Sunday, April 19, 2009

5 Myths about learning Japanese

I was chatting with my school day mates this weekend about our good ol’ days. Talking about what each one of us are up to in our own lives, I said that I am learning Japanese. Couple of my mates were like, “Err! What for?”. I did not answer them but questioned, “Why do you guys think I should not?” The majority of all the reasons they said was “Japanese is one of the toughest language. It contains way too symbols to remember… not like our 26 alphabets English”. Few others said, “Well speaking Japanese is cool but I don’t have time to spare”. We then moved over to other personal topics and parted after an hour.

It was fun but then it kept me thinking why do people think Japanese is the toughest language? To be frank, my mother tongue Tamil is really tough. If it were not my mother tongue I never would have been fluent in it. So are the other languages. How many people think French is the toughest of all for the numerous exceptions it has. I personally know people who consider German to be even tougher.

In my last class, my にほんごのせんせい (nihongo no sensei - Japanese teacher) was talking about the importance of being self motivated in learning Japanese. The conversation was like below:

Teacher: We will be having a mock test by Mid June so start preparing for the exam.
Student A: But sir, I am a college student and I got my semester exams coming up :)
Student B: For me too.
(There was a chorus, “yeah for us too”)
Student C: At times, I am working even on weekends. It’s really hard to find some time Sir.
Teacher: (with a smile on his face) Ah! Everyone seems pretty busy. Why did you all join the class then?
Student A: Sir, you should be appreciating us. In spite of this busy schedule we bothered to join this class and study.
Teacher: Let me correct you… “In spite of this busy schedule we bothered to join this class” and that is all you have done. (He then smiled and continued the class)
I was thinking about his words over and over. He was so true in saying that. Many of my class mates were so interested when they joined the class. I am not even sure if “interest” is the correct word or should it be “show-off”. Well, whatever it is. Remember guys – “Interest alone will not get us anywhere.”

I am interested in Speaking Japanese. I joined a class. I even attend all the classes without fail. Will I pass? NO if I don’t pay attention to the class. NO if I don’t practice what is taught in the class. NO if I don’t put effort to understand & exercise it on a regular basis. It is not only for Japanese. It holds good for anything and everything. Interest is just a motivating factor. It is a MUST to start off any task but it is NOT the only thing needed to achieve that task.

The series Japanese is possible have also discussed about the same thing. The below extract says the top five myths about learning Japanese.

Japanese is way too hard

After much study and talking to several people, I must say that Japanese is not "hard" or "complex", but "different". It's true that it is very different from English or Spanish. However, the grammar, spelling, etc. is very straightforward. Making sentences in the language, conversing, etc. can occur very early on. The pronunciation is very close to Spanish, although the accent is different.

I am too busy to learn Japanese

This is a common reason why many people aren't bilingual in Japanese right now. If you don't have a goal in mind, or guidance, you won't notice how much time is spent doing nothing.
If you take a look at your average day from an objective standpoint, you'll find many wasted hours and minutes. Look how much time is spent waiting. Waiting in line, waiting for someone to show up, waiting for the commercials to end, waiting for the movie to start, etc. That wasted time can be used constructively to inch you toward your goal of learning Japanese!

Learning Japanese means learning to write all those difficult symbols

Those "difficult symbols" are the Kanji, borrowed from the Chinese. There are about 2000 Kanji in daily use in Japan. While it is true that the Kanji are probably the most difficult part of Japanese, you can ignore them for quite a while and still enjoy the rest of the language. I will teach many of the beginning lessons in roman characters, so you will have nothing new to learn as far as reading the lessons. I will slowly make the transition to phonetic characters and perhaps in the distant future, I will teach you some Kanji.
To be able to write any word in Japanese, all you need to know are the 2 phonetic systems, "Hiragana" and "Katakana". They only have 46 letters each, and can be learned very easily in a matter of weeks. Plus, once you know how something is pronounced in one word, you know it for any word. It's completely phonetic. Don't you wish English was that way!

Japanese can be learned just by watching Anime

This is so WRONG! Check out what Tofugu have got to say about this. Be sure to watch out his video. It’s fun!

Japanese should be learned only in a formal class room environment

That is pretty easily shot down. I learned Japanese for three years before ever setting foot in a classroom (to learn Japanese, that is). When I finally had the opportunity to take classes, I placed into a Second-Year course in a very good Japanese language program. I've met people who took French and Spanish for three or four years in high school and couldn't place into their respective Second-Year courses. In other words, you don't need a classroom to learn Japanese, you just need to utilize your resources.

Taking a class works for many people. I know it has helped me. I certainly recommend taking a class if you have the opportunity in addition to following this column. You DON'T have to take a class to keep up with this column, though.
What is a classroom? A place of opportunity where you can learn. There are people who go to class and don't learn, and some that seize the opportunity. There are also people that master whole fields of knowledge without going to a classroom. A classroom is just one of the many ways to learn.

To conclude, not only for learning Japanese but anything for that matter:
  • Don’t bother if you are not interested. Failure is guaranteed if you got no interest.
  • Interest alone will NOT get you what you want. It takes dedication, hard work and efforts to be put as well to succeed.
Now go and start practicing your にほんご (nihongo) :)



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