Why the Long Face?

Okay, so I went off the Twitter rails in 2015.
But no regrets. It’s my policy.
Somehow I got (‘got’ is a word. Your HS English teacher lied. Goofle it.) bogged down in heavy tweets.
The world was too much with me, or some such.
Just so many issues and so much misery.
I escaped into a world of panda GIFs, punny tweets, semi #NSFW nekked hot guys and the like.
Lost lots. Saved some sanity in the process.
I’m thinking deep stuff all the time, but you know, when you see the same RT come around for the 10th time, subterfuge springs to mind. Thanks autosuggest.
I have my limits. We all do.
In the mean time, I started meeting tweeps, and this also meant that RTing funny stuff was more personal for me.
But I still strive for some kind of transparency.
The sexy stuff, the punny stuff, the Japanese stuff and the #fromageporn are all facets of me.
I’m always willing to engage seriously. But my views on the Pacific War are not easily condensed into 140 characters. So I’m happy to tweet slightly off-centre stuff that hopefully in some way can offer a whiff of other approaches.
If you have fresh and frisky alternatives, bring it on.


Hangul Down—What Next?

Yesterday’s blog discussed the secret to learning to read Russian (Cyrillic alphabet).


A friend who read the post pointed out that the same cartoonist who produced the “Russian in 15 Minutes” guide that inspired me (Ryan Estrada) also did one for learning Korean writing (Hangul).

15 minutes? This is completely misleading. I think it took about 5 minutes to read and absorb.


I’ve “done” Hangul before, but I kept forgetting letters.

Ryan’s mnemonics are very smart. He suggests an object that the letter looks like, and the English word for the picture indicates the sound of the Hangul letter.


Then you are off and running.

To practice reading, I’ve done the same as I did for Cyrillic (Russian)—I searched for a list of words imported into Korean (“Konglish”) so that I already know the target vocab. I will learn ordinary Korean words after I am comfortable with reading.


I found the best list of Konglish I could and took easy words from the list and I created a deck in Anki to practice. For the “answers” I used cryptic clues rather than the actual word’s pronunciation, so I am forced to look back at the word if I still haven’t deciphered it completely.


I am pretty keen to learn some Korean, which I hope to “piggy back” off my Japanese due to apparent similarities in grammar and vocabulary. I have an introductory text book, which I now will be able to read. (The text book is Japanese-based, rather than “back-tracking” to English. This will also give me bonus Japanese revision.)


I have my eyes on some books (in Japanese) to learn Korean vocab using kanji (Chinese characters). I saw two such books in Kinokuniya. Many words in Korean which might be unrecognizable to a Japanese speaker when written in Hangul characters are derived from the same Chinese word (apparently 60% of Korean vocab comes from Chinese).

For example 한국 (hangug) which is from the kanji 韓国, read “kankoku” in Japanese, meaning “Korea”.

For someone who knows Japanese or Chinese, and loves kanji, I think recognizing the root word can be a fast track to boosting vocabulary, instead of just learning words as random sounds. There is the risk of confusing pronunciation (in my university days, we Japanese speakers had this problem in Mandarin class. Other friends have reported similar confusion with other related language pairs). But the chance to unlock a huge potential vocabulary is just too tempting for me.


Then what? I’m still looking for a mnemonic system for Thai and Arabic, but perhaps I should make them myself!



Learn to Read Korean in 15 Minutes


Credit to @ryanestrada (Twitter)


Ultimate Konglish List


Learning Cyrillic (Russian script)


, , ,

I’m an Aussie. And I’m what they call Down Under, a “jack of all trades, a master of none”. I’m addicted to language learning, yet some folk even question my ability to speak my mother tongue 😉

My language list is—

Can speak: English, Japanese

Work in progress: French

Lapsed beginner: Mandarin, Thai

Dabbling: Spanish, Dutch, Korean

Curious: Arabic


My partner is fluent in Russian and recently we flew Aeroflot to Europe.

He tried to encourage me to learn some Russian, but it always started out wrong for my language learning style.

Step one was the Cyrillic alphabet.

There are only 33 letters. It should not be such a struggle to memorise them.

But trying to drum it into my brain would not work.

To begin with, many of the letters look similar to English but have different pronunciations.

