if I am correct.

They have grouped the Chinese characters by frequency of use. When you click on the character, it takes you to a page for that character and shows you how to draw it.

->Learn to Read and Write Traditional Characters

I like how they give the meanings for the different tones, the pinyin writing, and both the traditional with the alternative simplified characters. Plus, they give you two character words with the option of looking at more examples for the brave or more advanced student.

All in all, so far this is my favorite site for learning the characters. I have to admit that I started learning the radicals first from a different site called HackingChinese.

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Article Review – MMORPGs – Learn English or Die!

It is difficult for foreign language instructors to motivate students to participate in classroom discussions. However, in order to achieve proficiency and fluency in a foreign language, it is imperative that the student moves beyond just reading and writing. Many universities have third year abroad programs in a foreign country that provide the language immersion that has proved so successful in helping a student to learn the target language. Massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG) have become popular in the last decade, not only for the game itself, but also for the ability to socialize with people from all around the world. Many MMORPGs have dedicated servers in several languages and players either have to learn how to communicate and cooperate or they wont be able to complete quests and achieve goals in the game. Teachers who do not have the resources to develop educational 3D virtual worlds are looking at the existing commercial virtual worlds to determine if they might offer adequate immersion in a target language.

In “Learn English or Die: The Effects of Digital Games on Interaction and Willingness to Communicate in a Foreign Language,” research by Reinders and Wattana (2010) investigates the educational possibilities of a MMORPG in Thailand called Ragnarok Online. Their research questions are: “1) What effects does playing a MMORPG have on the quantity and b) quality of second language interaction? 2) What effects does playing a MMORPG have on learners’ willingness to communicate” (Reinders & Wattana, 2010, p. 4)? Their research seeks to provide an empirical study of the actual usage of the target language and if the game environment is perceived as engaging and fun and if that actually motivates the students to speak more of the target language.

The authors are located in Thailand, so their convenience sample consisted of 10 male and 6 female students between the ages of 21 and 26. They were undergraduate IT students that had all played the MMORPG Ragnarok Online before. Tests and grades from classes estimated their English proficiency to be between beginning and intermediate levels. On average, they played digital games for 27 hours a week in their private lives (Reinders & Wattana, 2010, p. 9). This means that their familiarity with the game would preclude technical problems with navigating in the virtual environment and they could focus on the tasks and using the target language. The students were randomly divided into text-based chat or voice-based chat groups.

The study used an experimental design that included a pre-test, a post-test, and the intervention of playing the MMORPG game. Before the game sessions began, the students were briefed on what was expected, vocabulary and grammar, netiquette, and the difference between collaboration and cheating in solving tasks. They were told to only use the target foreign language of English when communication in game.

In order to accurately analyze the quantity of target language usage, voice recordings were made of the Skype calls and the Skype chats were printed out. After each game session, the students completed a questionnaire and participated in a discussion about their experiences. The language usage was analyzed to count the complete sentences, the length of the sentences, the number of words, and other characteristics that are pertinent to language use. The number of turns each player took in speaking was also recorded. The questionnaire used a Likert scale to quantify the different aspects of motivation and willingness-to-speak on the part of the students.

The mean and standard deviation were calculated for both the first and third game sessions of both types of chat. Comparisons were made between the language usage of the text-based chat and the voice-based chat, and between the two gaming sessions. The paired t-test was used, along with Cronbachs alpha, and Cohens d to establish statistical significance, internal consistency, and effect size. There was a 95% confidence level. The mean, standard deviation and the frequency of the responses on the questionnaire were tabulated for two game sessions.

The results of the tests found that students participated more in the text-basted chats than in the voice-based chats. Target language usage also increased between the first session and the third session. The students indicated that they were more willing to communicate in the virtual game and that it was more engaging and fun.

Analysis

This is a good beginning for a pilot study. However, all that was really tested is whether the students could perform a task, navigate the virtual world, and whether the text and voice communication systems function as a means of enabling collaboration. It was so isolated that it completely precluded any social or linguistic interaction with native speakers of the target language. The next study should use a real commercial MMORPG that is already functioning online. There are a few informal anecdotal essays available about experiences that foreign language instructors have had using MMORPGs with their students. These informal trips to the virtual world of MMORPGs need to be quantified so that it can be used as evidence-based research. It needs to be determined of whether an existing commercial MMORPG can be used as a supplementary educational resource. The quest or assignment should stipulate the vocabulary and a grammar structure that will be practiced. Impromptu language interaction with other native language avatars in the target language should be encouraged and can be recorded. It would also be interesting to determine whether an existing quest within the game could be used constructively for promoting target language usage among the students and native speakers. It would also be interesting if foreign language teachers could coordinate group activities online between two countries. The course material should prepare the students for the vocabulary and grammatical structures necessary to read the information. Teachers should investigate supporting Web 2.0 information that gamers already use, such as blogs, wikis, forums, websites, etc., as supplementary target language text for the students.

The authors discussed the limitations of the small sample size and that it might not generalize to the larger population of other foreign language students. Since the authors were aware that Thai students are reluctant to speak the target language, this may also skew the findings and limit its generalization. It is possible that a different student population would show a greater usage of the target language due to fewer cultural inhibitions. Isolating the game server also prevented it from being a true MMORPG. By altering so much of the game content, the game environment became just a more graphically elaborate version of previously constructed primitive 3D environments by educators for their students. In this article, a more appropriate research question would be to replace the acronym MMORPG with 3D virtual world to accurately describe the study. There is also the question of whether the reserved Thai students would attempt to speak English in a real MMORPG with thousands of live players. If they were still rather timid among only16 fellow study participants, they might not even attempt to communicate in a true MMORPG with live peoples avatars.

