My reading has been really great as of late. After learning the ひらがな, learning the カタカナ and getting it to stick was a breeze.
I’ve started doing my RTK on a more regular basis – but I’m still a bit uncertain about the pace. The first several lessons seem to be sticking in about a day of reading and a day of review. I suppose we’ll just have to trust Anki in this regard to let me know what I know and what I don’t.
It seems that the secret to learning にほんご is in the repetition and the regularity. It’s not the sort of language that you can “casually” learn. But – it does seem to be a momentum based language. If you can get over the inertial barriers (kanji, kana, grammar) then the rest seems if not easy, certainly less daunting.
It’s been a while since I’ve updated on this – and I can’t blame anyone for the annoying emails asking me how things are going except my past self ;).
I’m still working my way through the Pimsleur CD’s; And for speaking and listening practice, they’re truly helpful. My ear isn’t perfectly trained yet (元湯くり、お苦いしま) Now that I’m on volume III, I’ve started to think about how I can continue working on my language skills when the CDs give out.
The big push for this year is literacy – So far, Heisig’s books have been indispensable for actually getting the reading aspects of the language to stick. If you’re currently having problems with reading – run, don’t walk – to get copies of his books.
I’ve also started using Rosetta Stone – to help out with reading. It’s a solid performer, although I am uncertain if I would be so happy with it if I hadn’t started off with the Pimsleur audio cd’s first. For some strange reason, it seems possible to read Germanic and Latin languages without speaking them, but Japanese is exactly the opposite – without speaking the language, reading it would make very little sense to me.
One recommendation for anyone attempting to learn the language is skip the romanji – It’s tempting to dive into writing and reading by using the western writing system. Don’t give in! Take the time to learn the kana – you will be much better off in the long run. The simple fact that kana lets you read a Japanese dictionary will pay huge dividends; also, once you know the kana, for the most part if you can speak it – you can write it. Having your verbal skills translate directly into literary prowess is pretty fun – I assure you.
Tips for learning kana
- Get Remembering the Kana by James W. Heisig
- Write, write, write – practice all the words in each set in remembering the kana – when you’re first starting out – rewrite the words from ALL the previous lessons just so the shapes and the sounds become familiar
- Make your own flashcards – write them out long-hand. Don’t buy a set. You need the practice and you can add any additional information that you need to the cards.
- Take your cards everywhere when you have 3 minutes and you’re waiting to check out of the store pull the cards out of your pocket and review a few symbols. When your favorite barista is steaming your late – take a few minutes and review the symbols. Don’t forget to trace them out with your finger or your hand. The order of the strokes is important!
- Have fun and try and read stuff in Japanese – this is the fun part, just go to a website and try to read it – comprehension isn’t the point here, just to get familiar with sounding out and parsing out the words. A favorite link of mine is the Japan Times Junior Page it’s designed for kids so I have a much easier time scanning the page.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how slow I am. I’ve been using MIT’s open courseware
Then it dawns on me: since they have courses in really esoteric topics like Mathematical Methods in Nanophotonics then they probably have courses in Japanese.
My rather feble leap of logic was rewarded when i found courses convering basic, intermediate, and “advanced”: japanese at the MIT open courseware languages site.
Each course has plenty of additional resources including useful things like study guids for kana and kanji – many of the resources are interactive as well.
Finally made it through the first 30 CDs of audio. And i’ve moved onto the second block-o-thirty.
Oddly, I think there are many reasons there aren’t more people who take on japanese as a language.
1) It just looks hard: yup – the idea of learning kana and katakana just isn’t that inviting to people who are used to latin alphabets.
2) There aren’t that many good resources to get started. It’s hard to find a good place to start. If you walk into any marginal bookstore, you’ll find 500 books that help you learn French, and 5000 that will guide you through spanish…. you’ll be lucky to find one or two workbooks for Japanese (most of which either assume that you want to just learn some phrases, or that you want to watch Anime…)
3) It’s absurdly expensive. My non scientific analysis of what it costs to learn Japanese puts it at at least three times what a standard romance language costs. Assuming completeness: 1800+ flashcards, two or three dictionaries, and i can’t imagine not having some sort of speech practice for japanese, so throw in some audio lessons, or tutoring with a native speaker; all for a grand total of lots of $$$.
Still going through the daily grind of speaking with Pimsleur. One thing that i’m starting to notice is that sounding out the words is easier when you know the kana. Knowledge of what sounds are legal helps out quite a bit when you’re trying to figure out sounds that are similar – shi or sho for instance.
I still think that it’s better to start with something verbal, then move to the written.
I was thining about picking up Rosetta Stone. Has anyone tried these out? Good, bad, indifferent?
Okay – i’ve decided to go back and start re-learning the hiragana from scratch. It seems easier this time around – partly because i there are more words and phrases for me to attach sounds to.
I’ve recently begun to understand the more subtle portions of Japanese pronunciation; okay understand is probably a bit strong: appreciate is probably a better word.
I’ve pretty much got the complete Heisig library at this point – so i suppose there really isn’t anything stopping me from becoming literate in the language…. anything except a huge deficiency in time and skill ;)
Whohoo! I feel as though i could do a great job at playing the ugly american and butcher the language well enough to be kicked out of the country ;) -
On a slightly more serious note: (1) I can certainly see how learning how to write Japanese is probably detrimental to learning how to speak it. The writing part seems to require a basic intuition about what sounds right before the writing even seems to make sense. Once you start speaking Japanese, you’ll be less likely into falling into the “it’s all phonetic” trap that I’m sure is partially responsible for Japanese being considered difficult to learn. Yes it’s phonetic; no – it’s not like romance language phonetic.
The pimsleur CDs have been great for retention of phrases, words, and more importantly, grammar constructs. Pick em up if you’re going to tackle the language.
I’ve been quite remiss in my hiragana practice. No excuses on this one – just need to get back into it. It’s odd to think that I can’t remember what it was like to learn english – my first language. I have no real recollection of a time when i didn’t know the alphabet. This makes learning japanese all the more humbling in some respects. Illiteracy sucks – no matter what the language.
The victories while learning Japanese are small – I’m guessing that it will be at least another year before I can even start practicing conversations with a real live native speaker. I can see some small progress though.
Okay – If you need a good tutorial on remembering the Kana, I highly recomend Remembering The Kana by James W. Heisig. The book breaks down learning both the hiragana, and the katakana into short, easy 10 to 30 minutes lessons that manage ( through the abuse of imagery and menomic devices) to really stick to your brain. It’s 48 hours later, and having gone through the first two lessons, I still remember the hiragana from lesson one. Not bad for roughly 3 minutes per symbol.