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Kana or Romaji?

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Kana or Romaji?

Postby Ukeath » Sun 06.15.2008 10:50 pm

I was looking at Japanese for Busy People today at the book store.
I noticed there were two versions. Kana and Romaji. As a total beginner, what one should I purchase?Is it better to learn one of them before the other?
Arigato :)
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Re: Kana or Romanji?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 06.15.2008 10:55 pm

(It's "romaji", not "romanji")

You can pick either one. People will tell you that you must take the kana one, but learning to read all kana text is about as useful as learning to read romaji, so you can pick whichever one you think might suit you best. The advantage of the romaji one is that you can make quicker progress in getting the basic grammar and vocabulary down before you move on to something that is written in more authentic Japanese. The downside is that it delays your acquisition of the kana.
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Re: Kana or Romanji?

Postby chikara » Sun 06.15.2008 11:06 pm

I used the Japanese For Busy People kana editions.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:.... learning to read all kana text is about as useful as learning to read romaji ....

The kana editions are not all kana. Kanji are gradually introduced although not many in the first book from memory.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:.... The advantage of the romaji one is that you can make quicker progress in getting the basic grammar and vocabulary down before you move on to something that is written in more authentic Japanese. The downside is that it delays your acquisition of the kana.

I agree however I still believe it is worth going for the kana edition from the outset as the week or two struggle while you pick up hiragana is a very small price to pay in the overall scheme of learning Japanese. On the other hand if your goal is only to learn to speak and understand spoken Japanese then there is no need to learn kana at all.

Ukeath wrote:.... Arigato ....

There in lies one of the dangers of romaji :)
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Re: Kana or Romanji?

Postby piepiepie75 » Mon 06.16.2008 12:01 am

chikara wrote:I used the Japanese For Busy People kana editions.

The kana editions are not all kana. Kanji are gradually introduced although not many in the first book from memory.

I don't know about the older editions, but the newest edition has no Kanji introduced whatsoever :(. II teaches 160 Kanji, with focus on JLPT4 Kanji.

Anyways, I think learning kana early is very beneficial, but of course it depends on your situation and such. The bad thing about the kana version for beginner is that almost everything you need is in kana. All the sentences, example conversations, vocabulary, glossary etc. are written in kana, so it could be annoying to having to keep looking it up. Then again, it will give you a head start on the written language.
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby nukemarine » Mon 06.16.2008 6:07 am

Go kana. The six hours it takes to learn hiragana and katakana (via Heisig's "Remembering the Kana" naturally) is a small price to this very, very basic method of reading Japanese. It may sound elitist, but using Romaji (ロマ字) to learn Japanese will hamstring you as much as a Japanese person using katakana to learn English.

Please note, I'm talking only about the words themselves. The instruction and lessons can be in English (which, the Kana version of JFBP provides).
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 06.16.2008 7:29 am

nukemarine wrote:It may sound elitist, but using Romaji (ロマ字) to learn Japanese will hamstring you as much as a Japanese person using katakana to learn English.


That's absurd. Romaji are able to completely represent Japanese, whereas katakana cannot completely represent English. I understand that there is a huge anti-romaji bias on this board (and in Japanese teaching in general), but there's no need to use specious claims to back it up. There are disadvantages to starting with kana immediately as well. In the beginning phase of study, your main obstacle to understanding Japanese is grammar, not the writing system. Even if you know kana, you still can't read any actual native Japanese. The quicker you pick up the grammar, the quicker you can use books like Kanji in Context that allow you to acquire large amounts of vocab and kanji through reading. Whereas if you start off by learning kana immediately, you will slow down your acquisition of the grammar for really not much gain.
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby yukamina » Mon 06.16.2008 1:17 pm

Learning kana doesn't take very long, and it's not a big obstacle. It's best to learn and use kana from the start, then everything you learn from there will improve your kana abilities. Well, romaji at the very beginning isn't bad, but to use an entire text book in romaji is a bit overboard.
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby Hyperworm » Mon 06.16.2008 1:30 pm

nukemarine: It's ローマ字 >_> Maybe you did that to prove a point? :lol:

I didn't use any mnemonics or memory aids when learning the kana. It took a couple of weeks or so I think. Is it really possible to learn to read both sets in six hours and after that never have to refer back to the kana-learning book? What about writing them?

