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So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby hyperconjugated » Sat 08.12.2006 6:23 am

magma wrote:
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.

While you make excellent points in your posts,
you present them like they are self evident.
When you started learning japanese were these
points as crystal clear to you as they are now?
If they were, well, kudos to you, but I wouldn't
assume that everybody knows these things by heart.
Also I don't think these questions reflect that
people are going for the strict academic road on
Japanese learning. Maybe they just don't know
what to do next and are using these linguistic
terms because it's something they've heard of and
simply have no clue where to begin with?
Hence the questions....Lastly, I don't think your
driving analogy is top notch. Comparing
something as complex as language learning to
driving makes no sense. You can't assume that
once you've learned how to shift, brake, and steer,
you can go blasting through crossroads etc. learning
how the traffic works. People are going to get killed
if you don't learn some basic rules that govern the
traffic.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Sun 08.13.2006 1:56 am

While you make excellent points in your posts,
you present them like they are self evident.
When you started learning japanese were these
points as crystal clear to you as they are now?

No, definately not! And how I wish they had been... I wasted six years trying to learn by memorizing lists of kanji and vocabulary. Until recently, I never questioned the approach. I figured the reason I wasn't making any progress was simply because I was lazy or didn't have enough will power. While it's true I am pretty lazy, I realize now that I made studying Japanese a lot harder on myself, and a lot more boring than it needs to be.

Also I don't think these questions reflect that
people are going for the strict academic road on
Japanese learning. Maybe they just don't know
what to do next and are using these linguistic
terms because it's something they've heard of and
simply have no clue where to begin with?

I think that's true: the people asking these questions want to learn, and just aren't sure how. And while many of them probably aren't thinking specifically of taking the strict academic road, nevertheless many of them do end up taking that road, and suffer for years (as I did) because of it. I wonder how many gave up because nobody told them the strict academic way isn't the only way (or even the best way)? And I wonder how many here are still on that hard road right now?

When I see someone with a "100/1945" kanji counter in their signature, odds are good they're on that road. I could be wrong--maybe they just happen to know how many kanji they've learned because their textbook is keeping track for them ("good job: you've learned 100 kanji!"). But it seems at least as likely to me that they've got a stack of 100 flashcards in their room somewhere collecting dust, and once in a while (when they can summon the willpower), they go through them, and after an hour or two of labor, they stop, sigh, wipe the sweat from their brow and say, "wow, this language is hard!" I know, because I've been there.


"I just finished Kana, so I was wondering in what order I should learn Kanji, grammer, and vocabulary". What does this question tell you? This person wants to learn Japanese. This person sees a distinction between the writing system, the rules of grammar, and vocabulary. There's nothing wrong with that. But behind the question lies a potentially fatal assumption.

What sorts of answers does this question anticipate, and what sorts of answers is it likely to get? I've seen questions like this asked before, and I've seen the kind of answers it commonly gets:

"You should memorize all the kanji first so you can put that hurdle behind you once and for all. Use <insert famous book> to make it easier..."

"Grammar is the key! What good are vocab words if you don't know how to use them?"

"Get a JLPT study book and go through that."


This all sounds like good (albeit contradictory) advice. But the problem is not the answers, it's the question. The questioner's assumptions about learning Japanese can be summed up in an equation like this:

[center]JAPANESE = GRAMMAR + VOCABULARY + KANJI[/center]
The questioner figures that becoming an expert on Japanese grammar, Japanese vocabulary, and Japanese characters will make him a competant speaker of Japanese. The only part that's not clear is what order these three terms should be attacked in--hence the question.

The tragic part of all this is that, while it seems to make so much sense, the truth is, alas, it doesn't work. I speak from experience. And after I'd spent 6 years trying and failing to make progress in Japanese, I looked back and asked myself, "what went wrong?" I was still convinced it was possible, but somehow my approach wasn't working. It was when I decided to read what others who had succeeded in learning languages had done that I discovered what the problem was: I was using the wrong equation.

Here's a much more useful formula for learners to keep in their heads:

[center]JAPANESE COMPETANCE = LISTENING/SPEAKING + READING/WRITING[/center]
The difference between the first formula and the second is that the first formula is really just describing academic aspects of language, not the skills necessary to use language. Do you see the difference? Yes, Japanese can be divided into writing, grammar, and a corpus of vocabulary words. But what does that have to do with actually speaking/hearing/reading/writing Japanese? Just because you can think of the language that way doesn't mean you should study it that way!

