Learning Japanese - Week 2 - 4月27日

こんにちは。今日は漢字を勉強しました。(Konnichiwa. Kyou wa kanji o benkyoushimashita. Hello. Today I studied kanji.)

Unfortunately I don't know all of the kanji in that sentence (Japanese text entry is done in kana with the computer making its guess at what kanji you mean). I do know 今 and 日 and I can recognize the shapes for benkyou (study) as they are frequently used in various learning materials. Either way, it's progress.

Anyhow, I've made a few shifts in what materials I'm using for learning yet again. I don't feel like this is really a set back, though. I know that I personally need a lot of information and the more technical it is the better. I found a truly wonderful website called IMABI which goes into truly excessive detail about anything and everything. It goes into enough detail that it uses some terms to refer to English grammatical structures that I've had to recall what exactly that means for my own native language. I suppose that isn't really bizarre having used English my entire life.. I don't really consider sentence structures and whatnot using rather serious technical terms. Part of my reason for hunting this out was that I wanted a resource that I could easily refer to on my phone during lunch breaks. I found a lot of recommendations for Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese and was trying to refer to this on my phone but I didn't find it to be terribly usable. Many concepts are glossed over or oversimplified and I've noticed that a lot of the ways the grammar is presented seems to be in an informal way. For example, for asking how someone is doing the example is..

Person 1: 元気? (Genki? Relating to one's health and well being. In my current understanding this would sort of be like saying "good?")
Person 2: 元気。(Genki)

Japanese has different ways of speaking to convey different levels of formality or politeness like I mentioned in my last log. To ask someone if they're well polite you would say 元気ですか (genki desu ka, roughly "is it well?"), with the response being 元気です (genki desu, "it's well"). This is further complicated by the おー prefix which you may use when addressing someone of a higher social status than you, such as a teacher. The question of one's well being would then become お元気ですか (ogenki desu ka). I was slightly concerned about the apparent informality of the Tae Kim guide since I had already come to understand these concepts.

I should also add at this point that I haven't only been studying Japanese for 2 weeks. This log of my progress has only been going for two weeks. I believe I'm about in my second month? Which brings me to another topic that I touched on last time, the katakana. I had mentioned last week that I didn't quite have all the katakana down. Well, I've got them now! I got through most of them using the same rote memorization I had done with hiragana and then I kind of got sick of it. So I just started looking at Japanese game covers and figuring out the readings. I had a lot of fun doing it, actually. It drove home a few things about katakana that I wasn't aware of. For example, when writing hiragana there are characters where the sound is changed by the presence of a second smaller hiragana. For example, き (ki) with a small ゆ (yu) like so: きゅ becomes kyu. Katakana has a similar concept with a catch. This is only done with some hiragana but in katakana it can happen with almost any other character to attempt to approximate sounds not present in Japanese. So, I noted in the Japanese spelling of Famicom - ファミコン (Famikon), there's a small ア (a) next to the フ (fu). Japanese doesn't have a native fa sound so combining the katakana in this way approximates that.

Right, got off on a bit of tangent there. My point in bringing up that I only now got the katakana down is because I wanted to point out that everyone is going to attack things in a slightly different way. General advice online is get the hiragana and katakana down before starting and indeed, this is good advice. People also say the kana should take you about a week or two to get down. I certainly failed that on the katakana front. However, I still made progress. I was still learning. Frankly, I think if I only did the kana to start I probably would've become bored as hell half way through the katakana. I started learning some grammar and vocabulary and that was a lot of fun. Don't get discouraged.

At the start I mentioned that I studied some kanji today. So let's talk about those devilish things.

Those Devilish Kanji

I had been wanting to start making some kind of a push into kanji so I found a copy of James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji online. I have to say that this book was not what I was expecting at all. Something that I didn't realize about this book is that it doesn't actually teach you how to read any of the kanji in Japanese. It doesn't teach you the Chinese meanings either. It tells you what the symbol means and how to draw it. Here's an example:

Now, I don't doubt that the Heisig method is good and works for some people... but that's not going to work for me. It's challenging for me to go back and add information to something I've already learned or gained an understanding of. As a comparison for what's missing, here's how the first volume of the Genki textbook shows 日:

There's a lot more information there, there's the various readings of the character as well as vocabulary words showing the character being used. I started looking up kanji on jisho, which is another wonderful website. It's very informative and breaks things down well. This is good for studying specific characters... but it doesn't really give me a path forward or a good way to progress through all of the characters. I was discussing this online and someone recommended Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course. I found a few pages online and it looks similar to Genki which is precisely what I wanted. The book is also incredibly reasonably priced so I have purchased a copy and I'm looking forward to digging in. It apparently follows a similar flow to the Heisig book where kanji are introduced by radical and build on eachother.

Things You Shouldn't Do

I mentioned previously that I had started using Anki on my phone. Well, I thought I was using Anki. I was using a free app for iOS called AnkiApp Flashcards. Don't use that. It's trash. If you get logged out from the server your decks get deleted locally, as does whatever progress you've made on them. The official Anki app is $25 for iOS for some unknown reason, but I'll be purchasing that and using it from now on.