The Evaluation Scale on the Cultural Map


I’m deeply engrossed in Erin Meyer’s book “The Cultural Map:  Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business.”   In this book, she takes her broad knowledge of different cultures on the world stage and how they differ from other to the practical task working in a global business with international teams.

She has eight chapters which cover various dimensions of how cultures can be compared to each other.   In the first chapter, she discussed the Communication scale of cultural relativity, with high-context cultures which favor an indirect style of communication (like the Japanese) on the left-hand side of the scale, and low-context cultures which favor a more direct style of communication (like the Americans) on the right-hand side of the scale.

The second chapter which I am reading now discusses the Evaluating scale of cultural relativity, with cultures that like a more direct form of negative feedback on the left-hand side of the scale and cultures that prefer a more indirect form of negative feedback on the right-hand side of the scale.

If you cross the Communication and Evaluation scales together, you get a quadrant of four possibilities:

A  Low-contact/Explicit and Direct Negative Feedback:  Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Australia

B  High-context/Implicit and Direct Negative Feedback:   Israel, Russia, France, Spain, Italy

C  High-context/Implicit and Indirect Negative Feedback:  Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, India, Kenya, China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Japan

D  Low-context explicit/ and Indirect Negative Feedback:   US, Canada, UK

Take a look at the country I’m familiar with because I lived here:  the US.   Although Americans prefer a more direct style of communication than practically any other culture on the globe, when it comes to giving negative feedback, we’re somewhere in the middle.   I was always told in my Toastmasters club that when I’m giving evaluations, always include words such as in my opinion, I think thatetc., before you state a negative opinion because that “softens the blow” for the listener who can say, “well, it’s his opinion, I can take it or leave it.”   These kind of phrases are called downgraders and are opposed to the upgraders such as totally, or absolutely, which strenghen the negative opinion.   We were told in Toastmasters to NEVER use these words, one because they are not accurate– “you’re always doing such and such in your speeches” implies 100% of the time, which is almost never true.   Secondly, they are hurtful, because they are given in a tone which sounds imperious, as if Moses were coming down from the mountain and hurling his stone tablets he received from on high towards your feet.

So that is quadrant D.   If you’re like me from quadrant D, how do you deal with the other three?   (Hey, I just realized that rhymes …)

Quadrant A:  These are the cultures that like to be explicit in their normal communications and DIRECT in their negative feedback.    Although Americans get along with the Germans when it comes to explicit communications, in the realm of feedback we are more skittish about giving direct negative feedback, and couch it in language that softens the blow (as mentioned above).   However, don’t try this at home, kids!   Don’t try to imitate their frankness when it comes to negative feedback.    Calling a German a “Schafkopf” (sheep-head) is unlikely to get you any invitations to the Bierstube any time soon.   Accept their direct criticism with good grace, knowing that they are doing in with the best of intentions to make you grow professionally.

It takes some time getting used to this style if you are from a culture that prefers more indirect feedback.   It’s why one of my favorite jokes from the Simpsons is when Troy McClure is hawking his new self-help book with a title that definitely would NOT sell well in the United States, but just might sell in Germany:   “Ger Confident, Stupid!”

Quadrant B:  These are the cultures which in normal communications make you read between the lines–EXCEPT when they are giving you negative feedback, when they are sharp and direct.   Like with quadrant B, if you are from a culture that gives indirect negative feedback, don’t try imitating their directness because you will speak with a cultural “accent” if it is not something you are accustomed to doing in your culture.   However, you might want to give the Quadrant B people on your team a couple of downgrder phrases which will supply the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.

Quadrant C:  The rest of the world sees the emphasis that the Americans use on positive feedback as a false front that they can see right through.   Nobody can be that goddamned positive at 9 AM on a Monday morning!    We are seen as cheerleaders.    Don’t say everything is “amazing” or “excellent”, but rather save those kudos when something is REALLY out of the ordinary.

