Japanese study 2015 recap

Wow, is the year almost over already AGAIN?! I’m just getting older and older and seeming to accomplish less and less. I guess I’m playing games too much as usual.

Some words I learned from my twitter account.
Firework trivia
Game publishers that annoy me
Finally finished watching K-ON!
A free webcomic of a canceled PSP game when Level-5 used to be cool

The list is way shorter this year mostly because I stopped adding to it. Still, some good stuff.

すべからく
ほくそ笑む
不実
忘れ形見
来歴
包容力
叙情
石膏像
のたまう
点在
腕白
言葉のあや
万事休す
好機到来
カンテラ
どよめき
一意専心
近衛
野卑
乳母
意趣返し
粛清
駆け引き
追いはぎ

How to make mistakes

At any point in language learning, we have what I would call a “gut meter” based on patterns or word usages we’ve seen before and how often.

This “gut meter” is what allows us to avoid mistakes based on “feel” without having to consult hundreds of grammar rules and linguistic jargon. It is also constantly evolving. For example, a native English speaker looked at me like I was crazy when I pronounced “forehead” as “fore-id” simply because it was unfamiliar.

So if you feel like you’re stuck at a certain stage eg, 私は元気です, etc., I would say it might be a good time to experiment. Even 15 years in, I like to get out of my comfort zone and try to use words and patterns that I’m not too sure are correct. Being on the internet all the time is probably not a good influence either. LOL

The important thing to realize is that language is evolutionary so you don’t want to make up random nonsense out of thin air (unless I guess poetry?). So I try to base things on other stuff I’ve seen before but also get creative and have some fun with it. So it’s really important to keep that input flowing. Even in our native language, writing and speaking styles can change based on what we read and hear. Especially for language learners, input is essential for seeing and getting accustomed to a large number of new concepts and vocabulary to enrich a nascent repertoire (see what I did there?).

The last perhaps most important part is to get feedback so that you can keep your “gut meter” calibrated. You don’t want to get used to your own mistakes and weird grammar and start thinking that saying “私は” every time is normal. Basically a sanity check with the rest of world is always a must.

  1. Get more input
  2. Experiment with input
  3. Get corrections

I’d like to say I’m some sort of Japanese Master and I never make mistakes but of course, only a delusional and arrogant fool would claim mastery of any language (unless you have a Nobel prize in literature, I guess).

We all make mistakes and in this case, it’s not a bad thing at all. So if you see me make a mistake, shoot me a comment cause I definitely ain’t embarrassed about them (just don’t bring up that パンツ vs pants episode…)

みんなで素敵なへんてこな文章を書きまくりましょうよ!決して自分の間違いの言い訳をしているわけじゃないんですからね!

What’s the best way to learn Japanese?

Q: What’s the best way to learn Japanese?
A: It depends.

Q: What’s the best way to learn Kanji?
A: The question is vague.

Q: How long until I can become fluent?
A: What does “fluent” mean? Also, it depends.

I get very short emails of this kind all the time and I usually don’t respond (sorry if this was you). But really, 99% of these generic, vague questions I can answer: “It depends”.

Triage

Learning a language is a big job. You’ve been practicing it and learning it for years and years from your parents and school all the way up to adulthood and beyond. Now that you’re starting ALL OVER AGAIN, it’s time to set priorities.

Even if you don’t set priorities, they will get set whether you like it or not. Of course like you (I hope), I strive to be natively proficient at everything but frankly, my writing skills can use work, a LOT of work. That’s because instead of writing in Japanese, I’m spending my time writing this blog post in English and mostly reading. Even though I can naively wish my writing would magically improve, it won’t happen unless I work on it (I’m not).

So if you need Japanese for your work, have family, interested in anime or whatever, you can easily break it down into one of four skills: listening, speaking, reading, writing. Once you have your priorities, you need to work on improving those skills by actually DOING IT.

Triage and focus on one of:

  1. listening
  2. reading
  3. speaking
  4. writing

However, when it comes to output skills, you need input otherwise you’re just making up random nonsense. So if you want to work on speaking, start by listening, reading before writing (about 2-4 times more input over output).

