Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

PADI Assistant Instructor – done and dusted

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

While still doing the PADI Divemaster internship, I started and recently finished the PADI Assistant Instructor course. The certification card should be on its way.

Whereas the Divemaster has a lot of practical aspects, the next step in the PADI career focuses on teaching, teaching techniques, structuring lessons and applied lessons in confined water and open water.

First time supervising an open water lesson was pretty stressful. All of a sudden you have to deal with things such as bottom topography and current, which you don’t really have to take into consideration in a pool.

One of the most painful lessons I learned was the aspect of control – even if you have an assistant, you need to constantly monitor everyone around you, even the assistant – unless you know him/her pretty well and you make a good team.

I have to say, I really enjoyed the first dive *after* the course because after weeks and weeks of tasks, homework, assignments and such I finally got the chance to enjoy a quiet, no-pressure dive again. Felt good…

(Edit on 2017/08/25: corrected three typos)

Schnapszahl* anniversary on memrise

Monday, April 10th, 2017

I’m a cautiosly avid user of memrise ( – every tool has its advantages and disadvantages. So far, memrise has worked well for me and this weekend I was able to celebrate a 555 day streak (everyday continous learning). Something to be a little proud of.

This means two things:

  1. I have used a computer/tablet/smartphone for 555 days straight
  2. 556 days ago, the memrise app login and the website were not available, I just could not login which ruined my previous 300+ streak. Thanks a lot, memrise. By the way, there was never an apology or even an explanation about the outage. Well, it’s a free tool so I guess I can’t complain.

*What’s a Schnapszahl, you ask? Apparently there’s no direct translation in English. It’s defined as a number which consists of several equal numbers such as the above 555. Before trying to find a translation and checking the definition I though it also included patterns e.g. 737737, but this could be a regional difference.

Does memrise help you remember stuff?

Monday, August 29th, 2016

I use a couple of memorization tools…. anymemo, memrise, mnemosyne. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. In this post, I would like to divulge my opinion on memrise.

Overall, I have been using memrise for app. 553 days. The app encourages streaks – continous days of usage. For one set of vocabulary, I’m on my 333rd consecutive day – before that, the website was down so I lost my previous 200 or so day streak.

By the way, no one at memrise has ever apologized for that one day of downtime nor was there ever any explanation posted on the webiste. Shame, shame….

Memrise comes in two options: You can either login to the website and learn facts and vocabulary there or you can install the memrise app.

Please keep in mind that I’m using memrise to learn Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hebrew. The relevance will be clear after the next paragraph…

The algorithm behind either version is the same – the main difference is the input and its configuration. On the website, you can choose to type vocabulary by using your physical keyboard whereas in the app, memrise provides an onscreen keyboard. Why does that make a difference?

On my pc/laptop, I have succesfully configured Mandarin and Japanese input for which I can use the latin alphabet as a basis. To type 漢字 in Japanese, I switch to the Japanese input and type “kanji” (Enter). The same principle works for Mandarin.

Korean on the other hand uses a totally different keyboard and so far I have not found a latin alphabet-bases input configuration. A colleague uses a self-made paper layout on top of his physical keyboard. Until I have to get really close and intimate with Korean, I will remain on the current low-key configuration, thank you.

As for Hebrew which is a right-to-left language (totally freaks me out in vocabulary lists in Excel), I don’t know. I’m just learning some basic words and phrases for the time being, so I have not looked into any input methods on my pc/laptop.

The exercises on memrise come in several patterns, but this can widely differ from course by course, which are contributed by memrise members. Naturally, the quality of the courses can also differ…

Most courses come with cards in English–><foreign_language> and the opposite (<foreign_language>->English). The “better” courses provided audio files for the <foreign_language> cards which can be really helpful for any foreign language, especially tonal languagues.

The “written” cards come in the following variety: Typing, recognizing and selecting. All in all, a good variety.

Before a card is marked as learned, you have to repeat it appr. six or seven times in learning mode. Afterwards it is moved to the “learned” heap and reappears according to a long-time memorization algorithm, similar to supermemo, anymemo, mnemosye and so on.

