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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Learning Japanese *Rinen's Corner #.5*

My Totoro pouch :3.  I'm working on editing...and I'm not good at it lol
My Neighbor Totoro (c) Studio Ghibli
It's finally here...! My (arguably) beautiful post on learning Japanese *^_^*

You're probably wondering why I called it 'Rinen's Corner'. Wonder no more :)! Here's why: When I moved back to Vermont as a Junior, I took Japanese at Essex High School under the bestest language teacher anyone could ever hope to have, Yukari Muramoto-sensei. 

Normally, I would call her Muramoto-sensei...but she put an American twist on her name by allowing her students to call her Yukari-sensei. Anyway, everyone who studied under her was given a Japanese-style name, so my name, Lynanne, became the closest-sounding equivalent that matched into the kana system: Rinen (リネン). 

Yukari-sensei would periodically instruct us regarding Japanese culture and linguistic peculiarities (aka important stuff we needed to know), and when she did, she'd make a worksheet and label it 'Yukari's Corner'.... 

And although I'm not even remotely as familiar with Japanese as Yukari-sensei :D, I wanted to honor her teaching and tradition. Hence, Rinen's Corner! Woot!

So...what am I going to be sharing in this corner?

Seriously, though--I had a LOT of ideas about where I wanted to start. I finally settled on the obvious: getting started. (Good call, right? My brilliance is blinding sometimes, so uh, you might need to get out your sunglasses...) 

But how do you just 'start learning' Japanese? The first thing that pops into my mind as I consider the 'learning environment' is resources.

So for this post, I'm going to be sharing *resources*, along with a tutorial on how to introduce yourself/discover your 'Japanese' name, and a proverb. 

In my next corner--coming September--I'll attempt to give a mini-lesson that targets reading, listening, writing, and speaking. I'd also like to have a proverb/poem (I'd love to feature some of the Hyaku-nin isshu...!) and a bit of culture :), as well as some prayer requests. 

Just keep in mind: I'm a writer, and keeping up with The Blog is challenging! These posts may not be 'the best ever+infinity+1', you know?

Anyway, I really wanted to highlight some places to get out there and start learning Japanese without breaking the bank--apps, websites, books--to start off because that's going to make your learning experience about 150% easier and more fruitful. (My l33t math skills are also blinding.) 

Ok, let's get acquainted with the alphabet(s) first.

There's kana, which encompasses 1) ひらがな hiragana (used for native words that aren't affiliated with kanji, like ありがとう arigatou, thank you) and 2) カタカナ katakana (used for foreign words like コラ cola, coke; or to draw attention for say a business sign). *Tae Kim is fantastic!

Hiragana tends to be more delicate and 'curvaceous' than katakana, which is largely linear. 

Then there's the one Japanese language students dread: 3) 漢字 kanji. Kanji are Chinese characters that have been integrated into Japanese...and man, are there a lot of them. At least 1,600 of them fall into the category of 'daily use' O_O! Kanji looks different than kana, but still uses same sounds. 

I encourage you to dive into kanji right after becoming familiar with hiragana and katakana, or even in the midst of becoming familiar with them. Otherwise, you won't be able to read much of anything. Sometimes there are small markings next to Kanji called furigana ( to kanji) that help you to read, but not often.

Here's an example from my Japanese Bible:
Not surprisingly, I rely on furigana to get me through the text lol.
And then there's 4) romaji, which is literally romanized letters. So instead of saying リネン, I'd say Rinen. (So...technically it doesn't count as an 'alphabet' per se...)

It'd be wonderful if you could learn hiragana and katakana in a day, but for now the important thing is getting the *sounds* down. Like in Spanish and Italian, Japanese vowels are pure. And unlike in English, Japanese letters always correspond to the same sound. あ and よ are always pronounced the same way: a and yo. 

I'll get into specifics with that regarding inflection and music later, but for today, get the sounds in your mind. Think Japanese ^_^!


Now that you have an alphabetical and phonetic foundation, let's work on your name! (And if you get stuck, feel free to ask me about your name via comment--I'm more than happy to help!)

The key to understanding katakana is in understanding how the Japanese people perceive sounds. It takes a lot of getting used to...but once you get it, it's like riding a bike; it's easy-breezy (mostly), and you never forget it. 

Take a piece of paper and write out your name. Then sound it out, and write exactly what you hear, but try to match the sounds as closely as possible to sounds in Japanese: a, i, u, e, o; sa, shi, su, etc. If there are syllables that don't match up to Japanese sounds, don't worry; there are always substitutes. 

Then simply take the sounds and match them to the katakana sound and symbol. For sounds that mix, you can use a smaller vowel letter (instead of ケイ, use ケィ), or you can elongate with a dash (see Kayla below), OR you can eliminate the secondary sound altogether. 

Lynanne   Lin-en or Lin-an       Rinen (ri-ne-n)     リネン
Kayla       Ke-i-la       Ke-ra  (keera)     ケーラ
Rachel  Rei-chi-ya-lu     Recharu        レチャル
     Bu-ran-do-n or Burendon or either without the n (nickname?)
     Ti-mo-shi or Timochi or timoti 
     You could also elongate at the end; ティモシー

Harper     Ha-ru-pa-ru     Haapaa     ハーパー
Naomi   Na-o-mi

Naomi is my one pristine example :). It's a perfect phonetic fit, a native word, so to speak...and thus, could be written in Hiragana as well as Katakana. なおみ/ナオミ

L's will generally become R's, as is the case with my name (Ly=ri). There are some cases in which both l's and r's are eliminated entirely, as with Harper. Instead of saying Ha-ru-pa-ru (or ha-ru-paa), I'd just say Haa-paa. The elongated a replaces the r in both cases. (Elongation will often be notated with a dash.)

