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Talon87 02-01-2012 02:34 PM

So you want to learn Japanese. How do you go about doing it?

There as many answers to that question as there are people who ask it. People have different learning styles. People have different drives. People are at different stages in their life when they decide they want to learn Japanese. So the advice I'm going to give below is going to be for a specific kind of student. Curtail it to your needs.

Talon87 02-01-2012 02:35 PM

Resources for all levels:


Spoiler: show
WWWJDIC is a powerful dictionary. I highly recommend it. It can be a bit overwhelming to beginners but just stick to the basic search features at first and eventually explore the rest of the site. You won't be disappointed.

The iPhone version, Kotoba, can be downloaded for free off of the Apple App Store.

Resources for beginners:

Nakama Vol 1 and Vol 2

Spoiler: show
Some people swear by Nakama, others hate it. This is a testimony to what I said before: different learning styles suit different people differently. I personally loved it and found that it was one of the best foreign language textbooks I've ever come across. I preferred its organization to that of the text we used in third year studies and I also preferred it to the very popular Genki. Do yourself a favor and check out copies of both texts (either by driving to the nearest library that has them, by asking your local library to borrow them from a nearby campus library, or by finding online copies somehow) before you spend money on either. If you're worried about Nakama's less-than-stellar reviews on Amazon.com, then by all means go with Genki. Some of my professors secretly preferred it to Nakama (Nakama being co-authored by the head of Japanese at Purdue, they couldn't come out and say this publically ^^; ) and so did a few of my best friends IRL who struggled learning with Nakama and then soared when the teachers lent them Genki. Vice versa, though, I really did not like Genki's presentation at all -- very obtuse and randomly-structured, I felt -- and would have been sorely put off if it had been our official textbook. Your results will likely vary! :lol: You may hate both books, you may find you love a third book best, etc. In fact, if you have another text to recommend, then by all means please do so. I will add it to the list above.

Learning your ABCs:
Beginners start with hiragana and katakana and then move on to learn the first two levels of the Jouyou kanji.


Spoiler: show
The best way to start learning Japanese, in my honest opinion, is how I did it. The summer before my coursework began, I excitedly went on to Wikipedia and prepared the over-100 flashcards necessary to learn the Japanese alphabet. On the front of the card, I had the character; and on the back, I had its pronunciation. I learned these before classes began and it was perfect. I would recommend it to anybody. Learn the alphabet before learning any words. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO 'LEARN' JAPANESE WITH ROMAJI!

Towards the middle of your first year of studies, most schools begin to introduce students to kanji, the Chinese characters used in Japanese. You can find a list of the jouyou kanji here. Don't be overwhelmed by it. IIRC, we only officially learned 6-12 characters per textbook chapters. Multiply this by fifteen or so chapters and you get a reasonable number (<300) of characters to be learned in the first two years of your studies. By all means, feel free to learn faster, but don't feel like you have to. Learning 300 over the course of two calendar years is fairly typical.

Resources for intermediates:
(to be edited in later)

Resources for advanced students:
partial but extensive list of Japanese onomatopoiea
Onomatopoiea flashcards

(more stuff to be edited in to all parts of this post later)

Talon87 02-01-2012 02:35 PM

Advice for Beginners

Q. I want to learn Japanese! :D Where do I start?
A. Learn your hiragana. That's where I would start.

Q. Okay! I learned them! Now what? :D
A. Already our adventure can go in one of several different directions. Personally? I'd encourage you to go ahead and learn your katakana too. But if you want to move right on into learning words, go for it.

Q. What does JSL mean?
A. Getting this one out of the way early since I use the term a lot since it's a convenient abbreviation. In Japanese linguistics discussions, JSL stands for "Japanese as a second language." In special needs discussions, JSL can also mean "Japanese sign language." And of course any acronym might mean any number of things in this great big world of ours. When I use the term, unless otherwise specified, I'm using it to mean "Japanese as a second language."

Q. Vocab before grammar? Or grammar before vocab?
A. Learning a foreign language is always a tricky business in the very beginning. That's because you know absolutely nothing about the language and you just have to rote memorize some things so you can get started on your adventure. Therefore, I'd say that for the first few weeks of your studies, you should just focus on rote memorizing core expressions and words. Things like how to say "My name is ____" or "I am __ years old" or "Hello!" Those sorts of things. In fact, you'll find that most JSL textbooks are organized with this philosophy in mind.

Q. So ... I don't want to spend any money on this. Do I have to? =\
A. No, you don't have to. In fact, most of your advanced learning will be done on your own at little to no direct financial cost to you. But in the beginning, it certainly helps to have someone guide you through the process. And who better to do that than someone who has the knowledge necessary and devoted the time and emotion necessary to craft a JSL textbook? I would advise against purchasing a JSL textbook initially -- tools do not make the craftsman, after all -- but if you stick with this long enough to learn the alphabet (a.k.a. 2-3 days :lol:), then I would say that it's probably worth it for you to look into getting some kind of textbook, be it a free one like a Wikibook or be it a commercial text.

