February 21, 2008

JLPT 2007 Results

JLPT 2007 results have been out in Japan since last week, but take longer here in the US. I've been waiting for the results in the mail. However, since I registered for the test online, today I received an email from The Japan Foundation letting me know that I can check the results online.

Writing: 95/100
Listening: 71/100
Grammar/Reading: 157/200
Total: 323/400 (about 80%)

I was pretty confident I'd pass, but it's nice to know for sure. It'll be nice to get that certificate in the mail, too.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 12:27 AM | Comments (2)

December 10, 2007

JLPT 2007

On December 2 I took the Japanese Proficiency Test in Chicago. I wanted to take level 3, but since I've done very little studying this year I signed up for level 4 instead. It was the right choice. Here are some quick thoughts on specific parts of the test, and the JLPT in general.

Writing/vocabulary: not too tough. Last-minute cramming actually did some good: while waiting outside the classroom I made a point to remember 帽子をかぶります (which I hadn't really memorized before) and 駅 (which I haven't reached in Remembering the Kanji but is pretty much guaranteed to be on the test.

If I have a complaint about this section of the test, it's that there wasn't enough kanji: after 3 years of Japanese I'm very used to seeing some of them. Is it possible to reach JLPT 4 level and not know 私? And I've seen the days of the week so often that it's much quicker to read 火曜日 than 火ようび. Having to read some of the words in hiragana or kanji/hiragana actually slowed me down.

Listening: hands-down the toughest for everyone. Definitely had some unfamiliar vocabulary, and pausing to figure out unfamiliar words meant losing the entire conversation (and the answer to the question).

I've spent the last 1.5 years listening to a lot of Japanese music, audio, etc, and the last month listening to the lv. 3&4 tests from 2005. Without those I would have done a lot worse.

Grammar/reading: this part was the most fun. I liked figuring out the answers and seeing some of the more unusual points of grammar (for this level) like -ながら and (しか + neg vs だけ). Finished with 20m to spare; reviewed and corrected a few definitely incorrect answers.

General thoughts:

I'll be surprised if I don't pass this one, and I certainly won't wait until October to start studying for 2008.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:49 PM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2007

Japanese is Hard

Well, we survived the move to Wisconsin and are gradually getting settled in. I'm finally (after a 6-month hiatus) beginning to have time to work on Japanese again. Last month marked 3 years, even though halfway through the first lesson of Pimsleur Japanese in July 2004 I thought to myself, "I won't be doing this for more than 2 weeks."

Yet after 3 years (not counting the last few months) of pretty consistent work (daily textbook study, daily kanji study, daily listening practice, weekly conversation practice, and weekly class time for a while) I think I'm still barely a beginner. Ouch.

Over at All Japanese All The Time Khatzumoto, in his regular can-do inspirational style, writes that Japanese is easy, or at least, no more difficult than any other language. That's the same thing I've been telling people for years. But after 3 years of Japanese study, I'm changing my tune. I disagree. Japanese is hard.

The point of contention, of course, if whether you're looking at it objectively or subjectively. Objectively you could argue that Japanese is no more difficult than any other language: they're all learned and spoken by humans who all have the same vocal, auditory and mental apparatus. Babies learn English; babies learn Spanish; babies learn Japanese; and all grow up to speak at a native level. Well, some more than others.

However, someone learning a second language can't approach it objectively, as a baby, tabula rasa. A second-language learner already has a base language with years (ok, for some of us it's many, many years) of experience speaking, hearing, absorbing that base language. And the nature of that base language DOES make some languages more difficult to learn than others. Objectively Japanese is probably no more difficult than any other language. For me, someone who's natively spoken English for decades, Japanese is hard.

Of course, English is hard too...for someone who didn't grow up speaking it. The same is true of Japanese. It's all a matter of perspective. Japanese has its own unique and challenging features, but English has many of the same features. Grammar seems to be a confusing hodgepodge. Vocabulary is a confusing mix of indigenous words and words borrowed from other languages--sometimes even in the same word. And let's not even get started on the writing systems--sure, Japanese has kana and all those kanji, but English has English spelling. Both English and Japanese are complex enough that you simply can't study some grammar, learn to analyze and use a dictionary, and consider yourself an expert--maybe with a simpler, constructed language like Esperanto, but not with English or Japanese. If you want to speak, listen and read, you just have to learn them and learn them until they become second nature.

The key difficulty for us English speakers is that Japanese IS so foreign compared to English. English is a Germanic, Indo-European language. Japanese is...Japanese. If you're an English speaker, you'll have a much easier time learning a related language such as German, Spanish, even Russian, Latin, Greek. Those languages are relatives of English, and share common vocabulary, grammatical structures, thought patterns. Those similarities and family resemblances make it easier for an English speaker to learn, say, German, than Japanese. My first year in college I had to take introductory German. Between late August and late November--3 months--with 5 hours per week of class time, we covered all of German grammar, learned a ton of vocabulary, and were reading basic texts. After 3 years I was reading medieval theologians in German. After 3 years of Japanese study...I'm still learning to read and express basic thoughts. German was a close relative: its vocabulary and grammar were not too difficult to learn, because I already knew related English words and thought patterns, not to mention the writing system.

Japanese is another story. It has no relation to English, apart from a few borrowed words. The grammar is foreign, the vocabulary is foreign, the usage is foreign, the thought patterns are foreign--and by "foreign" I mean completely different, not "English with an accent".

Japanese grammar is foreign. When I started learning, I poked around for a "grammar" in the style of the traditional grammars of European languages. I wanted to see the familiar mapping of verb tenses and conjugations, the familiar tables of nouns, the usual descriptions of syntax which relate target language structures to familiar ones. But such a grammar doesn't really exist: the syntax and structures of Japanese just don't map to anything familiar...and it's really best not to try. It's better to take Japanese grammar as it is than to try to fit it into an alien structure.

Same goes for vocabulary. There are no comforting familiarities between English and Japanese words. Once you get beyond "sushi" you're on your own. Due to the Japanese language's limited phonetic range and plenty of borrowing from Chinese, there are plenty of homonyms. Words can sound the same but have different meanings; I've heard that people will draw out kanji in the air to clarify exactly which word they're using. To the untrained ear many different words sound similar, again thanks to the limited phonetic range. As a result, learning Japanese vocabulary just plain takes more time and effort than, say, Spanish vocabulary.

Look at it this way. Esperanto again: in the late 1800s a hopeful doctor built the Esperanto language with the thought that a common language might result in better understanding among people and help ease tensions and wars. What did he build it from? He used grammar and vocabulary which were familiar to him: Indo-European roots and structures. The result is a language which is not really transparent to speakers of a single language--you need to study Esperanto--but the amount of study is fairly small. Speakers of Indo-European languages can look at Esperanto and see many familiar features, many familiar words, and that familiarity makes Esperanto easy to learn. For a native Japanese speaker with no knowledge of any Indo-European language, however, Esperanto is probably a fairly difficult language to learn. Familiar grammatical structures? Nope. Easy vocabulary? Nope. Esperanto is just as foreign as English.

