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Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Have a textbook or grammar book that you find particularly helpful? What about a learning tip to share with others?

RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Chris Hart » Fri 01.25.2008 12:30 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Harisenbon wrote:
Native speakers would not require kanji to know where words start and end because of their mastery of the language,


I'm curious: Have you ever timed a native reading an all kana versus kanji-kana mix? Reading speed when reading aloud would not change, but in the (small) tests I've done with my Japanese friends, having kanji in the text actually does increase their reading speed by a fair amount. Change the hiragana out of katakana, and the reading speed gets even slower.


This is to be expected; as I've said before, people read what they are used to faster than what they don't. I would be surprised if a native Japanese could read all-kana as quickly as the normal kanji/kana mix, but I would be even more surprised if they practiced reading all-kana for a year and still were unable to read it as quickly as the normal system. This doesn't have anything to do with the theoretical advantage of one over the other.

Definately true. I notice that it takes me slightly longer to read things on Hack-A-Day than on other sites because their anti-shout filter turns everything into lower case. Also, when looking at text in all caps, I slow down as well. I'm definately used to the normal capitilization rules.

NoTiCe HoW mUcH yOu SlOw DoWn To ReAd ThIs SeNtEnCe ThAt DoEsN't FoLlOw ThE nOrMaL rUlEs.

The only reason it is quicker for a native speaker/high level reader to read a passage that follows the NORMAL writing system rules than a passage that doesn't is it's what they are used to. In their head, they must actively think about what they are seeing, instead of directly processing it.

Here's another writing system trick. With the following words, say what color they are printed in, not what word it is.

Blue Green Red Purple Orange Yellow Black White Red Green Orange Purple Blue Yellow Blue Purple White Green
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby jyonzu » Fri 01.25.2008 12:34 am

I'm afraid I'm too lazy to read 13 pages of other posts, but our teachers had us learning kanji in the beginning. We learned it right along with speaking and understanding the language itself. But seeing as though we dedicate a lot of time learning the kanji, I'd assume it's very useful for understanding the Japanese language!
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby nukemarine » Fri 01.25.2008 1:56 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:

In the end it's really circumstance and opportunity -- your method would be very hard to implement in a class (I think -- I vaguely remember Heisig himself talking about how his books aren't good for classes), and what we're doing in class would be very hard to do for self-study. As long as you reach your goals in the language, it's not important the path you take to get there.


Yes, Heisig said his method is very useless for the traditional classroom structure. Granted, one could argue language is useless to learn in a traditional classroom structure. I think the keyword here is "traditional". With classes, you have to show some sort of progress that gets measured with grades. Even here in the these threads guys with four plus years of advanced education in the language said that wasn't enough for the real thing.

I do think a form of Heisig could be used in classroom environment though. I forget the article (perhaps at Kanji Clinic), but the author suggests culling all the Kanji you'll have the students use over the semester (I guess Genki would be 250). You'll teach them those 250 and all the primitives that are used to make up those 250 (perhaps 50 or so I guess). Now, spending 25 hours of effort to get 300 kanji plus 6 hours to get the Kana creates a base learning the written and spoken language.

Progress can be measured using an SRS like Anki. With a little adaption of the SRS, I can review each students file and see: How often they added new material, how many times each day they reviewed. Assuming the student doesn't cheat himself (such as clicking "know it" all the time), I can tell if he's putting in effort and learning from that effort. I can do a similar thing when we do *ugh* vocabulary and *yay* sentences. Any item that the student claims to have a month or greater retention, I can use for testing purposes.

Anyway, I'm straying. Yes, kanji via a modified Heisig can be taught. You could also go the traditional route but I think that creates the 700 kanji brickwall.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 01.25.2008 8:25 pm

I think the problem with RTK in a class is not that it would be impossible to implement or to test, but that it may not work for everyone.

If something is only going to work for half the people its not going to work as part of a syllabus. You have to have a method that almost everyone can learn with, or several alternative methods that can give similar results.

It would be hard to say, teach 500 kanji on a course incorporating RTK. The ones who got it would finish learning the RTK part in a few weeks, while the ones who didn't get it may never reach that place even in a year.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 01.30.2008 10:38 am

Well, one of the basic problems in language program design is that no method is going to work perfectly for everyone, and in particular when you're dealing with a class, you're never going to have a situation where everyone works equally hard and makes equal progress.

