Thursday, May 24, 2007

Learning Japanese ( Least I Think So)

I've had a lot of students' homework to look at lately. I've got about 200 students, and they all write something for me most every week. It's tiring work to read it all, week in and week out. In fact, there's nothing obligating me (beyond my own sense of "doing my job") to give them any homework at all, but the result is that these days I'm tired...

On a more positive note, I have resumed, after a pause of about six years, my Japanese language studies. It's actually a source of personal embarrassment to me that, after living and working here for nine years, my Japanese ability sucks big time. Aside from sheer laziness, probably the biggest obstacle to my learning Japanese has been kanji.

Not knowing kanji means that I can't read anything in Japanese (or at least nothing substantive). Anyone who knows the abc's, for example, can pick up a newspaper and, dictionary in hand, start reading in English. This is not possible with Japanese (at least not initially). I happen to know that "宮崎" is spoken as "Miyazaki" (because I live here!). Without that knowledge, however, there is no way I could look it up in a dictionary. One has to learn the kanji, then it's meaning, then how it is spoken (and most kanji have two readings: the original Chinese reading and the later Japanese one).

Conversely, I suppose you could learn only the spoken language, which would allow you to look words up in a dictionary and from there learn the kanji. Um, after you've learned hiragana and katakana, the two alphabets that supplement kanji, that is. In this case you would simply look up "みやざき" ("mi-ya-za-ki") in order to arrive at the kanji and/or the word's meaning.

All in all, a messy business, this Japanese...


  1. So you took a 6 year break from studying Japanese. Hmmm...maybe it is a Canadian thing. I have done the same, except it is more like a 10 year break for me. Good luck - and if you master kanji, tell me the secret! Cheers!

  2. Hey Mark,
    Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
    I suppose if I'm really honest about it, giving Japanese another go has more to do with personal vanity than anything else. It offends my self-perception of being an intelligent, well-educated person to always be the idiot who doesn't understand what's going on, what's being said, etc.
    Recently I've found myself in the position of having my 4-year old daughter explain something to me! This just won't do...

  3. Well, my dear, at least you're taking it up again. I took 3 classes many years ago with a Japanese 'sensei' who wouldn't allow us to speak Spanish; it was Japanese, English or no speaking at all, and I dropped out like a big coward. But that brought me to try to master English. Now I just wish I had the time and money to go back...
    Wanna study together?

  4. Usual Stuff, my next lesson is Wed. at 3:30. Can you make it? ;-)

  5. If I am able to discover what time that is in Mexico, I might. Is that around 7 am or something? =D

  6. You do know about Kodansha's Learner's Dicitonary, right? You do not need to know the reading of the kanji, you look the entries up by shape. It's easier than it sounds with a bit of practice.

  7. Hi Jocelyn,
    Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I am aware of this dictionary, but haven't properly checked it out yet. The "with a bit of practice" part sounds a bit tricky... ;-)