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How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex question)?

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How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex question)?

Postby VGKing » Thu 02.23.2012 1:27 am

(This seems like the best board for the questions I have. If it is not, move it to the appropriate board.)

I feel like all the methods I've been using to learn Japanese have not worked in the slightest, but I have no idea how to get things working or make any form of progress. I guess the best place to begin would be the practice. No matter what, I find that practice just exposes how terrible my Japanese is instead of strengthening it in some way, especially since it never gives me any idea as to how to improve my Japanese. I'll try reading even the most basic excerpt of Japanese (believe me, I have scoured the Internet in search of basic Japanese reading material), but even then, I'll find myself tripping over every other word or grammar concept, making it impossible to understand. Even if I recognize the words, though, they remain isolated instead of coming together into some type of cohesive whole. Are there any ways to synthesize my grammar and vocabulary into some type of workable product? It feels like the two things are just completely isolated and unusable when I try to practice in any way.

I've tried learning more words, but I fear that none of the methods I've tried actually work. I've tried using Anki, but my experiences with it seem to go like this: "I don't know this word, I don't know this word, I don't know this word, I should have known that word but I didn't" ad infinitum. Anything I do learn from it is the answer instead of what constitutes the answer (if that makes any sense). Memrise proves to be better, in that I'll get the correct answers to what the site is asking of me, but I'm not sure if I'm actually learning the words. I'll try to read something, only to find that the words I've been learning are words that I never encounter and that the words I don't know change up from reading to reading.

Writing does not prove any more promising. I'll try to think of anything to write for practice, but absolutely nothing comes out of it. I've constantly read about how I'm supposed to think from Japanese for it to count or be helpful, but again, nothing results from it. I simply find myself unable to recall ANY words in Japanese, despite all the study I've performed. I then demote it to the next best level of writing something in English using words and concepts I know in Japanese, but I don't know what exactly I know in Japanese. So now I'm forced to write out anything in English, look up every grammar point and word that I don't know, and translate bit for bit, utterly defeating the purpose of trying to learn Japanese. The only advice I've seen is that you just get used to thinking in Japanese by being exposed to it often by reading a lot of Japanese, but as I've said before, that proves to be no help. (In fact, a lot of the advice I've seen online hasn't helped me, since they all skip a step or assume that I already know Japanese or something like that. I've seen people tell me to focus on understanding Japanese without giving me any advice on how to practice that.) I'll try to read grammar lessons, and while it seems that I understand the ideas there (the translations I give for example sentences match up very well with the ones provided), absolutely none of that seems to carry over into something actually resembling real Japanese. I'm not necessarily looking for new textbooks or websites or anything like that; I've tried many already, and I haven't found any that have cured me of my problem, so to speak. Can anybody help me with any of these problems? Or is this just too dense and confusing to make sense of? Or is this just useless, self-entitled bitching?
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby phreadom » Thu 02.23.2012 10:38 am

First off, welcome to TJP! :wave:

Second, I think people may be having trouble reading through your whole post and picking what points to respond to.

There are a number of ways people could approach this... (even I was a bit overwhelmed and just kept this post open in a tab for awhile until I got the motivation to read through the whole thing) ;)

I think the idea of you reading grammar lessons and actually getting the idea is basically a start. That's how you get a feel for the language. You know how to read kana? Have you made any progress learning the kanji? Writing kana/kanji?

I've found that even if I learn vocabulary in Anki sometimes, I don't really "get it" cemented into my head better until I see it used in some examples so that I get a FEEL for what the word means. Until then it's just an arbitrary bit of data with no real feeling or visuals attached to it.

Basically I guess I'd say to read through things like Tae Kim's guide to Japanese grammar and the examples on this site etc and just keep working on "getting it right"... your familiarity should grow over time, even if it is a bit slow. :)

Maybe others can give some better advice? I'm still just an upper beginner myself. ^_^
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby berean_315 » Thu 02.23.2012 11:06 am

I can feel your pain. I guess the first thing I would say is learning Japanese or another language should be fun (at least imho). Maybe you need to take a break from studying for a couple weeks and not worry about it. I've started and stopped my Japanese studies numerous times over the years. When I started back I was more refreshed and had a better attitude.

Maybe focus on what you're trying to get out of studying Japanese. I don't practice speaking or writing much because that's not my focus (or it's turned into it). Since I never had many opportunities to speak, whenever I would try to it was always frustrating. I think I knew enough grammar, but lack of vocabulary limited me badly. Couldn't think of the Japanese word I needed to say something. I'm focusing on reading mainly and am finding it more enjoyable.

