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Thread: Thinking of learning Japanese

  1. #1
    JackBoni
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    Thinking of learning Japanese

    Hi everyone

    I've been thinking of learning Japanese for quite a while now. While I'm generally interested in all languages, I am interested in learning Japanese for different reasons than why I learned German or French. While I learned the latter two because I love travelling the countries in which those languages are spoken, I know virtually nothing about the Japanese language or culture. I have learned Latin, French and Spanish to varying degrees, and I am reasonably proficient in German. However, I think that Japanese would be a change - as it is an oriental language, grammatical structures would be entirely different from those of the Romance or Slavonic languages, not to mention that vocabulary would have different roots from those of the languages I'm already used to. The writing systems will be entirely different, too. While I found learning the Cyrillic alphabet challenging, Japanese seems to use three alphabets.

    My main reasons behind learning Japanese are as follows - the general structure of the language is interesting, in that it almost totally differs from that of the languages I've learned before. Also, I have played a series of computer games made in Japan and used to watch a Japanese kids' programme, both of which I would like to play or watch in Japanese. The computer game released an edition in which all dialogue was spoken in Japanese, with English subtitles. Being the language enthusiast that I am, I found this fascinating. I don't think Japanese sounds as nice as French or Italian, but those reasons are good enough for me.

    Can anyone suggest a grammar book for Japanese learners? I am expecting to come across terminology which is specific to the grammar of oriental languages, which I will likely not understand straight off. In which order should the Japanese alphabets be learnt? I have read a little about their functions, so I would guess that Hiragana should be learnt first? Although Kanji looks a lot of fun and an incredible challenge, I have heard that many Japanese childrens' books are written (almost?) entirely in Hiragana. Is that so? I would imagine that it would be asking too much of young children to remember so many seemingly complicated symbols.

    As for grammar books - my friend, who has been learning Japanese for a few years now, has recommended one called "Japanese the Manga Way". What does everyone else think? Also, I have found some sites which show how to draw Hiragana and Katakana characters. I think it would be enough just to copy out the characters from the webpage until I have fully committed them to memory, but does anyone have any other suggestions?

    Any views would be a great help, as Japanese is completely new to me.
    Thank you very much.
    Jack

  2. #2
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Get Kodansha's 'Japanese for Busy People' I and II. A lot of unis use it as their introductory course, and whig good reason.

  3. #3
    JackBoni
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Thanks, scotcher. There are loads of books on amazon for learning the three alphabets - are they collectively called "Kana"? Do you recommend any of them, or is it a good idea just to learn them on their own? If any of the methods use mnemphonics, I'm British, so an American program would just confuse me.

    Thanks
    Jack

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    The books I mentioned cover hiragana and katakana pretty early on and then start you off with some simple kanji a bit later, eventually reaching a few hundred if I remember correctly. That should be enough to be going on with while you're still mastering the grammar. Of course there are loads of writing books available, but unfortunately I'm in the middle of relocating and I don't have access to my own bookshelves so I can't give you amy specific recommendations.

  5. #5
    JackBoni
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Thank you for the help, scotcher. I imagine it will take me a little while to get used to Japanese grammar, although the writing systems seem the most challenging aspect. If, after your relocation, you can recommend any more worthy additions, then I would be very grateful.

    Jack

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Aye no bother, I'll have a look once I'm unpacked.

  7. #7
    JackBoni
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    I imagine that there aren't too many Japanese metal groups, so, are there any good courses for listening material? If not, then I'll just use what I can find on the internet for now. Also, have you read Japanese childrens' stories? I think they're mostly written in Hiragana, aren't they? If so, I would particularly benefit from them now. Before I start looking around for some, I need to know that there won't be any complicated Kanji characters in them?

    Jack

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    I don't know anything about metal groups, not really my thing, but yeah once you reach a certain level kid's books are the only way to practice reading because it's the only place you'll find written Japanese with only a small sub-set of kanji (and those are marked with little kana characters to show the correct reading).

