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learn japanese
Is this normal?! 
2nd-May-2009 10:28 am
Ok, I've been studying Japanese (self) for about 1 year now. I have read and understand all of Genki 1 & 2, Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese, and A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar, and mastered both books of 2001.Kanji.Odyssey. (I've read a few other Japanese learning books for practice too in addition to these.) I have about 1800 kanji memorized according to Self Kanji Level Check, and about 8000 words. So, I consider myself about intermediate level. Now, I don't expect to be fluent yet, but having these under my belt, I wanted to try to tackle real Japanese, like novels, manga, video games, and etc.

I am able to understand most of the time, but it still seems that I still have to look up new words all the time! Or there are sentences that I still don't quite understand even if I know all the words. It's like, no matter how much I've learned and memorized, there are still 25845620475298 more kanji/words that I don't know! And then it's like I'm stuck in a Catch 22. I want to read material to reinforce what I have already learned, but I can't read anything without having to learn more new words and kanji. There's only so much new stuff I can memorize at a time, you know.
My conclusion is, "textbook" Japanese is much easier than real Japanese, or the material I'm choosing to read is still too advanced for me. I self-study, so maybe there are methods that I haven't thought of yet, does anyone have any ideas? Or does everyone go through this too?

So then what's the next step? I've been eyeing A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar but it's so darn expensive...
2nd-May-2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
i have no better suggestions for you but only keep reading. I've learned Japanese for 6 years now, but I'm still having trouble understanding the normal conversation by them sometimes (j-dramas without subtitle). I still keep checking whenever i find words that i don't understand. You don't have to deliberately memorize vocabs, as they appear again and again, finally you'd know the meaning.

Be patient and all the best for continue learning. :)
2nd-May-2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
I'm impressed by all the things you've learnt on your own already. My respect.
2nd-May-2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
Heh, thanks, but it still feels sometimes that it's hardly enough. ^^

The basics are easy enough to learn on one's own, and then just build on to that with intermediate level stuff and it's not really that hard. Just time consuming to do all the practice.
2nd-May-2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
I found manga was a good option for me, provided I chose books with furigana. That way, even if I didn't know all the kanji, I could still read it with relative ease. I also found that shounen manga was way, way easier than shoujo.

I use the past tense, because I haven't done Japanese for a while and it's decayed. Doubt I could read it anymore. :P
3rd-May-2009 03:47 am (UTC)
Hmm, I'll have to try easier level reading material for practice then, but I still suspect I'll have to learn new words and phrases, even if I know the kanji themselves.
I had no idea shounen was easier than shoujo. Thanks for the tip.
2nd-May-2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Kudos to how much you have accomplished so far, and in only a year too!

I've only been studying Japanese very casually for a few years, and I'm still too scared to tackle Kanji. The fact that you have 1800 kanji memorized already is amazing!! How did you do it??

My only advice is to maybe read material that has furigana (kana over the kanji to indicate pronunciation), as I find that, even if you don't recognize the kanji, you may recognize the word itself. Other than that, just be patient and good luck!
2nd-May-2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
I was scared of kanji too at first. Once upon a time I thought I could never read this stuff. But once I dove into it, it's easier than I thought. And then I could devour more and more kanji at a time leading to more and more words/compounds memorized.

What I do is methodically and OCD'ly look up every single new word I come across, add it to my vocabulary list and into SRS review everyday. Also practice handwriting. I believe if you write things down by hand you remember them better.

Sometimes I have the opposite problem... when I read something written in hiragana I can't recognize the word; if only it were in kanji I would have recognized it instantly.
2nd-May-2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
I have and love A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar, but it's not perfect. There seems to be a lot missing so, while extremely helpful, I wouldn't say it's indispensible - more like a spluge if you've got the dough.

ps You're amazing in your studies. がんばって!!
2nd-May-2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
You are aware, I hope, that it's part of a series and therefore does not cover the materials in A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar. Together they are pretty comprehensive.
2nd-May-2009 07:23 pm (UTC) - In regards to kanji reading:
Well to be "literate" by the Ministry of Education's standards you have to know a bit over 2000 kanji (last time I checked) so it's not anything wrong you're doing.. just a lot of kanji to memorize! Sounds like you've done a lot already. :) You can buy flash cards on amazon (tuttle has a good 4 volume set for the 2000+) or they have lots of self-help books that feature all of the kanji (I think "Remembering the Kanji" a blue/white with some pink letter on it is one of them..)

Good luck!
2nd-May-2009 09:39 pm (UTC) - Re: In regards to kanji reading:
Ok I just read and realized you said 1800 not 180, haha. I guess the biggest difference than is like you said context.. you're not going to need those tv/newspaper words for manga.. but still don't worry.. once you encounter words enough (which I'm sure happens in any manga) you'll remember them just fine.

ps I don't even know that many kanji. le sads. :(
2nd-May-2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
I'm totally impressed with what you have done in a year. I've been studying for over 3 years now and I've only done 1450 kanji. Of course, I have excuses (work, etc.), but I'm sure you're also not just sitting on your books.

