Should it have been called ‘Brexit’?

As someone who works with words and like words I am always scrutinising it wherever I look. So I was curious as to why the referendum in the United Kingdom for whether to stay in the European Union or not was christened as Brexit, a portmanteau for ‘British Exit’ even before the vote had gone ahead. Does not the name assume that the outcome will be an exit? 

Think half empty/half full

Would the outcome have been to stay if the name bandied around was Bremain instead of Brexit?

Names, whether official or not, are important. They can change the perception of the object for not only individuals but entire societies as well. After all, language is a shared event. We used it to communicate firstly, and secondly, to consolidate our thoughts. So a term like Brexit with its posit-ive (as opposed to negat-ion) connotations will likely influence how one leans and then ultimately how one votes. 

A quick introduction to Japanese syntax and particles

The Japanese language is considered syntactically a Subject-Object-Verb or SOV language in contrast to English which is considered a subject-Verb-Object or SVO language, as these two example sentences will show.

(1) Ken wa (S) tama wo (O) uchimashita (V).
(2) Ken (S) hit (V) the ball (O).

While it is not possible to move the syntactical elements around in English without a changing its meaning, it is possible in Japanese. Why this is so is due partly to particles (助詞). Particles mark the syntactic role of the word or phrase before it. By doing so this means the entire phrase including the particle can move to any other position within a sentence without losing its marked role.

The ‘wa’ and ‘wo’ in (1) are particles.

The English syntactic elements, however, are not marked whatsoever by particles (particles do not exist in English) and only show their syntactic distinction to other elements within the sentence unit by its relative position to each other. The sentence is therefore the unit. The rearranged syntactic units of (3) below in contrast to (2) has a now a completely different meaning because of the changed positions of the subject (S) and object (O).

(3) The ball (S) hit (V) Ken (O).

So Japanese is considered an SOV language because most often the elements follow this order and not because it is fixed by its position like English. But English learners of Japanese can safely assume this structure for learning purposes.

文法用語の最低限語彙

私の考え方では文法用語は大事なのに十分教えていると思わない。または教えてもただ日本語訳だけ与える。それは教えていると言えない。

全て知るも必要ではない。幾つかの役に立つ用語だけで良いと思う。どれが役に立つだろう?そして幾つの用語が必要だろう?私にとってはたったの13だけで十分と思う。二種類で一つの種類は8、もう一つの種類は5。これです。一種類目は

  • 名詞
  • 動詞
  • 形容詞
  • 副詞
  • 代名詞
  • 冠詞
  • 前置詞
  • 接続詞

と二種類目

  • 主語
  • 動詞
  • 補語
  • 目的語
  • 副詞句

気づいてほしいのは【動詞】が両方の種類に入っていること。その理由は用語では動詞少なくても二つの意味がある。なぜこういう風に種類を二つに分ければとわかってたら動詞の二つの意味も覚えるだろう。

一つ目の種類は「語彙の変化仕方」タイプと考えれば良いだ。もう一つの種類は「文の中の役割」タイプと考えれば良いだ。

語彙を辞書に引くと一つ目の用語しか出てこない。なぜかというと名詞は主語のところでも、目的語のところでも(文の中の役割関係なく)同じ名詞のだ。このワンポイント覚えておきましょう。

Assistant Language Teachers in Japan getting the raw end of the deal

Being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan used to be a prestigious job. It was government funded with high infrastructure and support. But since the mid-2000s the government had started to source for teachers from the private sector.

During its heyday an ALT would earn a minimum 300,000 yen (USD2,639 as of writing) as the basic minimum wage. Somewhere along the way the government had discovered that it was cheaper to outsource and that people were willing to work even at this low salary.

But what happened then is that the quality of the teachers employed dropped dramatically, leaving schools to pick from a smaller and below average pool. ALTs were from the beginning not good anyway, as they were never qualified to be teachers in the first place. A bachelor’s degree is all you need. In this sense, then, the salary reflects this. I do not think some ALTs are worth the original pay minimum because they were not qualified to even be assistants. Their area of study was not that of English. What qualified them was that they were native speakers and nothing else. Most had zero training and even if they have an interest in the English language their competence is not that high.

Below is a video which explains just how much an ALT can have on a months salary at the current pay level. I feel for them on this one.

