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.

5 comments:

Tae Kim said...

There's also the problem of whether "ana" is あんあ or あな, etc, etc.

Not to mention all the different ways to write long vowels sounds, つ、しゃ、etc, etc. Also づ vs ず, ぢ vs じ and the fact that ふ is pronounced "fu" and not "hu"

Really, the trouble is not worth it.

Anonymous said...

You can't reproduce Chinese with using English letters? Why not? I actually study Chinese, and I guarantee that nobody who learns the thousands of kanji needed before studying Chinese. (Japanese kanji are not always the same, not are they sufficient. The meaning may be similar, but that is all. You cannot see kanji when someone is speaking to you anyway, so you need not know Kanji before learning Chinese.) Kanji does not represent a phonetic system as you know.

I do agree that hiragana should be learned from the beginning to accurately learn pronunciation if nothing else.
However, do you really believe that yatta and yatto look any more similar in romaji than やった and やっと do in hiragana? Not if you know the difference between a and o. 

H Y A K U N I N C H O said...

For speakers of British types of English learning Japanese, the best argument for learning with only hiragana is the following word : 文法 or ぶんぽう. Try putting that into Romaji. The first kanji is Bum, the second is poo. Bum Poo!. Yukk!

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