Reflection on a video from

CNN recently reported on a video featuring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and quite a few others.  The article included a link to a youtube video wherein several everyday people talk about how they came to learn how to code.  It includes a few celebrities that one would be surprised to learn that they were interested in coding.

I was lucky enough to have access to a coding course when I was in high school.  It was a rather neat experience learning how to do complex things with the computers and write software.  It wasn’t something that I pursued while I was in University, but it is something that I continue to be interested in.

I do feel that with the increasing prevalence of technology, learning how to make it do new and interesting things is going to be an important skill.  I don’t think that everyone should learn how to code, as everyone who is passionate about their field feels that the world would be a better place if everyone knew a bit about their subject. What I do think is important that we teach everyone, is the basic skills of learning and problem solving that can enable them to learn and contribute in whatever walk of life they choose.  Too often you talk to people who have gone through school, and all they have come away with is what they think they don’t have the skills or natural talent to do.

Too often I am told by people that they can’t learn Japanese because they didn’t even do well in English, their native language, in school. This is tragic in my opinion, because doing poorly on some essays and reading comprehension exercises should not equate to being poor at language. Rather what should be taught is the strategies used to to learn how to be a more effective essayist, or how to negotiate meaning from highly symbolic literature. People can then translate these skills over to other areas of their life.

Back to the benefits of teaching kids to code, I definitely think that it could be part of applied learning of math for many kids. I do think kids should at least be introduced to basic coding, so that if they choose to continue the study, they have an informed decision when making that choice. As well I feel courses should be offered at all levels of education for coding so that students can learn about coding more in depth if they chose.  I know once I become more comfortable with coding, I would love to work part-time with a school teaching students how to code.  I do have the credentials to do this, and I think it would be neat if a local school took a chance to teach coding through mobile development.  There are so many resources out there that schools could use to teach Android, iOS and desktop application development.

What do you think?  Do you that every child should at least take a brief section in school on coding?  Do you feel this is where the new sectors of employment are going to be for us in the economies where manufacturing has taken a smaller role?  Let me know what you think in the comments below, tweet me @ctriff, or message me on google+.


What Gets You Out of Bed?

Tokyo First Snow 2013-12There’s the question.  What gets you out of bed each morning?  Perhaps school, work, exercise.  For me it is the thought of possibility for the day.  Yes we all have to work and pay the bills, but ultimately is that the reason we come into this world?

Here is the challenge I want to lay down for myself today: Make the world a little better place than it was yesterday.

My training background is adult education, and for me my belief is that knowledge awakens us to the possibilities that we didn’t know were there.  It is very easy to feel helpless when you don’t think you have alternative choices.  We live in a time where if you have any question, or want to learn anything, the answers are a few short keyboard keys and a click away.

Right now I am working on learning how to program.  Not for any particular reason, other than I feel one should always be learning and picking up new skills.  Moreover I would like to eventually start a series of articles that explains programming concepts in terms that non-technical people can understand and appreciate.  After finishing my goal of living in Japan for a bit, this is my new reason to get out of bed. New challenges, new opportunity.

So what is getting you out of bed today? Embrace of new challenges and opportunities, or routine?  Let me know in the comments below, tweet me @ctriff,

What I Discovered about Japanese Speaking Part 2

ImageYesterday I talked a bit about some of the frustrations language learners can have when learning a language    From finally letting go of trying to understand everything, to ending the worry of not knowing every word before you speak and just speak using a strategy of using simple sentences to describe complex subjects when you don’t know complex vocabulary.

Today I will continue with some more tips.  First one is:

Learn using a task you do every day

The idea behind this is that you have some tasks you need to do everyday without fail.  For me when I was in Japan it was getting up and ordering coffee and breakfast. I got real good at ordering coffee and asking for the specific number of milk and sugars I wanted.  As well I could say I would like the order for take out or eat-in.  The reason why this became easy was it was the same language I needed to use every day, and the Japanese I heard was the same every day.  Which leads me to my second point:

You must practice doing a target task consistently to remember it

If you have to do the same thing all the time, you will become familiar with the words used when doing that thing.  The people speaking to you will use the same general vocabulary, and you will use the same general responses.  This will make you very comfortable speaking the language, and moreover will help solidify the basic grammar and vocabulary for more complex subjects later.  Which brings me to my last point:

Break your learning goals down into smaller tasks

Instead of trying to “learn Japanese” break this down into “learn how to ask and give directions in Japanese”.  If you can modularize your learning, you can break it down into chunks that can be achieved in smaller timeframes.  Moreover when you see positive results from achieving these smaller goals, it will give you more confidence to tackle the next level of difficulty in your study.