Periscope Tip: scope length

I had a great blab with Masashi (@soycamino), Keizo (@kanji_k) and Dave (@DaveinOsaka) yesterday. It was my first time to Blab. It is not as fun as Periscope but then again Blab is for a different purpose altogether. 

One thing I had learned from Dave in the short short time that he was there was that we should judge how long to scope for by the content variety within what we want to show. The more variety the longer you can or should scope. Content could be many things. It could have visual content, verbal content or both. This means you should probably not scope if you have neither visual nor verbal content, unless of course you are out to torture and drive away viewers. 

The single keyword, ‘variety’, made complete sense and seems obvious now but it is not always obvious when you are too busy scoping. 

Periscope, speech and writing

If Saussure and Derrida were alive today they would have loved Periscope (well, maybe not). 

Perhaps currently the most significant live broadcast service Periscope brings interaction to video by combining live streaming with (not so) old-fashion text chat. This is why it made sense for Twitter to invest in Periscope. 

By separating (or rather merging) the medium of speech and writing Periscope was able to solve the problem of authorial voice. Scopers speak. Viewers type. It is such an elegant and simple solution. Skype had tried but was not able to resolve this conundrum with their effort more than ten years ago. Everybody spoke and nobody was heard. Now everybody communicates through two clearly defined mediums and all are happy. 

Well done Periscope. 

Periscope as a teaching tool

What is Periscope?
Periscope is a live broadcast service that combines the best of video and instant messaging. The “scoper” or presenter broadcasts live while the viewers instant message the scoper and other viewers. It is like Skype except only only one person is on screen. And It is like a instant messaging chatroom while everyone is watching the same thing or person. It is also like everyone can now have their own live television channel with a Twitter feed on screen (so you can see why Twitter purchased it).

What is different about Periscope?
Periscope’s format is different in three ways to similar services or what had been attempted before. Firstly, open skype-style chatrooms (which Skype did try once and failed dismally) would make it impossible to tell who is talking and who the main speaker is. It would be (or was) like a cacophony of yelling voices at a cocktail party with no one as host. Secondly, live video allows scopers to interact immediately with viewers and other viewers as well, which video blogging on YouTube does not. This is done without distraction to the scoper by separating video and instant messaging between scoper and viewer. Lastly, Everything is instant. Video blogging is instant. Interaction with viewers is instant. Viewer reactions are instant. Gratification for both scoper and viewer are instant. And once you have your gratification you can move on and do other things. It is truly taking the best of all worlds of Skype, YouTube, chat and vlogging.

What is the potential of Periscope for teaching?
Given its instant nature, scoper/viewer interactiveness and visualness it has great potential as a teaching tool. I could do a live class where other students can join in and ask questions. There is no waiting between question and feedback. And as I said earlier it is like having one’s own television channel with a live twitter feed going at once. The videos then can be saved and even uploaded by you to YouTube or others to katch.me.

Essential Teaching iOS Apps on the iPad and iPhone (2016) 

Another productive year has passed by. This year is the first year for me to work with the iPad Mini 3 and iPhone 6S. Most of the apps are not new, meaning many are tried and tested apps.

By far my most used app for teaching is GoodNotes. The reason for this is that it is not only a PDF markup application but also a projection tool. Because all my textbooks and handouts are either scanned as digital copies or saved as digital-to-digital PDFs. So, as PDFs I can markup the pages we are working on, or can use blank pages as a saved digital whiteboard. GoodNotes hides all the editing tools (or user interface) on screen from the viewer (they only show up on the iPad screen) so that students can concentrate on the content rather than my activity.

GoodNotes also works best with a stylus. For me I have used the Jot Touch and Jot Dash both manufactured by Adonit. My pen of choice now is the Jot Dash which is a semi capacitive pen that does not require Bluetooth pairing (unlike the Jot Touch). This keeps the teaching smooth and flowing. The only feature I dearly miss is the undo and redo buttons. But once one gets used to this and works on-screen one will not even notice it is missing.