I said this somewhere else, but if for some reason I was forced to include Heisig in a class, what might work is to combine Japanese: The Spoken Language with Heisig. JSL requires no knowledge of Japanese script (not even kana) to use, so using Heisig instead of some other writing book would not adversely affect the progress of JSL. I'm not sure how long it would take for a class of college students to work through Heisig at the same time as JSL, but it definitely would not take as much time as finishing all 30 lessons of JSL. That means that you would never be forced to try to shoehorn Heisig into a more traditional kanji-learning method. With the oral fluency of JSL plus the meaning/writing from Heisig 1, I think you could make fairly good progress in reading.

I guess for evaluation purposes you would just have meaning->writing tests.

Even here in the these threads guys with four plus years of advanced education in the language said that wasn't enough for the real thing.


IMO for a lot of people four years of self study would be even worse; it takes a lot more effort, motivation, and procedural knowledge to learn language on your own as opposed to in a class. Some people can do it, but not everyone can. I think most people will at least benefit from some explicit external guidance at first, and for some people it's essential.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Wed 01.30.2008 3:22 pm

it takes a lot more effort, motivation, and procedural knowledge to learn language on your own as opposed to in a class.


Disagree. I think I learn much more effectively on my own. Yes, self-study may not be right for everyone, but I can tell you that I can read and write Spanish much better now with a year of self-study than I would have been able to with a fourth year in high school. This is despite studying rather casually and also studying Japanese at the same time throughout much of my year of self-study. If I wanted to really push myself at it, I'd be performing even better.

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 01.30.2008 6:54 pm

As usual I should have been more specific -- self-study is excellent when you've already had some classes. I was referring to people starting their Japanese study with self-study, without ever taking a class.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Wed 01.30.2008 7:22 pm

It depends. If you have no experience at all in learning any language, then maybe a year or two of classes could be beneficial. But I think the experience you get from a language such as Spanish is easily transferable to a language like Japanese -- albeit not in a direct way. You obviously don't get to transfer any of your newfound vocabulary or grammar, but you do have an idea of what's involved in learning a language, and your mind is more open to different ideas.

Speaking of opening one's mind to different ideas, I think the small bit of Japanese I learned in 2003 or 2004 has probably helped me a lot with Spanish. To this day I can't really speak any real Japanese (I didn't really study in 2004-2006, and much of 2007 was spent trying to figure out how to deal with kanji, followed by picking up RTK Vol. 1 and going through it off and on), but my vague understanding of its grammar has allowed me to appreciate just how different, yet logical, languages can be.

I doubt I'll ever have a real need for a language class again, for any language, though I may end up taking one anyway if I ever go back to school. It's all just a matter of finding stuff to learn, learning it, and practicing.

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 01.30.2008 8:28 pm

I've been studying Japanese for 9 years and I still feel like I need a class or tutor to improve my speaking. There are some things that you just can't do on your own, unless you're extremely gifted or have decades to experience the language in the country.

If somebody knows through experience that they learn language better on their own than in a class, that's one thing. But I would never feel comfortable recommending that a beginner in Japanese avoid classes without even trying one.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby nukemarine » Wed 01.30.2008 11:24 pm

In truth, self study is a bit of a misnomer. You're most likely using pre fabricated learning materials. You just don't have that security blanket of comfort that structured classes offer.

I feel like I'm lying if I say I'm learning on my own. I'm using tips and methods from Reviewing the Kanji and AJATT, variaty of websites, audio and video, even Japan itself. I just have to put it together in a structured manner and keep the motivation.

By the way, I did try a class way back when. I honestly am disappointed in the idea of language classes. Is there any reason they don't start off in plain form? Any reason they don't teach it using Furigana? Any reason they give loads of vocabulary but limited contextual examples? Ok, if the class had used Genki instead of Japanese for Busy People I "might" have had a different opinion, but not likely.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 01.30.2008 11:31 pm

The details of implementation depend on the class. Ideally you can ask the teachers why things are done the way they are, but it depends on how much they know about the book's pedagogy.

There are good arguments for starting with -masu forms, using romaji, and introducing lots of vocabulary. There are also good arguments for starting with plain forms, using kanji/furigana from the start, and introducing less vocabulary. Perhaps a new thread would be better if you wanted to discuss that in more detail.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby skittles1240 » Thu 01.31.2008 3:53 pm

Im a firm believer in classroom learning because you practice dialogue with other students. You get to use your language skills while being monitored by a teacher who can tell you if your pronunciation is off. People cant always hear when their saying a word wrong. I have met many students at college who were foreigners and they dont always realize how hard they are to understand.

