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Guide to studying Japanese

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Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Senescence » Fri 12.05.2008 10:49 am

This is a guide made my Mike Cash originally, and he's graciously allowed me to use it as a skeleton for a presentation that I just gave in Japan to other Japanese learners. He said that the info was a little outdated, so I made it apply more to learners nowadays. But because everyone lives in Japan, there are a few things that may not apply to you yourself, but you may be able to twist it around into something incredibly effective.

Anyway, this is long, but this is the presentation that I gave.

Advice on Learning Japanese for Those Living in Japan


The first thing you have to have when studying any language is a goal. Living in Japan, obviously speaking Japanese should be one of your goals. Goals should be broken up into different-sized chunks. You of course need your ultimate goal, which may be “Pass level 2 of the JLPT”, or it may be as simple as having a meaningful conversation with someone who doesn’t know a bit of English. Either way, we’ve all got goals. Then, within those larger goals, you need to come up with smaller stepping-stones that you’ll use to reach that goal. It’s important to take out time and figure out where you ultimately want to go with your Japanese study.


1. I strongly recommend learning from the Genki series of textbooks put out by The Japan Times if you are in the early stages of Japanese study. I’ve seen many other textbooks, and Genki is far superior to the rest in just about every way. The main thing that it does well is teaches you important verbs, useful everyday expressions, and it’s organized in a way that makes learning much easier than from other systems. The series seems to only span two books, but after that, The Japan Times offers books that allow you to go to the intermediate, and then advanced level. You can use Genki to learn kanji up until the 300-400th kanji, but there are actually better books to use separately for kanji study. That being said, Genki gets you started with a great balance of the four things you need in language, reading, writing, listening and speaking.

2. Whatever texts/materials you may use...DO NOT skip over the part about pronunciation. For this very reason alone, you should distance yourself from romaji ASAP! It will only spoil any chance you have for accurate pronunciation. Japanese has only 5 vowel sounds. Make sure you aren't using any others. Good habits developed at this point will pay off later. There is no use memorizing words with the wrong pronunciations. This will only cause others trouble understanding you and you trouble understanding them.

3. Here are some things that tend to throw many English speakers about Japanese...

* There are no articles (a, an, the)

* In general, there are no plurals

* The “present tense” and the future tense are one and the same, known as the non-past tense. (Example of “present tense” being used to express a habitual action: I am a person who eats sushi 私はおすしを食べます)

* Adjectives conjugate, they have negative forms and past tenses just like verbs do

* The subject of the sentence is often left out, and you’ll find that most native English speakers use words like わたし and あなた MUCH more than they should be. They should be avoided unless it is absolutely required for classification, (especially あなた)

* There is no particular need to speak in "complete sentences" (From an English speaker's way of thinking) (Example: Q:行く? A:うん、行く。Verb only sentences)

* Some grammatical markers can be left out of the sentences if they are obvious. This is especially the case in informal speech. (Example: このピザ、食べる? 今晩、映画、行かない?)

* Japanese has a TON of pronouns, but they aren’t used as much as you’d think (Examples: 私、僕、俺、わし、おら、あたし、あたい all meaning “I” in English. Then there are terms for others (家内、妻、奥さん、にょうぼ、ワイフ、かみさん all meaning “wife” in English:)choices made depending on the occasion [formal/informal, who is present])

* There are several politeness levels which necessitates several verb forms (食べる、食べます、召し上がる、いただく)

* The tense of a sentence is determined at the end, and a “continuative tense is used to string verbs together before the final verb.

* The syntax of a sentence is free as long as the verb is placed at the end, and noun-particle chunks move together. (Example: トムさんは昨日本を買いました。昨日トムさんは本を買いました。トムさんは本を昨日買いました。Etc.)

4. Do the drills. Take them and the practices seriously No matter how boring they may be, do them. There are certain tongue-twisting conjugations like the “te” form, and potential forms that need to be drilled to be learned. Hard work now in internalizing these patterns pays off later in being able to use them without particularly thinking about them. I can’t stress this enough.

