Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’
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 »
I’m the most popular guy in town. And given that about a million people live in my town, that’s quite a distinction, seriously. So recently I bought a jump rope. Look, it’s not easy keeping in shape in Japan. Like I’d just gotten home last Thursday night when I got a call from this old guy that I teach English to. He’s about seventy years old and some president of a company or something. Actually, I don’t even know his name. I just call him President-san. Anyway, I pick up the phone and he says, “Can you sing The Beatles?” And I’m like, “Who is this?” 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 »
So I was in a “standing bar” a couple of weeks ago, which is like a normal bar, or really a restaurant because they serve food too, only without any seats. It’s just about the worst invention the Japanese ever came up with. Like, who wants to have drinks and food standing up? Would it kill you to put in some barstools? But anyway, so I’m standing there having a conversation with this rather attractive Japanese lady and I order some fish in a can on toast. And things are going pretty well between us, you know, until suddenly her husband shows up. So that was a little disappointing. But whatever, he turned out to be a really nice guy and bought me a beer and I Read the rest of this entry »
What could be more typically Japanese than bowing? Every other book about Japan has something to say on the subject, so it must be important, right? Certainly a lot of foreigners come to Japan and start bowing like crazy, so maybe they all read the same book.
It’s common knowledge, if not entirely correct, that bowing is a sign of respect, gratitude, or apology in Japanese society. And there’s no shortage of information on how to do it properly, how deeply one should bow, or what to do with your hands. There’s just one missing piece . . .
So I was in a bar last week. Big surprise, I know. And by the end of the night, as always, I’d made friends with about fifty salarymen. What can I say? I’m like sugar to them. Then, as I’d had a rather plentiful number of cocktails and
I hate the cold, so don’t ask me why I went to the snowiest possible place for New Years. New Years in Japan is like Christmas in the U.S., only without all the presents and with better food. So I went to Hokkaido, where there was a ton of snow and we mostly stayed inside and drank beer. Once that ran out, we drank wine. On New Year’s eve, we ate long soba to ensure a long life, and the next morning sticky mochi rice in soup, which is about the best way to guarantee a short life. That stuff’s like eating white Playdough. Two weeks ago my friend’s uncle died when a clump of mochi rice stuck in his throat and he couldn’t breathe. This happens every year in Japan. You gotta love tradition.
Did you know that when you get a coffee from a convenience store in Japan, it comes in a can, not a styrofoam cup? For real, it does. My favorite brand is Black Boss, just because it sounds hilarious. For some odd reason, Tommy Lee Jones is the spokes-model for the coffee. They have his old wrinkly-ass face on posters all over Japan, above the headline “Black Boss.” Personally, I think Rick Ross would be a better choice.
In other news, last weekend I worked on a farm. While I thought it would be kind of exhilarating in a back-to-nature sort of way, it was more like hitting stalks of wheat with a bamboo stick for eight hours. Man, working on a farm sucks. Being a farmer must really suck. All I did what hit this effing wheat with a stick and little wheatlets would fall off. Like you ever hear the expression–separating the wheat from the chaff? Well, me neither, but that’s apparently what I did. And that was kind of cool, to see where wheat actually comes from, for about 30 seconds. And then I was like, man, I need a break. Gonna drink me a Black Boss and get my relax on. But instead we did that shit until sundown, all covered in wheat dust.
Thanks to the Swine Flu, I now own a bicycle. If that Pig Influenza hadn’t sidelined me in bed for a week, I would have surely blown another paycheck on yet one more all-you-can-drink karaoke session. But as it happened, once my fever broke, my wallet contained a spare hundred bucks worth of yen, so off I went to the bike store. I bought the largest bike I could find. It was still tiny, like riding a midget, but also just as fun.