Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bottom Grabbing on Twitter: How to Play the Japanese Word Game Shiritori

Bottom Grabbing on Twitter: How to play the Japanese word game Shiritori

When I starting dating in Japan I used to play this game quite a bit. It was a fabulous vocabulary builder and just perfect for long drives to the beach. You can play it with any number of people, and often it can stretch in to hours, days even. This game of shiritori on eduFire has been running over 10 months now, and this game on has generated over 150 comments!

We played in my Fast Track to Fluency in Japanese on eduFire and got a great kick out of it, so I decided to see if anyone on twitter would take up the challenge with the hashtag #shiritori.

Pretty soon we had a small game going that was easy enough to follow with the hashtag #shiritori.

Jeff (@Beta_guy) starts with the word くるま (kuruma | car) and we're off and running!

ShiiraShiira (@ShiiraShiira) jumps in with a pine tree! Look out!

monchalee (@monchalee) takes the stage with a tsunami!

ShiiraShiira is all ears, you can play this game with romaji just as well.

I have a small worm farm at the moment so they are never far from my heart, or my leftovers. The link is to Ajax IME, a web-based Japanese input method, very handy if your machine isn't set up for Japanese input.

ShiiraShiira puts AjaxIME to good use and comes up pantsu...

We have to finish the game there, because ズボン(ずぼん | zubon | pants) ends in an ん (n). There are some basic rules for shiritori on wikipedia, which I have adapted for use on twitter. Almost anyone can play this game, no matter what their level of Japanese is so let's play!

Basic Rules for Shiritori on Twitter

  • Play in turns, easy to do if you follow the hashtag #shiritori.
  • Use an @ reply, only to indicate who you are responding to, let the hashtag take care of the rest.
  • Use nouns only; verbs and adjectives are out.
  • Don't use ん (n) as the last character in a word or the game finishes, there are no words starting with ん (n).
  • Don't repeat words.
  • Use phrases connected with の only if they are worthy of being called words, like 男の子(おとこのこ | otokonoko | boy) but not 今週の土曜日(こんしゅうのどようび | konshuunodoyoubi | this Saturday)

Optional Rules

  • Ignore dakuten and handakuten, the tenten or circle you see to the right of some words.
  • Ignore long vowels or use as a vowel.
  • Don't use pronouns or place names. Anything that would be capitalised is out.
  • Permit words spelled with the same kana but different kanji. For example using both 雲(くも| kumo | cloud) and クモ(くも | kumo | spider) is acceptable.

Advanced Rules

  • Limit words to a certain genre.
  • Use the last two kana in every word, neither kana may be ん (n).
  • The length of a word must be three or more mora.
  • Only words beginning and ending in dakuten or handakuten may be used.
Come and join the fun on twitter by following the hashtag #shiritori. If you think you'd like more fun learning Japanese, why don't you try my Fast Track to Fluency in Japanese on eduFire?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Japanese Town Hall

Japanese Town Hall

A few weeks ago, during a chat on Skype, J.A. and I came up with the idea to run a forum for students and tutors to get together to share ideas about what works and what doesn't work on eduFire.
We figured that students have a wide variety of learning preferences and tutors also have their own way of doing things. We wanted to get them together, because students and tutors need each other to make vibrant learning communities.

The sessions were non technical and open to anyone who is or has ever thought of studying Japanese online. We found that even though we had intended the class for the Japanese speaking community, people teaching and learning a variety of languages came to share what they knew about online learning.


Right from the moment the first Japanese Town Hall opened people were coming forward with ideas on how to make eduFire an exceptional learning environment. Some of these idea may never see the light of day, but it was good to see people throwing them around all the same.

How about some of these ideas for size?

rating systems for tutors and students
a flag for disruptive students
tutor evaluations by more experienced tutors
options for tutors to co-teach paid lessons
a mentor system for tutors

These things are mostly a features wish-list, but I wanted to make sure the conversation was squarely focussed on getting tutors and students to work together as a team to improve the quality of the eduFire experience.

Early on in both sessions I made sure people realised that they were a part of something special, and something that governments, school boards and education departments were scrambling to recreate. Edufireans need to believe that they are part of a revolution. Where students vote with their patronage of good tutors, and tutors and students work together to promote positive outcomes for all.

As is the case with many online communities authenticity is a big issue, with students wishing to make use of available information to evaluate tutors before they sign up for classes. How students do this, and methods that tutors use to establish credibility both on and off eduFire are seen as crucial.