This is the same as endurance running.  It is unwise to set out and run a marathon your first run.  Instead to keep committed and motivated most runners learn to run a much shorter distance, and start slowly building up their distance over time. Runners who try to add too much new distance too soon, find themselves out of running with an injury.  This is a perfect metaphor for learning Japanese, or any subject for that matter:

Ramp up the difficulty, but slowly to avoid frustration (or in the case of running, injury)

Any new skill takes time and practice to get good at. It is hard to keep motivated when we measure our ability against the big goal of mastery of the whole subject. Through breaking down the large goal into its smaller component goals, it is easier to focus our time, energy, and motivation into the smaller more immediately achievable tasks. This way it is easier to stay motivated and less frustrated with our progress.

I will have more tips on language learning in this series of posts.  If you have any comments or suggestions on what you have found helpful with learning a language, or any other subject for that matter feel free to leave a comment below or tweet it to me @ctriff on twitter.

What I Discovered about Japanese Speaking

Karaoke bar in Takao, Japan
Karaoke bar in Motohachiojimachi

This post is going to be specific to those who want to learn to communicate using spoken language, and the tips here may not be appropriate for those learning to translate or write formal documents.

Well, I have a confession to make. I’ve always been better at reading Japanese than I have been speaking Japanese. Books and written language are patient. They will let you take your time to consult a dictionary and look up Kanji. Written also doesn’t particularly care if you respond at all to it. But here I was in Japan, being confronted by spoken Japanese, spoken by real people, expecting real responses right now.

It made me nervous. As I mentioned in the previous post, people have a tendency to speak consistently all the time to most people. Us non-native Japanese did not grow up speaking and hearing Japanese, so there are a lot of sounds and colloquialisms that are alien to our ears. Not to mention the heaps of vocabulary that is still unfamiliar to us.

There is also another challenge facing learners. Most course study revolves around the study of books and written tests. Of course there are oral components, but these often make up a smaller ratio of the work done in many courses. When we are in real situations, we may hear a lot of words that our eyes may know, but our ears do not.

So how do we deal with this challenges. Well the first and most important step is this:

It is fine to not understand everything!

Many language learners will get frustrated with their abilities because they want to understand everything they hear. When we don’t, it is easy to feel that it is a futile battle learning a language. But really, it is okay to not understand everything. One of the first phrases you should learn in any language is “I’m sorry could you repeat that?” or “Could you say that again slowly?”. This should be followed by “I don’t understand”.

Next important thing that a language learner needs to come to grips with:

Your language will not be perfect all the time.

This is particularly important for those who have learned in a classroom situation. Yes it is important in some situations to use the correct language, grammar, and politeness. But for the average person, they will be in casual situations, and the people they will be speaking to will not be using that language that was learned in the classroom.

Which leads to my last important point for today:

Stop worrying, just speak

If you think too much about the correct grammar, correct uses of words, etc.. it will increase your anxiety when speaking. Stop worrying about translating what your thinking. The best thing you can learn to do in a foreign language, is get good at describing complex ideas using longer simple sentences. For example if you don’t know a word like “library”, you can instead say “I went to the place with lots of books”. Using this strategy will enable you to take part in far more conversations.

I still have a lot more to say about what I discovered about learning Japanese when I was in Japan, but that will be the subject of future posts.

Feel free to leave a comment below about what you have found helpful when faced with learning a foreign language, and tips you have about overcoming speaking anxiety.

Introduction to arriving in Japan for a mid-to-long term stay

When I arrived in Japan on my working holiday they had just recently changed the procedures for foreign registration in Japan.

As far as I understand, before you had to present yourself to immigration authorities within 90 days of arriving in Japan and apply for a foreign registration card.  Under the new system a new residence card was issued to me right at the airport using the information provided when I did my visa application at the Japanese consulate back home.

Next one needs to register where they are staying at their local town office.  You will need to bring the following items:

  • Your passport
  • Your residence card
  • Proof of your address (usually a lease agreement with the address indicated.)

First find the form for indicating moving in.  If you need help ask one of the attendants who are usually around to help people with form completion.  Be warned that not all offices have English speaking staff on hand.  So use plain but soft English when asking questions.  Phrases like “before address”, “now address”.

I found when someone spoke to me in quick Japanese, the faster and more words they used, the less likely I was to understand. If you can avoid doing this to Japanese people in English, the more likely they will be able to help you.

Next after your form is complete, most offices will give you a number that will be called when you can go up to the counter to have your paperwork processed.  They will take your passport and make a photocopy of it.  Next they will take your residence card and write in the address of where you are staying on the back. They will stamp this with the city seal stamp.

Next you may be offered to join the national health insurance program.  There are some people who report that if you are staying only 6 months you do not qualify.  I was told under a new set of rules I do, so you may or may not be able to register. I booked health insurance from back home before leaving to avoid any headaches.

Lastly I found this publication recently that answered a lot of the questions I had about procedures, and would have been a huge help with the questions I had at the start.  The link is here: . More publications related to immigration and questions about your visa status can be answered on the Immigration Bureau under the Japanese Ministry of Justice’s website found here:

If you have any tips that have made your process in arriving in Japan easier, feel free to share them in the comments below.