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How I learned Japanese

A guide by Kotoba Miners owner: ちーぷ先生

Kanji

Questions

When should I start?

Why do I recommend koohii?

What will RtK1 get me?

Enormous confidence!

Knowledge of how to write

JLPT Kanji section bliss

What about “Wanikani”

Should I do RtK Book 2 also?

What do I do after RtK2 (or Kanji Town)?

Reading

About Manga

Vocabulary & Grammar

Vocabulary

Grammar

Get a generic textbook

Study for the JLPT

General

Shadowing

Concrete example

English movies in JP

Talk to yourself in JP (before bed)

Book recommendations

Kanji

Simple. Remembering the Kanji.

Sample

Wiki entry

I won’t go into how this method works in too much detail, because it’s pretty well documented and argued about on the internet. If you want to see an example of how the system works on Kotoba Miners, please head to /warp heisig. There is a building there which showcases the technique using the first 100 kanji in the book.

NEW Here is a video introducing the technique!

Questions

When should I start?

NOW! Before you can even say “My name is James” in Japanese, start RtK. Just do it. The sooner you start, the better.

Why?

Because once you already know certain kanji to mean something related to Japanese, RtK doesn’t work so well. This is because RtK uses English to scaffold the meaning of the Japanese kanji. Let's look at an example of how Japanese knowledge actually makes RtK harder.

Kanji:                                背

RtK English Keyword:         Stature

Japanese meaning:                back (背中、背景、背広、etc.)

I know this kanji as the 背 in 背景. Knowing it as something far removed like “stature” does not help me. But, if I don’t know anything about this kanji, stature is fine.

The reason that Heisig did not use the keyword “back” for this kanji is because he has used that keyword already for another kanji.

In summary, if you know nothing about Japanese vocabulary, you are in a perfect spot to start RtK.

Why do I recommend koohii?

Reviewing the kanji (the official name for kanji.koohii) helps us in a number of ways. The stories that Heisig gives us in the book drop off after a certain amount of time, and he basically says:

OK, now you are on your own, make some stories yourself!

Which is fair enough, but what if like me, you 1) can’t be bothered to write your own stories, 2) are not so creative, 3) just wanna get through the book as quickly as humanly possible?

Well the RevtK website is the perfect answer. It provides us with stories to use (and really really good stories that have been voted on by other members).

Additionally, it has a great review system, and forum of active users.

But don’t just take my word for it:

Read a review of Reviewing the Kanji on the KM Blog!!

What will RtK1 get me?

It will give you two (maybe three) things specifically.

Enormous confidence!

I often (and I think a lot of people) like to paint RtK as a way of leveling the playing field between any Japanese learner that is not from China, and the Chinese. Why? Because we (I’m speaking as a Westerner here) become able to look at a page of Japanese and have absolutely no fear whatsoever regarding the kanji on that page. We know them. We know what each of them means (individually at least) and we know how to write them. The only thing we need to know now is:

For example. We might see this: 体力 and we know 体 is “body” and 力 is “power.”  Oh snap! Would you look at that compound again?

体力

Body power

Without too much stretch of the imagination, we know that this compound is probably “physical strength.” #amirite?

That is the power of RtK. Acquiring the knowledge of kanji so they do not look scary anymore.

Knowledge of how to write

It is not as important as the first point, but knowledge of how to write a kanji is very important in not making your kanji look like a 3 year olds. Additionally, passive knowledge of a kanji and being able to write it out when needed is a totally different ball game.

JLPT Kanji section bliss

I have to admit, it has been awhile since I did the JLPT (I really should do the N1 again soon just for practice!) but I do remember that the kanji section was totally 朝飯前.

Why?

One of the sections was to choose the correct kanji from a number of others to complete a compound. And with RtK knowledge, we can do some really cool stuff like

What about “Wanikani”

I’ve never used it, so I can’t write too much about their system, but I know a lot of KM members use it. Some like it, some don’t. One user (who is now a teacher with us at KM btw) went to great lengths to write a review. (Don’t forget, this is not MY opinion, just one of the opinions I have heard)

Currently, I'm using wanikani, RTK, and Anki to study kanji and vocab.

after studying through wanikani, I was initially very excited. it was my first foray into the world of radical based learning, and seeing how all these "pictures" (gun, leaf, stick, etc) coming together to make kanji was a very encouraging feeling. it felt very liberating to not see kanji as arbitrary random scribbles but as building blocks in the form of radicals.

