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State of the Nation – July 26th, 2009

So I’ve thrown myself headfirst back into RTK, and thankfully it hasn’t atrophied as badly as I first thought. I’m just shy of 1800 in now, so the reviews are starting to blow out (265 on top of the 100 new cards today), but I’m trying to keep on top of them as much as possible. It was easier when I was solely studying kanji – it’s tricky trying to juggle it with Japanese sentence study. でも、今日から一所懸命勉強します。

Also, by virtue of Twitter (via JapanSoc, I think…?), I discovered Learn Japanese Pod earlier this week. How did it take a year of wandering around the Japanese-learning corners of the net to find this?! It’s by no means perfect (still, what is, really?), but it introduces really useful everyday conversational Japanese. Already, after only listening to about a dozen of the 94 podcasts currently available, I’m picking up more of what’s being said in dramas (yay!). And there’s plenty of everyday stuff you’d never think to ask about, at least until you get stuck in the konbini with a cashier asking if you want your bento heated : |I’m going to try and absorb as much of it as I can before heading to Japan in about 6 weeks.

LJP skews a little toward Kansai-ben, but I’m sort of liking that, because I know a lot of the Kanto-ben equivalents already and so it cements my understanding of ない vs. へん, ほんと vs. ほんま and such. All good.

What’s really started to become clear recently is the fact that relying on only one or two sources to learn a language is not the way to go. When I was doing that – and there have been quite a few instances of me falling into the One True Resource trap – it seemed like my learning stalled a bit. By changing things up constantly – Yotsubato!, RTK, UBJG, Learn Japanese Pod, Japanese Accelerator, various RPGs on my DS, heaps of dramas and music – it keeps it interesting, and stops me getting stuck on one track (e.g. all です/ます form, all dictionary form, all casual, all polite, all business, whatever). Repeating the same thing helps, too. I’ve watched Hana Kimi with (sadly unavoidable at the time) hardsubs so often that I know the gist in English of every conversation now, and it’s helping me pick up the Japanese. I was knitting with it on last night, and found that, even while intent on my work and not the screen, I knew what they were talking about and a lot of the vocab clicked into place. So, subs aren’t the devil, but relying on them can be. Here endeth my words of wisdom for today 🙂

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Forgetting The Kanji

Okay, so as the links in the sidebar might suggest, I tend to lean towards the AJATT/immersion style of foreign language learning. And since I discovered Khatz’ site in September last year, I’ve been roughly following the steps he sets out – RTK –> Kana –> sentences (plus immersion the whole time).  Overall, it’s been going well. The progress, compared to five years of French in high school and university, is amazing. I’ve realised recently that I’ve botched something up, though.

Should I continue reviewing kanji after, like, finishing RTK? Definitely. Yes. Big yes.

(From here.)

Guess what I stopped doing when I started sentence-mode? Yep. “Oh, it’ll be okay,” I said. ” I remember all the 2042 kanji in RTK1 with near-perfect accuracy. So when I read them in the context of real Japanese, it’ll be all I need to reinforce them.” *cough*

Moving to sentences was a rocky transition. I tried grabbing random sentences from here and there like Khatz did. Comprehension? Nil. Frustration? Insanely high. Persevered for a few weeks before tossing it in. Tried Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide. Entered the sentences in to my SRS. Comprehension? Low. Frustration? Still moderately high. Boredom? High. (N.B. I’ve recently – after getting a grounding in basic grammar – re-read Tae Kim’s site, and it’s excellent. It just wasn’t what I needed at that point in time.)

Then I found Understanding Basic Japanese Grammar [insert triumphant music]. No book or system is perfect for everyone, but this was the one that clicked for me.  So I worked through it, and got a reasonable grounding in all the really common, standard grammar structures. There was only one problem: UBJG is very light on kanji. This is a twofold issue: firstly, it uses kana where kanji would usually be used; secondly, it uses the same kanji over and over, as it focuses on a university student mindset/lifestyle. Hence, there are a lot of 先生 and 学生, and a fair few 論文, 教室 and 研究室. I can read these without thought now, as well as a lot of basic compounds (今日、昨日、明日、時間、今晩、先ず、新聞、電車、電話、自転車、etc.). But there are a lot of joyo kanji that don’t get a look-in in UBJG. Without the reinforcement, they’re eroding from my memory. This is not good.

The problem I’ve hit upon now is that there’s a few ways to go from here: do I redo RTK in the original English keywork –> kanji? Or the Japanese keyword –> kanji? Or do the Movie Method? In the interests of avoiding paralysis-by-analysis, I’m going the original route to begin with. Mostly because I’m no longer confident of the meanings, and because ‘setting up’ the Movie Method is far too time consuming (especially after I tried to do a tally of all the movies I could use, and came up with a grand total of 31, even after including tv series’ and books – there are far more onyomi groups than that).

