the japanese project continues–reading!

After starting on a lark one morning after a dream about shopping in Tokyo, nine months later I’m still happily learning Japanese.

A quick review: learned kana (the two phonetic Japanese syllabaries) that first week with ipod apps (Dr. Moku!) with the kids.  Did Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji to learn the shapes and a basic meaning of 2000 kanji in 3 months.  Next I drifted around for another three months trying to figure out what to do next, but finally landed on Wanikani, and Textfugu.  Which brings us up to date.

So, yesterday, haltingly, but with maybe 85% understanding, I read this:

This is a first grade sort of story about goldfish, nothing fancy, just Dick and Jane sort of stuff.  No big deal,  miles from reading, say, novels or, my goal, manga written for adults.

But still!  I felt pretty chuffed when I got through!  I mean, when I look at that block of stuff, I actually see words, not all of them, but a lot.  It isn’t just squiggles anymore.

Maybe Japanese is a scalable mountain, after all? At least, I think I might have reached the  first base camp, the point where some absurdly slow and awkward, yes, but still, some actual reading is possible.

Go me!

What I’m doing in my studies at this point:

WaniKani, crab-alligator, Rules!

I’m still working through Wanikani, a Japanese vocabulary SRS that covers nearly the 2000 basic kanji—including the readings (pronunciations), which I didn’t get with Heisig, plus 5000 actual words.  I’m on level 9 (of 50).  I usually do a round of reviews over breakfast and another in the evening.  I really, really like it.  Doing Heisig first definitely makes it easier, but if I had to do it over again, I probably would skip Heisig and just jump into Wanikani.  The mnemonics, these stupid little stories linking the shape of the kanji/vocab to its meaning and its sound, easily get into my brain, making learning very effortless.  And the SRS seems to be tuned properly, giving me older reviews just before I’m about to forget them again.  Plus the interface is smooth and pretty, a plus.  Two thumbs up!

Wanikani is my main, daily thing, but I also listen to Japanese while walking my puppy, Henry.  Either free-form native-speaker stuff, like the podcast Marimo.  Or I’ll listen to material I have the text for, such as the audio to Breaking Into Japanese Literature, with stories by Natsume Souseki and others, grand auteurs of Japanese literature.  Get Japanese into my ears, that’s the goal with this.

Marimo is relaxing, gals chatting, a bit of music, and I understand a word here or there.  Souseki is more dynamic, and I sit down sometimes and go through the text, picking up more words when I do.  I take this pretty easily, as much as is fun–it’s above my level really, but listening is good and reading a page or so is a struggle but an interesting challenge.  I imagine I’ll do more with this later, when I have more vocabulary.

Another good one for listening is Shadowing–Let’s Speak Japanese, a book/audio combo.  Shadowing is used to train people in simultaneous translation.  It’s repeating what you hear a millisecond after you hear it, as it’s still being spoken, kind of like singing along with a song if you don’t quite remember the words and so you’re listening a few syllables ahead to prompt you.

The Shadowing book is a series of short conversations, starting with the very simple and working up in complexity.  I’ll put one page’s worth of audio on repeat and take Henry out for a walk, listening to that group of interactions over and over, maybe a hundred times, almost like background noise.  Inevitably I begin to know them by heart.  After a couple of walks I can say most of them along with the voice actors.  Plus, after each walk I’ll read through that page again in the book for the text and the translations, matching up what I’ve been listening to to what I see/understand.  It’s a pretty effortless way to pick up conversational chunks of Japanese.  Since I’m mostly focused on learning to read Japanese, this is a nice listening/speaking portion to balance the visual learning of the rest of what I’m doing.

For grammar I have Tae Kim’s wonderful Guide to Japanese Grammar as an app on my ipod and I dip into that when I’m out and about waiting for something.  Ready to learn a grammar point at a moment’s notice!

And then there is my stack of Japanese grammar books, picked up used here and there, for short reading sessions in the bathroom, haha.

For additional reading practice at the sentence level I do a few sentences at Read the Kanji whenever I sit down to the computer.  Just five or ten, a few minutes worth.  Now that I know some vocab, this site is starting to be valuable for me. I love the smooth, well designed interface.  Reading sentences is important, I think, even if I don’t understand the whole thing.  Words out of context will only get you so far.  Vocab learned through context is much, much better.  I do wish Read the Kanji had audio, though.

Anyway, as you can see, I kind of go by the idea that quantity of short contacts with Japanese over the day trumps single long sessions a few times a week, both in working with my short attention span but also, and more importantly, in keeping it fun and easy.

I’m basically cultivating Japanese as a little side hobby, a few minutes here and there throughout the day.  Some people do crossword puzzles or sudoku, I learn Japanese.  What can I say?  It’s relaxing, interesting, and gives my brain something to chew on that has nothing to do with anything I tend to worry about, so it’s restful.

In three months I’ll have been at it for one year.  I’ll do another check in then and see where I’m at.  My idea is that I might be able to read one of my favorite manga series by then, Yotsuba, a delightful and funny kid manga that Sophie, Luc and I adore.  It’s a goal, but I one I hold loosely, no pressure.

By the way, if you haven’t read Yotsuba, I highly recommend—it’s available in English, no Japanese necessary!  Sweet, funny stories about a little girl and her dad.  Great art, laugh out loud, Yotsuba is one of the best selling manga in the world and for good reason.  It’s terrific.

Will I be able to read Yotsuba in Japanese by my 43 birthday?  Tune in in February to find out….

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