Monday, October 18, 2010
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.