When English Speakers Learn Japanese:
There is a widely held view that of the wide variety of languages available for the English speaker to learn, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese are the most difficult ones to learn. And in this category, in a study by the Foreign Service Institute of the USA, there was a special mention to the most difficult of the lot- Japanese. This cemented the reputation that Japanese is hard to learn. The dimensions evaluated by this institute, which trains future diplomats for the USA, were reading and speaking skills and most American students seemed to require more than 88 weeks of intense learning ( i.e. around 48 hours of learning Japanese a week) to speak and read Japanese with acceptable fluency levels.
However, with more a million students giving the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) every year, there definitely no reason to get intimidated. It is definitely possible to learn Japanese with an approach that is fun and easy. So, what is the best way to learn Japanese?
In this series of articles we look at some tricky points in Japanese and talk on how you learn the Japanese Language as a source of great enjoyment.
How to Learn Japanese The Easy Way: A Closer Look At Learning Kanji
The moment you ask any foreign language learner (other than the Chinese speaker) what makes learning Japanese a little difficult, the answer is almost always Kanji.
For those who are wondering what Kanji are, Kanji are the Chinese ideograms that Japanese uses. Combinations of these ideograms which are works of art in themselves represent almost everything in Japanese- from Japanese names to complex philosophical ideas. As per the official count Japanese uses 2136 Kanji ideograms that are combined to form the multitude of words and names. Most Japanese learn these Kanjis by the 9th year of school but foreign learners how get intimidated by the Kanjis and cite it as a key reason to abandon their efforts to learn Japanese. Many are those who start learning Japanese as a hobby or out of deep interest and dive headlong into the ocean of Kanji and lose their way in between.
Perhaps the best way to learn Kanji is to look at it as relaxing art. While it is essential to remember at least all the common Kanji to read fluently in Japanese, you cannot just look at it as cramming the CPU of your brain with a load of Kanji. Neither is this an interesting prospect nor a long term solution. In fact, if this is the “how to learn Japanese” method used by a student, it normally leads to assured failures.
In our Japanese language classes we use some fun and simple ways to get the student interested and to make sure they learn Japanese online without any difficulty. In fact the best way to learn Japanese kanji is using the three step method described below!
Three Simple Steps To Learning Japanese Kanji
Step 1: Draw it With A Finger
A method used by most elementary schools in Japan and in our Japanese learning classes, a great way to start learning to write Japanese kanji is to write them in the order of strokes using only the index finger without the pencil. You can trace the janji of the model with your finger or write it on your desk with your finger.Also, points can be written while counting the number of strokes. Change the intonation when you stretch or write or splash. If you sing it with your mouth, information flow is strengthened by what you hear through your ears, and it will be easier to remember the kanji. Continue to write with your finger over and over until you learn the kanji.
Step 2: Trace the Kanji
Take a piece of paper and draw the Kanji that you want to learn with thin pencil strokes. Later, draw over the lines with a thicker pen or a pencil. Keep repeating this till you are confident enough to draw the Kanji on your own. Take your time doing this. A great way to do this method is to learn Japanese Kanji as a way of meditative relaxation. Empty your thoughts as you trace the pencil and let the pen glide over the lines when you are learning the Kanji. Most students in our Japanese language classes find this to be as relaxing as a session of origami and keep insisting that we teach them more such kanji!
Step 3: Draw the Kanji Large
When you are confident of having learnt the kanji take a large piece of paper and draw the kanji to its full size. Some students use a fountain pen or a brush to do this in order to imprint the writing of the kanji in their spirit. This is a great meditative, artful way to enjoy and learn Japanese writing without being intimidated by the Kanji.
Fun Methods To Learn Words and Kanji
Many English speakers struggle to associate Kanji with words, as they often learn the Kanji as a representation for one single object or idea and then come across it in combination with other Kanji to form a word whose meaning eludes them. The best way to learn Japanese words, especially kanji with multiple radicals or words formed through combination of kanji is to either use visual or auditory imprinting. Here are two great methods for Japanese learning that were developed by a couple of publishing houses.
The Contour Method:
One method to get over any problem with kanji, is not to learn a kanji along with its meaning in English. Instead of learning its meaning, one can imprint the idea of the kanji in one’s mind visually, through pictorial representations. For example, instead of learning that 馬 is the kanji for horse, which unnecessarily adds a layer of English to the Japanese learning, you can learn it from day 1 through a pictorial representation. In fact, this is a method used to learn Japanese by school children across Japan.
The Nonsense Poem Method:
Another method that we use in Japanese learning is to learn Kanji with multiple radicals by separating each radical and giving them a story. For example in the 休 kanji the student learns that this can stand for a rest or a holiday by identifying the first radical as a person and the second as a tree and that the entire Kanji is represented by a man sleeping under a tree.
With these learning methods in our Japanese Language classes, Kanji is no longer a subject of terror and fear but a fun and relaxing component of Japanese learning.