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Joyou kanji = fluency?

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Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby europabloke » Sun 11.06.2011 6:34 pm

Hi all,

quick question, sorry if this is in the wrong section.

I have been researching chinese and japanese, (trying to decide my major) and was curious about something.

Someone wrote a blog stating in chinese, his biggest gripe was there was no 'joyou kanji' for them. That he had learnt 4,000+ simplified and traditional, and he STILL has lots of trouble reading anything.

Whereas in japanese, the joyou kanji exist. I was wondering, if you learn those (plus a couple non-standard) will you be able to read most everything that japanese read daily? Or will you still be way off from reading fluency?

Thank you!!
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby Kamica » Sun 11.06.2011 7:46 pm

According to Japanese For Busy People: "[of 1,945 joyou kanji] 500 appear most frequently. These 500 make up to 70 to 80 percent of all the kanji used in newspapers and other prose. Thus. learners who master these characters will be able to read most Japanese writing while looking up the other 20 to 30 percent in a dictionary."

Another good recommendation is to master 1,000 kanji...which will have you covered through the JLPT2 and probably around 85-90 percent of all kanji you'll ever come across. Learning the remaining 1,000 kanji may not necessarily be worth the time it would require to learn it.
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Sun 11.06.2011 9:28 pm

You cannot smoothly read prose written for adults without roughly 2000 characters. While it may make sense to learn characters in frequency order, with only 500 characters known you'll be looking in the dictionary for nearly every sentence.

Not literally every sentence, of course - some will have no kanji or at least no unknown kanji, while others will require many lookups. Needing to look up multiple characters in the same word, then check combinations of their possible pronunciations is incredibly time consuming and makes reading short articles a long and arduous task.

Anyway, the Jouyou kanji are meant to represent the minimum set of kanji to consider yourself a literate adult, but for general reading you'll likely acquire a few hundred more (if you read novels, newspapers, and other material aimed at fully literate adults). You're not likely to need more than 3000 characters unless you read specialized material in multiple fields.

I would recommend looking at the Remembering the Kanji / Remembering the Hanzi books sooner rather than later. Many people won't use them because they are basically an organized mnemonic system and are not (nor do they pretend to be) scholarly examinations of the kanji (or hanzi, if you go Chinese). If you can work with the books though, you can save yourself a lot of trouble later by learning the shapes and a rough approximation of the meaning for each character ahead of time.

Ultimately, I wouldn't let the number of characters be a deciding factor for you though. I believe you'll need roughly twice as many characters for roughly the same level of literacy in Chinese as Japanese, but if it's going to be your major then you're presumably going to study and work in one of these languages (or both!) for the rest of your life. Either way, you should know all the characters you need for basic literacy in a few years and will never know every character that exists in print somewhere.
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby Pianogirl123 » Mon 11.07.2011 8:54 am

I speculate that one may never stop learning more characters :D
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby Kamica » Mon 11.07.2011 8:42 pm

SomeCallMeChris wrote:Anyway, the Jouyou kanji are meant to represent the minimum set of kanji to consider yourself a literate adult, but for general reading you'll likely acquire a few hundred more (if you read novels, newspapers, and other material aimed at fully literate adults).


According to Japanese For Busy People, the joyou kanji are designated as kanji being in "common use". And yet you described joyou kanji as the "minimum" for being literate. You have a conflicting definition.
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby Shiroisan » Mon 11.07.2011 8:54 pm

Kamica wrote:
SomeCallMeChris wrote:Anyway, the Jouyou kanji are meant to represent the minimum set of kanji to consider yourself a literate adult, but for general reading you'll likely acquire a few hundred more (if you read novels, newspapers, and other material aimed at fully literate adults).


According to Japanese For Busy People, the joyou kanji are designated as kanji being in "common use". And yet you described joyou kanji as the "minimum" for being literate. You have a conflicting definition.


That doesn't look conflicting to me.
How could common usage not be the bare minimum for being considered "literate"? If you can't even read a string of commonly used kanji, what hope do you have of reading a novel?
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby jimbreen » Mon 11.07.2011 9:15 pm

Kamica wrote:
SomeCallMeChris wrote:Anyway, the Jouyou kanji are meant to represent the minimum set of kanji to consider yourself a literate adult, but for general reading you'll likely acquire a few hundred more (if you read novels, newspapers, and other material aimed at fully literate adults).