5. When you have a firm grasp of how to use a structure correctly, create tons of sentences using it yourself. Your goal is to be able to speak, and hopefully to speak correctly. Make a sentence in your head (or out loud) and drill yourself in every possible permutation of it that you are certain you can use correctly. DO NOT do this with structures you aren't sure about, because the last thing you want is an incorrect usage to fossilize in your mind. This ties in with #4 above. Too many people avoid this, thinking it to be too much of a bother. Stepping away from the textbook drills and making your own original sentences mirrors exactly what you will have to do in real-life situations. Do it now and do it often. Then actual conversations where you have to make every statement yourself from scratch, and not merely rearrange a textbook drill sentence will go so much more smoothly and be so much more enjoyable. If you think it's too much trouble now, when no pressure is on you, do you really think it will be any easier in an actual conversation? Continuing with this, if you’re unsure of a structure or word, ask a native around you if it makes sense. There is no reason to be too proud or shy/ embarrassed/ bashful to ask.

6. If you see a couple of words which to you look/sound very similar, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT attempt to learn them on the same day. They will be confused in your head for years. Learn one now and leave the other for a week or so after you know the other word inside and out.

7. No matter what a pain it may seem...learn to read/write the hiragana and katakana systems as soon as you can. If you seriously want to progress in your studies, there is no avoiding it. It will help insure better pronunciation. Also, start to learn kanji as soon as possible. Don't rush it or burn yourself out, but don't neglect it either. A good knowledge of kanji will help you not only in reading, but also help you to figure out new words you encounter in conversations. It is said that fire is both man's best friend and his worst enemy. Kanji can be either your best friend or your worst enemy in studying Japanese. Make friends with kanji as early as you can. You'll be glad you did. Wishing they didn't exist will NOT make them go away. Being illiterate in a highly literate society is no fun at all. Since you are in Japan, life will be much easier if you can read things for yourself rather than relying on a Japanese to hold your hand and wipe your linguistic butt for you.

The best way to study kanji is in context. This will help to: make the kanji meaningful, learn the various pronunciations that one kanji alone carries, and it will help leave an impression.

8. When you start to lose heart at your progress, turn back and look at Lesson One or Lesson Two. Try to remember when that lesson was really hard to wrap your head around, the same way the lesson you are on now is. You'll get it. Back off and give your subconscious a couple of days to work on it. It'll be easier to understand when you come back to it. It is extremely hard to see your own progress because you are bogged down in whatever the lesson at hand is. Sometimes you need to turn around and look how far you've come.

9. Do not make Japanese ability a contest. You speak as well as you speak...I speak as well as I speak. We're all going the same place and it is not a race. So some other guy knows a couple hundred kanji but katakana still has you breaking out in cold sweats...don't worry about it. There is absolutely no need to compare your ability to anyone else’s. I can read well over a thousand kanji and I remember very clearly when I thought that even having to learn a hundred would surely burst my brain. Of course, I've been at it for five years now. If you work on it for that long, you don't have to be a genius to pick them up. On the other hand, you would have to be pretty stupid not to (especially if you were in Japan the entire time).

10. Dictionaries are extremely helpful (especially the electronic ones since you can look up other kanji idioms), but they aren’t always necessary. Try to figure things out without them if you can. If you are using them to look up a Japanese word that you have run across, first make your best guess about what the word means. Look at the situation the word is used in. Use all the knowledge you have of Japanese grammar to at least deduce what part of speech it is. Apply common sense. Figure out what it possibly could be. Narrow it down to your best couple of choices. THEN look it up. See if your idea was right. If it was, you feel like a genius. If it wasn't right, that's OK too. Now go back over your reasoning and see where you went wrong. Try to keep that situation and that usage in mind. If you hear the same word later in a different situation, try to figure out what those situations have in common. You’ll probably remember the word because of the situation you learned it in.

It is important to develop the skill of deducing vocabulary from context. Practicing, as outlined above, is important. Like any skill, the more you do it, the better and faster at it you get. Until some day you find that (combined with your kanji study) you can often pick up words "on the fly" in a conversation and turn around and use them right back at your conversation partner, who won't have a clue that that was the first time in your life you had ever heard it.

11. When choosing words to memorize, ask yourself "Do I normally use the English equivalent of this word?" If the answer is "No", then leave the word for later. You have more important stuff to remember.

12. Given a choice of learning 10 new nouns or 1 new verb...learn the verb.

13. Given a choice of learning 10 new verbs or mastering one new verb tense...master the verb tense.

You can pick up nouns during a conversation relatively easily, either by pointing, drawing, or describing. Anyway, in Japanese you can often be a bit vague and there are techniques for getting around using the noun (at times). It is not so easy to pick up a new verb during the conversation. It is much more difficult to try to work out new verb tenses from the conversation. Japanese verb conjugations are very regular. So that if you learn a new tense/conjugation, it is very easy to apply it to every verb you already know. If you know more tenses and verbs, you can often describe the noun you want to know and have the other party teach it to you on the spot.

