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Let's learn Japanese!

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1 Let's learn Japanese! on Mon Sep 27, 2010 3:30 pm

cmertb


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I know there are always a few manga readers out there who would like to learn Japanese. Some try and quit, others never try because they're daunted by the enormity of the challenge. This topic is meant to encourage those wishing to embark on this challenging, yet highly rewarding, journey.

First things first:

It is very possible to learn Japanese on your own using mostly online resources. The majority of resources you will need are available for free, you'll just want to get a few (really few) books. Moreover, you would be more successful learning Japanese on your own rather than in a class.

If you work on it almost daily, you may be able to read raw manga of almost any complexity (even without furigana) within one year. If you work extra hard, even less. And that's considering that Japanese, of all the languages I'm aware of, is the most difficult one when it comes to reading.

All of the above is true provided you approach learning the language rationally, utilizing all available resources that make your task easier.

I would say the main purpose of this topic would be to point learners to such resources, to explain to absolute beginners where to start, and to encourage those who feel they're stuck. Basically, advice from people who have already been where you might be now.

I might have a few things to say later on about a) what to learn first; b) how to memorize and retain vocab painlessly; c) how to learn big scary kanji and not lose your sanity in the process.

So please post your questions, comments, opinions right here.

And also, mina-san, ganbare!

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2 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:03 pm

There's also a few sites that can help you learn japanese. Me and a friend gathered some interesting ones:

- All Japanese All The Time
- About.com: Japanese Language
- Reviewing the Kanji

and a few online dics
- Yamasa Online Kanji Dictionary
- Denshi Jisho

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3 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:37 pm

cmertb


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Actually, there is a trap that many beginners fall into. They try to figure out how to start learning the language and begin collecting links to various sites that can be of use and reading about how to do it, instead of actually doing it. Three months later they end up with 100 links and still no Japanese. I've been there. Evil or Very Mad

In reality, there are about 5 sites you need depending on which approach to learning you take. If your link count goes above that, you just need to stop googling "learn Japanese" and start learning Japanese. Twisted Evil

In order of priority you'd need:
1. Basic grammar intro (which invariably includes some essential vocab, hiragana, and katakana)
2. Vocab lists or drill site (many choices there)
3. Kanji learning site, then go back to vocab in step 2, but now with kanji
4. Dictionary
5. Fun reading material (e.g. manga raws)

Note how much you'll need to go through before you even get to the point where you need a dictionary. And guess what, for each of those items there's only one site that's right for you. So you don't need 100 links. There might be other supplementary sites for some tools you might want to use (e.g., I'd recommend a dedicated app for learning hiragana first and foremost, also memorization tools), but there are about 4 main links that you're ever going to use.

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4 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Mon Sep 27, 2010 8:15 pm

couldn't agree more with you, cmertb

another thing that works but in a really slow manner is just "reading" kanjis somewhere. e.g., browsing nico nico douga. you get some stuff, break it up and translate (with some dictionary, for example). after a while you'll start recognizing some of the kanjis and their meanings.

of course, this isn't some super effective method, but it adds up nicely to the learning experience

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5 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Tue Sep 28, 2010 3:37 am

Thanks or the links, I'll try and find some time to learn basic Japanese....it's going to be a rough journey.

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6 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Tue Sep 28, 2010 12:49 pm

cmertb


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Yeah... time is key. If you go about it right, it's not really hard or painful. But it does take time.

On the other hand, the process itself can be pleasant. I just love this passage from "Making Sense of Japanese" by Jay Rubin, that describes it better than I ever could:

I often warn my literature students, especially those whose language skills have reached the stage where they can handle new texts with some degree of independence, that, as they read, they should try to maintain a distinction between literary pleasure afforded by the work itself and what might be called "linguistic pleasure" stimulated by the sheer satisfaction of making their way successfully through an orthographical garden, the gathering of whose fruits is only becoming possible for them after years of disciplined study. For the fact is that Japanese, especially for those of us who have learned to read it after childhood, never loses its exotic appeal; each page turned reveals to the eye a new spectacle of outlandish squiggles that momentarily takes the breath away. And written in those squiggles or spoken by the people who were raised in the language are equally outlandish syntactic structures -- not only passives but causatives and passive-causatives and te-forms with oku's atttached or morau's and itadaku's and zu's that make our minds work in ways that can never be conveyed to those who do not know the language. There is a thrill in realizing that you can process this stuff with your very own brain.

