Dude. Your site is too long. Do you have some kind of summary I can read?
As a matter of fact I do. It’s called the Quick Reference Guide, and you can get it here.
Hey, I don’t know the kanji yet, but I have this question about sentences…
STOP. Learn the kanji first. Kanji first. KANJI FIRST. I’m not even talking to you any more until you learn the kanji. Go…No, go. Go, and come back when you know them. Listen to and read (look at) as much Japanese as you want, but don’t do sentences until yer dun with ye kanjees.
How do I make it so I can type/display Japanese on my computer?
If you’re using Windows, you’ll need a Japanese IME.
If you’re using a Mac…reconsider your priorities in life? Just kidding. Look at this.
If you’re using Linux, you’ve experienced enough cruelty by now to know that you’re just going to have to RTFM. Maybe those man pages can help….BWAhahaha….No…but seriously, you’re on your own. But you knew that already din’cha, slugger?
How Did You Learn Kanji? Did you use RTK/Heisig?
Because I had the intention of learning Chinese as well, I did not learn kanji from “Remembering the Kanji” (RTK) with James Heisig. Instead, I took Heisig’s method and applied it to the 4280 odd characters in Rick Harbaugh’s “Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary”. It breaks characters up into components. For learning kanji for Japanese, I highly recommend Heisig’s book.
Remembering the Kanji Volume 1 (RTK/RTK1) does not cover kanji readings. How will I learn pronunciations of kanji in Japanese?
You learn kanji readings on a sentence-by-sentence basis. When you input a sentence into your SRS, part of the input process will be for you to find out the readings for its kanji. Those readings will be part of the “answer” section on an item in your SRS. Go here to read Heisig himself explain the system.
What about RTK2 and RTK3?
RTK2 you can skip. I and many other people find it unnecessary. RTK3 would be good to do if you feel like it. I would recommend it. You can mix it in with the sentences phase.
I want to use your method to learn Chinese. Where should I start? How should I learn hanzi?
RTH, baby. It’s all you need. Remembering the Hanzi. The long-awaited Chinese version of RTK.
So, should I translate sentences into English?
No, no, no, no, no. Never translate a sentence. Either use someone else’s translation (i.e. a bilingual dictionary) or simply understand it without a translation (monolingual dictionary). You want to be moving away from this idea of translating into the language you want to learn — it will hurt your progress; it will harm your grammar; it will slow you down.
So, I should memorize sentences?
No, no, no, no, no. No. Understand sentences, practice understanding and reading them out loud with your SRS. Do not memorize them in terms of learning to say them by heart; it is too slow and too failure prone.
But how will I learn to speak the language if I don’t memorize phrases?
No, no, no, no, no. I mean…You just will. It’s called the Input Hypothesis. Really, it should be called the Input Fact. If you keep reading and listening to a language on a constant basis, your ability to speak and write it will develop quite naturally.
No, it won’t. I won’t know how to say anything!
You will. Eventually. It takes time, but you will — naturally and quite effortlessly. In any case, your ability to understand a language is far, far, far more important than your ability to speak or write it. The canonical example is asking for directions. Any fool can parrot “can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”. But can that fool understand the response? Oh, he can understand the one response in his textbook. What if the response doesn’t follow that pattern? Then he is clearly up Excrement Creek with no means of propulsion.
The fact is, even in your first/native/best language, your comprehension ability outstrips your production ability by a long shot; part of it may just come down to the fact that there are millions of other people with millions of ways of saying the same thing, and there is only one of you. And that’s another thing — there are (I think, quite literally) an infinite number of ways to say one thing. You may only use one of those ways, but you had better be able to understand more than one of those ways if you hope to function in your target language.
Are you sure?
Yes! *Oprah nod* YES!
Should I get some language tapes?
Don’t bother. They have too much English in them and too little of the language you are wanting to learn. Instead, get things made by and for native speakers of the language you are wanting to learn. Real words, real speed, real native speakers. Expose yourself to reality from the start.
But that’s too hard! I only understand like, one word!
Perfect. Now go to your dictionary and learn a sentence with that one word. Then go back to watching TV or whatever in the target language. And keep going, you will find another word. Keep at it.
