My interest in the Japanese language started when I visited Japan two years ago. In fact, I acquired not just an interest in the language itself, but also in the country and the culture.
After summer Baris and I started a Japanese language course at Folkuniversitetet, here in Gothenburg. Before that, our knowledge about the language was no more than a few phrases and a vague idea of how it sounded. We also realized that in Japan they use three different alphabets.
During the 12 weeks of course we have learned some simple sentences, hours, numbers, asking questions, and some words using the Latin alphabet. The impression we got was that the pronunciation is so simple, because the sounds are very similar to Turkish language. Moreover, the grammar is exactly the same as Turkish, how nice!
In the meantime, we kept researching about how to learn Japanese in the most efficient and structured way. The sources talking about learning this language were always recommending to start directly with the Japanese alphabets, not with Romaji (the Latin alphabet).
As I mentioned the Japanese language uses three different alphabets; Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Hiragana has characters that correspond to sounds such as a, e, o, u, ka, ge, ru, fu, sa, etc., as does Katakana. Kanji is the characters of the Chinese language, and much more complex than Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji consists of characters that are not sounds but the actual words. There are 2000 Kanji characters that children learn at school in Japan. Learning at least 1000 of them helps to survive in daily life in Japan.
So, Kanji is the most difficult alphabet in Japanese, but here is the real challenge: all three alphabets are used altogether in one sentence in Japanese! It is not enough to learn each alphabet separately; you should also learn the different meanings when they come together! It is probably a good idea not to waste time by learning the language with the Latin alphabet. During Japanese classes, we thought that the pronunciation and the grammar was super easy and we would be speaking really well in a short amount of time, but upon facing the three alphabets, we realized that learning Japanese is actually not that easy!
That is why we are uncertain at the moment about keeping on with the classes. Instead we found really nice tools for self-studying Japanese, starting from the three alphabets.
We started with TextFugu, which is an online textbook that helps you follow the right track to study Japanese. It directed us to learn Hiragana characters first, with an app called Anki. TextFugu is also a very good guide that helps you understand the logic of the Japanese language and motivates you to learn it.
After learning Hiragana, we kept following TextFugu and reached another nice tool called WaniKani, made by the same guys as TextFugu. This is an excellent tool for learning Kanji characters. It assumes that you’ve already learned Hiragana, since you need it while reading the Kanji characters. When you create an account it gives you certain number of characters to learn every day, and depending on how fast you learn and how few mistakes you make, it assigns you reviews every few hours. After correctly answering the exercises, and it is convinced you’ve learned the characters by heart, you get new characters and level up. Hopefully in 1.5 – 2 years you’ll master the Kanji characters thanks to WaniKani!
I follow TextFugu and WaniKani every day. The next step for me is to start with Katakana as well. These great tools are developed by a smart Japanese guy called Koichi and his team. They also run a wonderful blog called ToFugu, about Japanese culture and language.
This is the way we’ve ended up learning Japanese so far. Do you have any experience with learning Japanese? What are your suggestions, and what kind of tools have you used?
(images are taken from ToFugu)