The veracity of testimonials and class feedback were also brought into question, as some participants felt as though people are unlikely to make disparaging comments about tutors on a site where they spent a lot of time. I reassured (probably not the best word) everyone that I too have had to deal with negativity and disruptive students in the past.

Lauren A. made the point that no one on eduFire "has to" learn, that most people are there because they want to learn something. This has effect of creating overwhelmingly positive class environments. To answer a few of the questions about motivation for studying Japanese, we floated a few polls that J.A. had lovingly crafted in the weeks leading up to the discussion.


J.A. and I got together on gtalk later to make some sense of the polls, you'll see our "expert" analysis below each pie chart

I'm learning Japanese because...

Not surprisingly, few people who responded to this poll (20) are studying Japanese because they “have to”.

I’m learning Japanese because I…

  1. have to (1 response)
  2. want be more self-sufficient during my stay (8)
  3. want to read manga (5)
  4. want to have fun and/or keep my brain young (6)
  5. am a japanophile (8)
  6. have other reasons (7)

I'm learning Japanese because...

Brett: let's take a look at some of these charts shall we?
J. A.: alrighty then going!
Brett: In this one, respondents could choose more than one option, and the top two reasons given were self sufficiency and love of all things Japanese
J. A.: is that bit in the blog already?
Brett: I don't think so, but it's worth saying anyway ;)
J. A.: def. worth saying...was thinking that should be in the blog
Brett: lols, don't worry, I'll edit the chat so it makes more sense...
What I found interesting was that only one person out of 20 respondents said they had to learn Japanese.
J. A.: so we had 20 people total for both town halls...
J. A.: minus the ones who came to both, yes?
Brett: There were more people, but sometimes they chose not to respond, as you'll see in other graphs
Brett: that's right, I didn't count duplicates, I assumed their answer would be much the same.
Brett: What I wondered was how eduFire differs from other school settings
where people "have to" be there. I've taught in a few situations like
J. A.: me, too...hence...i now only teach people who want to learn...haahha
Brett: It really changes the dynamic of the classroom and effects how much work you can get done.
J. A.: for me, it effects how much of a positive reciprocal energy exchange is occuring
Brett: There is also something about the mild anonymity that a chat room gives you, especially when no one compels you to come forward and speak.
J. A.: for i am always doing my best to put out positive energy, i
choose to be in situations where that positive energy is reciprocated
Brett: Would you think it's fair to say that eduFire is a low pressure, supportive, nurturing environment?
J. A.: i'd say that it depends on the host/instructor
Brett: I guess that's true, I've never taken a lesson with an instructor I
haven't "got to know" outside of the classroom, through forums or
social networking etc.
J. A.: i do my best to honor people's privacy..."the buck stops here"..
shall we go to the next entry??? or is that what ur typing about now?

The thing I need to practice most is...

When 18 participants were asked what language skill needed most practice, they overwhelmingly responded speaking. On this graph speaking dwarfs the neglected productive skill of writing. What kind of balance do learners needs between productive and receptive skills? What is perfect practice, and does it really make perfect?

The thing I need to practice most is...

Brett: So yes privacy is important . OK
This was no surprise to me, that people want to practice more speaking.
Brett: But it is also in very stark contrast to the actual amount of speaking they do in class.
Brett: Listening and speaking were massive here, and writing was much maligned, as a productive skill it's often over looked.
One of the things I dig most about apps like nihongoup and iknow is that I get a chance to practice typing Japanese at speed.
J. A.: i am one
of those that keeps a high level of if u want a tutor who
tells...check out another tutor. lol. i used to say it was to maintain
this peaceful real vs. surreal life of fame...and that's still a bonus.
but the real reason is more altruistic vs. highly personal one.
Brett: Maybe people come to eduFire because they want someone to talk to, and someone that will listen to them.
Brett: And maintaining privacy is one important aspect of that.
J. A.: maybe...
i'm guessing we'll find out...
maybe we'll do a poll on that one day
Brett: hahaha
J. A.: so, back to the charts,...

I'm planning to go to japan in...

One of these respondants is already in Japan! The 16 others see planning a trip there as a long term goal. I wonder how closely these goals are aligned with those of learning the language?

I'm planning to go to japan in...

