New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Japanese Lesson Plan

One month ago I arrived in Japan with a few phrases and a little vocabulary and that was it.  Today I went out to lunch, asked the waiter for his recommendations, ordered in Japanese, said the equivalent of bon appétit to my lunch date, and thanked the staff for the lovely meal as I left the restaurant.

Progress!  Whenever I kick myself because I can't remember a phrase or I mangle a word so badly that it's incomprehensible, I remind myself that one month ago I was limited to "yes", "no", and "thank you."

Do I have a Grand Plan for learning Japanese?  Not really. Let's call it a flexible framework instead.

For me a flexible framework is one that has a general structure but is open to adjustment and fine-tuning. This means making mistakes, realizing that this isn't the way to go, and moving on without a lot of self-condemnation or regret.  

I have made quite a few course corrections in the past month. I followed recommendations, bought books, spent a lot of time on the Internet  and did other things that didn't  necessarily work for me (but they might work for you, so don't take my experience too seriously).

Here are a few things that didn't help this beginning language learner:

A standard beginner's Japanese textbook.  I'd read a chapter and would get lost and frustrated halfway through.  Worse, the Kindle version did not have links to individual chapters so I had to keep bookmarking sections I wanted to review and that was just irritating.   I won't name the book here but I'll whisper the title in your ear if you stop by the apartment for coffee.

Heisig's Remembering the Kanji.  This one came highly recommended and it looked good (it is certainly complete) but it was too much, too soon for me.  Not to mention that trying to get any kanji into my head before mastering the hiragana was like trying to eat too much of the elephant at once - too much to swallow.  This one has been set aside for the time being.

Jumping from website to website to find vocabulary, phrases and the correct grammar to use in standard situations like restaurants or stores.  There just wasn't enough context to help me remember what I read and my list of favoris grew to a ridiculous length which made it hard to find that one website about ordering drinks.  I've since deleted all of them.

What is helping right now:

A Japanese tutor.  A real live human being who comes to my house twice a week for 3 hours. It's loosely structured around scripts and vocabulary lists.  Once I have the script down, we play with it and she explains the grammar as we go along.  Most importantly, it's a safe place to speak - to try things out, to ask questions and to make mistakes.  This is the first time I've used a language tutor and so far the experience has been outstanding.

JapanesePod101 "Survival Phrases".  This is a really well done series of about 60 short, very digestible Japanese lessons.  It covers useful phrases and vocabulary for a number of common situations like taking a taxi or ordering in a restaurant.  Each session is limited to just a few sentences and they go over them many times very slowly.  I'm enjoying this one a lot.

Dr. Moku. To start learning the hiragana.I went through several sites with different methods and quizzes for learning the simplest writing system.  This is one I decided was best for me.  Nice interface, good pop quizzes, It's still a struggle but I don't mind logging on and working at it every morning, perhaps because there is something almost playful about the site.

One final element - not an obvious one and you won't find it advertised anywhere - that has been making learning Japanese much much easier on me:  the people in Osaka.

Everywhere I go I find patience, understanding, and encouragement.  I have not had one critical remark, nor has any request for help gone unanswered.  I try to speak and they are incredibly patient, waiting until I get as much of the sentence out as I can and then they gently correct or supply the missing word.

Now I'm sure that are impatient people here, and I will undoubtedly inadvertently offend at some point, but so far it has been so pleasant to have one's efforts rewarded.  From my reaction, you might gather (correctly) that this has not been the case elsewhere.  So....

Want people to learn and use your language well?

Be kind.

What a concept.


Inaka Nezumi said...

For kanji, I started out with Heisig, but after getting the idea down (create mnemonics from the consituent components), I didn't actually follow the book anymore. In the end, I just made flash cards, and eventually a flash card program on the computer, and just drilled endlessly.

One thing that might help is to got to the bookstore and buy some kids' kanji-learning posters. There will be posters for each grade -- 80 characters for 1st grade, 200 for 2nd grade (or whatever the numbers are), etc. They will show stroke order and meanings, and more usefully, they come in discrete packages. You can say, "I'm just going to learn the 1st grade kanji for now," and that will be a meaningful unit to learn. You can also buy kids practice books for writing practice, and they will I'm in a French-speaking part of the world and someone asks me a question, be divided into the characters needed for different grades.

Also, as soon as you have hiragana down, stop using romaji entirely, unless you are writing English words (like meanings for your flash cards). For Japanese words, just don't use it.

Now that you have a TV, find something you'd like to be able to watch and understand (NHK news, for example), and record it with a voice recorder. Then play back, stopping and starting and looking up words, until you can understand what was being said. Might want to start with just the weather report -- useful, and limited, repeated vocabulary. Repeating after the recording will also help you get the intonation.

For grammar, it might make sense to start with the training books for the Japanese Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験). Pick the lowest level and start there. Plan to take the test, a new level each year or something. This will give you a measurable benchmark of progress, and limit what you need to study (whatever is needed for the next level).

For texts, I assume your teacher will have something to recommend. There is also a two-volume Japanese grammar reference that I found very helpful -- not a text book, more like a "grammar encyclopedia," the name of which escapes me at the moment. I'll try to find it and tell you what it is.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Oops, cut-and-paste error above! The following text fragment should be ignored/deleted from the above post:

"I'm in a French-speaking part of the world and someone asks me a question,"

(Bit of text I deleted from my reply to the other post, but seems it refused to die!)

Inaka Nezumi said...

The grammar reference books I mentioned are:

"A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar"


"A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar"

by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui, published by The Japan Times.


(Ooh, and I see there is now a "Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar" out. I'll have to pick that up some time.)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Nezumi-san, Thank you for the tips. The one I loved was the idea of getting posters. And starting with the kanji the kids learn. I think that is one hell of an idea.

I should start watching TV too but I HATE television. :-)

Here is post but a truly excellent blogger who has an entirely different take on it. I'd love to get your reaction to what he has to say:

Inaka Nezumi said...

Well, to be honest, I don't really understand his argument... It sounds like he is saying not to STOP at hiragana, and fail to proceed to kanji. Which of course is indisputable. But I don't understand what is bad about hiragana itself, or why using romaji would be better.

The problem with depending on romaji is that you won't be able to read anything written in Japanese with just romaji, apart from the occasional street sign. So it is good to make oneself comfortable with hiragana as soon as possible. Followed by katakana and kanji.

Actually, it could be argued that katakana is more immediately useful for the native English speaker, since there are so many loanwords from English written in katakana -- especially on restaurant menus.

But in practice, you'll have to get both hiragana and katakana out of the way early on, and will then spend most of your time studying kanji after that. There is really no reason to hang onto romaji after it is not needed, and doing so will slow down becoming familiar with the other scripts that will be needed.

But, I'm no expert! And what works for one person may not work for another.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Also, you need hiragana to use a dictionary.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Fun blog you introduced, Victoria. Been reading through some of his other entries, and here is one I agree with strongly:

Actually, I think Latin and Greek roots serve some of the same function in English as kanji do in Japanese -- discrete block of meaning that can be mixed and matched to create words.

Sally said...

Yes, kanji often work like the Greek and Latin roots in English.

But there's one important difference: anybody can use them to make compound words, not just some old, dead scholars.

For a poor gaijin trying to comprehend Japanese, this means all these compound words keep popping up and Japanese people understand them. But you can't find them in the dictionary anywhere! You have to put on your thinking cap and puzzle out the meaning from the meaning of the kanji.