Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#39 My favorite ASL Resources – Baby Signing

So I posted an entry a long time ago about how I became interested in sign language through a TV show called Switched at Birth:

Switched at Birth: Volume One

Since then I have become much more serious about studying American Sign Language, and have compiled a few resources that I like to use. This is the first of 2 posts I will make on the subject.

The very first videos I used to learn sign language I found on youtube, but they have a website called My Smart Hands

The lady who explains the videos is very down to earth and explains what the signs mean when she does them. She then cuts to a video of her daughter signing the same word she just introduced.

I first found these videos through a much-watched clip showcasing her daughter at a young age demonstrating the signs she knows. I was suitably impressed:

The website has a very small dictionary. It’s geared mainly towards teaching your baby signs, so that it can communicate with you. It’s a proven phenomenon that babies can communicate with their hands and bodies before they can speak, so teaching your baby some basic signs (like eat, more, milk, cookie, diaper, up, down, potty, etc) can enable them to tell you what they are wanting without having to resort to pointing (which you may not follow completely) or crying.

I think it’s awesome to teach babies sign language because it eliminates frustration for both you and your baby. I’m definitely teaching ASL to any kids I might have in the future, and I encourage others to do the same! The above resource is a fabulous one for learning the most basic of signs.

Sometimes I also like to watch youtube videos from a TV show called Baby Signing Time

Though to be honest, the host annoys me a bit. She’s unnervingly and unnaturally perky.

She also wears these ridiculous bands on her fingers which makes her hand looks so unnatural. I realize she’s trying to do it so you can see her fingers more clearly (her thumb and pointer are labeled with blue, while the rest of her fingers are labeled with red bands.) However, I find it more distracting than useful. But then again, the show is intended for babies and children, not adults, so maybe the extra visual does help them.

I put up with her incessant perkiness because it’s one of the better teaching resources I’ve found online so far. She signs new words a few times each, and explains what it’s supposed to represent (like with “Spring,” it’s flowers coming out of the ground). I find that extra explanation (more than just the visual) is useful to commit the sign to memory. Then she’ll show some footage of toddlers and young kids signing the same sign, which is also a good reinforcer. Sometimes though she’ll throw in a self-written song at the end which usually is not my cup of tea, but she will sign the words again while singing it and it’s helpful to see things multiple times (repetition!).

She sells tons of DVDs and educational packages. I don’t personally own any, as I’ve just been cruising the clips I can find on You Tube. If I ever have a baby some day, I’d seriously consider buying some though. They’re pretty good, all things considered. Here’s one you may be interested in to get started.

Signing Time Volume 1: My First Signs DVD

There’s even some youtube videos talking about a set of parents who found out their little girl had way above average reading skills, and they attribute some of this to her early exposure to ASL with Baby Signing Time. They argue that being exposed to sign language gives babies extra visual cues to stimulate them and prepare them for reading. For Baby Signing Time, the written word is shown along with a picture of it, at the same time that a sign is introduced. That can definitely reinforce word recognition from an early age. I have often heard that signing to babies improves their language skills in general, whether or not reading is included. I certainly think teaching them can’t hurt!

Though when they explained that both the parents of this gifted child are Speech Pathologists, I go “well duh” – anyone who works with speech as their field is going to make sure to reinforce language skills in their child. Still, I do believe that ASL has a lot of benefits for babies to learn (and adults too – learning a language is a great way to stimulate the brain).

So here’s my suggestion for you. Go out and teach your babies sign language!

But first, teach yourself.

Good luck!

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#36 Neko Ramen!

NEKO RAMEN  猫ラーメン by Sonishi Kenji.

This is the most adorable manga EVER.  I exaggerate (maybe?) but for me it was an amazing find (that I stumbled upon in an internet cafe!  See last week’s post).  Especially since I’m not normally a fan of manga in the first place; this one really roped me in.

It is, at it’s heart, a 4-koma manga, sometimes called yonkoma or 4-cell manga, which is a traditional form of Japanese comics.  The panels read top to bottom, right to left, and has a certain flow in terms of the story, such that there is set up, further progression, and the main gag comes at the last panel.  Neko Ramen also deviates from this style from time to time to tell slightly longer stories.

The basic premise of Neko Ramen is a cat running a Ramen shop all by himself.  He does a somewhat a poor job of it, but is an incredibly enthusiastic go-getter who is always thinking up crazy schemes to be more unique or to gain more popularity.  He only has one main customer, Mr. Tanaka (the most generic last name in Japan – like having a Mr. Smith).  The majority of the manga is dialogues between the cat owner (affectionately known as Taisho 大将, or General) and his sole customer.  Other characters are brought in too though, like the people or animals Taisho hires, or his family members, especially his father who is a cat model.  You get to learn more about Taisho and his past, and how he got to where he is today, as well as of course witnessing lots of antics that happen in his ramen shop.  Many of the gags, unsurprisingly, play up the fact that Taisho is a cat, and an adorable if somewhat prideful cat at that, and it makes for a very compelling character.  I adore him ^.^

The manga consists of 6 volumes in Japanese.  I bought volumes 1 and 2 while in Japan.  I wanted more but…things.  Must be responsible with things (and not having too much of them).

My mouth dropped open just now, as I just searched on amazon.com to see if they’d have it as an import, to find that the first 4 volumes have been translated into English!!!  And for incredibly reasonable prices; there’s used versions available as well, even cheaper.  Check ’em out!

Neko Ramen Volume 1: Hey! Order Up!