2-4X input over output:

    listening > speaking
    reading > writing

Finally, even if you triage (which will happen regardless), you should still work on the other areas. Our brains are a complex neural network and stimulating different parts of it helps retention. So if you spend all your time buried in a book, get out and talk to some people. If you’re just winging it in Japan, go home and do some reading.

Having a visual image of an object for example, a “vending machine” with the Kanji 自動販売機 “self moving sell machine” after hearing the word in conversations is the best way to cement it in long-term memory.

Maintain a good balance

Counter examples

Take these stereotypical examples and it’s easy to see where the problems lie because priorities were not in line with desired result.

1. Advanced Japanese student who can’t hold a conversation
Didn’t actually spend time outside classroom speaking to people.

2. Cannot speak with Japanese significant other
Always speaks in English with significant other. Has some excuse for not studying or reading.

3. Loves anime, can’t understand a word
English subtitles always on. Doesn’t spend time looking up the words. Doesn’t read manga or light novel with a dictionary.

4. Can’t write Kanji by hand (this is me and probably many Japanese people)
Always uses an electronic device to type. Rarely writes by hand.

5. Can’t write that novel in Japanese
Writes English blog post about learning priorities (yeah you know who you are).

6. Grammar is confusing
Didn’t read my book (shameless plug)

Japanese study 2014 recap

WHAT???? It’s already well into 2015??? Where does the time go?? Obviously, I haven’t been studying as much this year or OMG maybe the number of words I need to learn is going down? NAH! That can’t be it. But anyways, in 2014, I ran into 152 new words that I was too newb at Japanese to know already or just can’t quite seem to memorize completely. That’s not even half a word a day! Tsk Tsk.

Some words I learned last year from my Twitter account.

Crazy commercials (of course)
Anime songs (of course)
Common sayings in anime
Some sort of 声優 event?
More anime songs (of course)
And it wouldn’t be the internet without cute animals

平皿
意地汚い
胸を撫で下ろす
雌雄
碑文
強情
判じ物
哨戒
狂言
克明
眉唾
貼付
錦鯉
与太話
鉄格子
懐柔
架ける
乾布摩擦
衆生
便覧
上唇
上辺
単元
狼狽
否めない
濃霧
残滓
羽毛
惨たらしい
金切り声
生娘
果報者
談判
慎ましやか
濾過
我先
遠心力
底意
沈着冷静
猜疑心
徒党
後手に回る
星辰
胸の痞が下りる
お手玉
下手人
尾ひれ
寒村
廃村
しわくちゃ
暴利
責任転嫁
風上にも置けない
けたたましい
隠居
はにかむ
胸のつかえがおりる
装填
履帯
昂揚
ひょんな
へちま
乙な味
目ざとい
くさや
干物
玉に瑕
瘴気
愚直
つぶさに
感無量
筋金入り
節操
インポ
楕円形
おしめ
殴打
めっきり
目分量
大らか
おそまつさまでした
着崩れ
退っ引きならない
含蓄
啖呵を切る
狭量
桃源郷
触診
すね毛
としゃぶつ
ひじき
がちんこ
勘当
金的
パチモン
露見
そん色
凡庸
解せない
毛嫌い
蒸発
なで肩
もくず
落ち度
保身
かいらい
涙ぐましい
大見得
倣う
年増
高窓
気位
羽衣(はごろも)
登用
男所帯
すたる
出土
擬態
興亡
心底
雪崩
苦肉
身びいき
拙劣
垂涎
てかてか
恩着せがましい
キンモクセイ
払拭
聡明
いたわる
不精
量刑
たらい回し
賄う
女給
黄ばむ
子煩悩
折檻
虚勢
冥王星
ぞんざい
気障っぽい
感銘
消去法
ねずみ講
後ろめたい
本懐
情状酌量
形振り構わず
瓜二つ
盛る(さかる)

暇つぶしの投稿

最近、孵るという単語を習った。子供の絵本をたくさん読んでいると、意外に知らなかった単語が多々あるものだな。「そらまめくんのベッド」という絵本だけど、結構かわいくて、娘が気に入ったようだ。お勧めします。

Tokyo Alice

東京アリス is a free visual novel by 郷愁花屋. It’s supposed to be pretty short, just a few hours in length so I thought I’d try it out. Here are the first few lines of text, in case you’re interested in using it as reading practice. Copy+paste as needed and have fun! Post a comment if you need help with a certain sentence.

