Monthly Archives: March 2012

My Kanji Skills Suck Worse Than Those of a Six Year Old — And What I’m Doing to Fix It

The Background Story

Just yesterday I took a two-hour Japanese exam for the MEXT Scholarship, which would give me a free-ride for a year at a Japanese university to study Japanese. A great deal, but apparently so highly competitive that my local Japanese consulate has been only able to successfully send one student in the past several years to Japan—and on top of that, the person they were able to send was half-Japanese, and apparently already fluent in Japanese. For example, I found this post on the Reviewing the Kanji  forum posted by Zorlee, who is going for the same scholarship, except that he’s already long passed the highest level of the JLPT, and therefore is much more likely to get the scholarship than I am. Hmm, perhaps if the Japanese government were really trying to bring more foreigners over to Japan, they shouldn’t require near-native Japanese as a prerequisite? (Sorry, that’s my bitterness speaking.)

At any rate, I had already come down to the consulate for the interview, so they let me take the qualifying Japanese exam for the scholarship as well. It was mostly multiple-choice, split into 3 difficulty levels. If you’re familiar with the JLPT, I would say the easiest difficulty was around 5/4-kyuu on the JLPT, the intermediate level around 3-kyuu, and the hardest difficulty 2/1-kyuu—certainly no walk in the park. The test was two hours long, with each difficulty level having the same sorts of questions. First some grammar fill-ins, then some expression/keigo questions, and then a reading passage.

Furthermore, while there was no listening section to the test, the test did have a short “Kanji Writing” section, where you would have to produce Kanji based off the given readings in a sentence. This is where I failed, big time.

While I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the meaning and readings of Kanji when I come across them in reading, my writing-kanji-by-hand skills have taken a very sharp nose-dive. After all, I do all my writing on the computer, so thanks to the magic of auto hiragana-to-Kanji input, my ability to actually write almost any even moderately complicated Kanji has all but disappeared.

For example, with a word like 準備 (junbipreparation), I can recognize it in writing, hear and understand it easily, and even use it in a conversation freely without much effort. But if you were to place a blank piece of paper in front of me and ask me to write it down, I would laugh in your face—I would simply have no idea where to start. How do I bring my horribly deficient writing skills up to speed with my comparatively strong listening and speaking skills?

Enter Kanji Kentei — Kanji Learning Software for the DS

On my way back from the Japanese Consulate, I stopped off at BookOff to browse a few manga titles to distract myself from my failure at being able to reading Kanji when I came across a used copy of 200 Mannin no Kankena Kanji learning game for the DS. Kanji learning games for the DS are nothing new, but at least for me, I had always been tempted by the idea of buying one but had yet to through with it. But since I was already there at the BookOff, I what-the-heck-ly decided to purchase it.

For those who don’t know, the game is actually designed to prep one for the Kanji Kentei (Kanken) — a test of Kanji ability designed for Japanese people, which has a wide variety of levels, from  elementary school all the way up to beyond-adult at the highest level, where even a fully-literate Japanese adult would need to sit down and do some studying in order to expect to pass. And unlike tests of Japanese ability designed for non-natives (e.g. the JLPT), the Kanken is not fully multiple-choice—rather, many of the questions require production of Kanji just from its reading in context, or from its location in a 4-kanji expression. Example questions can be found here.

I’m not sure how interested I am in taking the test—it seems like there’s too much emphasis on memorization of tiny little Kanji rules that wouldn’t be so useful for me to learn as a non-native, at least not at my current, relatively-low Japanese level.

But getting back to the game, while the reviews for it on Amazon.co.jp are not terribly high, most of the given complaints have to do with how the Kanji-recognition system is not too great (often being too generous with writing mistakes). While I understand the complaints, I’ve found that for my purposes, the recognition system is good enough. What’s most important is that it’s giving me a chance to easily practice my Kanji recognition and writing skills in a rather fun way. I’ve been reviewing the easiest Kanji levels (the ones designed for first graders) pretty quickly, but expect to slow down once I head into middle-school level and start coming across lots of new words. Perhaps it’s just the strange pull of using a DS itself, but I do find myself a little addicted to learning Kanji right now using this game. Here’s hoping this isn’t just a passing obsession.

Gameplay

This is the basic Kanji writing mode I've been using the most. Not as concerned about the other modes, like "count the number of strokes" or "what stroke number is this." Maybe helpful, but I think I have the general writing order down without feeling the need to go into crazy-anal-kanji-learning-mode.

There are a number of gameplay modes, including ones that force the player to count the number of strokes in a character, or figure out which number a certain stroke is, but I don’t find those too useful. The ones I’ve been using most often include:

– Write the kanji from the given reading in context

– Write the reading of the kanji in the sentence

– Write the correct Furigana (for example, choosing whether 登る or 登ぼる is correct)

There are also modes for writing 3 and 4 character kanji compounds and for determining if the kanji in a certain word are compliments, opposites, etc, but again, at the moment I just want bare-bones kanji writing and reading practice. The modes I’ve listed above have been sufficient for my needs in that respect so far.

