Archive | Languages RSS feed for this section

Karaoke: Japan’s Gift to the Language Learner

26 Mar

Four years living in a different country will change anyone. Especially if that country is Japan!

If you’ve ever known anyone who has lived (for an extended period of time) in Japan you’re bound to notice that they’ve picked up a few “interesting” habits and I’m no different;

Not wearing shoes in the house, sitting on the floor despite having a perfectly good sofa right next to you, eating salad with chopsticks (Try it. It’s so much easier), not feeling like you’ve finished a meal until you’ve had a bowl of rice (or two), bowing even while on the phone… the list goes on.

Salad with chopsticks? Try it. You'll never try to stab a piece of lettuce with a fork again!

Salad with chopsticks? Try it. You’ll never try to stab a piece of lettuce with a fork again!

Japanese was the first language that I learned to fluency and I have one of Japan’s greatest exports to thank for that: Karaoke! This article will cover how you can use it to learn any language to fluency “WITHOUT EVER HAVING TO SING IN PUBLIC”!!!

Why Karaoke?
Karaoke in Japan is as much a part of the culture as rice-balls and ramen. If you live there, it becomes part of your life; you go out for dinner with your friends, you end up singing karaoke; you have a staff party with your colleagues, you end up singing karaoke; it’s Wednesday, you end up singing karaoke. And the Japanese take their national passtime pretty seriously so you learn fairly quickly to improve your karaoke game.

I realized that I was going to need to learn some Japanese songs to keep my coworkers happy and in doing so I realized that practicing karaoke is a fantastic way to improve my Japanese in three major areas:

  • Pronunciation: listening to a song and repeatedly trying to match the way pronunciation of the singer is an amazing way to improve your accent and how you sound in your target language. I’ve spoken previously about how important pronunciation and understandability are when speaking a second language. Repeating a song over and over again allows you to practice the vocal chord/lip movements and breath control necessary to imitate a new language.
  • Reading: karaoke involves reading the lyrics of a song in your target language at (what can be) a pretty challenging pace. That challenge and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to a huge improvement in your reading speed.
  • Vocabulary: learning (or at least practicing) the lyrics of songs inevitably leads to you learning new words and ways to use them and they tend to stick better when you mix in a catchy tune (I can still recite songs in Irish that I learned as a child in primary school)

How to Karaoke!!! (without the humiliation of actually singing in public)
So, how do you actually go about improving your Japanese (or any language) with Karaoke? It’s as easy as following these 3 (or 4) easy steps.

  1. Pick your Songs: Find songs that you enjoy and that are of a relatively easy tempo. It’s important to start with slow songs at the beginning as it’s easier to keep up and follow the lyrics on screen. Starting off by trying to follow the lyrics of a fast paced rap song is not a good idea, no matter how much you like the song. Love songs (cringe) are usually ideal, just like this one below which became one of my karaoke staples.

    Download the songs to your computer/phone or create a specific “Lyrics” playlist on Youtube (some videos will even have the lyrics included) so you can always access them easily.
  2. Find and Save the Lyrics: Thanks to the good old internet you can now find the lyrics for virtually any song instantaneously. Find the lyrics for your chosen songs and save them in some form of file on your computer or on your phone. I personally save them to the memo app on my iphone (check out the picture below) but I’m sure there are better, more organized ways to store them for easy access. At this point you can also look up any new vocabulary or grammar that you don’t understand so you can actually know what the song is really about.

    This is how I save lyrics to songs I want to my practice in the memo app of my phone.

    This is how I save lyrics to songs I want to my practice in the memo app of my phone.

  3. Practice: Here’s the fun part. When you have some down time just play the song you want to practice and recite the lyrics trying to match the cadence, intonation and sound of the singer. You can do it in the privacy of your own room and no one ever has to know about your new karaoke fetish. You can even practice in public without bothering anyone or appearing to be a total psychopath. For example, whenever I’m using public-transport I pop in my headphones and listen to my “Lyrics” playlist (I have one for Japanese and one for Spanish). Then I either recite the lyrics in my head as the song plays or I lip-sync the song. I consider lip-syncing the better option as you actually practice the mouth movements needed to produce the sounds. People do this on public transport all the time anyway (and it’s only annoying if they actually do start singing out loud).
  4. (OPTIONAL) Rock some Karaoke: When you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of a few songs, why not show your native-speaking friends how you can rock out and sing with the best of them during a night of unbridled, laser-illuminated mirror-balled, karaoke fury…
    …or just sing in the shower like a normal person!

    Just think. With a little practice, this could be you!

                                                      Just think. With a little practice, this could be you!

