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Learning Japanese from scratch

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Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby devney » Sun 01.11.2009 10:06 pm

Hello,
Im new to this site and to learning languages too (well bar my native tongue and some french in school).Rather than scrolling through mountains of forum posts looking for the answers to some of my questions i thought i would make a new post just outlining my goals and any help would be greatly appreciated.
First off i'll explain my situation.Im irish and my native tongue is english,i speak a little irish (a soon to be extinct language here) and french.But i am no where near fluent in either,in fact i couldnt hold a conversation in either bar the drilled into your head in school phrases.A few years ago i was offered a place in kyoto university in a manga studies course,well by offered i was told that my artwork was up to scratch i just needed to be atleast at the level 2 proficiency test standard.Now being an enormous anime/manga fan (from the age of 14 to my now 22 years i watch a good 2 to 4 hours a day of anime (subtitled ofcourse).)i didnt mind the idea at all,in fact i really liked the idea of learning a second language.But the proffessor at the time was very very VERY sceptical that i would reach that standard in 1 to 2 years.I being young and naieve thought nah it would be easy!.I had no idea the complexity of learning a new language especially one i knew nothing about (in contrast to say any latin language).Anyway long story short i found a tutor who agreed with the proffessor but we ploughed ahead anyway,that is until she moved back to Japan ater only 2 months teaching :(.
Well due to many factors i never really got back on my feet so to speak after that and slowly left my dreams in the past.But due an enormous reccession in Ireland at the moment I find myself semi-unemployed and with alot of free time on my hands so i thought i should do something productive with it.I don't consider myself stupid but I am not a great self thought person so I though before I jump into this I should get the advice of some people who know only too well the path I'm about to walk down.
Currently my knowledge amounts to this.
1)I know the hiragana off by heart

And that it I'm afraid!

I'm the kind of person who likes to keep things as simple and quantifiable as possible,so set goals each week like say learn katakana next week the learn 50 kanji and some verbs etc the week after are usually how I'd do things.

But i digress,I have given up the interest in trying to do the course anymore,at this point I genuinely just want to learn Japanese and to a fluent level.But from reading a few posts im quite worried such a thing is even possible.Some people seem to say it can take seven years?!Now I know people who learned french in a year no problem.So is it that Japanese is that hard to learn or that seven years means your able to run the feckin country your that good? but in reality after say six months if you were to visit Japan you would be able to read alot of the signs,maybe get the jist out of newspapers and be able to speak a little to get by ok.

Well thats my rant/enquiry out of the way.

Now my more obvious questions.

1)After I have learnt the hiragana/katakana what next?
2)Does anyone know what kind of books are good for self teaching?
3)Is self teaching even a good idea?Or can i only get so far?

In my head at the moment my reasoning goes a little something like this.First learn the letters (in this case hiragana/katakana).Once you know them you can learn words.So the next step is learn how sentence structure works.Once you know that start reading work and translating to see if you are correct.Of cousre while doing the reading I will learn what the words mean too so building up my vocab (including kanji) at the same time.Then once im golden there I go on to write myself.Now as I write stuff i will say it out loud so as to speak etc,also i imagine my few hours a day of watching Japanese shows should help me too in listening.
Now please feel free to critique everything I have said there and as bluntly as possible,I'd rather you said well sorry but you will never become fluent unless to a,b and c rather than sugar coat it.I'm a grown man i can take it.Also be aware I will be putting in around four hours a day too.

So any help would be greatly appreciated!.Especially when it comes to studying plans!.
Cheers,
Devney
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby Gundaetiapo » Sun 01.11.2009 11:10 pm

I think you need the equivalent of 3 college semesters in order to get the gist of young adult writing with the help of a dictionary. Classroom instruction or tutoring would be ideal, but if not you can start with a college textbook series: Selecting a Japanese Textbook
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby adriannrod » Sun 01.11.2009 11:15 pm

I've found that if you are motivated enough, languages are easy. As for myself, trying to learn Japanese in a year would be possible, but I've been going slow and steady. I daresay you should try to learn katakana in 1 night, as they aren't that hard, and it can be done quite easily. Kanji are another matter entirely. For that, I reccommend "Remembering the Kanji: A Systematic Guide to Learning Kanji" and Rosetta Stone, of course. My local library used to have Japanese Rosetta Stone for free, although it has since been removed. You have to be dedicated, or else you'll end up like me. Studying for nearly 3 years, and I'm barely upper beginner!

Motivation is the key! If you work har, you'll get it. Don't give up on your dreams because of what is happening around you! If you work hard enough, you can make it happen! (Yes, I'm a young idealist!)
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby Sairana » Sun 01.11.2009 11:15 pm

Part 1 -- Fluency
Today, let's define Fluency as being able to produce a natural sentence for typical daily life (no deep politics or religion or specialized field stuff) -- without hesitating to think about it first, not even a little bit.

