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So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

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So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Fri 08.11.2006 8:48 pm

From today's shoutbox:

I just finished Kana, so I was wondering in what order I should learn Kanji, grammer, and vocabulary.


Am I the only one who thinks this question makes no sense? Isn't it a little like saying, "I want to learn how to drive. In what order should I learn shifting, braking, and steering?"

I've never met a teenager who was confused about how to learn how to drive. All of them seem to know instincitvely that driving is best learned by doing, and they sign up for behind-the-wheel lessons as soon as their parents will let them.

But many young people come to this forum eager to learn Japanese, and somehow they seem to have gotten the idea in their heads that foreign languages are best learned through what you might call "academic means", like the method one would use to study mathematics or biology. Maybe it's because in school they study languages in the same kind of classrooms and do much the same things they do in their math and science classes. But they miss the point: A language isn't a subject, it's a skill.

I think it's safe to say that most people who come here aren't looking to become Japanese linguistics experts. Surely what 99% of them want is to be able to produce and comprehend spoken and written Japanese? And what so many of them don't seem to realize is that speaking, listening, reading, and writing are skills, more like juggling, playing tennis, or driving a car than solving an equation or memorizing chemical reactions.

Certainly it takes skill to solve equations and balance chemical formulae, but to be able to effectively use a language is really less about memorizing rules and more about forming habits. Through repitition, your speech apparatus learns to produce the foreign sounds correctly; your brain learns to associate sounds with ideas, and then kana/kanji with those sounds. It's all about training yourself to use the language.

Perhaps this can be summed up in one Zen statement: If you want to be able to speak Japanese, you must speak Japanese. In other words, "practice makes perfect." To learn to speak, don't memorize lists of words! TALK to people, or drill with recorded voices on a CD. To learn to write, don't memorize lists of Kanji. READ books (simple ones at first). WRITE what you're learning in kanji. Even grammar is not a thing to be studied in the abstract, as if someone could become a karate expert simply by reading books about how to do the moves. You must DO the moves, and then have someone correct you when you make mistakes. Reading books helps, but not nearly as much as practicing does.

Listen to Nike: just do it!
Last edited by magma on Fri 08.11.2006 10:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby randomperson » Fri 08.11.2006 9:08 pm

they sign up for behind-the-wheel lessons as soon as their parents will let them.

im a expect to that, i really dont like driving all that much but maybe thats because my parents have trucks

But many young people come to this forum eager to learn Japanese, and somehow they seem to have gotten the idea in their heads that foreign languages are best learned a piece at a time, like mathematics or biology. Maybe it's because in school they study languages in the same kind of classrooms and do much the same things they do in their math and science classes. But they miss the point: A language isn't a subject, it's a skill.


in my school they do(atleast in french) teach it peices, like one day you will learn said verb tense,then the next day youll review a bit and learn how to use it. then we would move onto the next thing, but my teacher wasnt very good at teaching french for she thought if you copyed a sentence over and over youd learn sentence order(kept in mind most of the words we didnt know and there was no vocab box saying they mean this. so many teenages come here thinking they have to learn the language like it taught in school.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Fri 08.11.2006 9:45 pm

in my school they do(atleast in french) teach it peices, like one day you will learn said verb tense,then the next day youll review a bit and learn how to use it. then we would move onto the next thing


I don't have a problem with that--I think it's good to practice language in pieces like that.

What I'm really complaining about are these three ideas:

STUDYING VOCABULARY = STUDYING JAPANESE
STUDYING KANJI = STUDYING JAPANESE
STUDYING GRAMMAR = STUDYING JAPANESE

These three equations are FALSE.

These are certainly ways to learn about Japanese, but they are not the same as actually speaking, listening to, reading, and writing Japanese.

Think about it: when you "study vocabulary", what you're really doing is memorizing pairs of words: this Japanese word = this English word. Except they really don't (or rarely do). Even hai, seemingly the simplest Japanese word, doesn't equal "yes" in English. Japanese use hai in situations where no English speaker would say "yes", and vice-versa.
But all that aside, is your goal really to associate English words with Japanese words? NO! Your goal is to associate Japanese words with the ideas Japanese people associate them with, period.

You can say the same thing about "studying kanji". Knowing English definitions for kanji isn't terribly useful in real life (but practicing writing them is definately necessary).

And as for "studying grammar"... What good does it do you to know about all the grammar rules in Japanese, and not be able to apply them in real time? You must practice the grammatical patterns and transformations you're studying until they become second-nature. When you can use them as naturally as you can speak your native language, then you can say you've "learned" that point of grammar.