Time Efficient and Free
The reason I’m such a fan of this method for learning a language is that it ticks a couple of boxes that are important for me:

  • It can be done whenever you’re on public transport or driving or just chilling out at home

  • It is completely free

  • You can store the songs and lyrics on your phone and have them with you at all times

  • In all my time learning languages I have found this gives you some of the best bang for your buck when I comes to speaking improvement in relation to time invested.

If you’re sitting at home in front of a computer right now you could literally start practicing this method in less than 30 seconds i.e. the time it takes to find a song on youtube and its corresponding lyrics. There’s no reason not to give it a try.

Do I sing well now?
F%&K NO! But I now have a repertoire of Japanese (and Spanish) songs that I can belt out (as long as I have the lyrics to follow on screen) whenever I end up at a Shidax. More importantly it has improved my spoken Japanese and Spanish considerably, which I’m happy enough with.

Get singing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

Advertisements

How to Instantly Improve your Accent in a second language

7 Oct

We’ve all met a foreigner who has come up to us to ask a question (maybe directions to the bus station or the nearest bakery… at least that’s what I usually look for in new cities) only to not understand a word they have said to us because of their “heavily” accented English.

Was that some form of Quehua???

Was that some form of Quechua???

They might be speaking grammatically perfect English but their accent signals to our brain that: “This person is speaking some strange language that you don’t understand… possibly Dutch… or Klingon! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!”

It happens all the time. I work part-time in a bar and last week I had an older Finnish guy come up to ask for a drink. I had to ask him to repeat his order 4 times before I realized he wanted a Gin & Tonic. I felt ridiculous and I consider myself to be much better than average at understanding accented English due to over 7 years of living in non-English-speaking countries.

The under-appreciated Importance of Accent
Here’s something that you unfortunately won’t hear much about in your average secondary school language class:

“ACCENT IS IMPORTANT”

Working on your accent in your second language will benefit you in the following ways:

  • it will make you instantly more understandable
  • it will make it easier for native speakers to accept you as a competent speaker of their language

Check out this little video I recorded which shows the difference between Spanish and Japanese spoken in my native Irish accent and then with a much more “neutralized” accent. I think you’ll agree that the neutral accent sounds a whole lot more understandable (but does lose some of its Irish charm 😉 ) 

Eliminate your own accent
So, imitating the accent of another language is not easy. It is by no means impossible but it does take plenty of conscious practice.

What I’m proposing, to begin with, is the much simpler option of just eliminating your own accent.

The easiest way to do this is to focus on what makes your particular accent distinct and then gradually try to eliminate those idiosyncrasies from your second language (where they only help in making you more difficult to understand).

This can run the full gamut from cadence, to pronunciation, to sentence intonation etc. Obviously, the more aspects you focus on, the better.

Let me take a Selfie!
So a great way of doing this is to record yourself speaking your chosen language.

Make a quick video of yourself reading something (newspaper clippings or comics are great). Play it back, analyze it yourself and then decide what parts are making you sound… like a foreigner. Better yet, get a native speaker of your target language to review it for you and help you work on your pronunciation issues.

Then it’s just a matter of practicing the same words or sentences, just without the accent that makes it sound… odd!

Give it a shot. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be able to improve how you sound, be it in Japanese, Spanish, Klingon or whatever.

Keep talking folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular  🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it  😉

The Dancing Irishman in Barcelona

25 Sep
Just getting to know my new neighbourhood. That's just the local amphitheater, nothing special.

Just getting to know my new neighbourhood. That’s just the local ancient-Roman amphitheater, nothing special.

So… I live in Barcelona now!

Which means that in the last 4 years or so this is the fourth country I’ve “officially” lived in. After 4 years living and teaching in Japan I left in 2010, lived in Ireland for a year working at the Japanese embassy, moved to Colombia in 2011 working as a freelance translator, came back to Ireland via Cuba and the US at the end of 2013 and now, after all that, I am resident of one of Spain’s most famous cities.

I’m beginning to understand why my friends constantly tell me that they can never envision me settling down in one place. I’m not quite sure if I should be worried or not.

The Irish Diaspora
Since 2006/7 emigration out of Ireland (particularly of young people) has increased significantly; part of the great global economic depression. I was always secretly proud of the fact that I didn’t leave Ireland because I had to, because there was no work for me but because I wanted to experience life in other places. Hence my stays in Japan and Colombia.

