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Learning Japanese...


A.C.

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I think I'm learning Japanese, I really think so...

 

Ah, that was funny.

 

Anyway, like the name say, A.C. is learning Japanese. It started while I was off work for 7/8 weeks and watching anime. It's now got to the point where I'm listening to my Pimsleur Japanese I mp3s in the morning going to work, looking up the Hiragana for what I listened to on the way in and working on Kanji on the bus on the way home (and often in the evening).

 

It's a damned interesting language, especially the way the Kanji evolved from drawings and the way they combine to make compounds (I.e.: a complex compound of "Woman" and "Child" makes the Japanese word for "Love"; a compound of "Rice Field" and Power" makes the Japanese word for "Man" (lit. Power to work in the rice field, I suppose).

 

Any speakers/readers/writers/students of Japanese on the boards?

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yup, got a GCSE in it (a few years ago)

 

its definitely worth it, very difficult, but, there's loads of Japanese here, we were lucky our school took exchange students from Japan every year, was very good, gave me a good base.

 

The text books, especially extra ones, were expensive though.

 

any more q's ask :-)

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AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!!!!!

 

Why the mad, typed cackling? Because for all that it's not difficult at all to take an interest in Japanese culture or the language of Japan, learning Japanese is nigh-on F**KING IMPOSSIBLE.

 

During the summer of 2000 I acted upon my long-standing interest in all things Japanese, whether it had been from watching Sumo with Chiyonofuji and Onokuni as a youngster or anime from a young age to the present day. The highlight came for me when one of my flatmates in Portugal was out when her sister phoned from Kyoto (that first 'o' should have a - over it). She was hammered and my flatmate didn't seem to be coming back soon, so I told her cheers and I'd tell her, but since she was in Japan and we were in Portugal I didn't want her to waste more money and she should call back later. For her though it was two in the morning or so, so she wasn't going to call back and instead decided she'd rather talk to me for about an hour until my flatmate did return. She was telling me all about how she was doing and the way of life there, how they tolerate people as drunk as she was and other things. This was great and had given me even more enthusiasm about learning the language and going there.

 

I did Japanese revision over that summer and into the start of my second year at university. I learnt Hiragana in about ten days and had cemented my knowledge of that and Katakana after about three weeks overall of study. I then started learning Kanji and bought about three hundred and fifty quids' worth of books, even having bought some Manga books while still in Portugal.

 

The fact that I still had to study Spanish and Portuguese and had also decided to start properly at learning Catalan didn't help, but before long though I found myself overwhelmed and not up to the task. It wasn't like I wasn't making the effort or wasn't making rapid progress throughout much of my learning, but I just couldn't keep going. Most people in Japan supposedly know aroung three thousand Kaji and compounds containing them, while the government recommends around 1800 as essential for a sufficient knowledge of Japanese for native speakers. After around three months I had learnt some basic phrases and grammar as well as five hundred Kanji to go with my Hiragana and Katakana knowledge. I hadn't learnt many compound words, maybe in hindsight I should have learnt a few Kanji at a time and then focused on their compunds before moving onto some more Kanji but I was eager to learn the symbols. Plus, as A.C. says, many words come from compounds which reflect the concept or meaning of the word, for instance a psychiatrist is a shinryugokusha (four symbols, shin-ryu-goku-sha), which literally translates in its parts as a 'mind body study person'. That means that in learning the symbols, many compounds become clear as to their meaning anyway as they are based upon logical combinations of symbols. Eventually though, my learning just ground to a halt and it was hard just to stand still with it. Once you recognise a symbol once it's not like you suddenly know it and always will know it, you have to make sure that you keep studying it so as to remain familiar with it. This meant that on top of my university course I had an hour a week class for Japanese to attend and needed to spend around five or six hours a day writing down symbols that I already knew just to stay where I was, before I could even think about learning anything new. My 'ten Kanji a day' routine had worked well up to around three hundred or so, but now there was too much to do for it and no time for anything else other than my university work. I realised that had I continued, eventually I would have neglected my university studies and besides which I was heading towards burnout, having not given myself a break from daily studying for various subjects for more or less two years.

 

Nowadays I sometimes speak Spanish, Portuguese and even Catalan, but I've left Japanese alone since 2000 and haven't been in an environment where really I would have felt the need to use it. Of course I can sometimes remember the odd symbol, I watch loads of anime like Ghost In The Shell, Akira, Devil Man, Cyber City Oedo 808, Dragonball Z, Outlaw Star, Gundam Wing or whatever else might come along (the Sci-Fi Channel should start showing anime again), but for now at least, Japanese will have to wait. Two people I went to school with are out there now, teaching. Good luck to them. For me though I am curious and would like to live there at least for a while, but I think there's more to it than we see and maybe it isn't all that great. Their economy isn't doing that well and it's incredibly expensive to live there, Japanese men work ridiculous hours and work is given far too much importance while many people's wives become lunch hour prostitutes, earthquakes can strike at any moment and women are treated as inferior. For those of us who watch anime, sometimes when we think of how great it would be to experience Japan, we're actually thinking of mid-21st century Neo-Tokyo rather than the reality of present day Japan. However, they do have some things better, plus they have a richer culture and less crime than we do.

 

A.C., I applaud you and if you want to go for it then that's great and if nothing else trying to learn the language gives great insight into the culture as they go hand in hand, all I'm saying is that it is a massive task which is much, much harder than taking on something like Spanish. If you are going to learn it, then you'd better be in for the long haul. Kodansha's Furigana Dictionary comes recommended for when you can't reach above the top of the wardrobe and need to stand on something. Always remember one phrase though, 'wakarimasen deshita', meaning 'I didn't understand'. You'll need it! Good luck though and I hope you get somewhere with the old nihongo.

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