I Think I’m Learning Japanese: Thoughts From Our Japan Trip

Hey everyone! Thomas here. Lee and I have been meaning to write more posts, but we had a big trip to Japan last month, and between planning for that, and recovery (we tend to take vacations where you need vacations from the vacation, hah!), we’ve been just chilling here.

For myself, I don’t have a huge post to make really, but I just wanted to share my experiences having learned a tiny bit of Japanese, then going to Japan, and what I plan to do with it! So here goes.

What my knowledge was, before the trip:

I “sort of” knew most hiragana, but I didn’t really know much katakana, and only the tiniest bit of Kanji. Super limited! I think I read one shinkansen (bullet train) sign once. Yay!

Speaking and comprehending:

Limited to what I would call “tourist Japanese.” Introducing myself and so forth. I did know how to say I liked something, so proved useful.

How this played out on the trip:

It was the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d think that my very limited Japanese would be of most help in short, common situations day-to-day, while our time spent with Lee’s Japanese friends in deeper, longer conversation would basically eliminate me from the conversational mix! In reality, the opposite was true. When we would walk around Tokyo, Niigata, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima (the cities we visited, all lovely!), you need to know how to say and understand something *immediately.* So I would clam up, and let Lee do the work here (who is far, far more advanced than I).

However, when we visited Lee’s friends, I could sit back and just listen, and I was able to pick out various things. At minimum, I could discern the general topics of conversations, which was nice (this, I think, was the result of studying enough of the language to at least have a since of its rhythm and flow; in other words, my ear was somewhat tuned to it). It also gave me the opportunity to speak the few sentences and thoughts that I could: basically, whenever the conversation moved to a place where I had a thought I could express, I said something (probably much to everyone’s amusement). Usually I was expressing things like “I like bean paste,” which is “watashi wa an suki desu.” Or, to write this properly: 私は好きです。

Mostly, though, I was really inspired. I just loved visiting Japan! I could feel my love of the country blossom in particular when we were in Osaka, which I have decided is my favorite Japanese city. Osaka is every bit the glowing, modern metropolis, but it has a slightly gritty, down to earth feeling, which I like! This is also reflected in the people, who have a reputation of being more gregarious and fun loving.

So because of this, I have decided on a mid-term goal: To study for and pass the JLPT N5, which is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. N5 is the easiest level, but it would not be a trivial accomplishment. It would represent a sort of “bare minimum” to get by as a non-native speaker of Japanese, which might sound easy, but we’re talking something like 800 words of vocabulary here (which sounds scary until you realize simple things like “1” (ichi) count in this).

The test is in December, but I still have a lot of work to do! I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress here.

-Thomas

Language Links

Hello everyone! Here’s some more interesting links to check out.

High school language learners show off skills.

Via WFPL.org.

Dance instructors put a new spin on learning language (and math).

Via Philly.com.

What languages should a child learn?

Via USNews.com. The real answer here is “what they are interested in,” in my opinion.

Computer programs teach themselves a language to talk to one another.

Via Recode.net. Can’t help it, I have to share some nerdy stuff sometimes :).

That’s it for now! I hope you all have a great week!

I Think I’m Learning Japanese, Part III: Kanji!

みんな おはよう! That’s “Minna ohayou,” or, “Good morning everyone!”

I’m back with another progress report on my Japanese self-study.

I’ve gotten just about all of the hiragana memorized, but I’m lagging on the katakana, so I have to get on that! My verbal Japanese is coming along nicely. I’m able to introduce myself pretty easily now, say where I’m from, and ask simple questions. It’s all very, very basic stuff, but it feels great and I have confidence I’m on the right path this time, versus the many false starts I have had.

So that brings another topic. One that is very intimidating. Kanji.

Unlike hiragana and katakana, which are really just alphabets like ours, kanji is a pictorial system borrowed from the Chinese that represents ideas and sounds with pictures. There are, I think, two things that make kanji appear intimidating: how bizarre it looks, at first, and the sheer amount of them.

I work in the video game industry, and I have sometimes assisted in language localization on some projects. When converting to Japanese, one of the technical challenges faced by developers is a font may have something like 5000 kanji characters in the font, yet the actual Japanese language has tens of thousands of kanji. While many of these are out-of-use characters from the past, not all of them are, and invariably the translators we hire choose one that isn’t actually in the font! When this happens, the computer renders a plane square or some other “error” character, telling us there is a problem.

So when studying Japanese as a beginner, kanji seems horrifying. However, Lee has a great collection of Japanese learning books at home, and I found a terrific one that has made the process of kanji learning fun! It’s called Read Japanese Today by Len Walsh.

Continue reading

Language Links

Hey everyone! Back with more links to share. I hope you had a great weekend!

We had a nice weekend here in the ever busy San Francisco Bay Area. One of our favorite stops is Mitsuwa Market, a fun Japanese grocery store with a lot of neat shops nearby. If you are lucky enough to live close to one (it is a small chain, with locations in California, Illinois and New Jersey), they are a delightful combination of groceries, food court style hot meals, books, gifts, and DVDs, all of course Japanese.

However, the Mitsuwa here is VERY POPULAR! We went during the busiest time in the day; next time we’ll come back a little later, when the dinner rush has faded! That didn’t stop me from trying some miso ramen, as well as the kiddo eating her favorite katsu curry!

As we are still new to the area, sometimes I see something that surprises me. Recently, I saw a lizard on the sidewalk! Anyone know what this is?

It was cool… and maybe just a little weird at the same time. Anyway, here are this week’s links, enjoy! -Thomas

Robots creating their own language.

Via the New York Post.

Will Angelina Jolie’s latest movie create interest in the Khmer language?

Via Leaning English.

The difference between translation and localization.

Via Econo Times.

For more effective proofreading, thank backwards.

Via Life Hacker.

Language Links

Hello! So it’s the weekend (well, here on the west coast, there is still a couple hours of it left) which means it is time for Language Links.

I’m going to be honest: I’m still working on our taxes (I want to say “chou baka taxes” which is something like “very dumb taxes,” but I don’t really know the right way to say taxes in Japanese nor do I want to bother Lee about it!), so I’m going to keep this short!

Yakuza 0 teaches Japanese board game culture.

Via Polygon. I love the Yakuza games (I’m sure a post on this blog is forthcoming) because even though they are Japanese crime dramas at heart, they have many lovely cultural details that would be difficult to experience, short of living in Japan yourself.

Google helps keep endangered Pakistani language alive.

Via Cnet.

Like I said, short and sweet. I guess I should say, “Sumimasen,” which is the Japanese way of saying “sorry.” Hopefully I’ll have my family’s taxes done and I’ll have more time for blogging!

I Think I’m Learning Japanese, Part II: Learning How to Learn

It’s Thomas again, or, rather: Watashi wa Thomas Typo, yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

That was: I am Thomas Typo, pleased to meet you!

I’ve been working diligently on learning Japanese in time for our trip in April,* and so far it is going well.

Here is an inventory of what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I’ve memorized maybe 50-70% of the hiragana, and a few katakana. A lot of work left to go, but it’s getting there!
  2. I’ve learned some basic phrases for introducing myself, and more importantly how to ask people how to say things in Japanese (so I can practice without going back to English when talking to Lee for practice).
  3. I’ve ditched what isn’t helping me right now, and I’m focusing what I need instead.

Let’s look at number 3 for a little bit. The first time I tried to learn Japanese, I made the mistake of trying to learn using just one method. This was bad. You probably need to use several different apps/books/tools if you aren’t paying for private lessons (which is in my opinion the best way to learn anything**). However, I was beginning to get the opposite problem: by trying to do too much, I wasn’t learning much of anything!

In my case, I turned off the writing module in the Learning Japanese app (which I continue to use and enjoy!). Writing is great, but it isn’t helping me now with my goals — to attain an ability to have basic conversations and to read simple things.

There is also the issue of finding time. I’ve set aside the hours of 9pm-10pm on most days for study (that is when our oldest daughter goes to bed, so it is a good time to study!). However, I realized that I have about an hour per day of commuting in the car to work. I should totally use that for study!

So to do that, I went shopping on Amazon for an audiobook, and found this one: Learn Japanese with Innovative Language’s Proven Language System.

What I purchased was a bundle for ten dollars that included their introductory boot camp, as well as the more in-depth lessons. What I like most about this audiobook is that it is not just a simple phrase-teaching book. They go into great detail on the culture and context of the language, and even have little pop culture quizzes that are quite fun! I feel like this is doing a good job of not just teaching me a language, but helping me to understand the overall culture better.

Here’s an example: there is an easy-to-remember word for “yes” in Japanese, called “hai” (pronounced like our “hi”). This is easy enough, but did you know that Japanese people will say this while listening to another person speak? You might hear a person say “hai, hai” throughout a conversation. In our culture, interjecting this way might be considered rude (imagine someone saying “uh huh” a lot while you talk: you probably don’t like that, and think they are brushing you aside or not paying attention). In Japan, however, it is the opposite: it’s considered weird to not say anything, and saying “hai” (and other interjections) is a way to let the speaker know you are following the conversation. That’s great to know!

That’s it for now — as I keep learning, I’ll keep reporting. I hope my ruminations are helpful and possibly a little inspiring! I can definitely say I’m having a lot of fun studying a second language!

*Obviously not mastering Japanese, but learning enough to feel like I’m not totally lost!

**I admit that I teach private guitar lessons, so I’m biased here!

Language Links

こんにちは! Or rather, konnichiwa or hello (yes, I am continuing to study Japanese, with Lee’s help!). Thomas here with this weekend’s language links:

Language:

Whale mimics human speech.

From the Smithsonian. My mother sent this in (thanks!) and says this is a sad story, so I avoided reading it 🙂 But I bet it is interesting!

Do the linguistic ideas in the film Arrival have any merit?

From the Smithsonian.

Grammar:

National Grammar Day.

From the American Enterprise Institute. Did you know March 4th was National Grammar Day? I didn’t, but this post from AEI outlines a treasure trove of awesome grammar-related resources!

Typo Terror:

Typo just about kills the internet for a day.

From Business Insider. Whenever something breaks on Amazon, it feels like my life is over. How spoiled we are! 🙂 😉

Blogs:

Getting beyond intermediate Spanish.

From Actual Fluency. Kris talks to Olly Richards from Fluent Spanish Academy.

Five fun facts about Brazil’s Carnival.

From Busuu.

Language Links

Whoops, got distracted by a bunch of stuff at home today (Saturdays tend to be a “catch up” day around here; particularly for chores that get missed during the busy week).* So Language Links comes a bit later in the day. Enjoy! -Thomas

*And, um, yeah, taxes. Ugh.

Grammar skills in babies not inherent, but learned.

Via Sierra Sun Times.

Preserving Nebraska’s Original Spoken Language.

Via KMTV.

From the blogosphere:

Amazing Brooklyn Coffee Shop

Via This Is The Place I Was Telling You About.

Lee likes tea, and I like coffee. I think we’d both love the decor in this place. Reminds me of Paris!

Paris Travel Guide.

Via Cup of Jo. Our travel manifesto is “do whatever,” as just being in a cool place is enough. But it’s nice to have ideas!

Getting past the intermediate plateau.

Ideas for progressing past intermediate language mastery.

Via The Polyglot Dream.

I Think I’m Learning Japanese

Thomas Typo here.

So over the years since being married to Lee, I’ve wanted to learn Japanese, which is one of the languages she knows. Back in 2008, I purchased Rosetta Stone with the meager tax refund we had. I worked on it pretty dutifully (at least I remember doing that!), but despite using the product consistently for many hours, I really didn’t learn a whole lot outside of random vocabulary (“Watashi wa Thomas Typo desu,” meaning “I am Thomas Typo,” and tamago being “egg” and so forth).

The reason is that Rosetta Stone — while being really cool and slickly marketed — attempts to imitate an immersion environment. That is, they want to dispense with grammar and structure and just have you learn the language “naturally,” like your first language.

Well… yeah. I’m skeptical that approach works. I have an adult mind, and structure helps fast-track learning in a way that pretending to immerse yourself does not. A baby is surrounded by native speakers 24/7. When you consider how long most children take to speak reasonably well (years, despite being *totally* immersed!), is that really the best model for an adult?

Anyway, we have a trip coming up to Japan soon so I was inspired once again to try to learn the language. Since language is a huge part of this blog, I’m going to blog about my progress and review the various educational products I try along the way!

So far, I am using an app called “Easy Japanese,” and I’m pretty excited about my progress! What Lee and I like about it is that it combines vocabulary, grammar, and hiragana/katakana in a holistic fashion in bite-sized lessons. If I’m busy, I could easily get a lesson in that is meaningful in 20 minutes. As I continue to use this app, I’ll let you all know here how useful we find it! It comes free to try, with all lessons combined costing $5.99. Not bad; certainly much cheaper than Rosetta Stone…

I look forward to reporting my progress with Japanese, as well as reviewing all the educational materials I try!

Language Links

Hey there! It’s Thomas again for another Saturday roundup of language links.

France uses English language theme for Olympics.

Via France24.com. Apropos since there have been some posts about the French language on this blog!

Giphy creates 2000 animated GIFs to teach sign language.

Via Engadget. Pretty cool!

17% of Americans can speak a second language.

Via TCTimes. Lee might disagree just a little with one of the points in this article regarding grammar based learning (Lee likes that!).

Interview with the creator of Early Lingo.

Via New Canaan News. Early Lingo is a total immersion program for teaching young children a second language.

Experienced reporter still needs a good editor.

Via Bangor Daily News. Even experienced writers need a great editor!

That’s it for now! Have a great Saturday and President’s Day weekend!