14. Making mistakes goes with the territory. Not being able to recall a certain word or tense during a conversation and then suddenly remembering it just after the conversation is over is normal. It happens to everybody. Go ahead, chastise yourself. Feel stupid. That's fine. It makes you more determined not to let that happen again. With enough practice and enough occurrences, they do start to gradually decrease.

15. "wa" and "ga" confuse everybody. Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. With "ni" , "de", and "wo", you are on more solid ground and can expect someday to get a very firm handle on them. And please keep in mind that there is a justification and reason for all particle usages – nothing is right just because it “sounds right.” Try to learn the reasoning and don’t play a guessing game. Sometimes it’s just a matter of memorization: 健康(けんこう)にいい.

16. During the drills, if your mind goes blank on you.... let it. But continue with the drills. Just go with the flow. Trust your first instinct and you'll be surprised to find that quite often it is correct.

17. Unless you're studying for a graded course... study only as long as it's fun. The second it starts to feel like work, put it down and leave it for a day or two. Haven't studied for a few weeks/months? Don't feel bad, just get back at it. Rome wasn't built in a day. Presumably when you decided to study Japanese you had in mind the goal of becoming somewhat proficient in it. It's sort of hard to reach that goal if you let yourself develop a hatred of the language while in pursuit of your goal.

This brings me to a very important point. Studying doesn’t always mean sitting at a desk with your textbook. Sure that’s one way to do it, but you could be watching TV, or eavesdropping on some people chatting on a train. Everything and anything you are exposed to in Japan can become a “textbook” if you allow it to. Once a student hits the intermediate/advanced level, most of his/her study will probably include native materials.

18. For kanji… Bojinsha puts out a book called Basic Kanji Book, and volumes one and two are perfect for getting the first 500 down. Not only will you be able to read them, you’ll be able to write them as well. After that, they have an Intermediate Kanji Book that I personally didn’t care for. Bojinsha changed systems for the intermediate series, and it’s much harder to follow. After that, begin studying specifically for the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests. After the first 500, the next kanji level is the “kanji you need for 2-kyuu”. There are tons of books available for this.

* Start at the beginning. Read the section about stroke order and stroke count. It looks stupid now, but if later you ever need to look up kanji in a dictionary, this will be a very valuable skill.

* Use your finger and trace out the kanji on your palm, thigh, whatever. Do that several times, envision it.

* Try to remember at least one meaning, one reading, or both.

* Make sure to remember whether a reading is a "kun" or an "on" reading. This will come in handy later.

19. One study tool that people often overlook is the almighty flashcard. Flashcards can boost your vocabulary in no time. The main point is that you have repeated exposure to a word or phrase, and it simply sticks in your head. What makes this even better is that these are available at 100 yen shops!

For the VERY beginner, hiragana and katakana are the very first things that need to be studied (this has got to be the 3rd or 4th time I’ve mentioned that). One thing that you must never do in Japanese study is rely on romaji. That would be like studying English and not using the alphabet, there is simply no excuse, or rather no way to do that.

あ/    いうえお
さ/    しすせそ
た/    ちつてと
な/    にぬねの
は/    ひふへほ
ま/    みむめも
や/     ゆ よ
ら/    りるれろ
わ/ を ん

These are best studied by simply writing them, and repeating their sounds as you go. You don’t need any fancy way to remember them. They simply aren’t that tough except for a few that may look alike. Something that I haven’t mentioned yet is the use of completely free online resources. A good one that a friend of mine used for learning the kana is www.realkana.com


I’m sure you can learn each of these sets (both katakana and hiragana, with hiragana first of course) relatively quickly.


In this next part, I’ll talk about exactly how you increase your vocabulary. I’ve tried a lot of different ways, but after all the dust settled on each method, these are the methods that I found to be the most useful.