The downsides of memrise (the app, not the website) is the development. I was invited to participate as beta tester for memrise but after watching the google+ group for a couple of weeks, I decided to leave the group and not update memrise if I can avoid it.

The guys behind memrise basically make the same mistake all developers seem to make…. features over fixes and implemenation of features that do not make sense. I can understand the rationale behind this, but first of all I want a working app not new features all the time.

Also, there is considerable lack of communication about development and features. I have not seen a properly maintained list of bugs (open, in work, fixes). Frankly, the whole process of reporting bugs until a fix is implemented seems not very mature. A lot of users in the groups simply state “it’s not working pls fix it”. The more communicative users at least state their type of mobile phone, what version of ios or android and how to recreate the bug.

If you just are looking for a different way to learn vocabulary, check out memrise – at least I think it’s a good way to learn.

Why I quit after a streak of almost 300 days…

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

When browsing, there are occasionally posts like “Useful websites” and the language-minded links listed usually never fail to mention DL lets you learn languages for free.

I signed up to learn some more Italian. At that time the course was not available for native German speakers so I changed the language preferences to English and signed up for the Italian/English course.
DL tries to keep you motivated by giving you a virtual coin if you complete a 10 days streak, two for a twenty day streak and so on. You also get virtual coins by completing a course section.

As the title says, I had completed a streak of almost 300 days when all my frustrations on DL erupted and I deactivated my account.

Why? Several reasons:

1) Whoever builds up the examples database of English sentences to be translated into Italian is not a native English speaker so the sentences sound weird and unnatural. Apparently not all English sentences are proofread either.
This leads you to actually learn terrible English sentences by heart rather than learning Italian.

2) The sections are theme-based e.g. sports, weather, business etc. If you translate everything theme-related correctly but write “this” instead of “that”, the whole sentence is marked wrong. After a couple of innocent mistakes like that in a lesson, the time-based repetition mechanism marks the lesson as “unlearned” which means you might be an expert on sports/business/weather but you have to repeat the lesson anyway.
My way around that was to build up a database of sentences, over a thousand in the end from which I could copy the correct answers. Not the optimal way to learn a language, I know, but as I am prone to those small but costly errors, I saw no other way.

3) Per problem, there is a discussion board. Usually, the more comments there are, the more controversial a sentence is. People post equally correct answers and improvements, ask about details and such but if the moderators read those posts, they never do anything about it. Still, the community within DL is quite helpful and friendly.

4) Reporting is virtually useless because rarely ever someone acts on it. Per problem you can also write a problem report. I’ve written dozens and dozens and only occasionally got a reply. When I started the German course (as a native speaker, I wanted to see how quickly I can finish the course) I found so many sentences that were weird and wrote so many reports but I never heard anything back. And I’m not the only one… people usually post “reported on xx/xx/xx” on the discussion board and still months later, only the crappy original solution would be accepted.

5) A language is a living thing, there are dozens of correct way to translate a sentence and yet, the solution coming from a db, can only correct a small amount of typos. Same as in other languages, there are differences between German in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Why would I have to think like a German if my answer is perfectly correct in Austria or Switzerland? Imagine you taking a real-life class and the teacher would mark your answer as incorrect just because the teacher hails from a different part of a country?

6) The algorithm that chooses the problems still needs a lot of work. I’ve worked through lessons such as sports where I had to consecutively answer the same problem three times.

7) The problem databases are one-way only but not vice versa. A correct solution to a translation problem might be marked as incorrect if you put the same reply into the translation problem coming from the other language.

The good thing about DL? It’s free – that is if I don’t count the keyboards I smashed in frustration. I feel much better now that I’ve quit DL.

