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Passion List and Yoda-Speak

After learning all the hiragana, Koichi encouraged me to pick my passion. This should be something I enjoy a lot. Well, my passion is pool, so I picked that. Then, he said to make a list of 20 things having to do with that passion. So I did. Then, he said, here's an online English-Japanese dictionary; go find the Japanese for those words! This will help with your hiragana. Well, I started looking them up, as suggested, and comparing Google image searches to make sure I had the right words, but they tended to be in katakana, the other "alphabet."

I wondered how I could make my looking these up easier. So I found the entry for Pool (cue-sports) on Wikipedia, clicked on the Japanese version of the page, and then did a side-by-side comparison of that with a Google translate version of the same page. It turns out every single one of the terms I'd written down have katakana counterparts. None of them were hiragana. :\ Pretty much every one is a transliteration of the English term. Pool is ビリヤード (biriyaado, billards). Even ball and table are ボール (booru) and テーブル (teeburu). So not much help on the hiragana there, but I was pretty comfortable with them anyway. I do get a lot of good practice with katakana out of this, though.

So, once that list was completed, he had me create an Anki deck for that. Anki is a seriously excellent flash card program. It lets you decide how well you did on each card, and will bring them up after a certain amount of time depending on how you rated yourself. He uses this a lot for learning radicals and kanji and so on. I'm actually using it to refresh my knowledge of state capitals and the order of the Presidents, which will come in handy when I get on Jeopardy!

Next, I got to make my first sentence under Koichi's tutelage! First, he talks about Yoda for a long time. Er, about Yoda he talks... It was pretty entertaining, but with a serious point. For a lot of basic sentences in Japanese, the word order is much like the way Yoda speaks. Always he verbs at end is putting. This is shown in probably the most simple sentence one can make in the language.

He taught me the word です, which kind of means "it/he/she/you/I/they is/are/am." Also, he points out that sometimes words aren't pronounced the way one expects. Instead of "deh-soo," the "oo" vowel sound is dropped, and it's just "dehs." From my experiences with Rosetta Stone and watching anime, this happens a lot with "su," and also quite a bit with "ku."

Anyway, back to です in usage. Pretty much take a noun, put です behind it, and you denote that it is that thing. りんごです。 (Ringo desu.) means "It is an apple." いちごです。 (Ichigo desu.) means "It is a strawberry," or perhaps "He is the main character from Bleach, y'know, the one with the strawberry blond hair." Pretty simple, but very useful.

A lot of the stuff Koichi is teaching so far is stuff I kind of already knew or really already knew, but I do like the methods, the Anki decks, and the practice worksheets. I've reached the end of the free stuff there in that season (chapter), but the next free part is learning katakana, so I think I'll give that a go since I'm pretty comfortable with that, but could definitely use some work on it.

I really do think I will pay up once I'm not strapped and continue on with the courses.

Hiragana and Pronunciation

So, Koichi's covering some ground I'm pretty comfortable with: hiragana and their pronunciations. He has a handy hiragana chart, written in columns from right to left, which is the way columnated Japanese is written.

The first column is the bare vowels. There are five vowels, and they're pronounced almost the same as the five Spanish vowels. The order of the Japanese vowels are different, however. They are あ、い、う、え、お (a, i, u, e, o), pronounced ah, ee, oo, eh, oh.

Each of the following columns adds consonants in front of these vowels to create a new syllable, each represented by another hiragana character. There's the k-column, か、き、く、け、こ (ka, ki, ku, ke, ko). There are also the s-, t-, n-, h-, m-, and r- columns. There are some exceptions to what you might expect pronunciation-wise in these. Instead of si, there is shi in the s-column. Chi and tsu are where ti and tu would be expected, and ふ in the hu can be pronounced either fu or hu. The consonants are pronounced very much like those in English, but r is the exception.

There's a website called "Engrish Funny" which mocks bad English used in other countries where it's not a primary language. It started mostly mocking the Japanese, and the replacement of the l in English with an r is not just a cute bit of racism. It's actually kind of true. R in Japanese is used for both r and l, and it's really not quite either. The Japanese r is about 75% r, 20% l, and maybe 5% d. This is Koichi's explanation, and it really helps, along with the audio he provides. This set of kana are definitely the hard one to pronounce properly.

In addition to those columns, there are the exceptional y- and w-columns. や、ゆ、よ (ya, yu, yo) are the only three in the y-column, and わ and を (wa and wo) are the extent of the w-column. The y's are pronounced as you'd expect, as is wa, but wo is pronounced the same as o, and that character is only used as a particle to denote the object of a verb.

There's the kind of orphan ん (n) character, which is the only vowelless kana. It's just the n sound.

Beyond these 46 characters, there are 30 dakuten, which are the characters from the k-, s-, t-, and h-columns with a little quote mark next to it, changing the consonant to g, z, d, and b, respectively, or a little circle next to an h-column character to make it a p. Pronunciation exceptions here are ji instead of zi, and dzi and dzu instead of di and du.