I have long been convinced that, as we speak -- but especially as we read this foreign tongue -- just beneath the threshold of consciousness, a voice continually shouts, "Look, Mom, I'm reading Japanese!" And these subliminal cries arouse in us a pleasure that can easily be confused with the satisfaction of reading a good story or book. In fact, there is a danger that the simpler the style of a work and the less challenging its content (which is to say, the easier a piece of writing is to "understand" on the purely lexical level) the more likely it is to grant us that instant gratification of having read something of exceptional interest.

Of course, he warns of the danger of this sense of pleasure, but personally, I embrace it. Twisted Evil

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7 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Tue Sep 28, 2010 12:55 pm

Also, here's a site that cmertb told me about a month back that he says is useful for efficient memory encoding. Here's the main site.


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8 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Tue Sep 28, 2010 10:02 pm

Laurel


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I know of one really nice site for learning the written form! http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/completeI also use books like Japanese for Dummies and Japanese in 10 Minutes a Day. I also watch anime in Japanese. <3

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9 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:31 am

im actually learning some japanese right now, but im starting off with kanjis rather than katakana and hiragana.. im using a book that i got from a forum in JCafe and im trying to learn the basic kanjis and reviewing them one by one.. :3 is that also okay? since my method is kind of backward compared to others who start off with katakana and hiragana.. O.O

please give me some advice.. thank you..

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10 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 9:46 am

cmertb


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Starting with kanji would probably be the most efficient method of learning Japanese. However, it can also be a real motivation killer. Because you put in heroic effort into memorizing a ton of kanji, and you still don't know Japanese. The only person I'm aware of who successfully did it that way is James Heisig, but he was living in Japan at that time, and it probably made a huge difference. Maybe that guy of the AJATT method too...

In any case, which book are you using?

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11 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:46 am

i ordered a german book just recently,that should help you to memorize the kanji. i hope it works. Smile

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12 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:49 am

oh. that's amazing... XD

YEAH! my goodness, have i told myself why I'm doing this yet I still don't know a single Japanese. hahaha. still it's cool when I'm doing it this way and I've got to say they have one hell of a logic using this methods of language. Razz
hmmmmm.. "Teach Yourself beginner's Japanese Script" and "Remembering the Kanji Vol. 1".. oh yeah! i remember! this 2nd book is James Heisig's book.. ^^

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13 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:53 am

qiche wrote:i ordered a german book just recently,that should help you to memorize the kanji. i hope it works. Smile


is it for us?? Razz i hope it gives us better reinforcement.. Smile i have still a long way to go.. yet im really excited since ive dedicated myself into learning Japanese.. Very Happy Very Happy and btw thank you!!! Very Happy

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14 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:55 am

hahaha, why for us? Very Happy

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15 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:42 pm

cmertb


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Awesome, I used Heisig's RTK too. 2042 kanji in 50 days. It was the hardest part of studying Japanese. Anyway, if you're interested, I can post my old notes on how to do RTK as quickly as possible. In other words, how I would do it if I had to do it all over again.

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16 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 1:08 pm

i thought there were "only" 1945 kanji. o.o

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17 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 1:43 pm

qiche wrote:i thought there were "only" 1945 kanji. o.o

My kanji dictionary has 2230 and it doesn't even include all of the kanji that're just used for names.


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18 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 1:51 pm

cmertb


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Well, technically there are probably around 50 thousand kanji. It's just that no sane person knows them all. 1945 is the number jouyou (general use) kanji established in 1981. Heisig's RTK1 contains all 1945 jouyou kanji, as well as some jinmeiyou (people name use) kanji. However, once you learn 1945 jouyou kanji, much to you chagrin, you will discover that Japanese habitually use more kanji than that. There are very common words whose kanji for whatever stupid reason did not make the official jouyou list. So I would say you need to know 1945 kanji for minimum literacy, and probably close to 3000 for full literacy in Japanese.

The Japanese themselves recognize it, so now there is a reform under way to modify the list of jouyou kanji. Five useless kanji will be dropped from the list (too few in my opinion, there are a few other jouyou kanji that I've never seen actually used), and 196 new ones will be added. When I look at the list of new jouyou kanji, I can't believe how these were not on the list before, since they're very common words that I see all the time. E.g 誰/dare/who, 尻/shiri/butt, 拭/fuku/wipe, 匂/nioi/smell, 丼/don(buri)/dish, 溺/oboreru/drown, 潰/tsubusu/destroy. You won't find these kanji in RTK1, they're all in RTK3.