I think you are going to have to plow through the grammar though because that's critical in reading and speaking. Phreadom had a good comment about a grammar resource to check out. Just take it slow. The grammar points should build up over time. I still have to look up grammar points when reading, but that's part of the learning process. I've read several sentences that took me a while just to get through, but the next time it went faster because I learned from it.

Don't know if any of this helps.
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby VGKing » Thu 02.23.2012 1:09 pm

I don't feel that I can even take a break, though. It seems like if I stop now, I'm probably never gonna go back to learning Japanese.

As for the whole grammar thing, though, the problem isn't that I don't know what things are (at least in theory). I've learned what the te form does, how to form conditionals (nara, to, etc.), and all those other things. I'll even read one of the example sentences and translate it perfectly. The problem is that it just refuses to work when I go to read something. I'll try to read something, but then my answer is full of gaps and things I simply can't put together. It seems like an unsolvable solution: reading more grammar texts won't necessarily improve my skills, and trying to test my grammar skills just shows how little I know. I don't feel that I can read the same thing over and over again, since I'll just be memorizing the answer instead of understanding it on any level.
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Thu 02.23.2012 6:14 pm

The issue that you're facing is that people don't actually learn to speak a language by learning a list of grammar and a list of vocabulary rules and drilling them until they are fast enough at working out the grammar exercise. Being able to work things out as grammar exercises is great for when you get stuck and also have time to work on the problem, but doesn't allow for natural reading, speaking, or listening.

First thing I'd say is, if you have single words in your anki - get rid of them. Don't have any anki cards that don't show you context. Quiz on sentences and phrases. I pick mine out of the JE dictionary when I can, or get them from ALC or tatoeba.

Rather than -rules- that you can solve, you need to be familiar with -patterns-. With few exceptions (terse commands, greetings, interjections) words don't have any effective or useful meaning in isolation; and on the other hand, there's no way to calculate through the grammar rules and either produce or understand at anything resembling a normal speed.

It's also quite important to be familiar with the audible form of the language - I'm not a linguist so I don't know all the details, but apparently no matter how silently we read and how much it seems like the written words are turning straight into images and concepts ... we still subvocalize. So make sure to spend some time with audio.

Many people learn to understand a language by starting with simple native material and 'decoding' it - understanding it by solving the grammar rules and looking up the words. After decoding the same pattern three or four times it starts to become familiar, and you can just read it and understand it. (Rereading helps too, because you may not find another instance of the same pattern for quite awhile... ) However, this seems not to be working too well for you.

There's a process that some people advocate called 'listening-reading', which means -simultaneously- listening and reading. I'm not exactly an advocate of LR as a primary means of learning, but it may work for you, and I -do- think that it's worthwhile for everyone to incorporate a little of the LR techniques into their studies. So I suggest reading the first post in this thread:
http://forum.koohii.com/viewtopic.php?id=7082
Follow the links to the discussions that answer the question 'why' (that'll take you to the learnanylanguage forums, a pretty intense place.)

If you decide to try some of this LR business, notice that the Yuki's Story pages here on this site that have videos are, in fact, japanese-english bilingual text in the video with accompanying Japanese audio.... pretty much perfect for LR just by clicking the youtube link. The erin's challenge website also can give you triple-language timed with the video, that is kanji / kana / English. Yes, it's beginnerish... but it's beginnerish with good pronuncation and at a decent pace, which will force you to 'comprehend' because you won't have time to 'decode'. Don't miss the fact that there's two lesson videos, a 'what is it' video, a let's-see video and a let's-do video for each lesson. That's a lot of video with accompanying text!

Anyway, LR study is devoted solely to building pattern memory and increasing language familiarity, so I think that's what you need most, but I could have misunderstood your post. Take a look at it and let us know what you think and how it works for you.

Oh, also, this book:
http://www.thejapanshop.com/Read-Real-J ... B003VOCCWG
This is also an excellent step and includes some important explanations that are not generally found in textbooks as well as plenty of practice material with accompanying audio. There's a non-fiction volume as well, if you're more interested in articles than stories.
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby Hyperworm » Thu 02.23.2012 7:27 pm

