Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hungry. Like eating. Please, have dinner soon?

  So far I've written about the abstract concepts of becoming self-taught, and the closest to actual "lessons" I've put together have been a few vocabulary lists that have my specific interests in mind.  I'm sure that there are people who enjoy reading them for what they are, but most of you will want to have some actual tutelage in the Japanese language.  I suppose that it IS the purpose of this blog to teach as I learn, so today I will share my experiences on tightening up sentence structure!

  In Japanese, sentence structure is incredibly important, and what you leave out is as important as what you include.  For example, if the subject is able to be inferred from the conversation at hand, then there is no need to include it.  This is in stark contrast to English, where the labeling, identification, and inferring of the subject is a large part of the flow to a conversation.

  As a comparison, the conversation as follows differs in structure as is displayed:
English
Alex: You look good today!
Beth: Thank you!
Alex: Your dress is very pretty.
Beth: I bought it yesterday.

Japanese (items in parenthesis are not included in speech)
Alex: (you) Look good (today)!
Beth: Thank (you)!
Alex: (your) Dress is very pretty.
Beth: (I) Bought (it) yesterday!

  If the subject is implied (such as stating that you bought your dress), it is left out of the sentence.  Think of it as a way to not insult someone's intelligence.  However, if you don't think they'll understand what or whom you are talking about, then you include it, as in the following example.

English
Carol: I went to the store with Evan today.  We went shopping for a few things.
Derrick: What did you get?
Carol: I bought a new game.
Derrick: What about Evan?
Carol: He bought new shoes.

Japanese:
Carol: (I) Went to (the) store with Evan (today).
Derrick: What (did you) get?
Carol: I bought (a) new game.  ((You may choose to specify yourself as you are dealing with two subjects)
Derrick: What about Evan?
Carol: (He) bought new shoes.  ((Now that Evan has been specified, it is unnecessary to state the subject again)

  Whereas English is very descriptive and to the point in its communications, Japanese has more of a tendency to expect that context clues be used to understand the topic in the moment.  In this way it is a very dynamic language.  You can -- of course -- include every subject you are talking about, but if you speak in this manner you will be seen as very simple, basic, and uneducated.  Imagine someone came up to you and said, "Hungry.  Like eating.  Please, have dinner soon?"  You would think the person was either deliriously hungry or just plain stupid.  However, in Japanese, the opposite is true, and saying, "I'm hungry.  I would like to eat.  Could we please have dinner soon?," would make you sound like you are struggling to get your point across and are too muddled to speak in a more intelligible, contextual manner.

  As with any language, there are exceptions to every rule, but for simple daily use, these rules suffice.  Aaaand with that, I say, thanks for reading!  Yonde kurete arigatoo!

\m/ (>_<) \m/

Monday, February 22, 2016

Place Your Wants First

  When learning a new language, it is tempting to look at the methods employed by a native-speaking society's educational programs.  It's a logical approach, since it seems that such a tactic that has worked to educate countless generations should be applicable to yourself, right?  Well, that may be true, but as far as efficiency and effectiveness goes for a foreign learner, you couldn't be further off base.

  The worst part about following a typical language education system for a nation of native speakers is that you are not surrounded by said native speakers.  Instead of hearing uses of words and intonations from masters of the language, you are relying on videos and literature to work on their own.  Without being surround by a language's speaker's culture, you can expect an intense struggle at best, and frustration leading to outright failure at worst.  So to alleviate these barriers and handicaps, people have put together "what you should learn first" styled programs, focusing on commonly used words, phrases, and hypothetical situations.  Sadly, this introduces its own set of problems as you attempt to follow in someone's steps who may not be taking the same sized strides as you, and who may be journeying toward a completely different destination.

  You should always keep in mind that the writers of any educational literature have a specific goal in mind, and that goal may not always coincide with your own.  Perhaps you want to learn a language to get a job in a foreign land, so you read comprehensively for occupational conversations.  But what if the writer ultimately geared the book toward the engineering field, and you plan to enter into agriculture?  Sure, the general tone will be similar, but the flow and dynamics of the method may be far different than what you require.  Perhaps you wish to simply travel to a country, so you read books on how to get yourself around a nation as a guest and a tourist.  The basics will be there, but if they write with the underlying purpose of visiting museums and art galleries but you will be visiting fast-paced conventions and sporting events, then the tone and specific phrases will be left as a mystery to you.

  Learning a language is one of the few times you can go ahead and place your wants first in life.  If you want to learn navigate a series of restaurants and pubs on a foodie tour you and your buddies plan, then you are going to want to focus more on the pronunciation of foods and dishes while absorbing cultural tips about dining and drinking etiquette.  It may be that you wish to experience live theater in a country, so maybe knowing how to ask for the soup of the day won't be as beneficial to you as would knowing how to ask for show times and learning about specific art districts.

