I’ve made a side goal of mine to learn the Japanese language quite recently. Why? Simple reason; the culture. I’ve been a fan of two cultures in particular, the first being the US culture, and the second being the Japanese one. I’m quite interested and fond of films, TV, animation, games, comedy, and music that comes from the US. I already know English, so it’s very easy to follow and consume. The second culture I’m quite fond of is the Japanese one, with their animation and games in particular. So I think it was about time to actually understand it from their native tongue instead of having everything translated all the time. At the time of writing, I’m about less than a month in, and I’m just starting out. I’m learning it on the side at a steady but occasional basis. We’ll see how far I get…
I am coming from the perspective as only a native English speaker starting from scratch. This would be my second language with the occasional Japanese word here. Konnichiwa! So, how does one start learning an entirely new language?
The learning strategy
While I’m new to learning a language, I am not new to learning how to learn. I’ve mostly taught myself orchestration, and I know how to harness resources to my advantage. So I’m going into this with a similar approach.
First is to get a feel of what’s out there. I started searching YouTube for anything to do with learning Japanese. I know this won’t be my primary source of learning, but just to gauge people’s experiences, and methodology. What I basically got out of it was learning how Japanese vowels sounded like, the different writing systems, and also that Japanese media (anime, games, TV) is not actually the same as real world Japanese. Good to know, so I can keep that in mind.
Ok, what’s next? How about books? Well it seemed like there were a couple around, but I eventually settled on Genki being the book of choice, with a special note that it would be a “textbook” styled approach and just being a little from real world Japanese. Ok, also good to know.
While I got through the first few pages fine, I quickly realised that I did not recognise the characters very well, which is crucial in trying to pronounce the words. While it had romanji (Japanese spelled with English letters) initially, it stopped after while and it expected you to know the characters. Ok, so I might have to take a step back and start memorising the characters and the corresponding vowel sounds as I’m getting stuck very fast. At this point, basic grammar had been introduced, the concept of particles, so at least I got something out of this.
Apps and flashcards
This is the part where I’m at and will be for a while; memorising the characters. I figure the best way is to get some kind of app, as I can learn this anywhere and anytime. After looking through all the apps (boy were there a lot), I settled on Japanese Dictionary Takoboto which in my opinion was the best one for what I wanted. It not only had the flashcards with the option to go backwards and forwards, but also a beginner to advanced level of words and phrases too. The other flashcard apps have you a multiple choice option, which I don’t think is very helpful in the long run. This one hid the answer so it forced you to know the character.
So that’s where I’m at, rote memorisation. Some people will make stories about the thing they are trying to memorise which is a good strategy, though I’m going to take a more brutal approach and just try and cram it into my head, and brutal it has been. I’m finding it pretty hard to memorise roughly 100 characters for both system which are the Hiragana and Katana systems, and that’s just the pronunciation! There’s a whole other system (Kanji), which are characters borrowed from Chinese. Apparently high school students would of memorised about 2000 of them, and I’m having trouble with 100! So, now I understand why it takes about 2 years to get some kind of proficiency.
Here’s a list of the characters to get a better understanding of what I’m trying to learn, courtesy of Wikipedia.