Brett: *bc
I don't know how it is with other subject matter, but I believe people serious about learning a language appreciate that it is a long term thing. Also that it normally involves some time exploring culture through travel or some other means.
J. A.: u know...that spread(on the pie chart) looks pretty nice to me...the
listening, reading, and writing are pretty even(-looking)...and they
all seem to have contributed to better speaking skills based on my own i think off the top of my head, i.e. that thought
could change after some...(u see it coming ppl)...after some more thought
or shall i say you, brett...and the imaginary people we'd like to read this conversation
Brett: Hmm, it is good that the other parts of the pie haven't completely shrunk away
J. A.: hahaha
Brett: they are out there, eagerly awaiting our expert analysis :P
J. A.: yes...analysis
Brett: What this chart about when people plan to take a trip says to me is
that learning the language isn't a last minute thing you do on the way
to the airport
J. A.: いきますよ。。。into 'expert by virtue yet-to-be-shared live experiences'...mode
Brett: Often it's tied into other goals as well that have to do with things
other than just travel. These goals are always highly personal, and
have meaning for them in ways that aren't always apparent.
J. A.: that's good that we have learners not waiting till they arrive at the airport
Brett: you reckon I should set up shop there to give them a few pointers before they leave?
J. A.: yes! ur next business venture is awaiting u at the airport!
Brett: I'm sure there are plenty, but that's the thing we never see them at
eduFire. Maybe that'll change if and when everything goes mobile.
J. A.: what's ur selling point going to be...?
Brett: At the airport?
Brett: I think it's important to recognise as a tutor that you need to adapt
to the reasons that people want to learn, even though their motivation
may not be immediately obvious. This can only be done through getting to know them over the long term.
J. A.: i'd say long & short term...
Brett: OK, what sort of short term goals?
J. A.: meaning 'getting to know certain things right away'
in coaching, they do what is called 'discovery sessions'
Brett: Now this is interesting, tell me more.
J. A.: in l_life_ coaching, that is
so i adapted that technique to tutoring
i call them 'exploration sessions'
Brett: how do they work?
J. A.: ...maybe because i like to various senses of the word, i.e. i'm adventurous
so they work like this...
the 'form' has questions like...
actually, i share the subject headings vs. actual's easier & faster that way
Brett: I've been reading about the work are doing with Adaptive Path and it sounds like a similar concept
J. A.: subject heading 1: Current and Desired Ability Levels
Brett: At the moment is organised around lists, and not around goals. Missions or goals are easier for people to form groups around.
J. A.: yes, i did see that...i was very impressed and watching the video made me want get students and myself to sign up right away
Brett: Take for example, ordering food in a restaurant vs. 25 basic expressions
was there a video?
J. A.: this is for u readers...
ah, the on the homepage near the bottom
Brett: Perhaps, those smaller missions or functions like ordering a meal can
be accomplished in one highly focussed session, which is supplemented
by other material outside the classroom.
I'll have to go have a look in a moment.
J. A.: right...that's what the choice 'special topics' is about
Brett: Oh, I see, I wondered how people might see that, and what special topics meant to them.
J. A.: i.e. not just 'shooting the breeze'

As a student I'm looking for...

No surprise, the people love free! The next best thing is superpass classes at next to nothing and of course, all of the above. I think we need to rephrase the question.

As a student I'm looking for...

Yes, that was a joke (special topics) really that relates back to my eikaiwa days.
J. A.: B-)
cuz i'm "cool like dat"...intuitive like that
is that so...interesting...
Often you'd see new instructors come out of a room, beaming and saying
what a great lesson they'd had and the students storming out to cancel
lessons. All because the tutor spent most of their time talking.
J. A.: mmm...again, interesting...
There is a real art to encouraging people to talk to each other, and
actively participate. It's conversation after all, no matter what
Brett: So your exploration sessions are free?
J. A.: Oh, not anymore...but i'm thinking to start offering a couple group exploration session on edufire
whether they'll be free or not...i don't know
Brett: Were you present for Ron's session on using "As seen on TV" techniques to market classes?
J. A.: as i want to start promoting donation to charities through edufire classes...they maybe ala carte and/or superpass
we'll see...i'm open to suggestions
Brett: He had some really good ideas, I hope he releases the slides.
J. A.: Nope... D:
ooo...i hope he releases the slides, too...
He was talking about understanding peoples problems and being able to
provide them with a solution in a way that encourages them to act now
to fix it.
J. A.: did he really?,,,,that totally what i do!
I'm doing something right!
He some good numbers in the class, and he really addressed everyone's
need, they all wanted numbers in there classes. So in a way he was
Showing, not telling.
What about this graph?
J. A.: what you said...that he what the exploration sessions are about & how my mind
J. A.:
we are SO over time...this has been fun...
Brett: this surprised me a little, in that there were no 1:1 or a la carte represented, although the option was there.
Brett: Yes it has been good, I hope the people enjoy it!
J. A.: oh...NO ONE chose a la carte and 1:1?
Brett: no one
J. A.: er?
Brett: Maybe because we were in a free class?
J. A.: meaning the tv sitcom
Brett: Lauren also pointed out that people with superpass tend not to take 1:1 sessions and vice versa.
J. A.: @ maybe cuz we were in a free class
Brett: I'm not sure, we had a small sample size and they were all there in a free class, so that would have skewed things.
J. A.:
i have a 1:1 student who takes group classes...he actually requested
it...albeit indirectly...or maybe he just meant the activity would be
more fun with more people...i'll have to... ask
Brett: Going back to the data
J. A.: yes...
so u wrote "i think we need to re-phrase the question"...any ideas already come to mind as to re-wording it?
Brett: out of 6 respondants not one said they were after 1:1 or a la carte session
Brett: I'd like to see questions with a scale of 1-5 to grade things like importance, or satisfaction etc.
eg. how important is getting the maximum value for money?
Brett: how important is getting 1:1 tuition.
J. A.: that's what i wanted to dooooo...but have yet to figure out a way to do it.
Brett: One thing that has come out of this for me is that I need to ask my students these kinds of questions more often.
I think you can do the poll where only one option is selectable.
Brett: 1. not important at all -- 5. very important