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19 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 2:30 pm

so basically i just need to learn the ones that are in rtk 1 ? when nobody knows all the kanji, then why are there so much?

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20 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 2:50 pm

cmertb


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Minimally, you'll need to learn all in RTK1. But you'll want to learn more eventually.

As for why there are so many -- ask the Chinese. They invented them. Very Happy

Although for modern Chinese, I heard the number 6000 mentioned. That's about how many you need to know. Well, if you master Japanese, you'll be almost half-way there already.

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21 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:52 pm

YES PLEASE!! Very Happy Very Happy: D oh thank you so very much.. hahaha.. that would really help me too.. im making my own notes too here but from the other book that i DLed which i mentioned earlier.. Razz thank you so much for your kindness dear sir! Smile

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22 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 5:00 pm

cmertb


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The first thing I want to stress about learning kanji using the RTK method is speed. Speed is important because your motivation decreases with time. If you go too slow, you run the risk of losing your motivation before achieving any significant target (e.g. a nice round number of kanji learned) that would give your motivation a boost. Then you'll quit. And once you quit, you'll forget everything you've learned. And then you'll have to start from the beginning the next time. So once you start, it's important to go fast. My suggestions below are designed to maximize speed more than anything.

The tools:

1. Anki. This is spaced repetition software (SRS). You will want to use this extensively when you want to memorize anything. SRS is a significant breakthrough that optimizes memorization significantly. I don't want to write about the theory behind SRS right now, you can google it yourself. But trust me, an SRS tool (I recommend Anki) will be indispensible at every step in the process of learning a language. So this is where you get Anki: http://ichi2.net/anki/ Watch the intro videos on how to use it. Once you install the app, download the Japanese plugin to enable Japanese support. Then download the shared Heisig RTK deck. You won't have to enter anything, everything is already premade for you.

2. Get the kanji stroke order font here: http://sites.google.com/site/nihilistorguk/ (first link). The picture there shows you what it looks like. Install the font in your system. Open the Heisig deck in Anki and set its properties to use the kanji stroke order font to display the kanji. Also make it big (like 100 points). You need this so that when you test yourself, you can also easily check if you got the stroke order right.

3. Register on this site: http://kanji.koohii.com/ It's called Reviewing the Kanji or RtK for short. This site is designed as a companion to Heisig, and it includes its own SRS and a way to manage and share stories. Anki is superior as SRS, so you should use that. You should use this site for stories.

Additional pointers:

Don't bother coming up with your own stories. It takes too much time. Pick the best story that someone else has already come up with on RtK. In 99% of the cases it will be better than what you can come up with on your own anyway, and much quicker. For some reason, the ones involving sex and/or extreme violence work best. Smile Incidentally, Anki Heisig deck is already set up to link to the RtK site when you click on a keyword. So when you pick a story you like there, click a button to copy it into your own story (the site, if you haven't seen it yet, allows you to write and maintain your stories for Heisig), and you can basically refresh your memory with one click of a mouse button in Anki.

Don't bother writing kanji on paper. I started doing that, then I stopped in order to save time, and there was no significant effect at all. I basically trace kanji with my finger on the desk. Works just as well. If you want to practice writing kanji, you should wait until you complete RTK1 (don't let anything unnecessary slow you down until you complete it), get some genkoyoushi and practice on it. You can just write all 2042 kanji from memory once if you want, you'll need about 11 sheets I think. It's difficult to keep kanji to a square shape if you're not doing it on graph paper until you've practiced enough.

So here's the system I ended up with toward the end of my RTK1 studies, and it's the one I would've used from the beginning if I had to do it over. Also I will use it once I decide to do "Remembering the Hanzi" series.

1. Study one whole chapter at a time. The only exception might be for several huge chapters, one had 130 kanji, the other 96, and I think there were some in the 80s. That's really too much for one sitting. In that case, split on primitives. Study up to a certain primitive. Don't study kanji involving the same primitive on different days.

2a. Read the whole chapter. Heisig provides stories for the first 600 kanji. So in the beginning you read everything including the stories. Trace each kanji and each primitive that doesn't have its own frame number on the desk with your finger as you read. Just once.