  Now, apart from achieving your personal goals, there is another very legitimate reason to approach your desires as a primary target for language study that lies in your ability to retain and recall information.  Learning words and phrases that are fun for you allows you to associate the intellectual growing pains you will experience with pleasure in a less masochistic way, increasing retention without increasing stress levels.  For example, I may not be able to recall the name of every United States vice president, but I could rattle off comic book, cartoon, and video game character names for days!

  Of course, comics and video games may be a bad example for some of you, but I'm sure you can think of foods you love before foods you hate, and it's more than likely that you can recall your loved ones' names quicker than people who have caused you troubles (unless of course they are one in the same!), and this technique is what I plan to apply to learning Japanese.

  With all of that said, I would like to ask what your goals for learning a language is, and what words and phrases you plan to work your practicing around.  For today, I'm putting together a list (below) to practice based on my desire to one day take in Japan's nightlife.

  Words and phrases that will be helpful for my means:
1) Bar - Bā
2) Beer - Bīru
3) (I'd like the) Check, please - O kaikei onegai shimasu
4) Heavy metal - Hebii metaru
5) How much is it? - Ikuradesu ka?
6) Live music - Nama ongaku ("On Gaku" is music)
7) Meal - Shokuji
8) Please give me a (...) - (...) kudasai (example: "Biiru kudasai")
9) Restaurant - Resutoran
10) Taxi - Takushii
11) Thank you (present tense) - Arigatou gozaimasu
12) Thank you (past tense, such as to thank a band for their performance) - Arigatou gozaimashita
13) Where is (...)? - (...) wa doko desu ka? ("wa" notes the subject, "doko des ka?" for "where is?")
14) Which way is it? - Dochira desu ka? ("Dochira" means "which" when talking about 2 objects)
15) Whiskey - Uiskii (the "ui" sounds like a single vowel)

  As I learn more about the syntax of the language, I'll have more base vocabulary words to plug-and-play in sentences with.  This will make simple phrases vastly more useful, and make them more likely to stick around in my memory for easy recollection.  I would also recommend that while you are practicing these words, you delve deep and really visualize yourself using these words.  Go ahead and do a little role playing, and see if you can't get a friend or two to help you act out some situations!  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to ask about the price of my shokuji at this resutoran, and then call up a takushii to take me to the baa for a shot of uiskii and some nama ongaku!  Maybe I'll get lucky and find that a hebii metaru band is playing.  I just better be sure to ask for the check before I leave!

  I hope this helped you, and I appreciate your reading my blog.  Please leave any comments below, and thanks a lot!  Dōmo arigatou!

\m/ (>_<) \m/

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Narrate Your Life

  Most people talk to themselves in a way that edges on a self-narrative, and most often during chores or times of frustration.  It's perfectly normal, and is a fun little way to stave off boredom.  But, hey, why not take it a step further and make these little moments an opportunity to practice a few words you may be kicking around?

  I started out learning Japanese by practicing their writing systems of Hiragana and Katakana, and stopped like a deer caught in the headlights at Kanji.  I'm slowly ticking away at it, but it's taking time.  I opted to practice spoken word and pronunciation while I wrap my head around the daunting task of tackling Kanji, and made myself a few little vocabulary lists by writing down some random items laying around then house and then looking up their translations through Google.

  Here are a few that I put together:
1) Apple - Ringo (here's some help from Tofugu on Japanese R sounds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2wzUuGm7yw )
2) Car - Kuruma*
3) Cat - Neko
4) Dog - Inu
5) Drum  - Doramu*
6) Egg - Tamago
7) Guitar - Gitā*
8) Ice - Aisu*
9) Juice - Juusu*
10) Milk - Miruku*
11) Mirror - Mirā*
12) Pen and Paper - Pen to Kami* (with "to" pronounced "toe" meaning "and," and Kami as "Paper")
13) Snow - Yuki
14) Truck - Torakku*
15) Vacuum Cleaner - Zōjiki

 Two generalizations you may take away from this list: 1) My house is possibly messy to have all this lying around (an egg!?); 2) LOTS of loanwords, eh? (I marked those with asterisks for you up there)

  Well, the first is explained away by the fact that I did this while cleaning and also by opening cupboards and such.  This allowed me to choose objects that I interact with on a daily basis, which is going to be important for training and repetition.  In the morning while eating scrambled eggs, I'll grab for it as I say "Tamago" aloud.  Looking outside, I'll see that yucky "Yuki" that needs to be shoveled, and feel sorry for the "Inu" for having to do her business out there.  Of course, my little "Neko" will be laughing her kitty butt off at this...right before she runs behind the "Gitā," fleeing in fear from the "Zōjiki!"  And anything I need to remember, I can just write down with a "Pen to Kami."  Get the gist of it, eh?

 Now, the second generalization -- dealing with translations -- is explained by the English and Americans having had such a huge impact on their previously sealed-off culture throughout the years.  So, luckily, my first few vocab lists were fairly simple to remember, and repetition wasn't such a chore as I'd expected.

