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Advice on Learning Japanese? 285

Posted by Cliff
from the ohayo-gozaimasu dept.
Piroca asks: "During the last years, a huge amount of (modern) Japanese culture has invaded the Occident, mostly in the form of anime, video games and TV shows. Part of that content can't be understood completely due to the complexity and subtleties of the Japanese language. Due to that, it seems the interest on learning Japanese is steadily growing, specially for anime addicts. Much of the problem stems from the fact that Japanese is not an easy language, being classified as very difficult by most standards (of course, this depends on one's native language). I'm searching for courses and material that can help me to learn Japanese without attending to classes or hiring people to teach me. I've found things like Pimsleur and japanesepod101 but I wonder if other people in the Slashdot crowd have not passed through this process before and have useful hints to share."
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Advice on Learning Japanese?

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  • ummm.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lxy (80823) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:35PM (#15073134) Journal
    Advices on Learning Japanese?

    How's abouts ya learn English first?
  • by Hikaru79 (832891) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:44PM (#15073173) Homepage
    This is definitely my reccomended first reading []. Beware ;-)
    • I also recommend reading this []. Google's translation feature provides and accurate, easy-to-read translation of Japanese texts.
    • As my Japanese professor once said in College: You can study Japanese every waking hour of every waking day, struggle through the hardest classes you have ever taken, and after 10 years emerge from the other side with a PHD in the language and a 1st grade speaking level.

      Seriously. The question is not how do you learn Japanese without taking classes, the question is how many classes and lectures and tutors and other resources do you need to get to a basic Japanese comprehension level. How many years until
      • You, sir, are a real defeatist. You also seem to be completely ignorant about the language.

        I've decided to put a 'passive effort' on learning Japanese. That is, I'm not going to drive myself nuts trying to learn it, and whatever I pick up is whatever I pick up. I decided on this because I like learning stuff, enjoy language in general, and Japanese is both reasonably learnable IMHO (as opposed to, say, Arabic or Hindi) and is NOT Latin/Germanic. I don't ever expect to be proficient at it, though. As I said,
        • The original poster had basically said he wanted to speak japanese because "Part [anime] can't be understood completely due to the complexity and subtleties of the Japanese language."

          To which I say: good luck. If the poster is trying to do this without taking classes or tutoring, he'll never get there. To understand the "complexities and subtleties of the language" you need to be extremely dedicated and naturally talented, and this guy doesn't seem to have that yet.

          If you're happy listening to other peopl
          • I'll agree that learning "the complexity and subtleties" of *any* foreign language is a nearly impossible goal. What I challenge is your apparent attitude that it is impossible a non-native speaker to learn anything useful.

            To be more than fair, English is far, far worse when it comes to obscure rules and exceptions to those rules.

            And if for some reason I find myself in Japan with a food allergy, I'd make it a point to learn how to say "I'm allergic to [foodstuff]" - that kind of information strikes me as so
        • I'm curious why you think that Arabic is harder to learn than Japanese. It's certainly harder than, say, Spanish, but the things I've heard about Japanese make it seem borderline impossible. The Arabic alphabet has only 28 letters, it's grammar really doesn't have any more "features" than, say, French or German.

          What makes you think that Arabic is difficult? I think it is difficult to read because they string the letters together... but I'd certainly not put learning to read that on the level with learn

          • Put simply: Lack of exposure. I would have to go farther out of my way to expose myself to Arabic than Japanese, both for generic media and learning material. Japan exports a lot of culture* and so it's easier to find materials.

            Arabic is not necessarily harder on a technical level. Fact is I wouldn't know since I barely ever see any - that makes it harder on a practical level. Again, your results may vary.

            (*It is understood that the culture that is exported has little or no resemblence to the actual culture
        • and Japanese is both reasonably learnable IMHO (as opposed to, say, Arabic or Hindi)

          WTH ?

          Arabic and Hindi are both alphabetic languages. This means that letter represent sounds, which has two advantages: 1) there's only a few of them to learn and 2) if you see a word, you can actually pronounce it.

          Compare with Japanese, where the gist of a text is usually composed of Kanjis, i.e. Chinese characters which represent things and ideas - so for each different idea you must learn a new character. You'll be thrill
          • In Japanese words do not change. In Arabic they do. In fact (similar to German) in Arabic word stem can change depending on context. (In German some stems change normal letter to umlaut - verb conjugation & plural nouns.).

            I think Japanese is fun. At moment I'm studing Hiragana - because that's what you need to start learning Kanji.

            Writting system is nuts - but well among all the languages I know - Russian, Belarusian, French, English & German - there is no language w/o some weirdness in it.

            As to the
      • Poster, don't listen to this person. He/she is completely exagerating.

