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The earthquake victims would appreciate your help more than you'll ever know(more resources can be found here).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lesson 1.5: Reinforcing What you Learn

As I said before lessons are the foundation of Japanese learning and what you take in as your foundation will help you better understand what you need in learning the language. But what about when you want to apply your knowledge beyond an academic setting? Here are a few things you can use to help immerse yourself in the language and build on what you know. 

1. Children's books & Manga

Since many people who study the language are hoping to be able to read these, these will make an excellent way to introduce you to a couple key things. Firstly, that romaji pretty much goes out the window when you get into their media, and secondly that you become introduced to newer and newer terms and ways of speaking to incorporate into your Japanese arsenal. One title I would recommend for this purpose is Yotsuba&!, and from there any titles that contain furigana(smaller printed Hiragana written along the kanji words for the younger readers/people learning about the language to pick up on that kanji's reading and build upon). Once you feel content in your knowledge of Kanji and kanji compounds(more on those later on), go for the titles that contain no furigana to translate and read(which is often the case with newspapers, magazines and many doujinshi, or self published litreature, popularly referring to comics, but also allpies to books and other such products).

PRO TIP: Don't take on Newspaper reading until your language skill is considerably advanced, enough so to pass the higher levels of proficiency tests. You'll thank me when you're not pulling your hair out

Recommended kids stories: Take a look here to see a sampling

2. Consume other Japanese media

This includes reading books(again, seriously advanced language skills needed) listening to music, watching Dramas and movies and so on. Not only will this help you better understand the pace and pronunciation, but how intonation and other factors can affect how your words are perceived. I don't really recommend using anime for this purpose, however, as what is said there can be as subtle as getting slapped by a ham, and about as fruitful when used. For both previously mentioned methods, a good Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary is indispensable to have in your collection, so be sure to snag one ASAP.

Recommendations: Crunchyroll(for subtitled works) and KeyHoleTV(to watch it live from Japan as it happens, and even backed by the Japanese gov't). For dictionaries, I highly recommend the (totally won't fit in your)Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary, as it gives you a written pitch guide for each word, examples, syntonyms(similar words), antonyms(words with an opposing meaning), and even teaches about about the culture. If you're an absolute beginner, the Oxfords Beginners Japanese Dictionary will serve you well.

3. Make friends with other learners/Japanese penpals

This will help you in not only learning, but using what you know in a social context. And in this day and age, there are many means to actually write to them and talk to them. So by all means, go on and use them and improve your language skills. No use in knowing so many words and terms if you don't know how to use them.

Recommendations: PenPal WorldPenPal NetInterpalsJapan Guide Classifieds, and My Language Exchange, among a plethora of others out there.

And for the most important step of all...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lesson 1.4: Mora

For English we use syllables to write, read and pronounce each of our words as well as quickly pick apart any new words(like, say, the newly minted dictionary entry Bromance) or dialects we encounter. By comparison, Japanese pronunciation is much different, and instead of saying their syllables altogether in a constant breath, each one is said distinctly as a mora, or a unit of sound that helps us decide what gets emphasis in the words we say.

Take the word Mora, for example. Instead of pronouncing it as we might've learned from American style English(All a bit slurred together, IE MOR-a), we give each part of the world a bit of heft, pronouncing it a bit more like this (MOH-rah). Think along the lines of the way British English and Spanish is spoken, especially the Spanish rolled R's and you'll get even closer to Japanese style pronunciation.

Side note: Pronouncing Japanese through American style English accent is known in Japan as the 'Gaijin-san' accent, the term loosely translating as 'Mr Foreigner", and often communicates that your main knowledge of Japanese is through the heavily distorted versions seen in pop culture(such as in Banzai & The Karate Kid, no disrespect meant to those who do Wax On & Wax Off). It's viewed much the same way we'd view Japanese people pronouncing English through their accent, and I would assume is NOT something you'd like to be associated with. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lesson 1.3 Elision

A key aspect to pronunciation is the concept of Elision. What is Elision? 
To put it simply, elision is a sound that's either a sudden stop in breath or drawn out, a bit like how we would say match, pack or bus, in terms of the end sound(each one respectively applying to sounds like chi, ki or su). 