practice just exposes how terrible my Japanese is
shows how little I know
Well, practice does let you know where you have holes in your knowledge, but taking it personally as "my Japanese is terrible..." isn't constructive! Isn't finding holes in your knowledge literally the only way to improve? If you crumple in disappointment each time, trying to improve will be painful...
I'll try reading even the most basic excerpt of Japanese (believe me, I have scoured the Internet in search of basic Japanese reading material), but even then, I'll find myself tripping over every other word or grammar concept, making it impossible to understand
Recognizing what is easy material can be a problem. Even manga for a young audience often uses complicated slang and contractions.
Unlike vocabulary, you can rarely choose what kind of grammar you come across. In most cases there's no avoiding the fact that any level work could throw almost any grammar at you.
It doesn't mean you're failing; you just need to keep slogging at it, looking up and reading about the grammar points you hadn't covered until you eventually have them all down. The good part about grammar is that the comfort point, where you can recognize >99% of it in the average work, comes a lot sooner than it does for vocabulary. It is possible to master. Keep going until you get there.
Even if I recognize the words, though, they remain isolated instead of coming together into some type of cohesive whole. Are there any ways to synthesize my grammar and vocabulary into some type of workable product? It feels like the two things are just completely isolated and unusable when I try to practice in any way.
If you think you know the words and the grammar, but the sentence still makes no sense, then either
  1. one of the words or grammar points has a nuance or meaning you aren't considering; or
  2. you have made a false assumption; or
  3. the grammar point is just too complicated and you made a parsing error
Solutions for each:
  1. Check each word in a good dictionary that has several example sentences (e.g. the Japanese->English dictionaries at Yahoo! JP). I don't feel that EDICT is very good at capturing the subtle nuances of words, because its translations lack context.
    Note that grammar can have alternative nuances too. For instance, the following explanations
    "てくれる means: 'do sth as a favor for sb else of lower standing', e.g. yourself"
    "よく is the adverbial form of いい, and means 'well'"
    "も means: 'also'"
    are all but useless for helping you translate 「よくも言ってくれたな」.
    Grammar is hard to look up in dictionaries; that's what forums like this are for. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Maybe you haven't been taught what you need to know. That's not your fault.
  2. Re-evaluate all the things you're assuming. For instance, maybe the unstated subject is different from who you thought it was. Maybe the sentence parts are broken up in a different way than you thought. Maybe those two words are actually one word. Maybe you're thinking that に means "at" when it actually means "to". And so on. If you can't figure it out, you can post, but this is a skill you need to train, so some effort is good here.
  3. If the problem is that the grammar is just too complicated for you to interpret yourself in an actual sentence... some structures are tricky to get your head around (morau, causative-passive, etc)... then, well, SomeCallMeChris has good advice there. My personal approach would be to go back to the book, re-read the explanation and go through it slowly, linking the parts together precisely, adding another real-life sentence to my exposure to that grammar -- but if you feel that exposing yourself to lots of Japanese-English example pairs helps you more, you might need to try that approach instead, maybe by watching subbed material.
    There's also the question of whether whatever grammar guide you're using is right for you. Maybe the way it describes things is too confusing. If you're not getting on with it, ditch it and find another one. Consider physical books as well as the internet - Tae Kim isn't for everyone.

...

I'd like to see you post some sentences, from things you're trying to read, which you feel you should be able to get, but can't. Let's work through them.
fun translation snippets | need something translated?
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby VGKing » Thu 03.08.2012 12:19 am

An update on this topic: does anybody know where to get decent parallel texts with an audio reading? I've run into a wall with Yuki's Story (the translation ran out, and given what I've read, I'm apparently supposed to minimize multiple viewings as much as possible(?)), and I can't manage to find anything good on the Koohii link.
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Re: How do I learn Japanese (warning: large, complex questio

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Thu 03.08.2012 1:33 am

If you like Yuki's Story, just go to hukumusume.com and check out which folktales have English translations, perhaps? Yuki's Story is modeled on that style. Of course, you'll have to parallelize them yourself, if you don't like the small selection from that site that buonaparte parallelized on the koohii thread.

Also, I personally think re-reading is perfectly fine, even beneficial because it guarantees re-exposure to the same vocabulary and grammar; if you're always reading forward into the unknown there's no guarantee you'll re-encounter any but the most common 1000-2000 words and the basic grammar structures. Of course, you should only come back and reread at intervals and only as you're engaged in it - if you read so often that you're bored and not really listening it does no good.

You can also splurge on buying stuff, of course. Many people buy Harry Potter (I don't care for reading translations... that's why I learned Japanese!) and also I can recommend 'Reading Real Japanese (Fiction)', although it's not exactly a parallel text as the English translated parts are in fragments. You might also simply search for what audio books are available on the Japanese amazon site, and then search if any of those books are available on the American (or your country) Amazon site.

For actual prepared files, I'm afraid that buonaparte's koohii thread (especially if one includes the links into learnanylanguage) is your best resource. L-R is not the most popular language learning technique, even more so with Japanese which has such a grammar difference from English or any European language (which makes it less effective, it seems, though not apparently -ineffective- since some are having success with it).
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