Q. Can you post some samples from the beginning of your textbook so I can decide if I want to buy it or not?
A. I don't have a scanner. However, I do have ridiculously thorough study guides. Sure, I can post a sample below from Chapters 1-3 of the first volume of Nakama to give you an idea for what they want you to learn. (Numbers in parentheses at ends of sentences indicate corresponding page numbers in my version of the text.)

Spoiler: show
How do you say the following? (Don’t forget proper suffixes! ^_^)

Chapter 2
  • I am a junior. (35)
  • Suzuki is not a student. (35)
  • Lopez is Mexican. He is a man. He is a student. (35)
  • Keitaro is a student at Tokyo University. (41)
  • What is your name? (44)
  • What year are you in, Narusegawa? (44)
  • Where are you from, Mutsumi? / I’m from Okinawa. (44)
Chapter 3
  • The dormitory is an old building.(66)
  • Ms. Yamada’s house is a nice house. (66)
  • This room is a bright room, isn’t it? (68)
  • Is that person Tanaka? (68)
  • Is that house over there Suzuki’s house? (69)
  • Which building is the bank? / It’s that building over there. (69)
  • Above the bed is a cat. Outside the window is a dog. Inside the closet is Kanako. (75)
  • Is there a closet over there? / Yes, there is. / No, there isn’t. (72)
  • Who is there? / Suzuki is there. (72)
  • What is there? / A cat is there. (73)
  • There is a big dog over there, you know. (79)
  • There is a nice picture in Tanaka’s room, isn’t there? (79)
  • What is under the bed? / What is inside the chest? / What is on the stereo?
  • Please come in! ^_^ (63)
  • Welcome home. ^_^ (63)
  • Thank you (for allowing me to come in)! ^_^ (63)
  • I’m back! ^_^ (63)

Chapter 2
  • わたしはさんねんせいです。(35)
  • すずきさんはがくせいじゃありません。(35)
  • ロペズさんはメキシコ人です。おとこのひとです。がくせいです。(35)
  • けいたろうさんはとうだいのがくせいです。(41)
  • おなまえはなんですか。(44)
  • なるせがわさんはなんねんせいですか。 (44)
  • むつみさんはどちらからいらっしゃいましたか。/ おきなわからきました。(44)
Chapter 3
  • りょうはふるいたてものです。(66)
  • やまださんのうちはすてきなうちです。(66)
  • このへやはあかるいへやですね。(68)
  • そのひとはたなかさんですか。(68)
  • あのうちはすずきさんのうちですか。(69)
  • ぎんこうはどのたてものですか。/ あのたてものです。 (69)
  • ベッドのうえにねこがいます。まどのそとにいぬがいます。おしいれのなかにかなこさんがいます 。(75)
  • あそこにおしいれがありますか。/ はい、あります。/ いいえ、ありません。(72)
  • そこにだれがいますか。/ すずきさんがいます。(72)
  • そこになにがいますか。/ ねこがいます。(73)
  • あそこにおおきいいぬがいますよ。(79)
  • たなかさんのへやにすてきなえがありますね。(79)
  • ベッドのしたになにがありますか。/おしいれのなかになにがありますか。/ステレオのうえになにがありますか。
  • あがってください。(63)
  • おかえりなさい!(63)
  • おじゃまします!(63)
  • ただいま!(63)

Spoiler: show
Chapter 2
Asian studies
S. Korea
business admin.
high school
college student
grad school
New Zealand
I (mas)
I (neut)
I (fem)
to be
where (plain)
Where are you from?
Where (polite)
Where are you from?
What is it?
this person
noun mod.
topic marker
simil. marker
-study of
& b/t clauses

No, that’s not so.
It is I who should be saying that.
Yes, that’s so.
polite prefix

Chapter 3
where 1
where 2
what kind
next to (same)
next to (diff)
in, middle
to the left
to the right
in front of
not very
over there
that over there
this n.
that n.
that n. over there

Chapter 2




Chapter 3


(writing more as I go; check back later for more)

Talon87 02-01-2012 02:54 PM

General Advice

Q. How do you recommend I learn kanji?
A. Everybody learns differently.

Q. Yes, but I want to hear how you did it.
A. Long answer is long.

Spoiler: show
Step one, do not learn the characters just for meaning. Learn the pronunciation(s) that go with them.

Step two, do not attempt to rote memorize all possible readings for all characters you encounter. Instead, learn only those readings which came up in the context(s) in which you saw the character. (You can try and ignore this rule all you like at first but it'll catch up to you eventually. Believe me.)

Step three, add more readings as you go along in life and see the character used in new contexts.

