Friday, April 22, 2016

Learning Japanese- extreme beginner

I couple of people have asked how I'm learning Japanese or expressed interest in learning themselves. While I can't stress enough that I basically know NO Japanese, I do know a tiny bit about learning it. I've been an extreme beginner for a while now and I thought I'd share my knowledge with you.

So let's assume you know nothing about Japanese. It can seem daunting to take on this language because of the kanji, right? Well honestly you don't need to worry kanji for a long while. Just shove it out of your mind. How is that OK? Well in Japanese theres actually two alphabets used aside from kanji. Now you're freaked out about learning two whole other alphabets, right? Well don't worry about that either. Honestly, the you only need one alphabet to read a LOT of words in Japanese.

So how is that possible? Well the two alphabets are hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is the standard Japanese alphabet, and its even whats used to write out kanji pronunciations. Katakana is the alphabet thats used to write out words of foreign origin, and a surprising amount of commonly used words in Japan originate from English. If you know Katakana you can read a ton of things, from labels in the store to items on a menu. If you needed to suddenly hop on a plane to Japan and only had that flight to learn Japanese, I'd learn "hello" and katakana. Here's a katakana chart:

As you can see, the alphabet is made up of consonant+vowel sounds. You start from the right side (a,e,i,o,u) and move to the left, top to bottom. You might also notice that the highlighted symbols are copies of other symbols, made by adding " or ­­°. The best way to learn katakana is pure repetition, and the best way to do that is with an app! Memrise is an awesome free app to use when learning a language. It's basically a flash card app that shows you flashcards in perfect intervals to keep up retention. You can get the app on your phone, navigate to Courses, then Japanese. Here you can find a ton of sets of Japanese words or phrases to learn. There are many sets that include sound in the flash card, so you can hear the proper pronunciation. I'd start with Basic Katakana 1- that will teach you the symbols in the chart above that aren't highlighted. Then I'd move on to Basic Katakana 2 which will you teach you the highlighted symbols plus the ones shown below. These additional symbols make unique sounds by combining two symbols, with the second symbol written much smaller.

And now we get to the real difficult part of learning Japanese- or any language, I guess. While the language itself can be challenging, the hardest part is just making yourself practice it. Thats more than half the battle. I frickin live in Japan and knowing Japanese would make my life way more convenient, but I still have a hard time making myself practice. And as soon as you stop practicing you begin to forget things. I didn't study for a month and I fell back a chapter and a half in my Japanese textbook. You really do gotta use it or you'll lose it. So if you just feel like learning a couple Japanese phrases, then feel free to ignore this blog post because its not for you. But if you really would like start learning a new language along with Kris and I, then download Memrise and start practicing your katakana. And do make sure you start trying out the pronunciations- it'll make saying words later way easier.

You know, people think that one of the best ways to learn a language is by total immersion. Thats crap. Immersion alone really won't teach you much if you have no idea what those noises mean. It could take you a long time to unravel a language that way. The real way to learn is by constant practice, supported by actually using what you've learned. The immersion can help encourage you to use the language, but you've got to have it in place first. And I don't even mean whole sentences- if you can string together a couple words thats enough. Most of the time when I understand what someone is saying in Japanese its because I heard 1 or 2 words I recognize and I put that together with context clues. But as I learn more its like driving through a fog and the view around you slowly becomes clearer.

Of course, that all starts with a single step, and that step is frickin katakana. Then, to test your new language skills, read this menu! How many things can you identify?


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