Archive for the ‘Learning Japanese’ Category
Anyone with an interest in Japan should learn a little Japanese, I really believe. Daily life is much better when you know a few key phrases: Hello. My name is. Please. May I? No really, please. Why not? Oh come on, please. You sure? Last chance. Well fine, be that way. Sorry for causing a scene. Even if I pay you? No? Hmph, well I didn’t want to anyway.
But when I say “a little” of the language, I mean it. Beyond a handful of survival sentences, you should give a really good think to whether or not you want to continue learning Japanese.
So this is Phase II of the Japanese Rule of 7 Learn Yo’ Ass Some Japanese project. Phase I was here. Phase III? Well, okay I haven’t written that yet. Hey, what can I say, I’m lazy. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Phase II. The “selection” phase. For this, you’re going to want to find yourself a really tall mountain. The taller the better, preferably with a sturdy pine tree. Climb to the mountaintop and sit there. If there is a pine tree, then climb to the top of that and sit there instead. Then stay there for exactly one week. You should probably pack some sandwiches, now that I think about it, and maybe some beers too. Just think how refreshing they’d be. And while you’re there with your pine cones and sandwiches and beer, ask yourself: Do I really want to study Japanese? No, really. Because here’s what it’s all about. Read the rest of this entry »
Someone on Facebook recently asked me: What’s the best way to begin learning Japanese, for someone starting from zero? Never one to shirk authorial duties, I did the responsible thing by jumping up, slamming my laptop closed, and running to the convenience store for a bottle of cheap white wine and a bag of spicy dried corn snacks. They’re super salty, but man, are they ever good. But then at the store I ran into this girl I know and she invited me over for some tea, and then we drank the bottle of wine, and then a bottle of red she had, and then I woke up and it was 3 a.m. and I didn’t know where I was, and by the time I got home I’d forgotten all about the question. But I really meant to answer it. Sometimes Japan just gets in the way like that.
Anyway, anything big—learning Japanese, making a million dollars, drinking a case and a half of beer—there’s probably no “best” way to do it. There’s a lot of ways you could do those things. You could pour the beers into a glass, or drink them straight from the bottle, for example. So many options. Actually, I generally avoid telling people “how to” do anything in Japan, since there’s already a ton of that noise on the internet, and most of it seems wrong to me. Which means that anything I say will automatically seem wrong to somebody else, which is depressing, since I know it’s actually right. Because I so feel it’s rightness. Whatever, okay, here’s the best way to learn Japanese. Really. Read the rest of this entry »
Now don’t deny it, you want to believe those guys on the internet claiming to have “learned Japanese” in like a year or two. For some reason it’s always guys too—why is that? Aren’t women supposed to be better at languages? Nah, that can’t be right. Anyway, since they apparently learned Japanese so quickly, you (presumably) can too. But how’d they do it, and more importantly—do you have what it takes? Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »
“Anything you want to write about is fine,” they said, “but could you not mention Mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk?”
“But that’s all I write about,” I protested. “Plus those are several conditions, not one, by the way.”
“How about maybe just something on language learning?
“Language learning in prison?” I asked.
“How about the classroom?” they said.
“What about some trucks?
“How about some pedagogy?
Fine. So I wrote some stuff down and it seemed pretty okay. Then I sent it to a friend of mine for her opinion, with my typically self-effacing preface that I’d written the perfect article on language learning. She wrote back and told me it was not the perfect article on language learning, because I’d failed to mention anything about Mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.
Jeez, you just can’t please people. Fine. So I put in a little bit about getting drunk. But just a little, and no trains, then sent it to The Language Dojo. Perfect? Possibly not, but check it out and decide for yourself: Why do Classes Suck?
I had a dream . . . that one day I would rise up from my nori-thin futon and speak fluent Japanese. I had a dream . . . that I would one day live in a nation where little children would judge me not by the color of my skin, but by the breadth of my vocabulary and fearsome accuracy of my grammar. Yeah okay, so maybe that was asking a bit much. But anyway, I had a dream.