The more elaborate explaination, according to Wikipedia, is that Elision "is extremely common in the pronunciation of the Japanese language. In general, a high vowel (/i/ or /u/) that appears in a low-pitched syllable between two voiceless consonants is devoiced, and often deleted outright. However, unlike French or English, Japanese does not often show elision in writing. The process is purely phonetic, and varies considerably depending on the dialect or level of formality." 

A few examples (slightly exaggerated; apostrophes added to point out elision): 

Matsushita-san wa imasu ka? ("Is Mr. Matsushita in?") 
Pronounced: matsush'tasan wa imas'ka 

roku, shichi, hachi ("six, seven, eight") 
Pronounced: rok', shich', hach' 

Shitsurei shimasu ("Excuse me") 
Pronounced: sh'ts'reishimas' 

Gender roles also influence how this is used in spoken Japanese. Doing it is generally seen as manly, especially the final u of the polite verb forms (-masu, desu, which you'll learn later on), where not doing it is seen as more feminine.  Doing it too much is generally viewed as obscure, while doing it wrong is seen as overly fussy or old-fashioned(like Grampa-style).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lesson 1.2: Reading the Air

In Japan they sometimes use abbreviations of their words as rendered in Romaji, such as JK[Joshi Kousei(female HS student)], IW[Imi Wakaranai(don't understand the meaning) and KY[Kuuki o Yomenai(cannot read the air, in this sense meaning the situational context)]. This manner of speaking is dubbed KY Go(K.Y. speak, rooted from the aforementioned abbreviation), and ties into arguably the most important skill you'll need in speaking the language: reading the air and reacting appropriately.

The key point of this isn't simply stating what you want them to hear, but to sit, listen, and relate what they've told you at their level. This factors not only into what is stated, but also what is not, including reading a person's tone of voice, body and facial language, along with appropriately recalling any information they may reveal to you at some point. Of course, as one can completely fail to read the air, one may also over analyse it and read it wrong, so remember to find your balance and read the info you need to make the correct judgment of a situation.

Also keep in mind how a person acts in a public setting(called Tatemae, or public face) is often much different from what they truly think at the home, and how they act in a private setting(called Honne, or true face). Also bear in mind any social obligations they have to their company, friends or family, and you to them(called either Giri[which involves balancing the personal life with any obligations their way of life calls for] or Gimu[where when nothing else will do to repay something, loyalty is given in it's place. Also the blanket term for both concepts, when bringing them up in discussions. More on both later on]). Once you have a grasp on these, you can better read situations presented to you, and have the right action ready to go(there's more you need to know, and that will covered at a later date).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lesson 1.1: Laying Down Some Basics.

First of all, allow me to be clear about one very key point in learning Japanese...


What you learn from there is either incredibly archaic, or way overblown and will make you look strange when used in a casual conversation. Imagine if someone you knew spoke like they were in a cartoon or a soap opera every time they spoke.  If entertainment media is all you learn from, that's what you're gonna sound like; not very inviting of conversation, if you ask me. Remember, lessons are the base, and media supports and reinforces what you're learning, never the other way 'round.

Moving on, though, like any other student of any other subject, you must be willing to learn from both the lessons offered and the stumbles you'll encounter; because if there's one thing you'll do a lot of it's stumbling. (for a while your Japanese may sound like this, and that's ok. There are no mistakes, only variation, as the Zen saying goes.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mission Statement

Welcome to Fresh Leaves, Pale Fruit! 

My name is Koiyuki, and I'll be here to guide you through the complete Japanese experience. These days people discover their second tongue from near endless ways and methods, including the media that helped to make Japanese such an increasing force in the popular forefront. Throughout this blog I hope to introduce you not only to the different ways the language is used, but also the history of the people behind it, both in Japan and around the world (Japanese culture has had quite a presence in the US, Brazil, Germany, among many other countries). In teaching these things, it is my aim to make it as simple and relatable as possible, so you not only learn it, but learn to apply it to your everyday life(including the cultural information many books often neglect to teach in a manner people can grasp outside the class setting, like reading context). I hope to see you come along with me as I explore the language and culture of both the land, and the people of the rising sun. 

PS, the title of this blog in Japanese is 青葉や青い果物(aoba ya aoi kabutsu).
If you can't see the characters, 
the installation portion is covered here.