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~Chinese / 中文

~Japanese / 日本語

"Notes on Democracy" Arundhati Roy

~Korean / 한국어
《그렇습니까? 기린입니다》박민규
《소나기》 황순원

~Finished / 読了 / 已读
"Factory Girls" Lesley Chang
"Your Republic is Calling You" Kim Young-ha
"River Town" Peter Hessler
"Oracle Bones" Peter Hessler
"Country Driving" Peter Hessler
「火の鳥9」 手塚治虫
"Inside the Kingdom" Robert Lacey
"A Room of One's Own" Virginia Woolf
《倾城之恋 》张爱玲
「1973年のピンボール」 村上春樹
"One Foot In Eden" Ron Rash

[Video] Caminar en la nieve // Walking in the snow

Esto es un video para la #Add1Challenge. Voy a introducir el lugar donde yo vivo.

This is a video for the #Add1Challenge. I introduce the place where I live.

* With English subtitles.

** 日本語字幕付

*** 含中文简体、繁体字幕

Caminar en la nieve 

 ¿Te gusta la nieve?

Crecí en Atlanta, en el sur de los Estados Unidos, donde casi nunca nieva.

Sin embargo, recientemente hubo una tormenta de nieve allí

En ese momento, yo estaba en Nueva York, donde a menudo nieva.

Me gusta la nieve.

Me gusta ver la nieve caer.

Me gusta caminar en la nieve, y patearla.

Cuando nieva, Central Park en Nueva York es muy hermoso.

Fuera de mi ventana, puedo ver la nieve cayendo en ese momento.

¿Tiene que nieve donde usted vive?

Lu Xun on Loneliness – translated from the “Nahan” preface


It was after that I felt a boredom I had never before experienced. At first I didn’t know why; later I thought it’s always such that when a person’s convictions receive praise it spurs their progress; receive opposition and it spurs their struggle. Only when screaming among strangers, when those strangers do not react—at once no praise, and no opposition—as if finding oneself placed on and endless wasteland, with no recourse at all: what sadness is this! Thus I assumed what I was felt was loneliness.

Lu Xun, Preface to Nahan [Outcry/A Call to Arms] (1922)


I always come back to reading Lu Xun. He was too influential to overlook and too good to want to. His writing is clear and straightforward and sometimes I get the illusion he is writing in the present day, like I do reading Natsume Soseki. Lu Xun reminds me of Soseki in his mix of earnestness and satire; there I times I laugh out loud reading The True Story of Ah-Q or I Am a Cat. Another interesting connection I’ve noted is the number of Japanese words in Lu Xun’s writing, such as 便當 ‘convenient’ and 卒業 ‘to graduate.’ I don’t know whether these words were common in some register of Chinese and later fell out of use, or if Lu Xun borrowed them from Japanese, or both.

In any case, Lu Xun presents himself in the self-written preface to Nahan as a lonely idealist hoping to change minds but feeling lost. He tries to lose himself in copying ancient engravings until a friend persuades him to write a little something for a magazine called The New Youth. What he wrote became A Madman’s Diary and the rest is history.

NB: The translation above is mine.

Using TTS to Learn Several Languages at Once

What I'm doing with TTS

using TTS to learn several languages at once

Text-to-Speech software is a game-changer for language learning. I’m using TTS to learn several languages at once. The Holy Grail of language resources—sentences with audio—is now something I can mass-produce on my computer. Not every language is included in the TTS functionality of the Mac (no Tibetan or Mongolian, for instance), but Turkish, Indonesian, Cantonese, and many other languages are included and work quite well. The last update added varieties of Spanish, so I vary my Spanish audio with some Argentinian speech.

TTS is so powerful because you can turn text sources into audio sources quickly and automatically. I use the Lonely Planet phrasebooks for most of the languages I study. I can type the text myself, copy it if I have a PDF, or even use the dictation function of TTS to input the text using my own voice. Using dictation is interesting, because it requires that the computer recognize my pronunciation. (For longer phrases, the computer recognizes what I am saying for the most part. For shorter phrases and single words, especially in Korean, it often fails to render.)

I put the phrases as text into an Excel spreadsheet, because Excel spreadsheets are easy to organize and can be converted into tab-delimited plain text files that can be imported into Anki. I started with Spanish and English, copying the Spanish via dictation and the English by typing. Then, it occurred to me I could add Korean in a third column. Then I thought, Why not put them all in one spreadsheet?

