On Learning Japanese

If any doubted it, let me clarify: learning a foreign language is a pain. Yet, I consider having a working knowledge of a second language essential for an educated person. So, for the last few years I’ve been attempting to learn Japanese.

Luckily, I was able to take two years of it at my university (one of the few educational benefits my school provided), so I do have a good feel for basic grammar and vocabulary. After graduation, though, I came upon the problem of expanding on and maintaining what I’ve learned. As anyone who’s taken a foreign language class knows, language is very much a ‘Use it or lose it’ proposition. Even over the course of summer break after year one, I lost enough that my reaction to seeing the next semester’s review was something like ‘It’s bloody Chinese!’

Anyway, half the endeavour depends on continuing to review daily. I’ve done pretty well with that. However, my learning has been haphazard at best. Mainly, I’ve just tried to read whatever I can get my hands on, often from YesAsia.com or whatever random volumes happen to turn up at Half Price Books (like volume eight of Death Note, and volumes eleven and seventeen of Oh, My Goddess!). Yotsubato! is written at about my level, which makes me very happy. I can read Japanese better now than a year ago, but obviously that approach is generally slow and, again, haphazard.

So, for the sake of adding some kind of structure to my study, I bought a copy of James Heisig’s oft-recommended Remembering the Kanji. Mr. Heisig’s unique approach to learning kanji, the bane of every Japanese language student’s existence, involves focusing just on how to write the characters and remembering a single keyword meaning for the first two thousand or so kanji, then remembering complex kanji by creating mnemonic stories based on the simpler components many caracters are composed of. It sounds a bit gimmicky, but so far has worked very well for me (I’ve done the first 550 or so characters), especially coupled with the flash card programme Anki and the new official RtK iPhone app.

So, onward I go. Someday, someday, I’ll be able to read serious business Japanese literature. It’s a goal, at least.

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