July 21, 2009

日本语 and my Chinese progress

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:10 pm

I have to make a confession.

Sometimes I feel like I should learn Japanese instead of Chinese, and come back to 中文 once I’m done with Japanese. There’s a ton more material out there for Japanese, and it’s of a lot better quality. Or maybe I should say it’s more accessible. There isn’t really a Chinatown in the Dallas area, and there isn’t really a market for learning Chinese. Most people here don’t see the point of learning anything but Spanish, and even that isn’t learned to any useful extent by most people.

Plus, there’s also a great method out there that has been fully developed. Khatzumoto has tons of links and book recommendations and all sorts of other cool stuff on his blog. There is a great book for learning the Joyo kanji (Remembering the Kanji). Manga and anime are easily accessible in bookstores and such. There’s just a much bigger market for Japanese learners due to fact that Japan has been a major economic power for longer. Sure, China’s importance is on the rise, but I’m learning Chinese now, not a few years down the road when the learner’s market catches up.

Then there’s also the fact that Japanese is on my list of languages to learn, and has been for quite a while. And it’s one of the ones I look forward to the most. Japan’s culture is awesome, its films rock (anyone seen Battle Royale, Zatoichi, or the Lone Wolf and Cub series?), its food rocks (I could eat sushi daily), it isn’t communist…etc. So many reasons for me to learn Japanese. I even know more about Japanese folk music than I do about Chinese folk music. I did a research project on Japanese folk music (particularly Okinawan music and taiko drumming) in college, and I wrote a film cue using a koto, shakuhachi, and taiko drums with a western orchestra. There’s also the fact that I’m thinking about getting my master’s in ethnomusicology, and traditional Japanese music would probably be my focus.

So yeah, I have some interest in learning Japanese. The hard part is that I’ve put so much time and effort into Chinese and it would be like amputating an arm to give it up. I wouldn’t really give it up, more like put it off until later. And a lot of what I learn would transfer. Kanji/Hanzi, mining for sentences, using the sentence method, etc. would all transfer to my Chinese study. Sure, I can do all those things for Chinese without learning Japanese first, but the method is complete, fully developed, and fully laid out in print (pixels?) for Japanese on AJATT. Doing these things for Chinese will take a good bit of searching, trial and error, etc.

Or maybe I’m just making excuses for my recent lack of progress in Chinese. I’m spinning my wheels lately. I’m learning vocab over again because I’ve been lazy with SRS reps. I started over in my quest to learn 汉字 because I didn’t like using Harbaugh’s book for it (too much looking up parts of characters I didn’t know).

So I’m using McNaughton’s book again. It’s in simplified (hence the 汉), so I’m learning to write in simplified and read in traditional. It isn’t too bad, really. To switch from producing 汉字 to recognizing vocab I just have to toggle the 訁/讠 button in Pleco, start a new flashcard session, select the database, then go into Test Settings and check Char button and uncheck the PY and Defn buttons. Takes all of about 5 seconds and I’ve switched modes and am ready to go.

I really like testing flashcards in Pleco rather than Palm Supermemo. Pleco has a space to write the character, so I can do flashcard reps even when I don’t have a paper and pen handy, such as while I’m on the sales floor at work. I don’t really have to do anything except supervise the associates (the benefits of being Store Manager), and a Palm looks official to customers, even if I’m not doing anything work-related. It’s also much easier to enter flashcards because I don’t have to waste time typing everything out. I just find the dictionary that defines the word best, and click Add. There are 5 dictionaries loaded right now, and even more to come with the upcoming release of Pleco 2.0, so it’s rare that I have to make a new card because I can’t find a decent definition.

So, once I have around 2000 汉字 (should be 2-3 months at the rate I’m going), I’ll start in on the sentences. I think I’ll start with sentences from ChinesePod dialogs, because they’re correct, idiomatic, relevant, and most importantly, plentiful. There are nearly 800 lessons on the site as of today. The dialogs cover just about anything you could want to learn to talk about, and the transcripts have characters, pinyin, and English translations. There are also definitions of vocab after the dialog, so anything new can be defined on the answer side of the card. Just copy and paste.

Anyway, I welcome any feedback on my Chinese/Japanese dilemma. What would be particularly useful is if anyone has fluency in both languages. I’m curious about any advantages to learning one before the other, taking into account what I mentioned earlier about methods and accessibility. Thanks for reading.


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