Friday, February 6, 2009

An Amerikajin Learning Nihongo: My Further Adventures With Japanese

Well, it's been five weeks since I started my quest to learn Japanese (Nihongo). I broke my rule of not buying anything to accomplish this goal, in that I decided to have one dedicated resource to practice with, and I do that with my Nintendo DS and the Ubisoft game/application "My Japanese Coach". In some ways I have learned a lot, but in other ways I fgeel like I haven't learned much of anything. According to the program I have mastered 175 words and 35 kana characters. Before you say that sounds awesome, that's the equivalent of a toddler about to go into pre-school (LOL!).

I realized that my biggest challenge is that I'm still to readily clinging to the western alphabet as a crutch to compile and understand what I'm seeing and reading. Because if this, I end up going through several steps process any of the things I work with. As an example, some Japanese texts use roman letters to allow western speakers to see what it is they are trying to say. This is called roma-ji, and it's exactly what it sounds like, Japanese written in roman letters. The problem is, most stuff in Japan is not writen in romaji and it gets quickly sidelined. The reason? just about everything written beyond instructional level is written in kana or kanji. The expectation is that the speaker and learner get up to speed on kana as quickly as they can so that they don't need to use the roma-ji.

At this point in time, my brain does a three step process to translate anything. First, I have to look at the kana letters (the one's I know, in any event) and my brain converts these to roma-ji. Then I look at the roma-ji and convert it to english to process it and understand it. Afterwards, I then craft my reply or response in English, then mentally sound it out and view it as roma-ji and then go through the process of writing it out as though it were kana.

English: "where is the bathroom?"
Roma-ji: "otearai wa doku desu ka?"
Kana: "おてあらい わ どく です か?"

Now, to make matters even more interesting, if you spend a lot of time learning kana, it's only going to take you so far. While the above is accurate, it's the long way to say something. The kanji would be much more compact and in some cases, many words can be combined into a single kanji character. I'm not even close to there yet (LOL!).

What I have been doing is spending a lot of time practicing my various kana characters, and my goals is to have them on immediate recall whenever I need to write them. Some of these I have down pretty well. Others I'm still trying to commit to memory. by way of comparison, here are the sounds I have covered directly:

a e u i o
ka ke ku ki ko
ga ge gu gi go
ta te tsu ti to
da de du di do
sa se su shi so
na ne nu ne no
ha hi fu he ho
pa pi pu pe po
ma mi mu me mo
ra ri ru re ro

and this is their corresponding kana (hirigana to be more accurate, as this is what is used for purely Japanese words):

あ え う い お
か け く き こ
が げ ぐ ぎ ご
た て つ ち と
だ で づ ぢ ど
さ せ す し そ
な ね ぬ ね の
は ひ ふ へ ほ
ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ
ま み む め も
ら り る れ ろ

What's interesting is that a lot of the characters repeat, but they use symbols called "dakuten", which are like quotation marks next to a character, or a "handakuten", which looks like a small circle in the upper left hand corner of the character. This is actually kind of efficient, in that it allows reuse of characters and ilustrates a slightly different sound (frankly, there are quite a few words in English where such a device would be very helpful :) ).

So as I stand here today with my barely pre-school age vocabulary, I have a much greater appreciation for the time and energy it will take for me to get to my goal of being conversant in Japanese by the end of this year. Still, all big goals can be broken down to small steps... and right now, I feel like I'm talking some mighty small steps, but I'm hoping I will be considerably farther along by this time next month. Wish me luck :).

1 comment:

Larsen's said...

I am impressed about how you got those Japenese symbols written on your blog! :)

Keep at it, honey...