One of my students baked some beautiful cookies. She is fan of “Spirited Away,”  千と千尋の神隠し,  Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, “The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro.” Throughout this academic year we have been exchanging our English Log 2.o’s, and she has written at some length about this animation.

Gratitude

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If 80% Of Our Communication Is Self Talk, Then What Do You Say?

It is said (though I have not been able to find empirical corroboration for it) that 80% of our communication is self talk. That means that only 20% of the communication that we engage in is with others.

In Japan, learners are often told to try to use their English language skills with a “foreigner.” This makes the likelihood that they will use their foreign language skills next to 0%.

Let’s assume that the learner lives in Mie Prefecture. Approximately 1% of the population is non-Japanese, and the vast majority of the non-Japanese population uses languages other than English, or is at least not their primary language. So for argument’s sake, let’s say that 10% of the 1% primarily speaks English.

There is evidence that shows that the average person speaks something in the order of 15,000 words each day, and let’s suppose they talk to a random, representative cross-section of the population. If that is the case, then they would speak 150 words to a non-Japanese, and 15 to a speaker of English.

That is a best-case scenario. That would mean that the speaker has the will or necessity to speak English, and chooses to use it.

Are 15 words enough to learn languages? Probably not. Functionally it would be difficult to do anything with 15 words. One could barely order a meal at a restaurant with 15 words.

So what are we to take away from this information? What is the moral of this story?

1. Use our 20% to achieve goals that interest you. Use the language that fits your goals, so that if your goal is to learn English, then use English in communication with the 20%, regardless of their nationality.

2. Use our 80% to achieve goals that interest you, too. In self talk, speak to yourself in English. As yourself questions in English Answer in English.

3. Say nice things to yourself. Elite athletes probably don’t spend much of their 80% berating themselves for how bad they look, or don’t want to train today, or will probably lose anyway.

The Three P’s to Remedy the Plagiarism Problem

Universities have started using software to check prospective students’ application essays for plagiarism. At one institution 55 prospects had their applications rejected because of plagiarism.

Also recently, a German politician was forced to resign in disgrace when it was found that he had plagiarized his graduation thesis.

Using someone else’s words and calling them your own is theft and must be condemned, but what do both of these occurances have in common? School. Current ideas about writing and expression in academia do not empower students be better express themselves, and encourage plagiarism

Plagiarism happens in setting outside of education. When I searched for the the phrase “plagiarism in college” I got 85,700 hits. When I searched for “plagiarism in business” I got 17,200 hits, the top three proclaiming “There is no plagiarism in business.”

My point here is that there is some recognition of the occurance of plagiarism in the business world, but the awareness is not as acute as it is in the world of higher education.

Plagiarism in academic settings can be remedied with 3P’s, Practice, Process, and Publication.

Practice

By practice, I mean that learners can learn to enjy self expression thorugh practice. Many schools use one-off writing assignments to test students’ abilities and focus on deadlines when final products are due.

Students whould learn more and have better opportunities to express themselves and have better opportunities to express themselves if they had practice in putting their thoughts into writing.

Being able to write is useful only in so far as it gives people the opportuinty to express themselves. As another series of hoops for students to jump through, another series of arbitrary rules to obey, it is worthless.

Process

Writing as a process lifts every involved person’s game up to a new level. Ideas are exchanged and examined. Skills are honed. Structure is refined and strengthened.

The focus on writing as a product, in exclusion of the work that has happened before the deadline, cheapens the effort and announces loud and clear, “The end justifies the means.” If grades on a product are all that count, then by any means necessary.

Students aren’t stupid, and they are aware of how the business world works, how it treats a product. In an interview with CEO of Groupon, Andrew Mason, he says, “…with music, we call that plagiarism. But in business it’s called competition.”

Publication

Finally publication, the free exchange of ideas, develops the awareness that their work will be scrutinized, not only by a teacher, but by their peers. Grades must not be part of the scheme, but publication of work, opening it up for appreciation and debate, must be part of the college experience.

The current method of a teacher assigning an essay that will be written without consultation with the educator, to be delivered by a deadline under penalty of failure, and without further consideration after submission is a recipe for stagnation and cutting corners.

Education, beginning in high school, can better prepare learners for a life of meaningful written exchange by employing the 3 P’s. Granted, it will require more time and effort. This is not the quick and easy way, and will require ingenuity when engaging large classes. It is, however, the only way that a college can make the claim that writing is a skill that the institution fosters.