B = V

I can understand slight changes in pronunciation. B and V can be “close” in my thinking. But:

X = H

H = N

P = Rwatermelon

There was no way this would stick.

I tried learning the letters like Russian children (maybe) do: “A is for Apple” style.

But as every Russian child knows “A is for watermelon” and “я” (last letter of the alphabet) is for “яблоко” (apple).

This could not end well.


In addition to trying to memorise a confusing script, I was trying to learn 33 unfamiliar words.


At heart, I’m a short-cut guy.

So I searched online for “quick, easy Cyrillic”.

I was happy to find pages that said I could “learn to read Russian in one hour”.

Then to my joy, I discovered a site that guaranteed I would be able to read this rascal writing in FIFTEEN MINUTES. Outrageous claims appeal to me—I had to check it out.

This site uses mnemonics. Memory aids. Stupid stories for each letter to help you remember. And it worked.

I heard many years ago that the brain remembers things better when it is stimulated more. If something is very funny, stupid, scary, gory, crude or sexy, the brain will latch onto the information. I used this technique to teach English at schools in Japan (without too much of the “sexy”). The reactions of students to different stimuli vary, but they ALL react, and that is the point. It sticks because it elicits a strong reaction.

The other great site I found uses familiar words to practice and reinforce the alphabet.

But how is that possible when I don’t know my Russian watermelon from my apple?

It’s as easy as А, Б, В—the author of the site compiled a list of Russian words 1) used in English (vodka, familiar place names, etc.) and 2) borrowed from (or with similar roots to) English (meteor, America, university, mathematics, etc.).

Coupled with cryptic clues instead of plain answers, I found myself deciphering words, thinking more and thus imprinting the letters in my mind.

When I flew Aeroflot, I wasn’t conversing with the flight attendants, but it was fun to be able to read words around me (inflight magazine, signs at Moscow airport, etc.)


With French (and Dutch, Spanish), I have taken the opposite approach. I know the alphabet already, but the pronunciation of it in French and Dutch in particular confuses me. So I started with aural until I was comfortable enough with the sounds and some vocabulary and grammar to start trying to read.


My next challenge is to find effective mnemonics for Korean and Arabic.

Go easy on the водка and happy studying, товарищ !



Learn to Read Russian in 15 Minutes Is This Real? http://9gag.com/gag/aqZbPmp/learn-to-read-russian-in-15-minutes-is-this-real-life

Learn to Read Cyrillic (Russian) Within the Hour


Can you make a living in translation?

(Confessions of a human translation tool)

I’ll only say this once: yes.

Recently this question was posed by an illustrious tweep, and pinged
in my direction.

She asked whether it would be necessary to have a (real?) job on the side.

I grew worried for myself and my partner. Three years after
going freelance, would we need to look for a job?

The answer to your question, my friend, is no.

But it’s complicated.

Second, you need to be able to translate. (I’m leaving “first” blank,
just in case.)

And write.

And read.

All of these skills help.

But apparently they are not essential. I’m just biased.

I also abide by the standards of recognised international translation
associations: only translate into your first language.

Do a translation course (Masters) if you can, get qualifications if
you can. These are preferred or essential in many countries. Japan
seems to be an exception.

My question to you is, what do you hope to translate? If you miss out on Murakami’s novel this year, will you have to keep your albeit at the conbini?

In terms of demand, translation of esoteric novels ranks low on the scale. Translation on boring business reports, meanwhile, is booming. It’s regular and people pay for it. You do the math.

I had my first break in translation working in-house in the
International Department for a prestigious Japanese university.

And I have hopped between a number of in-house positions, sometimes labelled “Editor” despite involving lots of translation.
In-between, I truly freelanced for about a year, but my former employer
wanted me back, like all my exes.

Now I’m freelance again, but as you see, I’m in France eating cheese,
so it doesn’t really count.

My partner has been totally freelance for three or four years now.

My freelance work has mostly come through a couple of translation
agencies. Apply, take their tests, register, occasionally remind them
you are alive and available. Then kick back with good cheese and wine.