        First, Kanji are hard, but not insanely hard. The basic jist is that each kanji has a pronunciation when used by itself, and a pronunciation when used in a group. Of course there are exceptions. The general meaning of an individual kanji stays about the same. Each kanji by itself is a word. You get new words by combining them. Wow. What's nice is that these new compound words are the japanese words you were learning anyways. To say it's
        • Second, you don't use different numbers. Just a different suffix.

          For the most part that's true, but there are two different series of numbers (native Japanese numbers: hito-tsu, huta-tsu ..., and Chinese-derived numbers: ichi, ni, ...). Luckily, the Japanese series of numbers is never really used above ten. Even a lot of Japanese people arean't always sure which counting suffix to use for which type of thing, and there are a couple generic suffixes that you can generally use when you're not sure (-tsu w

      • Your college Japanese professor must be an idiot. Sounds like you're not too far behind. Have you ever successfully learned a foreign language?

        Oh noes!!1! it takes effort!!11!!

        I took Japanese for 8 years (4 in HS, 4 in college), and I also studied in Japan for a semester. Am I completely fluent? No. Can I hold conversation with people beyond a 1st grade level? Most definately. While I was in Japan, I held conversations with people my age and above all the time. In my time studying Japanese, I learn
      • by uhmmmm (512629) <> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @10:36AM (#15075917) Homepage
        Oh please, it may be a hard language, but it's notnear as bad as you make it out to be.

        5 year olds don't know that much Kanji. When I stayed with a family in Japan, their 4 year old son could read hiragana and some katakana, and was just learning to write hiragana. He didn't know any kanji.

        Also, kanji isn't as hard as you imply. Most kanji have common shapes in them that appear all over the place, and so you learn very quickly. The major radical even typically gives you some hint as to the meaning of the word. Know the kanji for "to say"? Great! If you see it as the left half of another kanji, chances are it has to do with communication (eg, to talk, to read, etc). And with as many radicals as are common between kanji, stroke order isn't that hard to remember, and sometiems helps in remembering the kanji. Besides, native speakers of Japanese don't always get the stroke order right - why should you be expected to do better?

        Most kanji only have two or three readings you need to know. One is the kun-reading. The native Japanese reading, which is used when the kanji is a standalone word by itself of with okurigana (hiragana used for inflectional endings and the like). The other readings are the on-readings. Those borrowed from Chinese at some point, and are used when the kanji is part of a compound with other kanji. I find that knowing the kanji for a word helps me remember the word itself. Of course, there are exceptions. For example: "shinjiru" (to believe), where "shin" is the on-reading of the kanji and "jiru" is okurigana, or "maiasa" (every morning), where "mai" is the on-reading of the first kanji, and "asa" is the kun-reading of the second.

        Yes, to some extent, it is typically more polite to not complete a thought, but that generally when the rest of the tought it obvious. Why spell it out if everybody already knows what you're going to say? If it's a case where it's not obvious what you're getting at, of course there's no problem with finishing the thought.

      • by McFadden (809368) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @10:41AM (#15075960)
        Apart from the fact that I disagree with almost everything you say, you're spot on.

        I'm a second grade tutor in a Japanese Junior High School in Hokkaido, but I am originally from the UK. I am exactly the same as all the other Japanese teachers in the school except for the fact that I have a different nationality. All of my work, meetings, communications and everything I do daily is in Japanese (I'm the only non-Japanese staff in the school). 5 years ago, I barely knew a word. Now I work in an entirely Japanese environment.

        Let's start with Kanji. I believe 5 year-olds in Japan average about 500 of these

        Firstly, take it from me (as a professional educator), most 5 year olds do not know 500 kanji. In fact none do. I'd love to know where you got that figure from. Japanese children are taught approximately 80 kanji in 1st grade Elementary School (about 6 years old). At 5 years old they are still struggling to learn Kana.

        You need to know A: the somewhat random symbol,

        You really don't know anything about the language do you? Kanji are not "somewhat random symbol[s]". Common kanji generally contain 1 or more basic elements known in English as 'radicals' of which there are 214, which themselves have their own meanings. This also has the advantage of providing a basic method for sorting kanji (for example in a dictionary). If you don't believe me, take a closer look at a page of kanji and you'll start to notice that a lot of the characters contain similar looking parts.

        B: the stroke order (Very important!)

        Yes, there is a school of thought that says stroke order is important, and yes Japanese students are taught stroke order. But then there is also a popular TV quiz show in Japan where adult contestants have to identify the stroke order of (fairly common) kanji. At a rough guesstimate they get it wrong about 25% of the time. Stroke order is only VERY important in Japanese calligraphy, which is a different issue altogether.

