Friday, May 29, 2009

Being on eduFire has changed the way I feel about education

I'm on fire! eduFire! Happy 1st Birthday!

It has been amazing! Thanks for the invitation to be a part of it, and here's to the many years ahead. Happy Birthday eduFire!
Originally posted as a comment by rainbowhill on eduFire using Disqus.

Teaching Japanese on eduFire has been the catalyst for bringing so much of my interests and ideas into focus. It has re-enervated my passion for learning teaching, blogging, languages and technology, just to name a few.

One of the best things about it though is that puts me in the drivers seat. I am now creatively in control of things, there is challenge and diversity, and it puts me in flow. I'm excited about where this is going to take me.

More than that though, it's all about the people. I've never met a more energetic, positive and supportive bunch than the folks on eduFire.

You'd be mad not to get involved, there are plenty of free classes, and to celebrate their first year eduFire are giving away a free class for every one you take. So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rainbowhill on the Japan Podshow - Win Free eduFire Sessions!

If you haven't heard the Japan Podshow yet you really should, listening to them has been described as "like hanging out with a couple of groovy people who just happened to leave a microphone on". I can relate to that!

George and Joseph are like two peas. I was listening to them on the bus, until I lost my headphones. Just as well, I was starting to get funny looks for chuckling to myself too much.

When Joseph asked me to interview on the show I was honored, and just a little excited. He wanted to know all about learning and teaching on eduFire, so I got in touch with Koichi who managed to rustle up 5 free vouchers for sessions of your choosing. All you need to do to win those vouchers is listen for the secret code word in this weeks episode and email the Japan Podshow, or DM them on twitter @japanpodshow.

On the Japan Podshow this week Joseph and George take us to the Kanda Matsuri, a spectacle of mikoshi, fundoshi and wadaiko. Take a look at video to get a sense of the fun.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weekly Links 16 May 2009

    Just a brief link post of interesting things from the week just past. These links come from Diigo. Andrew introduced me to it a couple of weeks ago, so I'm giving it a bit of a run. I have imported most of my delicious links there, and I'll slowly be going through them for favorites to share with you.
    Thanks for following, I mean it.

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    Knowledge Bubbles up from Within

    Drawn from the spring behind the monk's quarters at Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, this tsukubai, or hand basin, inspires this post. It is inscribed with the words “I know, I alone am sufficient” which are attributed to Dōgen, founder of Sōtō Zen.

    Knowledge bubbles up
    A couple of weeks ago a student asked me to write a story that showed life in Japan was survivable. I'd like to dedicate this post to that student, and say that not only is life in Japan (anywhere for that matter) survivable, but it is thrive-able with the right attitude.

    I'm not sure if I can be inspirational, so I'll just try and be myself and write about a place that I go to that gives me inner strength. Not so much physical space, but a state of mind.

    [Edit: 21st May 2009 - This should have been entered in the Japan Blog Matsuri a week ago when I first posted.
    Oh well, better late than never.]

    Scattered Spirit

    When I left for Japan in 2003, I was not in a very good financial position. I had several part time jobs, but none of them had any security or enough pay. Only a year earlier I had returned from a world trip that started in New Zealand, where I worked as a software developer, then on to Hong Kong, and Shanghai before winding up in London.

    I worked hard but I also partied hard, there was a lot that I wanted to put behind me, and with the dot com boom bust cycle in bust, not a lot to look forward to. It came as no surprise that a few people frowned on my leaving my home town Brisbane for Japan so soon after returning. Some said I was just running away from things. It felt different to me, I felt as though for once I was running towards something.

    I had always wanted to live in Japan, ever since reading Mas Oyama's book, Boy's Karate, and practicing traditional martial arts with my father. Now I finally had that chance to practice martial arts, learn the language, and become more than just a stranger passing through.

    I tried very hard to rid myself of all my preconceptions of what life would be like once I got there. I made a pact with myself to see out at the very least the first year, and hopefully the second year. I also put a maximum limit on my time there, to avoid become listless again. I wanted to feel as though I had some goals and direction, so I made a 5 year plan.