So is this the Best Method? Is this worth my precious Japanese-learning time?

Everyone on the internet seems to be concerned about using the “best” and “fastest” method to learn Japanese—just see the claims made on AJATT about various learning methods that say, “This […] is not how to learn. Not effectively.”

I’m wary to suggest one learning method over another, but I will say that the addictiveness of the game environment has been important to me in helping me stick with it. I can just pop open my DS and do some reviews of Kanji for a little bit without much hassle. I’m also a sucker for progress bars and learning statistics pages, and the game is luckily chock-full of those too. Furthermore, the game has lots of sample sentences that I plan on compiling in order to review for later.

Since the game is designed for native-speakers, the game does not include any sort of dictionary (the biggest problem for me in my opinion), but I’ve been able to supplement my playing by looking up unknown words on my computer. A lot of the vocabulary in the sentences is not always the every-day sort of stuff found in Japanese textbooks—even on the easiest levels I’ve come across words I never bothered to learn in Japanese, like stilts, plaza, steamboat, harbor, feather, etc. Not the most useful words in the world, but at this point, these are words I need to force into my passive vocabulary so I can prepare myself to read texts more fluently, and not get tripped up when a conversation turns to something rather specific.

I’ll try to update this blog with sentences from the game so that others can see what it offers more concretely, and for my own learning purposes. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the sentences in the game for shadowing practice—the vocabulary is not terribly useful—but for kanji and reading practice these should be worth a look.

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How to (not) interview in Japanese

While browsing for interviewing tips in Japanese, I came across the following video, teaching viewers about how to talk about their hobbies. I encourage you to watch at least the first 20 or so seconds of the video, which is the “bad example.”

And to break it down for you (with appropriate subtitles):

And then he just sits there confidently, shining that brilliant sports-loving smile. Hired.

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Learn Korean in North Korea: A Summer Language Course

Pyongyangmal North Korean Language Summer Course at Yanbian University

I can’t remember how exactly I stumbled upon this, but apparently this is a brand new language learning course for college students (undergrad and graduate) wanting to learn Korean. North Korean, that is.

That’s right.

Although students live on a Chinese University campus for ten weeks for the duration of the program (I suppose living in North Korea would be a little too much to ask, although I’m not sure if you’d want to do it), the classes are taught by North Korean instructors and the course includes multiple excursions into North Korea for sightseeing and language practice. And worshipping the Dear Leader from time to time, of course.

I tried to get some of my friends’ opinions about the course. Reactions were generally mixed, ranging from “that’s pretty damn awesome” to “you just want to say you went to North Korea, not really worth it” to “if you do it you will die.” Perhaps the coolness of factor of telling-off my fellow classmates who are planning to study abroad in lame countries like Germany and Spain that I was in Mother-Fucking-North-Korea is playing a role here, but I must say I’m genuinely interested.

Think about it—the chance to learn a language that you literally would not be able to learn anywhere else. Yeah, North Korean is mostly just a dialect of the Korean in south Korea, but it’s not like I can just pick up a textbook and go study North Korean, or go online and find a North Korean speaking buddy (unless my speaking buddy wants to risk his very life to say “hello” to me via Skype). The usefulness of the program is questionable—I certainly can’t say I want to learn the language because I want to travel to North Korea (that’s not exactly a viable option), but it’s not like it’s a completely different language from what is used in South Korea.

But in the end, it’s an experience (at a $4,600 price tag) that isn’t exactly easy to forge by yourself. As good as you think you are at self-studying, I’m willing to bet there’s no other way to learn how to speak like someone from North Korea without this course, unless you’re able to find work that somehow involves interacting with people from North Korea. Perhaps International Spy is on your dream job list…?

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A fresh batch of Japanese sex-vocabulary: 下ネタなんでだろう(歌)

If you’re looking for Japanese that you’re not going to find in any textbook, then sex-slang is certainly at the top of your list. While books like Dirty Japanese might have something useful, I’ve mentioned before that books like that tend to have a bunch of terms that are old or outdated, but are left in simply to enhance the book to a reasonable size for publishing—the author has no real incentive to keep the book updated with current content while cutting outdated or stranger words. So if you missed out on AJATT’s Moe Sentence Pack (apparently full of dirty vocabulary), then I suspect this post (and the longer videos linked below) should be more than satisfactory for your “learning” needs.

After all, it’s either use this, or just open up one of the educational videos you recently downloaded in that that 12 gb folder you having laying around your computer. You know, the one titled “Puppies and Kitties (MOM, DO NOT OPEN),” I know it’s there somewhere.

—-

So luckily, I came across a new language-learning website (new for me at least) called RhinoSpike. The premise is pretty simple—you have pieces of text in a language you’re learning, and you want the audio of a native speaker saying your text out loud. Alternatively, you have some audio in the language you’re learning, and you need a transcription of it. Both are possible to get at RhinoSpike (although audio recordings are much more popular) as long as you record or transcribe another user’s request in return.

