The Tortoise and the Hare – Japanese Week 5

There are many people on the internet who claim that they mastered hiragana and katakana in a few days. I choose to believe those people are liars.

Seriously though, learning Japanese is hard and you shouldn’t measure your progress against others. Competition can be healthy, but if you start feeling like you’re not learning as quickly as you should be, that doesn’t exactly encourage you to keep going, does it? If, like me, you’re learning just because you want to, there’s no reason to rush. Remember that your studies are for your own personal satisfaction and there’s no gun to your head.

I truly don’t have much to report this week. I was mentally out of sorts for the first half of the week and barely got any studying done. Thus, I’ve only been able to get 2 rows of the katakana chart inside my brain.

Since my mind was being a bit obnoxious, I decided to work on my handwriting skills. Your brain cannot easily rebel against muscle memory.

This was my first attempt at writing the hiragana chart (from my first or second week of studying, I believe):

I painstakingly spent an hour writing this down, not even knowing that “wi” and “we” are no longer in use – and “we” was one of the hardest ones to write! I would say that “wo” was actually the one I struggled with most though. I must have erased and rewritten that one at least 10 times.

I now see a lot of problems with my writing, but I still think it was a solid first attempt, especially considering I picked one hiragana chart and decided I was going to write just like that one.

When you try to write like a computer, it just doesn’t turn out right. My lowercase e in English looks like an e in most computer fonts (you can see it on the far right above) and the vast majority of people who try to read my handwriting tell me that my e looks like a t. (Yet I refuse to change my ways because I like the way my handwriting looks and don’t think it’s that hard to read.)

This week I practiced with my brush pens and my handwriting was considerably sloppier. With brush pens, you have to write bigger than you do with pencil and there is no erasing. It’s very unforgiving. However, the bigger your mistakes, the easier they are to spot and work on fixing.

Finally, I have two app recommendations this week. Learn Japanese is the only app that I’ve downloaded that will check your pronunciation (and, yes, it’s free). So far, I would say it works fairly well. When I know I’ve butchered something, it agrees. I’m not sure how fine tuned it is, but something is better than nothing. Regardless, the app forces you to practice speaking, which is always a good thing.

The other thing I like about the app is that you can set it to display new phrases on your lock screen. I wouldn’t recommend this for your cell phone/primary device because then you have two lock screens to get through (unless you disable your password), but I like having it on my tablet. While your screen is still locked, you can tap to hear how the phrase is supposed to be said. That doesn’t force the app to open when you unlock your device, so it’s not super intrusive. The lock screen does, however, display a small ad toward the bottom of your screen.

Kanji Samurai is a fun resource as well. It has a simple plot that I enjoy, and it’s a fun way to learn new kanji. It doesn’t have any mnemonics – you just practice writing over and over again in battle. You go through three rounds with each group of kanji, and during the final round, the only hint you get is where the kanji begins. Repeated exposure works well for me, so I’m fine with it not offering a lot of shortcuts. The one feature I wish it did have was to hear how each character is pronounced.

Time to hit the books! See you all next week.

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Work Smarter, Not Harder – Japanese Week 4

edit 2This week, a lot of light bulbs came on for me. I rarely make snap decisions, but learning Japanese was one of them, so it makes sense that I’m having so many, “this would be so much easier if…” moments now.

I made a Reddit account this week and have probably never been later to the party. I joined r/LearnJapanese. The first thing I read was so simple that I facepalmed. Practice writing on graph paper to make sure your proportions and spacing are correct. Why didn’t I think of that?? I had considered printing off worksheets to practice writing kana since my workbooks are all for kanji, but decided against it. (So much ink!) Instead, I started practicing on regular notebook paper, like a dummy.

The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure I actually watched a YouTube video of someone practicing kanji on graph paper and it still didn’t click. Sigh.

The next resource I found that was a real game changer was realkana.com. Memrise has helped me out a lot, but this site makes it so much easier to focus on what you are struggling with. You can select as many columns of the hiragana/katakana chart as you need and study in multiple fonts.  It’s absolutely wonderful. Using the site has really cemented hiragana in my memory.

