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The Great Guide to Studying Japanese (WIP) / Learning Japanese Thread!

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  • The Great Guide to Studying Japanese (WIP) / Learning Japanese Thread!

    (I have finals next week, so now's the time to procrastinate by making this thing!)

    Intro (Read Me):
    This guide will be emphasizing input skills (reading and listening), with most of the focus on reading. I hope to make this as comprehensive as possible, but I will be posting links for things I just can't cover properly (this is to be a guide, not a textbook), and somethings I just won't cover. Everything will be in spoiler tags to prevent a wall of text, warnings will be given outside of the tags for any sections that contain images or NSFW content (this is HF, after all, what'd be the point in a Japanese guide if I didn't give some useful hentai vocabulary?); having said that, any NSFW content will be under one section at the bottom (whenever I get to that).

    Tools:
    Spoiler

    Before we start getting to the actual studying, let's consider the tools which will be useful to us on this journey:

    Anki:
    ankisrs.net
    A highly versatile SRS (Spaced Repetition System) program that I recommend for studying. A lot of people might think flashcards would be sufficient, but for a language, you'll end up with thousands of them, and you'll spend more time creating and managing those physical cards than actually studying them. An SRS makes things cleaner and more efficient by allowing you to keep all this stuff on your computer. It can be slightly difficult to get used to, but there's extensive documentation on the website, and you'll likely come to rely on those features you saw no purpose for at the beginning.

    subs2srs:
    subs2srs.sourceforge.net
    If you love anime/dramas/movies enough to study with them, then you'll love subs2srs; the instructions assume you'll be using Anki as your SRS, so it'll probably be easier to do so, unless you know what you're doing. This program won't be immediately useful to you, though, as it's based around lines instead of words, and you'll need to have an idea of how Japanese works first.
    The idea is to take an anime you enjoy and its (japanese) subtitles and automatically turn each line into a card with the audio and transcription. The hardest part is finding those elusive Japanese subs...

    Free Dictionaries:
    Because paying hundreds for an electronic dictionary is for chumps... that can bring themselves to pay that much on an electronic dictionary.
    The ones I use the most are:
    jisho.org
    JED (android app)
    Google search (not Google Translate!)

    Remembering the Kanji By James Heisig:
    I recommend borrowing this from the library, unless you really want to buy it. There are Anki decks available that replace all the studying aspects of this book, however, it's good to look through. This book is very useful for getting used to differentiating the individual kanji in a friendly manner. It might sound stupid at first, but even though this book won't teach you a bit of Japanese, it will help immensely with your ability to learn written vocabulary (which will help you learn vocabulary in general).
    Obviously, if you already know a language that uses a writing system based on the Chinese system, you'll have no use for this book (unless you're illiterate).

    And that's pretty much it.


    Studying Tips:
    Spoiler

    The ideas behind these study tips are useful for just about everything, not just Japanese or other languages:
    -Rather than studying something, get used to it (習うより慣れる): While this doesn't really fit well with me telling you to study things to get better, it does fit in that the best method you'll have for getting better at reading Japanese is reading Japanese. Getting better at listening to Japanese requires listening to Japanese. No matter how much vocabulary you study, you won't be satisfied with your progress if you don't practice using the skills you want to develop; that's why I advocate reading and why I suggested subs2srs.

    -When learning something new, add small, manageable chunks. You don't go straight from algebra to differential equations, first, you had to learn what differentiation was, then what integration was; then, you realized you spent two semesters learning how to analytically solve for two mathematical operations... However, because of that, you're then ready to learn how to analytically solve differential equations, since you know what the basic parts are.
    With Japanese, this means not studying one kanji, how to write it, and all its potential readings at the same time; and not trying to studying the kana, kanji, and vocabulary all at the same time.

    -Understand why something is, not just what it is (when applicable); this is one reason why rote memorization doesn't work. If you don't consider why something is the way it is, then you won't remember it as well. This doesn't mean you have to be a complete geek about things, like me, but this is a basic problem in most peoples' study technique (why is finding the zeroes of a function useful? If you answer 'to pass my algebra test', then you're studying wrong).

    -Don't use rote memorization techniques. Reviewing the same flash-cards three times every day, reviewing the same list in the same order over and over, writing vocabulary words twenty times, all of those things are worse than useless for studying, especially the last one. While there are several good reasons for using an SRS, the biggest and most immediate advantage is that it gives you an easy way to avoid rote memorization. Rote memorization techniques are inefficient and about as effective as slamming your head against a textbook until the words get stuck in it (feels about the same too).
    Anki reviews are far from fun, but they're not painfully tedious (or shouldn't be, if you're doing them right), and it's an all around better method.