The same is true of English speakers learning Japanese. Familiar grammatical structures? Nope, or at least very few. Easy vocabulary? A little...but the relatively narrow range of sounds in Japanese means that many words sound quite similar to the untrained ear. Or at least to mine. There are very few preinstalled hooks on which to hang Japanese. In many respects you are starting from scratch, and that makes Japanese more difficult than languages which are at least somehow related to English.

But don't just take my word for it! Even the US government acknowledges that Japanese is more difficult than many other languages. The US government's Foreign Service Institute considers Japanese, Chinese and a few others to be "exceptionally difficult for native English speakers": English speakers need much more study time to reach proficiency in Japanese than in Spanish or Italian. Japanese's foreignness makes it take much longer to sink into English-programmed brains. There are no family resemblances, very little related vocabulary. English speakers have a much longer road to Japanese than they do to Spanish.

So there. Japanese is hard. So what? That difficulty is one of the main reasons I've stuck with it so long, but I'm perverse that way. However, there might be some value in letting beginners know about the difficulties they face when they start learning Japanese. It's wise to be realistic when you face a new challenge: how much effort is going to be involved? how much cost? do you have the willpower, the motivation, the need to spend that time, effort and money?

In 3 years I've seen a lot of beginners come and go. Many of them are just plain unrealistic from the start: they expect to "pick up" Japanese in a few hours so they can play video games and watch anime in Japanese. Others want to be able to talk to their Japanese friends, and some just want a new challenge. Some spend quite a bit of money before realizing that they're really not THAT interested.

There's no sin in being open about the difficulties a Japanese learner will face. There's no point in sugarcoating the challenges: beginners will run into them quickly anyway, and if they aren't forewarned they may simply assume they're not smart enough, not good enough to learn Japanese. To an English speaker, all languages are NOT equally difficult. Japanese is a much bigger challenge than Spanish. Why not state the fact up front? Some will look at the challenge and turn away. Some will embrace the challenge. And maybe more will realize that such a challenge will require more than an hour of class time each week. It requires a new way of thinking, a new method of learning, a stronger immersive approach which will push through the learning barriers and the difficulties with brute force and result in faster, better learning. A method like All Japanese All The Time.

Or you could simply say that nothing worthwhile is easy, so Japanese is one of the most worthwhile pursuits of all.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 06:17 PM | Comments (4)

January 25, 2007

The Heisig method as a means, not an end

When we English speakers teach kids to read, we start by teaching them the entire alphabet at once. Instead of beginning with the letter E and then teaching them a bunch of 'E' words, then moving on to T, then A, then O, etc, kids start by learning the alphabet and then learn to read words constructed from that alphabet.

This isn't (or shouldn't be) a time-consuming process: the goal is to teach the alphabet so kids can start using it on real words and real reading as quickly as possible. They don't learn every aspect of the language when they learn the alphabet; they're learning the infrastructure they need so they can begin.

The Heisig method is similar. It doesn't create instant kanji experts, nor does it claim to. Instead, learning the kanji via the Heisig method is akin to learning the alphabet: Heisig learners acquire the ability to recognize and write the kanji, along with a semantic hook for each one. By simplifying the work (limiting the task to one kanji + one meaning), the kanji "alphabet" can be learned quickly--and should be. Once this kanji "alphabet" has been learned, the real work of learning readings and compounds begins, and that work should be easier: the learner is already familiar with the kanji and has an approximate meaning, so the rest is often easier to learn.

Heisig's book points out that it's usually quicker for Chinese to learn to read Japanese than for English-speakers. Why? Because they're already very familiar with the kanji forms and approximate meanings, so they can move right on to the good stuff. The Heisig method seeks to provide that same infrastructure for those who don't have that pre-existing kanji familiarity, and to do so quickly.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

Halfway through Heisig 1

Yesterday I reported that I hit the 1000 kanji mark; today I passed the 1021 mark, which is the halfway point in Remembering the Kanji vol. 1. Plus I finished Lesson 27, the longest one in the book (I think). Heisig says it's downhill from here, but that remains to be seen. I'd certainly like to keep up the 100 kanji/week pace, but don't know if I'll be able to swing it.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2007

1000 Kanji

Yesterday I made flashcard 1000 for Remembering the Kanji 1. That's not quite the halfway point (I'll reach 1021 tomorrow) but it IS the 1/3 mark for the whole series of 3 books. It's also a little weird to be writing 4-digit numbers on my cards now too.

Unfortunately, finances won't allow me to go back to weekly Japanese class for a while. To compensate, I'm going to pick up the pace in Japanese for Everyone and try to knock off 2 lessons per month instead of 1.

And to observe the passing of kanji 1000, today's mail brought 漢字そのままDS楽引辞典 (Kanji Sono Mama DS Rakubiki Jiten), software which turns your Nintendo DS into a Japanese dictionary which allows you to hand-draw kanji on the touchpad. From the description and the video it looks pretty handy. Now I just need a Nintendo DS!

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2007

Remembering (Some of) The Kanji 2006

This year I'm nailing down those 2000 kanji, or 3000 if I have the strength. But first, I wanted to get an idea of where I stand now.

During the summer I reached 940 or so before I ran out of steam sometime in July. I started my 4th comprehensive review in October and reached 950 (the end of lesson 26) just after Christmas. Now it's new territory again.

Over the last few days I reviewed all 950 kanji and was pleased to remember 93% of them. I split off a stack of about 125 I need to review and/or relearn, but I think it's time to move on.

I hate to say it, but I have to give up on reviewing with the Reviewing the Kanji site. It's a great site and I like the forums, but the system doesn't really work for me. I need to have a stack of cards in my hand and judge for myself how well I know them and how/when to review them.

For that matter, the Heisig system itself doesn't work so well for me as-is either. In the Heisig system you are supposed to visualize an vivid story for each kanji which will stick the kanji in your mind; what works best for me is developing a catchphrase for each kanji and reviewing a lot. I don't want kanji in my head attached to images, I want to know them without any images or hooks at all.

Or something like that.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2006

New Year 2007 Resolutions for Learning Japanese

I accomplished none of my resolutions for 2006, but made some progress. I'm setting some higher goals for 2007 and think that they'll be attainable.

1. Complete the textbook "Japanese for Everyone". If I'm able to continue attending weekly Japanese class, we will finish the book by the end of 2007. However, I'd like to pick up the pace and finish it more quickly if I can't attend the class.

2. 2007 is the year I'll finish "Remembering the Kanji" vol 1. I'm not sure whether I'll use volume 2 for the readings or just start reading. My goal is to start reading real stuff next year.

3. Write a mixi diary entry every 1-2 weeks.

4. Improve listening and conversation. For the last 2-3 months I've been doing 1-2 hours of conversation practice every week, and plan to continue and maybe add an hour. Consistent practice with native speakers really works wonders.