Example: If you see the word 汚い kitanai and you look it up and realize, "Hey! :D I know that adjective!", then great: learn that 汚い is read kitanai. And even if you didn't know it yet, now's as good a time as any to learn the Japanese word for "dirty." But do not worry about learning the verb 汚す yogosu "to dirty" until it either comes up in your studies or else you decide you want to / need to know how to say it. And definitely do not worry about learning the more exotic adjective 汚らわしい kegawarashii "filthy; untouchable" at this time. Didn't learn that word myself until I saw it in a film in 2009, for God's sake. :lol:

Step four, practice writing. The brain reads based on general overall image/shape/pattern but when you write you really, brain-ily learn what the core radicals are that make up that character. (You'd be surprised to find how few characters you can actually write despite being able to read them 100% fluently if you don't actually practice writing them!) This will be especially important as you go along and find that many of the new characters you're learning are just permutations of older characters you've learned. For example: 征服 seifuku conquest and 服従 fukujuu obedience deceptively look like they're the same characters just swapped places. That's an attractive idea, one which might even make sense when you consider that the two words are conceptual opposites of one another. (The people you conquer obey you. Those who defy you, you have failed to conquer.) But look closer and you'll see that the second character in obedience is different from the first character in conquest. At which point you say, "Hey! Is that the same character that was in 生徒 seito student? :D" only to realize that, no in fact, it's not. :lol: 従 is like the perfectly deceptive hybrid of 征 and 徒. Just put them in a row! 征従徒. See the gradual transformation? This is the sort of thing you can pick out as a reader much more easily than you can as a writer. The analogy in English would be "I know how to read the words 'rhythm', 'technique', and 'soliloquy' but heaven help me if you want me to spell them for you." Just like you learn spelling by writing and not being overly reliant on spellcheckers, you learn your kanji best by writing them too and not being overly reliant on your computer's built-in Japanese software that converts kana into kanji for you.

Q. How do you recommend I learn words?
A. "If you don't use it, you lose it." There's little point in starting with words you don't encounter frequently. By all means, learn rare words that you like for some pet reason. But I would encourage you to learn "dog" and "chair" before learning "angioplasty" or "debacle."

(still writing; will add more as I go)

Selena 02-01-2012 03:57 PM

I'm actually learning Chinese now. Just a question for if I ever want to learn Japanese as well. Do the Kanji in Japanese have the same meaning as they have in Chinese?

GrJackass 02-01-2012 04:24 PM


Originally Posted by Milotic111 (Post 314338)
I'm actually learning Chinese now. Just a question for if I ever want to learn Japanese as well. Do the Kanji in Japanese have the same meaning as they have in Chinese?

yes, they do

thanks for this talon btw, I've been meaning to brush up on my Japanese

Doppleganger 02-01-2012 05:24 PM

Talon, if you have connections to kanji cards (either for purchase or online) I would love those, as I discussed with you before (with Japanese pronunciations).

I'd also like to know how to properly write the kanji, so when I look at the character, I could break apart how it was written. I doubt this would be advised for most people, but complete dissemination is usually how I gain mastery of concepts.

GrJackass 02-01-2012 05:37 PM

i have a bunch of kanji flash cards, ill let you know what company made them when i find em

Talon87 02-01-2012 05:39 PM


Originally Posted by GrJackass (Post 314340)
thanks for this talon btw, I've been meaning to brush up on my Japanese

Thank the members who have been PMing me in recent weeks asking for tips on how they can teach themselves Japanese. I wouldn't have made this thread otherwise. As you can see, it's pretty bare bones as is and even so may have way too many words which'll wind up doing more harm than good. I'm hoping that they'll look at the third and fourth posts, though, and be able to get started there.

Originally Posted by Milotic111 (Post 314338)
I'm actually learning Chinese now. Just a question for if I ever want to learn Japanese as well. Do the Kanji in Japanese have the same meaning as they have in Chinese?

Not entirely. Was starting to write a rather lengthy response but leave it to Wikipedia to have a very succinct answer to your question:
"While kanji are essentially Chinese hanzi used to write Japanese, there are now significant differences between kanji used in Japanese and Chinese characters used in Chinese. Such differences include (i) the use of characters created in Japan, (ii) characters that have been given different meanings in Japanese, and (iii) post-World War II simplifications of the kanji. Likewise, the process of character simplification in mainland China since the 1950s has the result that Japanese speakers who have not studied Chinese may not recognize some simplified characters."
For an example of #1, 働 as used in the common verb hataraku "to work" (as in, to perform a job). For an example of #2, 鮎 (a species of salmon in Japan, but used to describe catfish in China). For an example of #3, 気 "spirit, essence, nature" which before WW2 was written in both countries as 氣 instead.

In the vast majority of cases, though, the meanings of isolated Chinese characters are largely preserved. Things start to get trickier once you start introducing compound nouns (e.g. 度胸, 大根, 戦争) since in some cases the compound words were imported while in other cases the isolated kanji were put together to form a neologism that described something either unique to Japan or else common to both countries but written in some other way in China.

In the first place, though, ... are you studying classical Chinese or modern Chinese script? :? The modern, or simplified, script won't be of much use to you in your studies of Japanese. I have as much a chance of making heads or tails of that as I would Hangul (the Korean alphabet).

The Morg 02-01-2012 05:53 PM

JSL is great. I obtained a massive JSL dictionary which has some extremely useful pictures and explanatory notes. Here's a potentially important example from the entry for "older brother" (兄):

手の甲を前にした手の中指を立てて、上にあげる。アメリカでは「fuck you!」のタブーサインになる。

The Morg 02-01-2012 06:40 PM

Doppleganger is on the right track with wanting to break down the finer details of handwriting. Unfortunately, printed text is a little confusing when trying to learn how to write by hand. Talon, do you know any good beginners' books that instill proper handwriting?

