About Me

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Virginia Beach, VA, United States
This blog (or 日記 if you will) is intended to chronicle my experience in Japan at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Japan from July to August, 2012. I have always wanted to have a journal, though, so I will try to get into a habit of writing frequently about the things important to me in my life. Besides, I plan on returning to Yamasa to participate in the AIJP after I get out of the Navy! These are the Espelancer Chronicles. Erica is also blogging about the trip, and you should totally check it out. It is The Marvelous Misadventures of Schneewittchen link over on the sidebar.

Friday, June 1, 2012

いっしょに日本語を習いましょう。(Let's learn Japanese together.)

 みんなさん、こんにちは!  (Hello, everyone!)

    In this segment I will divulge upon you some things that I have learned about the Japanese language -- basically short little lessons from one student to another.  I might try to make these posts a regular thing.

    Now, I am in the Navy, and being in the Navy means that I go out to sea quite a lot.  One usually does not have a whole lot of privacy on the ship, and there are not really any places to sit down and quietly study, so I usually end up studying my Japanese in an open lounge where any passerby can see what I am doing.  Now, very few people study Japanese in the Navy (the people that I have met have all either been stationed in Japan for a long period of time, have a Japanese wife, or in many cases both), so it naturally piques the interest of the casual pedestrian walking through the ship's corridors when they see me studying.  I usually get a variety of responses from the ignorant "How do I say this (insert bit of American slang) in Japanese)?" to legitimate interest in studying the Japanese language.  I am going to cater to those who actually want to dive into learning Japanese.

    Learning Japanese is just like anything else -- it may seem difficult to get into, but if you take it milestone by milestone anyone can learn.  The biggest obstacle I think most people have is getting started, especially if you are forced to study on your own due to lack of other options.  The first skill any Japanese language student needs to acquire in order to be successful is mastering ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana).
ひらがな (Hiragana) Chart -- Start here.

  Written Japanese consists of 3 different writing systems.  The characters that most people are familiar with is kanji.  Kanji「漢字」are characters imported from the Chinese language, and they represent actual words and ideas.  They are those tatoos you see people get because they "look cool", even though some of the time they have no idea what it means.  You will need to learn kanji at some point, but don't worry about it in the very beginning.

  The other 2 writing systems are completely phonetic.  ひらがな is used in Japanese words, and any kanji can be expressed in ひらがな.  カタカナ is used in words originating from foreign countries (such as any of the many English words incorporated into the Japanese language, like ハンバーガー), or for placing emphasis on words normally written in ひらがな.  If you learned your ABC's as a child, you can learn ひらがな and カタカナ.  It's only 46 characters. I posted a ひらがな reference chart above that teaches you how to write each character.  The best way to learn is to practice reading, writing, and sounding the characters out.

美文字トレーニングDS -- Great for writing practice
  Good penmanship is a habit you want to get into sooner rather than later.  Remember when you were learning your ABC's in grade school on that special paper with the huge lines and the dotted line in the middle?  Take it slowly and deliberately.  Follow the stroke order -- it will make your characters look a lot more balanced.  Attention to detail pays off as well - get in the habit of ending your strokes correctly (pay attention to whether the stroke hooks, stops, or runs off as the pen is lifted).  Also, Japanese characters are all designed to take up the same amount of space, unlike the English language, so use graphing paper to make a grid and try to keep all of your characters the same size.  If you have a Nintendo DS, you can import a game called 「美文字(びもじ)トレーニング」 (Beautiful Letters Training).  It is easy to use even with no knowledge of Japanese, and you can use it to practice not only ひらがな, but kanji too.  It'll show you how to write each character and grade you on how well you write, as well as showing you how to correct your mistakes (you can usually figure out from the visual aid if you don't understand the Japanese). You can find it on Amazon used.

   For reading, the best way to familiarize yourself with hiragana at first is using flash cards.  Just get a stack of index cards, write the hiragana on one side and the romanization on the other, and practice.  Repetition is the key here.  You can also practice using online flash cards at this website.  When you feel comfortable reading individual characters, try reading ひらがな at a few Japanese ひらがな-only websites (I have a few links at the end of the post).

   Here is a video that has the ひらがな song.  This will help you remember the ひらがな and how to pronounce each character.  If you scroll over each character at this website it will sound out the character for you, as well.  Practice pronouncing the character when you use your flash cards.

  Well, that is a wrap for today's Japanese lesson.  One last thing I would like to mention for iPhone users -- you can get an app that allows you to practice reading, writing, and pronouncing ひらがな and カタカナ called Kana Complete.  It's pretty cheap (only $3) and portable, so you can practice wherever you go.  Remember, perseverance is the key to accomplishing anything that is challenging -- がんばって!(Don't give up!)

  As promised, here are some links to ひらがな-only websites that I found (if you google ひらがなだけ or やさしいにほんご you may be able to find a few more).  They are actually pretty hard to find.
An old blog written in all ひらがな
こどものページ (Children's Page) - The red pencil in the upper right toggles between ひらがな and kanji
Another children's website in only ひらがな
Another blog with mostly ひらがな entries
A children's language school in Tokyo has a section in all ひらがな describing their programs.
Rikaichan, an indispensable Firefox plugin.  Scroll over any kanji to get its reading and English definition! 

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