The premise is interesting, and custom audio made out of text of your choosing—perfect for your shadowing practice (you have been shadowing daily, right??)—is quite neat. I would just warn potential users not to get too into using the site. An audio file of a lengthy text or transcription of a long video is enough to keep anyone at a high-intermediate level or below occupied for quite a while. And by “get too into,” I mean get obsessed with recording for other users without practicing on your own. I know, for example, I’ve wasted many an hour correcting the English of various users on Lang-8 without actually working on a post in Japanese myself!

That said, the point of this post today is to share an absolute gem I found in the transcriptions section of RhinoSpike. I present to you 下ネタなんでだろう (Literally: Dirty Joke, I wonder why? although I might consider translating in context as simply Why does this (shit) happen? — you’ll see when we get to the translation) , a song by みうらじゅん (Miura Jun), a manga artist who has also branched out into doing other things as well, such as songs.

The song here is one of the dirtiest and funniest things I’ve seen in Japanese (although like most Japanese comedy, puns still continue to make up a bulk of the humor), and thanks to the wonderful transcriptions by smokedoyster and tomoch of RhinoSpike, it’s now much easier to understand and translate into English!

下ネタなんでだろう

Why does this shit happen?

嫌だと言いつつあそこがぬれぬれなんでだろう?

Why do you say “no” when your pussy is so wet?

今日のワン子のタイトルにドッキとするのなんでだろう?

???

ソープ嬢がゼリーを塗っている時寂しい思いをするのなんでだろ?

Why do girls at brothels get lonely when they lubricate themselves?

ラブホのカミソリ品質悪いのなんでだろ?

Why are the razors at Love Hotels such bad quality?

あいつとやったらちんぽがかゆいのなんでだろ?

Why does your penis get itchy when you’re about to do it?

神社の裏で大量にエロ本見つかるのなんでだろう?

Why is there so much porn at the bottom of Shinto shrines?

バックでやる時違う子想像するのなんでだろ?

When doing it from behind, why do you think of someone else?

前立腺やられると癖になるのはなんでだろ?

Why do you get addicted to doing it in the g-spot?

フェラの時だけおいしいって聞くのはなんでだろ?

Why does she only say “delicious” when giving you a blow job?

シオを吹いてもおしっこの匂いがするのはなんでだろ?

Why does it smell like piss when she’s blowing you?

処女だというのにアナルを許すのなんでだろ?

Why does she let you go down on her even when she’s a virgin?

口内発射の後キスをしたくないのはなんでだろ?

Why doesn’t she want to kiss you after you cum in her mouth?

フニャチンのままいっちゃう事あるのはなんでだろ?

When you can’t get hard why do you cum anyway?

授業中、勃起して机が持ち上がっちゃうのはなんでだろ?

When you get a boner in the middle of class, why does your desk get lifted up?

パンティー脱がしてふとももで止めるのなんでだろ?

Why do girls stop removing their panties after they reach their thighs?

行く時必ず行っていいって聞くのなんでだろ?

Why does she always say “It’s fine to leave” when you’re leaving?

セックスの後よかったって聞奴なんでだろ?

Why do some people ask “was it good?” after sex?

クンニのしすぎで唇腫れるのをなんでだろ?

Why do your lips get swollen after going down on a girl for too long?

穴ならどこでも入れたくなるのはなんでだろ?

Why is that whenever there’s a hole you want to fuck it?

生理と聞いたとたん突然さめるのなんでだろ?

Why is that when she says she’s on her period you suddenly realize what you’re doing?

アワビを見るため見てるな言うやつなんでだろ?

Why do some guys say “I’m not looking” in order to watch a girl jack off? (probably wrong on this)

松茸見る度勝ち負け言う奴なんでだろ?

Why do some guys compare their penis size when they see a Pine Mushroom (a very penis-y looking mushroom)

なんでだろう、なんでだろう、下ねたなんでだろ?

Why does this happen? Why does this happen? Why does this dirty shit happen?

The rest of the transcription can be found on the RhinoSpike site, although I don’t think I’m up for translating much more of it at the moment. I admit that the translation thus far has been a bit of a learning experience for me, but doing this in a public library has made me somewhat nervous about continuing (especially when I need to rely on Google Images in order to figure out what some of the sex slang is actually referring to…).

At any rate, I’m certainly taking the AJAAT credo of “Any Japanese is Good Japanese” to its absolute limit by trying to understand this…song. The song sounds a lot funnier in Japanese than it does in English (although that could be the result of my clunky translations that are likely inaccurate or plain wrong), and for those who just can’t get enough, NicoNico video has two additional videos of the same material, clocking in at 14 minutes and 23 minutes respectively. Even the Japanese commenters on NicoNico video make plenty of comments while watching the full-length videos, including ones like “way too long” and “I can’t believe there is still 20 minutes left on this video.”

However, I think I’ll leave it to you to see if you can make it through an additional 30 some minutes of what you’ve just seen above.

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