For an intermediate learner, searching for books on "handwriting improvement" (字がうまくなる) will yield some highly useful results, even if they are intended for Japanese adults. Sadly, I don't have access to a scanner, or else I would provide some excerpts. And perhaps the "fuck you" older brother sign as well.

Also Hangul is pretty easy! You can probably learn it in a day if you ever become interested.

Jerichi 02-01-2012 08:09 PM

Hi! I'm Jerichi and I've been seriously learning Japanese for the past 6 months, partly through a standard University Beginner's Japanese Class and partly on my own.

My best suggestion for making Japanese go a LOT faster: the Heisig Method.

I did this over winter break, and even though I didn't get all the way through it (only about 3/4ths), it's increased my kanji vocabulary immensely and allowed me to be able to interpret unknown kanji much easier since I am now able to break down their form much easier. This book makes kanji shitloads easier to deal with even if you only get as far as learning the methodology. It doesn't, however, give you readings, compounds or even really reliable meanings, but it does give you good approximations which help in your learning of vocabulary and general comprehension of kanji-heavy text (which is pretty much everything outside of preschool children's books).

I've only had a month or so after doing this and my reading and writing have improved greatly in that short of a time. It also makes me feel much more like I'm producing actual Japanese instead of producing a long string of unreadable kindergarten kana.

The actual book for this is kind of expensive, but there are TONS of PDFs floating around the Internet (a Google search will pull up one, often as the first link). If you can commit some time to it on a fairly frequent and steady basis, it's totally worth it. It makes kanji a lot easier.


It's not really a fast and easy way, but Heisig really helps you be able to interpret and break down the kanji as Heisig teaches them to you by giving you small, manageable chunks to remember and building up more complex kanji from there.

Talon87 02-01-2012 08:24 PM

This reply took forever to write. @[email protected] By the time I submit it, watch there be ten new posts. =P


Originally Posted by Doppleganger (Post 314385)
Talon, if you have connections to kanji cards (either for purchase or online) I would love those, as I discussed with you before (with Japanese pronunciations).

I made my own flashcards when I was in school. And then, being the sort I am, I moved away from flashcards and towards study sheets and self-made exams.

The answer continues within. Quite lengthy! But you asked for it, so here it is ...
Spoiler: show
Here's a sample of my old kanji exam. Beneath each character are two rows. In the topmost of these, you're to write down all the onyomi. On the bottommost, you're to write down all the kunyomi. The answer key is a separate document which provides all the answers as well as definitions for all of the characters. And for the kanji writing exam (and not just the kanji reading exam), there was this template here which has all three rows blank. (I knew what character came next thanks to this sheet here or one like it.) I had dozens of these sheets -- still do, somewhere -- and this was how I studied. Not with flashcards, but with self-quizzes. Same idea though, really: be shown a cue (be it an English meaning or a Chinese character) and then produce the corresponding answer.

"But I thought you said that I shouldn't study kanji this way? :? That I shouldn't strive to memorize every single reading for each character?"

Ah, well, where do you think that advice comes from? Out of thin air? No, that advice comes from my very own personal experience. When I was a beginner and intermediate student of Japanese, I was convinced that true mastery meant knowing every possible reading of every character I learned. The problem with this approach, however, was that once the number of kanji I could read grew beyond 400, I simply did not have the time to sit there and take a self-administered kanji test every day or every other day. And as you know, "if you don't use it, you lose it": what happened was that the readings which I had only known because of taking these self-administered kanji tests and not because I could connect them to meaningful words, those readings slipped away bit by bit. So I pretty much had two options open to me: freeze my learning progress at 400 characters and just quiz myself on these for all eternity :? ... oooooooooooooooor keep going with my studies and not sweat it if I didn't know every possible reading. I went with the latter. And I've never regretted it.

In my opinion, you should not concern yourself with learning every possible reading of a character you've newly discovered. Instead, what you should do is learn the reading(s) for that character for when you discovered it. So for example, if you want to learn how to write osoroshii "terrifying" and so you look it up and find out that the kanji is 恐, that's great. Learn that. 恐ろしい, "terrifying." But say you glance down in the dictionary and you also notice that this character is used in the word 恐竜 kyouryuu "dinosaur" (lit. "terrible dragon"). That's nice. :| But don't worry about memorizing that the onyomi for 恐竜 is kyou unless you're also committing yourself to learning the word "dinosaur" today. Because my advice to you would be, always, always have a word that you connect readings back to. Don't just learn naked readings without any meaning to them, as I once did. That was a mistake, one I'd like for you not to repeat.