威廉·泰尔(Willhelm Tell)

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

威廉·泰尔(Willhelm Tell)
今天我给你介绍一位瑞士的历史上名人。他叫 威廉·泰尔。他的像被印铸在瑞士五法郎钱币上。
根据传说,泰尔生活在大概七白年前。在施維茨州(Schwyz)地方,他可能做了农人和猎人。那个时候还没有那个叫瑞士的国家。那地方本来是哈布斯堡君主国(Habsburg Monarchy)的一部分。当时是现在奥地利(Austria),匈牙利(Hungary)和捷克斯洛伐克(Czechoslovakia)。

Cross-stitching a Chinese character (hanzi)

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

How to cross stitch a hanzi from Zero to Completion:

1) Have a friend give you a cross stitch set for X-mas 2011
2) Get started on it
3) Persevere (or not)
4) Finish it in February 2013
5) Brag about it in your blog


The completed cross-stitching. The keyboard behind it should give you an idea about its dimension.

The completed cross-stitching. The keyboard behind it should give you an idea about its dimension.

This is very good picture because it shows how exquisite the handy work is without revealing the flawed spots

This is a very good picture because it shows how exquisite the handy work is without revealing the flawed spots

For more detailed instructions read on…

So maybe you started learning Chinese (or Japanese) and you joined a learning group or managed to get some Chinese friends. Then, for X-mas they give you this cross stitch set which will let you cross stitch a hanzi (or kanji) and there you are.
The package sits there, unopened, glaring at you and your consicence is nagging you. Finally you open the package and things don’t get better. Alas, it’s a complete set including needles, yarn, the fabric and a sheet with incomplete instructions, maybe even written in Chinese (or Japanese) which you can’t read.
Intertubes to the rescue! Google “how to cross stitch” and all the results seriously impede on your masculinity as technocrat. Middle-aged+ ladies explain how to hold the needles, where to start a pattern and what yarn to use. You can already see yourself ending up with a bent back, shaking fingers and bad eyesight after years and years of labour and being laughed at by your friends who meanwhile hack out c0de.

Well, it’s not all that bad. Life is about broaden your horizon and if you should be glad to get such an opportunity. It’ll be an experience! Admittedly, if you’re spending every single minute outside frolicking then you shouldn’t start this li’l project when the beach volleyball season starts. Maybe pick a time where you can spend more time in the house like winter… and consider this: once you’re done, literally everyone will a) unable to refrain him/herself from making a comment on your hanzi (kanji) cross stitch and b) you get the pleasure of seeing their jaws fall to the floor when you tell them you did it all by yourself!

Alright, let’s get on with this… the hardest thing is to get started. But how do you get started on something like this? The instructions I found on the intertubes told me to get started in the middle of pattern. So, find the middle on the pattern sheet and the middle on the fabric. On the fabric you can get the exact middle by folding the fabric diagonally. Then, look at the pattern sheet. How many units to the left of the middle do you have to start? In general, once you find the starting point, work yourself horizontally to the right and back until the line is done, then move on the line below. Until you have completed the whole pattern!

For some good infos on how to cross stitch for beginners, check out this page, which I found very helpful:

In the beginning, I meticulously kept track of how much time I spent on this:

research prior to starting: 5 hours
1.1.: 1 hour
2.1.: 1 hour
3.1.: 1 hour

Quite a long way to go...

Quite a long way to go…

4.1.: 2.5 hours
5.1.: 1.6 hours

Still not there...

Still not there…

6.1.: 1.2 hours
7.1.: 2.2 hours
8.1.: 2.1 hours

I think I can already read this... or not?

I think I can already read this… or not?

9.1.: 0.7 hour
10.1.: 1 hour
11.1.: 0.7 hour
15.1.: 2.3 hours
16.1.: 1.3 hours
17.1.: 0.7 hour
18.1.: 1.8 hours
19.1.: 2.5 hours
21.1.: 4.8 hours
22.1.: 0.9 hours
23.1.: 0.5 hours
24.1.: 1.0 hour
25.1.: 0.9 hours
28.1.: 1.2 hours
30.1.: 2.6 hours
31.1.: 2.0 hours
1.2.: 1.0 hour
3.2.: 1.1 hours
4.2.: 1.8 hours
5.2.: 3.9 hours
6.2.: 1.0 hour

Maybe I gave up writing down the times after that. Also, other things became more important again and I didn’t seriously continue working on this until November 2012… and finally finishing it in February 2013.