「ったく、ありすのやつ・・・」
暑い。
ともかく暑い。
最近まで不安定な天気が続いていたけれど・・・、ようやく本格的に夏がくるらしい。
時刻は正午。
太陽がオレの真上でぎらぎらと光っていた。
・・・暑い。

そう。
なんでオレはこんなくそ暑い中走っているかというと・・・、ありすのせいだ。
ありすってのはオレと同じマンションに住むクラスメートで
・・・幼稚園の頃から中学の今まで、ずっと一緒にいる。
単に幼稚園と小学校、中学が同じというやつは、そんなに珍しくない。
ただ、オレとありすのすごいところは・・・ずっと同じ組、同じクラスというところだ。
そう・・・小学校なんて6クラスもあったのに何の因果かずっと一緒だった。
奇跡だ。
もしくは呪いだ。
まあつまり、いわゆるくされ縁と言うか、幼馴染というやつなわけだ。

I will update this post with more if anybody is interested.

You can’t “learn” Kanji!!

One of my pet peeves is when somebody says the phrase “learn Kanji” such as, “I learned 100 Kanji in one week!” Kanji has way too many parts to simply say that you “learned” it. Saying you learned Kanji is like saying “I learned computer!” or “I learned a car!” What does that even mean? Let’s break down the concrete things you can learn with Kanji.

  1. Learn the meaning(s)
  2. Learn all the readings
  3. Learn the stroke order
  4. Learn how to write it

Now, let’s see how useful all these possibilities are for learning Japanese.

Learn the meaning – Useful

Learning the meaning of a Kanji is great if it’s a word by itself. For example, 「力」 is also a word meaning “strength” so the meaning directly translates into a word you can actually use. However, you can also argue that since 「力」 is also a word, you are essentially saying that you learned the meaning of a word. So in the end, this is really the same as learning words and doesn’t really count as “learning Kanji”.

Having said that, knowing the meaning of a Kanji is certainly very useful for simpler words and concepts. Kanji such as 「続」 or 「連」 will definitely help you remember words such as 接続、連続、and 連中. In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with learning the meaning of a Kanji and something I would recommend.

Learn all the readings – Waste of time

To put it bluntly, learning all the readings of a Kanji is a complete waste of time. Yes, as a general rule of thumb, Kanji compounds use the on-reading while single characters use the kun-reading. However, this rule is nowhere consistent enough to make it more than a good guess (this is particularly true for 大 which we can’t seem to decide to read as おお or だい).

In addition, many Kanji have multiple readings kun or on-readings such as 怪力(かいりき or かいりょく?), 外道(げどう or がいどう?), or 家路(いえじ、うちじ、やじ?). Even if you guessed the correct reading, it might be voiced or shortened such as 活発 and 発展. Also, Kanji such as 生 have so many readings, it’s completely pointless to memorize them because you won’t know which one will be used in a word such as 芝生、生ビール、生粋、and 生涯. Not to mention the various words that only use the Kanji for the meaning while completely ignoring the reading. These words such as 仲人、素人、and お土産 are literally impossible to guess the readings for. At the end of the day, if you see a new word, you always want to look up the reading to make sure you learn the correct combination. In addition, the readings will be easier to remember in context of real words that you can actually use. Essentially, memorizing the readings by themselves is a complete waste of time.

Learn the stroke order – Essential at first

I’m not going to go into all the reasons why memorizing the correct stroke order is important. Without going into detail, of course you want to make sure to remember the correct stroke order. However, you’ll find that once you’ve mastered all the compounds, stroke order for most Kanji are consistent and easy enough that you no longer need to look it up. Every once in a while, you’ll run into odd Kanji such as 飛 or 鬱 where you’ll want to check the stroke order. So yes, definitely look up the stroke order and make sure you’re not developing any bad habits until… you don’t need to look them up anymore. That happens sooner that you might think.

Learn how to write it – Depends

This is going to be a controversial stance but nowadays, technology has progressed to the point where we never really have to write anything by hand anymore. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you’re fluent in a language but can’t write it by hand. This is an issue even for Japanese people.

By “writing Kanji”, I don’t mean just 2,000+ characters based on keywords. Unless you know which combination of Kanji to use for any given word with the correct okurigana, that is a useless parlor trick.