If you ask me "How do you learn kanji today, Talon?", my answer would be that I learn them hand-in-hand with vocabulary. So basically, I only learn the one reading which is attached to the word I just learned. Of course, if I recognize the character from previous studies but it has a new reading here, then I add that to my inventory. To give you some examples from this very week ...
  • 窄まる subomaru, "to get narrow, to contract", learned just the verb's reading
  • 裂ける sakeru, "to burst, to tear open", learned just the verb's reading
  • 香油 kouyu, "balm", knew 香り kaori "fragrance" and 油 abura "oil" already but didn't know that 香's onyomi was kou. Now I do.
Now if somebody asks me, "What's 香's onyomi?" I can answer "kou" because I know it from the word kouyu instead of answering "kou" because I rote memorized it.


Originally Posted by Doppleganger (Post 314385)
I'd also like to know how to properly write the kanji, so when I look at the character, I could break apart how it was written. I doubt this would be advised for most people, but complete dissemination is usually how I gain mastery of concepts.


Originally Posted by dosuser (Post 314446)
Doppleganger is on the right track with wanting to break down the finer details of handwriting. Unfortunately, printed text is a little confusing when trying to learn how to write by hand. Talon, do you know any good beginners' books that instill proper handwriting?

I don't know of any books per se, but most digital dictionaries will come with a handwriting graphic for each character. I know the dictionary that I recommended does.

Step 1. Go to the Kanji Lookup section.
Step 2. Paste the kanji and hit search.
Step 3. Click on the paintbrush icon to the right of the English meanings.

That's more calligraphic and less appropriate for pencil and paper, but they have resources like that as well. It would take me time to find those for you right at this moment. Maybe next time?

Talon87 02-01-2012 09:30 PM


Originally Posted by Jerichi (Post 314469)
Hi! I'm Jerichi and I've been seriously learning Japanese for the past 6 months, partly through a standard University Beginner's Japanese Class and partly on my own.

My best suggestion for making Japanese go a LOT faster: the Heisig Method.

On the one hand, I want to encourage people to use whatever works best for them. I welcome suggestions to include in the four OP posts and am happy to see other approaches being nominated in this thread. There's more than one way to learn a foreign language! :D

On the other hand, I fear that this Heisig Method isn't really helping you to learn the language at all but instead is encouraging you to apply English meanings to ancient Chinese orthography. This is one portion of the epic battle we call "learning my Chinese characters" :D ... but it's not the whole story. Not even close. And there are some worrying pitfalls that may be associated with a method like this.

Jeri encouraged me to Google for this method and so I did. The second hit I got in Google is a blog entry written by a fellow JSL student. He sums up my criticisms of the method as follows:
"My beef is that recognising is not reading, and writing is not using. After 6 weeks/months of dedicated study to Book 1, you may feel a great sense of achievement, but you've really learned next to nothing. You've internalised even less. Your Japanese skills will have progressed not even slightly.


"To let's take a look at how this works in practice. We'll take two equally motivated twins of equal background and ability, both starting from zero on the same day. Adam takes the Heisig Method and ONLY the Heisig Method as directed in the preface. Bob takes a more traditional approach by studying the kanji in the same order that native children learn them, picking up the Chinese and Japanese readings, and a few examples of usage as he goes along. He's also studying the spoken language, and practicing by reading the news (which he finds he can do almost straight away because the most commonly used kanji are learned first, and he knows the readings so he can look up compound words in the dictionary quickly).

"After six months, Adam has come to the end of book 1 and is confident that he can recognise (by Heisig keyword) and write all 2000 odd kanji. He cannot read any of them, and still speaks no Japanese because that's forbidden by the method, but is overall pleased by his progress. By this point, Bill's progress appears more slow - he only knows 1006 kanji. However, that 1006 kanji are the most commonly used and are required to be considered functionally literate. The really common ones he learned early and has now fully internalised. For each character he knows a concept, all the main readings, a number of words he's already familiar with from reading practice, all of which provide a plethora of hooks to aid recollection. His motivation is as strong as ever because he can see his progress every day. He's also conversationally fluent. For Adam to reach this level, it will take him another 5-6 months because what he already learned is almost completely non-beneficial. An during this time Bill will have become similarly fluent in the remaining 1000 kanji. Adam's use of the Heisig Method has basically given Bill a six month head start."
Now, Jeri and others who swear by the Heisig Method may take issue with this blogger's criticisms. However, from where I'm sitting, the blogger seems to be spot on and the Heisig method sounds like a scam. "Tell people that something they want to achieve but which is difficult to achieve will become very easy to achieve if they pay you $$$." Con Artistry 101. "How to lose weight eating all of your favorite foods and not exercising!" "How to make a million dollars from home surfing the Internet!" "How to learn to read the Mainichi Shinbun (Japanese newspaper) in just six months!" That's what this sounds like to me. Heisig Method students may be able to recognize the English meaning of stems like 根, 鏡, 肥, and 狂, but without actual words to put them to, you've not really learned much of anything. And like the blogger points out, learning the meanings to the characters is the easy part. It's learning the readings and the pairings that's the hard part. For instance ...
  • If I ask you to tell me the opposite of 正解 seikai "correct", what are you going to answer with? 無正解 or 不正解? They both semantically mean "not correct," but only one of them is the correct way to say it and write it!
  • If I ask you to tell me what 無茶苦茶 means, are you going to tell me it means "No tea! :evil: BITTER TEA! :evil:"? :lol: Sure, it may mean that literally, but what does it mean? Might help if you knew how to read it. (Hint: むちゃくちゃ)
  • What's the difference between 王女 and 王妃?
I dunno. I don't want to rag on the method too much, least of all when a colleague is enthusiastically recommending it. =\ I just ... I don't think this is the right approach. If the name of the game is "decoding crazy Chinese glyphs," then sure, it works. But that isn't what you're going to be tested on in class (they're going to want to know readings!) and it certainly isn't what you're going to want for yourself if oral or written proficiency is your goal.