The moral of this story? Do not drop the RTK reviews before you can actually read the kanji, or you’ve just made a whole world of extra work for yourself.

Things I’ve learned from Yotsubato!

I had plans tonight to come home and have a crack at my graded readers, which have sat gathering dust on my bookshelves since sometime around Christmas, but lo and behold, what was waiting on the doorstep when I got home? よつばと!(Pretty fast delivery, too – thanks JList!). So it seems that dust will accumulate a little more. I’ve been itching to try よつば for a while now, as the general consensus among j-learners is that it’s a good ‘starter’ manga – the language is pretty simple, the storylines are fairly basic, and it’ll reinforce a lot of basic grammar. After struggling through the first volume of 花ざかりの君たちへ (which I love, but don’t have the ability – yet – to comprehend more than 10% of), something a bit closer to the Krashen-esque i+1 sounded brilliant.

And it is. Where the first frame of 花君 stopped me in my tracks, I got through the first two pages of よつば before encountering something I didn’t explicitly know. Even with that, because the story was easy to follow, I could correctly infer the meaning of the words I didn’t understand. For the record, these were のり出す, as in 「あんまりのり出すと危ないぞ」and 振る, as in 「おねーちゃんが手ぇふった!とーちゃんもふれ!」.

Useful Phrases

因みに(ちなみに)is like ところで – “by the way”, “bye the bye”, “incidentally”. Useful, that. Totally something I use in English, too.

Things I Haven’t Quite Figured Out Yet, But Have A Hunch

ぞ – seems to work like よ as a gobi, but really casual. [A Google search after the fact turned up the assertion that ぞ is the ultra-casual equivalent of よ, and ぜ/ゼ is the ね equivalent. Accuracy?]

ダンボール as in 「このダンボールゴミに出す分ですか?」seems to refer to cardboard boxes…? I did a Google image search on this hunch and turned up heaps of cardboard boxes, but also a cardboard (?) robot and a cardboard car, the latter of which was titled 「「ダンボールアート作品集 」. So maybe it just means cardboard. Hmmm.

電柱「でんちゅう」is a telegraph pole, though I’m probably missing a nuance or something.

資源ゴミ is suggested by my Google image search to be a council tip or recylcling centre. More like the latter, I think. There were a few pictures of the recycling triangle.

燃えるゴミ is flammable rubbish? I know that in Japan they separate rubbish into flammable and inflammable. And hence, 燃えないゴミ is the inflammable stuff…?

月木 as in 「燃えるゴミは月木」is either 月曜日 and 木曜日 or 月曜日 to 木曜日. Not living in Japan (yet), I don’t know the frequency of rubbish collections, so I can’t figure the nuance out.

ブランコ is a swing…? Google image search threw up a lot of swing sets, but also some pictures of people with baseball bats (soooo… the noun/verb couple translate directly?).

長女 is the eldest daughter. Can I use this to describe myself?

お隣さん is your (next door?) neighbour. Seems to be used to introduce them to someone else, like “[name] is my neighbour”.

Chapter One finished! よし!

Stop. Rethink. Re-jig. Start Again.

Things that are working at the moment:

  • UBJG Anki Deck – getting through most-to-all of my reviews every day. Enjoying the slow but constant increase in recognising grammar patterns. I’m a grammar nerd at heart.
  • All things 嵐. I’m watching old episodes of まごまご 嵐 and loving them. Had the first volume of C X D X G の嵐 playing on a loop this weekend. When I relax and go with the flow (rather than trying to understand everything), I get a pretty good idea of what’s going on. The only weird bit is that my brain latches on to certain phrases, translates them to English and starts an internal monologue, explaining why it’s funny to a non-Japanese speaker. Hoping this will pass soon.
  • J-music – in the car, on the iPod on the computer. With the exception of leaving iTunes running when I leave the room, English language music doesn’t factor into my life any more.
  • Writing practise on Sundays – yeah, it should be every day, but quite frankly I have neither time nor inclination during the week. Other than in lulls during department meeting at work, of course. *cough* I was having a lot of trouble producing even the kana a month ago, though my recognition was okay. But by drilling myself through both syllabaries, I’m finding that (a) I can read them faster in manga/websites/magazines, (b) I have fewer mental blocks when writing – today it was only ら and ネ that stumped me – and (c) my writing is getting better. Seems obvious, but I had to think about how I got my English handwriting to compliment-worthy levels in order to sort out my Japanese. I remember the hours of hand-cramping slog I put in between the ages of about 10 and 15 tweaking my handwriting, just because I wanted to. It paid off, too. I figure the same commitment to my Japanese handwriting will lead to the same outcome. Fingers crossed.

