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Japanese - what the texbooks don't tell you - the movie!

#1
I hope no one minds my popping in an announcement for our new YouTube channel.

We are starting it off with course of short classes on Japanese grammar, essentially covering the kind of ground covered in my book Unlocking Japanese.

As a lot of people already know, I consider this very important because there is such a lot the textbooks don't tell about how Japanese really works, and that leaves the impression of a lot of random rules that just have to be memorized when the reality is a very coherent and regular structure that isn't all that difficult to learn.

It always seems to me that the textbooks give people what appear to be a lot of random fish without teaching them how to fish. It starts at the beginner level, but sows misconceptions that often last well into intermediate.

Anyway, if you're interested I'd be very happy if you would check out our new channel - if you don't mind a rather two-dimensional character (笑) There are only a few lessons so far but it is currently proceeding as a weekly course of instruction.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkdmU8h...LghTVtKltQ

Just to be clear, I am not hating on textbooks. They do a great job as far as they go.

Also I am not teaching Japanese grammar from scratch. I am trying to fill some of the gaps left by the conventional textbook approach.
Edited: 2017-05-19, 3:30 pm
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#2
It's nice to know about this, I've seen your website and I registered to your forums, although I couldn't participate much because my level of Japanese is not enough yet, I think you have some interesting ideas about learning Japanese and I'm looking forward to what you have to teach about the language. I'll subscribe.

I had to come here immediately after watching your ga/wa videos to say that they're amazing and that I think that every learner of Japanese, beginner or advanced should watch them!
Edited: 2017-05-19, 4:13 pm
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#3
I watched a bit of the youtube video...I found it a bit difficult to understand what the cartoon character is saying.  Is it a computer generated voice?  Maybe you could lower the pitch a bit.
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JapanesePod101
#4
I watched the first video. The content was good. But the execution was poor. I'm guessing it takes a lot of effort to generate both the computer image and the computer voice. Well, ditch it and put a human person there who can speak to a camera, the execution will be much better. So far it's been quite annoying for me. My honest opinion. A shame because the explanation and the content as I said was great.
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#5
Good stuff, but as usual, your character gets in the way.
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#6
Voice is a bit difficult for me too. I wasn't sure if it was a real voice or not though. Sounds... Indian maybe? At the least, it should have captions. The automatically generated captions are quite good for the most part but they still have fun stuff like  "particles are the kill room that holds Japanese together" Smile
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#7
It seems a nice initiative. I'll try to look into it Wink.
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#8
I personally can't get past the character. I agreed with KameDemaK, regarding this.
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#9
I prefer videos that use real live people.  Easier to hear/understand what they're saying.  E.g., here's a good one....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3igbv0KZFI

(I just noticed that the guy has those creepy earing things some men wear).
Edited: 2017-05-20, 9:50 am
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#10
Thank you all for your appreciation of the content. I am sorry the character seems to be causing problems. A real transcript might be a good idea.

Not quite sure how they work. I wonder if you have to time them. I wonder if it is possible to extract the automatically generated one and correct it. Does anyone know?

"Kill room" there was "glue". That's a really strange one.

Ninkendo-san, you say "as usual" my character gets in the way. Meaning.... when I write too my character is a problem? Oh dear, maybe I shouldn't ask!
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#11
(2017-05-20, 11:46 am)CureDolly Wrote: Thank you all for your appreciation of the content. I am sorry the character seems to be causing problems. A real transcript might be a good idea.

Not quite sure how they work. I wonder if you have to time them. I wonder if it is possible to extract the automatically generated one and correct it. Does anyone know?

"Kill room" there was "glue". That's a really strange one.

Ninkendo-san, you say "as usual" my character gets in the way. Meaning.... when I write too my character is a problem? Oh dear, maybe I shouldn't ask!

To download the subtitles use a service like downsub.com, edit the downloaded subtitles with a text editor and then add them to your video.

For what it counts I like your character but I understand it's a subjective thing.

You recorded the voice yourself?
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#12
Thank you so much! There seems to be a divide between people who really like and really dislike my character. Appearing in "person" (not that I precisely am a person) might in fact increase the problem!

I hope people won't let it get in the way of what I am actually saying.

I will definitely look into the captions thing. That should help anyone who finds me genuinely difficult to understand. I do apologize for that. I try to speak clearly.

Thank you very much for the information. That should get me started.

Yes it's my voice so I don't think appearing in person would make much difference.

Besides, I suspect a plastic doll talking to people would be even more disturbing than an animeʕ•ᴥ•ʔ
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#13
I very much liked your videos, the quality of the explanations and content is great, however, I agree with the other commentators that a more face-to-face approach would render your videos more appealing to the general public, despite that, I myself as a non native speaker of English(around C1 level of proficiency) was able to understand everything you said with a bit of struggle.

