日曜日, 4月 29, 2007

My namesake in action

You have to check out this mash-up game video, hilarious entitled "Fuck Yo Mushroom Kingdom, Nigga", created in the M.U.G.E.N engine and featuring the original bad-ass gaijin visitor with a problem communicating.

土曜日, 4月 28, 2007

Days of the week

One of the great curios of learning Japanese, for me at least, was the similarity in the naming of the days of the week in Japanese and English:
日曜日(nichi-youbi) literally translates as sun-day
月曜日(getsu-youbi) is moon-day, or Monday
(the bi bit is the part used for sun, one sun being a day, naturally)

I couldn't understand how this might have occurred unless by Japan adopting new names for the days of the week, and presumably a western style seven day week along with all the other things it took up during Meiji.

Well, as it happens the story is more interesting. The Japanese calendar is, surprise surprise, based on the Chinese calendar. The Chinese calendar is itself the product of a Babylonian influence on pretty much the whole world. The Babylonian seven day week, probably born from the 28 day lunar cycle and the need by early agrarian societies to meet to trade, was named after the seven bodies in the sky that were visible, ie the sun, moon and five planets.

In English this got corrupted as certain days of the week were re-associated with Norse gods, for example Thursday = Thor's Day, Friday = Freya's Day; but the sun and moon remained.

In Japanese, from Chinese, the relationships for the rest of the week are:
火曜日 (ka-youbi) or fire-day = Tuesday
水曜日 (sui) or water-day = Wednesday
木曜日 (moku) or wood-day = Thursday
金曜日 (kin) or metal/gold-day = Friday
土曜日 (do) or earth-day = Saturday

The observant might spot that these relationships are like the elements, and that's about it; in Chinese mythology the planets are associated with elements - for example the planet Saturn is associated with the element earth. Which is, lo and behold, found to be doyoubi, or Saturn's Day = Saturday.

On a related note, in written form the days in Japanese usually omit the you bit of the days of the week, so 土日、日日 etc would be common. This (you) bit is a little odd as while in Japanese its use is limited to the meaning discussed here, in Chinese it means 'pretty bird' or something along those lines.

NOTE: this is predominantly pieced together from Wikipedia (here and here), which as we all know is an entirely unreliable source, but as the facts seem to hold together from various entries, and bare out a logical consideration of the facts, I'm content that in this instance it seems reasonable.

木曜日, 4月 26, 2007

On the JLPT trail (again)

It's the front half of the year still, so time to make some vague promises to myself to get JLPT3 again. That'll be four years then...

This time I have a half-assed agreement with my buddy Rach to work together to achieve this. Not a bad idea. In keeping with my way of doing these things, my study buddy is in Japan - well, she is at the moment - I think she returns soon after two years over there.

I'm going to be interested in this as she won't be living near me, but we are going to be wokring together to achieve our goal. Collaborative learning online is the sort of thing that usually gets me exercised at Learning Rocks, but it will be interesting to see if I can bring a newbie along with me - I mean, she doesn't even have a blog...

火曜日, 4月 24, 2007

Kana or Romaji - that is the question

Tony (my muse it would seem) posits a valuable question about learning Japanese in his most recent entry.

Is it better to study wholly in the target language, using only kana and kanji, or is it more effective to rely on the prop of romaji (spelling Japanese words in Latin alphabet).

My old chum Olly, now a resident of west Tokyo, seemed to work by this rule. He worked heavily in romaji and this meant that he was often waiting for me to catch up when we studied for JLPT4.

On the other hand, Nigel, a friend from Japan (I met him there - obviously with a name like that he isn't actually from Japan), swears blind that you should work wholly in kana if you want to make the breakthrough.

On a personal level, I feel it is hard working with kana. Counter-intuitively, it became much easier for me once I started learning enough kanji. Kanji allow you to make sense of a sentence far more quickly than is possible in kana. Consider this simple line:
Watashi wa Eikokujin desu.
(I am British)
The top line, with its kanji, has some shape and texture, and with a little familiarity with the few kanji are instantly recognisable. The second line is all very samey and this problem is accentuated by the fact Japanese doesn't have spaces between words (though often they are when using kana).

Below the kana the romaji interpretation on the other hand is instantly recognisable - three decades of decoding the characters means I don't have to think for one second what is being said. The act of reading does not present a barrier for me.

But does it help me "get in the Japanese frame of mind"? Moreover, would relying on the romaji slow up my development of the ability to read effectively in Japanese. I think the answer to this second question would overwhelmingly have to be yes - but it depends very much on what you are trying to achieve.

Nigel studied Japanese at university. His aim was academic attainment and he would be tested on his written as well as spoken ability. It was imperative that he develop his skills on all fronts. Olly, by contrast, had little need for written language skills - he needed the language to speak to his wife, or more importantly to his in-laws.

My situation, much as I fantasise about being able to take up a bilingual position in a Japanese company, is much closer to Olly's. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book (he is, after all, a PhD) and ditch the kana and kanji and focus on building the vocab the easy way.

I look forward to following Tony's progress and seeing how he does and how he begins to benefit from the intermediate boost when you start being able to apply more kanji. Maybe in a few weeks (at the rate he is learning) we'll see. I'm curious to find out.

水曜日, 4月 11, 2007

A true challenge

I struggle with Japanese. Not so much the language itself, it's fairly logical, though I'd be the first to suggest I'm not so good at it.

No, I struggle to make the time for the study it requires. I labour and tussle with my time and never seem to make time for what is arguably the most important change I could make to my domestic arrangements. In this I suffer in learning the vital parts of the language that I need to be able to communicate - my vocabulary is terrible and without it, for all my understanding of the various tenses and conjugations, I understand very little of it.

In all my time (about six years now) I have only achieved the very modest level of JLPT4. Pathetic.

So it is some admiration that I look at my friend Tony of Englishman in Japan fame who is just now embarking on a crash course in Japanese at university in Kanazawa. He is expected to reach JLPT2 this year. A chum from my time in Japan, Nigel, struggled to get 2-kyuu after a year of living there, and four years of study at university here in the UK, so I appreciate it is one hell of a challenge that Tony has had thrown at him.

I'll be watching his progress closely.

月曜日, 4月 02, 2007

Try a Japanese second life!

One of the great ways to learn a language is to emmerse yourself in it, spend time amongst the natives and soak it up.

Easier said than done when your language of choice is Japanese and you live in the UK. So rather than give up, here's a way to do it: www.splume.com.

This is an emmersive online world much like Second Life, but aimed at the Japanese market and, apparently, following a somewhat different design philosophy. Whatever, I'm sure it would be fun.