5. Start considering a job where I can use the language. I started learning Japanese on a whim, just for the challenge. But it would be fun to use it in real life, I think.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2006

Help for the Kanji-Illiterate

One of the biggest helps to learning and practicing Japanese is reading, and the biggest obstacle to literacy is the kanji: until you know them, you can't read Japanese.

Of course, reading Japanese material with furigana (small hiragana over the kanji which show their readings) is a big, big help...but most Japanese web pages don't give you furigana.

Now, thanks to Hiragana Megane, Japanese learners can read web pages. At Hiragana Megane you type in the URL of a page with Japanese and the site redisplays the page with furigana over the kanji. Very helpful!

But wait, there's more! Thanks to the miracle of bookmarklets, you don't even need to go to the trouble of loading up Hiragana Megane and typing/copying in the URL. All you have to do is this (using Firefox; I don't know if it works in IE or other browsers): go to your bookmarks and create a new one, and paste in the following as the "Location":

I put this in my Toolbar with the description "Hiragana Meganize". Now when I wind up at a Japanese page with kanji, I simply click my "Hiragana Meganize" bookmark on the toolbar and presto: the page is reloaded with furigana. Now THAT'S cool.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 03:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2006

Japanese for Everyone Mini-Review

If you're looking for the Japanese for Everyone mini-review, you'll find it here. A few months ago I also wrote some study tips, and you'll find them here.

This week we're starting lesson 10. It's been slow going, but fun.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2006

Japanese Tidbits for Your Listening Enjoyment

(Let's see if I can get through this without deleting it again. That's extremely irritating.)

Thanks to the internet and mp3s, today it's easier than ever to listen to the sounds of spoken Japanese (unless you live in a household where it's spoken). Here are some fun sources for improving your language and your listening ability.

1. Tae Kim, author of Tae Kim's Japanese Guide to Japanese Grammar, has taken on the task of teaching beginner lessons in Japanese using Skype and a few random volunteers. The first few lessons are bare basic Japanese but worth hearing for Tae's strict insistence on proper tonality, something rarely or barely covered by most books and teachers.

2. J-Edutainment: Japanese Vocabulary over beats is a pretty simple concept: lists of vocabulary spoken over background music. Sure, vocabulary acquisition and review are tedious work, but this is far more interesting than staring at a printed vocabulary list. I'm going to take these along on my dog walks and see if I can use my useless superpower to nail these in. I also like the inclusion of the -te forms in the verb lists: I think that the -te forms are best memorized along with the verbs and their meanings rather than constructed when speaking. So far there are only 5 of these, but I hope to see more in the future.

3. Nihongo-Juku is aimed at intermediate to advanced learners and provides short texts with audio and vocabulary lists for practice in reading and listening together.

4. Osaka Dialect is somewhat similar, but contains English along with a taste of Osaka dialect.

5. NHK Radio News provides downloadable mp3 broadcasts at normal (ふつう), slow (ゆっくり) and fast (はやい) speeds. Yomiuri Online provides a single broadcast at normal speed.

There. That should keep you busy for a minute or two.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:44 PM | Comments (0)

Japanese Summer Vacation

Those of you who visit here for Japanese tidbits (both of you) are doubtlessly wondering about the lack of news lately. With the JLPT coming in December and kanji number 1000 in sight, I guess I'm taking a vacation.

Part of the reason is the lack of Japanese class lately. One of the guys has been out of town, so we've only had class once in the last month. When there's no class, there's less motivation to work. I'm also working a lot on some other career options, so that's taking some time. A little break has been nice.

Part of the reason has been a lack of motivation. I don't have a driving need to learn Japanese. I have no Japanese friends, no conversation partners, no job requirement. I've been going on personal drive and desire for 2 years now, and they're getting a little tired.

I still have some projects going, though. I'm still looking for a conversation partner, am working on some editing for The Japan Shop and a review of Kodansha's Communicative English-Japanese Dictionary. The review should be coming soon.

However, it's time to start getting back to work. Weekly class should start to be weekly again. I need to review those 950 kanji I've learned, and start breaking down the JLPT requirements into easily-digestible chunklets so I can be ready for December. More details coming soon.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2006

This Year: JLPT

This afternoon I received my Japanese Language Proficiency Test book from thejapanshop.com, containing the complete 2005 tests for levels 4 and 3 (with the listening comprehension portions on CD). This year's test is December 3, and I'm planning to take it in Chicago. Based on the information at jlptstudy.com I already know quite a bit of the level 4 material, so I think I'll plan on level 3: I was going to take level 4 last year, but thanks to the crazy load of homework I didn't have time to prepare and thanks to BT's stupidity I was laid off by December anyway.

Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to cover everything by December. There's plenty of time right now, but the months go by way too quickly.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2006

Heisig count: 900

Today I hit the 900 mark (out of 2042) in volume 1. I've been reviewing the past 250 kanji and have managed about 80-85% recall. That's not bad. However, I also haven't had time to review the first 650, and some of those might be slipping: I'm starting to see kanji and think that I should know them, although usually they're kanji which haven't been covered (yet). It's about time to mix all the cards together and try another Kanji Armageddon; I think I'll do that after I complete Lesson 26 at the 950 mark.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2006

More thoughts on the Heisig method

After writing that last article, I decided to modify my own approach to the Heisig method. On previous attempts I got bogged down while pushing for 100% recall. As the kanji count goes up, so does the review load; going for 100% recall means a huge amount of extra review, leading to slower and slower progress and eventually no progress.

This month (May) I've been trying a new approach. I want to get these kanji learned. I don't have time for 100% recall and hours of review every day. Seeing the kanji again in vol. 2 and in Real Life will also provide repetition and review. So, I've cranked up the pace and am doing about 20 kanji per day. It's not rocket science: it's just memory work. I take 20 or so new kanji per day, more if possible, and really work out memorable images or stories for them. Before bed I review them, and next morning too. Once per week I review the previous weeks' work.

On May 1 I had covered 625 kanji. As of May 25 I've done another 210. That's a pretty nice pace. It's really fun to learn a bunch of new kanji, then look at some Japanese text and find the new kanji. It's a bonus when they have furigana: the readings stick very easily.

It almost seems too good to be true. Since it's a long weekend coming up, I'll do another comprehensive review to see how it's really going.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)

May 10, 2006

Some thoughts on the Heisig method

I am a kanji-learning heretic. I have turned away from the One True Church of kanji learning and am following a short, easy path to kanji destruction.

That's what it feels like some days. Last week I participated in a big debate while trying to correct some misconceptions about the Heisig method and really was surprised by the almost religious seriousness with which some people take their kanji learning methods.

They say that the only valid way to learn kanji is by rote memorization of kanji writing, meaning, on readings, kun readings and compounds, all together in one lump. Anything else is not really learning the kanji. If you don't learn them "in context" this way, "you don't learn anything."