    To study effectively with Anki will require some fiddling of your own, but my general guidelines:
    -Study Daily! Your backlog will swallow you whole if you don't.
    -The best compromise between ease and speed is about twenty new cards per day. This will probably be lower when you're first starting, but this number will allow you to go through all the Jouyou kanji in a little over three months and will allow you to finish 6000 words in less than a year (which, if it's the right set of 6000 words, is plenty for taking N2); yet you'll only have about 130-150 reviews per day (which should only take about ten to fifteen minutes, at the most).
    -Suspend cards that are too easy (it may not seem like much when you only find one or two cards to be that easy, but when it gets to be in the thousands, you'll save some review time)
    -Don't be too strict with answering (did you get the general meaning and the pronunciation right? Hit 'good'. Fail miserably - again. Get it pretty much right, but not exactly - hard; at least, that's how I do it).
    -Don't be too lenient either (no point in spending the time if you're just going to look at the card and hit 'good' regardless of the outcome).
    -Add new cards after reviews; I find this helps me to remember the new vocabulary better. While it could be seen as cheating the SRS algorithms, it only applies to the first day you see the card, so it's not like you're reviewing a list of words in the same order every time.



    The Writing System:
    Spoiler

    Everyone seems to be overwhelmed by the Japanese writing system, and web articles make a big deal over the 'three different alphabets of Japanese'. Before going into how we'll tackle this writing system, let's get a few things straight:
    1.) It's not that complicated (Time consuming? Yes (well, kanji are). Complicated or difficult? No.)
    2.) Yes, it's necessary to learn it; you'll quickly discover that this system is used for a reason ((near) homophones, information density, etymology, etc)
    3.) They're not alphabets; two sets of characters are syllabaries, the other is logographic. What's the difference? Something unimportant to this guide (but important nonetheless), look it up if you want.

    So, the scripts:
    Hiragana (ひらがな / 平仮名) and Katakana (カタカナ / 片仮名):
    Collectively referred to as 'kana', these two scripts describe the exact same set of sounds. Like printed English versus cursive English, these scripts can be interchanged for stylistic purposes, but are generally used as described below.

    Hiragana:
    Used for everything, most words that the writer didn't want to use kanji for, particles, etc; this is the curvy script.

    Katakana:
    Used most often for loan words (バイト バイク アイス), with rare exceptions (台詞 is often written as セリフ). You may also see it used in place of hiragana in games or manga for particularly rough speaking characters (the mountain bandits in the Fire Emblem games are an example of this). These are the angular characters

    Link for table:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiragana
    The links for each character will take you to a page with the proper stroke order for both the hiragana and corresponding katakana character. If you know IPA, then this will be a better pronunciation guide than I can give you...
    I do recommend you learn how to write the kana, just because you have so few links for these phonetic characters as a beginner.

    Study:
    You should be able to learn to recognize and write the kana in two weeks, if you remember to study daily; after that, it's just a matter of continuous review, which will come in the form of reading and your other studies. Remember the study tips that I (should) have posted near the top of this guide! It will make things much easier on you.

    Pronunciation:
    Spoiler

    Important! I can't stress this enough, learn how these syllables are pronounced before drilling them! In the following video (not embedded), he declares each katakana character as he writes it; he emphasizes it slightly, so pay attention to that (I like this guy's videos a lot: they're easy to understand, even if you don't know what he's saying):
    youtube.com/watch?v=O2-0nZZZVQo

    Note that these sounds aren't extended and are pronounced in about the same amount of time.

    For a basic understanding of the pronunciation, here is some basic correlation (might only apply to American English; hopefully not):
    あ - 'a' as in 'father'
    い - 'i', pronounced as eat
    う - 'u', like the 'oo' in 'boot'
    え - 'e', as in 'e't cetera
    お - 'o', like in 'hoe'
    を - 'wo', but pretty much only pronounced like 'o' (listen to a native example!)
    ん - 'n', hard to describe, it's regular, yet surrounding sounds can slightly change the way it's pronounced in words, so listen closely!

    For the 'consonant' portion of each sound, they are almost all analogous to the letters chosen to romanize them, however, be careful about these sounds:
    'g' is only as in 'good', never as in 'rouge' or 'general'.
    'j' is as in 'jar'.
    'r' is not 'r' at all, it's a sound completely foreign to English that sounds like a mix between 'r' and 'l' to us, but is formed similarly to 'd'. Listen carefully! It might be helpful to look at a description of the sound.

    As a special note, ふ is more like 'fu' than 'hu'.