I am a home study student for Japanese. Its not offered at my current college so I just bought a bunch of books. I have collected a few movies too to help me understand sentence structure better and to learn listening skills. I think that home schooling is possible but nothing replaces the guidance you get from teachers. Not to mention the cultural information you gain from a class. When I was taking spanish my teacher had us do culture projects and she taught us a lot of information about the language that you might miss from learning out of a book. For instance I will use Japanese words: Kawai and Kowai. one means cute the other means scary. if you miss pronounce Kawai you could offend somebody.

Other things that you might not learn from a book is general tips for communicating. For instance if your staying in japan and your showers broke and you need to tell the clerk at the front desk but you dont know the word for broke, what do you do? A teacher would teach you that you could do a different word combination like saying the showers sick. Also if you forget a dirrection but you know the opposite direction you could tell a taxi driver to go the opposite dirrection. Of course many people would figure this out on their own, but some people wouldn't think about it.

Personally I believe that even if have a good grasp of language and communication there is still a lot a person could learn from a teacher.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 01.31.2008 5:49 pm

Probably the bottom line is that almost nobody learns 100% self-study or 100% class (as nukemarine pointed out, even if you are self-studying you are almost certainly using materials developed by teachers). You have to do some of both. There are things you can do in a class that can't be done effectively on your own (particularly the developing of speaking skills), and there are advantages to studying on your own (you can spend more or less time on things depending on your needs).

Definitely one of the biggest problems with people who try to self-study is that they simply do not know how to learn a language. They do things like making long vocab lists, asking for translations of random phrases, listening to J-pop songs, buying dictionaries, and such -- all things that can be useful to do, but they don't add up to language learning.

Another one of the huge problems is that they do not put enough time into it. Either they're trying to learn Japanese while double-majoring in other things (or doing 8 extra curricular activities + a full high school load), or the lack of organization in their study methods just means that they tend to flit in and out of studying whenever they feel like it. But when you're not required to speak Japanese daily in class, or do daily homework assignments, or whatever, it's very easy just to say "I'll do it tomorrow" and then 6 months later you finally get around to doing it again.
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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby furrykef » Thu 01.31.2008 9:29 pm

skittles1240 wrote:
Im a firm believer in classroom learning because you practice dialogue with other students. You get to use your language skills while being monitored by a teacher who can tell you if your pronunciation is off. People cant always hear when their saying a word wrong. I have met many students at college who were foreigners and they dont always realize how hard they are to understand.


To me, this is part of what's wrong with classes. Most of the other students aren't going to care about the language as much as you do, so your speaking practice will not be high-quality. Your pronunciation mistakes (and possibly other mistakes) will reinforce each other. And, in my experience, teachers usually will not correct any but the most severe pronunciation mistakes. It's probably better in college than in high school, but I doubt it's completely different... in fact, with the higher workload, there's probably even less time to focus on pronunciation issues.

I believe that simply conversing with a willing native speaker will easily provide better practice than conversing with a fellow student.

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RE: Why Are Newbies Learning The Freakin Kanji?!

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 01.31.2008 9:44 pm

Depends on the class. Pronunciation correction is a major focus of the classes I'm involved in, but that varies.

The problem with the "willing native speaker" approach is that very few native speakers will correct you with the frequency you need to develop fluent speech in correct Japanese. Even if they agree to correct your mistakes, I find that many people still feel uncomfortable doing so and will not do it as much as they should. Also, a native speaker with no teaching experience is unlikely to be able to restrict their speech to the grammatical patterns and vocab you've studied -- particularly the grammatical patterns, since few native speakers of any language have any concept of what grammar is considered beginner or advanced in their own language. If you're constantly having to use English just to get the meaning across, I don't think that's particularly good practice. (Of course, later on in your study you can overcome communication breakdowns while still speaking Japanese, but this is beyond the capabilities of a beginner.)

The advantage of speaking practice in a classroom is that the teacher knows exactly what you know and what you don't. The teacher (hopefully) won't be afraid to correct you the way a real native speaker might.

Most of the other students aren't going to care about the language as much as you do


That's pretty cynical; of course there are some people in classes who don't care that much, but in a language like Japanese it's a safe assumption that the majority of people taking the class have some interest in the language. You always get some who take it on a whim, but I never found that as a group these people performed any better or worse in the class than the others.

And in any case, it's not like if you take a class that means you can't speak with native speakers outside class, or do any further study on your own. I think that even so-so classes will give you valuable experience in using the language that is hard to do on your own. Nobody is saying that you can't do anything beyond that, though.

Finally, "some classes are bad so all classes must be bad" seems to be an unwarranted assumption. There are bad textbooks out there, so would you recommend that people avoid all textbooks?
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