This time is a little different
This time, I couldn’t find a job that I wanted to do. A job that I could actually see myself doing and importantly, enjoying, long-term. Anyone who has been following this blog will know from an article I posted a little over a year ago, when I left Colombia, that I left because I wanted to start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

Well, this year, living back home on the farm in the far south of Ireland, I had plenty of time to think. If we want to get all “touchy feely” about it, I wanted to do something that I loved. So I had a few options. The blog itself is actually a pretty decent window into the things that float my boat:

  • Dance: After all this blog isn’t called the “Administrating” Irishman. I do love dance and it is a huge part of my life. I’ve even taught dance before but it’s not what I see myself doing in the long term. I’m much happier working on my own dance and learning as much as I can fit in myself.
  • Languages: I’ve been working as a freelance Japanese translator for a few years now and while I enjoy the freedom it affords me, the work isn’t exactly regular. I may have “future” kids to think about and a “future” family to provide for so something a little more stable is called for. Also, my particular field of expertise, biosciences, while interesting, hardly makes for riveting translation.
  • Travel: I really don’t know how I could make a living just traveling the world. If you do, just drop me an email. That said, I think I’ve come to a point where I’m starting to want just one place to call home (other than my family home).
  • Fitness: I love researching fitness, putting it into practice and helping people get started in the gym or just exercising in general. That said, I don’t think I’d really make it as a personal trainer. I just don’t have the pecs for it.
  • Food: Now we’re getting somewhere. I do spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about food; cooking it, eating it, rolling around in it. However, while I considered becoming a chef in secondary school I pretty much turned against the idea when I realized I would probably be working social hours. That, and Gordon Ramsay in “Hell’s Kitchen” scared the crap out of me.
    Which leaves us with…. Drumroll please
  • …Nutrition: I love being able to improve my health through the food I eat, I love reading up on the latest research in nutrition and I really love helping people with their diets. It genuinely makes me feel fulfilled. Add to that the fact of the western world’s expanding waistline and it looks like it may be a rather lucrative little industry too 😉

Sooooo… I am about to start a Masters degree in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Barcelona & the University Rovira I Virgilli. Further education is going to be my first stepping stone towards the career I really want.

Why so far away, Irish?
Firstly, it’s cheaper than living and studying in Ireland. Significantly so.

Secondly, it allows me to indulge some of my other loves at the same time (we wouldn’t want to neglect those now would we?):

  • Salsa: Barcelona is well known in Europe for having a spectacular latin dance scene
  • Language: I get to do my Masters through Spanish and maybe learn a little Catalan too
  • Food: it’s just sooooo good here

Presenting… The Nutritioning Irisman!!!!
Hmmm, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? Maybe I’ll hold off changing the blog title.

In any case, I’m going to do my best to keep updating the blog and providing you with as much helpful and mildly humorous info as I can… just from Barcelona.

If you have any tips on the salsa scene here I’d be very happy to hear from you.

Keep dancing folks.

**********************************************************************

Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

Remember Anything, Forever!

5 Mar
Most of us have plenty of "head" room to spare.It's time to start filling it with something useful!

Most of us have plenty of “head” room to spare.
It’s time to start filling it with something useful!

What if I told you that there was a way to learn huge quantities of information, permanently and in only a few minutes each day?

Why I bet you’d say “Good sir, I’d pay you a king’s ransom for such valuable information… or I’d at least read the rest of this article”.

Well my tightfisted friend, today you are in luck. Today I’m going to share with you a secret that will change the way you approach learning for the rest of your life.

Back story
I discovered this method back in late 2007. I had been living in Japan for a little over a year at the time and I had made a lot of progress in learning the language from scratch. However, being a perfectionist (the curse that it is) I was still looking for ways to speed up my progress. With all my online searching for a so called holy grail of learning I managed to hit pay-dirt in the form of a site with the very catchy address of  www.alljapaneseallthetime.com .

This site is aimed at language learning but in particular it introduced me to the “tool” that I’m going to tell you about. I used it and it worked. In only 3 months I had memorized 3000 Japanese kanji (chinese characters) and in a little over a year I was a certified Japanese translator. To put that in context, native Japanese students learn about 2000 kanji over the course of 10 YEARS in elementary, junior-high and high school (that works out at about 60 times faster than an average Japanese native). I often schooled my own students in Japan when they made mistakes writing kanji and my party trick was writing complicated characters that most Japanese people could only read and not even write themselves.

I know I’m tooting my horn here a little but it’s something I’m very proud of and I really want you to understand just how effective this method is.

Tell me more, Tell me more…
Ok, at this stage you’re probably saying “Ok, just get to the good stuff and let the super-learning begin”

What I used was the very simply titled “SRS”.

“What you talkin’ bout Richie?”
SRS stands for Spaced Repetition Software; it’s basically a computerized flashcard system that uses very fancy “spaced repetition algorithms” (God I love that word, it makes anyone who uses it sound like they know what their talking about) to schedule the learning of pieces of information (facts) according to how well you know them.

