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10,000 Sentences: More on What Sentences to Learn

April 17, 2007
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@Update: 10,000 Sentences is Dead. Let the MCD Revolution Begin! | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time is.gd/AWLzAv

OK, so part of the fun of learning Japanese using this method is that the whole Japanese world becomes your textbook, if you will. Anything and everything that are in Japanese are fair game for you to learn.

But, freedom can suck. At least when someone was telling you what to do, you knew where to start. Not only that, but there is of course the problem that you may not know a lot of Japanese. And here this Khatzumoto guy is telling you to ignore grammar.

So, where do you begin? Well, I’m glad you asked. There are things (in order) you will need to learn in your early Japanese sentences.

1. Learn Demonstrative Pronouns
These are words like “this”, “that”, “here” and “there”. These words will get you MAJOR mileage.

2. Learn Interrogative Pronouns
These are words like “who”, “what” and “where”. Obviously, you will need to ask a lot of questions, and you will need to be able to understand a lot of questions. So, again, these words are going to give you serious mileage.

3. Learn Indefinite Pronouns
These are words like “somewhere”, “someone”, “something” and “many”. These words are your get-out-of-jail free card, in a sense, since you can use them when you don’t know the actual words for things. Also, these words get a lot of use in definitions, and as you move towards Japanese-only study (using Japanese-Japanese dictionaries, etc.), they will provide a scaffolding of sorts.

Notice how there’s nothing here about personal pronouns (“I”, “you”, “them”). They don’t get used a lot in Japanese, and English speakers may have a tendency to overuse them (since they are used so much English); to the extent that they won’t get you that far, and insofar as you need to wean yoursef off them, it’s OK to leave them until later.

4. Learn the Japanese Equivalents of Prepositions (Postpositions)
What I mean here is words like “in”, “on”, “to” and “from”

5. Learn the Japanese Equivalents of Conjunctions
These are words like “and”, “with” and “but”.

The prepositions and conjunctions of Japanese are collectively known and “particles”. The best way to think of particles is as words with function rather than as words with meaning; they are “grammar words”. Regardless of how you think of them, the important thing is to learn them. They are the connective tissue of Japanese. Without particles, you won’t know what the heck is going on. With particles, you will know exactly what the heck is going on—even if you don’t know the meanings of the words, you will what the words in a sentence are doing (what function they are carrying out) and how they relate to one another, and this is the essence of comprehension.

6. Learn Native Japanese Words (NJWs) especially Action Verbs
The “technical”/formal/scientific vocabulary of English is based on Latin and Greek. The alphabet English uses is entirely based on the Roman alphabet is entirely based on the Greek alphabet. Similarly, both the writing system and technical/formal/scientific vocabulary of Japanese are based on Chinese. So, Chinese is to Japanese as Latin and Greek are to English.

In English, the raw, gritty, everyday words like “raw” and “gritty” are Germanic; I call them “simple Germanic words”, or SGWs; I am very original with names. The equivalent words in Japanese are native Japanese words, or NJWs.

I cannot overstate the importance oflearning NJWs, particularly the simple action verbs — you know, the equivalents of English words like “pinch”, “get up” and “push”.

Often, there is a temptation (or at least a tendency) among adults to go for the abstract, “grown-up” Chinese-derived kanji-combination words; especially since these Chinese-derived words are generally shorter than native-Japanese words (Compare 容易[よう・い] versus 易しい[やさ・しい]). This tendency is even stronger if you, like me, you start out reading all kinds of geeky things like Wikipedia, medical/military-related texts, computer networking textbooks and, of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

And therein lies the problem, because in spoken language, it’s just awkward, unnatural, sick and wrong to say things like “man, I have this huge laceration on my arm and its hemorrhaging like crazy”. Why? Well, first of all, you might not be understood, since a lot of kanji-combination words are homophones (they all sound the same)—certainly, children or less geeky people might have trouble understanding you, and the funny thing is, they may or may not blame themselves for not having specialist vocabulary. Secondly, even if you are understood, you’ll sound like a complete tool and it will be hard to keep a straight face around you, because, like, who says “laceration???”.

Instead, you want to say something more natural, like “I cut my arm and it’s bleeding”. So, avoid sentences like: “Indeed, Oprah’s intermammary sulcus is very prominent at this time”, and stick to: “Dude, Oprah’s showing mad cleavage today”.

Finally, NJWs are very powerful in they are the best tool for explaining (1) new concepts and (2) words you’ve forgotten or that you do not know yet; if you think of the most lucid explanations (of, say, concepts in maths or physics) that you’ve ever heard, the reason they were so good, the reason they were so lucid, is because they used plain, mostly Germanic words. If you don’t believe me now, you will know I speak the truth when you go to a store and try to explain what “contact paper” is: “”planar substrate sheets coated with an adhesive substance and utilized in…”…Hmm, I don’t think so.

Use the Chinese-based words in writing, but speak using simple, gritty native Japanese words; it’s more normal, natural and understandable.

7. Learn to use the conditional mood from early on
Past and future get done a lot, but somehow the conditional (“(if X then) I would…”) gets left behind. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: there is nothing so hard that repetition will not make easy, and there is nothing so easy that lack of repetition will not make seem hard. The conditional/hypothetical forms of verbs and adjectives in Japanese are really easy and really common. One of the best treatments of the conditional can be found in a full-length manga that’s part of Giles Murray’s book 13 Secrets to Fluent Japanese. This just one of the many killer features of this book, each of which alone justify buying, borrowing or stealing it.

That’s about it for now. Remember, as always, HAVE FUN!

You've got to get your priorities straight, dawg. Donation to AJATT now...Sex-change surgery later.

The Emotional Sentence Pack
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4 Responses to 10,000 Sentences: More on What Sentences to Learn

  1. [...] Posted by Lingo on April 20th, 2007 I like this bit from AJATT: I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: there is nothing so hard that repetition will not make easy, and there is nothing so easy that lack of repetition will not make seem hard. [...]

  2. Learning Language With Comics | babelhut.com on December 11, 2007 at 20:15

    [...] school children, it had hundreds of words I didn’t know. And they were good natural kun-yomi native Japanese words (NJW) [...]

  3. [...] can understand how a sentence is put together, even if you don’t know each word, you’ve essentially comprehended what’s being said.  It’s easy to learn a new piece of vocabulary because you know what function it has.  This [...]

  4. [...] 10,000 Sentences Part 3.5: More On What Sentences to Learn [...]

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