I'd rather you said well sorry but you will never become fluent unless to a,b and c


I could be wrong, but this kind of fluency I think is not possible for someone to achieve in any language without living in an entire community that uses said language.

I'm the kind of person who likes to keep things as simple and quantifiable as possible,so set goals each week like say learn katakana next week the learn 50 kanji and some verbs etc the week after are usually how I'd do things.


That's good. Keeps you motivated. I'll tell you right now that if you attempt to study Japanese via the wealth of information on the internet, goals of this sort become almost impossible to set for yourself. Setting kanji milestones per se (like "5 kanji a day" etc) are usually a bad idea (unless part of some greater system). It's hard to determine progress in grammar, because you never really know when the end is in sight... and how do you divide it up anyway? Eventually, all the grammar is interconnected, so when does something count as "one step toward your goal", so to speak?

1)After I have learnt the hiragana/katakana what next?

Textbook.
2)Does anyone know what kind of books are good for self teaching?

I recommend you start here.
3)Is self teaching even a good idea?Or can i only get so far?

You can concievably get as far as someone in a classroom can depending on your natural ability for language study and the work you put into it. The only way to get better as far as I know is to be immersed in the language.

First learn the letters (in this case hiragana/katakana).

Sure.
Once you know them you can learn words.

That works to a point. If you have an excellent memory, it'll be OK for a while. Most people can't retain lists of disconnected vocabulary without sentences and context to put them in.
So the next step is learn how sentence structure works.

IE, grammar. Grammar is good. Grammar is a LOT. Be prepared for it not being at all simple enough to lump into a singular goal. I doubt you will ever reach a point where you can say, "Hooray, now I know ALL the grammar!"
Once you know that start reading work

You'll be reading some things long before you finish grammar.
and translating to see if you are correct.

Tempting. But there are hazards. Read my favorite essays about learning a new language! Well, they're not -my- essays. I didn't write them. They are long, but if you have trouble learning languages, they might be super interesting and maybe even help you achieve a breakthrough that makes your study easier!
Language Essay 1
Language Essay 2
Then once im golden there I go on to write myself.Now as I write stuff i will say it out loud so as to speak etc,

There are several reasons you will be learning to write things yourself early, from day one.
1. Writing things helps you remember things better.
2. You are doing self study, so most of your study and practice will be written and read.
3. Due to the nature of kanji, it is more beneficial to write them early, as the stroke orders aid in memorization, recognition, and dictionary lookup

The cool beans of all of the above is a textbook can take care of just about all of it. An ideal one (in my opinion) will progressively introduce kanji into its vocabulary, provide plenty of exercizes for practice and an accompanying audio to practice speaking and listening. To address the quantifiable goal issue, you can always decide to do "two chapters a week" or some similar. Tangible, achievable, rewardable, and keep-yourself-honest....-able. :P

OK, so that was probably a lot more quoting and longer than it needed to be. But I had nothing better to do, so eh. ^_^ Hope it helps.
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby adriannrod » Sun 01.11.2009 11:19 pm

Self teaching is VERY possibe, and honestly, that's all I've really had. The Remembering the Kanji Series is amazing. You can learn 2000 characters in a month if you work at it. You can then learn pronunciation and stuff in less than another month. If I had the time, you bet I'd have done it already. Alas, finals are next week. I'm on here procrastinating from homework. (Sorry I replied again)
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby devney » Sun 01.11.2009 11:27 pm

Cheers for the super fast responses!They were all encouraging thanks a bunch,i guess i'll go about ordering a book so.I have a teach yourself Japanese book and tape combination from the teach yourself company,but all the written text is romanji which is annoying but since its the closest to a listening aid i'll stick to it for now.
Took me a week to learn the hiragana off by heart so i doubt i'll get the kata down in a day :P.
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby richvh » Sun 01.11.2009 11:59 pm

Word to the wise - Heisig's Remembering the Kanji is controversial, and a lot of work, at the end of which... you can recognize and write a boatload of kanji, and attach a keyword to them that may or may not have anything to do with the meaning of the word they are used in, but not read them. Search for threads about it here, they tend to be long and heated, then decide for yourself whether you want to try it, and at what stage of your study. (The core of Heisig's method - breaking kanji down into components to ease recognition - is valuable. Using it to try to cram 2000 some odd kanji into your brain sans context may not be so much.)
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby chikara » Mon 01.12.2009 12:44 am

devney wrote:.... Took me a week to learn the hiragana off by heart so i doubt i'll get the kata down in a day :P.

I know a number of kata but I can't say I have ever mastered one in a day ;)

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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby nukemarine » Mon 01.12.2009 9:55 pm

Here's my recommended steps (I've only been studying seriously since last January, so take with a large dose of salt).