A large and growing contingent of Japanese learners is willing to challenge that kanji orthodoxy. I'm not going to give a detailed review of the Heisig method here--I'm working on a separate review of that. If you want to see how it works, you can download a free PDF of the first 125 pages of Heisig's Remembering the Kanji series.

In short, Heisig takes a divide-and-conquer approach: instead of laboriously memorizing numerous different pieces of data for each and every kanji, Heisig advocates dividing up the tasks. First (volume 1) you learn meanings/keywords and writing for 2042 kanji and only then do you learn Japanese readings for those kanji. Rather than memorizing kanji by rote, writing them over and over until they have worn ruts in your brain, you look at the kanji as pictures and stories; the uniqueness of the stories keeps the kanji in your brain. Instead of learning the kanji simply as writing strokes, you learn them each as unique and individual characters with stories of their own.

The Kanji Orthodox object to this division of labor. "You aren't really learning Japanese!" they say, and even "You aren't learning anything at all!" Ridiculous. The Heisig method has a few disadvantages, but overall it's a very effective method for learning.

The main disadvantage of the Heisig method is not that you learn the meaning of the kanji separate from learning the actual Japanese readings. The main disadvantage is that learning all the kanji meanings first means that you delay actually reading the kanji in the context of Japanese text. One of my main goals in learning Japanese is to read, and after almost 2 years of the Heisig method I still can't read Japanese text with kanji. That is frustrating.

However, that isn't the fault of the Heisig method. The blame goes to my own lack of persistence: if I hadn't stopped and restarted twice, I'd have finished by now. That main disadvantage of the Heisig method--delaying learning the Japanese readings of the kanji--can and should actually be an advantage if used the right way. Focusing on learning only the meanings of the kanji means that there's less to learn, and therefore you can learn more kanji more quickly. That means you can learn 2000 meanings in a much shorter time, and therefore can (and should) work harder to do so. Some people claim to have learned all 2000 meanings in a year, a few months, even a few weeks.

However, learning kanji meanings rapidly via the Heisig method has several dangers. The biggest is disbelief: you can learn meanings so quickly and easily that you doubt yourself--you can't really be learning the impossible kanji and doing it so quickly!--slow down, spend more and more time for review, and eventually stop. That's why I stopped the first time: I was aiming for 100% recall and when I didn't get it, I kept reviewing and reviewing until eventually my learning ground to a halt.

The other big danger is to start trying to memorize kanji simply by word and character rather than by associating each kanji with an image or a story. Initially it's a lot quicker to take a pile of cards, write a bunch of characters and think that you're going to learn them by rote repetition, but it doesn't take long at all to start forgetting those characters, lose track of the progress you've really made, and (again) eventually stop.

This time (my third attempt) through volume 1 I'm working hard to stick to the method. Two weeks ago I passed kanji 655, the spot where I stopped last fall, and have been picking up speed. The kanji are sticking and learning them even seems to be getting easier. This morning I hit frame 750 and am more confident in my memory than I was 300 kanji ago.

Another difficulty of the Heisig method is review: after the 500 kanji mark, reviewing begins to take a lot of time. My old method was to review all kanji, repeating and repeating those I missed. I think I'm going to ditch that review method in favor of the must quicker one-shot Kanji Armageddon method. Although I'll lose the multiple repetition of missed kanji, I'm going to be able to move more quickly through the book, and those kanji are going to get their repetition when I hit volume 2 and start adding readings to them.

Kanji Orthodox decree that it's detrimental or a "crutch" to attach English keywords to the kanji first, yet every Orthodox Kanji book I've see does the same thing: you get a kanji, an English keyword and numerous readings and compounds. In the Heisig method, just as with Orthodox methods, the keywords drop away when you've seen the kanji enough times. If the method is a "crutch", it's a crutch you use of a while until you gain enough strength and dexterity to walk on your own two feet rather than a crutch you use because you're permanently crippled. As you learn kanji readings in Heisig's second volume and/or in context of real-life text, the keywords and stories are quickly replaced by real Japanese.

Does the Heisig method work? A growing number of Japanese learners will say "yes."

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2006

Kanji Armaggedon Results

Since I haven't done a comprehensive review in a long time, I blasted through all my flashcards this weekend. The review took much less time than I expected, primarily due to the method: each kanji got one trial and either went onto the "knew it" or "didn't know it" pile, instead of my usual method of reviewing less-certain kanji over and over.

Out of 625 kanji, I knew 88% perfectly. I'm pleased with that. Out of the remaining 12%, I was able to draw about half but ended up with misplaced elements. The rest I had absolutely forgotten. I plan to review the incorrect kanji and keep moving: I'm only a third of the way through Heisig's first volume and intend to finish it by the end of the year.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:15 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2006

This Weekend: Kanji Armageddon

I've reached 625 kanji in Heisig vol. 1, and haven't reviewed most of them in at least a month. This weekend: full review. It's going to be interesting to see how many I can remember without trouble. Last summer I reached 650 before crashing and burning, and I want to be prepared before pushing through the rest of the book (I WILL finish it this year).

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2006

Must-read interview for Heisig fans

If you're a true believer in the Heisig method of learning kanji (hey, even if you're not), don't miss the interview with James Heisig over at kanjiclinic.com. Heisig talks about the origin of the method, and it's a lot more interesting than his book describes.

Hmmm. I wonder how many non-Japanese learn 2000 kanji by rote memorization--and how long it takes them.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:37 PM | Comments (2)

March 07, 2006

Japanese for Everyone Learning Tips

For the last year I've been using Japanese for Everyone as my primary textbook for learning Japanese. Overall it's a good book and a great value for your money, but it's certainly challenging. Here is my method for handling a lesson in the book.

1. Start with the lesson's vocabulary. Memorizing lists of vocabulary words is not glamorous, but it sure makes life more pleasant to recognize words when they're used in the Dialogues or exercises after you've already met them. The Dialogues at the beginning of the lesson seem to work especially hard to include new vocabulary. You'll save yourself a lot of time and confusion if you learn the new words first.

2. While working on the vocabulary, listen to the Dialogues. Wow. This one really makes a world of difference. You can read the vocabulary words yourself and memorize what you think they sound like, and you may even be right. However, there's nothing like hearing them in context, especially when that context is the Dialogues you're about to study. As you work through the lesson keep listening to the Dialogues, every day, several times per day. Before you know it, you'll be hearing bits of it in your head at random times.

3. When you have the vocabulary, work through the Dialogues. See what I mean? When you already know all the new words in the Dialogue, the battle is half won. Work your way through the Dialogues and do your best to figure out what each sentence means. DO NOT CHECK THE TRANSLATION.

4. Skim the lesson's Function sections to get a feel for the new grammar. Each Dialogue is going to contain new grammar which may really confuse you at first. Take a quick look at the Functions to get a feel for that new grammar, then

5. Read the Dialogues again. Now you have the words and a feel for the new grammar. You should be able to understand the Dialogues without too much effort. If you're still having trouble, now you can take a look at the translation.

