Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Learning Japanese: The Japanese Writing System

I was advised by a teacher at the International Exchange Lounge (another story but the first Japanese lady I've met who I was actually scared of) to learn Katakana and Hiragana (two of the four types of Japanese scripts) To be honest, back in England I avoided even looking at the writing system and thought it was reserved for the highly intellectual (not me) Well, I can honestly say, with Kanji as the exception, it's not THAT hard! and this is someone who got a D in French..(more tips for learning below)

So to the basics, Japanese uses four types of scripts: hiragana, katakana, kanji and romanji.
Hiragana- expresses all the sounds of Japanese. Looks squiggly compared to the others. hirigana in hiragana ; ) ひらがな
Katakana- used for writing foreign/imported words such as "coffee", less squiggly and straighter edges, here you go カタカナ
Kanji- ancient Chinese origin characters that represent ideas & sounds. I'm still avoiding this one at the moment. Looks like this 漢字
Romaji- used for the thickos like me who can't read hiragana & katakana properly yet. So instead of putting コーヒ for coffee the language books will put kōhī.
There's a huge bookshop at ground level of the Rifare building in Kanazawa (about a 5 min walk from the train station) that stocks hundreds of "teach yourself Kanji/Hiragana/Katakana" books, the first romaji books I've seen since I've been here, PHEW.
So here are my recommendations so far:

1) For learning basic Japanese (and if you're English) the BBC Active "Talk Japanese" It will get
you through your intros, ordering food (ok only a cheese sandwich which isn't that helpful in Japan), finding out about trains & reserving hotels (I won't be using them anymore being the lowly ALT that I am). it also comes with an audio CD which REALLY helps with the pronounciation. Honestly if you don't pronounce a word the exact way they will NOT understand you!

2) For learning Katakana and Hiragana I would recommend the "Japanese Hiragana/Katakana for Beginners' books by Timothy Stout. OK a warning, they're not huge textbooks with grammatical explanations if that's what you're looking for however I think they are a refreshing and great way of getting your head around the characters. Well the books worked for me. Why?

Because they have these really childish "cheat" flashcards in the back of each book that turn each Japanese character into some kind of picture.

Check these out and you'll see what I mean. This was is "fu" and the picture is of Mount Fuji and it kind of looks like a mountain! The next one is "tsu" and he's used a tsunami. I mean how can you forget that!
Ok for us Brits some of these American choreographed flashcards are a bit difficult to get your head around. One is "hockey stick" Now they would say "ha-kee" which is great if you're describing the Japanese sound "ha" but we would say "ho". Anyway its nothing too drastic and is still the best way I think you can learn Hiragana and Katakana easily.
I've just ordered the next BBC audio/book programme so I'll keep you posted on that one.
I just need to learn some vocab now....

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