Think of it like this: An SRS quizzes you on certain facts by showing you a question (a question and it’s answer together are known as a card… from flash-card). When you reveal the answer you score yourself on a scale of how well you knew the answer. If you knew the answer very well, the algorithm will schedule that card to be shown again at a date in the future (days, weeks, months even years). However if you didn’t know the answer and score it accordingly the algorithm will schedule that card to be shown again very, very soon (maybe within 5 minutes). This way you spend more time reviewing facts that you don’t know well and don’t waste time reviewing stuff you already know.

The whole idea of the algorithm is to allow you to review a particular card just before you are expected to forget it. In this way you strengthen the memory retention effect maximally.

One of the great things about SRSs is that many are accessible from the internet so you can basically study anywhere you can connect to the net. With most mobile phones these days, that means you can literally study anywhere, whenever you have a couple of minutes free.

The screenshots below should give you an idea of what an SRS looks like (the particular one I use is called Anki and I definitely recommend it)

ピクチャ 3

This is what a Japanese “Question” looks like. I read it, try to answer it and then click “Show Answer”

ピクチャ 4

Here’s the same card with the answer shown in blue (it’s an explanation of new vocabulary in the sentence) (I prefer to study using a Jap/Jap Dictionary).
Below I have various options to score myself which will result in the card being shown at different intervals (1 minute, 1 day or 4 days) (This is a new card I haven’t learned yet).

Here’ an example from my Spanish deck

Here's a similar style of card, with a "question" in Spanish.

Here’s a similar style of card, with a “question” in Spanish.

And here's the same card with it's "answer" shown below in blue.

And here’s the same card with it’s “answer” shown below in blue. The scoring options will result in intervals of 10 months, 11 months, 2.1 years or 3.7 years (that means I know this card well).

The idea is to review your cards (study) for about 20-30 minutes a day. The real magic starts to happen when the intervals between seeing a particular question get long (many months). That’s when these “facts” start getting locked into your long term memory (thanks to the wonderful, magic algorithm).

I highly recommend you check out the wikipedia entry on SRS for further information.

Pfff, Bulls#!t
No, seriously, this is the real deal. To give you a little example: I don’t get to speak Japanese here in Cali all that often so I felt that my spoken fluency was suffering. Two weeks ago I met a bunch of Japanese folks and we got talking and as the conversation went on I was talking about something that happened to me in the gym. I just casually said that my thigh started to spasm when I was exercising. The word for spasm in Japanese is keiren (痙攣) and as it’s a medical term I probably have used the word less than 3 times in my entire life. The reason I remembered it is because it’s included in my SRS deck. I had reviewed it casually many times when I studied Japanese regularly back in Japan and it had become locked firmly into my long-term memory. To give you an idea of how long-term: I haven’t studied my Japanese SRS in any serious manner in about 3 years! This happened with a whole load of other words too, during the conversation.

So what can I learn?
The question should be “What do you want to learn?”.

Decks (collections of cards) can be completely customized to allow you learn anything that you can think of.

  • Use it to learn the vocabulary or sentence structure of a new language
  • Add photos and use it to learn the names and details of regular clients or workmates
  • Use it to memorize facts for quizzes from geography to quantum physics
  • Add sound and learn the pronunciation of difficult tonal languages like Chinese
  • Build a list of motivational quotes
  • Learn the nutritional values of the foods you consume most often

It really is up to you! You can find many pre-made decks online or you can create one completely by yourself and to your likings. For example, the front of your card could be a simple question (e.g. Who was the first man on the moon?) in which case the back of the card would be a simple answer (e.g. Neil Armstrong). On the other hand, if trying to learn the grammar of a new language you could write a short statement in the target language on the front of the card (e.g. Yo voy a la tienda cada mañana) in which case the back of the card (the answer) would be a explanation of new vocabulary or grammar in the sentence (e.g. tienda=store, cada=every/each). You can vary your question/answer style to your own needs.

This is what making your own cards looks like.It's as simple as writing in what you want to be on the front of the card (the question) and what you want to be revealed on the back (the answer).

This is what making your own cards looks like.
It’s as simple as writing in what you want to be on the front of the card (the question) and what you want to be revealed on the back (the answer).

The best way to start out would be to visit the website of whatever SRS you chose to use and read their instruction guide and FAQ to educate yourself about how to properly use their program. At first the learning curve can seem a little steep but within 30 minutes of downloading the software you’ll realize how easy it really is.

As I said previously, I really like Anki; it’s relatively easy to use and the best thing is it’s FREE!

Tips for using an SRS
Having used SRSs in one form or another over the years I’ve learned what works and what definitely doesn’t. Here are a few tips to make your learning experience more efficient.

