Thursday, February 28, 2008

Learning Kanji

When tackling Japanese language, people have a lot of different ways to study. A popular way is to study vocab and grammar seperately from the Kanji. Vocab makes sense to study the simple stuff first. Although 月 (moon) isn't the most useful word, the Kanji 月 is used to make about 200 other Kanji, like 胃 (stomach) and 有 (posses). So we often learn Kanji from simple writing to hard writing, and vocab from useful to obscure.

So we learn a lot of simple Kanji, then we find out how to combine these into more complex ones. An effective way to remember which pieces make which Kanji is to create stories. But the human brain works in strange ways. It really really helps to have complex, absurd stories. 厚 (thick) can be made of the elements for cliff, 日(day), and 子 (child). You could make up something simple like, "A child sitting each day on a thick cliff", but that won't get stored very well in the long term. Instead, go with something like "Remember the Spartans? They totally threw their children off a cliff. Then they waited a day and came back. If the kid was alive, then he had a thick skull and would grow up to be a powerful warrior." Yes, this means creating about 2000 off the wall stories for all the general use Kanji, but it's what you gotta do.

James Heisig has a book called Remember the Kanji. It uses this format. You can study from there, and then quiz yourself using the website Reviewing the Kanji. It uses a good flashcard style protocol where things you memorize get tested less and less over time. Study a new lesson, quiz yourself on it, and repeat until you have about 20 words on your failed list. Then study those 20 words for the day. Repeat this process over and over, you'll be surprised how fast you pick it up.

I often write down Kanji that I forget in a notebook. I can study on the train or at Starbucks or while watching hosts pick up girls in Shinjuku station. I also include the stories I think of in my little notebook. The other day, a nice older lady wanted to see what I was studying. I didn't think, and handed it over to her. Then, oh shit, I need that back.

Was her English good enough to read my stories? Stories of which I have one that is something like "The mom wanted to get her nipples pierced, so she made sure to spend the money and go to a reputable piercer" and "The stoner was hanging out with his nitrous head junkie girlfriend. He sparked his pipe, and she huffed her balloon."

Maybe I should stick with bible stories like Heisig does in his book.

Some Japanese related language learning links:
  • All Japanese All the Time. Good system, and Khatzumoto is a good motivational writer.
  • Jim Breen's WWWJDIC. The best in web based translation. Won't give you a straight up translation of your text, but it will pull out whats important. If you try and use babelfish or something like that, you will most likely get garbage.
  • Slime Forest. A video game that teaches kana and kanji.
  • Knuckles in China Land. Another video game. This one is considered superior, with customizable dictionaries and what not. Both games kinda suck from a "fun" perspective. It's all about mindless repetition here.
  • Japanese Pod 101. An interesting podcast (limited free content). The host is a bit genki and can get on your nerves.
  • And of course, schult'z terrible kanji help page. At least read the intro, he does a good job explaining things. I like his system a little better than what I'm doing now, cause he uses the actual Japanese pronunciations of words incorporated into his stories.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Great links! I'm going to tap into those!