Monday, April 22, 2013

One Deux Tres Quattro 五 (MOMM)

With my impending unemployment, I've started (frantically) trying to improve/ refine/ dust off the skills I already have. Of course my major selling point is always the whole quintilingual thing. Just in case there's a possibility that my next job provides an opportunity to use my languages, I've trying to bring them all back up to par.

By using all 5 languages every day.

Of course, I don't get it done every day. It isn't neccessarily hard to find the time to get to all five. I think what's hardest for me is to stop what I'm currently doing and start something else. For example, if I'm reading a book in French, I can't just read it until I'm bored, or I won't get to the other languages.


English is my native language, but ironically, it may be the language I miss most often. I only need to use English if I blog or go on Facebook (which I don't do that much these days), if I go out with the 2 other English-speakers in town, or if I have to teach (which I don't do every day). Any English-speaker who lives in Japan (outside the metropolitan areas) can tell you how much fun it is to forget your native language.

Not that you ever completely lose the abilitiy to speak English. Imagine if you were a professional runner, and then for several years, you didn't run. You just walked. If you tried to run, it would feel weird and you wouldn't be as good as before. That's the English of an ex-pat. I forget technical words sometimes. Like "exfoliate." If I needed to use a word like that in conversation, I would probably not be able to pull it up. I'd have to pause and think, or I'd have to explain the term instead of just using the correct word.

It's not so bad yet, that I'm seriously worried about my English, yet. But I think I should do something to get it back to it's old levels of shininess at some point.


I'm actively studying French, that is, going through a Grammar Review book. I'm surprised to see that I still remember so much considering I haven't studied, or really used, French in 6 years. But then, it's my university major, and I did spend 11 years in school and months (cumulatively) in Martinique and Montreal.

I'm also reading Roald Dahl's Matilda in French. I call this "passive study." It's easier and more relaxed than studying grammar patterns. I think it also helps you to speak more naturally. My current process is to read books that I'm already familiar with. When you read, there are really two processes going on. The first decodes the individual words and the grammar. The second works on the content of the story. Reading in a foreign language is hard because you get so caught up in the language you can't enjoy the story. But by reading books I'm familiar with I can enjoy the story and concentrate on the language.


My poor Spanish. Spanish is a very mixed bag for me. I dropped it like someone else's snotty tissue in 2nd form (age 13), and then continued learning it watching TNT Latin America (true story). Then I decided to major in it (along with French) at university.The interesting side effect of not having really been taught Spanish is that my reading and listening are awesome, but my grammar sucks. Which causes my speaking and writing to also suck.

I'm passively studying Spanish by reading Stephenie Meyer'sTwilight on my Kindle. (There's a language menu on the left in the book section on Amazon, making your Kindle a valuable foreign language resource.) Obviously Twilight is not very difficult language-wise, but I'm still surprised at how well it's going. I've also been off Spanish for 6 years, and it doesn't have 11 years of formal study to back it up.


Sometimes I think I'm only good at Italian because I'm good at French and Spanish. I took an 8-month conversational course five years ago. Then I studied on my own for a month earlier this year. Somehow I've managed to pass an exam that's meant to be taken after 2 years of university study.

Earlier this year, I actively studied Italy. But for the moment, I'm just trying to keep from losing the little skill I have. I'm reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games. I couldn't find it Kindle on the US site, so I had to buy  a hard copy off Amazon's Italian site. (Amazon is a great resource for language learning since they are in so many countries across the world.) Since Italian is my least practised language, it was really really hard in the beginning. But I stuck with it (mostly because I had an exam last month) and it's gotten much easier. In fact, I look forward to my Italian reading the most. Frankly, I think that's a real testament to the strength of the story of the Hunger Games.


It might be easier to ask what I'm NOT doing in Japanese. There's a language course attached to the programme I work for, and I'm studying that. I also was doing the Pimsleur course, but I haven't done any in a while, because I'm way past the level Pimsleur takes you to. I'm also using a intermediate textbook.

For passive study, I'm watching music videos from my favourite Japanese artists on youtube. I also watch tv dramas (rather obsessively). I bought myself a series for my birthday in December. I've watched the whole thing (11 episodes) 8 times since then. Entire sentences will come out my mouth  in a most natural way, because I hear them in that series.

It takes a long time to get to the reading stage in Japanese. You know, the whole 2000 characters reccommended for daily use thing. But I've managed to pick up about 1500 of them, so I can know read like a 14 year old. I'm reading Harry Potter, which is sort of hilarious, since most of the words are made-up. But my reading skills have improved significantly since I started.

