Saturday, November 11, 2006

Still Studying Japanese

When I first went to Japan, I spoke absolutely no Japanese. I took one class several years ago and only remember the hiragana. However, because I came to Japan, the logical first step was to start learning the language. I am the first to admit it. I hate textbooks. Not because I think they are not any good. It just seems that I have better results when I'm out there hearing and parroting the language. I bought the Japanese for Busy People Kana series and went thru it, but, to be honest, little of it stuck. I would say 95% of what I have learned was from harassing the people in my office to explain what they were saying. What was especially helpful was that I was in the deep countryside where I had very little chance of speaking English. Anyways, for me, the textbooks became helpful AFTER a couple of years learning the language when what I learned thru intuition was explained clearly and things 'clicked'. For myself, learning some of these rules beforehand were difficult because I couldn't understand their importance or what situations they are supposed to be used in.

In any case, I can safely say that my Japanese is pretty good. But when I moved to my new company, I realized that pretty good doesn't cut it. This was the first time that I NEEDED to be good at Japanese. Normally, no one expects a foreigner to speak Japanese. If you can say hello and goodbye, that is good enough for most. But as a friend once said, the better your Japanese is, the more people will not put up with your mistakes and misunderstandings. Very true.

My first few months were difficult, but in all honesty, there is almost no better motivation to improve your Japanese than feeling like an idiot in the office. And my learning curve shot up. Of course, I am the last to admit that I'm fluent, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was and hope to get even better. Even if I am in Hong Kong now. So what am I doing now? Going back to the textbooks.

I am using two resources now: The Genki series and Remembering the Kanji. The reason I am starting from basics with the Genki series is because 1) since I never really went thru a structured course, I feel like there are big holes in my Japanese that I should know. That is why I am starting from the very beginning. And 2) the Genki series does not talk down to its users. After lesson 3, it introduces the kanji and forces you to learn in a very structured format. This series is published by the Japan Times and I think their whole lineup is excellent. Any course that does not teach hiragana, katakana, and kanji does not deserve to be on any serious student's list.

Remembering the Kanji is fantastic and helps you to learn how to write more than 2000 characters although it doesn't teach you the pronounciation. But reading online articles with the help of Firefox's rikaichan plug-in, remembering the pronounciations of the characters is very easy.

Before, textbooks frustrated me, but after 3 years of studying the language, these textbooks are helping me firmly grasp the language and making it mine. But one thing is true. The best way of learning any language is being in a situation where not being able to use it is not an option.

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