Erin recommends that when dealing with people from quadrant C that you are explicit and low-context with BOTH positive and negative feedback.    This is something we learn in Toastmasters where, if you want to say something needs to be improved, you don’t say something like “the introduction was great, but the ending was weak!”   Why?   What the hell does “great” mean on an operational basis?   Telling me my speech was “wonderful” doesn’t help me one damn bit when it comes to knowing specifically what I was doing that I should keep doing.   Likewise, telling me that my speech was “boring” is worse than hurtful, it’s POINTLESS.   What is boring for you maybe interesting to somebody else.   What was it in the delivery of the message–my body language, my gestures, my vocal variety, etc.–that you as an evaluator thought did not resonate.   And, more importantly, what would you suggest in its place as a “new-and-improved” version of the message?   Telling me I’m stuck in the basement when you’re on the second floor is not feedback, because it doesn’t give me a clue how to get OUT of the basement.

And be balanced in your positive and negative feedback.   Americans are tuned out in international teams because they try to be positive to an excessive degree, and Americans tune out those cultures that, when they perform to a 99% level, only tell them about what they didn’t like about the 1%.    I once had an argument with my mother who came from a German cultural background, where direct criticism was more of the norm.   I had done my chores, and upon inspection, she chose the ONE corner of the room I had missed, although the rest of the room was spotless.   I told her it was demoralizing to do something 99% correctly, but only hear about the 1% I didn’t do to her standards.   She actually thought about this, and then came back 10 seconds later with the comment, “yes, but it wasn’t 99%.   It was more like 75%.”    I heard my Dad’s laughter from the other room, because with his Irish cultural background, he heard loud and clear that from my standpoint, she was missing the point.    With his cheerful mental frame of mind, I was sure that if I ever came back drunk and vomited in my room, I would have been severely chastised by my mother, but he would have managed somehow to put a positively spin on the situation by saying with a smile, “well, at least you missed the stairs on the way up!”

When encountering a person from a different quadrant whose style is different than your own, Erin says that you should have the conversation about the different communicating or evaluating style in terms of cultural differences, rather than differences between individuals.

Quadrant D:   I lived in Japan which is almost on the other end of the Communicating scale of cultural relativity than the United States in being implicit and indirect in regular communications.    In Japan, even more so than in China, negative feedback is given indirectly as well, whereas Americans are kind of middle-of-the-roaders on the Evaluating scale.   Americans will give negative feedback in a group setting with downgraders or words that “soften the blow.”  However, ANY such public feedback in Japan would cause the person receiving it to lose face.

I knew when I worked in Tokyo that if my boss wanted to have a private word with me, then I knew it was not going to be praise for my having done a good job, because THAT he would give, although normally not during business hours, but in the “after five” business meetings that took place in a Japanese izakaya or pub.   The negative feedback was given in private meetings so I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of my other co-workers.

So when dealing with people from quadrant D, do not give  negative feedback to an individual in front of a group.   Use food and drink to blur an important message–that is why the izakaya was an integral part of the business world because that is where people could venture to give feedback to each other in a setting where people were naturally more relaxed.

We want to be polite when talking to others but when we see a blind person heading towards a manhole cover, we need to speak more directly.   Always let the person know you are giving them feedback because you care about them and their career–that will be a gesture that “softens the blow” no matter what quadrant you’re from!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cultural Map to Giving Feedback (1)


In her book The Culture Map:  Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, author Erin Meyer discusses 8 dimensions along which cultures can be compared to each other.

In the last post, I discussed the first chapter on high-context vs. low-context cultures.   In the second chapter, I will discussed the second chapter which deals with how negative feedback is given.