Why Learn Another Language: And why English

Every new school year, which begins in April here, I reconsider my reason for being as an English teacher in an institution where every first year student must take the class. What explanation should I give for this university’s insistence on the importance of learning the language? What is in it for my students, and how can I add value to their lives?

As years pass, information falls through my mind that reinforms my decisions about how to organize what I offer.  This year, the most significant bit of information that is influencing my thinking on these issues is Dunbar’s Number.

Robin Dunbar is an anthropologist at the University College of London who theorizes that

“this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”

He suggests that this size is somewhere around 150 people.

I am less interested in the specifics of this group size than I am in the evolution of the human species. The evolution of the species Homo sapien was predated by and coexistent with Homo neaderthalensis. The Neanderthals were larger, stronger, and their craniums actually contained more brain space. How did they differ? Group size.

Paleoanthropologists suggest that Neanderthal group size was around 10 to 15 including children. It is thought that Neanderthals interacted with other groups infrequently, and developed slowly. If the Homo sapien group size was larger, then we can suggest that somehow, greater interaction may have led to more rapid development, and greater success as a species.

It appears that there is a positive correlation between connectedness within a group and success. As connectedness grows, or as Terence McKenna would call it, noveltydefined as increase over time in the universe‘s interconnectedness, or organized complexity, humanity succeeds. Language is essential for the success of the species as well as individuals. 

Foreign Languages, Alien Languages

I am a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. That means that I teach the English language to people who are learning in a place where English is not the primary language of everyday interaction.

Remember that where I live, in Japan, the word foreign is translated as alien when it comes to people. The words foreign language in English are most frequently translated as “gaikokugo” “外国語” or outside country language as a direct translation of the Chinese characters. Remember also that gaikokujin is translated as alien.

This may seem like I am stretching an idea to it’s breaking point, but here is my conclusion up front. My students are traumatized in school by English. It is sold to them as a thing so far from their own natures as to be feared or reviled.

The alien language concept is a disservice to humankind. It is a construct of masculine, reductionist science, with it’s agenda of distinguishing discrete forms as one method of control.

English, and all other languages are only foreign because they evolved in slightly different ways as humanity spread out across the globe from it’s origins somewhere around 100,000 years ago according to Noam Chomsky’s theories.

New words are formed or borrowed by all living languages, and languages become extinct as the last native speakers of the language die off.

Written languages came after spoken languages, because writing is one step further along the route of abstraction. People decided that if they could somehow record stories in a more perminant form, it would be helpful, so the someone came up with the idea of a set of symbols that would represent the sound of spoken words, or ideas in the case of pictographic syllabaries.

Language is a Psychokinetic, Telepathic Act

Language is evidence that psychokinesis and telepathy exist and that most humans posses the ability. First the mind conceives of an idea that the thinker wants to transmit. The thinker then uses psychokinesis to move muscles in the body in order to control breath and muscles in order to make sounds that the listener, the receiver, can collect in order to translate them into meaning in their minds.

It not only transmits meaning, but emotion and feeling that causes those who understand to manifest physical reactions, the production of saliva when told about food, tears when told about loss, increased blood flow when told about sexuality, and physical flight when told about danger.

This was also found to work with symbols, so instead of creating sound, marks were made on a physical object that would carry and transmit ideas into the mind of the beholder, soliciting the same range of feelings and physical reactions as speech.

Another way humans communicate with each other is through body language, the ultimate manifestation of this being signing, usually used by people who would find it difficult to translate sounds into meaning. And with this kind of communication, there is often less information transmitted intentionally than with verbal or written communication forms. The movement of the extremities, the angle and distance of the speaker to the listener, and facial expressions often communicate truth more clearly than words or symbols.

So What Would a Truly Alien Language Look Like?

There is a branch of linguistics called xenolinguistics, exolinguistics, or astrolinguistics where scholars knock this question about. Since these branches of linguistics are hypothetical, there is no way to tell for sure, but let’s think about methods for communication that exist on earth that we have yet to understand.

Cetaceans use clicks, whistles, pops, groans and moans to communicate with each other possibly as far away as the other side of the planet. Insects use pheromones to communicate ideas like, “I am a baby, feed me,” or direction. The bodies of squids change texture and exhibit moving colors to communicate with their own and other species. Up to 90% of ocean creatures are bioluminescent, and probably use that ability to communicate a variety of messages.

Humans on earth developed syllabaries up to 8 thousand years ago that remain undeciphered even now, like Jiahu symbols or or Banpo symbols.

There are indeed truly alien languages around us, unrecognized, and uninterpreted. There is no reason for governments to manipulate human languages to make them artificially difficult.

