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Depth of processing 

Getting feedback

What is grammatical?

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Getting Feedback
No language learner is an island

Most people are hopeless at giving feedback. This is problematic when you're wanting someone to point out your mistakes so you can improve your Japanese.

Nevertheless, giving feedback is a skill that can be learned. This is where you come in.

To become a gun at Japanese, you need to learn the delicate art of eliciting feedback.

Here's a few tips to start you on your way.

Ask if you've got it right

Pepper your conversation with atteru? (あってる?- Is that right?) or atteimasuka (あっていますか?) if you're being polite.

I recommend this question particularly to people starting out. True, it will be painful to talk to you in the beginning, but this little question signals to the people around you that you want feedback on the way you speak.

People have a habit of ignoring mistakes in the language of non-native speakers. This will indicate to them that you want to be told.

Be bold in getting help

If you're desperate to find out the reading for a kanji on the train, ask another passenger. Sure, it's a bit scary but remember people are just as scared of you if not a whole lot more. And the funny thing is, people are often dying to talk to you, so why don't you make the first move?

Ask people for examples

Ask people to give you an examples of language with rei o agete kureru? (例を挙げてくれる?) meaning, "Can you give me an example?". A polite way to say this would be rei o agete itadakemasuka (例を挙げていただけますか).

Knowing what a word means is the easy part. Knowing how and when to use it is a whole different story. Example sentences are the bricks and mortar of building a solid foundation for learning a language. You don't know a word until you know how to use it.

Talk about language

Every now and then, have "meta-conversations" about language. Conduct little experiments. Ask: Can you say XXX? (XXX tte ieru? - XXXって言える?).

For instance, you might say: atama ga itai tte ieru? (「頭が痛い」って言える?) which might be translated: "Can you say, "atama ga itai" [I've got a headache]?.

These kind of conversations can be a bit dry. Strike a balance between having meta-conversations about language and conversations about the real world. That said, you'll be surprised by how interested people are in talking about linguistic issues.

Always get your written Japanese corrected

I don't care how good your written Japanese gets. I don't even care if you can write award-winning haiku in Japanese like Dhugal Lindsay.

Always get feedback.

I'm not saying that non-Japanese people can't write flawless Japanese. They can and do. I'm saying always get feedback. So you're brilliant. Great! Get feedback and you'll become have-to-wear sunglasses-sunshine-brilliant. Do you think Nobel prize winning authors don't get feedback on their prose? Of course they do. So why should your Japanese be any different?

Plagiarism (otherwise known as that murky business of fobbing off a Japanese person's prose as your own)

"But at university they said we couldn't get any help with our essays."

I hear you. Note: I'm not saying get a Japanese speaker to write your essays for you. I'm saying get feedback on what you have written.

I've taught Japanese at a few universities so I'm well aware of the issue of plagiarism. However, I also know that the more feedback students get, the better their Japanese gets. If they happen to get that feedback from someone outside the classroom, wonderful!

So what do I define as plagiarism? If a student doesn't understand their own work and they can't reproduce it uncued, then I would penalise them. However, if they understand how to use a new grammar pattern or turn of phrase that they've learnt from their Japanese friend, excellent.

I don't want to discourage students of Japanese from getting feedback merely to make it easier for an academic to grade them. Getting feedback is imperative to becoming a gun at Japanese.

Sit with a person when they correct your written Japanese

I've spent quite a lot of time writing Japanese and getting it corrected and have found that you learn the most looking over someone's shoulder. Seeing Japanese native- (or near-native) speakers struggling over the same language issues you do can also help to eliminate the unnecessary angst people sometimes feel writing in a foreign language. Importantly, you also learn to differentiate between what is changed due to style or readability and what is changed due to grammatical issues.