6. Keep ahead on the vocabulary. Write down every single word on index cards and carry them around with you. When you're stuck in line at the store, or walking around at the office, or at any other spare moment, learn a new word or two.

7. Work through the Functions and exercises. Now it's time to grind that new grammar into your head. Read through the explanations until you understand them, until you can explain them to your cat. Get help if you need it (from a person or a book), but don't give up until you've mastered each new point of grammar. You'll need them all.

8. Memorize the Dialogues. If you've been listening to the Dialogues every day, this shouldn't be too difficult. In fact, it may only take a little effort to stitch together all the phrases and sentences in your head.

9. Wrap up with the comprehension exercises. Now that you've memorized all the vocabulary and worked through all the exercises, you should be able to handle the comprehension exercises.

10. Don't rush. When I first started Japanese for Everyone I wanted to learn it all and quickly, so I rushed through the lessons without spending enough time on memorizing new vocabulary and grammar. By the time I hit lesson 6, I couldn't keep up with myself and had to start over.

Don't waste time by making the same mistake. Festina lente: you'll make quicker progress if you take the time to build a good foundation.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

Isseki, nichou

The quantity, quality and variety of language learning tools available today is amazing. In the audio department, the mp3 player has made it possible to take language tools anywhere. If you're a Japanese learner, be sure to check out japanesepod101.com for some great 10-minute daily lessons.

If you're a Chinese (Mandarin) learner, don't miss chinesepod.com for a huge selection of lessons.

And if you're working on both you get a neat bonus: at chinesepod.com, go to the upper right corner and select Japanese as the language. You'll get the new Japanese version of the site, complete with beginning Mandarin lessons narrated in Japanese by Japanese speakers. Very helpful, very cool. 一石、二鳥

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2006

Japanese Status Check

Since I'm starting Japanese lessons again, it's as good a time as any to take stock.

Grammar/vocab: I've been continuing work in "Japanese for Everyone". As noted elsewhere I like the book, and it moves along quickly. Unfortunately due to my new job I have far less study time than I used to. I've been working on vocabulary by copying new words onto index cards, then studying them while walking places in the office, waiting in line at the store, etc. Lunchtime is good for working on the exercises in the book or on kanji. Unfortunately while working on my own I don't have much motivation to push forward (or as my wife says, "competition"), so I've only completed lesson 7. I think that going back to class will be a big help.

Since my birthday is coming up, I've asked for a bunch of those good little Kodansha grammar books. Since Amazon's prices are so good, I even have hope of getting some of them.

Kanji: I'm sticking with Heisig and plan to hit frame 500 by the weekend. I've learned that it's extremely important to follow The Method as he describes it: since Heisig's method depends on visualization and imagination rather than rote learning, it's important to take the time actually to work each kanji into a picture or a story. Simply trying to remember catchy phrases won't do the trick.

As much as I detest "Kanji Pict-o-Graphix", I looked through it again yesterday at the library and found some pictures which might actually be helpful. I'll have to check it out a little more for some of the kanji which are tougher to picture.

Video: As much as I'd like to keep working on the Yan series or "Nihongo de Kurasou", I don't have time to sit at the computer for 30-45 minutes in the evening. Since I can't install Divx on my laptop, I haven't been watching them there either. But now I've found out that mplayer can decode Divx without installing anything, so I've burned the video series to DVD-ROM and plan to start again.

Otherwise, we've started watching Trick, series 2, and I'm looking forward to the 3 new episodes of Lunch Queen. The other night I watched Ultraman with Simon too--he loves the battle between Ultraman and the bad guys.

Audio: Since I'm spending 2 hours in the car every day, I decided to do Pimsleur again, straight from the top, and am just beginning Level 2. Wow. There were some pieces of grammar in Level 1 which never showed up again and I'd forgotten. With as little speaking practice as I get these days, it's really good to be doing Pimsleur again. And that leads to:

Conversation: Hey, isn't that what it's all about? Unfortunately I know very few Japanese people (and none at work) and my work schedule means that my Skype availability is limited to Japanese daytime when many Japanese are at work or school. I need to work harder on tracking down the few who are available during the daytime.

Website: I've worked up a few items for this site, but since I don't have the IME on my work machine I'll need to spend some time on my home system to put in the Japanese. I'll get that done soon. In addition, it looks like I'll be doing a little writing for Japanese! Japanese!

I was thinking about spinning off a new site aimed at beginners, but there seem to be plenty of sites doing a great job already.

Overall I'm satisfied with this year's progress. Kanji learning is on track so far, and I should be moving steadily through "Japanese for Everyone." Now I just need to come up with some bigger and longer-term goals.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

Goals: who needs 'em anyway?

This evening I'll be starting a second round of Japanese classes/lessons. It's hard to believe that I started the first round almost exactly a year ago (March 1, 2005); due to school and finances I was only able to attend until July. This time there will be 2 other students and I'll be able to jump in at almost exactly the point where I left off.

When I mentioned this to my friend (and former coworker) he replied, "Is the Japanese study purely academic for you, or do you have some longer term ambitions related to the language? You certainly have put a lot of effort into it."

Hmmm. That's a good question. For the last year and a half I've put a lot of my spare time into learning Japanese, and it seems like the primary reason has been an Everestish "because it's there." Originally I never intended to put much time into it: after a bad week at work (during which I learned that I'd be getting no raise after a year of working like a dog) I decided to take a week off and spend some time doing something different. I've always enjoyed languages, my new video gaming habit had put Japanese into my range of awareness, and it'd always irritated me that my web browser could render Japanese and Chinese sites, but I couldn't read them. So I got a few books, borrowed Pimsleur from the library and devoted a few hours to Japanese. Most of the time when I take up an interest on a whim, it doesn't last too long.

Over the last year and a half I've failed to come up with a long-term goal or higher ambition which might reasonably drive my Japanese learning. Yes, I'd like to go there someday, but that takes cash. For a brief time my former employer was courting a Japanese company, but (as usual) couldn't manage to get the contracts it wanted. I've had vague thoughts about directing some of my new business efforts at Japanese companies--after all, providing English business writing services to Japanese speakers does sound like a good prospect--but I need to get the thing started first.

So, right now my longer-term ambitions are fairly shortsighted: this year I'm going to learn the 2000 joyo kanji and take the JLPT in December. I do want to be able to read Japanese. But beyond that, nothing is really pushing me (or is it pulling?). Maybe it's time to start thinking up some larger goals.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2006

Japanese IT Workers, Where Are You?

Apparently you're all staying in Japan.

Now granted, western Michigan isn't exactly the hottest destination for, well, any IT people, but it's getting a little ridiculous. Last fall I took courses at Grand Valley State, a local university. We had students from a number of different countries in the master's program--China, India, Croatia, Ghana--but no Japanese IT students. I know that the school had some students from Japan, but none in the IT master's program.

Now I'm working at the Lansing (state capital) office of a large worldwide IT corporation. I have coworkers from several different countries: India, China, Russia, and some have names and accents I can't yet place, but no one comes from Japan. If I wanted, I could practice Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Gujarati, and several other languages but no: I'm learning Japanese, and have no Japanese coworkers.