Finally there are combinations which include a character with an i (ki, shi, etc.) and one of the y-column characters written smaller next to it. These are pronounced as a single character, like ちゃ is chi+ya=cha, and きょ is ki+yo=kyo.

Overall this gives a huge "alphabet" of 112 possibilities from what amounts to 48 symbols. That's really quite a good range for the effort, I think. Of course, there are 46 other base kana in the katakana "alphabet," but that's another lesson.

Trying a New Method

It's been a long time since I've updated here. I've completed into Level 2 of the Rosetta Stone series, but thought I'd look around for other methods and tools to learn Japanese.

I've followed Koichi at tofugu.com for a while. He does informative and interesting videos over at his YouTube... Okay, they're hilarious as well. Well, he's creating an online textbook, TextFugu, for learning Japanese. I've looked through what's freely available for learning kanji, and I like his style. He starts with one- and two-stroke radicals, which are easy to recognize and learn, and which are used to build 3- and more-stroke radicals and kanji. Instead of learning complex kanji with simple meanings, like 歩 (walk), I learn simple kanji with what may be complex or abstract meanings, like 力 (power) (which I recognized in dialog on "Bleach" tonight!!). Because kanji is probably the most intimidating part of learning Japanese, I really like this method.

So, I've started with what he has freely available, and one of the first things he asks of us students is to answer why we are learning Japanese. Here's my answer:

I'm fascinated by language in general, and have studied Spanish extensively. I enjoy being able to use the language if the opportunity or need arises. I can also read Spanish literature, watch Spanish media, movie, TV, and so on. Japanese is a culture that piques my interest as well. I already watch a lot of anime and follow JAXA astronauts of Twitter. It would be great to be able to understand them better. Of course, touring Japan some day sounds like a wonderful thing, and being able to speak the native language in a country really helps one get along. People respect that you put the effort in, and it makes them want to be more helpful usually. Also, I've had just a single course of Russian in college, and I enjoyed the challenge of learning a new alphabet. Japanese presents even a bigger challenge in that respect. Learning two sets of kana and a bunch of kanji is no small fear, but it would be an amazing and satisfying thing to do.

Next, after learning about the four types of writing in Japanese, I'm asked to describe them. Since I've already studied a lot, I'm already well on my way with these. But here goes:

The first type of "alphabet" listed was romaji, which is just English (Roman) letters used to spell out Japanese words, like karate and sushi. It's pretty useless for learning Japanese, and when it comes up, hey, I already know it.

The second type is hiragana. Hiragana is the sexy, curvy, one-syllable-per-character writing that looks so very nice in calligraphy. Just check it out: ありがとうございます。 どういたしますて。 Thank you and you're welcome never looked so good. It's used for particles and writing out parts of words that are Japanese in origin, but can be combined with kanji. (Not included in the lesson is the fact that furigana is hiragana written over kanji to denote its pronunciation, good for the rarer kanji.)

The third type is katakana. Katakana is more angular than hiragana, but every katakana character corresponds to a hiragana pronounced the same way. Katakana is generally used to transliterate foreign words and words of a foreign origin, like アメリカ (America) and パン (pan, bread). It can also be used to emphasize words that can be written in hiragana, the way we might use italics in English. I would use katakana to write my name in Japanese, and it works pretty well: ミランダ.リチャーズ

The fourth and most terrifying type of writing in Japanese is kanji. Kanji are the pictographic words that can be very intimidating. It's hard to tell a Chinese word from a Japanese word if only kanji is used, and that's because kanji were imported from China many times. Whenever a Chinese emperor conquered Japan, he'd bring his writing and preferred pronunciation, and Japan ended up keeping both, and also assigning the symbols to their own language, so one kanji can be said many ways, depending on context. 猫子 is a great pair of kanji. It means kitten. The first symbol means cat, and the second means child, so child cat = kitten. =^v^=

I'm quite excited to see where the TextFugu goes and how well it might work for me. I'm hopeful just from not just the promises made but from the description of the method. We shall see.

Finished Level 1

I think I'll leave the start of Level 2 until tomorrow.

I haven't stopped

I'm still studying. I'm into Unit 4, and I've added cards to Anki through the end of Unit 3. I don't want to give the impression that I've given up or anything. After finishing an Anki review, it feels so good to be able to recognize all those kanji and remember so much. There are a total of 691 cards so far, although it hasn't shown me all of them yet.


I've started on Unit 4, and I just finished inputting cards for the rest of Unit 2 in Anki. Learning this language can be exhausting. It's a real bit of mental gymnastics to change the way I think for word order and sentence structure, not to mention the huge number of symbols I have to recognize. Japanese doesn't really seem too hard as a language, but it is very different from what I've learned before.

Unit 3 Complete

I just did the Milestone for Unit 3, and got 100%. ^_^

Unit 4 is Shopping. I shall wait to start that.

The Anki flash cards are really helping with my kanji recognition and vocabulary. I think I'll go and make some cards up for Unit 2.


I'm well into Unit 3 > Lesson 4. I'm getting just tons of vocabulary and particles and so on. I think it's going pretty well. I have been doing a couple of things outside of the program as well, and I'd like to update you on that.

First, I have been practicing the hiragana and katakana. I've printed out sheets with the aiueo-kstnhmyrwn grid and spaces for the characters and just filled them in, checking my work and finding good mnemonics when I can't remember them. I'm able to flawlessly complete the chart for both scripts now, although sometimes it does take a little while. I think this is one of the easiest things I can do outside the program, and it's really invaluable since it's all about the literacy, baby. I've also taken to writing out names and such as best I can in the katakana just to get to practice of doing them in a non-set order.

Secondly, I was listening to a podcast called The Japanese Learner about some people's experiences learning Japanese and what recommendations they had, and one of the things in Episode 5 was a reference to Anki.

Anki is a flash card program, and it is so much more. It's a spaced repetition system, so when it shows you the card, you answer and grade your response after clicking "Show Answer." Click the link and you can see an example of the answer card and the grading buttons. Depending on how you say you did, it puts a timer on how long before it shows you the card again. If you consistently get a card easily, it spaces it out farther and farther apart each time.

It also has the ability to sync to a server, so you can review it online, or with the proper iPod app (which I got for $4.99 called StudyArcadePro), take it with you!

Anki can be used for pretty much any flashcard-type thing, languages, chemistry, state capitals, etc. There are some pre-made ones, and you can share the decks. I personally am making my own based on the Rosetta Stone Lessons. I'm just going thru the Core Lessons and picking out works and sentences for the cards. Of course, RS never gives a direct translation, but I am putting down my best interpretations for each one. If I wanted, I might be able to capture the images or the audio from RS and put those on the cards. That's right, you can include audio and images as well.

The nice thing is with languages, I can have it make two cards for each entry, one with the Japanese shown and the English and kana reading as the answer, and a matching one with the English shown, and the Japanese and kana reading as the answer. So it works both ways. The cards also allow for tags, so I can filter them by Lesson number if I want. I've just finished up through the end of Unit 1 > Lesson 4, so I have reviewed a lot of old stuff in making them, which is good in itself.

Actually, there's a third thing! I almost forgot. It's an addon for Firefox that was also mentioned in The Japanese Learner podcast. It's called Rikaichan, and it is a Japanese/English (among others) dictionary, and it will give the readings for kanji that you hover over, and you can type into a search field and it will provide the entry. It's pretty nice, just for quick reference, and I'm sure that once I get to the point where I can read Japanese in the wild on the internet, it will be quite handy to help with words I don't know.

Unit 3 > Lesson 3 > Core Lesson

This one seems pretty simple overall. Teaching and learning, speaking and reading and writing, various languages, people and animals, and numbers up to 69 ([obligatory juvenile humor]). It's amazing how easily vocabulary can be expanded once you get going. One problem I seem to have with the pronunciation is that it doesn't think I'm saying eigo right. That's the word for English, so yeahhh. Maybe I'm trying too hard to get the i in there. I'm sure I'll get it eventually.

I'm starting to think that it'd be nice to maybe take some notes of the vocabulary. There isn't any reference outside the program except for the Audio Companion. I'd really like to be able to refer to something written down, too, just so I can review when I'm not at the computer. Maybe I will go back and take some down. It might help to write some of these things down, too. Either way, it'd be a nice way to review.

I couldn't help branching out

This morning I got up to the Core Lesson for Unit 3 > Lesson 3, but didn't go through it yet. I'm still amazed when I start to totally get something I thought I'd never remember at all. ^_^

I've been searching about out of curiosity for other resources as well. I've found a couple that I kind of like.

One is Koichi's blog at Tofugu.com (LJ syn tofugujp). Yes, this is the panda hat guy I posted earlier. He does have a lot of incidental stuff, but a lot of informational stuff, too. There are insights to Japanese culture that the RS program hasn't yet shown me, but that I'm interested in. Gotta have some fun with this stuff, right? In his videos, he talks about other resources that have helped him as well, and I'll probably check more of these out as I go along.

The other is a podcast that I'm test-driving. It's from JapanesePod101.com. Actually, there are both audio and video podcasts, available on iTunes. I learned about liking weather in just a few minutes last night. I haven't really looked over the site that much, but it seemed a bit confusing. Maybe I'll give it another look later, but for now, those podcasts will suffice. Actually the video kanji lesson (bright: sun+moon 明:日+月) helped me remember Sunday and Monday because the kanji for them include the sun and the moon: 日曜日 and 月曜日. It was one of those moments when I saw the moon kanji and it totally clicked.