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?
, 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
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
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!