The first thing you need to do is buy “word cards” (flashcards that come bound on a ring at the 100 yen shop). On the card’s back, write the kanji for the word that you’re studying (it doesn’t matter if you can’t read it yet, just write it, and legibly…as this is in essence your “master copy”). Flip it over, and on the front, in the dead middle write the word that you’re studying, in English. Above that, in smaller letters, write the pronunciation for the kanji on the back, in hiragana. It should look something like this…

  Back            Front
――――――       ――――――
/       /     /  いえ / (the “o” is the hole in the flashcard)
/  家 0/  /0house /
――――――       ――――――
The next part is very important. When reviewing, I found this to be the best way to study. Starting from the English, using your thumb to cover up the hiragana at the top, look at the English word. Try to remember the word that’s going to appear on the other side, and say the word in Japanese. If you actually say the word, and don’t just think about the word, you’re more likely to remember it. If you cannot remember the word, without looking at the hiragana that you’re hiding at the top, flip the card over and look at the kanji. By looking at the kanji, it works as a kind of hint, and you’ll be more likely to remember it this way because you’ve already hand-written these flashcards yourself. However, if you still cannot remember, look back at the front of the card, and uncover the hiragana. Many online sites do something similar, but these are cards that you wrote yourself, so there is a much higher retention rate.

By attempting to remember words in this manner, you can memorize a lot of words in a relatively short amount of time. There’s another way to remember even faster however, and it works in conjunction with the above-mentioned method.

What I want you to do is something that you may think silly. Take the word that you’re trying to remember, and create a little visualization in your mind’s eye and relate it to the English meaning.

Haven’t you ever noticed that when you try to remember certain words in your target language that you can get a couple of them with little trouble, and some others don’t stick no matter what you do? Although this is frustrating, I’d like you to take a look at the words that you have no problem at all remembering. A good number of you let your imagination get the best of you, and that’s exactly what I would like you to do here. What you need to do is just take a look at the following examples, and then everything should start to make some sense.

The word you want to remember           How to remember it
総理大臣(そうりだいじん)          That Big Person (Guy)

At first these two may seem unrelated, but I’ll tell you how I made a connection with these two, and remembered the target word for good, upon hearing it only once. 総理大臣 (そうりだいじん) actually means Prime Minister, and the first thing that probably comes to your mind is Japan’s Prime Minister. Upon hearing the word in Japanese, I thought it sounded an awful lot like それだいじん, or, “That Big Guy”. This was the best way for me to remember the word, because my over-active imagination thought about the Prime Minister as a 100 ft. tall man rampaging through the city (much like Godzilla). That’s honestly all it took for me to remember the word. There are some words that you have to work really hard to remember with this visualization method, and then there are some like this that just come to you.

I know what you’re thinking… “But wait, そうり and それ are hardly the same thing!”

This is true, however because I’m already thinking about だいじん, そうり just comes to me naturally. This is the same with just about anyone that uses this method. There are certain triggers that will go off in your mind if certain criteria are met. This happens to be one of them. You’re also already thinking about “That Big Guy”, and because それ is that, changing it to そうり takes no effort at all.


The word you want to remember           How to remember it
会う                       To Meet

This one is also pretty easy to remember, if not a little over the top. First, close your eyes and imagine two people meeting. However, when they walk up to each other, they bump heads, and both shout “Oww!”. And because when they met they bumped heads, a little bump appears on both of their heads that they put raw meat on in order to keep the swelling down. This is all just off the top of my head, but you have a visualization, the pronunciation “Oww!”, and the word meet (actually twice here counting the homonym meat) here all to help you remember one word.

It IS a little over the top, but it works. That’s all that matters. No one needs to know what visualization you have going on in your head to remember these things. This is something that memory expert Harry Lorayne talks about a lot in his memory books, and he even goes as far as saying make some of your visualizations dirty…since they’re less likely to be forgotten. Mnemonics are an amazing study tool, and once you figure out which mnemonics work for you, you’ll progress at an amazing rate.

With this method you should be able to use word cards to remember 10~15 words a day. Also, I believe I left this out earlier, but the best way to study words is through either a real-life experience or through context. You can’t make a flashcard for a real-life experience, so we’ll study through context.


 Back              Front
―――――――――――――――――― ―――――――――――――――――--------------
/               / / かれ、しょるい、よんだ  /
/彼はその書類 をざっと読んだ 0/ /0He skimmed through the documents. /
―――――――――――――――――― ―――――――――――――――――---------------

The concept is the same as above, and I’ve written the readings for the kanji I want to study at the top of the front side of the card. If you underline the main word that you want to remember, I have found it easier to remember, but that may or may not work for you.