And I think you're much better off not studying it that way. There may be some very special people in the world for whom memorizing kanji lists, vocabulary lists, and lists of grammar somehow allows them to be able to use Japanese effectively. If that approach works for you, great! But I'm pretty sure most normal human beings just don't learn languages that way. Yet somehow the majority of Japanese beginners on this board seem to think that this is the way they must approach the language, and when they fail, they give up in despair because they think the fault lies with themselves: "I'm just not good at learning languages", or "it was so hard, I just didn't have the time", or "I got bored/frustrated with it." These are the people who I hope will read this thread and find some encouragement.

Lastly, I don't think your
driving analogy is top notch. Comparing
something as complex as language learning to
driving makes no sense.

I admit it's an imperfect analogy. :p

The reason I used it was to try and get people to think outside their "JAPANESE = GRAMMAR + VOCABULARY + KANJI" boxes. Imagine if people DID think about driving that way!

"DRIVING = SHIFTING + BRAKING + STEERING, therefore I should study each piece one at a time in isolation until I am good at breaking, shifting, and steering, and then I'll be able to do all three at once!"

That's just silly (hence the title of this thread). I think the driving analogy is valid because using language to communicate is a skill (like driving), not a subject to be studied (like mathematics). You can take all the time you need to work a math equation, but your Japanese listener won't wait forever. You need to react in real time! You need to be trained to think in a foreign mode. It's not about understanding a bunch of principles. Studying Japanese grammar is necessary, of course--how else will you know how to make grammatically-correct sentences? But that grammatical knowledge is temporary, like training wheels on a bike. It's just there to help you internalize the rule. Once you can apply the rule without thinking about it, then you can forget about the grammar rule and just speak. Indeed, you must forget about the grammar rules if you want to be able to concentrate on what you're saying, and not how you're saying it.

As Eleanor Jordan said:

Language learning involves acquiring a new set of habits, and habits must be automatic. Just as the experienced driver performs the mechanics of driving--turning on the engine, shifting gears, applying the breaks, etc.--unconsciously, and concentrates on where he is going, so the fluent speaker of a language is concerned with what he is saying rather than the mechanics of how he is saying it.


Looking at languge learning this way, people who practice kanji and vocabulary alone are only teaching themselves to do just that--to give snappy English definitions for Japanese words and symbols. If they want to learn how to speak and write Japanese sentences, then they need to practice speaking and writing Japanese sentences, not just words and symbols.

You can't assume that
once you've learned how to shift, brake, and steer,
you can go blasting through crossroads etc. learning
how the traffic works. People are going to get killed
if you don't learn some basic rules that govern the
traffic.

That's true, but fortunately for us, the sorts of "accidents" people make while trying to learn how to drive the Japanese language are much less serious than the traffic variety. Linguistic accidents are actually a necessary part of learning, and you'd probably agree that people who aren't afraid of a few fender-benders learn much more quickly than the more careful drivers!
Last edited by magma on Sun 08.13.2006 5:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Ongakuka » Sun 08.13.2006 6:26 am

This all sounds like good (albeit contradictory) advice. But the problem is not the answers, it's the question. The questioner's assumptions about learning Japanese can be summed up in an equation like this:


JAPANESE = GRAMMAR + VOCABULARY + KANJI


First I want to state that I have understood everything in your previous posts, the fact you are annoyed by such a shoutbox post makes perfect sense to me. However you shouldn't ignore the fact that- no matter how high your Japanese "skill" level is, without Vocab and the ability to recognize Kanji and comprehend grammar, you won't be able to read and write Japanese.

I think you would argue that, by constantly practicing listening exercise, reading through Japanese material etc.. your vocab and so on would increase naturally- and you would have a better understanding of the actual Japanese meaning of the words and so on. I believe this is true. But I still find the said shoutbox post acceptable for these reasons:

I (yes me) study Japanese by learning vocab and Kanji parrot fashion, as though Japanese=grammar, vocab and Kanji. Then afterwards I put the things I have learnt into practice, reading example sentences, writing my own sentences and so on. What I'm trying to say is,

Japanese language = Vocab + Grammar + Kanji
Japanese fluency = Speaking + Reading + Writing

(edited for spelling)
Last edited by Ongakuka on Sun 08.13.2006 7:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby battousai » Sun 08.13.2006 10:46 am

I've skimmed through most of the replies here and there are a lot of great points made by all. The truth is there is no right answer, or if anything the closest answer is - to each his own. Whatever works best for you, your mileage may vary, etc. etc. But, I wanted to point out something that I learned early enough to make a difference in my perspective of study, and Ongakuka actually summed them up in his previous post.