Hmmm. See below.

According to Japanese For Busy People, the joyou kanji are designated as kanji being in "common use". And yet you described joyou kanji as the "minimum" for being literate. You have a conflicting definition.


The history of the 常用漢字 list (and its predecessor the 当用漢字) is long and very interesting. I strongly recommend the books by Chris Seeley and Nanette Twine/Gottlieb. You'll find them down the back of the Wiki article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_writing_system.

"Literacy" is difficult to define, and especially so in Japanese. The Japanese government (i.e. the bureaucracy) maintains the position that there is almost universal literacy in Japan. This is an article of faith, as there has been no systematic investigation of literacy levels since the late 1940s. At that time "illiterate" was defined as not being able to read a small set of kana, and everyone who wasn't "illiterate" was declared to be "literate". Since then the education ministry, etc. has firmly discouraged any real studies of literacy levels. and placed blocks in the way of voluntary groups trying to organize adult-literacy classes, on the grounds that they are simply not needed.

Getting back to how many kanji people actually know, some years ago I was in a discussion group at a conference of language teachers, both Japanese and gaijin, and we got onto the question of how many kanji the average Japanese person actually knows (whatever that means). The consensus was that once they'd left study and the kanji they'd crammed in at school had faded, most adult Japanese had a working knowledge of around 800 kanji. Now this is an average - a lot of people know many more, and a lot of people know a lot fewer than that.

So, how many kanji do you have to know to be "literate" in Japanese? Zero (a few kana will do), 2,000? 3,000? Who knows. My view, based on about a year in Japan at various times, is that you can go a long way on 800 kanji, and that a lot of people can't really read/write that many.

Jim
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Mon 11.07.2011 11:16 pm

While it's hard not to simply defer to a name like Jim Breen... I have to say that I can't imagine trying to read a novel with only 800 kanji. Writing ability notwithstanding - most people don't need to -write- novels or newspaper articles after all - I think the -recognition- side has got to be far above 800 for the average literate adult. This thinking is based on my impression that the average Japanese adult can read a mystery novel or romance novel, which I suppose could be incorrect.

Not that I've actually -counted- the Kanji I meet reading novels, I only know that I see a liberal amount of Jouyou kanji and a fair sprinkling of additional kanji. I would guess that being able to read any particular novel genre would involve a few hundred kanji outside of the Jouyou kanji (forensic stuff for mysteries/police procedurals, romantic and poetic terms for romance novels, misused shinto and buddhist terms for supernatural novels... )

Of course, there's always the possibility of recognizing certain kanji -only- in certain words, which I do a fair amount myself. In that case, how do you count the kanji? A person doesn't 'know' the character in depth ... but they know it in a certain common word to be able to read a certain type of text without going through painful kanji-lookup procedures...

My numbers are essentially counting those characters as I'm guesstimating the number of different characters you might -see- in reading. Whether someone can call up the correct stroke order, other less common readings, or even recognize the character in uncommon words is another question. Detailed knowledge of characters I expect is much less than readable characters.

It's also possible that the average Japanese adult -can't- read a novel, but I've never heard that. Or I may simply be oblivious to a huge number of Jouyou kanji that -don't- appear in novels, names, or news articles and that I might as well not have learned... if that's the case, the Jouyou kanji badly need to be revised in favor of real frequencies!

(I should also say, Shiroisan is mostly right about my meaning, and I thank him for his defense of my words ;) I do, however, recognize that there are -some- Jouyou kanji that are not really in common use but are studied because they are the basis of other kanji, and there are -some- kanji that are very common and yet not in the Jouyou kanji. Hence... the Jouyou are -meant- to be the minimum for literacy. My feeling is that they fall short of minimal literacy in some ways while including too many 'useless' characters in other ways. Then again, I'm a foreigner trying to read literature, not a native who needs to operate in the business environment, which means I'm looking at things a little askew from daily life.)