Jerichi 02-01-2012 09:35 PM

A) I paid nothing for this. I found a PDF on the Internet and used that.

B) There's a great community built around the method that gives a lot of resources.



It doesn't, however, give you readings, compounds or even really reliable meanings, but it does give you good approximations which help in your learning of vocabulary and general comprehension of kanji-heavy text (which is pretty much everything outside of preschool children's books).
I think you might have misintepreted what I was getting at. I'm not saying this book helped me learn kanji. It helped me be able to recognize kanji and break them down so that I can learn them in context later. This really isn't a solution for learning vocabulary. It's to help demystify kanji for the general beginner to make it a lot easier to learn vocabulary from a native source.

It's not perfect, but it's helpful and a hell of a lot less to memorize. This way, you have a good idea of what you're looking at and how to break it down so when you actually go and learn the vocabulary, it is a LOT easier to remember how the kanji break down and it take a step out of learning the words.

Trust me, I did a lot of research on this method after it was suggested to me; and I agree, there's a lot of pitfalls that you can get trapped in, but at some point you move beyond the association of characters with words and start to learn the characters individually as having general meanings and as parts of compounds. It's not really a way to "learn" kanji - note that the book is entitled "Remembering the Kanji", not "Learning" - but it's a good way to get started, get an idea of what they're like and help you learn how to break down the characters in a way that will help you remember how they're composed.

The idea isn't to learn everything about them at once. It's more to demystify their complexity and give you an idea of what each of them mean before you go on and learn the vocab so that the kanji stick a lot better when you do actually learn the readings. If you think that you're gonna get through this book and magically know kanji, then you're totally wrong and have misunderstood the idea behind the book in the first place. It's a way to build up a base and a starting point to facilitate your learning down the road.

EDIT: Oh, and also, Heisig DOES provide another volume that concentrates on learning the readings. A lot of people consider it to be unnecessary, however, as by the point you've chugged through the Joyo and have started to break down native texts, you are learning through context and such fast enough that you don't really need to spend the time breaking down each individual kanji into their readings.

Kindrindra 02-02-2012 01:03 AM

HELP. ;_;

Need a bit of clarification, since I'm currently staring at the Hiragana's page and going "Wait, which of these are letters, and which are, like, letters with accents on them? @[email protected]"

What exactly do the yoon do? @[email protected]

And, am I right in thinking that the non-handakuten lettters are more 'soft' sounds, and that the letters with handakuten are more 'hard' sounds?

Talon87 02-02-2012 01:31 AM


Originally Posted by Kindrindra (Post 314526)
What exactly do the yoon do? @[email protected]

Take the word Kyoto for example ...
INCORRECT: Kee Oh Toh or Kee Yoh Toh (three syllables)
CORRECT: Kyoh Toh (two syllables with a monosyllabic glide in the first position)

The youon follow letters ending in i (so, き, し, ち, に, ひ, み, and り) and turn them into monosyllabic glides with the respective Y letters や ya, ゆ yu, and よ yo. So for example ... (in each pair, the top example is without the youon and the bottom example is with it):
  1. き ki + よ yo --> きよ Kiyo
  2. き + ょ --> きょ Kyo
  1. し shi + よ yo --> しよ Shiyo
  2. し + ょ --> しょ Sho
  1. ち chi + よ yo --> ちよ Chiyo
  2. ち + ょ --> ちょ Cho
Just as you can tell the difference between Shiyo and Sho, so too can the Japanese. And they signify this difference orthographically by way of the youon: when it's Shiyo (Shi + Yo), they write them equally sized, しよ; but when it's Sho (Shi merged with Yo to form a monosyllable), they write しょ with a regular sized し but a half-sized よ, the ょ. (Compare: よょ.) Remember: this same concept also applies to や ya and ゆ yu. So to give a notorious example, the main character in the Street Fighter series is not called "Rai-oo." He's called Ryuu, リュウ, all in one syllable. Just like how you say the word "view" except make the v an r instead. That's his name. And that's also the youon at work.


Originally Posted by Kindrindra (Post 314526)
And, am I right in thinking that the non-handakuten lettters are more 'soft' sounds, and that the letters with handakuten are more 'hard' sounds?

The " marks are called dakuten. The mark is called a handakuten. The only use of the handakuten occurs with the H consonant family, transforming it into the P consonant family. Hold that thought for now.

