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
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.
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!
It’s hard to imagine but as a kid, the internet didn’t really exist for us common folk. We still had to write letters the old-fashioned way and played with sticks and rocks for entertainment (slight exaggeration here). It’s hard to imagine what it would be like growing up nowadays where your social life’s fate hangs in the balance on closed social network platforms designed to encourage exposing every aspect of your private life so that companies can data mine and monetize you for stock holders. (Yes, I’m getting old and cynical) We now live in a world where a single wrong tweet or photo on facebook can ruin your job prospects or even land you in jail.
But we ain’t seen nothing yet. Governments want to monitor our formerly private but now online lives and intrude on people’s privacy more than ever before and in secret. Massive cyber wars and espionage are now taking place online domestically and abroad. 3D printers are able to print guns and high security keys. Glasses with video cameras will able to record what we see at any time. Shit is going to get real.
You know, I was looking forward to colonizing stuff in outer space, self-driving cars, and cheap, renewable energy, not this social media crap. Yes, all those are being worked on but I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime. At least I have the Oculus Rift to look forward to.
So long, Google Reader, we’ve had a good run. Along with iGoogle, Google is systematically killing how I organize and consume information on the Internet. They claim they are culling the less popular products but make no mistake, this is a deliberate ploy to get more information about you (and hence more money). I don’t like Google+ and Facebook because they are very invasive, constantly trying to find out about my personal relationships. I have no interest in disclosing my personal information and activities offline to the rest of the world. And the rest of the world isn’t interested in what I do offline either except for, of course, advertisers.
But hey, nothing in the world is free, eh? The price of getting information is selling information, in this case, about yourself; information that can be all too easily leaked via security holes.
What do you think is the best site for learning Japanese (excluding dictionaries)?
Earlier this year, I’ve been trying to add more content and tune my site to rank higher for searches on “learning japanese” not just “japanese grammar”. (You can compare which searches are more popular with Google Trends). When I did some ad hoc testing at the time, it ranked somewhere around the 40-50s.
I still have quite a bit of work to do on the content side but here’s the results from the last few months. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t go back farther and it’s not representative as over half of the search queries do not provide the search keyword (unless I become an adwords customer apparently). As it is, the site ranking has been improved to an average of 6.8.
I expect the CTR to be miserable until the site ranking goes up to at least around 3-4. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on my own studies, but I’d like to eventually get back to working on the complete guide soon. In the meantime, if you think my site is useful for learning Japanese, any inbound links with the phrase “learn Japanese” would be appreciated.
Oddly, the most common search query was “katakana”, about 2-3 times more impressions than “learn japanese” and “hiragana”. I wonder why? Maybe I should beef up my Katakana sections?
Research indicates that page load time is also critical for traffic. So I also installed Boost for my drupal installation to speed things up a bit yesterday. The results are inconclusive but it does seem a bit snappier to me.
I must confess, I’m a pretty fickle person. I usually start work on something, ignore it for a long time, and come back to it when it’s fresh and exciting again. I’m sure some of you have noticed long periods of neglect on certain projects of mine (such as this blog). As it is, it’s pretty much impossible to work on everything I have going on at the same time with a (completely unrelated) full-time job and a family. I could decide to just work on a single thing at a time but since Japanese is my hobby, I have no obligation or inclination to work on anything unless I feel like it.
Lately, my speaking has been getting very rusty so I’ve been trying to find a conversation partner via mixxer. However, I found out that the west coast is pretty much the worst in terms of time difference for conversing with people in Japan. Also, most of my activities are done in small spurts, 5-10 minutes at a time (like this blog post) so allocating a contiguous block of time is difficult.
On the other hand, I’ve also been reading/listening a lot and learning tons of new vocabulary. I probably learned hundreds of new words and expressions in the last year. These include words in my twitter feed and more such as: うなぎのぼり、くまなく、鬼が出るか蛇が出るか、甚大、にっちもさっちも、もどかしい、色白、往生際、大往生、雑然、しらばくれる、張り子の虎、森羅万象、波乱万丈、前途洋々、後悔先に立たず. So how much has this improved my speaking?
Not one iota, zilch, nada, zip
So don’t fool yourself into thinking studying hours and hours with classes, dictionaries, and books will enable you to speak Japanese.
Anyway, my (admittedly poorly-made) point is that while you might not have as much time as you’d like to devote to something, the important thing is to do as much as you can and to get enjoyment out of it. I listen to podcasts on my commute and read things online here and there whenever I have the chance. This morning, I learned the word for fuse （信管）, reading this short article. This word in particular took no effort to remember because I know the kanji and it’s a memorable combination (“a pipe I believe/rely on” = fuse).
What did you learn by doing what today?
PS: Lately, I’m totally addicted to Disgaea. It’s evil. Even though the game is in Japanese, even I have to admit that the education value vs time spent (wasted) is extremely low.