2b. When Heisig stops providing stories, you can start relying on RtK stories (or you could do this for the first 600 kanji as well). In this case, you scan the chapter in the book to see if Heisig has any special notes for a kanji (he usually doesn't) and just to get an idea for the scope of work in front of you. After that, go to the site in the study section, and for each kanji in the chapter pick a story you like best. Again, trace the kanji with your finger just once.

3. After you've studied the chapter, go to Anki and add that number of new kanji for study. It will go through the keywords, and you try to trace the kanji with your finger while *counting the strokes*. After that, make sure that the number of strokes matches, and that all primitives are there and in correct positions relative to each other. If that's the case, pass the kanji, if not -- fail, and do it again in 10 min (that's the default setting in Anki). When you pass a kanji for the first time, choose 'Hard' so it gets scheduled for the next review on the next day. If you don't take a long break between studying the chapter by getting the stories down in your RtK profile and doing it in Anki, you should pass at least 80% of the kanji initially. The KanjiStrokeOrders font you can install on your system comes in handy here. That's because Heisig also eventually stops giving you stroke orders, and sometimes you really don't know what the correct order is.

If you have study time left in the day, repeat steps 1-3 with the next chapter, etc.

4. The next day, first review your kanji backlog, then start from step 1. You might find that you've completely forgotten half the kanji learned the previous day, and half forgotten another quarter. Not a big deal, it's normal, don't let it discourage you. Fail them, review after 10 min, say 'Hard' again to schedule for the next day.

Finally, when you're about 300-400 kanji away from completion and feeling sick to death of Heisig and kanji in general, you need to make one last push to put the whole ordeal behind you. At that time, I would recommend that you abandon reviewing the backlog and just study new kanji. Try to reach 100 per day. After you've studied the Sign of the Snake (which will become your favorite kanji ever, because it's #2042 Smile ), you can start dealing with the backlog over the course of the next week (my backlog on the next day after I finished was over 500 -- obviously, I couldn't work my way through it in one day, I think it took me two more days to catch up). Reviewing something you've already studied is much quicker than studying for the first time, so it should really be all downhill from that point on. Two weeks after completion my reviews were down to ~100/day, which took me about 20 min to go through. I still failed some kanji, but only 2-3 per day at that point, and I didn't need to look up any stories because I would remember them as soon as I saw the kanji.

I think that for someone who doesn't have a full-time job it would be possible to do 100 kanji per day consistently, which would let them complete RTK1 and be left with just reviews in only 20-21 days. Well, I did it in ~50 days. I think my memory is pretty good, but not the greatest. So I don't really see anything amazing in this speed. Try it out, everyone is at first amazed how easy Heisig's system is, at least until the backlog of kanji reviews starts snowballing.

One last warning. Most people say that there are two points in RTK1 that make them quit (or almost make them quit). Somewhere after 600 kanji and somewhere after 1200 kanji. I think I only experienced the pain after 1200. But I was really on the brink of quitting. I hope that armed with this knowledge beforehand you will be able to get over those two dangerous points without quitting.

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23 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Wed Sep 29, 2010 5:04 pm

Laurel


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cmertb wrote:Awesome, I used Heisig's RTK too. 2042 kanji in 50 days. It was the hardest part of studying Japanese. Anyway, if you're interested, I can post my old notes on how to do RTK as quickly as possible. In other words, how I would do it if I had to do it all over again.

That would be amazing. XD Kanji is pretty much the only thing keeping me from really perfecting my Japanese (as speaking it and putting the katakana/hiragana together isn't that hart).

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24 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Thu Sep 30, 2010 3:16 am

ah, i see.. that certainly is scary.. well, im always reviewing my notes everyday so thay i can properly remember it.. that's why ive been writing kanji in paper so at least i can remember what the kanji looked like.. the other supplements are a great help since some other hard kanjis have no stroke order written and im making strokes up from what ive been taught so far. hahahaha. that's what is making it funny for me.. hahahah.

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25 Re: Let's learn Japanese! on Thu Sep 30, 2010 3:18 pm

cmertb


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That's what Anki is for. It will automatically remind you at just the right time, so you don't have to write anything down to remember.

Anyway, now you can see why learning kanji before any vocab or grammar can be dangerous. This knowledge is highly abstract and may demotivate. Initially I was memorizing vocab phonetically with just kana, and was pretty much forced into RTK because it was very difficult to keep similar sounding words in my head without knowing their kanji. That's what helped me get through it, since without kanji I would've been at a dead end.

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