Being able to write any word in Kanji is an extremely time-consuming goal that may not have much practical value. If your daily life requires writing a lot by hand such as teaching Japanese, I feel that necessity and practice would naturally lend to better writing ability. In other words, if you don’t need it, it’s extremely difficult to keep up your memory of how to write Kanji by hand.

Conclusion – Learn words with Kanji!

I hate the phrase “learn Kanji” because almost every time someone says that, they don’t realize that they haven’t really learned anything that’s directly applicable to Japanese. Compare “learning Kanji” to learning a word. In order to learn a word, you obviously need to learn the definition, reading, Kanji, and any Okurigana if applicable. There is no question of what you learned and whether it’s useful for Japanese. And yet the idea of learning 2,000 Kanji is so attractive that we can’t seem to get away from that broadly undefined notion.

I don’t consider a Kanji as being learned until I know the most common words using that Kanji with the correct readings and can write those words randomly months after I initially memorized it. Unfortunately, given that standard, I probably know about 100-200 Kanji but hey, we all need goals, right?

Whatever cool method to “memorize Kanji” someone tries to peddle you, at the end of the day, you still have to do lots of reading and memorizing tons of vocabulary. This involves daily struggles starting with remembering that 「き」 in 「好き」 is okurigana and continuing with which Kanji to use for 真剣 vs 試験 vs 検査 vs 険しい, or constantly forgetting which kanji is for net vs rope (網/綱). You may be thinking, “Wow, 2,000 is a lot!” But don’t worry, it pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of words that an adult has memorized in her lifetime. And believe it or not, having a fixed set of characters with mnemonics and compounds actually helps with the much bigger job of learning vocabulary. Once you’ve learned a new word in seconds based on characters you already know, you’ll know what I mean. Trust me.

Get off my lawn!

So almost 5 years ago, I wrote a blog post about not understanding twitter. Well, I get it now. I also get why Google killed Google Reader.

Writing a long, informative blog post is a lot of work and something I obviously haven’t done in a while. There was a golden age where people shared information on platforms with great interoperability and open standards. You could easily aggregate information via RSS/Atom and it was very easy to export, migrate, and generally own your blog data.

But controlling and managing your own data is also a lot of work mostly because of the ever increasing onslaught of spam. So it’s easier to give all our data to facebook and google for free while they try to sell us to advertisers. You can’t consolidate anything from facebook, google, or twitter because of course they’re competitors and would never share their (ie your) data with each other. You can even’t retrieve all your tweets and instagram tries to block you from downloading YOUR OWN PICTURES albeit with some cheap and simple filter effects.

And now I’m considering shutting down the forum. Yes, I’m part of the problem. Apparently, I need to get off my own lawn.

Japanese study 2013 recap

So another year has gone by which means I’ve been studying Japanese for around 13 years now. In 2013, I encountered a little over 400 words I didn’t know while playing games, reading books, and watching TV shows. That’s more than 1 word a day! The highlight in my study materials this year for me would definitely be 逆転検事2, one of the best games I’ve played in a while. There’s still a few weeks to go before the year ends so I’m sure the list will grow a bit more before 2014 arrives but here are some highlights from my #JWOTD (Japanese word of the day) tweets.

Some funny gifs with Japanese captions
Song by popular Korean Pop group
A really good Anime series
Really racy girl’s talk
Cool song about losing touch with cellphones
Cats (of course, it’s the internet after all)
The truth behind “Heros” stealing your stuff in RPGs
Tense relations between China and Japan as usual

And here’s the full list which is pretty much useless to anybody else since you’re not seeing it in context but whatever. If you already know these words, congratulations, you knew more Japanese than me! But don’t slack off, I’m catching up!