On the other hand, in the last 24 hours here we've had snow, rain, thunder, hail, an ice storm, and now the temperature is on its way down to the sub-zero range for the weekend. Maybe I shouldn't expect to see any Japanese IT coworkers here any time soon.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2006

Finally, Trick 2

After several wasted attempts, I've finally figured out how to convert episodes of Trick 2 with subtitles and burn them to DVD. Yesterday evening we watched the first episode (of the second season) and were pleased to see that it hasn't tampered with a good formula. It's a fun episode with a lot of Japanese wordplay and Yabe's sidekick is crazier than ever, but Ueda doesn't faint once during the entire episode. We have high hopes for episode 2 (the conclusion).

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that yet another episode of Lunch Queen has been subtitled. Unfortunately I'm now 3 episodes behind.

Remember to visit d-addicts.com for your Asian TV fix.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2006

Progress check

Well, 8 days into the new year. I've reviewed the first 280 or so kanji from Heisig book 1; without touching the cards for 6 or 7 weeks I still had about an 85% retention rate, and most of the others were problems with element placement. Not bad, I think.

I'm about ready to wrap up "Japanese for Everyone" lesson 6. I've spent longer on it than I'd planned, but have been taking extra time to be sure I've mastered the vocabulary and grammar. My vocabulary method has been to write new words on an index card first thing in the morning and review the rest of the day while walking places at work. I've also been listening to the audio portion of the lesson 3 or 4 times a day, and that helps things stick too.

I don't remember where I am in Pimsleur, but it's somewhere in the mid-20s of level 1. It's interesting to see what I've forgotten and what I never really learned at all--for example, all of the -sugimasu section was a loss. It's nice to review and get that again.

This week I'll be starting lesson 7 of "Japanese for Everyone", completely new territory. I know that some of it was covered at the end of Pimsleur level 3, but it's nice to be hitting new material.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2006

Japanese Odds and Ends

Last week I ordered a Japanese Monthly Shonen Jump from thejapanshop.net and it arrived on Friday. I really need to practice reading Japanese, but (as I mentioned earlier) the kanji really put a damper on that. Shonen Jump includes furigana for most of the kanji, so I can start doing some reading practice now.

For those of you who are fans, last weekend I found out that episode 6 of Lunch Queen has finally been subtitled. It's been so long that I forgot what happened in episode 5. Guess I'll watch them again.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2005

New Year's Resolutions for Learning Japanese

So, how did your 2005 New Year's resolutions turn out? Yep, mine were mostly flops too. I didn't learn that new programming language (or even decide what it would be). I didn't lose X pounds either. I think I made some resolutions for learning Japanese, but they've probably been long-since erased with the rest of my BT email.

Since the new year is less than a week away, it's time to start thinking about new ones. I think that my main foci for the year are going to be learning kanji and getting ready for the JLPT.

First, the boring stuff. I'm almost finished reviewing lesson 6 of "Japanese for Everyone." That's as far as I got with Japanese lessons earlier this year, so I'm going to try to finish it off this week and begin lesson 7 next week/year. I have 21 lessons left. In theory I could finish the book in a year if I try to master a lesson every 2 weeks.

I'm not sure how realistic that is, though, because the other areas are going to take time. I definitely want to take the JLPT next December, level 3 if possible. I was hoping to do it this year, but school prevented it. Next year for sure.

I really, really want to make serious progress on kanji, though. The standard advice for language learning is to start reading as soon as possible for practice in translation, vocabulary and grammar. That's fine for languages with reasonably-sized alphabets or syllabaries. However, the kanji make that very difficult to do in Japanese. If you know the Roman alphabet, you can learn the Greek, Cyrillic or even Hebrew alphabets in a day or two. For that matter, you can learn the Japanese hiragana and katakana in a day or two. However, if you want to read a newspaper or magazine, you need to know not just the syllabaries but several thousand kanji as well, and you can't learn those in a day or two.

For the past 1.5 years I've been playing around with the Heisig method and even made it through 600 (or so) characters of the first book. That's not enough progress to be satisfying: I still can't read a newspaper or magazine (although I do plan to get a copy of Shonen Jump, where most kanji have furigana--that could be a big help). It'd be really nice to do the first 2000 kanji in the next year. The question is how to get there. It's a big mountain to climb no matter which path you choose.

Choice 1 is to stick with the Heisig method. I like the Heisig method. In order to do 2000 kanji (the first 2 books), I'd have to do each book in 6 months. That would mean learning to recognize and write about 12 characters per weekday (leaving weekends for review) from January through June, then learning the readings of those characters (12 per day again) from July through December. That would be about an hour per day. I don't think it's unrealistic, considering that I have 2 hours of commuting every day. If I can get into a vanpool, I could do 12 per day pretty easily.

Choice 2 is to ditch Heisig and go the traditional route of rote memorization. It has worked in the past for other languages, and it would give some more immediate results than Heisig (where you learn meanings and readings entirely separately). Thanks to the Barnes & Noble used book section and someone who decided to sell all of his Japanese learning books, I have copies of "Essential Kanji" and "Reading and Writing Japanese".

I do still believe in the Heisig method, although my own dedication to the method hasn't been very steady. I like the idea of learning all the meanings first, grouped in a logical order (by common primitive elements rather than simply by frequency of occurrence), and I like the idea of learning all the readings in groups as Heisig presents them in Book 2. However, "Essential Kanji" seems like it takes a middle road: according to the introduction it still presents characters and reading together in a huge long list, but does group them by common readings and seems to work along the lines of what Heisig calls "signal primitives".

I may give rote memorization a trial of a few days to see how it works out, then commit to one of the methods for the next year. When I was in college (and high school Spanish) my typical M.O. was simply to read through a straight vocabulary list a few times and I'd have them learned. Maybe I still have the brainpower to make it work.

As for language learning in general, I don't really have any resoutions, just things I'd like to accomplish. I'd like to warm up my Greek again and complete another Pimsleur course, maybe German or Mandarin. Probably Mandarin. I haven't really thought about it much: there's too much yet to do with Japanese, and too little time to do it all. I'd like to finish up the article I'm writing about the things I've learned in a year (* 1.5) of learning Japanese, and am thinking about starting up (yet another) site with learning advice, reviews, etc.

So what are your resolutions for learning languages, especially Japanese? Post them here (or a link to them elsewhere), and then you'll have something to check as the year progresses.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:18 AM | Comments (2)

December 01, 2005

Still more Skype: Someone, please speak to these people!

Somewhere in Tokyo a professor or two recently told his English classes to use Skype to get some English conversation practice. How do I know this? I know this because The Mixxer, a great language exchange site, has recently had about 3 dozen new users from Japan who are looking to practice their English. Now the number of Japanese looking to practice English is almost double the number of English speakers looking to practice Japanese.

If you have any interest in speaking Japanese at all, no matter what your level, sign up at The Mixxer and help out a few of these people!