Plickers, an app I discovered through a friend this year, is a real-time survey app which works with an accompanying site. One sets up classes and questions on the website then accesses them and do live surveys with QR Code-like cards which individual students are given beforehand. The advantage of this system is fourfold. Firstly, it allows the teacher to quickly and accurately check the students’ understanding of a question in real-time. All answers are recorded and can be reviewed later. Secondly, it allows for anonymity because each student’s answer is not apparent to other students, unlike the traditional hands-up check where some students can be embarrassed by being the only ones answering incorrectly. No such problem exist with Plickers where answers are between the teacher and each student only. Thirdly, any kind of discrepency can be dealt with immediately rather than having to check through, for example, submitted mini-tests which then need to be corrected and collated by the teacher. All this can be done in real-time with Plickers for teachers to determine what course of action is necessary.

Sometimes teachers want to show clean typed notes on-screen quickly. At present there are no apps which are designed for this task. The closest workaround is Notability. Notability is a note-taking app for classroom and the office. It is designed for typing more than handwriting though it can handle both input methods superbly. The ability to pinch-zoom means the text can be adjusted easily for the screen. However, unlike GoodNotes, Notability does not hide the interface. It is rather unprofessional in presentation but because there are not alternative apps for now it is the best workaround.

Finally, I would like to mention Slow Fast Slow (SFS), a video/audio manipulation app which can be used for pronunciation modelling (phonology). As the name suggests you can speed up and slow down a video recording. While many other similar apps which allow you to slow down videos it distorts the sounds as well. SFS allows you to keep the slowed down edited recording at the original pitch as well, meaning the sound pronunciation can be kept as close to natural pitch as possible. Trimming (and isolation) is also possible so that only the target sound can be looped infinitely.

Other apps which I had found useful for the classroom are

  1. Keynote
  2. Skitch
  3. Scanbot
  4. Voice Memos
  5. Scansnap
  6. Epson iPrint

I hope 2016 will be a more productive year for you.

The new LibraryThing iOS app review

App Name: LibraryThing
Related Website: http://www.librarything.com
Version reviewed: 1.0.1
Price: Free

Release Date: 19 October 2015

Introduction
LibraryThing this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary as an online service. It is a book cataloging service for creating database of your books as well as connecting you to other people with similar reading interests. This is its first iOS app for its cataloging service (it has produced other apps not related to its original function).

As of writing it has nearly 2 million members whom have cataloged over 100 million books.

Design
The app has a three-tab layout, a Home, Your Catalog and Add to Catalog tabs. The Home tab brings up five icons, a Your Catalog, Add to Catalog, Cover Explorer, News and Account icon. The Your Catalog and Add to Catalog icons lead to the other two tabs. So essentially there are three new functions in this tab.

The Cover Explorer brings up a list of groupings of covers related to your books. The groups include Amazon Covers, Low and High Quality Members Covers. The News icon brings up a list of news about LibraryThing ordered by date. The Account icon brings up information about the login, settings for your choice of cover upload size and app version information.

The Your Catalog tab gives you a list of collections you can tap to view. This can either be a list or cover view. In the cover view you can further tap the cover to view the book details.

The Add to Catalog tab shows you your recently added books and allows you to add books by input search or camera barcode scan.

Usability (Simplicity)
The app is highly usable in that the three tab layout is easy to understand although the repeat of Your Catalog and Add to Catalog icons in the Home tab is redundant. I am guessing they were included because of the lack of content in this tab. Inclusion however does not harm its usability.

Usability (Usefulness)
Rather than being a book catalog viewer only the app can act as an input device. This was not available as an option for smartphones until now so it is welcome and perhaps long overdue. The ability to scan barcodes make this app highly usable.

Conclusion
Ten years ago when LibraryThing first came into being smartphones were almost non-existent. The website had not been designed with smartphone technology in mind. The timing therefore meant that sites which came into existence later had a head start to smartphone applicability (BookBuddy was ahead of its time with barcode scanning). This had meant that until now only desktop input was possible. With the bulk input disabled sometime after its launch this had meant that inputting books was a difficult and tedious task. With this new app LibraryThing may just have rejuvenated itself as a player in this day and age of smartphone dominance.

Pros

  • Simple easy-to-navigate design
  • barcode scan enabled

Cons

  • No groups and talk access
  • No iPad version available

(Rating: 4 out of 5)

Mental processing speed has gene link

A recent study has found that the gene CADM2 affects people’s ability to process information in later age. In other words some people are naturally born to be quick thinkers. This idea potentially has implications on learning and why some people are slower at the task. 

In my opinion both nature and nurture are mechanisms necessary for survival and evolution and that what we start with (the nature) is important but it is not as important as what we try to do with it (nurture).