People LOVE to say that Japanese is difficult. Like all languages it has its challenges - but it also has some key things that make it easy peasy…Read More
A blog about learning and teaching Japanese, walking Japan, and sometimes about kit-kats.
Search this blog:
Shortly after I started studying Japanese at university, I got an email from a friend in Sweden:
“How’s it going? Learned any more ‘Japanese words’ like camera and video?”
I’d copy-pasted her some of the "new words" from my textbook. There was a list of them - words like kamera (camera) and rajio (radio)…
I felt like I was cheating. These aren’t Japanese words!
Or are they?Read More
I can't believe I wrote an entire blog post about calligrapher @yogai888emi and forgot to include this amazing pun.
tai ryouri ga tabe-tai
"I want to eat Thai food."
What's the Japanese word for "Thai?" it's タイ tai.
And how do you say "want to eat" in Japanese? You stick -tai on the end of the verb.
It's funny, right?
Cute, too ♡
I first discovered @yogai888emi via this adorable story about falling asleep on the train.
すぐに舌打ちしたり、暴言吐いたり、睨み付けたり、、、 そういう人をたくさん見かけるけれど、 私のマナーの悪さを、こんな風に優しく許してくれた方がいたことを、いつまでも忘れないと思います。 . 受験生の方々、これからが大詰めですね。 この方のように優しく、みんなで応援できたら、と思います。 . . . #書道#習字#美文字#ボールペン#電車#ブログ#センター試験#大学#学生#参考書 #マナー#手書き#手書きツイート#言葉#名言#受験生#応援#和風#日本文化#山手線#テスト#勉強#読書#文房具 #calligraphy#japanesecalligraphy#shodo#traditional#서예#書法
Can you read this one?
If kanji's not your thing, you can find beautiful hiragana and katakana on her page too.
There are videos, too, if you like watching calligraphy. I do - I find it strangely relaxing.
You can find heaps more of her work at @yogai888emi's instagram page. I hope you enjoy exploring it as much as I do.
Just looking at calligraphy won't make your handwriting more beautiful though - unfortunately!
I'll let you into a secret. I hate katakana.
Students of Japanese tend to start with its two phonetic alphabets. We start with hiragana, the loopy, flowing letters that make up all the sounds of Japanese.
Then we move on to katakana - all the same sounds, but in angular blocky font.
Hiragana seems fairly easy, I think. And when you start learning Japanese everything you read is written in hiragana, so by reading you constantly reinforce and remember.
Katakana? Not so much.
The katakana "alphabet" is used extensively on signs in Japan - if you're searching for カラオケ (karaoke) or ラーメン (ramen noodles) you'll need katakana.
But if you're outside Japan, then beyond the letters in foreign names, you don't get a lot of exposure to katakana.
I think that's why a lot of beginning students really struggle to remember katakana.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
1) Use mnemonics
Personally I still can't remember some of those sticky similar katakana without goofy mnemonics.
For example, I still think katakana ウ (u) and ワ (wa) look super similar - I remember that ウ has a dash on the top, just like hiragana う (u) .
2) Practice, practice, practice
I'm not a huge fan of having you copy letters over and over again, but there is something to be said for "writing things out".
By writing letters down, you activate muscle memory, which helps you remember. So get writing katakana!
3) Start learning kanji
It might feel like running before you can walk, but starting to read and write kanji (Chinese characters) before your katakana is completely perfect can be a good option.
Kanji textbooks have the Chinese readings of the characters in katakana, so learning kanji is also really good katakana practice.
This week I finally got around to going through the mid-course feedback from my students and drawing up plans to incorporate some of what you asked for into the rest of the course.
Several learners mentioned the importance of learning the kana early on.
Learning to read Japanese can be a daunting task. The Japanese language has three distinct "alphabets" (four if you count romaji!) and learning kanji is a task that takes years.
You can learn the kana (hiragana and katakana) pretty quickly, though, if you use the most efficient way to memorise them - mnemonics.
It's a bit like brute force memorisation, except it's fun...
Hiragana and Katakana are the "building blocks" of the Japanese written language. Students in my beginner class mostly start with the romaji edition of 'Japanese For Busy People', because my priority is to get you speaking from day one, and to spend class time on speaking as much as possible. Reading and writing is mostly set as homework.
But if you want to learn to read Japanese, you definitely need to start by learning hiragana.
But how to remember them?
Hiragana and katakana are pretty simple, so associating each character with a picture is super easy.
Here's hiragana き (ki), which we can imagine is a picture of a KEY. My key is an old-fashioned one. Yours might be modern and spiky. Or it might have wings on it and be flying about getting chased by Harry Potter on a broomstick.
The point is to think of a strong visual image that makes the picture of the key stick in your mind:
Memorisation doesn't help you remember. What helps you remember is active recall.
Let me give you an example.
You're reading a sentence and come across the word きのこ. You're staring at the letter き - "which one was that again?" and struggle a little bit to remember it.
Then you remember - aha! it's the KEY! This is ki.
This process of active recall - pushing a little bit to remember something - is the process that cements the mnemonic in your mind.
Hurrah! You're on the path to reading Japanese.
For me, one of the great thing about using mnemonics to remember the kana is that when I explain the system to learners, they often tell me that's what they're doing anyway, even if they don't have a name for what they're doing:
"Oh yes, that's how I remember む too - it's a funny cow's face! MOO"I've also found - luckily for me - it doesn't matter seem to matter if the actual picture is rubbish. (You don't even have to draw them, I just did this to help my students out and to share the idea).
"No, む is a man saying MO-ve!"
What's important is that the picture in your head is super clear.
...and once you finish hiragana, you can do the whole thing again for katakana!
You can find the whole set of hiragana and katakana mnemonics with the hashtag #stepupkana - please check it out and let me know what you think.
I'd love to hear what mnemonics you use to help remember the kana - let me know in the comments or add your story to the instagram posts for that character.
Have a lovely Friday everyone. 素敵な一日を過ごしてください！
My students ask a lot of good questions. And one that sent us off on a bit of a tangent a few weeks ago was:
So, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of Japanese history with a very brief introduction to Japanese writing systems!
For example, in manyougana the word asa (morning) was written 安佐 (that's a kanji for the a sound - 安 - and another for the sa sound - 佐). In modern Japanese we'd use 朝, the kanji that means "morning" for asa.
Problem was, manyougana used multiple kanji for each phonetic sound - over 900 characters for the 90 phonetic sounds in Japanese - so it was inefficient and time-consuming.
Katakana means "broken kana" or "fragmented characters". It was developed by monks in the 9th century who were annotating Chinese texts so that Japanese people could read them. So katakana was really an early form of shorthand.
Each katakana character comes from part of a kanji: for example, the top half of 呂 became katakana ロ (ro), the left side of 加 became katakana カ (ka).
Women in Japan, on the other hand, wrote in cursive script, which was gradually simplified into hiragana. That's why hiragana looks all loopy and squiggly. Like katakana, hiragana characters don't have meaning - they just indicate sound.