The other epiphany I had this week was about using the kanji practice apps. (I rely very heavily on apps to learn because I hate wasting paper.) Instead of practicing “writing” kanji by swiping with my finger, I should use a stylus. I know, I’m a regular Einstein.

Sometimes, my approach to problems in life is a little too similar to this:


Click here if you don’t get this reference.

All that being said, I still hit a bit of a wall this week. After making so much progress with hiragana, starting on katakana felt like returning to square one. I know this is the next thing I need to do before I really dive deep into kanji, but my brain is in rebellion.

edit 1Therefore, in order to make learning fun again, I decided to download even more apps to make the process as pain-free as possible. By far, my favorite app has been Tabekana. It is an early access download, but I haven’t had any issues with it so far. Why is Tabekana great? Cats. Cats make everything great.

My other app recommendations for the week include Infinite Japanese for learning colors, Learn Japanese with Anna for conversational skills, and 72 Seasons for cultural education. You can practice numbers in addition to colors with Infinite Japanese, but the audio for numbers sometimes cuts off the beginning of words a bit and you have a 50% chance of getting the number right every time so I don’t find it nearly as useful as the colors. (You will need to learn to write the names of the colors separately; this app will only help you with listening skills. While it does show you what the kanji characters are, your focus is generally elsewhere on the screen so it doesn’t really help.)

edit 3I have only listened to one lesson of Learn Japanese with Anna so far, but I feel like it is a very trustworthy source of information. The audio is from “Easy Japanese,” which was produced by NHK  (the PBS of Japan). NHK also has their own app where you can listen to Japanese news in a wide variety of languages.

72 Seasons is based on the ancient Japanese calendar. As the name implies, it shares information about the 72 seasons as well as related haiku, photographs, and illustrations. Since there are 72 seasons, the app updates approximately every 5 days. (You can only see the current season.) It’s a gorgeous, simple app.

I know I’ve had a lot of recommendations this week, but I’m not quite done throwing them out yet.

Since the only books I’ve purchased are kanji workbooks, you may have noticed that my studies are a bit all over the place. However, I think in the coming weeks things are going to stabilize because… I found some excellent stuff. This Japanese Grammar Guide is exactly what I’ve been looking for. It’s free, for one thing, and it also doesn’t focus on teaching you a bunch of quick phrases. While videos that teach you the basics of how to introduce yourself and ask for directions are great if you are in Japan and just need some quick information, those rely far too heavily on rote memorization. I don’t learn well that way, and rewinding videos gets old real fast.

Typical learning resource approach: Here are some phrases. By the way, you should also know that “ka” is a question marking particle, “no” is used to make possessives, “ha” is used as a topic marking particle (but then it’s pronounced as “wa”), etc. Grammar is always introduced as an afterthought because what is important is that you have phrases to say immediately. While it is important to work on your pronunciation from day one, understanding proper sentence structure is, too.

This is why I love “The Japanese Grammar Guide.” It is what its name says it is: a grammar guide.

In addition to all that, I’m about 80 pages into Haruhiko Kindaichi’s “The Japanese Language.” It covers the history of Japanese and examines the strengths and weaknesses of the language. I never studied linguistics so some of it goes over my head, but for the most part it is very engaging. Did you know that Shiga Naoya, a very well-respected writer, once wrote that Japan might as well “adopt French as her national language?” I can’t imagine what it must have been like to feel that way, especially for a writer.

For the next week, I plan to carry on with katakana and continue reading the grammar guide and “The Japanese Language.” Wish me luck!