Japanese language = Vocab + Grammar + Kanji
Japanese fluency = Speaking + Reading + Writing

This is basically what it comes down to in a nutshell. If you study lists of vocab, grammar points, and kanji, you WILL be able to read, understand, and even write a fair amount of Japanese.

The second part, fluency, is where people usually get lost. You cannot learn fluency from a book, or from a class, or from watching Japanese TV 24/7. Fluency is gotten one way, immersing yourself in a culture and having to fend for yourself. Fluency comes through years of exposure inside the culture, and nothing can be done study-wise to emulate that. Of course with a lot of practice and knowing kanji, words, and grammar you could successfully read a Japanese newspaper. But could you formulate thoughts(quickly) and speak as clearly as a newspaper? That's something only achieved by actually talking with a Japanese person over time.

The truth is some people don't want fluency. Some people are happy enough with being able to understand a few lines of a show, song, magazine, or even some fun phrases. Unless you plan to live in Japan or work in Japanese business, fluency is a very difficult and time-consuming goal. You should of course try your best for whatever your goal is, but you get the point.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Sun 08.13.2006 3:47 pm

Ongakuka, battousai, you've really helped me out. I was mixing up the study of the language and the pursuit of fluency, and confusing myself in the process. You've completely cleared it up--thank you so much! :D
Last edited by magma on Sun 08.13.2006 4:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby battousai » Sun 08.13.2006 7:50 pm

Well the truth is both have the same goal in mind - be able to understand and formulate Japanese. It is the degrees of each that make them different. I usually define it myself as the art of the language, and the science. The science is the meat of the language - words, kanji, grammar, what it is made up of. Studying the science of the language let's you take pre-formed Japanese context and allows you to disect it, analyze it, and learn from it. The art is the ability to call upon the language in an ever-changing context and use it at your will. This can't be learned from a book, and requires living in a Japanese environment.

Fluency, is actually at the end of BOTH of those studies. That is, when you understand the mechanics of why the language works, as well as the natural instincts of how to speak and understand it. If you live 10 years in Japan, you might be able to speak wonderful Japanese. But if you never picked up a newspaper or tried to learn any Kanji, would you consider yourself fluent? You can hold a conversation with a Japanese adult, but you can't read a teen magazine. Like I said before, it's all about what you personally want and where you set your goals. Not everyone will have the same ending point, but the road there is often the same.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Zinzo » Sun 08.13.2006 8:31 pm

I'm in shock...I never thought my simple shoutbox question (Yes, it was I who asked it) was so complex. I understand what you guys are trying to get me to realize, and that's kind of what I've been already doing, just not very well. I'm sure all these posts will help me have a better understanding in my studies. Thanks for clearing up my problem! :D
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby KAGEHISaNOTSU » Sun 08.13.2006 8:39 pm

Still, I think we can all agree that you should learn Hiragana and Katakana first. If you try to learn the rest of the language (Grammar, new vocabulary, use of Kanji etc.) using Romaji, then you will never truly speak Japanese.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Zinzo » Sun 08.13.2006 8:50 pm

If you read the first post, it quoted my shoutbox post. I said I had just finished Kana, which is Hiragana and Katakana. Just thought I should let you know. ;)

PS: I would never use Romaji!! I am trying to destroy all traces of it in my home due to its corruption in me learning Japanese. It's so EVIL! lol :D
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Sun 08.13.2006 9:24 pm

battousai-san wrote:
Well the truth is both have the same goal in mind - be able to understand and formulate Japanese. It is the degrees of each that make them different. I usually define it myself as the art of the language, and the science.

Fluency, is actually at the end of BOTH of those studies.

That's a great explanation! I think the reason I've been railing against the science side so much in this thread is because I've been studying in purely scientific ways for years, and now I'm at a point where I need to concentrate more on the art side to make any further progress towards fluency.

You've really opened my eyes to a more balanced view of language learning. Of course you're right that some people aren't aiming for fluency, they "just" want to be able to read manga or understand songs, etc. (as if that wasn't a huge challenge already!). But even for those like myself who are aiming for fluency, I think you've clearly shown that both the art and the science are necessary to achieve it. The science helps build the passive skills (listening and reading), and the art exercises the active skills (speaking and writing).

That's probably an over-simplification on my part--I'm sure the interaction between active and passive skills in language learning is a lot more complex than that. But you don't need to know how it works to know that you need both to achieve fluency (just like you don't need to know the science of nutrition and metabolism to benefit from eating a well-balanced diet).

I'm in shock...I never thought my simple shoutbox question (Yes, it was I who asked it) was so complex.

Thanks for clearing up my problem!