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:09 PM | Comments (4)

November 08, 2005

日本語のべんきょうの...um, status

Well, the last few weeks have been an uproar with the job cut and the job search and school still going, so I haven't done a lot with my study plan lately. However, it's been better than I've expected.

Audio: I've reviewed a few Pimsleur lessons (51-56) while walking the mutt, along with listening through a few episodes of "Basic Japanese for You".

Speaking: I've spoken with fumahiro several times in preparation for the big presentation in class last week. A surprising amount of Japanese is becoming second nature now, and it's becoming surprisingly easy to compose things in real time. Listening is becoming easier, probably due to watching all those episodes of Trick.

Kanji: Finished reviewing the first 200 in Heisig. Out of those 200, I narrowed it down to about 10 which are more difficult to remember and have been drilling those. Now on to the next hundred.

Grammar and vocabulary: I've pretty well mastered the first 2 chapters of Japanese for Everyone: memorized all the vocabulary and learned the grammar well enough to be able to explain it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: that book really crams in the content.

Video: nothing. I just don't have time to sit at the computer and watch the videos.

Hanging out: I've been spending too much study time lately checking out Japanese! Japanese!. It's a nice site with some great writers.

There's no telling how the job situation is going to work out, so it's hard to predict or plan the next month of study. However, I intend to review another 200 kanji and do at least another 2 chapters of Japanese for Everyone, along with more Pimsleur review.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2005

Tips for your language exchange

Over at Japanese! Japanese! Mike posted some useful phrases to know when speaking with your Japanese conversation partner. Rather than repeat his work, let me add a few I've found very useful:

すみません: Sorry
わかりません: I don't understand
もういちど: Once more

It's helpful to know a few phrases when listening too.  I frequently hear Japanese say something which sounds like なんだろ when they're trying to say something in English. I'm not sure exactly how it translates, but it's something like "What (なん)is(だ) it".

You'll also hear your Japanese partner frequently speaking or making noises while you're speaking. According to Nihongo Notes this is called aizuchi and is an accepted and expected part of Japanese conversation. The purpose of aizuchi is to let you know that the listener is still listening and to encourage you to continue. According to Nihongo Notes you should frequently hear "そうですか", "はい" or "ええ". However, I frequently hear my Japanese partners, whether we are speaking Japanese or English, saying what I thought was "Mmm" or "Hmmm". Wrong: they are saying "うん", a less formal form of "はい" or "ええ". You'll probably hear it too.

I will admit that even though I'm used to the English form of aizuchi, the Japanese make these sounds even more frequently than I'm used to. It can be a little disturbing at first, and can be a little difficult to keep right on rolling even when it sounds like I'm being interrupted. It's all part of learning to converse in a new language.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 08:58 PM | Comments (4)

October 24, 2005

Starting Heisig Bk 1...again

Late in August I reached kanji 652 in "Remembering the Kanji"...then school started and I didn't touch them again for several weeks. A few weeks ago I picked up a few at random and couldn't remember a single one. Ouch.

So, last weekend I resorted all of the cards (they'd undergone an "extreme randomization event") and today I started with the first 100. Most of them were pretty easy: they should be, since I've been reviewing them for a year now. I consulted the book on a few of them to make sure I'm getting the stroke order correct (I continue to have trouble with 上, believe it or not) and to make sure I have the correct primitives for others (like 朝). However, I don't expect to have to do any serious work till the 400s or so, and I'm going to get to that point as quickly as possible.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:20 PM | Comments (3)

October 23, 2005

They're flooding in!

Well, it may not be a flood, but this page has had more visitors today than it's had in the last few weeks combined. Welcome everyone! While you're here, you might also want to check out So you really want to learn Japanese? Enjoy your visit.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:25 PM | Comments (1)

Mini-review: Japanese for Everyone

Over at thejapanesepage.com a few forum members were asking about the textbook Japanese for Everyone. I've been using this book for about 6 months, first in Japanese class/private lessons, and then for self-study, so I can give a few thoughts about it.

For the price, the book is a good value. Amazon has it for about $20, it's almost 400 pages long, and those pages are literally crammed with content: the print is smaller than a lot of textbooks and there's far less whitespace than others too (JfBP, I'm talking about you). The book is 27 lessons long and introduces about 2500 words, enough to keep you making vocabulary lists and carrying them around with you. Romaji is limited: It's used with the dialogs and vocabulary for the first 3 lessons, with vocabulary only for lessons 4 and 5, and is gone by lesson 6. Kanji starts showing up right away, and each new kanji comes with furigana for a while to help your memory.

This "Japanese for Everyone" is subtitled "A Functional Approach to Daily Communication". "Functional" means that the book does not give you a systematic overview of grammar, but instead it tries to teach Japanese by using real-life situations and expressions. The book follows the experiences of a businessman and his wife who come to work in Japan. Lesson 1 starts with the businessman arriving at the airport and passing through customs; succeeding lessons continue their experiences until they leave Japan in Lesson 27.

As a result of this "functional" focus, grammar does not get extensive coverage. There's plenty of grammar, don't get me wrong, but you will not find exhaustive descriptions of The Way Things Work. Sometimes that can be a little frustrating. I often end up cross-referencing other sources for more complete explanations and other viewpoints. That's a good thing, though. Comparing and contrasting lead to better understanding.

A typical lesson consists of several dialogs, then grammar notes on new grammatical points from those dialogs and exercises to help you practice new grammar. Each lesson has numerous vocabulary lists and ends with exercises in reading and listening comprehension. Audio tapes were produced for this book, but appear to be impossible to purchase nowadays. However, you might be lucky enough to live near a library which has the tapes.

"Japanese for Everyone" is like every textbook: some will enjoy it, others won't. As for self-study, again, some will be able to use it, others will be frustrated. I think that the book is challenging: besides the fact that you have to face the kana and kanji from the start, the book also gives you lots of vocabulary to memorize and doesn't baby you in the grammar and usage department. You hit the ground running and you don't stop.

I enjoyed that: when I started this book I had completed 40 lessons of Pimsleur and had done some minimal work with other textbooks, so I had some background, and "Japanese for Everyone" really built quickly on what I already knew. On the downside, the other 3 members of our Japanese class all dropped out within 6 weeks. I think that they expected Japanese to be a "study one hour per week" pursuit, and it isn't. You'll need to put in many hours to master each lesson, but you'll learn a lot of Japanese in those hours.

I'd highly recommend finding a native speaker to help you with pronunciation in the lessons, and/or a partner to work through the book with you and keep you on your toes with the exercises and dialogs.

I guess that about sums it up: if you're a motivated learner who's willing to put in the time necessary to memorize and master the material, "Japanese for Everyone" may very well be the book for you.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:35 PM | Comments (1)

October 18, 2005

Japanese worksheets?

This evening someone emailed me and asked, "Do you know where I can find Japanese worksheets for beginners?" My reply email bounced, so I'll post it here instead.