I don't know why you said you can't appear on camera but of one think I'm certain, you ARE a person, your character that you chose to partake with others may be a doll, and that's fine, but don't say that you aren't a person because every human being is a person. Smile I hope you don't get offended by this comment.

That said, I agree with the others and you only have to gain if you take an approach where a more traditional dialogue is more blatant, you will have more viewers and subscribers this way, and more recognition, which you deserve because I think that your content is really promising!

I don't know if you have the means to do so, but if you do, why don't you hire a professional voice actor to dub your videos? You could always dub it first yourself and then ask the actor to voice exactly as you did, you can keep using your anime character and with time you could always work to better it.

Don't give up on your ideas, just listen to the feedback of other people when they make sense and only serve to the means of enhancing the return you will get.

Best of luck!

A youtuber that I admire a lot and maybe could be an inspiration for you of some sort:
https://www.youtube.com/user/lingosteve
Edited: 2017-05-20, 2:38 pm
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#14
Thank you for your kind appreciation.

I do want to assure you that I always listen to comments and criticism. I have already made some changes to the format in response to criticisms I have received and I continue to listen and strive to improve.

This doesn't mean that I can implement every suggestion that is made of course. Since people suggest different things, that wouldn't even be possible given an unlimited budget.

Given a very limited budget - which is the reality - I am afraid a voice actor is out of the question at this stage, but I will continue to try to improve my own delivery.

I am currently struggling with the technicalities of a transcript, which should help people who have difficulty in understanding what I say.
Edited: 2017-05-20, 2:42 pm
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#15
I see, in that case I think the addition of subtitles would indeed be a good move.
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#16
I asked about the voice because I think that part of the problem is how you're recording it.
I would invest some money on a decent microphone with a pop-filter (to remove the 'p' and similar noises) and maybe even a bunch of phonetic panels. There are even effects like compressors, de-essers and so on (but they're not the easiest to use at first) and even things to modify your pitch and other aspects of your voice, like autotune, melodyne and so on (I don't know if they would be te best here, but I see that in many Japanese songs they use them to make the voice more "kawaii").
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#17
I think a lot of the problems are caused by the fact that these videos are made on a very very tight budget because I am a very very poor doll!

They are made on an underpowered laptop with (as you noticed) a not-exactly-top-notch microphone. Since I make nothing out of Kawajapa or the videos and only a very limited amount from book sales (the lion's share of which go to Amazon), and since every spare penny I have is currently earmarked for going to Japan there isn't much I can do in the way of investment at this stage.

In Japan I can't afford hotels or anything like that and I know how to eat very, very cheaply there! I do need to eat in ningen-furi (human-imitation) mode.

I think I am too inexpert for audio processing. I'd probably end up making things worse. I could look into autotune or melodyne if they are free (or very, very cheap). I certainly like the sound of them. Making my voice more kawaii. Now you're talking my language೭੧(❛▿❛✿)੭೨

One of our viewers recently suggested that I start either a Kickstarter or a Patreon (not yet sure what a Patreon is) to raise money for increasing the quality.

I was hesitant at first (I don't like asking for money) but I am wondering if that isn't the route to take.

Currently the problem is that I will be in Japan for a couple of months a little later this year and I try very hard to avoid foreign languages (including English) altogether while I am there, which might make any communication involved with fundraising a little difficult!

So my current thinking is to look into fundraising after I leave Japan, which will be this Fall.

I also intend to make some English-language videos in advance that can be posted while I am away so that the KawaJapa channel won't go into complete hiatus during that time.

I will be making videos in Japan, so should continue to improve my skills. However they will not be for the KawaJapa channel and not in English.

Sorry for the excessive explanation of my circumstances. I thought I would let you know how things stand in case you have any thoughts or ideas. I very much value your advice (Cophnia-san and all of you)
____
PS - am working on transcript now. Fortunately I have some experience with subtitle editing from re-timing Japanese ones for my own use.
Edited: 2017-05-20, 3:46 pm
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#18
Speaking as a youtube addict I think using an avatar is fine and even has some advantages. One thing I've seen people do is commission a stock of still poses and expressions that can be mixed and matched to fit what you are saying. I really like this but it is probably very labour intensive. Otoh what you have now is honestly quite distracting and somewhat generic for a brand mascot. (Your old forum avatar always stood out to me as good)

I do agree that the voice work is a major issue though and I can't really offer any advice there.

P.s.
kickstarter vs patreon
Edited: 2017-05-20, 7:53 pm
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#19
(2017-05-20, 2:39 pm)CureDolly Wrote: Given a very limited budget - which is the reality - I am afraid a voice actor is out of the question at this stage, but I will continue to try to improve my own delivery.

How about collaborating with someone else here on the forums? Why not ask someone here to record a reading of your transcript and send you the audio? If you're not set on making this a one-person project then I think you might be served well by making this a collaborative project for areas where you might personally fall short.