As a review of the first chapter, let me explain that “high-context” cultures are those in which communications are highly dependent on the cultural context, and those things which are mutually understood by members of that culture are implied by not directly stated, whereas in “low-context” cultures matters are stated more directly and explicitly in order to minimize the possibility of miscommunication.    The United States possesses such a culture, and if you look at how the culture of the United States was made up as an amalgam of cultures mostly from Europe, then you can see that a high-context style of communication wouldn’t have worked here, precisely because people came here from differing cultural contexts.   Erin Meyer refers to this first high-context (think of Japan) vs. low-context (think of the United States) as the Communicating scale of cultural relativity.

However, what happens when you want to give negative feedback?    Although we call it “constructive criticism,” the way in which this criticism is delivered can differ depending on the culture.    The scale here is the Evaluating scale of cultural relativity; some cultures like that of France prefer a more direct style whereas others like that of the United States prefer a more indirect style.   Direct cultures tend to use words called upgraders such as “absolutely” or “totally” that strengthen negative feedback, where indirect cultures use downgraders such as “kind of” or “maybe” that understate the criticism.

Globally speaking, it is the German, Russian, and Dutch who are on the direct side, with Americans in the middle, and most Asian countries being more indirect in their criticism.

To give you an example, I’m a member of a Toastmasters club and one of the “rules” I was taught about evaluating someone else’s speech is use words such as “in my opinion” or “I think that”.   I’m realizing now reading Erin Meyer’s chapters that these are downgrader words which “soften the blow” of telling them something they need to improve upon.   In the Windy City Professional Speaker’s Club, however, since you are getting criticism from people who are themselves professional speakers, their feedback tends to be more direct but also very precise (not “the ending was weak” was “here’s how you can make the ending stronger” followed by several examples).   If you are new to this kind of direct criticism, it is like moving from an indirect culture (regular Toastmasters clubs) to a direct culture (professional speaker’s club).   However, if you can get over the injury to your ego of having direct negative feedback, you realize that they are giving you the best professional advice they can with the goal in mind of helping you, too, to become a professional speaker.   At that point, you become very appreciate of it.   But it takes a cultural adjustment to be able to see it as ultimately a positive thing to experience.

Okay, so what should you do if you’re communicating with someone who is either more or less direct than your culture is when it comes to criticism?    I’ll take that up in the next post…

The Culture Map and Multicultural Collaborations


In Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map:  Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, she outlines eight dimensions that any given culture can be mapped onto.   The first chapter talks about cultures which are “high-context” vs. cultures that are “low-context”.   The basic word to describe communication in a high-context culture is implicit, whereas the basic word to describe communication in a low-context culture is explicit.

Japan is a high-context culture because if there is a matter which belongs to the shared cultural context, it does not need to be stated explicitly.   The United States, a country filled with immigrants who come from cultural backgrounds which are different, is a low-context culture, and there communications are done in such a way that which makes messages explicit and clear as possible to avoid misunderstanding or ambiguity.

This is even reflected in the grammar of the two languages.   If you are looking for something, and you are broadcasting your success to your co-workers, you would say “I found it!”    The Japanese equivalent would be “Mitsukemashita!”   It is the past tense verb form from the verb “mitsukeru” meaning “to find”.   The “I” is understood because if you are making a statement, most of the time you are referring to yourself and so the Japanese omit the subject in a declarative sentence if it is referring to themselves.   And the “it” is also not stated because if you say “found!”, it implies that you found “something”, and so it is also not explicitly stated.

The heart of the chapter contains strategies for dealing with people from different cultures with respect to the high-context/low-context distinction.

