Tags: hiragana


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.


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 2 > Lesson 3 > Core Lesson

It's really hard to convey how tiring learning a language is. No wonder little kids need to take naps all the time. I did a new Core Lesson. It taught me a couple more prepositions (and after I figured out what was going on, I couldn't help but think of this:

) Also the lesson plan taught me some countries, some cities, and places in cities like bridges and roads and parks, as well as a few more verbs relating to residence. I learned about names in addition to all of that. It's a lot of info once again.

What with all the non-Japanese names, whether of places or people, there is a lot of katakana being used, and while I'm pretty well 100% when reading hiragana, I haven't really spent that much time learning katakana. I tend to stumble over those words, sad to say. I wonder if the Reading/Writing section will include some of those this time around.

こんにちは。 私の名前はミランーダです。 私はアメリカの出身です。
konnichiwa. watashi no namae wa miranda desu. watashi wa amerika no shosshin desu.

I'm getting there. I think I'm going through the material fairly briskly, although I'm not trying to rush myself. I do get surprised about the rate at which I'm picking up the language, and it's a fantastic feeling. I must admit that sometimes I need to just stop for not being able to wrap my tongue about a phrase on the speaking parts.

I now need a short nap to help recover.

(no subject)

A couple nights ago I was continuing my lessons, but I was so tired, I started to fall asleep, so I just went to bed. Sorry I missed the update, but there wasn't anything drastic that I can remember.

Tonight, I was asked to try a refresher, the Adaptive Recall section of Unit 1 > Lesson 3. I passed with flying colors. (That's funny because that's the Lesson with the colors in it. >_> ) I was also asked to do this for Unit 1 > Lesson 4. Good practice and good to know I could do it right after all the other words and grammar I'd put in my head. I'd like to say again how good I think this is, and not just for the review itself.

I continued on with Unit 2 > Lesson 2. I did pass everything that I did tonight. The Listening and Reading section, the Reading section, and the Writing section are the easiest, as they are breaking down the words and teaching the hiragana along with the sounds, and also teaching the romaji, but also at this point having me spell with hiragana (picking from three kana each syllable). There were other sections that are much more demanding, however.

Earlier I said that I was glad of the refreshers, and part of that is that I like to always be right. It's not the program; it's me. When I make a mistake because I missed something or because I simply didn't get it, it's frustrating. Of course, there are bound to be mistakes, and I need to learn to deal with it. They're not going to destroy anything, and I do learn from them. So, going back over material that I know well (due in part to previous mistakes) is encouraging. It shows me that I can learn this stuff.

I'm tired, so I'm going to cut this short tonight. I went through five sections tonight in addition to the two refreshers, so I did make progress.

Road to the Milestone

Last night while I had some down time at work, I decided to try practicing writing some words. I used the Vocabulary and Phrases tracks from the Audio Companion for the words, listening to one and pausing to write it out in hiragana or katakana, whichever is appropriate. I had to use a chart to remember most of the katakana, but the practice helped me to learn a few I didn't know before. I'm getting very good at writing some of the kana I think. Fluidity is improving.

Tonight, I went through the rest of the Unit 1 sections, including the end Review for Lessons 3 and 4. I did very well, although I'm still unsure of the reasons for the differences behind some of the number particles or the changes in pronunciation from one subject to another, although others seem pretty clear. Learning Spanish gave me a sense for that, especially when it comes to people. Of course, with English as my first language, I totally understand the concept of exceptions to the rule and irregularities. (Can you say "The childs eated"? Yes, you can, but you'll sound like a lolcat.) On the bright side, I have managed to actually surprise myself by saying something for the mic that I don't think about in English or pause to consider how to construct the sentence! I guess the Immersion is helping.

I did stop short of doing the Milestone (aka Lesson 5) tonight. It says it should take only about 10 minutes, but I'd like to rest on what I've gone over tonight. Tomorrow I shall tackle that Milestone and see how it goes. Then I should be able to report on how the transition to the next Unit is handled, as well.

One last thing: I did notice that the notification that I'd be asked to repeat a non-perfect section has me doing them in just 5 days. I wonder if it is adjusting to my pace or if the non-Review sections are built in that way. Either way, it should do me good to go back and make thinks 100%.
Nightmare Night Applejack

Level 1 > Unit 1 > Lessons 1 & 2

It appears that the "Core Lesson" teaches the vocabulary that is to be used in that lesson's further bits, and further lessons incorporate previous vocabulary. I started going through the Lesson 1 stuff and just couldn't seem to stop. It's kind of addictive like a game. Learning can seem a lot easier when it's fun.

There's a short voice recognition section on Pronunciation. It breaks some of the words down into their constituent syllables, showing the hiragana for each and saying each before prompting me to say it. At the end of each it shows and says the whole word and prompts me to say it. This is really helpful as it not only reinforces the word, but it teaches the hiragana as well. I'm reminded of the silhouettes on The Electric Company saying the parts of a word then the whole word. You know the bit:

The next section is Vocabulary, which puts up the word and says it, and I'm prompted to select the picture that matches. It's a good review to make sure I have the words down and reinforces them.

After that, it moves on to actual Grammar. This section is really interesting since it switches from the hiragana to the kanji/furigana, which is the kanji with the hiragana above it in small characters. I didn't realize what that option was all about, but I think I will keep it on, as it lets me pick up the kanji, and yet be able to read the syllables! The reason it does this is that the kanji are clues for learning the bits of the nouns. For instance, the first examples are of 4 people: a girl, a woman, a boy, and a man. It highlights the first kanji for each to show that 男 (otoko) represents the males and 女 (onna) represents the females. It continues the examples by showing the last kanji indicates either 子 (ko), child, or 人 (hito), adult. So combining these with の (no) between them, I can make 女の子, 女の人, 男の子, or 男の人 which mean a girl, a woman, a boy, and a man, respectively. All that is in just a couple of screens of photos and without a word of English. It also shows the particles that indicate subject (は) and object (を), and how plurals are indicated for certain words. (I'm unsure so far, but I've only seen the latter applied to "people" words, but I will probably get more clarification on this as I progress. This is one of the queer things about not getting a direct translation in the instructions, but I think in the long run it may help with hard to understand subtleties. See por/para in Spanish.)

After that, there is a Reading section, which is a lot like the Pronunciation section, but I pick the kana out of a multiple choice instead of hearing and repeating. More good practice for learning hiragana.

Then comes the Writing. Now, I understand why it does it this way, but it is a little disappointing to have to use the romaji. Writing is like Reading and Pronunciation except I type in the answer instead of saying it or picking it from a list. I suppose it is a necessary evil, and it does teach what the romaji equivalents of the kana are. My concern is that I may look at a syllable and impose my English-speaking bias to the sound I make when I see the corresponding kana. Of course, even using the keyboard to make the kana I'm putting in these posts, I'm doing pretty much exactly what it is having me do in this section.

At this point, it introduces me to Lesson 2 > Core Lesson, which gives me some new vocabulary words and a couple new bits of grammar. One of those bits of grammar threw me for a loop at first. I couldn't understand the difference between verbs ending in います (imasu) and いません (imasen). The people seemed to be doing the thing or near doing the thing. It wasn't until the person was doing something totally unrelated to the verb that I had it dawn on me, and it was a eureka!moment. I got it at once and am now pretty sure that I won't forget it. This is really the first moment where the immersion bit of the course really helped drive home a point. I'm sure in a Grammar section for Lesson 2, it will point this out, but it felt just wonderful to actually make that breakthrough myself.

After a Pronunciation section for Lesson 2, it brings me back to Listening and Reading for Lesson 1 as a sort of refresher. Like I said in a previous post, parts of each Lesson are interspersed among the later Lessons, which makes sense, I think.

In summary, I am really liking the system. It's fun, and it seems to be working well so far. Also, already tonight I can tell you if my cats are eating, drinking water, sleeping, and running. Now to hope Lesson 3 includes the verb for going potty and vomiting. Once I learn that, I can tell you pretty much anything about their lives. 猫は食べています。 猫は水を飲んでいます。 猫は寝ています。 猫は走っています。 Being a cat is serios biznis. ~_^

Well, this entry got long, but I wanted to tell a bit about all I did tonight with the course. Good night!
Nightmare Night Applejack


As I've said, I've had a little bit of experience trying to learn Japanese. I know some numbers, colors, and polite phrases and I've picked up a few words just from watching undubbed anime. I also know quite a few of the hiragana just from my own curiosity leading me to look it up.

I did go to town yesterday and get an iPod Touch so I can use the Audio Companion tracks while not at my desk. I was up way too late last night setting it up and then playing around with it. The App Store has quite a few free apps, and one I saw and tried out was Free KanaQuiz, which is a wonderful little program that has a table of the 46 basic hirigana and another table of the 46 basic katakana. Hirigana are the syllabic "letters" used for Japanese words, and katakana are those used for foreign words and names. it doesn't include the ones with the double-mark or the circle modifying them, but once you know the basics, those just represent a consonant shift so they should be very easy to pick up after learning the basics. For instance, ひ (hi) → び (bi) → ぴ (pi). The awesome part of this is that it shows you either a kana or a romaji syllable and then has four choices of corresponding romaji or kana. If you select correctly, you get a point, and if you select the wrong one, it highlights the correct one until you touch it so you can learn from your mistakes. Very good for a free app, and I think the only way it could be improved (and I would pay for such an upgrade) is if it had options for the romaji clues to be said in addition to or instead of being shown, and for me to draw the characters on the screen instead of choosing.

Technically, this isn't just the RS system in play, but with English being a language that waits in dark alleys to mug other languages for loose vocabulary, it's really hard to pick a language I'd be both practically interested in learning and completely ignorant of. I'm really excited to get the course and get started. Come on, ground shipping!!