As I progressed however, I found myself having a sense of frustration that only grew as I leveled up. not the "i already know this kanji, let me through" feeling, but frustration at how arbitrary some of the answers were, and how I often felt powerless on certain kanji/vocab. I knew what the answer was, but I was trying desperately to figure out what wanikani wanted me to say. it wants "the world" instead of "world" for 世界? "42nd floor" instead of "42nd story" for 四十二階? ”Now on sale" works for 発売中 but not "On sale now"? You’ll take “School term” but not “Semester”? I know some of these words have reasons, I know this is not the story for most vocab. but after a while, these little fuck ups are like little punches to the dick and overtime my balls are getting bruised. it drives me insane. further

the radical and kanji differences. it's clear that some of these radicals are arbitrary (mullet, blackjack, gun, raptor cage, triceratops) to name a few. they're probably named that way to make them easier to learn. but if they had that intention in mind, did they honestly think that making the radical and the kanji it's based off of different would help people learn better? why do I have to learn both ent and bundle for 束? if the kanji meant bundle, why didnt you just make it bundle in the first place? when the kanji has multiple answers, why does the radical only have one? it wouldn't be so bad until I have to think about what dumbass name they gave the 者 radical and spit it out multiple times before it can actually teach me anything (someone instead of somebody? fuck you.)

theres also the thing where wanikani uses only radicals to teach you kanji, not the kanji themselves. Big deal, right? Let’s see how this becomes a problem. Take 橋 for example. RTK (which uses the kanji to explain more kanji) points out “The left is just 木, the right is just天 replacing the “lid” part of 高 here.” Easy right? How about Wanikani? Wanikani uses 4 radicals for this: Tree, Heaven, Mouth, and Moustache. Look at the story for this thing: “A tree from heaven with a mustache above his mouth valiantly crosses a bridge.” (are you fucking kidding). There are also other several radical problems (wanikani does not acknowledge how radicals change form. It either neglects explaining it (成, 橋, 然) or constructs entirely new radicals (fishtail, tsunami, angel) which accounts for an ungodly amount of radicals, some of which cannot be used in a radical based kanji dictionary). The biggest thing is the fact that I have to “guru” radicals and kanji in order to progress and the fact that wanikani forces you to learn at a slow pace. And man is this pace fucking slow. Wanikani is forcing me to go 25 mph on the interstate because she’s really worried I might get hurt before I get there but I want to get there now ok mom. I don’t actually know how long it takes to learn 20-30 kanji on wanikani. A few days? A week? I don’t know. Wanikani is forcing me to review shit consecutively and I need to be there, on time, so I can get my reviews out the way and continue with my miserable life. It’s gotten to the point where I’m considering timing my Wanikani reviews, putting timers on when my reviews spawn so I can finally level up and have some faggot ninja roll the gear I need. Sound familiar? If I wanted to play a MMO and get fucked over I would play FFXIV, Wanikani. I want so badly to learn but when you can’t look me in the eyes and keep telling me “not now”, it makes it really hard to keep loving you wanikani (you fucking whore).

I posted this to ask you all. Is wanikani worth it? It’s getting so hard and so painful, every time we meet it only ends in anger or in bitter resentment. I am blind and can see no end to this road. I am just a hurt man who wants to love.

I ask you, is it worth it?

Should I do RtK Book 2 also?

This is my guide, so I will give my opinion:

No.

I used a system that borrows from the Loci Memory Palace. The method was known by the guy that was blogging about it back in the day: Adventures in Kanji Town. The site hasn’t been updated since 2006 (man, this really dates me…) but there is some real gold in there.

You can read through the blog above to see how the method works, but essentially:

  1. Choose a location to put all the kanji with the same ON yomi.
  2. Make a story or situation that puts the keywords for those kanji in that location.
  3. Review the stories regularly
  4. Profit(?)

Here is an example of this with all of the kanji with the ON yomi KAKU.

Below are some pics of how I went about this procedure

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IMG_2609.JPG

IMG_2611.JPG

IMG_2612.JPG

Watch out for キ and コウ, there are a huge amount of kanji with those ON yomi…!

What do I do after RtK2 (or Kanji Town)?

Read. Lots.

I’ll be honest, after doing RtK, then falling out of love with it because my Japanese knowledge was high enough to NOT require English keywords anymore, I stopped doing the reviews.

Did this affect my writing ability?

You bet it did. I’m kinda kicking myself now for stopping the RtK reviews. But once you get to a certain level, it's just not effective anymore to review from English keyword to  Kanji.

My passive knowledge of kanji is still super strong though, because I read, and write (electronically) all the time!

Ok, this takes us nicely onto the reading section of this document.

Reading

How do I get good at (insert skill here) is something that I hear a lot. There is a simple answer: do that skill until you are good at it. Ergo: practice makes perfect! (10,000 hours to be precise). So, regarding reading, I’ll echo what I wrote above in the kanji section here.

Read. Lots.

Read what though?

Manga, websites, twitter, novels, anything..!

The key is to read stuff that interests you! if you are merely reading “to get better at JP” and have no interest in it, forget that. Don’t read it, cos you won’t enjoy it, and will resent the hell out of it.


A concrete example of my own:

Reading a newspaper in Japanese is considered a lofty goal, right? But I have never read a Japanese newspaper unless I absolutely had to. Why? I couldn’t care less about reading a newspaper. I don’t in English either. Could I read a newspaper if I wanted to, you betcha! I read enough other stuff that I’m interested in that has given me the skills I need to read at a high level.

