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Chimerism
06-20-2002, 11:35 PM
Hello!

If you're learning japanese in a serious manner, are the symbols (like the alphabet) important? Several of the "learn japanese books" I've looked through don't address the letters at all.

Peter Goldsbury
06-21-2002, 12:24 AM
Originally posted by Chimerism
Hello!

If you're learning japanese in a serious manner, are the symbols (like the alphabet) important? Several of the "learn japanese books" I've looked through don't address the letters at all.

I assume that you mean by 'symbols' the hiragana and katakana syllable system which the Japanese use to write the language, in addition to the Chinese characters (kanji).

There are two schools of thought about learning Japanese. One school, represented by the Harvard scholar Eleanor Jorden, recommends learning spoken Japanese first, via the Roman script, and dealing with the written language later. Thus, all her books and tapes are organised in accordance with this principle. The other school of thought advocates learning the written language right from the very beginning.

I myself believe in the second school of thought and believe in learning hiragana, katakana and kanji straightaway and this is the way I myself learned Japanese. Then again, I live in Japan, and so have had the benefit of a 20-year total immersion course, though I also had some teachers. You cannot really survive in this part of Japan (i.e., the 'country' regions west of Kobe) without being able to read. However, learing the syllable systems is not enough. You also need the kanji, though whether you learn the characters in a similar order to that used in Japanese schools is a moot question.

Best regards,

Chris Li
06-21-2002, 12:41 AM
Originally posted by Peter Goldsbury
There are two schools of thought about learning Japanese. One school, represented by the Harvard scholar Eleanor Jorden, recommends learning spoken Japanese first, via the Roman script, and dealing with the written language later. Thus, all her books and tapes are organised in accordance with this principle. The other school of thought advocates learning the written language right from the very beginning.

Not only does Jorden start with roman script, but she starts with a very odd romanization system that you will never encounter anywhere else. She argues that it's better for representing correct pronunciation, but the reality is that you spend a fair amount of time memorizing the rules for a system that it completely useless except when using her books.

I side with Peter here - the hiragana and katakana are really not very difficult, you can pick them up in a couple of days if you really push hard.

It's important to realize that:

1) There really is no standard system of romanization, so spending a lot of time learning the "correct" romanization is probably not time well spent.
2) Really the only time that Japanese people ever use roman characters in practice is for people who can't read Japanese (ie, foreigners). I know many Japanese adults who can only read romanized Japanese with great difficulty.

Of course, you need to pick up the kanji as well if you're serious about Japanese (ie, more than "Where is the train station" level). A lot of people tend to be intimidated by kanji, but I look at it this way - Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and I know for a fact that there are a lot of Japanese who are stupider than I am (ok, maybe not a lot, but I'm sure that there are some, at least :) ). A lot of people sluff off kanji in the beginning and then let it slide forever - it always amazes me that so many foreign Japanese speakers don't seem to mind being illiterate - something they probably would never consider allowing themselves to be in their home countries.

If you're on the "emergency" track (coming to Japan very soon with no Japanese) then it might be a good bet to start on katakana because you'll be able to puzzle out a lot of words (including a lot of menus) without having a large Japanese vocabulary.

Best,

Chris

Peter Goldsbury
06-21-2002, 03:31 AM
In my opinion, learning Japanese seriously or "in a serious manner", as you put it, without becoming able to read the language is something of a contradiction in terms. I think you would never learn Russian or modern Greek in this way. The written language is part of the package, in my opinion, and also gives you a far deeper understanding of the culture.

Best regards,

Chimerism
06-21-2002, 08:40 AM
Thanks for the advice!

Yeah. I kinda worded my question a little oddly.

Is there any place other then courses/classes to learn the non-romanized script? I've been looking in a book that I think deals alot with speaking the romanized words, is it still a good idea to purchase this if I want to learn the kanji?

Peter Goldsbury
06-21-2002, 06:03 PM
Originally posted by Chimerism
Thanks for the advice!

Yeah. I kinda worded my question a little oddly.

Is there any place other then courses/classes to learn the non-romanized script? I've been looking in a book that I think deals alot with speaking the romanized words, is it still a good idea to purchase this if I want to learn the kanji?

Well, I suppose it depends on why you want to learn Japanese and since this is an aikido forum, there are several possibiities: to know what aikido terms really mean, including the kanji; to read O Sensei's actual words; to come and practise aikido in Japan. All of these require knowledge of Japanese writing and so, in accordance with my earlier post, I think that a book that introduces this quickly is to be preferred to one which does not.

I cut my own teeth on Osamu and Nobuko Mizutani's "An Introduction to Modern Japanese" (there are tapes available), which introduces kana and kanji right from Lesson 1, but my Japanese teachers quickly moved on to courses where the bulk of the material was written in Japanese. Such courses abound in bookstores here, but I have no idea what is available in your part of the world. And then there is the Internet...

I should add that I visit Holland regularly and there are always kanji and kana workbooks available in the larger Amsterdam bookstores. An Amsterdam booktore might or might not be a reliable guide to what is available outside Japan.

So, I am sure you can find something to use to learn to read and write kana and the joyo kanji. However, if you do not learn Japanese grammar, reading and writing kanji and kana will be of limited use.