  • Use it regularly. This may sound obvious but many people make the mistake of being very irregular with their SRS use. Remember, you only need a total of 20-30 minutes a day.
  • Keep questions simple. The shorter and simpler your questions are the faster you’ll get through your deck and the more you’ll enjoy it. Trying to cram too much info into a question is actually counterproductive and hinders fact retention.
  • Use it whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Especially if you use the online versions with your mobile phone you can study on the bus, waiting in line at the supermarket, during commercials while watching TV etc.
  • Keep cards interesting. If you make your own deck (which I recommend) make the cards as interesting and relevant to your own interests as possible. You retain interesting information much more easily than something you have no interest in. My language decks are full of cards about cooking, science and travel. It’s interesting (for me) and it’s in my target language (the majority of the language used is transferable to everyday conversation)
  • Grade yourself fairly. This one is a big stumbling block for newbies. If you don’t understand a question then score yourself accordingly. Otherwise you’ll only be lying to yourself and your progress will suffer. No one will know if you get it wrong anyway.
  • Have fun. Nothing will sabotage your learning more than if your study isn’t fun. Look at it as a daily game where you try to get through as many cards as possible in a set amount of time. Do everything you can to keep it interesting and fun. Make sure you want to come back to study.

I know this is a lot of info to handle at first. It was for me too a few years ago. But if you give SRSs a chance and put in a genuine effort at the start to wrap your head around how to use it, it really could be one of the greatest learning tools you’ll ever encounter.

So no more excuses for not learning the names, capitals and flags of every country in the world or the lyrics to that song you love or those few key phrases in Spanish to impress that pretty latina girl at the salsa club 😉

What are you gonna learn first? Let me know in the comments.

**********************************************************************
If you like this article please share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

22 Ways Salsa Makes Life Better

19 Feb
You can quote me on that!

You can quote me on that!

My life has changed hugely since I started dancing salsa, unquestionably for the better and I’m certain that this is the case for everyone else who dances.

Whether you’re already reaping the benefits or you’re looking for a little motivation to start dancing, here’s a little list of the things that make salsa so popular and addictive.

1. New Friends: Getting into salsa opens up a whole new world of people from literally every walk of life who you otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet. I’ve even made a lot of salsero friends through this blog, whom I haven’t met in person, yet! I am so grateful for the huge amount of great friends I have made through salsa.

2. Lose Weight: When I’m dancing 3 nights a week I’m at my leanest. If I ever go through a period when I’m not dancing for an extended period of time I really notice the weight pile on quickly! Dance and say goodbye to those love-handles.

3. Stay Healthy: Doctors recommend you get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to keep your heart healthy. Salsa is a great way to up your heart rate and boost cardiovascular health and the fact that it’s so fun means you’ll stick with it. It’s definitely more entertaining than hitting a treadmill for 30 minutes. Social dance has also been shown to keep the mind sharper as we age, better than any other physical activity!

4. Improve Coordination: Salsa teaches you how to coordinate complex footwork with arm combinations. Countless studies and personal experience have shown that coordination gained in one physical activity is transferable to a whole range of others. So if you want to move well in general, dance!

5. Forget about Life’s Worries: I think one of the major reasons I fell in love with salsa was that it became a form of meditation for me. Dance allows you to focus all of your thoughts on the dance and forget about everything else for a few minutes (or more). Losing yourself in the moment when dancing is probably a therapy that a lot of people could use in this day and age!

6. Learn New Languages: Salsa communities the world over tend to be very international and that makes them a great place to learn or practice a new language especially Spanish (well, you may as well learn what all those songs are about: Short Answer = Lovey dovey crap).

7. New Cultures: For the same reason mentioned above you can learn so much about different cultures from meeting new people through salsa. This really helped me to learn more about the large Polish and Latin communities in Dublin.

8. Better Love Life: While salsa should never, ever be considered a dating service I can honestly say that it has done absolutely no harm to my love life.

9. Better Understanding of People: Salsa is social. You will meet all sorts of new people and form all sorts of new relationships and gain new insights into how people work. I can’t begin to explain how salsa will affect every interaction you will have with people in your life but it will, for the better.

10. Discover Passion: This was and is huge for me. Through salsa you discover the passion of dance, the passion created between a couple as they move together as one in harmony with music and then you begin to discover it in every other aspect of your life. And once you taste passion you will never want to look back at how your life was before.

11. Appreciate Music: I never really listened to music before I started dancing but ever since then it has become a huge part of my life. I pay attention to new music, not just what I can dance to, appreciate it, enjoy it and feel it.

