Friday, 11 February 2011

a rant on Japanese studies

I've frowning at my screen, trying to put meaning into the Japanese characters I'm supposed to memorize for class on Monday. It the pace of engineering classes here is - shall we say... relaxed? - very relaxed. Meanwhile, the language course I'm taking, introductory Japanese, feels very fast. I guess it doesn't help me that the entire class has learned a few thousand Chinese characters already.
This is why I'm staring at the Hiragana chart on my screen. In Hiragana, there are obvious patterns -- the character for 'nu' is halfway between 'a' and 'no', and 'wa', 're', and 'ne' definitely share ancestry.
The Japanese Hiragana alphabet. Vowels, at the right, are combined with consonants, on top, to form letters, or 'kana'. Memorize this by Monday.
At first I thought I could use those patterns to my advantage in learning the alphabet, but they serve more to confuse than to organize.  I feel that the way the patterns work is a job for a cryptographer. In the Roman alphabet, a curlicue is usually a stylistic thing. In Hiragana, a curlicue turns a 'ke' into a 'ha', then remove one measly line and you get something totally different! What gives? Aaaaaa.
I'm hoping that random mnemonics will help me out. I looked at the character 're' for about a minute, trying to convince myself it looked like a 're' of sunshine. I didn't succeed, but now I remember 're' as the character that looks absolutely nothing like a ray of sunshine.


  1. Hey Jas! I feel your pain-- logic is rather impotent in the face of hiragana! I remember learning these with the help a practice notebook that had each character drawn into a picture of some kind. I think the mnemonics were in japanese so then I learned words at the same time... and somehow that worked! Hen da neeee--!

    For learning the sounds, I remember saying "a ka sa ta na, ha ma ya ra wa" very quickly and maybe karate chopping things, and then going through the "aa ie oo ee oo, ka ke ku ke ko, sa she su se so, na ne nu ne no" etc very quickly.

    As for the "tenten"s and "pon"s (little circle) -- it seemed to me the tentens made things "harder" like ke -> ge, right? And the "pon" turns things into a p sound, like a popping bubble or something...

    Language is pretty silly, just try to have some fun with it!

    And if you want to get some japanese practice while watching an insane movie of twisted genius, I recommend Battle Royale, which I saw for the first time recently.

  2. Whoops, mistyped - some of me e's should be i's there. Ka kI ku ke ko. Gomen ne.

  3. update: I did it, with Rose's help as a study partner! now just 48 katakana and 2,000 kanji and I'll be able to read a Japanese newspaper!
    My favorite mnemonic is for 'ka', which totally looks like the lower half of a guy who's just delivered some kind of karate knee-kick. KA!
    Runner up is 'mu' looking like a cow's face. mooooo.