1. Low-context people working with high-context people

a.  Practice listening more carefully to your high-context culture colleagues so you can search for implicit cues.

b.  Verify your understanding with open-ended questions rather than asking for a yes-or-no response; this kind of open-ended question will be more comfortable to respond to for high-context  people.   In the story I related in the last post, an American manager found that pressing his Japanese counterparts for a “yes-or-no” response from the very beginning was a very unfruitful way to start negotiating.

c. Remember that high-context  people are not purposely omitting communication nor are they unable to provide communication explicitly, it’s just in the nature of their culture NOT to be explicit.   When I was working for a Japanese company, many Americans would joke that they were given information on a “need-to-know” basis, meaning that if you were an American, you didn’t need to know.   After having lived in Japan for five years working at the Tokyo headquarters of the company, I could understand that this judgment was unfair to the Japanese but on the other hand I could also understand that this was how Americans perceived their lack of explicit communication.

d. If you are sending as opposed to receiving a message from a high-context person, then say what you need to say once and don’t repeat yourself.   An American style of giving a speech that you learn in Toastmasters clubs in the United States is “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them.”   Can you imagine being told something three times if you got it the first time?

2. High-context people working with low-context people

a.  Be as transparent, clear, and specific as possible.

b.  At the end of conversations, recap the key points again, or send an e-mail repeating these points.

3.  High-context people and low-context people working in a multicultural setting

Although it would seem that high-context people would have fewer misunderstandings, that only implies if they are from the SAME culture.   High-context people have the highest likelihood of misunderstandings with high-context people from other cultures, because high-context communication only works if the context is SHARED.

If you are leading a multicultural team, you need low-context processes that are explicit because you are dealing with people from different cultures.   That is what they low-context of the United States developed for exactly this reason, because we are made up of immigrants who ARE from different cultures.

This is where the idea of recapping points orally and then in writing after discussions is helpful, because potential miscommunications can be rooted out early.   The “in writing” is important because not only are we dealing with a multicultural context for the team, but often a multilingual one, and people who are learning English as a second language will be able to read more facilely than they can understand spoken English.

If you are laying ground rules out to the team regarding explicit communications, something they may not be comfortable with doing when  they are working with colleagues from  their own countries, you need to explain WHY you are doing it.   It’s not because you are using what is most comfortable for you if you are coming from a low-context culture, but because this method is what has proven most effective for multicultural teams.

And one of the best ways I have found personally in dealing with a multicultural team is to do as much as you can to learn about the culture and even learn some of their language(s).  I got so much more enthusiastic assistance from colleagues at Toastmasters who are originally from India when they learned I was studying Hindi.   I can do no more than use greetings at this point, but the effort is certainly appreciated nonetheless.    Why?   Few people take that step towards them, which acknowledges that they have made supreme efforts to walk in the other direction, towards you.

The next post is on the second dimension of cultural difference, that of how negative feedback is given:   whether in a direct or an indirect way.

 

Navigating Cultural Differences with a Culture Map


This week I’m starting to read the book The Culture Map:  Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer.   The author is a is a professor at INSEAD, one of the world’s leading international business schools.  Her work focuses on how the world’s most successful global leaders navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a multicultural environment.

I was drawn to the book because I have had a chance to live and work in Germany for one year and in Japan for five years.   But I can say sincerely that I have been interested in foreign language and cultures all my life.   At the age of 6, I was fascinated by an uncle who was visiting from Honduras where he had moved and married a Honduran woman.   He visited my mother, his older sister, to introduce her and my father to his wife Hilda.    My mother and Hilda were speaking in the living room and getting to know each other while my uncle and my father were sipping whiskey together in the dining room.   When my uncle teasingly offered me some of his whiskey, my mother and Hilda came in the room and expressed their disapproval in stereo, my mother yelling at him in English and Hilda in Spanish.   Then what he did next amazed me:   he apologized to my mother in English and then started speaking gibberish that I couldn’t understand to his wife.   Then, to my further amazement, she started speaking gibberish back to him and they seemed to understand each other.   I asked Hilda to repeat what she said, because I couldn’t understand her.   I found I still couldn’t understand her, and she explained that she was speaking another language called “Spanish.”  Well, she felt protective of me somewhat, I suppose because she and my mother had saved me from a life of premature alcoholism by their intervention, and she listened to my questions very patiently.   Soon I was fascinated by the fact that in Spanish, there’s a different word for EVERYTHING.   Although sometimes some of the words were the same like when I pointed to the piano and was disappointed by the fact that the exotic word for that object in Spanish was … “piano.”