Induction into the power and mystery of language is what we should aim for, not the creation of artificial difficulties.

Alien Mind, Beginner’s Mind

“Men in Black” came out in 1997. I was in Kumamoto, Japan then, and I took my son to see it.

The premise of the movie was that the main characters were immigration and naturalization officers of the intergalactic kind. They monitored the activities of beings who were visiting earth from outside the planet. Those beings though, were difficult for the average terrestrial to identify, because they looked and behaved the same as Earth people.

One scene in the film showed a large board with the faces of Sylvester Stallone and other well known individuals who were aliens living on earth. Other aliens were clerks at the corner store and other common folk.

My son was quite young then, probably in first grade, and after the film was over, I told him that I was an alien. He didn’t believe me, so I took out my alien registration card, the one my hosts so generously provided me with, and showed him where it said “alien registration.” He stared at me slack-jawed. It was so funny I laughed and told him that I was not really and alien, and that the word can have more meanings than just an extraterrestrial.

In the years immediately following my arrival in Japan in 1986, I was constantly made aware of my alienness. I was present in this country because of it. My alienness was a business, or at least part of one, where the owners used me to encourage people to learn English as a foreign language.

I moved on to a university which also used my foreignness, but this time as a form of credential with the national Education Ministry. Students could care less who their teachers were. I also found later that they had used my alienness as way to make financial savings by paying me less than my colleagues who were, by their standards, not aliens.

My alienness is no longer an issue for me, though it is for those around me, because I know I am excellent at what I do. My profession is not my alienness, though it had been for some time.

There was a time when I struggled to be as terrestrial as those who had legitimate claims to the title. I studied Japanese, learned what passes as “Japanese culture,” and fought in the streets and in the courts to have my alienness not matter. That struggle failed.

I am an alien, and as such, the system can treat me as it wishes.

So what was I to do about that? Return to a place where I was not an alien? Fly back to my home world? Very uninteresting and not helpful in the least. I complained to my father once in a phone call that “I didn’t fit in here.” His reply jerked the view finder to reveal the accurate perspective. “Well, you don’t fit in here, either.”

I could no more be “like” Japanese people than I could be “like” American people. We can no more be “like” someone who we are not than we can be anyone else. Possessing a common nationality does not make us any more like or unlike someone than do our names.

With that new perspective in mind, what was I to do? It gave me a new place to look more rationally on my circumstances. I could look at where I might want to be and consider it as a possible next destination. As it turned out, I decided that I and my small family were right where we should be.

The bigger question this raises then is, so what do we know? What do we know about where we are, and does that knowledge make us any more than aliens?

I don’t think so.

I remember what it is like to be a terrestrial, to know that I was not an alien. I knew all the roads, all the seasons, much about the woods. I knew the guys who hung out in front of the stores downtown and their personal ticks. I knew where to get good cheesecake and a joint if I wanted it.

My alien registration card even has that place’s name written on it, as it does other irrelevant information like my place of birth. Those places are no more relevant to my life now than the places my parents inhabited when they were teens.

And even though I have resided in the area that I presently do, am I a local? Hardly. People still ask me if I have eaten sushi or if I eat natto based on my race, my appearance, my skin color, facial features, and blue eyes. I am most happy that they do not try to kill me in reaction to my physical features.

What does a local here know? Any number of people, where to find food, water, where to go to get laid, and how to get from point A to point B. I know those things and infinitely more, but I do not now, nor will I ever know enough.

That’s what it’s all about though, isn’t it, the plots to movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It’s about what we don’t know. The people who live just meters away from us could just be not like us. Of course they aren’t like us, but I mean really not like us.

I used to listen to my parents talk as I lay awake in bed, and imagine that the language they were speaking was not of this Earth. It was easy to do. Easy to make up the story that they weren’t really my parents. I have been afraid of aliens for some time. Little knowing that, as it always turns out, we are what we most fear.

We don’t know anything, really. We tell ourselves that we do, that we know the sun will come up tomorrow, that the letter carrier will come around 4:30, that milk is good for us, but we know nothing.

And in that nothingness comes our liberation.

When I lived in Kumamoto, I became interested in Buddhism. I read widely, visited a temple some miles away frequently, and even dabbled in the organized religion. That experiment sent me spinning away from Buddhism like a top that strikes an obstacle.

However, as time moves on, my ideas about alienness overlap with the teachings of Buddhism, especially with the teachings of Shynryu Suzuki as presented in the small book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  In it, Suzuki Roshi talks about “beginner’s mind,” or “shoshin” “初心” in Japanese.

