Sunday, May 6, 2018

Learning Japanese

Here is how I am going about it.
For a textbook I'm using Japanese: The Spoken Language, Part 1. There is a Part 2 and a Part 3, but I'm not that far along. A strength of the textbook is the accompanying audio drills and videos (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3).

When I've  studied languages in the past the emphasis was on reading and writing, not listening and speaking. It's the easier but wrong way to learn a language. The audio drills are key to learning to speak at a speed which is acceptable to a native speaker.

The sequence of study is to read a section, watch the video, then do the audio drills. Probably you should repeat the audio drills until you can do them flawlessly.

Here is an example of what the drills look like.

P: 大きいですか?Is it big?
R: いいえ大きくないです。小さいですよ。No, it's not big. It's small.

 The P line is what the student hears on the clip. The student is expected to say the R line before the clip says it. The student then listens to the clip response to check whether his response was correct.

This particular drill tests whether the student can negate a sentence and whether he knows the antonym of an adjective, in this case big. Other exchanges in the drill will substitute a different pair of adjectives for big and small.

JSL calls the Japanese parts-of-speech nominals, adjectivals, and verbals instead of nouns, adjectives, and verbs. The stated rationale is to discourage English speakers from making assumptions about how Japanese works based upon English. I don't think I personally am at risk of making these kind of errors. Since the terms nominal, adjectival, and verbal are nonstandard terms I won't use them.

Japanese nouns are not inflected for number. Words that Japanese has borrowed from other languages are almost always nouns in Japanese, even if they were adjectives or verbs in the source language.

Japanese verbs are inflected for aspect instead of tense. There is an imperfect aspect for unfinished or yet to happen actions and a perfect aspect for actions which have finished. JSL calls these the imperfective and perfective. Oddly, adjectives also have imperfect and perfect forms.

It is interesting to read some of the review about JSL on
This series was originally written for DIPLOMATS during Japan's bubble-economy era, and it really shows. You learn American Consulate in Lesson 7 and air in Lesson 30. Subsequently, you're language will be EXTREMELY formal and stiff compared to today's standards, but it's better to be polite than rude, right? Moreover, slight problem, a few words here and there are outdated (ie Monbusho should be Monbukagakusho, or Monkasho for short). 
I have wondered about the value of starting with the -masu and -masita forms of verbs, since they don't seem to be used too often in the anime I've been watching. JSL calls them the distal forms and the shorter forms—which include the citation form you find in a dictionary—the direct forms.

There is some truth to the claim about JSL being outdated. The internet and cellular phones have introduced a lot of new words to both English and Japanese. Although JSL is set int the 1980s,  the accompanying text Japanese: The Written Language for practicing reading and writing is set in the 2010s.
 Here's another review:
It's all in romaaji. Let's face it. When you go to Japan, almost everything will be in evil but beautiful scribbles called 'kanji' -- even with JWL - the written language accompaniment - you won't even have the reading capability of a 1st grader.
I suppose it is possible to teach Japanese without ever writing a Japanese word in romaji. Of course the student will initially be slowed down by the unfamiliar script. One of their principles of JWL is to never write a Japanese word in a native script other than the way the Japanese customarily write it. Thus they deliberately avoid writing out everything in Hiragana.

The JWL series consists of two textbooks and two workbooks. I'm working my way through them all. Some of the exercises in the workbooks require listening to audio clips on the website.

I have three dictionaries for studying Japanese.
The Random House Japanese-English English-Japanese Dictionary uses romaji to write Japanese like JSL. Unfortunately it uses the phonetic Hepburn romaji instead of the phonemic Kunrei romaji used by JSL. I don't think either method is clearly superior, but switching back and forth is irritating. Here are the differences:


The Hepburn romaji makes the pronunciation of a Japanese word obvious to an English speaker, but the Kunrei romaji matches better with hiragana and katakana syllabaries. Notice how the Hepburn romaji doesn't distinguish between じ and ぢ.

Another difference is JSL uses duplication for long vowels and Random House, at least some of the time, uses macrons: e.g. ōkii for big.

I wish the dictionary indicated the location of accents. In the front matter the dictionary excuses the omission with the following comment:
However, such distinctions are not as crucial as they would be in English, where a misunderstanding might arise if a particular syllable is not stressed. A general guideline for the Japanese accent is to avoid putting a heavy stress on any syllable. 
I also have Kodansha's Furigana Japanese Dictionary.  If you have mastered the hiragana and katakana, then this dictionary is as useful as a romaji dictionary such as Random House. "Furigana" refers to the practice of glossing kanji with small hiragana characrters, either above or on the left.
In a Furigana dictionary the Japanese entries are written according to their furigana in gojuon order. This is the order used when writing out the hiragana or katakana table. One goes through the consonants in the order - k s t n h m y r w and for each consonant one goes through the vowels in the order a i u e o. The pure vowel syllables are at the start, the y and w columns are incomplete, and the syllable final n is at the end.

Some of the words in a furigana dictionary will be written in katakana, but these will appear in the position they would have if they had been written hiragana.
For a kanji dictionary I am using NTC's New Japanese-English Character Dictionary.

Each entry is a kanji character, or sometimes just a radical. They are numbered from 1 to 3587. These numbers appear in bold at the bottom of the pages, and at first I was confused because I thought they were page numbers. There are also page numbers, but they are less prominent.

How do you find a character in a kanji dictionary? It depends on what you know about the kanji. Here are the page numbers of a few sections in the back:

1734: how to count strokes
1739: how to write kanji
1747: kana and romanization
1760: okurigana rules
1769: the radicals
1786: frequency table
1815: joyo kanji list
1824: kanji synonyms
1895: on-kun index
1934: radical index

If you know a reading of the kanji, then the on-kun index at p. 1895 is the fastest way to find it. If you know the meaning of the kanji, the kanji synonyms section at p. 1824 might be useful. If you know the joyo grade of the kanji, say because you are studying the kanji the Japanese learn in first grade, then consult the joyo kanji list on p. 1815.

The most common case, however, is that you only know what the kanji looks like. In that case you need to identify a radical in the kanji and use the radical index on p. 1934. Radicals are arranged by number of strokes and the kanji that contain a radical are arranged by the number of non-radical strokes.

Beginners find the radical index hard to use because they can't identify the radical or because they can't count strokes. Miscounting strokes just slows you down, but failing to identify the radical is fatal. Reading the sections "how to count strokes" p. 1734, "how to write kanji" p. 1739, and "the radicals" p. 1769 can help.

Once you find a kanji, here is what an entry looks like:
In the upper left, the kanji appears in its printed and two handwritten styles. The handwritten styles are the block style (kaisho) and the running script style (gyosho). Below these are the on and kun readings for the kanji. On readings are in all caps. A black triangle superscript indicates non-standard readings. Below these is the stroke order for writing the kanji.

In the upper right the Chinese version of the character and its reading is given. In the box is the number of the radical. The strokes contains three numbers separated by hyphens: the total stroke count, the stroke count of the radical, and the stroke count of the non-radical part. The box also contains the Joyo grade and the frequency of the Kanji. The data in the bottom of the box and to the right of the box has to do with the SKIP system which I don't use.

Next there is a radical section. The radical number is repeated here. The rest of the information doesn't appear to be that important.

Next a core meaning is given. This entry has only one core meaning. Each core meaning has a COMPOUNDS section, which shows how a variety of words are written which use the kanji. All of these words use an on reading.  The words are organized into senses and sub-senses by number and letters in black circles. A KUN section follows with words that use the kanji with its kun reading. The senses and sub-senses here use white circles. There are other sections under the core meaning as you can see, but COMPOUNDS and KUN appear to be the important ones. 
If you are disinclined to buy a Kanji dictionary, is a free online Kanji dictionary. "jisho" or "zisyo" is Japanese for "dictionary". The website supports the radical lookup method for kanji.
In the lower pane I selected a radical with three strokes. The upper pane is then populated with Kanji that contain that radical, organized by total number of strokes. Once you've found the Kanji character you are looking for, you can search for its dictionary entry:
There is also a feature where you can draw the kanji and it will identify what you've drawn, but I've not had good results with that. Once you've identified a kanji you can click through for a dictionary entry much like you would find in the NTC dictionary.

I do most of my typing on a Mac. It has a Japanese input source.  I usually use the "Hiragana" input mode with the "Romaji" typing method and live conversion. They way it works is I type romaji—either Kunrei or Hepburn will work—and it is converted to hiragana and then "live converted" to kanji on the fly.

Here are my Japanese input source settings, configured to work in the manner described above:
Sometimes the live conversion will convert the hiragana to katakana instead of kanji, but if I know I want to type katakana, I can just hold down the shift key.  It is possible to add a separate katakana entry to my input source dropdown, but I don't like that dropdown to have too many things in it.

Here is what it looks like in use. I typed "hana" and the hiragana input method converted it to はな and then live converted it to 花. As you can see, the live conversion gives me options. If I select one with either the mouse or the arrow keys, I get a pop-up with a dictionary entry:
Hitting return accepts the highlighted choice and dismisses the dropdown.

Of course is very useful. It can be used as a dictionary or it can translate chunks of text.  When translating text one shouldn't expect perfect accuracy. There is a speaker icon on the Japanese side which will speak the word or words as an audio clip. This is the only way I know to determine the location of accent, since my dictionaries don't show it. Well, the dictionary in the back of JSL shows the position of accent, but it doesn't have many words.

To practice reading, I've been acquiring untranslated manga from Finding them can be tricky. I would try searching with both romaji and Japanese characters. On the product page, make sure the language is Japanese and not English, since translated editions are often available.

The kanji in the manga are sometimes very small, so I ordered a magnifying glass with a light.

I've also ordered from I had a hard time creating an account and entering my shipping address and credit card information. Needlessly so, because the site supports English. Look for the dropdown in the header to switch language:
To practice listening to Japanese, I got an account at The site specializes in anime which has been subtitled. I've also found subtitled anime for streaming on Netflix and Amazon.