By all means, divide the langauge into bite-sized grammatical chunks. Or divide it into functional chunks if you'd rathar (like "Japanese For Everyone" does. Their lessons are centered around situations, like "asking permission", "cheering someone up", "giving directions", etc.). Just please, please, please don't confuse studying lists of vocabulary and grammar with practicing the skills of speaking, hearing, reading, and writing Japanese. They are simply not the same, and although they're useful, I don't think they're really the best use of a student's time.

It's not exactly the same topic, but since I'm rambling anyway... Why memorize a kanji by itself when you can learn it as part of a word? And why memorize a word by itself when you can learn it in the context of a sentence? And why memorize a sentence by itself when you can learn it in the context of a conversation or a written text?

Memorizing English definitions for Japanese words or characters alone teaches you very little about how to use that word or character. Simply reading or listening to a conversation (provided its meaning is comprehensible) allows you to learn vocabulary words, kanji, and reinforces grammatical patterns simultaneously. Isn't this the most effecient way to learn?
Last edited by magma on Fri 08.11.2006 9:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Donovanian » Fri 08.11.2006 10:14 pm

I agree with a lot of this.

I noticed it in Spanish, too, how it is becoming second nature to me. I would study something and memorizze it for a test, and it would be gone soon after. It was then that I realized that I had to have the language in my life 24/7. Whenever I saw an object that I knew I learned the word to, I would say it out loud. Once I was able to relate the object to the word in Spanish and not to the word in English, I was able to say that I have learned the word.

Does that make sense?
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Fri 08.11.2006 10:17 pm

Yes!!! That's exactly what I'm talking about--thank you!! :D
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Donovanian » Fri 08.11.2006 10:17 pm

Anytime ^-^
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Sumi » Fri 08.11.2006 10:25 pm

Donovanian wrote:
I agree with a lot of this.

I noticed it in Spanish, too, how it is becoming second nature to me. I would study something and memorizze it for a test, and it would be gone soon after. It was then that I realized that I had to have the language in my life 24/7. Whenever I saw an object that I knew I learned the word to, I would say it out loud. Once I was able to relate the object to the word in Spanish and not to the word in English, I was able to say that I have learned the word.

Does that make sense?



I had that EXACT same problem in Spanish that made me get "kicked out" & I had to change. I did the instead of learn a noun as this equals this, I relate nouns to objects. The problem is when it comes to adjectives/adverbs & idea. I also have a problem when I learn kanji. I really don't understand what it could stand for unless I know it's English equivalent. I'm trying to find news ways to learn kanji without having to know what it means in English. But it really isn't working out too well.
ねえ、あのう、弟さん、ここに遊んじゃだめだよ。あそこは酸があるんだよ。
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby KNH » Fri 08.11.2006 10:38 pm

That was truly well said, Magma. You cannot get better advice than that.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Fri 08.11.2006 10:47 pm

I also have a problem when I learn kanji. I really don't understand what it could stand for unless I know it's English equivalent. I'm trying to find news ways to learn kanji without having to know what it means in English. But it really isn't working out too well.


I see you have a progress counter at the bottom of your sig, Sumi-san. I also have one of those stashed away in a textfile somewhere. The idea of being able to measure your progress so accurately is very attractive! You can say "I'm 25% done!" "I'm 50% done!" "ten more kanji, and I'll know 'em all!" Too bad it doesn't really work that way.

I think you'll find that memorizing one character at a time doesn't really help you read and write Japanese effectively. The big problem is just what you describe: the characters are too abstract, and it's very very difficult to associate them with their meanings. But it shouldn't really be surprising, since most kanji really don't have any specific meanings in isolation; it's only when you put them together (or add a hiragana stem) to make a WORD that they really take on a specific meaning.

Kanji are mostly pieces of words, not words in themselves. Think about English greek/latin roots like "pre-", "-logy", "ex-". These don't mean a whole lot by themselves, but in words like "predate", "biology", and "exterminate" they have specific meanings and nuances. Same in Japanese.

Would you tell a Japanese person to study English by memorizing greek and lating roots like "pre", "logy", "ex", etc.? Wouldn't it be better to memorize words? Or better still: practice dialogues with new words in them? Then you learn the word, and a context that it goes with.

Manga, simple books or websites about an interesting topic, conversations with a helpful Japanese person, all these are very effecient ways to learn vocabulary by practicing in a context. Kanji in isolation have no context and thus are very difficult to learn. Why do it?
Last edited by magma on Fri 08.11.2006 10:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Donovanian » Fri 08.11.2006 11:11 pm

Amazing advice, Magma. I can see myself getting out of my language rut already. ^-^ Thank you so much.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby randomperson » Fri 08.11.2006 11:16 pm

well, the roots do have meanings(and in my school we learn what those mean) ex, biology(study of life): bio meaning life and -logy meaning study of.
sumi, with your adjective/adverb thing you could draw like pictures and learn it that way. also ideas are techally nouns but they are hard to have like object relation.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Donovanian » Fri 08.11.2006 11:18 pm

Sumi wrote:
I had that EXACT same problem in Spanish that made me get "kicked out" & I had to change. I did the instead of learn a noun as this equals this, I relate nouns to objects.


