Partitioning Japanese

(is that even the term for what we’re doing with it?)

I think one of the greater challenges with learning Japanese is having to learn everything separately. I mean, it’s a bit silly really. It’s the kind of language where you can be proficient from one point of view(saaaay, Kanji meanings) and still not know much. You have to take everything separately and keep doing this until you get to the point where it all adds up. It can be a challenge.

I’m pretty good at recognizing Kanji. I’m also decent with vocabulary, though I have a hard time mingling the two(some words I’ll only recognize if I see their Kanji. This makes the JLPT a bit weird because they use the words in hiragana and I won’t recognize them).

My problem is with grammar. It’s cause I’m lazy. I mean, you don’t really NEED grammar that much in other languages unless you’re aiming for native-like fluency, and even then you end up having to dumb down your grammar for it. (This happens a lot with English. Also, I’m fairly sure the Germans would stop talking to one another if they had to follow all the grammar rules all the time. Conversations would take FOREVER). I can have a conversation in Spanish without knowing any grammar since people will understand me anyway. My native tongue is so bad with grammar that we’re accepting new versions of verb conjugations because no one uses the grammatically correct  ones. People forgive you when you mess up a bit.This does not bode well with a language where changing a syllable will change the entire meaning of a sentence.

Also, practicing and learning vocab is just so much more fun than learning grammar, you know?

Formality levels are also kind of another completely diffferent thing. Sure, for the most part it’s just an extra rule or two, but getting the context and learning the particularities can take a while. Coming from a language where formality level is mostly irrelevant does not help. (we do have polite pronouns and stuff…but people will mostly feel offended if you use them. Unless they’re old. So you just use them when talking to your elders. Easy enough. I think it’s like that with most places around here).

Writing? Another completely different thing. Understanding casual writing? That takes time. A passion or genuine interest for shoudai? Hello, yet another time-consuming aspect.

Talking with the right intonation and pronunciation? Practice practice practice(ok, it’s like that with every language). Listening? More practice. (again, like that with every language for the most part…but with most other languages you can at least tell when a word ends and another begins.). Reading? OH GOD PRACTICE.

Learning to understand the subtleties? OK, you don’t need special practice for that since it comes naturally in time. But you still need to pay attention to it, since it won’t just magically come to you.

And, more importantly, getting used to having it around. This might be just me. If I see a page in a language I don’t know well(saaay, German), I’ll be pretty confused but for the most part ok. When I had my first Japanese exam, I got a headache just from looking at the papers. I think my brain goes on extra-processing mode with this language. But like I said, it might be just me.


2 thoughts on “Partitioning Japanese

  1. I totally agree with you about having to learn things in a compartmentalized way!

    I have issues with it, actually. There are lots of times that I know a word when it’s spoken, but when I read it I can’t puzzle it out. Or, other times when I know what a kanji means but I can’t read it. Then, I can read a word and know what it means, but I don’t understand it if it’s spoken to me. It’s more than a little frustrating, actually.

    I think it comes down to reading, writing, listening, speaking, as stereotypical as they may sound. I find that in Japanese I’m good at writing and speaking (the creative aspects) whereas in French, I’m much better at writing and reading (one assimilation, one creative). I think they there are partitions in all languages, but it seems even more stark when looking at Japanese.

    • Heh, I have the exact opposite problem :). I mean, I might recognize the spoken word…but I’ll just start panicking and asking myself stuff like “sure i know it but is it the same one that I know or just a homophone”. Same with hiragana-only words. There’s just something about having the Kanjis there that reassures me =).

      It does come down to those basic compartments, but since Japanese has extra nuances it can get overwhelming(For example, French has a few accents and dreadful spelling, whereas Japanese has the syllabates, the Kanji and the spelling. )

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