I have no idea how many of you blog-reader-type folk are interested in foreign languages or have studied them. But I hope that if you're looking to start one, or improve one you already have, this will help. Plus it's Monday, and that's what's on my mind.

PS. The title of the blog is counting to five in my languages. Deux is French. Tres is Spanish. Quattro is Italian. 五 (pronounced go) is five in Japanese.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Agent Hunter - An Online Resource for International Writers (WAW)

It's been a while since I've done a Write Away Wednesday (WAW), but I'm very glad to bring it back today to introduce Agent Hunter!

As an international writer, there are many American agencies and  publishers that will not even look at my work. Many of the larger ones will point me in the direction of their British counterparts. In fact, some of my work is very much more suited to Britain anyhow.

For someone who is (or at least, once was) very active online, the British publishing industry is a little disappointing. Many agencies don't accept initial contact by email. Not that many agents have blogs or twitter accounts. And there's nowhere to find a giant list of all agents.

Or there wasn't until now.


The brilliant folk at The Writers' Workshop have collated a list of all the agents they could find in the UK! You can search agents by a number of terms. Writing sci-fi? You can find only the agents that represent that genre. Since I live in Japan, it's very important that an agent accept email submissions. I don't even want to imagine the postage on 20 partials to the UK. (*shudder*) That's one search term I've always got clicked. For the same reason, it's important that my agent be active online, and you can search by agents with blogs and twitter accounts.

Here's a list of the other terms you can search by:

Agent experience
Client list status (are they looking to take on clients)
Who represents who?
Specific likes
Specific dislikes
Opportunities to meet (conferences etc.)
Size of agency
AAA member

And, of course, if you know the name of agent you're interested you can just search for that particular agent.


Once you've found an agent you like, you can click over to their page. There you'll find all the imformation listed above as well as a short bio. When they were setting up the site, The Writers' Workshop attempted to contact all of the agents in the database. Some of them provided a bio. It's one of my favourite things on Agent Hunter. With US agents, they're all over Twitter and they have blogs. There are some agents who I feel like I know well beyond broad categories like "Accepts YA". That's something that's always been lacking in the UK industry. The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook (published by A&C Black) gives a comprehensive lists of agencies, but it won't tell you which agent would die for a protagonist who's obsessed with yarn bombing. (I haven't come across any yet, but then my protagonist isn't obsessed with yarn bombing either.)

Another useful category on the Agent Page is "Authors and Books Liked". Publishing is not an exact science. (Not by a long shot.) So once again, the simple genre listings that you may find in the Yearbook or in other resources don't say much. An author may like paranormal, but have had it up to here with vampires. If your manuscript is about a teenage Dracula, then why waste your time and the agent's? Agent Hunter can save you that trouble.


I'm not going to speak much of them (because I'm most interested in the Agent Search) but you can also search for Agencies and Publishers. On the Agency Page you can find more detailed submission details and the average response time. The feature most of interest for international writers is the "Accepts overseas writers" field. The Publishers pages aren't much use if you're a fiction writer, since most publishers no longer take unsolicited submissions. But you can search to see which ones do.


If you're interested head over to the site. Just in case you can't click the linkies, it's
You need an account to access the site, but don't worry that's super-easy. And free. You can get poke around and get a feel for the site. And you'll have access to some of the information.


Some of the information will also be blurred out. If you'd like to access all of the database's information, there is a subscription fee: £12 ($18 USD) for a whole year of access. That's less than a month of  Publishers' Marketplace ($20 USD) or The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (currently £12.15 on Amazon UK - on sale). There's a 7 day free trial, so you can dip your toes in and if it's not your kind of pool, you can hop back out. No consequences.

What are you waiting for? If you're an international writer, you should head over there now.

I said NOW. Why are you still reading this? ;) 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My neighbour's not dead! (and other happy thoughts)

I hadn't seen my neighbour all year. I normally see her a lot. She lives directly across the road from me, and she has this weird habit of squatting in my driveway or the one next-door.

She's almost 80. I've seen her do some pretty out there things, but I'm not sure if it's because she's slightly off, or because she's old and Japanese and therefore has given up on caring what society thinks. Either way, she's been MIA lately. Then, for the last couple weeks, her always-open gate was closed and there were curtains drawn in all the windows and doors. (Curtains are really unusual in old houses since they have shoji- the paper sliding doors.)