Dude, that’s too slow!
I also recommend using beginner-oriented books. Even (in the beginning) books with English translations in them — books designed to help Japanese people learn English are especially cool. But always keep your audio real; listening to slowed-down audio of boring conversations is not doing you any good.
When will I be able to read novels and manga and stuff in Japanese without a dictionary?
That’s a function of how much work you do. The more you do per day (the more sentences you learn), the sooner you’ll be able to read all kinds of cool stuff without a dictionary. Keep in mind that Japanese is a living language and new words, trends and slang do get created from time to time, just as in English. But, yes, you can and will become free of dependence on your dictionary one day in the not-too-distant future, given concerted effort.
When should I start doing sentences — before kanji?
Kanji is like Phase 1 and sentences are Phase 4. Follow that order. Kanji is the foundation of good Japanese; there is no way around it, but there is a great way through it (RTK).
But I’ll know all these kanji without knowing how to speak!
Yeah. Like a Chinese person learning Japanese. That was the point. Trust me, it beats being an illiterate speaker. Plus kanji will enable you to speak better because you’ll actually know what words really mean. Many words in Japanese, you will only have a snowball’s chance in Okinawa of understanding unless you know kanji.
But it was easy for you because you had X
You know, if you want to find excuses for yourself, then be my guest. If you want to find reasons why I and everyone else in the world but you can do something, then go ahead. I’ll just tell you this — when you find a person at the top of a mountain, it can generally be said that she didn’t fall there.
Japanese didn’t learn itself; I wasn’t born with some magic gene for learning East Asian languages; I changed my entire life in order to learn this language; I gave up many of the things and people I used to enjoy; I sacrificed every available penny and every available moment of time, waking or sleeping. For someone to dismiss that and simply say I had some magical advantage is not only fallacious, but insulting. More importantly, it is deeply damaging to the person making the dismissal, because that person is blinding themselves to their own potential.
The world isn’t full of people who have something that you don’t; it really isn’t; you haven’t been shortchanged in some massive, conspiratorial Darwinian sweepstakes of the mental capacity. “A big shot is just a little shot that kept shooting”, so for Gates’ (?) sake, give yourself some credit, quit bellyaching and get to work! And if you still have trouble thinking of yourself as a capable human being, just think this: you simply aren’t important enough for anyone to have bothered to try to screw you over.
Maybe your method works for you, but it won’t work for me! I’m too young/old/white/poor/rich/black/American/female/male/lazy/stupid/dsylexic/
Aren’t we all?! Listen, the point is not to follow my instructions. All I did was do what you want you to do (learn Japanese to fluency) — I went where you want to go; I feel that I walked a path wide enough and straight enough that anyone else could walk it and reach the same destination. So I write about that path. But the point is not the path, the point is to both (a) have fun AND (b) learn Japanese to fluency.
Whether or not you do it “my way”, you can do it; you have the ability; you have the resources; you have the ability to get more resources. You can make your own way, and you don’t have to justify that way to me or anyone else; it just has to work — that is the one, sole and final standard of judgment: effectiveness. Don’t even bother announce your plans to the world, just quietly carry them out. Then, when you’re done and your success is obvious for all to see, start a website about it or something :D.
Which SRS did you use?
I used SuperMemo for the hardcore phase because it was pretty much the only SRS I knew of. SuperMemo was developed by a Polish (neuro?)scientist called Piotr Wozniak. Unfortunately, it doesn’t handle non-Roman text very well at all (a lot of the Japanese/Chinese text gets garbled), plus it has a sucky, buggy user interface in general. Not to mention that it stores question/answer pairs as HTML pages and splits stuff up into tons of folders, which makes moving your files a nightmare. It’s all pretty sad considering how well-researched it is. I’m actually really grateful to the makers of SuperMemo, and I respect them a lot, but the program needs some serious reworking.
So I switched to Mnemosyne for a while, but wanted more stats, leading me to write my own SRS called Surusu which I now use exclusively. Surusu doesn’t have the prettiest of interfaces or anything, but it gets the job done. There’s also a really cool-looking SRS out there called Anki.
