Learning Japanese

I never wanted to learn a second language.

Nothing against other languages or cultures or anything. I suppose it just stems from the terrible, mandatory French classes from middle/high school. More often than not the teachers were awful, and there was a new one each year. Never knew what to expect.

It’s more than that, though. I’m pretty dyslexic and one of the things I really, really suck at because of it is grammar. I’m mostly okay with English because it’s what I use every day and grammar check is a thing, but I still struggle with some of the basics, and that definitely carries over into learning a new language. It was the main reason French was hell for me, and it’s no different with Japanese.

So– why, Erynn, do you put yourself through such hell if you don’t even want to learn a second language?

The answer is simple: Because to get an Arts degree of any type, a second language is mandatory. Pretty shitty. I mean, for most people it’s probably not a big deal… They could just take French, and it’s no big deal because they probably learned something in high school and can bullshit their way through half the course, anyway.

I have a friend, who is probably an exception to anything regarding languages. She knows French, Spanish, English, and is currently taking Japanese with me. Oh and she’s a science student, which I’m pretty sure does not have a second language requirement. I kinda wish I could learn languages so frivolously, I think it would be fun to learn a dozen languages and travel the world and actually be able to communicate with people who don’t know a word of English.

Japanese ended up being my second language choice, surprisingly enough. See, because I’m going to school specifically for creative writing, I’m trying to make sure every moment I spend there benefits my writing in some way. Learning a second language has a LOT of potential to help my writing simply because the diversity of language I could use in the text. I actually really really wanted to learn Greek and Latin so I could pull some shenanigans with writing magical spells and such, but unfortunately it was not offered at UBCO, at least this year.

So Japanese it was. A good second choice, I feel, because Japanese is a beautiful, visual language with a relatively simple pronunciation system. That was one thing I really hated about French, too. Everything sounded fucking different, and I could never remember how to associate the various sounds with whatever combinations there were.

I started learning Japanese in the summer before classes started. Because of my previous interest in anime and manga and the like, I already had the pronunciation down, and even a few words under my belt. I started with learning hiragana and katakana, which are two of the three writing systems in Japanese, but they are more like a phonetic alphabet than anything else.

So those are stuff like…. ねこ (neko = cat) and ともだち (tomodachi = friend) for hiragana, and stuff like… サラダ (sarada = salad) and エリン (erin = Erynn) for katakana. Hiragana is used to spell words that are native to the Japanese, whereas katakana is used for foreign words, hence my example being my name.

In addition to taking the Japanese classes, I’ve been using two online self-teaching websites called TextFugu and WaniKani. Their focuses are much different from what I learn in class, but I find that they are excellent for reinforcing what I learn outside of those lessons. TextFugu seems to be more focused on grammar and vocabulary, so it’s somewhat similar to what I learn in class, which is a more generalized approach that gets all the basics down. WaniKani, though, focuses exclusively on kanji radicals, kanji, and kanji vocabulary, because it’s kanji that makes learning Japanese a bitch.

Kanji are Chinese characters that have more or less been assimilated into the Japanese language. So that makes kanji complicated because not only do they have Japanese readings, they have Chinese readings, both of which are used when speaking, writing, and reading Japanese. That means that a single kanji can have more than two readings, depending on the context, and considering there’s over 1000 basic kanji that need to be memorized for you to “know” the language, that’s a lot of shit you’ve gotta memorize.

I haven’t had too much trouble with kanji so far, but I know I’ve barely touched the subject. I’m careful about what kanji I learn outside of what I need to know for my classes because I don’t want to get in over my head with learning stuff I don’t need to know just yet. That runs a significant risk of me getting overwhelmed, which is a big no-no that I’d very much like to avoid– and have thus far.

I think my writing and reading are superb. Except for grammar, which I sometimes need to think about, but I’ve learned a couple tricks that help with memorizing what is used where. So there’s that.

My listening and speaking, however, need some work. I was doing well enough until November where the transit strike here in Kelowna stopped me from attending class as much as I would have liked, and that was where I was getting the much-needed speaking and listening practice. My listening is absolute trash.  I get so caught up on listening to one part of the sentence that I forget the rest of what was said. That ends up with a confused Erynn since it’s usually the beginning of the sentence that I remember, and in Japanese, it’s the ending of a sentence that determines what a statement or question actually means.

Speaking isn’t so bad, I’ve got a large enough vocabulary to make basic sentences and ask questions and the like. Sometimes it takes me some time to think about what I want to say and what order all the words go in, but my pronunciation is generally top-notch. When I don’t know how to say something, though, all my Japanese gets thrown out the window and I think in English mode. This really sucks because I have a unique way of speaking and it doesn’t translate so well into Japanese while I have a very limited vocabulary. I’m working on it, though, so hopefully by the end of the school year, I’ll be able to work around what I want to say in English and find a way to say it in Japanese without resorting to using English instead.

So that’s that, I suppose. I’m really enjoying the learning curve that comes with Japanese, and I hope to stick it through to the end and eventually become fluent. I’ve got a couple reasons for that, but I’ll talk about that another day. 🙂

Oh yeah, happy holidays everyone. Hope you have a pleasant break with your family and friends, or have had a good time on your lonesome if that’s your thing.




3 thoughts on “Learning Japanese

  1. It’s cool that you’ve started learning Japanese. I actually have a great technique for it. While I’ve been taking a break from studying for the past couple years, I found that it worked veeeery well and I was learning stuff fast when I did this. I’ll give you the info for it the next time we chat!! Don’t let me forget :p


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