Yudan Taiteki wrote:Even if you know kana, you still can't read any actual native Japanese
At that stage, one or two weeks into learning Japanese at the most, any ability to decipher Japanese texts which were previously no more than squiggles gives a real sense of achievement, I think. Even if you don't know what the word you're reading means until you look it up. (It's quite conceivable that a total beginner might already know words, too - if you're browsing Japanese websites and see a link that says 「おえかき」 for instance).
Being able to write all the kana from memory - again, you know absolutely no real Japanese having done it, but it still provides a massive sense of achievement that motivates the learner.
I don't think the sentences that most people learn in that space of time are particularly rewarding, especially if you still can't read a single character on an actual Japanese website or page at the end of it, though you may have a good foundation. If the learner becomes more motivated, I think being one or two weeks behind on grammar is a fair compromise.

After that, maybe a source that has both romaji and kana printed is best...? At least for me, reading speed was slow and error-prone at that point. A kana-only textbook might prove to be more an exercise in reading than learning grammar. Romaji isn't going to corrupt your mind, especially if you've already had a good look at the kana. You can continue improving your kana separately but at the same stage of learning. At that stage, whenever I was away from other study materials, I simply took paper and pencil and tried to write down the gojuuon table (randomly, not row-by-row) from memory.
When you're confident enough, then you can move onto reading the kana instead of the romaji...?
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby monkeykoder » Mon 06.16.2008 1:50 pm

I would try to learn kana as soon as possible they aren't all that hard. Just don't do as my first Japanese class did and take an entire semester to learn all the hiragana and then in the second semester just assume everyone spent their summer learning katakana. It shouldn't take more than a day to have a decent idea of what you're looking at and then you can just look at a reference to figure out the ones you don't know. After a week or so you shouldn't need the reference.
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Re: Kana or Romanji?

Postby furrykef » Mon 06.16.2008 2:32 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:but learning to read all kana text is about as useful as learning to read romaji, so you can pick whichever one you think might suit you best.


It's not really necessary to "learn" to read romaji because it comes rather automatically; the only thing that might cause confusion is the different romanization systems, and even then it's no big deal.

Moreover, all-romaji text almost never occurs in real Japanese except when Japanese characters are unavailable. All-kana text, while uncommon, does occur, especially in video games and the like. (For example, I like the Mother series of games, and all three games in the series are written almost entirely in kana.) And, as you are well aware, you'll have to deal with kana for particles, okurigana, and all-kana words. The more familiar you are with kana, the faster you can read them. (The importance of learning to read quickly cannot be overstated, though it's more important to understand what is being said than to read it quickly. But there are all kinds of media where Japanese text will zip right by and, if you haven't practiced reading quickly, the text could be gone before you're done reading the second word.) On the other hand, learning to read romaji at a fast pace probably would not be any more useful than reading it at a somewhat slower pace, since the only time you're likely to need it is when using a textbook or dictionary that uses romaji.

Of course, as has already been stated, if you do not intend to learn the written language, then you have no use for kana. But in that case, you probably wouldn't be asking the question. ;)

By the way, Yudan -- your point a few posts down, where there's a tradeoff between learning grammar first and learning kana first -- is a valid one, of course. But even if you concentrate on grammar, I think it'd be better to start using kana in place of romaji once things start to click. 一石二鳥 ("two birds with one stone") and all that. I'm not an anti-romaji bigot; I just think kana is more useful in the long run.

nukemarine wrote:(via Heisig's "Remembering the Kana" naturally)


I think Remembering the Kana is a waste of money. I learned kana in a reasonable amount of time without spending a dime, and I didn't even need many mnemonics. Mnemonics may have sped up the process, but they're not worth paying for; you can invent your own, or find others on the web. Of course, if you can check out the book at the library for free, by all means do so. I just don't see any need to pay money to learn kana, since free kana charts are available all over the web, as supplemental material in many Japanese textbooks, etc.