12. Travel: I’ve lost count of the amount of countries and cities I’ve danced in. Salsa is truly international and if ever you’re in a big city where you don’t know anyone you can just google a salsa club, get dancing and start meeting the locals and maybe they’ll even show around their city too.

13. Learn to Relax: I’ve always found it tough to relax myself physically, so much so that a Japanese masseuse once described me as the tensest human being she had ever worked with. Losing yourself in the music and letting yourself flow with the rhythm is one incredibly effective way of relaxing your whole body, not to mention how well you’ll sleep after a great night of dancing.

14. Improve your Fashion Sense: While this doesn’t apply to everyone I’ve definitely noticed that when people enter the salsa community they become a lot more adventurous with their clothes, start to pay a little more attention to their appearance and basically “sex-up” their whole wardrobe. I know plenty of guys who have discovered the wonders of hats and waistcoats through salsa (you know who you are).

15. Boost Confidence: Probably the biggest difference most people experience with salsa is just the sheer confidence boost you feel once you get into. In salsa you have to step out of your comfort zone all the time; asking people to dance, trying new moves etc and this definitely transfers to other areas of your life. Sex, business, sports, you name it! An extra bit of confidence goes a long way in life.

16. Discover Other Dances: Once people start dancing salsa, they often don’t stop there. Salsa is like a “Gateway Dance” into a whole world of other dances like bachata, merengue, cha cha cha, kizomba, tango and a whole host more. What will your poison be?

What will your poison be?

What will your poison be?

17. Drink Less: This really applies in Ireland where we have a ridiculously alcohol-centered social culture. In my experience, salsa dancers don’t drink much (some of us not at all) and this may be why some people turn to salsa. It offers a social outlet that doesn’t revolve around booze which is a blessing in some countries.

18. Overcome Addictions: Salsa is addictive! Many people find themselves that the best way to get over one thing is to replace it with something else. Be it smoking, alcohol, drugs, food, popping bubble-wrap, an ex-relationship or whatever, salsa is a very healthy and rewarding alternative.

19. Dodge Pedestrians: This might (probably is) just be me but ever since I started dancing I’ve found I’ve become really good at skillfully dodging oncoming pedestrian traffic when walking on the sidewalk. I don’t walk around people anymore, I glide!

20. Physical Contact: This applies more to people in Asia and the English speaking world but dancing salsa makes you much more comfortable with human contact. Obviously when you dance you’re going to be in close physical contact with your partner but on top pf that, salsa communities, thanks to the Latin influence tend to be warmer and closer; people greet each other with kisses and hugs. The world needs more of this.

21. Meet Me: When I asked people on my facebook page about how salsa has made their lives better, a lot replied saying that it had helped them meet me 😉 So there you go: Dance salsa and meet The Dancing Irishman, what more could you ask for haha!

22. It’s Fun: I can’t believe I almost forgot to throw in the most obvious reason of them all. The more fun in our lives the better right! Dance passionately with countless beautiful people to fantastic music until the sun comes up. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on… the rest comes later.

What about you? How has salsa improved your life? Let me know in the comments.

**********************************************************************
If you like this article please share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

Stick to your Guns (How to make new habits automatic)

31 Jan
Image

If I hadn’t stuck with salsa I’d never have learned just how much fun dance really is!

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a few months ago, a guy who had traveled to Colombia to find a new, less stressful life much like myself.

He was working here and telling me how much he disliked his new job (he had started a little over a week before) and how he had read from some online guru that people shouldn’t spend their lives doing things that they don’t enjoy. He told me how much he agreed with this “guru” (he quit said job less than a week later) and how he firmly believed that people should constantly pursue new experiences.

“I don’t want to be the kind of guy that can’t remember the last time he tried something new” he told with a smile and a lot of confidence. “I want to try new things as much as I can”, “That’s” how you live your life”!

I felt a little sorry for him as soon as he said it!

Not that I disagree with him. I really believe that new experiences keep life interesting and keep us, as people, on our toes both physically and mentally. If you can’t remember the last time you tried your hand at something new, you really should take a good look at your life to make sure you’re not sinking into a rut.

My problem with what my friend said stems from that fact that he was so fervent about his belief in “new experiences” that he forgot how important it is to dedicate time to ones endeavors, to develop them beyond the superficial.

I’ll explain this the best way I know how; through salsa.

Let’s assume that when you went to your first salsa party a few years ago you were looking at salsa as your new experience. Let’s say you stuck with it for a few classes and learned the basic steps, a cross body lead and a turn or two and were pretty proud of yourself for it.

Then you decided to take up spear-fishing! All in the pursuit of new experiences.