This was supposedly a study of a MMORPG. However, one of the key aspects of a true MMORPG is that there are thousands of players from all over the world at any given time playing the game. The MMORPG in this research project was more akin to a 3D virtual environment than a MMORPG. It was isolated on a dedicated server, the content and the language were modified, and the number of players was restricted to 16 students. A MMORPG with only 16 players is a ghost town and cannot be labeled as massively multiplayer. There was no opportunity to see how these 16 students would actually interact with avatars controlled by real people from other countries in impromptu situations. The language and social interaction was limited to other students from Thailand, who had a set agenda planned out for them that did not allow interference from hundreds of other players who might speak the target foreign language. An instructor was also not present in the MMORPG during game time in order to provide immediate answers and scaffolding for the students. In addition, although the students were able to practice their English, it wasnt clear if they learned any new grammar or vocabulary during their sessions. In real exposure to native speakers, it is common to learn new vocabulary and language structures through feedback. The tasks were limited to 40 minutes so as to fit within the class timeframe, however MMORPG quests and tasks frequently take much longer. For this reason, all progress is automatically recorded and saved for the players until the next time they log in. This means that students are not under pressure in a MMORPG to complete a task quickly and have time to stop and chat with native speakers as the opportunity arises.

The authors believe that commercial games can be adapted for use in second language acquisition and teaching. Because the students increase their social interaction when playing games, it is likely that there will also be a greater usage of the target foreign language. Text-based chat produced fewer errors than voice-based chat which may be encouraging because many games are text-chat based. However, both text and chat require the speaker to access the new language and produce recognizable content quickly in order to communicate with the other players. If games increase the students enthusiasm and lower their anxiety level for speaking the target foreign language, then teachers may have found a valuable complimentary activity for their classroom instruction.

References

Reinders, H., & Wattana, S.. (2010). Learn English or die: The effects of digital games on interaction and willingness to communicate in a foreign language. Digital Culture & Education (DCE), 3(1) 3-28. Retrieved from http://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/dce1049_reinders_2011.pdf

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Is it really “love” without the “heart”?

MJ 2016_4_6 350

04/06/2016

A few months ago, I was watching the Chinese drama, “Love Through a Millennium (2015)” (aka “Love Weaves Through a Millennium”) which is based on the Korean drama “Queen In Hyun’s Man.” I actually liked the Korean version better than the Chinese version, but there was a scene in the Chinese version that I can’t forget. The male Imperial scholar official, Gong Ming (Jing Bo Ran) was used to reading traditional Chinese characters because he was from the past and had time-travelled to the future. While visiting a convention or something, he saw a Chinese word character that he couldn’t read. When he asked the female lead character, Lin Xiang Xiang (Zheng Shuang), what the word meant, she replied, “It is the word for ‘love.’ However, it was the simplified version of modern Chinese. After studying the character for a moment, Gong Ming commented, “I see, they took the ‘heart’ out of the character for ‘love’.

Apparently, in the 1950’s and 60’s, the People’s Republic of China simplified some of the Chinese characters. Classical Chinese or traditional characters are still used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, or overseas Chinese communities. So, our time traveler, Gong Ming, was having a bit of trouble with some of the modern simplified characters.

I had to see what he was talking about, so I Googled the Chinese character for ‘heart’. It happens to be the same in both simplified and traditional Chinese and is a radical in itself.

HEART

heart 350

Then I Googled the Chinese character for ‘love’ in both the simplified and tradition versions.

LOVElove trad 350love simple 350

I circled the Chinese character for ‘heart’ in the traditional character with a red line. (Someone once explained to me that parts of a character can be squished shorter, or more narrow, or even turned on their side to fit into a box shape.) The heart is a little squished in the traditional character. It is clearly missing in the simplified version. I actually thought that it was rather sad that the ‘heart’ was taken out in order to make the entire character easier for people to read.

Due to this one scene in a Chinese drama, I realized that I could actually see the difference in Chinese squiggles. I was happy to learn one word and didn’t think much about it until a couple of months later when I was watching a Taiwanese drama called “Lady Maid Maid (2012).” I was busy reading the subtitles, but then, out-of-the-blue, I realized that the title,lady maid maid characterhad the traditional Chinese character for ‘love’ in it. So, I Googled each of the characters and found out that the characters were from right to left, Love Situation Female Servant. Even though it didn’t ‘flow’ very well in English, it sure described the drama a lot better than “Lady Maid Maid.” But the best part was that I had spotted the Chinese character for ‘love’ without even thinking about it.

At this time, I don’t want to invest any money into buying a large book about learning Chinese because let’s face it–I am just playing around with it at this point. I already have a bookshelf full of reference books for other languages and I don’t need to add more. (Language study take up a lot of space). The Internet, however, provides quite a bit of material for self-directed study. In my next post, I will discuss some of the resources that I have found for self-directed Chinese language study.

Right now, I want to point out that it is never to late to learn another language. Neurolinguistics and MRI brain imaging are bringing proof to the table that adults still have quite a bit of brain plasticity left when it comes to second language acquisition. In addition, research about Emotion-Based Language Instruction is highlighting that the key to improving students’ motivation to learn a new language is closely tied to engaging the emotions. Almost anyone who watches foreign dramas and films with subtitles might agree with “Who doesn’t want to hear a love confession in all the glory of its native language?” That alone might be all the emotion-based motivation a person needs to persevere in learning a second language.

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