Choosing Books to Study for Kanji Kentei




I want it all, I want it now.
This sums up my rationale in selecting books to study for Kanji Kentei exams.
Initially, I didn’t know the options. I bought the official text books for each level as I progressed.
I started at level 5, from memory. Knew all the characters in theory, but I was a bit rusty.
These books cover all of the new characters to be introduced at the new level. The yellow books are comprehensive. But to cover all of the characters, you need to read from cover to cover.
When I started commuting to work by train, I switched to the pocket sized versions.
Later, I started to realise that the exams weren’t covering all the characters evenly.
For the purpose of thoroughly learning all the characters, the yellow books were great.
But I wanted to pass the exam.
So I began checking out other books.
I discovered books divided into sections A, B, C, where section A you had to master to pass, section B you should study for a better chance, section C for a higher score.
In theory, if you lacked time, you could just complete section A.
This was perfect for me, as I am “akippoi”, get sick of things quickly.
These books are endless drills ( mini tests). What I would have considered the study materials tend to be in an index at the end.
When I read further, it turned out these books were written based on statistical study of previous exams. The same characters and compounds are tested quite frequently, it seems. Whereas some are rarely tested and some have never appeared in an exam.
The exams are designed using content where the organisation roughly knows the pass rates, so they can maintain their desired pass rates.
Is taking advantage of this information cheating? By the time you are taking level 2, you are needing to study so much already that eliminating material that is less likely to be tested only makes sense.
There are significant differences between the structure of each publisher’s books.
For me, most of my study was for on the move. Small memo pad at hand to answer the drill questions, sometimes standing. So I found it convenient to have an the information on one page. With many books, the answers are at the end. I switched to books which had the answers on the opposite page, with a red plastic sheet provided to cover the answers. Eventually I found some included extra info for each answer, alternative questions that had been tested before, related compounds, common mistakes, synonyms/antonyms. All in one place.
I repeated the same drills many times (thus I wrote the answers in separate memo books), just writing my score in the text book to keep track.
The books are divided into sections corresponding to the sections of the exam: reading, writing, four character idioms, etc. By training in this way, you can identify yours strengths and weaknesses and work on particular areas. There are always a couple of trial exams at the end too.
For the higher levels, pre-1 and 1, you need to do more research. And you’ll need more reference books, but up to level 2, the books described above were enough for me.

Tongue Envy

“How many languages do you know?”
I occasionally get asked this question.
From the beginning, let’s get at least this str8. I consider myself bi. I know English and Japanese. C’est tout.
Everything else is just tease.
But I love language. Probably nothing attracts me more. Oh, wait, there is one thing.
Did a year of French in year 8, Japanese years 9-12. When I entered university, they suggested Mandarin to complement Japanese (major bum-steer).
But I’ve had loads of friends who are speakers of languages other than English (LOTE), and I’ve always been envious, having been brought up in a monolingual family.
When in Indonesia in my 20s, I bought a beginner’s guide to the language and tried to learn some on-the-jalan-jalan.
When I then travelled to Thailand, I strongly felt it was wrong to expect them to understand English, so I enrolled in a Thai language course for 2 months. Great teacher. Knew exactly how to get foreigners to warp their mouths to form Thai sounds. Major respect. Learnt more in two months than in two years of Mandarin at uni.
In my 30s, I worked in a call centre for Swiss Airlines, which catered for the three main languages of Switzerland plus English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Apart from the monolingual Manager, everyone there spoke at least two languages. Many knew more. We had native speakers of Swedish, Spanish, Dutch and Turkish, to begin with. Many knew three or more languages fluently. I was awestruck.
The connections between languages–the overlaps–fascinate me.
The new ways of thinking: the 200 words for snow scenario.
And people.
And the fun in communicating in other ways.
Language has for years spiced up my life.
I’ve tried to reignite my Mandarin, as it seems a waste to have taken it daily for two years at university and never mastered it. My three week trip through China in 2007 probably taught me more than those two years.
Re-starting French in 2014 and now flirting with Dutch and others reinforces this. I also feel drawn to Korean, due to the supposed similarity to Japanese.
I may never be fluent in another language, but I’ll keep feeling fascination.

Getting There is Half the Fun

As a kid, I read about a boy who sat at the back of the school bus to get a longer ride. Now, when I commute, I sit at the front of the train, to get there quicker.

We travelled when I was growing up. Surfing safaris. Then Dad discovered catamarans, and we did sailing safaris. We traversed southern Australia in search of waves and wind.