I vowed that someday I too would be able to switch from English to other languages as easily as my uncle, and that’s what ended up happening.   But learning a language is not just the words and the grammar, but the cultural context in which it takes place.   I wanted to be a technical translator after having done a year of that kind of work translating the German portions of a book about the history of solid state physics into English.   But due to advice from my boss at the Deutsches Museum, I decided to start studying Japanese.

But when I went to enroll in the Asian Studies program, I was told that I couldn’t JUST study Japanese language.   To get a Master degree, I also needed to study the history, literature, and religious and philosophical works from Japan as well.   I didn’t see the relevance about learning about the Meiji period to knowing that the word for semiconductor is handoutai, but I took the advice of my graduate school adviser and started taking those courses.   I was so glad that I did, because they helped tremendously in understanding the Japanese language.   Why?   Because Japanese is a “high-context” culture as opposed to the “low-context” culture I grew up in the United States.   A high-context means that many of the meanings you are trying to convey are implied, rather than directly stated, meaning that your meaning is highly dependent on the cultural context.   A low-context culture like that in the United States is more explicit, and less dependent on the cultural context.

It is easy to see why a relatively homogeneous culture like that of Japan is high-context, because most people share the same cultural background.   On the other hand, the United States is made up of immigrants, most of whom do NOT share the same cultural background, and so a high-context communication would break down more often because of the differing cultural assumptions held by the speaker and listener.   This is something I puzzled over as I made many mistakes at first being explicit about saying something when I found out later that I shouldn’t have done so.   Well, gradually I made fewer and fewer mistakes … and then it was time for me to return to the United States.

It was harder for me to work in a mixed Japanese and English environment in the New York branch office of my Japanese company than it was to be in a purely Japanese environment that I was in when I worked in the home office in Tokyo.    This is because I learned cultural codes in Japan that I was able to operate somewhat comfortably in.  But in New York, I had to change the cultural code immediately when speaking to an American as opposed to a Japanese person, and this type of “cultural translation” is harder than the translation of the Japanese language to English and vice versa.   The hardest part was when I was in a meeting with BOTH Japanese and Americans.   I felt a little schizophrenic.    But I found it easier in such a mixed meeting to prepare each side in advance for how the other side would act or react.   By supplying them with “cultural subtitles” so to speak, the other side’s reaction was not as surprising, and after a while they would get used to it.

So when I saw Erin Meyer’s book, I thought this is fantastic:   she has not only the high-context/low-context distinction, but seven other dimensions of cultural difference that she discusses in her book.    I want to read all eight chapters and reflect on what I’ve read by trying to relate it to the far more limited multicultural and international experience I have had in comparison with the author.

A couple of preliminary remarks from her introduction seem in order.   Let’s use the Japanese vs. American culture distinction between high-context and low-context as a reference point.

1. The cultural continuum is a relative one, not an absolute one

In other words, this is going to be a relative scale, so Japan is a high-context culture in comparison with a low-context culture.  In other words, you won’t see her saying “Japan rates a 0 in the Fujita cultural context scale.”   (The Fujita scale is something that actually exists, but it is a scale for measuring the relative strength of tornados, …)

2. These are maps of cultural averages

Although we say that Japan is a high-context culture, this is short-hand for saying “the AVERAGE Japanese communicates in a manner that is highly dependent on cultural context.”   Many Japanese I knew that were more direct were so because that suited their personality style.   In the Japanese company I worked for, many Japanese businessmen were assigned to work in the United States for a period of two years and some saw it as being banished to the cultural hinterlands, and were very relieved upon return to their home country.   I remember speaking to his wife at the party we held for them before they returned, and she was visibly excited about going back to Japan.

