Learning Japanese
August 12, 2005 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I've decided I want to learn Japanese.

This is an ambitious goal or so I infer from the reading I've done. So I ask you fellow mefites. Have any of you learned Japanese and, if so, what techniques did you find useful?

Yes, google has plenty of articles on the topic but I'm looking for first hand experience.

As a final note, to all those who would suggest imersion as the best stratege: moving to Japan is not an option at this time.
posted by cm to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This thread from three days ago might be helpful.
posted by makonan at 11:49 AM on August 12, 2005

Response by poster: Curses. I did a search of ask.meta before I posted but this didn't turn up. Appologies to all for the duplicate question.
posted by cm at 11:54 AM on August 12, 2005

I took it for 3 years in college, every other day. I've traveled there twice, each time for about a month.

In my experience, it is extremely hard to learn the language without a native speaker teaching you. Forget about learning to read Kanji for awhile, learn hiragana and katakana, and learn how to pronounce them correctly. Learn what the particles mean (wa, ga, o, de, etc) and when to use them. Concentrate of sentence structure and verb conjugation. I'm at work right now, but I'll post links to some of the books I used when I get back home.

I'll be honest with you - if you don't put a lot of time and effort into learning it (a few hours a day, at least), it isn't worth it. It's tremendously difficult, and there is a huge learning curve. I was pretty good with it for about a year, but since I've graduated college I haven't devoted any time to it, and I've lost a lot of my skill.

From everyone I've talked to about learning Japanese, living in Japan is a must if you're serious about it.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:54 AM on August 12, 2005

Advice will be different different depending if you mostly want to speak, write, learn for business, pleasure, etc..

The previous askmefi post was centered on reading/writing; if you care more about speaking, I'd say find a conversation partner. If you're near a college/university w/ exchange students this is easy, they can practice english and you can practice japanese. Also try to make japanese friends. Native speakers are crucial to getting the speaking part down.
posted by p3t3 at 11:59 AM on August 12, 2005

I agree wholeheartedly with p3t3 about conversation partners for listening/speaking practice - it is invaluable. Areas of caution (though in these modern days, it is a bit less of an issue) are to make sure that you are not picking up gender-specific terminology that is the wrong gender, and also, to find out if any expressions or pronunciation is generic or 'localized' to a specific part of Japan.

Example of former issue anecdote: I once met a 6 foot 2 muscular white guy who kept calling himself "Atashi" - I (and others) were too scared to tell him it was a feminized form of address (that he'd learned from his g/f)
posted by birdsquared at 1:29 PM on August 12, 2005

If moving to Japan is not an option then college classes are way better than trying to learn on your own. If you aren't a university student, most universities will allow you to take classes at a steep discount if you take the option not to receive course credit.

Also, if you don't already love Japanese TV learn to love it. A lot of people fall in love with Japanese through anime, but there are also lots of great dramas and variety shows. Download what you like and watch it with subtitles. After you've done that enough to remember what everyone is saying, next cover up the subtitles and just listen while doing something else. I did this when I was first learning Japanese and its usefulness increased exponentially as I learned more grammar and vocabulary. GTO, Manhattan Love Story and Shomuni are all great for this.

Areas of caution (though in these modern days, it is a bit less of an issue) are to make sure that you are not picking up gender-specific terminology that is the wrong gender, and also, to find out if any expressions or pronunciation is generic or 'localized' to a specific part of Japan.

I would say that this is the last thing you need to worry about. I've heard grown men use 'kashira', and the like. It's less about what you say and more about who you're talking to. That aside, as long as you learn to speak and understand you'll figure out how all of this works on your own. Just worry about learning to put sentences together for now and forget about being self conscious.

Also, it's a lot easier to go from speaking politely to using more informal language rather than the other way around.

Good Luck!
posted by Alison at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2005

I've heard grown men use 'kashira', and the like.

Oooo, that comment takes me back, because when I first arrived in Japan, I used to tape "Sazae-san" and watch it over and over again, repeating the lines, and Sazae's oft-used "kashira" was the first thing I remember being ridiculed for using. I still recommend Sazae-san, though, Japan's Simpsons.

posted by planetkyoto at 7:03 PM on August 12, 2005

Learn hiragana and katakana right away. Do not get in the habit of reading or writing romaji.

Study simple kanji right away (numbers, days of the week, etc). Also, if you're considering visiting Japan some day, learn to recognize common signage (stop signs, no parking, etc).

If you can, find Japanese children's books and primers. This is how the Japanese learn Japanese, so vocabulary and sentence structure will be simple, but familiar to Japanese children. As a bonus, you might pick up some idiom and culture as well.
posted by SPrintF at 7:18 PM on August 12, 2005

Alison is right about the areas of caution. Japanes is very...fairly strict when it comes to gender words and *especially* politeness levels. e.g. some words are different depending on whether or not a guy or girl is saying it, and some words/phrases you could use with friends people "below" your "level" but you wouldn't want to use them with people "above" you. Similarly, you wouldn't want to use language that's too polite with people you're close with, because that's like suggesting you aren't that close with them. Fun stuff!
posted by edjusted at 11:43 PM on August 12, 2005

Alison is right about the areas of caution.

While I agree that Japanese does have intricate politeness levels, they are less important to someone just starting to learn the language. Just learn to talk and use the grammar correctly. If you are conversing with a Japanese person there is a large amount of forgiveness if you don't hit the right amount of politeness. Focus on being understood and understanding others. Any good textbook will help you distinguish what types of politeness markers are right for each situation (talking to friends/family, talking to strangers, talking to customers, talking to your boss, etc...), but it's best to learn to walk before learning to run.

Children speak differently from adults and men from women, but if you worry about whether you sound appropriately masculine it will hold you back. Save that for when you feel more comfortable with the language. Also, the gender distinctions are less clear then you'd expect. I've heard Prime Minister Koizumi use 'boku', 'watashi', 'watakushi', and 'ore' for the first person pronoun and these run the range of politeness. Granted, 'atashi' is a bit too cute for men.
posted by Alison at 6:18 AM on August 13, 2005

A friend and I studied with a native speaker using the Japanese for Busy People series (kana version). After six months of study we traveled to Japan for the first time and got by surprisingly well. We could communicate with sentences like "what music is playing?" and "I like blah blah blah" and "we went to Shinjuku today" etc. I was fairly obsessive, though and probably bought about 20 books over the two years I studied. SPrintF's advice is very similar to the advice and help I got from my teacher. Avoid romaji at all costs!

When learning don't translate in your head and don't think too much. Be open, try to internalize the words and structures, think of the language as a container for meaning, and just accept. I hope that makes sense.
posted by dmo at 10:12 AM on August 13, 2005

Does anyone here have recommendations as to where I can find Japanese children's books? I've found a few sites each with about five books max, but I was hoping for a bigger selection so we can work our way through plenty in our quest for Japanese mastery.
posted by mcmg at 4:58 PM on August 15, 2005

I used to find Japanese children's books pretty easily at a used bookstore in Knoxville, TN. If you live somewhere bigger/with a big university, I imagine they wouldn't be hard to find. Or you could order from amazon.co.jp if your Japanese is good enough.
posted by dmo at 9:55 AM on August 21, 2005

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