Anyway, ultimately, it doesn’t matter which SRS you use (really, it doesn’t), it just matters that you use an SRS. No matter how awkward the SRS, something is better than nothing. And as with many things, the point isn’t what choice you make but the making of the choice itself.
Should I never read documents with furigana, then?
No, always feel free to read documents with furigana; it’s great practice. Just make sure your SRS “question” section has no furigana in it. Other than that, go to town!
Your methods are a little extreme, I can’t do what you did.
Well, do you want to learn Japanese or don’t you? Make no mistake, my friend: the business of language is a very extreme one. Language affects almost everything you do. You think in a language; you speak in a language; you write in a language; you listen to other people speak in a language; the lyrics of the music you listen to are in a language; you read in a language; you hear and interpolate background conversation into a language; the random signs you see are in a language; the nutrition facts on food you buy are in a language; the names you give to numbers are in a language.
If you know a language (which you MUST if you are able to read this), then you are already an extremist. Whatever language you are able to do all this stuff in, you are practicing that language; you have worked your little tail off to get to the point that you can read these words, whether or not you are aware of it. Yes, you’re practicing English just reading this. All I am telling you is to do most or all of the things you now do in English, in Japanese or whatever your target language is.
Not everyone learns how you learn.
Oh, but they all happen to learn how school teaches? Is that why there are so many people who take language classes and come out fluent? Oh, wait…
I’ve been living in Japan X years, but my Japanese is still mediocre or shaky. I am not a complete beginner, though — what should I do?
Pretty much the same thing as a beginner. Change your environment, do the Heisig kanji, do the Heisig kana (if you still need to), do sentences.
Joseph Bloggs at www.howtoreallylearnjapanesemothertrucker.com says your method sucks and Stephen Krashen has cooties
He does have cooties. No, look, champ, I don’t have time for this, and you definitely don’t have time for this. Arguing method X vs. method Y is comparative theoretical linguistics: not my field, and probably not yours. Our field is finding-what-works. Arguably comparing is a way there, but I think it’s a sucky way there. Better to run experiments — that way, at least Japanese is going into your brain. This way we’re all just spinning our wheels in English.
Just DO SOMETHING. But for your own sake, don’t stand around here discussing it; that won’t get you anywhere…
Joe Bloggs may be right. I can’t tell you everything about every way of learning a language. I can just tell you what I did, what happened, how I did it, and maybe, just maybe, fumble and hint at whys.
In the end, what matters is to reach your goal, and enjoy reaching it. We’re not in this to be right, we’re not in this to believe in a school of thought; we’re all in this to learn Japanese.
Besides, we’ll all be dead in 150 years, and whatever ideas we clung to will probably have been refined or discarded anyway.
Just learn Japanese. Just get it done. Who cares how.
What’s Life Like In Japan?
Was It Hard Getting Your Visa To Go There?
Not at all. The Japanese government is in fact actually trying, in a calm, controlled fashion, to get more foreigners into the country. And unlike the self-consciously pro-immigration US, there are no silly work restrictions here. You can even enroll in national health insurance without so much as permanent residency. It’s really pretty amazing.
One thing I would recommend is to do what I did and speak Japanese for all your visa dealings; it’ll make life easier for you and I think it makes people (unconsciously?) treat you like a paisano. That was my experience, at least. This implies knowing adult-level Japanese before ever going to Japan, which was the point of this site…
Are People in Japan Racist?
No. In general, intensely ignorant of certain things you might take for granted, and about as culturally sensitive as a sleep-deprived elephant with a hangover but absolutely not actually racist. It’s easy for us to forget that a lot of the cultural sensitivity that people from other parts of the world often display is entirely due to active, deliberate social training, not ethical superiority, and sometimes does not in fact extend beyond superficial behaviors.
Such training does not yet exist in Japan but it’s on its way up. Although, arguably, Japan doesn’t need it. The reason countries like the US have needed largescale, active “de-racism training” is because they had active racism on a massive, society-wide scale, enshrined in law and propped up by shady theology and even shadier “research”. Japan has never had that kind of thing. If the US is a self-righteous recovering alcholic, then Japan is just a guy that drinks sometimes. To go teetotal might be nice, but either way, the alcoholic has no moral authority to preach. My substance-abuse metaphors suck, don’t they?
