In a moment of insanity I decided to learn Japanese.
By the way, this series isn’t about teaching you Japanese, but to relate my learning experience and perhaps provide you some help in finding resources if you decide to learn on your own.
This introduction will be revised occasionally to keep in sync with the series. Latest revision: 2009-12-10.
Why learn Japanese?
Perhaps it would have made more sense, demographically, for me to have chosen Spanish, but day to day I don’t have any chance to use or even listen to it. On the other hand, ever since a friend of mine got me interested in anime, I have an ongoing opportunity use of Japanese.
Then there’s the esthetic qualities of the writing system. Japanese offers a rich set of characters and a beautiful tradition of calligraphy to follow. I’ve always enjoyed the physical act of writing, and still do most of my personal composition (except for blog posts) long hand. There’s something pleasing about the touch and motions of writing, seeing the characters and words form on the page, how the weight and form of the characters can vary — much more expressive than typing the same old boring glyphs over and over into a digital document. Hand-written text has much more character (sorry), what with the scratch-throughs, the annotations, the doodles in the margins.
Next there is the challenge. Japanese has a reputation for being especially difficult for Westerners to learn, in part due to the added burden of having to learn three new character sets, one of which contains thousands of symbols. Bluntly, my memory sucks — as my friends and coworkers can verify, both from experiencing the effects of it and from my complaints about it. I don’t think I’ve learned anything substantial by rote in decades, at least that I can remember; so this is a great opportunity to enjoy exercising those mental muscles. For example, the pleasure of something as simple as this: seeing “ã¾“ change from trigger the thought “that is the glyph that represents the sound ‘ma'” to directly experiencing it as “ma”.
Finally, Japanese is significantly different from most Western languages. I suspect that if I learned one of the romance languages, I would be much more likely to treat it as if it were “just” English with new words and somewhat altered syntax and grammar. With Japanese, I hope I’ll be kept more “honest” due to the sentence structure and word order, topic vs subject, particles, tense concepts, levels of politeness and formality, much greater dependency on context (it takes “omit needless words” seriously), ….
Finally++ … well, sometimes, I just want to do something unexpected (for me). You’re learning Spanish? Ho hum; you’re learning Japanese? WTF?
A few days ago I made a more or less off-the-cuff post about learning hiragana, with the idea that I’d make occasional posts as I progressed. Since then I’ve decided to make this a series for two reasons: to play with the Organize Series plugin for WordPress, and to serve as a goad to keep me studying — I’ll be less likely to quit if I know someone is watching. Here’s what I have planned so far:
What you’re reading right now.
How to get your system to display Japanese fonts. Needed for the rest of the series.
An overview of the three distinct character sets used to write Japanese and the way they are transliterated into the Roman/Latin alphabet.
The software needed to simplify entering Japanese and Chinese characters.
A quick look at pronouncing Japanese.
Kana – Hiragana and Katakana
An overview of the two syllabary scripts used to write Japanese.
Details on ways to learn the kana characters, how they are written, and resources for practice.
An overview of the ideographic characters adapted from Chinese.
Details on ways to learn the kanji characters, how they are written, and resources for practice.
Once the series is finished I’ll compile a summary of resources I’ve mentioned in previous posts.