  I'm sure by this point you can see how this whole "narration" thing will work out for you.  It has great potential as a teaching aid for you immediately as a new learner trying to create an association between objects and their Japanese names, and further down the road once you have a better grasp on the language and can practice more descriptive uses of verbs.  If you have any routines you see yourself completing every day, it may be a good idea to look up the translation for the phrase!  For example, since I have to feed my (sister's) Beagle on an average schedule, I can practice saying, "Watashi wa inu o kyōkyū shite imasu."  "Watashi wa" states that I am the subject, "Inu" is the word for dog, "o kyōkyū" designates what I am doing to the dog (feeding her), and "shite imasu" means essentially "am doing" with "shite" meaning to do (kind'a-sort'a) and "imasu" meaning right now (sort of like -ing suffix...but not really...but kind of).  Watashi wa inu o kyōkyū shite imasu.  I am feeding the dog.

  I recommend this technique to be incorporated as often as possible!  It is very useful, and you'll be amazed at how much of an impact it will have on helping you form the pronunciations of words, and with how quickly your own personal vocabulary list will grow!  This is definitely a technique that I'm going to stick with, as it is a simulated form of immersion, and I believe it will be an invaluable tool for mastering this language as swiftly and fully as I can.

  And with that I say "thank you, everyone!"
  "Min'na arigatō!"

\m/ (>_<) \m/

Familiar First Steps to a New Journey

  To pursue intellectual growth is both frightening and invigorating, and each trial of the mind presents us with its own unique perplexities.  We have all overcome great odds throughout our lives, and the ability to improve ourselves is often a battle fought against the natural and societal forces which inadvertently present themselves against us.  These battles must result in victories if we are to advance ourselves, and as individuals we have the capability to do just that.  It is with this confidence in human nature that I have once again set out to broaden my linguistic horizons, and I hope that you will accompany me on this journey.

  Every challenge is daunting at its inception, whether it's the first time behind the wheel of a car or the first day on a brand new job.  And yet, with time and persistence, we are capable of turning the extraordinary into the ordinary.  If you have succeeded in being able to be taught how to operate a vehicle, perform your duties in a place of work, and to comprehend English well enough to read this paragraph, then I sincerely believe that you are capable of learning every other language you wish to pursue.

  All journeys needs a place from whence to begin, and a path on which to place your foot for that first and most harrowing of steps.  Choosing a starting point, physically and mentally preparing yourself for the road ahead, and then actually going out and committing yourself to taking on the journey is -- believe it or not -- the simple part.  You already know what you want to achieve, what basic tools you'll need to meet your goals, and the general direction you'll have to head toward.  The difficult part is then encountered while walking down the route you have chosen, and while overcoming the obstacles which will present themselves on your way.


  For context, I must explain that English, Spanish, and Japanese had all presented themselves to me at different points in my life and in very different ways.  As I was raised in a traditional Northern Michigan Yooper household in the United States of America, I was born into the English language and subjected to several of its dialects.  In my early teenage years, I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in a brief student exchange program with my home town's sister city of Ryou-Cho, Japan, and was thus introduced to basic Japanese (which I sadly let rust into an unusable but fond memory).  Spanish came to me as a necessity of adaptation when I began work in the railroad industry as a track maintainer, and it was either sink or swim -- y ahora, hablo espanol basico, which I padded further with time working in the construction industry in Florida.  So, with English thrust upon me, Japanese pursued for social interactions, and Spanish practiced for capital interests, I have come to appreciate the joy of overcoming the barriers that language places between yourself and another person.

  It is only very recently that I have taken to studying the Japanese language in an effort to rekindle an old flame.  I prepared for this by searching for literature on popular and effective training methods, schools of thought, and tried-and-true techniques.  I had put together a reading list, given time to Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur free trials, and scoured the internet's vast and friendly open source network of videos and free media.  Sadly, nothing truly gripped me in a way which I hoped to find as engaging as my desire was strong.  The motivation and drive are within me, yet the excitement was quickly drowned under monotony and rehashed repetitious training regimens.  So, I figured I would give my hand at learning in the best way I knew how: Chaotically!

  Yes, chaotically.  I am the product of a generation raised on video games, violent movies, foul language, sexual liberation, designer drugs, religious oppression, constant bloody warfare, political corruption, and vivacious music scenes.  Our future appears destitute, our past serves to give us little insight on how to proceed, and yet here we all are, living each of our little lives and progressing toward the future, minute by minute, day by day.  It's a chaos akin to the nature of the universe as seen in everything from the melting snow to the bursting of a super nova.  It's terrible, it's beautiful, and it's honest in its bluntness.

  So, with that dereliction of order as the very essence driving the beating heart of my machine, I have decided to pioneer my own methods through trial and error, and to share my experiences with all of you as I progress throughout this process.  I hope to both entertain and teach, as any good educator would.  However, I also hope to learn, as my methods here are as much to meet my own ends as they are to help you meet yours.

  And with that, I say rock on, and let's begin, shall we?

\m/ (>_<) \m/