Monday, 16 February 2015

Learning Japanese

So, I've been working on trying to learn to read Japanese for some time now. My motivation is a little hard to explain, in part it's because I consume a lot of Japanese media in translation and would like to be able to follow in the original language, in part it's because I'd very much like to visit Japan some day, in part its because I don't really speak any foreign languages and would like to correct that, and in part it's because when my brain's left to its own devices it spins in a way that's not conducive to my mental health -- keeping it occupied is generally good for me, and it takes a lot to keep it occupied.

Hence learning to read Japanese.

So, several months in how am I doing? Well, better than might be expected, but don't expect miracles.

There's a good few resources I've found useful in my learning, which might help other Japanese self-learners. I'll make other posts about other resources if I find more later, but for the moment:

  •  Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese is probably the best source on Japanese grammar I've found anywhere online. It's a pretty good step by step guide, but armed with only what it provides I think it's pretty doable to read the grammar found in most written Japanese sentences -- but it won't help much with the vocabulary or writing systems.
  • Aeron Buchanan's Japanese Verb Chart is the most useful resource I've found for verbs, and once you learn how to read it it is incredibly useful. I have a printed version which I use as a bookmark when reading Japanese books, and I think I've only once come across a verb ending which it doesn't cover (an archaic form, as it turned out).
  • Denshi Jisho is the best online English-Japanese dictionary I've found. It gives a useful guide to all the Kanji in the word as well as the word itself and supports multi-radical search (which is the most useful ever feature).
  • imiwa? is the best iOS dictionary app I've found. It has pretty much the same features as Denshi Jisho (above), but in an app which can be used offline and with an interface which meshes very nicely with the built-in OS support for Japanese entry.
  • White Rabbit Press Kanji Flash Cards: sadly there's no substitute for Kanji drilling, and if you want to be able to read without constantly using a dictionary you'll need to drill them over and over again. These cards help, a lot. I keep a small selection of them in a pocket of my trousers at all times and practice with them whenever I have a spare moment.
  • All About Particles is a book about particles -- small words similar to English prepositions (though most Japanese particles are strictly postpositional) which make up the vast bulk of Japanese grammar. Unlike English which uses word positioning for grammatical meaning, or Latin which uses noun declension for this, Japanese uses particles for almost everything other than verb conjugation.
  • The Japanese Amazon site is pretty much the best place for buying Japanese books: and for me being able to read Japanese books is why I'm doing this. My current reading material is カンピオーネ!―神はまつろわず the first in a series of novels I've previously enjoyed in translation.
My current progress is slow, but steady. I can read slowly with the assistance of a dictionary. I need to consult my verb conjugation guide only rarely, and my Kanji practise is meaning that I can occasionally read words without a dictionary.  I have a l long way to go before I'd say I can read Japanese, even a little, but I'm definitely progressing.

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