A couple other things:

  • Thank you to Ben from Project Believe in Yourself for featuring me in a blog review this past week! I love hearing people laugh at the jokes I write and your feedback was much appreciated.
  • I finally got rid of my beach header last weekend. It was a good temporary placeholder while I figured out what to do for a logo, but it wasn’t… up to scratch. I finally buckled down and spent at least 4 hours on Canva (which I do not at all recommend unless you’re willing to pay for things) designing a logo. I’m very happy with how it turned out, though the process was not so fun.the writing waifu Of course there’s a cat.
  • I made the images in this post! Me, who is not so good with drawing and has no graphic design experience! (To be fair, I only added text for the meme.) I have been playing around a lot with Silk Paints because it makes me feel a lot more talented than I actually am.
  • If you have a good recipe for yum yum sauce, please share it with me. Hubby and I tried one out and it was a total disaster.

またね!

Debunked! – Japanese Week 3

As I mentioned at the end of my first week studying Japanese, learning the language can be quite intimidating. However, most of the hurdles that seem overwhelming really aren’t as bad as they seem initially. I wouldn’t say I’ve been an absolute slave to my studies, but I do feel like I’ve already come a long way. So, without further ado, I want to discuss some misconceptions I had and what I’ve actually learned so far.

#1: Learning kanji is going to be the death of me.
While it is true that there are a lot of kanji, there are tricks to learn them quickly. Radicals, for one, make guessing meanings easier, and thinking of a story for why each character means what it means or is pronounced a certain way helps cement the characters in your mind. Plus, it’s fun; the satisfaction of being able to write such beautiful characters is a very strong motivator to keep going.

Additionally, when I first saw how many kanji characters there are, part of me very irrationally thought that I may as well learn Chinese first. That is a terrible idea for so many reasons!

If you want to learn Japanese, instead of viewing the language as one difficulty after another, think of it as an enjoyable journey that can last for as long as you want it to. It’s only overwhelming if you approach it with that attitude. It’s really not that different from any other language.

#2: There are no spaces between the words. I’ll never be able to read Japanese!
Spaces aren’t necessary in Japanese. Once you have built up your vocabulary, you will be able to differentiate words from one another. For instance, if the sentence ends with the hiragana character for “ka,” it’s probably a question. The different scripts make reading much easier. Practicing reading and writing with no spaces is extraordinarily beneficial for learners, too. Without the spaces, you naturally read and say words faster.

In short, if you’re worried about this when you start learning Japanese, take a deep breath. There are texts for beginners with spaces in them, but you will eventually be comfortable enough in the language that the lack of spaces won’t be an issue.

#3: I need to memorize the stroke order for everything!
While you should practice what you learn correctly, it’s not the end of the world if you write things in the wrong order. As long as you make your horizontal strokes from left-to-right and your vertical strokes from top-to-bottom, it will probably be legible, and that’s the whole point of writing, isn’t it? If you need to look up the meaning of a word you’ve never seen before, or if you have forgotten what a word means, follow the basic guidelines for stroke order and you will probably be able to find it, though it might take a while.

Last weekend, hubby wrote me a note in Japanese that I tried (and failed) to translate (because I don’t have a big enough vocabulary and thus struggled to find the ends of words and his translation was flawed to begin with). However, I was able to find every single kanji character using kanji recognizer. If I’ve been studying for 3 weeks and can find the characters I need, so can you.

#4: Typing in Japanese is insanely difficult. I’m never doing it.
Actually, it’s not that bad. When I had my first personal victory of being able to write sayonara, arigato, and kon’nichiwa in hiragana, I added the Japanese keyboard on my cellphone and texted a friend all those words. Now, as I learn words, I text my hubby and then ask him if he understood what I sent. My experiences, obviously, are pretty minimal, but it is much more intuitive than I thought it would be.

If you don’t know how it works, here’s what you do: you type in everything using your regular English alphabet. You select the correct hiragana for what you are typing as you go along. Then, you select the appropriate kanji when it populates. So, for instance, you would type in ko-n-ni-chi-ha and select the correct hiragana after every syllable. ( sometimes changes from the “ha” sound to the “wa” sound and I learned it that way, so that’s what I’m sticking with.) Kon’nichiwa is typically written in hiragana, so no kanji is necessary. If the process still doesn’t make sense, watch this video.