If you need to edit the audio to change the timing of different sections of the recording to a video then you can just use free software like Audacity which should be able to run on even very old laptops.

I also agree with the previous suggestion of adding the text transcript as a subtitle to the video.
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#20
@Splatted-san Thank you for your input. Yes I agree that the current avatar is rather generic. I do want to do this with an avatar and I probably want it to be a 2D anime one. The current one has other disadvantages as well as being generic. The range of movement is very limited.

One of the things I would like to do if I get funding is to commission someone to make a new avatar based on the doll image (perhaps somewhat like the one I used to use here - so happy that you liked it!) and with a much better range of movement/gesture. Still poses are a valid technique but they aren't the way I want to go. I am hoping for more animation rather than less!

So I guess, yes I have a vision for what I want this to turn into and at present I am doing what I can with very limited resources.


@karageko-san Thank you so much for your suggestions. I am trying to improve my own delivery, but if I really can't get it satisfactory I may think about collaboration. I have a strong sense of where I want to be going and I fully appreciate that I am not there yet!

I do already use Audacity and a whole battery of open-source software for animation and other things. I just am not very good with audio manipulation (as opposed to simple cut-and-paste editing) at this stage.

I am working on the subtitles/transcript right now as this should solve the problem of not hearing correctly. Maybe I should have them on by default if that is possible - though I think it may be a minority who can't understand me as opposed to just finding me annoyingʕ•ᴥ•ʔ

I'd also like to share what I have found out the hard way for anyone with a similar project:

Having twiddled with subs-download sites, which work with very - uh - variable results and a subs editor I discovered that there is a much easier way to do it.

YouTube now has a feature that lets you get into the auto-generated subtitle track and edit it right there in your YouTube account. When you've finished you can save it as a new subtitle track. Ha. I wish I'd known that a few hours ago!

Full instructions are here:

Japanese:

https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2734705?hl=ja

English:

https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2734705?hl=en
Edited: 2017-05-20, 8:33 pm
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#21
I actually have a few questions about the book.
Does it cover all the topics of the current and all future videos? If so, it would be much faster to finish that watch all the videos.
How is it improved compared to the Jay Rubin's book? Is it useful for advanced learner, too?
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#22
I think what irritated me a bit with the character is the variance in the range of motion. Most of the face is still, but the eyebrows are moving all over the place for example. For three quarters of the video the eyes do nothing at all and then sometimes they go crazy.

About the voice, it's really hard to say. I certainly understood everything you said (as an English L2 learner myself) but it was a bit straining. As others in this thread already mentioned I also started wondering if it was generated or altered in some way (sorry!). I just listened to a video again and what keeps bothering me about the audio quality is that every time your voice goes up ever so slightly or even sometimes just on long vowels in general the recording is uhhh vibrating? Resonating strangly? It's the contrary of clear? Honestly I'm not that firm on sound vocabulary, but it's a bit unpleasant and that's definitely the recording, not the voice in itself. Another thing is that we can hear you opening your mouth (which seems somewhat similar to t-clacking-sounds?). I have no idea if that also is partly just the equipments fault (it might be because it's overly emphasizing that? picking it up where other equipment wouldn't? no idea) or so, but it does add some noise that seems irritating over the long run. And it doesn't fit the doll/anime representation particularly well Wink I don't think I mind your voice on it's own though. I mean it probably won't become my favourite voice whatsoever but that shouldn't be the measurement Wink (e.g. I don't particularly like cathy cat's voice, but I can still enjoy her videos on the askjapanese channel and sometimes even watch her own channel) I hope I didn't offend you with my comment. I tried to explain what exactly bothered me (so it might be easier to fix it?) but I guess it can sound overly negative and denouncing. Sorry for that :S

I found your video on the "zero pronoun" rather interesting. I think in a way it's just a different perspective on the same thing textbooks try to explain. I wouldn't say it's more right or wrong than other explanations but I do feel like "Japanese is SO much more context dependent than other languages!" is a bit over the top and I can see where your videos help clear that up a bit and make it easier for learners to grasp. So~ I'm looking forward to more content Smile
Edited: 2017-05-21, 6:15 am
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#23
(2017-05-21, 5:17 am)Meriden Wrote: I actually have a few questions about the book.
Does it cover all the topics of the current and all future videos? If so, it would be much faster to finish that watch all the videos.
How is it improved compared to the Jay Rubin's book? Is it useful for advanced learner, too?

