Mental Play

I sort of touched a subject line of this when talking about creative visualization and some mini games when you’re ill. Sometimes Mental Play is a lot of hard work, and sometimes its just Play. The actual term of “Mental Play”, at least that I  know of, was coined by an intelligent piano player that wanted to share his practicing skills with the world. This of course wasn’t invented by him, nor anyone out there because people have been doing it naturally sometimes for centuries. In his book, and online book (also available in Japanese yo!) called Fundamentals of Piano Practice, Chuan C. Chang talks about a method for practicing piano that doesn’t even involve setting ones fingers on the instrument, but how it will make all the difference in a good and bad player. that method is Mental Play.

So what is it?

His official spewed term is merely “Playing in your mind (mental play – MP), without the piano, is our ultimate memory goal, using keyboard memory as a stepping stone.” It’s simply that, with extreme detail, playing the piano in your head without playing it in real life. So basically you picture yourself at the keyboard, looking at the music, pressing keys and petals, even breathing and what not. That’s it, plain and simple.

This guy really has a good thing going, as he describes that this method is used by master players, regardless of age, to help obtain long-lasting memory and better play. So how can we put that to Japanese? Well, I think we should talk about one other feeling the author has before moving onto how to apply it to Japanese.

Practice isn’t just practice, It really should be called Performing.

Chuan C. Chang says a little later in his book that students often could practice just fine a technique, but as soon as someone was listening they would choke up, often because they separated musicality with technique training.“If students are taught to practice musically all the time, this type of problem will not even exist; performing and practice are one and the same.”

How these two concepts apply so easily to Japanese.

Often enough when people are studying Japanese they only study words. They learn thousands up thousands of words. Then they decide to study a ton and ton of different grammar rules, and then ever so unhappily try to “make” sentences and get slapped for a lot of wrong ones, try to relearn them correctly and thus ultimately over a long period of trial and error, start to create sentences that make sense and can be understood. Sadly though, they often completely choke up in real conversations because they’re only use to touching the language with study materials.

This problem can ultimately be solved by applying the two techniques together. The second technique comes into play first.

Step away from detached studying.

Who cares if you can recite thousands of words if you cannot put them into sentences with the beautiful flow of the natural rhythm of Japanese? Speaking a language is a lot like playing music. As a musician and a language enthusiast, I feel this is true on so many levels. When you listen to native Japanese, you can feel the rhythm. There are lots of varieties and styles and timbers and accents, but they’re easily distinguishable as a horn is to a flute.And just like with music, exposure to the real deal is the only way in learning.

There are multiple ways to stop detaching your studying. The first of course is to only study from natural sources, ie. media, natives themselves, and to study in flowing sentences rather than chopping things apart into words. AJATT is a popular advocate of this reasoning, among hundreds out there. Some more advocates are those who simply learn through immersion only (ie Rosetta type programs) with no stepping-stones, even Heisig is avoided. And some, like, embrace this concept by adding in native audio and sentences to the words you’re trying to learn.

Read to learn, not learn then read.

Another major problem people do to divorce themselves from using the language by forcing too much information into the front of their mind before allowing themselves to read, or looking things up too much while reading. I know that not everyone studying a language can obtain child like books for an Extensive Reading type mentality, but it really is the best. There are tons of translated children’s stories out there that are free and available to the searchers. I’ll touch  more on Extensive Reading later, as it’s a huge side trip :D. If you wait until you can understand every word to read, and wait until you’ve studied hundreds of grammar points, you’re frankly working your brain more than necessary, wasting a bunch of time, and denying the chance for your brain to work out connections in the language that will solidify the language more (in its native form). It’ll also cause the huge problem of translations. So much overworking and in correct translation issues at that.