All the languages in one place

In one of his videos, Michael Campbell of Glossika in Taiwan explains how he learned eighteen aboriginal Taiwanese languages at once. He has a spreadsheet with glossary items and phrases in each language; to review, he goes down the spreadsheet and reads the phrases aloud. He records himself reading and listens to the recordings repeatedly. Now, I think listening to my own (non-native) pronunciation to memorize phrases is less than ideal, but Mr. Campbell is a pro and is working with languages that are nearly extinct. And, as a memory aide within a greater regimen, this may be a handy technique. I once memorized a Japanese speech that I wrote in this way, by reading it aloud, sentence by sentence, over and over again, and listening to a recording of myself reading it on repeat. I recited it with perfect delivery after only two days. Listening to my pronunciation of Japanese wasn’t ideal, but I had heard so much Japanese that a little foreign accent didn’t throw me off. Similarly, TTS pronunciations are approximations of native/natural speech and thus should not be relied upon solely, but they are far better than silence, and an excellent supplement to memorization. Ideally, we would have native speakers on call to read whatever we need and produce high-quality audio, but this is not feasible. (Mr. Campbell also reminds us that “memorization” is a misnomer, because we don’t need to actually recall the sentences exactly, only build connections in the brain.)

Two practical examples of using Text-to-Speech

  1. Spanish phrases from Lonely Planet

The first way I’m using TTS is for entering Spanish phrases from my Lonely Planet phrasebook into Anki. I type or dictate dissonances into excels in Microsoft excel, and then I add the English in another column. Then, I export the file as a UTF-16 plain text file, then convert it to a UTF-8 plain text file, then imported it into Anki. Then, I use the “Awesome TTS” plugin in Anki to mass generate MP3 files for the sentences using the Mac’s built-in TTS software. (The plugin also works with Google’s software, available for free via Internet.)

A workflow:

  1. Input Spanish phrases into Excel
  2. Input English translations
  3. “Save As” UTF-16 plain text file
  4. Open in TextEdit and “save as” UTF-8 plain text file
  5. Install & configure the Awesome TTS plugin
  6. Make sure Spanish TTS voice is installed (Mac)
  7. Make sure your Spanish card type has an Audio field
  8. Import UTF-8 file in Anki using the CTRL+I import function
  9. Select all new cards & use Awesome TTS mass generate MP3 function, using the Spanish field as the source and the audio field as destination

10. Make sure you put the audio field on the card, and you should have audio for every phrase

NB: In a later post I’ll show screenshots of how I organize my many note types.

2. Korean phrases from TTMIK intermediate dialogues

I think everyone and their mother studying Korean is using the Talk to Me in Korean series, with good reason. If you are, absolutely download the Anki public decks for the sentences from the grammar lessons, and the sentences for the “Iyagi” intermediate dialogues. These premade decks have saved me thousands of hours of work, and I wish I could tip the people who made them. As I go through the sentences in these two decks, I add the phrases that I don’t understand or need to memorize to new Anki cards, and then use TTS to generate audio for them.

A workflow for Korean:

  1. Download the public decks and convert the card types to match your Korean cards
  2. Add unknown phrases or phrases you’d like to memorize from the public deck cards onto new cards
  3. Use Awesome TTS to generate audio for the new cards
  4. Make sure your new cards are in your main deck and not in the public deck to ensure that you get those reviews as new cards first before getting new cards from the public deck you imported, otherwise you have to wait until you get to the very end of the public deck to see them, at which point they won’t be relevant to you anymore

NB: The TTMIK recordings and Korean transcripts are freely available online. Crowdsourced translations are being made at the Korean Wiki Project, but the official translations produced by TTMIK are for sale on their website. It’s hard to copy and past from their PDFs, though, as I don’t think they were designed with Anki in mind.

So what’s the big deal about Text-to-Speech?

This method of adding cards with audio from text sources is now my default, go-to method for learning languages. If you hear the phrase or the word, you are 1000 times more likely to remember. I just made up that number, but it’s probably pretty close.

Hear it. Speak it. Memorize it. – Carlos Douh

Being able to create audio from the text, rather than the other way around, gives you more control over what materials you study. I think this method combined with talking to native speakers after a few months of study is the most effective and sustainable method I’ve yet devised. It’s also scalable, so that you can simply add more cards when you want more material.