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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby Wakannai » Mon 06.16.2008 2:39 pm

i have to say that kunrei shiki seems to make for the most concise and simple--thus memorable--explainations for verb congugation.
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby chikara » Mon 06.16.2008 11:47 pm

Wakannai wrote:i have to say that kunrei shiki seems to make for the most concise and simple--thus memorable--explainations for verb congugation.

Is this post in the correct thread :?
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby Feba » Tue 06.17.2008 2:54 am

I own a copy of Remembering the Kana, and I have to agree it's useless. You can find far better resources online-- pdfs that show stroke order and give you boxes to practice in, for example. Just print them off. The only other remotely useful thing about it was the words, and you can find far larger word lists to practice reading with as well.

His system of remembering what something looks like or the parts that it is made of is completely useless when you're dealing with things which are very simple. You're better off getting a kana flashcard program (I have one on my phone, very useful as you can just pull it out any time you don't have something else to do) and just doing that for a few hours. Heck, I've let other people play with it on my phone, and through a half an hour of just guessing what they are they start to remember them fairly well.

I find kana far more helpful for reading than romaji, mainly because if I see something in romaji I'm tempted to pronounce it as an English word. The most obvious example of this would be reading karaoke as 'kerry okey' (mainly because of its usage in English, though), but other words can easily be misread. There's also an inconsistency in various systems of romanization which are rather annoying, whereas kana are almost always the same. The biggest examples of this are 'arigato' and 'ohayo', with nothing to indicate that in kana they are ありがとう & おはよう。 There's also something about being able to recognize even basic expressions and such as they would (or at least, could, even if kanji would be preferred) be written that is motivating. Kana usage will also be more useful to you for things such as looking up words you don't know.

I don't see much of a reason to use romaji, given that you're going to have to use kana sooner or later, and it really doesn't take that long to learn to read; you can probably become very good at identifying them within a few hours with a kana flashcard program, as I mentioned earlier. Recognizing more complicating things (じゅ、フィ、and the like) will of course take longer, but seeing them in use is the best way to get to memorize them. The only point I see to romaji is if you need something you can understand immediately because you don't have much time to learn the language, or if your primary goal is to become conversational with reading ability being unimportant; neither of which seems like something textbooks should be catering to.

As Yudan mentioned, it's a tradeoff. Any time you spend learning kana is time you can't spend using learning vocab and grammar. However, learning vocab AND grammar can help you learn kana, by seeing them in use (for example, o and を & wa and は); although it might slow you down a bit to get used to them. If you're serious about learning the language, you're going to have to learn kana eventually, and it's simple enough that it's easier to just get it out of the way than to put it off and get to the point where you are unable to proceed until you DO learn it.
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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby chikara » Tue 06.17.2008 3:08 am

Feba wrote:...... There's also an inconsistency in various systems of romanization which are rather annoying, whereas kana are almost always the same. The biggest examples of this are 'arigato' and 'ohayo', with nothing to indicate that in kana they are ありがとう & おはよう。 ......

chikara wrote:
Ukeath wrote:.... Arigato ....

There in lies one of the dangers of romaji :)

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Re: Kana or Romaji?

Postby nukemarine » Tue 06.17.2008 5:51 am

Interesting points about this thread:

1. Correcting each other on the correct kanafication (is that a word?) of what the Japanese call Roman Characters.
2. Arguing the merits of which of two poor choices the thread starter should make.
3. Claiming mnemonics are used in "Remembering the Kana".

Ok, I'd agree that the hampering that Katakana has done with learning English is more extreme than use of Romaji to learn Japanese. Japanese pronunciation is fairly straight forward and easily reproduced most of the time with Romaji (as opposed to Mandarin or Cantonese). I'd argue if you want to learn Japanese (and not just say you're learning Japanese with no results to back it up), go for actual texts as early as you can while keeping a learning groove. Kana only and/or Romaji only are poor choices that lead to an illiterate learning experience. True, you can be fluent in only the spoken language, so it is a choice. My apologies if the joy I experience reading and comprehending actual texts lead me to call using only Romaji a hamstring effect.

As for "Remembering the Kana", maybe I'm misremembering, but mnemonics had little to do with it. Heisig used visual imagery minus any actual visuals (exception with the NO sign). Citing the lack of practice space is a pointless argument. Providing "squares" for practicing would only be useful in a world bereft of paper.
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