(It also occurs to me that many gaijin have reported that they've been met with absolute shock when a native Japanese realized they were reading a novel. Maybe that shock is -not- looking down on gaijin but that reading a novel is legitimately above the average adult's capacity... ? That's distressing speculation only, or a kind of question if anyone happens to know.)
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby NileCat » Tue 11.08.2011 12:17 am

SomeCallMeChris, I basically agree with you. :)
Regarding your question about the shock many gaiji experience, you might want to consider the amount of study that all the Japanese people had to spend at school. We all know that acquiring kanji is a hard job.

Just one thing I’d like to mention about this intriguing subject is that there is a big difference in number between the amount of kanji we can read and we can write.
As Jimbreen said, it is meaningless to try to define what the average Japanese person is, however, a native Japanese person who can read only 800 kanji would have a hard time in his social life as an adult, I guess. But I wouldn’t be that surprised if I saw a man who can (hand)write only 800 kanji getting by at many businesses.
Let me cite some concrete number for your reference. At our elementary school, by the age of 12, we learn 1006 kanji. As you suppose, not all the pupils can master them. But it’s rare to see people who dropped out of elementary school whereas there are a lot of high school dropouts. Which means, although it is true that people’s memory doesn’t last long, those 1006 kanji are considered to be a part of “minimum common sense” in our society so to speak (for read/write). Many people (including me) experience even some of those “elementary kanji” slip our mind at times (when we write), however, it would be a kind of different issue from being illiterate, I guess…

EDIT:
Ah, sorry. I didn’t see the title of the thread!
I’m not sure I distinguish them from others, but good universities require the ability to read at least some thousands for their examinees. That’s for sure.
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby jimbreen » Tue 11.08.2011 1:38 am

SomeCallMeChris wrote:While it's hard not to simply defer to a name like Jim Breen... I have to say that I can't imagine trying to read a novel with only 800 kanji.


Don't worry about deferring, etc., as I carefully said nothing about reading novels. I didn't even venture a definition of "literate", instead hiding behind weasel words like "get by".

[...]

This thinking is based on my impression that the average Japanese adult can read a mystery novel or romance novel, which I suppose could be incorrect.


I doubt the average inhabitant of any country can read a novel without having a problem or three. Don't forget that the people around you are a self-selected bunch and probably highly-literate by most standards. Glance around next time you are in a commuter train. I did when I was in Japan recently - for every person who was reading a novel there were scores reading manga, light-weight magazines and the sports pages of newspapers; none of which require (deliberately) good levels of kanji recognition.

[...]

Hence... the Jouyou are -meant- to be the minimum for literacy. My feeling is that they fall short of minimal literacy in some ways while including too many 'useless' characters in other ways. Then again, I'm a foreigner trying to read literature, not a native who needs to operate in the business environment, which means I'm looking at things a little askew from daily life.)


There we go trying to define literacy again. Would you define literacy in English as being able to read, understand and use every word used in English classes to the final year of high school?

The young turks of Japanese education who finally got their way in the 1940s and brought in the 当用漢字 wanted them to be the *only* kanji in common use. Apart from specialist fields they wanted everything else to be in kana.
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby NileCat » Tue 11.08.2011 2:21 am

Interesting!
Let me try to controvert your opinion a little bit, Jimbreen. :D
In 2010, another 196 kanji were added to Jouyo kanji. They seem to be called Sin-Jouyo Kanji. Which means, in total, we have 2136 Jouyo kanji now.
But it is not the number that counts. I find it interesting is that many people actually demanded to add (restore) more kanji than the old Jouyou kanji group had. This fact seems to tell us something about the thinking way of quite a few Japanese people. I mean, they might have thought like this: “hey, high officials, we can’t get by with only 1900!”
Sorry if this is totally off-topic.
But I kind of have a feeling that you might have underestimated the extremely high literacy rate (whatever it means) of this country I’m afraid. :mrgreen:
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby jimbreen » Tue 11.08.2011 6:37 am

NileCat wrote:Interesting!
Let me try to controvert your opinion a little bit, Jimbreen. :D
In 2010, another 196 kanji were added to Jouyo kanji. They seem to be called Sin-Jouyo Kanji. Which means, in total, we have 2136 Jouyo kanji now.
But it is not the number that counts. I find it interesting is that many people actually demanded to add (restore) more kanji than the old Jouyou kanji group had. This fact seems to tell us something about the thinking way of quite a few Japanese people. I mean, they might have thought like this: “hey, high officials, we can’t get by with only 1900!”