Whatever. Anyway, speak nice Japanese and it all smooths out. The people of Japan mean you no harm — quite the opposite in fact. For one thing, I’d like you to try walking alone in the middle of the night in a more “cosmopolitan”, “culturally sensitive” Tokyo-size city anywhere else in the world, and compare results.
More broadly, we need to realize that there are jerks in Japan. In fact, there are jerks everywhere in the world. Or, people who act like jerks for some or much of the day. But, for us to take that out of context and say “therefore, the people of Japan are jerks” is itself an idea that smacks of racism. So we need to be careful not to take those sour encounters for more than they’re worth. I believe that best medicine is to [acquire Japanese and use it to] make more close friends who are Japanese.
Your method is impractical. I don’t have that kind of time.
Oh, please. Look, friend, whatever you’re doing, it’s probably not that important to the future of humankind [if it is, I stand corrected]. Take some responsi-freaking-bility for yourself. Find, make, restructure the time — it’s there. Don’t come and tell me about how you’re in chains when you’re holding the keys. Have a family? Enlist their support. Have other commitments? Work around them. Or are you just going to spend the rest of your life making this excuse?
Why are you so against using English subs/English grammatical explanations/English translations? Why are you taking the tool of language away from people?
OK, cut. Time out. Drama break.
- I am not “taking something away” from people.
- In part, because reading subs and explanations tends to create the illusion of full comprehension, but rarely substitutes for it. It’s like watching someone solve a math problem thinking that means you understand it, versus actually solving it yourself. Or, to use a better example — like watching someone do a cartwheel, and even having her explain how to do a cartwheel, and thinking that it means you can do a cartwheel. Here, to “do a cartwheel” means to “comprehend real, unsanitized Japanese”.
- Also, I don’t think you actually understand a language until you are using it to learn itself. Doing that is an invaluable exercise. Even if it seems to be slowing you down, it’s actually speeding you up, and setting you on the path to correct usage.
Anyway, I don’t know all the reasons. But I did it, it works really well, and I recommend it. At this point, I would never even consider trying o understand a Japanese word by looking up a translation of it. It would be like replacing one’s eyes with mirrors or something like that…
OK, look. I like you, Khatz. You’re a nice guy. I like your “positive mental attitude” gimmick. But, I’m too smart for that. I need facts. Tell me now, seriously, how hard is it to learn Japanese?
That’s a stupid, stupid, question. Here’s why: what good will that information do you? How is that information actionable? All it can effectively do is scare you. All it can do is shut off whatever part of your mind would help you take some actual control of the situation. I happen to not think Japanese is “hard” at all; I happen to think all languages come out the same. But even if, 百歩譲って (“allowing one hundred paces”) Japanese were “hard”, that would still be a stupid, damaging question, if only because it would put you in a frame of mind where you were blaming everything on Japanese.
Too many people blame the situation and fail to ever turn their attention to how the inefficiency of their own methods might be causing them to shoot themselves in the foot. Don’t ask whether something is “hard”, don’t ask how “hard” something is. Ask how you can “soften” it. Ask how you can make it easy. Ask how you can make it taste good. Ask how you can make it sweet. Ask how you can do it in less time. And if no one can answer you, then look in other fields (much of what you’ll find on this site comes from how I went and found out how people had gone about learning English…); go out and keep trying stuff; go and answer these questions for yourself. You can do that, you know — answer questions for yourself. Not everything has been written and done. You’re not living at the end of human history and invention. Invent or copy a way: it’s not a matter of “can” or “can’t”, it’s one of “will” or “won’t”.
Do you have any advice on learning two languages at the same time, you know, simultaneously?