    Kanji (漢字):
    These are what too many beginners think of as the bane of their studies. Almost all of them are pronounced in different ways depending on the word, there are so many strokes to remember, and you have to remember all that stuff for every single individual illogically constructed character!
    ... Except that's not the case.

    First thing to note: learning to write all the kanji when you can't even read yet is a waste of time. There is almost no situation in which you'll be required to hand write Japanese. Whether on your cellphone or on the computer, writing Japanese with kanji is a recognition exercise. Assuming you know the word you want to type, you'll be able to type it.

    To go about learning to recognize the kanji as individual characters made of similar components, take a look at the book I mentioned in the 'tools' section. Don't study as Heisig suggests; he is suggesting a method which, besides being from an era where computers were crap (the 70s), is intended to give a student of Japanese the ability to recall and write the kanji from memory. As I stated in the above paragraph, this is (almost definitely) useless for you to learn at this point.
    Personally, I studied RTK by using an Anki deck called Lazy Kanji Mod; basically, it's just a recognition deck with the kanji on the front and the RTK keyword on the back. After you get through RTK (assuming you did it), don't bother continuing to review that deck, it's useless to you at this point.
    This took me about four months, but I wasn't very dedicated at that point. Depending on the amount of free time you have, you could get through it quicker, or slower, but don't waste too much time on it. Remember, this isn't actually Japanese study, it's 'learn to see kanji as something other than squiggles' study.

    As you may have noticed, nowhere above does it say anything about studying readings for each kanji. That's because that too is a waste of your time to study them separately. When you start studying vocabulary (which is very soon, if you follow my suggestions), you will learn the readings for the kanji. While there are some cases of 当て字 ('ateji'; when a kanji is used only for its pronunciation or meaning, while leaving the other out), these, as a whole, are uncommon enough that you're not going to think of the unusual reading when you see the kanji elsewhere.


    Vocabulary:
    Spoiler

    Finally, learning some Japanese! While starting with vocabulary, you should also review some grammar (Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese is an excellent resource for basic grammar). To start with, I suggest using an Anki deck based off of a word frequency list; however, due to some corporate bullying by the owners of iKnow (formerly smart(dot)fm), my most recommended deck for this has been removed from Anki's shared decks repository. However, the content is published under a license which allows for its free use, editing, and distribution, so I'll look into making one version of it available here (mods willing). Otherwise, look for links referring to "Core 2k/6k" through Google (using common sense search safety habits). I recommend the one that is in one part, rather than the multi-part ones; also, don't bother with the ones that use five different cards for each word, it's a waste of time. You only really need recognition cards (you can do production ones too, if you really want to, but I don't recommend it, since they take a lot longer to review).

    Basically, the great thing about this deck is that it's a frequency deck that's already done for you. It contains a whopping 6000 terms with example sentences (not the best), audio (recorded by native speakers on good equipment with proper editing), and most importantly is already done for you. While it's slightly outdated and based on newspapers, all of the vocabulary is common enough that you'll probably need to know it. Unfortunately, many words common in manga and anime aren't here (along with certain obvious common words from hentai), because they're not common in the news, however, the words in this deck are used in manga and anime.

    So, yeah, do that vocab study... No new magic secrets: this will probably be what you're studying most days, just because there's so much of it... It's quite a slog, so keep up a manageable pace as if you were doing long-distance running or something.


    Grammar:
    Spoiler

    I don't intend to try writing a grammar book, so here are some resources that are far better than what I could create here:
    Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese:
    guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar
    All the essential grammar. Easy to understand. Not comprehensive.

    Dictionary of Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Japanese Grammar:
    Three grammar dictionaries for the hardcore, has example sentences, are unfortunately quite expensive (find them at the library if you can, or...)

    IMABI:
    imabi.net
    Pretty much the best free grammar resource available. In fact, you should look at his pronunciation guide as well, since he talks about pitch accent, which I definitely don't know well enough about to convey. This source is very technical, and he's very specific, so you'll need to look at his explanation as to what terms like 連用形 and such mean before you'll be able to understand a lot of the explanations; as such, I recommend looking at Tae Kim's Guide first, just to get your feet in the water.


    NSFW stuff:
    Spoiler

    (Place Holder)


    With that out of the way, any suggestions, questions, contributions, or whatever? I will do my best to help out, or at least tell you that I don't know (someone else might). It would be great if everyone interested would get together to discuss learning Japanese here (hopefully, this can consolidate future discussions about learning Japanese to one general place).
    Do I need to say anything?
    [/URL]
    I'm about to just spill some coffee, take a picture, call it art, and throw it on here...
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