Weekend Reading: It's not easy being a Japanese student


Japanese is not an easy language. I hear it all the time -- from teachers, from Japanese people, and from people who couldn't even tell you the difference between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. But the language isn't impossible. I've been through plenty of the struggles that any student learning Japanese has gone through: the first hell week, trying to memorize hiragana and katakana; using the wrong politness level in a situation; wondering what the hell causative-passive form is.

Besides studying in class, I've tried whatever I could get my hands on to learn Japanese -- audiobooks, software, Learn Japanese in 15 minutes books. You name it, I've probably had it in my hands for at least an hour, trying to use it. While I can't give you a sure-fire way to learn Japanese, let's just delve a bit into my experience with it.

Japanese is a system

As hard as it may be, the Japanese language is still much more structured than English. The rules are a lot more regular and widespread, meaning that if you can remember basic patterns and rules, you can use them to break down and get a better understanding of the more difficult grammar points.

A good example of this is "wake." I tend to translate the word as "case" or "situation," and I remember my class having the hardest time with "wake ni wa ikanai" and "wake ga nai" -- "have to, otherwise [it's no good]" and "not the case." When you look at it in the book, you can recognize the difference well enough. But when it comes time to use them in a conversation, it's easy to get them confused.

So what was the solution? Make little notes to yourself about key parts of the grammar, and pay attention for that. Once I heard "ikanai," I knew the difference between the two.

Get in over your head

Whenever you get the chance, immerse yourself to the point where you don't understand what's going on. Sure, you'll make a ton of mistakes, but you learn from all of them. I signed up for a host family when I went to Japan because it was the best way to practice my Japanese. They didn't speak a bit of English -- just some heavy Osaka-ben, and because of that, I was frequently the butt of jokes for agreeing my way into a situation that I didn't understand. I'd just stop for a moment, pull out my dictionary, and through a series of hand motions and showing them what I was trying to say, the conversation would resume and I'd have picked up a few new things.

Similarly, I've decided to start watching anime unsubbed. To be honest, it's not something I was excited about doing. I mean, I do start to miss out on parts when I can't understand what's going on because the voices are hard to understand or they use new vocab. But, in all that I lose, I pick up new words, train my hearing, and get a little bit more used to regional dialects that I wouldn't normally encounter. Now, I just need to convince myself to actually use my Japanese PlayStation to give a game a shot.

Don't pigeon-hole yourself

Diversify yourself. Learn new things. You may not want to learn how to talk about global warming and environmental protocols, but if you wanted to watch the news a few months ago, you had no choice but to learn that vocab set. Sure, it didn't stick with me, but it was something that I needed to learn. So, while I may not enjoy it, I try to learn new sets of vocab that I wouldn't normally encounter -- part of why I picked up the first half of Initial D while I was in Japan. I don't care about cars, but it's expanded my repetoire when it comes to talking with my Japanese friends, as well as occasionally helping me when I'm reading other manga.

Vocab is incredibly important

There are three main areas you need to focus on: grammar, vocabulary, and kanji. Oftentimes, college classes leave kanji and vocabulary up to the student to study on their own. While I was in Japan, my classes were split between reading/writing, and spoken. Both classes had long vocabulary lists, and expected me to learn them on my own. So naturally, I focused on the kanji and grammar instead, since those were both the mainstay of what the tests were quizzing me on. It's no different in the States, either. It's a big detriment to the student.

Like I said before, vocab helps you expand your conversations, and it's something that's so incredibly important. Sure, you can know the relationship of the words, but if you don't know the meaning, then it's not going to do you a whole lot of good.

These are just a few things that I can say to all of you. Certainly learning Japanese isn't that easy, and it does take quite a bit amount of rote memorization (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) -- but you can make a lot of headway if you think about how to tackle the language. Certainly my tips don't work for everyone, as everyone takes to a language differently. But the important thing is to keep at it.

If you'd like me to post more on language learning, let me know in the comments!

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Brad Rice
Brad RiceFounder   gamer profile

Brad helped found in 2006, and currently serves as an Associate He's covered all aspects of the industry, but has a particular preference for the business-end of things, more + disclosures



Filed under... #learn japanese #Weekend Reading



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