Learning Kanji

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

My teacher told me this morning that I need to learn another 52 kanji before the exam in early December.  She believes that I can learn 4 per lesson.  4 doesn’t sound like a lot but today we worked really hard and it took 30 minutes per kanji.  Each kanji can have more than one way to pronounce it and more than one meaning.  As well as understanding it I need to be able to draw it.  Some are simple like “katana 刀”, or complicated like “kazu 数”.

The 4 kanji took up my whole lesson.  This gave me no time to work on the other parts of the exam and, given that kanji is only 25% of what I need to know, this is not going to be a winning strategy.

The other problem with learning Japanese through kanji is that they are not always relevant to my daily life, making them difficult to remember.  Today I spent 30 minutes discussing Japanese swords.  We didn’t have problems when discussing katana, the Japanese swords, but my teacher’s English is not good enough for her to know the difference between daggers, blades, and knifes.  This means getting out dictionaries and trying to find sentences that adequately describe the meaning.  Sometimes these sentences lead us off on strange tangents.  At one point she said, “Robin Hood used this instead of a sword”.  And I’m left trying to work out the connection between Samurai swords and the weapons that Robin Hood might have used.  The word she was looking for was dagger.

We also spent much too long trying to work out what “meitou” means.  The direct translation is “famous sword”.  But what is a famous sword?  I thought it was something like “Excalibur”.  A sword that had a name or was used by a great warrior.  My teacher believes that it is a sword created by a famous sword master.  Whatever it actually is it’s not a word I’m going to be using very often if ever.  I can remember it today, as it irritated me, but I will have forgotten it two weeks from now.

I know I need to learn kanji but I wish that they were taught in a different order.  Today’s lesson reminded me much too much of the Eddie Izzard sketch on how French is taught in UK  schools.  Only the Japanese equivalent of, “the monkey is on the branch” is, “the Budhist monk wore black robes”.

Limited Understanding

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It’s been a bad Japanese morning.  As I find it hard to understand people on the phone I try to avoid calls with strangers.  This morning, in my half awake state, I answered a call from a phone number I didn’t recognise.  From what little I could understand the caller had dialed the wrong number.  At one point during the short conversation the person I was speaking to said “Hai, wakarimashita” and I was so busy thinking that I was glad that at least one of us had understanding that I missed the rest of the sentence.

After I hang up I decided to comfort myself with reading some English.  But within 5 minutes of starting the intercom in the apartment sprung to life and an automated female voice started to speak.  I’m glad the building wasn’t burning down because the only word I caught of that announcement was “everyone”.

Japanese TV and My Quest to Learn Japanese

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I have been trying to find programs in Japanese to watch on TV as the more Japanese I hear the better.  In the past I watched Infomercials but sometimes these just don’t hold my attention.  For a while the only thing I watched in Japanese was the F1.  This has taught me some interesting phrases for describing how cars move around a track but I wanted to find more to watch than this.

In the past month I have found a couple of new things to watch.  One of these is karaoke TV.  We have the Star Karaoke channel which plays a lot of karaoke songs and the Popular Music Channel which has charts of karaoke songs.  Being able to listen to someone sing the words whilst I read them is really helpful.  It is improving the speed at which I can read hirigana and the 200 kanji that I have learnt as well as improving my accuracy.  These programs can be hard for me to watch as they contain a lot of Japanese music that I don’t like but they do play lots of slow songs with the words written underneath.  And sometimes I do hear something I that I like.  Today I heard a group which I think was called “Tenjochiki” which I quite liked at a first hearing.

The second thing I have been watching is the Sci-Fi channel.  I hadn’t realised we had this channel, as it wasn’t one of the ones we selected when we got the Sky Perfect box, but I’m glad I have found it. They have been showing Buffy the Vampire Slayer dubbed in Japanese.  I have all of Buffy on DVD so I have been watching the episodes in English and then watching the Japanese versions.  These are really hard for me to understand but I am starting to understand some of the things being said.

What I would really like to find is something that was made in Japanese that is interesting enough for me to watch even if I can’t understand most of it.  Most people suggest anime but so far I haven’t found any I like.  And I can’t even easily tell people what I have been watching as I can’t read the titles of the programs!