Seeing as I’ve been getting a number of hits on this page, I guess it’s about time I actually add something here. 🙂
I live in Japan and like many people here I’m going about the task of teaching myself the language. There’s a lot to cover so let’s take it from the top!
The Japanese language is tough. But whatchagonnado except give it go. Let’s start with the alphabet. There are two, hiragana and katakana. English has consonants and vowels. Japanese combines consonants and vowels so that there are 5 sound combinations for most groups. But they use the vowel sounds A E I O U for the combinations so that’s a plus. But their order is A I U E O. Combined with the first consonant is th letter K which yields Ka Ki Ku Ke Ko. I could write them all out, but it’s been done so check out the wiki for the details: Hiragana. Now, the strange thing is that the Japanese people decided to make another group of letters, Katakana, that have the EXACT same sounds as Hiragana. Nothing like doing twice the work for no reason. 😦 Now, an easy way for foreigners to read Japanese is to put all those sounds down in OUR Romanized alphabet. So, yes, the THIRD alphabet is Romaji. So, let’s recap. One, two, THREE different representations of the same exact sounds. Wonderful. Let’s move on.
The Stolen Characters!
A little before I was born, Japan had a spoken language, but didn’t have a written language. When they saw that China had one, they stole it. Then they went and took the WHOLE of the Japanese language and beat it with a really big hammer into the Chinese ideographs and gave it a new name, Kanji. Of course, it didn’t quite fit and a lot of the words kept hanging out of the kanji looking really messy. So they decided to call that hiragana. How efficient!
There are four groups of kanji. The education list, the general use list, the people names list and the other list. It’s no easy task to learn kanji. But I’ve finally decided to tackle it. I decided to use the Heisig mneumonic method because I was already doing something similar and a friend told me about the book. Once I started, I got hooked and started making short stories for every kanji.
Anki, 暗記, means memorization. But the software is a spaced recognition software system that aids in remembering pretty much anything. It’s a very cool flash card program that is especially sweet with Japanese. Once you set up a deck of cards on your pc, you can upload it to the internet. You can study on your pc, on-line or even on your cell phone. And all the info syncs up so you stay up to date. I highly recommend it!
Okay, so I got ALL the general use kanji into the software and finally finished the list. Finished is too definitive. I am now familiar with them. Time to move on.
Kanji is also like an alphabet because you can combine different kanji to make different words. Now what’s uncool is that kanji have different pronunciations in different combinations. The drawback to the Heisig system is that book one doesn’t teach the pronunciations, only the English meanings. I discovered that there are kanji frequency lists and vocabulary frequency lists and have created a flash card deck for anki and study that practically everyday. I’m hoping to learn the vocabulary words and absorb the kanji pronunciations as opposed to studying each character, learning the on/kun readings and samples of popular kanji pairings/words. Learning the kanji alone is a huge task. The vocabulary list is even bigger so I WON’T be finishing that anytime soon. But it feels reallllllly good to recognize kanji and read a bit.
To be continued…