Friday, April 27, 2007

Japanese Today

Ok, full disclosure: I'm SUPPOSED to be cramming for a Spanish only dinner in a week. By rights I should be only focusing on Spanish, writing myself drills and quizzes... But I'm weak. I'm distractable. I have flights of fancy.

In short, this week I really got into drilling myself on Kana - the Japanese syllabic writing system. I decided that until I can read the basic Kana, I'm just fooling myself that Japanese is in my grasp. Now, let me explain: There are three forms of writing. KANJI is the pictographic language, borrowed from Chinese. Hirigana is a syllabic alphabet, and Katakana is a mirror of Hirigana, only it's used exclusively for "borrowed words", like "America", or "Center" (any further evidence that Japan is a closed monoculture: They won't let foreign words or names be written in their alphabet - they made a special one for it!) (FYI: Kana refers to Hirigana and Katakana collectively)

In both Katakana and Hirigana, there are over 60 syllables to memorize. In Kanji, we're talking a good 500 you NEED to survive, and 2000 is a reasonable level of fluency. Kanji is a lifelong pursuit. I will be happy to be comfortable with Hirigana and Katakana.

But that's still 120 pictures that don't mean anything to me yet. WHAT TO DO? I have tried staring at the tables, translating words slllloooowwwwly. I slept with a Kana book under my pillow. That was useless.

Two things are breaking through: Both use the power of "computers" in innovative ways. One is a software tool called "iKana" (find it here). It's basically a flash card deck, but it's very clear and easy to use. I keep it up in the background and when I have a free minute, I do some drills.

The second thing is called "Slime Forest" (available HERE) This is a silly little adventure game, where you're on a quest to save the princess... and every so often these cute little monsters try to get you. The only way to stop them is to type the syllable that the Kana floating over their heads represent. You need to react very fast or you die and have to start over. So by last night, I had 3/4 of the core Katakanas flowing from my fingers, and they stuck with me today. Apparently as you advance, you move to Hiriganas, and even into Kanji.

The final thing that's been encouraging me in Japanese this week is that I've finally reached a level in my studies where they're starting to add in the INFORMAL forms of address. It's not that I want to be disrespectful when speaking to others, but if I ever want to understand what a group of kids are talking about, or understand a TV show, I need to know more about the casual speech.

So simply by reaching a level where a new curtain is lifted, it got me all re-invigorated.

I'll be doing a review of my favorite Japanese site soon enough... But for tonight, I simply say Ja Ma-te! (later then!)


Henry said...

Jimmy, I know that learning Kanji can be tough, but some approaches make it a LOT harder than others. I used to try to learn Kanji by using Kanji books and learning the ON/KUN readings, but I recently discovered a much easier way to learn it, and it's by not learning Kanji by itself. What I have recently been doing is using to learn my Kanji: I listen to the lesson, read along as I do so (in both Kana and Kanji) and then I write each word a few times in the Kanji. This way I don't feel like I am learning Kanji, but rather just words. I find it a lot more fun, and then I don't have to remember readings, but they instead come to me once I have seen a Kanji used in a few words. And Rikaichan (a Firefox extension) can really help getting the readings of Kanji online... a tool that you really need to get if you don't already.
Anyways, I like your blog so far! Foreign language is addictive!

Jimmy said...

Hey Henry!
Thanks for reading! I'm realizing that the book method is probably not my style - and I am TOTALLY on board with JPOD101 in every way: I had started with their Kanji Closeup worksheets, but took a couple of weeks off to "woodshed" my Kana... but I think I'm ready to go back.

The nice thing about those Kanji Closeups is that they do have the space to practice too!