        How many years until you can chat with a kindergartener.

        Study every day for an hour or more, and you'll be able to hold quite a decent little conversation with a kiddie within 6 months or so.

        And forget reading newspapers

        Oh, ok. Maybe I should cancel my daily delivery then.

        don't be foolish and think one kanji equals one thing.

        Go find yourself a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the word "set". You'll find it has 126 different definitions. Japanese is hardly unique in having its characters take on more than one meaning.

        Ok, how about saying hello? Thankfully, there is only about a dozen ways of doing this, depending upon if the person you're talking to is high above you, above you, at your level, below you, or really below you. Of course, there are variants for if there is a big age gap, or you're related, or you're a girl. Or any of a million other variants.

        There are basically main 3 speaking forms (or levels of respect if you like) in Japanese, not "millions of variants". Teineigo, sonkeigo and kenjo~go, as well as a basic plain form. As a non-native speaker, you won't be expected to use anything more than teineigo. While it's certainly more complex than English, it's attainable with a little study. As for a dozen ways of saying hello, 99.99% of the time you'll be using just 3 different words (the ubiquitous ohayo~(gozaimasu), konnichiwa and konbanwa) to anyone you meet, regardless of rank or status. Just think about English for a moment - Hey, Hello, Hi, What's Up?, How's It Going?, Yo! well... I could go on, but you can quickly see just how many different greeting forms we have, without even taking into account whether we're being polite or not.

        You also have to accept the fact that you will never speak well, you will never read a newspaper correctly

        That would be why I meet numerous foreigners every week who speak excellent Japanese then. Making a blanket statement like "y

      • Self-intro: 4 semesters Japanese study in college, 10 weeks in Japan in 2002, various periods of self study. Getting ready to leave next week for a year-long trip to Japan.

        As others have said, the parent is exaggerating, but this is a common response to Japanese. The language requires you to almost rewrite all of the things you've come to expect in English or another Western language.

        Let's start with Kanji. I believe 5 year-olds in Japan average about 500 of these, and the number just gets higher fro

  • by secolactico (519805) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:44PM (#15073175) Journal
    In the inmortal words of Dave Barry, the best way to learn japanese is to be born japanese and raised by japanese parents in Japan.
  • Do not... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Microlith (54737) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:46PM (#15073185)
    Do not try to learn anything from games or anime. You -will- pick up bad habits if you try and learn that way that will be both hard to drop and impede your progress.

    The best way to learn is to take formal classes, preferrably as intense as possible. It helps if you can memorize the two basic character sets first, as any good class will start with rote memorization of those and drop romaji as quickly as possible. Beware the teacher that doesn't push or task you, as you can spend years in classes and learn nothing. Also, SPEAK. Speaking helps master the language faster than anything else and if you don't, oddly enough, even if you go to Japan no one will push you to speak. I learned first hand that they don't expect you to speak, and as such there's no push (or need) to do so unless you force yourself.

    As for your interest I share many myself, however:

    Anime - good for practicing listening, although technical/fantasy jargon will interfere. Live action shows are better, since they speak more naturally in those and are more difficult to understand, speech wise. Beware slang. Also, most shows drop keigo (polite speech,) which is ESSENTIAL to learn.

    Games - good for reading, but suffers from the same problems as above.

    Novels are better since you're forced to memorize kanji to move faster. Focus on things with furigana so you can get a handle on the readings of kanji and words, as they'll show them once for a kanji/word every few pages, which lets you pick it up faster. Also, consider browsing Amazon Japan for books on verbs and particles, since those will be the first problematic things you encounter, among amassing a vocabulary and kanji literacy.

    And to promote a site that is -not- mine but is nonetheless excellent, [] -- be gentle on the site, but it's a great help.
    • Re:Do not... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ceeam (39911) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @01:36AM (#15073675)
      Do not try to learn anything from games or anime.

      What if your primary reason to learn it _is_ games and anime?

      Also - I find it is quite probably a good idea to pump tons of conversations (by native speakers of course) through your brain _before_ you start learning any foreign language. Reasoning - you will have quite certain idea how that language _should_ sound and in case of Japanese things like tonal stress will come very naturally. Otherwise you will obtain your own very wrong ideas about rhythms and sounds (probably through transliterating the words to your native tongue). Then you will need to relearn everything not even from zero level but from negative or otherwise your language "knowledge" will be wasted. And relearning is hard. I speak from my experience with English (not my native language). So in short - I think "parroting" the sound of Japanese is a good idea (even from anime as it is the most available source of Japanese).
      • That would be like someone from Japan learning to speak English by listening to rap music non-stop.