#5: People are probably going to judge you if you are learning Japanese and like anime/manga.
Does the term “weeaboo” ring a bell? I’ve been waiting for the hate comments, but I haven’t gotten a single one.

For the most part, I’ve actually found that people will support you in your studies and respect your efforts since the language is so complicated, regardless of your motivation to do so. While attempting to learn Japanese from anime/manga exclusively is not a good idea, there’s nothing wrong with supplementing your studies with your favorite series. Most educational resources encourage it!

I, personally, see nothing wrong in wanting to learn Japanese specifically for anime/manga. Why? Because a lot of people learn a little bit of another language specifically for a trip or because they have to for school and then they forget everything they learned afterward. How is learning French so that you can take selfies in Paris any less superficial than learning Japanese to deepen your appreciate for something you actually care about? If you are going to enjoy anime/manga for the rest of your life, then by all means, learn Japanese for that reason and make yourself happy. Just don’t assume you’re an expert on Japanese culture because you watch a lot of anime.

Sailor Moon & Hiragana – Japanese Week 2

I feel so accomplished. This week, all of my hours spent on Memrise and DuoLingo paid off. Now that I can recognize a good portion of hiragana, I can sound out words by myself and guess how they should be pronounced. It might seem like a very small milestone, but I am now able to spell kon’nichiwa, arigato, sayonara, and a few other real Japanese words in hiragana. When I realized that, I went back to DuoLingo for comparison’s sake and was able to look at the hiragana for a few basic words (numbers, colors, etc.) and sound them out and guess how they should be said. Granted, I still haven’t memorized the meaning of those particular words, but I still felt incredibly satisfied.

After saying a few basic phrases to my hubby, we were also able to deduce that the main problem that I am going to have learning the language is mastering my pronunciation. The major issue you will have from learning any language from an application or beginner program is that all of the words are overemphasized so that you can hear the appropriate sounds. If you try to learn to speak from that, you’re going to sound really weird. You have to listen to native speakers and match their pronunciation.

In light of my success with hiragana, I felt spurred on to assign myself a fun project for the week. I have loved Sailor Moon since I was in 4th grade, and I especially adore the theme song. Therefore, to help iron out my fundamentals, I am working on learning to sing the theme song. I also went to memorize what exactly each word means because I know I will remember the meanings if I can place them in the song.

Since I play piano and I already happen to have sheet music for the song, it will be relatively easy to practice, too.

The rest of the week I am devoting to this project, and also to nailing down all the hiragana. In addition to the apps, I have found that these two videos have been the most helpful.

I love this video because it goes through each section of the hiragana chart logically and gives you clever ways to remember what each character looks like. It also shows you what the characters look like in a variety of fonts, which is super helpful.

While this video is much more amateur than the other one in terms of audio quality, I still find it really insightful. This video tackles the hiragana in a different order. Instead of going by their position in the hiragana chart,it goes by how visually similar the characters are. I think this helps differentiate between characters that look really similar. I also like that she writes out everything multiple times so you can see the stroke order.

Overall, I’m really pleased with my progress. I actually feel like I’m making a lot more headway than I would if I were studying in a classroom setting.

I would eventually like to be able to blog in Japanese, but I’m not sure I will ever be able to deal with the frustration that comes with typing in Japanese. We’ll see.

Matane!

Image credit: Exceel on zerochan.net.

Japanese – Week 1

I grossly underestimated how hard it’s going to be to learn Japanese. Every time I thought I knew why people said Japanese was difficult and was ready to persevere regardless, I found yet another reason why Japanese is going to be insane. However, I will stay determined. I really want to learn Japanese. I’m not learning it because it’s a requirement for graduation or to look good on college applications, and it’s not necessarily a skill I will ever put on job applications; learning Japanese is something that I want to do for myself.

So, how did I study this week?

On Friday and Saturday, hubby and I “studied” by listening to as much Japanese as possible. We watched Hellsing Ultimate for a while and called it studyingbut we also listened to a beginning Japanese podcast. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos of people talking about what tools worked best for them. Although we had purchased books to help us learn kanji, looking at them was overwhelming, so those got put to the side. I figured it would be easier to learn hiragana and katakana first, then start tackling kanji once I had some basics down.

