Monday, January 12, 2009

Prepping for Jordan

Here we go again.

This is the fourth time for me to move to a new continent, and now the 8th country for me to live in.

I have my usual routine when I do a major move to a new place. It kind of goes along like this:

1) Look it up on a map.

Being a dumb, uninformed american with very little appreciation of geography I have now had to look up where I am flying to on a map THREE times in my life. My sister bought me a ticket to Kuala Lumpur when I was 20 (it sounded like Lumpia, the filipino egg-roll to me), I got a job offer in Saipan when I was 22 (I thought it was near Taiwan), and now Amman (which was somewhere east of Africa and south of Russia in my mind). Yes I said it. After 10 years of living abroad, 8 countries, and 4 languages, I can comfortably say that I will be pretty ignorant about the parts of the world where I have no connection to it. For all those snooty Europeans who think they know a thing or two about world cultures, you are ignorant too (They do know more about geography but I think its because they follow international soccer teams and past conquests of colonialized civilisations). Ask any French who didn't go to vietnam on a tourist package and they will have little, if any knowledge of their former colony. The only ones who seem to have a connection to every continent in the world seem to be the australians and new zealanders, since they manage to sleep on someone's couch in every part of the world during their twenties.

2) Purchase a do-it-yourself language kit.

I went to extra-curricular classes to learn Korean, and once I got the hang of learning languages I developed my own habits and taught myself Japanese and French (I did take a few classes, but they never seemed to work). I find that the language books you find in book stores are pretty worthless, and the best ones can be found at universities. Most books just cover level 1, and then when you master that one, you are stuck trying to find a level 2 book by a different author and having to re-learn past lessons.

I recently read Timothy Ferriss' book the four hour work week (, and found that he had a similar rapid approach to learning languages. He speaks 6 languages and basically tries to prove to the world that he is super awesome and buffed.

Its built on a few concepts about how we as human beings use language.

a) We only use about 800-1000 of the same words 80% percent of the time in daily language. So getting conversational in a language is about mastering those sets of words.

b) In computer programming, you can achieve a lot of functionality with just the basics logic compenents of 'IF, AND, OR, WHEN, Where.' The first thing to do is to master these and you can suprisingly handle a lot of conversations.

c) Learn the fifty essential verbs and then some that are fun. Eat, sleep, drink, and meet come to mind. Action words like puke, pee, and explode are always handy and fun to know.

d) Make flashcards in sets of 30 and memorize them 5 at a time. Only move onto the next 5 when you have mastered the previous set. When you are finished with the whole set, review the set in totallity. Set aside the ones you no longer remember and repeate the exercise with this subset. I based this technique off the fact that short term memory remembers things in sets of 5-10, and then the trick to setting them to long term memory is to go back and recall the same flash cards later on.

I have met tons of people who have studied years of a language and cannot speak a simple phrase due to nervousness and lack of practicing in real scenarios. This is totally avoidable and has an easy solution. Pure and simple, I suggest drinking copious amounts of alcohol and partying with the locals. I can remember having late night karaoke parties in Tokyo and having my homestay family remark 'wow, your Japanese got so much better!' Now, the problem I face in Jordan is that alcohol is prohibited in most social scenarios so I am going to have to figure out a workaround in this situation.

A lot of folks don't have time to sit and study. Same here. The great thing with this system is that I can stand in line at the bank, be stuck in a subway, listen to a language CD in my car. So basically, I don't eat into my productive times when I work, I study when I would otherwise be unproductive. I would rather learn 15 new words than stare at the dandruff on the person in front of me in line at the post office. I learned most of my french when I took a two hour commute to work in Scotland for 3 months for example.

Age does matter, and I have to say I am a lot lazier than I used to be and the words don't stick to memory like they once did. I am 32 now, so lets see how well my system stands up to father time.

3) Pack up the essentials

I have no clue whether I can get the more peculiar items like Vietnamese Fish sauce and Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce in Amman. I have set up boxes of can't live without's and planning to send them ahead. For those of you who are curious, here is my list:

Soy Sauce
Sesame oil
nori seaweed for sushi
Gochu garu (Korean chili powder)
Gochu jang (Korean chili paste)
Teoenjang (Soybean paste)
Dashi (Japanese broth powder)
Sesame seeds
rice vinegar
fish sauce
oyster sauce
Thai curry
Shitake mushrooms

Well, that's a pretty big first post. I spent my weekend writing it out and can't promise to have such an extensive write up the next time. I generally write in bursts, and not daily or hourly posts. The experiences are new and fresh but after a while, I start to get local and write less about my surprises. At the end, it becomes a lot of rants. So, sit back and lets enjoy the year in Jordan!

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