        While they could express themselves in English, would that be someone that you'd want to talk to?
    • This isn't entirely true. I had a tutor who thought watching Japanese tv (and most anime is Japanese tv) was a good way to learn pronounciation - which unfortunately a lot of students gloss over.
  • The Rosetta Stone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:46PM (#15073186)
    The Rosetta Stone. Language learning software that is based on the way you learn a language naturally. I've used it for a couple of months to teach myself German,
    it's fantastic.

    Pimsleur and other courses of the like teach you through memorization; TRS uses photographs and the language, without ever translating anything. You have to match up each photo with the words given to you, and the connection is something you actually learn, not just memorize. verstehen Sie?
    • Wow, awesome, thanks for the tip. I've decided I want to study another language (I know a little German, but it's old and rusty), and being very visually orientated, I think this sounds like the perfect solution for me.
    • Wow. Is that still going?

      I got a demo of that on a cover CD, way back in about '96 or so. It was bloody amazing. If there's a Japanese version to be had, count me the hell in, because even that demo really helped me get started with high-school German way back when...

  • by KNicolson (147698) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:47PM (#15073189) Homepage

    At least from a speaking and listening point of view, which is what you want if you are going to just watch anime. Most of the verbs and nouns are regular, the grammar is not often too complex, pronounciation is straightforward on the whole, etc. It only gets hard when you need to master reading and writing, or when you need to understand the cultural issues behind the language, which is not a thing a course is going to teach you very well.

    I'm sure this thread will get lots of references to things like Tae Kim's grammar guide or Heisig's book, both of which have as many rabid fans as an average Linux distribution, although I personally don't rate either very highly.

    My chosen route to polish my Japanese skills is my blog, which in fact has a related entry about why people learn Japanese [], although "To understand comics and cartoons" was not one of the reasons given.

    • by JanneM (7445)
      Japanese, the language, is not difficult at all. The grammar is very regular, and spelling problems are nonexistent. I've found it substantially easier than either English or German in this regard.

      There are, however, three pitfalls:

      1. Kanji. Yes, you do need to learn them. It's time-consuming, but necessary. One hurdle with learning Japanese is that you can't really practice your language through reading like with many other languages since you need the kanji to do so. SO picking them up will enable you to
  • A few things... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by T_ConX (783573) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:47PM (#15073198)
    1) Anime is not a good place to learn Japanese. A useful anecdote for this would be to imagine a Japanese person learning English from episodes of Simpsons and Family Guy. While such thoughts are no doubt filled with hillarity, they do prove just how silly Anime-bin Japanese would seem to native speakers...

    That said, I'm not totally ripping on Anime. Watch it if you want to, but mix it up with some live action Japanese films (Ringu is one of my favorites).

    2) If you're into video games, I suggest downloading an Emulator and some ROMs of old Japanese video games. Ones that have a decent deal of text (SNES era RPGs), but not ones that require to much reading. Also, pick games that you may be somewhat familiar with. I'm a big Front Mission 3 fan, so I got the Japanese SNES (or should I say Super Famicom) ROM of the original. Fun times!

    3) Get a good dictionary. You'll need it for everything.

    4) Also, get a Grammar guide. Japanese Grammar is crazy compared to English, and is, IMHO, comparable to some programming languages.

    Well, formal Japanese grammar may be difficult. Casual Japanese is more forgiving when it comes to particle usage.

    Othe rthen that, all I can recommend is taking some actual Japanese classes. It's a hard language to learn, but not impossible. It will take a great deal of time before you get any good at it, but after 2 years of studying it myself... I'm still learning, but I have no regrets!
    • Good advice from an anonymous coward, but hey, I really must object to the reasoning behind #4. If Japanese grammar were comparable to some programming languages in complexity then it must be very easy indeed. I used to learn how to program in one language and write nontrivial programs in many of them in a matter of weeks. I learned Java in less than a week. Scheme took a little longer, maybe a month, but at the end of it I was writing a simple expert system of sorts, and after that, Common Lisp, Haskel

    • 1) Anime is not a good place to learn Japanese. A useful anecdote for this would be to imagine a Japanese person learning English from episodes of Simpsons and Family Guy. While such thoughts are no doubt filled with hillarity, they do prove just how silly Anime-bin Japanese would seem to native speakers...

      Not to defend either side of this argument, but what negative effects would you expect from learning English from the Simpsons and Family Guy?

      Perhaps they'd use "d'Oh" a bit more than the average native E

      • Not to defend either side of this argument, but what negative effects would you expect from learning English from the Simpsons and Family Guy?

        Homer, for one, frequently mauls the English language horribly. Of course that's the joke - the guy's a buffoon - but if you're learning English from Homer you're not going to know that. You're going to end up with an embiggened vocabulary full of perfectly cromulent words.