For letters which take a dakuten, the default form is phonologically voiceless. What that means in layterms is, you don't make any noise with your voicebox when making that consonant. (Make a "tuh" sound and put your hand over your throat as you do it. Now make a "duh" sound! See?) The dakuten diacritics indicate the change from voiceless to voiced. For voiced and voiceless paired consonants, your tongue makes the exact same shape inside your mouth for both letters, the only difference is your voice box's activity. So the voiced version of K is G, the voiced version of T is D, and so on.

The H family (は ひ ふ へ ほ) is a special exception as it covers for three consonants instead of the regular two or one. The dakuten makes H turn into B (e.g. は ha --> ば ba) and the handakuten makes H turn into P (e.g. は ha --> ぱ pa).

Kindrindra 02-17-2012 02:42 PM

Is the Japanese 'o' sound pronounced like 'o' or 'O'?

Talon87 02-17-2012 03:04 PM

I have no idea what you mean. O and o are both the English letter O. ^^; Also, when you say the Japanese letter 'o', there are two different letters that can cover that role. So the answer to your question depends on what you're trying to ask me.

Are you asking about お vs. を? (different letters that produce the same sound)

Spoiler: show
お = o
を = wo / o

That second letter is wo. But in modern (post-Meiji, maybe even post-war only) Tokyo dialect, the w sound part is dropped from common parlance. It's retained in poetry or song. So for example, in the sentence それを読まない ("I won't read that"), the を is pronounced 'o'. Sore o yomanai. But people will typically romanize を as wo because everyone understands the conventions for that letter. So like, you won't see someone write sore o yomanai but instead sore wo yomanai. (For whatever reason, は ha and へ he are always romanized as they are pronounced, so wa for は in sentences like 僕は男です boku wa otoko desu and e for へ in phrases like 君へ届けない気持ち kimi e todokenai kimochi. No idea why を is so consistently romanized for its alphabet role and not its common pronunciation, but it is. ^^; )

Or are you asking about お vs. おお/おう? (short vowels vs. long vowels)

Spoiler: show
For example, the difference between oki and ooki and ookii? Is that what you're asking about?

Or are you asking something completely different? :?

Regardless, 'o' in Japanese is pronounced the same way we say it (no uniquely Japanese enunciation or anything, unlike with some other shared sounds). So if you can say words like "over" or "only," then you are making the same vowel sound in words like onegai or kuro.

Loki 02-17-2012 03:27 PM

So is Japanese 'wa' pronounced like WA or wa?

Atari 02-17-2012 05:33 PM

こんにちわータランさん!私は日本語を話すことについて問題があります。毎日漢字と読むことを勉強していま すが、しかも喋るのが良くないです。何をしますのか?



Originally Posted by Raptor Jesus (Post 320695)
So is Japanese 'wa' pronounced like WA or wa?

Japanese 'wa' would be pronounced like water, watt, and wasp.

Also, to everyone: If you're studying straight kanji, I would recommend using the Kanjidamage method. In my opinion it works A LOT better than Heisig's because you learn the ON and KUN readings as you learn the kanji. A warning though; it's like PG-13 rated so watch out if you're a youngin'.

Loki 02-17-2012 05:36 PM

Sorry, that question was a joke. Unless you actually think ALLCAPS WORDS are pronounced different from lower case letters.

Atari 02-17-2012 06:36 PM

Lol sorry. I wasn't really paying attention to the preceding posts.

Talon87 02-17-2012 07:15 PM


Originally Posted by Atari (Post 320730)
こんにちわータランさん!私は日本語を話すことについて問題があります。毎日漢字と読むことを勉強していま すが、しかも喋るのが良くないです。何をしますのか?


と読む --> in Kantou dialect, pretty sure 読む doesn't take と at all.
しかも, "furthermore" --> I think you intended しかし, "however" here

Anyway, if I'm reading you right, you're asking for speaking tips? You mentioned studying how to read kanji, so I'm a little confused as to what you may be really asking for. Are you ...
  • just lettin' me know that you've no trouble with your kanji but that you're struggling with oral communication? Or are you ...
  • telling me that while you're able to read kanji just fine, you can't speak them? :?:
The second one doesn't make much sense to me (if you can read it, then you can speak it ... unless by being able to "read" it you're no better off than Jerichi and are only able to read for meanings), but I figured I'd ask since you opened with the bit about being studious in learning how to read kanji.

I'll go ahead and tackle the question as though you were just wondering about tips for improving oral communication. If it was something else, please feel free to clarify.

Tips for Improving Oral Communication:

In general, there are four basic skill sets to learning any foreign language. These are ...
  • listening comprehension
  • speaking ability
  • reading comprehension
  • writing ability
The first two form one pair and the second two form another pair. In each pair, there is a receptive component (listening in Pair 1, reading in Pair 2) and a productive component (speaking in Pair 1, writing in Pair 2). In the study of all languages -- perhaps even in the study of all things! -- receptive skills are typically much easier to master than productive ones. If you want to really master a foreign language, you have to be diligent and practice your productive language skills. That means writing and speaking, and not just reading and listening.