(By the way, ざっと in Japanese sounds a lot of like “That” in English, so it should make it even easier to remember.)


20. Get a good tutor. Maybe someone at work will help you out, but certainly offer to pay them. Make them give you homework with due dates. If your homework is simply completing up to a certain page in a workbook, and knowing another 10 kanji, that’s a start. Do not settle for a lackluster tutor. Also, make sure that they correct your spoken mistakes, and write them down. Write down what you said, and what is actually said. Study these and kick the bad phrase out before it becomes a habit.


Then there was another part about technology and internet use for learning Japanese.


Useful Links

I use a Windows PC, so this list is made with a Windows user in mind.

Make your computer Japanese-capable
http://homepage1.nifty.com/netsuma/work ... ands2.html

Exhaustive list of Japanese-related learning material
http://www.sabotenweb.com/bookmarks/language.html

Learning to Read Hiragana and Katakana Very good drills
http://www.realkana.com

Drill the JLPT kanji Extremely good
http://www.japanese-kanji.com/

Jim Breen’s page, if it’s about Japanese, he’s got it on here
http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/japanese.html

A page with forums that are actually full of helpful people, Electronic Dictionary comparisons, videos that make studying a breeze
http://www.thejapanesepage.com/

A Japanese Grammar database that is made by users, so naturally everything on there has to be taken with a grain of salt.
http://www.jgram.org/

A website that is basically an entire textbook. Extremely useful, even though the programming reeks of 1997.
http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/japanese/

Hiragana Megane Invaluable resource (gives any Japanese webpage furigana readings)
http://www.hiragana.jp/en/

A site that works much like Hiragana Megane. Also look up “Rikaichan” for Firefox users.
http://www.rikai.com/

A very well received translation program. Isn’t entirely free though
www.Babylon.com

Japanese Proverbs
http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/5623/kotowaza.html
http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Acre ... towaza.htm


English-Japanese Vocabulary Quizzes Good if you ignore the romaji parts
http://iteslj.org/v/j/

Very good site for listening practice with practical everyday-use words
http://www.languageguide.org/nihongo/index.jsp

Lyrics to Japanese songs (good for karaoke practice)
http://www.utamap.com/
Another lyric site that allows copy/paste
http://music.goo.ne.jp/genre/japanese.html

Japanese language trivia and quizzes
http://www.funtrivia.com/dir/360.html

Mainichi Kanji (A new kanji everyday…good to make as a homepage)
http://mainichi.incors.com/

Kanji Compounds aimed towards those studying for the JLPT
http://www.speedanki.com/

Kanji Gold: A low-tech easy to use kanji flashcard program
http://web.uvic.ca/kanji-gold/

Anki: One of the best flashcard systems available for your computer. With some tweaking, you can even get your decks synched to your ipod touch/iphone.
http://ichi2.net/anki/

WaKan: A complete dictionary program on your PC using Jim Breen’s EDICT
http://wakan.manga.cz/?page=download

NHK News: Newscast accompanied by FULL transcript Amazing for higher levels
http://www.nhk.or.jp/news/

Tools and Gadgets used for Japanese Study

Denshi Jisho (Electronic Dictionary)
I personally use the Casio EX-word, but there are a ton of choices out there. http://www.thejapanshop.com/compare.htm has an excellent guide that generally stays up to date. It also has a good guide for how to use you Nintendo DS to study.

Speaking of, the Nintendo DS has some great “games” that you can use to study. The best one from my experience is the Kanji Sono Mama dictionary. I know a lot of people who use it, and only it as their electronic dictionary. Once you get to the more advanced levels however, you need something a little more feature-filled. Again, the aforementioned webpage can tell you much more than I possibly ever could.


Keitai (cell-phone)
When I bought mine (DoCoMo) I made sure it had some dictionaries preinstalled on it. These are generally very quick, and are convenient since you can’t always have your electronic dictionary with you.

That being said, if you don’t have any dictionaries preinstalled, there are cell-phone-specific sites you can go to in order to look up words if you really have to. Jim Breen has a site that’s very nice.

iPod touch, iPhone applications

codefromtokyo has an electronic dictionary-style program called “Japanese” that beats all other free dictionaries hands-down. It’s not very expensive, and includes over 127,000 entries. It not only gives you stoke-order animations for almost every kanji you find, it also allows you to look them up by writing them yourself (after a quick tweak in your general settings). The English translations are just about perfect, and as long as you have your ipod with you, you have this with you as well.