    • 1) Anime is not a good place to learn Japanese. A useful anecdote for this would be to imagine a Japanese person learning English from episodes of Simpsons and Family Guy. While such thoughts are no doubt filled with hillarity, they do prove just how silly Anime-bin Japanese would seem to native speakers...

      I disagree. As far as English is concerned, at least... Amerikans and Britons learn English as their native language, but for the rest of the world it's a learned, second language. Here in Europe, mos

  • by linguae (763922) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:51PM (#15073217)

    From personal experience (been studying Nihongo for over six years; and I'm far from fluent):

    1. If you are lucky and you are in college, take Japanese courses. If you are even more interested, minor (or, even better, major) in Japanese. Much hurdles will be solved. (If you don't have these luxuries, then read on.)
    2. The first thing to learn is hiragana and katakana. Hiragana and katakana are the basic phonetic characters in Japanese. You must master these character sets in order to move on. (You can slide by with romanji, but the sooner you are confortable with hiragana and katakana, the better). But don't worry about it; there are only 100 or so characters to learn, and you will master these within a week or two, and there are numerous sites available.
    3. Next, start mastering basic vocabulary and grammar.
    4. Learn kanji. Kanji is the biggest hurdle; you need to learn 1,945 kanji characters in order to be equivalent to a Japanese high school graduate in kanji knowledge. This is a long road (even after six years, I only know about 150 or so, but there are people, with the right books, who can get all of them mastered within a year or two). Once you master kanji, the rest should fall into place.
    5. Don't forget your conversational skills. Podcasts are great for listening skills. Speaking is a harder skill. If you just so happen to live in a big city (especially in California; Bay Area, Sacramento, and Los Angeles area), there might be a Japanese-American community with native speakers. Make connections. If there isn't a Japanese community in your area, then try to find somebody.
    6. Don't quit. Eventually you'll become fluent, even if it takes a decade or so.
    7. Once you gain a good level of proficiency, take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). If you pass the highest level, then you have just as much skills in Japanese as a native Japanese speaker, according to the test.
    8. Travel to Japan, and see what Japan is all about.

    Yokoso! Welcome to the club. Japanese is a very interesting language. It is much more challenging than the Romance languages (it took me only a year to develop near-fluent Spanish skills, in comparison). However, you will gain access to another culture and will allow you to translate all of that anime. I got interested in Japanese through Pokemon, by the way.

  • I think the first step to learning Japanese is to get rid of the misconceptions. Japanese is really not as hard as people make it out to be, at least the verbal portion. Yes, the writing is difficult.

    Regardless of which, I belive the "best" way to learn japanese is figure out what you want to do with it. If you simple want to watch anime and understand, then listen to things like the pimsluers audio books, etc. Anything to help you get the very basics down, even "tourist" leasons work. Once you unders
  • When you speak Japanese, make sure your English subtitles mean something entirely different.
  • Resources I use (Score:2, Informative)

    by hackwrench (573697)
    JWPce []
    Kanji Gold []
    Pera Pera Penguin []
    Kanji Trainer Penpen []
  • "Shimatta-baka-ni!"


  • Easy (Score:5, Funny)

    by rlp (11898) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @12:02AM (#15073271)
    Get Dragonball Z on DVD. Start watching in Japanese with English subtitles. About half-way through the battle with Freeza (episode #5259) turn off the subtitles.
    • Re:Easy (Score:2, Funny)

      by sabit666 (457634)
      Been there. Done that. I now have constipation and constantly threatening my co-workers about dire consequences from not obeying my wishes.
    • Get Dragonball Z on DVD. Start watching in Japanese with English subtitles. About half-way through the battle with Freeza (episode #5259) turn off the subtitles.

      More seriously...

      I got hold of a Taiwanese boxset of DBZ. Got into the habit of pausing it just as the Japanese episode title came up, and before the subtitle translating it did. Then try to read out the title (thank Kami-sama for furigana!) and then hit play and see what the voiceover guy says.

      By the time the Cell Games came round, I was gett

    • Re:Easy (Score:2, Funny)

      All I learned from DBZ was the Japanese for "hhhrrnnnnggggghhhhhh!"

      (It's "hhhrrnnnnggggghhhhhh!").

    • by rlp (11898)
      I detect some skepticism. Trust me it really works. Very quickly you'll be impressing your salaryman colleagues with common Japanese phrases like "Kamaeha-maeha!" and "BigBangAttack!".
  • The Rosetta Stone software is brilliant - check it out here: []

    It's quite effective at forcing you to think in another language - after a short while of trying the french course, I found that I was thinking in that lauguage which I believe is the most natural way to learn. For example, parts of the courses work by giving you 4 pictures of things to choose from and you have to pick based on what word you hear - there's no handholding if you don't want it. The later courses comb
    • Just picked it up myself, and so far I have to agree with the parent.