So you want to improve your oral communication. Here's what you're going to have to do ...

1. Find a native speaker.
This can be daunting, especially if you are shy or if you live in a rural area. However, it's important to try and find a native speaker of the language with whom you can communicate on at least a semi-regular basis.

(more details, click to expand)
Spoiler: show
JSL students are not an acceptable replacement, especially not for beginners. This is because of several important reasons.

First, most JSL students (whether they're aware of it or not) intone incorrectly. To give you an example of what I mean, imagine someone who says the word "geriatric" with the emphasis as ger-I-a-TRIC instead of ger-i-A-tric. Or imagine someone who says the word "envelope" with the emphasis as en-vel-OPE instead of as EN-ve-lope. Well, this same phenomenon applies to Japanese as well as it does to English. Not only can incorrect intonation be frustrating to a native speaker, it can make you downright unintelligible. You will learn proper intonation best from speaking with native speakers.

Second, native speakers will be able to catch any small lexical or syntactical errors you might make. JSL students are (1) less likely to be able to catch these errors, (2) more likely to offer misinformed corrections than would a native speaker be, (3) less likely to call you on these errors for fear of looking ignorant themselves if they are actually wrong, (4) etc.

Third, it's a lot of fun. :) In my personal experience, I befriended an elderly Japanese woman in town and we became good friends. Granted, she and I met by happenstance -- and until our meeting, I didn't have a speaking partner for a good year and a half post-college -- but I would still encourage you to keep your eyes and ears peeled and to find a talking partner.

2. Don't be afraid to try new things.

With a native speaker for your talking partner, you should take advantage of that opportunity and try using words or expressions that are new to you -- as well as asking them, in Japanese, how they say their equivalent of particular English expressions or idioms. Remember: you can't just translate expressions from English into Japanese word-for-word and expect them to make sense! But that doesn't mean you shouldn't test things out for yourself anyway! Try testing things out and relying on your speaking partner for feedback. (Again, this is why it's important to have a native speaker for your speaking partner!)

3. Practice!

Originally, I had written many more things. But I realized that only #1 and #2 were things I needed to convey to you for certain. The rest, really, is entirely up to you and your learning style. Some people benefit from many hours of time invested while others do not benefit as much. Some people take their JSL studies very seriously while for others it's a more casual affair and some of the recommendations I might make would seem excessive. I was even beginning to suggest things that I myself have never done and would probably not be good about keeping up with because they'd just be too much effort. ^^; But the one thing I can finish this advice off with is to say: practice, practice, practice. You have to remember: listening to a lot of anime and Japanese music is not the same thing as getting speaking practice in! Listening is listening, speaking is speaking. If you want to become a better speaker, you have to practice speaking.

One of the challenging things about oral communication is that it's instantaneous. Without looking awkward, you don't get much time to think about how to say next what it is that you want to say next. Wait even five seconds and already that's an awkward pause. Consistently wait 10+ seconds in between sentences and yeah, it can be socially awkward for both parties. But that's okay at first! :oops: With practice, you will get better at spontaneous conversation. I guess what it all really boils down to then in the end is practice.

Atari 02-17-2012 08:36 PM


Originally Posted by Talon87 (Post 320756)
と読む --> in Kantou dialect, pretty sure 読む doesn't take と at all.
しかも, "furthermore" --> I think you intended しかし, "however" here

Thank you very much for the response! I realize where I conveyed that part the wrong way. I meant that I study kanji and reading everyday. Also, I should have said しかし, thank you. c:

For my original paragraph I did mean to say that I am having trouble in my oral communication, so you were right in your assumption.

First, I suppose I really should find a native speaker! Spring 2011 was the last semester the local college offered Japanese, so it's really been almost a year since I've had anyone to talk to! I'll look around for some places to connect online with someone. Since I'm both shy and live in a rural community with virtually no international diversity, this is probably the only choice I have at the moment. I'll keep an eye out though for someone irl though!

I'm not quite sure what my learning style would be to be honest. Generally I will study between classes or when I'm bored, which would equate to about an hour every day at best. Currently my main sources for studying are my Real Real Japanese book, which has the original Japanese text on one page and the English translation on the other, and Kanjidamage. In the case of Japanese, these have really helped my kanji recognition for readings and meanings. (Strange to admit, but more times than not I can remember the readings but not the meanings!) So you can see where most of my experience is with the receptive component of language learning you discussed.

As for the listening component, I guess my constantly listening to J-Pop and watching anime don't count lol. Since I have no speaking partner at the moment, I'm not really sure how to practice this effectively. I've tried some things like Japanese podcasts where I listen to the dialogue and I have access to the Japanese and English translations of it. This hasn't really worked out for me because even after listening to the same track 10 times I still haven't picked up that many new words!

When I used to speak during class, I would often say "ちょっと待ってください!" while either thinking between sentences or looking up a word. I suppose if I can get into the habit of speaking more frequently this problem will slowly dissipate! c:

Again, thank you for your response. I've been studying Thai and Korean on the side, so your advice is definitely going to help with those as well. Wish me luck. c:

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