On the other hand, my Japanese boss who worked in the New York office liked the more direct American style of doing business, and I remember talking to his wife, who also liked the more direct style of communication, as well as the relative freedom she had compared to other Japanese women to pursue her own career during their stay in the United States.   When I asked her how she looked forward to her return, her sigh told me everything even before she said, “I’m going to miss living here in America.”

3. Being a “good communicator” is culturally dependent

What works well in your own country and makes you a good communicator may be exactly what makes you perceived to be a bad communicator in another.   In fact, a “good communicator” in a certain language is a person who exhibits an even more extreme version of the dominant cultural tendency.   So improving and being a better communicator  in the United States (i.e., more direct) may cause you to be an even worse communicator in Japan.

4.  Communicating is not just speaking, but listening

I learned in Japan that it was important in living in a high-context culture to a) study the cultural context so you have a common basis for understanding and b) listen to what is meant rather than what was literally said.    When I made two points A and B and someone pointedly says, “I agree with you regarding point A,” I started to automatically think the person was telling me “but on the other hand, I don’t agree with you regarding point B” if that person’s opinion about point B was not expressed.    Asking clarifying questions is important, so I would then say something about point B to elicit from that person whether my assumption (that they don’t agree) was true or not.

Likewise, I had to learn how to translate the high-context, indirect way of saying things in Japanese to the more direct American way if I was translating between the two.   One day there was a negotiation between the Japanese team and the American team about a proposal the American team had sent over.   The official interpreter was late, and they said, “why don’t you fill in for him until he gets here, which should only be a few minutes.”   Well, the Japanese wanted to talk about anything BUT the business proposal it seemed, and the Americans were getting impatient, thinking they were were being given the brush-off.   At one point, the head of the American team said, “I’m sorry, but I have to know–will you be able to respond to our proposal by the end of the month.”   Now the head of the Japanese team, said “sore wa chotto muzukashii to omoimasu kedo, moshi dekireba gambatte mimasho…” which means “I think that may be a little difficult, but if we can we will try to our best …” and I turned to the American manager and said, “No.”   Boy, did I get in trouble.   The American manager said, “all of that means NO in Japanese.”   Well, I told him what the Japanese guy literally meant, but then I had to say that what he really meant was “NO.”   The Japanese guy was livid, because I had said openly what he was trying NOT to say in such a manner, which was that they couldn’t deliver on what the American team had asked them to do.   But instead of papering over the disagreement, what I said exposed it to the harsh light of day.

Just then the interpreter came, and I was never so glad to see anybody in my entire life.   I told her what had happened, and after her eyes widened in a short look of alarm, she stepped in and like a true professional and communicated in a way that each side was comfortable with.   The underlying conflict was still there, but at least each side felt better about it.   That’s when I realized that being fluent in a foreign culture is even more important than being fluent in a foreign language.    And, needless to say, harder to do.

So I am looking forward to Erin Meyer’s book and will take the lessons she gives on “cultural translation” to heart.   It’s a journey that is DEFINITELY worth taking, because we will all be thrown into the global cultural matrix at some point if we are working for international companies.

 

 

Scheduling Excellence Time


On August 26, 2016, at a Toastmasters Leadership Institute event, I attended a one-hour workshop by a representative from Freedom Personal Development describing their time management system.   I was desperately in need of time management because of the three leadership positions that I have been trying to handle simultaneously:  my position as Director of the Executive Council for the Chicagoland Chapter of the Project Management Institute, Division Director for the South Division of District 30 in Toastmasters International, and on a personal level, as President of the Board of Trustees for my church.

So when the representative said that a two-hour investment of time in something called the “Two-Hour Solution” would yield me at least 10 hours of productive time in my work that I didn’t have before (which translate into a 500% ROI), I said “sign me up!”   I bought the book “Train Your Brain for Success” by Roger Seip and enrolled in his series of weekly videos on time management.    The “Two-Hour Solution” takes scheduling a week’s worth of activities as a way of taking different types of activities and batching them together as much as possible for efficiency’s sake.    For the sake of EFFECTIVENESS, however, it is important to put all activities in the context of one’s most important goals and aspirations.