Throughout the week, I listened to the Japanese podcast more and also started using some of the apps I downloaded, with mixed success. Some of the apps I don’t think I will be able to get anything out of for several weeks or even months. I had been warned against relying on Duolingo by a friend who actually studied Japanese in school, but I felt like that app was one of the few that actually started from the ground up. Memrise has been pretty similar to Duolingo so far, so I’ve been trying to use that one more than Duolingo (though I really have no idea if one is better than the other).

Write It! Japanese has been the most beginner friendly of the writing apps I’ve tried. Someone recommended KanjiSenpai on YouTube, but even I know that the app should be called kanji sensei instead of kanji senpai, so that makes me doubt its credibility a little bit. Kanji Study was a bit over my head, so I’m hoping in a few weeks to give that one another try.

One of the things I don’t understand is why most teaching resources still list sayonara as goodbye and rarely talk about the context of when you would use that particular goodbye. They also teach kon’nichiwa as hello when it means good afternoon. This is why I have been relying fairly heavily on YouTube videos of native Japanese speakers explaining Japanese to English speakers instead of using a textbook or app to learn the words. However, sometimes I wonder about their credibility as well. For instance, I watched a video where a guy really struggled to say “no” in Japanese. I understand that people there are much more polite, but to not have a word for it seems really odd. I’m not sure what the character(s) would be for it, but the apps have told me that iie means no.

Probably the most helpful resource I found about Japanese in general was the introduction to one of the books on kanji. Learning about the roots of Japanese and how kanji are structured was very helpful and made the rest of the book look less overwhelming.

Before I go too crazy with learning kanji, or even practicing the different types of brush strokes at all, I would like to invest in a set of brush pens or even a Buddha board. (Okay, maybe I have just wanted a Buddha board for a long time and could never justify it. I know it really wouldn’t be that helpful for learning Japanese.)

My goal for next week is to make my studies less disjointed. Instead of trying a new thing every day and getting stuck, I just want to find something that works and stick with it. I also want to take more notes than I did this week.

Matane!

Learning Japanese

As of last night, hubby and I are working as a team to learn Japanese. So far, we have excelled at the gathering resources stage. We have books, apps, videos, websites, etc. Lack of tools will not be our downfall.

Learning Japanese will hopefully go better than my French studies. After 3 years of French in high school, my teacher retired and was not replaced, so I had the option of either starting a new language or using Rosetta Stone. I didn’t think it would make much sense to study any other language for a year and I didn’t want to be in a class with a bunch of freshmen, so I did Rosetta Stone, and it was painful. I think if you are going to use Rosetta Stone you need to be starting from nothing. Otherwise, it really isn’t going to do anything for you because as long as you know the nouns, it is easy to get the right answer.

Since high school, I have not used French at all. I don’t listen to French music, didn’t go to France while I was abroad, and don’t read anything in French. I don’t think I will have that issue once I learn Japanese because there are already a million things in Japanese that I want to read.

I think it will be fun to document our progress on the blog. Writing as a “waifu,” it only makes sense to learn Japanese and learn more about Japanese culture and history. So, I think maybe once a week I will make a summary post showing what progress we have made with our Japanese.

Of course, last night we went to a Japanese restaurant to kick off our studies. I had never been to one before. I grew up in a small town and there was just nothing like that. It was only when I moved in with my hubby that we could have tried new things like this. However, I really don’t like much seafood (though I am branching out more and more), so I didn’t think it would end well if we went to a Japanese restaurant.

I am very glad to say I was wrong. Every single food that I tried I loved. Watching the chef make everything was great, too. It made me feel like I was behind the scenes on a Food Network program. Also, I have no idea what was in the sauce they gave us for our rice, but it was addictive.

That’s all for now. Since it’s day two of our studies, there’s not much to say about what we have covered so far.

また来週

(See you next week!)