Neko Ramen, Vol. 2

Neko Ramen, Vol. 3

Neko Ramen, Vol. 4

And, for those not interested in spending money (or acquiring more things) or in reading manga, there’s also been an anime made!  It consists of 12 very short (2 and 1/2 minutes each) episodes, and they can all pretty easily be found online, with English subtitles and all.  The anime uses the exact jokes from the manga and presents them in pretty rapid-fire form, adding voice overs obviously for Taisho and Mr. Tanaka and adding in sound effects.  I rather like the way the anime is presented; it seems very faithful to the manga and sticks closely to its style.

Here’s a link to the first episode:

The person who uploaded that one has all 12 episodes, so check them out!

My life has been made better having Neko Ramen in it; I hope you get some enjoyment out of it as well!  They do say that laughter is one of the best ways to release stress and feel good.  I am indebted to Taisho and his antics for helping me through my last few weeks in Japan.  Thank you Taisho!!!

Or perhaps I should be saying, Thank you Kenji Sonishi!  (the Author).

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#27 NHK “Euro 24” Educational Language Show

Back in October I became a vegetarian.

I first did it out of a reaction to the book: The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health.

There’s also a DVD that’s been made based on the book’s contents. I’ve watched it, and I think it is worth checking out, if only for the scene that explains why we eat all the sugary things that we do.

Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health

Since then I have learned that the science in that book isn’t necessarily sound, in that, it’s not necessarily the meat, or dairy products that are causing cancer, but more likely it’s the highly refined sugars and processed foods that we’re consuming that is making us fat and sick. Part of the success of people that are put on these special whole-foods diets can be easily understood if you realize that people are switching from donuts and subway meatball sandwiches to having a ton of vegetables and fruits and whole grains in their diet. Instead of pigging out on chocolates, they’re getting full on peaches. That sort of thing.

Anyway, I still realized that in attempting to be a vegetarian, you’re forcing yourself to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables than you would otherwise, and I wanted to make a switch towards healthier food (though food in Japan is already 10 times healthier and fuller of vegetables than American food). Plus, it’s better for the environment to eat plant products than animals.

To make a long story short, in March I decided to stop eating Kyuushoku, or the provided school lunches at my Japanese schools because I was tired of secretly picking out the meat bits before eating and taking them home to throw out, or if the occasion called for it, forcing myself to eat the meat I was provided (I was eating in front of students and had to set a good example).

So since March I’ve been going home for my lunch breaks on Tuesdays (elementary day) and Wednesdays (preschool day) to make and eat my own food.

The first few months I basically just ate my lunch and took a much needed nap. For the first time since being on JET I was able to get away from the hectic school environment in the middle of the day and I sure needed that nap to refresh myself.

Starting in May I had more energy I would occasionally turn on the TV and watch something while eating or just to relax a little bit before returning to school.

Well, in so doing I made a FANTASTIC find for a life-long language learner like me, who is also someone who studies for fun.

A lot of people complain that Japanese TV is no good – that it’s all mindless game shows and celebrities chatting. Well, it is a lot of that, especially if you try and watch TV during prime-time evening hours.

One thing that Japan does really well though, is its educational TV shows, which mainly seem to be put on by NHK. There seem to be an awful lot of different themed shows out there that mostly air in the mornings or during the day I believe – times when full time students or full time employees don’t usually have the luxury of watching TV.

The show I happened upon is called “Euro 24” and is provided by NHK, aka the Japan Broadcasting Corportation (Nippon Housou Kyoukai in Japanese). It airs every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 12:00 to 12:30pm. Each day of the week is a different language that they teach; Monday is Italian, Tuesday is German, Wednesday is French, and Thursday is Spanish. It just so happens that I’ve both studied and enjoy German and French, and I get to watch those two days! Hooray!

I recently started a notebook to use when watching the show. It doesn’t teach that many words in an episode (the Japanese have a complex that learning languages is too hard, because they’ve spent most of their lives studying English which is a devil of a language in the first place, and light-years different from Japanese. As a result, language learning needs to feel light-hearted and easy-breezy for a Japanese person to even give it a try). That’s not much of a problem though – even one or two new words is new words leaned!

Each show has a formulaic structure used each week, and includes elements such as introducing new vocab and talking about it, doing a listening exercise, and seeing words visually represented (a person sitting and the German word “sitzen” for example). At the very end they do a culture piece which I find incredibly interesting. It’s usually done entirely in the language being studied, with Japanese subtitles, so it increases language exposure (to both the target language and to Japanese for me!). Last week the German show had a piece on a German musician who sings chill music. Once on the French show they talked about a particular French movie director. It’s all interesting topics that opens your eye a bit to what is going on in the world.

Each show has, as their core members, some Japanese members and some foreign members, that sit in the studio and introduce words and talk about things. There’s usually a Japanese person who is fluent in the language being studied and can explain things well (and seem to have lived in the foreign country before), and a Japanese person playing the “learner” role and repeating words and asking questions. They are sure to have at least one person whose native language is that being studied, but who is fluent in Japanese so he/she can talk about the language/culture directly in Japanese with the other two. That person is usually supplemented with one or two other native speakers of the language, who often make their comments in their native language (subtitled in Japanese) which I think is great exposure to the language. In my opinion, it’s a very good mix of Japanese and the language being studied.

I’m incredibly grateful that I ran into this series, and will be watching it religiously each Tuesday and Wednesday until I leave Japan. I’ll be very sad when I no longer have access to it though; I wish the US had these same sort of free, incredibly educational, awesome language learning shows!

Does your country have educational TV shows? Do they teach foreign languages? Tell me about it!

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