I began to worry that she'd died and I just hadn't seen the black and white bunting around the house.

I left for work today and her door was open. I thought about going over to ask whoever I found if the old lady was all right. But then I saw my around-the-corner neighbour with some trees in a wheelbarrow, and I didn't want to look strange and stalkery, so I continued on my way. It didn't matter though, because she was in the driveway next-door. She was just standing there talking to my winter neighbour (who lives in a house somewhere in the mountains all summer) like nothing was up.

"Wow, it's been a while. I was a little worried," I told her.
"Yes," she said back to me.

(Yay for the Japanese language and the art of being vague.)

I spent the next 5 minutes practically skipping, humming to myself, "My neighbour's not dead, my neighbour's not dead," over and over. Until I got the house next to the barber shop. With the black and white bunting. The sign in Japan that a house is in mourning. My neighbour was not dead, but someone was.

It gave me a weird slice of perspective. I am happy. But someone, somewhere in the world is in a pit of despair. And the reverse is also true. When I am sad, someone somewhere is celebrating. The day that my loved-one died is the day that someone else's beloved child was born. The day I graduate is the same day someone else gets a rejection letter.

Two sides of the same coin. Could we even have happy without sad? Would it be worth it?

Who knows?

Happy and sad.
Ying and yang.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fly to your Heart

I'm currently engaged in two activities that many people all over the world have trouble with. Two activities where people are always searching out magic solutions, or the "best" way, or "foolproof" methods.

#1 Working out.

I've been overweight my whole life. Since I'm not at all a visual person, it doesn't usually bother me. But I've been through a couple of hard-core workout phases. The first was due to the fact that it is hard as heck to buy clothes. I realise now that's more because of my ridiculous proportions. My lower half spans 3 sizes!  Recently, I've been working out because of genealogy. Older people in my family seem to have every disease under the sun, and I'm trying to give myself a fighting chance.

All of this leads to having been on the work out train forever. So I'm sometimes on fora where people are looking for the "best path" to get in the shape they want to.

#2 Foreign language learning.

I'm a pluralinguist. (According to Wikipedia, that's a more accurate definition for someone who kind of randomly picks up languages with little or no formal teaching.) I like languages, and I'm always trying to get better at the ones I speak, while fighting off the urge to pick up more. (Soon, Korean. Soon.)

As I browse products to improve my Japanese ability, I come across tons of people who want to know. "What's the best program for my money?"

Disney's Tinkerbell has the answer.  (Because Disney always has the answer!)

(Okay, I realise Tinkerbell was not the first to stumble upon the concept of "to thine ownself be true," but she's definitely the cutest.)

How I do.

I've always been an extremist. Love something or hate it. Do something every day, no prob. Or not at all. Sure, I can keep up a middle ground for a while. But it's so much easier to just find the way that works for me. Then, instead of working at it, I can just sit back and watch it all fall into place.

So, I've designed a workout program that works for me:

A ton of workout DVDs from several big-name workout franchises. (Because I'd get bored of one cast.)
Alternating between off-the-deep-end working out and normal-people-pace. (I'd get bored at normal people pace, but I'd eventually burn out going off the deep end.)

For languages, generally the market-leaders are two particular programmes: one based on listening, one more visual. Well, obviously, the visual one was never an option. I'm currently doing the listening programme, but I've come across a problem I didn't expect. Just listening bores me out of my mind. I have to do something else while I study. I don't think that's how it's supposed to be.

My favourite language programme never gets called in the top 3. It's kind of like the books you probably used in school. Dialogue/ essay-type piece, followed by vocab, grammar break-down and exercises.

Should be obvious.

Once you've kind of stumbled onto the fact that stuff is easier once you tailor-make it for yourself, you wonder why it wasn't obvious. Cuz hold up a minute:

Things are easier when they're made to suit you.

Which part of that is NOT completely obvious? And yet, it takes us years to discover it. Some of us never do. And even after we have, we keep trying to crawl back into methods that have been proven to work well for others, but don't neccesarily gel with us.

Back to you.

All of this of course gets me to wondering. How many parts of our lives are we doing this with?

Working the jobs we're supposed to have. But not going as far as we could, because it's not what we want to be doing.

Being involved in good organisations. But not taking them forward, because they really don't pique our interests.

Writing what we're supposed to. How we're supposed to. Where we're supposed to. But not as well as we could, because it's not the best thing for us.

Takes a long time to learn the simplest lesson.

Do you.
Be yourself.
To thine ownself be true.
Fly to your heart.