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.