What’s not working:

  • Kanji In Context – it’s boring me. Boredom is the enemy. Hence, it shall be put aside for a while. Still need to figure out what will fill the hole…
  • Aimless internet browsing – especially 嵐 related stuff, which will pop up in English as often (if not more so) than Japanese. Also, fanfic addiction. A more-than-decade-old habit that’s a bitch to break. It lies dormant at times, then rears its ugly head. And I can’t find a Japanese equivalent to replace it with at present. Is there such a thing as Japanese fanfic? I know things are translated into French, German, Spanish and Russian from time to time, but I’m not sure that Asian languages figure in the equation (or if they’d be any good, if they did exist).
  • Japanese Accelerator – lost access earlier in the week, and lost mometum by the time Kevin and Aaron fixed it for me. Must give myself a kick up the arse tomorrow night to continue. I know it’s fun once I get into it.
  • Aussie TV – Not watching every night, but if I get home in time, there’s a good chance I’ll start watching Master Chef with my dad. And that’s dangerous, especially on Tuesdays, when it feeds into Talking ‘Bout Your Generation and NCIS (the latter of which is a double-header most of the time). I can lose a whole night to veg-ing if I’m not careful, all in the name of not closeting myself away in my immersion bubble bedroom.

Good things that happened this week:

  • Found the copy of Spirited Away my sister gave me for Christmas (birthday? They’re only a week apart, presents kind of blur into each other…). Was disappointed when I put it on and copped an American-dubbed Chihiro and Co., but soon realised that you can set it to Japanese as well (with English subs that can’t be turned off, dammit). Have watched it half a dozen times (well, watched twice, listened the rest of the time) and pick up more and more on each repeat.
  • The good people at J-List confrmed that my よつばと set (Vols 1-7) are on the way! I was pretty fed up and just about ready to cancel the order, too. Looking forward to a manga series that I should be able to understand. Hopefully, after finishing with よつば, I’ll be able to tackle 花ざかりの君たちへ and ラブひな with a bit more speed! (Disclaimer: I enjoy them at the moment, but there’s a lot I don’t really “get”. Looking forward to more things clicking very soon.)

Listening feeds reading feeds listening…

Erm, so I made a draft of this post a couple of weeks ago, but never got around to polishing and posting. Hence, some of the info is a tad out-of-date. Whatever.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been slacking off a bit. I’m getting my Anki sentences done (some days I clear the lot, others I just get a couple of dozen out of the way). I’m noticing I’m sort of internalising the patterns and grammar now – I just ‘get’ how ので、のに、たら、and so forth work.  Without translating and saying “that means ‘because'” or “that means ‘if'”, which is what my brain was doing at first (to my eternal frustration). The more I read, the more my brain remembers how things work… which is exactly what AJATT/immersion disciples keep saying.

But I watched Your Generation and NCIS on Tuesday, and hibernated in the loungeroom on Wednesday night while Dad watched State of Origin. And I’ve been watching So You Think You Can Dance, too. Too much English! Bad! Khatzumoto would not approve. And neither do I. Oh well, I’ll pick myself up, brush myself off, and get back into Japanese. I started Japanese Accelerator this week, and it’s been quite useful so far. I’ve learnt some new phrases, and I can maybe speak at a slightly better speed, and sound slightly less like I’m regurgitating Understanding Basic Japanese Grammar…!

And the main point of this post? Well, what I came across today was one of those bounce-in-my-seat tiny breakthroughs. I was watching アタシんちの男子 last night (LOL – the theme song just came on NACK5 as I was typing that!), and Sho said 「かしてくれ」while bowing. I knew it has something to do with wanting the suitcase of money the family had just been given, and the fact that he wanted it. And I’d definitely heard the phrase before. But I knew I couldn’t find it in Denshi Jisho, and I  couldn’t quite figure out the exact nuance. So I let it be, because it would come up again and one day I’d get it.

Then this morning, over breakfast, I was reading 花ざかりの君たちへ、and Sano said 「100円貸してくれ」and something in my brain went click, and I got it. Because this time I had the kanji to point to the meaning, and the same body language from Sano that Sho was using when he said it. I’ll never forget what 貸してくれ means now! I’ve seen it written and heard it spoken in context. That’s language in action. Bloody brilliant, that.

The start of something new…

I’ve been deliberating over this for a while, but I think it was time to bite the bullet and post (even if this turns out to be the worst blog in the world!).

The plan? Primarily to document my progress in learning Japanese, for future language learning reference (because it’s hard to remember how you learn things after the fact) and also for possible future grad school research into language acquisition…

The other RL stuff from my LJ might creep over here, too, if I decide I like the WP sytem better. Either way, we’ll see.