      Its like learning through immersion. Sure there is a text book in english but you dont even have to look at it. Just start it up and go, there is no english in the app itself translating what was just said so it forces you to think in japanese so to speak. If you really get stuck you can always take a peek at the english listing to see what the hell they are talking about, but when you figure it out in your head its much more effective.. i
  • I learned Japanese as a teenager by living in Japan and immersing myself while cutting out my native language as much as possible. This is by far the best way to learn any language.

    If that isn't possible (immersion) I have a few specific suggestions

    Focus more on learning the kana, nouns, verbs, and adverbs.

    Focus less on honorific and polite forms. These will come in time and you need an understanding of Japanese culture and social contexts to make effective use of them anyways. Native Japanese do not exp
  • I know you said "without attending to classes", but I'd suggest you reconsider. I'm taking a class at the local community college and finding it well worth the time and money. (A class at a community or commuter college may be much better suited to the part-time student - the intro Japanese class at UMCP [] is six credit hours, which would be difficult to fit into my schedule, while the one I'm taking [] is only three.)

    I was motivated to finally take a class after my second trip to Japan last fall. After meetin

  • Slime Forest (Score:2, Informative)

    by Netochka (874088)
    I found this: [] to be a fun way to help me learn the characters (although probably writing them repeatedly is the best for drilling them into your brain)
  • I was going to submit an Ask Slashdot myself, but from a different perspective. I'm a professional software engineer. I'm not one of those simpletons with a ju-co degree writing Windows logon scripts because they heard there was good money. No, I get up in the morning and write RSX-11M device drivers just to wake up. I've learned maybe 30 or 40 languages, from various assemblies to Haskell. I became fluent in Spanish in four years. Languages are easy, and many /. readers are in the same predicament.

  • If you want to learn Japanese solely on account of games and/or anime, I can tell you now to not bother. It's not worth the effort, nor is it a particularly useful language. That said, if you're insane like me, your best bet is to find a college with a good Japanese program, study a few years, then go live in Japan for a while. No matter how much you study, you'll never reach any useful level of fluency if you don't go over there for a while. Learning Japanese inherently requires you to learn Japan as w
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been told by a fellow traveller that most Japanese taught to foreigneers is woman's Japanese. He found this out while living in Japan. He was talking to a local in a bar and the local told him that he speaks Japanese very well for a woman. My understanding is that the two sexes have either their own words or mannerisms/inflections in the language. Maybe this is something you don't have to worry about in the beginning or are only interested in a certain level of understanding.

    Can anyone verify this?
    • This is true. There are differences in the language depending on your sex. Words, expressions, grammars, pronunciationss, and mannerisms can all be different. Anything taught in a book or class will almost certainly be gender neutral. But you have to be careful of anything you pick up from listening/reading. To make it harder, for some unknown reason, it seems to be easier to understand females than males. So if you try to learn by talking to others, there is a tendency to speak like a girl because yo
  • Most people here will tell you "take a formal course", but the thing is that we're used to learning things that might seem complicated, but are based on a few simple concepts that one can learn from reading a couple of pages on the manual and then looking at the source. I think the right question would be "how can I learn japanese the same way I learned programming?", and there is no easy answer. You have to learn around 1000 'basic' words, and then their variations (like conjugations, etc).

    I know people

  • I came here (Tokyo) last year with a friend who had the same level of Japanese I did (3 years in College/Minor), though we both had separate agendas. His was to learn Japanese, mine was to find a job. While I got my job and studied a little bit in my spare time and am capable of getting by, he entered a school dedicated to teaching Japanese to foreigners. His Japanese now is what anyone would call pera pera (fluent). He can read Japanese better than a goodly number of Japanese and can write it better th
  • advice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by illuminatedwax (537131) <stdrange&alumni,uchicago,edu> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @12:42AM (#15073452) Journal
    You are about to learn a difficult language. The basics, and even the way of thinking can be quite different than English. I studied for about 3 years, took 2 years off and forgot a lot of it, then studied another year, and now I work a tech job in Japan.

    At the same time, don't let Japanese scare you. The best asset for learning a language is confidence. If you don't have any confidence, you won't be able to communicate or learn any language.

    1) If you can, take a course at your University. This is the best way to start learning. If you're lucky, you'll get a rigorous course. If you're unlucky, you'll get a very easy course that uses romaji. The key to learning the language is to push yourself. I learned at University of Chicago, which has one of the best (and most difficult) Japanese programs (I did terribly :). If you can't take a course, try and get "Communicating in Japanese" by Hiroyoshi Noto. Make sure you get the tapes, too. It's an excellent book, and will take more time but teach you more than, say, "Japanese for Busy People."