You would never have learned the things that you have in all the time you’ve been dancing. You would never have learned how to enjoy music and dance as much as you do now. More importantly you wouldn’t know all the amazing people that you have met thanks to the world of dancing.

Give it time
As I said, new experiences are amazing but if you don’t dedicate yourself to new activities, you’ll never experience them the way they’re supposed to be. You’ll have just scratched the surface, thrown them a superficial glance and missed out on all the secrets that would have been revealed to you had you only “stuck to your guns”.

New Year, New You
I’m mentioning this now at the end of January because I’m sure many of you started out the year with great intentions and I’m also sure that many of you have thrown some of those goals out the window, just as I have.

Doing something new is easy the first time in the sense that you don’t need to dedicate yourself to it. Keeping it up is what’s tough, keeping it up is what takes effort and keeping it up is what reaps the greatest rewards.

My first salsa class was fun and, in a way, easy because I didn’t have any expectations for myself. I knew I was going to suck. Sticking with salsa for my first year however was tough. The few salsa parties I went to (they were surprisingly hard to find in rural Japan. Who’d have thought?) were like torture. I was terrified of making mistakes and beat myself up after for not having the confidence to ask more people out to dance. I thought to myself many times how easy it would be to just not bother, to give up and try something else.

However I also knew that if I stuck with it I’d be able to do the amazing things that I saw all those people doing on the dance floor and I’d be able to enjoy it as much as they seemed to be.

So I stuck to my guns and now they’re fully loaded (sweet pun, I know). I can dance (something I never imagined I’d be able to do) and dance has improved my life in many more ways than I can go into here.

Give yourself time
All dancing aside, if you want to achieve something, anything, you have to be dedicated to it.

How many of you said that you were going to eat healthier this year and are currently munching on the stale doughnuts you found at the bottom of your handbag? How many of you said you were going to get yourself a new job and your old resume remains only partially updated from the time when you got your last job?

Research these days says that for a new habit to stick, you need to stick with it for between 20-28 days. What that means is that if you try something regularly for just 3-4 weeks you break through a certain wall and suddenly maintaining that habit becomes a hell of a lot easier.

3-4 weeks is not a lot of time but that doesn’t mean that being dedicated that whole time is easy. It’s not. But if you stick it out, if you put up with the unpleasantness and inconvenience for just a few weeks your body will reward you by making it a whole lot easier for you. You’re not running uphill anymore, you’re cruising on the flat and straight road to victory.

Obviously 3-4 weeks doesn’t apply to everything. I takes me much more time to get used to something but from experience I know that there comes a time in every endeavor when things suddenly become easier, when things make sense and it all becomes a whole lot of fun.

I experienced it in salsa when my basic step became automatic and freed up my arms to do combinations and I’ve experienced it with Japanese and Spanish when I learned enough vocabulary and grammar to make conversations automatic instead of tediously over-thought.

Automation
In fact, that might be just it. You just need to give something new enough time for it to become automatic. Once that happens it’s clear skies and a nice wind at your back.

So what is it you want to do or learn?

If you want to get fitter then dedicate 3-4 weeks to going to the gym or going jogging at least 3 days a week.

If you want to eat less junk-food make yourself a promise that you won’t touch the stuff for a whole month.

Give yourself a month and once you start to see and feel the benefits you won’t need anymore will-power to help you achieve your goals. You’ll have made it automatic and that’s when the real magic starts to happen.

Forget January guys, your month starts here.

**********************************************************************
If you like this article please share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

Humble Pie (and why you need it!)

17 Oct

When was your last slice?

To those of you who have been dancing for a while and have reached a decent level, when was the last time that you had a good portion of humble pie?

I recently joined a dance company that has nothing to do with salsa. I joined to learn new styles of dance, new movements, and to meet some new people. The group has a great reputation and a very strict director that maintains it as such.

My first 2 practice sessions  with them weren’t overly challenging as they were going easy on the new guy! However, I arrived late for my third practice session with them and after I warmed up I moved to the back of the room to watch the rehearsal of a particularly fast paced choreography. The room itself was round with windows on all sides so everything could be seen by all the people outside (the practice hall is in a public park). At the back I clumsily tried to copy some of the movements I saw performed in front of me. I was pretty embarrassed as I knew the people outside could see me doing it and and doing it badly at that.

They then did the whole choreography to music. It was fast. So fast that during the 3 times they did it, my jaw hung open somewhere around my ankles.

Then came the moment that I hoped wouldn’t come. The director called my name (actually he called me “Michael” first until someone corrected him) and asked me what part I had been watching. I froze! I had been watching the whole choreography in awe and hadn’t even thought of memorizing the moves. I didn’t answer and just stood there with a look something similar to what I looked like when I realized I was getting mugged for the first time “Is this seriously happening?”, “Oh God no!”.

