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Thread: Language Resources

  1. #1

    Wink Language Resources

    Hey everyone ^^

    So, I have a bit of a problem .. I had been learning the mandarin language for the last couple months and had really enjoyed it. I gained a basic understanding of grammar and was slowly building up vocabulary, but I started to realize that there wasn't much in terms of television or entertainment that I'd ever really use it for. I also realize that japanese is the language used in the anime and the language doesn't have my worst enemy (tones) in it.

    When I first decided to learn Chinese, I argued that more people spoke it, so it would be more useful. However, I've come to realize that japanese suits my interests a lot better so it would be better to learn it instead. I'm also more interested in traveling to Japan sometime in the future than I am in going to China.

    The only thing is, I'm now starting from scratch. I build up quite a bit of resources through the time I spent learning Chinese, so I thought I would come here and ask those who have some experience with Japanese to tell me what they used and found effective.

    I'm basically looking for any online text-book like tutorials teaching basic to amateurish Japanese, useful dictionaries, flash-cards, or anything else anyone has ever used.

    Thanks for any help :). I realize there's a language help thread, but it seems to be more geared to translations and small language questions, so I thought I would post a new thread.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Language Resources

    I haven't "learned Japanese" in any complete sense. I'm somewhere in the long, long, intermediate desert: understanding a lot, but not understanding even more. So, I don't know how to reach proficiency yet, but I'm happy to share some of what worked and didn't for me.

    First, I think it's important to get addicted. I didn't really "get serious" until I decided I wanted to watch Digimon Tamers. Silly, nerdy goal, but hey, I got there, even cried a little when things started making sense.

    Of course, as you grow, your goals and dreams grow, too. I started reading manga and light novels and just recently finished the Core-6000, but I'm kinda offended that Pom Poko--a damn kids' movie!--is kicking my butt. それを許すわけないぜ。

    So, starting out, the cool thing about languages is that they mostly teach themselves--if you let them. The first thing to do is find some anime/music/tv-drama/comics/etc you like. Audio + media player + listen, a lot. I found it took a few weeks (!) to get used to the sounds. But, the advantage of doing that is that I hardly ever found myself thinking "wow, this is really fast." In fact, by the time I did run into that sort of thing, I was good enough to think うわ!早口だね!

    I have no idea how good you are with computers, but what I did was rip the audio track from Digimon Tamers and put that along with a bunch of pretty-much-random podcasts and some music on a cheap Sansa player with some cheap headphones and wore it all the time. It's probably best to go with stuff you're likely to enjoy, but that's not crucial.

    You don't need to understand either. You'll hear なお だいたい たぶん あります ない つもり した など つまり そりゃ ひょっとしたら こと いい etc, etc, etc over and over and each time you hear those combinations of sounds you'll get a little better at recognizing them as words. Then, vocabulary isn't so much learning words (which is really hard--I suck at it) but learning what, たぶん、 つもり、など (など means "and things of that sort/etc") mean. This is a lot easier. There's even some neurological research that suggests you actually grow more brain connections to deal with these new sounds and combinations. All this requires zero attention. Very cool.

    What you pick for this step depends on your own interests and tastes. I can't resist recommending this audio drama, though, because it's both free and really good.

    http://www.rbvermilion.com/sound/%E6%9C%AC%E7%B7%A8/ -- 神々のヴぁーミリオン (Vermilion of the Gods) It's a tale of two countries--a rigid caste society and the free and equal republic that declared independence. The two nations were about to sign a final peace treaty when a conspiratorial assassination plot threw them back into war--involving magic and demons--all told from teenager and young-adult perspectives. 全ては正義のために。

    The next thing to tackle is 漢字. (There are other opinions on this, some of them very well argued. I'm not saying this is the One True Way. It worked for me, and I like writing instructions in a "Do This" style. それだけ--just that)

    The problem with 漢字 is that you probably didn't grow up surrounded by them; you're brain isn't too well prepared to distinguish 妻麦凄表 or, heck even simple stuff like 未沫末来木本菜 or even 争/事. Never mind ink-blots like 襲 (this means "attack," has 22 strokes, and is a reasonably common character--it's definitely all over the place in Pocket Monsters Special). There is a kind of off-the-wall logic to the whole system that can be a lot of fun.

    You could, theoretically, avoid 漢字, but that's really crippling in a culture as thoroughly literate as Japan. As a bonus, you eventually get this eerie-cool ability to guess what new words mean (especially technical terms) if you can just see them written in kanji.

    Instead, I recommend studying one thing to start with: given an English nickname for each character, be able to write that character with correct stroke order. Break each character in pieces and use a silly, gross, or lewd story to put it back together. Do this for a good number of common characters, 1,500 minimum.

    I used Remembering the Kanji, vol 1 for this. I was unemployed at the time, and it took me about 60 days.

    You may want to consider kanjidamage as an alternative. It's not quite as polished, but it tries to teach on-yomi at the same time and is really, really off-color and hilarious--and that makes memorization easy.

    http://kanjidamage.com/introduction -- crazy, I wish I knew about this when I was just a fresh little 新人
    http://kanji.koohii.com/ -- Support group and web app for RtK. Forums are excellent if a little pretentious.