Kanji Flip is a program used to study kanji for the JLPT, and at $6 it’s a lot better than painstakingly making thousands of flashcards. That’s not to say that flashcards aren’t helpful (because they absolutely are), it’s just nice to be able to relax and tap through them on your iPod.

Speaking of flashcards, the Anki flashcard program can be manipulated to get your own custom-made flashcards on your iPod touch. You need a wi-fi connection to get it started, but after that you don’t have to have an active internet connection to browse through your own cards.


That about wraps it up. There were a few things mentioned in regards to what method to use for kanji study, and Henshall and Heisig were the big names. I tend to think that kanji in context (i.e. books, manga, TV, REAL MATERIALS) are the way to go on this one, but to each their own. Not everyone learns language in the same way. I just wanted to get this out there though so others can learn from what I've collected. I talked with about 5 or 6 different teachers and tons of other Japanese students, and this is what came out of it. Let me know what you think.

Thanks,
Sen
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby clay » Fri 12.05.2008 12:11 pm

Good stuff. How did the presentation go?
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 12.05.2008 12:19 pm

For this very reason alone, you should distance yourself from romaji ASAP! It will only spoil any chance you have for accurate pronunciation.


If you seriously want to progress in your studies, there is no avoiding it. It will help insure better pronunciation.


How does kana help your pronunciation?
-Chris Kern
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby furrykef » Fri 12.05.2008 3:39 pm

Senescence wrote:They should be avoided unless it is absolutely required for classification, (especially あなた)


Surely you mean "clarification"? And, while we're at it, you should remove that comma and put a period after the closing ")". (I'm a punctuation nazi. ;))

* There is no particular need to speak in "complete sentences" (From an English speaker's way of thinking) (Example: Q:行く? A:うん、行く。Verb only sentences)


I find this most striking when transitive verbs -- verbs that must have an object -- have the object omitted. The example I'm most familiar with (since I'm a game player) is "はじめる" for "start"; i.e., "start [the game]".

6. If you see a couple of words which to you look/sound very similar, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT attempt to learn them on the same day. They will be confused in your head for years.


I learned this one the hard way in Spanish. The problem can be solved by finding mnemonics to disambiguate them, though. But learning them separately is preferable to using a mnemonic, I think; then fall back on the mnemonic if learning them separately doesn't work.

11. When choosing words to memorize, ask yourself "Do I normally use the English equivalent of this word?" If the answer is "No", then leave the word for later. You have more important stuff to remember.


But if the word is cool, learn it anyway. I'm not gonna give up 手裏剣 just 'cause I don't talk about ninjas all that often. :) But if you don't think "shuriken" is a cool word, then, well, don't learn it. Remember that learning a language needs to be fun, not just work.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:How does kana help your pronunciation?


I agree with Yudan: kana has not helped me think in terms of Japanese pronunciation more than romaji has. I believe that if somebody is going to think of Japanese in terms of English pronunciation, kana is not going to stop them. Moreover, I don't think the effect of the Roman alphabet is that great a hindrance to learning pronunciation. I can pronounce Spanish reasonably well (still with a fairly strong accent, but not as strong as some people I've heard) even though it is written in the Roman alphabet, and its sounds correlate to English spelling just about as badly as Japanese sounds do. In fact, I think it's worse: in Spanish, "j" isn't pronounced at all like English "j"; "g" is pronounced the same as Spanish "j" before "e" and "i"; "u" is always silent in que, qui, gue, gui; "z" is always pronounced like "s"; "b" and "v" are pronounced identically, but the pronunciation depends on context (it's "b" at the beginning of a word and it's usually a sound that doesn't exist in English when it's in the middle of a word). And you have to remember that "s" is always "s", never like "z", in words like "rosa", etc. I do still have trouble with a few cases like forgetting that the 'c' is silent in "escéptico" (skeptic); I think romaji for Japanese has fewer confusing cases like that since the spelling is so foreign to English speakers anyway. But for the most part, Roman characters is no problem for me in Spanish, so why would it be a problem in Japanese? (There are people who try to pronounce Spanish exactly as if it were English, but, in my opinion, that's because they're lazy. Diligent students should have no real problem with it with a bit of practice, and if you're not reasonably diligent, nothing will help you learn a language correctly.)