1. Watch a lot of Japanese shows. No problem with you, but if you know what a show is about (you saw it before, know it from manga, is dubbed in Japanese, etc.) then cover up or turn off any and all English subtitles. Get a lot of Japanese music and listen to it. Basically, make it a habit to always be hearing Japanese. This does not count as "active studying" time, but will be invaluable as your mind gets used to it, makes connections, and incorporates stuff on later steps.

2. Learn kana - takes about 6 hours initially, but it'll be reinforced later on.

3. Learn to recognize and write jouyou kanji - takes about 200 hours. Yeah, it's contraversial on this forum.

4. Learn grammar points using 2 or 3 example sentences. Takes about 100 hours. Use www.guidetojapanese.com, a good SRS for ichi2.net/anki, a good method of review.This should be about 700 sentences and starts putting the kana and kanji learning to use. You'll learn some vocabulary during this time, but it's mainly about grammar in use.

5. Learn vocabulary using sample sentences and native audio. Takes about 150 hours per 1000 words. KO2001 with Text To Speech or www.iKnow.co.jp are great for this. The sentences and audio should reinforce grammar and kanji learning on top of getting vocabulary.

If you notice, I'm giving hours. So, if you dedicate 8 hours a day, you'll advance faster than someone with only 2 hours a day to spare for active studying. There's nothing really magical. It just takes time. How you review can alter how long you learn. I like to dictate my vocabulary reviews (hear the word in a sentence, write it out in kanji) which takes a bit longer, but ensures connection of onyomi to kanji.
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby Christine Tham » Wed 01.14.2009 5:41 am

First of all, I would recommend (if you are self studying) to try and balance across the four skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking. I suspect self-learners may overly focus on reading and not so much on the rest.

The reason is because those skills are quite different (they focus on different aspects of the language) and some teachers say you can never really become proficient unless you master all four.

My experience (for what it's worth) is that
- reading improves vocabulary, and helps improve grammar
- however, to really nail grammar, i find writing practice helps enormously (it forces me to internalise the grammar rules) - suggestions here include keeping a diary in japanese, or having a "pen friend" who you can exchange emails with
- i also find writing helps me remember kanji - of course, by writing, i mean pen and paper not keyboard and screen
- listening helps me get the pitch pattern correct, and also to learn to understand japanese "in real time" - i don't find listening useful for increasing vocabulary, because everytime i hear a new word my brain freezes up and says "what was that" and then i lose track of the conversation
- the best way i found to listen is to get the tapes/CDs that come with your textbook and listen to them day in and day out until the dialogue gets engraved in your brain
- you can also download dialogues from the http://www.mlcjapanese.co.jp web site (these are quite good)
- i listened to the dialogues so much one day i dreamt i was one of the characters in the dialogue!
- finally, speaking. a lot of people find this hard, because of the pressure to create sentences in real time, and also worrying about sounding "right"
- again, what worked for me was listening to those dialogues again and again. eventually i memorised them (including pitch patterns and everything). i found eventually i could rattle off the dialogues with the right pitch patterns exactly as the speakers (or, as close as possible).
- after that, i practiced as much as i could (outside of the classroom) with native speakers. in my case, because i don't live in japan, initially i tried speaking japanese to any japanese i encounter (including restaurant staff, supermarket staff etc.)
- if you have a teacher, try speaking to the teacher as much as possible in japanese
- try and cultivate japanese friends

Anyway, good luck!
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby spin13 » Wed 01.14.2009 6:15 pm

Christine Tham wrote:- finally, speaking. a lot of people find this hard, because of the pressure to create sentences in real time, and also worrying about sounding "right"

Another reason many beginning students find speaking hard is because they have nothing to say. They lack sufficient understanding of the language to make meaningful (or desirable) communication. It is natural to experience a silent period while you focus on converting sounds into meaningful utterances. You cannot produce language you have never experienced before, and in many cases such output is unreasonable to expect even after the first five or ten experiences. In my experience, a productive silent period continues longer than most students and teachers think.

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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby Christine Tham » Wed 01.14.2009 7:34 pm

spin13 wrote:Another reason many beginning students find speaking hard is because they have nothing to say. They lack sufficient understanding of the language to make meaningful (or desirable) communication. It is natural to experience a silent period while you focus on converting sounds into meaningful utterances. You cannot produce language you have never experienced before, and in many cases such output is unreasonable to expect even after the first five or ten experiences. In my experience, a productive silent period continues longer than most students and teachers think.


I think people always have something to say, it's a matter of finding a topic that they are comfortable talking about. It could be describing hobbies, a recent movie, favourite places, food, etc. I think a good teacher will try and motivate the students to get into a zone where they are bursting to say something, "necessity being the mother of invention" and all that. It's amazing how we find a way to communicate when we really want to.