    2) Learn Kana right away. You will be sorry if reading kana doesn't come as second nature to you after a year. Make sure you begin at least studying Kanji, too. The sooner you start learning Kanji, the less scary it will be later. (check out the book "Kanji and Kana"!)

    3) Be prepared for a long road. You should ideally spend at least 2 years studying the language before you can even think about being "fluent." Then, if you want to be able to speak the language, you should spend a good amount of time in Japan. Maybe you'll learn faster (some people have a natural ability for picking up languages), but you might learn more slowly, too. If you have the time and resources, there are many schools in Japan where that you can study Japanese for anywhere from 4 weeks to a year.

    4) a) If you want to learn Japanese because of anime, don't worry about it. Getting interested in learning a language just because you enjoy something that country produces is no worse than getting interested because you want to make money, or something. Just make sure you realize there are other interesting things about Japan. Get involved in really learning about the whole culture. I find talking with Japanese people is much more revealing than reading about it somewhere.
    b) If you want to read manga or watch anime, first off, realize that ou need a very strong Japanese base to understand them in the first place. There's a lot of stuff you're just not going to get unless you really have a strong background in Japanese. It'll probably be a year or two (at least it was for me) before you'll actually be able to use the simplest anime or manga for practice. But if you do use it to study, don't worry about ruining your skills somehow. Major universities use Miyazaki films to teach courses. Just be aware that they do use some words or phrases that will get you laughed at in everyday conversation. For example, you may end up sounding either like a little girl or a stupid high school kid.

    So other than that, the most important advice is of course, Practice, Practice, Practice. If you do go it on your own, I wish you best of luck, and I warn you that you will need much self-motivation to get anywhere, because it will take a lot of time.
  • By looking for ways to learn a language without classes you are really setting yourself up for failure. I'm not saying it can't be done, and I'm sure a couple people throughout history have been somewhat successful, but it leaves out the best way to learn a language: Experiencing it.

    Now, I'm definitely not fluent in German, but I'm getting better and better by simply talking to Germans and going to class and conversing in the language as much as possible. Watching foreign tv shows and reading foreign webs
  • by rishistar (662278)
    I'm hoping for a DS based Japanese teaching program....
  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) * on Thursday April 06, 2006 @02:20AM (#15073829)
    I learned some Japanese 30 years ago while stationed in Japan in the Navy. I was mostly self taught originally and took some courses after I got out, and have been back for several month long vacations since. My biggest problem as a tourist is that it takes several days to get my accent back and remember the body language, and then somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd week, I remember them too well, and the locals assume I know more than I do about social norms in general.

    There's a book which I unfortunately do not have with me now, Tuttle Press I think, possibly called Basic Japanese Grammar. Looking around the Amazon web site, I found a book, ISBN 0804819408, which looks close, but I won't swear it to be what I have at home. If you respond to this and leave a request, I can look it up this weekend and post it. It is not perfect, but it is an excellent cheat sheet. It is almost like a tech sheet for hardware, a basic summary of grammar rules with simple explanations of how to use them, when, and why.

    OK, the good. Japanese grammer is incredibly regular, almost mathematical. I believe there are only three irregular verbs in the entire language, and then only in how they form their root for further conjugation. The verb you find in the dictionary is the familiar present tense. There is no distinction between singular or plural, first second or third person. Purists will cringe, but the dictionary form is perfectly acceptable for starters. Natives will be so surprised that you are even making an attempt at their language that the lack of politeness will not matter a whit.

    I believe that anyone wanting to get along as a tourist can learn real Japanese, not pidgin, in a week of nightly study with this book. You will have crap pronunciation and almost no vocabulary, but you will be able to speak complete sentences, slowly.

    I recommend this as the initial course, a week, a month, not to master it, but to see if you can grok it. The grammer may be very regular, but it is different, and you will have to think differently to make any headway. If you persist in thinking in your native language patterns, you will make no headway and had best give it up. This book will give you an excellent background in seeing if you can rewarp your mindset. You will not learn any useful reading or writing. Forget those for now. The purpose here is to introduce you to the thought patterns behind Japanese. Nothing else matters at first. If you can't get your brain into the Japanese mode, there is no point going any further.

    If you want to continue, take college courses, community college courses, private school courses, or whatever you can. Here you will learn reading and writing, complete grammar including politeness levels, etc.

    Reading and writing is both easy and hard. There is a pattern to the kanji, and there are only (I think) 212 basic kanji. All other kanji are built from those, and dictionaries are organized around them also. This will help considerably in memorizing them and in possibly (possibly!) understanding the meaning of kanji you have never seen before. Pronouncing kanji is another matter. There is almost no clue in the characters themselves as to their pronunciation. Here you rely on dictionaries and rote memorization.