About Manga

Manga is not easy. It really isn’t. I came to Japan, studied through Japanese for Busy People 1 and thought it was time for me to start on manga. Boy was I wrong. If you go from a textbook straight to manga, you will be totally lost.

Why?

Because manga uses spoken Japanese. Which is full of… slang. Oodles and oodles of slang. Let’s have a look at some of the common ones:

English:                                What are you doing?

Polite (textbook) JP version:                何をしていますか。

Manga version:                        おめえ、何やってんだ?

English:                                I told you not to do that.

Polite (textbook) JP version:                やらないでと言ったでしょう!

Manga version:                        やるなっつったろー!

Help is at hand though!

At Kotoba Miners, we have some real manga experts (regarding the language I consider myself one of those, but regarding the culture of manga and anime, I’m seriously lacking) and we do weekly manga reading sessions!

Vocabulary & Grammar

I’m actually going to attack these two things separately, however, the tool used to study them both is the same. Our lord ruler

Anki

Get both vocabulary and grammar rules into the anki beast, sit back and learn.

Vocabulary

To get a larger vocabulary base, you have to meet new words, but not just meet them, CAPTURE THEM. Think of yourself as a Pokemon trainer. You have to capture all the vocab. It is no use just meeting them in a little skirmish in a bush, you need to drag them kicking and screaming into your anki vault. Once in there (with the proper formatting of course) they will be yours for ever!


So lets go through some steps.

  1. Get a ton of input (books, magazines etc.)
  2. Put little notes on the new words however you want to.(Check my current method here)
  3. Systematically put them into your anki deck (Blog post on how to format good cards)
  4. Review your anki deck frequently (use habitRPG to keep you on track!)
  5. Profit

I did this A LOT back when I was a “student” of Japanese (don’t misinterpret me, there is still a ton that I don’t know, and I will always be a student of JP, I’m just in a position now where I can chill out with it a bit more), then I had a very long break from not adding new cards so the review schedule became super chill. But now I consider myself a teacher of the language, I am putting new cards into anki again. So I know the pain that is involved in making anki decks, but I (hope) am living proof of the awesome power of the SRS system.

Grammar

Again, this is my guide, so I will tell you how I studied grammar.

Get a generic textbook

I used Japanese for busy people 1, 2, and 3. It was fine, there was a large portion of it on 敬語 and polite speech, but it prepared me well enough to get around in Japan. People swear by Genki though, so maybe that one is for you…

Study for the JLPT

Again, people argue whether it is worth doing the JLPT or not. I am definitely in the camp that says:

Yes, it is worth doing the JLPT

Why?

It provides a great benchmark as to where you are at regarding kanji, vocab, and grammar knowledge.

I did this with a series of books called the 完全マスター series. I know there are a load of other options, but I think these grammar book are great. I used them all the way up to N1.

BUT!

At the N2/N1 level, I also supplemented my learning with a fantastic site which introduces Japanese grammar in Japanese 日本語駆け込み寺 it used to be a free service, without log in information necessary, but it looks like you need to sign up and register now.

General

Shadowing

Language learning is acting. Almost 99% of the stuff that comes out of my mouth is not original material. It’s just repeating something I have heard someone else say. Get used to copying people!

Concrete example

I remember a few times where I copied what I was hearing around me. One of the biggest ones was the anime/manga style of quoting someone. For example:

EN: What did you say?

Polite JP: 何と言いましたか。

Manga: なんつった?

I heard, and understood, what this meant but using it was a little 恥ずかしい. I thought people would know that I was just copying them or not using it correctly… but guess what!? After plucking up courage to have a go at saying this expression…… no one cared nor noticed it as being “out of the ordinary” at all. I guess the Nike slogan rings true here:

JUST DO IT!

English movies in JP

This was a great little tip I got from AJATT (I think…) where the point is:

  1. Choose an English movie that you know and love.
  2. Rent a copy from the DVD store in Japan
  3. Watch it in Japanese audio and Japanese subtitles
  4. Play the movie on your telly as background noise all day.
  5. EXTRA CREDIT: rip the audio from the DVD and play it on loop as you commute to work etc.

This works because you 1) like the movie so are motivated to see how the made it into Japanese, and 2) you are already familiar with the context of the movie, so you don’t have to worry about the plot. Just focus on the language being used.

Talk to yourself in JP (before bed)

I wrote a LOOOOONG post about this on a forum but I can’t find that on the net now (cos the forum was closed and now dead *しくしく*) but essentially:

You have to develop the “Japanese-speaking” version of you in your head.

Try to imagine that there is another version of you living inside your head and that you need to let him/her talk in order to develop. If you don’t practice speaking, you won’t get good at it. And to help you practice speaking, you need to let that little guy/gal in your head speak!

I would have conversations with myself in Japanese, go through verb conjugations, try to change my thought process into Japanese from English, etc.

Book recommendations

Making Sense of Japanese

完全マスター N3 (others are available)

よつばと! - a great manga to start your journey into the world of manga.