Romaji is also necessary for typing in Japanese unless you want to master the kana layout, which almost nobody does (including native speakers). Incidentally, I find myself typing in rather funky romaji when I type in Japanese... for some weird reason I tend toward nihon-shiki, so I type 不二子 as "huziko" about as often as I type it "fujiko", but I still type "sha", "ja", not "sya", "jya", etc. Sometimes it results in shorter words, like "つち" is quicker to type as "tuti" rather than "tsuchi", so I guess for some reason I carried this over to words where the difference doesn't matter...

Anyway, I do fall into the "learn kana as soon as possible" camp. If you don't care about the written language, then that's an obvious exception, but the sooner you learn kana, the more practice you can have with it while you learn everything else. I'm a bit biased since I'm more interested in the written language than the spoken language, but I'm still interested in both.


Here's one I'd like to add: if you want to sound native-like, learn pitch accent. Unfortunately, most learning materials do not agree with me on this and I've fought more than one losing argument on this matter; clearly my opinion is in the minority, but I will cling to it until it is proven to me that it is not worth the trouble to study it explicitly. Most people fall into the camps of either "you'll pick it up automatically" (hardly likely in my case; I'll be working with the written language much more often) or "different regions sound different anyway so why even bother?" (there's a word for that kind of reasoning: laziness). If you don't care about sounding like a native, then there's no need to bother, but I have higher aspirations than that.

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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Gundaetiapo » Fri 12.05.2008 9:33 pm

Perhaps clarifies the rhythm of the language, particularly wrt ん. There's also the whole long/short vowel ambiguity which is fixable, but even advocates of alternative romanization systems goof and write "Tokyo" and "romaji" etc.

Rather than pronunciation, my main objection to learning in roomaji is the worthlessness of reading it fast at the opportunity cost of sluggish kana reading.

But we've been down the roomaji road before right?
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Senescence » Sat 12.06.2008 1:22 am

clay wrote:Good stuff. How did the presentation go?


The actual presentation went pretty well I would say. The biggest thing I wanted to do was get this information out there, and there were many more attendees than I thought there would be. Although I ran short on time, I actually got just about everything across I wanted to.

The thing with romaji isn't even an issue. If you're at all serious about studying Japanese, you'd never use romaji. Use Katakana and Hiragana as much as possible. Also, it hurts pronunciation because if you see words like samurai in romaji, you'll pronounce it like the English word. It also helps with some of those Japanese symbols that English speakers don't have to begin with ら、り、る、れ、ろ. Honestly though, it's not even a question. How would you read a book?

These are general guidelines though, they aren't set in stone. Some things work for some people, and they don't for others. I just offer this for people who might find some of these things useful. Again though, thanks goes to Mike Cash for getting me going with his info, I just made it a little more modern and put my own experiences in there.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby furrykef » Sat 12.06.2008 1:34 am

Senescence wrote:Also, it hurts pronunciation because if you see words like samurai in romaji, you'll pronounce it like the English word.


I doubt kana or even kanji really changes the problem that much. If you know that さむらい means "samurai", well, obviously the connection between the Japanese word and the English one is still going to be pretty strong.

Honestly though, it's not even a question.


Then why discuss it at such length in the first place? ;)

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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.06.2008 12:01 pm

Gundaetiapo wrote:Perhaps clarifies the rhythm of the language, particularly wrt ん.


ん is actually one of the biggest pronunciation bottlenecks for learners of Japanese -- I constantly see people who have studied Japanese for many years and still cannot pronounce the difference between 日本の and 日本を, or 単に, 単位, and 谷, or 婚約 and こんにゃく. Using kana first is not bad, but using kana first in the belief that it will automatically improve your pronunciation is bad, IMO.

The thing with romaji isn't even an issue. If you're at all serious about studying Japanese, you'd never use romaji.


I must not be at all serious about studying Japanese, then, since I used romaji in my own learning and I use romaji now in my teaching.

Also, it hurts pronunciation because if you see words like samurai in romaji, you'll pronounce it like the English word.


Only if you're undisciplined and not spending enough time practicing pronunciation.

Honestly though, it's not even a question. How would you read a book?


The question here is not whether one should ever learn kanji/kana, the question is whether one should make that a priority at the very beginning of study, before doing anything else.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Sairana » Sat 12.06.2008 9:40 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:The question here is not whether one should ever learn kanji/kana, the question is whether one should make that a priority at the very beginning of study, before doing anything else.