    Seeking Peace in Practice

    I knew no-one, apart from the other English teachers that lived in our apartment block. I had the perfect opportunity to pour my attention into study. I signed up for free classes at the local international centre and got my books out every morning for a couple of hours. Everywhere I went I carried a phrasebook, and almost every chance I had I bothered the locals with my broken Japanese. Within a month or two, I had mastered the kana and had begun to speak in stock phrases to the Japanese staff.

    My days off were mid week, so while the others were at work, I would jump on the trains and go adventuring, day trips to the onsen, over-nighters to Osaka and Kyoto, sometimes hiking through the many mountains between Mie and Nara. Mostly alone, always with my books and my camera. About 6 months later a girlfriend from Australia came to live with me and we found a cheap apartment in a small town for the two of us. So for me the adventure started all over again, this time as the guide.

    One of the first places we visited together was a Ryōan-ji, the temple where I had snapped the photo above, which is probably more famous for it's dry rock garden or karesansui. The tsukubai, is behind the monks quarters at a small distance from the temple. At first I was more interested in the composition, not so much the inscription in the stone. This time I was becoming more comfortable with Kanji through the use of a good Kanji dictionary, so I paid more attention to it. The inscription is attributed to Dōgen, founder of Sōtō Zen and can be translated as "I know, I alone am sufficient".


    Kanji Breakdown

    waretadataruwoshiruLooking closely at the inscription on the mouth of the basin, it is not immediately apparent what the kanji are. They appear to be fragments until you realise the mouth (kuchi) forms forms a part of each kanji. When read in combination the reading becomes



    ware tada taru (wo) shiru

    Kanji details for 吾 - Denshi Jisho
    吾 われ ゴ
    I; my; one's own; our

    Each of us is caught up with our limitless desires. With our inherently self-centered nature, Even at the table after dinner, with our stomachs full, it is easy to imagine the mountains of food that we would like to eat. Can seperate ourselves from the consumption (口)of the material world through our five (五)senses?

    Kanji details for 唯 - Denshi Jisho
    唯 ただ ユイ
    merely; only; simply; solely

    It is said that the person who knows satisfaction, has a calm spirit, and the person who doesn't know satisfaction, has a disturbed spirit. Is the robin satisfied with eating just one one chestnut?

    Kanji details for 足 - Denshi Jisho
    足 あし ソク
    be sufficient

    If you are seeking a peaceful spirit is by all means essential to comprehend the spirit of thankfulness, sufficiency and tolerance. Is it possible to find peace with just two feet and a hungry mouth?

    Kanji details for 知 - Denshi Jisho
    知 しる チ

    Words of wisdom are like arrows shot from the mouths of sages. It is difficult to comprehend their message if you aren't listening.


    I did a quick search and found an explanation of the concept behind the expression.









    We can not help but be caught up in our limitless desires. We must have room left in our hearts to be satisfied, in other words, to say thank you.

    [GoYuiChiSoku] is a teaching of the sage of the Sakyas, Shakuson.

    It is said that the person who knows satisfaction, has a calm spirit, the person who doesn't know satisfaction, has a disturbed spirit.

    If you are seeking a peaceful spirit is by all means essential to comprehend [GoYuiChiSoku]. Specifically, the spirit of thankfulness, sufficiency and tolerance.

    Although it is possible for us at dinner time with a full stomach, to imagine mountains of the things that we may have wanted.

    [GoYuiChiSoku] is an expression which is difficult for the modern Japanese to comprehend.

    To make it easier for us to understand [GoYuiChiSoku], these words must be heard.

    Clear water

    For the austere person, practice can be a path to enlightenment. For the rest of us, daily practice and reflection can yield results just as the smoothest flowing stream cuts through the hardest rock over time.

    Lately this phrase has come to give me strength to continue, even though conditions may be tough. It has taught me self reliance.

    Where do you draw strength?

    Friday, May 08, 2009

    A Review of the Japanese Learning Tool Nihongoup

    I am usually apprehensive about downloading applications off the internet that I don't know much about. It's important for me that the recommendation comes from a trusted source. So I'm glad today to introduce you to something that comes from a friend, in the hope that you'll find it useful in your study.