Anyway, the issue is that it's hard to cover everything, and this is why it takes time to learn a language - usually more than a year. There are many areas to cover. You seem to have covered a lot of the theoretical grounds and kanji, but it seems that you are less proficient in practical vocabulary. That's something you have to study as well. Run into a word, look it up, put it in a memorizing system (such as the Anki software - a free Spaced Repetition System). If you can write down the context in which you learned it, it's even better. After memorizing it a bit with a cue card, your vocabulary will improve. And it's a pedestrian process. There is no "list of words" which you can just memorize and magically know them - because they need to be studied in context. That's why reading "real" material is so important.

Regarding the extra kanji, as waraitai wrote, officially there are about 2000 kanji needed for literacy. However, official is not the same as practical... Official newspapers in Japan have to comply with the "jouyou" kanji list, and provide all the words that can't be expressed with the jouyou kanji in kana. So if you know the designated 2000 (well, 1950) kanji, you should be able to read a Japanese newspaper without needing to look up the kanji (though you will still need to look up the words... no escape there). But manga and novels include many kanji which are not in the jouyou list. The Japanese themselves learn those from Manga and other reading material, looking them up at first. So as a matter of fact, you need to know about an extra 1000 to read manga and novels without looking up the kanji. Again, as you run into them, look them up, put them in a memorization stack, and learn them by repetition.

You remind me a little bit of the situation I was in when I finished high school. English is not my native language - we study it in school. At the end of high school I had excellent marks in English - but I couldn't read a real English book. At some point I decided to read books. I went to the University library, dug up whatever they had there - classics, science fiction and whatnot - and I had to look up about every fourth word. I didn't understand half of what I was reading. Some sentences looked odd and I didn't even have a grammar reference. But the second book came, and the third, and the fourth. Nowadays I read almost exclusively in English, my writing style has improved, and I watch English-speaking films and series without subtitles. But the road there was tough and paved with dictionaries. :)
2nd-May-2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's exactly what I do, look up every single new word I encounter and add it to my WaKan list and Anki deck. Currently it has reached a nice round number of 8600 words. I scrupulously review and practice everyday. For the past year I did spend a lot of time daily on studying to get where I am.

I've realized that the stuff I'm interested in reading often do not follow the Jouyou list, and therefore I've memorized lots of odd kanji like 綺麗、此処等、燦然、軈て、etc. I just want to escape from the Catch 22, but no matter what there are always new words to learn. ^^ Not to mention idiomatic phrases.
2nd-May-2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't panic right away -- to be honest, I think the only way you're going to improve is by struggling through the first few books. I've had an on-again off-again relationship with Japanese since I was eleven or so (my city has a sister-city relationship with Kumagaya so our schools were always getting visits from Japanese teachers and students). I studied the language for three years in high school then gave it up for sciences, and now I'm twenty-seven I'm doing it again through university. I've been studying for four months now and just dug my old manga out of storage yesterday, and was shocked to realise that even though I've not technically learned a lot more than I previously had (we're about halfway through my high school curriculum) I can actually read the manga moreso than before. Admittedly it's furigana-ised kanji, but the grammar makes a lot more sense to me. Partially it's because I've watched a fair whack of anime over the years, but that's really it. There's textbook Japanese and then there's real life Japanese, and the only way you can merge the two is by crashing into the second with the first. It's going to be infuriating for a while, looking up things all the time, but the only reason I have such an eclectic vocabulary is because of passive exposure for years. And I never realised that until yesterday. Go for it, there's nothing quite like reading something and realising you understood it without actually thinking about it. ^___^
3rd-May-2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
It is true -- last year when I attempted to read a manga (with furigana and I had hiragana mastered), I couldn't understand what the characters were saying unless they were basic sentences. I look through the same manga right now and I can understand it almost smoothly.
It just takes time, some guesswork, and "brute-force-learning".
2nd-May-2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
I'm a little opposite from you! I've only offically studied it for a year, but I can listen to real Japanese and understand without the use of a dictionary. Give me a text book though and I'm lost XD. I'd guess that textbook Japanese is a lot harder!
3rd-May-2009 12:22 am (UTC)
Ow, that's my weakness. My listening comprehension is poor because they speak so fast and there are also tons of homonyms. I'm pretty much lost without kanji. ^^
3rd-May-2009 12:09 am (UTC)
I think that you need to be able to let go the "I need to look up every single word so that I can understand" mentality. You don't necessarily understand every word when you read things in your native language (I'm assuming English), as I proved to myself yesterday by trying to explain an article full of complicated words to my boyfriend... some of them, I had no idea what they meant, but through context I could understand. You need to concentrate on doing that, I think.
Try reading simple things (books aimed at children tend to be much simpler, and not use so much poetic Japanese as ones aimed at adults might... Harry Potter is a good place to start if you don't hate it), and concentrate on what you do know, rather than what you don't.