As a teenager,  I discovered Melbourne, with more interesting record and sci-fi book stores than my hometown Adelaide.  As Adelaide’s nearest neighbour, it was a mere 12 hours by train.

Consequently, slow travel has never bothered me.

When I was 20, I caught slow boats between Japan’s Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu islands, and met interesting people. A comic punchline from my childhood springs to mind: “Getting there is half the fun”.

In my early twenties, I planned my second trip to Japan. I’d devoured the tales of many travellers and discovered Lonely Planets. I wanted to visit a good friend who lived in Hong Kong. I also desperately wanted to visit Okinawa.

The “Getting there and away” section of LP excited me the most. So many options. I decided to travel by boat from Hong Kong to Japan, via Taiwan and Okinawa.

I saw the student travel agency, because they’d know what to do. I booked a funky open-jaw ticket Cairns – Hong Kong / Sapporo – Cairns. I noticed the Hong Kong leg was via Singapore. What a waste not to visit, I thought, and added a four-day stop to check it out. Thereafter, for years I made it a rule never to pass through a country without visiting it.
The backpacker hostel in Singapore was the dodgiest in the LP. Such flophouses have now doubtlessly been expunged from Singers. Fortunately, I secured an upgrade–a bunk bed in a room. Most beds were actually in the corridors. My roommates offered me the choice of top bunk (= mosquito class) or bottom (= bedbug class). Being inexperienced with bedbugs, I chose mozzies. Later I saw the rooftop, where guests slept outdoors under a shonky rain shelter.

The guys in my dorm (all Japanese) had “done” Malaysia and Thailand. I may as well have met Marco Polo freshly back from Cathay. It sounded too exciting to miss. I changed the date of my Hong Kong flight, and planned my conquest of the Malay Peninsula.

Before leaving, I decide to visit Singapore’s tropical island paradise of Pulau Ubin. I packed my belongings and set out, but couldn’t find anywhere to stay. Neither did I find the sandy white beaches I expected. Back on the main island defeated, I was unwilling to return to the rat-house. I spotted a boat headed for Malaysia. The LP suggested boat as an interesting alternative, so I bought my ticket. The boat was low-key. I think it was an open boat, and as we hit open waters, I noticed how flimsy it was. As Malaysia approached, I thought I would plan my next move. I flicked to the Malaysia chapter in “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring”. And I searched in vain for information about the boat or the town we were heading for. Seems the different countries had different authors.

I realised I didn’t have Malaysian currency. I didn’t know where I was going. It wasn’t even on the map. I recalled a book a friend had once recommended, 地図のない旅 “Journey Without a Map”…

To be continued.

Short and Sweat

I had an horrific English teacher in my final year of school–Mr. T.

Legendary for his nastiness. I’d heard about him for years. As I approached the end of high school, my fear grew. He was only inflicted on senior students. Why so?

When I discovered I’d been put in his class, my heart dried up in fear.

He was always grumpy, constantly angry, totally unpredictable.

Why was such a terrible person a teacher?

This would surely be an annus horribilis.

As the year started, I understood why.

Within a few months, a protest meeting had been organised by the parents of students to try to force his resignation.

He gave unbelievably low marks.

10/100, zero for some essays.

Almost no one got over 50%.

It was a nightmare.

A major shock to darling students such as moi.

Essays were unashamedly returned with stains of port glasses. This guy needed to drink to read our crap.

He would simply cross out entire paragraphs and write “flabby writing”. He was not exactly slender, but I digress. Introductions were basically superfluous. As were conclusions.

No one understood his rhyme or reason.

We were forced to memorise not piddling quotes but SLABS of Shakespeare.

He was old skool.

It was the last year before his retirement.

Through the year, my essays basically halved in length, as I cut out the flab.

Once I’d prided myself on how much I could write.

As my essays shortened, my marks rose.

By the end of the year I couldn’t write more than a page and a fifth of A4.

In fact, he remains one of my all time favourite teachers. And most influential.

An Tea

IMG_20150528_110236When I was a child I was a tad obsessive-compulsive.

I hit a stage where everything had to be symmetrical.

My steps, left and right, had to be balanced. If I trod on a crack with the left foot, I had to tread on the next with the right.