So before you even DO the weekly schedule, you need to figures our your keystone goal or goals, that is, those goals which, if you accomplished them within the coming year, would contribute the most to your quality of life, as well as other goals that energize you or inspire you in the following areas of your life

  • Physical
  • Financial
  • Social
  • Professional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

You should have at least one goal for each area besides the keystone goal or goals mentioned above.   Then you work out how much or to what extent you want to work on this goal during the coming week.

Then you layer the various activities in your schedule in the following order (the colors are ones added to make a visual distinction on your calendar)

  • Commitments (ORANGE)
  • Excellence (PURPLE)
  • Income-generating (GREEN)
  • Income-supporting (RED)
  • Flex time (YELLOW)
  • Re-creation time (BLUE)

I won’t go into the entire mechanism of the two-hour solution, because you really need to get the book Train Your Brain for Success in order to get the entire method explained in its correct context.

However, I can bear witness that just the first step after you schedule your already-existing commitments, namely, scheduling excellence time, has changed my life in the week since I started the two-hour solution.   Excellence time I label in the color purple because purple is the color of royalty, and here is where you get to treat yourself like royalty by scheduling those activities which recharge your batteries and energize you either physically (like exercise time), mentally (like making time for reading), or spiritually (like time for meditation, prayer, or communal worship).

I was so busy that I was thinking of stopping going to the Windy City Professional Speakers club I have been a member of for about one year.   It meets on Sunday evening from 6:00 to 9:00 PM every other week.   Three hours right before the start of the following week seemed at first like an energy drain, and it was for my own professional development as a speaker, not for any of my leadership roles which involve serving others.

So I went to the meeting of the Windy City Professional Speakers Club  on August 28th, the same night as the time management seminar, thinking that it would be last meeting I would go to.   However, after reviewing the concept of “scheduling excellence time”, I went to the meeting and found afterwards that, despite having spent 3 hours on a Sunday night when I should have been exhausted, I came out of the meeting excited and energized by the speech contest I had just witnessed there and participated in as a functionary in that contest.

So I had a conversation with myself on the way home.   “I know I said I would quit, but this is something that truly energizes me and recharges my battery, so I think this is what Roger Seip would have called ‘excellence time’.”    Then, I decided right then and there that, no matter how busy I got as a leader, I would KEEP this club’s meetings in my schedule.

And as I came from the club just now, I realized that it was the right decision.   Through a networking contact I made with someone at the club, I found out that I was able to leverage that contact in a way that will benefit me at my volunteer position at the PMI Chicagoland chapter.    So by spending time becoming excellent, I helped myself but also created a benefit for my professional organization.

So the lesson for everybody is:   keep those activities in your calendar that nourish you, because they are important, and should NOT be thrown out to take care of matters which others say are urgent!

 

Memorization and Becoming Fluent (2)


In their book on foreign language learning in adults called “Becoming Fluent,” the authors Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz bring research in the field of cognitive science to bear on the  question of how best to study a foreign language if you are an adult.

In the seventh chapter called “Making Memories …”, they discuss what cognitive science has to say regarding the process of forming long-term memories, and what ways to study a foreign language are best suited to take advantage of them.

  1. Working Memory

As opposed to long-term memory, short-term memory or “working memory” is used to actively manipulate mental contents.   Many factors effect the size of one’s working memory but multitasking DEFINITELY decreases it.   So when you are trying to learn a foreign language, try to filter out distractions such as checking one’s e-mail, or checking out an IM on Facebook.    Avoidance of multitasking is a good idea in any type of work that requires mental concentration, but this is especially true when studying a foreign language.