手ずから
甲羅干し
順列
苗床
誓約
招集
陣容
たわわ
常春
餞別
簒奪
与する
素行
不埒
おためごかし
ひたむき
神々しい
潮干
へっぽこ
うわばみ
ひもじい
てんやわんや
くすねる
木箱
お払い箱
厚かましい
画期
人海戦術
要領がいい
曰く付き
ちゃんばら
方舟
見栄を張る
遠征
たわみ
灯台下暗し
錠前
希少種
えり好み
太っ腹
紆余曲折
上の空
優男
王太子
大目玉
縮図
果報
泣きじゃくる
空母
虐げる
早とちり
みそっかす
血眼
たらし込む
あだ討ち
晩酌
通せん坊
あぶれる
手向ける
運気
気弱
やっかむ
甘露
蹂躙
あか抜ける
慣わし
温床
矢先
不毛
硝煙
下戸
あしからず
くすぶる
口下手
力説
目まぐるしい
手酌
訝しい
熱りが冷める
直談判
鼻をあかす
かくかくしかじか
片手間
真っ只中
ねちねち
十把一絡
俄然
モルモット
受胎
見すぼらしい
味気ない
血縁
没個性
けばい
無理強い
空調
ゆめゆめ
灯火
謁見
尻ごみ
ほっぺたが落ちる
貞淑
臥薪嘗胆
おつむ
ほぞを噛む
端折る
尻に敷く
氾濫
雪崩を打つ
徐に
疎開
身ぐるみ
毛皮
黒点
中洲
童顔
潤ける
強か
一揆
謀反
処断
かたどる
内通
処世術
一心不乱
品評会
おあつらえ向き
報復
勝手口
お裾分け
焚火
落ち葉
どんより
洋梨
側近
いかだ
勇ましい
不躾
めげる
腰ぎんちゃく
宣う
勅命
据え置き
側近
山間部
物欲
速記
大詰め
布施
一房
ミーハー
ひがむ
住職
難聴
所作
気品
歪曲
さいなむ
品行方正
動悸
虚弱
仮初
茶々を入れる
切磋琢磨
切望
断裁
ひっぺがす
男女兼用
際限
耳年増
弾圧
倹約
相容れない
為政者
侮蔑
不仲
無節操
ないがしろにする
座右
淫蕩

嫡子
奸計
がさつ
卑猥
慟哭
お熱
誑かす
言い負かす
大儀
所以
法度
時化
結納
こき下ろす
ひしゃげる
空前
復元力
ずらかる
試供品
デッサン
釘を刺す
あらまし
ほのめかす
袋小路
耳打ち
うなじ
風見鶏
知能犯
根絶やし
メリハリ
玉の輿
舞踏会
異な
そこかしこ
おめおめ
悪食
眷属
馬子にも衣装
筆舌に尽くし難い
発破をかける
殊勝
きな臭い
唐変木
逆上
破魔矢
蟷螂の斧
古今東西
しきたり
生き字引
首っ丈
見掛け倒し
とんぼ返り
ひづめ
抵触
背に腹はかえられない
朴念仁
猫を被る
憂さ晴らし
不本意
放心状態
しからば
シュプール
好敵手
あやかる
不適合
万遍なく
ピアニカ
背徳
一家言
清々しい
猿ぐつわ
鎌をかける
阿鼻叫喚
藁にもすがる
癒着
ほのめかす
諸説
玉砕
おもむろに
たぶらかす
ジト目
これみよがし
聞こえよがし
蛇足
虫の息
どぎまぎ
満身創痍
ほの字
ひとりよがり
無知蒙昧
いまわ
とび蹴り
荒くれ者
鼻息が荒い
手負い
かんざし
ふてぶてしい
あっぱれ
かいつまむ
うらぶれる
むざむざ
大甘
極めつけ
腹をくくる
ほざく
素知らぬ顔
不承不承
居直る
絵空事
のらりくらり
オウム
紙ふぶき
恩恵
堂に入る
闇夜
顔負け
上げ底

日の丸
ふさぎこむ
したたか
活路
殴り書き
謝辞
反古
弘法にも筆の誤り
息急き切る
変質者
見境ない
肺活量
こそすれ
狩猟
ひた走る
よじ登る
踏みしめる
四肢
鋭角
非対称
ちぐはぐ
光沢
目測
優に
然とした
夜目
件(くだん)
まやかし
初夜
波及
せしめる
爆散
親和性
重き
触手
顛末
湿る
宮仕え
醸成
帳消し
亘る
触腕
無量大数
挿絵
円錐
えげつない
反骨
わりかし
通信簿
食傷気味
醸す
魂胆
海千山千
老獪
わきあいあい
痴れ言
好事家
爛々
眼福
目の正月
かぶりつき
じゅるり
去来
面構え
詮無い
淡白
咀嚼
まがりなりにも
僥倖
鉄アレイ
美味
一縷
比肩
鑑別所
辛気臭い
もこもこ
勘ぐる
のろし
ならず者
裁量
咽び泣く
すぼめる
河岸を変える
悦に入る
胸中
患う
見境
にわかじこみ
あべこべ
間隙
野方図
捻れる
長大
木霊
声帯
起死回生
謄本
坪数
覿面
炸裂
のたうち回る
根性焼き
陰湿
墨汁
賭する
琴線
年端も行かない
みぞれ
たゆたう
移ろう
輝度
凄む
無窮