I guess it doesn't work for everyone. It helped me so much when I related nouns to objects. They just seemed to become part of my vocabulary. I guess like they were synonyms rather than words of a foreign language.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Hatori » Sat 08.12.2006 12:39 am

i really do, highly think of your post, Magma. i used to be JUST like that. i'm not very good at Japanese, so i've had a hard time plotting, on what i should do, to learn. when i realized i'd have to do stuff like what you said would be good to do, i took my time out to go out and get some materials and actually try stuff. for example, i've bought a few japanese manga books and i try my best to read that. if there's a word i don't know, i look it up in my dictionary and try to use it in English, and confuse people (lol). i also look my kanji book, and try to memorize and find it in my books or write it out with kana. sometimes i say small sentences to my friends in Japanese. it helps a trillion times more, than if you just look at something, memorize it, and not really process it and not do something.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby appleraja » Sat 08.12.2006 2:42 am

i didnt have time to read all of these posts but i dont think you should kind of make fun of him for asking a question, its jsut an innoccent question dont kill it :)
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Sat 08.12.2006 3:48 am

Thank you Saiaku_Akuma-san, Donovanian-san, Hatori-san--I'm glad to hear you can relate to my rant. B)

i didnt have time to read all of these posts but i dont think you should kind of make fun of him for asking a question

I mean no disrespect towards the questioner. I'm just trying to pursuade him (and those who think like him) to change their point of view. ;)

well, the roots do have meanings(and in my school we learn what those mean) ex, biology(study of life): bio meaning life and -logy meaning study of.

Exactly! And that fact is a great argument for learning kanji along with grammar and new vocabulary words.

After all, isn't it easier to learn new words when you already know part of them? Anybody who knows the meaning of "ology" knows that something ending in "-ology" means "study of ___". Even a made-up word like "chopstickology" is readily comprehensible. In the same way, if you know 学 (gaku) means "learning/scholarship", it's easier to learn, recognize, and remember words that use it, like 学院 (gakuin), 学園 (gakuen), 大学 (daigaku), 学生 (gakusei), etc. etc..

But what if I were a Japanese studying English, and I never actually learned any words that use "ology"? What if all I knew was that "ology" means "study of"? Then I might naively try to form a word like "ologyburger", and no one else would know what the heck I'm talking about when I write my scholarly dissertation on the fast-food sciences.

Kanji are your friends. They make it easier to learn, remember, and recognize words. That's why the Japanese still use them. But Kanji aren't an end in themselves. They serve no purpose if they're not making it easier to read and write words! That's why there's not much purpose in studying them apart from words.

And words, in turn, don't serve much purpose unless they're part of a sentence. And if you've studied Japanese long enough to start making sentences, you know that those sentences don't mean a whole lot unless they're part of a conversational/textual context.

So, the point of all this ranting is,


[center]DON'T TRY TO STUDY JAPANESE WITHOUT CONTEXT[/center]

If you want to use it in a context, you need to learn it in a context. (Of course, if you just want to pass a test, it's probably enough to just memorize lists of vocabulary words, grammar rules, and kanji "definitions" in English to get a good score, but don't expect to be able to speak or understand real live contextual Japanese!)


It's easy to say, "always study in context," but what the heck does it actually mean in practice? How do you DO that? Well, Hatori-san gets it--see his post above for some great examples. The key is to use the language, not just study it. Use it to express yourself! Use it to confuse your friends, and amuse your enemies. Talk to yourself. Make it part of your daily life. If you normally keep a nikki (diary), write some Japanese in it. If you normally study the Bible, get a Japanese seisho and read the two of them side-by-side (it's quite eye-opening :o). A friend of mine is reading "Anne of Green Gables" in Japanese. That's a great way to learn, because since she already knows the story, she already has stored up in her head an intuitive definition for all the words and phrases used in the book, and if she gets stuck, she can always referr to the English version.

If you're a real beginner, these suggestions might seem out of reach. But take heart: the truth is, you don't need to know very much Japanese to be able to start doing these things. Japanese grammar is very logical and consistant, and you only need to skim through the grammar articles on this website to learn all you need to know to start deciphering a children's book. Between thejapanesepage.com and the WWWJDIC, you have all you need to get started, and it doesn't cost you a cent!

Of course, if you're really serious about becoming fluent, you will still need to acquire a textbook with audio and work the (contextual!) examples in it. But that's a topic for another thread....
Last edited by magma on Sat 08.12.2006 4:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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