Of course, there's always some wiggle room, meaning translation is an art and there's more than one way to sound out a name. Plus, you could always 'translate' your name into another language; Timotheo (timoteo) is a bit easier to use than Timothy. 

If a name is too complicated, try shortening! Tim is much easier to use than Timothy. 

Once you have your name down, try introducing yourself! (If you're really stuck and don't want to comment and wait for an answer, try this English to Katakana converter.)

Hajimemashite! Watashi wa [name] desu. Doozo yoroshiku.
(This is my first time meeting you. I am [name]. ~Please take care of me/I'm in your care.)

Because I don't have youtube up at the moment...and probably won't for a while :('s an introductory video by Alice. Her version is more formal than mine--you could use mine with peers. 

Keep in mind that you would put your LAST name before your first if you're introducing both names, and don't ever place honorifics after your own name. That would be extremely rude/pompous/culturally inappropriate. 

And now, onto some resources!!

Please let me know if you find these helpful (or not)!


My information regarding Droid apps is nonexistent, as I don't have one :). But fear not! LinguaLift has you least for now.


JLPT Study (free). If flash cards are your thing, look into the free JLPT's! I use them on occasion...but overall, flash cards aren't really my thing. 

Tae Kim's Learning Japanese (free) is not only fantastic, but free. Having trouble with grammar? Kim's got your back. Highly recommend! 

MindSnacks (Japanese, free) has a bunch of learning packs with games that you play to master vocab, kanji, and kana. It's super fun and low-cost--the first pack is free, and the next 49/50 lessons only cost $4.99. Plus...these guys also offer 6 other languages and SAT study for $19.99. Not bad at all!

KanaBattle (free) is a fun way to work on your recognition reflexes, and is free. Great for working on mastering hiragana and katakana! 

ShinKanji-Lite (free) is basically a kanji dictionary, but what I like about it is the fact that it shows the stroke order/number, radicals, meanings, and contextual examples. I also like the fact that it's free :).


NihongoIchiban and NihonIchiban 
Considering that these literally translates to '#1 Japanese/#1 Japan', these sister sites has a lot to live up to...and they deliver. NihongoIchiban is a BLOG focused entirely on Japanese. You can learn grammar. Print Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji practice sheets. Study for the JLPT (Japanese language proficiency test). They even have a daily lesson you can subscribe to via email AND a twitter account that'll allow you to test your kana skills. And they have additional resources. (What more do you want??!)
NihonIchiban is all about culture :D. Plus, there's a blog directory and a place to buy authentic Japanese products. <3

LearningChocolate and DigitalDialects
These are fun websites that will help you improve your vocab, listening, and reading skills simultaneously as you play games. The graphics aren't the best...but hey, it's all free, and very informative. Digital Dialects offers more in the way of aesthetics than LearningChocolate. 

Learning Japanese without any knowledge of its context would be a waste of time (not only because it's impossible, but extremely impractical), so when I stumbled upon (not via stumbledupon, mind you) this site, I had to add it to my list. It's a culture site *^_^* featuring information about Japan and the Japanese people! They actually have a kiddie version too, which is just plain stellar. 

This is a handy site that brings you Asian news, which is stellar, but really I'm linking to this site because of a specific post: 7 tips to make learning Japanese that little bit easier. It's got great starter tips, so go check it out if you're serious about learning some Japanese!


I'd mention Rosetta Stone because,'s Rosetta. Stone. But RS is about $300 more expensive than I can afford, and I'm not about to recommend dishing out that kind of money unless you desperately need to learn Japanese before December or something. 

That said, friends have informed me that RS is pretty brill. (Again, note the fact that friends have said this. My pocket says 'kekkou desu yo!' ~No thank you!!) If you have an android, you might want to look into something like Rosetta Course, which is free. 

Not to disappoint, but I haven't had much experience finding good textbooks of any kind. I've looked through Japanese for Dummies, and of course my EHS texts (which were neat, but very confusing for independent study), but I don't have much to share :/. 

In lieu of my own suggestions, I decided to give you 26 suggestions from those who DO have experience with language learning books:
Learn Japanese Pod and Perapera Language Tools. (Here are the additional ones from Pera.)

Aside from these, I heard tell that Assimil (Japanese with Ease) is pretty good, so you might want to look into it. Bit pricey around $50, but it's supposedly as good or better than RS. Worth a shot if you don't want to spend quadruple that, right? :) 

I intend to keep this list growing as I continue studying Japanese independently--and if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

And the Kotowaza (proverb, see this fascinating wiki article). All the Kotowaza I'm going to share now and later are from Yukari-sensei's lessons. I'd write right to left, but I dunno how to do that on here.  Sorry ^_^'!

Ashita wa ashita no kaze ga fuku.

The breakdown: 

Ashita=tomorrow. Wa, no, and ga are grammar particles; wa is 'to be' (so, is; it's a topic marker), no indicates possession, and ga is the subject marker. Yeah...particles can be confusing. We'll dive into those later.

Kaze=wind. Fuku=to blow/blow. 

Literal translation: Tomorrow blows tomorrow's wind. (Or, better phrased, tomorrow, tomorrow's wind will blow.)
Meaning: Tomorrow is a new day.

Lesson: Don't worry about tomorrow!

Hope you had fun learning a bit about Japanese ^_^!

がんばって!(Do your best!) 

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