I can remember going through exactly this stage. I bought myself a copy of Norwegian Wood by Murakami Haruki in Japanese, and sat down, looking every single thing that I didn't know on the first few pages up. It was a horribly slow and painful experience, but after that I decided to try to see what I could make out, without having to use my dictionary. It enforced words that I already knew, and I got to recognise words which appeared a lot, so I knew which ones were important to look up for general understanding and which ones weren't. It's definitely a more enjoyable way of doing it.

So, don't feel like you need to look everything up! Maybe there's a sentence with some grammar in it that you don't understand. Read it, try to understand, but if you don't, ignore it! I've found that if I see a lot of sentences using the same grammar, eventually I can work out what it means, without having to look anything up.

Keep on going, because there's no point only knowing textbook Japanese and lots of kanji, you need to be able to understand the real stuff.
3rd-May-2009 02:34 am (UTC)
I agree with you. I would do the same thing with dramas. I would stop it every few seconds and look things up. Eventually, I would watch things all the way through and try to figure it out for myself...then look anything I still had doubts about, up. It really helped!
3rd-May-2009 01:48 am (UTC)
After I finished Genki 1 and 2, I was able to start picking up novels, but I very much didn't understand every word, or every sentence. Heck, I still don't now, and I've passed JLPT 1 and know at least 2200 kanji. Don't let it get to you. Look up the words that are necessary for the story, catch the rest through context, and accept that sometimes a sentence just doesn't quite make sense. It's the same in English, isn't it?

(On the other hand, sometimes it is necessary/a good experience to look up every word you don't know. I'm doing that now with a short magazine, and a lot of the words are popping up in other places as well, which always makes me happy.)
3rd-May-2009 02:35 am (UTC)
I love it when this happens! I recently learned a bunch of new words and more than half of them turned up in a new drama I'm watching. It really is a good feeling =D
3rd-May-2009 01:51 am (UTC)
Your story quite scared me a bit cause I just started learning the language formally last month. Now I really still have a long way to go.

But I'm really amazed with what you had accomplished for a year. I'm now inspired to do it too. ^___^
3rd-May-2009 03:57 am (UTC)
Heh, I have a long way to go too.

And you can do it! I got really absorbed into studying so I spent a lot of time on it daily to accomplish that much. Just takes a lot of dedication and time. My problem is I'm way ahead in reading ability but way behind in composition and speaking.
3rd-May-2009 03:28 am (UTC)
Maybe it's just me, but I come across words in *English* that I don't know all the time! I still need to check spelling sometimes and there are words that I thought I knew the meaning of, but actually didn't.

3rd-May-2009 03:52 am (UTC)
This is true. English is my main language, second language, but I have pretty strong spelling and grammar. I will sometimes look up words in an English dictionary, but it's not very often.

In Japanese it's like billion-fold because its vocabulary is huge.
3rd-May-2009 05:52 am (UTC)
I suggest watching a lot of Japanese variety TV. Trust me, it helps! You get to hear a lot Japanese that you don't learn in books. I've been doing that for the majority of my study and I feel like every time I watch, I become much more closer to fluency. One of the things I like to do when watching is jot down phrases or conversations between people that I don't understand, look up and/or learn the kanji, then record them in a book dedicated solely to various Japanese sentences.

For example, I was watching one of my favorite JTV shows today and there was a particular exchange that I liked between two people. Asan was talking about the impression she had of a person (Csan) and she said:

Aさん: 優しいお兄ちゃんという感じちょっと…
Bさん: 感覚的に一番幼いからそう思うんでしょ
Cさん: ちょっと心外だなぁ

Prior to watching this, I didn't know what 幼い or 心外 meant. When I looked them up afterward, I understood the whole exchange.

3rd-May-2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tip. I would have never thought of that, because I'm quite TV-illiterate. *chuckle* I don't have Japanese TV, but I suppose there's Nico Nico or Youtube. ^^ Now, I just need some title suggestions to start because I really am lost when it comes to TV.
3rd-May-2009 10:06 am (UTC)
I only have about 700 or so Kanji under my belt and I'm mostly tackling the manga I have okay... and I just finished playing Final Fantasy 5 (it's pretty basic level Japanese... going to move onto 6 next).

The manga I'm reading are Genshiken and Sketchbook, which are both mangas with where I've already watched the anime for.

Sketchbook is pretty much Peanuts/Comic Strip level I guess - and I hear it's similar to Azumanga Daioh! (which I'm going to get next) - and is easy to just have little bites of.

With Genshiken the anime follows the manga pretty well so it helps that I've already heard what I'm reading. Also since it's about university students it has a bit more vernacular in it which is quite nice.

Also I have Shuna no Tabi a nice little illustrated story book by Hayao Miyazaki and Majo no Takkyubin - the book that Kiki's Delivery Service was based on.

I'd say that what I have at the moment are all pretty easy reading level and I'd say that I'm quite happy with that. I don't really know of any other stuff I want to read at the moment and too many mangas have a ridiculously large number of volumes as far as I'm concerned. ^_^
3rd-May-2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the suggestions. I've never heard of those, then again I don't keep up with anime. I'll try to check them out if I get time.
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