I started believing my actions were connected to the cosmos. I needed to achieve symmetry to retain the balance within our universe.

In fact, I think I started believing that I had super powers. Probably from watching too much Doctor Who.

I also had a game I liked to play with paper clips. I would magnetise them, and drag them around on a placemat on the table in a complex choreography, also with the emphasis being on evenness.

I’ve never told anyone about this game before, but I could play it for hours.

Then in 2007, a teacher at a school I was working at in Japan asked if I would like to come to Tea Ceremony. I was curious. I had no idea of what exactly it was. In high school, I formed a close friendship with an exchange student, Jun. We didn’t understand each other’s languages well, but we bonded. And I found out that he knew Tea Ceremony. At one point I asked him to show me, but he said it wasn’t possible. This was incomprehensible to me, but left a strong impression.

So when I received the invitation, I felt I should go at some stage, because I knew Tea Ceremony was important in Japanese culture, and hey, that’s what I do. But I kept putting it off. Seemed a bit of a hassle.

Eventually I could no longer refuse, so I went along to watch a lesson and drink a cuppa.

And it was incomprehensible.

There were so many rules–sit here, do this at this time. But hey, that’s Japan and that’s ceremony. It made no sense. Folding cloths, cleaning things, nasty tasting tea.

The main event was over, and things wound down, as the host cleaned up the mess. Then at one point, she scooped a ladle of cold water, and poured it into the kettle.

There was a whoosh as the cold water hit the hot. The whole room faded. There was silence. Less than that, there was negative sound. There was nothing. Just a pillar of steam, and a memory of an echo of a whoosh. And all tension was released. And nothing mattered. There was no world outside of the four paper walls and no earth below the tatami floor.

Then it was over, five seconds later.

After the lesson I was told how often lessons were, and how much I would pay.

And I thought I was obliged to agree.

I was the Anthony who couldn’t say “no”.

Very early into my lessons, as I struggled to fold cloths the right way, turn bowls the correct direction and see the invisible lines on the tatami to place objects (my teacher would always reposition things, for no apparent reason), I started to feel a connection to the obsessions of my childhood.

I felt the beauty in the patterns that were perceived but not overt. I saw the movements–walking, hand positions, posture–were like the ballet I did for nine years as a child.

And I realised I had been destined to this meaningless beauty.

Doughnut Daze

I have a greasy past.
It all happened while on working holiday in Japan.
I tool a year off university to improve my spreken Japanese. Yet my first 5 jobs (concurrent) were teaching at English conversation schools. These are where people who have studied years of grammar at school go when they get the urge for a foreign lover, or something. That is an entire story in itself.
Every day I was speaking English. Schools either forbade me from using Japanese or even from letting students know I knew of the existence of their language.
It was in my contracts.
One of my schools gave the students English nicknames, so some daze even I imagined I was in America. One student was named ‘Bubbles’. I hope he didn’t user that nickname abroad.
After 6 months of being a 9-to-9 language gigolo, I called it quits.
I’d made friends with the 2nd in charge at a local Mister Donut. He was odd. He was Japanese but he preferred foreigners. One day, I struck up the courage to ask for a job at his store, in front of the station at Sagamihara, Kanagawa. (Incidentally, due to circumstances out of control, at this point I was living in Toda, Saitama.)
The manager was hesitant in hiring me, but soon enough I was decked out in a uniform I classify as ‘1950s American ice cream parlour’. A couple of times I got called ‘Mr. Donut’, so I guess I suited the uniform.
Staff were drilled in uber-polite Japanese language. Learning it in the university classroom is okay, but repeating phrases like ご注文はお決まりでしたら、お伺いさせていただきます dozens of times a day is far more effective.
We’d line up behind the counter calling customers to approach us with their orders, yet many were a fearful of me. Perhaps they’d been rejected when they hit upon their English conversation school teacher. Queues would grow in front of my colleagues while I’d stand, tongs at the ready, repeating my catch phrases robotically.
Those brave enough to try ordering with me would point to their desired greasenut and raise a trembling finger, ‘Uwan puriizu’.
I made a group of very cool, albeit smelly, friends. And although it ate all my savings from teaching work, I achieved my aim and romped it in the following year at uni.
The pay was… donuts. I acquired many more pounds than yen.