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How to mark-up a language journal

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Posted (edited)

Mostly common sense here, but here are 2 good ways that have worked for me.

When you're learning a foreign language, what you're essentially doing is attempting to comprehend and to express.

Beginners are mostly trying to comprehend. They need a grasp of basic syntax and vocabulary.

Intermediate -> advanced students are mostly trying to express. They need a grasp of idiomatic expressions, context-appropriate expressions, advanced sentence structure. Of course, beginners need to learn this too, but knowing little about the language, the primary focus is getting basic syntax and vocabulary down.

The core method is construction > revision > deconstruction. This will teach the student everything they need to acquire the new language (as far as reading and writing is concerned). Let me illustrate.

Here's a page from my language journal at an intermediate+ stage of learning.

The Japanese text is a short blog post I wrote concerning transportation in America. This is the proofread, final version. Before writing it in my journal, I checked it with native speakers and had them correct it and suggest improvements. Next, I wrote down a revised version. Finally, I went through the composition and marked areas where I made a mistake, used a new expression, indicate synonyms, clarify what I was trying to say... just whatever you think is important.

In other words, I constructed a sample of writing, revised it, then deconstructed it by clarifying important parts.

There's some key elements I think a student should do:

- The writing should focus on a single topic, so meaningful context is included.

- Should be short enough to fit on a single page with notes.

- The (imaginary) audience should be kept in mind.

Don't write random sentences for "practice". Even when you're trying out new syntax as a beginner, I believe it is extremely important to explore one thought/idea/context at a time.

What if you're a beginner and you can't say much of anything? No worries, I honestly think it's possible to begin writing after a single day. You are just going to be highly constrained in what you can express. A beginner will do something similar, but their journal is going to look different. At least, I would personally suggest something different.

Here's a sample beginner page I made up.

Some things to notice:

The syntax I used can be learned in in one afternoon. で to mark where an action occurs, は to mark the topic, the plain and negative verb forms, describing something with an adjective by saying "X is Y." I even threw in a (sort of) idiomatic phrase, how to say you like something, one of the first Japanese expressions you learn. So yes, it's completely possible to begin writing as a beginner within 1 weekend. I encourage bravery, if you want to say something but you aren't sure how, try it anyway, just make sure you check with a native speaker or some language teacher ASAP so you can correct mistakes.

Despite knowing very little about the language, I was able to stick to 1 topic. Again, I think this is extremely important, because the whole point of human communication is to achieve a specific goal in a specific context. Humans don't just spout off random sentences with no regard to context or culture. Meaning is a dynamic stream of thought, a chain, not arbitrary excitations. And that's the goal here, to comprehend and to express meaning.

Contrasting literal + natural translations is often highly illuminating when you are getting used to new sentence structure. Even basic sentences can be overwhelming because your brain is so used to parsing a sentence in a certain way. By seeing the difference in a literal vs natural translation, you can comprehend sentence structure more easily.

Edited by Michio
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