Thursday, August 03, 2017

A long overdue update on my quest to learn Japanese

Those of you with good memories may recall this series of posts from early 2013 about my initial attempts to teach myself the Japanese language.

In the last of that trio of write-ups, I declared that I'd finished learning the hiragana and katakana syllabaries. Near the end, I suggested my next steps would be to tackle basic vocabulary and grammar.

Fast forward to today--more than four years later--and, well, let's just say things haven't quite gone to plan. Actually, I did learn a bit of vocabulary and grammar in the weeks and months that followed my last blog post on this subject, but that's it.

Thankfully, although I didn't learn anything new in 2014, 2015 or even 2016, I also didn't forget what I'd previously mastered.

That's hardly worth crowing about, of course. As nice as it is to be able to understand a handful of Japanese words and phrases, the point of this "quest" was to become as fluent as possible in this challenging language.

So, one of my only goals for this "sabbatical year" has been for me to get off my lazy butt and return to my Japanese studies. Although it took me a while to actually do that, I'd say I've spent the last two or three months diligently learning kanji and sentence structure.

I'm still basically clueless when it comes to translating passages in games or on websites, mind you, but that's OK. I finally feel like I'm making progress, and that thrills me to no end.

Are any of you curious as to which apps and books and sites I'm utilizing as part of my studies? Here are the main ones, if so:

GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese--This is what I turned to after I mastered the katakana and hiragana syllabaries. It's basically a text book, and it isn't exactly cheap (about $50 on Amazon), but it's really helped me expand my vocabulary and overall understanding of how the language works.

GENKI Vocab Cards app--I've also spent a lot of time with this companion app, which mirrors the lessons presented in An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. It was $5.99, and I consider that money well spent due to how easy it is to use and how much it's bolstered my knowledge of the language. (GENKI also sells kanji and conjugation apps via the Apple and Android stores, by the way, and I plan to buy both shortly.)

Japanese Ammo--I randomly stumbled across this site a few months ago while looking for answers to some questions I had about sentence structure. Not only did its "How to Build a Sentence in Japanese" guide help with that dilemma, but it turned me on to tons of other articles and pages about vocabulary and grammar and even culture that I'm sure will prove similarly helpful down the road.

Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters--This is one of three (including the GENKI book discussed above) resources I'm currently using to learn kanji. Remembering the Kanji 1's main claim to fame is that it can quickly teach you the meaning and writing of over 2,000 kanji. It does this by ignoring pronunciation, which is covered in Remembering the Kanji 2. Although I'm not going through this book as rapidly as author James Heisig seemingly intended, I'm finding it really useful--and interesting. The associative stories Heisig offers up in Remembering the Kanji 1 make more sense to me than the ones used by WaniKani. Also, I like that Heisig teaches stroke order, which I have found helps me both learn and recall individual kanji. As such, I'll definitely pick up Remembering the Kanji 2 as soon as I finish the first.

WaniKani--This is another of the resources I'm using to learn kanji. WaniKani isn't perfect--it doesn't teach stroke order and I don't always agree with the mnemonics it provides to help you memorize meanings--but I like it well enough to refer to it on a daily basis. One cool aspect of this site: you can go through the first three levels for free. That probably doesn't sound like much, but it is. I'm still working my way through the second level, for instance, and already I've learned more than 50 kanji and 40 related vocabulary words. Once I've finished with the third level, I'll have to pay either $9 a month or $89 a year to continue using the site and complete its remaining 57 levels, but I'm more than OK with that given my positive experience so far.

In addition to the above, I used the Dr. Moku apps to learn the katakana and hiragana syllabaries. They're $3.99 each, or $6.99 as a bundle (if you're an iPhone user). Yes, you can learn both syllabaries for free via various sites and blogs and even apps, but I went with Dr. Moku's because of the clean interface and the ability to do randomized quizzes. (On a related note, I see there's now a Dr. Moku kanji app. I'll likely buy it soon and add it to "the pile.")

Are any of you trying to learn Japanese? Or have you already learned it? If so, and if you want to share any advice with me or anyone else who is in the same boat, please do so in the comments section of this post.

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