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
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 the world is always a must.
- Get more input
- Experiment with input
- 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…)
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”.
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:
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
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)
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.
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.
I will update this post with more if anybody is interested.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Tuttle Publishing sent me 600 Basic Japanese Verbs: The Essential Reference Guide for review so here we go again.
The book’s introduction starts by saying, “Fluency in a language cannot be attained without a solid understanding of that language’s verbs and their usages”. According to the book, the introduction is used to “help students learn both the conjugation and the usage of Japanese verbs”. For a fairly short introduction, it does a good job of going over the various verb forms. It tells you how to separate the verb into 3 groups and the conjugation rules for various forms such as the volitional and conditional with plenty of examples. After the short introduction, we go into what makes up the bulk of the book.
The verb list
The rest of the book lists one verb on each page with various conjugations and example sentences.
Much like the “Japanese Kanji and Kana” book I reviewed previously, I really don’t understand the purpose of this portion. The rules for verb conjugation are not as complicated as other languages that have a TON of irregular verbs such as Spanish. So really, a simple computer program can do what this book does for any number of verbs not just 600. In fact, there happens to be just such a tool online at WWWJDIC. Just look up a verb in the dictionary and click the [V] link. Not only is it free, it’s far more complete compared to the book and works for almost any verb you’ll ever learn not just 600. Also, this book doesn’t even reach 400 pages including the introduction. I didn’t count each verb to verify but if my math is correct and each verb takes up one page, how in the world does this book have 600 verbs?
The tool impressively even conjugates obscure exceptions such as 「問う」 and 「請う」 correctly. Neither of these verbs are even in the book. The only verb so far the tool doesn’t conjugate is 「ある」 because the negative for 「ある」 is an exception to the regular conjugation rule. This brings me to the core flaw in this book.
Memorize the dictionary approach
While the first 28 pages describing various conjugations are informative, it is far from comprehensive. It doesn’t cover tricky conjugations such as 「なさそう」 and it doesn’t highlight important exceptions such as the negative form of 「ある」. It also completely ignores the fact that Japanese is unique in that while the state-of-being is not technically a verb; nouns and adjectives are conjugated just like verbs to express state of being. You are missing a huge chunk of Japanese grammar if you don’t cover state-of-being. In fact, it doesn’t even cover the conjugation rules for the negative, past, or negative-past for any verb. Instead, it only describes a slight change for negative of verbs that end in “u” without actually talking about what the regular rule is. I’ve looked and I can’t find it anywhere.
The book’s introduction is not nearly enough to fully teach you how to conjugate any verb. I get the sense that it only tries to give you a rough idea of how to conjugate and instead expects you to use the rest of the book to look up each individual verb as you encounter them. This approach might work fine for some languages that have tons of irregular verb conjugations such as Spanish but is ill-suited for Japanese. It would have been much more effective to fully teach you the regular conjugation rules and highlight the small number of verbs that have exceptions. In other words, the two sections of the book should have been reversed with the verb lists being 28 pages and the rest of the 350 pages devoted to explanations.
Otherwise, you’re just looking up the conjugation per each verb when the rules are the same over and over again. Also, it’s hardly likely that the verb you’re looking for will be in this extremely short list of 600 or I’m sorry, ummm… 305? verb list. And then when you hit a crucial verb that have exceptions such as ある, you just have to know to pay attention somehow.
Let’s consider these two questions once again for this book.
1) What purpose does it serve?
2) Can something else do it better and/or cheaper?
This book’s purpose seems to be for giving you a general idea of verb conjugation. It tries to fill in the holes with a list of individual verb conjugations and plenty of example sentences. While I like that there’s lots of examples, I just don’t agree with this methodology. Let’s say you see a new verb you’re not familiar with. First, you need to look up how to read it using dictionaries NOT in this book. Once you figure out the reading, you need to convert it to romaji to find it in this alphabetized list of verbs. Finally, there are 3 possible outcomes. The first most likely outcome is that the verb won’t be in this short list. The second is that it’s in the book but it follows the same conjugation rules as every other verb in the language. The 3rd is that it’s a verb with a rare exception that you have to notice even though the book doesn’t highlight it at all.
Either way, the critical flaw of this book is that it doesn’t really teach you how to conjugate verbs yourself. The book’s introduction describing verb forms should have taken up most of the book with a small list of verbs that highlight important exceptions to take note of. And then perhaps exercises to help you practice conjugation. Now that would be a book I would recommend though there is a free website that already does this (you might have heard of it if you’re reading this blog). As it is, this book lists out conjugations for verb after verb that follow the same rules, something a simple and free computer program can already do online.
Unless you can’t use the internet, I would not recommend buying this book. Ironically, most of the introduction, which I see as the only valuable part of this book, is available to preview on Amazon. The rest of the book is not very useful.