  9. #9
    JackBoni
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    So, as with any other language with a different writing system, learn the alphabets first. Should I bother learning Katakana yet, or just stick with Hiragana? My understanding of Katakana is that it is mostly just used for writing foreign words; I doubt that I will come across many of those in the beginning stages. Stay away from Kanji altogether? I am already half way through learning Hiragana, and it is sticking. Also, are there differences between written Hiragana and typed Hiragana? It would just be interesting to know. I assume that written and typed Kanji are the same, as they look complicated enough as they are already.

    Thanks for all the recommendations and advice.

    Jack

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    You might as well learn both kana scripts together since there's a 1:1 match between them anyway. Katakana isn't confined to loanwords, but even if it was there are a lot of loanwords in Japanese. You won't be able to stay away from kanji entirely either, because some of them are so common you'll find them even in introductory courses and basic children's books.

    Typed characters and written characters are exactly the same as far as I know. Of course there are ornate and ornamental writing styles which will be more difficult for a learner to decipher, but you needn't worry about those.

  11. #11
    ST
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Speaking of Japanese metal, I'm big fan of Onmyouza. There are a lot of them at youtube etc. Also there is anime\manga\move called Detroit Metal City (DMC), absolute must-see for all metal fans!

    As for study, I suggest you to try .japanesepod101.com, which has paid and free subscriptions. This is Japanese language podcast, so you can just download some lessons in your i-pod (or another mp3 player) and listen it while walking to work\school etc. I'm using it about 2 years and kinda like it.
    By the way, kana is not so scary as it looks like. It can be mastered for about week or two, with about 30-60 min per day.
    The bear looked at the car, and reflections of fire danced in his eyes. He knew what to do.

  12. #12
    JackBoni
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Thank you both for your help. ST, I will have a look at all the things you mentioned. I have just finished memorising Hiragana, although I am a little shakey on one or two of the characters. Next I shall deal with Katakana. Are there any good habits I can get into with Japanese from the start? For example, in Russian, it's a good idea to memorise the stress patterns on all the words you learn, as Russian has different stress patterns from those of English. I would guess, then, that Japanese is the same? Are there any other pitfalls I'm likely to encounter early on?

    ST, if you care for corrections:

    This is [b]a/b] Japanese language podcast
    download some lessons onto your Ipod.

    I have been using it for about two years - for example:
    Я изучаю русский язык уже два года - I have been studying Russian for two years.
    It can be mastered in about a week or two.

    I hope that helps. If you need explanations, then ask, and I will try my best to explain. Thank you for your help.

    Jack

  13. #13
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Hi Jack
    It's rather good that you are the language enthusiast! Ok, I'll try to give you some hints about the grammar etc.

    1. First, I think Japanese sounds as nice as Italian. Here is a fragment from a Japanese text about the weather which I have put in Latin characters.
    "Kono ame-no kisetsu-wo “Tsuyu” to iimas. Tsuyu-ga ovaru to, atsui natsu-ga hazimarimas. Natsu-ni-va Taiheiyoo kara nantoo-no kaze-ga fukimas kara, taiheiyoo-gava de va nihonkai yori ame-ga takusan furimas.”Vatasi-no furusato de va ame-ga takusan furu yo.”

    2. Here are some hints on the structure of the language, if you wish:
    Kono (this) ame-no (rains, genitive case) kisetsu-wo (seasons, accusative) “Tsuyu” (The Plum rains) to iimas (is called). Tsuyu-ga (The Plum rains, nominative) ovaru (to end) to (if), atsui (stuffy and hot) natsu-ga (autumn, nominative) hazimarimas (begins). Natsu-ni-va (In autumn, dative + nominative thematic) Taiheiyoo (The Pacific Ocean) kara (from) nantoo-no (South-East, genitive) kaze-ga (wind) fukimas (blows) kara (because), taiheiyoo-gava (The Pacific Ocean side) de va (instrumental + nominative thematic) Nihonkai (The Japanese sea) yori (in comparison, comparative case) ame-ga (rains, nominative case) takusan (much) furimas (goes).