I agree about the "productive silence", especially at the beginning. In my classes, the teachers always introduces a topic that they want students to converse about, then give everyone 5 mins to prepare. This allows people to mentally choose what they want to say, and start composing sentences in their head.

If in doubt, just use lots of katakana words and string them together using Japanese grammar! One person in my class does this quite well, with hilarious results. Also, if you have a good sense of humour, combine stock sentences in unusual and cheeky ways. Once we did a send up of stock phrases you hear at Japanese train stations, but made them really weird.

Or, change the topic into one you can talk about. Once, the topic in class was discussing whether Obama would be a good president. I didn't want to say the usual hackneyed things, so I changed the topic by alluding to the fact that there is a town in Japan called Obama, and the people living there strongly supported him during the campaign. This led to an interesting discussion - people wanted to know where Obama was located, what did they do, etc.
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby spin13 » Wed 01.14.2009 8:21 pm

Christine Tham wrote:I think people always have something to say, it's a matter of finding a topic that they are comfortable talking about. It could be describing hobbies, a recent movie, favourite places, food, etc.

It's not about wanting say or being comfortable saying, it's about ability. The language required to do everything you described must be learned somewhere. You need to hear, see, and read examples of other people doing these things (correctly) and model their language, not just string together words you copied from a dictionary. Input over output.

Christine Tham wrote:I agree about the "productive silence", especially at the beginning. In my classes, the teachers always introduces a topic that they want students to converse about, then give everyone 5 mins to prepare. This allows people to mentally choose what they want to say, and start composing sentences in their head.

While I think that sounds great for slightly more advanced classes, I'm talking about a period of days, weeks, or months where beginning students are allowed to interact with the language without being required to produce it. Conversely, I also think there is a limit to the time spent silently absorbing; there certainly are things that can be learned by speaking. For example, speaking often highlights deficiencies that they might be corrected. But I maintain that you can't say something you don't know how to say. Input over output.

Christine Tham wrote:If in doubt, just use lots of katakana words and string them together using Japanese grammar! One person in my class does this quite well, with hilarious results.

While that sounds amusing, it doesn't strike me as a particularly effective way to learn a language. That's not to say there's no room for entertainment in the classroom, but I wouldn't hold that kind of behavior up as some lofty goal.

Christine Tham wrote:It's amazing how we find a way to communicate when we really want to.

Yes, human beings are amazing creatures. We're capable of both stunning ingenuity and staggering idiocy. Part of our gift is the ability to communicate, but this doesn't require spoken language, let alone correct language, to do.

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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby Christine Tham » Wed 01.14.2009 8:38 pm

spin13 wrote:While I think that sounds great for slightly more advanced classes, I'm talking about a period of days, weeks, or months where beginning students are allowed to interact with the language without being required to produce it. Conversely, I also think there is a limit to the time spent silently absorbing; there certainly are things that can be learned by speaking. For example, speaking often highlights deficiencies that they might be corrected. But I maintain that you can't say something you don't know how to say. Input over output.


That's interesting, because we started doing it pretty much right from the beginning, probably from the third or fourth week onwards. Of course, initially, the conversations were pretty basic, you know "お名前は?" and "私の趣味は…”

The approach is to focus on what you have already learnt. Don't try and say things that you don't know how to express. Of course, even then, some people tried. The teachers were patient enough to say "Well, the way you would say that in Japanese is ... But don't worry, we'll learn that in X weeks time."

Also, it is amazing how much conversation can come from a very limited grammar and vocabulary. I remember a few months into learning Japanese, I attended a conference where there was a delegation from Japan. They took a shine to me because I was the only person to actually bow to them and did the はじめまして thing. Afterwards, during dinner, they approached me and the leader (who could not speak English) profusely thanked me for taking the trouble. After that, we enjoyed quite a few hours together, with lots of drink, and me trying my best to speak bad Japanese. They also made sure their replies were simple enough so that even I can understand them. And when all else fails, we switch to a few English words.

After that, for several months, this person continued to email me in Japanese and helped me correct the mistakes in my replies.
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Re: Learning Japanese from scratch

Postby Christine Tham » Wed 01.14.2009 8:46 pm

spin13 wrote:
Christine Tham wrote:If in doubt, just use lots of katakana words and string them together using Japanese grammar! One person in my class does this quite well, with hilarious results.

While that sounds amusing, it doesn't strike me as a particularly effective way to learn a language. That's not to say there's no room for entertainment in the classroom, but I wouldn't hold that kind of behavior up as some lofty goal.


Actually, I think it is a very good way to practice grammar patterns using words you already know, instead of trying to remember "what is X in Japanese so that I can use it in a sentence"

Obviously, the teachers believed so too, because they strongly encouraged us to substitute any words we can't remember with katakana equivalents.
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