I’d love to know what methods you are using to study languages, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me in the comments. Be sure to check out Glossika and Carlos Douh. Thank you!

How To Make A Phrase List into Two Columns in Excel

Sometimes when I want to import a list of phrases for a language into Anki, the formatting gets in the way.

For example, if the phrases are arranged in a column with the translation under each phrase, how do you separate the target language phrases into a separate column? It’s a little trickier than I anticipated, but this can be done with Excel.

I will show you how to select only even rows or select only odd rows in Microsoft Excel, which I will use to take the phrases from the Wikitravel Cantonese phrasebook (I’ve also done this with Korean slang) and separate the translations into a separate column, so you can import the whole thing into Anki as a tab-delimited UTF-8 txt file produced by Excel.

1. Copy and paste the data into Excel


2. Use the “=ISEVEN() or =ISODD() function, combined with a ROW() function that references any cell in that row.” (click here for a tutorial).


3. As per step 2, type =ISEVEN(ROW(A1)) into the cell B1. It will turn to FALSE.

4. Copy the function in cell B1 into all the cells in the column.


5. Turn on the filter by selecting any cell in the column, then clicking the Filter button under Sort & Filter in the Data tab. (Source:


6. Next, “Click the new column’s filter dropdown and choose False or True.” (The “dropdown” is the little down-facing arrow in a blue box that should appear in the column.) (Source:

CantoExcelTutorial67. Click the little boxes at the bottom of the popup window that say TRUE or FALSE to show only odd or even rows.

CantoExcelTutorial78. Copy and paste from there into another Excel file, and you’re set.

CantoExcelTutorial99. You can then use Save As to save the new Excel file as a UTF-16.

10. Open the .txt file in TextEdit, copy it, and save it again as a UTF-8 .txt file (the only kind Anki can read). Ready to import!

What do you think? Please let me know if these directions aren’t clear enough!


Learn the Arabic Script with Anki

"Bismillah" in Arabic script

“Bismillah” written in Arabic script.

I am an advocate of using the SRS program Anki for learning things.

Today I want to learn the Arabic script, the writing system used to write Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and other languages. However, in the Anki public decks I couldn’t find one for the Arabic script alone. I copied the chart from the Wikipedia page about the “Arabic alphabet” (it’s actually an abjad, because most vowels are not represented) and used it to create an Excel spreadsheet, which I then saved as UTF-16, because Excel doesn’t seem to allow me to save using UTF-8, which is what I need for Anki. I used TextEdit to convert the file to UTF-8 encoding, then created a new deck and note type imported the chart into Anki.

The chart includes the isolated, final, medial, and initial forms of each Arabic graph, along with the name of the graph in Arabic, the transliteration in the Roman alphabet, and the IPA value (aka, the pronunciation). Please feel free to download and use the chart and Anki deck as you like.

Click here to download the chart as a UTF-8 txt file. (Use right click + Save Link As.)

Click here to download the chart as an Excel spreadsheet.

Click here to download the Learn Arabic Script Anki deck.

Good luck learning Arabic!


Korean in 3 Months #Add1Challenge

Can I learn Korean in 3 months with the #Add1Challenge?



The +1 Challenge was started by Brian Kwong, who has challenged us to learn a new language for 90 days.

The +1 Challenger’s Playlist:

Benny Lewis on the +1 Challenge:

Language Tsar (Conor Clyne) pledges to learn Romanian:

Alex Rawlings (Rawlangs) takes on Japanese:


Hello everyone!

This is Kieran and I’m joining the “Add One Challenge.” The +1 Challenge was started by Brian Kwong, who has challenged us to learn a new language for 90 days. My goal is to learn Korean to fluency in three months.

I made a lot of South Korean friends at the University of Georgia, in Fukuoka, and in Shanghai. At Fudan University in Shanghai I lived with three roommates from South Korea and even made a friend from North Korea. I want to learn Korean to 1) to connect with friends, 2) to make new friends, and 3) to experience the beautiful Korean culture, particularly its rich literary tradition.

I’ve been learning Korean every day for a month. I begin my challenge today, September 30th, so my challenge will end on December 30th. At the end of the year, I will film myself having a spontaneous conversation in Korean with a native speaker. My plan is to learn at least an hour of Korean every day with Anki, Talk to Me in Korean, and some other resources introduced on the Mezzofanti Guild. I recommend everyone check out “Talk to Me in Korean;” it’s a fantastic course for learning Korean. I want to say thank you to Hyunwoo, Kyeong-eun, and the rest of the team for their hard work.

