Let’s keep this one short.
Every so often in the history of humankind, a book comes along that will forever change us. Or not, I don’t know. But really, every few weeks or so, I find a book that is just so perfect that it’s as if it was written just for me to read it (you: “yeah, no kidding”). It seems like the author sat down and thought: “and it shall come to pass that one named Khatzumoto shall walk through the doors of a bookstore, and when he doth gaze upon this tome it shall be fitting for him to purchase it. So it shall be written, so it shall be done”. Anyway, this book I found owns, and not only that but it also has a sequel. The book is:
It’s significant that this book should be coming out of Korea (the Southern flavor), whose scores as a nation on, I believe it is the TOEIC test (some random, stupid English test) are at the very bottom of the world: only Japan’s are worse. In today’s Korea, English schools are raking in tons of cash; parents are freaking out about their kids “needing” to know English; the government is in constant panic mode about how and where and when to get more English taught in public schools; businessmen “need” to know English; university professors of English have terrible English; people who can speak well are mistaken for being intelligent. In other words, Korea and Japan are in the exact same position. Now that I think about it, the Japanese/Chinese situation outside of the kanjisphere is the same: most people outside of East Asia are convinced that they cannot be literate in Chinese and Japanese, let alone speak them; their typical rationalizations fall into one of the following extremes: it’s either the “we’re not as smart as East Asians” camp, or the “East Asians are stupid and our writing system is better because the Greeks molested boys and used an alphabet too and there’s nothing wrong with liking boys” camp.
Along comes 鄭讚容 (CHON Chan Yon) to the rescue. Kicking butt and taking names, he very frankly lays out that the English situation in Korea right now is abysmal but that it need not be so. He then proceeds to give his own recommendations based on a method he developed for himself. In terms of philosophy (you CAN do it) and overall method (focus on understanding real English and imitating native speakers, not the crap that passes for English you find in textbooks) it’s very similar to AntiMoon which — along with that scene in The Thirteenth Warrior — is the source of many of the ideas you find on this site. Chon’s book and AntiMoon were written with English in mind, but they clearly have advice that essentially applies to all languages.
Anyway, the best thing is to go and read both books. Here’s a gem that struck me, from page 225 of the second book:
[On learning to understand normal, fast spoken English] When you start out, just accept it as sound without meaning…
Chon wants us to get used to the sounds of the language. As you listen, you’ll naturally start to make sense of it. Like a fog clearing, the sounds will start to get clearer and clearer; you’ll pick out more and more. Chon calls these “little miracles”. He also suggests you imitate these sounds, just as sounds, regardless of whether you understand them or not; get your mouth making the sounds of the language.
These words on page 27 of book 1 amused and inspired Momoko:
Do you ever see parents take their baby and go: “right, Timmy, settle down and sit tight, it’s time for you to learn LANGUAGE!”, and break it up into vocabulary and grammar and explain how this is a subject, this here’s a verb and that there is an adverb — I mean you just don’t see that…All parents go “You’re such a cutey! You’re hungry, aren’t you? Time for foody-woody, isn’t it?”, “Ooo! You went pee-pee; your diaper’s aaaall soaking wet!” — whether the baby understands or not, they shower her with love and words. Day in day out the baby’s little ears are constantly absorbing this endless stream of words and sounds — whether it’s the words of his parents or the voices of people outside or whatever.
Another place where Chon really lays it out for me is here on page 28, again of book 1:
Unconditionally, constantly listen [to your target language].
Chon further advocates the use of English-English dictionaries. What else…oh — he has a cool name for his method: “英絶方式”, the Absolute English Method, or as I like to call it: “All English All The Time” 8) .
Anyway, so…yeah, they’re good books, the Japanese is of course A-OK; translated by someone I presume to be Japanese-Korean. Chon is, like me, not an expert linguist, just a guy who learned how to do something and is sharing it with the world. He takes flac from people with established ideas, but he speaks the truth: don’t kill the language and “study” it — instead, live it, become it. Highly recommended.