Almost one grand of mnemosyne entries, yay…

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Wow, just look at that 4-digit number in the lower right corner (not marked in red, so you have to look harder ^_^)

I wonder if mnemosyne will crash if I add another entry? Or maybe the universe will collapse.

Anyway, I just got started on mnemosyne about four years ago and have since added 10⁵-1 entries, ranging from vocabulary in Japanese, Chinese, Italian, keywords for the  LPIC tests and more. Only a few were imported from lists, all others were inputted by hand.

This software really has helped me a lot memorizing all that vocabulary and I can only recommend it. Sometimes it’s hard to do these exercises every day but it’s definitely worth it.


Wednesday, November 30th, 2011




新HSK preparation course很厉害!

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

This week I’ve been taking part in a preparation course for the 新汉语水平考试 which will take place in October. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

When the first lesson started, I had a flashback to my time in Japan about which I wrote quite some stuff here. Anyway, the similarities were that I on the first day, I only understood about every third or fourth word the teacher said. On the second day, it was more like every third or second word but not because my listening skills were dramatically enhanced overnight but because the teacher spoke slower. And the listening exercices… I’m still no good at that. Grammar – I’m doing fine. Vocabulary  – I’m catching up.

This time I’m “only” taking level 3. I know, I know… for everyone else out there who has been studying 汉语 for several years and who has Chinese parents it’s a piece of cake. But face it, I’m working full time and my day only has 24 hours and five of them I need for sleep. Unfortunately, level 4 is too difficult for me because of the listening test, I’m pretty sure I’d flunk it. So I’d rather have a certificate on the wall to motivate me for another rather than having spent money and getting nothing in return! But one day, even level 4 will be possible for me!

I’ll let you know the result which should be available at the end of November!

UPDATE: After finishing the preparation course (which focused on 四级 only), I decided to take the level 4 test as well. All the tests are on the same day but at different times so unlike the JLPT you could try your luck at all 6 levels the same day. What an ordeal that would be. Fortunately, the fee for the 新HSK is not exorbitant, even if I wouldn’t pass level 4, I think it’s worth the experience… keep your fingers crossed for me ^_^


Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Finally a hopefully creative output as promised in the blog’s title. At least, I think so.

Sometimes buying a card for a birthday is okay, but often something self-made says “I spent a lot of time because you’re worth it!” In my case, it also says “I was in a hurry again and couldn’t buy you anything so here’s something I made myself”.

For the following birthday message, you need the following things:
-A colour printer
-Hole puncher
-Sticky tape
-Some present wrapping cords (human entrails might be an acceptable substitute in some cultures)
-Two bookshelves to hang this up in between (or pillars, candelabers, one-legged giants – whatever floats your boat)

Self-made stuff is the best!

First, write your message in LibreOffice. Define the page as landscape, make every letter a different colour, raise the size of the letters to 168 and print all the pages.

Then, use your favourite browser to head over to and download whatever clipart you like. If possible, save the graphics in .svg format (scalable vector graphics) because it’s the easiest format to resize the clipart. Print them as well.

Cut out the letters in whatever form you want. I went for hearts for this one, but stars are also nice. If your friend gambles, consider diamonds or piks. If you want to befriend a monkey, banana-formed paper would help your advancements.

Cut out the clipart and glue or sticky-tape it to approprate places.

Punch a hole to the left and to the right of each page you cut out. Tie a double-knot into some present wrapping cord and insert them through the holes from behind and let the rest hang down in front. Place another knot in the front to prevent the pages from sliding apart too much. Also, gravity will pull everything slightly down. Best image a wide half-circle when punching the holes, this will save you some aggravation.

Use the sticky tape to hang up this ornamental writing wherever it can be seen but where it won’t accidentally behead people who run into it a full speed and at neck-level.