    I got to the point of around 500 kanji before I stopped trying to learn more. I was only going to class twice a week, it took me an hour to read a single page in a book (including waga hai wa neko de aru for you who snicker :-), and I got so used to my dictionary that I could open it to within 5 or ten pages of the kanji in question. But I was forgetting kanji as fast as I was learning them, and evetually gave it up. 500 kanji is probably around 4th or 5th grade level. Not very impressive.

    On the other hand, once you get into the pattern of kanji, you can draw them in your hand for natives, and you can make a lot more sense of maps and bus signs. Traveling is a lot easier when you can memorize kanji long enough to find
  • Learning Japanese (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Neo-Rio-101 (700494)
    DISCLAIMER: Sweeping generalizations of Japanese people and culture ahead based off biased personal and anecdotal evidence!

    Seriously guys, DON'T DO IT!

    I spent a good deal of my life living in Japan, learning Japanese, teaching English, working in a Japanese IT company, speaking Japanese all day, using chopsticks, etc... and at the end of doing all that I am now what you guys hope to become and I am not proud of myself.

    First of all, Japanese is freaking hard. I have learned easier languages that have taken l
    • by Anonymous Coward
      pretty biased piece of crap.

      speaking to japanese is much like speaking to english people. they're polite. therefore they avoid touchy subjects. but once you've built trust, they'll speak about things like anyone else.

      learning japanese is anything BUT useless, for several reasons:
      a) you learn how to communicate with people who communicate differently from what you're used to. you'll learn a lot about people that way. people skills are useless... since when?
      b) you learn a language that works differently from
  • Speaking as an ESL here, had to learn both english and japanese as non-native tonges (native tonge is a romance language):

    Japanese is not intrisically hard. The problem is - it is very difficult to come across situations where japanese is required to do something - or at least very useful.

    First, lear katakana and hiragana by yourself (just copy it from somewhere on the internet) spend a week or two memorizing it, and using it to write all sort of stupid stuff: your name, your your favorite anime char's name
  • Learning Japanese (Score:2, Informative)

    by Shimatta1 (257977)
    Hello, I'm an otaku (anime and manga addict) turned Japanese language student. I'm an older student returning to school to study Japanese.

    Before we begin, I'd like to address the "hard language" meme. This depends on your definition of a "hard language", so YMMV. Unlike German, French, or other western languages that English is related to, you won't get any "freebies" in Japanese. In German, "house" is haus, "mouse" is maus, "brown" is braun, etc. There's a lot of words that are either near-identica
  • I'm in my third quarter of Japanese, and although I'm probably repeating stuff already said, here's my advice: Try. I've been told it was the hardest language in the world. I failed misiribly in French in middle school, and thought it would be maddness to try and learn Japanese. How am I doing it? Great. But is it hard? Yes, unless your great with languages, it will take hours a week (especially when you learn new vocab). But this is ideally no different then the amount of time you'll spend on anoth
  • I'm not motivated enough to do it on my own, so I definitely needed a class to get me

    In my case, London has an excellent school called Alpha Language Institute []. Alpha is an amazingly social school. I'd take 4 hours a week and a good mix of students and teachers would head out to the pub after the lessons. This gave us even more chance to talk about culture and speak in mixed Japanese/English. They'd also organize parties every few months for even more Japanese immersion. After I left London, I couldn't
  • Except not for anime. I just enjoy the language. Ok... maybe I'd like to play imported video games and know what's going on. :)

    First, learn hiragana and katakana. You have to do this. Without these you are basically illerate, no matter how well your speaking or kanji-reading skills are. Depending on romajii will set you back hard. I didn't bother really learning these for a while. What a waste of time before that. I'm more of a visual learner, so being able to see the language in it's native form is huge.

  • Use this []
  • being classified as very difficult by most standards

    I speak some japanese. I've never really been fluent, but I can easily get around tokyo, talk to people, conduct simple business transactions, ask for and undestand directions, etc. From a speaking standpoint, japanese is not really that difficult. For example, there's only one verb conjugation rule and almost all the verbs follow it. Japanese only has a few irregular verbs. Compare that to english which has three conjugation rules and 273 irregular
  • After studying it for 4 years (and counting), I've learned the following are lies people tell about the language. Some people here had some good advice, including this post []

    Japanese is Hard. No, it isn't. It's just different from your everyday life. People learn to speak and listen to the language without writing it and without classes in Japan. Most famous examples are the Iranians in the Tokyo area who teach each other Japanese and they get quite good.

    Never use anime or manga. The better advic

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein