Monday, October 18, 2010

Learning Japanese

I never really had the desire to put effort into learning Japanese despite the fact that most of my entertainment is in Japanese. Even when I was playing all those Japanese RPGS on my Saturn, the thought of learning the language so I can understand the storylines better never really crossed my mind. I was happy to be able to fumble my way through RPGs and guess the storyline from limited voice overs and facial expressions. Actually I had two Japanese language books back in high school but aside from learning some basic phrases, I never took it seriously.

One thing that I did do was to listen to conversations when watching anime/jdoramas/jmovies and not just read the subtitles. During my tip to Japan, I was surprised that I knew more words than I thought I did. The problem was I couldn't pull them out straight away and I had no idea how to construct more complex sentences. I was impressed by Hellcar's and Rei's ability to read some Japanese and was determined to really study Japanese when I got back.

First thing I did was to start memorising hiragana and katakana. Studykana was a pretty good website and soon I could do the practice thing easily. However, I realised that I couldn't read quickly enough and being able to recognise does not equate to being able to write. I felt like a kid starting to learn to read after learning the alphabet. Not mention being able to read hiragana and katakana doesn't mean one can understand the words.

I put off playing this game called Ryu ga gotoku 4 until I was reasonable confident in my hiragana and katakana. I started playing and then ran into 2 big problems. First was that it was a fucking headache to try to understand the conversations in the game and try to freaking read at the same time. I thought that listening to the dialogue and reading the subtitles would allow me to learn but it took too much concentration to do both. I needed a game with simple Dragonball Z type dialogue, not a game about yakuzas and conspiracies.

The second problem was of course, kanji. The backbone of Japanese is not hiragana, its kanji. Hiragana are just the letters that give kanji different meanings. Did a bit of research and found out that Japanese kids basically start with hiragana and slowly work kanji into it. Actually they start with talking first and I don't even have the conversation proficiency of a kindergarten kid. So, what I basically need is a kindergarten Japanese book filled with sentences made up of hiragana. Luckily I managed to get my brother who just started Japanese in uni to get me his book while was all hiragana though I've hardly touched it yet.

At the same time, I'm been listening to pimsleur's Japanese audio cds. I like how they don't really bother to teach you grammar and stuff but rather hope that you learn through osmosis. I just don't find the things that they teach that useful. Its more for business people going there but the important stuff would be going to 7/11 or detailed stuff about food.

For example, when you go to some ramen places, they'll ask you how much oil or how you want the soup done. When I go to 7/11, I wait for the words 'point card' and just say 'point card arimasen'. When I go buy food, I listen for 'koko ni taberu' or 'mochi kaeri'. Problem is when they saw non of those words and they speak too fast for me to catch anything. Why don't Japanese speak slowly like in doramas?

Anyway, I decided the best way for me to learn was through gaming and I got this strategy RPG called Jeanne D'Arc. Simple dialogue, great gameplay and I've been slowly learning kanji by using online dictionaries when I play. I don't look up every single kanji I come across but my aim was to learn the more common kanji instead of just going through all level 4 kanji 1 by 1 because kanji isn't straightforward like Chinese is.

In Chinese, there is only one way to pronounce a word. In kanji, there are several depending on other kanji or hiragana next to it. Take the word 来 which can be pronounced many ways. We have:

来 by itself which is pronounced rai which means next
来る is kuru which means to come
来た is kita which if you've watched Densha Otoko means its arrived.
出来る is dekiru which means able. I have no idea how exit+next becomes able.

Its not just learning kanji. Its kanji and the main words that the kanji can 'transform' into. Too makes matters worse, a lot of times they are pronounced different and have meaning different from the kanji meaning. You look at a kanji and you're not sure how to pronounce it until you look at the kanji/hiragana beside it.

This is what happens when you have a language that didn't have a good writing system that basically used Chinese to patch it up. That's why Nihonjin no shiranai nihongo is interesting for me because its basically about how messed up the language is. I think playing Jeanne D'arc has at least made learning kanji fun instead of your usual boring Japanese academic books. I should have done this way back in uni when I had the time. Sigh.


maiku said...

Kanji's an uphill battle if you live outside of Japan. Seems like you have to immerse yourself in it at school, through some hobby (lit, manga, games, subbing), or a significant other. The only truly bilingual people I've known in the states were either academic types or Japanese ex-pats who went to Saturday school. Sure, you'd meet those guys that sat in the library reading the dictionary all day, but they often couldn't hold a casual conversation because they never went out.

I vote for karaoke or RPGs. (Actually I vote for finding a Japanese girlfriend. :)) Subbing's fun if you have the patience and fluent friends to fall back on.

Abdel said...

i'm in 2nd grade of japanese language school and we are just learning kanji.
Ya true it's really horrible when you must memories all of those combination but it's still Ok the worst of all it's the advanced japanese grammer.
Good luck bro. ;)

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Anonymous said...

IMO, and that's from experience, if you don't learn the grammar and the basic incantations of a verb (present, past, future, then can/ 'want to' [some verb], you have no hope of being able to string together a complex sentence. I took 2 quarters of intensive Japanese in grad school. First quarter is primarily on simple phrases, then they get into grammar very quickly so that you can speak simple Japanese and be able to string together sentences yourselves. They only went into reading/writing hira/kata gana and Kanji starting in the 2nd quarter. Take your example 'kuru' - present tense is kimasu, kimasen (don't come), then kimashita, kimasen deshita, and so forth. So you can see that the different incantations of the verb is very different from the basic verb itself, and it can come in so many forms. If you can master that, then most of the time you should be able to guess, given the basic verb, what the forms of the present, past, future, tense and so forth are. Without that knowledge, you're missing one of the very basic tools that allow you to grasp and make educated guess, no matter how many nouns you've memorized (and that's the primary reason why Pimsleur is useless).

Anonymous said...

BTW, the example I cited above is an over simplification of things. Just so that I don't mislead anyone, kimasu technically isn't the present tense and it certainly doesn't mean I'm coming (it's a bit more complicated than that but you get the picture).

Akiramike said...

A Japanese girlfriend would speed up my study of the language but I don't want to get Love Plus on the DS until I am fairly proficient and yet Love Plus is the key to learning Japanese. Chicken or the egg?

On a serious note, I think conversation practice would be better and more efficient way to learn the language instead of through playing games.

I play about a chapter of Jeanne D'Arc a day with Tangorin, Yamasa Kanji dictionary and google translate open.

Kheve said...

Mike, there is a basic 1000 kanji that japanese school teaches which covers 99% of everyday kanji. Better news, there's 250 kanji that covers 90% of everyday use. Checked out 419 blog so sad no update n found ur blog. Good to see the nihon spirit still lives in u. BANZAI

Kheve said...

check out wiki, kanji is meaning base not phonetic so once u learn kanji even if u dun know how to read it, u know wats going on. the kanji for east, 東, has the on reading tō. However, Japanese already had two words for "east": higashi and azuma which uses the same kanji. So the same kanji means the same damn thing regardless how u pronounce it. Only exception is when the chinese reading too have dual meaning like 行. Another thing to watch for is dual kanji which form a single meaning separate from ea kanjis individual meaning. These also follow the chinese meaning. BTW learning mandarin now n yes i can play bishoujo muahaha with my mastery of 200-300 chinese of which most are also kanji. Ganbatte

harle said...

Good luck! Ganbatte!

Anonymous said...

I like Juui Dolittle and Himitsu. I hope to read your reviews on them.


Akiramike said...

Kheve, I think your suggestion of bishoujo games for studying Japanese is very good.

Have you seen Ore no imouto konani kawaii ga nai?

I'm not planning to watch Dolittle since it looks like a kid's show and Himitsu as I think it won't be able to touch the movie but we'll see.

Alex Mitchell-Dawson said...

I went to a language exchange meetup once, I met this girl that used to work at a prison in Japan. She told me she liked it when the inmates got into fights cause she could practice her judo on them.

I think I've got a bunch of kanji cards around if you prefer the hermit style you're learning in now :P

Akiramike said...

So Alex, did you get a private demonstration of her judo moves? :)

Alex Mitchell-Dawson said...

Mike your ability to turn innocent situations into perverse fantasies is truly amazing. Why you waste your time on Law when you could be the world's no 1 ecchi writer is beyond me.

Anyway I should probably go see Will J and the others sometime soon so if you want any of the random Japanese learning stuff my house mate left then tell me (CDs Kanji cards,writing practice books)

Brent said...

May I ask you, what are these screen caps from?

Daniel said...

I have found a great product cure for this problem or to learn this Marriage Savior System.  My friend recommended me to visit

Anonymous said...

tae kim! check his grammar guide out if you ddin't already.

Anonymous said...

if you want to get serious check out
RTK (remember the kanji)
and koohii forums

Anonymous said...

especially this page on ajatt is helpful

Why are you so against using English subs/English grammatical explanations/English translations? Why are you taking the tool of language away from people?

OK, cut. Time out. Drama break.

I am not “taking something away” from people.
In part, because reading subs and explanations tends to create the illusion of full comprehension, but rarely substitutes for it. It’s like watching someone solve a math problem thinking that means you understand it, versus actually solving it yourself. Or, to use a better example — like watching someone do a cartwheel, and even having her explain how to do a cartwheel, and thinking that it means you can do a cartwheel. Here, to “do a cartwheel” means to “comprehend real, unsanitized Japanese”.
Also, I don’t think you actually understand a language until you are using it to learn itself. Doing that is an invaluable exercise. Even if it seems to be slowing you down, it’s actually speeding you up, and setting you on the path to correct usage.

Anyway, I don’t know all the reasons. But I did it, it works really well, and I recommend it. At this point, I would never even consider trying o understand a Japanese word by looking up a translation of it. It would be like replacing one’s eyes with mirrors or something like that…

Akiramike said...

Good point about subs. I think watching with Japanese subs is better for learning but watching good shows like Suzuki sensei without understanding everything takes away the enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

Who is the name of the girl in the first and second pic?

Akiramike said...

She went by Hiiragi Rin and Gahana Rei. The movie is called 爆乳 家庭教師 Big boobs home tutor. :) bf-057