The essence of the concept is that, though we practice something or just go about our lives day to day, it is a good thing to live or practice as if this was our first day, or first practice. Without preconceptions, without knowing, without believing.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.”

My alien mind is the same. I know nothing, because I can know nothing. My mind is open, because I don’t have the dualistic expectation that there is someplace that I do know but I am just in a place that I do not know at this moment. How could that be true?

I also think that the terrestrial mind is the wellspring of territorial conflict. “This is mine. I am a native of this place. I have always been here, and so have my ancestors, which makes all others aliens. This gives me legitimate claim to this place.”

Another version of this conflict happens in Japan when the Japanese wish to claim something as their own by right of origin, but also want people to desire it. For example, sushi. Japan sends their sushi police out around the world to try and maintain the purity of sushi.  Sorry, it now belongs to the world and is no longer under Japanese purvey.

My conclusion is that, though I have struggled to be terrestrial, to try and lay claim to my right to belongingness by squirreling away knowledge as a kind of currency with which to buy my way in, I have failed in an endeavor that was mistaken from the start. I belong here as much as I do anywhere simply by my presence. So do you.

Live long and prosper.
http://universalgaijin.podomatic.com/embed/frame/posting/2012-05-12T02_27_01-07_00?json_url=http%3A%2F%2Funiversalgaijin.podomatic.com%2Fentry%2Fembed_params%2F2012-05-12T02_27_01-07_00%3Fcolor%3D43bee7%26autoPlay%3Dfalse%26width%3D440%26height%3D85%26objembed%3D0

Universal Gaijin

Gaijin, a Japanese word, means outside person if the kanji (外人)are translated literally. This term only applies to people, not corporations as much as they would like to be people in that kind of Pinocchio “I’m a real boy” kind of way.

It also does not refer to life forms that come from beyond the borders of our atmosphere. The term only applies to homo sapiens who reside within the recognized borders of the nation called Japan who were not branded with the Japanese label at birth, or who have not appealed to government bureaucracies in order to be so branded later in life.

Gaijin is actually a shortened form of the word Gaikokujin.(外国人) This word refers to country or nation with the added koku character in the middle, and would be outside country person. However, when translated by the Justice Ministry of the Japanese government, one word is used, Alien.

I am an officially registered alien by the Japanese government. I carry a registration card which says that I am required to carry it “in person at all times.” I am not required to wear special clothing or mark myself in any way, but my physical appearance is enough to suggest my alienness.

My appearance is enough to cause clerks in shops to run away, to sufficiently confer a feeling of entitlement on the parts of some people to ask me for language lessons or to inquire if I know of others of my kind who may be willing to teach a language.

It sis also sufficient to attract the interests of police officers who may ask if the bicycle I am riding is my own, or if they could examining documents that would confirm the obvious reality that I am an alien.

The creation of nation states is a method to protect the wealth and power of a few. This necessitates the creation of borders that slow the flow of goods inward. This allows the powerful to impose taxes on the inbound people and goods. The powerful claim that borders are essential for the protection of the residents’ safety, and higher prices as a result of imposed taxes is claimed to be in the interest of public safety.

Borders are an excuse to erect physical or imaginary barriers, to impose taxes, and raise armies. They are in fact meaningless conveniences for a hegemony.

Those borders are meaningless in nature. They cannot restrict the flow of energy, plants, animals, human waste, weather, or time. In fact, they cannot even restrict the flow of the people and goods that they are intended to control.

I am an alien, and I recommend it as a lifestyle. The life of a terrestrial is a schizophrenic existence, where distinctions of inside or outside (内/外)us or them (内/他人)past/present/future, knowledge/ignorance, or legal/illegal haunt the residents.

The alien has no reason to consider these dualities. They have no bearing on our lives.

In Japan alienation is also closely associated with racism, in fact, most Japanese people do not make a distinction, assuming that a person of a race other than Asian is an alien. This assumption is often faulty, as people of any race can obtain Japanese citizenship, and not all Asians obtain Japanese citizenship.

This podcast is dedicated to the examination for Alienness and Aliens, especially those living in Japan.
http://universalgaijin.podomatic.com/embed/frame/posting/2012-05-03T06_27_09-07_00?json_url=http%3A%2F%2Funiversalgaijin.podomatic.com%2Fentry%2Fembed_params%2F2012-05-03T06_27_09-07_00%3Fcolor%3D43bee7%26autoPlay%3Dfalse%26width%3D440%26height%3D85%26objembed%3D0