I think that someone has developed kana worksheets, but I'm not sure about grammar or vocabulary. I haven't used worksheets in a long time.

Here's an idea: make up some worksheets covering your topic(s) of interest. The exercise of building the worksheets will probably make you learn the topics more than following someone else's worksheets would. Then you can publish the worksheets on the web and earn the gratitude of many other learners, or publish them in a book and earn enough money to finance your trip to Japan.

Hmmm. That isn't a half-bad idea.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:31 PM | Comments (3)

October 15, 2005

Time for a study plan

Yesterday's Skype session showed me that my Japanese has not really improved lately and has probably taken steps backward. And it's no wonder. For the last month or 6 weeks I've had no time to study: homework and group projects have taken up all of my free time. My Japanese time has been reduced to Pimsleur once or twice a week, and an occasional episode of Japanese TV shows. No textbooks, no kanji.

Since time is very limited, I'm going to have to squeeze in smaller amounts of work during the week.

Audio: Normally mutt-walking time has been Pimsleur time, but after listening to Pimsleur Japanese for the last 15 months I think I've just about worn it out. Unfortunately there's no Pimsleur Japanese 4, nor does anything similar exist. I've been spending some mornings listening to courses from "The Teaching Company" (you know, those "Great Courses" from those catalogs you get in the mail). However, I think I'm going to revisit the NHK "Basic Japanese" and "Brush Up Your Japanese" lessons (available in mp3 format at http://mp3japan.freenethost.net/). They didn't impress me much at first, but the early lessons are pretty basic (as you'd expect them to be). Maybe if I put more time and attention into them, I'd get something out of them. Mihoko Honda's accent is fun to listen to.

I've also heard good things about podcasts, but haven't found any good candidates for Japanese learners yet.

Video: Those "Let's Learn Basic Japanese" shows from the 1980s aren't too bad, and there are plenty of them to watch. Unfortunately my early morning tea time (when I'd normally watch them) is getting eaten up by work and it's tough to sit down for them. However, I'm going to watch at least one per week, two if possible, and take time to work through the transcripts, memorizing vocab, etc.

Kanji: I love the Heisig method and made it to the 650 mark, but have stalled out again. The two killers are the comprehensive reviews and pushing too hard to make progress. I haven't touched the cards in several weeks, and have forgotten quite a few of them again. I'm going to sort and order my cards, then start working through the book again, giving every kanji enough attention and not pushing too hard. Even 10-15 minutes per day will be far better than what I'm doing now.

Grammar and vocabulary: I really like the "Japanese for Everyone" textbook. During the spring and summer we made it to lesson 7 in Japanese lessons, but since then I haven't made any progress. I've been reviewing the grammar and vocabulary in lessons 1-6 on and off for the last few weeks, but need to wrap that up and start progressing.

Speaking and listening practice: I once read that listening to Japanese regularly will help with listening comprehension, so I've been watching the first series of Trick, a show which really seems like it's trying to be a Japanese "X-Files" but with a very different style: the two cops are good for comic relief, and Ueda (the male lead) has an unfortunate tendency to faint when frightened.

I need to do more Skype sessions with my Japanese friends too. Weekly should be plenty.

The Plan: My study time is limited due to school and homework. However, I should be able to get in some audio time during dog walks 3-4 times per week, so I'll work on the NHK lessons. I should also be able to fit in at least one episode of "Let's Learn Basic Japanese" on the computer every week.

The tricky part is going to be textbook and kanji work. I don't think I can do an hour every day, but I should be able to manage 30 minutes. I think I'll do 10 minutes of kanji and 20 of "Japanese for Everyone", and take flashcards with me to use during otherwise wasted time. Now I just need to figure out when that half hour will be every day.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 03:48 PM | Comments (3)

August 02, 2005

Kanji: Passed the 600 mark

Today I passed the 600 mark in Heisig's Remembering the Kanji (vol. 1). It seems to be easier. I don't know whether that's because I'm getting better at making up and remembering stories, or whether I'm kidding myself and am about to get a rude awakening when I do my next comprehensive review. I'm hoping for the former rather than the latter.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2005

Crossed the 500 mark

Last year when I started learning Japanese, I used James Heisig's Remembering the Kana to learn hiragana and katakana both in a single weekend. With results like that, it was only natural to buy his Remembering the Kanji to start learning kanji. The book covers just over 2000 kanji. This last weekend I passed the 500 mark. I still have a long way to go (finish learning 1500 kanji from book 1, then learn all the readings for those kanji in book 2, then learn another 1000 in book 3) but it's been a fun ride so far and I'm looking forward to continuing.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2005

So you really want to learn Japanese?

I've been working at learning Japanese for almost a year now. It's been quite an adventure. I browse around some Japanese learners' message boards for fun; every few weeks a newbie posts a message asking for advice on learning Japanese, and every few weeks I write the same tips.

Rather than repeatedly rewrite them (or cut/paste them), I've written them up into an essay titled So you really want to learn Japanese? I make no claims about its completeness, and what works for me may not work for you. Maybe someday I'll look back at it and laugh.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2005

Finished: Pimsleur Japanese

Whew! It's been a long road, but today I "finished" lesson 90 of Pimsleur Japanese.

In July 2004 I decided (for various reasons) to start learning Japanese. I'd never had any interest in learning an Asian language, and hadn't learned a new language in years. In order to get a feel for pronunciation I got the 10-lesson Pimsleur Japanese course from the library. I'd never used a Pimsleur course before, but figured that it was as good as any other for coming to terms with pronunciation.

After 4 lessons I was itching for a chance to go out and speak the few phrases I'd learned to a native speaker. After 6 I had a dream about speaking Japanese to a receptionist at a local business. After the 10 lessons, I went back and did them all again to be sure that I really knew the material. Then I started borrowing the 30-lesson courses from the library, using them in conjunction with textbooks and (since March) private lessons.

Now that I've done the 90 lessons, I'm half-tempted to go back and do them again, this time generating a vocabulary list. I know that I've forgotten a fair number of the words and expressions in the course, due to the Pimsleur emphasis on not writing them down (that's why I put "finished" in quote marks--is it really finished when I've forgotten 30% of it?). However, I'm also half-tempted to get started on another course.

When I started I believed, as Mr. Speaker said in another thread, that "these silly things never really work". I've long since changed my mind. The Pimsleur method certainly isn't perfect, and the Japanese program has its own limitations, but overall it's been a very positive experience. The course has provided some good intellectual stimulation, it's been a good way to spend time which would have otherwise been wasted, and has provided quite a few "Farber moments" when I've seen the faces of native speakers light up (or at least not laugh) at the sound of their language. Nowadays I can't stand to listen to the radio when I'm driving the car; I have to have a language tape or CD (Pimsleur or otherwise) playing instead.

And thanks (at least in part) to this course, I've rediscovered the fun of learning languages. I plan to keep working at Japanese--I still have a lot to learn--but Pimsleur has helped me come a long way already.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:56 PM | Comments (0)