My daily goal is to review 100 new cards in my Korean deck. I’m using three public Anki decks. The first one is a deck of the 1000 most common Korean words with audio. The second is a deck of sentences, most of which are from Talk to Me in Korean. The third is a deck of Korean hanja. Since I speak Chinese and Japanese, I think the hanja will help me learn Korean words.

If I win this competition with myself, I’m going to win some delicious bulgogi. And for every day I miss our hairy cat is going to sit on my face. Gross.

I will update every week with a new video, so please subscribe to my YouTube channel! Check out the links at the bottom of the video, especially the playlist for the challenge where you watch other participant’s videos. Thanks for watching!



How to use the Linguee dictionary to learn Spanish

I’ve been learning Spanish. In February, when I was studying in China I decided to learn Spanish. I chose Spanish because my home is in America and Spanish is fast becoming the second language of Americans. I’m excited by the number of people who speak Spanish, the variety of places I can go, and the opportunity to read literature by authors like Borges and Octavio Paz.

My language background: Learning Japanese & Chinese

When I learned Japanese I had no idea what I was doing. I took classes for several years, studied abroad as an exchange student in Japan, and after many struggles managed to speak Japanese. Chinese I learned gradually over about three years, the last of which I was studying in Shanghai. In learning Spanish I apply what I learned with Chinese and Japanese to learn Spanish better and faster. I found that when I learned Japanese I tried to memorize everything. I learned words that were archaic and rare and downright strange. In Chinese I learned many obscure onomatopoeia before I learned how to properly introduce myself. I don’t recommend anyone do that. I think it’s much more impressive to be able to speak simply and fluently than to know some crazy words.

Learning Spanish with a frequency list

With Spanish I have decided to use a frequency list as advised on Tower of Babelfish, and the Linguee dictionary as advised by Benny Lewis. The dictionary called Linguee is a side-by-side bilingual translation dictionary for several different European languages. I’m using the English and Spanish function to study Spanish. I go down the list of Spanish words by frequency I got from Wikipedia and input each word into the dictionary. I scan the English sentences an easy one and copy the English and Spanish sentences into Anki. I often highlight the Spanish word I will memorize and highlight its English equivalent on the other side. This is so I don’t get hung up trying to understand the entire card if the point is only to memorize one word.

Why Linguee is better than Google Translate

Why not just translate the frequency list with Google Translate and memorize the words individually? Wouldn’t that be faster? I don’t think so.

I tried this and saw several problems with this approach.

1)    Google translate is not accurate enough.

2)    Words can have several meanings. It’s not good to memorize several meanings at the same time. (See “Rules of Formulating Knowledge” at SuperMemo.)

3)    There’s no context. It’s often impossible to determine what a word means without context.

Copying the bilingual sentences solves these problems.

1)    Linguee is based on real translations made by humans.

2)    Linguee gives different meanings for a search term and even gives the relative frequency of each meaning.

3)    Linguee sentences show the natural context for a search term.

I get Spanish words in their natural context and have an English translation to check against to make sure I understand. Sometimes I understand the entire sentence and get grammar practice as well. If I don’t understand the sentence I can still learn the word, and can look up its meaning via the translation (without associating that one word with any English word). A great function of this dictionary is that it will show different meanings for a word, and even better, give the relative frequency of each of those meanings. If there are more than one relatively frequent meaning, I make an Anki card for each meaning. I try to make at least two cards per word.

Honestly, this method is a little cumbersome. If I was good at coding, I would write a code to search the dictionary and grab the sentences without me having to copy and paste them one by one, but I lack computer skills. Some might argue that it’s not efficient to learn Spanish this way. It might be better to start from a phrasebook. The most frequent words can likely be learned easily by learning some useful phrases, rather than random sentences. I think this may very well be true. However, I think this dictionary is an excellent resource and I wanted to share with you how I’ve been using it.

Let me know what you think. I’d like to know how you study languages and how you use dictionaries. Please drop me a line in the comment box!


PS: You can follow Benny Lewis on his blog Fluent in 3 Months, or on Twitter as @fi3m and @irishpolyglot. You can follow Linguee at @Linguee and in Spanish at @LingueeEs.

Kieran Maynard

Kieran Maynard

Writer, translator, researcher, traveler specializing in Japanese and Chinese literature.

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