Essential Japanese Grammar Review

Ok, the last book Tuttle Publishing sent me for review is Essential Japanese Grammar: A Comprehensive Guide to Contemporary Usage so let’s dig into it.

Introduction

According to the book’s Preface, this book is “intended to be a thorough grammar reference and self-study guide for language learners who wish to study Japanese seriously or refresh their understanding of the language”. It’s split into two major parts, the first being an overview of Japanese grammar while the second goes into a more detailed look into the usage of particular words.

Part one

The first part goes over various aspects of Japanese grammar. For example, it goes over Accents, then goes over Adjectival Nouns, followed by Adjectives, and so on and so forth. The information is pretty solid though it does tend to use a lot of grammar terminology such as “Sentence-conjunctional words”. It has lots of example sentences and is generally understandable once you wade through the linguistics jargon. I especially like that they cover accents and accurately describe word order. Many books about Japanese incorrectly describe Japanese sentence order as SOV. This book doesn’t fall into that trap and gives a good explanation.

In general, the information in this book is detailed and doesn’t try to “baby you” like other books do by using only romaji and ignoring the dictionary form. My only complaint about this section is that it’s organized like a dictionary, not an overview. The topics are arranged in alphabetical order and feels disjointed if you read it from beginning to end. For example, it covers “Honorofics” before “Verbs” only because well “h” comes before “v” but it certainly isn’t the order you want to learn them! Really, you should look at the table of contents first and choose a topic that interests you instead of reading it in order.

Part two

Part two is simply a dictionary of various grammatical phrases such as 「らしい」 or 「つもりだ」. Honestly, the two parts do not mesh together AT ALL. For example, the first part has a completely unhelpful two-page section on “Requests” that says here are some ways to make requests with some examples. It doesn’t have any explanation on when to use 「くれる」、「もらう」、 and 「あげる」. Then the second section starts by describing 「あげる」 (because it starts with an “a”) and has a note “(→ See kureru and morau.)” Essentially, the topic of requests is completely broken up into 4 sections scattered throughout the book.

Yet another example is the section on “Comparisons” in part one with notes to see 「方」 and 「どちら」 in part two. In general, this book is filled with these “(→ See XYZ)” notes which force you to flip around the book to even learn about a single topic.

Conclusion

Overall, the actual information in this book is very thorough and informative. Unlike the other two books Tuttle sent me for review, this book isn’t made up of mostly filler material as each page has lots of information and examples. However, I find that this book has a kind of identity crisis. The grammar topics are covered in alphabetical order and overlapping topics are split between parts one and two. In my opinion, this book should have either stuck with being a grammar reference such as “A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar” or focused on comprehensively covering each aspect of Japanese grammar.

What purpose does this book serve? I think if you are already using something else to learn Japanese and you want to learn a bit more information about a certain topic, you can’t go wrong with this book. If you can get past the linguistic mumbo-jumbo, the explanations are pretty detailed with plenty of examples. However, you may have to skip around a bit between part one and two. For example, take a look at how the book describes 「なら」.

Nara can directly follow (adjectival) nouns (with particles), but it also follows a clause followed by no or n. (→ See nara for more details.)

The authors are very knowledgeable but I think they took the wrong approach in organizing this book. If you want a detailed and a bit technical reference guide to Japanese grammar, this book is not bad. It’s certainly a great book if you want to learn about grammatical terms such as “Conjunctional particle for clauses”. Perhaps you’re a Japanese linguistics major. In conclusion, I think there’s lots of great information here, it just needs to be organized better. The preface claims it’s a “thorough grammar reference and self-study guide”. It might be a grammar reference but it’s definitely NOT a self-study guide and I think it hurts the reference part by trying to be both.