Sunday, 4 April 2010

A Cow with a shopping bag- mental techniques


This post covers two aspects of my learning, one is using memory and mental techniques in an effort not to forget, the other is more observation on what I get from listening to lots of Thai. With Chinese I knew that listening to lots of real Chinese helped immensely but could not easily explain how. Now I am pulling out observations as I go along, this will not be everything by any means but hopefully enough to illustrate.

Remembering with stories and pictures

In Benny's post Imagination your key to Memorizing hundreds of words quickly Benny describes how he uses mental imagery to remember words, I agree it is a very powerful memory technique, and as Benny points out has been used by many people to remember lots of different things. Unlike Benny apparently I do not find it useful to remember long lists of words, the more words I try to pull out of memory this way the more awkward it becomes. I use it to patch those weird sticking points, the words that you want to learn that inexplicably refuse to stick.

In this case the word was Kaojai to understand (still don't know how to write or romanise :)), I imagine a cow with a big eye, it is bright sunlight and the month of May. The eye gives me the sound for jai (I never forgot this bit started with a j just forgot the sound afterwards). Why the month of May, well I am lazy, I was also forgetting the sound of the question particle for a question at the end of a sentence (I think because I have encountered a bunch of different particles before that muddied the memory of the sound). How do I magine the month of May? in a picture with no calendar and why don't you need to animate your pictures like Benny does? Don't know its my brain I will use it how I like, I guess you just have to adapt this kind of thing to your own brain. So my cow helps me remember the sound of Koon kowjai may? Do you understand?

But shouldn't that be mai? not may? Futz how did that happen? Quick fix give the cow a shopping basket, she is about to mai dongxi (buy things in Chinese). At the same time this (mistake?) joins an informal list of things in my head to listen out for.

Better than this though there are more significant mind techniques, I have experimented with visualisation many times in the past, it can be highly effective, I will be posting about this more at some point, the technique I experimented with about 30 years ago is almost exactly the same I the one described in the post I linked to. I am relearning it right now, because I had more focus on vison than sound, but have used it to some extent in learning Chinese to good effect. The well extablished Mnemonic techniques are effective but I see them as temporary patches to be applied if you have to, not a main technique, visualistion takes longer to learn for sure but like many things you get back it often proportional to the time you put into it.

The range of language

A difficult part of listening comprehension is finding the range of acceptable pronunciation of various sounds in the language. I gained a huge boost in Chinese by learning most of the range right of the bat, it helps you talk to real people it helps you notice the sounds that you actually need to notice to speak the language etc. etc. For example the word arai (what : I think) can be pronounced with a simple r, with a rolled r or with an r that sounds more like an l (or at least that is the way it seems to me).

So back to the cow problem listening to lots of different Thai stuff on Youtube some genuine Thai some lessons I note in the following what seems to be two different ways to pronounce that mai may, listen to how the girl says it. Now maybe is is just my untrained ears, maybe some girlies say it this way, maybe Thais from some areas (I don't know yet but I will eventually as my mental map of the sounds of Thai expands). The May version seems less common but explains why my original cow did not have a shopping basket. Actually going forward I may even discover the is no may sound just a slightly different version of mai and my foreign ears initially hear this as may because of the sound combinations I am used to, it doesn't matter, all sorts of similar trips are resolving slowly as I listen.... In a bitter twist of fate whilst listening to a bunch of Youtube stuff as I write this someone just tells me that Thai has no 'a' sound as in the English word may. I am sure I have heard a stronger "may" sound than the one in this video so my current belief is that some Thais have a "may" sound. This happened a lot with Mandarin, "no they never say it that way, NO they NEVER say it that way, oH well yes of course speakers from Taiwan say it that way".


03/05/2010: I have only bothered with this technique once so far, I seem to be acquiring words at a fast enough rate and with no pressing need to learn specific words, I am quite happy with that, particularly as it doesn't require much effort.

25/05/2010: Re-reading this I should also point out that I have encountered the mai -> may transformation regularly now particularly when people are speaking faster. Sometimes to the extent that someone will switch, it seems more prevalent in the mai that is used for "not" so say man mai dee na krap! (it not good) fast and casual and it may come out as man may dee n-hup.
Like most things it is just the way that Thai is used and the range of acceptable sounds.

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