As a tutor my main focus is...

Tutors love a good chin wag as much as the next person, and sometimes it’s a struggle to keep the tutor talk time down. Special topics, hmm… I wonder if this is just another way to say shooting the breeze? Perhaps we need to balance this this poll by asking students what they’d like tutors to focus on?

As a tutor my main focus is...

Brett: Oh yeah, this one shows tutors reporting on their own behaviour in
class. Where it should be balanced with what students percieve about
their tutors as well.
J. A.: alright, last one...
Brett: So the other question might be "what does your tutor focus on in class".
broken down again from 1-5
J. A.: it's like a race, this is
Brett: how much time does your tutor spend on grammar? 1. none - 5 the whole lesson
J. A.: yes...that could be a good question for next time...shall we have a next we want a next time?
Brett: sure we should do a next time, mostly for ideas and the good vibe it generates. Even before the blog post comes out ;)
J. A.: i do agree about a 'balancing graph'
one that actually asks what the heck we tutors are doing in class
Brett: there has to be some kind of accountability
honest feedback is a really valuable thing, because it puts you on the straight and narrow.
J. A.: i used to, and want to get back to writing down 'course of events'
after my online classes...and go back to doing part of the lessons like
i did my very first one's...little grammar point...then, putting into
action in round-robin type mini-skits
people seemed to have liked those
Brett: I've had similar responses when I blog about the stuff that comes up in class, I think you have to be responsive to students.
J. A.:
they felt 'fullfulled' they had accomplished something...and
since they each part was only 1 or 2 words...even the most shy decided
to participate
Brett: That's it, even if they only play a small part, it's something they "own"
J. A.: exactly
Brett: feedback validates the experience
you almost always got to find a way to work that into the lesson/
J. A.: i openly and non-apologetically request that people who dislike
something, or the whole method to send me a message w/ they're
suggestion then see if i change it..._then_ leave feedback...because
that's how i treat people in class and truly believe the class deserves a 2nd chance
Brett: yes that's the only way you can stay responsive to their needs, you gotta listen
J. A.: that would be interesting
alright, mr. editor
Brett: thanks for hanging out.
J. A.: i'm looking forward to the product
my sincere pleasure

Thank you

The Japanese Town Hall I and II were a great success and I would like to thank everyone that turned up, J.A. for co-hosting and contributions, and eduFire for providing a fantastic platform for getting together people who love learning.

Some of the ideas we discussed I'll certainly be incorporating into future class and workshops. I was particularly interested in the possibilities that arise when working with other tutors. If you are interested in co-teaching or other forms of collaborating please get in touch.

There were also plenty of ideas that came up in the session chats that haven't made it into this post. If you were there, and would like a copy of the chat transcripts, let me know through eduFire and I'll get a copy to you.

What ideas do you have for making it more fun to learn a language online?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Guest posting at Caught*Red-handed on the Origin of Hiragana

I'm honoured this morning to be guest posting on the history of written Japanese at Ryan Taylor's blog Caught*Red-handed. His series on Japanese Aesthetics has recently come to a close, and he is now looking for guest bloggers to bring some new perspectives for his readers.

Head over there now, get involved, and comment on my guest post!