Yeah, here; I call it “laddering”. In principle, I presently believe that one should only attempt to learn one language at a time; as the saying goes: 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず (the hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither). However, there is one slight exception, which is covered in that article. Let L1 be your first/primary language. The idea, is that you basically do forsake all other languages — including, as soon as possible, L1 — and learn one L2 (second/secondary language) to fluency, then use this L2 to learn L3. But, it does still require that you know L2 well enough to use it as a base for L3. So, the basic advice remains: control your greed and DO ONE AT A TIME. Learning a language is like buying a very large house in that there is not only the purchase cost but also the maintenance cost; also, there are no contractors to handle the extra building and maintenance for you.
You know, for a site called “All Japanese All The Time”, you sure do have a lot of English here.
Are you for real?
No. I am fiction…invisible and non-existent. Like air and radio waves.
Your site is hard to navigate.
Is that even a question? That’s just a statement! Don’t make me come over there! Yes, back in 2007 it was. But now, there’s a handsome table of contents. Every major article/section is listed there. Use it.
How many kanji/sentences should I learn per day? Am I going too slow?
No, no, no! Remember, any progress is better than no progress at all. You should learn as many new kanji/sentences as you can within the bounds of time and energy available to you. That means that you should go on until you get bored/tired, or run out of time, at which point you should stop, kick back, relax and just do something passive (TV, music, video, whatever). Don’t get hung up on the number you “should” be doing, the mere fact that you are doing anything is enough.
I am wanting to use the AJATT method for language other than Japanese or Chinese. How might I go about formatting my SRS cards?
You say to listen to the target language in your sleep, but I heard that sleep-learning has been debunked?
Yeah, that was the consensus at one point, but there does appear to be recent evidence in favor of learning during sleep, although the research is still…you know, young and perhaps inconclusive. In any case, “sleep-learning” per se was never quite the idea behind the sleep-listening advice. What I mean is, it’s not the only motivation. I did the listening in my sleep thing in large part because I didn’t want there to be any time holes, any excuses; whether or not I learned a great deal during my sleep was more or less immaterial. It’s kind of like how you wash your hands after meeting an ugly person; you may not have caught anything, but…why take the chance?
One thing I have conclusively found with sleep-listening is that it accomplishes two things:
- It prevents large time gaps that tend to crop up in the hours before and after sleep, and
- At some stages of sleep it can cause you to dream in the target language, which is always fun.
Anyway, the key is definitely to get as many waking hours of listening in as possible. I just did the sleep thing in line with the principle of overwhelming force, an idea that basically implies that quite often the best way to succeed is to make failure impossible, essentially burning the ships and locking all the exits…or something like that.
By the way, if you’re having to use headphones and they’re uncomfortable to sleep on, you might try putting them under your pillow as one AJATTeer suggested. If you really can’t sleep with the background sound, then at least make sure that you wake up and fall asleep to your target language.
Why is there no forum on this site?
Because my Mum won’t let me have one. Also, because while you do get wonderful nuggets of wisdom and insight in fora, the petty arguments and general pomposity of certain forum posters tend to ruin the average. On balance, I’ve found that the benefits of a language forum are outweighed (sometimes only very slightly so, but still outweighed) by the detriments.
Too often — again, not always, but too often — fora are merely a distraction, a place to talk about language and kid ourselves that we’re doing language, and a place for arrogant know-it-alls to undermine other people’s confidence. The plague of arrogant know-it-alls part is particularly virulent when it comes to Chinese and Japanese; some people say some pretty soul-crushing stuff.
You are far better off getting (correctly punctuated) information from actual books and websites and then subjecting it to your own personalized processes of testing, tweaking and experimentation, than asking some orthographically impaired forum alpha male for his perls of wizdim. Thus therefore ergo there is no forum on this site and their won’t be until it seems worth it. There — I probably just saved you reading and/or participating in hours of fruitless arguments.
Why do you use so much kanji in your Japanese?
Good question. In short, personal preference. In long, at least 10 reasons:
1. They’re beautiful
2. They’re logical
3. They carry more meaning
4. Why not?
5. The more you use them, the more people get used to them.
6. They’re easier to look up in a dictionary
7. It’s free!
8. They’re an integral part of Japanese — all kanji, no matter how apparently rare, do get used somewhere 😀
9. Kana are just variant kanji
10. People should use or not use kanji out of stylistic preference, not ignorance…I think.