    3. I think that Katakana and hiragana are to be learned together, and then go to characters or kandzi. And only after that strt studying Japanese and "Chinese" readings of kanzi, i.e. kun-yomi and on-yomi and the language structure itself.
    I think it's helpful.

    You are welcome

  14. #14
    ST
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Thanks for corrections, articles is my weak part
    Well, I'm not such language guru to give advices, but for me, it was very important to gather the proper tools (rikaichan for firefox, jwpce for editing text, yarxi for kanji recognition and so on). Also I found what flashcards is very useful (I never used it while learning English, but in Japanese it was very handy).

    p.s. check this kana table for kids, I think it's pretty funny:
    http://img237.imageshack.us/img237/1627/kanagi9.jpg
    The bear looked at the car, and reflections of fire danced in his eyes. He knew what to do.

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    I believe that it really depends on your motivation, interest and practicality of language use. If you live in an area of the world where Spanish is spoken and you can watch t.v. or listen to Spanish music, then you may want to learn Spanish because it it will be easier to meet native speakers and practice the language. The same would go for Japanese.

    English is a combination of Germanic structure and Latin-derived vocabulary. Spanish is a Romance (Latin-based) language, so you will find similarities while learning it. They also use the same alphabet as we do (with the addition of several letters), so learning to read it is not as difficult as say Russian or Greek would be.

    Japanese is an Asian language that actually has three writing forms, kanji, katagana and hiragana that each have different characters that need to be memorized that represent different parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.). They also use romaji, the Roman alphabet to write Japanese using our alphabet (tsunami, sake, sushi, etc.).

    I suggest becoming fluent in one of the two as you can easily get confused if you try the two before you've mastered one, then tackling the third. You might want to do Spanish first, as it will be more similar to English, then Japanese.

    Resources-
    Learn Japanese About.com
    Video Lessons Youtube.com
    Learn Japanese MP3 Audio Lessons

    Cheers James

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    I'm currently learning Japanese with language partners I met through craigslist.com and meetup.com. For written Japanese I would recommend learning Hiragana first since this is the easiest of the 3. Then after you master that master katakana and finally then tackle Kanji which is the most difficult of the 3.

    As for the spoken part, I would recommend getting books on conversational Japanese and not colloquial Japanese. Books I recommend are below:

    Conversational:

    The Complete Idiots Guide to Conversational Japanese by Naoya Fujita

    Hiragana (if you go on Amazon.com and type "Hiragana" you will get a whole list of excellent books but the one below is the one I have and recommend highly):

    Japanese Hiragana for Beginners (The First Steps to Mastering the Japanese Writing system) by Timothy G. Stout

    Katakana:

    Japanese Katakana for Beginners (The First steps to mastering the Japanese writing system) by Timothy G. Stout
    How I wish, how i wish you were here. Were just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl. Year after Year. Running over the same ground, have we found, same old fear. Wish you were here.

  17. #17
    ST
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    There is new good resource to learn Japanese: http://www.iknow.co.jp/courses/ja-en
    It is (still?) free, and very powerful. They show you kana letter or word, play how it sounds, show how it writes, show picture, gives you example sentence and then test how you remember it. There is system of achievements (like 100 words learned and so on), personal learning statistic, quiz game and other... Pretty interesting.

    The bear looked at the car, and reflections of fire danced in his eyes. He knew what to do.

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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Learning about Japanese is one of frustration..
    I want to the language of japanese and their culture
    so that may know what the real japanese is..

  19. #19
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    Re: Thinking of learning Japanese

    Try this book for beginners: "Read Japanese today" by Len Walsh. Mostly it's about reading Kanji. Walsh explains meaning of every sign and suggests to see them as pictures, the meaning of which can be often discerned based on your knowledge of other Kanjis. He also gives useful snippets of info about where you can encounter some of them (on standard signs, etc.) I had fun reading this book, even though I was not learning Japanese.

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    I got interested in Japanese years ago when I read Shogun by James Clavell. Took me ages to read it but it taught me some basic words and got me interested.
    Arigato gozimas!
    Я плохо говорю по-русски
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