For the self student, I think learning kana early serves many beneficial purposes. Not the least of which is somewhat psychological.

Learning kana isn't a terribly difficult achievement. It has a concrete goal, as there is a finite number of characters. They are not ambiguous, and it is immensely satisfying to be able to say "I did it" after completing the task.

Sure, if you're in a guided program with teachers and resources that make fine use of romaji and are detailing your milestones, that probably works just grand.

I guess the importance of a statement one way or another depends on the target audience. For instance, I nearly always presume the people who come to this forum for help are completely on their own, and those with more solid support structures are the rare exception (and probably don't need this kind of help anyway). Though, I really have no way of knowing the demographics of the audience at his presentation.... I thought maybe it was geared toward the same self-study crowd.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.06.2008 10:32 pm

Sairana wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:The question here is not whether one should ever learn kanji/kana, the question is whether one should make that a priority at the very beginning of study, before doing anything else.


For the self student, I think learning kana early serves many beneficial purposes. Not the least of which is somewhat psychological.


I don't disagree with this. My disagreement with the original poster's text is not that he recommends learning kana first, but that he implies there is absolutely no question as to whether romaji should be used or not (thus implying also that any books or resource materials that use romaji are bad and should be avoided), and also he makes the false claim that you will not be able to pronounce Japanese correctly if you use romaji (and by implication, that kana will help you with pronunciation).

Personally I don't think it matters much in the long run whether someone starts off using romaji or immediately learns kana. Of course if you use romaji for 5 years that will delay your ability to read and write Japanese, but if we're talking about using romaji for even a period of a few months, that amount of time is so minuscule in comparison to the amount of time you will be studying Japanese (if you get very proficient) that it just doesn't make that much of a difference.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Senescence » Sun 12.07.2008 10:08 pm

Thanks for the responses everyone. And for those who think that learning kana isn't that important, keep in mind that the title of my presentation was "Advice on Learning Japanese for Those Living in Japan". I'm not one to argue much on the internet, so I won't. Even during the presentation, there were people who offered other ideas that I hadn't even thought of, or even told me that some of the things that I had in my presentation were incorrect.

That's because learning Japanese is something that's a different adventure for everyone. This is just my experience, coupled with the advice of a lot of senseis that I've had in the past.

There is one instance I can think of where romaji is actually useful. One of my favorite kanji dictionaries "The Kanji Dictionary" by Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky ( http://www.amazon.co.jp/Kanji-Dictionar ... 0804820589 ) uses it as their pronunciation key instead of kana. The dictionary is actually so good I have two of them (one for work, and one for home). The only thing is, I wish it used kana for the pronunciation key instead of romaji. That being said, there is no equal (unless you count online resources) as far as I know of when it comes to kanji look-up dictionaries.

I hope some of these points and links can help people out. Thanks again for the responses.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 12.07.2008 10:15 pm

Senescence wrote:And for those who think that learning kana isn't that important,


Do people really have such a hard time understanding the difference between "You don't have to learn kana immediately" and "You don't have to learn kana at all"? I really, really hope nobody thinks I am suggesting or have ever suggested the latter.

Whether a dictionary uses kana or romaji is pretty irrelevant (assuming kanji are provided for the words). It carries kana-worship to a ridiculous extent to suggest that even seeing romaji in a dictionary will hurt someone's studies.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby richvh » Sun 12.07.2008 11:04 pm

I think the biggest weakness in dictionaries using romaji is that they are ambiguous as to the correct kana to use for long e and long o, unless they explicitly use ou/oo and ei/ee rather than macrons. I know that Nelson's Character Dictionary, Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary and Kenkyuusha's J-E dictionary all use macrons on long o but not long e.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby Senescence » Mon 03.30.2009 1:09 am

Just giving this a bump for anyone who is lost on where to go in their studies.

Also I wanted to add that the July 5th JLPT test vouchers are on sale in Japan for those who want to take 2-kyuu or 1-kyuu in Japan this year. Those outside of Japan unfortunately have to wait until December to take 4-kyuu to 1-kyuu.
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Re: Guide to studying Japanese

Postby selinangela » Mon 07.20.2009 8:28 pm

A Japanese Grammar database that is made by users, so naturally everything on there has to be taken with a grain of salt.
http://www.jgram.org/


It's great :|
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