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How to learn reading/writing

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How to learn reading/writing

Postby bloritsch » July 11th, 2008 10:00 pm

I think something that would help me divorce myself from a dependence on Romaji is to actually have more of a concerted effort to learn the writing systems. The JPod101 site has a lot of reference material, but not a whole lot on how to learn the hiragana, katakana, kanji, etc. It would help me get a whole lot more out of Rikaichan, etc.

My biggest problem is that many hiragana characters look too similar to me and there doesn't seem to be any visual cues to help associate phonetics with the character. I hear brute force is the only way, but I guarantee that elementary schools have some sort of system for getting through it. Help!

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Postby hatch_jp » July 12th, 2008 12:57 am

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Postby Belton » July 12th, 2008 1:44 am

Unfortunately brute force or repetition is about the only effective way. [edit ... to learn kana. ]

I think the best way to learn to read the characters is to learn to write them.
Practice reading whenever you can. You will find yourself sounding out the individual characters just like someone learning to read English but the more you try the easier it gets. Write in kana whenever you can as well.

I recommend this book.

Although most books (and systems) I've seen concentrate on hiragana and then expect katakana to be easy to pick up, I actually find the much simpler shapes of katakana more difficult to distinguish from each other. 
Last edited by Belton on July 12th, 2008 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby QuackingShoe » July 12th, 2008 4:47 am

You just have to go out and do it. It's actually really, really easy.

You can learn to read them (slowly) after spending a couple days with a flashcard program and no previous experience. Just use any kana flashcard website. It doesn't have to be too mind-numbing, either. While you're doing something else more important that doesn't absorb all of your attention, start hitting the flashcards while you're doing it. When it shows you one you don't know (all of them at first!) you just get them wrong, and then try to remember it for next time. You can read them, slowly, after a weekend of this. If you're so inclined, you could use the demo for as well, but.. you should probably stop before the kanji :P It's not necessarily the best method for learning them.

To make sure you understand all the correct sounds, (of course you have japanesepod101 to help with that), I used the demo. It starts with romaji, but quickly moves on to hiragana, and every symbol displayed throughout the life of the program can be clicked on to produce a sound example. It also shows you the stroke order for all the hiragana characters along with tips on how to make them look neat, so you can go through it and learn to write them, which will also speed up your recognition. It also has really basic sentence stuff and some entertaining cultural notes.

Then you can use whatever else to continue learning to writing the hiragana and start writing the katakana, including a purchase of Human Japanese if you please. Those PDFs above are also an example. Then the exposure of reading the hiragana Jpod101 pdfs every day will help, and go ahead and practice writing out all the sentences in there as well. Or whatever else you do. Give it a couple weeks and it'll all be second nature.

The kanji is where things get difficult. I recommend the Heisig method. A lot of people find it unorthodox, but there's a sample PDF that takes you through the first 267 kanji at ... sample.pdf so that you can get a feel for it.
You DON'T learn how to read them using this method, but you learn how to easily recognize and write all of the jouyou kanji. I've been doing it for a few months and I can write and recognize 1700 kanji, though, again, I can read less (I couldn't put a number on it) as I use a 'learn the readings in context' approach, through reading manga and etc. I've personally found it invaluable, and find it incredibly easy to learn new words, including their kanji, now that I'm intimately familiar with their writings. If you were to use this method, I would recommend as an excellent (free) supplement. It has a built in Spaced Repetition system, as well as a database of user-submitted stories/mnemonics, which really make the whole thing possible.

I don't have any recommendations for more traditional kanji methods, as the couple of months I spent trying to use them were very painful and gave me extremely poor results. But, they're out there and ready to be found!

Whatever you do, it is really invaluable to learn how to WRITE the characters, and not just recognize them. When it comes to different, TINY fonts, such as those found in wordy manga and videogames (not to mention the handwriting of most mangaka), they're virtually impossible to reason out with only recognition experience. On the other hand, when you know how to write them, you can recognize them in most any computer font, no matter how mutilated they become. And oh, they become ever so mutilated :P

Good luck!

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Postby Javizy » July 12th, 2008 8:26 am

I back up QuackingShoe's recommendation of Heisig's book 100%. Brute force may work for kana, since there isn't much choice, and it's actually relatively easy, but to apply the same method to 2000 characters is just asking for an unnecessary headache. If you have a mind that can form memories then Heisig can work for you.

I have really bad RSI and avoid writing as much as possible, so they are characters which I have only ever written 2 or 3 times. Yet, yesterday I was (fairly) fluently writing a draft of an e-mail in Japanese. The fact that I knew which kanji went with which word is thanks to all the reading I do, but the fact that I could write out 15-20 stroke characters from memory is all thanks to Heisig.

If somebody had told me the only way to learn kanji is by writing them out thousands of times I probably never would have progressed with the language at all.

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Postby Belton » July 12th, 2008 5:28 pm

I misread the first post. I thought only kana was in question.

Kanji. Writing by hand (if it's not painful) does give an extra hook for your memory in my opinion.
Reading in context, while it's a bit of a catch 22 situation it is a more pleasant way to learn than rote memorisation.

