Benefits of Direct Translation Between Japanese and English

Posted on September 23, 2006 | evankirby

It’s very hard to understand Japanese in the beginning because the structure of sentences is so completely different from English. So, unlike learning French, Spanish, or other languages with quite similar grammar to English, you can’t just plug foreign words into a sentence pattern you’re already accustomed to. Instead, you have to remember both new words AND new word order at the same time, which can be too much for some people.

That’s why we think there is some benefit to beginners of direct word-for-word translation of Japanese sentences into English, that is, translating the words of a sentence into equivalent English, but leaving them in exactly the same place. A simple example, just to make it clear what we mean:
I’s mother’s name (topic) Patricia is.

Doing this frees your brain from having to think about all the new vocabulary, and lets you focus just on the sentence structure. Thus you can internalize the format of Japanese sentences, and get used to putting the verb at the end, for example, by getting used to thinking like that in English first.

And it can actually be kind of fun to try to translate Japanese sentences into Japanese-structured English sentences! Thinking in English but with a new grammatical paradigm is like a brain twister.
Of course, we don’t recommend doing it for ever, as at some point you’ll obviously want to start combining Japanese grammar and Japanese words to make real Japanese sentences. However, it’s a good technique in the beginning of your study, to smooth you into the process of thinking in a new layout.

Memorizing Japanese vocabulary

Posted on September 14, 2006 | evankirby

The latest version of the 日本国語大辞典 (Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, Shogakukan's Japanese Dictionary, and the largest of all the Japanese-Japanese dictionaries) has over 500,000 words listed. How are students of Japanese supposed to memorize them all? The easy answer is, you can’t. The better answer is, you don’t have to, as a working vocabulary in Japanese is far far smaller than this. However, it’s still a daily struggle for students to memorize vocabulary. Here are a few tips to help you in this struggle:

1. Always always carry a notebook/input device with you.
Make sure that you keep a list of the vocabulary you have (ostensibly) learned on hand, so that when you can’t quite remember that word, you have somewhere to easily refer to. The simplest method is just to write new words in a small (tiny is great!) notebook. This has the added benefit of practicing writing at the same time.

2. Buy a Palm or Pocket PC device, and Supermemo.
A used PDA can be picked up for next to nothing, and Supermemo is less than $20, but this combination can be the best memorization tool you will ever buy. Supermemo is simple flashcard memorization software. Input the words you want to memorize, and Supermemo will test you on them tomorrow. If you get a word right, it’ll test you in a few days again, with the interval increasing each time. If you get it wrong, it’ll test you again tomorrow. You can use it to study vocabulary in downtime on the train, on the bus, walking to school – anytime you have a few minutes to spare. Using this software for 15 minutes a day, one of our students was able to memorize 10 new words each day for a year, or a grand total of about 3,650 new words! This would have been an almost unthinkable struggle without Supermemo.

3. Buy a Palm and install Dokusha.
This incredible entirely free software is a big install (something like 8MB with full dictionaries), but when used in conjunction with the (also freeware) Dokusha Converter, allows you to copy any Japanese text from your PC to your Palm. When opened in Dokusha, any word or kanji in the file can be clicked on for English meaning, and registered as a flashcard for later memorization. You can also search for kanji by constituent parts, which really helps when trying to read printed Japanese, for example on menus, etc. And it acts as a simple Japanese-English dictionary – when you hear a new word, you can easily search for the meaning in Dokusha, then flag that word for later memorization.
Please note that Dokusha is not being developed any more. Luckily, it's perfect as is, so that shouldn't be a problem!

Speaking Japanese is easy!

Posted on September 04, 2006 | evankirby

We at GenkiJACS think Japanese is an easy language to learn to speak. (Reading and writing are a different matter, though!) Here are the reasons why. (I’ts long! I’d bring coffee, if you have some.)

1. Simple sounds
2. Standard rhythm
3. Few tones
4. Phonetic alphabet
5. Standard word roots
6. Little pronunciation difference between dialects
7. Many homophones
8. No plurals, and countable/uncountable nouns
9. No articles
10. Only two irregular verbs!
11. One-word sentences
12. Japanese people are happy to help!

Details for each topic are after the jump...