LOL! Thanks for joining in! :D

PS: I would never use Romaji!! I am trying to destroy all traces of it in my home due to its corruption in me learning Japanese. It's so EVIL! lol

Careful, Zinzo-san! If you only take one thing away from this thread, I hope it will be that balance is very important in language learning. (In other words, don't burn a textbook just because it has romaji in it!) ;)

Some of my favorite books use romaji, either because they don't want to scare beginners (like Essential Japanese by Berlitz), or because they want to concentrate 100% on speaking skills (like Japanese: the Spoken Language by Jorden and Noda). These are both excellent books for learning spoken Japanese (especialy Jorden's, because the audio drills are so useful for building fluency). Just don't rely on the romaji in the book--rewrite the lessons in kana/kanji and study that version. Doing that is excellent writing practice. Of course, to do that you'll need a reference book that shows you when to use kanji (a normal dictionary gives kanji even when the kanji is rarely used, or only used in certain circumstances). For that, the best resource I've found is Kodansha's Communicative English-Japanese Dictionary. It just came out this year, and even if you're not rewriting romaji in Japanese characters, it's still an extremely useful resource, quite unlike any other dictionary currently available.
Last edited by magma on Sun 08.13.2006 9:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby Naota » Sun 08.13.2006 10:46 pm

Hehe Thanks Magma, I'm just starting to learn and I've been trying to find some useful hints and tips. I have a massive pile of hiragana that i've been writeing, and studying. I've changed my MSN address to Japan so i could try and read the banners while i check my E-mail ;)

It is very hard for a guy like me to learn Japanese since I have no real good way of immersion (There really is no diversity where i live), I'm trying as best as I can but I've only tackled the hiragana "alphabet" some basic grammer & sentance structure.

Anyway, I am rambling, hehehe. I really just wanted to thank everyone who posted in this thread for helping me out more then you know. I hope to make some good friends here :)
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby magma » Mon 08.14.2006 1:10 pm

I have a massive pile of hiragana that i've been writeing, and studying. I've changed my MSN address to Japan so i could try and read the banners while i check my E-mail

Good idea! Before I discovered gmail, I tried using a yahoo.co.jp email address. The Japanese advertisements are often quite amusing (they also tend to use a lot of katakana).

If you've been using Windows a long time and know all the menus and dialogue boxes by heart (ie. you click "Ok" without reading them anymore), you can try switching the language mode to Japanese. But it's definately not for the timid! It's kinda scary when an unexpected message appears, and you have to use the dictionary to decipher it (WWWJDIC translation mode works well for this).

It is very hard for a guy like me to learn Japanese since I have no real good way of immersion (There really is no diversity where i live), I'm trying as best as I can but I've only tackled the hiragana "alphabet" some basic grammer & sentance structure.

I don't know where you live, but if there's a university nearby, odds are good you can find some Japanese exchange students to practice with. The university foreign language department often has programs available for matching English speakers who want to learn a foreign language with foreign students who want to learn English. The "International Conversation Partner Program" at the University of Minnesota, for example, doesn't even require you to be currently enrolled to participate. The exchange students I've met are always very motivated to practice English (otherwise they wouldn't have bothered to come here), and are eager to hang out with friendly Americans who want to help them. Even if you can only say 8 words in Japanese, I think you will find talking with them very educational. :)

Sometimes there are groups of Japanese ex-pats that meet at churches to do bible study in Japanese. There's even a Japanese Lutheran church in Minneapolis with it's own building!
Last edited by magma on Mon 08.14.2006 1:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby karelhof » Mon 08.14.2006 3:33 pm

you've now abstractly told us to not learn lists, but learn from things like manga's, books and conversations. but you need to know some basic grammar and words to learn from those things. so what do you suggest I learn before before I'm going to buy manga's and stuff.

And people who seek websites that teach them japanese, probably don't know people who speak japanese (at least, I don't).

and I've got a little off-topic question that I don't want to make a new topic about:
what use is the on-reading of all kanji on itself, the only things you must learn about a kanji are the most used pronunciations and the jukugo, right?
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby hungryhotei » Mon 08.14.2006 3:40 pm

karelhof wrote:
you've now abstractly told us to not learn lists, but learn from things like manga's, books and conversations. but you need to know some basic grammar and words to learn from those things. so what do you suggest I learn before before I'm going to buy manga's and stuff.


If your textbook is half good the grammar and vocabulary being taught should be given a context and come in the form of a conversation or a letter or something.
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RE: So many silly ideas about learning Japanese!

Postby AJBryant » Mon 08.14.2006 5:57 pm

I personally tell people to avoid manga like the plague until they're intermediate. There's so much non-standard Japanese there you can either horribly confuse yourself or cripple your language ability.


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