Fluency is the dream of many people studying Japanese, on par with winning a gold-medal or climbing the rope ladder at the carnival. That is, by the way, really freaking hard, at least after two fun-sized beers and a large, buttery corn on a stick. I mean winning a gold medal; the rope ladder’s a piece of cake. But where were we? Oh yeah, fluency. Well, it seems that Japanese fluency has become such a coveted commodity that an entire industry has sprung up to deliver it fast and hot to your door, like pizza. Mmmm, mouth-watering fluency. So crispy and delicious.
But What if Fluency isn’t all That Great?
They say the best things in life should be savored. I got that from an instant coffee commercial, actually. Well, there’s irony for you. But as far as I’m concerned, most things—like making money, learning Japanese, and folding my laundry—would be best done as fast as possible. So from the start, that’s how I approached learning the language. I didn’t care what effort it required or how much it cost; I just wanted it over and done with so I could hold a decent conversation. I figured I’d get all that learning stuff out of the way early so I could get on to something more important, which turns out to be laying on my futon drinking Japanese malt liquor and trying to understand the TV. Read the rest of this entry »
Everyone knows Japanese people aren’t exactly Masters of the Universe when it comes to speaking English, despite receiving six years of English education. Six years? Are you kidding? You could build yourself a Great Pyramid in less time. I’m pretty sure. Just chop up some limestone and stack it up. Probably take you a couple of years at best.
But okay, there are clearly some good reasons why Japanese folks can’t speak English. And if you study Japanese, you also need to avoid the same traps.
Ask any foreign English teacher, and they’ll tell you, “The grammar-translation method doesn’t work.” Sure, but people also say that we swallow spiders in our sleep and the Apollo moon landings were merely elaborate hoaxes. Read the rest of this entry »
1. A bunch of words
2. A bit of grammar
3. To think in Japanese
While the first two points get a lot of attention, the third point is equally, if not more, important.
Knowledge Versus Skill
Thinking in Japanese is not just about knowledge. It takes skill. Fluency requires the ability to stop your native language from entering into your brain. In other words, to stop translating. Okay, so that’s easier said than done.
For a lot of people, kanji is about on par with natto. A huge sticky mess, difficult to consume, and not nearly as tasty as it is troublesome. Plus it makes your breath smell like the wrong end of a dog, which is rarely a good thing. I mean natto, that is. Kanji does nothing for your breath. Anyway, me personally, I never wanted to spend years studying kanji; I just wanted to speak well enough to communicate (read “drink beer”) with people. Funny how things work out.
Hiragana? Fine. Katakana? Piece of cake. There’s not that many of them, so whatever. But kanji? Yeah, let me get back to you on that. I mean, who wants to take the long route to learning Japanese? I was determined to find a shortcut.
If you, like me, love shortcuts and have the approximate attention span of a gerbil, then let’s jump right to the conclusion:
1. Kanji is the shortcut to learning Japanese, even if you only care about speaking.
2. If you know the kanji, you can make sense of every word in the Japanese language.
3. Every word. Think about it.
How can kanji be the shortcut when it’s so impossible? First of all, you’re trying to learn an entire Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve used Anki for more years than I can remember. It’s a great piece of software. You just stuff your soul into an envelope and mail it off to the Devil, and in about four to six weeks Japanese ability arrives in your mailbox. It’s convenient like that.
In case you’ve been studying Japanese under a rock, you should know that Anki is software that helps you remember stuff. It’s what they call a Spaced Repetition System. Kind of like electronic flash cards. Anyway, I used to know more about it, but I forgot. But where was I? Oh yeah, so when you have a Japanese phrase that you want to remember, you just type it into Anki, and the software kindly reminds you to review it at just the right time. Every day, you review your Anki flash cards and pretty soon, Presto, you’re a Japanese genius. Well, that’s the theory, at least.
Yesterday, I rode my bike home from an izakaya at midnight, in the pouring rain. And even though I’m holding an umbrella in one hand, every time I come to a stoplight I pull out my iPod. Because you know I’ve got this Anki app so I can use it anywhere, and I’m stressing because I’ve got to review about a hundred cards today but of course I didn’t because I was out drinking with the old men again. Read the rest of this entry »