    Phillip Seyfi, a student in one of my eduFire classes, has been working on a tool to help with his Japanese study. I always wondered why he was often the first with the translations of words I was writing in the session notes. Then just over a week ago, he shared his secret weapon with the class.

    Philip Seyfi: launched! Feel free to try it out and please leave feedback if you have any ideas or find a bug :)
    Philip Seyfi:thnx ^^

    Learn Japanese the fun way | Nihongoup
    Nihongoup - A fun Japanese reviewing tool for foreign learners and native speakers alike

    Nihongoup is a Japanese review tool that aims to improve your Input Method Editor (IME) typing speed, kanji recognition and particle usage.

    Download and Installation

    Nihongoup works on Windows Mac OSX and Linux via Adobe AIR. The AIR platform makes it a breeze to install (pun intended) and keeps you up-to-date with the latest versions as they become available. Because it's a desktop application you can play off-line, and I'm told that future versions may take advantage of access to the file system or system tray notifications in ways that web applications can't.

    When I installed it I ignored the warning message that told me the AIR application needed unrestricted system access, felt the fear, and did it anyway. Apparently this issue is common across all AIR applications and the flash developer community has asked Adobe many times to remove it.

    The trial version runs for 15 days, which is more than enough time to get a good feel for the program.

    The full version, which gives you free access to all future updates and other goodies is a bargain at only $4.99 US, payments processed via PayPal.

    Game Play

    On launch I was a little unprepared for music to come blaring out of the speakers, but happy to listen to it once I got in to the rhythym of Manolo Camp's electronic music, knocking kana balloons from the sky. I would have liked the option to start with music 'off', and a selection of tracks to choose from.

    The program is broken up in four panels katakana, hiragana, kanji and particles. Kanji is broken up again into the first three levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), although at the moment only JLPT 4 sentence lists are available.

    The sentences at the bottom of the screen in the kanji and particle tests are a little too light too read, and I found myself scanning quickly from the top to the bottom of the screen. I was challenged by the speed at which the characters came down the screen, particularly towards the end of each session.

    The placement of keys to select each of the four characters in the kanji and particle test screens could have been more game-like. On my laptop keyboard my fingers were bunched in the top left hand corner of the key board to get at the numbers 1 through 4. I'm told that support for the number pad on the keyboard is included in the latest version, but I doubt it would make much difference on a laptop keyboard.

    For the beginner to intermediate learner of Japanese, the repetition that comes with the practice of typing IME hiragana and katakana on the keyboard is really important, especially if you never intend to write the kana by hand. Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) like ANKI and Read The Kanji don't really address this aspect of getting to know hiragana and katakana through typing at speed. Perhaps IME input could be extended to the kanji screens as well? This would reinforce knowledge of the kanji readings (On-yomi and Kun-yomi), and give the learner practice at keying kanji.

    Nihongoup isn't Spaced Repetition Software per se, but Philip tells me there are plans to implement a new SRS algorithm soon.

    The Verdict

    Nihongoup matches the demands of parts of the JLPT well, in that you are forced to choose the correct kana, kanji or particles quickly. It makes learning Japanese a game of speed and skill. If you were dedicated to using it every day you could quite easily master the hiragana and katakana within the trial period.

    Part of my philosophy of learning is that if you keep it fun and always maintain the mind of a beginner then learning is never a chore. Nihongoup suits my playful and inquisitive nature. I always want to see if I can improve upon my top score.

    There are a few good options for software to help you remember and use kana and kanji, but it is by no means a crowded market. There is certainly room for improvement in this application, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.

    The Future

    I asked Philip what plans he had for the future of this Japanese language game and this is what he had to say;

    "In my opinion it's the synchronization between different computers, community interaction and similar features that can make Japanese learning a much more streamlined and enjoyable experience... It's a fairly ambitious project..."

    Ambitious indeed, sometimes I feel privileged to be surrounded by so many talented people.

    I know some of my friends are already using Nihongoup, are you? If you've tried it, what do you think? If you haven't, what are you waiting for?

    divita Nihongoup was designed and developed by Philip Seyfi. You can find more about Philip and his work at divita, follow him on Twitter, or contact him by mail.