A friend of mine ran over to me and asked again what part I had watched and I stuttered that I hadn’t watched any one part in particular and that I couldn’t do the dance. She told me with the sternness of a parent to a child who doesn’t want to go to school, that I had to do it. My fate was sealed. I was getting schooled whether I liked it or not!

I walked to the position the director picked for me, looked around and took the pose of the guys around me and then the music sounded and in less time than it takes to say “Dear God No!”, the choreography started.

Quick turn, new pose, start spinning, new position, pose in front of female partner, rotate around her, spin to new partner, take formation with the other men, move around the room, pair up with yet again new partner, spin her a few times, dance around her… and so on. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I imagine it looked something like the first few minutes of the D-Day landings in Normandy as viewed by the allied troops… “We’re FU$KED!”

Another member of the group actually chased me around the room shouting directions at me and telling me where to move. All I could think about was how badly I was doing it and all the people outside looking at me, laughing and thinking of me as the uncoordinated foreigner who thought he could join this dance group.

The moment the music stopped was the sweetest sound (or I should say silence) I have ever heard. I was humiliated, I felt like crying, I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me down and I had a whole 15 seconds to feel that way before the choreography started again. Of the 5 times we rehearsed, none were quite as humiliating as the first time but they came shockingly close.

I’ll be honest I really felt like I wanted to give up the idea of dancing with the group, right there and then.

Sucking like a vacuum cleaner
When was the last time you felt that way yourself? Might it have been after your first uncoordinated salsa class? During your first awkward “attempt” at a social dance? Right after you were refused a dance for the first time? That time you dropped your partner on her head?

I’m assuming, however, that you didn’t quit, that you grit your teeth and kept going and because of that you dance the way you do today.

What I’m trying to get at is that before we get good at something, we have to SUCK at it big-time first. We humiliate ourselves, we look like idiots and we feel like quitting but every time we practice we suck a little bit less.

I think that’s the whole point, to suck a little less every time. It’s called practice because the whole idea of it is for you to get better, eventually. If we were automatically good at everything we tried we would never feel that sense of achievement that we get after putting in some hard work and suffering through the embarrassment of sucking for a while.

The demeaning ordeal with the dance group really helped me remember what it felt like when I first started dancing and made me appreciate how far I’ve come since then. I used to actually wait for songs to be almost finished before I asked women to dance to avoid the embarrassment of only knowing a couple of moves. Now I can’t get enough dances in during a night out!

As long as I remember how far I’ve come with salsa (or Japanese or Karate or anything else I’ve achieved for that matter) taking on new challenges doesn’t phase me much. I know from experience that to get to the point where I’m good at something I need to go through a “perceived” humiliating period of seriously sucking at it.

Go out and get a slice
Being humbled every now and then would do us all some good every now and then. Try to remember when you had your last slice of humble pie. I’d you can’t remember it’s probably due time for a big piece so go out and look for a new challenge. Find something you’ve always wanted to do and just do it. And if you suck at the start (as most people will) just eat that portion of humble pie and shout out military style “THANK YOU SIR! CAN I HAVE ANOTHER SIR!”. The slices will get smaller and smaller every time!

As for me, I plan on going back to practice with the dance group this week for my next portion of humble pie. I’m going to suck, but not as bad as the last time, and that’s what it’s all about.

Keep dancing folks.

**********************************************************************
If you like this article please share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

ZoukSide Down - A journey with Brazilian Zouk

A personal blog aimed at contributing, and paying homage, to the most sensual, beautiful dance of Brazil.

SalsaPhD

A blog for my dance research on salsa.

Vocabat

Spanish as it hits my ears

SoraNews24

Bringing you yesterday's news from Japan and Asia, today.

Rhapsodies of the Barefooted Gypsy

Just another WordPress.com site

Carina Of Devon

Adventures of a family afloat

Salsera in the City

The musings of a salsa dancing obsessive

RebSolomon

Cycling: A Great Excuse to Eat More

Alicia en el País de las Maravillas

Las Maravillas del Mundo

Successify!

Create a Life That Matters!

Surfista Travels Siargao, Philippines

The most fun, personalized & professional SURF LESSONS and SURFING EXPERIENCE in the Siargao Island, Philippines!

Zacki Zacki Miyazaki - Sascha's Blog

宮崎在中、ドイツ出身のサシャのブログ

Raymond D. Murphy's Portfolio

My graphic design portfolio, displaying all of my work working in Tokyo

DMS Photograph

Dreams. Memories. Stories.

Oh what a world!

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

%d bloggers like this: