09 10

Japanese Methods & Resources

I've written several posts about what we use for learning Japanese, but I think that it's time to collect them and keep them all in one place: Japanese resource gathering for myself and my kids is a significant project. I have a two-pronged approach: we do some formal study, particularly Hero(10) and I, and then we do a lot of passive exposure and try to find ways to have fun in the new language. Here are some things that I like to use:

Hiragana and Katakana:

If you're serious about learning Japanese, then the first thing you need to do is learn their alphabet. Don't waste your time fooling around with romanized Japanese; that's not the real stuff, and the sooner that you can sound out the words, the better off you'll be. Hiragana and katakana are like our alphabet - they are symbols that represent sounds, and many of them are visually related to each other, not unlike our uppercase and lowercase letters, so it's not a huge project to learn them. We have used a variety of resources to play around with this, but one of my favorites is comes from Memrise, their Learn Hiragana Through Vocabulary course. This course is great because it not only teaches hiragana, but it also helps you move into real reading right away -- and it's the practice through reading that helps to solidify it. They have a number of courses that will also help you to remember katakana; do the hiragana first because it's used much more frequently.

In addition to learning to recognize the letters, it's also important to learn to write. And when you write, you should know that stroke order matters: you have to learn to draw the characters in the correct order. If you don't, your letters will tell on you, and never look quite right. It's really not so ad, though, as there are patterns to how things are drawn that you'll start to figure out. Print yourself some genkyo yoshi paper, and start copying. A chart like this one can tell you the stroke order, and there are videos on YouTube that will show you how it looks. Take the time; learn to do it well. This is a huge part of your foundation.

SRS or Spaced Repetition System:

If you're not familiar already, here's a quick explanation of what an SRS is.

I have been using Sticky Study for years, and it's working great. It's an iPhone app, which means that I've got it in my pocket when I have a few minutes, which is key to my success: 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there, it adds up to meaningful learning with time.

For Hero, I got the free version of Anki, which he uses on our desktop system. He does better with his stuff all at once, and all in a specific place, so the desktop system works great for him. In his deck, we started with the basics: the alphabets, single words, a few grammatical definitions that he wasn't familiar with. Once he gains some fluency with those, he'll start to see phrases, and then sentences, and we'll introduce the kanji, starting with their meanings in English, which is surprisingly useful, even though you can't pronounce the words yet. My deck is primarily made up of sentences right now, though I do have some individual kanji that I'm working on learning some readings for.

For checking to see if sentences we want to say are correct, HiNative is invaluable. It's made by the same folks that bring us Lang-8, which is also fantastic.

For Native By Natives And Passive Exposure: 

I try to expose us all, myself, and all three kids, to materials that are made for natives by natives. It's got natural pacing, expression, pronunciation... all the good stuff. And I try to make it fun. Fun matters.

Getting good is good. Those things are all good. It’s nice to be full and it’s nice to have a big vocabulary. It’s just that you’re more likely to eat more if you focus more or less totally on making and procuring tasty food than “efficient”, “filling” food. Similarly, if you focus just about exclusively on having fun through the language, while you still suck, while you’re not full yet, you’ll naturally “eat” more of it, and eat more often, and naturally get “fuller” faster.
-Khatzmuto, Why Don't You Learn Like You Eat?, emphasis original (content warning: this article is clean, but if you browse his site, be aware he's sometimes rude, and occasionally pretty crude)

 We watch a couple of Japanese Minecraft channels, sometimes just for passive exposure, sometimes I harvest sentences for the kids, sometimes I keep my dictionary close as we're watching so we can look up words that are said. It is really remarkable how much my kids pick up from this, and how good their pronunciation is when they say things they've learned from these. It sounds hokey and stupid, but it's amazing.

This one is good for just putting on as background noise, so that we can listen all morning:

Japanese Language Books:

You can get a surprising amount of Japanese books, especially Japanese-English bilingual books, and Japanese editions, but also Japanese picture books, from just the regular Amazon.com. Amazon.jp, once you get an account, can be set up so that the interface is in English. Sometimes, I can find them at the local Half-Price Books store, which is great. Having books helps us to become more fluent. It helps us to get used to handling them (some are printed opposite the way that English ones are), and to seeing the kanji and kana. It encourages us to read, which helps our vocabulary to grow. All the things that help with literacy and fluency in your first language do the same things in your second language: books are worth the effort to find.

In addition to books, the Church has a large amount of content available in Japanese. We have a Japanese Children's Songbook that we use, I read part of my scriptures in the Japanese Book of Mormon - the regular app for the phones has it, and it will read to me. I've got a Bible as well, but it's more difficult to read, and doesn't have the audio, so I'm doing the Book of Mormon first. And General Conference is translated into Japanese as well.

Explicit Instruction:

We're going to be memorizing some verb and adjective conjugations. We are also slowly working on the materials from And Introduction to Modern Japanese, and the grammar books I have to go with it. These are intended for adult learners, but taking it slowly has been working for us pretty well. A lot of this material goes into our SRS for extended practice.

Language Resources: 

High-frequency words
Hiragana chart w/ stroke orders
NHK Easy Japanese
NHK for School
Simple Grammar Introduction
Speaking-Japanese.com (Breaking into Japanese Literature)
Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar
Tae Kim's Facebook Group

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