2. Shallow vs. deep processing

Shallow processing of vocabulary means focusing on the superficial characteristics of words such as how they are printed, or how they sound, whereas deep processing focuses on the meaning of words.    A lot of people study vocabulary through a series of flashcards, either actual ones or virtual ones such as the ones found on apps such as Anki or Memrise. The problem about using a word in another language to trigger the word that means the same in a different language is that you can focus too much on the appearance or sound of the word itself and not on its meaning.   This is why I like the app iKnow! because it gives each vocabulary item in Japanese or Chinese together with a sample sentence.   This means that you are focusing on the meaning of each word rather than its sound or the shape of its kanji.    On the other hand, Chinese characters are a form of writing where concentrating on the shape of the components may give you clues to the deeper meaning of the word.   The word for “electricity” has the radical element meaning “rain” on top of a radical element that looks like a box kite with a tail.   These superficial shapes can lead you to picture a story such as Benjamin Franklin taking out a box kite under a rain cloud and discovering the phenomenon of electricity, exactly what the character means.

3. Maintenance rehearsal vs. elaborative rehearsal

When you repeat a vocabulary in a mechanical way hoping by brute force to enter one’s long-term memory, you are using maintenance rehearsal.   When you repeat a vocabulary item by trying to connect it with other vocabulary items (for example, by learning the words for “knife” and “fork” when you learn the word “spoon” so you can relate them all to the concept of “tableware”), you are using elaborative rehearsal which is much more effective.

I will continue to discuss these cognitive skills related to memory, and how they relate to learning a foreign language, in the next post.

Memorization and Becoming Fluent


In their book on foreign language learning in adults called “Becoming Fluent,” the authors Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz bring research in the field of cognitive science to bear on the  question of how best to study a foreign language if you are an adult.

In the seventh chapter called “Making Memories …”, they discuss what cognitive science has to say regarding the process of forming long-term memories, and what ways to study a foreign language are best suited to take advantage of them.

  1. Working Memory

As opposed to long-term memory, short-term memory or “working memory” is used to actively manipulate mental contents.   Many factors effect the size of one’s working memory but multitasking DEFINITELY decreases it.   So when you are trying to learn a foreign language, try to filter out distractions such as checking one’s e-mail, or checking out an IM on Facebook.    Avoidance of multitasking is a good idea in any type of work that requires mental concentration, but this is especially true when studying a foreign language.

2. Shallow vs. deep processing

Shallow processing of vocabulary means focusing on the superficial characteristics of words such as how they are printed, or how they sound, whereas deep processing focuses on the meaning of words.    A lot of people study vocabulary through a series of flashcards, either actual ones or virtual ones such as the ones found on apps such as Anki or Memrise. The problem about using a word in another language to trigger the word that means the same in a different language is that you can focus too much on the appearance or sound of the word itself and not on its meaning.   This is why I like the app iKnow! because it gives each vocabulary item in Japanese or Chinese together with a sample sentence.   This means that you are focusing on the meaning of each word rather than its sound or the shape of its kanji.    On the other hand, Chinese characters are a form of writing where concentrating on the shape of the components may give you clues to the deeper meaning of the word.   The word for “electricity” has the radical element meaning “rain” on top of a radical element that looks like a box kite with a tail.   These superficial shapes can lead you to picture a story such as Benjamin Franklin taking out a box kite under a rain cloud and discovering the phenomenon of electricity, exactly what the character means.

3. Maintenance rehearsal vs. elaborative rehearsal

When you repeat a vocabulary in a mechanical way hoping by brute force to enter one’s long-term memory, you are using maintenance rehearsal.   When you repeat a vocabulary item by trying to connect it with other vocabulary items (for example, by learning the words for “knife” and “fork” when you learn the word “spoon” so you can relate them all to the concept of “tableware”), you are using elaborative rehearsal which is much more effective.

I will continue to discuss these cognitive skills related to memory, and how they relate to learning a foreign language, in the next post.