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Learning Japanese

May 31, 2011

So, I’ve been learning Japanese for a while now. For a long time, I didn’t take it too seriously – I plodded along picking up a sentence here and there, buying a few reference-style books, and dreaming of one day watching One Piece RAWs without subtitles. I haven’t improved much, though, and until recently I hadn’t done much research into the ways that other people learn a new language. 

Now, I’m more serious, I’m more dedicated (but I’m still lazy), and I want to watch those RAWs! I’ve recently been looking more and more into the idea of ‘immersion’ and though I don’t know exactly what kind of effect it will have, it’s been an interesting subject to read about. In a nutshell, immersion means taking as much as you can from your daily life, music, reading, TV, even your operating system – and turning it all into the target language. So in the case of Japanese, listen to Japanese music, watch unsubtitled RAWs, and reading manga or whatever else you like in Japanese. Which brings up to the first point of interest: The main point, according to Khatzumoto over at AJATT, is to have fun! Doing boring things makes whatever you’re doing a chore. No one ever complains that watching their favourite movie is ‘hard’ or that sitting through the entire 4th season of House is ‘complicated’ – they’re both time consuming, but you’re having fun at the same time. By finding music that you like and replacing your English music with it as often as possible, you can get accustomed to hearing Japanese and so on. Anyway, I won’t go on about it too much, because Khatzumoto goes into far greater detail on his site. It’s a great place to get inspiration and guidance on what to do next.

So far, I’m in the process of following Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji. The book teaches a keyword-and-kanji couplet via use of a story, or mnemonic. It teaches stroke order, but it does NOT teach readings. I found this really confusing at first: How the hell am I supposed to learn Kanji without readings? Well, with the use of SRS, apparently. Khatzu advises learning around 10 000 sentences (once you have learned all the kanji in RTK Vol I), by using SRS or whatever way works best for you. By memorising 10 000 sentences, you can effectively get around 5 readings for each kanji or so, if you select sentences that are a) the most useful to you, i.e. reflect your interests and so on (sentences about manga, describing stars in Dramas, Japanese words used for analysing music, etc), and that b) contain different readings of kanji. By memorising compounds like 世界 (せ・かい) instead of the individual readings of each kanji, you can build vocabulary and learn how to write those kanji at the same time. Well, that seems to be the idea – once I get to that point, I’ll be able to give a proper review of the book and Khatz’s methods.

So, really, right now, I am just starting out. Despite going at it for a long time, I never immersed and certainly never learned how to write the kanji with their keyword meanings. Now I’ve got a better structure and plan (and am armed with the advice laid out in Khat’z blog), I feel more confident about the future of learning Japanese. It’s important to me to reach fluency, for several reasons, and Khatzumoto claims to have reached fluency within 18 months (you can find videos of him talking by searching his name on youtube). I’m still regularly confused and moving beyond your comfort zone is always difficult, but reading Khatzumoto’s blog honestly puts a few things into perspective. Now, rather than just WANTING to be fluent, I genuinely believe I can!


Khatzumoto’s blog
Books I bought as references (and like, a lot)
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