Heisig does seem to be the only person to try to think about how to learn kanji effectively.
However unfortunately I rather dislike his book (but not his core ideas).
You might have more success, it's worth a shot. I feel the less you know about kanji and Japanese the more success you'll have at Heisig vol1

Traditionally the approach is
.... here's some kanji, here's the on and kun readings, here's its radical, here's the stroke order, here's some example usage, write them out ten times, learn it, we'll quiz you on it tomorrow and give you another batch to learn...
and that takes 6 years full time to impart 1000 odd kanji in primary school. (6kyu may extend into middle school, I'm not sure, but you get the idea.) with the next 1000 odd kanji reading ability is more emphasised than writing I believe. I'm not sure if this is done in middle school before the end of compulsory education or is part of high school.

It's more or less the approach taken with adult or second language learners as well except they haven't the time a schoolchild has and more importantly they haven't the language framework to slot the kanji into that a Japanese schoolchild has.

So I don't think elementary schools do have any "magic" systems. What they have is time on their side.
What I have noticed in primary school texts is how they break down kanji into elements when describing how to write them. The order of introduction of kanji is more or less a mix between simple shapes, simple concepts, and useable kanji at first. Kanji seem to be grouped by meaning when being introduced in groups.

For a traditional approach aimed at English speakers I like Basic Kanji Vol 1 by Chieko Kano et al. (Bonjinsha Co. Ltd.) Maybe slower than Heisig but more substantial in some ways.

When you study how kanji work you find there are clues both to meaning and on readings in kanji; they aren't arbitrary symbols; there is a logic to them.

I find that I pick up kanji best through exposure and by using them. By reading and writing, by emailing with friends, by using mixi. It's imperfect I know but 十人十色

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Postby bloritsch » July 12th, 2008 7:50 pm

Based on the responses, here is something I think could work. As several people mentioned, writing helps reinforce the reading of the kana. I think it has to do with the reading part of the brain critically "grading" the writing part of the brain, or something like that. There are 107 kana each for hiragana and katakana if you include the double-hash radical, circle radical (if radical is the right word) and the ya/yu/yo contractions (for example ぢゃ). My brain in particular needs a little structure to help "get it". So the lessons would be organized something like this:

Each lesson introduces one "family" of letters (a, e, o, i, u groups) along with pointing out if a letter can be read more than one way. For example, in the lesson PDFs you have は pronounced "ha" as in はは or "wa" as in 私はバロンです。 The lesson PDF for each lesson would have a simple worksheet. The worksheet would be organized so that you have several words with the kana of the day missing. Next to the word would be the romaji so that even if you didn't know the Japanese word that was on the line, you would still be able to fill in the blanks. On the next page would be the answers so that it is self testing. Granted--it's still on the person to actually do the lessons, but if you are motivated it can help. Here would be some examples of something you might find in the worksheet for a, e, o, i, u:

Winner: __たり (a ta ri)
Name: なま__ (na ma e)
Stomach: __なか (o na ka)

Etc. You get the drift. The worksheet should also have a place to practice writing the kana a few times. A stroke order diagram might be nice. I think that by the time you reach the last family of kana you'll already be recognizing the letters being introduced. These lessons would probably not be longer than a couple of minutes each, and might even be able to be tacked on to the end of the newbie classes or something like that. Of course, it might be fitting to make it an extension of the Introduction series. If you want to get the most out of the lessons, rikaichan, and kanji dictionaries, you really do have to be able to read kana. I think it would be best for the worksheet to teach both the hiragana and katakana for the same family of kana at the same time.

While I'm on the subject, JPod101 has a great video lesson on setting up rikaichan on your computer. It would be great to have video lessons on how to set up Japanese input on your Mac and PC (I have one of each) as well as how to use it.

In general, I think that the information presented at JPod101 is top notch, and I wouldn't change how you present it. However, I think where it is weakest is where it comes to reinforcement. The lesson questions are great--if you happen to be online, but I think it would be something most useful as part of the lesson PDF. I'm rarely at a computer when I have time to study. I think the lesson questions are a premium feature, though. Maybe basic and premium lesson PDFs would be the way to go. The premium lesson PDFs would have the tests included and the "grade yourself" answers on a separate page in the back.

Does that seem reasonable? I'm just trying to get some sort of structure to my studying, and I'm struggling. I never was good at brute force studying, so I stunk in subjects like history but excelled in subjects like math and language because there are certain rules/guidelines you can use to figure the answers out.

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Postby Yamanchu » July 21st, 2008 5:33 pm

Hi Bloritsch, do a search on the net for 'Hiragana in 48 minutes' and also 'Katakana in 48 minutes'. I think they're published by 'Curriculum Corporation'. These are absolutely brilliant for learning how to read hiragana and katakana.

An example is this is that about 6 months ago, I taught my 13-year-old niece to read hiragana in one hour. Yep, one hour. When we started together she could read four hiragana. An hour later, with almost no hesitation she could read all of them, easy.

The following week we did the same with katakana. This is a brilliant system, it's how I learnt myself, and I've seen and taught others with this system. Absolutely brilliant.

Kanji - I used to just write them out a couple a hundred times and two minutes later promptly forget them. A japanese teacher I know suggested that I study the stroke order, close my eyes then 'write' the kanji in my head. Then write it down on paper. Cover up the kanji, again 'write' it in your head, then again on paper. For me, this works brilliantly.

Hope some of this helps!


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