Don't believe for a moment the process that led to the expansion of the 常用漢字 and 人名用漢字 lists was driven by the Japanese masses rising up and demanding ever more kanji to be taught at school, and the eager and responsive bureaucracy acceding to their wishes. Please read Nanette Gottlieb's book "Kanji Politics" to get an inkling of the background and processes that actually lead to these sorts of moves. It's all about the masses of Toudai law graduates who infest the upper echelons of MEXT, and who have never taught a class in their lives, finding ways to justify their well-paid existences.

But I kind of have a feeling that you might have underestimated the extremely high literacy rate (whatever it means) of this country I’m afraid. :mrgreen:


Note that I reported a consensus view of a group of people who work in Japanese education every day (I do not.) Yes, I am highly sceptical of the astronomical claims about the literacy levels in Japan, but that scepticism will be swept away by some genuine evidence. And I've been waiting for it for over 30 years.

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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby NileCat » Tue 11.08.2011 1:08 pm

Jimbreen-san,

I understand what you are getting at. And it would be true that those official statistics you can easily google are somewhat manipulated by someone. But it seems to me that you are just looking at the darkest side only.
Well, the book truly seems interesting. But if you take politics into account of education, I have to say I wouldn’t swallow the local school teachers’ lament as well. If you say MEXT people are just corrupt and ignorant, I have to point out that many local teachers are also ignorant about what’s happening outside their devastated ring. And, no offence, politics exist even in their poor lament since someone wants to use their voices to attack someone.

Regarding Jouyo kanji, do you know a manga called 狼と香辛料? Is this title too difficult to read without furigana for those who are seemingly idiotic "average" adults reading comics on the train? I don't think so. And, as you know, the kanji 狼 isn’t even in Jouyo kanji. I’m not saying they are good at school. But I don’t think they can’t read. I just personally find 800 is far too low as a likely number that the average adults can read.

In terms of the literacy rate, however, I can’t show you any proper evidence for you don’t trust any official source. All I can tell you is that it seems very high to me, based on my personal, firsthand experience.
:)
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby LordOfTheFlies » Wed 11.09.2011 7:24 am

Jimbreen, I'd like to disagree with you and back up Nilecat. Of course I'm no scholar and I haven't read much about the history of teaching kanji in Japan or how literacy is estimated. I'm sure there are people who would be illiterate by the "jouyou" standard but I think that number is very low when it comes to Japanese adults living in Japan.

And as you say it's possible, just barely possible to get around with the knowledge of 800 kanji in your trunk as a visitor in Japan. But if you're in a working environment that's not going to suffice in most cases. The problem with measuring how many kanji you need to know to be able to be literate is that it changes depending on your environment. The kanji used can differ a lot depending on what environment/area of expertise it's within and other environmental factors as well. That's why 800 specific kanji could be sufficient enough for one environment, but painfully lacking in another environment.

My second retort would be that every single native Japanese person I've met has a very solid knowledge of kanji. This isn't just highly educated people, I'm also talking about high school drop-outs, housewives and so on. Many of them are young too. Most people can read an astounding amount of 常用漢字, and also 常用外漢字, which are used much less frequently than the former. I don't think many can write even nearly as many kanji as they can read, but the most important part is to be able to read unless you have a job where being able to write properly is a prerequisite.

I would make a complete guess that the average Japanese adult knows somewhere above 2000 kanji, with that said I have no idea if it's 2100, 2500 or 3000. But I highly doubt it's 800.
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Re: Joyou kanji = fluency?

Postby jimbreen » Wed 11.09.2011 9:19 am

jimbreen wrote:"Literacy" is difficult to define, and especially so in Japanese. The Japanese government (i.e. the bureaucracy) maintains the position that there is almost universal literacy in Japan. This is an article of faith, as there has been no systematic investigation of literacy levels since the late 1940s.


It seems there was another study in the mid-1950s, but the results weren't much different. A good article to read is http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language ... 03962.html which summarises some of the studies and issues. The Unger referred to is a professor of Japanese with a particular interest in literacy levels, and Jiri Neustupný was foundation professor of Japanese at Monash.
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