Thursday, April 06, 2006

Advice about learning Japanese

Today's post is more for the beginners who may (or may not) be reading my blog.

I always advise people who ask me to learn Hiragana before anything else and study Japanese in no less than Hiragana (meaning no kanji if you aren't ready for it).

A really good example was provided for me earlier today by my good friend who is studying Japanese.

My friend tells me that he is having a hard time reading "と" and "た" so I asked him why? The response was that he only studies using romaji in his Japanese class.

This is horrible. I'll give you a perfect example why.

Romaji trips us up. It isn't their way of writing Japanese in English, it's our way of making Japanese easier for us. You could not learn Chinese in a romanized alphabet because they don't have the luxury of a standard character set like hiragana. Chinese is completely rendered in kanji - if you don't know it, you could be the smartest guy in the world and not have a clue what is going on in China.

His problem was the words "yatto" and "yatta." Now I admit, in romaji, they look decidely similar, and I can understand how a person unfamiliar with Japanese could find themselves confused as to which words means what.

However - in hiragana, the written characters you should be using, these words look different enough to make them easily distinguishable when reading: やっと やった。

The end kana characters look nothing alike! Now it isn't a small matter of the slight difference between the letters 'o' and 'a,' it's a larger difference between two very distinct kana.

So always study Japanese in Hiragana or better (kanji is best!).

For your information, やっと means "at last/finally" and "やった" typically means "hooray!" or some such synonym.