    Now, two words about study. First, it sucks. Interacting with the language is a lot better use of your time than drawing up lists and going through flashcards. A little study is good, but don't let it distract from looking at the pretty pictures in ポケスペ or another episode of ドラゴンボール改 or whatever floats your fancy.

    Second, you want to use your time effectively. Fortunately, there's a small revolution going on in self-study especially for languages. It's based around the revolutionary work of a Polish eccentric and neuroscientist named Piotr Wozniak. http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/magazine/16-05/ff_wozniak Wozniak's technique builds on flashcards in the same way that modern cars build on the Stanly Steamer. With the Leitner System, you can be decently effective with paper flashcards--if you don't mind herding thousands of little bits of paper.

    Instead, grab Anki,
    http://ankisrs.net/

    The basic idea is you only review facts when they're starting to get stale. Your first review will be a day or two after you learn something, but after that, intervals grow exponentially, until you fail a fact and restart it or you can go years without seeing something. Anki puts a lot of polish on that, with a decently simple interface and online back-up. This way, you get a pretty good balance between feverishly trying to remember the same stuff over and over and never-reviewing-always-relearning the same stuff over and over. The Koohii forums have a lot of excellent advice on how to set-up Anki for RtK and (with a little modification) that should work for Kanjidamage as well.

    Once you finish that, or if you need a break one day, my favorite online textbook (and pretty much the only English-language text I used) is Tae Kim's Japanese Guide to Japanese Grammar.

    http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar -- also has good forums; best ones I know of in English.

    It'll start out with かな and sort of shrug off 漢字 (Tae Kim's suggested method--Just Learn Vocab--didn't work for me. I put a lot of stuff in Anki and got horribly bogged down with a bunch of bizarre character shapes. RtK solves this problem.) Then, there's a pretty minimalistic coverage of grammar--but that's okay because Japanese grammar is pretty minimalistic.

    かな maybe take a week or two of doodling to remember. Grammar's easy. Some subtle things are hard, but they're not immediately important--and some apparently hard things, like はvsがvsも teach themselves. KD or RtK makes 漢字 easy--if time-consuming and at times frustrating. That leaves the only real hard problem in language.

    Vocabulary. 語彙。 Vocab sucks. No matter how you slice it, you've got thousands and thousands of words to learn--and then what context they work in and how they interact with each other in special stupid little ways your grammar book didn't cover.

    One idea that's been floating around recently that really helped me is the 'sentences method.' In this, you don't study individual words because individual words do not match up to individual words in English unless the exact same concept exists in both languages. This only happens for fairly concrete terms like "electromagnetic wave" or "dog." Words like "jealous" or "thanks" or even "blue" don't match up neatly, and good luck with "in any case" or "well..." or "sure."

    Instead, you learn short sentences that do translate. Preferably read by native speakers. There are a couple really good resources out there, but I used Cedega's Japanese Core 2000 and Core 6000. (There is some talk of a Core 10,000, too. That would be appreciated, though I wouldn't jump into that right now. More later.)

    http://smart.fm/goals/search?keyword=japanese+core+2000

    Combine that with the Anki Smart.fm plugin, and you can turn that into an Anki deck. I counted, and there's something like 5 solid hours of less than five second clips. It's a huge amount of starting material, and combined with listening to and reading real material, it gets you well into the intermediate stage.

    Which, is where I'm at now. Love Digimon and Pokemon even more now that I don't need subs. Newspapers are still really hard, but blogs and casual online stuff is getting easier and I can usually find what I want with Google. I'm reading a serial light novel (電脳コイル) and listening to and enjoying Vermilion. 坊ちゃん is hard, but good-hard, and it's really cool that I can get at least something out of a "serious literary classic." I've got to order the next couple issues of Pocket Monsters Special--get started on the GS arc. And I've been playing Black during my lunch breaks.

    Best of all, I'm thoroughly hooked: there's no where to go but better and nothing to stop me until I run out of challenges. My reading is better than my listening (yes, even though written Japanese is so hard!), which is a fair bit better than my writing, which is a whole hell of a lot better than my speaking. Lately, I've been practicing reading aloud--a huge boost to my comfort and physical speaking fluency--just wish my brain could keep up when I want to say something more complex than a clause or two...

    ええ、僕に書くことができます。漢字でも。それでも、うまくてペラペラ 書いたり喋ったりできないんです。今までの結果に誇りがあるけど、ま まだ足りなくて、もっと頑張らなくちゃいかないんですね。
    (Yeah, I can write. Even in 漢字. But, even still, the thing is, I can't write or speak well or smoothly. I'm proud of my current results, but they're still not good enough and I've got to keep trying, doncha think?)

    I know that's probably a lot to think about. I've been going at this for nearly two years now and haven't really tried to explain it all at once before. Please, don't hold back (遠慮しなくて), tell me what sort of stories you like, tell me where I was confusing, and I'll try to help you find a path into 日本語 that works for you.
    Last edited by wildweathel; 16th January 2011 at 11:50 PM.

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