I bought it yesterday, and have started through the first few chapters. So far its mostly similar to the videos that are available, but I have already gotten a few nice nuggets of info that aren't in the video yet. I actually went back and started looking through Jay Rubin's book again a couple days ago. It's been several years since I read it. Looking back on it, his book spends way too much text rambling about stuff, and literally half the book covers topics that are explained perfectly fine by normal textbooks or never confused me to begin with. But where Jay did have a few really profound and interesting ideas, it now feels like he only got halfway to the full solution, whereas CureDolly seems to have completed the puzzle.
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#24
@Susum @Zaxrax

The book. It covers the material of the video class and does go further than the videos have gone so far. It is a short book. I am not trying to teach grammar but to fill some of what I see as being the deficiencies of the English/European textbook approach.


It is hard for me to tell, but A recent commenter on KawaJapa said that he was glad to have the book as well as the videos and it was my intention that they should complement each other. Certainly if you get the book now you will have the content of the rest of this video series.

>>I found your video on the "zero pronoun" rather interesting. I think in a way it's just a different perspective on the same thing textbooks try to explain. I wouldn't say it's more right or wrong than other explanations but I do feel like "Japanese is SO much more context dependent than other languages!"

The zero pronoun video is important in itself for helping to see how ∅ functions as a very close equivalent to English "it", which certainly makes understanding a lot easier. However its main importance is in laying the ground for the following videos, because from recognizing the zero pronoun we can build to recognizing certain other things that the textbooks do not teach - the absence of which really leads to a lot of confusion.

As Zaxrax-san so kindly said:

But where Jay did have a few really profound and interesting ideas, it now feels like he only got halfway to the full solution, whereas CureDolly seems to have completed the puzzle. 

It is horrible to brag about one's own work, but this is in fact true. Rubin-sensei solved half the puzzle and without him to start me off I couldn't have done it. But the other half is vitally important.

Rubin-sensei identified the zero pronoun but he did not (at least explicitly) seem to realize that the zero pronoun necessarily implies a zero particle.

Rubin-sensei famously said that the wa particle never marks the grammatical subject of a sentence. That is absolutely crucial to understanding Japanese grammar structure really works. That is the core of why textbook Japanese is so vague and illogical. That is why someone as knowledgeable as Tae Kim-sensei (for whom I have great respect) can end up saying that there is no shugo (grammatical subject) in Japanese.

That statement is not the statement of an unintelligent person. Quite the reverse. He has rigorously followed the logic of textbook grammar to its logical conclusion. Without intending to he has applied the reductio ad absurdum to textbook grammar.

And the solution to all this lies in the zero particle. It helped hugely to have the ∅ notation (I thought I had invented it for the book, but it turns out that exactly the same symbol has been used for the zero pronoun in some academic papers).

"Wa never marks the grammatical subject" is half the solution. The other half is "because the gramatical subject is always marked by ga whether we can see that ga or not".

That is where the video series is so far.

This throws up other questions. For example the so-called Japanese passive, in which European-grammar based textbooks imply that ga is not marking the grammatical subject. It is. And that is because the "Japanese passive" is not in fact passive at all. I explain this in a chapter of the book and will be doing a video on it later.

Other questions that surround this whole problem are thing like "keeki ga suki desu" which may be loosely translated as "(I) like cake" but cannot literally mean that. Thinking that it does mean that, as the textbooks tell us, completely confuses us over the ga particle and thus over the very basis of grammar structure.

Again, I'll be dealing with that later.

I realize some of this seems rather abstruse and theoretical. In the videos and in the book I have tried to explain it all very clearly, not as abstract theory but as living language.

Whether it all makes sense people can test for themselves by watching the videos (they all have correct closed captions now so if anyone really can't understand my voice just turn on the subs).

None of this (except in the first video where I had to state a premise before I had time to establish it) am I asking anyone to take on trust. Watch it, think about it, preferably read the book, and see for yourself if it doesn't fit Japanese sentences and clarify them.

Phew. Sorry for that long exposition.

As for whether the book is useful to advanced learners. It depends. Truly advanced learners mostly end up grasping this without ever knowing its logical basis - just as native speakers do. They don't grasp its logical basis because no one has ever taught it.

Logical grammar is not necessary for learning a language. I have always said that all grammar-learning is a quick and dirty shortcut to acquiring language. It isn't the best way. But it is the shortest and most efficient way (at least in the beginning) for adult or teenage second-language learners to get a running start. To me grammar, like Anki and everything else "study-ish" is merely a temporary support to immersion.

So if a more advanced learner has completely absorbed all this, the book is unnecessary. If some of it is still hampering one's Japanese (and this certainly happens) then it may well be of use.
Edited: 2017-05-21, 12:06 pm
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#25
Some thoughts:
  • Content is well organized and interesting. Looking forward to what is presented next.
  • Character is a bit distracting and not necessary. One of my favorite grammar series only has voice and relevant visuals on the screen and it works fine.
  • Your voice is fine (don’t have problems understanding), but your microphone is not and there is a lot of noise and popping in the background. I know you said that you are on a budget, but getting a nicely reviewed microphone from Amazon for $10-15 should not be that big of a deal considering your time investment in this project.
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