English to Japanese to Japanese to English

It is common for those who studying with detachment to have issues with brain static while trying to finally speak to a native. Imagine this, everything you’ve studied has been English to Japanese or Japanese to English. So when someone goes, “元気ですか?” Your brain goes, okay, 元気 is spirited/well and ですか is are you/is it, whatever, so they’re asking me, am i spirited/well, okay i want to say I’m doing amazingly great…yeah that’s, ”元気” for good and ”大よ” so um, okay “元気大よ!” That’s a lot of crap your brain does. I hear people complain about this all the time, how they get just blind sided by all the mental chatter when they’re speaking to someone. Imagine they’re actually saying crazy sentences in full-fledged fast woman talk eh? That’s what happens when all you do is practice with English-Japanese, and not practicing as if you’re performing (ie. pure Japanese monolingual).

Wait, so what the heck about mental play foo?!

Okay, so I know it sounds like I got distracted, but I promise I was just leading up to this golden Goldie. Once you understand that you can’t honestly expect yourself to become a master at Japanese if you detach your studying from native material, and just practicing without the idea that someone is listening, that you’re performing for someone always, adding in the native inflections and movement, then using Mental Play is the way to go about it.

I play so hard its Mental!

Language originates from the mind. It’s not like gas, where it just comes and goes as it wants when you eat excess fiber. So to recap, Mental Play is speaking/reading/writing/listening only in Japanese in your mind [without a language partner or using your mouth]. Applying this is really easy.

Your Own Mental Dialogue

You can start by replacing your mental dialogue to yourself with Japanese. For instance, I’m sure you all talk to yourself in your head. You think things like, “dang its hot as balls or “man she looks fat in that dress but if I tell her the truth she’ll probably dump me” or even “yum”. Replace this mental chit-chat with Japanese equivalents. This is a huge step in getting that language around you without ever opening your mouth. You’re also eradicating English. Don’t think in English then into Japanese, just feel that heat and go “あついね!”

Imaginary Friend

I shall deter you to this article, as I hate to just repeat myself over again and it covers lots of Mental Play games for Japanese. But for the sake of the lazy, simply pretend you’re holding a conversation with someone, speak for both sides even, either way, don’t use English, try to keep it completely in Japanese, including your mental chitchat.

Write What You’re Saying, Then Read it Aloud in Your Mind

You could do this physically, but the whole point of mental play, is to do it in your mind. So as you are talking in your head, write the kanji, write the kana, write it out. Literally pretend to hold that pencil/pen in detail, the weight, the pressure, and the way the hand moves when writing. Detail is your best friend. Its worth more than 100xs written on the fly for real. Then look at your work, what you just wrote out, and read it in your mind. Simple but powerful.

I Hear Fake People!

This is probably going to be the hardest of the senses for people to do. There are those of us out there who can hear in detail music and speakers and what not that we’ve listened to. In fact, I use it a lot when performing my music without the other people around me. It’s why I kick ass in a capella and karaoke. The same can be applied to Japanese. When you hear a Japanese singer or listen to native speakers, if you can use your memory to hear them speaking to you, it will help you out tons in terms of language study. While it may be the most challenging thing you do, it certainly will make a huge difference if you can recall the inflections and flow that natives use.

Well my friends, that sums up my article now, so I hope that this was useful to you. And as a side note, I was absolutely thrilled when AJATT posted Chang’s site in his twitter feed. I’ve been reading and following Chang’s book for a while, and have been actively applying certain concepts to the language learning business. I didnt’ think to share it though, simply because of its intense musical wordage.

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  • Read More or Die! 2011

    _2011 End Results_
    Total read for Tadoku:
    __433.3 pages!__
    Placement: 115/188
    October 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 97/120
    End Tally: 59.2
    July 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 86/142
    End Tally: 195.6
    April 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 62/106
    End Tally: 154.5
    January 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 84/99
    End Tally: 24
    August 2010 Contest:
    Placement: 20/41
    End Tally: 160

  • Read Or Die 2013

    Goal: 600
    Total: 906.26
    blew my goal outta the water!

    March 2-Week:
    Goal: 125

    Goal: 250
    Total: 314

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